Mars Attacks the World (1938)

MARS ATTACKS THE WORLD (1938)
Article #1565 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-27-2005
Posting Date: 11-24-2005
Directed by Ford Beebe and Robert F. Hill
Featuring Buster Crabbe, Jean Rogers, Charles Middleton

Flash Gordon goes to Mars to investigate a deadly beam emanating from the planet.

After the grousing I did about DEADLY RAY FROM MARS, you’d think the last thing I’d want to pop up on my viewing list would be another feature version of FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO MARS. And you’d be right. In fact, I was prepared to write my shortest review to date; it would’ve consisted of nothing more than a link to my review of DEADLY RAY FROM MARS. Well, as fate would have it, I’m not going to do that, because this one deserves better. This is far and away the most successful attempt to convert a serial to a workable feature that I’ve seen. I applaud the editors who pulled it off; they found just the right balance between action and exposition, and made no attempt to include everything; instead, they only kept what would make the serial work as a feature. It’s not perfect, but its faults are forgivable; for example, it wisely jettisons almost the entire forest people sequence with the exception of the only necessary scene (the one that brings Prince Barin into the story), but that one necessary scene results in the most jarring continuity jumps in the movie. Still, I think this was the best compromise to make under the circumstances, and given how badly most of these feature-length serial adaptations come out, I’m delighted to find one that actually works this well. I really enjoyed it, and I never thought I’d say that about this type of movie.

Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)

MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957)
Article #1564 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-26-2005
Posting Date: 11-23-2005
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Featuring James Cagney, Dorothy Malone, Jane Greer

The son of deaf parents becomes a movie star.

There are some actors who I end up rarely covering for this series because they made so few movies that fall without the bounds of fantastic cinema. Consequently, this is only the second time I’ve had a chance to do a movie featuring one of the great tough-guy actors of all time, James Cagney (the first was A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, in which he was just one of many stars in the film), and this one qualifies not so much for its fantastic content but rather for being about an actor who appeared in a lot of movies that do qualify – Lon Chaney. Cagney was an inspired choice; not only does he somewhat resemble Chaney, but he adds a lot of dimension to his character that might have been missing with a lesser actor. Reportedly, the movie isn’t particularly accurate (certainly, the closing moment with the makeup case is a piece of fiction), but then, how many Hollywood biopics are? At least it isn’t a piece of fluff, and it’s well acted and directed. It does manage to weave the various elements of Chaney’s life into a single story, and the scenes of him with his deaf-mute parents are quite touching. My only wish is that somehow they had managed to fit in a cameo for his real son somewhere in the proceedings.

Daimajin (1966)

DAIMAJIN (1966)
(a.k.a. MAJIN, MONSTER OF TERROR)
Article #1563 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-25-2005
Posting Date: 11-22-2005
Directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Featuring Miwa Takada, Yoshihiko Aoyana, Jun Fujimaki

When a warlord stages a coup and takes over a small town, the children of the original lord escape and take refuge in a mountain housing the spirit of the god Majin.

While Daiei was putting out the most juvenile series of kaiju movies featuring Gamera, they also put out a series of more adult monster movies with the Majin series. I consider the monsters in kaiju movies to be gods of a sort, and it’s interesting to find one that is actually meant to be a god; he is worshiped, prayed to and pleaded with. He is also slow to take action; he really doesn’t get moving until the last quarter of the movie, so fans of monster mayhem will need to exercise a little patience. This really isn’t a problem, though; the first three-quarters of the movie is exciting, full of action, and interesting in its own right. The rampage of Majin (who manifests himself as a big stone statue) is definitely the highlight of the movie, especially when he figures out to do with that spike stuck in his head. This was the first of the series; it would be followed by two sequels.

Bomba on Panther Island (1949)

BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND (1949)
Article #1562 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-24-2005
Posting Date: 11-21-2005
Directed by Ford Beebe
Featuring Johnny Sheffield, Allene Roberts, Lita Baron

Bomba hunts down a panther which is killing natives working on an experimental farm.

This is the only movie I’ve seen so far from the Bomba series. “Bomba” is to “Boy” as “Jungle Jim” is to “Tarzan”; in other words, the Bomba series served to keep Johnny Sheffield in loincloths in the jungle after his stint in the Tarzan series was over (as the Jungle Jim series did for Johnny Weissmuller). If this movie is representative, then there is at least one thing about the Bomba series that I like better than the Jungle Jim series, and that is a certain lyrical and moody ambiance to the proceedings. In fact, the opening scene of a monkey coming out of the trees into Bomba’s camp, flipping through a journal, meeting up with Bomba, and then being killed by a panther, is effective enough that I thought the movie would turn out to be something special. Such is not the case, though, as the movie rapidly loses steam and gets mired in a subplot about the romantic rivalry for Bomba’s attention between the innocent young sister of man heading the farm and an exotic French-speaking native girl. Eventually, the turgid pace drags the movie down. The main fantastic element in the movie (other than the inherent but marginal element of fantasy in many jungle movies) is an implication that the native girl may actually be the panther herself, but despite the fact that several scenes put this possibility forward, the movie makes no use of the idea dramatically, either as truth or enticing red herring. At this point, I’m going to have to say that the Jungle Jim movies are at least a little more fun.

Love From a Stranger (1937)

LOVE FROM A STRANGER (1937)
Article #1561 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2005
Posting Date: 11-20-2005
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Featuring Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale

A woman discovers that winning the lottery has driven a wedge between her and her fiance. She leaves him and takes up with a mysterious stranger who appears on the scene unexpectedly.

The phrase ‘mysterious stranger’ in the above plot description should make you suspicious of the character right away, as does the fact that he doesn’t appear until after the woman has become rich. You should also have a good idea of where the story is going to go from here, and you’d most likely be right; the plot is fairly standard. However, what raises this one above the herd is the excellence of the performances; Rathbone isn’t only after her money, he’s mad as well, and this may be his creepiest performance. Ann Harding also does very well, especially near the end of the movie where she shows that she herself isn’t without resources, and as a result the ending is quite memorable. Rathbone and director Lee would reunite a couple of years later with SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. The fantastic element here is the madness of Rathbone’s character, which gives the movie a bit of horror atmosphere.

The Lost Jungle (1934)

THE LOST JUNGLE (1934/II)
(Feature Version of Serial)
Article #1560 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-22-2005
Posting Date: 11-19-2005
Directed by David Howard and Armand Schaefer
Featuring Clyde Beatty, Cecilia Parker, Syd Saylor

A noted animal trainer goes to an island that features animals from both Asia and Africa to bring some specimens back alive and reunite with the woman he loves.

Yep, it’s another feature version of a serial. Still, in terms of that particular type of movie, it’s not badly done. It doesn’t attempt to squash the whole serial into its 68 minute running time; rather, it emphasizes the first few episodes and then winds up the loose ends with bits and pieces of footage from the later episodes. It actually does a decent job of it; if you watched it without knowing, you might not be able to tell it was originally a serial at all. Still, as a movie, the story isn’t much. It’s heavy on the exposition, spends too much time with the comic antics of Syd Saylor, and it’s rather dullish. Still, I do admire the fact that they actually took the trouble to make it feel like a real feature.

Addendum: Rich Wannen was kind enough to inform me that much of this feature version of the serial consisted of new footage shot specifically for this version. This goes a long way towards explaining why this one flows so much smoother than your average feature version of a serial. I also want to take this opportunity to thank anyone out there who has been kind enough to share their own research as part of this series; in doing one movie a day, I rarely have the chance to do any intense research on any one of them individually.

The Dark Wind (1991)

THE DARK WIND (1991)
Article #1559 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-21-2005
Posting Date: 11-18-2005
Directed by Errol Morris
Featuring Lou Diamond Phillips, Gary Farmer, John Karlen

A Navajo policeman assigned to catch a vandal witnesses a plane accident that is tied to drug smugglers. He then finds himself caught up in a series of murders and is targeted by corrupt federal agents.

If you’ve been following this series of write-ups, you probably have two questions. First of all, why have I made this leap into the decade of the nineties when most of my coverage recently has been in the sixties and seventies and the latest date I’ve reached previous to this listing is 1982? I have an explanation. I choose the movies for my hunt list going through my various sources, picking ten at a time and then going with the earliest date. “John Stanley’s Creature Features Strike Back” guide has a New Update section in the middle of the book, and most of the movies are from the early nineties. With very little competition from earlier years, it was inevitable that I would have to select one from a very late vintage, and this was the choice.

The other question is about the nature of the fantastic content in the movie, something that does not come out in the above description. Part of the plot surrounds the rituals of Navajo witchcraft, and there are touches of Navajo and Hopi mysticism as well. At heart, it’s a crime drama, and I found it rather enjoyable, if slow and somewhat confusing at times. Still, it all comes together at the end, and the performances are quite good throughout. Genre-wise, it’s marginal, but not bad.

The Long Hair of Death (1964)

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964)
Article #1558 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-20-2005
Posting Date: 11-17-2005
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska

A woman being burnt alive for being a witch and having committed murder (the latter is a false accusation) places a curse on those responsible for her execution.

Antonio Margheriti seems to be better remembered for his early sixties forays into science fiction (ASSIGNMENT OUTER SPACE, BATTLE OF THE WORLDS, etc.), but I’ve always found these movies to be muddled to the point of incomprehensibility. I much prefer his forays into horror, such as this one. The beginning is certainly familiar territory, but for once I found myself caught up in the mechanics of the curse coming to fruition. It involves the fates of the two daughters of the witch (one living, one dead), adultery, an attempted murder with overtones of DIABOLIQUE, some side characters who might harbor political ambitions, a plague, a resurrection from the grave, and an effigy destined to be burned. These aspects all come together in a fairly coherent plot for an Italian horror movie, and it’s also helped by better-than-average dubbing. It doesn’t quite have the kick of CASTLE OF BLOOD or THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG, but I found it quite satisfying.

Li’l Abner (1940)

LI’L ABNER (1940)
Article #1557 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-19-2005
Posting Date: 11-16-2005
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
Featuring Jeff York, Martha O’Driscoll, Mona Ray

Li’l Abner is told that he has only twenty-four hours to live, and ends up proposing to both Daisy Mae and Wendy Wildcat in order to make them happy under the belief that he will be dead before the wedding. When he survives, the two women fight over him.

Fantastic aspects: Li’l Abner has super strength. For that matter, so do Earthquake McGoon and Mammy Yokum.

I remember this comic strip running in my Sunday papers when I was a kid, though it was gone before I was really old enough to appreciate the satirical edge I’m told it had. Still, I do remember the looks of the characters, and if there’s anything that this slapsticky version of the comic strip does well, it captures their looks. Outside of that, it’s pretty silly, but fitfully amusing. It’s mostly memorable for the presence of Buster Keaton as Lonesome Polecat, though that doesn’t mean that his talents weren’t wasted here. The movie also features Edgar Kennedy as Cornelius Cornpone.

The Last War (1961)

THE LAST WAR (1961)
(a.k.a. SEKAI DAISENSO)
Article #1556 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-18-2005
Posting Date: 11-15-2005
Directed by Shuei Matsubayashi
Featuring Frankie Sekai, Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi

A Japanese family tries to continue to live their normal lives with the impending threat of nuclear war.

My copy of this movie (in Japanese and subtitled) opens with the trailer for the movie, and the trailer would have you believe that the movie is a non-stop barrage of special effects. If it were, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is. Instead, this movie focuses for the most part on the travails of a single family. The father is unable to fathom the possibility of nuclear war and assumes that all will work itself out, the mother is suffering from an unspecified illness but still takes her full role in the family, and the daughter is hoping to marry the man she loves, even if her father disapproves; there are also two young children. We get to know this family fairly well. Interspersed between these scenes of the family are scenes of the events surrounding a coming nuclear war, and two of these events involve touch-and-go situations (one involving faulty machinery, the other involving an avalanche) both of which almost result in the onset of nuclear holocaust which is only averted at the last second. If there is anything these scenes accomplish, it is that they do not leave you feeling comfortable with the idea that no war will occur and that cooler heads will prevail, two of the father’s beliefs. Still, during the panics near the end of the movie, the father makes a comment that is very telling when he refuses to evacuate himself from Tokyo with the comment that there is no place for ninety million people to hide. The movie ends up being very effective in that it allows you to get close enough to the characters that you care about them and their fates, and that is the strength of this movie. It has its problems; in particular some of the acting by non-Orientals is variable. Still, this is a worthy addition to the nuclear holocaust movies of the fifties and sixties.