The Gypsy Moon (1956)

THE GYPSY MOON (1956)
aka Rocky’s Odyssey
Article 1890 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-18-2006
Posting Date: 10-15-2006
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett, Sally Mansfield

Rocky Jones encounter a pair of wandering moons which share the same atmosphere, Posita and Negata. He is taken prisoner on Posita, where an attempt is made by the ruler to force him to destroy the moon of Negata, which is inhabited by siren-like creatures.

For the second day in a row we are being mooned by Rocky Jones. Actually, it’s possible to watch five of these Rocky Jones movies with moon in the title; besides this one and THE FORBIDDEN MOON , we also have THE MAGNETIC MOON, BEYOND THE MOON and CRASH OF MOONS . Fans of the latter story may find this one interesting, as it introduces the moon of Posita and the character of Bovaro, played by John Banner of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame. This is one of the strangest of the Rocky Jones series; it is consciously modeled off of Homer’s “The Odyssey” (though, in truth, the Trojan horse story which comes into play at one point does not appear in that work). The sequence on Negata is particularly surreal, and once again I admire the special effects work that went into this series; it wasn’t necessarily convincing, but it was interesting to look at. It’s also one of the more exciting episodes, though it is also quite confusing at times. Oddly enough, this is the first movie I’ve covered that does not have a listing on IMDB, and I thought it would turn out to be that this was one of those Rocky Jones episodes that wasn’t converted to movie form. Having seen it, though, I can say otherwise; the original Rocky Jones episodes for this one were titled “Rocky’s Odyssey”.

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The Forbidden Moon (1956)

THE FORBIDDEN MOON (1956)
Article 1889 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-17-2006
Posting Date: 10-14-2006
Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
Featuring Richard Crane, Vic Perrin, Dian Fauntelle

When a vague but urgent SOS arrives from a space station, Rocky Jones is sent to investigate. He discovers that the station is loaded with a deadly radiation brought on board by an evil ruler who, having developed an immunity to the radiation, now plans to use his power to conquer the universe.

Yes, it’s another Rocky Jones adventure, and, as always, I find myself more entertained than I though I would be. Maybe there’s something about the earnestness of Richard Crane’s performance that goes a long ways towards selling these stories to me; he manages to avoid campiness so deftly that it almost makes you forget how absurd the plot is this time around. I’m no scientist, but I have a strong suspicion that anyone with a good working knowledge of radiation would have conniption fits from this one, and even I find the last part of the story (in which Rocky and Professor Newton concoct a method of letting people know they’re stranded on a radioactive moon) to be utter balderdash. The usual gang is here; Rocky, Vena, Professor Newton, Bobby and Winky, but the real scene-stealer in this one is Queen Yarra’s huge earrings; you could suffer a concussion if she turned suddenly while you were standing next to her.

Somehow, I have a feeling that I haven’t seen the last of Rocky Jones…

Fantomas (1932)

FANTOMAS (1932)
Article 1888 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-16-2006
Posting Date: 10-13-2006
Directed by Pal Fejos
Featuring Thomy Bourdelle, Tania Fedor, Jean Worms

Inspector Juve tries to catch the master criminal Fantomas.

You know, it’s always a bit jarring to sit down to a foreign movie that you expect will be either dubbed or subtitled only to find out it’s neither. Granted, I shouldn’t have been surprised; my other encounter with Fantomas was through a silent French serial which also hadn’t been translated into English. Still, French title cards are somewhat easier to manage than hearing it spoken in French; the French language uses many of the same words as the English language, so it’s possible to get the gist by reading, but they pronounce the words so differently that, if you don’t know French, it’s almost impenetrable on a verbal level. As usual in such cases, I am rather vague about the plot. Still, this one is a little easier to follow than some other foreign language movies I’ve tried.

The fantastic elements mostly come into play during the first third of the movie; this part is your basic “Old Dark House” story, with murders, secret passages, masked killers, etc. The second segment concerns a robbery/murder that takes place in a hotel suite, and the third segment takes place at a race track. It ends with a final confrontation between Juve and Fantomas, and anyone familiar with the characters will know not to be to sure who will end up victorious. Though it’s slower and talkier (obviously) than the silent version, there are some good visual moments; my favorite is in the second segment where you discover where Fantomas has concealed himself in the apartment after committing his crime. Still, at heart, I didn’t find this version near as much fun as the silent serial. Fantomas would be revived during the sixties for a series of movies.

The Avenger (1960)

THE AVENGER (1960)
aka Der Racher
Article 1887 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-15-2006
Posting Date: 10-12-2006
Directed by Karl Anton
Featuring Heinz Drache, Ingrid van Bergen, Benno Sterzenbach

A man known as the Benefactor has been decapitating people and leaving their heads in packages. An investigator follows the few leads he has to try and track down the identity of the killer.

The Edgar Wallace movies made in a Germany during the early sixties are a bit of mixed bag. I like the story in this one, and there are a number of interesting characters, including a womanizer with a sword collection, a mute and rather monstrous manservant, and a petulant and ambitious script reader. The story itself is quite interesting, and it has some nice atmosphere on occasion. However, the dubbing is a real problem; though the translated script manages to retain an air of wit, the actually sound of the dubbing is dry and lacking in spontanaeity; you are always aware you are watching a dubbed movie, and it tends to distance you from the story. The movie also suffers from poor pacing; despite the interesting story, there are long stretches where nothing important is happening, and the movie feels almost a half-hour too long as a result. Some of the other Edgar Wallace movies from this time feel the same way, and I sometimes wonder if the movie would fare better in subtitled form. Still, there is a sense of dark, morbid fun to the stories, and I suspect that some time in the future, another enterprising movie company will see the appeal of Wallace’s work and make their own series. And, you know, I wouldn’t mind that at all.

Incidentally, the actor credited as Klais Kinski is, or course, Klaus Kinski. Even if they can’t spell the name, you’ll recognize the face.

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)

THE MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR (1943)
Article 1886 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-14-2006
Posting Date: 10-11-2006
Directed by Benjamin Stoloff
Featuring John Loder, Elanor Parker, Bruce Lester

The residents of the town of Morgan’s Head refuse to work the tin mine because it is haunted by a headless ghost who decaptitates its victims. Then, when a doctor on a walking tour arrives in town and vows to visit the mine, the headless ghost strikes again…

I think one of the reasons not many movies are made about headless ghosts is that the special effects are generally unconvincing; in almost every one I’ve seen, the headless ghost is played by someone wearing a headless ghost costume which extends the torso up over the head, but this always makes the arms look like they’re attached far too low on the body and the result is too jarring to be really convincing. Still, it is nice to watch an old-fashioned horror movie again; though it was made at Warners, it really looks like a Universal movie, what with all the swirling fog. The story is a little on the obvious side, though, if you consider the following facts.

1) The movie was made during the war.

2) In order to win the war, the country needs more tin.

3) The tin mine is not being worked because of the headless ghost, a circumstance which must greatly help the Nazis.

Given these facts and a little experience with Scooby-Doo style mysteries, I’ll leave it to you to figure out the likelihood of there being any real supernatural manifestation at work here. And you should be able to figure out one of the final twists in the story if you find it hard to believe that the title character would vanish from the story at the twenty-minute mark, especially if you’ve taken note of the innkeeper’s costume.

Mark of the Gorilla (1950)

MARK OF THE GORILLA (1950)
Article 1885 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-13-2006
Posting Date: 10-10-2006
Directed by William A. Berke
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Trudy Marshall, Suzanne Dalbert

When a messenger is killed by a man-in-a-gorilla-suit, Jungle Jim is confused; this isn’t man-in-a-gorilla-suit country. He visits a nearby scientific expedition and learns that there is a hidden cache of gold somewhere within the game preserve. Jungle Jim begins to suspect that the man-in-a-gorilla-suit is not a real gorilla, but actually a man in a gorilla suit!

Just because I’m finished with the Weissmuller Tarzan movies doesn’t mean that I’m finished with Weissmuller; there are plenty of Jungle Jim movies out there. This one is pretty silly, in case you didn’t guess that from the plot description. Jungle Jim has an odd trio of animal friends here; there’s a monkey (who steals fish), a dog (who steals fish and smokes cigars), and a crow who is far and away the most useful of the three companions; he is constantly flying off with useful items and bringing them to Jungle Jim, or cluing him in on important discoveries. The movie also has a talking bird who kibitzes on a gin rummy game and is actually rather amusing. Still, I am disappointed a little by the ending. If I were writing the story, I wouldn’t have been able to resist having it end by having the main villain in charge of the gang of men-in-gorilla-suits-playing-men-in-gorilla-suits being killed off by a man-in-a-gorilla-suit-playing-a-real-gorilla. Or at least, I would have a man-in-a-gorilla-suit-playing-a-female-gorilla fall in love with one of the men-in-gorilla-suits-playing-men-in-gorilla-suits, though actually, that’s more of something that would happen to Lou Costello. But then, I wouldn’t be able to resist having one of the women encountering Jungle Jim offer to climb all over him, but then, I’ve been dying for someone to make that joke in every movie of the series.

The Man and the Monster (1959)

THE MAN AND THE MONSTER (1959)
aka El Hombre y el monstruo
Article 1884 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-12-2006
Posting Date: 10-9-2006
Directed by Rafael Baledon
Featuring Enrique Rambal, Abel Salazar, Martha Roth

A musician sells his soul to the devil in order to become the greatest pianist in the world. However, there’s a catch; whenever he plays his favorite number, he turns into a murderous monster.

This movie has a great beginning. A woman crashes her car into a tree. She goes out looking for help, and hears piano playing from a nearby house. She knocks on the door of that house, and the playing stops. Suddenly, someone inside the house begins knocking on the door to get out, and a voice begins pleading with the woman to unlock the door. It is then she notices the keys lying outside the house…

I’m not sure if the impact of this scene really registers in the above description, but it is one of those beginnings that really piqued my curiosity and caught my attention, and any movie that can do that in the first couple of minutes is on the right track. I consider this one of the best of the Mexican horror movies; it has some surprising revelations, an interesting story, and a real sense of mood. It does have its problems, however; the dubbing does work to its disadvantage, and the monster makeup is (with its Cro-Magnon nose, its Groucho Marx eyebrows, its badly set teeth, and its protruding tongue) more likely to induce guffaws than chills. Still, look past these problems, and you have an effective little chiller. Abel Salazar (THE BRAINIAC ) produced the movie and appears as its hero; for some reason, I find the horror movies that he’s connected with to be some of the more interesting ones from Mexico, though not always the best; after all, he also gave us THE LIVING HEAD .