Maidenquest (1971)

MAIDENQUEST (1971)
aka THE LONG SWIFT SWORD OF SIEGFRIED,
SIEGFRIED UND DAS SAGENHAFTE LIEBESLEDEN DER NIBELUNGEN
Article 2162 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-15-2007
Posting Date: 7-14-2007
Directed by David F. Friedman and Adrian Hoven
Featuring Raimund Harmstorf, Sybil Danning, Heidy Bohlen

In order to win the favors of Kriemhild, Siegfried must use his incredible endurance to help King Gunther win the hand of Brunhild.

In this series so far, they did it for the Grimm Brothers (GRIMM’S FAIRY TALES FOR ADULTS) and Hansel and Gretel (THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF HANSEL AND GRETEL). Heck, why not have a softcore skin flick of the great Nordic saga of Siegfried? Actually, as these things go, this makes a little bit more sense; unlike the other two movies, this one doesn’t need huge changes to the story to adapt it to this approach. As a result, this movie pretty much follows the standard story of Siegfried as I know it (except that there’s an orgy every ten minutes or so). There are a few differences; Siegfried never had a Sancho Panza-like sidekick before, for one. They also omit the beginning of the story where Siegfried takes on the dragon, but given the usual action Siegfried performs with his long, swift sword, maybe the movie’s just being merciful. Still, you can only follow the Siegfried saga up to a point before you hit the moment where this sort of approach is no longer a good fit; after all, the whole second half of the story involves Kriemhild’s revenge at Siegfried’s death, and the main question to me was where this movie would go when the time came to kill off the main character. They reach this point at the end of the movie, and I’m not surprised they handled it the way they did. This movie features an early performance by Sybil Danning as Kriemhild.

 

Sky Bandits (1940)

SKY BANDITS (1940)
Article 2161 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-14-2007
Posting Date: 7-13-2007
Directed by Ralph Staub
Featuring James Newill, Louise Stanley, Dave O’Brien

A scientist helps a gang of crooks build and use a ray machine that downs airplanes under the mistaken notion he’s working for the government. Fortunately, Sergeant Renfrew of the mounted police is on the case!

No, the plot of this one is nothing to write home about; I’ve seen several b-movies about death rays downing airplanes already. Still, I have to admit that this one is done with enough goofy aplomb that it manages to hold my interest for the whole 55 minute running time. It’s got a singing mountie, an airsick mountie, a deaf mountie-wannabe innkeeper, a comedic radio personality whose colorful fables actually send secret messages to the villains, and Dwight Frye stroking a rabbit. What really sells the movie for me is that the sense of humor is actually a plus; there’s a number of good laughs here, thanks especially to James Newill, Dave O’Brien, and Jack Clifford. It’s energetic, efficient and fun, and this goes a long way to make up for the by-the-numbers storyline. It’s a loose remake of GHOST PATROL, and the last of the “Renfrew of the Royal Mounted” series at Criterion.

 

Ghosts of Hanley House (1968)

GHOSTS OF HANLEY HOUSE (1968)
Article 2160 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-13-2007
Posting Date: 7-12-2007
Directed by Louise Sherrill
Featuring Elsie Baker, Barbara Chase, Wilkie de Martel

A group of people stay the night in an old house that is reputed to be haunted. It is.

There are some things I quite like about this movie. I like the non-Hollywood ambiance of the location footage of the town; it looks like the sort of small-to-medium size towns I’m familiar with. I also think the movie does some interesting things with sound. There are even moments where it recalls NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but they’re just moments. Unfortunately, the movie has a lot of problems; both the direction and acting are abysmal, the lighting and sound are inconsistent, and it has the pace of a drugged sloth. As a result, the movie causes you to drift off in your easy chair rather than pulling you to the edge of your seat; even a bloody flashback sequence does nothing to liven the proceedings. It’s a shame; a better production might have brought out some of the nicer touches and made the movie more interesting. As it is, it’s a snoozefest.

 

Fantasmi a Roma (1961)

FANTASMI A ROMA (1961)
Article 2159 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-12-2007
Posting Date: 7-11-2007
Directed by Antonio Pietrangeli
Featuring Marcello Mastroianni, Belinda Lee, Sandra Milo

When a prince dies from a freak water heater accident, his nephew plans to sell his palace to real estate speculators. However, the ghosts that inhabit the palace plot to prevent the sale from happening.

I had to check several sources to figure out the plot of this one; my copy is in Italian without subtitles. As a result, I can’t say just how amusing this comedy is, but I didn’t find it a waste of time. It’s visually creative and well acted, some of the sight gags are quite amusing, and it has a lightness of touch very reminiscent of Rene Clair. I also have to give special credit to Marcello Mastroianni who plays three roles here; I knew he was playing one of the ghosts, but was unaware that he was playing two other roles as well; the movie is also devoid of the sort of give-away moments when movies have an actor in several roles. All in all, it struck me as quite charming, and I hope someday to see a subtitled version.

 

Gift of Gab (1934)

GIFT OF GAB (1934)
Article 2158 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-11-2007
Posting Date: 7-10-2007
Directed by Karl Freund
Featuring Edmund Lowe, Gloria Stuart, Ruth Etting

This movie recounts the tale of the rise, fall and redemption of a con man turned radio announcer.

What this movie seems to be most famous for is for being an early pairing of Karloff and Lugosi. Maybe someday somebody will add this scene as an extra to some Lugosi or Karloff collection somewhere; this could sate the curiosity of fans of either star without necessitating their having watch any more than two minutes of the movie. It’s basically a musical/comedy with decent music but bad comedy; unfortunately, it’s one of the latter scenes (a woeful murder mystery parody that bears only the slightest whiff of horror, but serves as the only qualification for the movie for this series) that features our horror stars. Edmund Lowe is well cast as the fast-talking Phillip Gabney, but when the story isn’t cliche-ridden, it’s muddled. The primary interest here is star-spotting; Alexander Woollcott appears as himself, Andy Devine pops up as a waiter, Sterling Hollaway is a sound effects man, Billy Barty is a baby, etc. etc. Curiosity value aside, this one is largely a waste of time.

 

The Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943)

THE MYSTERY OF THE 13TH GUEST (1943)
Article 2157 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-10-2007
Posting Date: 7-9-2007
Directed by William Beaudine
Featuring Dick Purcell, Helen Parrish, Tim Ryan

When a woman is murdered on her return to a deserted mansion to read the will of a man who died thirteen years ago, the police try to discover who the murderer is. They believe it was someone who was at a party thirteen years ago, in which one unknown guest was missing.

This is a second movie version of the novel “The 13th Guest” by Armitage Trail. Though neither of the two versions are particularly good, the earlier one had the novelty value of featuring early roles of both Ginger Roger and James Gleason, both of which would go on to distinguished film careers. This one lacks that novelty value, but it has efficient direction from William Beaudine and the comic relief manages to keep on the right side of annoying. Standard old dark house thrills are to be found here, with a deserted house which manages to still have its lights and phone working, a devilish murder method, and a masked villain. It’s an adequate time-killer.

 

Lost Planet Airmen (1951)

LOST PLANET AIRMEN (1951)
Feature Version of KING OF THE ROCKET MEN
Article 2156 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-9-2007
Posting Date: 7-8-2007
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Tristram Coffin, Mae Clarke, Don Haggerty

Rocket man Jeff King tries to defeat a saboteur known as Dr. Vulcan.

By their very nature, feature versions of serials will always be problematic, but I think a real distinction can be made between those made for television distribution in the mid sixties and those made in other eras. The ones from the sixties tended to try to fit all the action of the serial into one feature, and usually ended up with energetic but dull confusion. The best thing about this one is that it makes no attempt to include all the action; it picks and chooses which parts of the story to include, and the result is a somewhat better example of the form. This is, of course, culled from the first of the Rocket Man serials (“Rocket Man” is generally remembered as “Commando Cody”, though he only appeared with that moniker in one of the serials). I’ve never seen that serial, but based on this feature version, I suspect it may be the best of the Rocket Man serials, though it still looks like it was made in Republic’s waning years. Hero Tristram Coffin certainly has a familiar face, and I’ve seen him in several other serials, though usually as a villain.

 

Attack of the Monsters (1969)

ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (1969)
aka GAMERA VS. GUIRON, GAMERA TAI DAIAKUJU GIRON
Article 2155 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-8-2007
Posting Date: 7-7-2007
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Featuring Nobuhiro Kajima, Miyuki Akiyama, Christopher Murphy

Two boys discover a flying saucer which takes them to a planet on the other side of the sun from the earth. The only two residents left are female aliens who plan to eat the boys’ brains. They also control a giant monster named Guiron with a head like a knife. Fortunately, Gamera is a friend to all children, and comes to the rescue of the boys.

Most of Gamera’s foes during his run of sixties movies were fairly silly, but this one goes off the goofy meter; Guiron’s head is a giant knife which he uses to slice and dice his victims. I’ve seen both of the two dubbed versions of this movie; the American International version (which goes under the title ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS) and the Sandy Frank version (called GAMERA VS. GUIRON). As usual, the AIP version has the superior dubbing, but is missing footage that can be found in the Sandy Frank version. Unfortunately, the AIP verion omits the most hilariously memorable scene of the film, in which Guiron totally dismembers a space Gaos by cutting off his wings, decapitating him, and then cutting him into slabs (did you know that the insides of giant monsters are solid masses without recognizable organs?). Sure, it sounds pretty extreme, but it’s more goofy than gory. Then there are the space women in gray tights who tempt the boys with drugged donuts, and shave one boy’s head in preparation for a meal the Brainiac would appreciate. Gamera races flying saucers, performs a gymnastic feat, dances go-go, and practices his welding skills. Yes, it’s all pretty cheesy, but I dote on Guiron, and who wouldn’t want to live in a world without wars or traffic accidents?

 

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)
Article 2154 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-7-2007
Posting Date: 7-6-2007
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones

Dr. Frankenstein kidnaps an associate who has been committed to an insane asylum in the hopes of curing his madness and discovering a secret he had involving brain transplants.

I first encountered this movie when I was much younger. It popped up on a late night movie show, but I got bored with it quickly because it didn’t appear to have anything in the way of a real monster to it. I held a fairly low opinion of it for many years, and was quite surprised to learn that the movie was considered by many to be one of the best of the Hammer Frankenstein cycle. I looked forward to seeing it again, now that I was older and could appreciate other aspects of a horror movie than the mere existence of a monster.

Having seen it again, I find myself more agreeing with the assessment than not. Dr. Frankenstein has certainly never been more evil than he is here. Unfortunately, I think he’s a bit too evil; his rape of Veronica Carlson’s character seems out of character for him, Frankenstein may be evil, but not in that way. That and the fact that I don’t care much for the comic relief police inspector are my main problems with this one. Nonetheless, Cushing gives an excellent performance, and he’s never more fascinating than when circumstances force him to act quickly, especially in the scene where the wife of the kidnapped scientist visits his dwelling place, and he is forced to allay her suspicions (I find it interesting that Dr. Frankenstein himself, like Cushing, is a consummate actor). Still, my favorite performance in the movie is from Freddie Jones, who is deeply affecting as the man who has his brain replaced with that of the scientist; the scenes where he tries to explain to his wife that he is indeed her husband even though he’s in a different body are especially well done. The movie also has one of the best showdowns between Frankenstein and his creation that I’ve seen. I don’t know if it’s the best of the series, but it’s certainly the best one since REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and well worth a watch.

 

She Freak (1967)

SHE FREAK (1967)
Article 2153 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-6-2007
Posting Date: 7-5-2007
Directed by Byron Mabe
Featuring Claire Brennen, Lee Raymond, Lynn Courtney

A waitress in a small town tries to escape her dreary life by joining the carnival. She romances the owner of the freak show while seeing the ferris wheel operator on the side.

FREAKS was such a daring and controversial film that it was years before other movies would start ripping it off. I think this may be the first one. It takes an entirely different approach than the Browning movie, though; it concentrates entirely on the woman in what amounts to the Olga Baclanova role. Unfortunately, this means that the freaks are never developed as characters; as a matter of fact, except for midget named Shorty, we never see any of the freaks until the last five minutes of the movie. As a matter of fact, we don’t see much of anything until the last five minutes of the movie; if the filmmakers hadn’t loaded their eighty minutes of movie with so much incidental carnival footage, maybe they wouldn’t have had to squeeze fifteen of their twenty minutes of plot into the last five minutes of the movie. On the other hand, maybe that’s a good thing; it spares from having to see most of the cast trying to act. And there’s actually something rather interesting about seeing all these scenes of carnivals being built and taken down; it gives a little slice-of-life feeling to the affair. Still, it’s as slow as molasses and rather tiresome. The most interesting thing about it is the first appearance of screen villain Bill McKinney, most famous for playing one of the mountain men in DELIVERANCE. Ironically, given her character in this movie, Claire Brennen actually had a long-term affair with midget Felix Silla.