The War Game (1965)

Article 2437 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-3-2007
Posting Date: 4-14-2008
Directed by Peter Watkins
Featuring Michael Aspel, Peter Graham, Kathy Staff

This was not the first of Peter Watkins “documentaries” – that is to say, fictional works shot in a documentary style – but it is his best known work, and it’s the first one that’s genre enough to be covered in this series. I’ve seen two others of his, PUNISHMENT PARK and PRIVILEGE , and though both are good, they feel somewhat contrived and lose some of their power as a result. Not so this one. Here he takes an unflinching look at the preparations for and the aftermath of a nuclear attack on England. It’s utterly convincing, shocking and devastating, while at the same time, it avoids being hysterical or preachy. This was produced for the BBC but not telecast due to its graphic nature (or its refusal to kowtow the somewhat rosier official view of the survivability of nuclear war by the authorities, depending on who you talk to). Nevertheless, it managed to get official theatrical release, and won the Oscar for best documentary (despite not being a real documentary, a circumstance which caused the Academy to change its rules regarding documentaries). It doesn’t just dwell on the physical aspects of such an attack, but on the psychological and social ones as well, and this extra level gives the movie its power. Though it doesn’t preach, the message comes through loud and clear; there will be very little we can do afterwards, so our best hope is to prevent it from ever coming about. Still, even there one is left in doubt, as the movie recognizes that human nature is what it is. This is one you won’t soon forget.



King of the Royal Mounted (1940)

Article 2436 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-1-2007
Posting Date: 4-13-2008
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Allan Lane, Robert Strange, Robert Kellard

Nazi spies are after Compound X, a substance that cures infantile paralysis, but, when combined with the right elements, can produce magnetic torpedo bombs that can be used against the English navy. However, they fail to contend with the skill and dedication of Sergeant Dave King of the Mounties.

This serial is sometimes called ZANE GREY’S KING OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED, but I don’t find western writer Zane Grey listed under the writers on IMDB for an original source work. I suspect the story here largely sprung from the imagination of the serial writers, especially the whole Gizmo Maguffin concept of Compound X. It’s a pre-war serial, though Nazis are the bad guys. At first, I was surprised that the fight scenes weren’t quite the warehouse-busters of Republic’s finest serials, but this one may predate those types of fight scenes; they’re well staged, and this is actually a fairly strong serial. At least there isn’t much in the way of bailing out as a cliffhanger resolution, but there’s a reason for that; horses are the primary means of transportation here, and there simply aren’t good scenarios for bailing out of a horse.


Star Odyssey (1979)

aka Sette uomini d’oro nello spazio
Article 2435 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-28-2007
Posting Date: 4-12-2008
Directed by Alfonso Brescia
Featuring Yanti Somer, Gianni Garko, Malisa Longo

Aliens from outer space purchase Earth in an auction and proceed to invade. A super-smart human gathers together a group of people and robots to do battle with them.

I now present “Dave’s Tips on How to Make a Better Movie”.

1) If you’re marketing a cheap Italian space opera modeled after STAR WARS , I suppose it’s inevitable that you will choose a title that conjures up the original from which it was derived. If, however, you come up with a title that also elicits thoughts of another science fiction movie with a high reputation (such as, say, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY), then you’re just asking people to make comparisons that you really don’t want them to make.

2) Note to editors: unless you’re really trying to be arty, you should put your movie together to make some sort of linear and coherent sense. If you place the auction scene where the planet is bought after the opening invasion scenes, you will only confuse the viewer, unless you indicate in some ways that it is a flashback.

3) Having three characters with special hypnotic abilities and glowing eyes is at least two too many.

4) The bad guy having an army of androids at his disposal = good idea. Having the androids all look like Prince Valiant = bad idea.

5) If your soundtrack sounds like your ten-year old nephew playing one of those keyboard instruments you can buy at Target while somebody stomps on the floor with heavy boots in the background, you will not achieve the operatic grandeur you need to make this space epic fly.

6) A cute robot couple for whimsy = good idea. Having them talk endlessly about why they were trying to commit suicide = bad idea.

7) If you’re having a boxing scene between a gymnast and a robot, it is a not a good idea to have the referee the one that gets hit the most.

8) Remember, when people are laughing while watching your movie, and it isn’t a comedy, it’s not a good sign.

I’d go on, but why bother? All you need to know is that this is the cheesiest, most incompetent ripoff of STAR WARS that I’ve seen to date, and that’s no mean feat. Giving advice now is like going up to a train wreck and telling the dead engineer that he should have kept the train on the tracks.


The Spy in the Green Hat (1966)

Article 2434 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-27-2007
Posting Date: 4-11-2008
Directed by Joseph Sargent
Featuring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Jack Palance

Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin discover that THRUSH has made contact with a Nazi scientist who has plans to take over the world by diverting the Gulf stream.

This is another of those movies cobbled together by combining two episodes of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” TV series, and, of the ones I’ve seen so far, it’s the best. It’s certainly the most comic one; it’s one of those where the subplot (Solo is caught in a compromising situation with an Sicilian girl and finds himself being set up for a shotgun wedding by her gangster uncles) almost takes over the movie. This gives the show the opportunity to take on the gangster genre as well as the spy genre, and among the gangsters and their friends we find some great actors, such as Eduardo Ciannelli, Allen Jenkins, Jack La Rue, Joan Blondell (as one of the gangster’s wives, who gets the same thing Mae Clarke got in THE PUBLIC ENEMY), Vincent Beck, Elisha Cook Jr., and Maxie Rosenbloom. On the spy side of the story, we have Jack Palance as THRUSH agent Louis Strago; though Palance could have played it straight with his usual brooding menace, he instead chooses to make his character a repressed Nervous Nellie type. There’s also Janet Leigh, who (in what may be a PSYCHO reference) plays a murderess with knife killings her gleeful specialty. It was quite surprising to see Will Kuluva as the top-ranking THRUSH agent of the title; the last time I saw him was in TO TRAP A SPY , where he played the head of UNCLE before he was replaced by Leo G. Carroll, the man who plays here that sentimental old grandmother Mr. Waverly. I think I see references to serials and westerns as well in this one; the latter occurred to me when the gangsters have a showdown with a patrol boat that is circling their craft, a concept that reminded me of the old cliche of Indians circling covered wagons. The plot is pretty goofy, but a lot of fun. Incidentally, this was edited from the two parts of the series known as “The Concrete Overcoat Affair”.


Shivering Sherlocks (1948)

Article 2433 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-26-2007
Posting Date: 4-10-2008
Directed by Del Lord
Featuring Shemp Howard, Larry Fine, Moe Howard

The Three Stooges are mistaken for robbers in an armed robbery, but they’re only witnesses. They work at a restaurant for a while. Then they stumble upon a haunted house where the real robbers live, and the robbers send out a maniacal murderer to kill them.

From what I gather, goodly portions of this short consist of routines that had previously been done with Curly. As a result, this is not considered one of their best, but their timing is good in it, and I liked it better than some of the others I’ve seen. Still, it’s the ending that makes this, as they encounter Duke York as an ugly hunch-backed killer who chases them with what looks like a machete; it’s this last sequence that adds the horror content to the story (and I use that last word loosely here).


Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)

Article 2432 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-25-2007
Posting Date: 4-9-2008
Directed by Roy William Neill
Featuring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey

Sherlock Holmes investigates murders of the Musgrave family at Hurlstone manor. The murders appear to be tied to a nonsensical document family members are required to memorize known as the Musgrave Ritual. Holmes begins to suspect that the ritual is not nonsense at all…

With this movie, I complete my coverage of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies of the thirties and forties. The majority of these movies have some fantastic content to them; apparently, enough of them do so that at least one source for my lists felt compelled to include even those that don’t have any, such as PURSUIT TO ALGIERS . This one has a spooky old house with secret passages and talk of ghosts. Nevertheless, the fantastic elements seem tacked on in this movie; the ghost talk never comes to anything, and, despite the dread hints about the Musgrave family in the opening scene, I found little horrific about them as such. The story is very loosely based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, “The Musgrave Ritual”; it takes a few plot elements and characters from the story, jettisons the rest, changes the ritual, and layers on a subplot about Hurlstone manor being used as a home for convalescent soldiers (thus putting a wartime spin on the story). The latter element is a bit of a smokescreen; though the movie hints that one of them may be the murderer, a quick consideration of the time the movie was made and the attitude of the movie industry towards the war effort, you can safely bet that none of the soldiers are guilty (I’m only surprised that the villain didn’t turn out to be a Nazi spy). All in all, this one is fairly good, with some fun dialogue, an interesting story, some great moments (I love the scene involving the raven and the rumble seat), and a sense of class; as always, I’m impressed with how the ending speech in the movie manages to subtly but effectively put out its propagandistic message.


Pyro (1964)

PYRO (1964)
Article 2431 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2007
Posting Date: 4-8-2008
Directed by Julio Coll and Luis Garcia
Featuring Barry Sullivan, Martha Hyer, Sherry Moreland

A married American engineer in Spain falls for another woman. When he tries to break off the affair, his lover, thinking she can win him back if his wife and child are dead, sets fire to his home after he leaves for a meeting. He returns unexpectedly, and is horribly burned in the attempt to save his family. He swears revenge on the woman who killed them…

This movie was produced and cowritten by Sidney Pink, who also gave us ANGRY RED PLANET, REPTILICUS and JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET. Though his presence is hardly a guarantee of quality, I find something likable and interesting about his work. This is perhaps his best movie, and I suspect that he was somewhat influenced by Hitchcock here. The story itself is fairly obvious and straightforward, but there’s an attention to detail and a number of odd touches that held my attention and interest, and this was especially crucial during the first half of the movie, which is largely setting up the events that lead to the fire. My favorite touches include he engineer’s obsession with Ferris Wheels, and the scene where he describes his neighbors in the apartment building where he lives. Barry Sullivan and Martha Hyer give solid and effective performances. The movie has a bit of a split personality; the opening credits feature happy, jolly carnival music, but the credits are displayed in that overly-scary K. Gordon Murray Mexican Movie Font, and at one point during my viewing, my wife, who had overheard parts of the first half of the movie and then had taken a shower during the middle section with the fire, came back in and found the mood so changed that she thought I was now watching a different movie. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and I quite liked it.


The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967)

Article 2430 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-23-2007
Posting Date: 4-7-2008
Directed by Jeremy Summers
Featuring Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Tsai Chin

Fu Manchu attempts to become the head of a super crime syndicate and engineers a plan to do away with his foe, Nayland Smith, at the same time.

This isn’t really a bad Fu Manchu movie; the plot is straightforward and easy to follow, and the basic story is interesting (even if certain plot elements don’t stand up to close scrutiny). Yet, it made me realize just how much the whole sixties Fu Manchu series disappointed me. I’m glad they made the attempt, but as a whole, I found the movies to be rather glum and just not much fun. The character of Fu Manchu seems detached in these movies, and neither the scripts nor Christopher Lee’s performance do much to alleviate this problem. The most imposing thing about Lee’s Fu Manchu is his height, and that simply isn’t enough to bring the movies to life. The heroes are little better; Nayland Smith never comes alive as a character in any of the movies I’ve seen, and I just don’t think he’s supposed to be this dull. At their best, the movies seem competent but uninspired, as if everyone was working for the paycheck but little else. I think there was some potential for this series that never got realized.


Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Article 2429 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-21-2007
Posting Date: 4-6-2008
Directed by Sam Wanamaker
Featuring Patrick Wayne, Taryn Power, Margaret Whiting

Sinbad helps a prince who has been changed into a baboon to seek out an alchemist/sorcerer to help return him to his original form. However, an evil sorceress is trying to prevent this from happening.

This was the third of Ray Harryhausen’s Sinbad movies, and it is easily the least. This is not to say that the movie is devoid of good points; many of Harryhausen’s creations here are not merely monsters for our heroes to dispense with, but characters who interact in many different ways with the human characters; the Baboon and the Troglodyte are the most striking examples here. There’s also touches I really like, such as what happens to Zenobia when she doesn’t have quite enough potion to return to her human form. But the movie’s problems are rather noticeable; the story seems to have fewer and shorter action sequences than the other movies in the series, and it is significantly longer. Furthermore, the non-stop-motion special effects are fairly weak and rather cheesy; I’m especially disappointed at Zenobia’s transformation into a bird. The end result is that the sense of wonder that is so prominent in the other Harryhausen movies is rather muted here, and despite the character touches, none of Harryhausen’s creations here rank with his most memorable. The battle between the Troglodyte and the Tiger is the high point here; it’s at this moment when the movie comes closest to recapturing the magic of his other movies.


Seven Keys to Baldpate (1947)

Article 2428 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2007
Posting Date: 4-5-2008
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Phillip Terry, Jacqueline White, Eduardo Ciannelli

A writer visits the Baldpate Inn in the hopes of winning a bet that he can write a novel in 24 hours while staying there. However, he discovers that he is not the only one with a key to Baldpate Inn…

Here we are, yet again, with another version of the Earl Derr Biggers novel as translated through the George M. Cohan play. The fantastic content is the same as the others; slight “old dark house” touches and a hermit pretending to be a ghost, though the latter gimmick is barely used. This version takes itself more seriously and slows down the plot points so that the movie is more comprehensible. And therein lies the movie’s problem – by removing the bewildering rush of events that is present in the other movies, the movie loses its comic edge and one can feel the energy slowly but surely being sapped away. Yes, you can understand the story more, but it wasn’t meant to be understood; part of the charm of it all was that the story was too far-fetched to be taken seriously. A few entertaining cast members (Eduardo Ciannelli and Arthur Shields in particular) help a little, but this version falls flat. This would be the last movie version of the story for almost four decades; it would be revived as HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS in 1983.