The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967)

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.

 

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Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

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)

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.

 

Terror in the Wax Museum (1973)

TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1973)
Article 2427 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2007
Posting Date: 4-4-2008
Directed by Georg Fenady
Featuring Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, Maurice Evans

The curator of a wax museum is murdered, and the primary suspect is… the wax figure of Jack the Ripper. Does the figure come to life? Or is there some other explanation…

It’s nice to see an old-fashioned horror-mystery full of familiar old-timers. The cast features Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, Maurice Evans, John Carradine, Louis Hayward, Patric Knowles, and Broderick Crawford, all of whom have noteworthy credits in the annals of fantastic cinema. It’s a pity the movie is bore; the horror is tepid and the mystery isn’t much better, and the only real pleasure is seeing the familiar faces. Director Georg Fenady would go on to direct ARNOLD, a better movie with a sense of humor and something of a cult following, and which would also feature a wealth of familiar faces, but then he would return exclusively to TV and TV-Movie work. Somehow, this is no surprise; this movie felt more like a TV-Movie than a theatrical release.

 

The Iron Claw (1941)

THE IRON CLAW (1941)
Article 2426 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2007
Posting Date: 4-3-2008
Directed by James V. Horne
Featuring Charles Quigley, Joyce Bryant, Forrest Taylor

A treasure from an old Spanish galleon is the goal of various members of the Benson family as well as a gang of thieves. One of these people doubles as a caped and masked villain (with an iron claw for a hand) called The Iron Claw. Who is it? Two reporters and a comic-relief cop try to find out.

The opening scenes of this mystery serial are so confusing that it really started off on the wrong foot for me, and, in general, I don’t care much for mystery serials, as I don’t think the form really lends itself to mysteries very well. After a while, though, this one began to win me over, largely thanks to the fact that it takes a somewhat campy, over-the-top approach to its thrills, and I found this a relief from most of the other serials I’ve seen recently, most of which have been latter-day Republic serials (after they abandoned the warehouse-wrecking fights and settled for blandness). The Iron Claw himself represents the horror content here; he’s your typical masked villain with a gimmick. The heroine screams a lot, the reporter’s photographer buddy Flash gets beat up a lot, and I’ll never understand why the police department chooses to send out its comic relief cops to solve these cases. At least they keep the bail-out cliffhanger resolutions to a minimum.

 

To Trap a Spy (1964)

TO TRAP A SPY (1964)
Article 2425 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2007
Posting Date: 4-2-2008
Directed by Don Medford
Featuring Robert Vaughn, Luciana Paluzzi, Pat Crowley

Napoleon Solo investigates the partial report of a now-deceased agent who indicated that an assassination would take place when several representatives from the newly-formed government of an African nation tour a plant.

This is one of the classiest of the movies derived from the TV series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”. I also found it one of the most interesting, as it was expanded from the pilot episode of the series (“The Vulcan Affair”), and it gave me a chance to see how the series was originally conceived. It’s the most overtly Bondian of the series, with a lot of footage dealing with Solo’s flirtation with various beautiful women. It also answered a question I’ve long had about the series – why it was called “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” rather than “The Men from U.N.C.L.E.” Here, Napoleon Solo largely works alone; David McCallum’s appearances as Illya Kuryakin are minimal and confined to the opening half hour of the movie. The villain is a group called WASP (not THRUSH), and Leo G. Carroll’s Mr. Waverly does not exist; instead, a Mr. Allison (played by Will Kuluva) is the head of U.N.C.L.E. As usual with this type of genre, the fantastic content is marginal, confined to the slight science fiction elements having to do with the technology that is used by the spies and villains.

 

The Touch of Satan (1971)

THE TOUCH OF SATAN (1971)
Article 2424 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-15-2007
Posting Date: 4-1-2008
Directed by Don Henderson
Featuring Michael Berry, Emby Mellay, Lee Amber

A wandering young man encounters a beautiful woman in the country. He doesn’t know that she is a witch, and that the ancient woman who lives with her is a) her sister, and b) a homicidal maniac.

This movie has occasional interesting visual and story touches, and it could have made for a decent thriller. Unfortunately, the script is pretty weak with several awful lines of dialogue, and the turgid pace and poor acting turn the movie into a dreary, dismal experience. The cast is mostly made up of unknowns who would remain that way, but the director (here working under the nom de plume of Don Henderson) would go on to a certain degree of fame as the star and director of the “Billy Jack” movies.

**NOTE** The Tom Laughlin mention is in error; the movie was actually directed by someone named Don Henderson and not Laughlin at all.