Los platillos voladores (1956)

LOS PLATILLOS VOLADORES (1956)
Article 2620 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-7-2008
Posting Date: 10-15-2008
Directed by Julian Soler
Featuring Adalberto Martinez, Evangelina Elizondo, Amalia Aguilar
Country: Mexico

A man hopes to gain enough money to marry his fiancee by installing an airplane engine in his car and using it to win a race. However, the car becomes airborne and crashes near a small town. The residents think the car was a flying saucer and the inhabitants Martians. Hilarity ensues (I think).

I got this plot description from “The Motion Picture Guide”; since my copy of this Mexican science fiction musical comedy is in unsubtitled Spanish, I found it very difficult to follow. Some of the humor is fairly clear; there’s a lot of mugging, for example, and, quite frankly, I haven’t seen this much eyebrow bobbing since my last Groucho Marx movie. There’s also a subplot about a tall lanky girl getting the hots for the man mistaken for a Martian. The musical numbers are weird, though I can’t really call them memorable. There’s also a subplot about an evil Russian trying to kill the man during a sabre dance. Real martians also show up at the end of the movie. To be honest, this one doesn’t look too promising.

 

Lilacs in the Spring (1954)

LILACS IN THE SPRING (1954)
aka Let’s Make Up
Article 2619 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2008
Posting Date: 10-14-2008
Directed by Herbert Wilcox
Featuring Errol Flynn, Anna Neagle, David Farrar
Country: UK

An actress is torn between her love for two men. She dreams she’s various historical characters, and also dreams she’s her own mother.

“The Motion Picture Guide” classifies this one as a fantasy, which just goes to show that the writers of that book have a very different definition of “fantasy” than I do. Nothing really fantastic happens in the dream sequences; in fact, other than the one where she relives her own mother’s life, I’m not sure what point the other dream sequences have (and, for that matter, I’m not sure about the mother sequence either). Actually, I suppose I do; my mistake is that I keep expecting them to have something to do with the plot (which is airy and slight). No, the real reason is to give Anna Neagle as many opportunities to perform dances as possible; despite the fact that Errol Flynn gets top billing, this is first and foremost a star vehicle for Neagle; in the sequence where she’s Queen Victoria, it gives her the opportunity to dance the waltz, and in the sequence as her mother (who was an actress, singer, and dancer), she gets to do a variety of period dances, including a Charleston at one point. You know, I can’t think of many musicals at all that were made in Britain; this one certainly seems to lack the pizzazz of the American musicals. I saw the full British version of the movie; the American version of this movie ran a good 22 minutes shorter, and I’m willing to bet that it emphasized the mother sequence, which is the only part of the movie in which Flynn appears extensively. Incidentally, this is the only Errol Flynn movie I’ve seen for this series; it’s a shame that it is hardly representative of his work. And those of you who look up the movie and see the name of Peter Graves, it’s not James Arness’s brother, but a British actor with the same name. Apparently, Sean Connery has a small role in here somewhere; if you find him, you were luckier than I was.

 

Exorcism at Midnight (1966)

EXORCISM AT MIDNIGHT (1966)
aka Naked Evil
Article 2618 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-5-2008
Posting Date: 10-13-2008
Directed by Stanley Goulder
Featuring Basil Dignam, Anthony Ainley, Suzanne Neve
Country: UK

An Obeah-man is terrorizing students and staff at a hostel.

So, it’s 1973, and you want to cash in on THE EXORCIST, and you found a 1966 British movie that features an exorcism at one point in the proceedings. There’s only one problem; the movie you found is in black-and-white, which means that it probably won’t go over very well to an audience expecting color. So, what do you do? You take a tip from Al Adamson, who did the same thing when he edited footage from a black-and-white movie into VAMPIRE MEN OF THE LOST PLANET; you invent a process called “Spectrum X”, and you tint all the black-and-white scenes various colors. Then, you shoot extra color footage to bookend the old footage. With this kind of history, you can understand why I went into this one with the idea that I was about to see a stinker of the first order. Well, it’s nowhere near that bad. Oh, the movie is muddled enough, but the presence of several Jamaican characters and the presentation of the details of Jamaican voodoo (called Obeah) give the movie a unique flavor and an undeniable atmosphere, even seen through the tinting. The new footage doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings, but it’s competently acted and not an embarrassment. It’s also strangely old-fashioned; despite the drug and exorcism subplots, it sometimes feels a bit like an old dark house mystery, and I ended up not being surprised that the movie was based on a stage play. Still, I should point out that, given that this is the second movie in a row in which the alternate title includes the word “naked”, that this one has no nudity whatsoever.

 

Nude… si muore (1968)

NUDE… SI MUORE (1968)
aka Naked You Die, The Young, the Evil & the Savage
Article 2617 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2008
Posting Date: 10-12-2008
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Mark Damon, Eleonora Brown, Michael Rennie
Country: Italy

A murderer is killing people at a girl’s boarding school.

You know, when I see a foreign movie that doesn’t impress me, I wonder how much my reaction is affected by poor dubbing and/or poor letterboxing. This one has neither excuse to fall back on. Despite the title, there’s not a whole lot of nudity, and, despite the fact that it’s a giallo, it’s surprisingly light on the gore. These things don’t really bother me that much. What does is the fact that the dialogue is lame and obvious (if the subtitles are accurate, that is), and the schoolgirls are truly annoying (especially the cute-as-a-button detective novelist wannabe with the walkie-talkie). I didn’t care much for the score, either; it sounded to me like the work of a first-year film score student with an addiction to the theme music of the Adam West “Batman” series. Still, the score was one of the big clues to me that the movie is at least partially a comedy, but the fact that it is singularly short of laughs (or real scares, for that matter) is another problem. For me, however, the biggest problem was the mystery itself; I spotted the killer the minute he (or she) opened his (or her) mouth, and you probably will, too. Amazingly enough, I think dubbing into English would have fixed this problem, if done with a little thought. It’s actually quite disappointing; in general, I like Antonio Margheriti’s forays into horror a lot more than his science fiction epics, but this one is an exception. Maybe he should have stayed away from comedies as well.

 

Willard (1971)

WILLARD (1971)
Article 2616 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2008
Posting Date: 10-11-2008
Directed by Daniel Mann
Featuring Bruce Davison, Elsa Lanchester, Ernest Borgnine
Country: USA

A mousy young man, dominated by his mother and bullied by his boss, only finds respite in the friendship he develops with some rats. As the situations in his life worsen, he discovers that he can use the rats to get what he wants.

I remember this movie making the rounds when I was a kid, and though I never had a chance to see it, it was quite a sensation by word-of-mouth. This marks the first time I’ve actually had a chance to see the whole thing. It’s no classic, but I did find it quite satisfying. Its biggest problem may be that you know where it’s going long before it gets there, largely due to the fact that it was made quite clear at the outset that the movie was horror; horror fans may be a bit disappointed by the wait. For most of its running time, it doesn’t really feel like a horror movie, and rather than having Willard sic his rats and everybody and anybody from square one, we have a long buildup where he develops his relationships with his relatives, his associates and the rats, and only step by step escalating the use he makes of his furry friends. I think the buildup works quite well, and the big payoff comes when Willard has his final confrontation with his boss. Good performances from Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine help a lot; unfortunately, Elsa Lanchester’s character departs too early from the proceedings. At any rate, it’s much better than the saccharine sequel BEN, and it definitely gets extra points for having no rat puppets. Reportedly, the recent remake isn’t too bad either, though I’ve heard this is largely due to a good performance by Crispin Glover.

 

Valkoinen Peura (1952)

VALKOINEN PEURA (1952)
aka The White Reindeer
Article 2615 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-2-2008
Posting Date: 10-10-2008
Directed by Erik Blomberg
Featuring Mirjami Kuosmanen, Kalervo Nissila, Ake Lindman
Country: Finland

A woman gets a shaman to cast a spell to bring her husband back. The spell works, but there’s a side effect; the woman now transforms into a reindeer intent on leading men to their deaths.

I had to use some plot summaries I found to sort out some of the plot details above, as my copy of the movie is in Finnish without subtitles. It’s basically a werewolf (or werereindeer, as the case may be) story of sorts, but it seems very well acted, and it has the added boost of having a wonderful setting; it takes place in the snow-covered wilds of Lapland, where natives herd reindeer for a living. The footage of these people among their herds of reindeer are truly evocative, and it makes the movie a real visual treat. I always like it when a movie brings me into a different culture. There are some great scenes here; two of my favorites include a scene where a man who survived an encounter with the reindeer recognizes the woman as its alter ego and accuses her of being a witch (which is what I assume the word “noita” stands for), and one in which the woman must endure seeing all the men of the village forge weapons to be used to destroy the menace. Much of the movie is shot like a silent, with no talking but lots of background music. I found this one striking and memorable, even in its unsubtitled state.

 

War of the Planets (1966)

WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966)
aka I Diafanoidi vengono da Marte
Article 2614 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-1-2008
Posting Date: 10-9-2008
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, Franco Nero
Country: Italy

Gaseous beings from outer space attempt to take possession of earthlings.

Yes, it’s another sixties Italian space opera, which is to say it’s another compendium of colorful sets, a whole slew of poorly differentiated characters, non-stop verbal science-fictionese, and a maddening dearth of exposition. I’m not sure whether it’s something in the English dubbing, or if it’s something inherent in the movies themselves that make them so frustrating, but I never feel like I know what’s going on, and not in the “mysterious suspense-inducing” way but rather in the “we’ll tell you everything but what you need to know to enjoy the movie” way. You can figure them out if you watch them three or four times, but I really don’t think that should be necessary. Apparently, this was part of a series of four movies called “The Gamma 1 Quadrilogy”; I’ve seen the other three movies in the series, and I would have never guessed they were part of a series, partially because not a single character from any of these movies stands out in my mind, but also because these movies seem so confused that I never really see them as being attached to anything at all. Still, the “He’s gone galaxy!” line is memorable. Incidentally, one of the alternate titles of the third movie of this series is WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS; now, how are you supposed to tell the difference between these movies and still tell them apart from other titles like BATTLE OF THE WORLDS?

 

Revenge! (1971)

REVENGE! (1971)
TV-Movie
Article 2613 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-31-2008
Posting Date: 10-8-2008
Directed by Jud Taylor
Featuring Shelley Winters, Stuart Whitman, Bradford Dillman
Country: USA

A businessman is kidnapped and held captive by a woman who believes he’s responsible for the seduction and eventual suicide of her daughter. The businessman’s wife teams up with a psychic to search for him. Can they find him before the woman wreaks her terrible revenge?

Though I’m not a big fan of TV-Movies, I do try to give credit where credit is due, and any movie that can suck me into the story in the first few minutes is doing something very right. This one opens with an effective switching of briefcases that really catches the attention and raises all the necessary questions. The story basically follows two paths for most of its running time, and I prefer the mysterious first path (in which the businessman has to contend with his kidnapper and try to figure out why she considers him the guilty party) to the somewhat silly second path (wife hires psychic who tries to convince her he’s a fake, but the wife develops her own psychic powers). Nevertheless, it all adds up to an entertaining and suspenseful movie anchored by a strong performance by Shelley Winters, who is very good as a vulnerable but crazy old woman whose health may not be strong enough to see her through the revenge she’s seeking. My worst problem with the movie is that things get shrill and unpleasant whenever anyone starts yelling; both Winters and Carol Eve Rossen have grating voices when they start shrieking. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen enough to be really detrimental to the movie.

 

The Hypnotist (1957)

THE HYPNOTIST (1957)
aka Scotland Yard Dragnet
Article 2612 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-30-2008
Posting Date: 1-7-2008
Directed by Montgomery Tully
Featuring Paul Carpenter, Patricia Roc, Roland Culver
Country: UK

A test pilot moves in with a psychiatrist for treatment after he develops psychosomatic symptoms in the aftermath of miraculously surviving a crash. Complications ensue when a murder is committed in the apartment building where they’re staying.

The most striking thing in this movie is its structure; the first two-thirds of this movie plays out more like odd little drama than a mystery/thriller, so much so, in fact, that I began wondering if that was what it was. Still, two things kept me waiting for things to shift gears; one was the failure of fourth-billed William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who) to appear as a character, and the fact that I knew the alternate title of the movie was SCOTLAND YARD DRAGNET, and that nothing had occurred yet that would require the presence of Scotland Yard. Unfortunately, once the murder occurs, you’ll know why they waited so long. You’ll know almost within seconds who the culprit is and the modus operandi, and if you wait just a couple minutes more, you’ll get the motive practically handed to you on a silver tray. In short, mystery-wise, it’s a no-brainer, and though the movie could have milked some suspense from the possibility of the wrong man being accused of the murder, the movie fails to accomplish that either; the movie doesn’t have enough running time left to milk that kind of situation, nor do the police ever let us feel that the innocent man is the primary suspect, as they seem equally suspicious of his accuser. After a certain point, the movie itself seems to figure out that it’s not accomplishing anything, as it takes the first convenient opportunity to reveal all the truths that we’ve already figured out. It’s then you look back to the first two-thirds of the movie and realize just how much of it was thumb-twiddling; in particular, a long section where the patient wanders around the city in a partial-hypnotic daze and ends up at a jazz nightclub comes across as filler that has no impact on the story. For me, the biggest mystery was wondering who thought this story was worth filming. The fantastic content here is the presence of hypnotism (which, to give the movie credit, is used more thoughtfully than it usually is in a movie, a compliment I can’t give it in its simplistic view of psychiatry) and a certain horrific quality to the revelations about a traumatic incident in the patient’s life, which would have made a great scene had the movie used it effectively in the story.

 

Rage (1972)

RAGE (1972)
Article 2611 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-29-2008
Posting Date: 10-6-2008
Directed by George C. Scott
Featuring George C. Scott, Richard Basehart, Martin Sheen
Country: USA

A sheep farmer and his son become infected with a experimental nerve gas that leaked from a military helicopter. When the boy dies, the military institutes a cover-up and leaves the dying farmer in the dark about his son’s fate. However, the farmer discovers the truth, and…

Undeniably great actor George C. Scott started out very well as a director with a fine TV-Movie called THE ANDERSONVILLE TRIAL, which won several Emmy awards. This, the first of his theatrical directorial efforts, is less successful, though not without interest. It’s basically a cross between the seventies conspiracy film and DOA. The setup is conventional enough, and it might have been a very effective thriller, but I sense that their was an attempt to give the movie a different feel than your average thriller. Unfortunately, the movie remains subdued and rather distant, and, despite a typically strong performance from Scott, it never makes the jump from interesting to compelling; I was curious as to what the farmer was going to do, but I never really became emotionally involved. The direction is mostly straightforward, but the attempts at artiness (some slow-motion sequences and disorienting transitional moments), though used sparingly, feel out of place. The ending is also somewhat unsatisfying, mostly because it feels like there should be more to it, maybe because many of the important characters in the story seem to vanish too early in the plot. Again, it’s not an awful movie by any means; it just feels incomplete.