Charley and the Angel (1973)

Article 2914 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-30-2009
Posting Date: 8-5-2009
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Featuring Fred MacMurray, Cloris Leachman, Harry Morgan
Country: USA

The owner of a hardware store gets a visitation from an angel announcing to him that his time is nearly up, but he may be spared his fate if he learns to spend more time with his neglected wife and kids.

Given the fact that this movie takes place during the depression and deals with the theme of impending death (rather than, say, flubber), one might expect that this movie doesn’t really qualify as one of Disney’s “shopping cart” movies. However, once we realize that Harry Morgan’s angel is primarily a comic character (he has a funny name and only Charley can see him, supplying us with the usual supply of “who are you talking to?/You’re going crazy!” jokes), that the plot features Disney-style gangsters, and that the centerpiece of the picture is a big chase scene, you’ll realize that the “shopping cart” spirit is alive and well here. Unfortunately, the movie tries to have it both ways and ends up having it neither; it’s too fluffy to have much emotional impact, and it’s too somber to be a comic delight. I wish they had chosen to keep the tone more serious and the comedy less silly; there are moments in Cloris Leachman’s performance in which she manages to wordlessly express some fairly deep feelings that give hints on how this movie might have been as a whole. As it is, it’s definitely one of Disney’s weaker efforts, despite a cast that also features Kurt Russell and Ed Begley Jr.

The Challenge (1970)

Article 2913 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2009
Posting Date: 8-4-2009
Directed by George McCowan and Alan Smithee
Featuring Darren McGavin, Broderick Crawford, Mako
Country: USA

In order to avert war between the United States and an unspecified Asian country, the two nations settle on a battle of surrogates; each nation will pick one representative to do battle on a small island.

The idea of having the outcome of a war settled by a battle of one individual representative of each side is nothing really new; anyone who has read Fredric Brown’s story “Arena” or seen the “Star Trek” episode of the same name based on it has seen it before. However, the difference in this one is that those other versions have what could be described as a super-powerful referee who organizes the one-on-one confrontation (against the wills of the warring factions) who can enforce the final result; here, it’s the individual countries who agree to the confrontation, and there is no referee. This puts me more in mind of the anti-war advocate who wonders why don’t have the two country’s leaders just battle it out between themselves, a naive notion at best. To its credit, the movie does recognize that its premise is indeed naive by throwing in some plot twists in the second half which seem utterly logical, and it ends in probably what is only the real satisfying conclusion to the premise. That being said, this is a highly entertaining TV-Movie with excellent performances, especially from Darren McGavin, Broderick Crawford, Mako and James Whitmore. Furthermore, the movie makes careful and effective use of sound, especially in its use of silence at crucial moments. Its fantastic content is another issue; though it’s not as clearly an example of science fiction as the models listed above, it does fall under the banner by being in the category of speculative political fiction. Overall, this is a fairly impressive production, especially for a TV-Movie.

Carry On Screaming (1966)

Article 2912 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-29-2009
Posting Date: 8-3-2009
Directed by Gerald Thomas
Featuring Harry H. Corbett, Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale
Country: UK

Women are disappearing in a nearby forest. Evidence indicates that monsters may be responsible for the disappearances. Do the residents of the nearby Bide-a-Wee rest home know something about this?

This is my second encounter with the Carry On gang in my cinematic journey of fantastic cinema. When I reviewed the first one, CARRY ON SPYING, I commented on how I became annoyed with Kenneth Williams’s performance; fortunately, I’ve gotten use to his style, so that’s no longer a problem. Nevertheless, I’ve come to the conclusion that this series is not really my cup of tea. With their jokes about sex, they must have been daring at the time, but nowadays, they just seem rather quaint; they’re not bad, but they seem tame and old-fashioned. This wouldn’t have made a difference if I found the movie really funny, but outside of a smile or two and a couple of chuckles, I found it predictable. Granted, it didn’t help that the two performers I enjoyed most in the movie (Charles Hawtrey and Jon Pertwee) only have what amount to cameos. Fortunately, it wasn’t painfully or desperately unfunny; it just falls flat most of the time.

The Bubble (1966)

aka Fantastic Invasion of the Planet Earth
Article 2911 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2009
Posting Date: 8-2-2009
Directed by Arch Oboler
Featuring Michael Cole, Deborah Walley, Johnny Desmond
Country: USA

A plane makes an emergency landing in order to get a pregnant woman to a hospital. The passengers of the plane discover that the residents of the town they are in are acting strangely, and they soon discover that the whole area is surrounded by a sphere so that no one can leave.

Arch Oboler had a hit with the first full-length movie in 3-D, BWANA DEVIL. Here he is, returning to the process 14 years later (though it’s redubbed “space vision” here), long after the 3-D craze had passed. One of the main attractions here is that the movie really works the 3-D angle; one almost expects Dr. Tongue to appear. Unfortunately, the story is an exercise in frustration. It starts out well enough due to the mysterious premise, but it’s another one of those movies which is cluttered with character-developing moments. Now, there really is nothing wrong with character development if the characters are essential to the movie or help drive the plot in some way, but here, it feels more like an attempt to pad the film than anything else. It also doesn’t help that we’re given nothing in the way of concrete answers; we get endless speculation on insufficient evidence, and even when a new wrinkle to the mystery shows up, it’s just another thing that will fail to be resolved or explained. Those who get off on existentialism might like this one, though I most recommend it for those who like to see things like brooms come right out of the screen at them.

Jungle Queen (1945)

Article 2910 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-26-2009
Posting Date: 8-1-2009
Directed by Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor
Featuring Edward Norris, Eddie Quillan, Douglas Dumbrille
Country: USA

Nazis plan to gain control of Africa by putting their own puppet on the seat of the judge of the jungle tribes. However, British and American agents are out to thwart them, as is a mysterious jungle queen known as Lothel.

It seems that by this time, Universal was putting out the least interesting serials of the three remaining serial producers, the others being Republic and Columbia. Despite some interesting touches and some fun elements, this one is curiously uninvolving. I’m beginning to understand why most serials stuck to fairly simple action/adventure scenarios; this one tries to for a more involved plot, but the end result is the story is cluttered with too many uninteresting characters, and the attempt to follow up each of the storylines in each episode ends up rather snooze-inducing. Still, to its credit, it manages to keep the fantastic content intact; the mysterious powers of the character Lothel are never explained away (she can walk through fire, disappears and reappears magically, and cannot be harmed by bullets), so we’re left with a truly supernatural creature here. Still, this is a fairly dull serial.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970)

Article 2909 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-25-2009
Posting Date: 7-31-2009
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Featuring Glenn Ford, Rosemary Forsyth, Dean Jagger
Country: USA

A professor who is a member of a secret society is given an assignment to prevent a colleague from accepting an offered position. When the professor is forced to use blackmail to accomplish this, the colleague commits suicide. Devastated by guilt, the professor vows to bring the society out in the open and reveal the conspiracy.

It occurred to me about halfway through in watching this movie that a conspiracy movie like this must seem deceptively simple to write; once you’ve established the power of the secret society, you can just ride the waves of building paranoia that come in the wake of not knowing who you can trust. The problem comes in coming up with an ending that a) works within the ground rules you’ve set down about the reach and power of the society, b) is not obvious (such as, having the conspiracy win) and c) and is satisfying; basically, once you’ve got the paranoia ball rolling, it’s hard to stop. Therefore, I’m not surprised that the ending of this movie is a disappointment; given all that went before, it’s just rather lame. However, that doesn’t change the fact that, up to that point, this is one very effective TV-Movie. This is due to the excellence of the cast (with Glenn Ford doing a fantastic job as the professor, as well as particularly memorable turns from Will Geer and William Conrad) and the fact that the script refuses to just blithely ride the paranoia wave, as some of the events that happen show real creativity and a certain degree of ambiguity. It’s one of those TV-Movies that doesn’t feel like one; nor does it feel like a failed pilot for a potential series. The talk show sequence of this movie was apparently based on “The Joe Pyne Show”, though it made me think of the type of talk show represented by Jerry Springer. I’m not entirely sure about the fantastic content here, though the idea of a secret society controlling the power and money of the world certainly verges on both science fiction and horror territory.

Alice Through the Looking Glass (1966)

Article 2908 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-24-2008
Posting Date: 7-30-2009
Directed by Alan Handley
Featuring Judi Rolin, Roy Castle, Jack Palance
Country: USA

Dorothy – no, I mean Alice – goes to Oz – no, I mean through the looking glass – to save the residents from the wicked witch – no, I mean the Jabberwock – so she must follow the yellow brick road – no, I mean the blue road – and… oh, forget it.

Given my love for the works of Lewis Carroll and my belief that faithful versions of the Alice stories may be unfilmable, you might expect that, even if this were a sincere, well-intentioned effort, that I might be disappointed. Unfortunately, it seems to me that someone involved with this production hated Lewis Carroll with a passion. It borrows the characters from the story, the basic concept of a world through the looking glass, selected snippets of the text (such as the first two verses of “Jabberwocky”), tries to shoehorn them into a plot obviously modeled off of the one in THE WIZARD OF OZ, and throws in a character called Lester the Jester (if the trivia of IMDB is correct, the character was an attempt to give the story its own version of the Scarecrow from THE WIZARD OF OZ) and adds lots of Broadway-style songs. If you think Broadway musicals are the pinnacle of human creation, hate real human emotions but love facile attitudinizing projected to the back row of the balcony, hate surreal verbal humor but love sloppily executed slapstick, think the human experience is best summed up in feel-good platitudes, and would like THE WIZARD OF OZ a lot better if it wasn’t scary at all and everyone had belted their lines in songs at top volume, then I suppose this might be for you. Me, I consider it an atrocity that works neither as an acceptable adaptation of the Carroll story or as a ripoff of its real model mentioned above; I found it nearly unwatchable. Yet, for all that, I actually like the casting; Jimmy Durante is a great choice as Humpty Dumpty, the Smothers brothers are inspired choices for Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the various red and white kings and queens (Nanette Fabray, Agnes Moorehead, Robert Coote and Ricardo Montalban) are all good picks. The best scenes are the quieter ones or the ones where the performers are allowed to let their personalities shine through despite the bad script; Montalban manages to project an honest sincerity in a scene with Judi Rolin (who plays Alice) that marks the only time the movie shows any real heart. Durante and the Smothers Brothers both come through all right in their respective scenes, but it’s Jack Palance (who plays the Jabberwock) who really disappoints; it’s hard to imagine that this master of menace manages to so totally unintimidating. And the less said about the character of Lester the Jester, the better.