Shinbone Alley (1971)

Article 3108 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-30-2009
Posting Date: 2-16-2010
Directed by John D. Wilson
Featuring the voices of Carol Channing, Eddie Bracken, Alan Reed
Country: USA
What it is: Offbeat animated musical drama

A poet is turned into a cockroach, so he can compose his poems only by hopping on the keys of a typewriter without the ability to use capital letters or punctuation. He tells of himself and his adventures in Shinbone Alley, and of his relationship to a female alley cat named Mehitabel.

When I was in grade school, I remember one of my teachers exposing me for a short time to the world of archy the poet cockroach, and though the exposure consisted little more than the basic backstory and the reading a few of the poems, for some reason the memory lingered. When I discovered that I was going to watch a movie that dealt with this character, I found myself musing over the concept, and wondering what the movie would be like; the very concept has a quirky charm to it. When I actually got the DVD and saw Carol Channing’s name on it as well as the words “Broadway musical”, I though I saw the quirkiness being shuffled off to the side to make room for a much more conventional style that wasn’t to my liking. I’m glad to say that my fears were unfounded.

Part of my problem initially was that I’d mostly encountered Channing in her bigger-than-life persona, and not as an actress; I am glad to find that in that latter capacity, she is excellent, and she really brings the character of Mehitabel, a fun-loving alley cat of questionable morals, to vivid life. In fact, the whole movie is a bit of a revelation; despite the somewhat bizarre concept, the adventures and emotions in this movie tap into real-life aspirations, tragedies, setbacks, disappointments, angers and dreams. When Archy tells about a moth’s desire to be burned, and then envies its wanting something so badly, it touches a nerve. Archy’s relationship with Mehitabel is definitely of the love/hate variety, and she has a nasty temper. Furthermore, the tomcats she becomes involved with (a no-good bum voiced by Alan Reed, and a scheming Shakespearean actor voiced by John Carradine) also add more depth to the story. Furthermore, the movie plays around with a number of animation styles during the songs, with a sequence that adopts the style of the old Krazy Kat comics (Krazy Kat creator George Herriman did many of the illustrations for the original archy and mehitabel books) in which an embittered Archy toys with organizing an insect revolution against the humans being particularly striking. The ads tried to pass it off as a movie for both kids and adults, but, truth to tell, I think kids will be bored stiff with this one; in fact, I think the lowly rating of 5.5 on this one on IMDB may be due to reactions from those expecting a children’s movie.

By the way, I do have to admire any movie which manages to combine the talents of Carol Channing, John Carradine, Fred Flintstone voice Alan Reed, and Mel Brooks, who co-wrote the original play. And, for the curious, John Carradine does sing, and even takes part in a beat-poetry rendition of the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet”.

Terminal Island (1973)

Article 3107 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-25-2009
Posting Date: 2-15-2010
Directed by Stephanie Rothman
Featuring Don Marshall, Phyllis Davis, Ena Hartman
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation actioner masquerading as social science fiction

In the future, the death penalty has been outlawed. Murderers are sent to an inescapable island to live out the rest of their lives with other murderers. Much carnage ensues.

I may be misremembering, but I think I recall having read an article once that talked about the social and political subtexts of this movie. I’m not surprised; the central concept lends itself strongly to finding just those types of subtexts, and the opening sequence of the movie (which features short man-on-the-street interviews and cynical TV newsmen) certainly taps into them. Once we reach the island, though, the movie heads straight into exploitation-style action flick territory and doesn’t look back. It ends up a bit like a cross between a women’s prison picture (four of the murderers are women, and they get the lion’s share of the screen time) and your basic jungle action flick; I was tempted to compare it to THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but the plot doesn’t match. It basically turns into a standoff between the good murderers and the bad murderers. Those who find this kind of shtick satisfying will like it most, and “Magnum P.I.” fans may want to catch Tom Selleck and Roger E. Mosley working together before that series. The oddest thing to me about this movie is that it ends on a rather upbeat note, which, given the context, is pretty surprising, because the concept is inherently cynical; in order for it to work, the government will need to only send good (as in non-evil) murderers to the island, and what’s the likelihood of that happening?

The Silent Scream (1980)

Article 3106 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2009
Posting Date: 2-14-2010
Directed by Denny Harris
Featuring Rebecca Balding, Cameron Mitchell, Avery Schreiber
Country: USA
What it is: PSYCHO variant

Four college students take rooms in a mansion on the edge of town, a place inhabited by a reclusive woman and her son. However, there’s a third resident in the mansion, and this one has a homicidal streak…

I have to admit being impressed by the cast, which includes Cameron Mitchell, Yvonne De Carlo, Avery Schreiber and Barbara Steele. If I were to pick acting honors from this group, it would definitely go to Steele, who gives the most mesmerizing performance here, but I would have to point out that none of the other three have really interesting roles. As stated above, it’s more of a PSYCHO variant than a slasher movie. It’s a mixed bag overall; it has some effectively creepy scenes, one memorable jump-out-of-your-seat moment, and, thanks to an interesting story structure, it builds up to a suspenseful conclusion. On the down side, it never really develops the important characters as much as it should, choosing rather to spend much of its running time with the antics of the teens in the movie; this is noticeable towards the end when we encounter twists and backstories that we’ve never been adequately prepared for. Still, it works just enough for it to be worth watching.

Le pays san etoiles (1946)

aka Country Without Stars
Article 3105 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-23-2009
Posting Date: 2-13-2010
Directed by Georges Lacombe
Featuring Jany Holt, Gerard Philipe, Pierre Brasseur
Country: France
What it is: Somewhat eerie meditation on fate

A man undergoes a strange case of deja vu when he visits a village. He soon finds himself living the life of a man who lived there many years ago.

I got most of my plot description from other sources, as my print of the movie is in unsubtitled French. When I researched this for my list of movies I was then unable to find, I summarized it as a man who lives the life of someone from long ago. This is the type of concept that demands expository dialogue, and, sure enough, this movie has a lot of talk. It’s got some eerie moments and memorable scenes (one in which a woman goes crazy and attacks a painting is quite memorable), and I am able to piece together bits and pieces about how the lives of three people from the present replay the lives of three people from the past, but the main plot threads and the revelations are all dialogue-driven. If I hadn’t known about the basic plot ahead of time, the only fantastic content I would have noticed would consist of the appearance of a ghost at one key moment. Though I suspect the movie is pretty uneven, I do hope to see a subtitled copy some day. For one thing, I’d love to know why the musical score seems to go wild in scenes that often seem rather quiet.

The Man Called Flintstone (1966)

Article 3104 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-22-1009
Posting Date: 2-12-2010
Directed by Joseph Barbera and William Hanna
Featuring the voices of Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl
Country: USA
What it is: Prehistoric Animated TV show converted to feature film as a James Bond parody

Due to his resemblance to a spy called Rock Slag, Fred Flintstone is hired by the government to help them capture a super-criminal known as the Green Ghost.

At the outset, I think it’s necessary to establish how I feel about the “The Flintstones” to begin with. Though I watched it as a kid, it never really became a favorite; I watched it because it was a cartoon and it was on. In retrospect, about the only element I remember fondly was the creative ways they would come up with stone-age appliances (baby elephant vacuum cleaner, anyone?). So, the concept of a full-length feature version of the series doesn’t really excite me, and the added aspect of a James Bond parody doesn’t seem clever as much as obvious.

Having now seen the movie, I can report that the movie is pretty much just what I thought it would be; a rehash of the usual antics of the series with a contrived spy storyline. On the plus side, the extra money helped them jazz up the animation, if only slightly. For the most part, it’s watchable but uninspired. My biggest complaint is the songs. To begin with, I never quite understood why those who made children’s animated features felt it necessary to always throw in songs (the TV show didn’t bother adding them). The best things about the songs is it occasionally inspired the animators to show more creativity than they did in the more predictable sections of the movie, but the songs themselves are very poor and very unnecessary; every one brings the plot (such as it is) to a screeching halt.

In the final analysis, this movie is for fans of the show; if you liked the show, you’ll like the movie just fine. The rest of us can pass.

Satan’s Black Wedding (1975)

Article 3103 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-21-2009
Posting Date: 2-11-2010
Directed by Nick Millard
Featuring Greg Braddock, Ray Miles, Lisa Milano
Country: USA
What it is: Satanic vampire antics on an undernourished budget

An actor returns home when his sister commits suicide. What he doesn’t know is that his sister has become a vampire through a black ritual, and that she must kill the remaining members of her family…

These are the sloppiest vampires in cinema history; they can’t attack anyone without leaving a bloody mess. Of course, this might be due to the fact that they have the worst dental work in history, what with the intrusive over- and under-bites. Well, at a running time of only 61 minutes, the movie can’t be accused of overly wasting film stock, but the movie is best used for filling out the bottom of the bill at drive-ins. Still, the movie does exhibit a little no-budget charm, which helps a little bit with the plenitude of dead spots in the movie. It also shows how you can make a score from someone noodling on a piano.

Terror From Under the House (1971)

aka Revenge, Inn of the Frightened People
Article 3102 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-20-2009
Posting Date: 2-10-2010
Directed by Sidney Hayers
Featuring Joan Collins, James Booth, Ray Barrett
Country: UK
What it is: Drama / thriller with horrific undertones

When a child molester is released by the police for lack of evidence, an innkeeper (whose child was murdered) joins forces with a another man to kidnap the suspect and force a confession out of him. However, things don’t run smoothly…

The horror content of this thriller is the presence of a serial child molester, and there are definite horrific touches when we visit the home of the molester for a short time in the movie. However, the main plot of the movie revolves around how the kidnapping and the subsequent complications causes the lives of all concerned to spiral out of control. Most of the spiraling involves the central family, consisting of the innkeeper, his second wife, his son, and his surviving daughter. As it turns out, this family isn’t in the best shape to begin with; the daughter resents her stepmother, and the second wife is a little too friendly with… but it’s best not to give too much away on this point. Combine this with the fact that the kidnapped molester is being held hostage in the basement of a bar with visitors every night, the second man involved with the kidnapping is undependable, the kidnapped man may not be the person they want, and everyone’s emotions are on a hair trigger to begin with, and you have a recipe for disaster. The movie’s potential strength should be the way it taps into fears that this is something that actually might happen to you under similar circumstances, but this is a little marred by the fact that the family is just a little too dysfunctional for the necessary sense of universality. Nevertheless, it’s rather intriguing (and even a little bit darkly comic) to watch how things spin out of control and everyone starts unraveling. Considering the subject matter, the movie isn’t near as explicit as it could have been (it had a PG rating here), but the inherent unpleasantness is there nonetheless. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I think it works more than it doesn’t, and is worth a watch.