Solo un ataud (1969)

aka El enigma del ataud, Only a Coffin, The Orgies of Dr. Orloff
Article 3101 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2009
Posting Date: 2-9-2010
Directed by Santos Alcocer
Featuring Howard Vernon, Maria Saavedra, Adolfo Arles
Country: Spain / France
What it is: Your basic “old dark castle” story

Doctor Orlof invites his relatives to his castle with the intent of murdering them. When he himself is found murdered, the relatives have to find who the killer is… or they may be next!

There were seven Dr. Orloff movies in all; all but two of them were directed by Jesus Franco, and the fifth (ORLOFF AGAINST THE INVISIBLE MAN) even feels like a Franco movie. This, the fourth, does not feel like a Franco movie. Nor does it feel like an Orloff movie. Nor, for that fact, does it feel much like anything but a tired retread of an overused theme. Granted, that statement should be taken with a grain of salt, seeing as how I’ve only seen this movie in unsubtitled Spanish. It’s interesting to compare the two English titles to this one; though THE ORGIES OF DR. ORLOFF probably brought in more people, I’d assume that those who saw it under the title ONLY A COFFIN would have liked it better; after all, that title doesn’t promise much, and the movie delivers no more than the title promises. Those expecting orgies should be warned that the movie would have been better titled THE GABFEST OF DR. ORLOFF, and Dr. Orloff himself, Howard Vernon, barely appears in it. In fact, if the user ratings on IMDB are any indication, this is the least of the series. Certainly, nothing happened that made me eager to hunt up a dubbed or subtitled copy of this one.

World Beyond the Moon (1954)

TV-Movie made from episodes of “Space Patrol”
Article 3100 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2009
Posting Date: 2-8-2010
Director unknown
Featuring Ed Kemmer, Lyn Osborn, Hannes Lutz
Country: USA
What it is: TV Space Opera

Commander Buzz Corry and Cadet Happy must defeat a mad scientist who is changing people into obedient giants in his sanitarium on Pluto III.

This movie culled from episodes of “Space Patrol” (“The Giants of Pluto III”, “The Fiery Pit of Pluto III”, and “The Man-Hunt on Pluto III” respectively) was so obscure that it didn’t even have a listing on IMDB, and I was ready to consign it to my “ones that got away” list when it suddenly popped up. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a science fiction series of the period, but it does give me a chance to compare it to a couple of other series from the era that I have a passing familiarity with – namely, “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” (which I’ve covered extensively due to the fact that many episodes were converted to movies) and “Flash Gordon”, which I haven’t touched on at all. Plotwise, it’s pretty basic good guy/bad guy stuff, making the stories somewhat less sophisticated than RJSR and about on the same level as FG, but at least it keeps the action a bit on the lively side, making it less of a chore to watch than either of the other series. The most ominous thing about this series is that there is a character called Cadet Happy, which certainly seems to promise all sorts of painful comic relief, but Lyn Osborn never gets heavy-handed, and it mostly restricts the buffoonery to an ending gag on each episode, and there’s something satisfying in one sequence seeing the other characters perform a mock attack on him after letting loose with a particularly bad pun at one point. My info is pretty sketchy on this one, and the date is a guess; the date my book gave was 1953, but since the episodes weren’t broadcast until 1954, I’m assuming it’s wrong. At any rate, it’s satisfying to get at least one more obscurity out of the way.

Rasputin (1954)

aka Raspoutine
Article 3099 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2009
Posting Date: 2-7-2010
Directed by Georges Combret
Featuring Pierre Brasseum, Isa Miranda, Renee Faure
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Another Rasputin biopic

Rasputin rises to power because of his healing powers which he uses on the son of the Czar and Czarina. However, his debauched lifestyle makes him many enemies…

Same title as yesterday. Same story. Different movie. This one is also in Italian. My copy has subtitles, but only in Greek. Still, it’s interesting to watch these two movies in close juxtaposition, and I must admit that far and away I prefer yesterday’s version. Neither Pierre Brasseur’s performance or face holds a candle to Harry Baur’s, and unless the dialogue is exquisitely fascinating in this version, it looks like a dull bore, static and unimaginatively directed. Its best moment comes early on, when Rasputin stares down a wolf. Granted, any review I write on a movie in which I don’t understand the language is suspect, but film is a visual medium as well, and just on that level, this version comes in a poor second to yesterday’s, and, despite the fact that this one is in color and yesterday’s was in black and white, it seems less colorful.

I promise tomorrow’s movie won’t also be about Rasputin.

Rasputin (1938)

aka La tragedie imperiale
Article 3098 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-16-2009
Posting Date: 2-6-2010
Directed by Marcel L’Herbier
Featuring Harry Baur, Marcelle Chantal, Pierre Richard-Willm
Country: France
What it is: Another stab at the story of Rasputin

This is the story of the rise and fall of the monk Rasputin, who had a hold over the family of the Czar Nicholas after miraculously curing his child.

My copy of this French version of the story of Rasputin is superbly dubbed… into Italian, that is. No, I don’t understand Italian any more than I do French, but you can still tell a good dubbing job from a bad one, even if you don’t know the language; for about the first twenty minutes, I wasn’t even aware it was dubbed, and the actors doing the dubbing give fine performances. In fact, I find it necessary to praise both Harry Baur and whoever dubbed him for this for their excellent portrayal of the title character. He’s presented as a master manipulator; I’m especially impressed on how effective he is at projecting humility and gentleness when his situation calls for it, and it’s extremely easy in this version to see why he is both revered and loathed by those around him. The scene where he cures the young prince is especially effective, even if I can’t understand a word of it. Fortunately, the fact that I was already familiar with the Rasputin story from several other versions helped me quite a bit with this one. The fantastic content is the usual for the story; though he doesn’t appear to use hypnotism, his healing abilities and his near indestructibility provide the fantastic content. In fact, it occurred to me that the slasher cliche of the monster who keeps rising from the dead after being killed may actually have its archetype in the Rasputin story. Incidentally, actor Harry Baur met a very tragic end; he went to Germany to make a movie, and was arrested afterwards and tortured to death by the Gestapo.

Omicron (1963)

OMICRON (1963)
Article 3097 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-12-2009
Posting Date: 2-5-2010
Directed by Ugo Gregoretti
Featuring Renato Salvatori, Rosemary Dexter, Gaetano Quartararo
Country: Italy
What it is: Political science fiction comedy

The dead body of an Italian worker is brought back to life when it is possessed by an alien from outer space. The alien learns to control his new body while exploring the world around him.

I’m really glad I got a chance to see this one, even if my copy is in unsubtitled Italian. I know I’m missing much of the plot, (though I can definitely see that there’s some sort of political subtext) but it gives Renato Salvatori a chance to engage in some truly creative visual comedy, especially when his character is learning how to control his body. The plot appears to revolve around his job, in which he becomes super-competent, but he eventually ends up taking part in a strike. I’d love to figure out what’s going on in some of the scenes, but some of them are quite amusing nonetheless; my favorite has him absorbing the contents of a whole slew of books which he can read just by flipping through the pages (the only book he keeps is an illustrated biography of Brigitte Bardot). The plot becomes more complex as you get deeper into the movie, but even I can tell that it ends with a wicked twist. Let’s hope a good subtitled copy shows up sometime soon.

Zachariah (1970)

Article 3096 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2009
Posting Date: 2-4-2010
Directed by George Englund
Featuring John Rubinstein, Patricia Quinn, Don Johnson
Country: USA
What it is: Psychedelic Western

The lure of gunfighting draws a man and his blacksmith friend into becoming members of an outlaw rock band called the Crackers. However, when he discovers that the ultimate consequence of his becoming a great gunfighter will require the death of his friend, he has second thoughts about his career choice. But his friend has no qualms…

There’s a scene in this movie where a gunfighter by the name of Job Cain (played by Elvin Jones) shoots down a challenger and then plays a killer drum solo. As silly as this sounds, it was at this point that I realized that this surreal, “electric” western was actually working for me. It’s at least partially based on Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” (which I’ve not read), and coscripted by all four members of the Firesign Theater; however, despite this last fact, the movie isn’t a comedy, though the scenes with the Crackers (played by Country Joe and the Fish) are mostly comic. I wasn’t really surprised to see that its rating of 5.1 on IMDB consisted of a fairly wide distribution of votes; I can easily see how this movie may be hated by some and loved by others. Me, I was charmed, captivated, and even a little touched by the movie. As for the fantastic content, the combination of old west and electric guitars pushes into a fantasy alternate universe, thus its inclusion here. No, it’s not for everyone, but neither is EL TOPO. Me, I’d really love to have the soundtrack.

Wielka, Wieksza I Najwieksza (1963)

aka The Great Big World and Little Children
Article 3095 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2009
Posting Date: 2-3-2010
Directed by Anna Sokolowka
Featuring Kinga Sienko, Wojciech Puzynski, Zofia Kucowna
Country: Poland
What it is: Polish children’s fantasy

Two children are drawn into a series of adventures by a talking car. They rescue a kidnapped child, search for a lost plane in the Sahara desert, and visit another planet.

This rare fantasy movie sat on my list unfound for several years, but popped up unexpectedly on YouTube, thus giving me a chance to watch it. It’s in unsubtitled Polish, so the action is difficult to follow. However, the first two segments are straightforward enough that I was able to more or less follow them. The visit to the other planet is a bit tougher, but it seems to involve a trapped child after nuclear devastation has destroyed the planet; some of this description was based on other plot descriptions I’ve found. It’s fairly amusing, but except for the last segment, it’s not particularly engaging on a visual level. Outside of the car, we also get talking watches, radios, airplanes and telephones. It’s just offbeat enough to be worth a look.