All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (1972)
aka Demons of the Dead, Tutti i colori del buio
Article 2981 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2009
Posting Date: 10-11-2009
Directed by Sergio Martino
Featuring George Hilton, Edwige Fenech, Ivan Rassimov
Country: Italy / Spain

After she loses her child in a car accident, a woman finds herself being stalked by a blue-eyed man. Is it just her imagination brought on by the trauma, or is she in real danger? Will a psychiatrist be able to help her, or will taking part in a ritual with a Satanic cult help her?

If there’s anything this movie made me realize, it’s that I really loathe movies in which a troubled woman spends practically the whole movie on the verge of a nervous breakdown because she is being continually terrorized. This is especially true when the movie never bothers to establish her as a real three-dimensional character; she’s just someone to be terrorized, and that’s all the movie is interested in doing. I know these movies are supposed to be really scary, but I don’t end up scared – I end up annoyed, and the fact that this Italian giallo is chock-full of bizarre stylistic touches, surreal dream sequences, and “is it real or a dream” themes doesn’t alleviate my annoyance; if anything, it just makes me aware that the director is pulling the manipulative strings. Granted, movies are a manipulative medium, but the best movies are ones that make you want to be manipulated, and this one doesn’t do that for me. At least the ending is good, though it really doesn’t hold up to close inspection when considering the movie as a whole. Nevertheless, I do feel the need to point out that my reaction to this movie may be based on a personal quirk. If you don’t share that quirk, and are fond of giallos, this one may be for you; it is supposed to be one of Sergio Martino’s better movies. Use your own discretion on this one.

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Alfalfa’s Aunt (1939)

ALFALFA’S AUNT (1939)
Short
Article 2957 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-12-2009
Posting Date: 9-17-2009
Directed by George Sidney
Featuring Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Marie Blake, Barbara Bedford
Country: USA

Alfalfa believes his aunt means to murder him when he reads a paper she dropped, unaware that it is a page from a mystery novel she is writing. He calls in the gang to help scare her out of the house.

I’m not a big fan of the Our Gang/Little Rascals series, probably because I’m not big on cute kid antics. Still, I will give this short some credit; at only ten minutes, it never runs the risk of being boring. It also doesn’t leave time for more than a handful of scare-the-aunt gags, as most of the running time is dedicated to setting up the plot. For those who want to keep the kids straight in their minds, Alfalfa is the one with the rogue cowlick. Passable and painless.

Alice Through the Looking Glass (1966)

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (1966)
TV-Movie
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.

Alakazam the Great (1960)

ALAKAZAM THE GREAT (1960)
aka Saiyu-ki
Article 2898 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2009
Posting Date: 7-20-2009
Directed by Lee Kresel, Daisaku Shirakawa, Osamu Tezuka and Taiji Yabushita
Featuring the voices of Frankie Avalon, Sterling Holloway, Jackie Joseph
Country: Japan

When a monkey becomes king of the animals, the power goes to his head and he seeks to rule the humans as well (with the help of magic he learns from Merlin). His arrogance gets him imprisoned, and in order to gain his release, he must go on a pilgrimage to learn mercy, humility and unselfishness.

I first heard about this movie from the book “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time”. Quite frankly, the movie doesn’t belong on that list, but I can see how it made it. Despite having a good story and making creative use of animation on occasion, the movie has some problems, some of which I’m sure have more to do with changes made to adapt the story to English-speaking audiences. The choice of voice actors is questionable at times and the songs are very weak, but these are minor problems. I think its biggest problem is the music; the score seems to be perpetually frantic, constantly giving the sense that it’s some sort of non-stop action-packed spectacle when it should pull back and take a more lyrical approach much of the time. As a result, the movie ends up having a rather queasy unpleasantness about it, making it much harder to watch than it should be. I don’t know if the original version has this problem, but I suspect that if I watch it again, I may do so with the sound turned off so I won’t be distracted from the visuals. At any rate, I believe there’s a decent animated fantasy underneath all of this.

Attack of the Robots (1966)

ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS (1966)
aka Cartes sur table
Article 2892 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-8-2009
Posting Date: 7-14-2009
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Eddie Constantine, Francoise Brion, Fernando Rey
Country: Spain / France

A series of political assassinations have occurred. These have been committed by dark-skinned assassins who turn white upon death. On investigation, these assassins turn out to be kidnapped people turned into automatons, all of whom had a specific blood type. An Interpol agent (whose blood type matches) is sent on a mission, unaware that he’s actually being sent as a decoy to lure the assassins into the open.

It’s been ages since I’ve seen a Jess Franco movie (which, depending on your opinion of him, is either a blessing or a curse). As it turns out, this one (a spy adventure obviously influenced by the James Bond movies) is painless; it has a story, moves at a decent pace, and is consistently amusing. Part of the reason it remains amusing is the presence of Eddie Constantine, whose sense of humor I always find refreshing, and which I find much more likable than that of the James Bond movies for example. Furthermore, the fantastic content is much greater than is usual in these spy movies from the sixties. And I must admit it’s fun to see a spy movie of the era in good old black and white.

Arnold (1973)

ARNOLD (1973)
Article 2891 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-7-2009
Posting Date: 7-13-2009
Directed by Georg Fenady
Featuring Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester
Country: USA

A woman marries a rich man upon his death (his wife wouldn’t grant him a divorce) in order to get his fortune. She gets the inheritance, but only if she keeps his dead body with her for the rest of her life. Then, the dead man’s family begins dying in horrible ways, and the woman gets cassette tapes with the dead man’s voice indicating that he knows of the deaths.

This is another movie that I’d really like to like; it’s a comic revival of the “old dark house” motif, and even if the heirs aren’t required to stay in the house, there’s still the reading of the will, the painting with the eyehole, and the horrible deaths that may be from beyond the grave. It has some great gimmicks (the post-death marriage is novel, and I like a few touches, such as the man’s coffin having a tape deck installed) and a game cast all ready to give it their best shot, but it has problems; the direction is flat and dull, and it just isn’t very funny. Victor Buono comes off best as the minister who performs the marriage, but it’s a cameo, and most of the funnier bits are consigned to characters who aren’t associated with the main action of the movie. In particular, it’s a shame to see Stella Stevens wasted; she adds a certain pixieish charm to the proceedings, but, after the initial wedding gag, she’s really given nothing funny to do. The deaths are creative enough that this movie could have had a Dr. Phibes vibe in the right hands, but Georg Fenady is no Robert Fuest and there’s no character compelling enough to give the movie a strong center as Vincent Price’s was. I’m afraid I have to write this one off as a well-intentioned disappointment. Incidentally, this was Patric Knowles’s last movie.

And Soon the Darkness (1970)

AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970)
Article 2890 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2009
Posting Date: 7-12-2009
Directed by Robert Fuest
Featuring Pamela Franklin, Michele Dotrice, Sandor Eles
Country: UK

Two English girls are on a cycling tour across the French countryside, unaware that they may be targets for a killer/rapist.

This thriller is by the director of the Dr. Phibes movies, Robert Fuest. It’s slow to get started, but that’s all right; it’s one of those movies that’s intent on building the suspense for one big release rather than trying for a thrill-a-minute approach. It works because we gradually feel the alienation of the main character; once the two girls get separated and then one of them vanishes, the other one finds herself all alone in a strange country among people who generally don’t speak her language. Much of the movie is in unsubtitled French, but I’m willing to bet the movie is more effective if you don’t speak the language; nothing can leave you quite as on edge as having people talk all around you without being able to understand a word they’re saying. Furthermore, you’re not really sure who she should be frightened of; there are several characters who are acting very strange, and any one of them could prove to be the killer. Fuest does an excellent job of tightening the screws, using both music and silence to increase the tension. You’ll find problems with the plot after the movie is over, but that doesn’t really matter; what keeps you interested is that you don’t really know exactly how events will unfold. Nor will you know whether good or evil will emerge triumphant. All in all, this is one tidy little thriller.