Atomic Rulers (1964)

ATOMIC RULERS (1964)
aka Atomic Rulers of the World
Article 1815 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-4-2006
Posting Date: 8-1-2006
Directed by Koreyoshi Akusak, Teruo Ishii and Akira Mitsuwa
Featuring Ket Utsui, Junko Ikeuchi, Shoji Nakayama

Starman (aka Super Giant) (Aka Prominent Equipment Man) does battle with an evil country which is planning to use atomic power to take over the world.

Yes, folks, it’s Starman again, and he’s here to save the Emerald Planet from being contaminated from radiation from nuclear tests on the planet Earth. Given that the Emerald Planet exists in another galaxy, I wouldn’t think that would be such an urgent problem, but apparently it is, so they send Starman to save the Earth (and themselves). On the plus side, this is one of the more coherent Starman movies I’ve seen; on the down side, he only does battle with humans, and there are no atomic mimes to be seen (as they were in EVIL BRAIN FROM OUTER SPACE ). It’s edited down from a couple of features, and occasionally they have to use narration to fill in the gaps, but this doesn’t happen overmuch. As always, Starman is the biggest friend to children next to Gamera, and he entertains them by bending guns in half. He’s still good at those quick costume changes and those backward leaps as well. Yes, the Starman movies are rather silly, but I find them a lot easier to enjoy than their imitations, PRINCE OF SPACE and INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)
Article 1814 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2006
Posting Date: 7-31-2006
Directed by Frank Capra
Featuring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair

A dramatic critic discovers that his two loveable aunts have been poisoning lonely old men as a charity.

I’ve long been a fan of the Joseph Kesselring play on which this movie was based, and at least part of this affection is derived from the role it played in the career of Boris Karloff, who rightly enough played the role of Jonathan Brewster on Broadway. I directed a scene from the play in college, and then went on to appear in a production of it several years later. This movie adaptation features many favorite actors of mine, including Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton, and also features both Josephine Hull and Jean Adair in the roles in which they appeared on stage. The movie was also directed by Frank Capra, one of the most accomplished directors in his time. Yet, despite all this, the movie just falls short of being a real favorite of mine, largely because of two circumstances. Despite my affection for his work and despite the fact that his comic timing is impeccable here, I’m still put off by Cary Grant’s performance; I think he’s way over the top and that the role would have worked much better with a more subdued performance. I also can never quite bring myself to be won over by Raymond Massey’s performance in the Jonathan Brewster role, not because of anything he does wrong but just because every time he opens his mouth, I imagine what it would be like to actually hear the words coming from Karloff’s mouth, and I never quite accept what I’m actually hearing. Karloff was unavailable for the movie, as he was busy with the Broadway production of the show, so I can’t really blame anything but circumstance, but I do feel his absence tremendously, and it does hamper my enjoyment of the movie. This doesn’t bother a lot of other people, and quite frankly, I envy them for it. And I’m afraid that THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU isn’t quite an acceptable substitute, either.

Angel on the Amazon (1948)

ANGEL ON THE AMAZON (1948)
aka Drums Along the Amazon
Article 1792 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-9-2006
Posting Date: 7-9-2006
Directed by John H. Auer
Featuring George Brent, Vera Ralston, Brian Aherne

In the jungle, a man meets a mysterious woman hunter who disappears shortly after their meeting. He meets her again at a horse race, and tries to strike up a relationship with her, but she has a terrible secret…

Given the title, I fully expected that I was about to endure another Double-Stuffed Safari-O, probably about a beautiful White Goddess. I began to suspect that this was going to be somewhat better early on, when the movie opens with the mysterious woman fearlessly killing an attacking panther; this scene was directed with a much greater amount of suspense and tension than I was used to for a jungle movie. This feeling persisted into the movie, with unusually sharp dialogue (especially the lines written for Constance Bennett’s character) and some strong moments of suspense (in particular, an attack by a wounded black panther is incredibly tense). In fact, except for flashbacks, the last two thirds of the movie don’t take place in the jungle at all. In reality, this is a romantic drama, and a fairly moving one. There is definitely fantastic content to the movie as well, but other than pointing out that the movie bears a certain similarity to BLACK OXEN , I’m not going to elaborate on the nature of the mysterious woman’s secret. The movie has a few problems; the middle section is rather dull, and Vera Ralston really isn’t a strong enough actress to bring her character completely to life, but despite this, it’s a strong movie, and the ending is quite moving. This one was a definite and welcome surprise, and is recommended.

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961)

ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT (1961)
Article #1746 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-25-2005
Posting Date: 5-24-2006
Directed by George Pal
Featuring Sal Ponti, Joyce Taylor, John Dall

When a Greek fisherman rescues a princess from Atlantis and helps her to return home, he is rewarded by being turned into a slave and forced to work the mines. However, he befriends a priest who knows that the time of Atlantis is nearing its end…

This is perhaps George Pal’s weakest and most disappointing movie, though to some extent it was not his fault; he was given a weak script to begin with, a writer’s strike put the kibbosh on rewrites, and studio tampering further damaged the production. As a result, the movie is horribly uneven. There are clever and fun moments (I like the scene where the fisherman and the princess talk to each other aboard the boat and don’t see the submarine surfacing and diving in the background), but other moments are totally cliched. The special effects range from the excellent to the awful, especially during the somewhat sluggish climax of the movie. What I think is most disappointing is that, despite the presence of Pal, this is really nothing more than a typical Sword-and-Sandal movie with an everyman rather than a Hercules type as the hero. I did enjoy seeing a pre-“Get Smart” Edward Platt as the priest who doubts the power of the Atlantean gods, and you should be able to spot the voice of Paul Frees several times throughout the production. The addition of an “Island of Dr. Moreau” subplot is interesting, but it is not incorporated into the story very well at all. At any rate, the movie really lacks that special quality that Pal usually brought to his productions. He’d done better before, and would do better again.

Adventures of Sinbad (1962)

ADVENTURES OF SINBAD (1962)
(a.k.a. ARABIAN NAITO: SHINDOBADDO NO BOKEN)
Article #1722 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-1-2005
Posting Date: 4-30-2006
Directed by Taiji Yabushita and Masao Kuroda
Featuring the voices of Hideo Kinoshita, Jumpei Takiguchi, Mahito Tsujimura
(*Note – I found no credits for the actors in the English language version,
which is the one I saw.)

A young man named Sinbad comes by a map to a fabulous treasure and stows away aboard a ship to seek it out. On the way, he has many fabulous adventures.

This animated feature from Japan is a bit of a mixed bag. The story itself is a bit too predictable; the plot involves a handsome young sailing man, a restless princess, a short, fat and simple sultan with a passion for toys, and an evil grand vizier, and I could say the same for several other Arabian Nights movies as well. The dubbing is also fairly indifferent, and is downright bad during some of the songs; the one about the magic guitar is truly awful in the English version. Still, there’s a real charm to this movie; it sustains a mood of whimsy without falling into slapstick, and even through some of the wooden dubbing, the characters maintain a certain appeal that shines through. In fact, I would like to have seen more of the baby whale whom the sailors save from an attacking swordfish at one point. The climax of the movie is definitely the highlight, and it involves the Hero, his boy companion, the princess, the villainous vizier, his army of henchmen, a giant bird, an evil bat, a treasure-filled meteor, a bird-shaped stone idol, and an assortment of bizarre flying jellyfish-like creatures. All in all, I found myself quite satisfied by the movie.

The Anniversary (1968)

THE ANNIVERSARY (1968)
Article #1707 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2005
Posting Date: 4-15-2006
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring Bette Davis, Sheila Hancock, Jack Hedley

The sons of a tyrannical matriarch try to escape from her clutches during the celebration of the anniversary of her marriage to the deceased father.

Usually, this is the type of movie I shuttle off to the marginal categories, but I consider this one to really be out of the genre, despite its inclusion in Bryan Senn’s and John Johnson’s FANTASTIC CINEMA SUBJECT GUIDE under the “Madmen” category (and hence, its inclusion in this series). Yes, it features a monster, but only in the sense that Bette Davis’s character is one of the cruelest and most manipulative characters in cinema history, but she remains distinctly human. And though she may be mad, it’s not the psychotic madness of horror but the madness of glorying over one’s manipulative power. Its biggest claim to horror is its pedigree; Davis’s last two films had been THE NANNY and HUSH HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, this one was made at Hammer with a script by Jimmy Sangster and direction by Roy Ward Baker. Still, I really find it impossible to class this one as belonging to the horror genre.

It is, however, a deliciously nasty comedy, one that seemed tailor-made for Davis. As the strident, crude one-eyed matriarch of the family, she spews out lines that would never have passed muster in the days of the production code, and plays tricks of such consummate cruelty that you find yourselves glad that you’re not there in person. It’s a fascinating battle; though her sons are weak, the women in their lives are quite willing to take her on, but their ultimate success depends on the support they receive from the sons. Who will win the final battle? I certainly won’t give it away, but it’s good to remember that it’s not over till it’s over. Fans of black comedy and/or Bette Davis will have a field day with this; those expecting a horror movie instead will come away frustrated.

The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962)

THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF (1962)
Article #1659 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2005
Posting Date: 2-26-2006
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Howard Vernon, Conrado San Martin, Dina Lorys

Dr. Orloff and his robot-like assistant Morpho are kidnapping and killing young women in an attempt to restore the beauty of Orloff’s daughter. The police investigate the crimes.

How awful is it? Well, the movie IS directed by Jesse Franco….and I feel the need to say right off the bat that that comment is a cheap shot. A large percentage of Franco’s movies are stinkers, but this is one of the exceptions. The worst problem with the movie isn’t even Franco’s fault; I doubt that he’s responsible for the horrible dub job done on this movie. Other than that, the worst problem is that the story line is hardly original, but I’m willing to let that slide, since I’m just glad he bothered to pay attention to the story at all. By just having a story to follow, the movie makes it easier for me to appreciate Franco’s visual inventiveness, which is quite strong here. The character of Morpho is also effectively creepy; Ricardo Valle does a fine job in his performance of the character, but since he never says anything, he has the advantage that his performance isn’t compromised by the dubbing. On a purely visual level, Howard Vernon is fairly scary himself as the title character, and if you can see past the dubbing, the performances do seem solid throughout. Of the movies I’ve seen of Franco’s for this series so far, this is easily the best of the lot, and I bet there are a few other worthy ones out there as well.