Agente X 1-7 Operacion Oceano (1965)

AGENTE X 1-7 OPERACION OCEANO (1965)
Article 1959 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2006
Posting Date: 12-23-2006
Directed by Tanio Boccia
Featuring Lang Jeffries, Aurora de Alba, Rafael Bardem

A superspy acts cool, beats up villains, and beds women to help protect the free world from evildoers (generic spy thriller description #1).

Why did I leave the title of this movie in a foreign language? And why is my plot description so vague? If you’re thinking that this movie wasn’t dubbed into English, you’re on the right track, so let me give you the full lowdown. It’s an nth-generation dupe of a TV transmission of a badly panned-and-scanned copy of a low-budget Italian James Bond-style-superspy movie dubbed into Spanish for maximum incomprehensibility. Most of the movie consists of action sequences, the hero driving around to bad soundtrack music, beautiful women, and scenes that explain the plot, none of which I could understand. Don’t ask me about the fantastic content; there’s some gadgets and machines in here, so I’m assuming it’s borderline science fiction. The only parts of this movie that are English are the lyrics to a couple of the songs, and they stink. And we’re in the middle of a heat wave, and my foot hurts, and my digestion is acting up, and I get way too much spam from companies that want to sell me medications, and…all right, so I’m going on. But if I can’t give this movie a proper review, I need to put something in this write-up!

 

The Ape Woman (1963)

THE APE WOMAN (1963)
aka LA DONNA SCIMMIA
Article 1952 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-19-2006
Posting Date: 12-16-2006
Directed by Marco Ferreri
Featuring Ugo Tognazzi, Annie Girardot, Eva Belami

A sideshow huckster discovers a woman working in a kitchen who is completely covered with hair, and hits upon the scheme of presenting her as an ape woman in a bid to make money. He soon discovers that in order to keep her cooperation, he will have to marry her, and this leads to an interesting chain of events…

Though this can’t really be described as properly belonging to any of the fantastic genres, it does deal the theme of deformity, a staple of many horror movies. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this movie going into it; the plot description certainly makes it sound like it’s going to be somewhat depressing look at human exploitation. Yet, though the theme of human exploitation is very much there, it never becomes a simple portrait of the vileness of man, and even though there is something offensive about his money-making scheme, one is aware that the huckster is the one human being in the woman’s life who is not allowing her to be ashamed of her appearance, and this opens up a new world of possibilities for her. This is one movie that isn’t predictable; the twists and turns of life for these two are fascinating, and in particular, you never know what Ugo Tognazzi’s character is going to do. He’s fully capable of engaging in some low activities, but he isn’t totally without conscience, and isn’t impervious to persuasion or to changing his outlook to fit the circumstances. The question that drives the movie is – Just how far will he change himself as his world changes around him? The ending is deeply (but not darkly) ironic, and quite satisfying.

 

The Absent Minded Professor (1961)

THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961)
Article 1951 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2006
Posting Date: 12-15-2006
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olson, Keenan Wynn

A forgetful professor misses his wedding when he inadvertently makes a gravity-defying substance he calls flubber. He tries to win back the affections of his fiancee while keeping a greedy businessman away from his invention.

For me, the shopping-cart genre never got better than this. This one is more energetic than THE SHAGGY DOG, and the special effects are pretty impressive all around. Fred MacMurray is wonderful in the title role, capturing just the right combination of earnestness and silliness. The movie also benefits from the presence of Keenan Wynn playing the villainous businessmen, Alonzo P. Hawk, who would not only return in this movie’s sequel SON OF FLUBBER but in HERBIE RIDES AGAIN as well. The best scenes in the movie involve the use of flubber in shoes; though some may prefer the basketball game or the dance, my favorite of these is the one where Keenan Wynn’s character gets his comeuppance, a scene that involves firemen (including Wynn’s own real-life father Ed Wynn), three fisherman, a football team, a hot dog salesman, and everyone in the neighborhood. The movie even indulges in some political satire; when the flying Model T is mistaken for a UFO and is about to be shot down by missiles, I love the reaction of the man making the countdown at the knowledge that the Model T has gone behind the capitol building and that releasing the missiles could destroy Congress. This is probably my favorite of the shopping-cart genre.

 

Atlas Against the Czar (1964)

ATLAS AGAINST THE CZAR (1964)
aka SAMSON VS. THE GIANT KING, MACISTE ALLA CORTE DELLO ZAR
Article 1946 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-13-2006
Posting Date: 12-10-2006
Directed by Tanio Boccia
Featuring Kirk Morris, Massimo Serato, Ombretta Colli

Nicolas the Czar is a mean ol’ tyrant who oppresses his subjects, but not if our three-named hero Atlas/Samson/Maciste has anything to say about it!

Some thoughts on ATLAS AGAINST THE CZAR.

1) The Italian title of this movie roughly translates into MACISTE IN THE COURT OF THE CZAR. Given the other two titles are ATLAS AGAINST THE CZAR and SAMSON VS. THE GIANT KING, I can only be grateful to a resource like IMDB that helps me keep these movies straight.

2) And while we’re on the subject, where does our hero get off having three names? I think he’s trying to monopolize the market. It’s not really fair, not while Clint Eastwood has to play a man with no name and America has to sing about “A Horse with No Name”. He may be a loinclothed hero, but I really think Samson/Atlas/Maciste might find it in his heart to share some of his names with those less fortunate, don’t you?

3) And to further compound matters, he can’t even remember his name when he appears, despite the fact that the opening titles tell us that he is “Atlas, who is now named Machiste”. If you have three names, you should be able to remember at least one of them.

4) Note to proofreaders – there’s no “H’ in Maciste.

5) I’ve speculated in the past on Maciste’s strange knack for appearing in widely divergent time zones. Filmmakers didn’t flinch when they had him appear in thirteenth century China (in HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS, (and don’t get me started on this fourth name) or in seventeenth century Scotland (in THE WITCH’S CURSE), but having him appear in nineteenth century Russia must have given them pause; they spend the first third of the movie setting up a scenario for having him appear in this time period, which involves suspended animation. They never do figure out why it is he speaks Russian like a native, though.

7) So how do nineteenth-century archaelogists revive Maciste out of his slumber? They rub oil on his chest. Now you know why these big sword-and-sandal heroes look so slick.

8) Of course, once he’s revived, it’s the usual sword-and-sandal shenanigans. Maciste lifts up big rocks and throws them, etc. etc. One item of note; Maciste is dressed in a loincloth while the rest of the cast is dressed in Russian garbs, such as long coats and furs. Either one member of the cast was freezing during the shooting of this movie, or the rest of the cast was sweating bullets.

9) The biggest surprises in this movie come near the end. Instead of the main villain dying in a last bit of treachery, he lives so that Maciste can turn him over to his former subjects so they can punish him. And when the time comes for him to leave the woman he’s found so that he can help people in other lands, he changes his mind and takes her with him. These breaks from sword-and-sandal tradition would be interesting if the rest of the movie wasn’t so hackneyed.

10) There are no evil queens in this movie.

 

The Amityville Horror (1979)

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979)
Article 1915 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-12-2006
Posting Date: 11-9-2006
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Featuring James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger

A family moves into a house that was the site of a mass slaying a year earlier. They begin to find that there is something evil at work in the house.

You know, a movie doesn’t spawn as many sequels as this one has without having touched a nerve somewhere in the viewing public. I’m sure part of it stems from it having been based on a supposedly true story, which has long since been debunked. It’s no doubt more effective if you believe the story is true; otherwise, this ragtag collection of random and derivative horrors comes across as – well, a ragtag collection of random and derivative horrors. It might have been more effective if it had been shorter; we certainly don’t need as many scenes as we get of James Brolin chopping wood. Still, the movie does have one clever aspect to it which I might not have noticed had I not recalled reading it in some other review, and that is that it pays an unusually amount of attention to the economic horrors of dealing with this house; the scene in which the demonic horrors of the house appear to make off with a wad of money is something new. Yes, it seems a bit silly on the surface, but in its own way it touches upon real-life fears more effectively than the plagues of flies, bleeding walls, vomiting clergymen and gates-to-hell-in-the-basement that pass for the rest of the horrors of this house. Someday, someone is going to take this idea and run with it, and that should be an interesting movie.

Alison’s Birthday (1979)

ALISON’S BIRTHDAY (1979)
Article 1914 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2006
Posting Date: 11-8-2006
Directed by Ian Coughlan
Featuring Joanne Samuel, Lou Brown, Bunny Brooke

A young woman is called home for a special party for her nineteenth birthday, an event which she’d been thinking of avoiding due to a message from a seance she’d received years earlier. She heads home with her boyfriend, but finds that something sinister is going on…

In many ways, I quite like this Australian horror movie. The acting is quite good throughout, the characters are thoroughly likable, they act with a certain degree of intelligence (most of the time), and it goes for subtle scares rather than big shocks; the movie is, in fact, bloodless.

However, it has a real problem in the fact that the story is utterly predictable. There’s not a single surprise among the various revelations, and it ends pretty much as I expected a horror movie from this era to end. It is this utter lack of surprises that drags the movie down; even if you enjoy some of the touches, there’s really nothing to the story that you haven’t seen before. As a result of all this, it’s both a little better than expected and a disappointment as well.

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951)
Article 1913 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2006
Posting Date: 11-7-2006
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske
Featuring the voices of Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn

Alice pursues a talking rabbit down a hole and ends up in Wonderland.

Up to this point, all of the Disney animated features that I’ve covered I’d already seen some years before I watched them for this series. This is one of the few I’ve never seen, and, to be quite honest, I’ve been somewhat avoiding it. The main reason is simple; I’m a big fan of the original Lewis Carroll stories, which have a unique and very distinct brand of whimsy to them. And though Disney is no slouch when it comes to whimsy, there’s nothing in their oeuvre that leads me to believe that they would have any real grasp on that brand of twisted illogic that drives the Alice stories. It also doesn’t lend itself to Disney’s strengths; since it largely consists of an episodic group of encounters, there’s no real story to begin with, and it is peculiarly lacking in any sort of workable emotional tenor. It’s not that I thought Disney would make a horrible movie based on the books; it’s just that in the process of adaptation, I was sure that the final result would owe much more to Disney than to Carroll. Furthermore, the Tenniel illustrations have set in my mind how the characters should look, but I was pretty sure that Disney would redesign the characters quite a bit.

And now, having seen it, I feel that I was right. Some of Carroll’s verbal humor is still there, but it’s fairly swamped by wild visual slapstick. It tries to add some emotive quality during a scene where Alice gets lost in Tulgey woods and encounters a bunch of bizarre creatures, but that scene does not appear in the Alice books; in fact, it owes more to the Warner Brothers short, PORKY IN WACKYLAND. The characters were indeed redesigned, but, as expected, they didn’t replace the Tenniel illustrations in my mind. The final result isn’t a bad movie, but it is definitely more of a Disney movie than an adapataion of Carroll. In short, no surprises. It’s best elements are the surreal visuals; at moments, it feels like “Pink Elephants on Parade” stretched out to feature-length.

For all their flaws, both the 1933 and 1949 versions are closer to the spirit of the book. Still, when I really want to enjoy that Carrollian sense of whimsy, I’ll go to the obvious place; the book itself. For me, there really is no substitute.