Cisaruv pekar a pekaruv cisar (1951)

CISARUV PEKAR A PEKARUV CISAR (1951)
aka The Emperor and the Golem, The Emperor’s Baker and The Baker’s Emperor
Article 2357 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-8-2007
Posting Date: 1-24-2008
Directed by Martin Fric
Featuring Jan Werich, Marie Vasova, Natasa Gollova

An emperor surrounded by corrupt courtiers ignores his starving people and invests his money in artworks, alchemy and a search for a golem. When his baker passes out bread meant for the king to the starving populace, he is thrown into a dungeon. Through a series of complications, the baker’s resemblance to the king causes him to take his place.

The above plot description is an approximation cobbled together from other plot summaries of the movie and what I was able to figure out from my viewing; my copy of the movie is in unsubtitled Czech. Nonetheless, it remains enjoyable throughout; the movie is largely a comedy, and much of the comic is visual, so even if you don’t know what the characters are talking about, you can still figure out the comic bits and piece out goodly portions of the plot. It’s an enjoyable (if lengthy) lark, with some definite fantastic content (various magicians appear, and there’s the golem, of course). The golem here is truly impressive; he’s massive, and when he comes to life, his head glows red and fire and yellow smoke issue forth from his eyes; he is such a powerful presence that it compensates somewhat for the fact that his movement is unconvincing. There are a number of great comic bits that don’t rely on the dialogue at all; my favorites include the classic mirror gag where one person apes the other’s actions, and an attempted poisoning involving a ring with a secret compartment, several glasses of wine and an astronomer. I’d love to see a subtitled version of this some time to enjoy the true experience, but it’s still very enjoyable, even in this form. Recommended.

 

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Cyborg 2087 (1966)

CYBORG 2087 (1966)
Article 2343 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2007
Posting Date: 1-11-2008
Directed by Franklin Adreon
Featuring Michael Rennie, Karen Steele, Wendell Corey

A cyborg from 2087 is sent to the past (1966) to prevent a professor from revealing the secrets to radio telepathy, his invention of which brought about an oppressive military dictatorship. However, two other cyborgs (known as tracers) are also sent into the past to prevent his mission.

When I saw this movie many years ago in the waning days of my local Creature Feature, I was mostly struck by the cheesiness of the movie and the silliness of some of the scenes; the tracers trotting along while looking at their wristbands struck me as more funny than threatening. I considered it quite awful back then. It looks better to me today; the cheesiness and the silliness are still there, of course, and I also notice that the dialogue is fairly weak and the music is repetitive (especially the tracers’ theme music), but the acting is mostly decent; Michael Rennie is appropriately cast and does a nice job, and Wendell Corey is a lot of fun as the sheriff. It also maintains a decent pace, and I found it quite watchable. I don’t know if it’s the first movie to deal with cyborgs or with people from the future coming into the past to change things (the comparisons that are often made between this movie and THE TERMINATOR are interesting), but they were rare enough subjects in the movies at the time that this adds to the novelty value of the movie. It’s certainly one of the more interesting scripts from Arthur C. Pierce that I’ve encountered. In short, I liked this movie more than I expected I would.

 

The Crucible (1957)

THE CRUCIBLE (1957)
aka Les Sorcieres de Salem
Article 2339 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-21-2007
Posting Date: 1-7-2008
Directed by Raymond Rouleau
Featuring Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Mylene Demongeot

In the village of Salem, an ambitious cleric joins forces with a spurned mistress to start a witch hunt in Salem. This has a devastating impact on a farming family in the community.

This adaptation of the Arthur Miller play (too controversial for American film makers due to its implied condemnation of the McCarthy “witch hunt”) with a script by Jean-Paul Sartre is only marginally of fantastical content; though we do see a witch’s ceremony at one point, there is no reason to believe in the context of the movie that they have any real power. It’s mostly about the way fear and hysteria can twist and destroy the lives of all around it. The couple who falls victim to the accusation (played excellently by Simone Signoret and Yves Montand) are not saints, but they certainly aren’t guilty of the crimes of which they are accused. I’m not sure how true this movie is to either the play or the real life events they portray; in some ways, the plot seems a little too neat to be an accurate reflection of a true story. It is, however, powerful and gripping; you’re never quite sure what the fates of any of the characters will be. It’s a truly grim culture the characters reside in here; to many of them, God is a merciless, unforgiving presence just waiting for you to sin so he can damn you. It’s no wonder the preacher who brings on the witch hunts spends more time talking about the devil than God. This one is highly recommended.

 

Child’s Play (1972)

CHILD’S PLAY (1972)
Article 2322 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2007
Posting Date: 12-22-2007
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Featuring James Mason, Robert Preston, Beau Bridges

There has been an alarming increase in violent incidents at a Catholic boy’s school. At the same time, a new gym teacher finds himself caught up in a feud between two of the teachers, one who staunchly takes the side of the boys and the other, a tyrannical Latin teacher.

No, this movie has nothing to do with the Chucky the killer doll movies that came much later. In fact, it could be argued that this movie is not a horror film at all; it’s certainly not a conventional one. Nonetheless, I do think it falls into horror; there is a palpable and unsettling dread at the eruptions of violence that crop up in the movie, and many of the boys seem thoroughly dehumanized. What keeps it up in the air a bit is that the movie is a bit ambiguous as to exactly what type of evil we’re dealing with; there is definitely some evil here, but it may be distinctly human. At any rate, I found this one quite fascinating and compelling, though I do feel it is a bit flawed. It’s at least partially a mystery, and at least one of the mysteries has to do with the degree to which the Latin teacher’s paranoid fantasies are just that. Unfortunately, if your instincts for plotting are in gear, you should figure out that mystery long before the revelations at the end of the movie. The performances are strong from all concerned, but James Mason as the Latin teacher (who can say more about how his character is feeling with body language than many actors could do with pages of dialogue) is the standout. Nevertheless, the movie has a lukewarm reputation, and the movie has the real potential to alienate the viewer. The ambiguities at the end of the movie may also leave the viewer somewhat unsatisfied.

 

Claws (1977)

CLAWS (1977)
Article 2301 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-14-2007
Posting Date: 11-30-2007
Directed by Richard Bansbach and R.E. Pierson
Featuring Jason Evers, Leon Ames, Anthony Caruso

A killer bear is loose in Alaska and a logger sets his sights on killing him. However, the bear may be supernatural…

With a 2.8 rating on IMDB, there’s little doubt that this killer bear ripoff of JAWS has a mighty low reputation. In some ways, it quite deserves it; its gratuitous and confusing use of flashbacks during the first half of the movie is annoying, the acting is quite abysmal at times, and some of the dialogue is howlingly bad; if anyone can explain to me what the comment “I’m a rock singer, not Walt Disney” has to do with being able to tell if there’s a bear in your van, I’d certainly love to hear it. Fortunately, the imitation is not slavish, and I rather grew to like some of the main characters. At least one of the bear attacks did make me jump, and the ending, though confusing, does generate a decent degree of suspense and excitement. In the end, with all its faults, I found it quite watchable and entertaining, and the addition of a supernatural element to the proceedings was quite welcome by me. I may even like this one better than GRIZZLY , which is probably the better movie.

 

Los Canallas (1968)

LOS CANALLAS (1968)
aka The Scoundrels
Article 2298 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-11-2007
Posting Date: 11-27-2007
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring Mil Mascaras, Regina Tome, Manolo Munoz

A wrestler must contend with an evil woman and an escaped convict who wants to wrestle him.

Once again I find myself contending with a Mexican wrestler movie in Spanish without the benefit of dubbing or subtitles, so many of the plot details are lost on me. The above plot description is vague and may be inaccurate, but that’s what I got out of it. The wrestler this time is Mil Mascaras, whose name means “Man of 1000 Masks”, and though he doesn’t wear a thousand during the length of the movie, he changes masks frequently; as a real-life wrestler, he apparently never wrestled in the same mask twice. For what it’s worth, he certainly seems to be in better shape than Santo. The only fantastic content I was able to notice was a voodoo ceremony in the middle of the movie, though I suspect it really doesn’t have much of an effect on the plot. And for fans of the wrestling, there’s four matches during the course of the movie. And if you prefer musical numbers to wrestling scenes, you can always go for a Neutron movie instead.

 

Cauldron of Blood (1970)

CAULDRON OF BLOOD (1970)
aka El Coleccionista de cadaveres
Article 2297 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-9-2007
Posting Date: 11-26-2007
Directed by Santos Alcocer
Featuring Jean-Pierre Aumont, Boris Karloff, Viveca Lindfors

A writer and a model in Spain visit a sculptor and his wife, unaware of their dreadful secret; the wife is killing people in order to get skeletons to provide the armatures for the sculptor’s creations.

Out of curiosity, I went to Karloff’s listing on IMDB and did a rating sort to see how close to the bottom it was sitting. For the record, it was third from the bottom, only beating out ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE and THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI. Also, two of Karloff’s final Mexican movies actually rated better. At heart, I’m not surprised. I’d seen this one years ago on my local Creature Feature, and the only thing I remembered about it was about ten seconds towards the end of the movie where we find Karloff’s fate. Watching it now, I know why; this may be one of Karloff’s dullest outings. Actually, he’s barely in it; most of the movie is more concerned with the lives of a group of arty types in Spain, and they are a singularly uninteresting lot. We know the truth about the skeletons early on in the proceedings, and once it is revealed, there is nothing more in the way of surprises. I suppose some people might find some interest in the obsession with Nazism and sadism of Viveca Lindfor’s character, but to my mind, the only thing those scenes really add to the movie is running time, and the movie is way too long as it is. It’s much better made than his Mexican outings, but in terms of holding my interest, those Mexican movies have this one beat. Depressing.