Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953)

COMMANDO CODY: SKY MARSHAL OF THE UNIVERSE (1953)
TV Series / Serial
Article 3688 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-4-2011
Posting Date: 9-19-2011
Directed by Harry Keller, Franklin Adreon, and Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Judd Holdren, Aline Towne and Gregory Gaye
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction series

A nefarious tyrant from outer space called The Ruler has his sights on attacking and defeating the Earth. Only Commando Cody and his crew can save the world.

I actually could have covered this one some time ago, but at the time, it appeared to be a TV series that was for some reason listed in my reference books as a serial. It was only later than I realized that the history of this one was somewhat more complicated; though obviously filmed as a TV show, it apparently had to be shown in theaters before it could be shown on TV due to certain contractual obligations. Apparently, this is the source of a certain amount of controversy; since it doesn’t engage in cliffhangers, some purists won’t classify it as a “serial”. I have no problem doing so; there is an overriding story arc, and there are some early silent serials that also eschewed the cliffhanger format, such as THE PERILS OF PAULINE. As a serial, I find it more entertaining than either ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE or RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON; the necessity of coming up with a new episode-length threat every time out made things a little more creative than usual. As a TV series, it’s certainly faster-moving and more energetic than some of the other series of the time, such “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” or “Space Patrol”, and the wealth of stock footage (from earlier serials and other sources) is well used. In this one, Commando Cody wears a mask under the helmet to keep his real identity a secret. One of the oddest touches for me was the presence of Richard Crane as Cody’s assistant in nine of the 12 episodes (the first three featured William Schallert in the position); given that he played the heroic title character in “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger”, he’s essentially in that series’ Winky role here. All in all, I was rather entertained by this one.

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Les creatures (1966)

LES CREATURES (1966)
aka The Creatures

Article 3678 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2011
Posting Date: 9-9-2011
Directed by Agnes Varda
Featuring Catherine Deneuve, Michel Piccoli, Eva Dahlbeck
Country: Sweden / France
What it is: Fantastically themed art movie

After an accident, a writer and his wife (who has lost the power of speech) move into a castle, and have odd encounters with the local residents. The writer begins to suspect someone is practicing mind control on the residents…. or is he just writing a book about it?

The first thirty minutes of this strange little movie are impenetrable; events happen, but their significance within the scheme of things is nearly impossible to discern. It’s only when the writer reveals the nature of the book he is writing (in a conversation with a horse) that the movie gives out a clue on what to watch for, as well as providing the key to the fantastic content in the movie. I’m not sure whether the events portrayed are real or just part of the novel he’s writing, but I actually found it didn’t matter; the second half of the movie, in which the writer encounters the man behind the mind control and becomes engaged in a game with him in which the lives of the various people in the community are at risk, is fascinating to watch, and I like the movie’s symbolic use of the checkerboard pattern and the technique of darkening the screen to symbolize that the characters are under mind control . I’m not saying that I’ve scoped out the movie completely; there are still some questions I have about the action (such as whether or not a rabbit really talks back to the writer at one point, and what the significance of the final scene is), but considering the impenetrability of the first part of the movie, I was really glad it settled down into a more coherent and enjoyable groove. This one is recommended, but one should be aware that it’s an art film before taking it on.

The Conquest of Mycenae (1963)

THE CONQUEST OF MYCENAE (1963)
aka Ercole contro Molock

Article 3677 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2011
Posting Date: 9-8-2011
Directed by Giorgio Ferroni
Featuring Gordon Scott, Alessandro Panaro, Rosalba Neri
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Sword and Sandal

The evil city of Mycenae terrorizes its neighbors and demands hostages for sacrifice to the human incarnation of their god Moloch. Can Glaucus, the prince of a neighboring city, find a way to infiltrate Mycenae and spark a revolution?

The movie actually begins with a scene that seems intended to generate a bit of sympathy for the Mycenaens and their plight, but after that, they’re the typical evil kingdom for these types of movies. And don’t let the alternate title (which implies that Hercules is in the movie) fool you; the hero is Glaucus, and he just calls himself Hercules when he willingly agrees to be a hostage in order to get access to the city. He’s strong enough, but not Hercules-style strong. Still, the movie has other fantastic content to it; there’s at least one moment where divine intervention steps in, and though the human/god Moloch is just supposed to be a mutilated human being, it looks like he has a few mystical powers as well. Other than that, it’s the usual sort of thing for a sword and sandal movie, with the order a bit scrambled (the hero’s dalliance with the evil queen is gotten out of the way earlier than usual), and some scenes appear to be missing (if the evil queen ever got her comeuppance, I missed it). Some of the special effects are quite bad; there’s a truly awful shot of a burning city at one point. All in all, it’s just another sword-and-sandal movie.

The Case of the Smiling Stiffs (1973)

THE CASE OF THE SMILING STIFFS (1973)
aka Case of the Full Moon Murders

Article 3674 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-21-2011
Posting Date: 9-5-2011
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham and Brud Talbot
Featuring Sheila Stuart, Jed Ziegler, Cathy Walker
Country: USA
What it is: After hours horror

A vampire is loose in Miami whose method of attack leaves a number of happy corpses around. Dragnet-style cops investigate.

The producer of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and FRIDAY THE 13TH shows that he was as interested in live bodies as he was in dead ones with this movie; yes, the title does indeed have a double meaning. Apparently, this movie was made in both hardcore and softcore versions, with only the latter version surviving. Now I find these movies rather difficult to review; since they’re something in the way of a “specialty” genre, they really need to be judged on the degree they provide that “specialty”, and other factors (such as acting, plot, etc.) are of minimal importance. However, I have no interest in reviewing movies on those terms, so let’s just say that I’ve watched this on to get it off my hunt list. I will make one comment, though; the “Dragnet” style narration really gets tiresome before this one is through.

Christmas Evil (1980)

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)
aka You Better Watch Out

Article 3672 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-19-2011
Posting Date: 9-3-2011
Directed by Lewis Jackson
Featuring Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull
Country: USA
What it is: Christmas psycho movie

After suffering a traumatic childhood experience involving his father in Santa Claus outfit, a disturbed toy factory worker fixates on Santa Claus in an unhealthy way. When Christmas cynicism pushes him over the edge, he takes on the role one Christmas eve to reward the good boys and girls… and to murder the cynics.

With only a 4.4 rating on IMDB, this entry in the “killer Santa” subgenre is not very well respected. But I believe anyone who goes into this one with the expectation of seeing a full-blown slasher film will walk away very disappointed. Rather than having some mindless killer knocking off people one by one, this one attempts to paint a portrait of a disturbed man and his obsessions while exploring some of the slightly creepy undercurrents of the Santa legend itself. He doesn’t don the Santa suit until the second half of the movie, but where many people find the first half dull, I was actually fascinated by seeing the details of his obsession, and I think the first half has the most suspenseful scene (where he covers himself with mud to hide himself while spying on one young boy). It looked initially to me that it was going to go downhill once he was in the suit; his first scene has him flashing a knife in a self-consciously “scary” way, and this made me fear that the main character was going to lose all of his dimension. However, there are some real surprises during this half, largely because the main character is such a loose cannon we’re not sure what he’s going to do in certain situations. There are some flaws, of course. The police investigation is extraordinarily lame; despite the fact that they have a clear description of the killer’s distinctive van and the fact that he leaves his fingerprints all over creation, they decide to arrest every one they find in a Santa suit on Christmas Day. And though the movie does add a bit of a homage to the Universal Frankenstein movies by having Santa chased around by villagers bearing torches, it seems really forced because there is simply no logical reason why these people would even have torches handy to begin with. The ending of the movie is very unexpected, but quite interesting in its way. All in all, I quite liked this one.

Cagliostro (1929)

CAGLIOSTRO (1929)
aka Cagliostro – Liebe und Leben eines grosssen Abenteurers

Article 3649 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-27-2011
Posting Date: 8-11-2011
Directed by Richard Oswald
Featuring Hans Stuwe, Renee Heribel, Alfred Abel
Country: Germany / France / Sweden
What it is: Historical intrigue

An adventurer who dabbles in alchemy and the black arts becomes embroiled in the intrigues of the court of France just before the revolution, and has a brush with the Inquisition.

Here’s another movie that was rescued from my “ones that got away” list, and I was quite delighted to find that my print had English title cards. It only runs 53 minutes so it may not be complete, but the story is clear enough. It’s supposed to be based on a novel, but Cagliostro is a historical personage, albeit one shrouded in mystery. The movie deals mostly with his disgrace when he makes an unfortunate prediction about Marie Antoinette’s fate, and his plans for revenge which involve a diamond necklace. Afterwards, he is arrested by the Inquisition, but the movie seems to have an ending that doesn’t coincide with what happened in real life. The movie is actually quite entertaining, but the fantastic content only plays a partial role in the proceedings, though he does dabble in alchemy, black magic, faith healing, mind reading, and predicting the future. At heart, it’s a love story as well, as it covers the journey he must take to finally fully win the heart of his wife. It’s nice to finally have seen this one.

Le ciel sur la tete (1965)

LE CIEL SUR LA TETE (1965)
aka Sky Above Heaven

Article 3640 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-18-2011
Posting Date: 8-2-2011
Directed by Yves Ciampi
Featuring Andre Smagghe, Marcel Bozzuffi, Henri Piegay
Country: Italy / France
What it is: Science fiction thriller

A radioactive satellite pursues an aircraft carrier.

Some time ago I remember watching an American movie that seemed more like a foreign movie than anything else; I wish I could remember what movie it was. This movie seems to be its mirror opposite; though it’s a French/Italian coproduction, it seems more like an American movie, especially when it lovingly dwells on the spectacle of military technology. I just wish I could tell whether the movie is good or not; my copy is in unsubtitled French, and despite its emphasis on military spectacle, most of the plot seems to be encompassed in dialogue, so I can’t say whether its stylistic touches (it makes some truly interesting experiments with color, and the sound is loud, even shrill at times) make it work. I’ve found at least one reviewer considers the movie more of a commercial for the French aircraft carrier “Clemenceau”, and based on what I see here, I’d have to say that it’s the real star of the show, given how much screen time it’s given. The first half is pretty talky, but it does seem to pick up quite a bit towards the end; I just wish I knew precisely what was going on. At any rate, here’s another movie that has been saved from my “ones that got away” list.