Danger Woman (1946)

DANGER WOMAN (1946)
Article 1937 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-4-2006
Posting Date: 12-1-2006
Directed by Lewis D. Collins
Featuring Don Porter, Brenda Joyce, Patricia Morison

A scientist develops a method of atomic energy (that doesn’t require radioactive substances) that can be used for industrial purposes, but he refuses to reveal it for fear that it will be used for evil ends. However, unscrupulous powers are afoot, and he suddenly finds two people moving into his house; a car accident victim who needs a quiet place to recover and a prodigal wife who returns to him after an absence of three years.

Once again we find ourselves in the grips of one of those marginal science fiction movies in which the science fiction aspect (the new form of atomic energy) serves as little more than the prize in a struggle between good and evil. Action fans will, however, be disappointed as well; there is very little action in the movie, which spends a lot more time on the relationship between the scientist, his wife, and his secretary (who is in love with the scientist and didn’t even know the wife existed before she showed up). The plot to acquire the scientist’s secrets is focused on forcing his hand economically; a smear campaign is used to cut off his means of support in the hopes that this will force him to sell his secrets. The biggest surprise I found in this one was that a certain character wasn’t involved in the plot to get the secrets (a discovery that makes the character much more interesting than they would otherwise have been), but beyond that, this one is tired, predictable, and not much fun. Not essential viewing.

 

Dark Star (1974)

DARK STAR (1974)
Article 1926 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2006
Posting Date: 11-20-2006
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich

A group of space travellers are travelling throughout the universe, destroying planets with unstable orbits so that the solar systems will be safe for colonization. However, they’ve been in space so long, they’ve become careless, clumsy and hostile to each other.

At the time of this writing, this is my favorite John Carpenter movie. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that I am by no means well versed in his oeuvre; for example, I’ve never seen HALLOWEEN, largely due to the role it played in kicking off the whole slasher genre, a trend for which I have little affection. However, I’ve been intrigued about this movie ever since I read about it in Danny Peary’s Cult Movie books, and once I managed to catch it on TV one evening, I’ve been a big fan of it ever since.

The movie is extremely cheap, somewhat off-putting, a little dullish at times, the acting is inconsistent, but it also had me doubled over with laughter for a good stretch of its running time. In particular, the two main comic set-pieces of this movie are classics. The first involves an attempt by one of the crew members to force a now-hated alien-turned-pet (“When I brought you on board, I thought you were cute!”) back into his room, a quest that lands the crew member into hilarious peril in an elevator shaft. Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the script and plays the part of the hapless crew member Pinback, would later retool some of these concepts for his script for ALIEN . The other scene involves the crew trying to contend with the fact that one of their sentient planet-destroying bombs, primed and ready to explode, cannot be dropped from the bomb bay due to a computer malfunction and is preparing to destroy them all. I won’t give away the details of how this crisis was handled other than to say that there are times when a solid grounding on philosophical concepts can save your life. Beyond that, my favorite scene involves the playback of Pinback’s video diary (which looks suspiciously like an eight-track). The theme song is a bizarre little country song called “Benson, Arizona”, and music from “The Marriage of Figaro” is also used to great comic effect. The ending of the movie owes more than a little to Ray Bradbury’s short story, “Kaleidoscope”; in fact, the similarities are so startling, that I do find myself wondering whether they were purposefully lifted from the story. Nonetheless, this is my favorite science fiction comedy. It also makes the best use of a beach ball I’ve ever seen in a movie.

 

Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959)
Article 1924 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-21-2006
Posting Date: 11-18-2006
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, Sean Connery

On the verge of losing his job to a younger man, an old tale-spinner manages to capture the king of the leprachauns. He decides to keep the king prisoner until he decides how he can best help his daughter with his three wishes.

I’ve never quite warmed to Disney’s live-action fantasies as well as their animated ones. In the animated movies, there’s plenty of energy on display even when there’s not much going on story-wise, but when things slow down in these live-action ones (as happens several times during the first hour of this one), I start to lose interest. Still, the movie remains at least mildly charming throughout; the scene with the dancing leprachauns is quite memorable, Janet Munro and Sean Connery make for a likeble couple, and Albert Sharpe and Jimmy O’Dea are fun. And when the movie takes a darker turn during the last half hour, it becomes quite compelling and scary. This last part is done so well that I feel compelled to overlook a story element that has never quite settled well with me; if the legend about the fourth wish is true, wouldn’t Darby be denied the benefits of his third wish in its entirety rather than just partially?

 

Dr. Crippen (1962)

DR. CRIPPEN (1962)
Article 1903 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-31-2006
Posting Date: 10-28-2006
Directed by Robert Lynn
Featuring Donald Pleasence, Coral Browne, Samantha Eggar

A doctor and his young lover find themselves on trial for the murder of the doctor’s wife. Their story is then told in flashback.

Dr. Crippen is another one of those historical characters whose story lends itself to the horror genre, largely due to the grisly method of the disposal of the body. It is this, along with the presence of Donald Pleasence (a familiar face in the fantastic genres), that lend what horror elements there are to this story, and these factors are slight indeed. In fact, this telling of the story is singularly unsensational; in fact, I would go so far to say that the movie itself is pretty dry and a little on the dull side. The performances are quite good, especially from Pleasence and Eggar, but they can’t quite overcome the lack of energy here, though Pleasence has some rather touching scenes towards the end. It’s one of those movies that feels like a photographed stage play at times, though it isn’t based on a play.

Dr. Satan’s Robot (1966)

DR. SATAN’S ROBOT (1966)
Feature version of the Serial THE MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN
Article 1863 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-21-2006
Posting Date: 9-18-2006
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Eduardo Ciannelli, Robert Wilcox, Ella Neal

A madman named Dr. Satan plans to take over the world, but he must reckon with a hero called the Copperhead.

Yep, it’s another feature version of a serial, and little better than most others of its ilk. The serial itself was one of the better ones out there, and if I have anything positive to say about this feature version, it is that it reminded me how enjoyable the serial was. Beyond that, though, there’s little reason to partake of this. The title is a bit of gyp; the robot doesn’t appear until late into the movie. I also couldn’t help but notice this time how variable the quality of the footage was from scene to scene; obviously, the serial episodes from which they culled this feature version were not all of equal quality.

Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll spend tomorrow watching a REAL movie.

D-Day on Mars (1966)

D-DAY ON MARS (1966)
Feature version of Serial THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES
Article 1862 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-20-2006
Posting Date: 9-17-2006
Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet and Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Roy Barcroft, James Craven, Dennis Moore

The Purple Monster comes from Mars to take over the Earth.

THE PURPLE MONSTER STRIKES is one of the better serials out there, and because the opening footage in this feature version is from the interesting first episode, it gets off to a good start. However, if all too quickly falls into the same serial-to-feature-version pattern of jumping from plot point to fight scene to plot point to fight scene, etc. etc. This one seems particularly mechanical in the way it does it, and it just brings out how much serial plots are designed to lead to from one cliffhanger after another; it’s the cinematic equivalent of marking time. What works on an episode by episode basis doesn’t necessarily work strung together as a whole, and this feature version is a bore. This is one of several feature versions of serials that were put together in 1966 for TV distribution. There’s little to recommend here; you’re better off with the original serial watched an episode at a time.

Double Door (1934)

DOUBLE DOOR (1934)
Article 1860 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-18-2006
Posting Date: 9-15-2006
Directed by Charles Vidor
Featuring Evelyn Venable, Mary Morris, Anne Revere

A wealthy old woman, angered at the marriage of her estate’s heir to a woman whom she considers common, does all she can to make the couple miserable and break up the marriage. When one scheme fails and the heir turns against her, she contives another more extreme plan…

Though it’s not quite a horror movie, this movie has a few elements of the “old dark house” movies of the time; in particular, a secret soundproof room, hidden by a double door with two combination locks, plays a strong part in the proceedings. A comment is made at one point about the house being haunted, but the only real terror here is the distinctly human monster played by Mary Morris, who does a wonderful job in the role of a scheming, manipulative and cruel matriarch. Kent Taylor plays the beleaguered heir to the estate; he would go on to appear in other genre movies such as THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES , THE CRAWLING HAND , THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH , and BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR. The acting is strong throughout, and the cast is excellent; it includes Anne Revere, Guy Standing and Halliwell Hobbes. The main problem I had with the movie is that the ending isn’t quite clear; I wasn’t sure whether the final event was an accident or intentional. All in all, this one is marginal, but quite enjoyable.