Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947)

DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME (1947)
Article 2246 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-10-2007
Posting Date: 10-6-2007
Directed by John Rawlins
Featuring Boris Karloff, Ralph Byrd, Anne Gwynne

Dick Tracy investigates a bank robbery in which the people in the building were frozen in their places due to a gas. One of the robbers, known as Gruesome, was recognized as a man whose corpse was brought in a few days ago, but which came to life and walked out.

This fairly entertaining entry in the Dick Tracy series benefits from the presence of several familiar faces; Boris Karloff, Skelton Knaggs and Milton Parsons (as Gruesome, X-Ray, and Dr. A. Tomic) all appear in the movie. Both Parsons and Knaggs had appeared as different characters in other Dick Tracy movies. The movie also features Jason Robards Sr., Robert Clarke and Lex Barker in small roles. I was a little disappointed not to find Ian Keith in this one, as his continuing character of Vitamin Flintheart was one of my favorites. It’s nice to see Ralph Byrd in the Tracy role again; he comes as close to that square-jawed Dick Tracy look as any actor could. Though Karloff’s presence adds to the proceedings, the character of Gruesome really doesn’t make for a memorable villain, though he does inspire a comment in which Karloff’s name is dropped. Nonetheless, it’s fast moving and efficient. This would be the last of the series.

 

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The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961)
Article 2245 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-9-2007
Posting Date: 10-5-2007
Directed by Val Guest
Featuring Janet Munro, Leo McKern, Edward Judd

After the simultaneous explosion of two nuclear bombs, the earth begins to undergo a strange series of disasters. Reporters try to piece together the details of what has happened to the planet as a result of the tests despite the fact that the government is suppressing the knowledge.

The last few movies I’ve seen of Val Guest’s have been fantastically themed comedies that really didn’t impress me all that much. Here we have him working in the mode in which I like him best; this is a very effective end-of-the-world science fiction adventure. It’s a bit on the talky side, generally setting aside action for words, but I find it quite fascinating, especially in the way we follow the trail by which the facts of the matter are eventually disclosed, with chance conversations and government cover-ups playing a large part in the proceedings. We also see how the events affect the personal lives of those living through it, in some cases making them better and stronger people. The beginning and end of this black-and-white movie are effectively tinted in red, and it makes excellent use of stock footage. The most memorable moments for me are the vision of deadly fog rolling across London, and the unresolved ending which leaves us wondering which of the headlines will grace the front of the next edition of the newspaper. Fine performances all around, especially from our three leads.

 

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970)
Article 2188 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2007
Posting Date: 8-9-2007
Directed by Daniel Haller
Featuring Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley

A curious man (who keeps a strange being locked up in his house) from the town of Dunwich is trying to get hold of the Necronomicon for ominous reasons. Toward that end he chooses a woman to take part in an unholy ritual.

Previous to this movie, Daniel Haller had served as an art director in THE HAUNTED PALACE and had directed DIE, MONSTER, DIE!, both adaptations of other H. P. Lovecraft stories. I assume from this that he had a working knowledge of Lovecraft’s works. I had seen this movie when I was a kid, and only one scene in the movie had really scared me. Then, a few years later, I read the Lovecraft story for the first time, and it remains for me my favorite of his works and one of the scariest things I ever read, which just made the movie all the more disappointing for me.

Watching it now, there’s only one thing I really like about this movie; the way the monster is handled is really quite effective, and I love the fact that you never really get a good long look at it; I’ve always felt that the indescribable horror of the story is best left to the imagination. I still find the scene that scared me back then to be very effective (for the record, it’s the scene where the farmer and his wife find their house being destroyed around them by the monster). But the rest of the movie still disappoints. I dislike the changes that were made to the plot, and many of the performances are disappointing; Sandra Dee never really develops much of a character, and neither Dean Stockwell nor Sam Jaffe look comfortable in their respective roles. For me, the best performance comes from Ed Begley. The crowd scenes are pretty bad; I like neither the cemetery sequence nor the meeting at the wrecked farmhouse. In the end, I hope someday to see a decent version of this story. Keep your eyes peeled for Talia Shire, Beach Dickerson and Barboura Morris.

 

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS (1965)
Article 2147 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-31-2007
Posting Date: 6-29-2007
Directed by Gordon Flemyng
Featuring Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden

Dr. Who invents a time and space machine. He and his companions accidentally go to a distant world where a race of creatures known as Daleks are at war with a race of human-like creatures known as Thals.

In looking at this movie, it’s useful to remember that “Doctor Who” was originally designed as a children’s show. One of the show’s strengths was that it’s title character was hardly a hero; as played by William Hartnell, he was cranky, irascible, sometimes petulant and unpredictable, more anti-hero than hero at times. This was a surprisingly sophisticated concept for a children’s show when you think about it. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the movie versions is they reduced the character to one of good-natured but dotty eccentricity, and despite the presence of a great actor in the title role, there is really not a whole lot Peter Cushing could do to bring him to any real life. This, combined with the decision to turn the character of Ian into a comic-relief bumbler, made me realize that the real problem with these sixties movie adaptations of the series is the condescending air to them; they know their audience is children and they talk down to them. Still, I think this one works a little better than its sequel, if for no other reason than that the story better adapts itself to feature film retelling; it’s less cluttered with confusing secondary characters. It’s pretty to look at, and the Daleks come in a nice array of colors, but it’s entirely too setbound; it’s hard to believe you’re on another world when everything looks like it’s on a soundstage. The series was better.

 

The Deep (1977)

THE DEEP (1977)
Article 2146 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-30-2007
Posting Date: 6-28-2007
Directed by Peter Yates
Featuring Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset, Nick Nolte

Vacationers discover a hidden treasure underneath a downed military boat in the waters around Bermuda. They check with a local expert to find the source of the treasure, but run afoul of drug traffickers who are after a large supply of morphine hidden on the military ship.

This movie reunites Peter Benchley and Robert Shaw from JAWS , but if you dwell on that, the movie will only seem that much more disappointing. It’s not a bad movie; it’s just a rather ordinary thriller, too slow-moving at times and confusing at others, especially during the underwater sequences. I do like some of the attention to detail; in particular, the concept that in order for the treasure to really be worth something it must be historically traceable provides an interesting motivation for the continual return to the ship. The fantastic content here is pretty incidental; the drug traffickers’ use of voodoo as a means of frightening people really doesn’t lead anywhere, and the big moray eel in the ship is not my idea of a monster, even if it is the biggest one Nick Nolte has ever seen. At any rate, the classification of this movie as a horror film is highly inaccurate. When you get right down to it, I suspect the primary appeal of this movie is not the thrills, but Jacqueline Bisset’s costumes, especially the white t-shirt that she wears while skin diving in the opening scenes, which was probably just the movie’s way of getting as close to nudity as it could for a PG rated film.

 

Davey Jones’ Locker (1900)

DAVEY JONES’ LOCKER (1900)
Article 2102 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-17-2006
Posting Date: 5-15-2007
Director Unknown
No cast

No plot.

This very short short features a vision of a dancing skeleton superimposed on a sailing ship. Because the skeleton doesn’t remain in one piece, it ends up being an amusing enough early short for all that. And it there is anything you can say about all of these very early cinematic forays, it is that, with running lengths of about one to three minutes, they can never be accused of outstaying their welcome.

 

The Damnation of Faust (1903)

THE DAMNATION OF FAUST (1903)
aka FAUST, LA DAMNATION DE FAUST, FAUST AUX ENFERS
Article 2060 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-4-2006
Posting Date: 4-3-2007
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast Unknown (though I’m betting that’s Melies himself as Mephistopheles)

Faust goes to hell. Faust goes directly to hell. He does not pass go. He does not collect $200.

Do you get tired with the endless philosophizing in the Goethe’s Faust story and just wish they would get to the point where he’s dragged into hell? If so, this is the version of the story for you. Unlike yesterday’s scam, here’s a movie that earns its place in the canon of Fantastic cinema. Faust encounters all sorts of horrors on his trip, including a multi-tentacled creature, a gaggle of devils in their underwear (hey, it’s hot down there), and, worst of all, a bunch of ballerinas and marching women with mops; I don’t know about you, but I’m quaking in my boots. Jonathan Edwards (author of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), eat your heart out; these are horrors even you couldn’t imagine. And it only runs about four minutes.

Postscript -Thanks to Doctor Kiss for the clarification on the exact year on this one.