Fantomas (1947)

FANTOMAS (1947)
Article 2871 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2009
Posting Date: 6-23-2009
Directed by Jean Sacha
Featuring Marcel Herrand, Simone Signoret, Alexandre Rignault
Country: France

Detective Juve matches wits with super-criminal Fantomas.

If you take the five episodes of Louis Fuillade’s serial about the title character as one unit (IMDB lists the five episodes as different movies and I’ve covered them the same way), then this is the third version that I’ve seen of this story. Unfortunately, except for the second episode of the aforementioned serial, every version I’ve seen has been in unsubtitled French, and this one is no exception. In fact, this particular version is so dependent on words to flesh out its story that I couldn’t follow the story at all, hence the vague plot description above. It does seem, though, that the Fantomas in this movie is rather different than the ones I remember from the earlier versions; in fact, there are moments where the movie made me think more of Dr. Mabuse than Fantomas. The fantastic content is more marked though; there’s some definite science fiction content, with a number of strange machines, an odd-looking helicopter, and a death ray machine. A few nice visual moments help a little, and the action scenes at the end are fun, but it looks like I’m really going to need to see this one in English to appreciate it.

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Les freres corses (1962)

LES FRERES CORSES (1962)
aka The Corsican Brothers, I Fratelli Corsi
Article 2866 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-13-2009
Posting Date: 6-19-2009
Directed by Anton Giulio Majano
Featuring Geoffrey Horne, Gerard Barray, Nerio Bernardi
Country: France / Italy

Two Siamese twin brothers are separated and raised in different worlds when their family is massacred. They meet again many years later when one of them undertakes to kill a tyrant.

This version of the Dumas novel is in French without subtitles, and, though I’m at least a little bit familiar with the basic story and have seen the earlier version with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. the story has never really planted itself firmly in my mind. This means that I was fairly lost for most of the movie, though the fantastic element (the brothers have a psychic link in which one can feel the other’s pain) is apparent, if used only slightly. Going on feel, though, the movie seemed fairly ordinary; it’s more talk than action, and only seems to come to life at the beginning and end of the movie. To be sure, a dubbed or subtitled version would give me a better chance to judge it, but I doubt that I’d radically change my opinion if I saw one.

Fata / Morgana (1965)

FATA/MORGANA (1965)
aka Left-Handed Fate
Article 2865 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-12-2009
Posting Date: 6-17-2009
Directed by Vicente Aranda
Featuring Teresa Gimpera, Marianne Benet, Marcos Marti
Country: Spain

In a city that is nearly empty (the residents having departed due to “collective fear”), a model discovers that she is to be the victim of a murder before the day is through. A detective who knows about the upcoming murder seeks to prevent it.

I’d like to describe this one as a bizarre thriller, but I can’t; it’s too arty to really work up much in the way of thrills, though I have no problems with the word “bizarre” here. I’ve only seen one other movie by this director (THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE), and, if anything, it makes me understand why some of the scenes in that movie are pretty strange as well. Still, with art movies, they either work for you or they don’t, and, though I don’t agree with the whole theme of “people who are born to be murdered” that is central to the story here, it more or less worked enough that I was not bored. Some bizarre scenes stand out; a woman kills two men with a fish, a series of men try to pick up the model as she walks down the street, a group of men steal the model’s image from a billboard, and a man completely disguises his face with bandages a la the invisible man. It’s odd, but it may benefit from a second watching.

Francis in the Haunted House (1956)

FRANCIS IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1956)
Article 2840 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-15-2009
Posting Date: 5-23-2009
Directed by Charles Lamont
Featuring Mickey Rooney, Virginia Welles, James Flavin
Country: USA

Francis the talking mule tries to save his friend, David Prescott, from getting involved in a series of murders happening at the MacLeod estate. When Prescott becomes a suspect, Francis must solve the case to clear him.

This could be described as a departure for the Francis the Talking Mule series; Donold O’Connor departed from the series (to be replace by Mickey Rooney), Chill Wills (the voice of Francis) departed from the series (to be replaced by Paul Frees doing a Chill Wills impersonation), and the series itself would depart after this entry. Actually, to me it smacks somewhat of desperation; the haunted house story is a common entry in many series comedies, and the decision to rely on it here feels like a desire to revert to formula, or, to put it another way, a different formula than this series had used so far. After all, this series is a prime example of running a concept into the ground; any one movie of the series taken on its own has its good points, but taken in toto, one can see the dearth of creativity and imagination at work. Even this one gets most of its laughs by having people not believe Prescott when he tells of a talking mule, people fainting when they see the mule talk, the mule not talking in front of others when Prescott needs him to, etc. There’s a ghost of a knight on the loose in this one, but it’s a Scooby-Doo plot; after all, how can you expect people who buy the premise of a talking mule to accept the premise of a real ghost? Mickey Rooney really isn’t given a character to play with, and Paul Frees isn’t quite as good at the insults as Chill Wills was. The cast also features David Janssen as a police lieutenant, and Richard Deacon (from “The Dick Van Dyke Show”) as an attorney.

And, speaking of departures, this marks my departure from covering the Francis series – that is, until someone hits on the idea of a remake.

Fame and the Devil (1949)

FAME AND THE DEVIL (1949)
Article 2839 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-14-2009
Posting Date: 5-22-2009
Directed by Mario Moncelli and Steno
Featuring Marcel Cerdan, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Mischa Auer
Country: Italy

A professor, hoping to win the heart of the woman he loves, ends up making a deal with the devil to have him take over the body of a celebrity.

Despite the presence of the devil rather than of an angel, this movie is basically a comic variation on HERE COMES MR. JORDAN. Some of the similarities are rather interesting, if inversions of the earlier movie; in JORDAN, our main character was initially a boxer, and in this one, the meek professor ends up inhabiting the body of a boxer at one point (played by real-life French boxer Marcel Cerdan). Also, he has a buddy who keeps running into him in his new forms; Carlo Acmpanini plays the equivalent to the James Gleason role. It’s all quite amusing, but it’s also rather predictable; about half way through the movie, I pretty much knew where it was going and had a strong inkling of what the final (overly-familiar) twist was going to be. Nevertheless, I still liked the movie, especially when I discovered the identity of the third celebrity he inhabits (which I won’t give away here). I saw the U.S. version, which is shorter than the original by ten minutes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the parts that got the axe had some political significance; the woman the professor loves works for an international diplomat (played very enjoyably by Mischa Auer). This one is minor, but fun.

Future Cop (1976)

FUTURE COP (1976)
TV-Movie
Article 2834 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-9-2009
Posting Date: 5-17-2009
Directed by Jud Taylor
Featuring Ernest Borgnine, Michael Shannon, John Amos
Country: USA

A street cop is assigned to do rookie duty with a new cop who is actually an android.

This is another one of those TV-Movies intended as a pilot of a series; in fact, this one actually did become a series, but it didn’t last very long. On premise alone, I would have suspected this one to be a stinker, but, oddly enough, I found it quite likable. Sure, it can’t resist the humorous possibilities of a literal-minded android confusing jargon-laced instructions (much as Hymie the robot did in “Get Smart”), but the movie downplays this approach and decides to actually create a bond between the human cop and his android partner. This is a pretty difficult trick to pull off, but when the movie manages to establish that men do indeed bond with machines (with a pinball machine as the catalyst), I bought into it, and the premise didn’t seem quite as silly. Oh, there are problems; when the movie tries too hard to tug at the heartstrings, it falters. I can also see why the series would have failed; it would have been rather difficult to maintain the delicate balance necessary for it to work. Nevertheless, I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. Borgnine’s performance is a plus, and I like the decision not to make the android indestructible and superhuman. Though I will not be covering the series, I will see a follow-up movie called COPS AND ROBIN at some time in the future.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)
Article 2781 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-18-2008
Posting Date: 3-25-2009
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, Madeline Smith
Country: UK

A young doctor is committed to an insane asylum for his experiments with corpses. There he encounters Baron Frankenstein, who enlists him as an assistant in his latest project; creating a new man from parts taken from the inmates.

This was Hammer’s final movie in the Frankenstein series, as well as Terence Fisher’s last movie. It’s generally considered one of the weakest of the series, but I quite liked it, at least partially because Peter Cushing is in top form; he makes full use of every bit of dialogue and is fascinating to watch. It is a bit disappointing in some ways; I thought it was a little lazy scriptwise to have him going back to the monster-creating business after the variety of tasks he undertook in the other sequels of the series, and the movie is sometimes unnecessarily lurid, especially at the disappointing climax. I also can’t help but give a little credit to David Prowse as the monster; despite the elaborate makeup and costume, he manages to use his body language to give a marked change to the monster after his brain transplant. The movie also successfully engenders our sympathy for him; when the two doctors and the mute female assistant celebrate the success of the operation, we are painfully aware that the monster (the fruit of their labors) is not to partake of the celebration. The story rehashes certain elements of other movies from the series, but Cushing keeps us interested. The movie has an odd ending, with Frankenstein still alive and looking with hope towards the future, whereas most of the other movies in the series at least gave the semblance of him being punished for his crimes, and it’s ironic that despite his looking forward into the future, this was the end of the line for the series.