Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

aka Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, Gojira tai Hedora
Article 4325 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-3-2013
Directed by Yoshimitsu Banno
Featuring Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase
Country: Japan
What it is: Monster mash with a message

When a creature that thrives on pollution manifests itself, Godzilla sets out to destroy it.

This title from the Godzilla series is considered by many to be one of the worst of the series. Part of this, no doubt, is due to the silliness of the original American title, but part of it may also be the streaks of preachiness and pretentiousness that pervade the movie. I myself don’t consider it the worst; there are others I like far less due to their uninspired recycling of cliches, and this one at least has the novelty of having been a change of stylistic direction for the series, no doubt due to the direction of Yoshimitsu Banno. Still, it misses as often as it hits. The movie eschews the use of the famous Akira Ifukube themes, and the results are mixed. The fight scenes mostly have no music, and this is quite effective, but the music that does pop up is either forgettable or actively annoying; Godzilla’s new theme would be more appropriate for big, stupid buffoon than for the King of the Monsters, and the theme song, which I’ve never liked in the first place (especially in the English version where the lyrics are atrocious) is overused. I love the design of Hedorah, there’s some very creative editing, I like the animated segments, but the anti-pollution theme is pretty overbearing; there are far too many shots of polluted oceans. The movie is one of the most horrific in its display of human death since the original movie in the series, but it lacks the grief that makes this sort of thing poignant. The worst moment for me in the movie is the scene where Godzilla flies; it’s neither a good idea nor well done. Nevertheless, the movie has a moment near the end that I’ve always loved, and it’s when Godzilla turns his gaze on some of the humans present, who react in fear as to what he’s going to do to them. I like this moment because it’s one of the only times that I’ve seen Godzilla acknowledge the humans that he usually ignores, and one senses the accusing nature of the look as if he’s holding us responsible for Hedorah. That is perhaps why I’ve always had a fondness for this one.

Give Us the Moon (1944)

Article 4144 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-31-2013
Directed by Val Guest
Featuring Margaret Lockwood, Vic Oliver, Peter Graves
Country: UK
What it is: British comedy

The wastrel son of a hotel magnate joins a ground of idlers known as The White Elephants, where he agrees to never work for a living. However, he is in danger of losing his membership when his father forces him to take over management of the Hotel Eisenhower.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first. This movie takes place in 1947, three years after the European part of World War II as well as three years after the movie was made. Why? I’m guessing it’s because the central conceit of a likable batch of idlers and wastrels would probably not go over well as a wartime phenomenon, where the idea of someone not pulling his weight for the war effort would go over like a lead balloon; therefore, setting it during peacetime would be more acceptable. It certainly doesn’t use the future setting for any futuristic touches, so I’m saying that the fantastic touches here are more of a matter of convenience than anything else.

As for the movie itself, this isn’t the first time I’ve dipped into the comedy oeuvre of Val Guest, who directed the first two Quatermass movies as well as directing and writing this one. This movie is cute and whimsical, and some of the humorous situations do work well enough. However, the cuteness and whimsicality do get rather overbearing at times, and there are times where it becomes a little too much to bear. In short, the movie is a little too aggressively comic, and the laughs don’t come quite as freely as they should. By the way, the Peter Graves in the cast is not the American actor of the same name.

Gekko Kamen (1958)

aka Moonlight Mask
Article 4135 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-20-2013
Directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi
Featuring Sen Hara, Mitsue Komiya, Hiroko Mine
Country: Japan
What it is: Masked hero hijinks

The evil Skull Mask is after the plans for a new bomb, but runs into resistance from a hero called Gekko Kamen, aka Moonlight Mask.

From what I gather, the whole “Gekko Kamen” movie series is pretty confusing, but the one I’m watching is an American welding of the first two Japanese movies into one. That’s ideally, of course; the fact of the matter is that I couldn’t find the American version, but I did get hold of the two Japanese movies that were welded together, and given that these two movies are 51 minutes each, and the American version was timed at 102 minutes, I’m guessing little was cut. And, as you might guess, the version I saw was in Japanese with no English subtitles.

So, what’s it like? Well, I’d say it’s similar to PRINCE OF SPACE, INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN, or the various Starman/Super Giant movies. It certainly beats all three in terms of its production values, and, taking into account the language barrier on this one, I’d rate it better than the two movies listed above, but I would have to say it lacks some of the energy and outrageousness that makes the Starman movies work for me. It’s hard to say whether the heroes and villains have superpowers; Gekko Kamen is either bulletproof, or he’s unflappable in the face of henchmen who have the targeting ability of Imperial Stormtroopers. He does seem to be able to vanish pretty efficiently. As for the villain, he blows fire on a couple of occasions. Some of the fight scenes suffer from the pulled punch syndrome of the Starman movies (where you watch them in full confidence that no one is getting hurt), but some of the stunt work is impressive, and an extended scene where everyone is chasing after a bag is a lot of fun. The two movies edit together very well, since the first ends in a cliffhanger resolved by the second, so the movie can be easily seen as a single story. However, it is convenient to split them into two movies in one way; I realized how much more fun the first one was than the second, since all the most interesting scenes (from a visual sense) occur there. Granted, that judgment might change is I could see them with subtitles, but even with the language barrier, the action seems pretty straightforward.

Gulliver’s Travels among the Lilliputians and the Giants (1902)

aka Le voyage de Gulliver a Lilliput et chez les geants
Article 4130 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-12-2013
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Special effects adaptation of classic novel

Gulliver spends time with the Lilliputians and the Brobdingnags.

With a running time of only four minutes, no, you’re not going to get much of the satirical thrust of the Swift novel. It does serve, however, as a nice inspiration for Melies to practice on and develop his special effects techniques, and he rises to the occasion with some at times very impressive special effects. I like the way it forces Melies to use close-ups more extensively than is his wont, and certain effects (such as the scene where the Lilliputians shoot arrows into Gulliver) are very well handled. When it’s not just showing off the effects, it goes for laughs, such as the scene where Gulliver puts out a fire with a seltzer bottle and the one where he falls into a teacup. Simply in terms of its special effects challenges, this is one of Melies’s most impressive shorts.

The Ghost of Rosy Taylor (1918)

Article 4127 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-9-2013
Directed by Edward Sloman and Henry King
Featuring Mary Miles Minter, Allan Forrest, George Periolat
Country: USA
What it is: Odd drama/mystery

A woman is startled to discover that the maid she hired to clean her house actually died several weeks ago… but the house is being tended and cleaned while she is out. She believes it may be the ghost of the maid…but there’s another explanation…

One thing I will give this movie; it throws in the fantastic content so quickly and decisively in the opening scenes that, for a few fleeting minutes, you’re hoping that this will turn out to be a real ghost story. Of course, the movie eventually shifts into the explanation of the ghostly actions of this sequence, but even when it reaches this point, I still admired the movie’s set-up of its premise. The rest of this story verges on the depressing, as it tells the tale of a young woman who, after having been taken away from American and raised in France as a child, suddenly finds herself without a family, money, stranded back in America, and with no means of survival. Things continue to deteriorate, but at least the movie alleviates some of this with touches of humor and acts of kindness from certain characters. The story ultimately relies on a some pretty outrageous coincidences, but that’s forgivable; in fact, when all is said and done, the movie is rather fun. I only wish the print I saw was in better shape, but sometimes we have to be satisfied that these movies still exist at all.

Going to Bed Under Difficulties (1900)

aka Le deshabillage impossible
Article 4124 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Comic trick film

A man’s attempt to retire for the night is hampered by the magical appearance of new pieces of clothing on him as he tries to undress.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Melies’s sense of humor was sharpest in his earlier films; this surreal piece of absurdity is perhaps his single funniest film. What makes it work is that the man becomes more frantic and desperate as new clothes constantly materialize on him; he can’t even ignore them and go to sleep because his bed vanishes as well. Perhaps it’s fitting as well that the movie has no ending; this man will be removing clothes forever. It’s not surprising that this silly little short engendered a few imitations from other directors.

La glace a trois faces (1927)

aka The Three-Sided Mirror
Article 4123 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-3-2013
Directed by Jean Epstein
Featuring Jeanne Helbling, Suzy Pierson, Olga Day
Country: France
What it is: Psychological avant-garde drama

The story of a man and his affairs with three women is told.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first. This is one of those cases where it’s not embedded in the plot, but rather, in the distorted cinematic styles employed in the movie. The Walt Lee guide describes them as “dynamic distortions of reality”, and that’s about as good a way to describe it as any; we often see double and triple exposures that reflect the mental life of a particular character, and this at least nudges up against the genre of fantasy.

It does make for some fascinating viewing. Director Jean Epstein had a real talent for capturing telling facial expressions and expressive movements that can often tell volumes about a character while keeping the dialogue (or, in the case of this silent movie, title cards) to a minimum. It is sometimes elusive and difficult, but that’s not entirely unexpected. Still, one has to have a taste for this sort of thing, and I suspect fans of fantastic cinema will probably prefer to stick with his version of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.