Ground Zero (1973)

aka The Golden Gate is Ground Zero
Article 3010 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2009
Posting Date: 11-10-2009
Directed by James T. Flocker
Featuring Ron Casteel, Melvin Belli, Augie Tribach
Country: USA

A criminal plans to force the release of two of his cronies who are in prison by hiding an a-bomb in the Golden Gate bridge and threatening to blow it up unless the prisoners are released.

The director’s name was familiar enough that it had me taking a quick trip to IMDB to look up his filmography. Sure enough, I’d encountered him before; he was responsible for THE ALIEN ENCOUNTERS, a movie that managed to charm me a little despite its obvious weaknesses. This one is really not much better; the dialogue is atrocious, the acting matches the dialogue and the action sequences are some of the slowest ever committed to celluloid. Also, despite the fact the story lends itself to an edge-of-the-seat ticking-clock suspense feel, I never felt much tension during the run of the movie. Still, there’s a few touches I like; the story and the characters are on the offbeat side, some of the camerawork is rather interesting, and the score is actually pretty damn good for a movie this cheap. In fact, the movie managed to hold my interest during a long driving sequence merely because of the catchy music. The atomic bomb provides the science fiction content here, which in and of itself is pretty marginal, but the ending nudges it a bit closer. I don’t know what it is about Flocker, but I find his bad movies to be rather watchable in an Edward D. Wood Jr. kind of way.


Galaxy Express 999 (1979)

aka Gingo tetsudo Three-Nine
Article 2992 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-209
Posting Date: 10-23-2009
Directed by Rintaro
Featuring the voices of Saffron Henderson, Kathleen Barr, Don Brown
Country: Japan

A young boy steals a train ticket to the interplanetary Galaxy Express in the hopes of going to the planet of Andromeda to get a machine body, and to seek revenge on the evil Count Mecha for the murder of his mother. In order to keep from being captured by the police, he teams up with a mysterious woman who may have an agenda of her own…

Though this is not my first encounter with anime for this series (I’ve seen a couple of early Japanese animation features that have been described as early examples of the form, and I’ve seen an anthology film from the early nineties called NEO-TOKYO that also qualifies), I can’t help but feel that this one constitutes my real initiation into the form. I’m glad for the experience; since one of my goals in this movie-watching project was to become more familiar with the whole realm of fantastic cinema, it’s always exciting to embark on a new exploratory journey of this sort. Of course, anytime this happens, it takes some getting used to the new form; my biggest problems with this movie were that I found the visual style jarring and occasionally unpleasant at times, and some of the English dubbing is bothersome; the voice of the main character made me feel like the actor was suffering from constipation during the whole dubbing process of the movie. However, I loved the rich complexity of the story, which, despite the abundance of spectacle, manages to hold on to the human story underneath it all. It has a nice touch for surreal iconic images, such as the flying trains and pirate ships, and some of them are truly fascinating; I love the scene on Pluto with the ice graveyard of people who have given up their bodies to become machines, and which is maintained by a woman who, when she took on her machine body, decided to have one without a face. In the final analysis, I found it all a satisfying epic fantasy, though one not without its flaws; we have at least one too many scenes where the hero is saved from death by a recently-made friend, and the long goodbye at the end is way too long. But these are minor annoyances, and I look forward to more adventures with the anime form.

Guru, the Mad Monk (1970)

Article 2986 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-11-2009
Posting Date: 10-17-2009
Directed by Andy Milligan
Featuring Neil Flanagan, Jaqueline Webb, Judith Israel
Country: USA

A monk maintains a church on a small island used for the execution and punishment of criminals. The monk uses grave-robbing to supplement his income, keeps a hunchback as an assistant, and has a blood-drinking mistress who feeds on wanderers.

I’ve gone over Andy Milligan’s flaws before; the uneven acting, the bad sound, the unconvincing attempts at period trappings, cheap gore effects, lousy photography and the bad editing are all here. Nevertheless, this is one of Milligan’s better movies. At least part of this reason is that Neil Flanagan is a fairly decent actor, and he does what he can with the role of Father Guru, especially during a scene where his split personality comes out in a conversation with a mirror. Another reason is its short length; though it does get a bit confusing in the final reel, it isn’t long enough to lapse into complete incoherence, and you don’t end up wondering what just happened when the movie ends. Granted, I’ve only seen a cut 56-version of the movie; the longer version runs 62 minutes. It’s not good, by any means, but right now I do give it the award as the most watchable of Milligan’s movies.

The Great Race (1965)

Article 2983 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-9-2009
Posting Date: 10-14-2009
Directed by Blake Edwards
Featuring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood
Country: USA

At the turn of the century, a noted daredevil decides to hold a great automobile race from New York to Paris. However, his arch-rival, the nefarious Professor Fate, seeks to win the race by the foulest means possible.

I was a little surprised to see this childhood favorite of mine enter my hunt list, as I didn’t feel it fell within the bounds of the genres that I was covering, but it looks as if some of Professor Fate’s inventions do push the movie into marginal science fiction. I loved this one as a kid; in fact, I remember seeking out SOME LIKE IT HOT because it featured the same stars, though I ended up being very disappointed by that one (at that time, I must add). Still, knowing that this movie fell into that dubious category of “sixties epic comedies” made me dread a little watching it again as an adult. No, it’s not quite as much fun as I remember it; the laughs seem more than a little obvious nowadays, and, having seen the range of Jack Lemmon’s acting over the years, I have to admit that seeing him as such a stereotyped villain as Professor Fate left me feeling a little embarrassed. Yet, I think the movie more or less holds up, at least partially because the movie keeps itself focused and refuses to succumb to the excesses of, say, IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD. And it’s got a good cast, which includes, along with those listed above, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, George Macready, Larry Storch, Vivian Vance and Arthur O’Connell. Of course, it’s too long, and it’s really tempting to suggest they should have cut the whole “Prisoner of Zenda” sequence that dominates the second half of the movie. But I don’t have the heart, because on this viewing, truth to tell, I found it my favorite part of the movie; not only does it feature one of the funniest pie fights I’ve ever seen and perhaps the most memorable screen role for Ross Martin, but it also has the best comic performance in the movie – by Jack Lemmon, here stealing the movie from everyone (including himself) in a second role as the crown prince of Potsdorf. And the movie does have a nice sense of old time cinema and mellerdrammers, and even features a “follow the bouncing ball” sing-along. Still, for a movie that dedicates itself to Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, I can’t help but wish the movie did a little better job at tapping into the comic genius of those two greats than it does. Still, I’m glad it held up for me.

Godzilla vs Gigan (1972)

aka Chikyu kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan, Godzilla on Monster Island
Article 2982 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-7-2009
Posting Date: 10-13-2009
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Featuring Hiroshi Ishikawa, Yuriko Hishimi, Minoru Takashima
Country: Japan

A monster designer goes to work for a theme park, but his bosses turn out to have an agenda; they’re space aliens who plan to take over the earth with the help of two monsters, King Ghidorah and Gigan. Fortunately, Godzilla and Angilus are there to save the day…

If I were to choose the weakest of the Godzilla movies, this one would be close to the top of the list. Back when I covered DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, I expressed disappointment that they basically recycled the space aliens theme from MONSTER ZERO. This would turn out to be the most tired theme of the series, and here it is again, with the aliens being cockroaches in human form. The script is muddled and ridiculous, the special effects are at their nadir (the early shots of Gigan and Ghidorah are particularly bad, looking like they were no more than immobile toys), the English dubbing is extremely poor, and the movie is full of stock footage from earlier and better entries from the series. This is also the movie that made the mistake of giving Godzilla and Angilus human dialogue during a couple of the scenes, a poor idea even if they had anything of interest to say, which they don’t (incidentally, I have a collection of trailers from the Japanese editions of the movies, and it looks like in that version, they had dialogue balloons, which is certainly a more amusing idea). Much as I love the Godzilla movies, I find this one hard to sit through, though its follow-up, GODZILLA VS MEGALON, is just as bad. I consider this movie the nadir of the series.

The Gold Ghost (1934)

Article 2904 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-2-2009
Posting Date: 7-26-2009
Directed by Buster Keaton and Charles Lamont
Featuring Buster Keaton, Warren Hymer, Dorothy Dix
Country: USA

A young socialite named Wally decides he wants to be alone, so he moves into a ghost town and makes himself sheriff. However, when gold is rediscovered in the area, he soon finds himself the sheriff of a bustling town.

I’m familiar with Buster Keaton’s years as a great silent comedian, and I’m also familiar with his appearances in TV and movies during the fifties and sixties, when he underwent a bit of a career revival. However, his early talkie career was a vast unexplored area to me. So I’m glad for the opportunity to check out one of his talkie shorts. It’s obvious that Keaton still felt more at home with visual and slapstick humor; he keeps the talking to a minimum, and the best moments here are ones that could have worked just as well during the silent era. My favorite moment has him playing cards with one of the dustiest decks ever found in a movie. It’s far from a great short, but it has its moments, and I’m glad I saw it. The fantastic content can be found in a short sequence where he encounters a gang of ghosts (possibly imaginary) and disposes of them with his gun.

The Golden Arrow (1962)

aka La Freccia d’oro
Article 2841 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-16-2009
Posting Date: 5-24-2009
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Tab Hunter, Rossana Podesta, Umberto Melnati
Country: Italy

A thief with royalty in his blood is able to perform a task that should have won him the hand of a sultan’s daughter. However, he becomes an outcast because of his calling, and finds himself wanted both by rival suitors and his own gang of thieves. Fortunately, he has three guardian angels who will help him in his quest to prove himself.

I’ve always felt that sword and sandal movies have a bit of an affinity with Arabian Nights movies, so it should be no surprise that one of them came out of Italy in the early sixties. It also got a much classier presentation in this country; it came to us via MGM, which made sure the dubbing was far superior than what we could get from a movie that came to us via AIP. Furthermore, the movie is well preserved; my copy is letterboxed and in beautiful Technicolor, which is better than most sword-and-sandal movies I’ve seen. Still, it’s a pretty tepid affair; it rehashes a goodly portion of the various versions of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, but it’s a bit too juvenile for my tastes, and lacks the sense of magic that permeated those earlier movies. The presence of Tab Hunter as the hero only makes the movie that much fluffier and blander. It is interesting to see Antonio Margheriti working in a different mode here, and MGM even bills him as such, without using the Anthony Dawson nom de plume that was often used to try to hide the foreign origin of his movies. I find this less confusing than his science fiction films, but rather uncompelling, and not as much fun as it would like to be.