Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon (1965)

aka Gariba no uchu ryoko
Article 1810 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-27-2006
Posting Date: 7-27-2006
Directed by Masao Kuroda and Sanae Yamamoto
Featuring the voices of Herb Duncan, Robert Harter, Chiyoko Honma

A young boy meets Gulliver, who has built a rocket ship for his next set of travels. They go to the Star of Hope, where they encounter a civilization menaced by robots.

Fans of the exuberant melodies of composer Milton Delugg (most famous for “Hooray for Santa Claus” from SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS ) will have a great time with the English dub of this movie, as he supplies the music and the songs. Those not taken with his particular muse will find this Japanese science fiction/fantasy tougher going. Still, both groups will have to contend with the song where they give the talking crow a few verses to warble. It’s not so much that he’s a bad singer (“Hooray for Santa Claus” didn’t exactly have the finest vocalists ever produced by kiddom); it’s just that when he demonstrates this inability to sing, he does so in the aggressive raucous spirit of Ethel Merman, and the results are almost painful. Still, singing crows notwithstanding, this isn’t a bad children’s movie; it takes a little while to get going, but the sequences on the Star of Hope are actually rather interesting. Granted, I’m no real judge of children’s movies, though I do admit to having a little fondness for those that get rather weird and silly. This one was interesting enough that I may well watch it again sometime. Just excuse me if I turn down the sound at a crucial moment…

The Girl Who Dared (1944)

Article #1691 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-31-2005
Posting Date: 3-30-2006
Directed by Howard Bretherton
Featuring Lorna Gray, Peter Cookson, Grant Withers

A group of people are invited to a party on an island to see a ghost appear. Then people start dropping dead…

By the time the forties rolled around, the old dark house genre had pretty much run its course; most of the movies of that ilk that were made during the forties were pretty lethargic, and despite an efficient running time of about fifty-five minutes for this one, it’s no exception. Even the title makes it sound more like a soap opera than what it is. It has a little bit of novelty value; several serial actors appear (Kirk Alyn, Roy Barcroft and Kenne Duncan) among them, and the plot involves radium, which must have been a pretty topical subject in the mid forties. Still, the movie lacks atmosphere, despite the fact that Willie Best is acting scared by everything. And as can be expected in this sort of movie, the ghost isn’t real. The ending is rather odd, though – it almost seems a parody of the usual “hero and heroine falling in love” cliche that is pretty common to these movies, but nevertheless, the lackadaisical handling makes it fall as flat as does the rest of the movie.

Gorath (1962)

GORATH (1962)
Article #1687 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-27-2005
Posting Date: 3-26-2006
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Featuring Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura

A collapsed star with a mass 6200 times of that of the Earth is on a collision course with it. The nations of the world band together to find a way to avoid the destruction of the Earth.

This was one of a handful of Japanese science fiction movies of the late fifties and early sixties that did not emphasize marauding giant monsters, and I class it together with movies like THE MYSTERIANS and BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. However, I think this movie takes itself much more seriously than these other movies, but part of this may be that I was fortunate enough to see a subtitled print rather than a dubbed one, which isn’t true for the others. On a story level, it’s a bit confusing, but it doesn’t feel confusing in the sense of having been poorly written, but rather in the sense that such a wealth of activities are going on that the confusion feels part and parcel of the event itself. In fact, the movie has a strong epic feel; the movie has a huge cast, a variety of locations, and we follow the big events along with selected smaller events; the overall sense is of monumental events unfolding on a vast canvas. You really do get the sense that the world is on the brink of destruction, and that is the movie’s triumph.

One thing I find interesting is that the movie doesn’t have any scenes of panicking crowds, which is the sort of thing you would think would be de riguer for this sort of movie. I think I understand the omission, though; the fact that there would be fear and panic is so obvious that it doesn’t really need to be shown. If the movie denied the existence of fear, it would be one thing. However, the fear is there, but almost always under the surface, and it shows in subtle ways in how various characters react to the event. If anything, it illustrates one of the wisdoms of life; that merely because you feel a specific emotion does not mean you have to behave in a set fashion; there are many ways to handle fear, not all of them destructive.

Another interesting thing about the movie is that a giant monster is thrown into the mix for a short period of time; a giant walrus does some marauding at the south pole. This feels like a commercial concession; its appearance drags the story to a halt and it feels like a distraction. Oddly enough, one good thing about the American version of the movie is that someone had the sense to cut this scene from that release. Still, as intrusive as the scene is, it does illustrate how well the movie works; whereas most other movies featuring a giant monster would have it as a centerpiece, it seems like small potatoes when considered against the threat presented in this movie.

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

Article #1686 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-26-2005
Posting Date: 3-25-2006
Directed by Ray Kellogg
Featuring Don Sullivan, Fred Graham, Lisa Simone

A hard-working teenager and a harried sheriff investigate a series of disappearances that are the result of a marauding giant gila monster.

This movie was the companion piece to director Ray Kellogg’s other horror movie, THE KILLER SHREWS. Both movies are generally held in low esteem, but SHREWS has its staunch defenders who feel that if you can look past the cheapness of the production and the fakeness of the monsters, you have a well thought out and suspenseful story, and I tend to agree with them. This movie lacks even these defenders; it generates little suspense, the monster is just a regular-sized lizard shot to look large, and as a horror movie it falls flat. Yet, I find myself drawn to this movie, and have seen it several times over the years, and I always enjoy watching it. Why? For what may be the oddest of reasons; whatever flaws there are with the story, I find myself drawn to the regional feel of the movie, and especially to the likable characters that inhabit this environment. In particular, I enjoy the warm relationship between the Don Sullivan character and Fred Graham’s sheriff; their affection and cameraderie seem so natural and unforced that I get a great deal of pleasure just watching them interact. And with the exception of Mr. Wheeler (who, as the insensitive rich man, is supposed to be unsympathetic), I like them all; even Shug Fisher’s comic relief drunk doesn’t get on my nerves. It’s rare for a movie to have this many likable characters, and I think the reason I watch the movie again and again is because I just like to spend time with them. Now if I could only edit out that overly sappy “Laugh, Children, Laugh” song…

Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow (1959)

Article #1685 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-25-2005
Posting Date: 3-24-2006
Directed by William J. Hole Jr.
Featuring Jody Fair, Russ Bender, Henry McCann

Plot Description: You’re kidding, right?

This movie lives up to its title in at least two ways. Given the turgid pacing it certainly drags, and given its almost aggressive superficiality, it is certainly hollow. The movie largely starts out as a compendium of lame drag racing gags, but graduates to lame clueless parents gags, lame old lady gags and lame haunted house gags. Throw in some lame rock ‘n’ roll, make sure there’s no plot, toss in undeveloped scenarios involving a rival gang, and there’s you movie. Still, the girls are cute and there’s a real sense of innocence to it all; bearing this in mind, the movie would be no worse than harmless. Unfortunately, the movie ups the ante; first of all, it tosses in one of the most painfully unfunny talking birds I’ve ever seen and then makes it even worse by adding a talking car in the mix. Then, to top it all off, we get a scene of Paul Blaisdell whining about how he was tossed out by his studio after having been responsible for some of their most memorable monsters; this scene wouldn’t be funny even if it weren’t largely true (it was Blaisdell’s last movie), but as it is, I find it just really sad. Given all this, it’s no surprise that when the title character finally shows up, he does the only thing a self-respecting ghost would do – he walks away.

It wouldn’t be worth watching if I didn’t have the hots for the tall girl with the glasses, which just goes to show that this movie isn’t the only thing that’s pathetic.

The Golden Blade (1953)

Article #1653 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2005
Posting Date: 2-20-2006
Directed by Nathan Juran
Featuring Rock Hudson, Piper Laurie, Gene Evans

A young man from Basra named Haroun vows to avenge his slain father. In his quest, he comes upon a sword that makes him invincible.

No, you won’t want to confuse this movie with Bert I. Gordon’s THE MAGIC SWORD. This is an Arabian Nights movie with its most interesting aspect being that the sword of the title (which isn’t really used all that much) ends up being stuck in a wall and playing something of the same role that Excalibur plays in the King Arthur legends. George Macready makes a fine villain (and when doesn’t he?), Piper Laurie is suitably cute (and what princess in an Arabian Night movie isn’t?), it’s all very colorful (and what Arabian Nights epic isn’t?), but the best thing about it is Rock Hudson’s performance, as he manages to strike just the right balance between seriousness and fun. It’s actually quite well done and may be one of the better movies of this ilk, but to be honest, I’ve pretty much had my fill of Arabian Nights adventures at this point, and unless one pops up with an unusually compelling plot (which this one doesn’t have) or has the presence of someone like Harryhausen (ditto), I’m afraid I’ll be a little bored by it. Incidentally, one of the handmaidens to the princess is Anita Ekberg.

Golden Earrings (1947)

Article #1637 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-7-2005
Posting Date: 2-4-2006
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Featuring Ray Milland, Marlene Dietrich, Murvyn Vye

A British spy in Nazi Germany before the outbreak of World War II disguises himself as a gypsy in order to get hold of the formula of a poison gas. He meets and falls in love with a gypsy woman named Lydia.

Once again we find ourselves in the realms of marginalia, those movies which on the surface contain no fantastic elements, but which do yield up a little on closer inspection. The poison gas edges the movie ever so slightly into the realm of science fiction. However, of far greater value is the role that gypsy mysticism plays into the story; Lydia believes in various water spirits, and engages in palmistry. The most telling scene in this regard is the one in which the spy, after having spent some time as a gypsy, discovers that he too has picked up the ability to read a man’s fortune in his palm, and this mystic quality is what gives the movie its touches of fantasy.

At heart, though, it’s a love story / spy melodrama, and a fairly entertaining one. The spy story is actually pretty run-of-the-mill, but the middle sequence of the movie in which the spy meets the gypsy woman, disguises himself as a gypsy, and then must adjust not only to their ways but to Lydia’s earthy character is the real high point of the movie. Marlene Dietrich is simply marvelous in her characterization, and her passionate lack of reserve as played against Ray Milland’s sense of propriety provides the movie with some truly hilarious moments. One is almost disappointed when the movie is finally required to return to its spy plot during the final third of the movie.