Geisha Girl (1952)

Geisha Girl (1952)
Article 5571 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-22-2018
Directed by George P. Breakston and C. Ray Stahl
Featuring Steve Forrest, Martha Hyer, Archer MacDonald
Country: USA
What it is: Comedy

A pair of American G.I.s on leave in occupied Japan disguise themselves as civilians so they can enjoy the pleasures of Tokyo to which they would otherwise be denied. One of them accidentally ends up in possession of a bottle of super-explosive pills, so they find themselves targeted by both Japanese gangsters and military police.

If the super-explosive pills in the plot description above make you suspect they primarily serve the plot in a Gizmo Maguffin capacity… you’d be right. It is true that they get used at one point, but you never actually see them in use and the only evidence you see of it is a newspaper headline. However, that doesn’t entirely consign this movie to the realm of fantastic marginalia; there’s another plot element involving what amounts to the character of a super-hypnotist appearing in the story. He’s so powerful, he can actually put himself to sleep if he looks in the mirror without sunglasses on, so this amounts to a super-power. This character not only substantially increases the fantastic content of the movie, but the humorous content as well; he’s certainly funnier than the somewhat smarmy Archer MacDonald who plays the primary comic character of this rather tepid comedy. For me, the most interesting thing about it is that it was shot on location in Tokyo during the American occupation of the country, and parts of the movie feel like a travelogue.

The Golden Bat (1966)

The Golden Bat (1966)
aka Ogon batto
Article 5565 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-8-2018
Directed by Hajime Sato
Featuring Shin’ichi Chiba, Osamu Kobayashi, Wataru Yamagawa
Country: Japan
What it is: Japanese superhero vs bad guys

A warrior known as the Golden Bat is resurrected and helps a group of scientists battle the evil Nazo, who had directed a planet to collide with the Earth.

I initially thought this one was going to be weirder than it was, but it fits rather neatly into the Starman/Prince of Space Japanese superhero mold. This is not to say that the Golden Bat isn’t rather bizarre; as a skull-masked baton-wielding cackling superhero, he seems more cut out for the villain role than the hero role. He’s certainly more charismatic than Nazo, who looks like a claw-armed four-eyed pantomime pooh bear and lives in a palace that drills up from the ground. The Golden Bat spends most of the movie batting around evil space ninjas with his baton and cackling maniacally. Yes, it’s silly, but it is on the fun side, and I rather enjoyed this one.

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)
aka Gojira vs. Kingu Gidora
Article 5559 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-4-2018
Directed by Kazuki Ohmori
Featuring Kosuke Toyohara, Anna Nakagawa, Megumi Odaka
Country: Japan
What it is: Kaiju

Time travelers from the future offer Japan the opportunity to go back in time and prevent the creation of Godzilla, warning them that if they don’t, the destruction of Japan at Godzilla’s hands are imminent. But are the time travelers telling the truth…?

This movie didn’t get an American release for quite a while, partially because it was perceived as having a definite anti-American bias. This is because part of the movie takes place in 1944 during World War II, and, given we were on opposite sides during that war, it’s not surprising that the Americans during this sequence are not treated sympathetically. Still, this sequence plays into the most interesting aspect of the movie, as it involves the relationship between a Japanese soldier and the prehistoric monster who saved his life on an island, a monster who is actually Godzilla in his pre-irradiated form. Had this relationship been explored as the central concept of the movie, it might have been a very different and original take on Godzilla; as it is, the movie relegates this relationship to a subplot and goes for more conventional thrills. At first, the time travel aspect makes it seem like there’s more novelty value on hand, but after awhile you figure out it’s just a slight variation on MONSTER ZERO with elements of THE TERMINATOR thrown in the mix. The monster action is a long time coming in this one, and the movie occasionally lapses into silliness; some of the special effects involving the android are laughable (especially the fast motion), and there’s something comic about a plot in which Godzilla is needed to stop the threat of King Ghidorah followed by King Ghidorah needed to stop the threat of Godzilla. It has its moments, but it is a couple steps down from GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE.

Ghost Fever (1986)

Ghost Fever (1986)
Article 5543 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-21-2018
Directed by Lee Madden
Featuring Sherman Hemsley, Luis Avalos, Jennifer Rhodes
Country: USA
What it is: Horror comedy

Two policemen try to serve an eviction notice to two women living in an old southern mansion, but they discover that the mansion is haunted by a bigoted ghost.

Sherman Hemsley was almost bankrupted by the box-office failure of this, his attempt to break out as a movie star after the cancellation of ‘The Jeffersons’. Personally, I think he would have been hard-pressed to find a less promising script, a poorly conceived and painfully unfunny compendium of cliches that feels thrown together without much thought. A few potentially interesting ideas get lost in the weak direction and editing, and when the movie decides to climax the story by having someone save the mansion from destruction by trying to win the money at an exhibition boxing match, you can smell the desperation in the air. After an attempt to save the movie through extensive reshooting and editing, the director disavowed the movie and his name was replace with Alan Smithee. Some people put this one in the “so bad it’s good” category; me, I found it merely depressing.

Gaslight (1940)

Gaslight (1940)
Article 5541 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-13-2018
Directed by Thorold Dickinson
Featuring Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell
Country: UK
What it is: Crime thriller

A husband is using manipulative tactics to drive his wife crazy. Why is he doing this? And can he be stopped before he succeeds?

I’ve mentioned GASLIGHT before in this series, usually in the sense that I’m not fond of those movies which borrow its central premise; think THE SCREAMING SKULL or TERROR IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE as examples. What I never liked about the premise is that they mostly consist of a woman of delicate mental balance being tormented, which I find more unpleasant than fun. Having now seen one of the originals, I’m glad to say it works much better than its imitators. What makes the difference is that the script is much more solid and nuanced than those of its imitators, and the acting is also superior; instead of finding it merely unpleasant, I get drawn in by the character touches and the mystery elements. It also helps that the movie establishes the character of the detective early in the story, thus not leaving us with the sense that the woman’s plight is hopeless. In fact, I found the movie effective and worthy, though I do think I’d like to read the original stage version because I suspect that the ending may have been changed. So why did it take me so long to get around to this one when I’ve covered several of its imitators? It’s because the original movie is only very marginally genre; outside of the presence of the theme of madness, it does not unfold or play like a horror movie in any way.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
aka Gamera daikaiju kuchu kessen
Date: 3-4-2018
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Featuring Tsuyoshi Ihara, Akira Onodera, Shinobu Nakayama
Country: Japan
What it is: Japanese monster mayhem

A flying fanged turtle does battle with a group of giant man-eating birds.

In its original incarnation, the Gamera series was largely a poor man’s imitation of the Godzilla series with an extra dose of juvenile pandering and goofiness. Still, the series did last a while, so I’m not really surprised that the attempt to revive it was made. What is surprising is that they did such a bang-up job of reviving it; the special effects are excellent, the juvenile approach has been jettisoned, and this movie is arguably better than any of the movies from the Godzilla revival of the eighties and nineties. It’s basically a remake of GAMERA VS. GAOS, with Gaos redesigned to look frightening rather than silly. Granted, it’s still a Gamera movie, and it pretty much follows the basic template of one, but it does it with a visual flair that puts it over well enough. It also makes better use of the female character with the psychic link to Gamera than the Godzilla series did with a similar character. At any rate, this certainly the best entry from the Gamera series that I’ve covered to this date.

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)
aka Gojira vs. Biorante
Article 5505 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-8-2017
Directed by Kazuki Ohmori
Featuring Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Masanobu Takashima
Country: Japan
What it is: Kaiju

When Godzilla reappears, the leaders of Japan must contend with finding a way to destroy it, but the situation is complicated by the appearance of a giant plant monster.

Whatever else you can say about this sequel to GODZILLA 1985, it does manage to accomplish three things. The movie has an adult air that sets it apart from the juvenile approach that generally took over the original series. It also comes up with an interesting and bizarre new monster in Biollante. It also works towards being a part of a whole series rather than just a stand-alone movie; it follows up plot developments from the earlier movie and sets up new ones for later movies to pursue. Godzilla himself also feels less mechanical this time out. On the down side, the story is cluttered with too many characters and subplots; at times, you’re not sure which characters are important and which story lines to follow, though you’ll probably be most successful if you concentrate on Dr. Shiragama and the development of Biollante. Certainly, I’d trade the three-way battle among various espionage agents for the Godzilla cells for some more development of the idea that we have a monster that is developed through a combination of plant, human and monster cells. The movie would also feature the first appearance of the Miki Saegusa character (a young woman with ESP) who would appear throughout this series. The movie certainly has a lot going on, but it’s one of those movies that, by the end of it, you’re not sure just how much of what has happened really matters. It’s an interesting and ambitious entry into the series, but it could have benefited from a little streamlining and trimming.

Gojira (1984)

Gojira (1984)
aka The Return of Godzilla, Godzilla 1985
Article 5499 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-14-2017
Directed by Koji Hashimoto
Featuring Ken Tanaka, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yasuko Natsuke
Country: Japan
What it is: Godzilla movie

Godzilla reappears and begins terrorizing Japan.

This was Toho’s resurrection of the Godzilla franchise after letting it founder in the late seventies. It was an attempt to return to the scarier, nastier non-heroic version of the monster. When it was released in America, the powers that be decided to emulate what had been done for GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS in the fifties by bringing back Raymond Burr as reporter Steve Martin and editing him into the movie along with a few other American actors. Unlike the earlier adaptation, though, this one seemed to be playing for camp and featured heavy product placement for Dr. Pepper, touches I found so annoying that I decided to wait until I could see the original Japanese cut instead of that one.

Sadly, the Japanese version isn’t really the vast improvement I was hoping it would be. It’s certainly less campy and more serious, but it also has some major problems. There’s a couple of scenes that are strong; the opening ten minutes are effective, and Godzilla’s first appearance is memorable. However, the movie gets muddled in a variety of uninteresting subplots, and it’s all too self-conscious about its Godzilla/Nuclear Warfare theme; the scene where both the Americans and Russians wish to use nuclear weapons on Godzilla when it comes ashore in Japan is drawn out way too long. But the biggest problem to me is Godzilla himself; though they no doubt improved the special effects of his presentation, he’s never felt more mechanical and characterless than he does here. Despite the fact that the movie is trying to recapture the magic of the 1954 original, it fails to do so. However, it would yield a few sequels, and some of those are improvements over this one.

Get Rich Quick Porky (1937)

Get Rich Quick Porky (1937)
Article 5493 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-5-2017
Directed by Robert Clampett
Featuring the voices of Mel Blanc, Earle Hodgins, Cal Howard
Country: USA
What it is: Porky Pig short

Porky Pig and his friend Gabby the Goat are bilked by a con man who sells them a vacant lot that is supposedly full of oil.

For the most part, this cartoon has no fantastic content other than the anthropomorphic animals and the comic exaggeration, but one small element emerges. A subplot of the cartoon involves the appearance of a dog who claims a bone that Porky digs up, and tries to find a place to bury it. He then encounters a gopher magician who performs magic tricks with the bone, and it’s the gopher magician who provides the fantastic content; the character appears again at the end of the cartoon to take part in the main plot. It’s a pretty standard Porky Pig cartoon of the era, but it’s marred by an appearance of the annoying but short-lived character of Gabby the Goat. For me, the best moments involve the dog and the gopher.

Greek Mirthology (1954)

Greek Mirthology (1954)
Article 5487 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-1-2017
Directed by Seymour Kneitel and Tom Golden
Featuring the voices of Jackson Beck and Jack Mercer
Country: USA
What it is: Popeye cartoon

In order to get his four nephews to eat spinach, Popeye regales them with the tale of Hercules and how he discovered spinach would give him super strength.

Another ground rule I’ve recently set to help me decide whether I was going to review certain cartoons is pertinent to the Popeye cartoons specifically, and that is that use of spinach to give Popeye strength was not in and of itself enough to make the cartoon qualify. This one enhances the fantastic content by featuring the character of Hercules (as played by Popeye) who gets his strength initially by sniffing garlic. It also helps that the cartoon uses the spinach gimmick as its central theme also makes it a bit more relevant. Though I wouldn’t call this one a great cartoon, it is one of the better of the fifties Popeye cartoons, and the ancient Greek setting gives it a bit of a change from the domestic settings of most of the others. IMDB list the participation of Mae Questal as the voice of Olive Oyl in this one, but I’ve chosen to omit her in the credits above for one simple reason; Olive does not appear in this one at all. Instead, we get Popeye’s four nephews who would rather have ice cream than spinach, and, of course, Bluto.