The Intruder (1933)

Article 1892 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-20-2006
Posting Date: 10-17-2006
Directed by Albert Ray
Featuring Lila Lee, Monte Blue, Gwen Lee

A murder of a diamond thief occurs onboard a ship. When a detective gathers together the suspects, the investigation is interrupted by the sinking of the ship. The detective, the suspects, and some crew members all end up stranded on an island with a roving gorilla and a wild man.

This one is just plain weird. It’s trying to be a mystery, but the whole desert island sequence distracts from the main story. I don’t know who’s in the gorilla outfit on this one, but except for a sequence where he inadvertently saves the lives of the two women by distracting their captor, he plays little part in the action. The scene stealer in this one are Mischa Auer as the Wild Man who keeps the skeletons of his wife and a man he hates (her lover?) in his cave; at one particularly weird scene, the wild man, in a fit of anger, pulls a knife and begins attacking the skeleton of his enemy; though it makes me wonder how he interacts with the skeleton of his wife, I’m glad they didn’t bother to show it. Arthur Housman is also a bit of fun as the comic relief character, a drunken smartass. It’s enjoyable enough in its own strange way, but don’t get hung up on trying to follow the mystery too much.

Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)

aka Uchu Kaisoiku-sen
Article 1883 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-11-2006
Posting Date: 10-8-2006
Directed by Koji Ota
Featuring Sonny Chiba, Kappei Matsumoto, Shinjiro Ebara

Invaders from the planet Neptune attack the earth. Space Chief attempts to thwart their plans. Japanese boys in short pants watch.

Though I would never mistake them for good movies, there’s a certain goofy charm to the Starman series, and to PRINCE OF SPACE as well. That charm is largely missing from this one. Some of the explosion footage is rather impressive, I’ll admit, but a lot of that is stock footage from World War II (hence the giant billboard of Hitler). Other special effects are not badly done. The trouble is that the movie doesn’t put them together in any coherent and meaningful way; it seems plotted at random and there is no attempt to build any sort of suspense. Space Chief may be played by Sonny Chiba, but he is a thoroughly anonymous and uninteresting hero who barely appears in the movie, and the villains are equally anonymous, a fact that is only underlined by the fact that they speak to each other in musical tones that we can’t understand. When the most interesting thing about the invaders is that they walk as if they were all suffering from jock itch, that’s not a good thing. There are some fun ideas and concepts, but without a context, they just get lost in the shuffle. Ultimately, the movie tries to be appealing by concentrating on the most annoying characters; a gang of badly-dubbed children who will simply get on your nerves. The end result is a movie that, despite all the action and explosions, is as dull as dishwater. If you do watch, though, keep your eyes open for a guest appearance by a toy Robbie the Robot.

It Grows on Trees (1952)

Article 1858 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-16-2006
Posting Date: 9-13-2006
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Featuring Irene Dunne, Dean Jagger, Joan Evans

When a dotty housewife buys a pair of unclassified trees to put in her backyard, she discovers they produce five and ten dollar bills. Her letter to the treasury department is treated as a gag by the Secretary of the Treasury, and she receives a letter telling her that the money is good. It is then discovered that the money falls apart after a short while, and complications ensue….

It seems that I’ve been having something of an Arthur Lubin film festival here lately; this, FRANCIS GOES TO WEST POINT and ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES are all directed by him. Of the three, I like this one the best, but that may be mostly because it doesn’t just feel like a rehash of a bunch of other movies I’ve seen, like the other two mentioned movies felt to me. It also helps that the movie has a little bit of satirical edge to it, largely due to the fact that several government officials get caught up in an unpleasant situation when their responses to what they believed were jokes backfire on them. Though she would make some TV appearances after this, this was Irene Dunne’s last motion picture; other genre movies that I’ve covered that feature her are A GUY NAMED JOE and THIRTEEN WOMEN . It’s basically a fantastically themed family sitcom-style movie, and it remains quite amusing throughout, if very silly. There are some interesting names in the cast; Dean Jagger would appear in both REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES and X THE UNKNOWN ; this movie is about halfway between the quality of those two. A young Richard Crenna also appears, as does the always dependable Les Tremayne and child actor Sandy Descher, who would also pop up in THEM! and THE SPACE CHILDREN . One curious thing I noticed is that this movie actually refers to (at least tangentially) to the other two movies I mentioned above; at one point, mention is made of the children in the movie having gone to see one of those Francis the Talking Mule movies, and the final gag in the movie involves the delivery of a package which contains a famed item from the Arabian Nights.

The Illustrated Man (1969)

Article #1764 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2006
Posting Date: 6-11-2006
Directed by Jack Smight
Featuring Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas

A wanderer encounters a stranger whose entire body is covered with illustrations that come alive and tell stories.

If there is any single author to whom I’m most sensitive in the way their work is adapted to the big screen, it is Ray Bradbury. At least part of this reason is due to the fact that he was my fantasist of choice throughout my youth, and that no other writer has ever quite conjured up that sense of magic that I get when I read him. As a result, I developed an enormous dislike for this adaptation of his anthology of short stories when I first saw it because I felt it exhibited none of the lyricism of his work.

Watching it again now, I would amend that statement only slightly. It does have moments where it catches a bit of that magic, but those moments are fleeting. It isn’t so much that the adaptations don’t follow the plots of the original stories; actually, of the four stories involved (framing story included), only the sequence based on “The Last Night of the World” fails to do so. My problem is more on the level of a betrayal of the spirit of Bradbury’s work. The movie is preoccupied with sex, has a streak of vulgarity, and is rather mean-spirited, and it is these touches that I find to be contrary to the spirit of Bradbury’s work. If you add to that the turgid pacing and the fact that the movie feels glum and morose, you can understand my reaction. Even at his darkest, there is a zest and joyfulness to Bradbury’s work; this movie is joyless. On a side note, Bradbury only agreed to sell the rights to this work if the director could get Steiger, Burt Lancaster or Paul Newman for the title role, and though Steiger does a good job, I would really have liked to have seen Lancaster in the role myself.

It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973)

Article #1759 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2006
Posting Date: 6-6-2006
Directed by Eugenio Martin
Featuring Judy Geeson, Lone Fleming, Blanca Estrada

When a woman goes to an inn in a small Spanish town to visit her sister, she is told by the two sisters that run the inn that the woman left the previous day. In truth, she has been murdered by the two sisters, who kill anyone who stays there that does not live up to their moral standards.

My copy of this movie is the TV print that runs only sixty-eight minutes; IMDB lists the running time at a solid two hours. I can only conclude that I’m missing quite a lot of the movie here. Still, this version of it is efficient, to say the least. Actually, it may be worth the effort to hunt up the longer version; the acting is quite good (even if the dubbing is substandard), there are character touches that add more dimension than you might expect, and there is a decent amount of suspense during the final scenes. I rather enjoyed this one, though I do wonder if its appeal might wear thin during the longer version.

It Conquered the World (1956)

Article #1709 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2005
Posting Date: 4-16-2006
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Peter Graves, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef

A scientist halps an alien from Venus come to the Earth under the belief that the alien will help save mankind from itself. He fails to see that the alien is bent on conquest for his own reasons.

Beulah (as the vegetable-shaped creature of this movie was named by creator Paul Blaisdell) is one of the silliest monsters from the science fiction movies of the fifties. As such, the monster does garner quite a bit of affection, and I have to admit that I love it myself. Nevertheless, I wonder how much better the reputation of this movie would have been with a more convincing creation (or if, as originally planned, it had not been trotted out in the open for all to see). The movie is actually quite strong, largely because of a script with far more depth than is usually found in low budget movies of this period; the philosophical discussions about the power of human emotion and the folly of trying to get outside forces to solve our problems for us have a real bite and relevance to them. Given this sophistication, it’s no surprise that the script was actually written by Charles B. Griffith instead of the credited Lou Rusoff; it shows the same sophistication of many of his other scripts for Corman (THE UNDEAD, BUCKET OF BLOOD, NOT OF THIS EARTH, etc.) . The movie also has some sharp and fascinating editing at times; I love moments like the one where a shot of a soldier cleaning his gun cuts to a shot of one of the scientists cleaning his own gun as well. The performances are also quite good, though Beverly Garland takes the prize as the traitorous scientist’s wife, a rather difficult role which she pulls off extremely well. The movie is also shot through with real tragedy; of the four major characters in the story, take note of how many are alive in the final reel. Outside of the monster, the other main thing that I would change in the movie would be to remove ┬ácharacter of the Mexican private; Jonathan Haze is extremely unfunny in the role, even with the help of a great straight man like Dick Miller. Haze would do a better job in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS a few years later. Still, despite the flaws, this is a quite powerful low-budget science fiction feature.

Invisible Invaders (1959)

Article #1708 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-17-2005
Posting Date: 4-16-2006
Directed by Edward L. Cahn
Featuring John Agar, Jean Byron, Philip Tonge

Invisible aliens from outer space invade the earth by taking over the bodies of the dead.

This movie’s main claim to fame anymore is the similarities it has with Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; the scenes of the dead men (the aliens don’t possess the bodies of dead women, for some reason) in various states of decay wandering around does indeed recall those of the later movie. Still, this movie lacks many of the qualities that made the Romero movie a classic, but I suspect the budget of this one was even lower than the one of that one. After all, we’re talking about an alien invasion story with only about ten speaking parts, filled out with tons of stock footage, familiar locations (the bunker is hidden inside Bronson Caverns) and with budget-minded monsters. Still, I can’t be too hard on it; it does manage to work up a chill or two, and some scenes are memorable enough, even if the story drags (particularly in the second half). It does have one other noteworthy aspect; it’s the only cinematic union of horror and science fiction actors John Agar and John Carradine. And anybody who has seen “Police Squad” should have a little laugh when Carradine dies thirty seconds after his character is introduced before he’s had a chance to say a word.