The Island at the Top of the World (1974)

THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974)
Article 3788 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-16-2011
Posting Date: 12-28-2011
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring David Hartman, Donald Sinden, Jacques Marin
Country: USA
What it is: Adventure story

A tycoon from the turn of the century sets out an expedition by airship to find his missing son, who is believed to be in a legendary island in the Arctic regions.

As entertainment, this movie works well enough. It has a nice pace, keeps the action moving, and keeps from being boring. It is, however, just what you’d expect from a Disney adventure movie from the period; it has touches of silly cuteness (such as the comic relief Eskimo character and the French poodle) and a strong degree of predictability; you know, for example, that every time one of the heroes seems to have come to a bad end, that they’re not really dead and will show up to save the day at some point in the story later on. The special effects are usually good enough to pass muster, though they’re probably at their dodgiest during the trek through a volcanic valley. And, of course, there’s that air that this is all just a movie and not to be taken too seriously. There’s a mythical island of Vikings and a whale graveyard for the fantastic content. In short, it’s entertaining, but rather devoid of surprises.

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Images (1972)

IMAGES (1972)
Article 3785 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-13-2011
Posting Date: 12-25-2011
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring Susannah York, Rene Auberjonois, Marcel Bozzuffi
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Mind games

A housewife who can’t tell reality from fantasy finds herself dealing with three men, a young girl, and herself… but how many of them are real?

I suppose it’s no surprise that Robert Altman’s foray into horror would owe a lot more to REPULSION than to any more conventional horror movie. And I’m grateful that the movie lets us understand early on that this woman isn’t sane instead of saving it as a final revelation. I’m also not surprised that the movie, though not considered one of his best, is in general well regarded. However, one’s view of a movie can sometimes be affected by the movies one has seen in close conjunction with it, and I’m afraid that I’ve encountered this theme just a bit too recently to be ready for another encounter so soon. And though I admire some of the playfulness on the edges of this movie (the story that Susannah York’s character reads from throughout the movie was written by Susannah York herself, and the movie features an actress named Susannah playing a character named Cathryn, while an actress named Cathryn plays a character named Susannah, while the first names of each male actor matches the names of one of the other actors’ character), I’m afraid I found spending so much time in a madwoman’s mind to be a bit more tedious than I cared for. It’s well acted, and very interesting at times, but you really have to be in the mood for it to enjoy it.

It Happened Here (1965)

IT HAPPENED HERE (1965)
Article 3756 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-14-2011
Posting Date: 11-26-2011
Directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo
Featuring Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Bart Allison
Country: UK
What it is: Alternate history tale

In England after the successful Nazi invasion of 1943, a nurse discovers that, in order to continue in her profession, she must embrace National Socialism and its philosophy. But will she be able to have her profession and her conscience as well…?

That this movie got made at all is amazing; the two directors began work on it in 1956 when they were both teenagers, and it took them eight years to complete. Alternate histories are a rare thing in cinematic science fiction, and this one is gritty, harrowing, very sad and quite shocking. It’s also rather confusing at times, and a bit long-winded at others, and sometimes it’s just hard to hear what’s being said. Nevertheless, the movie is invaluable. One of its most important qualities is the way it allows us to understand how the Nazi philosophy is allowed to take root and to spread, and the movie manages to show this happening in a very plausible way; I liked in particular the way it plays up to the fears of the English people by emphasizing the threat of Communism, thus making it seem that they are really on the same side fighting the same enemy. I think this is a rare and valuable lesson to learn; when you consider how often Nazis are trotted out as standard villains, it’s important sometimes to address the seductive temptations of their philosophies. Whatever its flaws, this is a truly useful and memorable film.

Immoral Tales (1974)

IMMORAL TALES (1974)
aka Contes immoraux
Article 3740 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-29-2011
Posting Date: 11-10-2011
Directed by Walerian Borowczyk
Featuring Lise Danvers, Fabrice Luchini, Charlotte Alexandra
Country: France
What it is: The title tells it all

Four tales of illicit sex are told. In the first, a man devises a plot to seduce his younger cousin. In the second, a woman is locked in a room and has fantasies. In the third, Countess Bathory kills virgins and bathes in their blood to regain her youth. In the fourth, Lucrezia Borgia and her brother have an encounter with their father, the Pope.

So this is what a Walerian Borowczyk movie is like! I take it that the title has a double meaning; not only are the stories about debauched, illicit and kinky sex, but they don’t seem to have any point, or “moral” to them. In fact, I’m not sure you can even call some of these segments “tales”; they seem rather plotless. Only the sequence on Countess Bathory has any fantastic content to it. I do have to take note that Borowczyk does seem to like to keep the dialogue to a minimum; in fact, I’m not sure whether Lucrezia Borgia utters a word of dialogue during her segment, though she does giggle on occasion, and she does have plenty of what we call in theatre “stage business”. Since this is supposed to be an art film of sorts, I suppose I’m supposed to get something out of it beyond what I’d get in your average porn film; if ever figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.

I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941)
Article 3701 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-17-2011
Posting Date: 10-2-2011
Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone
Featuring Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis
Country: USA
What it is: Film noir

When a fashion model is murdered, the prime suspect is a sports promoter who helped lead her to fame. However, the police don’t have the evidence to convict him, although one aggressive policeman who is known never to be wrong is on the case and is convinced of his guilt. Will the promoter be able to clear himself?

One of the interesting things that happens when I add new books to my sources from which I derive my hunt lists is sometimes they will list a movie that all of the others overlook. Still, that’s a double-edged thing; often it’s just another movie that the book misclassified. I found this movie listed in “The A-Z of Horror Films”, but despite the evocative title, this is not a horror movie but a film noir (the title is inaccurate as well; no one wakes up screaming). Though film noir has a few stylistic similarities to horror, rarely do the genres intersect, and the only aspects of this movie that lend it any horror genre credentials are a) the deceptive title, b) the presence of Laird Cregar (who, though not a horror actor, has memorably brushed up against the genre), and c) a plot point in which someone pretends to be a voice from a deceased person. The latter is a momentary touch, although it does play a pivotal role in the denouement of the movie. As for the movie itself, it is a very good film noir, though the central mystery at hand turns out not be who the murderer is, but why a man is being framed for it. Laird Cregar steals the movie as the policeman intent on convicting the promoter, but there are a few other familiar faces on top of the above-named stars, such as Alan Mowbray, Elisha Cook Jr., Charles Lane and Morris Ankrum. It’s pretty entertaining, but, as I said before, it’s not a horror movie.

The Incredible Paris Incident (1967)

THE INCREDIBLE PARIS INCIDENT (1967)
aka Come rubare la corona d’Inghilterra, Argoman Superdiobolica

Article 3673 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-20-2011
Posting Date: 9-4-2011
Directed by Sergio Grieco
Featuring Roger Browne, Dominique Boschero, Eduardo Fajardo
Country: Italy
What it is: Superspy/supervillain/superhero mishmash

When the crown of England is stolen, the authorities call on a freelance agent to help them solve the theft, unaware that the agent is also the superhero/supervillain Argoman.

Well, here’s something you don’t see everyday; a superhero movie that plays like a supervillain/superspy movie. Our hero actually does have superpowers; he may have superstrength, but he definitely has telekinesis and lightning fast reflexes. He’s not only a hero (he sets out to defeat an evil woman who is intent on taking over the world), but he’s a villain as well; he has the real copy of the Mona Lisa among other trophies of his various exploits. The big difference between the evil woman and Argoman is that he does not take human lives. The movie is on the campy side (it’s full of silly dialogue), but it manages to stay on the side of “fun” campy rather than “cloying” campy. In fact, the whole movie is a light-hearted lark, and Argoman’s costume is not too bad. I really didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but I ended up enjoying it thoroughly, and that says something.

It’s a Gift (1923)

IT’S A GIFT (1923)
Short

Article 3664 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-11-2011
Posting Date: 8-26-2011
Directed by Hugh Fay
Featuring Snub Pollard, Marie Mosquini, William Gillespie
Country: USA
What it is: Silent comedy

An inventor is invited to demonstrate his new powerful gasoline substitute.

This is an energetic and fun silent comedy. The first half mostly deals with the various gadgets Pollard uses to help him serve himself breakfast him bed; he uses a series of pull-strings that light stoves, make coffee, and coax chickens to lay eggs. The real fun begins when we discover how our inventor gets around town; he tools around in a motorless bullet-shaped vehicle that is propelled by a magnet he holds out to follow other vehicles. This is the funniest sequence in the movie, but it will leave you wondering why, if he’s invented a super fuel, why doesn’t he use it? The answer makes for the climax of the short. This one is highly amusing.