The Intruder (1977)

THE INTRUDER (1977)
aka LES PASSAGERS
Article 2112 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-27-2006
Posting Date: 5-25-2007
Directed by Serge Leroy
Featuring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mireille Darc, Bernard Fresson

A man driving to Paris with his stepson finds himself being tailed by a psychopathic killer in a black van.

Before my commentary on this movie, let me begin by quoting verbatim the quotes on the back of the VHS copy of this movie that I obtained.

“…a very good suspense thriller…creditable acting, and tight direction all help to make this film a cut above most…” – Geoffrey Marks, Austin Citizen

“…a film of considerable – if not really maximum – suspense.” – Ellen Pfeifer, Boston Herald American

Now, these comments are by no means uncomplimentary. The problem is that the quotes on the back of the box for a copy of a movie are usually the ones that offer the highest praise and promise the most fun and excitement for the viewer. Both of these are rather blase – “creditable” acting isn’t “great” acting, and why would you choose a movie that offers “considerable” suspense over one that offers “maximum” suspense? These quotes almost encourage you to check out some of the other product for something better, and that’s not really the best way to sell a movie. Even cutting out the “if not really maximum” part of the quote would improve things.

As for the movie itself, I think it lives up to those quotes. It’s a decent enough movie, but it could have been a lot better. I think its main problem is that it fumbles its mystery elements. I get the impression that we’re supposed to be as puzzled by the motivations of the stranger in the van as the man and his stepson are, but I found the identity of the van driver and his reasons for pursuing the car were obvious. It would have been far better to keep the van driver out of the story until the very end, so we would puzzle over how he managed to keep on his prey’s trail the whole time. This is one of the reasons the movie never attains “maximum” suspense. Outside of that, I like the appearance of Adolfo Celi as a police inspector, and I don’t care much for the kid (who is one of those precocious sorts that get rather annoying on occasion). Still, it does strike me as a not-as-effective clone of DUEL.

 

In Search of Ancient Mysteries (1975)

IN SEARCH OF ANCIENT MYSTERIES (1975)
Article 2084 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-29-2006
Posting Date: 4-27-2007
Directed by Fred Washofsky
Featuring narration by Rod Serling

In the ancient world there are many phenomena that have yet to be explained by modern science. Could this be proof that we have been visited by men from outer space?

This short TV documentary was one of two culled from CHARIOTS OF THE GODS; it features narration by Rod Serling as we travel the world searching for evidence that we are descendants of ancient astronauts. Other than to mention that I am a skeptic about such things, I won’t dwell much on the validity of the theories; instead, I’m going to grouse a bit about how dull and repetitive these documentaries can get. We visit a far-flung country, and the soundtrack plays vaguely exotic music reminiscent of this region. The narrator describes some curious phenomenon, and then asks some variation of “Could it be that these phenomena were the result of visitors from another world?”. Occasionally, they vary the proceedings by interviewing some noted scientist (whose name is unfamiliar to me); we see the scientist walking around while the narrator gives us his credentials, and then the scientist speculates about visitors from outer space. Even with Rod Serling as the narrator and a short running time, this wears thin very quickly, especially if you’ve seen this sort of thing before. Granted, if you buy into the theories, it probably seems exciting and mysterious. I suspect that whether you like this is dependent on how much you buy into it.

 

Invisible Thief (1909)

INVISIBLE THIEF (1909)
aka L’HOMME INVISIBLE
Article 2063 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2006
Posting Date: 4-6-2007
Directed by Ferndinand Zecca
Featuring an unknown cast

A man picks up a copy of H. G. Wells’s novel, and decides that he can make himself invisible as well. He does so, and uses his power for robbery.

Adventures in Movie-Watching: The biggest problem with going through Don Willis’ first edition of “Horror and Science Fiction Films” is that it is so chock-full of unknown early silent titles (most of which are no doubt lost to the world as well) that on the day of this writing, it took me a good two hours of going through the book until I found a movie to watch that I happened to have in my collection. The trouble is – I’m not sure it’s the right movie. Let me explain – Don Willis lists a movie called INVISIBLE THIEF, a 1909 movie from Pathe that might have been directed by Ferdinand Zecca (he has a question after the name). My search on IMDB turns up two early silent movies with the title. One is a 1905 movie called LES INVISIBLES with the English title INVISIBLE THIEF directed by Gaston Velle and from Pathe. The other is a 1909 movie called L’HOMME INVISIBLE with the English title AN INVISIBLE THIEF directed by Ferdinand Zecca with no studio listed. The latter movie matches on both the year and tentative director, but the earlier movie matches exactly on title (without the word “AN”) and studio. Which movie is the one listed in the book?

The copy I have of the movie lists the title INVISIBLE THIEF (no “AN”), but lists no year, director or studio. The latter movie has no reviews on IMDB, and the earlier one has one, and the plot as described matches that of the one I saw. The question is: how do I reconcile this information?

Well, I just decided to go ahead and review what I had, and if it’s the wrong movie, I’ll let God figure it out. Once again, there’s not a whole lot of plot, but it makes some impressive use of stop-motion photography, wries, and other tricks to tell its story. And that’s about all I have to say about it; sometimes I find it really difficult to generate strong opinions about some of the very early silents.

Let’s see how long it takes me to find a movie tomorrow.

P.S. Thanks once again to Doctor Kiss for helping me out; this is the 1909 Zecca film, not the Velle film.

 

Invasion of the Body Stealers (1969)

INVASION OF THE BODY STEALERS (1969)
aka THE BODY STEALERS, THIN AIR
Article 2040 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-15-2006
Posting Date: 3-14-2007
Directed by Gerry Levy
Featuring George Sanders, Maurice Evans, Patrick Allen

When military skydivers begin vanishing in midair during drops, an investigator is called in to find out why.

I like a movie that opens with a solid mystery, and this one certainly does that. Still, there’s really not a lot in the way of surprises in the revelations that occur, especially as the title of my copy and the tagline (“Can the Earth survive against aliens from outer space?”) make it all too clear who the culprit will be. The acting is solid, and the story is fairly entertaining, but it’s indifferently directed, and I don’t care for some of the touches, such as trying to add some James-Bond style touches to the main character and the fact that the score carries on like you’re being treated to nerve-shattering horror on occasion. As the story progresses, it just becomes more obvious and disappointing. It’s watchable but ultimately forgettable.

 

I Saw What You Did (1965)

I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965)
Article 1977 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-13-2006
Posting Date: 1-10-2007
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Joan Crawford, John Ireland, Leif Erickson

Two teens spending a night together pass the time by making gag phone calls. They call one man and say “I saw what you did, and I know who you are!”, not knowing that the man just murdered his wife.

This is a fairly neat little thriller from William Castle. The gimmick was that some theaters installed seat belts to keep you from being “shocked out of your seat” by the movie, which, by William Castle gimmick standards, is pretty lame. The movie itself is one of his better ones, with a surprisingly strong plot; it’s quite fascinating to see how the story elements unfold to bring us to the necessary point we need to be for the scare scenes in the finale, though the crucial moment (involving a car registration) is a bit contrived. As always, I find it interesting to see how Castle uses the elements he borrows from other movies; rather than baldly stealing them, he usually gives them a different twist. Here, like in HOMICIDAL, he’s borrowing two elements from PSYCHO. He takes the shower murder and does a reverse twist on it. The other element is something I must be necessarily vague about, as it’s something in the nature of a spoiler, but I find it interesting enough to merit comment. Let’s just say that it has something to do with our expectations about the nature of the roles played by the starring characters in movies. Castle manages to both enhance and hamstring that idea from PSYCHO, in the first case by picking one of the most famous Hollywood stars of all time to appear in the movie, and in the second case by giving her a character whose fate is foreordained, given the context of the story. Incidentally, only one of the top-billed actors is playing a leading role; most of the movie focuses on the fates of the two teenage girls, played by Sara Laine and Andi Garrett.

 

In Like Flint (1967)

IN LIKE FLINT (1967)
Article 1966 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-2-2006
Posting Date: 12-30-2006
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Featuring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Jean Hale

Superspy Derek Flint is called in to investigate why three minutes were lost during the president’s golf game. The investigation leads to a cabal of women, and an attempt to turn a space platform into a weapon of destruction.

I was all ready to dismiss this movie as just another James Bond clone, but it really deserves a little more attention than that. Despite its obvious Bond influences, it does strive to be something different; the music and style make the feel of the movie a little less derivative, it has a much lighter touch (but avoids the smirking excesses of the Matt Helm series), and Flint himself is an interesting character, as he’s a renaissance man of sorts with a wide and eccentric intellect and the ability to talk to dolphins. These go a long ways towards alleviating the movie’s turgid pace, but in the end it doesn’t quite succeed; the movie gets quite dull on occasion. James Coburn does a fine job, but he doesn’t quite manage to make his character’s sexism endearing in the way that, say, Sean Connery could do with aplomb; when he sneeringly dismisses the concept that women could run the world, he does so with an edge of meanness that is rather unpleasant. Still, if you ever wanted to see Lee J. Cobb in drag, this is the movie for you. I haven’t seen the first movie in this series, which is reputed to be somewhat better. This one pretty much ended the series, though the character would be revived in a TV movie in the mid seventies.

 

The Intruder (1933)

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.