Johnny Got His Gun (1971)

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN (1971)
Article 3503 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-21-2011
Posting Date: 3-18-2011
Directed by Dalton Trumbo
Featuring Timothy Bottoms, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt
Country: USA
What it is: Anti-war drama

A young soldier suffers from a shell attack that leaves him a quadriplegic who is also unable to see, hear, or speak. The doctors and the military also believe he is brain-dead, but he is aware. How can he keep sane, and will he ever be able to communicate to those around him?

Like yesterday’s movie, this is also a winner at Cannes; it won the FIPRESCI Prize as well as the Grand Prize of the Jury. It’s also interesting to compare this to TRACKS, another anti-war movie with fantasy sequences that rise from the mind of its protagonist. But whereas the other movie lost a lot of its power due to a certain self-indulgence and lack of focus, this one remains focused and powerful, especially at the end. It’s also a rare instance where the author of a novel not only writes the screenplay (with a slight assist from Luis Bunuel) but gets to direct it as well. The movie is at its weakest when it tries to make its anti-war statement explicit, but this is fortunately confined to a stray statement here or there. Most of the movie is concerned with the protagonist’s trying to hold onto his sanity by exploring his past and dwelling on fantasy repercussions of those events; incidentally, the scenes with Donald Sutherland as Jesus Christ were written by Bunuel. The most emotionally involving scenes involve the protagonist trying to communicate with those around him; two of the most powerful scenes in the movie involve breakthroughs, one in which a nurse discovers a way to wish him a “Merry Christmas”, and the other when he finally figures out how to communicate with those outside of his mind. This would prove to be Trumbo’s sole directorial credit, and it is a truly powerful movie.

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A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964)

A JOLLY BAD FELLOW (1964)
aka They All Died Laughing
Article 3447 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-13-2010
Posting Date: 1-21-2011
Directed by Don Chaffey
Featuring Leo McKern, Janet Munro, Maxine Audley
Country: UK
What it is: British black comedy

A science professor at a university discovers a drug that places its victim in a euphoric state before killing them in a way that looks like natural causes. He begins using the drug to remove troublesome people in his life.

The basic concept has been used before many times. Think of how many mad scientist movies follow the same basic pattern; for me, THE DEVIL BAT came to mind. However, it’s never been quite handled in this style before. The mood is one of quiet British black comedy, with the humor mostly very subtle and with a certain amount of wit to the proceedings. I also found that there was a touch of melancholy to the mix; though he may be amoral, Leo McKern’s title character is likable enough that it’s a little sad seeing him give in so readily to temptation. Janet Munro fans will really like this one; as the professor’s assistant and lover, she is at her sexiest, and though there’s no nudity, the movie is pretty daring with how much skin she shows. I do feel a little ill at ease about one thing though; the scene of the rat going euphoric really leaves me wondering if the animal was being mistreated, though it is hard to tell. The movie is uneven, but interesting.

Jungle Raiders (1945)

JUNGLE RAIDERS (1945)
Serial
Article 3435 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-1-2010
Posting Date: 1-9-2011
Directed by Lesley Selander
Featuring Kane Richmond, Eddie Quillan, Veda Ann Borg
Country: USA
What it is: “Jungle” serial thrills

The Arzec tribe lives in an isolated valley with a secret entrance. They have a rare fungus with amazing healing properties and a cache of jewels. Scientists want to find their way to the village for the fungus; bad guys want the jewels, and think the good guys are after them as well. Complications arise.

Like several other serials I’ve encountered, this one uses a much wider definition of “jungle” than you’d expect; if you get mostly prairie settings and rock formations with only a smattering of trees, you’re hardly in a jungle. Furthermore, the comic relief is not only not funny, but his constant fat jokes about the trading post owner become extremely tiresome. Yet, when I judge a serial, my main criteria anymore is – did it manage to hold my attention during its individual episodes or did I spend most of my time wondering what was in the refrigerator? To its credit, this one managed to hold my attention. I think the reason it works for me is that it has a good assortment of different characters to pay attention to. Many serials have only two real characters (the hero and the villain), while the rest of the characters are interchangeable and merely align themselves with one side or the other. This one has a more elaborate group of people with varying motives, and at least one villain (the tribal witch doctor) must be kept alive by the heroes as he is the only one who knows the location of the fungus. So, all in all, I liked this one well enough. I just hope that my next jungle serial (if there is one) has the novelty of actually taking place in a jungle.

Jungle Hell (1956)

JUNGLE HELL (1956)
Article 3389 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-12-2010
Posting Date: 1-24-2010
Directed by Norman A. Cerf
Featuring Sabu, K.T. Stevens, David Bruce
Country: USA
What it is: Jungle hell

There’s these flying saucers, see? And they bring these radioactive rocks and control tigers and elephants. The local shaman has a rock, but scientists are interested in it, as well as elephant hunters. And there’s these elephants, and… Ahh, let’s stop pretending that this movie has a plot.

Those of you who have followed my series for some time probably recall my discussion of the “Double-Stuffed Safari-O”; those are jungle movies that open with exposition, end with denouement, and are filled in the center with an overly generous helping of safari. Generally, the term is not used in a complimentary sense, but after seeing this aptly-named mess of a movie, I grew to appreciate at least one thing about Double-Stuffed Safari-Os; they have a structure and a story, whereas this movie seems to have neither. If you watch it, I hope you like elephants; nearly twenty percent of the footage in this movie involves these pachyderms (and I know because I timed it), and since none were used in the footage originally shot for this movie, it’s all stock footage. Furthermore, it probably only accounts for about forty percent of the stock footage in the movie; between the stock footage of other animals, airplanes, buildings from Bagdad, London and New York, etc… I’d have to say that a good half of this movie is made up of stock footage. The remaining thirty-seven minutes consist mostly of actors wandering through a backlot jungle and staring at whatever the stock footage is showing. There’s an occasional shot of a flying saucer hovering in limbo; in fact, it feels as if the whole flying saucer aspect of the movie was tacked on at the last minute to turn the movie into science fiction, as little mention is made of the saucers anywhere but in the opening and closing narrations. If there is a plot, it’s mostly about rock-hunting.

In short, this is a nearly unwatchable mess of a jungle movie. If you do choose to watch, I hope you like elephants.

Jaws 2 (1978)

JAWS 2 (1978)
Article 3388 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-11-2010
Posting Date: 11-23-2010
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
Featurng Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Country: USA
What it is: Sequel

Once again, the town of Amity is plagued by a giant shark. Once again, police chief Brody can’t convince the mayor to do anything about it. Once again, people die. Brody must fight the shark, but this time, he must do it alone.

I actually saw this one in the theater without ever having seen the original, and I thought it was an okay thriller. I still think it’s an okay thriller, but now that I’ve seen the original, I can understand a) just how derivative it is, and b) just how much it falls short. Without a director of the calibre of Steven Spielberg at the helm, the movie never rises above the ordinary, though I will give credit to Roy Scheider for really giving it his all. I really miss Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw (though I wouldn’t expect the latter to have appeared anyway), and one problem is that this movie does nothing to fill in those gaps. Furthermore, this movie largely lacks the sense of humor that helped make the original special. And watching this movie this time around, I grew to really appreciate one aspect of the original, and that was how that movie gave us a tense nail-biting climax that did not involve teenagers screaming at each other constantly.

Judex (1963)

JUDEX (1963)
Article 3344 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-25-2010
Posting Date: 10-10-2010
Directed by Georges Franju
Featuring Channing Pollock, Francine Berge, Edith Scob
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Crime drama

A corrupt banker is threatened by a mysterious figure of justice named Judex; he must either give his fortune away to those he cheated or die. When Judex seems to make good on his threat, a woman who was hoping to marry the banker seeks to get hold of papers the banker had been using for blackmail so that she can make a fortune. This puts the banker’s innocent daughter at risk. Will Judex be able to save her?

Not only was Georges Franju a fine filmmaker in his own right, he was also an archivist and a lover of classic cinema. This is his tribute to classic serial-maker Louis Feuillade; it’s an adaptation of Feuillade’s own 1916 serial JUDEX. I saw the Feuillade version seven years ago, and found it nearly impossible to follow because the subtitles were in untranslated French, so this version which tells pretty much the same story is a revelation. Still, it’s no wonder I was confused; since Judex employs tricks I would be more likely to expect from a Fantomas-style criminal, and the banker’s crimes were mostly talked about rather than shown, it was very difficult to sort the good guys from the bad guys. In its own right, this is a fine and entertaining adaptation; it perhaps relies overmuch on outrageous coincidence at times (and that applies equally well to Feuillade’s original serials), but it has a real sense of fun and there’s even a touch of lyricism to it as well; I particularly like the scene with the mysterious magician at the party. Like the original serial, the only fantastic content is a closed-circuit television unit used in the banker’s prison cell, which, since this adaptation also takes place in the same time period as the original serial, is a scientific anachronism.

Jungle Moon Men (1955)

JUNGLE MOON MEN (1955)
Article 2997 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2009
Posting Date: 10-28-2009
Directed by Charles S. Gould
Featuring Johnny Weissmuller, Jean Byron, Helene Stanton
Country: USA

Jungle Jim – er, pardon me, Johnny Weissmuller, that is, helps guide a woman writer to the realm of a tribe of pygmies known as moon men.

This is one of those Jungle Jim movies where the Jungle Jim references were dropped; Johnny Weissmuller plays Johnny Weissmuller, and the chimp is named Kimba. Not much has changed; it’s still plotted with all the tender loving care as the other Jungle Jim movies (i.e. randomly). The moon men aren’t from the moon, nor do they get their name because they drop their loincloths in battle. Instead, they worship a woman who is an acolyte of the Egyptian Moon Goddess, and who possesses immortal life as long as she avoids the sun (making this jungle flick something of a cross between SHE and THE MOLE PEOPLE). Myron Healey plays a character named Santo, but he doesn’t wear a mask or wrestle Mexicans. Billy Curtis gives about as good a performance as anyone could as the head of the moon men, but he has to endure one embarrassing sequence in which he is tied to a tree and tormented by Kimba. Ben Chapman appears as a native who dies early on. Angelo Rossitto plays the Littlest Moon Man, which will no doubt one day be the title of a really bad children’s movie. Heck, I’m having more fun writing my review than I did watching the movie.