King of the Rocket Men (1949)

KING OF THE ROCKET MEN (1949)
Serial
Article 3016 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-10-2009
Posting Date: 11-16-2009
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Tristram Coffin, Mae Clarke, Don Haggerty
Country: USA

A madman is knocking off members of Science Associates to get the secrets of their inventions. One scientist who has gone into hiding has invented a rocket suit, and security chief Jeff King dons it in order to find the identity of the evil Dr. Vulcan.

This is the first and best of the three “Rocket Man” serials, often thought of as the Commando Cody series because of the character’s name in the middle serial. The title is a bit of a lie; there’s really only one “Rocket Man”, and he’s not a king, but he’s named “King”, which makes me wonder if they had named him Pope, what the name of the series would be. It’s more solidly made and less cheesy than the other serials, though the fantastic content is greater in its follow-ups; though there are plenty of science fiction contraptions in this one, there are no alien invaders. The villain has one of those FFICs with OIE (for those who don’t remember, that’s a Free-Floating Inviso-Cam with Optional Instant Editing, an item which pops up in movies so that villains can watch what’s going on in areas where there is no noticeable camera). It’s a little odd to see perennial villain Tristram Coffin as the hero in this one, but he does the best he can. I suspect the whole idea came from an attempt to emulate the character of Superman, only without the invulnerability which no doubt made it a little more difficult to come up with effective cliffhangers.

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Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966)

KISS THE GIRLS AND MAKE THEM DIE (1966)
aka Se tutte le donne del mondo
Article 3000 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-25-2009
Posting Date: 10-31-2009
Directed by Henry Levin and Arduino Miauri
Featuring Mike Connors, Dorothy Provine, Raf Vallone
Country: Italy

An American CIA agent investigates the dealings of a man in Rio de Janeiro who is suspected of being a white slaver. He discovers a plot to render the entire population of the world sterile.

For an Italian James Bond ripoff it’s surprisingly well done, and since most of the main characters are played by English-speaking actors, there’s not a lot of dubbing problems to contend with. Nonetheless, there are problems here. The music and pacing are very laid back, too much so for an exercise in superspydom; though it gives the whole movie a surprisingly amiable quality, it also makes the proceedings rather lethargic on occasion. It works best when it plays up the comedy, which is to say that Terry-Thomas steals the movie every time he appears in either of his two roles. There’s plenty of science fiction gadgetry to add to the fantastic content as well, what with the rocket, the secret underground site, the use of suspended animation, etcetera, etcetera. Mike Connors is pleasant enough as the banana-eating Bond substitute here, and Dorothy Provine wears some of the most bizarre costumes I’ve seen in a movie of this ilk. It would have been nice if they had picked up the pace and gone clearly in the direction of comedy. Incidentally, this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies.

The Killer Spores (1977)

THE KILLER SPORES (1977)
TV-Movie for the series “Man from Atlantis”
Article 2999 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-24-2009
Posting Date: 10-30-2009
Directed by Raza Badiyi
Featuring Patrick Duffy, Belinda Montgomery, Kenneth Tigar
Country: USA

An Oceanic science team is sent out to retrieve a space probe that landed in their vicinity. However, the space probe has brought back a surprise; a bizarre life form that can only be seen in the daylight by Mark Harris, the Man from Atlantis. These life forms can take over other life forms and bend them to their wills, and Mark Harris is the first to be attacked…

I wish to reiterate that these “Man from Atlantis” movies are not episodes of the TV series grafted together to make bogus features, but actual feature-length episodes made before it was reduced to a regular-length series. The title isn’t promising, the story, when reduced to its fundamentals, is nothing new, and it eventually gives in to the trendy cynical view of mankind so prevalent during the seventies. However, this shows a marked improvement over the only other episode I’ve seen, THE DEATH SCOUTS; it’s much better written, the acting is consistently good, and the direction and use of sound is very creative. In fact, it’s the details that really sell this episode; the life form from outer space feels genuinely alien, as does Mark Harris himself; one really senses a strong clash of cultures here. Furthermore, when the aliens possess people, their behavior doesn’t merely become violent and antisocial; they end up acting very strange in a variety of unsettling ways. I have to admit that I really liked this episode, and if the IMDB ratings are any indication, it may be the best one of the whole series. At any rate, I have two more movies from this series to cover at some later time.

Killer Bees (1974)

KILLER BEES (1974)
TV-Movie
Article 2998 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2009
Posting Date: 10-29-2009
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Featuring Edward Albert, Kate Jackson, Gloria Swanson
Country: USA

A young man brings his pregnant girlfriend to his ancestral home, much to the consternation of his family and his domineering grandmother. The girlfriend tries to gain acceptance to the family, but she is troubled by a series of local accidents… and the grandmother’s uncanny relationship with the swarms of bees in the orchard…

I’ve seen a number of killer bee movies already, but I must admit that this modest little take on the theme is perhaps my favorite. It’s less muddled than THE DEADLY BEES, more offbeat than THE SAVAGE BEES or TERROR OUT OF THE SKY, and certainly less silly than THE SWARM. Much of the credit goes to effective performances by Kate Jackson and (especially) Gloria Swanson, who took the role of the family matriarch after Bette Davis was forced to turn it down after being warned by her doctor. I also like the way the movie sets you up for one ending, but has another more effective and less predictable (albeit logical one in its own way) up its sleeve. It’s a bit on the slow side, and, with a rating of 4.4 on IMDB, I know I’m in the minority, but I found this one to be an eerie little winner.

Kiss Me, Kill Me (1973)

KISS ME, KILL ME (1973)
aka Baba Yaga
Article 2735 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2008
Posting Date: 2-7-2009
Directed by Corrado Farina
Featuring Carroll Baker, George Eastman, Isabelle De Funes
Country: Italy / France

An erotic photographer finds herself being put under the spell of lesbian witch with a sadomasochistic streak… or is it all her imagination?

Let’s see, this movie has lesbianism, sado-masochism, bizarre erotic dreams, a camera that kills what it shoots, lots of nudity, rapid-fire flashback editing, dolls in leather outfits turning into real women in leather outfits, whippings, conversations about politics, ambiguity about whether what happens is truth or illusion, bloody needles, Nazi imagery, and is based on comics by Guido Crepax. For the first hour it thinks it’a an art film, decides it’s a horror film in the last twenty minutes, and then changes back into an art film. If there’s a message, I’ll leave it to the Eurofans to figure out, though I suspect it’s trying to say that we’re all sadomasochistic lesbians at heart and those who deny it are dishonest, which is the type of message you don’t want to bother arguing with because it comes with its own counterargument at the ready, though I could say something derogatory along the lines of those who wish to believe their own personal fetishes are really universal. Is it any good? Well, it’s not my cup of tea, but I suspect that I have enough information here to help anyone who might want to know if it’s to their own tastes.

Kismet (1955)

KISMET (1955)
Article 2708 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-2-2008
Posting Date: 1-11-2009
Directed by Vincente Minnelli and Stanley Donen
Featuring Howard Keel, Ann Blyth, Dolores Gray
Country: USA

A poet is mistaken for a great magician by the Wazir, who plans to use his abilities to keep the Caliph from marrying.

I thought the 1944 version of this movie was basically a piece of fluff with only the mildest of fantastic elements (the main character did some magic tricks). Here it is, transformed into a truly ordinary musical, even fluffier and with even less fantastic content; the main character is a poet who is mistaken for a magician, though he does no overt magic. Yes, it has “Stranger in Paradise”, but so does FIRE MAIDENS FROM OUTER SPACE. A few character actors brighten things up a little; Sebastian Cabot plays the Wazir, Monty Woolley is Omar, Jack Elam plays Hassan-Ben, and Mike Mazurki plays a guard; incidentally, none of these people do any of the singing. At least Dolores Gray doesn’t seem as out of place as Marlene Dietrich seemed in the earlier version.

 

The Knight of the Snows (1912)

THE KNIGHT OF THE SNOWS (1912)
aka Le Chevalier des neiges
Article 2635 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-22-2008
Posting Date: 10-30-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

Two men vie for the hand of a princess. The evil one conjures forth demons to help him kidnap her, and the good one calls on angels to help rescue her.

There’s not a whole lot of difference between the movies Georges Melies made for his own production company and those like this he made for Pathe in the latter part of his career. Still, having watched this one just a few days after having watched ATLANTIS (which was made one year later), I can’t help but feel just how old-fashioned his fare must have seemed at this point; there isn’t really any change of style here from when he made A TRIP TO THE MOON a decade earlier. Still, if you’re a Melies fan, this has its good moments; the sequence where the evil man conjures forth the devils is a fairly fun sequence, especially when we see that beastie the devil uses to pull his sleigh; it looks like a cross between the Jabberwock and that creature Daffy Duck turns into in DUCK AMUCK. It’s your basic fairy tale sifted through Melies’s cinematic sensibility.