The Last Dinosaur (1977)

Article 3229 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-21-2010
Posting Date: 6-17-2010
Directed by Alexander Grasshoff and Tsugonobu Kotani
Featuring Richard Boone, Joan Van Ark, Steven Keats
Country: Japan / USA
What it is: Dinosaur movie

A big game hunter forms an expedition to explore a hidden area in the Arctic regions that is said to harbor dinosaurs. Though he claims he’s doing it for the sake of science, the question remains – is he actually going there to hunt it?

What we have here is a cross between THE LOST WORLD and “Moby Dick”. Like KING KONG ESCAPES, it’s a Japanese/American co-production with Rankin/Bass and a Japanese film company, in this case Tsuburaya Productions. The dinosaurs are, like most Japanese monsters, men in suits, and are acceptable enough (to these eyes, anyway). I like the movie, but wish I liked it more. It starts out looking fairly interesting; Richard Boone’s performance is odd enough that it caught my attention, and Joan Van Ark looks at first like she’s going to be a fairly feisty female addition to the expedition. However, once they get to this lost world, they become less interesting, especially Van Ark as she quickly becomes the typical screaming female in distress. The movie is hoodwinked by a weak script that often belabors cliches, leaves the potentially interesting character of Bunta undeveloped, and makes the character of the employee who first spotted the dinosaur an unlikable, abrasive man. Furthermore, the score doesn’t know when it should leave well enough alone and constantly tries to underline moments that would be best left in silence. Still, when it does work (which is sporadically), it is entertaining enough. I saw the complete version which runs about 11 minutes longer than the version that was released to TV in this country; I suspect that the footage that was cut involves the expedition’s encounter with a tribe of caveman. This one is a real mixed bag.


The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (1930)

Article 3160 by Dave Sindelar
viewing Date: 2-7-2010
Posting Date: 4-9-2010
Directed by James Parrott
Featuring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Frank Austin
Country: USA
What is is: Comic “old dark house” story

When a rich old man by the name of Laurel dies, Ollie convinces Stan they can make it to easy street by having Stan pose as the heir. They arrive at the spooky old mansion of the deceased to discover that, instead of attending a reading of the will, they are under suspicion of murder. Furthermore, the real murderer wants them out of the way…

The title implies that this will be a parody of a Philo Vance movie, but it’s really that old friend, the “old dark house” movie. It’s not even really a parody; most of the movies of this ilk were half-comedies already. It does strip the mystery aspect from the story and emphasizes the comedy. Nevertheless, this isn’t really the duo at their best; too much of the short is concerned with the side characters, and once again there is an overreliance on “Oh, I’m scared!” type of humor. Still, there are moments; one of my favorites has Ollie threatening to walk out on Stan that illustrates one of the great things about the characters; you never really know what Stan is going to say or do next. For horror fans, though, it does have some nice atmosphere, and the butler is definitely a great comically creepy character.

The Little Ark (1972)

Article 3116 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-7-2009
Posting Date: 2-23-2010
Directed by James B. Clark
Featuring Genevieve Ambas, Philip Frame, Max Croiset
Country: USA
What it is: Children’s adventure film

Two adopted children in Holland are trapped in the steeple of a church with their pets after a storm causes the dikes to break. They manage to board a boat that drifts close to the steeple, and they go in search of their father.

At one point in this movie, a captain tells the children a story about a woman who is transformed into a mermaid, and the story is shown via animation. This constitutes the sole fantastic content of the movie, so it’s pretty marginal from that standpoint. As for the movie itself, I find it easy to believe it does have some impact, especially if you saw it when you were a kid. As an adult, I find its power somewhat compromised by the problems. It’s obviously based on a novel, and there are moments where you see the movie struggling and not quite succeeding in bringing certain aspects of the story to life. Nor was I particularly impressed by the performances of the two children; though they go through some very real (and even a bit shocking) adventures, they themselves never quite feel real. It occasionally belabors some of the heartstring-tugging, which isn’t necessary; the story itself is moving without that extra pushing. It was an independent film with mostly unknown Dutch and English actors; the only familiar name to me was Theodore Bikel, who does quite well. The theme song was nominated for an Oscar, but if you’re like me, you’ll get awfully tired of it before the movie is over.

Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes (1981)

Article 3111 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-3-2009
Posting Date: 2-19-2010
Directed by Arnold Laven and Alf Kjellin
Featuring Roddy McDowall, Ron Harper, James Naughton
Country: USA
What it is: TV episodes edited into feature

In the first half, Virdon is shot and will die unless he is smuggled into a hospital for treatment. In the second, Burke is captured and subjected to brainwashing techniques, so Galen and Virdon must rescue him.

I still think the title in this particular entry of the series of TV-Movies culled from the “Planet of the Apes” TV series is awful, but it appears to be culled from a couple of the better episodes of the series. Now, to be honest, I actually haven’t seen the TV-Movie version, as I’ve not been able to find it, but since I know the two episodes that were used, and I’ve seen some of the other TV-Movies, I’ve been able to recreate the experience, as, other than some changes to the credit sequences, virtually no real editing was done. There is a certain art to picking which episodes to put together, and this one does a decent job of picking two episodes that were different enough from each other to seem distinct, while still having some common touches; in both, one of the humans is out of the action, scientific experiments are undertaken, and both revolve around ancient books (one on human anatomy, the other on brainwashing). Both episodes are pretty good, though the second one, which feature Beverly Garland, gets the edge.

Still, the episodes do display some of the problems that plagued the series; the dialogue is often clunky, the themes a little too obvious, and the two humans were never developed as distinct characters (you could reverse the roles of the characters in any episode without changing anything more than the references to the character names, and I don’t think anyone would notice). The non-development of the human character turns the series by default into the adventures of Galen, who displays oodles of character. I also grew to appreciate the skill of Mark Lenard’s performance as Urko the gorilla; he has great presence and imbues his character with a subtle but distinct sense of humor, and I found myself looking forward to his scenes.

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

Article 3061 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-24-2009
Posting Date: 12-31-2009
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Featuring the voices of Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scholes
Country: USA
What it is: Animated version of epic fantasy

When it is revealed by Gandalf that the magic ring possessed by Frodo the hobbit is actually the one ring created by the evil lord Sauron, the hobbit must embark on a quest that will ultimately bring about the destruction of evil and the rescue of Middle-Earth.

At the time this movie was made, I would have guessed that animation would have been the only effective way to bring Tolkien’s epic story to the screen. Even at that, Ralph Bakshi would not have been my ideal choice for the project (though he was probably the best choice at the time), and I suspect that it would have worked much better as a TV mini-series than a motion picture. Still, it would have been a risky venture whatever choice was made. This version gets roughly half-way through the second volume of the trilogy, and even this was squashing too much of a story into too short a time; those who are familiar with the story will have no trouble following, but if you don’t know the story, it will end up feeling like a confusing mess, a situation only made worse by the fact that no sequel was made (though an unrelated animated version of THE RETURN OF THE KING made by Rankin/Bass would eventually manifest itself). Bakshi keeps some of his more excessive stylistic touches in check; he obvious truly loves the story. The movie is almost entirely rotoscoped, which is impressive on one level, but disappointing on another. In condensing the story, the characters are often given short shrift. Some scenes are rushed, and others go on too long. In the end, I find it more useful as a refresher of the first half of the story more than anything else.

The Locket (1946)

Article 3039 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2009
Posting Date: 12-9-2009
Directed by John Brahm
Featuring Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum
Country: USA
What it is: Psychodrama thriller with very slight horror element

On the day that a rich gentleman is about to be married to a seemingly perfect woman, he is visited by a psychiatrist who claims to be the woman’s former husband. The psychiatrist claims that the woman is a thief and a murderer, but is he telling the truth…?

John Stanley’s CREATURE FEATURES MOVIE GUIDE STRIKES AGAIN, in which this was listed, makes it sound like more of a horror movie than it really is. Though there’s no doubt that madness plays a role in the proceeding, the woman in question is never played with that evil veneer that would give the movie that horror edge; instead, she’s played as a perpetually misunderstood victim, an approach which makes me feel that she genuinely believes her lies, which in itself is an unsettling form of madness. If the horror content is slight, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie; it’s excellent, and it features a memorable performance by Robert Mitchum, whose final scene here is one of the high points in the movie. It’s directed by John Brahm, who gave us THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE, and though I don’t think this movie is quite as consistent as either of these, he does give us a great ending scene in which one character’s guilt overtakes them. The structure itself is interesting; most of the story is told in flashback, which itself contains further flashbacks, and they get nested three deep at one point. The locket of the title plays both a role in the deepest flashback, serves as a key element in the psychological description of the woman, and returns as an element of the story in the final scenes.

Lady Possessed (1952)

Article 3029 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-23-2009
Posting Date: 11-29-2009
Directed by William Spier
Featuring James Mason, June Havoc, Stephen Dunne
Country: USA

A pianist takes his ailing wife out of a London hospital at the same time that another female patient there has suffered a miscarriage. Afterwards, the second woman feels empty and withdrawn, and, thinking that getting her away from London will help, her husband takes her to live at a country estate, which turns out to be the former residence of the pianist who left after his wife died. The woman begins to get visions of the wife and her final days; is she becoming possessed by the dead wife of the pianist?

James Mason not only starred in this one, but he produced it and wrote the screenplay. It’s interesting in some ways, but uneven and not really satisfying in the final analysis. Part of the problem is that it seems rather muddled; it’s really hard to say whether what is happening is supernatural or psychological, and the movie doesn’t really make that ambiguity compelling. It does give Mason some good dramatic moments, especially at the climax when he plays the piano with the words of his dead wife’s last letter running through his head. Ultimately, though, it’s hard to feel anything about most of the other characters, and this drags the movie down. Still, this one has been sitting on my list for quite a while, and I thought it might be destined to go on my “ones that got away” list; I’m glad to have had a chance to see it.