The Mad Executioners (1963)

aka Der Henker von London
Article 2518 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-25-2008
Posting Date: 7-4-2008
Directed by Edwin Zbonek
Featuring Hansfjorg Felmy, Maria Perschy, Dieter Borsche
Country: Germany

A secret society captures, tries, and executes criminals who have somehow managed to evade punishment by the law. A Scotland Yard inspector is on the case. He also must contend with a serial killer who decapitates his female victims.

For those interested in trying out the German Edgar Wallace thrillers of the early sixties but aren’t sure where to start, this is a good one to begin with. I don’t quite rank it with the best ones, but it’s one of the most straightforward and least confusing of the bunch, and it manages to keep the comic relief down to a minimum. Even the subplot about the serial killer weaves nicely into the main plot, and it’s this subplot that adds a goodly portion of the fantastic content to the story, with both the horror element of a serial killer and a science fiction element that manifests itself when you understand what the serial killer is trying to accomplish. Granted, the group of hooded executioners adds its own horror element as well. There are some very nice moments in this one, including a sequence where we witness two mock trials concurrently, and the moment where we discover how the executioners are able to get the noose from a locked safe. Again, it’s not the best of the genre, but it’s perhaps the most accessible.



The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Article 2477 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-13-2008
Posting Date: 5-24-2008
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Featuring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh
Country: USA

A Korean war veteran receives the Medal of Honor for having rescued nine men from his platoon. However, when a Major in the military begins to suffer nightmares that seem to contradict this event, he tries to find the truth. He discovers that the war hero has actually been brainwashed by communists to assassinate someone – but who, when and where?

The last movie for this series that I’ve seen from John Frankenheimer was THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN; it’s hard to believe that the director of that stinker is the same man who brought us this brilliant and gripping political thriller. The story is simply amazing; it manages to combine a bizarre array of elements (such as games of solitaire, a woman’s garden club meeting on hydrangeas, a man jumping in the lake in Central Park, a dysfunctional (and possibly even incestuous) mother-son relationship, a faked hit-and-run accident, a snake bite, McCarthy’s list of “known communists”, and a magician’s trick deck of cards) into a nail-biting story about an attempted coup by communists to take over the United States. It takes a while before all the various elements start to come together, but the movie is fascinating every step of the way. The performances are all top notch, with Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury in particular very strong. The movie is full of great scenes; the nightmare sequences, the moment when we discover the identity of the American operative, and (my personal favorite) the scene where Sinatra’s character attempts to undo the brainwashing of Harvey’s character. The only flaw in the movie is that Janet Leigh’s character and the subplot about her romance with Sinatra’s character is unnecessary. The fantastic content of the movie includes the brainwashing techniques and the fact that the overall political plot puts the movie into marginal science fiction territory. The cast also features Henry Silva (who engages in an early martial arts fight with Sinatra), James Gregory (as a drunken senator partially modeled off of Joe McCarthy), John McGiver (as a Senator), Whit Bissell, and Reggie Nalder. And, of course, that’s Paul Frees on narration.


Masters of Venus (1962)

Article 2476 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-12-2008
Posting Date: 5-23-2008
Directed by Ernest Morris
Featuring Norman Wooland, Mandy Harper, Robin Stewart
Country: UK

Two children are forced to launch themselves into space to escape saboteurs. Fortunately, they were able to save the lives of the two pilots, and they all head to the planet Venus.

This may be the only non-American sound movie serial I’ve seen for this series; I only added the word “sound” above when it occurred to me that I saw some early French serials. It’s a juvenile space adventure, made exclusively for Saturday Morning Cinema Clubs. Plotwise, it’s pretty standard stuff, with the kind of story that made for movies like FLIGHT TO MARS. Certainly, it isn’t up to the level of the Nigel Kneale science fiction TV serials of the era. However, it is interesting to compare them to the American serials of the previous few decades. When you do this, the plot feels pretty sophisticated; in each episode, something happens to advance the plot, whereas the American serials usually worked with the plot in the beginning and ending episodes and used the basic situation mostly to hang action sequences on. This serial is at its best at the beginning before they land on Venus; after that, it’s pretty cliched. According to one source of mine, this serial was edited into a feature, but that must be even harder to find than the serial itself.


La marca del muerto (1961)

aka The Mark of Death
Article 2465 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-1-2008
Posting Date: 5-12-2008
Directed by Fernando Cortes
Featuring Fernando Casanova, Sonio Furio, Rosa Maria Gallardo
Country: Mexico

A mad scientist is executed because of his hideous experiments with immortality (which involve draining the blood of young women). Years later, his descendant discovers his experiments and resurrects him, thus reviving the old horrors.

It’s pretty sad. This movie is sitting on IMDB with a rating of 1.5. I get the sense that they’re not reviewing this movie per se, but the Jerry Warren re-edit known as CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD. This is understandable when the same listing serves for both movies (as it used to), but now IMDB has separate listings for both movies. To make it all the more embarrassing is that CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD is sitting with a 1.6 rating, which is even higher. I don’t care what anyone says; I find it beyond the pale to consider the possibility that Jerry Warren actually improved a movie by editing it into one of his snoozefests.

Not that this one is a classic; it’s moody, but utterly predictable. However, that very predictability is helpful when you consider that I’m watching an undubbed, unsubtitled version of this Mexican movie; with such a predictable plot, it’s easy as pie to follow. Still, the real question here is; what is the better way to watch this movie – in Jerry Warren’s edited version, or in a version in a language you can’t understand. The latter wins hand down; when you get to a scene you don’t understand, at least it doesn’t break the mood and the pace. When you get to one of Jerry Warren’s inserts, not only is the mood broken but you can’t understand what he’s talking about anyway, even if it is in English. You should only go for CREATURE OF THE WALKING DEAD over this one if you really want to see Bruno VeSota get a massage. Doesn’t that say it all right there?


Il mio amico Jekyll (1960)

aka My Friend, Dr, Jekyll
Article 2461 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-28-2008
Posting Date: 5-8-2008
Directed by Marino Girolami
Featuring Ugo Tognazzi, Carlo Croccolo, Raimondo Vianello
Country: Italy

An ugly mad scientist (who scares women away) develops a method to transfer personalities between two creatures for a limited period of time. He uses this method to transfer his own personality to that of the popular teacher at a girl’s school in the hopes of scoring with women.

If I thought I was going to be able to use the fact that the name of Jekyll indicated that this was based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story to help me sort out another movie in unsubtitled Italian, I was out of luck; other than having a scientist named Jekyll, it doesn’t touch the story. Nevertheless, this was one of the easiest to follow for movies I’m watching in another language; from a plot perspective, it’s fairly easy to figure out what’s going on with the visual clues. The slightly comic touch to the title led me to suspect that this my be a comedy, and though it starts out looking serious enough, the minute I saw the scene where Jekyll tries to quiet a barking dog in his house, and it turns out not to be a dog, but a goose, I knew this was going for laughs. The basic premise is simple; the teacher is kidnapped by Jekyll, his body gets Jekyll’s personality, Jekyll goes out in the teacher’s body and makes passes at woman (attracting them and infuriating their husbands), and then when the Jekyll’s personality leaves the teacher’s body, the teacher has to deal with the complications that arose, including fighting an amusing duel at one point. I may not know what they’re saying, and there are a few plot points that are a little obscure, but the motivations and story arc are fairly obvious. Overall, I found it quite amusing and enjoyable. Once again, I hope I can find a dubbed or subtitled version of this one in the future.


Million Dollar Countdown (1967)

aka Please Don’t Fire the Cannon, Per favore… non sparate col cannone
Article 2440 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-6-2007
Posting Date: 4-17-2008
Directed by Mario Caiano
Featuring Frank Wolff, Rossella Como, Giampiero Albertini

A safecracker just released from prison is hired by a mysterious man aboard a yacht to steal a secret missile defense system that causes missiles to return back to their launching point and explode. The safecracker hooks up with his old cohorts, and puts together a plan to get the secret.

I have to admit I have a fondness for caper movies, but I don’t cover them very often for this series because they so rarely slide into the genre areas that I’m covering. This one does, though, and though it’s not a great movie, it’s a good one and quite amusing. The fantastic content is, of course, the missile defense system. The caper itself requires the usual bizarre selection of accomplices and items; in this case, we have a cannon, an armored tank, LSD pills, and an exploding car. However, the caper hits some snags when the thieves have to contend with an attempt by a woman to murder her husband via an exploding thermos. The twists at the end are also quite amusing. What I like best about this film is simply that it isn’t an Italian comedy that drives me up the wall, as too many of them do, and even the dubbing doesn’t really hurt this one. Still, I find that a lot of Italian movies from the sixties and seventies have musical scores that do nothing for me, and I’m afraid this is the case here; the music mostly consists of women’s voice singing an a capella number with lots of la-la-las that sounds for all the world like it’s background music on a Christmas song.


Mystery of Marie Roget (1942)

Article 2417 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2007
Posting Date: 3-25-2008
Directed by Phil Rosen
Featuring Patric Knowles, Maria Montez, Maria Ouspenskaya

When the body of a woman with a mutilated face is found, the victim is believed to be a missing actress. Then the actress shows up. Then she disappears again, and another body is found; this time it is really hers. Dupin investigates with the help of the local prefect.

If there is any Poe story that I would expect to undergo major revision before it was turned into a motion picture, this would be the one; it isn’t so much a story as speculation on the solution of a real-life murder case. This one has a story, though it’s not a particularly good one, but the cast is interesting, though it’s really hard to buy that Maria Montez (with a French accent) is the granddaughter of Maria Ouspenskaya (with a Maria Ouspenskaya accent). The latter is a suspect largely because she keeps a pet leopard (but, then, who doesn’t?), and, for that matter, the daughter is also a suspect (that is, until she becomes a victim). The horror elements are the fact that it comes from a Poe story, the presence of the leopard, and the gruesomeness of the murders. For me, most of the enjoyment of the movie is just watching Maria Ouspenskaya act, even in a strange-looking wig. Keep your eyes open for Charles Middleton as a curator of a zoo that gets a new addition to its menagerie.