The Man Who Wagged His Tail (1957)

aka Un angelo e sceso e Brooklyn
Article 3424 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2010
Posting Date: 12-29-2010
Directed by Ladislao Vajda
Featuring Peter Ustinov, Pablito Calvo, Aroldo Tieri
Country: Italy / Spain
What it is: Transformation fantasy

When a cold-hearted landlord earns the enmity of his tenants by knocking down a young boy, a beggar with magical powers transforms him into a dog until someone grows to love him.

The “reformation of a scoundrel” is probably one of the most common story arcs in fantasy cinema, with A CHRISTMAS CAROL being only the most famous example. Peter Ustinov plays the reprobate who needs to be taught a lesson, and though he does a fine job, the movie is stolen by Caligula the dog, who shares with Ustinov the title role. The dog has some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen on an animal actor, and it is this performance that really draws us in and makes us care about the fate of the characters. The interesting milieu is also a strong point; Brooklyn is portrayed as a veritable melting pot of immigrants from other countries, and it gives the movie a really nice flavor. My favorite scenes include the dog having to perform an act which on the surface seems horrible but in truth is meant to save a woman from making a bad decision, the dog’s final act of bravery, and the last scene in the movie, which I won’t give away other than to say that it involves one character convincing another of something unbelievable. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and quite enjoyable.


Metempsycose (1907)

aka Metempsychosis
Article 3398 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-22-2010
Posting Date: 12-3-2010
Directed by Segundo de Chomon and Ferdinand Zecca
Cast unknown
Country: France

A woman puts a bust on a table. It comes to life, transforms into a butterfly, and produces two babies.

What we have here is your basic trick film; there’s no real plot, but just a series of visual tricks. I have no idea what the title means, but if someone had told me that this was where babies came from, I would have suspected that there was some psychosis involved. This brings our Chomonothon to an end, though I have no doubt that I’ll be covering more of his films at some later time.

Motel Hell (1980)

Article 3395 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-18-2010
Posting Date: 11-30-2010
Directed by Kevin Connor
Featuring Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons

Farmer Vincent Smith runs a motel that is known for its excellent smoked meats, made from a secret family recipe. To get his secret “ingredients”, he waylays passing motorists and fattens them up in his garden. However, when he is smitten with a young lady and decides to make her part of the family, he sets in motion his own undoing…

This is an uneven but interesting black comedy that I wish was better than it is. It’s a pretty outrageous story with a fun sense of detail; I like some of the bizarre traps Vincent sets up to capture his prey, and the sense of detail that goes into the preparation of his “animals” is rather striking. The problem I have with the movie is that it tends to soft-pedal the humor; in fact, the score occasionally betrays a lyrically evocative mood that seems quite out of place with the story. If anything, the movie seems to take itself a little too seriously at times, and though Rory Calhoun gives a memorable performance as Vincent, he may go a little too far in keeping his character from being a caricature. In short, it’s just not all that funny, even though it’s too outrageous to be taken in any other way. The ending, which parodies old-fashioned mellerdrammers (think of heroines tied to logs in in sawmills) is one of the better scenes in the movie, and it does feature Vincent’s last line, which is the funniest one in the movie. It’s worth catching, though I’m afraid it’s not quite successful.

Monster a-Go Go (1965)

Article 3393 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-16-2010
Posting Date: 11-28-2010
Directed by Bill Rebane and Herschell Gordon Lewis
Country: USA
What it is: Seventy minutes of footage

A capsule lands. A radioactive monster who was once an astronaut comes out. People die. People investigate. People dance. A car runs out of gas. Movie is padded out to feature length.

No movie this static and lifeless should have the words “A-GO GO” in its title. This movie was originally directed by Bill Rebane in the early sixties but was abandoned when funding ran out. Several years later, Herschell Gordon Lewis bought the existing footage, and then added new footage of his own so he’d have a companion feature to MOONSHINE MOUNTAIN. My guess is that this is one of these two directors’ worst movie and the other’s second worst. For what it’s worth, Lewis does seem to make his new footage blend in with the old footage, but that’s no compliment; however, since he couldn’t get the original cast for his new scenes, the movie still comes across as disjointed and unfocused. It’s shot in a flat distant style, the sound is bad, the narration is ill-timed, intrusive, and gives away the important things that will happen in scenes before they happen, there are a wealth of pointless scenes that go nowhere, huge gaps exist between line deliveries… all these things conspire to drive viewer interest away at every moment. I’ve heard some people say the ending is clever, but I interpret it as meaning that Lewis got tired of even trying to finish the movie and came up with it as a way to get it off his plate; to me, it’s the movie thumbing its nose at the audience. I wonder how soon the drive-ins cleared out after this movie started.

The Million Dollar Duck (1971)

Article 3392 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-15-2010
Posting Date: 11-27-2010
Directed by Vincent McEveety
Featuring Dean Jones, Sandy Duncan, Joe Flynn
Country: USA
What it is: Shopping cart movie

An experimental scientist takes home a duck from the lab after it fails every experiment and becomes irradiated. They discover that the duck lays eggs with golden yolks when barked at by dogs. Will greed cause them to lose their humanity?

According to IMDB, this movie shares the dubious distinction of being one of the only three movies Gene Siskel walked out on during his movie review career. So how awful is it? It’s not near as awful as that trivia seems to imply, but it does mark a low point of the Disney shopping cart movies, as I call them. These Disney comedies always flirted with silliness, stupidity and contrived situations, but this one falls in. All of the major characters act like idiots (except the little boy, whose main function is to tug on the heartstrings), the whole setup is incredibly contrived, and most of the jokes are pretty lame. Still, I think one of the more subtle problems is that the concept itself doesn’t lend itself to clever special effects, which is one of the big attractions of these Disney comedies, thus making the movie a little disappointing from the outset. On the plus side, the cast is appealing (especially Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan), but you’re all too aware that they are playing roles that are beneath their abilities.

Maneater of Hydra (1967)

aka La isla de la muerte
Article 3391 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-14-2010
Posting Date: 11-26-2010
Directed by Mel Welles
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, George Martin, Elisa Montes
Country: Spain / West Germany
What it is: An old dark greenhouse movie

Tourists arrive on an island inhabited by a Baron who experiments with horticulture. People start dying, and their bodies are drained of blood. Who or what is the killer?

Though in some ways it’s structured like a mystery, the tagline (which I won’t mention here) pretty much gives away the revelation, but given what you find out early in the movie, you won’t be surprised. Suffice it to say that it’s not a mystery; it’s just a good old-fashioned monster movie. It’s cheesy, cheap-looking, and silly, but the presence of Cameron Mitchell adds a bit of fun, and it’s watchable enough in its low-budget way. It would make a good double feature with CASTLE OF EVIL.

The Mysterious Mr. M (1946)

Article 3371 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-24-2010
Posting Date: 11-6-2010
Directed by Lewis D. Collins and Vernon Keays
Featuring Edmund MacDonald, Pamela Blake, Danny Morton
Country: USA
What it is: Serial with science fiction elements

A professor designs a super-submarine, but enemy spies want the design. The professor is murdered, and a man long believed dead takes on the persona of the Mysterious Mr. M in order to find the various parts of the design. However, the police are on his trail… and his Mr. M persona is stolen by another person who also wants the plans and sends him phonograph records with spoken instructions. Will the plans be found… and who is the Mysterious Mr. M?

As I finish up watching this serial, I find myself musing on how few of them I watch anymore. There was a time in my series that I had so many of them on my hunt list that I think for two years a day wouldn’t go by without me having an episode of a serial to watch. However, as I move forward through time, they became less and less frequent, and I suspect it may be almost a year before I see my next serial. Though I didn’t care for them much at first, I’ve tried to grow in appreciation of them and accept them for what they are.

That being said, this one is rather humdrum. It’s saddled with a somewhat overelaborate premise, which means that a lot of the running time of each chapter is dedicated to reiterating the complicated situation. Like many Universal serials, its long on the talk and short on the action. It is a bit heavier on the fantastic content; outside of the plans for the submarine, we have a few other gadgets, and the existence of a super-hypnotic drug called Hypnotrine which makes willing slaves of people. The best part of the serial is in the next to last chapter with an extending cliffhanger involving a woman who doesn’t know how to fly piloting a plane in for a landing. I did have a little fun trying to figure out who the main culprit would be, and I got it right, too. Nevertheless, this is a fairly dull serial, and I suspect Universal thought so as well; it was their last one.