Matchless (1967)

MATCHLESS (1967)
Article 3007 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-1-2009
Posting Date: 11-7-2009
Directed by Alberto Lattuada
Featuring Patrick O’Neal, Ira von Furstenberg, Donald Pleasence
Country: Italy

An American journalist, while a prisoner in China, acquires a magic ring that can turn him invisible for limited periods of time. When he returns to the U.S., he is sent on a mission by the military to track down a genius master criminal to acquire his secrets.

This spoof of the Bond movies doesn’t have much of a reputation, but I found it amusing enough in a harmless sort of way. I’m a bit amused that the fantastic content involving invisibility seems to involve magic rather than science, which is kind of odd for the superspy genre. It’s also fun to see Henry Silva in a more comic role than usual for him, and, for my money, Donald Pleasence is a lot more fun as the villain of this movie than when he played Blofeld. I also liked a car chase scene that ends up with the cars on top of a moving train. I’d hardly call it a great movie, but this cross between INVISIBLE AGENT and the Bond movies did keep me consistently entertained.

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Mark of the Devil (1970)

MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)
aka Hexen bis aufs Blut gequalt
Article 3006 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2009
Posting Date: 11-6-2009
Directed by Michael Armstrong and Adrian Hoven
Featuring Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katrina
Country: West Germany

A town hopes the arrival of witch-hunter Lord Cumberland will free them from the tyranny of their local witch hunter, who has been abusing his authority for personal satisfaction. However, the new witch-hunter may be even worse…

One of the tag lines for this movie was “likely to upset your stomach”, and patrons were given barf bags when the movie was shown. Obviously, this witch-hunting / torture film modeled off of WITCHFINDER GENERAL wasn’t going for the art house crowd. The dubbing is often quite bad, the musical score thinks the movie is a romance or a swashbuckler, and the editing makes the movie quite confusing at times. It also does wallow in the exploitative sadism it mires itself into, which is probably the reason the movie was successful enough to spawn a sequel. Still, it does manage to have a storyline as well, occasionally it shows an interesting insight into the witch-hunting mindset, and it’s anchored by a good performance from the ever-dependable Herbert Lom. Apparently, the movie was originally to be directed by Michael Reeves (who probably would have given us something a little better), but when he died, the direction passed Michael Armstrong, who, according to IMDB, was Reeves’ assistant during WITCHFINDER GENERAL, though they list no credit for him; at any rate, I got the impression Armstrong knew a bit about Reeves’ style, but didn’t quite know how to make it work. Also, according to IMDB, the original ending featured the dead rising up and pulling the character of Christian into the abyss, but it was nixed by one of the directors. This ending makes no sense to me at all, given that the character of Christian is the closest this movie comes to a hero. I wonder if this piece of trivia is mistaken, and whether it might actually be Lord Cumberland who was to be pulled into they abyss; if not, it would have been one of the most cynical endings in movie history.

Mad Monster Party? (1967)

MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)
Article 3004 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-29-2009
Posting Date: 10-4-2009
Directed by Jules Bass
Featuring the voices of Boris Karloff, Allen Swift, Gale Garnett
Country: USA

Dr. Frankenstein plans to retire as head of the monsters and plans to put his nephew in his place, a human named Felix Flankin. However, the other monsters hatch a plot to do away with Felix so they can get a hold on all of Dr. Frankenstein’s secrets.

It’s really impossible for me to be too hard on a movie that pays tribute to so many classic monsters (Frankenstein, his monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Wolfman, Dracula, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and a special surpise appearance only billed as “It”), especially if it features the voice work of Boris Karloff and a whole slew of celebrity imitations (including Jimmy Stewart, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Charles Laughton). I wondered about the presence of Phyllis Diller, but when I discovered she was cast as the Bride of Frankenstein (who lovingly calls the monster “Fang”), I had to admit it was an inspired choice. It’s just that I wish this Rankin/Bass animated film was better. The movie opts to go the comedy route, yet at heart, comedy wasn’t really what Rankin/Bass did best; they specialized in whimsical fantasies. Here the comedy falls thuddingly flat most of the time, and, despite the fact that animation is capable of producing immaculate comedy (think of Looney Tunes), much of the timing here is clumsy. I also find it a little questionable tastewise in a children’s movie to have our villainess fall in love with a man only after having been slapped around by him; though it’s not sadistically (he’s just trying to break her out of hysteria), I would certainly not want to have to try to explain masochism to an impressionable child. Still, there’s always Karloff to brighten things up, and I do like the ending, especially a nice little final twist that also serves as an unlikely reference to SOME LIKE IT HOT. My favorite gag involves Frankenstein’s offering a fly to a giant frog.

Midi minuit (1970)

MIDI MINUIT (1970)
Article 2975 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-30-2009
Posting Date: 10-6-2009
Directed by Pierre Philippe
Featuring Sylvie Fennec, Beatrice Arnac, Daniel Emilfork
Country: France

A woman marries into a family of psychopaths, one of whom kills people with a clawed glove.

The above plot description was cobbled together from a couple of different sources, as my print of this movie is in unsubtitled French and I was not able to glean very much on my own. I would have spotted the clawed glove, and I would have figured out it was a horror movie of sorts; some of the characters look very creepy, and I felt a bit of the same way on watching this one as I did with the original THE OLD DARK HOUSE or SPIDER BABY; in fact, the patriarch of the family in this one looks a bit too much like the Sid Haig character in the latter. Odd touches are prevalent, but until I can find a print in English, I’m going to have to reserve any real judgment.

The March Hare (1956)

THE MARCH HARE (1956)
Article 2968 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2009
Posting Date: 9-29-2009
Directed by George More O’Ferrall
Featuring Peggy Cummins, Terence Morgan, Martita Hunt
Country: UK

A horse is capable of winning the derby if its secret word is whispered to it at the time of the race.

The magic word that makes the horse win the race comes from the leprechauns, but don’t strain your eyes waiting for them to show up; the closest we see of them is a distant glimmer of light. It’s a fairly slight premise for a movie, but then, it’s a fairly slight movie all around. It may be a little too British for me, though; some of the accents are a bit difficult to make out, and though it tries its damnedest to be cute and charming, it ends up rather bland and uninvolving. Most of the laughs center around the eccentric groom who is the only one who knows the word, and only if he’s been drinking. Most of the rest of the movie is concerned with the budding romance of the two leads. All in all, it’s a dull bit of fluff.

Man in the Dark (1953)

MAN IN THE DARK (1953)
Aricle 2897 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2009
Posting Date: 7-19-2009
Directed by Lew Landers
Featuring Edmond O’Brien, Audrey Totter, Ted de Corsia
Country: USA

A criminal who masterminded a payroll robbery is the subject of a brain operation that is designed to eliminate his criminal tendencies. It also gives him amnesia about his former life. However, he is then kidnapped by his old cronies who want to find out where he hid the money from the robbery…

According to IMDB, this is a remake of THE MAN WHO LIVED TWICE, and it certainly shares the basic premise of that movie. It does, however, take the story in a different (and much more conventional) direction. It also updates it, by giving it a noirish feel and shooting it in 3-D, and, though I saw it flat, it looks like it must have been fun if seen that way. The noir touches are less successful; all too often, the dialogue comes off as forced and phony rather than sharp and crackling. Still, the movie is watchable and quite entertaining, and with a running time of only seventy minutes, it doesn’t wear out its welcome, though its occasionally rushing to get to some plot points while taking its time to get to others ends up leaving it feeling a bit silly. There’s a great dream sequence, though, in which the criminal finds himself being chased by cops in an amusement park, even when he gets on a bumper car ride.

Mystery Mountain (1934)

MYSTERY MOUNTAIN (1934)
Serial
Article 2870 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2009
Posting Date: 6-22-2009
Directed by Otto Brewer and B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Ken Maynard, Tarzan, Verna Hilie
Country: USA

Railroad detective Ken Williams is trying to discover the identity of a criminal known as the Rattler, who is trying to prevent the completion of a railroad tunnel through a mountain.

For me, the real mystery of this western serial is – what’s the fantastic content? Left to my own devices, I would have been at a loss. I might have guessed that the Rattler would have fallen under the category of “masked” killers, but usually this means the killer is wearing a hood or something that makes them look scary. In this case, the Rattler’s “primary” mask (see below) is a fake set of glasses with a nose and moustache, which makes him look like Father Guido Sarducci, who is not scary. Since I couldn’t quite accept that, I checked Don Willis’s guide to see what he had to say about it, and he mentions a plot element in which the Rattler disguises himself as various other characters through the use of very convincing “secondary” masks. I suppose this is a fantastic concept (and one I’ve always found singularly unconvincing), but I’ve seen this trick done so often in the movies that I tend to think of it as a movie convention rather than as an honest-to-goodness element of fantastic content. Unfortunately, that’s about all there is; I’ll leave it your own judgment whether this qualifies, but for me, it doesn’t.

As for the serial itself, it’s rather ordinary. Since most of the action is on horses, we don’t have the nonstop bailout cliffhangers, which is good. Ken Maynard is likable enough, Syd Saylor’s comic relief avoids being totally annoying, and the rest of the cast is forgettable, though Gene Autry appears in a small (and uncredited) role. The real scene-stealer here is Ken Maynard’s horse, Tarzan, who does some great tricks on occasion and ends up being the one to unmask the killer at the end. Otherwise, this one is run-of-the-mill.