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.


The Mermaid (1965)

aka Yu mei ren
Article 3349 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-31-2010
Posting Date: 10-15-2010
Directed by Li Kao
Featuring Ching Lee, Ivy Ling Po, Yunhua Chen
Country: Hong Kong
What it is: Fantasy musical

A scholar is the promised husband to the daughter of a prime minister, but the scholar’s lack of money make him an undesirable choice. However, a beautiful carp spirit who lives in the pond has fallen in love with the scholar, and takes on the form of the prime minister’s daughter to pursue her romance. Complications follow.

There’s always something adventurous in exploring a genre you’ve never encountered before; this is the first Hong Kong musical I’ve encountered. Thankfully, the movie was subtitled in English, else I would have had a very difficult time following it. Though most of the subtitles are for lyrics to Chinese songs which simply don’t translate elegantly into other languages, the plot itself is fairly clear. The movie is imaginative, romantic, comic and exciting at different moments; it’s certainly different than anything else I’ve seen from the Shaw Brothers. Ultimately, the movie charmed me; the simplicity of the story helped me to deal with the more difficult and exotic aspects of the production. I don’t know how many more movies like this I’m going to see, but I suspect that this is a good introduction to the form.

The Mummy and the Curse of the Jackals (1969)

Article 3300 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-11-2010
Posting Date: 8-27-2010
Directed by Oliver Drake
Featuring Anthony Eisley, John Carradine, Robert Alan Browne
Country: USA
What it is: Monster mash

An archaelogist acquires a preserved Egyptian princess and a mummy, but inherits a curse that turns him into a werejackal. The princess and the mummy come to life. Havoc ensues.

Anthony Eisley claims that this movie was never finished and that director Oliver Drake was senile at the time the movie was made. In a comment on IMDB, one of Drake’s offspring claims that his or her father was not senile, but would have agreed that the movie was atrocious. Still, given the script and the budget that this cheapie had, I don’t think it was necessary for the director to be senile to result in a movie this bad. Between the cheesy soundtrack music and the horrendous cinematography, the movie is almost unwatchable. There’s the occasional interesting moment, but not enough to shake the movie out of its turgidity. The oddest moment has the two monsters shambling around Las Vegas while barely being noticed by the crowds that see them; they no doubt thought they were just actors in tacky costumes (which they were). Oliver Drake served as associate producer on WEIRD WOMAN and THE MUMMY’S CURSE, but spent most of his career on B westerns. Writer William Edwards would go on to pen DRACULA (THE DIRTY OLD MAN), which should give you an idea of the quality of this one.

Mission Mars (1968)

Article 3298 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-9-2010
Posting Date: 8-25-2010
Directed by Nicholas Webster
Featuring Darren McGavin, Nick Adams, George De Vries
Country: USA
What it is: Old-fashioned science fiction movie.

Astronauts go to Mars. Will they encounter Martians? Will they come back alive?

Director Nicholas Webster has had a little experience with science fiction previous to this one; he gave us SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS. If that doesn’t sound encouraging, that’s because it isn’t. He has a bigger budget here, which results in slightly better special effects and a certain degree of star power, but it doesn’t help much. It’s sincere, but dull; nothing much happens until the astronauts get to Mars (which is a little more than halfway through the movie), and nothing is done to keep the first half of the movie from turning into a major snoozefest. The encounters with the strange Martians perk things up a little, but not enough to hide the fact that the movie has no real surprises in store for us. The story is by Audrey Wisberg, who also gave us some of the weaker science fiction movies of the fifties with THE NEANDERTHAL MAN, PORT SINISTER and CAPTIVE WOMEN after a relative high point of THE MAN FROM PLANET X; this movie is a lot closer to his low points.

The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961)

Article 3284 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-21-2010
Posting Date: 8-11-2010
Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti
Featuring Roy Vicente, Ronald Howard, Rachel Clay
Country: UK
What it is: Children’s monster movie

Three children raise a monster hatched from an egg.

This needs to be said, so let’s just get it out of the way; this movie is lame. It’s also sincere, harmless, unpretentious, short, and uses some stop motion animation during several short sequences. And, as a kid who grew up loving monsters, I find it hard to dislike any movie about children having a chance to raise a monster, no matter how lame it is. So, rather than condemning it for not being better than it is, I’ll let it go on behalf of its simple low-budget charm. I just wish the comic bits were funnier.

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Article 3265 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-28-2010
Posting Date: 7-23-2010
Directed by George Mihalka
Featuring Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck
Country: Canada
What it is: Slasher pic

Twenty years ago, two miners left their posts to attend a Valentine’s day party, and their absence resulted in a mine accident that killed several men. The only survivor ends up killing the two miners, and swears that if the town ever holds another Valentine’s Day party, he will return and begin killing again. Now, twenty years later, another Valentine’s Day Party is being planned…

Slasher movies are rather formulaic. But one thing I’ve noticed about the ones I’ve seen lately is that those that try to vary the formula too much tend to fall flat. This one sticks to the formula, and it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen recently. It has its problems, of course; occasionally, characters act suspiciously for no other reason than to throw suspicion on themselves, some of the characters verge on the annoying, and the set-up for a sequel (that never came) is one of the dumber moments in the movie. However, it does quite a number of things right. There’s something suitably scary about a killer dressed in a gas-mask and wielding a pickaxe. Setting the last half of the movie in a mine is also quite effective. The movie is also well-paced; it distributes the murders throughout the movie, and the sequences in between are interesting enough to hold your attention. The acting is solid, and the characters are developed to just the right extent for this sort of movie. Many of the scenes are dark, but there’s enough lighting to keep us from getting too confused to follow the action. Best of all, the attack scenes are efficient and well-staged; there’s not a moment here where I find myself impatiently waiting for a murder to happen while the director protracts a scene in a mistaken attempt to build suspense. In some ways, these are minor pluses, but in a movie like this, they make the difference between a movie you enjoy and one that bores you. I enjoyed this one.

The Mechanical Man (1932)

Article 3242 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-5-2010
Posting Date: 6-30-2010
Directed by Walter Lantz and William Nolan
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Animated robots and skeletons movie

A mad scientist has created a robot, but its pugnacious nature convinces the scientist that it needs a human heart. He decides to kidnap Oswald the Rabbit’s girlfriend for the heart. Can Oswald save her?

It gets points for trying. This surreal cartoon throws out a nonstop barrage of strange imagery and gags so steadily that it’s hard to take it all in in one sitting. The problem is that it just isn’t funny; the gags are unfocused and arbitrary, and though I watch the cartoon with a certain amount of curiosity, I’m never once compelled to laugh. It reminded me that the very best cartoons, as wild as they might be, were usually grounded with a strong center in some regard (a theme or a plot that held it together), but that’s what this one lacks. Ultimately, it’s just mildly interesting.