Of Stars and Men (1964)

OF STARS AND MEN (1964)
Article 2243 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-7-2007
Posting Date: 10-3-2007
Directed by John Hubley
Featuring the voices of Dr. Harlow Shapley, Mark Hubley, Ray Hubley

After being granted a crown by a lion, a man investigates his place in the universe.

This movie was based on a book of scientific philosophy by Dr. Harlow Shapley, and there’s something quite audacious in the attempt to even do such a thing. It’s not a complete success; it can’t help but be a little dry and dull at times. Nevertheless, it’s successful enough to be worth watching; it combines whimsical animation with classical music, and occasionally uses narration and abstract visuals to discuss the concepts of space, time, matter, energy, and whether life exists on other planets. It does manage to leave you pondering on how man fits into the universe, which is one of its goals. The framing story of man receiving the crown from the former King of Beasts (the lion) serves as an effective metaphor for the search, and the most effective moment in the movie is when man finally figures out what to do with that crown. I found the movie unique, likable and effective.

 

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Octaman (1971)

OCTAMAN (1971)
Article 2206 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-31-2007
Posting Date: 8-27-2007
Directed by Harry Esssex
Featuring Pier Angeli, Kerwin Mathews, Jeff Morrow

Pollution results in the creation of an octopus/man mutation that terrorizes some researchers.

One of the disadvantages of trying to cover a movie a day is that sometimes you don’t have the time to research and track down the very best copies of movies, and you have to settle for whatever copy you get. My copy of this movie is almost impenetrably dark during the night scenes, and I don’t know if the problem is the movie itself or just my copy. Please bear this in mind during this review.

You know, the night scenes being so dark wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t seem as if seventy-five percent of the movie took place at night. The first twenty minutes are well lit enough, but after that, every other scene seems too dark. It’s hard for a monster attack scene to be scary when you can’t see the monster or the victim or much of anything else. And what happens when it becomes light again? Why, they take the first opportunity they can to move the action into Bronson Caverns (where it’s dark) so you can struggle some more. Still, I wonder if it would be worth it to seek out this third-rate copy of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON ; from what I could tell, it was a dull and repetitive take on the subject with uninteresting characters and no pace. And as for the silly-looking octaman costume – well, let’s just say that Rick Baker had to start somewhere, and this one should be chalked up as a learning experience for him. It has an interesting cast, though, with Pier Angeli (who died of a drug overdose during filming), Kerwin Mathews, Jeff Morrow, and Buck Kartalian. Still, the Mexican characters are stereotypes, and I really got tired of the one that incessantly whistled the Mexican Hat Dance. All in all, this one is pretty bad, as well as preachy and not much fun.

 

The Outrage (1964)

THE OUTRAGE (1964)
Article 2178 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2007
Posting Date: 7-30-2007
Directed by Martin Ritt
Featuring Paul Newman, Lawrence Harvey, Claire Bloom

A trial is held to figure out who was responsible for the knifing of a colonel in a nearby forest. The conflicting stories about the event from those involve cause a preacher to doubt his calling, but he tries to sort out the story with the help of a con man and a prospector who holds the missing pieces of the story.

Akira Kurosawa was heavily influenced by western (as in opposition to eastern) sources in his movies, including the Bible, Shakespeare, and westerns (as in six-guns). So it’s no surprise that his work was more accessible to westerners, and several of his movies have been remade as westerns. This is perhaps the oddest choice from his oeuvre to be recast in such a way, though it certainly lends itself to this approach. And the story is certainly sturdy enough that it still holds interest even if it’s not done as well as it could have been here. There are definite problems in this version; the text was largely adapted from Fay and Michael Kanin’s stage version (some of the dialogue is identical), but in the attempt to adapt it to a western setting, it often resorts to western slang that is more corny than effective. Furthermore, many of the actors are saddled with distracting accents; in particular, Paul Newman’s Mexican accident and Claire Bloom’s southern twang often call more attention to themselves than is recommended. Laurence Harvey might have had the same problem, but since his character says very little during the proceedings, he is spared that embarrassment. Another problem is William Shatner, though it is through no fault of his own. Shatner’s vocal mannerisms have been the target of parody for some time, and this is one of those movies where those mannerisms are particularly prominent. Edward G. Robinson is great as the con man, and Howard Da Silva also does well as the prospector. The best scene of the movie is the cat-and-mouse game between Newman and Bloom right before the rape, a scene that benefits from the fact that no one is talking. Once again, as in RASHOMON, the fantastic aspect of this movie is that the testimony of the dead man is done via a medium, in this case, an Indian medicine man.

 

Old Mother Riley’s Jungle Treasure (1951)

OLD MOTHER RILEY’S JUNGLE TREASURE (1951)
Article 2116 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-31-2006
Posting Date: 5-29-2007
Directed by Maclean Rogers
Featuring Arthur Lucan, Kitty McShane, Robert Adams

Old Mother Riley is visited by the ghost of Captain Morgan, who directs her to the map showing where his hidden treasure is buried on a wild tropical island.

When I saw OLD MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE, I thought it was better than it had any right to be. When I saw OLD MOTHER RILEY’S GHOSTS, I became convinced that it was Lugosi who made OMTRMTV entertaining; it certainly wasn’t Old Mother Riley, who came off in that movie as shrill and annoying. This one is a little better than GHOSTS, but I’m still convinced that the biggest problem with Old Mother Riley movies is Old Mother Riley himself; Arthur Lucan’s distaff alter ego never succeeds in getting a laugh from me. This is not to say that the movie is totally useless; some of the side jokes by other characters hit the mark, and there are a number of laughs in the sequence where several passengers enjoy a flight on what may be the single chintziest airline in existence. It’s also kind of fun seeing Sebastian Cabot as a pirate, and Hammer fans will enjoy the presence of Michael Ripper while Carry On fans will enjoy the presence of Peter Butterworth. Still, I do think if they had managed to make an Old Mother Riley movie without Old Mother Riley, they would have been on to something.

 

Operation Abduction (1958)

OPERATION ABDUCTION (1958)
aka RAPT AU DEUXIEME BUREAU
Article 2087 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-2-2006
Posting Date: 4-30-2007
Directed by Jean Stelli
Featuring Frank Villard, Danielle Godet, Dalida

A secret government bureau decides to protect a rocket scientist from abduction by faking his own kidnapping. They then send out an agent to locate a criminal organization known to be after the scientist.

The fantastic content in this spy thriller is that the scientist was working on technology to make interplanetary travel a reality. That’s it. When the fantastic content in a movie exists solely to provide a reason for various parties to fight over it, I refer to that content as the Gizmo Maguffin; movies with these elements usually are of little interest to science fiction fans, and are very marginal. This one is especially marginal, as we never see the scientist working on anything (in fact, he barely appears in the movie) and it’s totally focused on the criminals, the secret service agents, and various involved parties. On its own terms, I found it passable but confusing, and badly dubbed (and panned-and-scanned) to boot. This one is not essential viewing.

 

Omoo-Omoo The Shark God (1949)

OMOO-OMOO THE SHARK GOD (1949)
Article 2075 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2006
Posting Date: 4-18-2007
Directed by Leon Leonard
Featuring Ron Randell, Devera Burton, Richard Benedict

A captain, having hidden two black pearls that were used as the eyes of Omoo-Omoo the Shark God, finds himself under a curse as a result.

I’m not sure how true this story is to the Herman Melville novel from which it was derived, but it feels like a pretty conventional south seas flick to me. It’s mildly entertaining, I suppose, but it’s also thoroughly run-of-the-mill. Still, a few items of notice.

1) There are no sharks in this movie. Now I know that it’s not supposed to be about sharks (just a shark god), but I don’t think it’s asking too much that a movie about a shark god should have sharks as well. There are also no cows, despite the fact that you can hear “moo” twice in the title, but, to be honest, I didn’t really expect any.

2) I find it hard to believe that Omoo-Omoo would curse people; he has such a big smile on his face, it’s kind of like getting hexed by Santa Claus. Granted, I don’t think a curse that seems to make its sufferers less likely to return the black pearls (among other symptoms, sufferers seem to get greedier and more selfish) is particularly effective.

3) I suppose stock footage of a fight between a moray eel and an octopus is appropriate for a south seas epic. However, I couldn’t help but notice that during the fight (which is witnessed by two people on a ship looking down into the water), the octopus constantly puts his suckers on the side of the aquarium where the real battle took place. So much for the illusion.

 

One Body Too Many (1944)

ONE BODY TOO MANY (1944)
Article 1994 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-30-2006
Posting Date: 1-27-2007
Directed by Frank McDonald
Featuring Jack Haley, Carol Dunlap, Bela Lugosi

An insurance salesman arrives at a mansion in the hope of selling a policy to the eccentric old man who lives there, only to discover that the man is dead and his relatives are gathered together for a reading of the will. He finds himself volunteering to guard the body against abduction.

I always thought it a bit odd that, despite their having played some of the most memorable roles of all time, the three actors who played Dorothy’s companions in THE WIZARD OF OZ (Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley) rarely pop up in my movie-watching travels. Other than THE WIZARD OF OZ iself, I think this is only the second time I’ve encountered one of them for this series (Ray Bolger popped up in BABES IN TOYLAND). This is basically an “old dark house” movie, and Jack Haley has what amounts to the Wallace Ford role. He’s only mildly amusing, but then, the comic dialogue is fairly weak to begin with, and I’m not sure anyone could have really done much with it to begin with. His best line involves the word “drip”. Bela Lugosi plays, once again, the butler, and though I still think it’s a bit of a shame that he was consistently given the same type of role in movies like this, at least this time he gets to be in charge of the best running gag in the movie (it involves rat poison and coffee), and, as in THE GORILLA, he gives the funniest performance in the movie. The dialogue is pretty weak, and the direction is none too impressive in this one (Frank McDonald mostly churned out B westerns), but I do like the concept that the will is set up so that the money awards will be reversed if the dead man is not buried as requested; with this situation, it makes sense that people might make off with the dead body. I also like the sequences involving the observatory atop the mansion; it makes for an interesting setting for some of the action. One note: Leo is a constellation, not a star. This is the type of mistake I’d expect in a dubbed movie from Japan, not one in which English is the native language.