Once Before I Die (1966)

ONCE BEFORE I DIE (1966)
Article 3423 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2010
Posting Date: 12-28-2010
Directed by John Derek
Featuring Ursula Andress, John Derek, Richard Jaeckel
Country: USA / Philippines
What it is: Oddball war movie

A group of soldiers in the Philippines are caught off guard by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and make a journey across the island, bringing with them a beautiful woman.

As a director, John Derek seems to be mostly known for his movies designed to show off the body of his wife Bo Derek; he gave us stuff like TARZAN THE APE MAN, BOLERO, and GHOSTS CAN’T DO IT. This is probably his best movie, though that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good; it is rather offbeat, though. Granted, it is a vehicle for one of his earlier wives, Ursula Andress, and it seems to revolve around her, which is unfortunate; she seems lost and characterless throughout. That’s probably why the movie is stolen by Richard Jaeckel, who plays Lieutenant Custer, who, unlike his historical namesake, shaves his head; he is the only actor here who really seems to be committed to bringing his role to life.

Now the big question here is – why am I covering this movie? It’s listed in John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again”, and his justification for it is the Andress is the “angel of death” because every man she kisses dies. Maybe so, but the movie never once makes that explicit or even really drops hints; it’s just one way to interpret the events on the screen, and I personally think this movie doesn’t qualify in its fantastic content. Still, at least it gives me another John Derek movie to compare with before my inevitable encounters with TARZAN THE APE MAN and GHOSTS CAN’T DO IT.

Advertisements

Oh, God! (1977)

OH, GOD! (1977)
Article 3420 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-13-2010
Posting Date: 12-25-2010
Directed by Carl Reiner
Featuring John Denver, George Burns, Teri Garr
Country: USA
What it is: Deity comedy

God appears to an assistant manager of a grocery store and recruits him to spread a message to the people of the world. The assistant manager soon finds himself in over his head in dealing with the repercussions of fulfilling his task.

I think the best thing about this comedy is the casting of George Burns in the title role; his graceful aging and gentle comic persona make for a very approachable and likable deity. I think another aspect that also helped was that George Burns developed a style that made his joke-telling simple, straightforward and easy, and these also lend themselves to bringing this role to life. The movie was quite popular, if I remember right, and spawned two sequels, but this is one of those movies I wish didn’t have sequels; what works as a one-time idea loses its appeal when turned into a franchise. The other performers do a decent job, and I can’t help but notice that Teri Garr must have had a real workout playing housewives who suspect their husbands are going crazy; she also appeared in the same type of role in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. One of the big surprises I had this time is how many well-known actors appear in the movie in very abbreviated roles; Donald Pleasence gets fourth-billing and has only one line, and you don’t see much of Jeff Corey or Barry Sullivan either. In the end, I find myself really liking the movie, though I think it may be a little too simplistic for its own good, but then, that was probably one of the reasons it was so popular. And I will say this much; if God exists and is anything like George Burns is here, I wouldn’t have any objections to believing in him.

One of Our Spies is Missing (1966)

ONE OF OUR SPIES IS MISSING (1966)
Article 3407 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-31-2010
Posting Date: 12-12-2010
Directed by E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Featuring Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll
Country: USA
What it is: Feature made from a two-episode story of “The Man from UNCLE”

Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin investigate reports of older men regaining their youth, and find that THRUSH agents are also on the same trail.

Whoever titled these movies culled from episodes of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” should have picked plot elements that actually play a major role in the story; this has about as much to do with missing spies as THE HELICOPTER SPIES had to do with helicopters. I’d say this was one of the weaker movies from the series; it’s culled from the two episodes of “The Bridge of Lyons Affair”, and it feels pretty lightweight for the series, though the existence of a process to restore youth gives it a significant amount of science fiction content. Maybe I’m just a sucker for character actors, but I think the best moments involve Mr. Waverly; when he leaves his office and takes an active part in the proceedings, the story brightens up considerably. Still, that’s not until the last fifteen minutes or so. The cast also features Maurice Evans, Vera Miles, and, in a small role, James Doohan.

Operation Counterspy (1966)

OPERATION COUNTERSPY (1966)
aka Asso di picche operazione controspionaggio
Article 3286 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-23-2010
Posting Date: 8-13-2010
Directed by Nick Nostro
Featuring George Ardisson, Helene Chanel, Lena von Martens
Country: Italy / Spain / France
What it is: Spyghetti

A secret agent impersonates a safecracker to get secrets of importance to national security. The secrets turn out to be photographs from various cities, but enemy agents will kill to get them. What is their significance?

Though the enigma of the photographs is of mild interest, once the enigma is solved at about the halfway point, the movie settles down into what it primarily is – a not-particularly-inspired imitation of the Bond movies. Most of the fantastic content comes towards the end of the movie when we reach a secret underground laboratory in which a madman plots to… but that would be giving too much away, even if it isn’t all that impressive to begin with. The most interesting characters are the spies’ boss and assistant. There’s the usual assortment of beautiful women. If this is right up your alley, go for it; if not, there’s nothing special here.

The One-Eyed Soldiers (1966)

THE ONE-EYED SOLDIERS (1966)
Article 3285 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-22-2010
Posting Date: 8-12-2010
Directed by John Ainsworth
Featuring Dale Robertson, Luciana Paluzzi, Guy Deghy
Country: Yugoslavia / Italy / UK / USA
What it is: Offbeat crime thriller

When a UN medical representative falls to his death eluding pursuers, his dying words refer cryptically to “one eyed soldiers”. Several people are interested in the meaning of this comment – a newspaper reporter, the dead man’s beautiful daughter, a fat man who poses as an undertaker, a police inspector… and a crime syndicate headed by a vicious dwarf.

Mill Creek used to put out movie megapacks, which were basically very affordable DVD packages of 50 movies each, and, having a weakness for such things, I bought all of them they produced, irrespective of whether they belonged to the genres I was covering. This occasionally proved very helpful, as a movie I would otherwise have to hunt down was sitting on one of these sets. I found this one in the “Gunslingers” collection.

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, the word “gunslingers” implies westerns, and the blurb on the set pretty much backs this up. However, this movie is anything but a western; it’s set in a border town in an unnamed Central European country in modern times, a decidedly unwestern milieu. There’s gunplay, all right, but that’s about the only reason I can see for the movie’s anomalous inclusion on this set. Furthermore, it’s pretty marginal in terms of any fantastic content; there’s some touches of horror in that part of the setting involves tombs and catacombs, we have a dwarf and an ugly mute, and there’s a scene where a woman faints when she sees a body rise from its casket (though we audience members know all along that the man in the coffin is very much alive). These are very slight touches, to be sure, so it no more belongs to the fantastic genres than the western one.

On its own terms, I found it muddled but enjoyable. My main enjoyment came from Guy Deghy, who plays the fat man; he appears to be channeling Sydney Greenstreet, and he’s given priceless dialogue to match. I suspect he’s also in a dual role, as I see no credit on IMDB for an actress playing the fat woman who the police mistake for the fat man in drag, since she bears an uncanny resemblance to him. The story is a bizarre crime thriller, hardly believable but entertaining enough in its own way.

Orca (1977)

ORCA (1977)
Article 3241 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-4-2010
Posting Date: 6-29-2010
Directed by Michael Anderson
Featuring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson
Country: USA
What it is: JAWS-inspired fish story

When a captain kills a pregnant killer whale and her unborn child, he becomes the target of the vengeance-driven mate of the one he killed.

This is perhaps the most famous of the various ripoffs that came in the wake of JAWS. To its credit, it takes a different tack on the subject; here, we’re obviously supposed to sympathize with the wronged killer whale rather than just see it as an object of terror. It also doesn’t try to make a villain of the captain, and attempts to provide some parallels between the captain’s life and that of the killer whale’s. Still, in order to pull this kind of story off, you need a strong script, and that’s just what this movie lacks. One of the problems is that it makes the killer whale just too damn clever; he seems to know just what to do to cause the most damage, and he seems to know where everyone is at every moment. Yes, I can understand the desire to anthropomorphize the beast, but here it approaches silliness. Furthermore, it’s so obsessed with its various themes (the intelligence of the killer whales, the relationship between the captain and the killer whale, the possibility that this may be some mystical destiny) that it fails to really develop the characters and the situation. I noticed that though I found the movie watchable enough (thanks in part to some good performances), I never really felt much tension or fear, and that’s because I never felt this was happening to real characters in a real world. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, I’ve always liked the movie a little. But I do have a serious issue with any movie that has the good sense to cast Keenan Wynn and the bad sense to kill him off in the first reel.

One Arabian Night (1920)

ONE ARABIAN NIGHT (1920)
aka Sumurun
Article 3179 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2010
Posting Date: 4-28-2010
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Featuring Ernst Lubitsch, Pola Negri, Paul Wegener
Country: Germany
What it is: Arabian Nights epic

The beautiful favorite wife of a sheik is secretly in love with a handsome merchant. She hatches a plan to find another woman more beautiful than herself to lure the sheik into picking a new favorite wife, thereby leaving her free to pursue her affair. However, the woman she finds is a wild and unpredictable gypsy woman who is loved unrequitedly by a hunchback. Complications ensue.

The only fantastic content in this Arabian Nights story is the presence of a hunchback; other than that, the only reason I can think that this movie would qualify is by association, since many other Arabian Nights stories have more fantastic elements. Of the Lubitsch films I’ve seen for this series, this is my second favorite, but you must bear in mind that two of the others I’ve seen (THE EYES OF THE MUMMY and THAT LADY IN ERMINE) are considered his weakest movies, and this one is considered just a hair better. Lubitsch himself was extremely disappointed by his own performance as the hunchback here, and it was his last acting role. I quite liked the movie, though it is admittedly over the top, but the energy is very high, and it manages to tell its complicated story with verve and clarity. Much of the story is comedic, though it takes some tragic turns towards the end. Pola Negri is definitely memorable as the wild gypsy woman, and Paul Wegener shows up as the jealous sheik. My favorite story thread has the hunchback seeking solace from his pain by imbibing of a drug that puts him into a deathlike state, only to have his supine body embark on a series of unexpected adventures when it is stolen by thieves that mistake it for booty.