Operation Poker (1965)

OPERATION POKER (1965)
aka Operazione poker
Article 3743 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-1-2011
Posting Date: 11-13-2011
Directed by Osvaldo Civirani
Featuring Roger Browne, Jose Greci, Sancho Gracia
Country: Spain / Italy
What it is: Spyghetti

Agent Glen Foster is assigned to locate a kidnapped Vietnamese official, but all of the people who have been assigned to the case of guarding him have been killed off one by one…

This Italian spy flick is marred by an extremely confusing beginning, an assortment of dull spots, and a truly disappointing ending. Still, I do give it a couple of pluses for one of the more amusing spy gimmicks I’ve seen; a car that can eject it’s back half. The science fiction element is also more prominent than usual for this type of genre; in this case, it’s a machine that can allow the user to have x-ray vision. I’ll probably remember these touches longer than I’ll remember the rest of the movie, which is pretty forgettable.

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1001 Nights (1968)

1001 NIGHTS (1968)
aka La esclava del paraiso, The Slave of Paradise

Article 3705 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-21-2011
Posting Date: 10-6-2011
Directed by Jose Maria Elorrieta
Featuring Luciana Paluzzi, Jeff Cooper, Raf Vallone
Country: Spain / Italy
What it is: Arabian nights fantasy

The son of a vizier returns home to find a usurper has taken over the throne. He joins a band of rebels to bring down the usurper and clear the name of his father. Fortunately, he has the help of a genie.

By coincidence, I’m currently reading the Burton translations of ‘A Thousand And One Nights’ (though in truth, the work is so long that it was bound to happen that some movies from this genre would pop up during the the time). I’m not far into it, but one thing I’ve observed is that there is a greater variety of storytelling there than you usually find among the many movies that wear the “Arabian Nights” banner. Quite frankly, the genre has become rather tiresome to me on a cinematic level, and this rather dull and listless entry does little to change my feelings on the matter. The movie isn’t so much awful as it is uninspired; it’s slow, often dull, and even the fight scenes seem rather tired. The main attraction will probably be the skimpy costumes of the harem girls and the (female) genie, and that may be enough for some viewers. For me, it was just another forgettable foray into the genre.

OSS 117: Mission for a Killer (1965)

OSS 117: MISSION FOR A KILLER (1965)
aka Furia a Bahia pour OSS 117
Article 3698 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-14-2011
Posting Date: 9-29-2011
Directed by Andre Hunebelle
Featuring Frederick Stafford, Mylene Demongeot, Raymond Pellegrin
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Eurospy

OSS 117 is sent on a mission to Brazil to defeat revolutionaries who are using mind control drugs to turn people into suicidal killers.

For a while I thought this was going to be some more Spyghetti, but it looks like it’s more French than Italian. This may explain why the flavor of this James Bond imitation is a little different. The movie is peppered with some interesting fight scenes, Frederick Stafford makes a decent faux Bond in some ways, and the location footage is nice to look at. It’s also surprisingly easy to follow. It’s main problem is that it’s rather dull; it’s directed without flair or style, and there’s a few too many dull stretches that cause your attention to wander. Add to that a musical score that is often far too easy going for this genre and the fact that the villains are a pallid lot, there’s just not a whole lot of fun to be had with this one. The fantastic content is the use of the mind control drug and hypnotism, but within the movie itself, these are used a bit too sparingly for my taste.

Outland (1981)

OUTLAND (1981)
Article 3652 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-30-2011
Posting Date: 8-14-2011
Directed by Peter Hyams
Featuring Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen
Country: UK
What it is: Science fiction western

A new Marshall takes charge in a mining colony on the moon of Io and discovers there’s been a number of mysterious deaths caused by people going crazy. His research reveals that the management has been increasing production with a deadly amphetamine drug to increase production.

My first experience with this movie was through having read a review of it that took it to task for its wealth of scientific errors, and for trying to adapt a western story to a science fiction setting, arguing that science fiction should only be used to tell stories that can’t be told any other way. The above plot description doesn’t really touch on the western aspects of the story, but they are there; the movie works itself up to a HIGH NOON-like premise, in which the Marshall must face and defeat hired killers intent on gunning him down. I don’t know how much the scientific errors really bother me, as I doubt that I would have noticed most of them; the one that does bother me is that it does seem pretty dunderheaded to be using projectile weapons in the sort of environment where a hole in the wall could kill everyone in the room. As for the use of a western motif, I suspect that there’s a lot of science fiction movies out there over the years that largely use the science fiction aspects for background and trappings in stories that could be told in other mediums. For what it’s worth, I enjoy this movie a lot more than MOON ZERO TWO, which was roughly trying to do the same thing, but I do know the more that it reveals its western sensibility, the more predictable it becomes. The climax is somewhat disappointing; one of the hit men acts with incredible stupidity, and the final fight sequence looks clumsy in space suits. Yet, overall, I found the movie passable, albeit too long.

The Omen (1976)

THE OMEN (1976)
Article 3650 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2010
Posting Date: 8-12-2011
Directed by Richard Donner
Featuring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner
Country: UK / USA
What it is: The Antichrist

When an ambassador’s wife’s newborn child dies shortly after birth, he agrees to substitute another child for it. However, the substitute may be more than just a child, and evidence begins to mount that it is the Antichrist.

I’ve never been quite as taken with this movie as I am with some of the other similarly themed movies from within the same ten years; both THE EXORCIST and ROSEMARY’S BABY come to mind. Part of it is that I have a little problem with the powers of evil in this movie; though they can work up an elaborate death involving a storm and a lightning rod, they seem to be fairly slow about dealing with the threat of Gregory Peck. Somehow, I think the Prince of Lies would function with more subtlety and efficiency than he does here. Still, the movie gets its greatest strength by the presence of a strong set of actors, including Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Billie Whitelaw, one-time Doctor Patrick Troughton, and Leo McKern; they manage to sell the movie very well. For me, the most interesting moment is the death of the nanny; in the case of all the other deaths in the movie, you know the reason for them and so they come as no surprise, but the nanny’s death comes out of the blue, and it’s not until later that you realize why she had to die. The movie spawned two lesser sequels and a remake, none of which quite had the impact of this movie, though how scary it is may depend on just how much credence you give to theories about the Book of Revelation in the Bible.

One Exciting Night (1922)

ONE EXCITING NIGHT (1922)
Article 3636 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-14-2011
Posting Date: 7-29-2011
Directed by D.W. Griffith
Featuring Carol Dempster, Henry Hull, Peter Strong
Country: USA
What it is: Old dark house mystery

Several guests are invited to a party at an old dark house. However, a bootlegger was murdered there a few days ago… and it is rumored he left half a million dollars somewhere in the house. Who will find it, and who will they kill to get it?

I rightly guessed that this would turn out to be an “old dark house” movie, but it’s probably the earliest one I’ve seen for this series. That doesn’t mean that the “old dark house” concept started here; this was reportedly made to cash in on the success of the stage play “The Bat”, which would have a straightforward version made just a few years later. I was curious to see what D.W. Griffith would do with the concept, and he concentrates on the backstories of the various individuals, which are more elaborate than is usual for the form; in fact, the “old dark house” antics don’t really get going until the movie is halfway over. Some of the cliches are already in place, including the cowardly black servant, and having it played by a man in blackface (Porter Strong’s specialty) makes it just that much more painful; at least the other major black character isn’t portrayed as a clown (though he may also be a white actor in blackface). Still, the movie is moderately entertaining throughout, and much more so during a spectacular climax involving a chase during a massive storm. And though I did figure out who the murderer was, it did turn out to fairly satisfying from a story perspective.

Os Deuses e Os Mortos (1970)

OS DEUSES E OS MORTOS (1970)
aka Of Gods and the Dead

Article 3544 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-3-2011
Posting Date: 4-28-2011
Directed by Ruy Guerra
Featuring Norma Bengell, Othon Bastos, Itala Nandi
Country: Brazil
What it is: Brazilian New Wave with surrealism

An adventurer (who has already been shot seven times) gets involved in a battle for a cacao plantation, setting loose a wave of bloody killings.

This movie entered my list from John Stanley’s “Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again” book under the mistranslated title OF GODS AND THE UNDEAD. With that kind of title, it’s little wonder that he thought the plot involved people rising from the dead, and, to be honest, Othon Bastos’s gruesome makeup certainly makes him look like the living dead. In truth, the movie is an art film, part of the Brazilian “Udigrudi” movement, an offshoot of “Cinema Novo”. Aware of the art movie credentials of this one, discovering that “Udigrudi” subverted traditional narrative film structure, and knowing that my copy was without English dubbing or subtitles, I went into this one without any expectations that I would understand what was going on, and the above plot description is taken from what IMDB has about the film. As usual in this case, I was forced to rely on the visual aspects of the film, and on that level, I can say quite frankly that I was blown away. Perhaps the most impressive aspect I found was the direction and the camerawork; many of the scenes are shot with a what looks to be a hand-held camera, and given that some of the long scenes in this movie were shot in one take, I became fascinated by the way that the camera would weave in and out among the actors, focusing in on the most interesting visual pictures and then moving on, not showing you certain details until late in the scene… whatever else you can say about these scenes, they are stunning pieces of cinematic choreography. The music is also startling and effective, and the movie certainly seems to delve into fantasy and horror before it’s all over. Just on a visual level, it’s often breathtaking, and the movie won a whole slew of Brazilian cinema awards. Even if I never come by a copy in English, I’ll probably give this one another viewing just to appreciate its visual brilliance.