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.

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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.

Off to Bloomingdale Asylum (1901)

OFF TO BLOOMINGDALE ASYLUM (1901)
aka L’omnibus des toques blancs et noirs
Article 3171 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-18-2010
Posting Date: 4-20-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Bizarre little trick film

Four black men turn white when they are knocked off an omnibus by a mechanical horse. They turn themselves black again, then white again, then black, and merge into one fat black man, which then….

The black men are white men in blackface, so you know that this Melies short wouldn’t fly today. According to one source, they’re being transported to an asylum, but they probably got that from the English title; the French title doesn’t appear to have any words that reflect an asylum at all. It’s surreal, quick, and fun.

CORRECTION: According to doctor kiss at CHFB, the word ‘toques’ above more or less classifies the characters as “madmen”, and the world “Charenton” on the omnibus is a reference to a French asylum. So, I stand corrected.

Old Scrooge (1913)

OLD SCROOGE (1913)
aka Scrooge
Article 3152 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-29-2010
Posting Date: 4-1-2010
Directed by Leedham Bantock
Featuring Seymour Hicks, William Lugg, Leedham Bantock
Country: UK
What it is: Could it be… another version of “A Christmas Carol?”

Scrooge is a skinflint who hates Christmas. But on Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his partner, who may make him change his ways…

I remember griping about the 1935 Seymour Hicks version of this story because it reduced Marley to a spoken voice who appears only momentarily. Maybe it was to balance out this version, where not only does Marley appear, but he takes the place of the other three spirits and does all the ghosting by himself. This one also features Seymour Hicks (who had made a career of playing Scrooge on stage), and he gives a good performance. The structure is pretty odd here; it only runs about forty minutes, and I found it odd that at the twenty minute mark, Scrooge was still hanging around the office and no ghost had appeared. As a result, the movie rushes through the visions of the past, present and future, and spends most of its time in the pre- and post-ghost sections of the story. It also features an introductory piece about Dickens, which gives a bit of a history of the story itself. I was a little confused by the date; IMDB lists 1913, and my print lists 1926, but the later date results from a re-release thirteen years after it was made.