Peril from the Planet Mongo (1966)

PERIL FROM THE PLANET MONGO (1966)
Article 2137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2007
Posting Date: 6-19-2007
Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Featuring Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles Middleton

Flash Gordon returns to Mongo to do battle with evil emperor Ming the Merciless.

When feature versions of serials were being cobbled together in the mid sixties, it looks like FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE had the distinction of having two feature versions carved out of it. I’m thinking that the other version has the more interesting footage. As usual, I prefer the original serial because I find this sort of action movie easier to take in bite-size chunks. For the record, I still prefer the cast members playing Princess Aura and Prince Barin in the original FLASH GORDON, simply because they didn’t look like standard-issue leading men and women of the period as the ones here do. Buster Crabbe is still one of my favorite serial actors simply because he allows his characters to express a greater range of emotions than other serial heroes did. The best thing about this feature version is that, in comparison to most of the other ones put together in the mid sixties, this one is relatively short.

 

Pajama Party (1964)

PAJAMA PARTY (1964)
Article 2130 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-14-2007
Posting Date: 6-12-2007
Directed by Don Weis
Featuring Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Elsa Lanchester

A martian arrives on earth as the vanguard of an invasion. Meanwhile, a con man has set his sights on finding the hidden fortune of the dotty old woman next door, and he enlists an American Indian and his Swedish bombshell sidekick to help him. Meanwhile, teens party on the beach, and a motorcycle gang vows revenge on a muscular teen in a crazy broad-billed red baseball cap lovingly called Big Lunk. Hilarity ensues.

This movie is dumb, but it’s a beach party movie; what do you expect? I’ve always liked the way that these movies found places for older actors and actresses to take part in them, and this one features Elsa Lanchester, Dorothy Lamour, Don Rickles, and Buster Keaton. I’m always a bit embarrassed to see the kind of shtick that was handed to the latter near the end of his life; he was capable of being funny without the help of silly costumes or goofy characters, but that’s pretty much what they gave him. His best moment is a perfume feud he has with a saleslady because it relies on comic timing rather than goofy dialogue. I’ve heard that MARS NEEDS WOMEN (which also features Tommy Kirk as a Martian) was partially based off of this; this one, which is fairly energetic, is certainly much better than that one. The movie also features a young Teri Garr, Frankia Avalon in a cameo (you’ll know who he is), and the usual cast of beach partiers.

 

The Perverse Countess (1974)

THE PERVERSE COUNTESS (1974)
aka LA COMTESSE PERVERSE, THE EVIL COUNTESS, LES CROQUEUSES
Article 2077 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-21-2006
Posting Date: 4-20-2007
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Alice Arno, Howard Vernon, Kali Hansa

An evil count and countess lure beautiful women to their island and hunts them (among other things).

Yes, it’s Franco again. This is supposed to be a variation of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, and I suppose it is; it’s kind of hard to follow the plot between the endless scenes involving bodies thrashing about, which account for about fifty percent of the movie. Of the remaining half of the movie, most of that consists of women either standing around naked, sitting around naked, or in the process of getting undressed. Given that this movie is rated highly (for a Franco film, anyway) on IMDB, I can only come to the conclusion that Francophiles consider this one an expression of great cinematic art. Me, I’ll give it credit for two things; the Count and Countesses’ abode is a fairly unnerving architectural structure, and the music is a little better than usual for a Franco film. Other than that, I have little use for this one.

I’m ready to move on.

 

Panther Girl of the Congo (1955)

PANTHER GIRL OF THE CONGO (1955)
aka PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO
Serial
Article 2026 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-1-2006
Posting Date: 2-28-2007
Directed by Franklin Adreon
Featuring Phyllis Coates, Myron Healey, Arthur Space

A female photographer contacts an adventurer to help her find the evidence she needs to prove to the authorities the existence of giant crawfish monsters terrorizing a jungle village. However, two hunters in the hire of an evil chemist try to prevent them from doing so, in the hopes of scaring away the natives so they can work a diamond mine.

When I covered the feature version of this serial (THE CLAW MONSTERS), I think I mentioned that any fondness I had for this one was that it actually supplied monsters, a rarity in serials. Having seen the whole thing, I feel no different; I like the monsters simply because I like monsters, even when they’re pretty lame (as these are). As for the rest of it, it mostly consists of tepid cliffhangers, footage from the Nyoka serials, and dull storylines. This was one of the last of the Republic serials, and the form was on its last legs. I only regret that Republic never saw its way towards incorporating monsters into its serials while they were still in their prime.

 

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957)

THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN (1957)
Article 2015 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-20-2006
Posting Date: 2-17-2007
Directed by Bretaigne Windust
Featuring Van Johnson, Claude Rains, Lori Nelson

A town beset by rats hires a magical piper to get rid of the rodents. Then, when the mayor decides to get out of paying the piper his fee, the piper decides to exact a fitting revenge…

When reviewing children’s movies, I don’t really try too hard to figure out how it will go over with children; I’m really more interested in how well it goes over with my adult self. I quite like this one, and one reason for this is that there is much to interest the adult viewer, what with the political satire surrounding the mayor’s machinations. In fact, I think this fairy tale is more geared for adults anyway; after all, it is the adults who have the lesson to learn in this one. I also quite like the music, much of which comes from Grieg; I especially love the use of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. The acting is also good, especially from Claude Rains (as the Mayor) and Van Johnson in the dual role of Trusom and the Piper. There are some very strong scenes here; the scene where the children are led into the mountain is the one scene I recall from a viewing many years ago (and it’s still quite powerful, especially when one child is left behind), and the scene where the piper climbs to the top of the bell tower to give his warning to the people is also memorable; pay close attention to the statues in this scene. And if I were Jim Backus’s character, I’d be very grateful that cannon did not go off.

 

Phantom of the Air (1933)

PHANTOM OF THE AIR (1933)
Serial
Article 2005 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-10-2006
Posting Date: 2-7-2007
Directed by Ray Taylor
Featuring Tom Tyler, Gloria Shea, LeRoy Mason

A flyer who works for the border patrol agrees to test an inventor’s anti-gravity device, and then attempts to protect his invention from smugglers.

As far as I know, there’s no feature version of this serial, but if there is, I hope the editors were smart enough to emphasize footage from the first episode and the last three episodes of the serial rather than the eight in the middle. It’s only about episode nine that this serial really comes to life; up to that point, it’s either unmemorable or disappointing. One of the problems I have with it is that the serial puts forth a cool science fiction device (a contragrav – that is, an anti-gravity device), but then does nothing else with it but install it in a plane and then control it from a distance. Other than the fact that the plane can be controlled remotely, it moves and acts just like any other plane, which I find pretty disappointing. Another problem is the serial overuses some of its aerial stunts, such as people climbing out on the wings of the plane; these can be pretty exciting scenes taken individually, but not several times in succession. Worst of all, the villain remains something of a nonentity during the first nine episodes, and it’s really hard to care about a serial when the villain is this dull; it’s only when he decides to visit the scientist’s isolated airport in the last few chapters that he and the serial come to life and actually starts delivering the thrills. Walter Brennan is in here somewhere, but I didn’t spot him. Hero Tom Tyler is mostly known for his B-westerns from the period.

 

The Phantom Speaks (1945)

THE PHANTOM SPEAKS (1945)
Article 2004 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-9-2006
Posting Date: 2-6-2006
Directed by John English
Featuring Richard Arlen, Stanley Ridges, Lynne Roberts

A spiritualist visits a murderer sentenced to die in the chair under the belief that the murderer’s will is strong enough to come back from the dead and visit him, thus proving his theories about the human soul. However, the murderer has his own ideas; he not only visits the spirtualist, but takes control of him and uses him to exact revenge on those who convicted him.

The most common praise I usually hear in regards to THE BLACK FRIDAY is for Stanley Ridge’s performance as a kindly doctor who becomes possessed by a ruthless criminal. He must have liked the challenge; here he is again in virtually the same kind of role. The modus operandi is different, (substituting spiritual possession rather than brain surgery), but the effect is pretty much the same; the main difference is that the spiritualist bears a bit of the responsibility for his own situation this time. This is one of Republic’s forays into horror, and their output in the genre is uneven, though some of it is quite interesting. This isn’t one of their best, largely because the story is a bit obvious, and I’ve seen several variations of the “back from the dead for revenge” plot line. My favorite moments have more to do with the acting – not so much from Ridges (who has been here before), but from Tom Powers, whose performance as the murderer Harvey Bogardus is very memorable; the scene where he walks a man and his daughter away from a murder site is one of the tensest moments in the movie. Powers had an interesting career; he worked in some early silents, and then went to Broadway and established a successful stage career, then returned to movies in the early forties. There are some interesting credits here; he appeared in the early Winsor McCay animated feature GERTIE THE DINOSAUR and in DONOVAN’S BRAIN, another movie which prominently features possession of another man by an evildoer to gain revenge.