The Phantom Empire (1935)

THE PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935)
Serial
Article 2603 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-21-2008
Posting Date: 9-28-2008
Directed by Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason
Featuring Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross
Country: USA

Gene Autry has encountered complications with his daily broadcasts from Radio Ranch; a secret underground kingdom on the same site as his ranch considers him a threat and wants him out of the way.

I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this, one of the most notorious genre-bending serials of all time. Singing cowboy star Gene Autry (playing himself) may be one of the most beleaguered heroes in serial history; not only does he have to contend with the residents of a futuristic underground city (which gets its own listing in the credits, “The Futuristic City of Murania”) who consider him a threat to their security, but he also must contend with attacks from a rebel faction of the city (who wants to vivisect him to find out how he can breathe aboveground), a group of unscrupulous scientists who want the area for themselves to dig for radium, and a sheriff who believes Gene is guilty for the murder of his partner. On top of this, he somehow has to make it back to Radio Ranch once a day in time for his radio broadcast or risk losing the ranch. Helping him out are the teenage offspring of his deceased partner (who have organized a club called the Thunder Riders made up of kids who ride to the rescue while wearing hooked buckets on their heads), and his two comic-relief sidekicks Pete (the straight man) and Oscar (who has an endless supply of harmonicas and a horse that only moves when it hears a certain song). Now this is the way I like serials; wild and somewhat silly. The action starts out a little slow, but it really picks up when Autry finally makes it into Murania, what with its masked riders (the model for the kids’ Thunder Riders club), bizarre weapons, trap doors, execution chambers, rock-melting ray guns, and, most memorably, robots that look like they wear cowboy hats. It’s fun to see the serial trying to deal with the scientific aspects of the story; one of my favorite opening blurbs describes Murania as a place with lots of radio activity (sic), and I can’t help but notice that Murania is almost an anagram of uranium. Still, the movie probably has the first nuclear meltdown in cinema history (and I do mean meltdown). Plus, you get to see Autry sing “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”. Quite frankly, this one is irresistible.

 

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The Prophetess of Thebes (1907)

THE PROPHETESS OF THEBES (1907)
aka La Prophetesse de Thebes
Article 2541 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2008
Posting Date: 7-27-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

A king visits a prophetess and sees a vision of his own assassination. This makes him a rather disagreeable customer when it comes time for him to pay for her services.

One good thing about being a prophetess is that you can know in advance which of your customers are going to give you trouble, so she keeps a couple of demons around as well as a really big guy to help out in such a case. She makes sure to check the bag of money at the end, which is good; I’m sure she’d hate to end up with a bagful of sand like the ill-fated witch from THE WITCH. But then, being a prophetess, she probably knew the money would be good as well.

I guess the lesson of this one is “Be Prepared”.

P.S. I only realized after having written this review that the footage I saw was not the complete movie, but only a fragment. This explains why there really isn’t much of a plot to this one.

 

Pharmaceutical Hallucinations (1908)

PHARMACEUTICAL HALLUCINATIONS (1908)
aka Hallucinations pharmaceutiques ou Le truc de potard
Article 2535 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-14-2008
Posting Date: 7-21-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France

A pharmacist and his assistants cater to the rich and powerful but neglect the poor. Then one of them finds himself haunted by apparitions, which drives him to seek help from a wizard.

It’s hard to believe it, but this Melies short (most of which move at a pretty fast clip) is slow to get started; for the most part, the first three minutes consists of watching the pharmacists mix their drugs. Still, once you see the rich man fawned over and the poor man thrown out, you’ll know that there’s a Moral Lesson To Be Learned here, and sure enough, once we see one of them being haunted by ghosts, we know he’s going to learn something about his treatment of the poor. The only problem is, I’m not sure what; the visit to the wizard brings about an encounter with a magical woman who rides off on a giant snail which, no doubt, means something, but I’m at a loss to say what; perhaps the secret is hidden in narration that was originally written for this short, but which no longer exists. Still, the Moral Lesson To Be Learned is learned, but it somehow requires the pharmacists turn into bakers. I emerged puzzled, but admittedly amused. Come to think of it, that’s a good reaction to a lot of Melies’s work.

 

The Pillar of Fire (1899)

THE PILLAR OF FIRE (1899)
aka La Colonne de feu, Le Danse de feu
Article 2532 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-11-2008
Posting Date: 7-18-2008
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Jeanne d’Alcy, Georges Melies
Country: France

A devil starts a fire, and a woman dances in it.

This is another movie that I’d relegated to my “not found” list, and perhaps it should have stayed there. If the truth be told, I’m not sure that this movie is the same movie. The movie I saw is called LE DANSE DE FEU, with an alternate English title of THE PILLAR OF FIRE. The movie I was looking for is called LA COLONNE DE FEU, with an alternate English title of HAGGARD’S SHE: THE PILLAR OF FIRE. Both titles are listed as having belonged to the year 1899, and I haven’t a source yet that lists the two movies as separate entities. Are they, in fact, the same movie? I’m taking a guess and saying that they are unless I receive other info to clarify the situation. As for the movie itself, there’s little more to it than the above plot description, so I’m considering it one of Melies’s lesser efforts. I’m pretty sure that’s him as the devil; he never missed an opportunity to play one.

NOTE: This was written several months ago. I now notice that the other French title has been added as an altenate title to this one, which I will take as evidence that this is indeed the same movie.

 

The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960)

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ADAM AND EVE (1960)
Article 2469 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-5-2008
Posting Date: 5-16-2008
Directed by Mickey Rooney and Albert Zugsmith
Featuring Mickey Rooney, Mamie Van Doren, Fay Spain

Country: USA

A couple with a troubled marriage find themselves stranded in a church with several of their fellow passengers from a bus during a violent and possibly fatal storm. They fall asleep, and dream they are Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

Ah, the Adam and Eve story! It’s one of the biblical stories that is most attractive to exploitation filmmakers for obvious reasons. As a director, this was Albert Zugsmith’s follow-up to SEX KITTENS GO TO COLLEGE, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about the level of sophistication of this movie, and the co-direction from Mickey Rooney doesn’t really change that. Yes, it’s incredibly dumb, but I’m glad it went for comedy; if the movie had taken itself seriously, it would have been interminable. The cast is interesting, though; Mickey Rooney gets to play the devil, Mamie Van Doren and Martin Milner are Adam and Eve, and Fay Spain plays Lilith. Mel Torme, Tuesday Weld, Paul Anka and Cecil Kellaway all play fellow bus passengers (one song from Anka, none from Torme). We get to see Adam naming the animals, Lilith making a bed and teaching Adam how to use it, Eve trying on a hat made of fruit, and the Devil trying to show Eve what she should do with the coconut. Hint to the devil; that’s Mamie Van Doren as Eve, which is my way of saying that the coconut is way too small.

 

Pyro (1964)

PYRO (1964)
Article 2431 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2007
Posting Date: 4-8-2008
Directed by Julio Coll and Luis Garcia
Featuring Barry Sullivan, Martha Hyer, Sherry Moreland

A married American engineer in Spain falls for another woman. When he tries to break off the affair, his lover, thinking she can win him back if his wife and child are dead, sets fire to his home after he leaves for a meeting. He returns unexpectedly, and is horribly burned in the attempt to save his family. He swears revenge on the woman who killed them…

This movie was produced and cowritten by Sidney Pink, who also gave us ANGRY RED PLANET, REPTILICUS and JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET. Though his presence is hardly a guarantee of quality, I find something likable and interesting about his work. This is perhaps his best movie, and I suspect that he was somewhat influenced by Hitchcock here. The story itself is fairly obvious and straightforward, but there’s an attention to detail and a number of odd touches that held my attention and interest, and this was especially crucial during the first half of the movie, which is largely setting up the events that lead to the fire. My favorite touches include he engineer’s obsession with Ferris Wheels, and the scene where he describes his neighbors in the apartment building where he lives. Barry Sullivan and Martha Hyer give solid and effective performances. The movie has a bit of a split personality; the opening credits feature happy, jolly carnival music, but the credits are displayed in that overly-scary K. Gordon Murray Mexican Movie Font, and at one point during my viewing, my wife, who had overheard parts of the first half of the movie and then had taken a shower during the middle section with the fire, came back in and found the mood so changed that she thought I was now watching a different movie. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good one, and I quite liked it.

 

The Psychopath (1975)

THE PSYCHOPATH (1975)
Article 2398 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-20-2007
Posting Date: 3-6-2008
Directed by Larry G. Brown
Featuring Tom Basham, Gene Carlson, Gretchen Kanne

The host of a children’s television show has a hobby on the side; he murders the abusive parents of fans of the TV show.

This movie has a pretty bad rep, but I have to admit it was pretty effective in at least two regards; it does a good job at making you hate the abusive parents, and you feel the frustration of the doctors and the police in dealing with the abusive situations. However, the movie pulls the rug from under itself through a combination of bad music choices, confusing direction, and a ludicrous performance from Tom Basham as the title character, Mr. Rabbey; he’s so over-the-top that you’re surprised anyone would allow him near their children in the first place. The movie’s twist manages to be both queasily strange and patently obvious at the same time, no mean feat. Oddly enough, there are two versions of this movie; one with the murders and one without; my version is the one with the murders. The movie also features Bruce Kimball, who has more than a passing resemblance to Joe Don Baker, which I didn’t notice when he gave his awful performance as the witch doctor in THE MIGHTY GORGA .