Quest for Fire (1981)

QUEST FOR FIRE (1981)
aka La guerre du feu

Article 3653 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2011
Posting Date: 8-15-2011
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Featuring Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi
Country: Canada / France / USA
What it is: Caveman movie

When a primitive tribe is attacked by an enemy, the survivors find that they cannot revive their precious fire. They send out three of their tribe on a quest to find some fire and bring it back to them.

This isn’t the first or only caveman movie with an invented language, but I think this is the one that works best. By choosing a storyline that is appropriate and easy to follow, it makes it unnecessary to try to figure out the various languages, and by casting interesting-looking actors with expressive faces, much of the story is told without really having to use the languages. The primitive world is brutal and deadly, but the movie never feels exploitative, and there is plenty of humor to be found along the way; the reactions of two of characters on the quest to the third one’s having fallen in love is priceless, for example. My favorite scene has our three heroes and their new female friend (played by Rae Dawn Chong, who spends the whole movie naked) under attack by a hostile tribe only to be saved by the unexpected appearance of a group of mammoths. All in all, this was a fascinating and satisfying movie.

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A Quiet Place in the Country (1969)

A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (1969)
aka Un tranquillo posto di campagna

Article 3632 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-10-2011
Posting Date: 7-25-2011
Directed by Elio Petri
Featuring Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Georges Geret
Country: Italy / France
What it is: A ghost story… maybe

An artist becomes obsessed with a dilapidated old mansion in the country, and his agent/lover arranges for him to rent the place so he can overcome his creative block. However, he becomes obsessed with the former resident, a beautiful nymphomaniac who died under odd circumstances… and who may haunt the place.

Many giallos are so stylistic that they flirt with being art films; this is one that goes the whole distance and becomes one. The title is obviously ironic, and this becomes apparent in the opening credits; between the weird images and Ennio Morricone’s jarring but brilliant score, one becomes aware that this movie is going to be anything but restful. On the surface, the story is made of familiar material; it’s a ghost story in a haunted mansion with a mysterious death, and there’s even a seance before it’s all over. But that’s just what’s on the surface, and what’s really going on is… well, I won’t tell you, but I’m afraid that the real explanation is equally familiar in other ways, and ultimately it is this that renders the movie a bit unsatisfying. Still, I can say this much; the beginning of the movie establishes a reality vs illusion theme, and it is this theme that eventually takes over the movie. There’s some nice stylistic touches (I’m particularly struck with how the agent’s first accident in the house is seen through a kaleidoscope) and some good performances, but in the end, I don’t think it quite passes muster.

The Questor Tapes (1974)

THE QUESTOR TAPES (1974)
TV-Movie
Article 3418 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-11-2010
Posting Date: 12-23-2010
Directed by Richard A. Colla
Featuring Robert Foxworth, Mike Farrell, John Vernon
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction TV series pilot

When scientists undertake to reconstruct an experiment of a missing scientist (now believed dead), the end result is an android. The android embarks on a journey to find his creator to discover his purpose.

This is another one of Gene Roddenberry’s attempts to come up with a series after the demise of the original “Star Trek”. This is the one I would have most liked to have seen make it to a series, if for no other reason than to get an idea of just how it would manifest itself in that way; the pilot itself serves as mostly an introduction to the main characters and the premise, and probably wouldn’t have captured quite what the series would have been like. Some of the observations of the non-human android on the human condition are a bit on the cliched side, but some of it is quite fresh, and the movie has a number of interesting ideas. Still, as a series, I could see how it might have fallen into a certain pattern of predictability. I found Robert Foxworth’s performance as Questor quite striking.

The Queen of Spades (1916)

THE QUEEN OF SPADES (1916)
aka Pikovaya dama
Article 3253 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-16-2010
Posting Date: 7-11-2010
Directed by Yakov Protazanov
Featuring Tamara Duvan, Ivan Mozzhukhin, Vera Orlova
Country: Russia
What it is: Ghost revenge story

A poor soldier, obsessed with gambling but unable to do so due to lack of funds, becomes intent on learning the secret of a countess who knows a secret three-card combination that can make him rich.

Though I don’t think it’s as impressive as the British version of the story from the late forties, this Russian silent film is still quite useful, as it emphasizes other story details that are often overlooked in other versions. In particular, it gives us a much more elaborate backstory for the countess; the first third of the move involves the circumstances surrounding her discovery of the secret. It deemphasizes the soldier’s relationship with the countess’s ward (a ruse designed by the soldier to give him access to the countess), it clarifies some of the plot points, and it stretches out the climax by having the three cards played in succession over three nights. Somehow, these changes make this version of more interest than it would be otherwise. I haven’t read the original Pushkin story yet (though I do have a copy), so I wonder how closely it follows it. At any rate, I found this silent version quite watchable, though it lacks the eerie strengths of the British version.

Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967)
aka Five Million Years to Earth
Article 3214 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2010
Posting Date: 6-2-2010
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley
Country: UK
What it is: Ambitions science fiction epic

A subway tunnel dig unearths the skeletons of prehistoric men, followed by a strange object that is initially thought to be a bomb. However, upon examination, it turns out to be much more ominous…

This was Hammer’s adaptation of the third of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass teleplays, possibly one of the most ambitious stories ever in terms of its scope, as it deals with life and culture on other planets, the rise of life on this one, and the root of our cultural nightmares of demons and devils. If there’s any problem with trying to adapt this into a movie, it may be that the story is a bit too complex to be encompassed in its running time; though you can follow the story, you do sense that much has been left unexplained that was given more time in the TV version of the story. Still, it’s a fascinating watch, and the performances from all are excellent, with Andrew Keir taking top honors as Professor Bernard Quatermass. I’ve not seen the fourth Quatermass story, but it’s highly doubtful that it could be any more ambitious than this one is. Despite a few minor flaws, this is certainly one of Hammer’s finest moments.

Quintet (1979)

QUINTET (1979)
Article 2804 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-10-2009
Posting Date: 4-17-2009
Directed by Robert Altman
Featuring Paul Newman, Vittorio Gassman, Fernando Rey
Country: USA

During an ice age after the apocalypse, a drifter arrives at a city to find the residents obsessed with a game called Quintet. When his pregnant female travelling companion is killed in a bombing, he tries to track down the killer, only to find a list of people involved in a Quintet tournament who are being killed off one by one.

I’ve not heard good things about this Robert Altman movie, but I found it to have its uses. Granted, most of the things I like best are on the periphery; I like the detail of what happens to dead bodies in the city, the recurrence of the number five in various details, the use of a multi-national cast (on the cast list on IMDB, I had to go down all the way to the tenth name to find someone who came from the same country as one of the other actors, and I couldn’t help but notice that the character played by that actor is impersonated by another character in the movie who happens to be from the same country. I also have a great admiration for director Robert Altman; he doesn’t pander, and he takes risks. Unfortunately, taking risks sometimes backfires, and when one of his movies fails to connect, it’s a big problem. This one is far too long, and it has a fair amount of dead space (particularly in the first half). Conversation is often so sparse that Altman’s actors don’t get much of an opportunity to engage in the energetic improvisation of some of his other movies. The mystery isn’t very mysterious, and the movie is totally dull whenever it tries to be vaguely “meaningful”. Nevertheless, I don’t feel I came away from this one empty-handed, and I would be curious to know what the rules are for the game Quintet; though it’s clearly a fictional game, I wouldn’t put it past Altman to have actually constructed a clear set of rules for it.

The Queen’s Swordsman (1961)

THE QUEEN’S SWORDSMAN (1961)
aka Los Espadachines de la reina
Article 2779 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-16-2008
Posting Date: 3-23-2009
Directed by Roberto Rodriguez
Featuring Ofelio Guilmain, Xavier Loya, Miguel Manzano
Country: Mexico

A wolf and a skunk find a human child lost in the woods, and raise her as their own. They soon decide that the woods are too dangerous for her, so they decide to take her to human civilization, and so they leave their cave and become swordsmen. They become involved with a princess who has become the target of an evil queen.

I went into this one blind, knowing only that it was a foreign movie. Just from the title, I suspected it was going to be an Italian swashbuckler with slight fantastic elements (and if I had known that the movie features a scene of a beautiful woman being tortured, my suspicion that it was an Italian movie would have only been stronger). But instead, I found out it was Mexican; furthermore, it came to us via K. Gordon Murray and features two characters I remember from LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD; namely, the Wolf and the Skunk (the closest I can come to a Mexican equivalent to Franco and Ciccio). I knew there was a series of sequels to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, but I didn’t know these two characters went on to anything else. So, given that it’s a Mexican children’s fantasy, I fully expected high weirdness, and the beginning of the movie (in which we discover that little girl has a pet alligator she likes to sleep with and has a fondness for amphibians and reptiles of all kinds) certainly delivers. Oddly enough, it settles down after that; it actually seems like a fairly straightforward swashbuckler, with the only the gimmick that the heroic swordsmen are animals to give it that weirdness. Oh, yes, the Wolf and the Skunk sing (and they’re no better at it than they were in LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD), and there’s plenty of slapstick silliness, but I have to admit to being slightly disappointed at this one; after all, most Mexican children’s fantasies I’ve seen go way off the deep end. The oddest touch is that the ending is even a little downbeat.