Roboman (1973)

ROBOMAN (1973)
aka Who?
Article 4045 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-30-2012
Directed by Jack Gold
Featuring Elliott Gould, Trevor Howard, Joseph Bova
Country: UK
What it is: Spy thriller

When a brilliant American scientist in charge of a top secret scientific project is horribly injured in an accident near the East German border, he is rescued by the Communists and repaired to the best of their abilities. When he is returned to the Americans, he is unrecognizable due to the replacement of most of his body with metallic parts. An FBI agent is given the task of trying to figure out whether this man is really the scientist in question, or a ringer.

Here’s another movie with an interesting premise that suffers from an uneven production and script. It attempts to work both as a mystery and an espionage thriller. As the latter, it is least interesting; it’s slow-moving and low-key, and when the movie decides to go for thrills (a car chase at about the middle of the movie), it feels less like it’s finally taking off and more like it’s slipped the tracks. As a mystery, it does have some interest value, thanks to a interesting cinematic technique where we see the present day juxtaposition of the grilling of the scientist by FBI agents beside flashback grillings of the scientist by a Communist general, leaving us fully aware that there is very little that the scientist says that couldn’t be taught to a ringer. Yet the mystery itself remains muted, largely because the most engaging thing about the story is the plight of the scientist, and if you make a certain assumption about the identity of the man in the metal mask, the mystery becomes irrelevant but the story becomes much more engaging. So it’s as a character study that it works best; it isn’t about not knowing who the man is, it’s about a man proving who he is, and the cost of doing so. And on that level, this movie has a certain amount of power.

Rollerbabies (1976)

Article 4043 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-28-2012
Directed by Carter Stevens
Featuring Susan McBain, Alan Marlow, Terri Hall
Country: USA
What it is: Adults only

In the future, sex is prohibited to all but licensed exhibitionists who perform on television. A TV show producer must find a new gimmick if he wants to stay in the business.

Once again my cinematic journeys take me into the realm of the adult film, and probably not for the last time. Like a lot of movies in the adult realm, its title is a take on a well-known popular movie of the time, in this case, ROLLERBALL. It has two things in common with that movie – it takes place in the future, and something is done on roller-skates (and it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out what). When it’s not engaging in the type of spectacle that is de riguer for the form, the movie appears to be a comedy, and like most adult comedies I’ve seen, it’s atrocious on that level. As for the level on which the movie is intended to be enjoyed…. well, this is neither the time or place for that. Suffice it to say that I’ve seen it and can now cross it off my list.

Rhinoceros (1974)

Article 4037 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-20-2012
Directed by Tom O’Horgan
Featuring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Karen Black
Country: USA / UK / Canada
What it is: Cinematic attempt at theatrical absurdism

A boozing non-conformist finds everyone around him turning into rhinoceroses.

I haven’t read the Eugene Ionesco play on which this movie is based, though a summary of the play on Wikipedia does seem to indicate that the movie keeps fairly close to the original story. However, one of the pitfalls of trying to adapt theatrical absurdity to the screen is that it is often mistaken for and marketed as comedy, and there are moments here where the movie seems to succumb; certainly, the poster on IMDB tries to market it as such. There’s also the problem of avoiding the inherent stage-bound feel of the play, and the movie suffers from that as well; for example, those hoping for anything in the way of human-into-rhino special effects will be very disappointed, as there are none. Acting-wise, I think Wilder comes off best here, but he’s also got a somewhat easier role, in that he’s not required to transform into a rhino; Mostel, who does, gives such an eccentric, over-the-top performance that he starts to become actively obnoxious. The addition of a musical dream sequence with an inappropriate song is a further problem. Still, despite all this, I do get a sense that the original message of the play doesn’t get lost. Overall, it’s interesting, but those expecting a comedy or something more overtly cinematic will be very unhappy with this one.

Las ratas no duermen de noche (1973)

aka Crimson
Article 4018 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-30-2012
Directed by Juan Fortuny
Featuring Paul Naschy, Silvia Solar, Olivier Mathot
Country: Spain / France
What it is: Scrambled brains movie

When a gangster is shot in the head during a heist, his henchmen take him to a brain specialist to fix him up. The specialist can’t help him without a brain transplant, and the henchmen decide to use the brain of the gangster’s arch enemy, another gangster known as the Sadist. However, which brain will prove the more powerful…?

Paul Naschy films usually have a classic horror point of reference to them, and this one digs into one of the lesser subgenres of the thirties and forties in which two minds end up occupying the same body, with a resulting personality clash; BLACK FRIDAY is perhaps the most famous of these movies. Usually these movies provide a plumb acting role for one actor, which is whoever is playing the recipient of the brain transplant, and, of course, it’s Naschy here. Given Naschy’s penchant for roles in which he plays both the hero and the villain, you’d think this one would give him another opportunity in that regard. However, since he’s a gangster to begin with, it’s hardly that big a change of personality for him to get another gangster’s brain. Furthermore, the script simply doesn’t give him any leeway to produce a great performance; we barely get to know him before he’s shot, and he spends almost the entire first half of the movie in a coma. In fact, he ends up with less screen time than most of the other major characters, so the acting challenges are pretty slim for him here. Granted, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell with the English language version I saw; the dubbing is particularly bad. It’s not so much the lip-syncing that is horrendous; it’s the choice of character voices that is badly done, with too many of the criminals sounding like whiny, scared children. The movie’s biggest problem, though, is simply that it takes forever to get going; the movie is tiresomely talky until things start moving in the last twenty minutes, and the talk is obvious and uninteresting. No, this is not one of Naschy’s better efforts.

Reno and the Doc (1984)

Article 4013 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-25-2012
Directed by Charles Dennis
Featuring Kenneth Welsh, Henry Ramer, Linda Griffiths
Country: Canada
What it is: Comedy

A con man hooks up with a solitary middle-aged country man who happens to be an excellent skier. He talks the man into becoming a champion skiing competitor.

The fantastic content is that the con man and the country skier have a psychic bond somewhat similar to that of the Corsican brothers. The reason I didn’t mention that detail in the plot description is that, despite the fact that it does play a bit of a role in the story that follows, it nevertheless remains less of a “plot driver” and more of an “odd touch”. There’s a few other odd touches as well, such as a woman who suffers from oral dyslexia and the skier’s ongoing feud with a group of eccentrics known as the Kukamungas. These odd touches might have gone a ways towards jazzing up the rather tired story line of an unhappy loner being pulled out of his comfort zone so he can eventually gain confidence and self-reliance. Unfortunately, the direction, the acting, the score, the editing, etc. all seem to be in the hands of people who seem only interested in pulling in the paycheck; the movie is so lacking in inspiration and spirit that it seems to evaporate right in front of your eyes. As a result, despite the feel-good ending of it all, I emerged feeling more vaguely depressed than anything else. The odd touches simply can’t redeem a movie this spiritless.

The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (1971)

Article 3970 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-5-2012
Directed by Bob Wynn
Featuring Leslie Nielsen, Bradford Dillman, James Daly
Country: USA
What it is: Conspiracy thriller

A news reporter is on the spot when a senator is involved in a near-fatal car crash. However, he becomes suspicious when the body of the senator is spirited away from the hospital and the authorities deny that the accident took place. He resolves to discover the truth…

After a poorly-executed crash sequence and a cheesy opening credits sequence, I was expecting the worst from this low-budget thriller. True, the direction and editing remain pedestrian at best throughout this movie. However, the script itself is another matter; whatever flaws may exist in this movie, the script shows a remarkable intelligence and thoughtfulness in dealing with its central issue – the creation of clone-like duplicates for people designed to be used as organ banks. The script takes a special care in exploring the various ethical questions about the procedure itself, as well as speculating on the circumstances under which it would be used. As a result, the movie remains very relevant indeed. The movie has a rather audacious ending in that it leaves the central conflict of the story unresolved; though this could be easily be perceived as a flaw, I notice it has the effect of leaving the viewer to speculate on his own about the issues raised by the movie, rather than resorting to either of the two pat endings (happy/cynical) that it could have used, either of which could have brought an end to the viewer’s desire to actually think about the movie. For these reasons, the movie is worth catching, despite its flaws.

Rapsodia Satanica (1920)

aka Satanic Rhapsody
Article 3959 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-21-2012
Directed by Nino Oxilia
Featuring Lyda Borelli, Andrea Habay, Ugo Bazzini
Country: Italy
What it is: A deal with the devil

An old woman makes a pact with the devil to regain her youth; in return, she must not fall prey to the emotion of love. But that’s harder said than done…

I quite like this efficient little take on the deal with the devil story, at least partially because Ugo Bazzini gives a fun little performance as Mephisto, the devil who makes his offer to the old woman; I like the way he creeps around at the edges of scenes waiting for his opportunities to spread misery and unhappiness. Lyda Borelli also does a good job as the “Faust” character, though it does require quite a bit of sympathy with the silent (as in opposition to talkie) mode of acting, as she does come off as a bit too obvious at times. I like the prologue and the first act the best; the second act seems to be mostly about the main character being depressed, and that gets a bit old after a bit. Nonetheless, this is an interesting silent Italian film.