Son of Flubber (1963)

SON OF FLUBBER (1963)
Article 2268 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2007
Posting Date: 10-28-2007
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olson, Keenan Wynn

When payment for his invention of flubber is held up by bureaucratic red tape, Professor Brainard finds himself once again trying to save Medfield college, inventing a machine that can create rainstorms anywhere, and using flubber to help the football team.

THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR is one of my favorite of the Disney shopping cart movies. I’m much less impressed with this, its sequel. I think part of the problem is that the screenwriters never came up with an effective story to follow in the steps of the original, and the movie caroms back and forth between recycling the original and working on new ideas that just aren’t near as effective. The plot is fairly muddled, and the middle portion of the story about an old flame of Professor Brainard’s is really forgettable. Still, there are some good things here; I like the satirical jabs at the government, which is slow to pay but quick to tax. I also love the commercial concocted by a business who wants to invest in flubber. The football game is a recycling of the basketball game of the original, but it’s still the funniest moment here, and it does feature some inspired casting of Paul Lynde as a sports commentator. Other than that, this sequel feels like a sequel.

 

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Sur un Air de Charleston (1927)

SUR UN AIR DE CHARLESTON (1927)
aka Charleston
Article 2264 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-30-2007
Posting Date: 10-24-2007
Directed by Jean Renoir
Featuring Pierre Braunberger, Catherine Hessling, Johnny Huggins

In the year 2048 after the war, an explorer takes off in his airship to explore the primitive unexplored area of Europe. There he encounters a female native, who teaches him that primitive native dance, the Charleston.

I probably won’t be seeing enough of Jean Renoir’s oeuvre to really give an evaluation of the man’s work; the only movie I’ve seen of his for the series so far is the entertaining THE TESTAMENT OF DR. CORDELIER , a rather faithful version of the Jekyll and Hyde story. This early silent of his is quite different, and highly entertaining; it’s a satire of adventure stories of the sort where civilized man goes into the wilds of Africa to study primitive native culture. This reverses the situation; it is the black from Africa who is the civilized man with the advanced technology, and the white from France who is the primitive, and the movie, which takes place in the future but pretends to be telling a tale of the past (an idea which popped up in subtle form in THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS ); we learn how white culture is passed on to the black man. It does present a problem for the modern viewer, in that the black man is obviously a white man in blackface, but I think the comic thrust of the tale and the effective use of both slow-motion and fast-motion photography helps to overcome this. Apparently, it was made as a showcase for Jean Renoir’s wife (Catherine Hessling) to show off her considerable dancing prowess. All in all, this is an entertaining short.

 

Superbeast (1972)

SUPERBEAST (1972)
Article 2230 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-24-2007
Posting Date: 9-20-2007
Directed by George Schenck
Featuring Antoinette Bower, Craig Littler, Harry Lauter

A female pathologist investigates the death of a strange, brutish man. Her investigation leads her to the Philippines, where she encounters a scientist engaged in strange experiments and a big game hunter with his own agenda.

The basic premise of this one holds some promise; it’s kind of an ISLAND OF LOST SOULS in reverse crossed with THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME . So why does this movie almost send the viewer into a coma? It’s not the acting; all of the actors seem quite competent to me. The location footage is also very watchable. No, the culprits here are the script, the direction, and the musical score. It’s one of those movies that tries to be mysterious but merely comes across as being annoyingly coy about plot points that become fairly obvious. Furthermore, the movie has a deadening pace; for every minute of action or conversation, there seems to be two minutes of people just walking around. The score is a very one note affair; it tries to be moody and evocative, but drones on and on without any change, even when the action requires it. As a result, we have a movie that manages to aggressively avoid being either atmospheric or suspenseful; in fact, it’s anti-suspenseful; I’d imagine it must be difficult to have a scene where two people go over a waterfall in a canoe that generates less suspense than watching paint dry. Only toward the end of the movie does the movie generate any life, and by then it is far too late. For insomniacs only.

 

Spy Squad (1961)

SPY SQUAD (1961)
aka Capture That Capsule
Article 2218 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-12-2007
Posting Date: 9-8-2007
Directed by Will Zens
Featuring Richard Jordahl, Pat Bradley, Richard Miller

Communist spies try to get their hands on the capsule of a downed rocket that will give them important information. Unbeknownst to them, the capsule was actually planted by CIA agents who have planted a homing device inside in the hopes that the spies will lead them to their boss.

This is either the single most dunderheaded spy movie ever made, or one of the most slyly subtle comedies to pop up on my list in some time. Yet, despite the wealth of evidence against it, I suspect it’s the former. It’s directed by Will Zens, who I’m mostly familiar with for having directed a dead-in-the-water military drama called THE STARFIGHTERS, and this movie certainly reminds me of it at times, with its wealth of conversational dialogue that goes nowhere. Despite the fact that the Russian spies speak perfect colloquial English, they still call each other “Comrade” on every occasion, and one repeatedly uses the word “cotton-pickin'” as well. These are some of the most hapless spies I’ve ever seen, what with their internal bickering and their ability to find the most absurd obstacles possible, including run-ins with the Department of Game and Fish, a fatal encounter with a bathing beauty with a spear gun, the theft of the capsule by an eight-year-old boy looking for his pet snake, and being dragged into a cocktail party by an over-eager hostess. The supposedly-valuable capsule looks like a painted conical road marker, and it’s treated with such disdain by everyone who gets near it that it’s hard to believe it’s supposed to be valuable. After a while, the hilarious absurdity of the thing becomes its great strength; it just gets funnier as it goes along. The fantastic content is extremely slight if there’s any at all, though, and even though IMDB lists Dick Miller in the cast, the movie bills someone named Richard Miller who is a totally different person. If you like your bad movies funny, this one is recommended.

 

The Sorcerers (1967)

THE SORCERERS (1967)
Article 2212 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2007
Posting Date: 9-2-2007
Directed by Michael Reeves
Featuring Boris Karloff, Catherine Lacey, Ian Ogilvy

A hypnotist and his wife develop a method whereby they can control a young man’s actions from a distance. As a side effect, they discover that they can also feel his every sensation as if it were their own. The wife then becomes seduced by the idea that she can make the man commit criminal activities that she can vicariously enjoy.

With this movie I now complete the oeuvre of director Michael Reeves. Though it is the final one I’ve covered for this series, it is actually the first one I ever saw when it popped up many years ago on my local Creature Feature, and even though I believe WITCHFINDER GENERAL is the better movie, this is perhaps my favorite of his. At least part of the reason is the presence of Boris Karloff, who does a fine job here as the hypnotist who finds himself in a battle of wills with his wife. But the rest of the cast also does a fine job, especially Catherine Lacey as the wife, whose newfound power brings out her previously hidden sadistic side. I also found the premise unusual and interesting. The movie makes impressive use of editing and sound; some of the scenes in which we switch back and forth between Ian Ogilvy’s possessed young man and the controlling couple are marvelously done, and the way Michael Reeves uses silence to underscore much of the action (it is one of the quietest horror films I’ve ever seen) is noteworthy. As a side note, I can’t help but notice that in each of his four movies as a director (counting CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, where he was uncredited) he managed to work with a separate horror star in each; Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price.

 

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964)
Article 2211 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2007
Posting Date: 9-1-2007
Directed by George Pal
Featuring Tony Randall, Barbara Eden, Arthur O’Connell

The residents of a small western town are about to sell out to an unscrupulous land speculator when they are visited by a mysterious Oriental character known as Dr. Lao, who invites them to enjoy his circus.

This is one of the most charming fantasies I’ve ever seen, and it is one of my favorite George Pal films. For some odd reason, I don’t think the movie should work; with its shifting moods, I sense it should come across as unfocused, but this is not the case. For what seems on the surface to be a light-hearted movie, it occasionally shows a power and a darkness that is devastating; the scene where the vain middle-aged woman visits the fortune teller only to be told the naked truth about herself is so sad it’s hard to take, and the scene where the librarian encounters Pan is so overwhelmingly (but not explicitly) sexual that it’s hard to believe that it’s in a movie that is fit for children. Part of the reason it works so well is the excellent performance from Tony Randall, who plays most of the circus characters and whose accent changes with the situation; he’s breathtakingly energetic and a joy to watch. The movie is filled with other memorable performances from such familiar names as John Ericson, Noah Beery Jr., Minerval Urecal, John Qualen, and Royal Dano. The movie has a real magic to it, and sometimes the way events transpire is amazing; I love the scene where the audience is terrified by the parable of the story of a town that is destroyed by its own greed and then suddenly find themselves sitting at a town meeting in the library where they themselves must vote on the fate of their own town. Great special effects also help, some of which are the work of Jim Danforth. I do wonder about one thing in the story; each of the members of Dr. Lao’s circus has a strong effect on at least one of the townspeople, with the sole exception of the Abominable Snowman, who only appears in snatches. This makes me want to read the Charles Finney novel on which the movie is based to find out if something involving the Snowman was cut from the movie version of the story. At any rate, I consider this one of George Pal’s finest moments.

 

The She-Beast (1966)

THE SHE-BEAST (1966)
aka La Sorella di Satana
Article 2210 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-4-2007
Posting Date: 8-31-2007
Directed by Michael Reeves
Featuring Barbara Steele, John Karlsen, Ian Ogilvy

A young married couple honeymoons in Transylvania. When they crash their car into a lake that served as the execution spot for a witch, the woman becomes possessed by the witch’s spirit, and sets out to kill the descendants of those that executed her.

Though he did some uncredited direction on CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD, this is the first feature fully directed by Michael Reeves, who is best known for WITCHFINDER GENERAL and for his untimely death at the age of 25. I’m not sure what I was expecting going into this one, but I will say this; I wasn’t expecting a comedy. For, despite a grisly execution sequence near the beginning of the movie, that is what this movie becomes, including odd characters such as John Karlsen’s eccentric nobleman named von Helsing and Mel Welles’ stupid voyeur (it’s the closest I’ve ever seen him to reprising his Gravis Mushnik character from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS ), and full of clearly comic situations (including a corpse kidnapping sequence / car chase). As a comedy, it’s only mildly funny at best, but there are times where it is visually interesting; some moments definitely recalled Roger Corman’s low budget comedies of the early sixties, while others even reminded me of German silent movies. The script is a mess and it’s rather hard to follow, but it’s certainly Michael Reeves’ most lighthearted effort. If anything, this movie makes me regret his early demise; even in this ragged film he showed some real talent, and had he lived, I suspect we would have seen some very interesting work from him. Though this is far from a great movie, I certainly found it interesting enough.