Superman’s Peril (1954)

Article 4736 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-13-2015
Directed by George Blair and Thomas Carr
Featuring George Reeves, Noel Neill, Jack Larson
Country: USA
What it is: Episodes of a superhero TV show edited into a feature

Superman has three adventures. In the first, he deals with smuggling ship disguised as a salvage ship with a mad captain. In the second, he gets caught up in a private detective’s investigation of a blackmailer. In the third, he must contend with a gangster who has hired a scientist who discovers Superman’s vulnerability to kryptonite.

Those of you who have been following this series for some time know what I’m going to say next, but it must be said. Like the other feature films culled from the second season of “Adventures of Superman”, I have not, in fact, seen this film, as none of them are available. I have, however, seen the three episodes used for the film, since the TV series itself is available. There’s a nice variety this time out. The first story is taken from the episode “The Golden Vulture”, and it’s a fairly straightforward action piece. The second (“The Semi-Private Eye”) is one of the more overtly comic episodes, and it gives Jack Larson (as Jimmy Olsen) a chance to have fun as he takes on a private detective persona as he sets out on his own to rescue Lois Lane and a detective named Homer Garrity (played by Elisha Cook Jr.) from kidnappers. The third (“The Defeat of Superman”) delves into the mythology of Superman by bringing kryptonite onto the scene; the scientist who develops artificial kryptonite is played by Maurice Cass, who I mostly remember for having played Professor Newton in the Rocky Jones series. All the episodes are enjoyable, and my favorite moments include the discovery that Superman can reassemble torn up messages with his mind alone, and a scene where Lois Lane tries to trap Clark Kent into revealing his identity as Superman by using a heavily weighted phone book.

Shogun Assassin (1980)

Article 4723 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-30-2014
Directed by Robert Houston
Featuring Tomisaburo Wakayama, Kayo Matsuo, Minoru Oki
Country: Japan / USA
What it is: Mystical samurai bloodbath

After his own master attempts to have him assassinated, a samurai executioner wanders the world pushing his son in a cart, seeking revenge and working as a paid assassin.

I’d heard about the Lone Wolf and Cub series years ago, but I was never sure whether I’d encounter any of the movies in my cinematic excursions. Well, here are the first two episodes of the series condensed into a single feature and given English dubbing. It’s as bloody as I’d been led to believe it would be (possibly even more-so), and some of the action is pretty outrageous. Yet, for some reason, it never really seems gratuitous nor falls into camp; there’s something elegant and poetic about the proceedings, even operatic at times. it’s one of those movies where a character, dying from having his throat slashed, waxes philosophic about the sound of the spray of blood from his neck… and you don’t roll your eyes in disbelief, because it just seems right for this movie. The fantastic content is a bit elusive, but there are comments about the assassin’s sword having mystical qualities, some of the assassin’s powers seem superhuman, there’s a definite surreal air to the proceedings, and the whole thing may take place in a fantasy land of some sort. At any rate, I found it hypnotic and entrancing, sometimes touching, and sometimes quite funny as well. I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to react to this movie, but in the end, I was rather entranced by the whole thing.

Suicide Cult (1975)

aka The Astrologer
Article 4721 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-28-2014
Directed by James Glickenhaus
Featuring Bob Byrd, Monica Tidwell, Mark Buntzman
Country: USA
What it is: Bizarre metaphysical science fiction horror

A brilliant scientist has engineered an enhanced form of astrology, and he creates an organization called Interzod to watch over and control those with powerful zodiacal potential. He becomes obsessed with the second coming and believes he has found a woman with the same zodiacal potential as that of the Virgin Mary… but he also may have encountered a man whose potential for evil may be too strong for his control…

James Glickenhaus is best known as an action director, but this is the only movie of his that I’ve seen. Those who are familiar with his work might be the ones most likely to have picked up copies of this obscure movie that marks his directorial debut, probably expecting an action flick of some sort, especially under the main title above. And if you consider that the movie had taglines like “He’s the gypsy king of the carnival men! To be famous, he lies, cheats, steals, even sometimes kills!”, you can’t blame them. Instead, what they encounter is a talky, cerebral, confusing, fragmented tale that roughly follows two separate plotlines until they come together in the last scene of the movie. Oh, there’s some action and sex, but hardly enough to satisfy fans of that sort of thing. I suspect that this movie’s weak rating of 4.5 on IMDB comes from disappointed fans. Since I went into it without any preconceptions, I liked it a bit better than some of them, but even I have to admit that the movie has some major problems. The direction is not particularly good, though part of the problem there may be the very low budget of the movie. The worst problem is that it feels incomplete; plot points seem to be missing, certain actions and characters are never adequately explained, and it ends at a point where you wish the movie would follow through on everything it’s been leading up to rather than leaving us hanging. It’s apparently adapted from a novel by James Cameron, though not the film director of the same name, and I suspect the novel fills in the missing pieces. Still, I found the movie to be offbeat and it had some interesting ideas.

Stalker (1979)

STALKER (1979)
Article 4708 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-14-2014
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Featuring Alisa Freyndlikh, Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Metaphorical Science Fiction

A writer and a professor hire a guide (called a Stalker) to lead them into a forbidden area known as the Zone, a place that is believed to contain a room that will grant each person’s innermost wish to them.

Since I’ve seen SOLARIS, I’ve encountered Tarkovsky before, and the two-and-a-half-hour plus running time of this one certainly gave me an idea of what to expect; that’s a pretty hefty length for a movie that mostly consists of three men wandering around a partially decayed urban environment being reclaimed by nature. I’m not surprised that some people find this one boring. However, at about the halfway point in this movie one of the characters begins musing about the nature of music, an art form that has virtually no contact with reality but still manages to reach the souls of men. That is perhaps about as good a metaphor as any to describe how this movie managed to fascinate and entrance me even when there was nothing I could point to on the surface was giving me cause for interest. Part of the appeal was no doubt Tarkovsky’s fascinating visual sense, especially in his use of shifting color palettes as the action moves from location to location. Furthermore, all of the locations are fascinating to look at, even if they’re certainly not pretty or beautiful in any conventional sense. I won’t pretend that I understood all of the subtleties of the dialogue or the motivations of the characters (and, given that this is a Russian movie on which I have to rely on translation into English, I may never pick up on everything), but there is enough here to get a sense of the sadness of human nature and the ultimate tragedy of the Stalker’s life. I was especially surprised when the movie managed to get a laugh out of me at one point (in a scene involving a telephone). Ultimately, I was fascinated by the movie, and I hope to be able to watch it again sometime now that I have an idea of what events it is leading up to; there appears to be a great deal of food for thought here.

Seven Deaths in the Cats Eyes (1973)

aka La morte negli occhi del gatto
Article 4692 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-25-2014
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Featuring Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Francoise Christophe
Country: France / Italy / West Germany
What it is: Mad family saga

Someone is murdering the residents of a Scottish castle while a cat malevolently looks on.

I have to admit that I was blindsided by this movie a bit, largely because the title simply screams “Giallo” while the movie itself owes more to the Italian horror movies of the previous decade. The movie actually starts out rather promising, and there are some stylish moments and memorable scenes here; the cat of the title also seems to have a nice, effective glare in his eye. However, the plot is a muddle (I think it has something to do with a power struggle within the castle, but it’s hard to tell), it throws in horror elements that are left dangling in midair (there’s talk about vampires that leads nowhere and a gorilla on the loose that just seems to vanish from the story), and it throws in sex just to throw in sex. Granted, since most of the print I saw of the movie was dubbed into English (there’s a few scenes where it looks like the originally Italian print was used with subtitles), I wonder if those preparing it for the English-speaking nations took much care with it; certainly the lack of an apostrophe in the English title shows a certain carelessness. I’d have to say this one is a mixed bag.

The Secret of My Success (1965)

Article 4681 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-14-2014
Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Featuring Shirley Jones, Stella Stevens, Honor Blackman
Country: UK
What it is: Comedy

A naive police constable who ends up inheriting a fortune shares the secret of his success.

The central character in this episodic comedy is a police constable whose utter naive faith in people and goodness makes him totally oblivious to the corruption of those around him. At heart, this is not a bad idea, and with the right actor in the role (say, someone like Peter Sellers), it could have worked beautifully. Unfortunately, the role went to James Booth, and though I’m not familiar enough with the actor to say how he fares in other roles, all he really brings to this one is a forgettable blandness, and the role almost fades into the background. As a result, he’s upstaged by his three female co-stars (all of whom are credited higher than he is) and Lionel Jeffries, who takes on four roles in the movie. Yet even they can’t breathe life into a static and lifeless script, and though some of the ideas are very good, the execution is listless. The movie consists of three episodes, and I really love the idea in the third episode, in which a mythical Central American country is taken over by rebels pretending to be shooting a movie. There’s a real comic potential with that idea that remains sadly unrealized here. The primary fantastic content to this movie is in the second episode, which involves giant spiders. My print of this movie runs only 99 minutes, which is 13 minutes shorter than the original print, but somehow I don’t suspect that seeing the full version would make this one any better. This movie is a missed opportunity.

Summer of Fear (1978)

aka Stranger in Our House
Article 4672 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-5-2014
Directed by Wes Craven
Featuring Linda Blair, Lee Purcell, Jeremy Slate
Country: USA
What it is: Tale of the supernatural

A family takes in their cousin after her parents die in an automobile accident. Though she seems shy and unassuming at first, she begins to supplant the daughter of the family in terms of the affection of those around her. The daughter begins to find evidence that the cousin may be a witch.

This TV horror movie was based on a young adult novel, and I’d say that explains to me why so much of the movie seems to revolve around teenage women competing with each other. That is also the reason the movie becomes very tiresome to me as well; though on the surface I can see how the characters are fighting for things that are quite important to them, the way they express themselves often makes me feel that they’re being selfish and petty. There’s also part of me that feels this movie might have worked better if there was more of an ambiguous, Lewtonesque feel to it; it seems to be trying for that at times, but there are other times when it seems blatantly obvious. I also don’t care for the end of the movie where it becomes a full-blown horror film; at that point, it starts feeling silly, especially when I see those red-eyed contact lenses used by the witch. In the end, I just didn’t care for this one, yet I do feel there are moments when it feels authentic, sad, and quite real. In short, I don’t think the movie works, and I rather wish it did; I think there was something promising here.

Space Warriors 2000 (1985)

SPACE WARRIORS 2000 (1985)
Article 4669 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-1-2014
Directed by Marc Smith and Sampote Sands
Featuring the voices of Nicholas Curror, Wendy Danvers, Bob Sessions
Country: Japan / Thailand
What it is: I’m not sure, but I hope aspirin helps

A boy receives a toy model of Ultraman as a gift. However, it is actually a relic that allows the boy to experience a non-ending series of Ultraman battle footage with new dubbing and music added.

This “movie”, which mostly consists of footage from the Ultraman franchises, was made without the permission of Tsuburaya Productions, and it had a few TV airings before it was permanently yanked from the TV schedules. However, this wasn’t before someone managed to record a copy of it, and now, many years later, it has popped up on YouTube so I can review it. Now, I’ll openly admit that I have a weakness for Japanese giant monster mayhem, but after this one, I had to lie down and let the headache wear off. Of course it’s incoherent; it’s never trying to cohere in the first place. It’s trying to be funny, but all of the newly-created dialogue (mostly between the giant monsters) is witless and stupid. All it really is is a string of camped-up redubbed battle scenes jumbled together until the ninety minute running time is filled up. Even the credits don’t take the movie seriously (and, despite what they claim, Mothra never makes an appearance). All I can do is shake my head and contemplate the depths to which certain people will sink in order to produce pieces of product for consumption with no regard to quality or common sense. Just ghastly.

Schneeweisschen und Rosenrot (1955)

aka Snow White and Rose Red
Article 4667 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-30-2014
Directed by Erich Kobler
Featuring Rosemarie Seehofer, Ursula Herion, Ruth von Zerboni
Country: West Germany
What it is: Fairy tale

A prince is changed into a bear by an evil thieving dwarf. Both the bear and the dwarf encounter two girls living in the forest, and are both helped by them, though the dwarf is not grateful for their help.

I knew when I found this movie on YouTube that it was most likely going to prove another case in which there would be no English titles or dubbing to it, but since it’s based on a fairy tale, I found a summary of the story and took that in before I watched the movie. One impression I had of the story was that there just wasn’t a whole lot to it; it might be long enough to fill a twenty-minute short, but it would take quite a bit of work to stretch it out to fifty-five minutes. The movie uses two primary strategies to stretch out the story; we get some footage of the girls encountering and playing with forest animals (harmless and even somewhat pleasant for animal lovers), and we get a lot of footage of a comic relief character named Knicklebein (painful and unfunny, and he’s not saved by the fact that I didn’t understand the language because all his shtick is visual). On the plus side, the print I found was very nice, and it does capture a bit of quiet fairy tale atmosphere. It’s also more than a bit static and lacking in energy, and it doesn’t help that the most energetic characters are the unlikable dwarf and the comic relief. Still, at least it didn’t run any longer than it did.

Snow White (1916)

Article 4666 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-27-2014
Directed by J. Searle Dawley
Featuring Marguerite Clark, Dorothy Cumming, Creighton Hale
Country: USA
What it is: Fairy tale

A jealous queen seeks to have her stepdaughter killed, but the latter escapes and finds refuge in the home of seven dwarfs.

One of the pitfalls of a project like mine is you’ll find yourself encountering the same stories over and over again, and that’s especially true when the stories are as pervasive as the fairy tales. Therefore, I’m rather glad that this take on the story of Snow White varies the formula by giving the characters more back stories and establishing relationships between the characters, often motivating plot points that are taken for granted in the story. As a result, I found this version of the story charming and enjoyable in its own right, and it manages to have a number of plot differences from the most famous version of the story (the Disney version). In fact, if the trivia on IMDB is correct, this movie was crucial in shaping that later version; it was the first movie that Walt Disney saw, and there’s a few touches here and there that may have inspired similar moments in that later version. All in all, this is a worthy version of the story.