Simon (1980)

SIMON (1980)
Article 3448 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-14-2010
Posting Date: 1-22-2011
Directed by Marshall Brickman
Featuring Alan Arkin, Madeline Kahn, Austin Pendleton
Country: USA
What it is: Offbeat comedy with science fiction touches

Five scientists at a think tank hit upon the idea of brainwashing an assistant professor of psychology into believing he is an extraterrestrial. However, when the professor then becomes a national celebrity, they find they have more than they bargained for.

From the very opening of this movie, I got a strong sense of Woody Allen’s influence, and that’s no surprise, given that writer/director Marshall Brickman worked with Allen on some of his movies. I’ve been curious about this movie for years, and I’m glad to finally have seen it. There are some truly hilarious moments here; I love some of the scientists’ other projects, and some of the suggestions the brainwashed professor gives to society are highly amusing. If the whole movie were as strong as its high points, the movie would be a minor classic. However, the movie has some problems; for one, it really doesn’t have a plot, and this becomes fairly apparent when it limps to an unsatisfying ending. It’s also a movie that has dated badly; much of the content may be impenetrable to someone who is significantly younger than me. The performances are quite good, though for me the real treat was catching Fred Gwynne as a military man. It’s also interesting to catch a movie that contains an unambiguous reference to a movie I just saw two days ago, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.


Sebastian (1968)

Article 3444 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-10-2010
Posting Date: 1-18-2011
Directed by David Greene
Featuring Dirk Bogarde, Susannah York, Lilli Palmer
Country: UK
What it is: Romantic comedy

A woman takes a strange job in the civil service working under a brilliant but eccentric mathematician. She turns out to be working in a department that breaks secret codes, and she finds herself romantically tangled with her boss.

Yes, this is a romantic comedy, and though the “comedy” tag could be debated (it has some funny moments, but overall I’m not sure it’s a comedy), it does follow the patterns of that genre. It’s the milieu, characters, and situations that set this one apart. The secret-code breaking scenario puts everyone in a somewhat paranoid atmosphere, which is certainly not conducive to romance, and that’s one of the themes of the movie. Also, Dirk Bogarde’s eccentric title character’s distracted nature further impedes the romance, and the woman’s attempts to “fix” him also plays into the story. I found the movie quite interesting, but I’m also a puzzleholic with some mathematical background, and I think that helps somewhat to appreciate this one. The fantastic content is a little hard to pin down, and it may not really qualify. On one hand, we have a genius with a specialized talent, which might fall marginally into the area of science fiction. Furthermore, the espionage angle puts the movie in the spy genre, and that often juts up against science fiction. Furthermore, there is a scene where the mathematician has been drugged that plays like a bad nightmare, which adds a bit of horror to the proceedings. Still, none of these are really strong enough to do anything but have me consign this one to the realm of marginalia.

Sweet Sweet Rachel (1971)

Article 3436 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-2-2010
Posting Date: 1-20-2011
Directed by Sutton Roley
Featuring Alex Dreier, Pat Hingle, Louise Latham
Country: USA
What it is: Psychic investigator TV pilot

A psychic investigator helps a woman who wants to make sure she didn’t psychically cause the death of her husband. He discovers the death was caused psychically… but by whom?

Here’s a TV-Movie pilot that did eventually end up as a series; with some casting changes it emerged as the syndicated TV show “The Sixth Sense”. The story is quite interesting and is fairly suspenseful, and I liked Pat Dreier’s character enough that I regret that he didn’t make the final series. Nonetheless, I do have some problems with the movie. There are a few times where the movie gets strident and hysterical, and I can’t help but notice that the female characters all tend to overacting whereas all the male ones underplay. There are some very clever moments; my favorite is how the psychic investigator gets the police to exhume a body and perform an autopsy on it when he has no hard evidence that they should do so. Apparently, the TV show that arose from this would eventually re-enter syndication; it’s episodes were cut to thirty minutes and added to the syndicated runs of “Night Gallery”.

The Stranger Within (1974)

Article 3434 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-29-2010
Posting Date: 1-8-2011
Directed by Lee Philips
Featuring Barbara Eden, George Grizzard, Joyce Van Patten
Country: USA
What it is: Mysterious pregnancy movie

Ann Collins is pregnant, but her husband David has had a vasectomy and cannot be the father. Ann wishes to keep the child despite the fact that her last attempt to have one ended tragically. When Ann’s personality begins to change radically, the question as to the child’s real parentage becomes critical…

I was really impressed with the opening scenes of this movie; there seemed to be an impressive amount of intelligence and honesty in the script’s portrayal of a marriage in crisis, and the performances by both George Grizzard and Barbara Eden are outstanding. It was making for such an interesting human drama that I was almost disappointed when the shifts in the wife’s personality manifest themselves, and the sudden sicknesses and healings point to an otherworldly origin for the child. The reason the shift from drama to fantastically-themed mystery disappointed me is that it made the movie far less complex; I could think of two explanations for the child’s origin, and one of them turned out to be right, and that doesn’t really make for much of a mystery. The movie is a bit too long for the story as well; the middle of the movie gets bogged down in scenes that constantly reiterate the wife’s odd behavior. I mean, just how often does the movie need to establish that she’s putting way to much salt on all of her food. Still, since the beginning of the movie made us care for the characters, we remain involved during the second half, and though the ending isn’t a surprise, it’s still acceptable. All in all, this is a very good TV-Movie.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Article 3433 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-28-2010
Posting Date: 1-7-2011
Directed by Leonard Nimoy
Featuring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley
Country: USA
What it is: Star Trek movie

A mysterious space probe is sending untranslatable messages into the oceans of the Earth, threatening in the process to destroy the planet. Captain Kirk and his crew discover that the probe is trying to communicate with humpback whales, a species extinct since the 21st century. They decide to go back in time and bring some whales to the future in order to save the Earth.

I’ve covered the first two movies in the series, and now I find myself skipping the third and hitting the fourth. Since the common belief is that the even-numbered movies in the “Star Trek” series are the superior ones, this might be interpreted as jumping to the next good one, though I myself don’t have any major problems with THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, though I haven’t seen it in years. Nonetheless, this is a very good one in the series; it roughly completes a trilogy that began with the second movie in that there’s a certain flow of the story line to all three movies that finally comes to a conclusion here. It steps away from the heavy action emphasis of the previous two movies and relies primarily on character and wit; the scenes of Kirk’s crew alternately struggling with and feeling superior to the technology and mores of the late twentieth century are very amusing. I particularly like watching Spock struggling in an attempt to use profanity, McCoy grousing about the barbarous state of medicine, and watching what develops with the tactical mistake of sending Chekov on the mission to acquire nuclear materials. And, having been an old fan of the series, I always like those neat character moments when the characters react just as we’ve grown to know they would. And, of course, the scene I most remember most is here, too; you know, the one with the punk rocker on the bus.

Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo (1973)

aka Santo and Blue Demon vs Dracula and the Wolf Man
Article 3432 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-27-2010
Posting Date: 1-6-2011
Directed by Miguel M. Delgado
Country: Mexico
What it is: Wrestlers vs Monsters

When Dracula and the Wolf Man are revived, Santo calls on the services of his friend Blue Demon to help defeat them.

It looks like someone in charge of these movies has watched a few of the Hammer horrors; the revival of Dracula here is quite similar to the one in DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Apparently, the same process works on the Wolf Man as well. This is pretty much what you’d expect from one of these movies; wrestling scenes interspersed with the monsters plotting mayhem and scenes of the two wrestlers figuring out how to defeat them. Granted, since my copy was in unsubtitled Spanish, I no doubt missed some subtleties, but, truth to tell, I don’t think there’s a lot of them here. Apparently, Dracula and Wolf Man are building minion armies; there’s lots of fanged women wearing big red negligees as well as several very hairy men, and the two wrestlers take them on near the end. For those of you not into the wrestling films, I’m going to warn you that the movie goes on another ten minutes after it’s essentially over. Why? So we can see Santo and Blue Demon tag team a wrestling match. On a side note, it’s good to see that Santo is taking my advice and not wearing his cape when he tools around in his convertible; good for him! Now if I could only be sure he was buckling up…

Spell of Evil (1973)

Feature length TV episode
Article 3431 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-26-2010
Posting Date: 1-5-2010
Directed by John Sichel
Featuring Diane Cilento, Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel
Country: UK
What it is: Witch story

A banker gets married to a mysterious woman who turns out to be a witch… and is after his money.

At its best, the British TV series “Thriller” gave us interesting and offbeat stories; at its worst, the stories were obvious and slow-moving. This is one of the latter; I’ve seen the basic premise several times before, and the low-budget TV production and dull direction do little to enliven the story. However, I do find it fortunate that I picked up a complete collection of the series when the opportunity arose; it looks like quite a few of these are popping up on my hunt list, and it’s handy not to hunt all over for them.