Twice-Told Tales (1963)

TWICE-TOLD TALES (1963)
Article 1809 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-26-2006
Posting Date: 7-26-2006
Directed by Sidney Salkow
Featuring Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey

Three tales based on the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne are presented. In the first, a doctor inadvertently discovers the secret of eternal youth. In the second, a man concocts a scheme to keep any man from taking advantage of his daughter. In the third, a woman marries a man whose family line suffers from a curse.

For those looking for a good companion piece to AIP’s TALES OF TERROR , this should suffice; an adaptation of three tales from Nathaniel Hawthorne. In fact, for me, this has one advantage over TALES OF TERROR; whereas I’m extremely familiar with the Poe stories used in that anthology, I have never read the Hawthorne stories that served as the basis for this one, so there was more of an element of surprise for me. The movie itself is pretty good, if not great, with solid acting and interesting stories. I enjoyed the first two stories the best; for one thing, I have read enough Hawthorne to know that his favorite theme is sin (whereas Poe’s favorite theme is madness), and this is apparent in both of the first stories. I’m less taken with the third, an abbreviated version of “The House of the Seven Gables”. I’ve never read the novel, but I remember that the earlier movie version of the movie I’d seen had only slight horror elements. Not so this one; what with ghosts and blood pouring from paintings, cracks in the walls, lockets, etc., this story is given the full horror treatment, but it feels grafted on, and it is this episode that most feels like an imitation of the AIP Poe series. Still, I liked the anthology overall, especially the middle story.

Thunder Rock (1943)

THUNDER ROCK (1943)
Article 1806 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-23-2006
Posting Date: 7-23-2006
Directed by Roy Boulting
Featuring Michael Redgrave, Barbara Mullen, James Mason

In the years before World War II, a British journalist spends time in Europe observing the rise of Hitler and fascism. He attempts to spread the warning of the upcoming war to his fellow countrymen, but is greeted by apathy and indifference. Disillusioned, he retreats from life by taking a job as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island in the Great Lakes in the United States, and keeps himself company by mentally recreating the captain and several immigrant passengers on a ship that went down near the spot several decades ago. But these images he’s conjured up soon begin to take on a life of their own…

In some ways, this movie is fairly obvious; it’s sort of a variation on A CHRISTMAS CAROL, with a different lesson to be learned and a different modus operandi to teach the lesson. You should be able to figure out the basic direction of the plot once the lighthouse keeper’s backstory is shown, especially if you keep in mind that the movie was made in 1943 while Britain was still very deeply in war. However, the stories about the real struggles of the immigrants are engaging and powerful, especially as we see that the reasons that they came to America had little to do with the hopeful promise of new opportunities that the lighthouse keeper had attributed to their motives. It’s a long movie, and it takes a little while to get going, but it’s worth the watch.

I also find it interesting to ponder on the nature of the fantastic content. Do the immigrants and the captain remain mental creations, or have they truly taken on a life of their own? Their personalities may well have changed as a sign of the lighthouse keeper’s own reflections on the wisdom of his decisions, or they may have come to life in their own way. At any rate, their presence gives the movie an enticing way to deliver its message. I do know that there is enough ambiguity on this point to account for the fact that this movie is omitted from many guides of fantastic cinema.

The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)

THE THING THAT COULDN’T DIE (1958)
Article 1803 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-20-2006
Posting Date: 7-20-2006
Directed by Will Cowan
Featuring William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone

A woman with psychic powers discovers an ancient chest buried under a tree at a ranch. Though she thinks the chest is evil, the other residents of the ranch dig it up in the hope of getting money for it. However, the chest contains the head of a Satanist executed by Sir Francis Drake, and the head isn’t dead…

Will Cowan has over one hundred films to his credit, but this was apparently his only feature film; the rest were shorts, almost all of which intended to highlight musical stars. It was also his last movie, and I can see why he didn’t pursue a career in horror after this tired, lethargic entry. The idea itself is not bad, and I do like some of the touches; for example, though the head moves its lips when talking, no sound is heard, which is actually a rather realistic touch as a person without lungs could not talk; he does appear to make himself heard by those he possesses through his mental abilities. Still, the movie is a bore; it moves at a snail’s pace, and is packed with unnecessary and uninteresting subplots that appear to do nothing but fill out the running time; for example, there’s no point in establishing the fact that Boyd has designs on Linda when this fact plays no role in the plot to follow. All in all, I consider this the nadir of Universal’s horror movies.

Terror Beneath the Sea (1966)

TERROR BENEATH THE SEA (1966)
Article 1799 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-16-2006
Posting Date: 7-16-2006
Directed by Hajime Sato
Featuring Sonny Chiba, Peggy Neal, Franz Gruber

When a strange vision of a swimming creature is seen by two reporters during a test of guided torpedos, they decide to investigate, and are captured by underwater fish-men and kept prisoner in an underwater city.

Director Hajime Sato only worked on a handful of movies, but he appears to be something of a cult item. I suspect this may be due to his last film, the queasy, nihilistic GOKE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL. I’m not really impressed with this one from a year earlier; it’s loaded with cliches, the gillman-on-a-budget suits are pretty cheesy, the make-up is awful, and some of the acting is painful. Though it’s tempting to attribute the last problem to bad dubbing, the fact of the matter is that much of the cast seems to be speaking English already; certainly, Peggy Neal doesn’t appear to be dubbed at all. It’s her performance that I really dislike in the movie, but I’m not sure it’s her fault; she has one of those characters that I simply find too annoying for words. She is useless in any tense situation, screams at everything, complains that when she isn’t believed that she’s being dismissed as a hysterical female (and then acts the role through the entire movie), and when she undergoes the first step to transform her into one of the underwater cyborgs, what seems to traumatize her most is that she’s not beautiful anymore. Even when the movie pulls the old Who-Shot-The-Gun fakeout (if you don’t know what this cliche is from my name for it, you will when you see it), it’s not even her at the trigger. Sonny Chiba would go on to fame as The Street Fighter in a series of martial arts films.

The Tenth Victim (1965)

THE TENTH VICTIM (1965)
aka La Decima vittima
Article 1791 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-8-2006
Posting Date: 7-8-2006
Directed by Elio Petri
Featuring Marcello Mastrioianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli

In the future, people can sign up for a hunt game. They can win a million dollars if they win ten rounds, five of which have them hunting another person, the other five of which they are the hunted. This is the story of one hunter and one victim.

This is one of that subgenre of movies about violent futuristic sports movies where the sport in question is usually fatal to the loser. Movies like THE RUNNING MAN, ROLLERBALL and DEATH RACE 2000 all belong somewhat to this genre, but none of them are quite as unique, clever, or disarmingly charming as this one. It’s a duel to the death as romantic comedy, and it is frankly hilarious as Ursula Andress (as the Hunter) and Marcello Mastroianni (as the Victim) try to kill each other while falling in love at the same time. The killing is hampered by contractual obligations; both sides have decided to maximize their profits by agreeing to endorse products so that the resulting kill can be used in an advertising campaign. Despite the undertone of dark satire, this movie has as light a touch as any movie by Rene Clair, and both Andress and Mastroianni are so charming in their respective roles that I found the movie utterly irresistible. Compared to it, movies like DEATH RACE 2000 are heavy-handed and obvious. And I laughed more than once at some of the scenes, my favorite being a long complaint being made by a hunter about all the restrictions about where you can kill people in Rome (no hospitals, for example). The movie was based on a short story by Robert Sheckley.

Ten Little Indians (1965)

TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
Article #1775 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2006
Posting Date: 6-22-2006
Directed by George Pollock
Featuring Hugh O’Brian, Shirley Eaton, Fabian

Several people are invited to a party at a mansion by a mysterious man named U. N. Owen. They discover that they have all been found guilty of murder, and are going to be executed one by one.

I’ve read the play version of this movie. I’ve also seen the Rene Clair version AND THEN THERE WERE NONE several times. I mention this to underline the fact that I have a good familiarity with the story, and (especially) the ending. The trouble is – if you know how a mystery ends, it takes some of the fun out of watching it. And this is a rather famous mystery at that.

Now, if you’re doing remake of a well-known mystery, there are several approaches you can take. You can do a faithful version of it in the hope of appealing to those who aren’t familiar with it, but this makes it less fun to those who are. You can change the ending to add a surprise element for those who do know the story, but the problem I have with this is that it potentially underlines the arbitrariness of the resolution; in a good mystery, the identification of the killer should make you realize just how logical it was that this (and only this) particular person was the guilty party. A third approach is to make a totally different story, but if you want to do that, why do a remake? Quite frankly, none of these are really satisfactory.

This movie opts for the first approach. Sure, some of the characters have different backgrounds (the prince of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE gives way to the rock star here, for example), some of the names have been changed, and the ways that many of the characters meet their demise is different; nevertheless, the movie stays pretty close to the original story. As a result, the movie was a little predictable to me, and the mediocre direction does little to recommend it. However, the cast is quite good for the most part, and it can be a little fun to play the game of choosing who you ended up preferring in certain roles between different versions (Mischa Auer or Fabian? Barry Fitzgerald or Wilfred Hyde White? Stanley Holloway or Roland Young?). I’ll still prefer the elegance of the Clair version myself, but those who don’t really have an affinity for Clair or prefer movies in which both Shirley Eaton and Daliah Lavi appear in their underwear may opt for this one. To each his own.

Thief of Damascus (1952)

THIEF OF DAMASCUS (1952)
Article #1730 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-9-2005
Posting Date: 5-8-2006
Directed by Will Jason
Featuring Paul Henreid, John Sutton, Jeff Donnell

A general tries to rid Damascus of the tyrannical rule of the evil Khalid. He enlists the help of Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin and Sheherazade to do so.

One source from which I took this entry claims there is no fantastic content in the movie, and certainly there’s none from Aladdin, who merely talks about his lamp and pals around with Sinbad (who does no sailing). Still, there is the magic cave of Ali Baba which opens with the phrase “Open Sesame” that makes the film qualify, and I don’t see how it could have been missed; everyone makes such a fuss about how magic it is that it becomes annoying after a while. But then, that kind of fuss permeates the movie, which is mostly played for lame comedy; certainly, the plot (which is muddled) and the action scenes (which, when not lifted from JOAN OF ARC, are quite bad) but then, what do you expect of an Arabian Nights movie produced by Sam Katzman? For me, the high point of this movie is watching Lon Chaney Jr. having a grand time as Sinbad, even if the script gives him little to do than trade quips with Robert Clary as Aladdin. Other than that, there is little to recommend here. Remember this – when making your choice of thieves, you’re better off taking any of three good ones from Bagdad rather than settling for the one from Damascus.