Those Fantastic Flying Fools (1967)

aka Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon
Article 2721 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-18-2008
Posting Date: 1-24-2009
Directed by Don Sharp
Featuring Burl Ives, Troy Donahue, Gert Frobe
Country: UK

P.T. Barnum attends a lecture on a new explosive and decides to finance the building of a rocket to the moon using the explosive as propulsion. However, he runs into trouble with spies and saboteurs.

At heart, this comic take on Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon” is really not very good; the pace is slow (it seems a lot longer than its 95 minute running time), the plot is contrived, and it’s a little short of laughs. But it does have a good cast (which includes Terry-Thomas, Lionel Jeffries and Dennis Price as well as those listed above), and its sense of geniality help make it fairly watchable, and there are some decent laughs in the mix. The best part is the beginning, where we see several scientific endeavors go awry. And, whatever its flaws, it’s a lot more entertaining than the snooze-inducing straight version of the story from the fifties.



Time Travelers (1976)

Viewing Date: 9-18-2008
Posting Date: 12-30-2008
Directed by Alexander Singer
Featuring Sam Groom, Tom Hallick, Francine York
Country: USA

An outbreak of a disease thought extinct but with a high mortality rate causes a doctor to take an opportunity of travelling into the past to find the secrets of the only doctor who had proven successful at combating the disease. The problem is that he arrives in the past only twenty-nine hours before the Great Chicago Fire will destroy the doctor and all of his records, so he must find the solution in that time.

As anyone who follows this series knows, I’m not a fan of Irwin Allen or TV-Movies, but I must admit that I like this one better than I do most of Allen’s other work. Part of the reason I like it is that I like the central concept of trying to solve a medical problem in a limited amount of time; it brings back fond memories of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. Not that this movie ever achieves that level; there’s too much stupid dialogue, an unnecessary romantic subplot, unconvincing special effects, occasional bits of overacting, a really bad fake headline, and at least one totally unbelievable moment (if two men materialized out of the future onto a crowded stairway, wouldn’t someone on the stairway notice?). Fortunately, the movie has another great thing about it; Richard Basehart is surprisingly memorable as the doctor from the past who doesn’t really know how he cures his patients. The story was conceived by Irwin Allen and Rod Serling, and I suspect I know which one came up with the plot elements I liked. All in all, I found this one quite watchable.


The Thieving Hand (1908)

Article 2692 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-10-2008
Posting Date: 12-26-2008
Directed by J. Stuart Blackton
Featuring Paul Panzer
Country: USA

A one-armed beggar returns a valuable item to a man who dropped it. The man rewards the beggar by buying him a prosthetic arm to replace his missing one. Unfortunately, it turns out that the prosthetic limb has a mind of its own… and is a kleptomaniac.

Don’t you hate it when good deeds bring us to a bad end? One can’t help but feel sorry for the poor beggar in this comedy, who, despite his best efforts, finds himself plagued by his own artificial limb; it even engages in thievery when detached. It may be the first crawling hand movie, as well as being something of a forerunner of the various versions of “The Hands of Orlac”. All in all, this is an amusing and interesting silent short.


The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

Article 2685 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2008
Posting Date: 12-19-2008
Directed by Nunnally Johnson
Featuring Joanne Woodward, David Wayne, Lee J. Cobb
Country: USA

A doctor discovers that a patient of his suffers from multiple personality disorder.

No, it’s not a genre movie; it’s another case where certain horror elements (both mental illness and hypnotism are here) are used in a non-horror environment, and it’s the existence of those elements that lead certain people to include this as a genre item. I actually have a lot of admiration for the movie; it strives to be as realistic as possible, it is anchored by a standout performance by Joanne Woodward, and it chooses to avoid a sensationalistic view of the topic. I also found the movie very interesting and watchable. Its biggest problem is that it was a product of its time (where certain subjects could not be discussed), and to modern eyes, the movie comes across as naive and rather simplistic. Apparently, the book itself had some of these problems and was, in fact, premature; the woman on whom Eve was based turned out to have something on the order of 27 personalities, of which only three or so would be prominent at a time. Furthermore, the traumatic event that was the movie’s cause of the personality split seems highly unlikely; though the event itself may have occurred, I’m sure that it was just one of many events that caused the split, most of which probably couldn’t even be mentioned in a movie from the time. For a much more sophisticated movie on the subject, I recommend SYBIL, and it’s interesting to note that Joanne Woodward also appears in that movie.


The Turn of the Screw (1974)

Article 2684 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-2-2008
Posting Date: 12-18-2008
Directed by Dan Curtis
Featuring Lynn Redgrave, Jasper Jacob, Eva Griffiths
Country: USA

A governess takes a position teaching two children at a country home. She begins to feel that they have been corrupted and possibly possessed by two former employees (now both deceased) of the home.

Of the various nineteenth century horror classics, I must admit that this is the one whose adaptations I’m most likely to watch only out of grudging duty than out of eagerness. My problem is with the inherent vagueness that permeates the story; though this quality is necessary to maintain that sense of unease and ambiguity that gives the story its depth, it’s also off-putting, somewhat tiresome, not much fun, and manifests itself in adaptations by giving us long scenes in which characters discuss things they either don’t want to discuss or for which they have very little concrete information. In this specific adaptation, we get lots of conversations between the governess and the housekeeper, mostly involving the governess trying to get information out of the housekeeper that she’s reluctant to give, and this gets repetitive. Combine this with the facts that the ghosts do little more than just stand around, much of the story is told via narration, the period dialogue somewhat strains the attention, and maybe you can understand why this is one story I just don’t care to revisit very often. This version of the story is far from awful, but, with THE INNOCENTS out there, it also seems distinctly unnecessary, and Dan Curtis’s direction fails to make this version special in any way. I may have to take a stab at reading the Henry James story; there’s something about the various versions I’ve seen that seems to indicate that there may be something unfilmable about the story.


Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

aka Die Zartlichkeit der Wolfe
Article 2678 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2008
Posting Date: 12-12-2008
Directed by Ulli Lommel
Featuring Kurt Raab, Jeff Roden, Margit Carstensen
Country: West Germany

A serial killer who preys on young men and boys is loose in Germany. The police begin to suspect that a black marketer they deputized to round up other criminals may be the culprit.

I’m not familiar with the work of Ulli Lommel either as a director or as an actor who had a long association with cult item Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but I’ve gotten the impression that most of his directorial work is pretty weak. If the ratings on IMDB are any indication, this is far and away his best movie, a crime/horror thriller based on the exploits of serial killer Fritz Haarmann (who killed his victims by biting their necks, and then, with the help of his assistant, cut up the bodies and sold them for meat) and modeled somewhat off of Fritz Lang’s M. One can definitely see Lang’s influence on the style of this movie, and Kurt Raab (who gives a strong performance) even looks like Peter Lorre. In terms of violence, the movie is fairly mild, but its emphasis on the gay sexual orientation of the killer is likely to alienate many viewers. Fassbinder has a small role in the film.


Two on a Guillotine (1965)

Article 2672 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-21-2008
Posting Date: 12-6-2008
Directed by William Conrad
Featuring Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero
Country: USA

When a famous magician dies, he is buried with instructions that imply that he will return from the dead. His daughter, who he hasn’t seen in years, will inherit his entire fortune if she agrees to spend seven nights in his old mansion. However, all is not what it seems…

The John Stanley “Creature Features” book describes this movie as William Conrad’s failed attempt to make a William Castle movie, and I can see his point; there are moments here where I can definitely sense Castle’s influence, especially in comparison to HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. However, I also agree that the attempt is not really a success; though it does start out promisingly, and it has a few good touches, it misses the mark. For one thing, the attempt at a light touch misfires, as it causes the scariness to dissipate rather than to provide a contrast to it. The movie also is too long; much of the overextended romantic subplot could have been pared out. Furthermore, the actual scares are mostly lame, and having the actresses scream their lungs out at every opportunity doesn’t really cover this up. On the other hand, it is kind of fun to see Dean Jones in one of his movies before he started his string of Disney shopping cart films. Cesar Romero is also quite fun as the magician, though he doesn’t have enough screen time. In short, it just doesn’t deliver the shocks you’d expect from one of Castle’s better movies. By the way, if you keep your eyes open during the hall of mirrors sequence, you’ll see Conrad give us a cameo appearance. Billy Curtis and Richard Kiel also make appearances.