The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

aka Le testament du Dr. Mabuse
Article 3157 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-3-2010
Posting Date: 4-6-2010
Directed by Fritz Lang and Rene Sti
Featuring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Thomy Bourdelle, Karl Meixner
Country: Germany
What it is: Crime movie with supernatural undertones

A series of nearly perfect crimes seems to be the result of arch-criminal Dr. Mabuse, but he’s committed to an insane asylum. So who is the mastermind behind them…?

Hey, wait a minute…didn’t I already cover this movie? Yes and no. I’ve covered the German language version, but I discovered that at the same time he was directing that one, Fritz Lang was also directing, on the same sets, a French language version with a mostly different cast (I think Rudolf Klein-Rogge is the only actor among the major roles to appear in both). This was a common practice during the early thirties. When this version first entered my list, I suspected that I would probably not be able to find it, but I was wrong; the recent Criterion release of the movie features both versions. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original version, so I can’t do a strong compare of the two, though this one is a good twenty-seven minutes shorter. Still, it’s nice to see it again; this is one of those movies that follows so many threads of the plot at once that it can be a bit overwhelming on first viewing, and repeated viewings do help sort them out. Watching both versions together would, at the very least, probably give us a good idea of how editing can effect a movie.


Test Pilota Pirxa (1978)

aka Test Pilot Pirx
Article 3151 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-28-2010
Posting Date: 3-31-2010
Directed by Marek Piestrak
Featuring Sergei Desnitsky, Boleslaw Abart, Vladimir Ivashov
Country: Poland / Soviet Union
What it is: Science fiction space/robot drama

A test pilot is sent on a mission to the rings of Saturn with a crew of of five other people, one of whom is a actually a robot, but the pilot does not know who. The mission is a test of whether it will be safe with humans to work in tandem with robots, or if robots will endanger the humans.

The plot description above should be taken with a grain of salt; it’s compiled from a few sources which give only a cursory sense of what the story is about, and since I viewed this movie on YouTube in Russian with no English subtitles, my own viewing didn’t necessarily clear things up. I did gather the movie had something to do with robots interacting with humans, and I suspected that one or more of the crew would turn out to be robots. There are a few striking scenes, including one involving a car chase and another in which a robot’s hands become detached from its body. However, it’s a conversation-heavy movie, and I couldn’t figure out a lot of the plot details. It’s based on a book by Stanislaw Lem, and since I’ve liked what I read by the author, I might see if I can find the book. As for the movie, I’ll have to reserve judgment, though I did notice that the special effects were rather uneven; in some instances, they could even be described as cartoony.

That Riviera Touch (1966)

Article 3131 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-23-2009
Posting Date: 3-11-2010
Directed by Cliff Owen
Featuring Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise, Suzanne Lloyd
Country: UK
What it is: Basic comedy team shtick

Two traffic wardens take a vacation in France, but are targeted by jewel thieves who plan to use them to unwittingly smuggle a stolen necklace out of the country.

Eric Morecombe and Ernie Wise appear to be a comedy team from England; I don’t know how well known they are outside of their native country, but I’ve not heard of them until now. As a team, they’re okay; they have good chemistry with each other, and show a decent sense of timing. However, there’s really nothing special about them that sets them apart, and the movie itself is pretty routine; I could easily see Abbott and Costello in the same story. As for the fantastic content, it’s on the thin side; the duo end up staying at a rather creepy villa, and though no one says outright that it’s haunted, there’s a running gag with Morecombe constantly finding dead bodies that disappear.

Twins of Evil (1971)

Article 3121 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-13-2009
Posting Date: 3-1-2010
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Peter Cushing, Madeleine Collinson, Mary Collinson
Country: UK
What it is: Hammer Karnstein vampire tale

Female twins, upon the death of their parents, come to live with their aunt and uncle. The uncle leads a brotherhood that has been chasing and burning witches. However, he doesn’t know that he’s actually up against vampires, with the evil Count Karnstein as their leader. And the evil count has his eyes on one of the twins…

It’s your typical Hammer vampire movie with a WITCHFINDER GENERAL subplot and a smidgen of THE CORSICAN BROTHERS added to the mix. The subplot is the key element here, and the movie makes good use of it by casting Peter Cushing as the witch-hunting uncle. Cushing emphasizes the complexity of his character; he is not an evil man so much as one whose fanaticism has caused him to deeply compromise his character through rashness, and his inability to stop and consider whether his victims are truly guilty or chosen out of convenience is his fatal flaw. The situation is further complicated by the added element of political necessity; the villagers are afraid to take on the count because they fear retribution from the emperor. These elements add some much deeper subtexts to the usual violence, gore and sex of the Hammer formula. Dennis Price had a potentially interesting role as a man who provides perverse entertainment for the Count, but ultimately the story doesn’t know what to do with the character, and he is conveniently taken out of the way. All in all, I found this one a very satisfying Hammer production, especially for this point in their history.

Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983)

aka El tesoro de las cuatro coronas
Article 3120 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-12-2009
Posting Date: 2-28-2010
Directed by Ferdinando Baldi
Featuring Tony Anthony, Ana Obregon, Gene Quintano
Country: Spain/USA/Italy
What it is: One part horror, one part Indiana Jones, one part heist movie

A key holds the secret to the ultimate power contained in four crowns. A crack team of experts seeks to acquire three of the crowns which are being kept in an impregnable castle by a fanatical cult leader.

If you didn’t know this movie was originally made in 3-D, you’ll know soon enough; there are so many close-ups of things “comin’ at ya” (spears, knives, keys, hands, feet, tambourines, etc) that you’ll figure out the gimmick. The opening crawl is lifted from STAR WARS, the opening scene is ripped from RAIDERS FROM THE LOST ARK, and I was a little surprised that the movie just didn’t keep on that pattern; instead, by planning the acquisition of the crowns as something out of a heist movie, it manages to achieve a little more in the way of interest factor than it might otherwise have. Overall, though, the movie doesn’t really satisfy; the end in particular seems muddled and confused, and you’re never quite sure just what kind of power these crowns contain. Overall, though, I think I can say that the movie isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. This was the follow-up to COMIN’ AT YA, a movie which started a short-lived resurrection of the 3-D craze during the early eighties; a follow-up space opera was planned but never made, as the 3-D craze petered out.

Tintorera! (1977)

aka Tintorera…Bloody Waters
Article 3119 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-11-2009
Posting Date: 2-27-2010
Directed by Rene Cardona Jr.
Featuring Susan George, Hugo Stiglitz, Andres Garcia
Country: UK/Mexico
What it is: Romantic drama with a smidgen of JAWS ripoff

A shark hunter meets a woman in Cancun for hedonistic pleasure, but he ends up falling in love with her. This creates friction in their relationship, and she begins seeing another man. The two men, initially rivals, become fast friends when the woman departs (she’s eaten by a shark, but no one notices). Together, the two men meet a new woman, and they… oh, don’t bother; suffice it to say that a shark gets involved.

The US version of this film runs 85 minutes. The British version runs 89 minutes. The full version runs 126 minutes, and that’s the one I saw. Lucky me (and if you can imagine this line delivered in a dull, flat, emotionless monotone, do so). On the plus side, my print is subtitled in both English and Spanish, as the movie uses both languages frequently throughout the movie, though it does create a problem in that you have to keep switching gears in deciding whether to read the subtitles or listen to the dialogue. The scenery is beautiful, the underwater photography is good, and the acting is fairly decent. The problem is that it bills itself as a JAWS ripoff when at least ninety percent of its running time is devoted to the love and sex lives of the hedonistic vacationers. Some of the user comments even describe the movie as soft-core porn, but it doesn’t go that far; it’s loaded with nudity and there’s talk about sex, but visually it never gets more explicit than cuddling. That leaves precious little time for shark action, and most of that is devoted to people killing various sea animals (turtles, manta rays, other sharks) as lure for the big tiger shark. This footage is painfully explicit, and animal lovers will want to stay far, far away from this one. What it comes down to is that, unless you’re really interested in the sex lives of these people, there’s nothing to see here, and if you insist, you may want to go for one of the shorter versions. Unfortunately, as it is, it would feel padded even if it were edited down to thirty minutes.

Terror in the Jungle (1968)

Article 3117 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-9-2009
Posting Date: 2-25-2010
Directed by Tom DeSimone
Featuring Jimmy Angle, Joan Addiss, Chuck Angle
Country: USA
What it is: AIRPORT crossed with a jungle movie crossed with… I just can’t say it.

A young boy with a stuffed tiger is the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Amazon jungle. While his father (who wasn’t on the flight) hunts for him, the boy is captured by native tribesmen who worship him as a god… and may want to sacrifice him as well.

The first thirty minutes of this movie is one of the most gut-bustingly funny examples of bad cinema I’ve seen in years; the howler lines come fast and furious. After the plane crash, the movie becomes dull, somewhat confused, and a bit annoying; after a while, you’ll get sick of the boy walking around whimpering for his daddy. There’s a truly atrocious native dance to liven things up during this part, but don’t worry; it’s working itself up to a jaw-dropping ending which I can’t give away here except to say that a) the movie clearly moves into the fantasy genre at that point, and b) you’ll be wondering if a certain comic strip artist ever saw this movie. I may have given too much away even saying that, but if I have, I doubt you’ll be less tempted into seeing it. Quite frankly, this is the most giddily ridiculous jungle movie I’ve seen since FORBIDDEN JUNGLE.