Utopia (1951)

UTOPIA (1951)
Article 2024 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2006
Posting Date: 2-26-2007
Directed by Leo Joannon, John Berry, Alfred J. Goulding and Tim Whelan
Featuring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Suzy Delair

Laurel and Hardy inherit an island and a boat. On the way to the island, they get stranded with their cook and a stowaway on an atoll that rises out of the sea during a storm. They manage to survive, and grow to enjoy their privacy. Then, when it is discovered that Uranium exists on the island and several countries try to claim it as their own, they are forced to form their own government to keep hold of it.

The fantastic element in this, Laurel and Hardy’s final movie, is probably the fantasy element of a fictional country, which is what the island becomes once Ollie pens a constitution for it. It’s a strange entry in the Laurel and Hardy oeuvre, and I would love to read about the making of this movie. I suspect that the original story didn’t feature Stan and Ollie at all, and that it was rewritten afterwards to take advantage of their involvement; certainly, the political satire isn’t an element of standard Laurel and Hardy cinema, though it is common to the cinema of France, which is where the movie was made. It’s not as bad as its reputation would have you believe; Stan and Ollie still retain their sense of comic timing, and there are some laughs, but there are some real problems. The English dubbing is particularly noticeable, partially due to the fact that Stan and Ollie aren’t dubbed, but all the other characters are, and when the conversation goes back and forth, the sudden change (in mouth movements and ambient noise) is jarring. Furthermore, Ollie appears to have gained a lot of weight, and Stan looks deathly ill at times; he was ill, in fact, and the movie had to be delayed while he had an operation. It’s rather difficult to enjoy them in this condition. Also, I found myself a little disappointed to hear the boys take a few physical potshots at each other, with Stan making a comment about Ollie’s weight and Ollie making one about Stan’s ears; I don’t recall them having engaged in that type of humor before, and I really didn’t like it.


UFO: Target Earth (1974)

Article 1935 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-2-2006
Posting Date: 11-29-2006
Directed by Michael A. DeGaetano
Featuring Nick Plakias, Cynthia Cline, Tom Arcuragi

When he accidentally intercepts a military call about UFO sightings and meets a psychic woman with a mental connection to alien presences, an electronics expert decides to investigate UFO sightings near a lake.

One of my sources claims this movie was made for $70,000 dollars, and to me, it looks it. Still, for a movie that’s made this cheaply, it certainly doesn’t lack ambition. It’s one that tries to tap in to the mystical qualities of certain aspects of UFOlogy. I can’t really say the movie is successful; there’s something about the eccentric use of music, the oddball pacing and characters, and the confused plotting that is more likely to get you scratching your head than anything else. Still, there’s a quality to this movie that I find quite unique, and as a result, I can’t quite bring myself to just dismiss the movie. Maybe it’s just because the movie took me somewhere that I’ve never been before, and given how many movies I’ve seen that seem like rehashes of other movies, I’ve learned to value that. And even though I found the computer-generated abstract special effects to be somewhat cheesy, they were rather hypnotic all the same. Action and thriller fans will definitely be disappointed, but those looking for something a little different with a mystical edge, there’s something to be appreciated here.


Unknown World (1951)

Article 1812 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-1-2006
Posting Date: 7-29-2006
Directed by Terry O. Morse
Featuring Victor Kilian, Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis

A group of scientists intent on saving civilization design a machine to travel deep into the earth to find a new place for people to live.

I’ve heard this movie described as DESTINATION MOON , only going the other direction – deep into the earth rather than into outer space. It’s a good description up to a point, but I think it’s really a lot more similar to ROCKETSHIP X-M , the movie that was made to cash in on the publicity surrounding DESTINATION MOON that managed to beat it to the theaters. Like that movie, it’s more concerned with its message of nuclear destruction (though most of the preaching in this one comes near the beginning of the movie) and the relationships between the various characters than with the scientific problem solving that was the soul of DESTINATION MOON. Sadly, the movie isn’t really up to the level of either of these potential models for its story; the script is weak, and the acting is uneven. It’s fairly dull for the most part, despite the fact that plenty of people are brought along on the trip so we can have several of them die on the way. It doesn’t really come to life until they finally reach their destination, a huge well-lit underground cavern with massive waterfalls. Still, the ending is certainly more upbeat than that of ROCKETSHIP X-M.

Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules (1961)

aka Ulisse contro Ercole
Article 1811 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-28-2006
Posting Date: 7-28-2006
Directed by Mario Caiano
Featuring Georges Marchal, Mike Lane, Alessandra Panaro

Jupiter sends Heracles on a mission to capture Ulysses as a punishment for the latter’s blinding of Polyphemus.

It’s sword-and-sandal time again, folks! And not only that, it’s another “Son of Hercules” movie as well. So, who’s the son of Hercules this time? It’s some guy named Heracles! But wait a minute – isn’t Heracles just another name for Hercules? Why, yes it is! So, the son of Hercules is Hercules himself? Uh-huh.

Okay, now the big question – How can Hercules be his own son? Well, I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with the fact that Maciste has a time machine. I think it also has something to do with the song “I’m My Own Grandpa”. Beyond that, I think I’ll let this little conundrum go by the wayside.

Actually, this is a rather unusual peplum; the basic story arc doesn’t really cover the same ground as is usually tread by these movies. It’s more of a buddy movie of sorts. But then, what do you expect of a movie which puts two characters that are normally thought of as heroes in their own right against each other? Yes, it does have some silliness; neither the bird people nor the troglodytes are very impressive, for example. Nonetheless, I liked that one of our heroes is one who uses his brain instead of brawn, and I like the sequence where the evil king quizzes Ulysses to find out if he really is the famous conqueror of Troy. As such, this isn’t bad for this type of movie; it’s certainly less cheesy than most of the other entries in the Sons of Hercules series.

The Unknown (1946)

Article #1698 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-7-2005
Posting Date: 4-6-2006
Directed by Henry Levin
Featuring Karen Morley, Jim Bannon, Jeff Donnell

Two detectives accompany a young woman to the reading of a will. They discover that there is a streak of madness in the family and that someone is plotting to murder them all.

This was the last of the short-lived “I Love a Mystery” movie series based on the popular radio drama. I’ve covered the other two of the series, and like them, I found this one quite enjoyable. On the surface, it looks like your basic Old Dark House movie (creepy mansion, shadowy figures, secret passages, murders), but it actually is playing a slightly different game. I would say this movie is actually a bit closer to gothic melodrama than Old Dark House style mystery; the southern setting, the generally serious tone, the characters that are somewhat more complex than the usual Old Dark House standbys – most Old Dark House movies don’t bother with this kind of thing. It’s closer to JANE EYRE or WUTHERING HEIGHTS than THE CAT AND THE CANARY, and it points toward later developments of the form, such as SUNSET BLVD, and though it seems odd to compare this movie with that last one, bear in mind that this movie also opens with narration by a dead person. Also take into account that the black servant who appears in this movie is not intended nor used as comic relief; in fact, the story takes him seriously enough that he is a legitimate suspect in the story; this sort of thing never happened with Willie Best or Mantan Moreland playing the role. The movie is far from perfect; the beginning flashback is drawn out too long, for example. But it’s one of those movies where the characters of the individuals matter, and that is rare for this type of movie. It’s a shame that this whole series only lasted for three movies, and is now mostly forgotten; movie for movie, it was a highly entertaining series.

UFO (1956)

UFO (1956)
Article #1650 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-20-2005
Posting Date: 2-17-2006
Directed by Winston Jones
Featuring Tom Towers, Nicholas Mariana, Delbert Newhouse

A reporter finds himself in the middle of a rash of flying saucer sightings.

This movie is a pseudodocumentary, which is to say that it largely consists of reenactments of flying saucer sightings. An actor plays the role of reporter Albert M. Chop, while most of the rest of the cast is playing themselves. And I do mean playing themselves rather than being themselves; at all times, it feels like they’re reading from a script rather than telling of events off of the top of their heads, and seeing how none of them feel like natural actors, it all feels rather wooden rather than vividly real.

For the record, I tend to hover somewhere between skepticism and “Maybe…” on issues like this. The movie doesn’t really do a bad job; the attention to detail is a plus, and the unsensational way in which everything is presented allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions. It might change some people’s minds on the matter, but it really didn’t have an effect on mine, and its biggest selling point (it has actually filmed footage of sightings) isn’t anything I haven’t seen before. As entertainment, though, the wooden presentation does make viewing the movie a rather joyless and dull experience for much of its running time. You probably know whether you’d be interested in this one or not without any commentary by me, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s merely a curio.

Undersea Kingdom (1936)

Article #1387 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-31-2004
Posting Date: 5-30-2005
Directed by B. Reeves Eason and Joseph Kane
Featuring Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Lois Wilde, Monte Blue

Navy hero Crash Corrigan rides with Professor Norton in his new submarine and discovers the underwater kingdom of Atlantis. There they get caught up in the machinations of an evil dictator named Unga Khan, who has designs of conquering not only Atlantis, but the upper world as well.

Some thoughts on this serial:

1) Of all the serials I’ve seen since THE LOST CITY, this is the one that comes closest to capturing that one’s goofy charm. It’s better acted than that one, but actually that lessens the charm; if only Monte Blue could have chewed the scenery with the glee that William “Stage” Boyd had done in the earlier serial.

2) Despite having the technology to produce robots with zap guns, flying bombers, long distance giant-hot-dog launchers, free-floating television viewing, and armored cars with the horns stuck automatically in the “ON” position, they still need one of those humans from the upper world to design rockets to launch them to the surface of the sea.

3) Despite having the technology to produce—(please insert all the stuff that I posted in the above sentence but was too lazy to insert here)—, they still do most of their battling with men riding around on horsies and waving sabres. They also have enough forethought to bring ladders in their sieges of the imperial city.

4) Despite having muscular bad-guy-turned-good-guy John Merton to help him out, Crash Corrigan still keeps embarking on dangerous missions using the little boy as his companion. I know the kid’s a bit annoying, but that’s no reason to keep putting him in danger, is it?

5) One thing the serial does right: after taking the time to establish the comic-relief characters of Salty, Briny and their talking parrot, the serial promptly forgets about their existence. Other than a couple of token appearances in the middle of the serial, the next time we see them is aboard the submarine at the end (and I even missed the sequence where they were rescued). Someone at Republic was being merciful.

6) This is the serial in which Ray “Crash” Corrigan utters that classic phrase, “Go ahead and ram!”, one of the most hilariously silly heroically noble tough-guy quotes ever.

7) Atlantis exists in an air-pocket underneath the sea. The rockets added to Unga Khan’s castle will take it straight up to the ocean surface. Obviously, some barrier up above the castle is keeping the water from coming in. What is this barrier and why does the castle have no problem getting past it? I’d pursue this question, but I’m afraid of embarassing someone.

8) Just for fun, try to figure out how many Atlanteans are alive at the end of the serial.

9) Incidentally, though Salty and Briny appear in the submarine in the final episode, the parrot does not. Did I just miss it? Did it not make the shot? Did the filmmakers not consider him an important character? Or did the parrot suffer the same fate as Gertrude the Duck in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH? I’d pursue this question further, but I’m afraid someone will look for the missing footage and show it to me. I’m not that curious.

10) Despite having that free-floating television viewer that can spy on the upper world, Unga Khan and his men are still totally caught off guard by the technology of the navy and only have a chance to launch one giant hot dog during their invasion. So we wait for twelve episodes to see the most incompetent invasion of the world I’ve seen since Bela Lugosi tried to take over the world with the help of a few bombs and a bi-plane in THE PHANTOM CREEPS.

So there you have UNDERSEA KINGDOM. Have fun.