The Undertaker and His Pals (1966)

Article 3666 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-13-2011
Posting Date: 8-28-2011
Directed by T.L.P. Swicegood
Featuring Ray Dannis, Warrene Ott, James Westmoreland
Country: USA
What it is: Gore comedy

An undertaker and two restaurant workers combine forces to increase business. They form a biker gang that goes out and mutilates people, and then the undertaker gets the burial business while the restaurant workers use parts of the victims in their meat dishes.

According to IMDB, this movie got banned from a number of theaters until it was edited down to its present 63 minute length. In this form, it seems a little tamer than the usual Herschell Gordon Lewis movie of the period, and it’s more overtly comic. It’s bad, but it’s not quite as bad as I expected; some of the comedy works well enough to get by. Granted, it’s played a little too broad, but the undertaker’s business tricks are amusing; he charges a ridiculously low price and then ups the price with “extras”, and he also gives green stamps (seeing what his bare-bones funeral is like is a highlight). The acting is better than expected as well, though I’d hardly call it good. Yes, it’s tasteless and often stupid, but that’s no surprise. I’ve seen far worse.

The Ultimate Warrior (1975)

Article 3629 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2011
Posting Date: 7-22-2011
Directed by Robert Clouse
Featuring Yul Brynner, Max von Sydow, Joanna Miles
Country: USA
What it is: After the apocalypse thriller

After a plague destroys most vegetation and animal life on Earth, the baron of a makeshift fortress in New York City recruits a fighting man ostensibly to help protect its residents from attacks by a well-organized gang of thugs. However, the baron has an ulterior motive; he wants the fighter to take a scientist’s new vegetable seed strain that is resistant to the plague out of the fortress to an island where the vegetation can thrive.

I quite like this “after the apocalypse” thriller that was made before they became fashionable, if for no other reason that it is quite different from how such movies would later turn out. Furthermore, I really like the performances of Yul Brynner, Max von Sydow and William Smith as the fighter, the baron, and the gang leader respectively. However, the movie has some problems that keep me from liking it more; it’s a little too dry and dull, the characters seem a little too well-dressed to make one feel it’s after the apocalypse, and there really aren’t very many sympathetic characters; I’m particularly disappointed at how the residents of the fortress are little better than the gang members. Still, there are good moments, and one very effective visual moment involving a reflection in a window.

Ulysses (1967)

ULYSSES (1967)
Article 3534 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-24-2011
Posting Date: 4-18-2011
Directed by Joseph Strick
Featuring Barbara Jefford, Milo O’Shea, Maurice Roeves
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Ambitious literary adaptation

The events in the lives of two men in Dublin for a single day are recounted.

Personally, I’m amazed anyone would actually aspire to adapt this James Joyce novel to the screen; it is such a singularly literary work that it may be untranslatable to any other medium. It’s no surprise that quite often the movie just takes passages from the book and adds visuals to it, especially the long nighttime musings of Molly Bloom that end the book. I read the novel many years ago, but I don’t remember it and I can’t say that I got much out of it, but I must admit that I had never prepared for this assault on such an extremely difficult work; I do plan to give the novel another try. Still, my lack of memory about the book makes me unwilling to judge this movie until I can make a decent comparison. On its own terms, the movie is sometimes interesting, sometimes quite dull, and it certainly doesn’t make the story seem easy to grasp. In fact, I’m not even sure I should be covering this one. It probably made the list for a few fantasy sequences in the imagination of Leopold Bloom, and perhaps for the fact that the novel itself somewhat parallels the story told in “The Odyssey”. For the record, my source for this one is “The Motion Picture Guide” which classifies the movie as a fantasy, as it has done for several other odd choices.

Une fee… pas comme les autres (1956)

aka The Secret of Magic Island
Article 3256 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-19-2010
Posting Date: 7-14-2010
Directed by Jean Tourane
Voices unknown
Country: Italy/France
What it is: Bizarre children’s movie

An evil monkey infiltrates a carnival so he can sneak into a village and steal their treasure – a magic wand.

I’ve been dying to see this movie ever since I stumbled across a trailer of it. Once it popped up on my hunt list, it proved near impossible to find, but it finally turned up, albeit dubbed into Swedish. It’s a children’s movie with a gimmick, and that gimmick is that the cast is made up entirely of animals who, according to the ads “think they’re people”. So what you get are scenes of animals doing things that they don’t usually do; you see dogs tending bar, pigs using a bandsaw, frogs driving motorcycles, ducks driving trains and cars, dogs playing the organ, ducks shooting pool… you get the idea. The narrators tell the story, but with this sort of thing, the story is secondary; the attraction is the animal footage. Some of it gets really strange; there’s something truly unsettling about seeing a rabbit smoking a cigarette, or a fox giving a shampoo to a chicken. It’s the sort of movie where a critique is rather pointless; you’ll either find the gimmick irresistible or you won’t. Still, it does get old after a while, even with a running time of about an hour. At the very least, the movie is one of a kind.

Umorismo in nero (1965)

aka Death Travels Too Much
Article 3226 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-18-2010
Posting Date: 6-14-2010
Directed by Claude Autant-Lara, Jose Maria Forque, Giancarlo Zagni
Country: Italy / France / Spain
What it is: Black comedy anthology

Three comic tales involving death are told. In the first, an old woman believes the pain in her head is caused by a bug in her ear, and she visits a healer. In the second, a circus performer attempts to frame her assistant for the murder of a romantic rival. In the third, a hunter believes the beautiful woman he has encountered is actually Death.

This anthology film features three separate stories directed by three different directors in three different languages; in whichever country you saw it, at least two-thirds of the dialogue was dubbed. This was the one released in Spain, and since I saw it without subtitles, it was a bit difficult to follow. However, I could tell it was lightly comic more than darkly satirical, and it looks like a lot of fun. The first tale does feature a healer who dresses up like a personification of Death at one point, and this gives it a certain fantastic content. The second story climaxes with scenes involving a magician’s act, which adds a bit of fantastic content to that one as well. However, the massive amount of fantastic content is in the third story. This one is the most difficult to follow, but it looks fun; there’s a scene in a crypt involving a man coming out of a burial place with a skull strapped to his head, various attempts to murder Death (who survives and reappears with ease), and some other horror imagery; nonetheless, it’s played for laughs. This is one I wish I could see with subtitles.

Under the Sea (1907)

aka 20000 lieues sous les mers, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Article 3167 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-14-2010
Posting Date: 4-16-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Featuring Georges Melies
Country: France
What it is: Underwater fantasy

A fisherman is made the captain of a new underwater vehicle known as a submarine. However, his first voyage in the vehicle goes awry…

Georges Melies tends to play fast and loose with his literary adaptations; this version of the Jules Verne story doesn’t even feature Captain Nemo. It starts out looking like it’s going to be one of Melies’s epic journeys like A TRIP TO THE MOON, but it stops just short of that by dint of a plot twist that you’ll probably see coming when you start wondering why a lowly fisherman would be put in charge of an amazing new machine. Still, you get a giant crab, a giant fish, a giant clam, pushy sea flowers, dancing girls and an octopus. A tad disappointing, but still entertaining.

The UFO Incident (1975)

Article 3147 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2010
Posting Date: 3-27-2010
Directed by Richard A. Colla
Featuring James Earl Jones, Estelle Parsons, Barnard Hughes
Country: USA
What it is: UFO encounter reenactment drama

An interracial couple experiences dual amnesia after seeing a UFO. After keeping the subject to themselves for two years, they find the secret putting a strain on their marriage, and they see a psychiatrist. He uses hypnotism to find out what happened during the period covered by the amnesia.

Though one’s personal perceptions about the truth of the story of Barney and Betty Hill will no doubt play a role in how one accepts this drama, I think the movie is definitely worth catching. Much of the credit goes to the excellent acting of all three of the principals, especially from James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons, who portray the Hills as full realized, three-dimensional people. The writers also should be commended for producing a script that allowed that dimensionality to come through. It is because the characters are so well-developed that we grow interested in them and their plight. Solid direction by Richard A. Colla further enhances the movie. Its main problem is that the special effects are only so-so; it’s one of those movies where it would have been better if the aliens had remained shrouded in the shadows, because it’s not really satisfying when you get a clear look at them. Nevertheless, this is secondary; it’s the human story that dominates here, and in terms of dealing with the complex relationship problems between the married couple, the movie does engage us and even manages to give us a happy ending. This is definitely one of the more interesting TV-Movies I’ve seen for this series.

Ein Unsichtbarer geht durch die Stadt (1933)

aka An Invisible Man Goes Through the Town
Article 3128 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-20-2009
Posting Date: 3-8-2010
Directed by Harry Piel
Featuring Harry Piel, Fritz Odemar, Lissy Arna
Country: Germany
What it is: German invisibility drama/comedy

A cabbie discovers that a suitcase left behind by a passenger contains an outfit that turns him invisible. He uses the outfit to make his fortune at the racetrack. However, his outfit is stolen by someone planning on using it to rob banks, and he embarks on a chase of the criminal.

IMDB doesn’t classify this one as a comedy, but, despite the fact that my copy is in unsubtitled German, I do get the feeling that the first part of the movie at least is played for laughs. As is usual when I cover movies not in English, you should take the above plot description with a grain of salt. The special effects aren’t quite up to the level of the Universal’s THE INVISIBLE MAN, but they work well enough. The movie is fairly ordinary, but it does have some good moments; some of the scenes have a nice scary sense of what it might be like to face off with an unseen adversary, and the extended chase leads to an amazing sequence involving an airship. Unfortunately, the action sequence ends with a disappointing thud, so I’m afraid I can’t quite recommend the movie. Harry Piel would go on to direct a couple more science fiction movies with DIE WELTE OHNE MASKE and DER HERR DER WELT.

The Underwater City (1962)

Article 3060 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2009
Posting Date: 12-30-2009
Directed by Frank McDonald
Featuring William Lundigan, Julie Adams, Roy Roberts
Country: USA
What it is: Science Fiction of the “New Frontiers” variety

A project is undertaken to build a self-sufficient underwater city.

This is an earnest, well-intentioned slice of Heinleinian science fiction; it generally eschews melodrama in favor of the step-by-step process by which the city is developed, settled, and becomes able to fend for itself. It’s rather cheesy at times, the characters are two-dimensional, and it occasionally relies too much on devices such as narration and newspaper headlines, but after a while, the sincerity does win through. There’s an eel attack, a manta ray attack, and a battle between an octopus and an eel, but they’re all side issues (in fact, the manta ray attack is dispensed with via a newspaper headline), so you can’t really call it a monster movie. The movie was shot in color, but it was released to theaters in black and white; however, television prints were in color. My favorite scene occurs near the end, where the celebration of the city’s success is undercut by an ominous revelation.

Un soir… par hasard (1963)

aka One Night… by Accident
Article 3051 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-14-2009
Posting Date: 12-21-2009
Directed by Ivan Govar
Featuring Annette Vadim, Michel Le Royer, Jean Servais
Country: France / Belgium
What it is: Mystery thriller with science fiction and possible Gizmo Maguffin overtones

An atomic scientist has a motorcycle accident. When he awakes, he finds himself in the castle of a man who claims to have brought him back from the dead. The scientist ends up falling in love with his host’s mistress. However, everything may not be what it seems.

Since my print is in unsubtitled French, I found it necessary to hunt around for some plot descriptions to help me sort this one out; the plot description above is cobbled together from what I found out. Oddly enough, I got two different plot descriptions, though they aren’t incompatible; however, I’ve mostly avoided touching on the second one I found (which reveals a much more conventional plot) because I think it’s a major spoiler. It also reveals why the movie is a bit of disappointment; the plot description above makes it all seem more mysterious and eerie than it ultimately turns out to be. I suspect that if I ever get a chance to see this one subtitled, I’ll like the first part a lot more than the last part.