What a Whopper (1961)

WHAT A WHOPPER (1961)
Article 2345 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-27-2007
Posting Date: 1-13-2008
Directed by Gilbert Gunn
Featuring Adam Faith, Sid James, Carole Lesley

A writer, hoping to create a market for his new book, stages a fake sighting of the Loch Ness monster.

This silly English comedy manages to hold my attention as long as it keeps the funny ideas and the strange characters coming; drawn into this bizarre plot are salmon poachers, a hearse, a musique concrete artist, a painter, a tramp, some stupid cops, and a Scotsman caught up in a feud. As a result, there are a number of amusing moments, but after a bit, things become rather repetitive; for example, the running gag in which a policeman tries to catch a drunken father isn’t particularly funny to begin with, but the movie goes on and on with it. Its biggest problem is that its funniest performances only appear near the beginning of the movie; namely, those of “Carry On” actor Charles Hawtrey as the artist, and Spike Milligan’s cameo as the tramp. A few choice moments to pop up later, but the movie definitely runs short of inspiration and starts to feel desperate. Still, I did find myself asking one question; given that this was a wacky farce about the faking of an appearance of the Loch Ness Monster, was it possible that the real Loch Ness Monster would show up? Rather than leave you in suspense, I’ll just say outright that it does, and it has the last line in the movie. For me, the most interesting credit in the movie is for the screenplay; it was written by Terry Nation, who is most famous for having created the Daleks for “Doctor Who”.

 

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The Whistler (1944)

THE WHISTLER (1944)
Article 2279 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-19-2007
Posting Date: 11-8-2007
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Richard Dix, Gloria Stuart, J. Carrol Naish

A businessman, depressed at having lost his wife in a boating accident, pays to have himself knocked off by a hit man. However, he changes his mind when he discovers his wife is still alive. Unfortunately, the man who served as a go-between between him and the hit man (who have not met) has died in a police shootout, and he has no way of getting in touch with him.

This is the first of Columbia’s “The Whistler” series, and, like so many of the others, the sole fantastic content is the Whistler himself, who narrates this tale of destiny. The movie is slightly less marginal in its fantastic content in that his presence at one point is felt by the characters, but this doesn’t develop into anything more. The plot set-up is great, it’s full of interesting characters and good performances (with J. Carrol Naish particularly effective as the hit man, who tries to see if he can actually scare his prey to death). However, it’s one of those stories that you don’t want to examine to closely afterwards, as the holes start to appear before your eyes. Nonetheless, this is a very enjoyable entry in the series, and keep your eyes for an effective little performance from Bowery Boy Billy Benedict as a deafmute.

 

Wizards (1977)

WIZARDS (1977)
Article 2233 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-27-2007
Posting Date: 9-23-2007
Directed by Ralph Bakshi
Featuring the voices of Bob Holt, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus

A wizard, an elf, a fairy and a robot set out on a quest to defeat an evil master of the black arts who is using ancient technology to take over the world.

Ralph Bakshi had a unique animation style, and simply on that level this movie is a wonder to behold; it’s a combination of offbeat character animation, stock footage, cuteness, and sensuality that really must be seen to be believed. Still, as fascinating as his work is to behold, he’s not as interesting in terms of telling a story, and as he runs through the gamut of different styles, he does the same with storytelling techniques. As a result, his attempt to tell an epic fantasy here is unable to settle on a consistent mood; there are times where I wonder if he’s actually trying to parody the genre, while at other times I think he’s trying to play it straight. Whatever his intention, he ends up never really accomplishing either; if it’s a parody, it isn’t consistently amusing, and if it’s serious, it fails to generate that sense of grandeur that would make it work. In particular, I think he makes a big mistake in making our wizard hero (Avatar) into something of a befuddled comic figure; I find it difficult to root for him, or, for that matter, to feel much of anything for him. It’s a shame; the story is basically quite good, and even though it doesn’t quite work, it remains interesting watching throughout. Still, based on what I see here, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen him to bring “The Lord of the Rings” to the screen, which is precisely what his next project was.

 

The Wizard of Baghdad (1960)

THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD (1960)
Article 2229 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-23-2007
Posting Date: 9-19-2007
Directed by George Sherman
Featuring Dick Shawn, Diane Baker, Barry Coe

A genie has his powers taken away when he fails to prevent the assassination of a sultan, which results in the separation of two children who are supposed to be pledged in marriage. In order to get his powers back, he tries to reunite the children (who have now grown to adulthood), but he can’t find the man, and the woman has been promised to marry a usurper to the throne.

I’ve always assumed that the rash of Arabian Nights movies during the forties and fifties was fallout from the popularity of the excellent THE THIEF OF BAGDAD from 1940. Though any one of these movies may be acceptable on its own terms, taken as a whole, the lack of imagination and the endless regurgitation of the same plot make them for repetitive viewing nowadays. Now, if I had to make an Arabian Nights movie with the same recycled plot, here are some of the things I would not do.

1) Get budget-conscious Sam Katzman to produce it.

2) Turn it into a musical comedy.

3) Add a Mr. Ed-style talking horse.

4) Have some of the action take place in the world’s biggest outhouse.

All right, Disney managed to do number 2 with their animated version of ALADDIN (and possibly 3; I can’t remember whether the genie turns into a talking horse at some point, but he turns into so many things I wouldn’t be surprised if he had). Also, I’m not sure a movie with only two songs can be called a musical, but the opening one ( called “Eenie Meeny Genie” ) is horrendous enough to give me nightmares for a week. Also, I’m exaggerating about the giant outhouse; it’s actually a tavern of some sort, but any place with a big wooden door that has a crescent moon on the front is bound to to be mistaken for one. Dick Shawn ( who is perhaps most famous for playing the lead actor in “Springtime for Hitler” in the original version of THE PRODUCERS) is a good actor / singer, but the songs and the jokes he’s given here just don’t cut it. The action sequences are fairly decent, and, despite the very wooden acting and low energy, it occasionally sparks some interest in the dramatic moments. Incidentally, Sinbad, Omar Khayyam and Aladdin (played by Bill Mumy) pop up for short cameos. Still, with all the Arabian Nights adventures out there, there’s little reason to settle for this one.

 

The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Women (1973)

THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1973)
aka La Noche de Walpurgis
Article 2227 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-21-2007
Posting Date: 9-17-2007
Directed by Leon Klimovsky
Featuring Jacinta Molina (Paul Naschy), Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell

When the wolfman is resurrected by two coroners, he takes refuge in a country home. When he comes upon two stranded women, he offers to help them investigate the burial site of a woman who was believed to be a vampiress. They find the grave, but accidentally revive her.

I think one of the appeals of the Paul Naschy films to horror fans is that he pursued one concept of the Universal horrors that had largely been left untouched for years (except in kaiju, that is), and that was the concept of having multiple monsters of different types squaring off against each other. Even in the first Hombre Lobo movie, they threw vampires into the werewolf mix, and here they are, at it again. It’s not a great movie, and the faded colors and dubbing don’t help it much in my public domain copy don’t help much; I’ve heard the DVD version titled WEREWOLF SHADOW is much better. Nonetheless, it is entertaining enough, if fairly routine, and it certainly doesn’t stint on the atmosphere. It’s the usual pattern; Naschy plays a heroic monster, there’s a goodly amount of gore and sex; you pretty much know what you’ll be getting. There’s even a zombie monk and a sleazy servant to add to the proceedings; you know the latter is no good when the woman asks him to take her to the post office, and instead, he offers to take her to a butcher shop and a cemetery. The ending is a bit of a disappointment; after all the talk about Walpurgis night, the monsters don’t seem particularly more dangerous than they were throughout the movie when that time comes.

 

The Water Babies (1978)

THE WATER BABIES (1978)
Article 2226 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-20-2007
Posting Date: 9-16-2007
Directed by Lionel Jeffries
Featuring James Mason, Bernard Cribbins, Billie Whitelaw

A poor boy finds himself accused of being a thief while working as a chimney sweep at a country mansion. He jumps into a stream to escape his pursuers and finds himself in an underwater kingdom. In order to escape, he must find the Water Babies and then meet the Kraken.

The DVD cover makes this children’s fantasy look as if it’s going to be one of those treacly overcute productions – all right for young children but almost unwatchable for adults. Well, don’t trust DVD covers; the first scenes of this movie take place in a grimy, somewhat brutal London market that looks like something out of Dickens at his bleakest. The fact that our hero is a forced apprentice to a brutish chimney sweep (James Mason in an unexpected role) and his sniveling assistant (Bernard Cribbins) only underscores the Dickens similarity. No, this movie is not overly cute, but it isn’t quite satisfying either; despite some good and very interesting moments, the movie seems a bit jittery and off-putting. The first thirty minutes and the last fifteen minutes are live-action, but the middle half of the movie is animated, and largely follows the plot of THE WIZARD OF OZ ; a child and his dog find themselves in a strange land, they go on a journey and meet three companions, ask a favor from a powerful god-figure and are set on a task to defeat some villain to prove their worth. There’s really only two songs, but fortunately, the central one that pops up repeatedly is very good. Unfortunately, the animation, most of which seems to have been done by Russian animators, has a jerky, unpleasant feel to it that takes away somewhat from my enjoyment of the movie. The best thing about the movie is Billie Whitelaw, who, though she seems to play several roles, may actually be the manifestation of one person, and whose presence has a hard-to-define power over the proceedings; if anything makes me want to seek out the Charles Kingsley book on which the movie was based, it is her presence, as I’d be hoping that the book would explain it more fully. The cast also features David Tomlinson, and Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee provides one of character voices.

 

Witchcraft ’70 (1970)

WITCHCRAFT ’70 (1970)
aka Angeli bianchi…angeli neri
Documentary
Article 2220 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2007
Posting Date: 9-10-2007
Directed by Luigi Scattine and Lee Frost
Featuring Edmund Purdom, Alberto Bevilacqua, Anton LaVey

This is a documentary about witchcraft around the world.

I don’t know whether this documentary about the various witchcraft rituals from around the world is faked, partially faked, or all real, but if it has been faked, it does a good job of making it look like it isn’t. It might make a good companion piece to WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES , though I don’t think it’s quite as entertaining. It generally eschews interviews in favor of ritual footage, though it does feature interview footage of a policeman commenting on the prevalence of witchcraft in his area (which he links to the increase of drug use) and a spoken interview with an initiate. It covers both black and white witchcraft; the most interesting example of this is the filming of two competing rituals in Rio de Janeiro during Carnivale. It gets rather dull at times, largely because there really isn’t enough variety between the various rituals to keep one from being bored. The Anton LaVey footage is interesting, in that the commentator talks about the subdued and rather bored feeling to the Satanic rituals, which he attributes to the fact that they go through it almost three times a day; there’s nothing that sucks the magic out of a ritual like its over-repetition. Some of the rituals were filmed with the permission of its participants, others were filmed in secret, and for some they found it necessary to purchase amateur footage in place of any that they could shoot themselves.

The movie does not say that witches and Satanists have real power; it is more interested in the fact that those who engage in the rituals do believe in its power. It saves any messages it has for the end of the movie when, after footage of a group of hippie Satanists, it makes the point of explaining that the location of the ritual is not far from the home of the Manson family, and that, though none of the filmed rituals here actually include such an action, there always exists the possibility of the revival of human sacrifice.

Oh, yes, and there are lots of naked people in the rituals. I’m guessing that this may be the primary appeal of the movie to some.