Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol (1972)

WELCOME HOME, JOHNNY BRISTOL (1972)
TV-Movie
Article 3172 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-19-2010
Posting Date: 4-21-2010
Directed by George McCowan
Featuring Martin Landau, Jane Alexander, Brock Peters
Country: USA
What it is: Psychological drama or Paranoid conspiracy movie?

A POW from Vietnam returns to the states; he was only able to survive his captivity by recalling memories of his hometown in Charles, Vermont. When he’s well enough to leave the hospital, he takes his nurse to visit his hometown… only to find that it doesn’t exist.

It’s a little hard to discuss the fantastic content of a movie like this; for most of its running time, it walks a thin line between the truth and the illusion without letting on which is which, and to talk about what the fantastic content is would be to give away the game. Let’s just say that one possible explanation takes us on an exploration of madness (marginal horror) while another deals with the marginal science fiction of vast conspiracy theories. One of these does apply.

Whatever its fantastic content, I found this TV-Movie to be truly engrossing, it’s well written, well directed, and extremely well acted. In particular, Martin Landau as the tortured POW of the title gives one of his finest performances, but I also have to mention Forrest Tucker, who shines as a fellow patient in the ward. Jane Alexander is also strong as the nurse, and Pat O’Brien has a memorable cameo as a former recruiting sergeant with a faulty memory. The movie does a strong job of keeping you in suspense as to the nature of the truth, and even once you think you know which story is true, you’ll find out there’s still some details that are capable of changing the whole game. The ending is not a disappointment. Highly recommended.

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When Women Lost Their Tails (1972)

WHEN WOMEN LOST THEIR TAILS (1972)
aka Quando le donne persero la coda
Article 3150 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2010
Posting Date: 3-30-2010
Directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile
Featuring Senta Berger, Frank Wolff, Lando Buzzanca
Country: Italy/West Germany
What it is: Caveman comedy/satire

Five cavemen live in the skeleton of a dinosaur with a woman whom they share. When a stranger shows up and introduces them to the concept of money, they begin to lose everything they have.

One thing I was sure of going into this sequel to WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS; there was no way this sequel was going to demean or lessen the quality of the original movie in my eyes, as that would have been impossible. What did surprise me was that, unlike its predecessor, this one actually seemed to have a focused theme; once the stranger introduces the concept of money to the cavemen, the movie turns into a satire on capitalism, which is here portrayed as the game of a con man. Granted, once you latch on to the theme, the movie becomes more than a little obvious; in fact, it gets pretty repetitive after a while. Senta Berger fans may also be disappointed; because of the thrust of the plot, her character becomes secondary and almost vestigial at times, which is my way of saying that she doesn’t get very much screen time. Still, she does provide a focus for some interesting points; one of the themes that pops up at one point is the changes in standards of beauty, and one of the final scenes involves her encounter with a new con man who equates women’s liberation with prostitution. There’s another sequel out there to this series, but it doesn’t appear that it has the same set of characters, and Senta Berger is noticeably absent from the cast. The basic upshot of this one is that it turned out to be a lot more interesting and sophisticated than I thought it would be. Don’t read too much into that statement, though; I thought this one was going to be totally worthless.

Watermelon Man (1970)

WATERMELON MAN (1970)
Article 3149 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2010
Posting Date: 3-29-2010
Directed by Melvin Van Peebles
Featuring Godfrey Cambridge, Estelle Parsons, Howard Caine
Country: USA
What it is: Satirical fantasy

An obnoxious white insurance agent wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into a black man. When his desperate attempts to turn back to white fail, he begins to find his life changing…

In some ways, this is similar to the previous year’s CHANGE OF MIND in that a white man gets to experience what it’s like to be black. It’s an aggressive, over-the-top movie. The first half plays like a slapstick movie and is too shrill for its own good, but it does serve its purpose; by contrasting how people react to his obnoxious behavior when he’s white and how they react to it when he’s black, it does manage to show the various manifestations of racism in action. Estelle Parsons, here playing another white wife of a black man as in THE UFO INCIDENT (albeit one who was initially married to a white man) portrays a character who serves as an interesting example; though a liberal by nature (she watches news broadcasts about the race riots), she finds actual marriage to a black man to be ultimately unsupportable. The movie is quite effective; it’s both sad and fascinating to watch how this initially unlikable boor is forced to adjust to a new life and, ultimately, a new world. There’s some very interesting names in the cast. Erin Moran (who plays the man’s daughter) would go on to play Joanie on “Happy Days”, former Three Stooges foil Emil Sitka pops up as a delivery man, Mae Clarke appears as an old woman in her last movie, and Paul Williams has a cameo as an employment clerk. The most interesting cast member, though, is none other than Mantan Moreland as the man who works at the lunch counter; his reaction to the main character’s change gave me the biggest laugh in the movie, and I’m glad Melvin Van Peebles decided to use him.

Warlock Moon (1975)

WARLOCK MOON (1975)
Article 3148 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2010
Posting Date: 3-28-2010
Directed by Bill Herbert
Featuring Laurie Walters, Joe Spano, Edna MacAfee
Country: USA
What it is: Low-budget witchcraft flick

A young female art student ends up dating a young man who takes her to an abandoned spa in an out-of-the-way village. There she encounters a strange old woman, and begins to have mysterious experiences with a ghostly woman and two ax-wielding madmen.

Yeah, I could see how this low-budget horror film (shot in an abandoned tuberculosis clinic in San Francisco) could creep you out under the right circumstances, especially if you caught it late at night. To its credit, Laurie Walters is a likable heroine, and, despite the fact that it often moves at a snail’s pace and has too much wandering around, it never quite put me to sleep. However, the heroine is a major fool; she puts her trust in a creepy boyfriend she barely knows and, despite the fact that she could easily drive off at anytime during the last half of the movie, she insists on leaving herself at the mercy of some quite obvious psychos. It has a fair assortment of plot twists, but the movie is so obvious about showing its hand early on that none of the twists really comes as a surprise. Still, I’ve seen far worse, and the good and bad in the movie is so evenly balanced that I can see how opinions would fluctuate wildly; the IMDB ratings chart does show a fairly even distribution of votes throughout the whole quality spectrum. Uneven, but far from worthless.

The Wandering Jew (1904)

THE WANDERING JEW (1904)
aka Le juif errant
Article 3137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-7-2010
Posting Date: 3-17-2010
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Melies trick film, though on the more serious side

The Wandering Jew dreams of the event that brought about his curse, and then is tormented by a devil and has visions of the Mother of God.

I had given up this Melies short for lost some time ago, but while researching another movie on my hunt list, I discovered a site called the Europa Film Treasures that had it online. It’s Melies in a more somber mood than usual, and the backgrounds, though obviously painted, look much more realistic. In some ways, this is one of Melies’s more impressive shorts; I especially like the lightning that flashes across the sky at the end of the movie. I’m always glad when I can retrieve a movie from my lost list and add it to my watched list.

****NOTE**** This movie also became available through the new collection of Melies shorts from Flicker Alley.

World Beyond the Moon (1954)

WORLD BEYOND THE MOON (1954)
TV-Movie made from episodes of “Space Patrol”
Article 3100 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-18-2009
Posting Date: 2-8-2010
Director unknown
Featuring Ed Kemmer, Lyn Osborn, Hannes Lutz
Country: USA
What it is: TV Space Opera

Commander Buzz Corry and Cadet Happy must defeat a mad scientist who is changing people into obedient giants in his sanitarium on Pluto III.

This movie culled from episodes of “Space Patrol” (“The Giants of Pluto III”, “The Fiery Pit of Pluto III”, and “The Man-Hunt on Pluto III” respectively) was so obscure that it didn’t even have a listing on IMDB, and I was ready to consign it to my “ones that got away” list when it suddenly popped up. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a science fiction series of the period, but it does give me a chance to compare it to a couple of other series from the era that I have a passing familiarity with – namely, “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” (which I’ve covered extensively due to the fact that many episodes were converted to movies) and “Flash Gordon”, which I haven’t touched on at all. Plotwise, it’s pretty basic good guy/bad guy stuff, making the stories somewhat less sophisticated than RJSR and about on the same level as FG, but at least it keeps the action a bit on the lively side, making it less of a chore to watch than either of the other series. The most ominous thing about this series is that there is a character called Cadet Happy, which certainly seems to promise all sorts of painful comic relief, but Lyn Osborn never gets heavy-handed, and it mostly restricts the buffoonery to an ending gag on each episode, and there’s something satisfying in one sequence seeing the other characters perform a mock attack on him after letting loose with a particularly bad pun at one point. My info is pretty sketchy on this one, and the date is a guess; the date my book gave was 1953, but since the episodes weren’t broadcast until 1954, I’m assuming it’s wrong. At any rate, it’s satisfying to get at least one more obscurity out of the way.

Wielka, Wieksza I Najwieksza (1963)

WIELKA, WIEKSZA I NAJWIEKSZA (1963)
aka The Great Big World and Little Children
Article 3095 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-8-2009
Posting Date: 2-3-2010
Directed by Anna Sokolowka
Featuring Kinga Sienko, Wojciech Puzynski, Zofia Kucowna
Country: Poland
What it is: Polish children’s fantasy

Two children are drawn into a series of adventures by a talking car. They rescue a kidnapped child, search for a lost plane in the Sahara desert, and visit another planet.

This rare fantasy movie sat on my list unfound for several years, but popped up unexpectedly on YouTube, thus giving me a chance to watch it. It’s in unsubtitled Polish, so the action is difficult to follow. However, the first two segments are straightforward enough that I was able to more or less follow them. The visit to the other planet is a bit tougher, but it seems to involve a trapped child after nuclear devastation has destroyed the planet; some of this description was based on other plot descriptions I’ve found. It’s fairly amusing, but except for the last segment, it’s not particularly engaging on a visual level. Outside of the car, we also get talking watches, radios, airplanes and telephones. It’s just offbeat enough to be worth a look.