Valley of the Lions (1961)

VALLEY OF THE LIONS (1961)
aka Ursus nella valle dei leoni, Ursus in the Valley of the Lions
Article 3715 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-1-2011
Posting Date: 10-16-2011
Directed by Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia
Featuring Ed Fury, Moira Orfei, Alberto Lupo
Country: Italy
What it is: Peplum

When a usurper takes the throne, the surviving son of the original king manages to survive by being raised by wild lions. When his existence is discovered, he becomes embroiled in a rebellion that wants to remove the usurper… but will the usurper destroy the son before he can lead the rebellion?

This one is a little skimpy on the story, problem because the movie spends quite a bit of its footage showing Ed Fury’s stand-in playing with the lions while Ed Fury carries on a comic patter about his feline friends. It’s actually quite a ways into the movie before he is captured by the usurper (played by Alberto Lupo, who played the title character in ATOM AGE VAMPIRE) and then meets the rebels. As you might guess, Ursus has super strength, which is especially noticeable when he takes on some trained elephants; the concept of his having been raised by lions adds to the fantastic elements. There’s no evil queens in this one, though there is some intrigue among the slave girls. At least Ed Fury adds some light-heartedness to the proceedings. My copy of the movie is in black and white, though it was shot in color. It’s a minor entry into the sword-and-sandal genre, but it has its moments.

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This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse (1967)

THIS NIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967)
aka Tonight I Will Enter Your Corpse, Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadaver
Article 3714 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-30-2011
Posting Date: 10-15-2011
Directed by Jose Mojica Marins
Featuring Jose Mojica Marins, Tina Wohlers, Nadia Freitas
Country: Brazil
What it is: Bizarre philosophical horror

Coffin Joe, cleared of his crimes, moves to another town to continue his search for the superior woman to bear his child, and embarks on a campaign of terror and murder to achieve his goal.

This is my first encounter with Jose Mojica Marins and his most famous character Ze do Caixao, or as he is better known in this country, Coffin Joe, though he’s never referred to as such (even in the subtitles) of my copy of the movie. As luck would have it, I watched the sequel first, but it seems self-contained enough that I don’t think I need to have seen the first movie to follow the second. Coffin Joe is a sadistic murderer, but what really makes him interesting as a character is that he has a philosophy behind his actions (which is not to say that his philosophy is necessarily right, even within the context of his movies) which occasionally results in him doing something heroically good; one of his first acts in this movie (once it really gets started) is to save a child from an accident. He is also fatally flawed, in that he is given occasionally to mistakes that compromise him, and is subject to hallucinatory nightmares. If there’s one thing I can say about the character, he’s a fascinating talker. The movie itself has a real sense of surreal and jarring horror, but its main problem may be its lack of subtlety; the themes come across as blatantly obvious and a little too self-consciously articulated. Furthermore, since Coffin Joe’s philosophy isn’t really that complex, you can really only listen to his talk for so long before it starts to get tiresome. Still, there is something compellingly unique about this movie, and I’m looking forward to comparing it to some of his other work.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)
aka L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo
Article 3713 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-29-2011
Posting Date: 10-14-2011
Directed by Dario Argento
Featuring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno
Country: Italy / West Germany
What it is: Giallo

An American writer in Italy witnesses an attempted murder, but he becomes obsessed with the scene he witnessed because there’s something wrong that he can’t quite figure out. However, the attempted murder appears to be linked to a group of similar murders… and the writer soon finds himself being stalked by the killer. Nevertheless, he embarks on his own investigation…

This was Dario Argento’s first directorial effort, and it’s remarkably well assured; already there’s a strong sense of style, an interesting and intriguing story, and some great use of music (as well as silence). Nevertheless, I wish I had seen this one before I saw some of his other movies, largely because it felt a little too familiar; I found myself hearkening back to my viewings of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET and DEEP RED, both of which struck me as quite similar to this one. Yet, because this movie predated both of them, I can’t really judge the movie on these terms; if anything, the latter movies built off what he started in this one, so this one must be really considered the innovator. As usual, the horror element is the psychotic killer on the loose, and, like FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, the title won’t make any sense until you’re on the threshold of solving the mystery. There’s a bit of black comedy to add to the proceedings as well, with characters such as an addled painter and an over-cautious stool pigeon to add to the fun. It’s less bloody than some of his later movies, but it’s still quite effective.

Un Martien a Paris (1961)

UN MARTIEN A PARIS (1961)
aka A Martian in Paris
Article 3712 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-28-2011
Posting Date: 10-13-2011
Directed by Jean-Daniel Daninos
Featuring Darry Cowl, Nicole Mirel, Henri Vilbert
Country: France
What it is: Science fiction comedy

A Martian is sent to Earth to research the disease known as love, but becomes infected himself.

Here’s another one rescued from my “Ones that got away” list thanks to the fact that it got an official release on DVD in France. Unfortunately, that means the movie has no English dubbing or subtitles, and given the above premise, I wasn’t really surprised that most of the comedy was verbal rather than visual. There’s a handful of sight gags, my favorite of which is a little bit where the lead actor does a bit of synchronized “looking” with a viewer on a spaceship. One of the sources I have dismisses the movie and says that Darry Cowl is doing a Jerry Lewis imitation, but I certainly didn’t get a sense of that happening at all; Jerry Lewis’s comedy would have been far more strident and visual. Because of the language barrier, I really have to reserve any judgment on this one.

This Is Not a Test (1962)

THIS IS NOT A TEST (1962)
Article 3711 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-27-2011
Posting Date: 10-12-2011
Directed by Fredric Gadette
Featuring Seamon Glass, Thayer Roberts, Aubrey Martin
Country: USA
What it is: End of the world movie

A policeman sets up a roadblock in the middle of the night and imposes martial law on the small group of people who are stopped. The reason – World War III has broken out, and it’s his job to keep the roads from being blocked and to find a plan of survival.

This low-budget end of the world flick is unevenly acted and written, but the basic premise is interesting, and it’s interesting to see how some of the characters react to the pressure of the situation. I like the canny old man who eventually finds his own destiny (as well as hitting upon a chance of survival that seems more practical than the policeman’s), the not entirely sane criminal on the run, and the policeman himself, whose mental deterioration is most striking because, for the most part, he’s not allowed to show how he’s feeling. For the most part, the other characters are not developed well or are caught in cliche situations; the slang-talking hipster is the most annoying and least convincing. There’s some nice attention to detail at points, but the movie has a number of dull sequences in the middle. All in all, it’s not quite successful, but it has moments that are truly effective.

Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle (1955)

TARZAN’S HIDDEN JUNGLE (1955)
Article 3710 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-26-2011
Posting Date: 10-11-2011
Directed by Harold D. Schuster
Featuring Gordon Scott, Vera Miles, Peter van Eyck
Country: USA
What it is: Tarzan movie

A doctor who is friendly with an animal-worshiping native tribe is placed in peril when he befriends two professional hunters who are pretending to be cameramen. The hunters intend to drive the sacred animals to a land across the river so they can hunt them safely away from the tribe. Can Tarzan save the doctor and the animals?

For yesterday’s Tarzan movie, I rather liked that the plot was a bit novel; I can’t say the same about this one, which pits Tarzan once again against evil hunters. Furthermore, this is one of the duller entries in the series; it’s the sort of movie where Tarzan is swimming in the same river with a crocodile and they pass each other peacefully. There’s no treehouse, no Jane, no Boy, and even Cheta’s antics are kept to a minimum. Furthermore, outside of the mild fantasy elements inherent in the Tarzan concept, there’s no fantastic content, and the title of the movie doesn’t really mean anything. There are much better Tarzan movies out there.

Tarzan Goes to India (1962)

TARZAN GOES TO INDIA (1962)
Article 3709 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-25-2011
Posting Date: 10-10-2011
Directed by John Guillermin
Featuring Jock Mahoney, Jai, Leo Gordon
Country: UK / USA / Switzerland
What it is: Tarzan abroad

The completion of a dam will flood out a valley where a herd of 300 elephants resides. No attempts have been made to evacuate the beasts because they’re being lead by a dangerous rogue elephant. Tarzan arrives in India at a friend’s request, and seeks to save the elephants by killing the rogue and and placing a benevolent elephant in its place. But can he accomplish this before the only exit point from the valley is walled in?

As is often the case with Tarzan movies, the only fantastic content in this one is the marginal fantasy element of Tarzan himself; otherwise, this is straightforward jungle adventure. Its rating of 4.9 on IMDB indicates it is not well liked, but I found this fairly decent; the basic story is fairly original, the India locations give the movie a different flavor from the other Tarzan movies, and though he’s leaner than some of the other people who’ve played the role, I don’t mind Jock Mahoney as Tarzan. The biggest problem I have is that the villains of the piece seem poorly motivated; they act villainously just because they’re villains, though it’s nice that the two of them are different enough (one is redeemable, the other is irredeemable) that they give us a bit of variety. This one is definitely for elephant fans, as there are a lot of them on hand here. On a side note, I do wonder why Tarzan couldn’t afford to take a flight that was willing to actually land at his point of arrival instead of having him dive out of the plane into a body of water, but maybe that’s just Tarzan showing off. There’ll probably be more Tarzan hijinks tomorrow.