Son of Flubber (1963)

SON OF FLUBBER (1963)
Article 2268 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-6-2007
Posting Date: 10-28-2007
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Fred MacMurray, Nancy Olson, Keenan Wynn

When payment for his invention of flubber is held up by bureaucratic red tape, Professor Brainard finds himself once again trying to save Medfield college, inventing a machine that can create rainstorms anywhere, and using flubber to help the football team.

THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR is one of my favorite of the Disney shopping cart movies. I’m much less impressed with this, its sequel. I think part of the problem is that the screenwriters never came up with an effective story to follow in the steps of the original, and the movie caroms back and forth between recycling the original and working on new ideas that just aren’t near as effective. The plot is fairly muddled, and the middle portion of the story about an old flame of Professor Brainard’s is really forgettable. Still, there are some good things here; I like the satirical jabs at the government, which is slow to pay but quick to tax. I also love the commercial concocted by a business who wants to invest in flubber. The football game is a recycling of the basketball game of the original, but it’s still the funniest moment here, and it does feature some inspired casting of Paul Lynde as a sports commentator. Other than that, this sequel feels like a sequel.

 

Advertisements

Road to Utopia (1946)

ROAD TO UTOPIA (1946)
Article 2267 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2007
Posting Date: 10-27-27
Directed by Hal Walker
Featuring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour

Two con men find a map to a gold mine which they steal from some desperate criminals. They pose as the criminals in the hope that they can find the treasure.

You’d think that with a title like ROAD TO UTOPIA, this would be the road movie that would be heaviest on the fantastic content. Such is not the case. By Utopia, they mean Alaska (because of all the gold they hope to find there), and the fantastic elements are singularly slight; an appearance by Santa Claus, and jokes involving talking animals are the sum total of such elements. As for the movie itself, well… let’s just say that you have to be in the right mood to enjoy one of the Hope/Crosby road movies, and there’s a distinct chance I wasn’t in the mood when I saw this one. I generally like them, and this is supposed to be one of the best, but when I’m not in the mood, I find the gags too mild, the pace too languid, and the music dull. My favorite touch isn’t used near enough; Robert Benchley serves as a narrator who appears on occasion (ostensibly to help clarify the plot), but he isn’t used near enough. Maybe it’s because there never really seems to be enough room in one of these movies for humor from anyone else but Bob, Bing and Dorothy. At any rate, I came out of this one a little disappointed. Maybe if I watch it again the next time I’m in the mood…

 

The Risk (1960)

THE RISK (1960)
aka Suspect
Article 2266 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-3-2007
Posting Date: 10-26-2007
Directed by John and Roy Boulting
Featuring Tony Britton, Virginia Maskell, Ian Bannen

A group of scientists researching plague cures is denied the chance to publish their results when their project is put under top secret security. One scientist, angered at how the inability to publish the work because of the many lives that could be saved, ends up meeting a man who offers him a chance to get it secretly published. However, things may not be what they seem…

This movie spends enough time at the beginning of the movie discussing the scientific methods used for the research that I found myself hoping it would actually emerge as a full-blown science fiction movie. But once the government makes the project top secret, the plague cure becomes the Gizmo Maguffin in another spy thriller. My disappointment was checked, however, by the fact that it is a good one, with an unusual story line and interesting character relationships. A good cast also helps; along with the ones listed above, the movie also features Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence and “Goon Show” regular Spike Milligan as a genuinely amusing comic relief lab assistant. Still, despite the star power, the movie is stolen by the most interesting characters in the movie; Ian Bannen plays the armless war veteran who turns the life of his lover (a female scientist working on the project) into a living hell, and has special plans for his rival (another scientist on the project), and Thorley Walters, who plays the special agent in charge of security on the project as an absent-minded eccentric. It’s the way the plot unfolds that really makes this movie work; we get to see how the various forces at work conspire to tempt the scientist played by Tony Britton into turning into a traitor. I really liked this movie, though the science fiction content remains marginal.

 

Planeta Bur (1962)

PLANETA BUR (1962)
aka Planet of Storms
Article 2265 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-1-2007
Posting Date: 10-25-2007
Directed by Pavel Klushantsev
Featuring Vladimir Yemelyanov, Georgi Zhzhyonov, Gennadi Vernov

When a Russian spaceship gets stranded on Venus, a second spaceship lands on the planet to rescue them. They encounter dinosaurs and monsters, and search for signs of intelligent life.

Even if you haven’t seen this Russian science fiction epic, you may have seen several scenes from it; it was pillaged for footage twice by AIP, once for VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET and again for VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF THE PREHISTORIC WOMEN . I’ve only seen the latter of those two recently, and the original movie does not have any of the shell-bikini clad all-female tribe headed by Mamie Van Doren. Instead, we get a lot more speculation on life and evolution and a subplot about the lone female cosmonaut waiting in space to hear from the two parties on Venus. I find this one easily the better of the two movies, though I’m sure that a number of people would prefer the Mamie Van Doren subplot (for obvious reasons). The movie is good, if not great; the special effects are strong for the most part, though some of the alien creatures are unconvincing and even a little silly (like the bearded octopus). The most memorable scenes here are ones that were borrowed for VTTPOPW; the robot’s trek through the lava while saddled with two human passengers, and the revelation of what is hidden in the triangular stone. The stone scene works much better here as well, since the presence of the Mamie Van Doren tribe in the other movie gives it less impact, and it has a moment here (involving a reflection seen in a small puddle of water) that was not included in the other movie; it is quite eloquent.

 

Sur un Air de Charleston (1927)

SUR UN AIR DE CHARLESTON (1927)
aka Charleston
Article 2264 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-30-2007
Posting Date: 10-24-2007
Directed by Jean Renoir
Featuring Pierre Braunberger, Catherine Hessling, Johnny Huggins

In the year 2048 after the war, an explorer takes off in his airship to explore the primitive unexplored area of Europe. There he encounters a female native, who teaches him that primitive native dance, the Charleston.

I probably won’t be seeing enough of Jean Renoir’s oeuvre to really give an evaluation of the man’s work; the only movie I’ve seen of his for the series so far is the entertaining THE TESTAMENT OF DR. CORDELIER , a rather faithful version of the Jekyll and Hyde story. This early silent of his is quite different, and highly entertaining; it’s a satire of adventure stories of the sort where civilized man goes into the wilds of Africa to study primitive native culture. This reverses the situation; it is the black from Africa who is the civilized man with the advanced technology, and the white from France who is the primitive, and the movie, which takes place in the future but pretends to be telling a tale of the past (an idea which popped up in subtle form in THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS ); we learn how white culture is passed on to the black man. It does present a problem for the modern viewer, in that the black man is obviously a white man in blackface, but I think the comic thrust of the tale and the effective use of both slow-motion and fast-motion photography helps to overcome this. Apparently, it was made as a showcase for Jean Renoir’s wife (Catherine Hessling) to show off her considerable dancing prowess. All in all, this is an entertaining short.

 

The Mysterious Intruder (1946)

THE MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1946)
Article 2263 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-29-2007
Posting Date: 10-23-2007
Directed by William Castle
Featuring Richard Dix, Barton MacLane, Nina Vale

A private detective takes on a case to locate a woman who stands to gain a large sum of money. In the hopes of discovering the exact details of the money, the detective sends a female associate pretending to be the woman, but this ends up leading to a string of murders that places the detective under the suspicion of the police.

Though the title doesn’t reflect this, this movie was part of “The Whistler” series from Columbia, and, like most of those movies, the sole fantastic element is the presence of the Whistler himself, who serves as narrator. It’s also one of the best of the series; the plot is complex and full of surprising revelations, the story has a grim noirish feel, and our central character of focus, the detective, is a questionable person; for most of the movie, you won’t know whether his hunt for the object that will bring the money is being done to help a client, or for his own profit. This ambiguity plays a big role in making the surprisingly powerful ending work as well as it does. The movie also features some fun character actors, including Regis Toomey, Charles Lane, and the always memorable Mike Mazurki. Recommended for those who don’t mind watching a movie with only borderline fantastic elements.

 

The Atomic Brain (1964)

THE ATOMIC BRAIN (1964)
aka Monstrosity
Article 2262 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-28-2007
Posting Date: 10-22-2007
Directed by Joseph V. Mascelli
Featuring Marjorie Eaton, Frank Gerstle, Frank Fowler

A rich elderly woman finances a scientist using atomic energy in the hopes that he will develop a way to transplant her brain into the head of a young woman.

A wretched script, dead-in-the-water direction, a goofy musical score, atrocious acting and static presentation all conspire to make this low-budget foray into science fiction horror one of the worst ever made. If it works at all, it’s because some of the exploitation elements have a little bite to them. The near-nudity of the bodies in the atomic reactor is certainly attention catching, and there is something really creepy about the eighty-year old woman ogling the bodies of young women; granted, we know she’s shopping for one for herself, but you wonder what’s going through the minds of the women she’s ogling. The accents are horrible; the English girl’s accent comes and goes with the wind, the Austrian girl has no accent at all, and the Mexican girl’s accent is spectacularly bad. And you do have to wonder about the scientist’s emergency plan in case they get caught by the police, as it involves destroying everyone involved in an atomic inferno. This is Joseph V. Mascelli’s sole directorial outing, though he would act as cinematographer for a handful of movies, including two from Ray Dennis Steckler.