Dick Barton at Bay (1950)

DICK BARTON AT BAY (1950)
Article 4364 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-12-2013
Directed by Godfrey Grayson
Featuring Don Stannard, Tamara Desni, George Ford
Country: UK
What it is: Spy thriller

A scientist who has invented a death ray that can explode planes from a distance is kidnapped by foreign spies. Can Dick Barton save the scientist and stop the spies?

This was the last of the three Dick Barton movies of the late forties/early fifties. It’s not as good as the previous movie in the series, but it’s still better than the slapdash first movie. The direction is competent (for a low-budget series thriller, that is) but uninspired. The biggest problem here is that the plot is purely routine, and the almost total lack of subtlety in the way it is put forth only serves the underscore its hackneyed nature. The fantastic content is the death ray, and it’s used twice; once in a lab demonstration, and once by the spies in a test of its use; it isn’t quite a Gizmo Maguffin, but it comes close. All in all, there’s nothing special about this one at all; it’s a time-killer at best.

The Conqueror of Atlantis (1965)

THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965)
aka Il conquistatore di Atlantide
Article 4363 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-11-2013
Directed by Alfonso Brescia
Featuring Kirk Morris, Luciana Gilli, Piero Lulli
Country: Italy / Egypt
What it is: Sword and Sandal

A Greek named Heracles finds himself stranded in a desert where two chieftains are at war with each other; each believes the other side is responsible for raids and robberies. Heracles discovers the true culprits are the residents of the lost land of Atlantis and its army of robot-like warriors.

I was wondering if I was finished with the Italian sword and sandal movies of the sixties, but it looks like there are still a few out there for me to catch. Though our hero is fairly strong, I’m not sure he can really said to have super-strength; however, the existence of Atlantis, the army of robotic warriors, and a few other concepts add to the fantastic content of this one. For a sword and sandal movie, it’s not bad; the dubbing isn’t very good and the story is a bit silly at times, but at least it keeps the action going, and it avoids some of the more obvious types of filler that populate these movies, which is my way of saying that there isn’t a single plot-stopping liturgical dance. I do wonder why the English version opts for the name of Heracles rather than the more famous Hercules variation, but perhaps the use of that more famous name would have raised the expectations of our hero’s strength. Oh, yes, there’s an evil queen, but she doesn’t fall for Heracles and remains a minor plot element; the real villain is the evil scientist. This one is an adequate time-killer for a sword and sandal fan.

Two Undercover Angels (1969)

TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS (1969)
aka The Case of the Two Beauties; Rote Lippen, Sadisterotica
Article 4362 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-10-2013
Directed by Jesus Franco
Featuring Janine Reynaud, Rosanna Yanni, Chris Howland
Country: West Germany / Spain
What it is: Swinging sixties comic horror thriller

A two-woman crime-fighting group known as “Red Lips” try to discover why models are disappearing. They discover that the missing women are featured in works of art by a mysterious artist whom they try to track down.

I’ve already seen the sequel to this movie (KISS ME, MONSTER), which, according to IMDB, is inferior to this movie. I myself see little real difference between the two movies. Granted, they both suffer from substandard dubbing and questionable translations, so they may be better in their native languages. For a movie whose original title hints at both sadism and eroticism, it’s pretty mild; there’s a lot of innuendo, a couple of semi-naked dances, and some revealing costumes for the eroticism, and the sadism comes in plot elements from PEEPING TOM and A BUCKET OF BLOOD. It does seem to be one of the more accessible of Franco’s movies, but I really didn’t find it all that amusing or thrilling. There’s a werewolf-like creature named Morpho, but Franco has used that name before for a more effective monster. In short, this movie didn’t really appeal to me all that much.

Brainstorm (1965)

BRAINSTORM (1965)
Article 4361 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-9-2013
Directed by William Conrad
Featuring Jeffrey Hunter, Anne Francis, Dana Andrews
Country: USA
What it is: Noirish thriller

A scientist has an affair with a woman who he has saved from suicide; she’s the wife of the man who owns the company for which the scientist works. He wants the woman to leave her husband, but if she does, she will lose custody of her child. The scientist comes up with a foolproof way to kill the husband…

This movie has an intriguing beginning involving a stopped car on the railroad tracks. It then settles down into a typical film noir situation, with one slight exception; the woman, rather than a controlling femme fatale, is actually something of a weak-willed character. It’s not until a ways into the movie when the scientist flips out in the office of a psychiatrist (a memorable scene) that the genre content appears; though not a horror movie, the theme of madness enters the picture, and it becomes more prominent as the movie progresses. The plot that is hatched to kill the husband and get away with it seems pretty novel at first, but as the movie progressed, it became clear to me that we were watching a variation of Samuel Fuller’s movie SHOCK CORRIDOR, so I’ve been here before. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining movie; despite the familiar elements, logic flaws, and some moments that are a bit pat, the acting is very good from all concerned. There’s a memorable cameo from Strother Martin as an inmate of an asylum, and a surprise cameo from Richard Kiel which ends up providing the sole funny moment in the movie. It’s a good, if not great, thriller.

Autopsia de un fantasma (1968)

AUTOPSIA DE UN FANTASMA (1968)
aka Autopsy of a Ghost
Article 4360 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-7-2013
Directed by Ismael Rodriguez
Featuring Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Amadee Chabot
Country: Mexico
What it is: Comedy

A ghost, trapped in the basement of the house of an inventor, is given a chance by Satan to release his soul if he can get a woman to fall in love with him and die for him.

Ten thoughts on AUTOPSIA DE UN FANTASMA

1) There’s a lot more going on in this movie than the plot description suggests, but my copy of this movie is in Spanish without subtitles, and the storyline about the ghost is the only one that I found documented enough to use here. There seems to be another plot about various parties trying to get hold of a lot of money; it that is so, then it’s possible that this movie may have been inspired by IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, and given the aggressively manic nature of this movie, I would consider that a distinct possibility.

2) I suspect that this movie was made with the intention of being released abroad to English-speaking audiences. Not only does the movie feature three English-speaking actors (Carradine, Rathbone and Cameron Mitchell), but all of the signs that appear in the movie have an equivalent English-translated sign as well. Ironically (but not surprisingly), this does not appear to have happened.

3) If there’s one thing you can say about this movie, it does not hold back on its fantastic content. On top of the ghost and Satan, the movie has a talking skeleton, a laughing spider, a sorcerer of some sort who surrounds himself with women in bikinis, two robots, and an assortment of inventions.

4) I have to admit that the best part of the movie for me was the opening credits, which are unveiled by a variety of puppets (ghosts, demons, witches and skeletons). It’s energetic and creative.

5) Given that I didn’t see this movie in English, I should probably reserve judgment on its quality. However, given what I got from the other aspects of this movie (visuals, sound, editing, etc), I suspect that this one is in the running for one of the worst comedies ever made. It’s one of those movies that seems to be desperately and indiscriminately throwing every single comic idea it can muster at you in the hopes that it will stick.

6) This was Basil Rathbone’s last movie. I take my hat off to the guy. Even in this context, you can see that he’s out there trying to give his all.

7) As for the other two English-speaking actors, both John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell are notorious for having appeared in a plethora of horrible movies in their careers. Still, I rarely recall of them appearing together, so I did a search on shared credits on IMDB, and found that they only appeared in three movies together – this one, the dreaded FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND, and a 1986 movie called THE TOMB. If the ratings on IMDB are to be trusted, this movie is the best of the lot.

8) One thing I will say about this movie; with its rapid-fire editing and its non-stop action, it’s full of energy. But then, so is a five-year old overfed with sugar and allowed to run rampant. And for me, watching this movie was like trying to put up with a child like that.

9) One plus I will give the movie is that some of the puppetry work is quite good; the walking, talking skeleton is actually fairly well done.

10) I did laugh once during the movie. At one point of the movie, Rathbone tries to get a woman to fall in love with him by doing the Apache dance with her. It’s the twist the movie gives to this dance that amused me. I suspect this is a joke that’s been waiting to be made for years; it’s a pity it’s in a movie that is mostly just loud and obnoxious.

Alex in Wonderland (1970)

ALEX IN WONDERLAND (1970)
Article 4359 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 10-6-2013
Directed by Paul Mazursky
Featuring Donald Sutherland, Ellen Burstyn, Meg Mazursky
Country: USA
What it is: Personal art film

A film director whose first full-length film has garnered high critical praise in previews (though still hasn’t had a general release) finds himself pondering his next project.

Let’s get the fantastic content out of the way first; occasionally, the film director’s fantasies about certain ideas for film projects get shown on the screen, with at least one of these (involving smog levels causing death at an airport) verging into the area of science fiction. Beyond that, this is the type of self-indulgent art project that was made by the big studios during the late sixties/early seventies after the runaway success of EASY RIDER (which gets some references here). It’s consciously modeled after 8 1/2 (Fellini even makes a cameo appearance here), but Paul Mazursky just isn’t in the same league as Fellini. Surprisingly, the movie is easy enough to parse out (thanks in part to the clue provided in the opening quote from “Alice in Wonderland”); it’s about the sense of giddiness and uneasiness caused by the success of the last film throwing the director’s life into a new environment (the “Wonderland” of the title), and his sometimes frustrating attempts to come to terms with it. It’s very hit-and-miss; for every scene that hits home, there are a couple that either seem pointless or miss the mark. All in all, it has the air of a film that the director had used to get a lot out of his own system; this probably was good for him, but the results are not necessarily interesting to the outside viewer. If you do watch, keep your eyes open for Angelo Rossitto.

One Too-Exciting Night (1922)

ONE TOO-EXCITING NIGHT (1922)
Article 4358 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-5-2013
Directed by Gaston Quiribet
Cast unknown
Country: UK
What it is: Haunted house short

A man decides to sleep in a house he has recently bought. He is warned by a tramp that the house is believed to be haunted. Then, that night….

Here’s a rare occurrence; I’m reviewing a movie that doesn’t have a listing on IMDB. Furthermore, it’s one of those movies that originally ended up on my “ones-that-got-away” list, so I’m glad it actually saw the light of day. Back when I consigned it to that list, I speculated from what little I knew about it that the hauntings were not real. Having watched it now, I can say this; technically, that’s true. However, the movie takes an approach that makes the fantastic content much greater than it might be otherwise; it actually shows what the sleeper is imagining is happening, and so we actually do get a ghost, as well as inanimate objects moving of their own accord. This makes this six-minute short far more entertaining than it might otherwise be, and I have to say that I really enjoyed this one.