Sep 12, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Giant From the Unknown (1958) is, without doubt, one of the strangest science-fiction/horror films from the 1950s. Even the premise is damn weird: In the 1950s, lightning strikes the body of a giant Conquistador (played by very tall and thick wrestler Buddy Baer) who died about 300 years earlier on a California exploration. The Conquistador, an ugly-as-all-get-out S.O.B. dressed in phony, papier-mâché looking armor with a chain over his chest, goes on a killing rampage. The film also stars Ed Kemmer as the hero, Wayne Brooks, and B-Western star Bob Steele as the skeptical sheriff. Beautiful Sally Fraser, star of many low-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s, turns up as the babe/daughter of the scientist who helps explain how all of this madness occurred. The film is directed and written by Richard E. Cunha, who gave us such classics as She Demons, Missile to the Moon and Frankenstein’s Daughter. With a budget of $55,000, the movie made a nice profit on the drive-in movie circuit.
Sep 9, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Edgar G. Ulmer, the Austrian-born filmmaker who gave us such amazing films as The Black Cat (1934) and Detour (1945) directed The Man From Planet X, an atmospheric science fiction film made in 1951 in Culver City, shot on the same set as Joan of Arc (1948)starring Ingrid Bergman. It’s about an alien who came to earth to explore the terrain as a possible location for a new settlement for other aliens from his dying planet. Ulmer used a fog machine and set the movie in Scotland. To my knowledge, it’s the only science fiction film set in Scotland (film buffs can correct me if I’m wrong). The film has developed something of a cult following, like The Black Cat and Detour. While it’s not in the same league as those movies, it’s still a strikingly well made early sci-fi movie, unjustly obscured by the same year’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. It comes on TV from time to time. Keep an eye out for it.
Sep 7, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Three on a Match (1932), starring Warren William, Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis, and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, is one of the best of Hollywood’s pre-code dramas. The good news is it comes on Turner Classic Movies fairly regularly (visit TCM’s Three on a Match trailer here). A splendid screenplay, understated acting, well-developed characters and expert direction by Mervyn LeRoy elevate the film above typical pre-code films. Once you start watching, the film keeps you hooked until the end. Character actors Edward Arnold and Lyle Talbot turn up, and Humphrey Bogart enters the picture for a small but effective cameo. The title refers to an old superstition that if three people share the same match to light a cigarette, one of them will die. The three ladies - Blondell, Dvorak and Davis - share a match at the beginning. And guess what? SEE IT!
Sep 6, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: If you haven’t seen Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930) yet, here are five reasons to see it: 1. Emil Jannings as Professor Immanuel Rath = one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema. His descent into decadence, humiliation, masochism and cuckoldry is thoroughly believable. Jannings was a powerhouse actor. Too bad he returned to Nazi Germany in the 1930s (after a decent career in Hollywood) to be a Third Reich booster. 2. Josef von Sternberg’s mesmerizing direction. You can’t take your eyes off the screen (I promise). 3. Marlene Dietrich gives an unforgettable performance as Lola, a cabaret femme fatale, a role that catapulted her to fame in the United States. She is an overpowering actress (and her legs, which she shows off in thigh highs in this pre-code talkie, are magnificent). The scene where she sings “Falling in Love Again” is one of cinema’s great moments. 4. The film has a dreamy and surreal quality that captures the spirit of Weimar Germany at this moment in time. 5. You can watch it FREE on YouTube! So what are you waiting for?
Sep 1, 2011
Aug 25, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Chained for Life (1951) is an exploitation film starring Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, of Freaks fame. Here is the review I wrote of the film on Internet Movie Database in 2008:
This is an unusual film, to say the least. Chained For Life (1951) is the story of Siamese Twins Dorothy and Vivian Hamilton (interestingly, Daisy and Violet Hilton get to keep their initials in the film), one of whom — Vivian — is accused of shooting her sister’s lover. We see their story in flashback form: Dorothy falling in love with a nasty, two-timing sharpshooter Andre (Mario Laval); Dorothy and Vivian singing (they sound like the Andrews Sisters) in a vaudeville act; Andre falling for Dorothy as part of a publicity stunt cooked up by their manager; oh, and did I mention the endless vaudeville scenes in the movie? One of the reasons the film falls short of its potential is because there are too many vaudeville scenes — too much sharpshooting, too many stale jokes, too many music routines — and they severely undermine the film’s pace because they drag on so long. There are some terrific moments in the film, though, especially the dream sequence where Dorothy — well, actually, a double playing Dorothy — is separated from Vivian and dances outside under the starry sky, meeting her dream lover (in this scene, we only see a close-up of Dorothy behind some tree branches, which conceal Dorothy/Daisy’s twin, Vivian/Violet). Another memorable scene is a profoundly humane speech delivered by a blind minister condemning bigotry. It is interesting that a blind character can see the world more clearly than the characters with 20/20 vision. Overall, this is a compelling film that keeps you watching. I agree with one poster who expressed regret that the movie is not a more faithful account of Daisy and Violet’s actual story. The twins lived a deeply troubled life and it is amazing to see how much they have aged in the 19 years since Freaks (1932) was made. They look old and tired in this film — even older than their 43 years. They have wrinkles under their eyes and they seem like they’ve seen it all. They’ve lost their youthful vitality and innocence they had in Freaks. And some of the acting in the film is pretty iffy. But this film deserves a higher rating than what it gets on IMDb. This reviewer gives it a 6/10. It is well worth your time. And it is now included in an excellent four-DVD set of exploitation films called “Cult Classics,” released by Mill Creek Entertainment. See it if you get a chance.
Aug 23, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: If you haven’t seen John Sayles’ Matewan (1987), put it at the top of your list. The film depicts, with gritty and humanistic honesty, a brutal miners’ strike that actually happened in West Virginia right after World War I. It stars Chris Cooper in one of his earliest roles as Industrial Workers of the World labor organizer Joe Kenehan., who tries to steer the miners toward nonviolent resistance, despite the efforts of a sinister agent provocateur/shopkeeper named C.E. Lively (Bob Gunton, the warden from The Shawshank Redemption), who’s urging them to adopt violent tactics. Mary McDonnell plays a concerned mother who lost her husband in the mines. Will Oldham is her defiant son who wants to help organize the “One Big Union.” And brilliant character actor Kevin Tighe turns up as a sleazy and homicidal company goon. But the best reason to see this movie is for the thoroughly dignified James Earl Jones, who brings a gravitas to the film as African American mine worker “Few Clothes.” Matewan truly is a modern masterpiece, by the far John Sayles’ best film.
Aug 21, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Sahara (1943), starring Humphrey Bogart, Bruce Bennett, Dan Duryea, Rex Ingram and Lloyd Bridges. One of the best of the flag-waving war dramas, Sahara starred Bogart as a tough tank commander, Joe Gunn, who leads a group of thirsty Allies and an Italian prisoner of war (J. Carroll Naish) through the piping hot deserts of North Africa against a powerful force of Germans. The film, directed by Zoltan Korda, with a screenplay co-written by Korda and John Howard Lawson, this film set itself apart from other flag-wavers of the period by not hesitating to show the gruesome realities of war. Today, almost 70 years after it was released in theaters, Sahara remains one of the best - if not the best - World War II film made during the war.
Aug 18, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day (or From the Dwain Esper File): If you don’t know who Dwain Esper (1892-1982) is, you’d better start digging in deeper to your schlock movie history. He made such awful cinematic gems as Maniac (a masterwork of movie lunacy from 1934), Marihuana (1936) and Sex Madness (1938). For the sake of full disclosure, I haven’t seen his film Will It Happen Again (1948), alternatively titled Love Life of Adolf Hitler, The Strange Love Life of Adolf Hitler and The Strange Loves of Adolf Hitler. But if Esper’s other films are any indication, this promises to be a lousy movie of epic proportions. Bless Dwain Esper for giving us so many hours of golden exploitation entertainment.
Aug 16, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Abbott and Costello Go to Mars is a 1953 science fiction comedy and if you haven’t seen it, do not read this short summary because it contains SPOILERS!!! <Spoiler Alert! … Spoiler Alert! … Spoiler Alert!> The title is actually one of the biggest misnomers in movie history. Bud and Lou never set foot on Mars. They think they go to Mars, but they really don’t. The Premise: Lester (Abbott) and Orville (Costello) commandeer a rocket ship (takes too long to explain how) and they end up landing in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. There, they pick up two hapless criminals who are even stupider than they are and the foursome gets back on board the rocket ship and this time they fly to Venus. Venus is inhabited by beautiful women (played by recent Miss Universe candidates, including Anita Ekberg). The Queen of Venus, Allura (Mari Blanchard) digs Lou (go figure!), but one of the idiotic criminals coaxes a Venusian beauty to seduce Lou. Queen Allura sees Lou with the babe, gets the wrong idea and banishes the four men. Back on earth, the two bumbling criminals are caught and Allura throws a big cake from a distance at Lou, which smashes on top of him. This is not Abbott and Costello’s finest moment - they look weary and the jokes are tiresome - but it remains one of my childhood favorites.
Aug 13, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: The Slime People (1963) has to be seen to be believed. Headline version: B-movie actor Robert Hutton (Man from Tangier, The Big Bluff) is trapped in Los Angeles with a handful of other survivors after a group of slimy, subterranean creatures create a massive wall of fog surrounding the city, preventing people from leaving (didn’t it already have one of those???). The monsters go on a killing rampage through L.A., so there aren’t very many people left when Hutton and his comrades do battle with the strange things. The film is so bad it’s hilarious. It has been poked fun at on MST3K (Mystery Science Theater 3000). The scene with Hutton going on television and warning viewers about his horrifying experience flying his private plane over Los Angeles after the Slime People take over is truly hilarious and featured in the bad movie compilation It Came From Hollywood (1982). And the subterranean beings are the funniest since Tabonga the Tree Monster in From Hell It Came (1957). If it comes on TV, be sure to watch it.
Aug 11, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: The Brute Man (1946) starred Rondo Hatton, an actor who suffered from a condition called Acromegaly, which results in excessive growth hormone production and can lead to severe deformities. Born in 1894, Hatton appeared in numerous films before starring in this Universal Pictures B horror film, which was eventually released by Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). In today’s market, this film would be one of those straight-to-DVD movies. Universal backed out of distributing the film because Rondo Hatton died on February 2, 1946, of a severe heart attack related to his condition. Nervous about releasing a film with a dead star, Universal sold the film to PRC for a measly $125,000. The Brute Man was directed by Jean Yarbrough, who started in horror movies (he directed the wonderful Bela Lugosi PRC film Devil Bat) and later graduated to Abbott and Costello films. The Brute Man is about a character called The Creeper who has a tragic past. We eventually learn that he disfigured himself in a college chemistry mishap, thanks to the machinations of a nasty student (played by Tom Neal of Detour) who was competing with him for the affections of a female student. The Creeper eventually gets his revenge on his old college buddy that stabbed him in the back, but in the process, the poor menacing man (whose real name in the film is Hal) is eventually fatally wounded and dies. The Brute Man is fascinating yet not always easy to watch, made all the more tragic when you’re aware of Hatton’s painful backstory and a life cut short by a tragic syndrome.
Jul 30, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Snowfire (1958) is a campy yet touching movie about a little girl named Molly (Molly McGowan). Come to think of it, several people involved with this Allied Artists cheapie are named McGowan. Do I smell nepotism here? (It turns out, according to the Turner Classic Movies website, that the two main young girls who play the sisters in the film are the producer’s daughters.) Snowfire actually contains a very strong animal rights message, which is unusual for 1958. The premise: Young Molly forms a friendship with a wild white stallion whom she claims can talk (!). Her father manages to capture Snowfire and bring him back to their ranch, but the horse doesn’t want to be branded and Molly, rather dramatically, insists that if Snowfire has to be branded, then Molly wants to be branded first (!). There’s a subplot about Molly’s dad developing a romance with a rival rancher. For comic relief, there’s a funny fat Mexican with a sombrero named Poco (Mike Vallon) who reminds the viewer of Pancho from The Cisco Kid. It all comes to a head, and Molly is finally allowed to keep Snowfire, on the agreement that the horse won’t be branded. Snowfire just aired on Turner Classic Movies this morning and it was a thoroughly enjoyable movie. Once you get beyond the cheesy acting, the color exterior shots are quite breathtaking, and the telepathic relationship that develops between Snowfire and Molly is very unusual and touching. Films that show the close bond between animals and humans are indeed a welcome change. I’m sure People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) would approve of this touching family movie. According to Turner Classic Movies’s Website, this is a much sought after film, because it has never been available on VHS or DVD. TCM’s website also says Snowfire was shot on location in Bryce Canyon, Utah. These days, it’s impossible to shoot a movie in a National Park, so if you want to see some amazing background, take a glimpse of this short scene from the film on YouTube.
Jul 19, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: Herschel Gordon Lewis’s pioneering gore film from 1963, Blood Feast, has a hilarious Plan 9 quality about it. The scenes of blood and guts (including at least one poor lady who gets her tongue pulled out of her mouth!) are so over-the-top, and the blood so bright, that at no point do you actually believe you’re seeing the real thing. Eleven years later, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would prove to be a much more disturbing gore fest than Lewis’s Kennedy-era turd. Blood Feast stars Mal Arnold as madman Fuad Ramses, hired by filthy rich Mrs. Fremont to prepare an “ancient Egyptian feast” for her daughter Suzette’s birthday. Little does she know, Fuad’s feasts contain a special ingredient. I’ll give you a hint: It’s chewy. And if you know what it’s made of, you probably won’t want to eat it. (As the police chief says at one point in the film: “Call the Fremonts, fast! And for Pete’s sake, don’t let them eat anything!”) Lucky for Suzette, police detective Pete Thornton is on the case. The climactic chase scene involving a garbage truck (I won’t give it away) is worth the price of admission. This quintessential drive-in stinker is well worth your time, dripping with bright red fake blood and slimy guts! On the old Gore-O-Rama Meter, it easily ranks three severed fingers out a possible five.
Jul 13, 2011
Movie Poster of the Day: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), a docudrama about a Bigfoot-like monster roaming the swamps outside of Fouke, Arkansas, turned out to be a huge hit. Director Charles B. Pierce hired locals to act in the film, and he shot it in the backwoods around Fouke using a skeletal crew. Based on a true story, The Legend of Boggy Creek remained quite faithful to the accounts of folks in the area that Pierce used as the basis of the film. Apparently, the amateur director borrowed around $100,000, including large donations from local businesses, to finance his labor of love. The film turned into a surprise box office hit and a staple of Creature Features TV programs across the country. It scared an entire generation of young people, including Yours Truly, due to a potent combination of documentary-style footage, eerie rural settings, dark visuals and hair-raising stories. The film proved to be especially effective because it avoided shocking horror, stuck to the subtle approach and kept the monster largely in the background. Sadly, the film contained one or two monster closeups, which almost ruined it because the costume was so cheesy. Luckily, these scenes are fleeting, and the film retains its power in spite of them. Also, there are a few corny musical interludes in the film, including a folksy song called “The Travis Crabtree Song” (named after a real-life character in the film) and a even a tearjerker tune about the Fouke monster. Don’t let these drawbacks deter you, though. This is an excellent film. I still dust off the DVD and watch it from time to time, and yes, it still gives me the chills.