Monday, May 30, 2011

Let the MonsterFest continue ...

And now ...  Back to our regularly scheduled blogging ...

Guest Reviewer Today --

I'm guest reviewer today on for my review of  "14 Hours" (1951).  It's a great website, check it out.  Same review I posted here on May 24.  Maybe I'll be famous someday ...   : )

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On Screen -- The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)

Well, you know, they can't all be great ...  Good, but not great.  For me, I think it's more a personal thing.  I'm not fond of slimy creatures that crawl out from the depths of the ocean floor to suck all the moisture out of their victim's bodies, I'm just kind of funny like that.

"The Monster That Challenged the World" is a good film.  Again we're back with atomic/nuclear testing and the human race's total disregard for nature and the environment being the basis for the monster and the reason the creature is even bothering anybody.

The film takes place in the Salton Sea (mostly filmed around Catalina Island) where an earthquake releases creatures that have been trapped below the sea bed.  People begin disappearing and some are discovered drained of all body fluids.  "Lt. Cmdr. John "Twill" Twillinger" and "Lt. Bob Clemens" (Tim Holt and Harlan Warde) investigate, and with the help of "Dr. Jess Rogers" (Hans Conreid) and his assistant "Tad" (Casey Adams aka Max Showalter) soon find themselves face to face with the monster and trying to discover a way to destroy it.  Amid all the death, as usual, a small love story begins to unfold between Twill (couldn't they come up with a better name for this guy) and the Professor's secretary "Gail MacKenzie" (Audrey Dalton).

You might recognize some of the faces but not recall the names of the players like I did.  The acting is "ok".  The special effects are "ok".  I thinks it's just the slimy monster thing that just didn't grab me.  Definitely still worth watching especially if you're a fan of the genre.  And Audrey Dalton makes it a little easier to watch ...

Friday, May 27, 2011

On Screen -- Them! (1954)

During the 1950s the effects of nuclear and atomic radiation helped to spawn many monster films from around the globe.  One of the best, with one of the most recognizable sound effects of any science fiction/monster film, is "Them!."  There's a great cast to keep the film moving along and at no time does it leave the viewer bored.  And there are a couple of fun surprises if you really pay attention.

The story begins in the New Mexico desert.  Two policemen, Sgt. Ben Peterson and Patrolman Ed Blackburn (James Whitmore and Chris Drake), find a young child wandering in the desert apparently suffering from shock.  As they investigate where the child could have come from they discover mysterious and unexplainable deaths, disappearances, and property damage.  When the local authorities find strange animal prints at all the crime scenes they call in FBI agent "Robert Graham" (James Arness) to help.  The FBI in turn seeks the help of two scientists, "Dr. Harold Medford" and his daughter "Dr. Patricia Medford" (Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon), who are Department of Agriculture entomologists.  As the investigation progresses everyone's worst fears come to light and the search begins for "Them."  The tension builds until the final showdown which takes place in the claustrophobic system of storm drains beneath the streets of  Los Angeles.

All the starring actors do a great job as do the supporting players.  The script and dialogue is exceptional and very prophetic at times.  The elder Dr. Medford quotes "'And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation and the beast shall reign over the earth."  And to balance out the serious overtones of the demise of the human race, some dry humor seeps through unexpectedly.  In my opinion the film comes across as fairly believable, probably because the theories seem to be based on actual scientific fact.

As for the surprises, see if you can spot a young Leonard Nimoy as an Air Force sergeant, and look for a quick glimpse of the "Superman building" from the opening credits of  "The Adventures of Superman" (in reality it's the LA city hall) in the distance of a shot of downtown Los Angeles.  And don't forget one of the hardest working people in the business William Schallert in a brief appearance as an ambulance attendant and Fess Parker in a small role as pilot "Alan Crotty."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Screen -- Gojira (1954)

A flash of light ...  There's an eruption beneath the surface of the sea ...  People scramble about on board a ship screaming in terror ...  Ship sinks engulfed in flames ...  A handful of survivors are discovered floating about clinging to debris ...  So begins the story of Gojira.  I think this is actually the first time I've seen the actual Toho uncut Japanese version of the film.  It seems to flow and have better continuity than the American version with the scenes of an American news reporter (Raymond Burr) spliced in.  But no Mr. Burr in this version.  There also seems to be more references to the atomic and nuclear bomb testing that I hadn't noticed in the American version.

I'm sure everyone knows the basic storyline.  Superstitious old islanders believe an ancient myth has come to life.  Japanese scientist believes monster was released from the depths of the sea due to nuclear testing.  One scientist wants to study the creature, others want only to destroy it.  In the mean time Godzilla rampages around flattening every building in its path and setting Tokyo ablaze with his radioactive breath.  The film does have really good special effects for its time and since most of the action takes place at night, the rubber suit on the star is not as noticeable as in the future Godzilla films.  I personally think the suit adds something that you can't get from any CGI.

One other thing I'd like to mention is the score.  The music is really moving and kind of came to be known as "Godzilla's theme song", like the opening music in the film "Jaws", because it was reused in later Godzilla films.  Some very well known Japanese actors include the guy in the suit Haruo Nakajima starring as "Godzilla", Akira Takarada as "Hideto Ogata", Momoko Kochi as "Emiko", Akihiko Hirata as "Dr. Serizawa", and Takashi Shimura as "Dr. Yamane".

Trivia  --  The clock tower that Godzilla tears down is the Wako department store clock tower in the Ginza district of Tokyo and still stands today.

So if you're only going to pick one of the many Godzilla films to checkout , stick with the original.  And if this one isn't available to, you then the 1956 "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" Americanized version is almost as good.  Enjoy ...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monsterfest. -- Stay tuned

I'm feeling a Monsterfest coming up so stay tuned everybody. Of course I'm talking about classic monster films so keep checking in for the next couple of weeks ...

On Screen -- 14 Hours (1951)

"14 Hours" is a great, suspenseful, noir type film.  The film is based on the story "Man on a Ledge" and according to the folks at Fox, the film is actually based on an incident in 1938 in which a gentleman stood out on a ledge threatening suicide for approximately 16 hours.  The first thing I'd like to mention is the spectacular editing, art direction, set decoration and cinematography.  Everything is top-notch, from the sets to the sound engineering of the opening score to the lack of any soundtrack other than the strategically placed street sounds throughout the film.  Set designers were nominated for an Academy award for their recreation of NYC.  There are also a great number of well known actors with a sprinkling of very recognizable character actors in the film who all come together as a single cohesive group.

It's the story of "Robert Cosick" (Richard Basehart) a despondent man who's reached his limit and feels he has exhausted all options except for one.  A very nervous Cosick pays a waiter for the room service for his breakfast and as the waiter turns back around after making change, he finds Cosick missing.  But after a brief search of the apartment soon discovers him out on the ledge.  After a woman's scream alerts traffic cop "Charlie Dunnigan" (Paul Douglas) to what's transpiring 15 floors above, Dunnigan races to the scene and begins a dialogue with the jumper.  The rest of the film is basically shown from this perspective, alternating from police and psychologists within the apartment, to Cosick on the ledge, and then to street shots of the crowd gathering far below watching the spectacle unfold.

There are a few subplots that take place at street level such as the cabbies who pool their money and bet on what time the man is going to jump, and a young man and woman (Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget) who meet and become interested in each other as they seem to be the only people who show any sympathy for the jumper.  Agnes Moorehead and Robert Keith also costar as Cosick's mother and father with Barbara Bel Geddes as "Virginia" the jumper's exgirlfriend.  This film also marks Grace Kelly's film debut and the beginning of her somewhat brief career in Hollywood.

The dizzying and superb camera angles are the highlight of the film.  It also has an air of cynicism and a heavy theme of media exploitation reminiscent of  Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole" also from 1951.  Many members of the cast are veterans of some of the greatest noir films such as "Panic in the Streets" (1950), "House on Telegraph Hill" (1951), and "House of Strangers" (1949).

Director Henry Hathaway is more famous for his noir documentaries, "House on 92nd Street" (1945) and "Call Northside 777" (1948), as well as a couple of my favorites "Kiss of Death" (1947) and "13 Rue Madeleine" (1947).  Most of these films are available as part of the Fox Film Noir series.

As you can see there's a lot of talent packed into this one film, so get ready for some "high" suspense.  Enjoy ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Screen -- Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

I have to say, I think "Steamboat Bill Jr." is one of the funniest films I have ever seen.  Like I've said before, if first impressions of a film mean anything to you then you know you're in for a great one.  Riverboat captain "William Canfield" (Ernest Torrence) is awaiting the arrival of his son "William Canfield Jr. aka Steamboat Bill Jr." (Buster Keaton) whom he hasn't seen since he was a child.  With Keaton's first appearance in the film standing on the wrong side of the train platform while his father is trying to find him, and then his proceeding to go from one stranger to another showing his carnation like an ID badge the laughs are practically nonstop.  He told his father that he would recognise him because he would be wearing a white carnation, but so is everyone else on the train.

  Much to the captain's dismay Bill Jr.'s  arrival is somewhat of a disappointment to him and his crew.  Bill Jr. turns out to be totally unskilled and unmotivated as far as joining his father in the operation of his riverboat business.  As his father tries to whip him into shape by getting him shaved and buying him a new wardrobe, Bill Jr. meets and falls in love with "Kitty" (a petite and perky Marion Byron), who also happens to be the daughter of  Bill Sr.'s business rival.  Anyone who can take the simple task of trying on a hat and turning the action into a comedy masterpiece is a genius.  Despite both men's objections Bill Jr. spends the rest of the film trying to prove himself to Kitty.

The film is chock full of signature Buster Keaton stunts, some so daring it's been said that even some of the camera crew had to "look the other way" while filming some of them, and Keaton executes them with surgical precision.  The special effects and stunts in the storm scene are remarkable given what they had to work with and the technology available to them at that time.  The musical score by the Alloy Orchestra works well with the film but seems a little overpowering at times.  I'd like to try to find a version of the film with the original score and compare the two.

This was the last film by Buster Keaton while working as an independent film producer and was released one year after the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer (1927).  It was really the last film that Keaton would have total control over because he usually financed his films with his own money as an independent filmmaker.  He went on to sign with and work for the MGM film factory, the studio that frequently boasted that they had " more stars than there are in heaven ...", so obviously they couldn't concentrate their attentions on only one performer no matter how popular they were.  Unfortunately the quality of following Keaton films were not up to par with this one due to his limited power.

It's not too often that I actually laugh out loud during a film, but there are a barrel full of laughs here.  For me, Buster Keaton remains one of the undisputed kings of slapstick.  Enjoy ...

Friday, May 13, 2011

On Screen -- Waterloo Bridge (1931)

"Waterloo Bridge" (1931) is my favorite version of the film because it's a little grittier and not as polished as the 1940 film starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor, and the story is told a little differently.  I think I read that the '31 film storyline is closer to the original story.  It's a really sad, romantic, and tragic story all at the same time.  The film was released before the production code went into effect in 1934 so to some viewers it may seem a little risqué or racy but it's still very tame by today's standards.

The film takes place in London during World War I.  "Myra" is an American chorus girl who followed a show to Europe but is now out of work resorting to street walking to make ends meet.  "Roy" is a naive young American who went to Canada to join the military so that he could fight in the war.  Roy meets Myra out on the street during a zeppelin attack on London and he immediately falls in love with her not realizing that Myra is a prostitute, while she misleads Roy explaining to him that she's a chorus girl.  The pair becomes very friendly as Myra invites him back to her apartment but then avoids Roy's questions about her history and background.  When he tricks her into spending the weekend with his family at their estate in the country, Myra begins feeling comfortable in her surroundings and around everyone in Roy's family, but then gets scared and runs off back to the city where she resumes her work.

Mae Clarke is beautiful and brilliant in her portrayal of "Myra", Kent Douglass stars as "Roy", Doris Lloyd stars as "Kitty, Myra's neighbor and "coworker."  And in one of her first roles Bette Davis costars as "Janet Cronin", Roy's sister.  The film is directed by James Whale in one of his first few directorial efforts... , yes, the same James Whale that directed "Frankenstein" (1931), "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) , and "The Invisible Man" (1933).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

From the Auction -- A couple of new things ...

Marion Davies as "Peg" in Peg O' My Heart , 8"x10" autographed photo, (MGM, 1933) - A vintage, gelatin silver, double weight, linen finish photo.  The photo is signed "Sincerely, Marion Davies."  I love Marion Davies, and I was really excited to pick this up.  In my opinion Ms. Davies was the first screwball comedy actress and helped define the genre for everyone else who followed.  She made her first film in 1917 and continued through the 1930s.  Unfortunately, for most people, the thing that comes to mind when they hear her name is the long romantic relationship that she had with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst that lasted until his death in 1951.

Alice Faye (Fox, 1934), (2) 8"x10" autographed photos.  Vintage, gelatin silver, single weight, glossy photos.  The two photos have Advertising Advisory Council stamps on the verso.  One has printed studio information, and the other has printed name with birth date and original name. Both photographs have been signed "Alice Faye."  Ms. Faye starred in films and musicals for 20th Century Fox in the 1930s and 1940s like "George White's Scandals" (1934) and "In Old Chicago" (1938).  But for most people today she's more well known for her singing talents than her acting.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On Screen -- Rage in Heaven (1941)

A car passes through large iron gates and a visitor arrives at a Paris insane asylum.  An inmate, under an assumed name, who was being treated there makes his escape disguised as the visitor.  This is the first scene and our introduction to "Rage in Heaven."  So if first impressions mean anything to you when watching a film, then you know you're in for a good one.  It's a taut thriller with a top notch cast.

The escapee "Philip Monrell", a great performance by Robert Montgomery, returns home to his mother and somewhat prominent family in England, but on route there he runs into his friend "Ward Andrews", played by George Sanders, whose identity he's been impersonating.  He invites the friend to go home with him and when they arrive there he finds that his mother has hired a beautiful caretaker/companion named "Stella Bergen", a radiant and enchanting Ingrid Bergman.  All the characters in the deadly love triangle are now in place.  Philip loves Stella and marries her after a very short time.  Stella is married to Philip but secretly loves Ward and never admits it to anyone.  And last but not least, Ward is in love with Stella and can't say anything because she is married to his friend, Philip.  Watch the film, it's not as bad as it sounds.  When Philip tells Stella "I would die for you ... I would even kill for you", you know he really means it.

As I started watching the film I first thought Montgomery was a little stiff in playing the part of Philip.  But as the story continued I noticed that it was just the nervous tension in the part of the character that he was portraying.  And he does portray the part very well, every jealous, manipulative, paranoid, cold, and calculating bit (I don't think I left anything out).  The extremes that this twisted, disturbed and delusional character goes to to try and entrap his wife and friend are amazing.  I'm definitely sensing a "Hitchcock" type of influence in some of the scenes whether it be from the storyline or just from the cinematography and set decoration in general.  Also watch for Oscar Homolka in a smaller but very crucial role as "Dr. Rameau."  A nail-biting and satisfying ending wrap things up very nicely and overall this is a really, really good film.  It's strange that this film isn't mentioned more often when people speak of great drama and suspense films, it is without doubt, absolutely good enough.

The film is directed by W.S. Van Dyke who also brought us favorites like most of the films in the "Thin Man" series.  I would say that this film is suspenseful enough to satisfy even the most hardcore Hitchcock fan and definitely worth spending some time with.  Enjoy ...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On Screen -- The Thing From Another World (1951)

"The Thing From Another World" is a great classic 50s science fiction film.  Directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks the film features Hawks' signature rapid fire dialogue and character mannerisms, as in the way the characters light and pass cigarettes.  The story takes place in and around a military base in Anchorage, Alaska.  A group of military personnel and scientists track and investigate a UFO that lands near the base.  As the group searches for the object, they locate a craft assumed to be of extraterrestrial origin and then locate a possible occupant from the craft frozen in the nearby ice.  They return to the base with the body of the alien entombed in a block of ice.
I hate giving away too much of the storyline, I imagine there are some folks out there who actually might not have seen this film yet, but the alien manages to get free from the ice and terrorizes the group at the base.  The scientists don't want to harm it because they want to study it, and the military people are just trying to kill it with the base inhabitants' survival being the first priority.  It's a great story with excellent stunts and special effects.

The film stars Kenneth Tobey as "Captain Henry", Margaret Sheridan as "Nikki", Robert Cornthwaite as "Dr. Harrington, and Douglas Spencer as "Scotty."  Also listen for the unmistakeable voice of Paul Frees as "Dr. Voorhees."  His voice can be heard in, and narrating, some of the best sci fi films including "The War of the Worlds" (1953), and "When Worlds Collide" (1951) as well as other films and animated programs.