Friday, March 30, 2012

Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)

Superman and the Mole-Men stars George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jeff Corey, and Walter Reed.   It was released by Lippert Pictures Inc., produced by Barney A. Sarecky, directed by Lee Sholem, and the screenplay was written by Robert Maxwell.  Superman "fights his never-ending fight against the forces of evil" as he masquerades as Clark Kent "a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper".  And Reeves looks every bit the part of Superman, "the valiant defender of truth, justice, and the American way" as he strikes a  patriotic pose with cape and 48 star flag waving in the breeze behind him as the intro to the feature begins.

The story takes place in the small town of Silsby, population 1430, and "home of the world's deepest oil well".  As reporters Clark Kent (Reeves) and Lois Lane (Coates) arrive the oil workers are actually abandoning the rig after drilling down to a depth of 32,740 feet, about six miles down.  Right away the two reporters smell a story brewing and decide to stick around and see what happens.  Later on that evening two small creatures emerge from the drill shaft from deep in the bowels of the Earth and begin to explore the surrounding area and then make their way into town where they're not exactly welcomed with open arms.  Lois catches a glimpse of the creatures and cuts loose with a scream that would make Fay Wray jealous (well, maybe not jealous, but it was a pretty good scream).

Corrigan (Reed) the foreman of the drilling crew fills Kent in as to why he's discontinuing the operation.  He explains to Clark that soil samples were taken from various depths as the crew was drilling and he happened to notice that the samples emitted an eerie glow and was afraid that if the drilling continued it would put the men in danger.  He said "that at 32,600 feet the drill broke through and seemed to be hanging in mid-air as if they'd gone through the last solid layer of the Earth".  Some microscopic life forms were also found at that depth bringing Kent to the conclusion that "there may be other forms of life down there that are more highly developed".  As the two men leave for town they notice that everything the creatures touched had the same strange glow as the soil samples, making them think that the visitors might be radioactive.

The little creatures visit a young girl and then get scared off by the mother's screams (this was a  pretty good scream too).  This in turn gets the townsfolk stirred up because they think that the little invaders were trying to hurt the girl.  One of the residents Luke Benson (Jeff Corey), a local troublemaker,  takes charge and organizes an armed mob that begin searching the town looking for the intruders.  When one of the creatures is shot, the other escapes after a very long chase around the outskirts of town.  He returns to the drilling area and retreats down the shaft only to return with more of the creatures, who this time bring with them a deadly weapon and are ready to do battle with the lynch mob and the town.  It's up to Superman to take control of the situation, take on the mob, and send the monsters back where they belong.

Like many of the first season episodes this "feature" has a very dark and gritty overtone.  Almost to the point of being geared for a more adult audience than to the younger folks who would have listened to the Superman radio shows and who would have frequented the Superman serials starring Kirk Alyn that were shown in the theaters.  In this feature the Lois Lane character is more of a tough, hardcore news reporter than the dizzy, clumsy female found in the previous versions of Superman.  Here we see that Lane has no problem kicking or throwing a punch or two to try to get herself out of a jam.  Same thing goes for Clark Kent.  Reeves portrays Kent as more of a noirish type hard-as-nails newspaper man than the bumbling and borderline goofball roles of his predecessors.  The Superman character is a little more stern and no-nonsense.  Alyn was kind of tough as "the man of steel" in the 40's (check out my previous post here if you haven't already read it), but I think Reeves has him beat hands down, at least in the earlier episodes of the series.  I hadn't watched this in a while and as it started I was thinking to myself, how could they forget to list Jack Larson in the credits.  Larson of course starred as Jimmy Olsen in the rest of the series but he actually doesn't appear in this feature.

Except for one brief and partially animated flying scene Superman is pretty much grounded except for the quick takeoff and landing sequences.  We don't actually see Superman soaring through the air as we see in the later episodes.  And these takeoff and landing clips seem to utilize wires or a sort of harness to get Reeves into the air and back on the ground instead of the more familiar springboard that sent him flying out of a window or through a doorway.  The wire special effects are pretty good as they allow Superman to rise up into the air leaving a little swirling vortex of papers and dust in his wake.  There is one really well filmed scene (probably some sort of crane shot) from Superman's point of view looking down as he flies over and ahead of the armed mob.  I would have liked to have seen more views from that perspective.

The creature costumes are low budget all the way with the pretty obvious bald-cap headpieces and furry suits with a visible zipper up the back.  One chase scene where one of the creatures is being pursued across the countryside is a little dragged out, but other than that there's some pretty good action and drama.  With a running time of 58 minutes I guess it's kind of a stretch to call this a full length feature.  Later on it was made into a two-part episode titled The Unknown People.

In some of the DVD commentaries Superman: Serial to Cereal author Gary Grossman stated that "The Adventures of Superman television series began with Superman and the Mole-Men, which was originally made to promote the TV show".  DC Comics historian Allan Asherman says that "what writer Robert Maxwell wanted was an extension of the Superman radio show".  And Leonard Maltin mirrored my sentiments exactly.  When I hear the name Superman, the first person I think of is George Reeves.

A great feature that paved the way for a great television series that followed.  But, I'm pretty sure all you kids already knew that ...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

7X7 Link Award

I'm not really big on awards and such things, but it's nice to be recognized by folks who read your work. After all, a certain amount of time and effort is involved in putting up a half-way decent blog post. So anyway, I'll continue to do my best and hopefully people will keep stopping by my page.  As for the questions ...

One thing that no one knows about me -- I secretly LOVE Disco music (I guess it's not a secret anymore!)

Most Beautiful Piece --  Beautiful??? I think I'll pass on this one.

Most Helpful Piece --  Helpful???  Pass ...  (why am I getting this award again) LOL

Most Popular Piece --  I think my post on The Thing From Another World had the most page views, probably due to the recently released remake.  Although I didn't know anything about the new film at the time, honest ...

Most Controversial Piece -- I think my Song Of The South post might have been the most controversial. I didn't get any blog postings on it, but I did get quite a few emails after the fact.

Most Underrated Piece --  Hmmmm ...  See "Most Helpful", and "Most Beautiful" ...

Most Pride-Worthy Piece -- Probably my last post on Scarface (1932) because it marked my one year of blogging.

As far as nominating 7 more blogs, I don't think I can single out 7 of the many blogs that I enjoy reading.  So what I want to do is recognize all the admins of the CMBA for all their hard work keeping all of the rest of us in line ...  Congrats kids!!! ...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Scarface (1932)

First of all, I'd like to say that this past week marked the first anniversary of my first blog posting. I'd like to thank everyone who has visited my little corner of the Internet, and also thank everyone for their support, kind words, and comments. It's been a lot of fun and hopefully, like a fine wine, the blog has gotten better with age. I'm looking forward to continuing for as long as I can. So now that I've bored you kids with this long-winded sentimentalism, let's start the next year off with a rousing gangster film.

Scarface stars Paul Muni, George Raft, Boris Karloff, Ann Dvorak, and Karen Morley.  The film was released by United Artists and based on the novel by Armitage Trail.  The film was directed by Howard Hawks, produced by Howard Hughes and the screenplay was written by Ben Hecht.

The overall mood of the film is very dark as it chronicles the violent rise, and eventual fall, of a Capone-like Chicago gangster.  The story begins as gang boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) persuades rival gangster Tony Camonte (Muni) to make a hit on his own boss, Big Louie Costillo (Harry J. Vejar), who he's supposed to be protecting.  Tony is seen only in shadow and silhouette and happily whistling a tune as he calmly walks up to Big Louie and "plugs him" several times.  The scene briefly reminded me of the Peter Lorre character in "M" (1931) who whistles while he stalks his victims.  In return Lovo promises Tony "a piece of the action" and he also becomes Johnny's second in command.  Camonte is cocky and vicious, sometimes humorous, but most of the time a psychotic thug who lives by only one rule -- "Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it".

We're officially introduced to the Camonte character and his sidekick Guino "Little Boy" Rinaldo (Raft) as the police round up suspects in the Costillo murder case.  We see Camonte's total disrespect for the law when he strikes a match on the sergeant's badge to light a cigarette.  He kills and strong arms his way up the criminal ladder even making a play for Lovo's "girlfriend" Poppy (Morley) who's had her eye on Tony as well.  Success has its drawbacks and a rival gangster named Gaffney (Karloff) plans a hit on Camonte to prevent him from taking over any more territory.

 Gaffney's planning to use a new "persuader" to cut Tony down to size -- a submachine gun that fires "three hundred slugs a minute". The gangs exchange hits and the war between the rivals escalates. Tony catches his sister (Dvorak) with his sidekick "Little Boy" which gives the ending of the film a little unexpected twist. I actually viewed the alternate ending for the film and both endings were both pretty good so it's a toss up for me as to which one was better. Let me just say that justice was served, but in two different ways.

This film actually excels at proving the point that I've tried to make on quite a few occasions, that film makers can get their message across without the need of excessive graphic and gratuitous violence and language.  The film is violent but pretty tame compared to today's standards.  Some viewers believe there's some sort of incestuous affair between Tony and his sister Cesca.  I don't really see it that way.  I see it more as an immigrant family's siblings trying to keep each other safe in a new land.  Tony's affection for his sister does seem a little extreme, but I personally don't see anything that hints at incest.

Muni was incredible and really seemed to be enjoying himself, while Dvorak and Morley are both beautiful and great supporting players.  George Raft looks very comfortable in the type of role he would play many more times.  Karloff was pretty good and looked the part, but his voice just didn't seem to fit.  Every time I heard Karloff's voice I thought "horror" not "gangster".  Typecast?  Yeah ...  pretty much.  He was just really good in horror films.  Karloff appeared in Scarface only one year after his role as "The Monster" in Frankenstein (1931).

According to TCM's film oracle Robert Osborne, the film is of course based on the legendary crime boss of the day Al Capone.  When the film started production a couple of Capone's "associates" visited writer Ben Hecht and asked him if he "really thought it was wise to write a script about Capone". Hecht being a newspaper man from Chicago wasn't intimidated by the henchmen and actually convinced them to become consultants.  The creators of the film also had difficulty getting past the censors because of the violence, and the censorship boards thought that the film "glorified gangsters" (when in fact it was supposed to be an anti-gangster film) and they demanded several changes including the alternate ending.  Howard Hughes who had put a lot of his own money into the film ended up releasing it in states where the censors were a little more lenient.   The result -- very long lines at the box office.

Excellent film, don't miss it ...