Wednesday, June 20, 2018

MACABRE (1958)

In the small town of Thornton, old man Wetherby has been going through a rough patch. His daughter Alice, who once dated police chief Jim Tyloe, married town doctor Rod Barrett, but she died giving birth and many of the townsfolk, including Tyloe, blame Rod who was dallying with Sylvia, his neighbor and mistress, at the time. Now Wetherby's other daughter Nancy, blind but something of a wild child, married to Tyloe but pregnant (perhaps by her handsome chauffeur Nick), has died, and again aspersions have been cast on Dr. Rod. Just hours before the scheduled midnight funeral of Nancy, the local undertaker reports that a child-sized coffin was stolen from his parlor. Meanwhile, at Rod's house, his nurse Polly takes a call that causes her to collapse: a man said that he has taken Rod's young daughter Marge, has buried her alive, and that Rod has just a few hours to find her before she will die. The suspects are plentiful since so many townsfolk dislike the doctor (indeed, as Polly notes, he barely has any patients anymore). But the focus seems to be on Polly, who, in unrequited love with him, is having a hard time dealing with the fact that he plans to marry Sylvia. But what about Sylvia? Or the cop? Could Wetherby himself have snapped? Even Rod's kindly housekeeper seems suspicious. Rod and Polly head out into the night, racing against time—and butting up against the midnight funeral—to find the little girl.

William Castle sold this film as being so shocking that is was likely to cause death by fright. But actually, it's not really a horror movie, though it's dressed up like one. It's a slightly ghoulish mystery with a child-in-menace theme, though that aspect is handled rather badly; since we never see the missing girl until the very end, we don't identify with her and it's difficult to be concerned about her. The movie is almost real-time, all taking place on the night of the midnight funeral (a cool and creepy idea which is not handled as effectively as it could be). Backstory is filled in with some awkward flashbacks, and the blind daughter, the most interesting character (well played by Christine White), is not developed much at all. The acting is either bland (William Prince as the doctor) or over-the-top (Jacqueline Scott as Polly). I have a hard time watching Jim Backus in serious roles, because my memories of Mr. Magoo and Thurston Howell III intrude, but he's fine as the police chief, and Ellen Corby—best known as Grandma Walton—is OK as the housekeeper. The uncredited Robert Colbert is nice eye candy as the chauffeur (pictured with White). The mystery is interesting and the outcome not immediately predictable, so it's worth watching, but don’t expect a full-blooded horror movie. [TCM]

Monday, June 18, 2018

TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE (1942)

On an uncharted African escarpment (basically a big cliff), Tarzan and Jane, with their adopted son Boy, live in isolated bliss until one day when they see a plane overhead which spooks the jungle animals but excites young Boy who has never seen one before. On the plane is big game hunter Buck Rand (Charles Bickford), hunting lions to take back for Col. Sergeant's circus in the States.  With Rand are his older assistant Manchester Montford (Chill Wills) and easy-going pilot Jimmy Shields (Paul Kelly). The plane lands and as Buck starts to make his hunting plans, Tarzan swings in, busts up Buck's rifle, and warns the men to get out by sunrise. But early the next morning, a curious Boy heads out with some elephants to see the plane up close. He meets the men and shows off his skills making the elephants perform tricks, and when a band of natives attack, Buck snatches Boy up and the group takes off for New York City, with Buck planning on passing Boy off as an orphan so he can sell him to the circus as a performer, though Jimmy is dead set against the idea. When Tarzan and Jane realize what's happened, they (with Cheetah) are able to track Buck down to New York to get Boy back, though first they have to buy big city clothes, and Tarzan has to learn to tamp down his natural aggressiveness in order to deal with the law. Jimmy helps Tarzan get a lead on Boy's whereabouts, and soon they wind up in a courtroom to argue that are Boy's legal guardians. But Tarzan gets violent, is put in custody, and escapes, swinging through the skyscrapers and leading the police on a chase to the Brooklyn Bridge. But it's back the circus where the real action happens, as elephants stampede to save Boy.

This is the last of the MGM Tarzan movies (the rights went to RKO for the next decade) and one of the last ones before Weissmuller went to seed. Here, he's definitely packed on some weight but he still gives it the old college try, though obviously the vine swinging scenes are either done by doubles or borrowed from earlier movies. It's fun to see Tarzan stuffed into a business suit, and it's equally fun to see him bust loose near the end. Despite the title, less than half of the movie takes place in the Big Apple, but the jungle scenes are nicely done; Johnny Sheffield as Boy is more animated than he would be a few years later as the teenage Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Bickford, Kelly, and Wills constitute a much stronger supporting cast than most of the later Tarzan films would muster up. This was O’Sullivan's last time around as Jane and she gets a nice scene in which she muses to Tarzan about the modern world, noting that the city is "a stone jungle" where"men's minds are more tangled that the worst underbrush in the jungle," and saying, "It would break my heart to see your strength and courage caught in the quicksand of civilization." Paul Kelly is especially good as the nice-guy pilot. There's a little too much (actually, for my taste, a lot too much) clowning around with Cheetah the chimp, but I must admit he's a well-trained little guy. One scene has Cheetah making noises on the phone with a confused African-American janitor (Mantan Moreland)—it sounds cringe-worthy, but Moreland, who never gets enough credit for making the most of his often demeaning roles, makes it work. [TCM]

Friday, June 15, 2018

THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (1968)

We see a woman driving home, parking in her garage, and getting out of her car only to be attacked by a person in what looked to me like an elaborate Mexican wrestler mask. He stabs her repeatedly off-camera, though in a nice touch, we see her blood spatter the side of her white Mustang. We have just witnessed one in a series of "mutilation murders," as the newspapers call them, and they are the handiwork of disgraced space scientist Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine) and his squint-eyed, mute, hunchback assistant Franchot. Sort of. Much in this movie is unclear. DeMarco has been creating artificial "Astromen" who, I think, can have thoughts and communications from others implanted in their heads through a small computer chip, or something, and sent off on outer space missions. The murders seem to be the work of DeMarco's first Astroman who unfortunately has a defective brain—though why he can't be controlled from afar is never made clear. DeMarco's former associate, Dr. Petrovich, is assisting CIA agent Holman (Wendell Corey) in figuring out what's going on, as are the strangely accented Eric (Tom Pace) and the handsome blond Chuck (Joseph Hoover). But exotic female spy Satana (Tura Satana, pictured at right) and her henchman Juan are also looking for DeMarco for the nefarious purposes of a foreign power, and they won't hesitate to kill anyone in their way.

That summary makes this movie sound almost coherent, but it's not. In my movie-watching notes, I wrote, "About an hour in, the narrative falls apart and you just quit caring." But you don’' stop watching, because this train-wreck of a movie has an Ed Wood/bad movie appeal. It's directed by the notorious Ted V. Mikels who, if nothing else, had a knack for titles; other films of his include Blood Orgy of the She-Devils, The Corpse Grinders, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, and The Worm Eaters. Production and acting levels are perhaps a notch above Ed Wood's, though not by much. The sets look like they were put together in a couple of hours and the Astro-Zombies (never actually called that in the movie) are clearly just wearing masks, though they are sort of scary looking. Chuck and Eric's idea of treating a female scientist to a nice time is to take her to a tiny strip club, lit only in red, while a topless dancer done up in body paint writhes monotonously for minutes on end. There's also a long tedious sequence showing poor Franchot draining blood out of a body. These are the highlights of the film.

John Carradine took a lot of low-rent parts later in his career, and usually, like Vincent Price, threw himself into the role with as much gusto as his aged self could muster, but here he's stuck mostly rattling off a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo to his assistant and doesn't get the opportunity to chew any scenery. Wendell Corey, at the end of a respectable career in supporting roles (the cop in Rear Window, the jilted boyfriend in Holiday Affair), can barely articulate his lines, whether because he was drinking or because he was just embarrassed, I don't know. William Bagdad as Franchot gets lots of close-ups as he listens to Carradine drone on but isn't given much to do except to drool menacingly over a skimpily-clad young woman strapped to a lab table—for what reason I was never sure. Tom Pace (Eric) has an odd accent, like he was Hispanic brought up in Brooklyn, but the actor is from Yugoslavia. Joseph Hoover (Chuck, pictured above) is good-looking—if you like blond, square-jawed guys—and knows it, and he gives one of the more normal performances here. Then there’s Tura Satana whom cult movie fans will know as the scary dominatrix from FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! She's not much of an actress, but she's a hell of a presence, even when she's just sitting in a room in a tight dress smoking a cigarette while she waits for her puny underlings to carry out her chores. This is definitely fun for a MST3K-style viewing, but you'll feel badly the next day. [IndieFlix]

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

THE LAST WARNING (1929)

On Broadway ("the electric highway of happiness," we are told in a title card), actor John Woodford, for whom the theater is named, is starring in a play called The Snare; as he reaches behind his back to grab a candlestick to fend off an attacker, he drops dead on stage. When the cops arrive, a complicated offstage situation is brought to light: Mike, the stage manager, overheard a quarrel in the dressing room of leading lady Doris Terry (Laura La Plante) between Woodford and director Richard Quayle (John Boles). It turns out that she was not only dating both men, but also seeing fellow actor Harvey Carleton (Roy D'Arcy) as well.  When the coroner arrives, Woodford's body is nowhere to be found. No one is charged and the ensuing scandal makes Doris break things off with all her admirers and head to Europe, and the Bunce brothers, who own the theater, close it down. Five years later, producer Arthur McHugh (Montagu Love), a close friend of Woodford's, reopens the theater and gets the original cast and crew of The Snare together to perform it again, apparently hoping to solve the cold case. Carleton takes Woodford's role, and flirtatious newcomer Evelynda Hendon joins the cast. Even the Bunces show up. The mood in the old dark theater is spooky, and tension builds when notes begin appearing like, "Let the dead sleep!" Carleton's script contains a scrawled message, "I warn you, death plays this part!" Stage manager Mike reports seeing Woodford's ghost, and we see a short caped figure creeping about the place. Will this recreation reveal the killer, or lead to more deaths?

This late-period silent film is a nice little gem, directed with wit and style by Paul Leni, known more for his similarly flashy THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927). The acting belongs mostly to the school of exaggerated facial expressions, though Montagu Love as McHugh comes off as surprisingly subtle and modern in his acting style. Boles is also good—he is best known now as Dr. Frankenstein's friend in the Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN. The mystery is a bit muddled, and the motive behind the murder isn't given a very logical explanation. But this is definitely one to watch for visual style: roaming camerawork and unusual camera angles crop up with frequency; there are interesting montages, and spooky shots in the dark. One of my favorite moments is of elderly actress Barbara (Carrie Daumery, pictured, appearing like a ghost, shrouded in cobwebs. This is essentially an old-dark-house thriller set in a theater, so we get secret passages and grasping hands and, as noted above, someone sneaking around in disguise. Though the theater set is fairly plain, the exterior makes it look like the monstrous Moloch figure in METROPOLIS. If you have any tolerance for silent films and like spooky thrillers, you’ll love this. Apparently Universal restored this for a silent film festival in 2016, but they have not yet released it on DVD; my copy, from Grapevine Video, is well-worn and a little splicy, and may be missing a few chunks of narrative, but it's quite watchable. [DVD]

Monday, June 11, 2018

TARZAN FINDS A SON (1939)

Richard Lancing (aka the Earl of Greystoke), his wife and their toddler son are flying over Africa in a small plane, observing wildlife, when the plane loses altitude and the radio goes dead. They crash in the jungle, on the escarpment on which Tarzan and Jane make their home, and only the baby is left alive. Tarzan finds the boy and he and Jane raise him as their own. Tarzan wants to call him Elephant, but settles for Boy. We watch as Boy grows up, gets pretty good at vine swinging and letting loose with his own high-pitched version of Tarzan's jungle yell, and generally learns the ways of nature. Five years later, a group consisting of Lancing's cousin (Ian Hunter), his wife (Frieda Inescourt), the Earl's uncle (Henry Stephenson), and their guide (Henry Wilcoxon) arrive on the escarpment looking for the lost boy, or preferably, proof that the boy is dead so Hunter can legally get his hands on an inheritance. Tarzan and Jane take them to the wreckage but are reluctant to admit that their Boy is the missing heir, though eventually Stephenson figures it out. Over the uncle's objections, Hunter and Inescourt decide to take the lad against his will back to England where they figure they'll be able to control the money and estate as he grows up. At first, Jane sadly agrees to the plan but when Tarzan rebels, she traps him in a deep grotto and goes off to deliver Boy. But between an attack by a cannibal tribe and Jane's realization that Boy's best interests will not be served, plans go awry. Can Tarzan get free in time to help out? Well, yeah, of course. And with some help from Cheetah and some marauding elephants (which are de rigueur in the 30s Tarzan movies) the bad guys get their comeuppance and the Tarzan family remains intact.

The fourth of the MGM/Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies, this was originally going to be the swan song for Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane; she wanted out of the series so she was killed off by a cannibal's spear, but preview audiences reacted so badly that her final scenes were reshot to allow her to recover and O'Sullivan was given a raise as incentive to continue. Adding 8-year-old Johnny Sheffield helped to keep things fresh. He's a bundle of energy and his acting is better than Weissmuller's. A scene showing Boy and Tarzan frolicking underwater is delightful and a nice break from the usual re-used stock footage that wound up in many of the Tarzan movies river scenes. I especially liked Boy's jungle yell, which I assume was Weissmuller's yell sped up to a higher pitch. The supporting roles in the 30s movies were generally from the first rank of character actors, and they are all quite good here, especially Stephenson as the uncle who regrets his role in the little family melodrama. Worth watching, especially as the series began a nose dive in quality in the next few years. [TCM]

Friday, June 08, 2018

TARZAN ESCAPES (1936)

Rita and her brother Eric arrive in Africa in search of their cousin Jane (last heard from living on an isolated escarpment) whose signature is needed on some paperwork so that Rita and Eric can get their share of an inheritance. Their main motivation, however, is to talk Jane into coming home with them. What they don't know but we do is that Jane is happily living the carefree jungle life up in an elaborate treehouse with her mate Tarzan and his pet chimp Cheetah. Captain Fry agrees to lead their expedition, mostly because he hopes to capture the legendary great white ape, which we figure out is Tarzan. Natives think the escarpment is "juju" (i.e., a place with bad vibes) so it's difficult to find men who will stay with them, especially after a nasty local tribe stages an attack. Finally, 20 minutes into the movie, Tarzan appears, giving forth with his famous yell and saving the expedition from the tribe. Jane agrees to go back to England temporarily which makes Tarzan sad and sullen—though he hits it off with Rawlins, the comic relief associate of Fry's. Meanwhile, Fry plots to capture Tarzan to take him back to civilization. Jungle adventures ensue.

This third installment in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan series was originally so violent that preview audiences reacted negatively, so a sequence involving killer bats was removed and other scenes reshot to reduce violence, though a couple of surprisingly graphic deaths remain. Otherwise, after two fairly interesting movies (TARZAN THE APE MAN and TARZAN AND HIS MATE), this begins the series’ slide into stereotyped situations and repetitive plot lines: sinister white hunters, menacing native tribes, bumbling sidekicks, chimp antics, elephant stampedes, alligator fights, and stock footage standing in for African locations. It retains a bit of a rough edge which would eventually be sanded away, and is generally well paced. Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan (as Jane) work well together, and the supporting cast is fine, particularly William Henry as Eric and Herbert Mundin (a very familiar 1930s face) as Rawlins. If you've seen any of the later Tarzans, this is not required viewing, but it's painless. [TCM]

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

SWING (1938)

Directed by Oscar Micheaux, a groundbreaking African-American indie director, this "race film," a movie with an all-black cast, begins in Birmingham as we see an alarm clock go off at 6 a.m. and Mandy reluctantly rising to go her job as a maid to a white family. Her husband Cornell, a self-styled dandy, comes strutting in from catting around all night and just wants to go to sleep. Meanwhile in another Birmingham home, Lem gets ready to go to work as his wife Eloise stays in bed with a headache. Lem, the jealous type, suspects her of cheating, and sure enough, we soon discover that Eloise and Cornell are having a fling. When Mandy tracks them down at a nightclub, she starts tearing the clothes off him and gets into fisticuffs with Eloise. Months later, Mandy, having left her husband, is living in Harlem where she has met up with Lena, an old Birmingham friend. Mandy was helpful to Lena back then, so Lena is determined to help Mandy, getting her a job as a wardrobe mistress for a show being put on by producer Ted Gregory, Lena's boss. But, surprise, the star of the show is none other than Eloise, using the name Cora Smith, and being a general pain in the ass to everyone. Lem is around too, and eventually Cornell shows up, broke and miserable. In a twist right out of 42ND STREET, a drunken Eloise breaks her leg and Lena tries to talk Ted into using Mandy to save the show at the last minute.

These race films, which got only limited releases in areas with good-sized African American audiences, had lower budgets even than the mainstream Poverty Row B-movies of the era, so they come off as cheap in most aspects, such as sets, costumes, music and acting, but most of them have an appealing scrappiness that keeps you watching. This one mixes melodrama, comedy and music, and the acting, at least by the women, is a notch above what you might expect. Cora Green is OK in the lead; she comes off a little too goody-goody early on but toughens up later—at one point, she exclaims, "My name is Mandy Jenkins and I can whip any hussy that stands on two feet!" Better is Hazel Diaz as Eloise, the bitch you love to hate. Both women only made a couple of movies and apparently were better known as club singers; Green does a nice rendition of "Bei Mir Bist du Schon." There's also a good tap number called "I Got Rhythm, Boy." There are also decent performances from Dorothy Van Engle as Lena and Carmen Newsome (pictured) as Ted. Stereotypes are mostly confined to the no-good Cornell, but unfortunately we discover at the very end that the name of the show that's opening is "Ah Lub's Dat Man." [TCM]

Friday, June 01, 2018

FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE (1956)

Scientists in the United States and England have discovered a mysterious thirteenth moon of Jupiter, which has apparently been obscured by cosmic fog or something until now. Their observations indicate it has an earth-like atmosphere, so a band of five guys take off in a rocketship from England to the new moon. They don't wear spacesuits, they seem to have plenty of gravity on their ship, and they even have their electric razors and Chesterfield cigarettes handy when they get bored taking notes about the flight. They dodge a meteor shower, and when they approach the moon, a voice speaking English comes over the radio asking them about their mission. Upon landing, they see a lovely young woman (Susan Shaw) in a toga menaced by a monster in a black turtleneck. Warning shots from their revolvers stop the assault, and two of the crew (Anthony Dexter and Paul Carpenter) wind up in what looks like a ancient Greek building populated by a bevy of toga-clad young women and one older man (Owen Berry). They call their community New Atlantis; they claim to be descendents of the survivors of the sinking of Atlantis. (How they got from the earth to this moon is a question never answered, not even asked!) The women, wearing tight tops and short skirts, perform a ritual dance to the music of Borodin (even if you don't know that name, you might recognize the music as "Strangers in Paradise," a Borodin melody turned into a show tune from the 50s musical Kismet), then they drug the men and seduce them in their sleep—at least that's what appears to happen. The other three astronauts galumph about looking for the missing two; meanwhile, Berry, in gratitude for the men saving Shaw, his daughter, promises her to Dexter. The two have been flirting, but the other Maidens, believing their god is angry over the situation, choose her to be a fire sacrifice—hence, I guess, the title of the movie.

There is very little positive to say about this. Though the budget is certainly far more than Ed Wood ever had to work with, the director, Cy Roth, is utterly awful at directing actors or shooting effective action scenes. Even the dancing maidens look awkward (not to mention bored). Had more attention been paid to the sets and costumes, this might have at least been fun to look at, like the similar CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE. The acting is dreadful, which I suspect says more about the director than the actors. Rodney Diak, as the youngest of the astronauts, is at least good looking and proves diverting for a minute or two. The opening scenes have dreadful echoing sound, and the peak of bad movie enjoyment is in the first few minutes when Dexter and Carpenter are having a discussion in a British observatory which is interrupted by a secretary in tight clothes and glasses—markers that she is a repressed lioness in the sack—who takes dictation for a minute, then leaves with the camera following her every move. This scene has no motivation except for a cheap joke (one of the men expresses the hope that they'll find a being like that near Jupiter) or because the director promised his girlfriend a walk-on part. This is pretty much as bad and boring as its reputation would have it. Watch it at your own risk. [Amazon Prime]

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

THE ASTONISHED HEART (1950)

Psychiatrist Chris Faber (Noel Coward) and his wife Barbara (Celia Johnson) seem to have a comfortable marriage, though it is hinted that the physical aspect of their relationship flickered out some time ago. While shopping one rainy afternoon, Barbara runs into her school friend Leonora (Margaret Leighton) and the two spend some time catching up. Barbara invites Leonora to visit and to meet her husband, and on the surface, they don't seem to hit it off, with Chris basically ignoring her. But some time later when Barbara is out of town visiting a sick relative and can't accompany Leonora to a play they had tickets for, Chris takes her instead, and a full-blown passion is sparked. When Chris invokes a Bible quote for a lecture he is giving ("The Lord shall smite thee with madness, blindness and astonishment of heart"), he doesn't seem to realize that it could apply to him. Soon Barbara figures out what's going on and actually encourages the two of them to go on a trip together, perhaps hoping that this fling will burn itself out, but it doesn't. Or, more to the point, Leonora seems to tire of Chris, flirting with other men, and Chris unravels to the point where he turns a therapy session with a patient into a way to vent about Leonora. When, during an argument, Leonora calls Chris "one of the dead," he knows things are over, and is driven to a desperate and tragic act.

This is inevitably compared to the classic British tearjerker BRIEF ENCOUNTER [3/24/06]: both are about average citizens tempted by an extramarital affair, both are based on plays by Noel Coward, and both feature Celia Johnson as the lead character. The differences, of course, are that in ENCOUNTER, Johnson is the tempted wife and she never actually consummates the affair; here, Johnson is the wronged wife whose husband not only has the affair but carries on with it with his wife's permission. There is no question that ENCOUNTER is the stronger film, but this one is not as weak as its reputation would have it. The role of the adulterous husband was originally assigned to Michael Redgrave, who would seem to have been perfect for it, but Coward didn't like his portrayal and so replaced him. Coward is a bit too old for the part; some viewers find his (mostly) passionless and aloof performance a weakness, but I think it fits the character. Redgrave would have done a better job being swept up into the affair, but Coward is excellent in the latter half of the film as a man who comes unraveled by his romantic obsession. Johnson (pictured with Coward) is fine, though her character loses some focus near the end, as is Leighton. The supporting actors who play the doctor's assistants deserve mention: Graham Payn—Coward's real-life partner—is Tim and Joyce Carey is Susan; both are likable, both have great sympathy for the doctor and his wife, and both have nicely nuanced character touches. At one point, when Susan notices Leonora eyeing Tim up and down, she says to Tim, "Don’t worry, I'm here to protect you," to which Tim replies, "Thanks" in a shaky voice. Is Tim shy, or gay, or both? Is Susan being sincere or snarky, or some combination of the two? Though Tim and Susan do pop up again, I wish they had more to do. Perhaps not a must-see, but worth catching if it crops up, which is doesn't do too often. [TCM]

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

THE WIZARD OF MARS (1965)

Four astronauts are in a space probe, heading for a flyby mission around Mars. There’s Steve, the leader; the chipper co-pilot Charlie; the slightly older Doc; and Dorothy, the surprisingly non-buxom, non-glamorous token female. They're exchanging light banter and nonsense technical jargon when they wind up in the middle of a space storm, complete with (badly animated) lightning; they lose all communications with Earth and are pulled down to the surface of Mars, jettisoning their main stage and landing their capsule near a polar cap. Once on Mars, their watches all freeze, "as if time were forbidden on this world" (says one character in a bit of heavy foreshadowing). Receiving a signal from the main stage where there are supplies needed to survive, they set off across the planet to find it. Rafting along a canal, they fend off attacking water creatures; in an underground cavern, they avoid lava flows from a volcano. But the signal turns out to be coming from a small unmanned explorer probe sent to Mars years ago. However, it does contain liquid oxygen they can use to replace their dwindling supply. Next they find a gold-tiled road which leads them toward a gleaming red dome on the horizon, a deserted Martian city of antiquity. Inside, they communicate with a large, disembodied, translucent head, a composite being who is a kind of avatar of the remaining Martians. It seems that the Martians were somehow able to "impale" time and stay alive indefinitely, but now they've realized that it's death that gives meaning to life, and they need the astronauts to help them set time back in motion. Even assuming the astronauts can help, how will they get back to Earth?

The title, the central group of four characters (one named Dorothy) in search of something, the golden (yellow brick) road, and the floating see-through head all might suggest that this is an adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. It is, but the similarities are all on the surface; I could find little in the plotpoints or the thematic concerns, except perhaps for the desire to return home, that match the 1939 movie. It was filmed on a low budget, but the special effects are actually rather good, or at least charming (except for those canal creatures which look like jagged chunks of plastic floating in water). There's been some interesting tinkering with color filters that makes the otherwise artificial sets look otherworldly. The lack of a real villain and the philosophizing that the Wizard (John Carradine in a role he probably filmed in an hour or so) indulges in make this stand out a bit from the average B-sci-fi movie of the era, and its electronic-ish soundtrack reminded me at times of the avant-garde music used in the later scenes of 2001. The writing is pretty bad with dialogue that sounds like it came from a beginning chapter book for kids, as when they see the golden road: "That looks like a long hike!"; "Well, I hope the hike leads us to something!" But the acting is mostly just adequate, with the best coming from Jerry Rannow (pictured, who went on to become a sit-com writer) as cute little Charlie, the only character who makes much of an impression. (The odd overdubbing of Dorothy's lines makes hash of the performance of Eve Bernhardt as Dorothy.) Not a great film, but a pleasant surprise. Also released on video as ALIEN MASSACRE (a very misleading title) and on YouTube as HORRORS OF THE RED PLANET. [YouTube]