Friday, June 28, 2019


Rocketship MRX is headed to Mars but Earth loses contact with the ship and its four-man crew as it goes out of control and eventually crash lands in snowy mountains on what seems to be some uncharted planet with an atmosphere very much like Earth. The men run into a giant spider and violent cave people with cyclops eyes. Predictably, the planet turns out to be Earth hundreds of years in the future. In the world of 2508, humanity is split in two: the aboveground primitives are mutants damaged by fallout from a nuclear war; underground in a series of well-constructed chambers live those unaffected by the radioactivity, protected from potential attacks by the mutants. Our astronauts (who wear street clothes rather than any kind of protective uniform) are taken in by the underground folks, but soon come to realize that this group of humans—mostly weak older men—have become impotent and/or sterile, both sexually and in terms of ambition, and may be in danger of dying out. Soon the astronauts are trying to talk Timmek, the leader of the underground people, into making an attempt to salvage their spaceship and begin venturing aboveground, but an upstart pacifist named Mories argues that the potential for violence is too great. Will the astronauts be able to inspire them to reclaim the outdoors? Or will Mories succeed in turning his people against the time travelers?

This is a sort of mirror-image version of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, with a withering passive race below ground instead of the above ground Eloi, and outdoor mutant monsters instead of underground Morlocks. More to the point for me is the way in which this plot was re-used in a few other sci-fi films (like THE MOLE PEOPLE, THE TIME TRAVELERS, and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME) Since I, like Timmek and Mories, am resistant to change, it took a while for me to get on board with the astronauts (led by Hugh Marlowe and Nelson Leigh). Of course, it wouldn't be a 50s space movie without some element of romance, and a handful of women—including one of the mutant women who was captured and put to work as a slave and looks nothing like the cyclops mutants—are crucial to that development, which pushes the film toward QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE territory. Rod Taylor has his first major, albeit supporting, role in a Hollywood movie, and he outacts everyone else, including Marlowe who is running in second gear. This is a B-film from Allied Artists with a slightly bigger budget than usual—the film looks fairly glossy and colorful, but the effects and make-up are still bargain basement quality. Fun if not quite a classic. Pictured at left are Marlowe and Taylor; above right, Shawn Smith and Taylor. [Blu-Ray]

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Young architect Edward Shaw (Keith Andes) lives alone in a shabby boarding house room; he sits shirtless, staring into space, immobilized by a recent financial failure and owing some $30,000 to various creditors. Out of the blue, a lawyer arrives to make him an offer: Doris Hillman (Angela Lansbury) wants to hire him as a business partner (with money provided by her rich husband Gus) to build houses on property she will acquire. When Edward goes to meet her at her home, the maid tells him that she is out by the pool and warns him that she occasionally swims naked; as it happens, she's wearing a swimsuit, but is also acting a bit flirtatiously and perhaps sipping cocktails. Later, when they meet at an apartment where is Doris is catsitting (!), she tells him her husband wants Edward to take out a large life insurance policy since he will be the "key man" in their business. This angers him at first, but later when she comes to his place, he agrees to the situation and they spend some time making out. When Edward meets Doris' younger sister Madge, he discovers something disconcerting in Doris's past: she was previously married to a business partner of Gus’s who died in a car accident—and who had a big life insurance policy that paid out to Gus. Later, the brakes on Edward's car go out and he barely escapes injury. Is Edward the sucker in a murder plot, or is he just paranoid?

This B-film noir is a DOUBLE INDEMNITY knock-off (the seduction, the stolen kisses, the life insurance, the innocent female relative) but that shouldn't be counted against it. It's predictable in the way that many noirs are, though there are some fun twists and turns. Andes (CLASH BY NIGHT) whom I like, is not the greatest actor but he fills the role of the befuddled patsy well enough, and he's always easy on the eyes. It's fun to see Lansbury as a sexy femme fatale. Douglas Dumbrille is serviceable if not much more as the husband, and Claudia Barrett is vanilla-bland as the sweet kid Marge. Jane Darwell has a small role as the boarding house keeper. At one point in the middle of the movie, we learn that Doris and Gus have a mountain cabin getaway with a door that opens up directly onto the edge of a cliff (Chekhov's cliff, if you will) which we know will come into play at the climax, which it does in a satisfying way. Not bad. Also known as KEY MAN which is a way better title than A LIFE AT STAKE. [Amazon Prime]

Monday, June 24, 2019


Wylie (Michael Sarrazin) is in the middle of making love to his casual girlfriend (whom we hear referred to only as "Poor Dear") when Kassia (Gayle Hunnicut) barges into the bedroom and demands that Wylie come with her. Wylie, apparently a decadent playboy, thinks this is just another kinky come-on (it’s the 60s, you know) and he leaves with Kassia. It turns out that Kassia is the hairdresser for his rich Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker) and she needs him for a nefarious plan: Danny, an invalid who sleeps in an oxygen tent due to advanced emphysema, is close to dying and has left her fortune to her dozens of cats which swarm about the house at will. But Kassia knows that, if her wayward nephew Wylie came home, Danny would change the will and leave everything to Wylie. The plan is to clean shaggy Wylie up, send him to his aunt, and have her change the will, after which Kassia will kill Aunt Danny and split the estate with Wylie. And indeed, Danny is ecstatic to see Wylie again. But there are at least a couple of obstacles: the presence of Wylie's brother Luke (Tim Henry) who has been Danny's caretaker for years, and Wylie's intense cat phobia which can send him into cataleptic shock.

Though this is an enjoyable psychological thriller which has a couple of fun plot twists up its sleeve, there are so many plotholes and ambiguities that trying to make sense of the plot is truly frustrating. Why has Wylie stayed away so long? Why does Kassia assume that Wylie will split his inheritance with her? What's up with Poor Dear and that kinky opening scene? (Poor Dear returns briefly to be the catalyst for a vigorous catfight which is completely extraneous to the narrative.) Why isn't Luke more upset about being pushed aside for the prodigal nephew? Why does the sickly Aunt Danny look so healthy? And is she actually flirting with Wylie? How on earth does all this happen in basically a day and a half? To be fair, at least one of those questions is answered by a big plot twist near the end (which is a good one, but also opens a new can of plot questions which are not answered). The acting is problematic, with too much underplaying (perhaps because of the underwritten script). Michael Sarrazin (pictured with Hunnicut above) is one of my favorite 60s-70s actors (he's great in THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?) and he's all jazzed up and sexy here, but he way overdoes the cat phobia, especially in the first such scene when an orange cat stalks him in Kassia's salon. Hunnicut practically sleepwalks through her role, and Parker is OK, though as I noted, too robust to seem truly vulnerable. Tim Henry (at right) rivals Sarrazin for comely looks and is fine as the brother, but also seems at times to not be sure of how to play a scene so he underplays it.

The pluses: the 60s vibe, the San Francisco setting, a couple of nicely done Hitchcockian scenes, especially the one in which Parker's wheelchair malfunctions and she goes zipping backwards down a long hillside street. As Stephen Larson points out in his review at, the characters are all locked into relationships of dominance and submission, and it's interesting to watch those play out, though again due to the script, we don’t really get enough information about their backgrounds (especially Luke's and Kassia's) to allow us to undo all the knots. The beefcake element is nice—both Sarrazin and Henry get shirtless scenes—and the cats are used effectively, though there is a worrisome scene early on in which Sarrazin frantically tosses a cat into a space heater (I hope the ASPCA was on hand for the filming of that moment). The conclusion is satisfying but the very last scene tosses one last ambiguous moment our way. The Blu-ray includes as an extra the TV print which cut out some sexiness and, oddly, reworked the last section of the movie to feature only one cat at the climax instead of the dozens that return in the theatrical film. [Blu-ray]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Four shipwreck survivors are washed up on what appears to be deserted island: Fred, the skipper (Tod Griffin), Jerrie, a spoiled socialite (Irish McCalla), Sammy, the Asian first mate (Victor Sen Yung, best known for playing a son of Charlie Chan in several films), and a Polynesian guy named Kris with no personality whom we know won't be long for the world. Jerrie's rich father has funded this expedition to investigate reports of an island filled with odd creatures, and fate has dumped our group on the exact island they're looking for. Their radio won't transmit, but it does receive, and when some military jets fly overhead, Sammy hears enough to understand that the planes will back in a couple of days to do a bombing practice run over the (assumed to be) human-free island. The four build a camp and when Fred & Jerrie & Sammy return from exploring, they find the camp destroyed and Kris dead, killed with bamboo spears. Clearly, the island is inhabited and soon the three find the corpse of a woman with a deformed face ("A woman’s body with the face of a demon!" says Fred). What's going on? Well, it turns out the inhabitants of the island are a handful of Nazis led by Col. Osler (Rudolph Anders) and some native women on whom the doctor is experimenting. He's searching for a way to cure his wife's disfigured face but all he's done so far is turn the women in "mindless beasts" with grotesque animal faces whom he holds as prisoners and slaves.

This schlocky B-movie is unmemorable except for some surprisingly effective make-up for the titular "she demons." The film combines two horror movie tropes: experimentation that turns humans into inhuman creatures, and a mad doctor's search for a disfigurement cure. Despite the good effects, the movie is let down by the drab performances. Irish McCalla was best known as the star of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, a mid-50s TV series. She's statuesque but between the character's nastiness and McCalla's indifferent acting, it’s difficult to care about Jerrie. A beefcake hero might have made the movie more fun, but here, Tod Griffin is a drab, vanilla fellow with little screen presence and what looks like an oddly groomed little toupee of chest hair in his shirtless scenes. Even Rudolph Anders is fairly bland, missing an opportunity to go over the top as the Nazi doc. This leaves Victor Sen Yung, fine as the sidekick, as the default best performer. There is a fun scene of the native women dancing that recalls but doesn't better Maria Montez's delirious campy dance in COBRA WOMAN. This cheapie made some money on a successful drive-in double bill with a similar low-rent quickie called GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN. It's all quite silly, and if you're in the right popcorn mood, can be fun, but I kept wishing the hero was someone a little hunkier, like John Agar or Ken Clark or Jeff Richards. Pictured are Griffin, McCalla and Yung. [Amazon Prime]

Friday, June 14, 2019


At the Hindale-Clark circus, two of the stars, likeable trapeze artist Warren Hull and beefy, blustery animal trainer Barton MacLane, are buddies. MacLane is obsessed with taming Satan, a man-eating Bengal tiger. One night after the two have had a few drinks, the tiger escapes. MacLane gets him back in his cage, but when his assistant (Paul Graetz) warns him about interacting with the animals when he's drunk, MacLane gets mad and deliberately provokes Satan, leading to an attack that leaves Graetz dead and MacLane with only one leg. After he recovers, MacLane discovers that Graetz's daughter (June Travis) has turned to crime (we assume prostitution) to survive, so he takes her in, sets her up in her own house, and eventually proposes, acknowledging that even though she doesn't love him romantically, he'll be able to take care of her (and redeem himself for his role in her father's death). She accepts but soon finds herself falling in love with Hull. Hull decides to leave the show, but when MacLane catches him kissing Travis, MacLane plots to toss Hull in Satan's cage. This B-melodrama is too predictable (and, near the end, too rushed) to be effective. I like character actor MacLane in small doses (THE MALTESE FALCON, TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) but he's too one-note for a starring role. However, with Hull and Travis making a fairly bland couple, MacLane gives this movie the only oomph it has, except for Satan, the tiger.  The wedding banquet thrown by the circus performers for MacLane and Travis seems like a sly homage to the similar scene in 1932’s FREAKS. Not essential viewing. Pictured at left is Hill on the trapeze. [TCM]

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Libby (Connie Francis) is frustrated—she has spent an entire month in Hollywood looking for a singing job and has had no luck, though she thinks her real talent will be getting married and having children. While grocery shopping with her roommate Jan (Susan Oliver), she meets Paul (Jim Hutton), a tall and handsome co-worker of Jan's, and is certain she can catch him even though he barely notices her—Jan warns her that Paul likes his women "T and T," that is, tall and top-heavy, an observation that is illustrated when he see him fondle two large lemons while gazing at a well-built woman. Moments later, Libby literally runs into Cuz Rickover (Joby Baker), a friend of Jan's, who is working at the store. Cuz seems smitten but Libby barely notices him—he's cute but doesn't seem to be husband material. Frustrated with trying to keep her clothes tidy, Libby invents a "lady valet" for women to hang their clothes on; this gets Paul's attention as he sees a chance to invest in a money-making product. He gets her on the Johnny Carson show and tries to get some celebrity endorsements, but the whole time, Libby has convinced herself that he's fallen in love with her, even as Jan tries to push Libby and Cuz together. Then, when almost accidentally, Libby's singing career takes off, Paul does get interested in her. But where does that leave sweet Cuz? And Jan, who is more Paul's type?

This romantic comedy has a weak script and the leads are miscast, but there is some fun to be had watching all the pieces fall into place. Francis and Hutton don't seem comfortable in their roles, even though both were veterans of the rom-com genre. Francis seems a little bored and her character is mostly unlikeable; Hutton tries going over-the-top while aping Jimmy Stewart's delivery but he's just not uninhibited enough to be successful. Baker and Oliver are much more appealing (I quite like Baker--pictured with Francis--who starred in a late 60s sitcom, Good Morning World, before leaving the Hollywood radar), and there are a handful of fun cameos by celebs playing themselves. In addition to Johnny Carson, we see Paula Prentiss and Yvette Mimieux as two of the potential endorsers, and George Hamilton does a screen test with Francis. The funniest scene is of Francis, on a Danny Thomas TV special, involved in an elaborate production number which completely falls apart. What I enjoyed the most in this movie is the color scheme—the production design is awash in bright, cotton-candy colors, and I could almost convince myself to watch it again just for that. [TCM]

Monday, June 10, 2019


Jay (Robert Morse) and Ross (Robert Goulet) are Manhattan bachelor pad roomies. Jay is settling down, set to marry Cynthia that afternoon, while Ross continues his playboy ways, having almost forgotten his best man duties because he's been necking with an Amway saleswoman who stops by the pad twice a week—not to mention flirting at work with a totsy named Sherry (Jill St. John). But at the high society wedding, Cynthia gets jealous when she overhears Jay talking with Ross about a former girlfriend and she calls off the wedding. The morose Jay is stuck with two tickets to an expensive Caribbean resort so he and Ross decide to go themselves—without realizing that the hotel caters only to honeymooning couples. That’s the one joke the movie keeps flogging, as promised by its title; employees and other guests keep assuming the two men are honeymooning together (a joke that has pretty much lost its outrageousness over the past few years), and both men are frustrated by the abundance of women in bikinis who are off-limits because they're newlyweds.

But fret not, other naughty situations arise: 1) Ross discovers there is one single woman on the premises: Lynn (Nancy Kwan), the social director, who it just so happens is friends with Cynthia and was present at the called-off wedding. Ross starts an effort to bed her, and he seems to be having some luck until she sees Jay who lets it slip about Ross's promiscuous ways. She then plots to make both men look foolish; 2) Ross's married boss Mr. Sampson (Keenan Wynn) takes up with Sherry and the two of them wind up at the hotel, posing as honeymooners; 3) the suspicious Mrs. Sampson follows her husband to the resort and soon, a farcical game of "Hide Sherry" commences; 4) Cynthia arrives, having decided to give Jay another chance, but with all the shenanigans involving Sherry and Lynn, she has second (third, I guess) thoughts.

With all that plot, you'd think this would be a sparkling 60s sex farce that would be fun to watch even today. You would be wrong. First, as I hinted above, our sexual mores have changed so much that this feels more like a Disney sitcom than a sophisticated adult entertainment. There's also the rampant and unfunny sexism on display, especially in the way that the Jill St. John character is treated (though the actress herself, pictured at right with Goulet, gives the best performance in the film). Goulet and Morse, both making leading man debuts after achieving Broadway success, are badly directed; Morse is sluggish and Goulet artificial. The presence of Asian actress Nancy Kwan is interesting, in that she and Goulet are probably among the earliest examples of an interracial couple being at the heart of a romantic comedy, but Kwan is just as poorly used as the male leads, though she does get a nice but short dance bit. Anne Helm is unmemorable as Cynthia, and Bernard Fox (Bewitched's Dr. Bombay) and Elsa Lanchester have thankless supporting roles. I did laugh a few times here and there, and St. John turns a rather lame line into a high point: early on, when Ross promises to take her to the Caribbean, she replies chirpingly, "That’s in the Great Lakes, isn't it?" She also gets the best bit of physical comedy when she walks into a sliding glass door (I actually laughed out loud). But I would only recommend this to fans of the stars or to 60s sex farce completists. [TCM]

Thursday, June 06, 2019


Carole Lombard is a morally suspect woman (her husband was apparently driven to suicide because of her promiscuity) making a living as a club singer in Malaysia. A snooty British lawyer is working on getting her deported for being a white woman who has lowered herself to entertaining the natives. But Charles Laughton, a roughneck Cockney who worked himself up from the slums to become a rich plantation owner known as King of the River, takes pity on her and marries her. At his jungle home along the river, she discovers that his help consists of criminals in hiding whom he basically enslaves in exchange for keeping them away from justice. Overseer Kent Taylor, whom, we are told emphatically, hasn't seen a white woman in years, cozies up to Lombard, and she to him. Laughton, knowing about his wife's attraction, taunts the two with a story about Taylor suffering from (what we would now call) post-traumatic stress disorder because years ago his best friend was decapitated by natives, and his head was tossed through a window, landing at Taylor's feet. (Of course, using Chekhov's gun as a narrative principle, we know that a head is going to end up in play eventually.) Lombard and Taylor try to run away together, but Laughton threatens to sic the natives on them before they get very far, so Taylor winds up sent to another station up the river. The next overseer, Charles Bickford, a chain gang escapee, is only slightly less sleazy and threatening than Laughton, though Bickford asks Lombard, as Taylor is leaving, "Do you come under the heading of overseer duties?" Soon, however, Laughton's unquestioned rule of the river suffers when he refuses two natives who are demanding more trading freedom. When Laughton unwisely spits in their faces and sends them away, the natives become restless (as the cliché notes) and all the white people's lives may be in danger.

This is a fairly wild and wooly exotic melodrama from the pre-Code era, so Lombard's character can remain tainted without explaining away her behavior or necessarily getting punished in the end as the Production Code would have insisted. Laughton is the big draw here, giving a juicy, scenery-chewing performance; if you don’t like him in this mode, you may want to skip this, but he is as gross and slimy a villain as you'll encounter in any 30s movie. It took me a while to get used to his over-the-top performance, particularly when everyone else is so serious, but I do think he is effective. Taylor and Bickford are believable as the types they play, Lombard a little less so as she tends to fade into the helpless woman mode in the face of the three strong male performances. However, despite this and despite the non-PC attitudes on display, this is a fun pre-Code relic. Pictured are Bickford and Lombard. [DVD]

Tuesday, June 04, 2019


It's Christmas, 1942 in Berlin and five German soldiers are called upon to cut their holidays short to go on a mission. They are parachuted into the North African desert, disguised in British uniforms, and told to head to Casablanca where they will meet up with an agent who will help they complete their task: to assassinate Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, the Allied "Big Three" who are meeting there to plan war strategy. The leader, Scholler (Ken Clark), is a by-the-rules guy and, seemingly, a fervent Nazi, though he doesn't seem fazed when one of his men, Wolf (Horst Frank), expresses admiration for a Jewish writer. An officer named Huber and two young guys, Mainz and Ludwig, round out the group, all picked because they can speak English and have some connection in their past with America. After some problems in the desert (lack of water, falling under enemy fire), they get near Casablanca where they find, not their contact, who has been killed, but his daughter Faddja (Jeanne Valerie) who agrees to help them. Is this Arab woman sincere or is she actually an Allied sympathizer? The same question is asked about the lovely Simone, a club owner who may or not be genuinely helpful. Though we know from history that they can't possibly succeed in their mission (unless this turns out to be a Quentin Tarentino movie), we do end up engrossed in their situation, wondering what will happen to them when they fail.

This Italian war film is, as other commentators have noted, almost existential in its view of human life, conflict and ambition. The upbeat/downbeat ending works because we have grown to know, if not necessarily like, these men. We don't want them to succeed but we don't want bad endings for them, either. Though the first half of the film drags in places, real tension is built up in the last half-hour, and the conclusion is satisfying. This acting is a bit above average for a grade-B war film: Ken Clark (pictured above right), a big slab of blond manhood, is quite good as the hard-ass German soldier who may not be a Nazi sympathizer but who answers the call of duty; Jeanne Valerie keeps us guessing as to her true nature (pro-Nazi or pro-Allies); Hardy Reichelt and Howard Ross provide some handsome beefcakiness as the two younger (somewhat interchangable soldiers; one of them, I'm not sure which, is pictured to the left with Clark). The desert backgrounds are effective. The best scene involves a scorpion crawling up to an badly injured soldier on the sand—will Clark let it bite him to put him out of his misery? The climax involves a clever trick that I didn't see coming. One odd mistake: the Jewish writer that Wolf admires is William Faulkner who was not Jewish. The dubbing is distracting, as usual, but overall this was an enjoyable film. Its original Italian title, Attentato ai tre grandi, translates as Attack on the Big Three. [Amazon streaming]