Tuesday, June 29, 2021


Captain Tony has chartered his boat to two young couples on a vacation: handsome, hunky Johnny; his gal Betty whom we discover, when Johnny gets too lovey-dovey with her on deck, knows some judo moves; Pete, who wears glasses (which of course means 'nerd,' though he's never as nerdy as you expect him to be); and his gal Jeanne who is fairly nondescript. At the height of the afternoon, Tony passes out cold drunk and the four passengers decide to take a dinghy to a small nearby island to do some exploring. (What they don't see is Tony waking up, seeing them at sea, and trying to warn them not to go to the island.) Once there, a clambake seems in order, but Johnny falls into a deliberately-set trap in the woods, and suddenly they find themselves facing three armed men: the bearded Dr. Balleau and two guards. Despite their threatening appearance, Balleau seems kindly, if a bit aloof, and takes them back to his small house, explaining that he is a wealthy retired man who lives mostly alone on the island to satisfy his yearning for hunting, having animals shipped onto the island to be bagged and stuffed as trophies. Also living in the house are Belleau's considerably younger French wife Sandra and a family friend named Dean who is always soused (but whom Belleau keeps on because he's a good chess player. The four want to go back to the boat, but Belleau insists they stay the night because of the nighttime dangers in the jungle. Soon they find out about other dangers: Dean, who only fakes being a drunkard, is Sandra's lover, and the two are desperate to get off the island because Belleau is a madman--he has Tony procure people to drop off on the island and Belleau hunts them, always killing them and then stuffing them to put on display in his private trophy room. The six of them make plans to steal a boat and escape, but we all know what happens to the best-laid plans, and these plans aren't particularly well-laid.

As you may have figured out, this B-thriller is an uncredited remake of the short story "The Most Dangerous Game," most famously filmed in 1932 with Joel McCrea and Fay Wray, and also in 1945 as A GAME OF DEATH. Among the three versions, this comes in last, mostly due to the low budget (cheap sets, weak writing), and also because of the lackluster performance of Wilton Graff as the madman. He never comes off as mad, sinister, or even particularly threatening--his brutal guards are more effectively scary than he is. Of course, British actor Leslie Banks set a high bar in the 1932 film that is unlikely to be bested--unless someone like Anthony Hopkins were to do a remake. For a cast of B-actors who mostly remained unknown, the rest do fine, though the only real standout is Robert Reed (as Johnny), who went on to eternal fame as the dad in The Brady Bunch. Here, he spends most of his  time showing off his nice build in a skintight t-shirt (with sweat stains that are so consistent, I feel they must have been applied on purpose by a continuity person). His bearing as a rather reluctant hero (he's not foolhardy and doesn't seem to want to be the gang leader) is convincing. Bobby Hall is also convincing in the wordless role of Jondor, an ill-treated assistant to Belleau. I must also mention Troy Patterson as Tony, better when he's sober than drunk, and the uncredited Harry Wilson as a shrieking madman who is loose in the jungle--every time he shows up, he's unnerving. Scenes of Belleau killing people with a crossbow are fairly explicit, as is the last scene of Belleau getting his deserved end. I first saw this on MST3K where it was mocked mercilessly, but seen on its own, it does at least hold your attention (or maybe it was just Robert Reed's t-shirt that kept me watching). BTW, the title is from the explanation Belleau gives for his bent: he was a gentle museum curator who became a sniper in the war, and could never get rid of that… Bloodlust! Pictured are Reed and June Kenney (as Betty). [DVD]

Wednesday, June 23, 2021


The backstory on this is complicated and rather more interesting than the movie itself. Silent movie actress Joan Lowell published a memoir in 1929 called Cradle of the Deep, which purported to tell of her adventurous life as a child spent on a schooner with her sea captain father. The book was a bestseller but was later exposed as mostly fiction. Years later, Lowell went to sea with her father (by now over 70) and two sailors on a 48-foot boat called the Black Hawk, intending to recreate some of her adventures for the movies. This is the result of that shoot. Even though the film begins by telling us that this is a "reenactment" and even refers to a "fictional" portion of the story, the publicity when the film was released sold it as a documentary. It certainly is presented as such, with all the footage shot without sound (with sound effects and occasional background dialogue added later) and narrated like a travelogue by Lowell. But it also feels like a matinee serial, complete with bad guys and cliffhangers.

Joan, her father Nicholas, and sailors Bill and Otto take off from New York in their boat; the first cliffhanger involves a big storm at sea (which has obviously been re-created, with some shots showing a clear and bright sky in the background) as Joan bravely leaps into the water to save one of the sailors. With the boat needing major repairs, the gang discovers a shipwreck graveyard where they salvage some supplies, primarily a new mast. Joan finds a pirate's treasure map showing a valuable giant emerald buried in the jungles of Guatemala, and she decides she wants to find it. After fighting thirst and watching a mongoose battle a deadly snake, they wind up in the jungle village where the emerald is hidden. Joan gets the permission of the village matriarch Princess Maya by lying about her intentions, and when her machinations are exposed, the villagers attempt to burn her at the stake. At the last minute, Bill saves Joan and they make a fraught escape down a river back to their boat.

This comes off like a Tarzan movie with three big differences: 1) there's no dialogue, only narration; 2) it purports to be true; and 3) the "heroes" are actually the bad guys, attempting to desecrate the villagers' land--in a Tarzan movie, Joan would be the villain whose plans Tarzan would be foiling. To her credit, Joan realizes she's doing wrong and leaves the emerald behind. I can't imagine that any savvy movie viewer would think this was a documentary--the cameras follow Joan and Bill into the jungle, but they also follow the villagers who are trying to thwart her. The attempted burning, which serves as the climax, is not terribly convincing. Most of the natives are actual villagers, though Princess Maya is played by Ula Holt, a California-born woman who would play in a real Tarzan serial (New Adventures of Tarzan) the next year. The experience of watching this is more interesting than the movie narrative itself. Pictured at top are Bill and Joan. [TCM]

Friday, June 18, 2021


Secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, more simply referred to as OSS 117, endures a car and helicopter chase in which he manages to kill the bad guys, but is unsuccessful at getting information from an agent who had infiltrated a mysterious organization trying to blackmail the United States government by threatening to use new powerful and undetectable weapons. One American military base has already been destroyed, possibly by miniature fighter planes (we now know them as drones). Sent to Tokyo, OSS 117 discovers that Eva Wilson, an employee at a base there, is being blackmailed to leak information to the villains allowing them to target the bases. 117 poses as her American husband, hoping the bad guys will contact her again. He winds up knocked unconscious outside a strip club, shot at with a poisoned dart, has a knock-down fight with a Sumo wrestler-type guy, and gets in a swordfight. Then Eva's husband shows up and turns out to be a bad guy. The finale, on a huge ship, has overtones of sci-fi and plays out very much like a James Bond climax. This is a fairly engrossing entry in the OSS 117 series. Frederick Stafford, later the leading man in Hitchcock's Topaz, looks more like Sean Connery than the previous OSS 117 (Kerwin Mathews) and is more down-to-business. Marina Vlady is fine as Eva, with few standouts in the rest of the cast. If it doesn't manage to break out of the pack of 60s Bond imitators, it's still an entertaining action spy flick. Pictured is Stafford. Also known as Terror in Tokyo; apparently it also received a release of some sort as Savage Desire. And from what I can put together from the movie's IMDb page, it may never have gotten a theatrical release in the United States.[DVD]

Wednesday, June 16, 2021


Joyce, the new girl at the high school, is given a hard time by rough-edged Connie and her even rougher-edged buddy Dolly (she likes to play with jackknives). They're the heads of the local girl gang who call themselves the Hellcats. The gang meets in the balcony of a dilapidated theater which they enter through a secret entrance, and using intimidation, they force Joyce to attend a meeting and put her through an initiation period to join the gang. She has to shoplift, get no grade higher than a "D," and ask out a guy who already has a girlfriend. Joyce goes along with most of it--though she fakes the shoplifting--and spends some time unloading on Mike, a cute clean-cut college boy who works at a small diner. Soon, the two are dating, but despite Mike warning Joyce to stay away from the Hellcats, she continues with the initiation. At a party (held in a house the girls have broken into) complete with booze and boys, Connie takes a fatal tumble down the basement steps. They leave her body to be discovered by the homeowners, and soon the cops come calling on the Hellcats. Crazy Dolly is sure that Connie was pushed down the steps and, thinking that Joyce has been too forthcoming to the cops, invites her to a private meeting in the theater with revenge on her mind.

Before the beach movie craze of the 1960s, American International made a number of teenage movies with a focus on juvenile delinquents (JDs). I haven't seen many of these, but this one seems to be a pretty representative entry in that genre. The heroine or hero, good and relatively innocent, is tempted to the bad side by some JDs, despite the advice of a clear-headed boyfriend or girlfriend. The parents are, at best, disconnected, and at worst, actively awful (Joyce's dad is a slapper and her mom is just oblivious). Substance abuse is not a present here; there's a little booze at the party, and a little lights-out petting but as illicit parties go, this one is kinda square. However, [Spoiler] murder is a plotpoint: Crazy Dolly gave Connie the fatal shove, wanting to take over as leader of the pack. Yvonne Lime (Joyce) does the best she can with the good girl role; more impressive are Jana Lund as Connie and Suzanne Sydney as Dolly; the climax with Dolly going murderously nuts in the theater balcony is memorable. Brett Halsey is fine as the boyfriend--his sleepy puppy eyes, which were irritating in THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE, are more suitable for this role. Pictured are Lime and Halsey. [TCM]

Friday, June 11, 2021


3-year-old Ada, the daughter of a British officer, is kidnapped by a thuggee cult because they believe that she will become the human incarnation of Kali when she turns 18. Fifteen years later, as Souyadhana, her Thug handler, is preparing for her transformation, her father, Capt. McPherson, has closed in after all these years on her possible whereabouts on Snakes Island, where the Thugs live underground in secret. Also on the island is a group of snake hunters, one of whom, the handsome Tremel, eyes Ada (known by the cult as the Sacred Virgin) from afar and falls for her. They soon meet and Ada begins to question whether she really is the Sacred Virgin that Souyadhana insists she is; she is especially concerned with the human sacrifices that are made in her name. When Tremel is caught with Ada in the Thuggee lair, Souyadhana exclaims that Tremel has ruined what Souyadhana has spent years doing--trying to make her “insensible to human passions”--and forces him to return above ground and kill McPherson and bring back his head, which, when she is told that her birth father is dead, will make her hate Tremel and harden her feelings again. Can Tremel figure out a way to short-circuit Souyadhana’s nefarious plans and return Ada to civilization with him?

This is a German-Italian production with one Hollywood name, Guy Madison, first-billed in the credits, though he’s not the traditional lead. Though Madison was mostly known as a B-movie hero, here he plays the wicked Souyadhana. The hunky romantic hero is played by Italian actor Giacomo Rossi Stuart, who had a wide-ranging career in sci-fi, horror, and action films. Both actors are fine, as is Ingebog Schoener as Ada the Virgin. You’ll recognize Peter van Eyck, who usually played icy blond Nazis, as Ada’s father. The look of the movie is very cheap, not aided by the fact that the only print I could find of this was on YouTube and is a sometimes blurry pan-and-scanned version. There is a man vs. tiger scene which is so pathetic that I imagine even 8-year-old me would have groaned at its fakiness. Whenever a sacrifice occurs, some cartoonish theremin music plays for no obvious reason. But as a flashback to a kiddie matinee flick, this kept me interested, and on that level, I’d recommend it. Also known as KIDNAPPED TO MYSTERY ISLAND. Pictured are Schoener and Madison. [YouTube]

Tuesday, June 08, 2021


Mysterious problems are threatening military submarine traffic in the Arctic Sea near the North Pole, with some ships either being destroyed or vanishing after seeing a strange glowing light. A meeting of the Arctic Theater powers leads to navy commander Holloway (Arthur Franz) heading up a trip on a submarine called the Tiger Shark which has been outfitted with new high-tech tracking equipment. He's excited to be joined by the equipment's inventor, an old buddy named Neilson, but then he discovers that it’s Neilson's son (Brett Halsey) traveling in place of his ailing father. The son is a pacifist and is known for calling his dad out publicly as a war monger, and Holloway constantly (and unprofessionally) picks fights with Neilson. Their squabbling comes mostly to a halt when a strange electrical storm hits the Tiger Shark. Soon, the crew discovers a pattern of storms that have encircled the North Pole, coinciding with places where other ships were hit. Could this be an alien intelligence of some kind keeping man away from the pole? When they discover an underwater UFO with a single glowing "eye," they call it Cyclops and try to make contact. They ram the spaceship and enter, eventually meeting up with a Cyclopian creature who kills some of them but also establishes telepathic contact with Holloway, and he learns that the ship, which is a living thing, plans to head back to its home planet and return with a colonizing force. Can Holloway and Neilson manage to work together to save the Earth?

It takes a while for this talky movie to get going, and even when it does, it's only occasionally interesting. Generally, the effects--the miniatures, the alien--are cheap and not terribly effective, but the interior of the spaceship, with an almost surreal dark and empty look, is effective (pictured) and worth hanging around for. Even the climax is fairly hum-drum; the narrator has to get us worked up when he tells us about the plan to attack the escaping spaceship at the end: "It was foolish, it was insane, it was fantastic!" Franz lazily blusters his way through the movie in an unlikable way. Halsey, young and handsome, is only slightly more bearable--he spends most of the movie with a pitiful, wounded puppy dog look on his face as he somewhat masochistically lets Franz berate him. Old-timers Dick Foran and Tom Conway are fine in supporting roles. Busty blond Joi Lansing has a small role as Franz's lust interest, and the end is basically a silly punch-line delivered by Franz about the alien ship getting away with his little black book. Not a waste of time but not essential viewing. [DVD]

Wednesday, June 02, 2021


The opening defines "carpetbaggers" as men who leave their mark on the world, good or bad. (Hmm, that’s a pretty broad definition, in addition to assuming that women can't do such a thing, but we proceed). This is the story of one such man, Jonas Cord (George Peppard), a rich man's wastrel son whom we first meet (in the 1920s) buzzing his biplane dangerously low over his family's chemical plant. His father bawls him out for the stunt and for his latest headline scandal, the attempted suicide of his latest girlfriend. Jonas replies by calling Dad a "greedy, insensitive drunk" (which he almost certainly is); Dad responds by dropping dead of a stroke. Jonas takes over the company but Dad leaves everything else to Jonas's young stepmother Rina (Carroll Baker) who, get this, was Jonas's lover years ago. She invites him into her bed for a roll in the hay, but he demurs and she calls him a "scared little boy." The rest of the movie follows Jonas's business successes in plastics, airplanes, and eventually Hollywood, and his failures in personal relationships. Over the years, he can't quite get Rina in the sack, but he does make her a movie star in a string of westerns starring his old buddy Nevada Smith (Alan Ladd). He marries Monica, the daughter of a business rival, but when she expresses her desire for a family life, he leaves her and takes up with good-hearted hooker Jennie. But over the years, his insensitive behavior drives everyone away, including his faithful lawyer, an old-time business partner, and even Nevada Smith. Is there a path to redemption for this shell of a man?

There were quite a few movies from the 50s into the 1970s, often based on bestselling novels by authors like Harold Robbins (who wrote the novel this is based on) and Sidney Sheldon, that focused on the rise and fall of a central male figure, sometimes a nice guy, sometimes not, including Parrish, The Young Philadelphians, Elmer Gantry, and Giant. But this reminded me most of The Oscar, in which the main character is a total bastard, out only for himself, hurting (and eventually being left by) everyone around him. The very handsome Peppard (pictured) is good at being a bastard while retaining just enough charm that we can see how people get sucked into his circle. The character is based on Howard Hughes, who got rich in aviation and movies, and who jump-started the career of Jean Harlow, but the Rina character here is, except for being blond and sexy and having a tragic end, nothing like Harlow. This episodic film is entertaining, though never quite as sleazy as it wants to be, perhaps because of the constraints of the Production Code, which would collapse a year or two after this came out. For the most part, the supporting cast is solid: Martha Hyer as the hooker, Elizabeth Ashley as the long-suffering wife, Lew Ayers as the lawyer, Robert Cummings as an agent, Ralph Taeger as the airplane buddy, Martin Balsam as a studio head and Audrey Totter as a kindly prostitute who helps Jonas recover from a multi-day drinking binge. The only real casting misstep is Alan Ladd who is too old and tired and charmless for the part of Nevada. The movie is cinematic fast-food, probably not good for you but fun to indulge in. [DVD]