Friday, August 27, 2021


Prof. Forrest is working on a device that, when finished, will be able to generate power on land that can be transferred to planes in the air and ships at sea to use in addition to traditional fuel. While scouting off the coast of California for a new element needed for the invention, Forrest and his assistant have disappeared. His daughter Claire and famed criminologist Lance Reardon go searching for him and wind up tracing him to Mystery Island, a small private island co-owned by four businessmen. (What they do on the island is never made clear--I assumed it was a private resort but we never see anyone else there except servants.) We soon discover that a villain named Captain Mephisto, supposedly the ghost or descendent of a pirate who used the island for his piratical ways, is holding Forrest and demanding that he finish his device so Mephisto can use it in some world domination scheme. Lance and Claire obtain the help of the owners in looking for Forrest, but it soon becomes clear that Mephisto is a flesh-and-blood being, most likely one of four owners. To become the spitting image of the historical pirate, the man sits down in a transformation machine which changes "the molecular arrangement of blood corpuscles" to make him look exactly like the pirate. Over 15 chapters, Lance and Claire survive fistfights, gunfights, floods, the collapse of a rope bridge, and an exploding speedboat to eventually find her father and figure out who Captain Mephisto really is.

There are some things I like quite a bit about this serial. For the most part, the action is confined to one setting, the island, big enough for some variety--the main house, various cliffs and fields--while avoiding the sometimes numbing repetition of industries around a city being targeted by the bad guys. The fistfights, averaging 2 per chapter, are excellent, full of stuntmen leaping across the room at each other, smashing lots of furniture and throwing breakable items of all kinds. The idea, planted in the beginning, that the villain might be supernatural in origin, is fun, and there is a great weapon, a "radium vapor" ray, though it's only used once. Much of the rest, however, I’m not so crazy about. The transformation device is cool at the beginning as we watch a man strap himself into a chair and throw a switch that causes much electrification behind him and results in him becoming Captain Mephisto. But we see this same footage repeated in almost every chapter (except for one 'clip show' episode, Chapter 10, which is used as a catch-up summary) and it becomes tedious. I couldn't bring myself to care about the central mystery (who is Captain Mephisto?) because the suspects are not well differentiated; the owners are just four well-dressed middle-aged men who are basically interchangeable. The acting all around is bland. Richard Bailey, as Lance, has no charisma, bland looks, and just isn’t hero material. Linda Stirling (Claire) is slightly better, and even manages to pop into a couple of the room-wrecking frays. Roy Barcroft as Mephisto, is disappointing--he often seems tired and cranky rather than evil. Kenne Duncan is more effective as Mephisto's chief henchman. The serial lasts for fifteen chapters, which is about three too many, but despite all its faults, it remained watchable, mostly for those great fisticuff scenes. Pictured are Bailey and Barcroft. [DVD]

Thursday, August 19, 2021


On a desert road on the way to Los Angeles, a young couple is stopped for speeding. Steve, a law student, is calm and collected but Judy, clutching a teddy bear, is almost hysterical. It turns out that they are returning home after having a Las Vegas wedding, and, as she's 17 and still in high school, she's nervous about how her parents will take the news. The cop lets them go with a warning, but at home, her mother insists that they get an annulment. Her father wants to let her juggle school and married life, and maybe learn firsthand what she's gotten into. Steve can't wait to hit the sack with his new wife, but as Judy is a nervous virgin, Steve first takes her to the beatnik coffeehouse where he tries to calm her down, but while there she runs into her ex-boyfriend Chuck, son of a studio boss, who, even though he seems to have another girlfriend, is unreasonably jealous. Back at Steve's apartment, the first conjugal experience goes well enough, but soon Judy realizes, like her father hoped, how hard it is to balance school and marriage, especially when Steve doesn't seem inclined to help out in shopping, cooking or cleaning at all. The two travel a rocky road, not helped by her parents, until Chuck starts making trouble, at school and at Judy's home. One night, Chuck lures Judy to an empty soundstage at his dad's studio with the promise of a reconciliation, but instead he tries to assault her. Will Steve be her white knight, arriving in time to stop the attack?

Like HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS, this is another American International teen appeal movie. It more or less masquerades as a social problem film--teen marriage, pro or con?--but with an ending very similar to that of HELLCATS, it becomes a thriller, in this case with a potential rapist character taking center stage. Up to that point, it's a rather boring melodrama filled with lackluster characters and actors. Anita Sands (Judy) never made another movie, though she did go on to appear in TV shows of the early 1960s. Ron Foster (Steve) had a much longer career, but neither one looks their character's age--Foster was almost 30 and Sands looks more like a college student than a high school student. Neither one is particularly appealing in looks or character, which leaves Chris Robinson (Chuck, pictured) as the standout, and he is very good as the creepy ex, and even looks roughly age-appropriate (he was 20 when he shot the film). It's fun to see one minor character, a friend of Chuck's, always plugged into his transistor radio in anticipation of today's earbud mania. OK as a novelty movie, but never as fun or titillating as its title promises. [TCM]

Sunday, August 15, 2021


Rich boy Thad Walker keeps getting in trouble through his reckless ways, and when his car hits a child on a bike, his father has had enough. Dad slaps him around and Thad takes off for Europe. He and some buddies wind up in the Lafayette Escadrille, a brigade of American fliers fighting for France in the early days of World War I before the U.S. was officially involved. On his last night in Paris before taking off for flight training, Thad meets a fairly wholesome prostitute named Renée and falls head over heels for her, promising to come back for her when he can. During training, the hot-headed Thad punches a drill sergeant in the face and is thrown in the brig. With a penalty of several years in jail hanging over him, Thad's friends start a brawl that draws attention away from the brig, helping Thad to escape. On his way to Paris, he gets in a fight with a soldier and winds up with a big, vivid scar across one eye. However, Renee still loves him and they have a symbolic marriage ceremony in her room. Though she has given up her previous profession, she gets him work for a pimp as a shill, bringing soldiers in for the whores. By this time, the U.S. has entered the war, and when Thad takes an American officer to the brothel, he tells his sad story so well that the general agrees to let him fly with the Americans. In a rushed ending, we are told (not shown) that Thad wins his wings, has a great career as a pilot, and eventually invites his old buddies to Paris to witness his church wedding to Renée.

Director William Wellman based this movie on his WWI experiences; his son William Wellman Jr. plays the older Wellman in the movie (though the reference to his name is a 'blink and you’ll miss it' moment). Apparently, this was not a pleasant experience for Wellman, and ultimately, the studio took the movie away from him and did some re-cutting and re-shoots; in the original version, Thad dies in battle and Renée kills herself, but the released version has a much happier ending. Tab Hunter acquits himself nicely as Thad, and his band of buddies (Wellman Jr., Clint Eastwood, David Janssen, Will Hutchins and Jody McCrea--son of Joel McCrea) are all fine. I was a little surprised that, despite some ominous narration at the beginning about how many members of the Escadrille died in action, most of the main characters here make it to the end. The focus overall is more on character and romance rather than war, with only one battle sequence included near the end, so war film buffs may not find this to their liking. Marcel Dalio plays the drill sergeant in scenes of weak and fairly excruciating comedy, as Dalio only speaks French and the boys only speak English. I found all of these scenes unbearable. Otherwise, passable melodrama with some good-looking young actors. Pictured from left are McCrea, Janssen, Wellman and Hunter. [TCM]

Friday, August 13, 2021


Madame Gloria runs the Academy of Mental Science which is in competition with J. Hamilton Gibbs (her ex-husband) and his branded business of selling healthy living through vegetables, fruits and nuts (the movie gets some comic mileage out of emphasizing the word "nuts," and also out of the fact that Gibbs himself doesn’t follow his own diet suggestions). Unknown to them, PR man Al Bolger is working for both of them, and his current job is doing a photo shoot for Gibbs' Physical Culture Girl of the Year contest at a gym where boxer Jimmy Conley works as an instructor. Jimmy is dating Pat, Madame Gloria's assistant, and he talks Pat into entering the contest which she wins, to the joy of Gibbs who sees this as a way to needle his ex-wife. Pat owns some land which, after they marry, she and Jimmy plan to turn into a health camp for boys. Jimmy takes part in one last boxing match, and he unexpectedly knocks out Tiger O'Brien; Tiger claims that Jimmy put a hex on him, but actually Tiger had been flirting with a beautiful blonde in the audience and not paying attention. Even though Jimmy has told Pat that he'll quit, Bolger decides to push Jimmy as the "miracle kid," and works to break up Jimmy and Pat's relationship. Pat leaves, Jimmy goes back to the ring, and his manager arranges in secret for Jimmy's opponents to lose. Meanwhile, Pat goes on a national tour as the Physical Culture Girl, and through various machinations on the parts of various people, Jimmy and Pat reconcile, and Bolger is exposed as pitting Gloria against her ex.

Cute B-romantic comedy with a sports backdrop, though there are only two boxing scenes in the movie, filmed mostly in little detail from several rows back in the auditorium. Tom Neal (pictured), who plays Jimmy, had been a boxer in college but he doesn't really get a chance to show off his moves--still, he's handsome and charming in a B-movie way, as he usually is, and he's the main reason I stuck with this. As is the case in many classic-era B-movies, the plot, especially in the last half-hour, gets a little too muddled for its own good--it's never really confusing, but it would be a breezier film if it lost one of its plotlines. Carol Hughes, busy B-actress of the 40s (she played Dale Arden in a 1940 Flash Gordon serial) is fine as Pat. I wasn't familiar with most of the other supporting players, including Betty Blythe as Gloria and Ben Taggert as Gibbs, but they're all mostly OK. B-comedy fluff for those inclined. [YouTube]

Tuesday, August 10, 2021


In St. Tropez, beautiful young Juliete (Brigitte Bardot) is an 18-year-old orphan who works lackadaisically at a bookstore but would rather flirt and sunbathe in the nude (she is described by one person as "shameless, impolite and lazy"); her frustrated adoptive mother is ready to send her back to the orphanage. Older businessman Eric Carradine, who ogles her but seems to realize that a romance would be out of the question, is trying to buy up land to build a casino, but is being blocked by the refusal of the Tardieu family to sell their shipyard. Antoine, the oldest son, returns to town to engage in discussions with Carradine but is against selling. Carrdine keeps upping his offer, and also suggests that Antoine marry Juliete to keep her in town. Though there are sparks between the two, Antoine suspects she would "put horns" on him fairly quickly. His brother Michel has been harboring a crush on Juliete for some time, and later, when the father dies, the sons agree to sell to Carradine in exchange for a stake in another shipyard, and Michel marries Juliete. They are happy for a short time until Antoine returns to St. Tropez to work at the shipyard. When Michel leaves for a day on business, Antoine and Juliete have sex on the beach. Both feel guilty, and when Michel returns, his mother (of all people!) tells him what happened. Juliete goes out to a bar and loses herself in orgiastic dancing; Michel follows with a gun. Against all odds, there is a happy ending.

This French film is known for being Bardot's big breakthrough in the United Statesthough she was 22 when she made this film for her husband, director Roger Vadim, she had already made some fifteen films. It is often derided as a bad movie, best appreciated as a mild piece of titillation which shows off the charms of both Bardot and St. Tropez, but actually as a sex melodrama, it's not that much different from such Hollywood films of the 40s and 50s, and seen now, many years after the initial brouhaha, it's still entertaining. Bardot is sexy and earthy and pouty, the very definition of a sex kitten. Her big nude scene, at the very beginning, will disappoint today's viewers; she is lying down on a towel, and when she rises, she is hidden behind a sheet on a laundry line. But she acts well, creating a character we are alternately drawn to and repelled by. Overlooked by most straight male critics, is the fact that the movie also has some nice male eye candy. The pouty, full-lipped Jean-Louis Trintignant (Michel; pictured with Bardot) who gets a shirtless scene, and the slightly older, sleekly handsome Christian Marquand (Antoine) who gets a wet tank top scene, are both quite sexy and give solid performances. All three are basically playing stereotypes but they make the characters rounded and easy to identify with. Curt Jurgens, who I associate with sinister roles (sometimes Nazis), is less dangerous here; we may not like his character, but he's not a villain. There really aren't any villains except maybe the adoptive mother, and the social worker who wants Juliete examined by a doctor for a "virginity certificate" (Juliete's reply: "Don’t worry, you’ve had your vaccine"). 16-year-old Georges Poujouly plays the youngest Tardieu brother, the one misstep in the movie; Poujouly is fine, but nothing is done with the character. Best line, spoken about Bardot: "Her ass is a song!" [TCM]

Thursday, August 05, 2021


Three people who think of themselves as misfits share a hospital recovery ward: Junie Moon (Liza Minnelli) is a chipper young woman who had battery acid thrown at her by a psycho date and is now heavily scarred on half of her face; Warren (Robert Moore) is a gay man who was shot at by a guy he was flirting with and is now confined to a wheelchair; Arthur (Ken Howard), a epileptic loner who spent most of his life being made fun of in a orphanage, is recovering from a serious seizure. Their prospects in the outside world seem dicey, so the three decide to move in together. They rent a small house from Mrs. Gregory, an eccentric rich lady, and they all experience ups and downs as they acclimate to their conditions. Arthur gets a job at a nearby fish market run by Mario (James Coco), though he loses it after a jealous next-door neighbor tells Mario that Arthur is a "sodomite"; later, Mario, who has an unrequited crush on Junie, sends the three off on a beach resort vacation. Warren has an interlude with a hunky Black social director who carries him around from place to place on his shoulder; Junie and Arthur take tentative stabs at becoming a couple. By the end, there has been comedy, melodrama, romance, redemption and tragedy.

In her third movie, just after her breakout role in THE STERILE CUCKOO, Liza Minelli continues to build the perky, flighty persona she would polish to an Oscar-winning sheen in CABARET two years later, and she is the reason to watch this movie. As a narrative, it's kind of a mess. Junie's background is given in a reasonably straightforward, if relentlessly creepy, flashback; we get Arthur's story through a series of dreamlike fragments in which the adult Arthur appears surrounded by the children that mocked him; Warren relates his background involving a gay father figure (with a brief appearance by Leonard Frey) but dismisses his fateful shooting in just a sentence or two. For all the flashbacks, the central three are not terribly well fleshed out--their "misfit" problems pretty much stand in for their characters. It's also a little odd that Warren's "happy ending" consists of him having sex on a beach all night long--with a woman! Emily Yancy makes that character, Solana, quite appealing, but still I'm sorry that Beach Boy (the social director, well played against type by Fred Williamson, later a star of Blaxploitation action movies) isn't the one whom Warren spends the night with (Beach Boy may be bisexual). Robert Moore (who later directed the classic mystery spoof MURDER BY DEATH) and a young Ken Howard are quite believable in their roles, thin as the writing is. Kay Thompson, author of the classic Eloise books, and Minnelli's godmother), does well in the small role of the strange Mrs. Gregory who starts out as rude, then becomes interesting, and ends as somewhat cruel. Not a film for all tastes, as it's definitely a quirky period piece, but a must for Liza fans. Pictured, from left: Moore, Howard, Minnelli. [TCM]

Monday, August 02, 2021


Harold Gern is a rich guy who is on the run from a major indictment. He and his wife Evelyn are in Puerto Rico with their lawyer Martin, trying to ride out the scandal, though Martin keeps trying to get Harold to take the situation seriously. They attend a cockfight which sickens Evelyn, and back at the hotel, Evelyn vents to Martin about her frustrations with Harold, then comes on to him, moves which he rejects, though clearly he’s interested. The next day, the three take a boat out for a diving trip. When Martin is stung by a ray, they come back to the surface but none of them can breathe. Leaving their air tanks on, they find the boat captain dead and no one answering on the radio. Soon, they realize that there has been some kind of incident and all the oxygen was sucked out of the atmosphere, though by the time they reach land, the oxygen has returned. Dead bodies and crashed cars are all they find in town, and Martin notes that they may be the last three people alive on the planet. Thus ends any real plot that a sci-fi movie fan might enjoy, and any real excitement that a B-movie fan might enjoy. From here, it basically turns into a stagy melodrama about the squabbling and posturing between three members of a love triangle. Earlier movies in this mold like FIVE or THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED also focused on romantic tensions but didn’t neglect the sci-fi apocalypse elements of the plot. 

Like those other films, the action here moves to an abandoned, isolated house. Harold and Evelyn head to the empty vacation home of a friend of theirs and Harold rather grudgingly allows Martin to tag along. Tensions rise among the three, with Evelyn shifting her desires back and forth between the men. There’s a fight that begins as the men slap each other with fish. The bland dialogue sometimes tries to pass as philosophical; when Evelyn tells Martin she wants to have a child with him, he replies, “All that’s left is fear for us to live with our pain” (whatever that means). Of course, having them decide to live as a threesome would have been too subversive for the time, so [Spoiler!] in the end, a blinded Martin dies in a church in Evelyn’s arms declaring there is no god, and Evelyn and Harold walk off together into an uncertain future. Given the title and the situation, this had promise, but it’s one of Roger Corman’s quickies, shot in about a week at the tail-end of another Puerto Rican production, CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA. The script was unfinished so the writer, Robert Towne (who later wrote CHINATOWN) kept writing even as was acting (he plays Martin, rather ineffectively). The other two actors, Betsy Jones-Morland and Anthony Carbone, aren’t that much better; they seem like understudies waiting for the real stars who never showed up. As rough as I’ve been on this film, it’s not unwatchable, since the apocalyptic aspect does manage to hold some interest throughout--the brief scenes of them walking through the deserted town are effective. Pictured are Carbone, Jones-Morland and Towne. [DVD]