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Very good drama about a scheme to destroy the U.S. Navy fleet and the Canal of Panama, done with more resources, even to have location shooting in Panama. Bela Lugosi is the sinister Eastern Europe leader of a band of terrorists. He stands with his mercenary associate Menchen by the Miraflores locks (one of the three gateways to pass from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic and vice versa) and studies the plan that needs to be executed, while he runs a sugar cane plantation and has his secret headquarters below the ruins of the cathedral from the first settlement of the city of Panamá, that was destroyed by pirate Henry Morgan in late 16th century. Bela decides to get information from a righteous official (Edmund Lowe), who knows where the mines for the defense of the canal are located; and to obtain that information he uses the services of vamp Peg Williams (Martha Mansfield) in Washington, where most of the action takes place. The story then seemingly goes the direction of a typical melodrama about adultery and military degradation, but do not be misled, stay with the movie, and you will reach a tense climax aboard a ship on its way to Panamá, while a storm is ravaging the sea and Lugosi fights Lowe to death. For his first motion picture in the United States Lugosi had a very good start: a good leading role mostly handled with moderation, without the mannerisms that would become his trademark.
A simplification of the first part of the 13th century epic poem Nibelungenlied, concerning the story of Siegfried (Sigfrido, here) fighting the dragon, gaining access to King Gunther's court and winning his confidence, wooing his sister, princess Kriemhild (Crimilde), fooling Queen Brünhild/Brunilde and ignoring courtier-warrior Hagen's palace intrigues, which lead to Sigfrido's death. For good measure, the scriptwriters added part of Crimilde's revenge, solved in the last minutes, in a fast sequence. Unfortunately for me the copy of the film (at least the one I can appreciate best, with Spanish translations) is not of the best quality: the hues and colors change constantly to the point that I felt that it was a visual strategy. It is a pity because it was conceived as a lavish adventure film for youngsters, with elements of Medieval fantasy throughout the story (in spite of being a tragic story). For its time and the resources the personnel had, it is attractive: while it is true that Carlo Rambaldi's dragon is far from his later fine achievements, to be fair it is not too different from the dragons, sea serpents and other monsters we saw in other productions of the 1950s and 1960s. The work by production designer Beni Montresor and cinematographer Carlo Nebiolo is above average, composer Franco Langella makes good use of themes by Richard Wagner, and the whole cast is more than serviceable, especially German actor Sebastian Fischer, projecting much enthusiasm as the young Sigfrido.
Director Giorgio Ferroni had a long career in Italian cinema, back to the 1930s. He was at the peak of his art by 1961, having a previous commercial success with "Mill of the Stone Women". He took great care and there were no financial limitations for his adaptation of Euripides' classic tragedy "The Bacchantes", including location shooting in Greece for the opening dance sequence in panoramic exteriors, and the hiring of popular foreign talents, as Finnish actress-dancer Taina Elg as Dirce (though admittedly her Hollywood career was starting to decline by 1961, even after winning a Golden Globe for "Les Girls"), French actor Pierre Brice for the role of Dionisos/Dionysus, Russian actor Akim Tamiroff as Tiresias, and the American choreographer Herbert Ross, long before becoming a film director. The prestige of the artistic personnel was rounded with Italian artists, including composer Mario Nascimbene and actors Alberto Lupo and Miranda Campa as the son and mother rulers of Thebes. Welcome liberties were taken in adapting the tragedy, considered by many scholars as Euripides' greatest stage work, whose open call to hedonism was more than relevant for the decade of "free love", as it is still pertinent today. But its stage origin is strong: the film remains a verbose product, with dialogs delivered in a too theatrical manner (especially by Dionisos), and the film ends being perceived as longer than its actual running time. Inexplicably Brice wears an ugly platinum wig, his Dionisos is tamed and stiff, compared to the exuberant descriptions of the god in art; and the only bacchanal depicted is too restrained and chaste even by 1961 film conventions. All this said I find it a work of enough merit to deserve better appreciation. To call this "sword and sandal" (a simplistic renaming of the more accurate -and appealing- "peplum" term, for a sub-genre that quite often includes little clothing, sexy women, sadist rulers and masochist demigods), or re-issuing it as "Bondage Gladiator Sexy", illustrates the tendency to mix expressions with artistic intentions (if partly failed as this) with fast-buck productions, exploiting the success of the most recent strong-man release. Curiously, after "Le baccanti", the term would be more justified for the several peplums Ferroni made.
Enjoyable early Corman with California surfers as Vikings and dark-haired beach bums as their enemies. Bradford Hatton is the blandest Viking warrior you will ever see, but the film as a whole is not as bad as people say. Most of the minuscule budget went to the special effects and matte paintings, and the F/X men gave the producers as good as they got, though I must say the serpent is far better than I expected, a serviceable rubber snake with countless teeth, and better looking than Corman's crab monsters, wasp woman or the monster from the haunted sea. After budgeting cast and crew fees, Corman was left with the proverbial three bucks for costumes, sets and props. All this do show but he somehow managed to make it all look decent enough to pass for a drive-in masterpiece. "The Saga of the Viking Women" is a tight, little adventure film with a bit of melodrama for good measure, Jonathan Haze turning into a blond macho action hero out of the little shop of horrors; the Wasp Woman herself, Miss Susan Cabot, as a wicked high priestess; Jay Sayer as a queen-prince still in the closet, Richard Devon as a tyrant with no army but a bunch of soldiers with bad wigs, and a good ending with lovers reunited.
What a good surprise! I expected nothing of this film; I had just decided to watch it because I like those low-budget science fiction films from the 1950s, without imagining it would be this good. Of course, there are many silly digressions, a rather trite family subplot and lack of information about radiation or, for that matter, energy. But everything is handled with disarming sincerity... I am always moved by the naiveté of mankind, even when doing the most hideous things (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) and justify them with the "peasant philosophy", as I call the simple reasoning of the day-night, good-evil and man-woman kind... All this said the central idea is quite attractive, the cast is functional, the sets of the Canadian mine are impressive and the special effects are able to create a dark atmosphere of doom and build much tension. Besides it is a wonderful time capsule showing the common man's appreciation of science then and thankfully it avoids any tiresome reference to the "red menace". I give "The Magnetic Monster" 8 stars, as if I were writing a review about it for a newspaper in 1953. Go and see it.
Costa Rican Ramón Obón scripted some of the best Mexican horror films, including the classics "The Vampire" and "Misterios de ultratumba" (The Black Pit of Dr. M), and little known effective works as "The World of the Vampires", not to mention the countless stories written for film series of charros, mounted avengers, masked wrestlers and other assorted idols of the Mexican audience. A year before his untimely death, Obón made his only film, a departure from those hurriedly-made products into which his scripts were turned. Made in the vein of the anthology films of the day, as Roger Corman's "Tales of Terror" and Mario Bava's "I tre volti della paura" (Black Sabbath), the 95-minute film tells two long stories in equal time, "Panic" (a story of adultery) and "Supreme Fear" (a tale of claustrophobia), both dealing with the concepts of terror, fright, anxiety and dread, and how they manifest and can be manipulated, especially to intrigue an audience through visual red herrings. It is also much influenced by the art films of the early 1960s, as Michelangelo Antonioni's "L'eclisse" (The Eclipse), suggesting a relation between alienation and death with landscape and structures, especially in the second episode, "Supreme Fear". Although the tone and feeling of the images are somehow betrayed by Rafael Carrión's trendy jazz score, as if it were a French New Wave film, for a first work Obón handled his script very well. It is a pity that he could not continue his career as director, when he was about to embark on a project with independent producer Antonio del Castillo to make 26 television movies for American television.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Contains mild spoilers) How a good mystery story with horror elements could evolve to a disappointing resolution, with J. Carrol Naish overacting as comic relief, and Andrea King and Peter Lorre wrestling with absurd scenes and dialogue, I cannot explain. The first and second acts contain a few of the best B&W images of the history of horror cinema that I can remember, especially all scenes involving the mad pianist played by Victor Francen until his magnificently staged death, or the moment when the Beast demands its ring to Lorre. With the exception of his avant garde silent films, I don't place the work of French director Robert Florey too high, but I must admit he made a remarkable job in this film, until the story began to turn into a tale of dementia. When the schizophrenic hallucination galore started, the movie fell into the trap of psychological melodrama and never recovered. Naish in his final scenes made it worse, unsuccessfully trying to make us laugh. Maybe it was studio interference as I have read, or maybe screenwriter Curt Siodmak did not delivered a very inspired script. But from the moment in the middle of the night when the dead pianist's young American relative runs terrified to the garden, followed by his father, the police commissioner and the leading man, the film sinks fast: inside the house King and Lorre go into an endless interplay, he threatens to kill her and the hand goes nuts over the piano, while no one comes back to the house. Although it has become a cult favorite, it is a pity that it did not turned into a winner because it had all the elements to be a genre classic.
This film is extremely boring. If I give it 3 stars it is for the special effects (no credit is given) and the use of model airplanes. But the rest is routine, and a bit on the absurd side. A retired American officer is running a camp where men are trained to fight as bomber pilots during II World War, somewhere in the Panama Canal Zone, close enough to the capital city (where they seldom go, only one scene that could happen anywhere) and far away from US military bases, losing the opportunity to add some tension about the war going on and how the Canal could be affected. The central drama is the taming of a rich and spoiled recruit (John Hubbard) by a poor but tough all-American trainer (Chester Morris), and both are attracted to the only woman around (Harriet Hilliard), who happens to be the boring daughter of the boss, so she always manages to be present everywhere. The rest of the plot you have seen it many times before, betraying the enthusiasm of a few of the players: Hubbard, Larry Parks, Lloyd Bridges, Louis Jean Heydt and especially old pro George McKay. I saw this one while doing some research for a friend's book about foreign films made in or about Panama. Produced by Columbia Pictures, this is infinitely less interesting than movies made by "poverty row" studios as PRC-Producers Releasing Corporation ("South of Panama") and GNP-Grand National Pictures ("Panama Patrol"), or others produced with more zest, as Fox's "Marie Galante" and "Charlie Chan in Panama".
Clavillazo was not frequently associated with a given director, as other Mexican comedians: Tin Tan had Gilberto Martínez Solares and Cantinflas worked almost exclusively with Miguel M. Delgado. Clavillazo was directed by many filmmakers (as Julián Soler, René Cardona or Rafael Baledón), and although Martínez Solares was in charge of several of the comic's finest movies, he was simultaneously making Tin Tan's best work, so I guess Clavillazo came second in his list of priorities. In this one the comedian worked for Alejandro Galindo, a respected director who made a few classics with strong social comments during the golden era of Mexican cinema, including "Campeón sin corona", "Una familia de tantas", "Esquina, bajan...!" and "Espaldas mojadas", or popular melodramas as "Tu hijo debe nacer". Galindo also made comedies, and in 1951 he had a big success with a parody of the "red menace" dramas called "Dicen que soy comunista", starring Resortes, another popular funny man. But eight years later, as hard as everybody tried, "Golden Legs" seems too elaborate for a sports film: it was largely shot outdoors, but for comedy details of the central bicycle race Galindo relied too much on back projection and studio shooting. On the positive side, on the role of the Mayor, Óscar Pulido as usual delivers his comedy lines with aplomb (making them sound funnier) but he does not have enough screen time. So at 92 minutes the film feels like an endless race to the finish line, with reiterative xenophobic jokes and a character running amok shooting at Clavillazo with a pistol (luckily with no aim at all), while nobody takes action, unless we as spectators stop watching. Not surprisingly by the end of the decade the crisis of the Mexican post-war cinema would go into a more profound crisis, until a new generation of filmmakers saved the day in the 1970s.
Moving melodrama about Dr. Alberto Robles, an idealistic city physician (Arturo de Córdova) living in a rural community ruled by macho customs and feudalistic landowners, who falls for Soledad, a peasant woman (Stella Inda, of "Los olvidados" fame). She loves him in turn, but their relationship is marked with abuse and violence from heavies Pedro Armendáriz and Carlos López Moctezuma. Director Roberto Gavaldón as usual makes a good work, although sometimes the Catholic sentimentality (best illustrated by the character of Father Juan and his children choir) is irritable, as well as the final "conscience-rising" speech by Dr. Robles to his city colleagues. Be wary of commercial copies that repeat some shots to cover missing fragments: though brief sometimes it feels as if the filmmakers had no footage to edit, which is not the case. I suppose that better copies of the film are non-existent, since a great fire destroyed negatives of many Mexican films in the vaults of Cineteca Nacional de México.
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