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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.
Changing the title from the original "The Inspector" to "Lisa" for American release somehow misses the point, since it changes focus from Dutch police inspector Peter Jongman (Stephen Boyd) and the task he accomplishes as to appease his remorse for what he did not do for his girlfriend Rachel when seized by the Nazis: to give a helping hand . Drama is action, and action means change and it is Jongman who goes through a stronger process of transformation during the film narration, and in the end he is a different man. Jongman finds the object of his mission in Lisa Held (Dolores Hart in one of her last film roles), an abused Jewish girl that was a prisoner in Auschwitz, lost all her relatives and wants to go to Palestine to find a cure to her mental wounds and a sense to all what happened to her. Neither character is quite original in the history of films: we have seen several stories about Jewish women traumatized by war and concentration camps like Lisa, and men like Jongman, in search of expiation. But Jongman goes to an unusual extent of his professional duty to make him an attractive character, under a light that somehow makes him different. The material taken from a novel by Dutch writer Jan de Hartog was a good basis for what could have been a better drama. Instead, in the hands of old Hollywood professional Philip Dune, the film drags the load of sentimental melodrama (not helped a bit by Malcolm Arnold's omnipresent score). By 1962 standards this was what the French critics disdainfully called "cinéma de papa" (or "Dad's cinema"), an old fashioned formula that in the case of literary adaptations turned the motion picture into a vehicle of the "filmable" aspects of the books. This is most evident when the action moves from Europe to the city of Tangier in North Africa, including cardboard scenes with smuggler Karl van der Pink (Hugh Griffith) in a flat with a big window that shows mockups of the city, and where the man is attacked by special-effects bats. I guess that what affected me the most when I finally watched "The Inspector" (52 years after its release) was the fact that I had read so many good comments about it and found out they were romanticized visions of the motion picture and one more rumination of the Jewish drama (as the change of title suggests). Still the chemistry of Boyd and Hart is essential to keep us interested, backed by the usual good cast of British actors, also including Leo McKern, Donald Pleasence, Robert Stephens and Finlay Currie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thankfully this was Lex Barker's last Tarzan film. Discarding clichéd Cold War leanings and Eastern European villains in the stories, the routine plot of "Tarzan and the She-Devil" turned its attention to hot-blooded Europeans with similar greedy motivations, this time for profits from ivory trading, including three mean Mediterranean males and one Belgian woman. But as Jane's mishaps are central to the plot, the enterprise turns too mellow and becomes more melodramatic than the previous entries that showed the Greystokes' domestic life. In the story Jane is abused, lost in the jungle, kidnapped and imprisoned, and in the proceedings the Greystokes' tree house is set on fire, so there was a need to introduce before romantic images and dialogues between Tarzan and Jane that in the end seem too ludicrous and out of place. On top of that Monique van Vooren's character (a Belgian business woman called Lyra) becomes too soft to be one of cinema's unforgettable she-devils (think of Ona Munson in "The Shanghai Gesture", Gale Sondergaard in "The Spider Woman", or Mari Blanchard in "She Devil", for example). Directed by Kurt Neumann (a veteran in Burroughs land, having directed Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan and the Amazons", "Tarzan and the Leopard Woman" and "Tarzan and the Huntress") the film still has high entertainment values to keep our attention. As Neumann went on to direct "She Devil", "Kronos" and the original "The Fly", Lex Barker became a superstar in European adventure films, made two movies with Cuban H-Bomb Chelo Alonso, appeared in Fellini's "La dolce vita" with Anika Ekberg and De Sica's "Woman Times Seven" with Shirley MacLaine, and lived happily ever after married to Miss Spain 1961, until his death in 1973.
By the fourth Lex Barker entry into the Tarzan series things were more or less established, and though the new adventures had become almost routine, the efficiency evidenced in the previous films was still maintained. The new additions here are a surrogate for Boy called Joey, played very well by a kid whose only film this was; and a fourth actress playing Jane, pretty Dorothy Hart. The Cold War shadow is still present in this production, with a Russian villain named Rokov (Austrian-born actor Charles Korvin), who wants to get hold of the diamonds of an African tribe. As in "Tarzan's Peril" a murder happens in the first minutes, leading to the impersonation of Lord Greystoke, Tarzan's cousin, by the villain's weak colleague (Patrick Knowles), and Jane convincing Tarzan to help them. Here Cheetah's compulsive stealing is also a main ingredient of the plot, and little Joey also plays a key role in the proceedings. Considered by some specialists as one of the best Tarzan movies, it was directed by Cy Endfield, an American left-wing filmmaker who had a promising career but when blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he went to England in 1951, where he made television, advertisement and a few good films as "Mysterious Island", "Sands of the Kalahari" and "Zulu" before retiring and inventing the Microwriter. Possibly it was Endfield who introduced several "sleight-of-hand routines", performed on screen by Rokov, who uses them to trick gullible natives. Known as a "master of the art of micro magic", Endfield had worked in Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. Last but not least, this is probably the only Tarzan movie to include two black-listed film professionals: Endfield and Korvin.
Third Tarzan film starring Lex Barker is still good, directed by Byron Haskin, who had made "I Walk Alone" and "Treasure Island" and who would go on to make the science-fiction classic "The War of the Worlds" and the adventure films "The Naked Jungle" and "Captain Sindbad". Labeled as the first Tarzan film made in Africa, the material mostly consists of establishment shots and good sequences of dances and tribe life, aptly directed by Philip Brandon and photographed by cinematographer Jack Whitehead. It matches only moderately well with the studio shooting, but still gives add some distinction to the product. As it happened before with Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan is affected by the United States foreign policy, so he is part of a Cold War intrigue. Thankfully it is not openly exposed, but suggested: the villain (George Macready) is called Radijek, he probably comes from Poland or any other country behind the Iron Curtain, and he is providing guns to the Africans, although not under the Soviet aegis: he is a ruthless, egotistical, murderous dealer, who wants to sell his weapons and collect . His first opponent is a retiring British commissioner (Alan Napier), who defends the colonialist regime of the Crown, and wants to leave the natives under control and evangelized by Protestant missionaries, a work that took him 30 years. But things get violent soon in this entry, quickly increasing the body count and including women abuse, as Queen Melmendi (Dorothy Dandridge) is subject to the whims of the feisty but mean ruler of another tribe, King Bulam (Frederick O'Neal). As usual Cheetah keeps stealing things and getting scared even by rubber snakes.
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