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Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
The Wife Is Hotter Than The Mistress
It's true, we're all wondering how a 50 foot woman can fit in a bedroom, even a big bedroom that is 20' by 20'. But we shouldn't quibble, for obviously the tall girl had her knees bent.
Let's get down to cases. I'm not worried about Nancy seeing satellites, or my favorite line in the film, beautifully delivered by the deputy when he's ordered by the sheriff to fire his gun at the towering, vengeful female, "I CAN'T SHOOT A LADY!"
What I really want to know is why nobody that has commented on this film, from the experts to the fans, has wondered aloud why philandering Harry Archer prefers a slim blond in Honey Parker, to his rich, sultry, curvy, gorgeous wife, Nancy. Allison Hayes is so sexy, so leggy, and so hot in her black dresses and black high heels that Yvette Vickers looks like a pale, washed out blond in comparison. Yes, Yvette Vickers is pretty, but she's not a former Miss America contestant with the raw sex appeal that Allison Hayes has.
In conclusion sci-fi fans, when I watch this movie its because I get to see Allison Hayes walk around a lot in tight dresses, and to see all that leg and cleavage she shows while walking through the countryside and when she's busy demolishing the roof of that seedy little bar and grill where Harry & Honey hang out.
For those who get the latest DVD for this film with the commentary by Tom Weaver and Yvette Vickers, be advised that the whole commentary is a showcase for Vickers career. They spend about two minutes total talking about Allison Hayes, which I found infuriating.
Meanwhile, let me get back to looking at this movie one more time, so I can see my favorite, dark-haired bombshell, Allison Hayes, swing those hips and strut her stuff while she knocks down another drink and twirls that 'Star of India' diamond around her graceful fingers.
The Giant Claw (1957)
So bad, it's bad
The Giant Claw is in fierce competition with films like, 'Robot Monster' and 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' for worst film of all time. A phony looking giant vulture attacks 'Lionel Trains' in this completely unconscious film. The script is so bad that everything the characters say to one another is ridiculous. It's no wonder that this film is a prime target in the movie, "It Came From Hollywood," where this gem is hammered for the line, 'A Bird As Big As A Battleship', with gleeful, endless needling. The line pops up relentlessly through the course of the film, so there's no escaping it. There are several shots from, 'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms' and 'Earth vs. The Flying Saucers' among other sci-fi films from the 50's to beef up the scraggly vulture's attacks. At one point the big vulture is responsible for a few deaths, so the military puts the entire world under martial law and no one is allowed to go out of their homes. Of course, the huge buzzard is mainly concerned with pursuing the stars of this classic, Jeff Morrow & Mara Corday, wherever they might be. Yet the director is so lame that he doesn't even provide for a few honey shots of pretty Mara in a decent dress and black heels for a little relief from the tedium of this zero star thriller. That's the second time this blunder has been made. In 'Tarantula', Mara Corday struts around in hot dresses for the whole film, but is relegated to pants throughout, 'The Giant Scorpion'. The budget for this film must have been not more than thirty or forty thousand dollars and I doubt whether Morrow or Corday got more than three thousand to make it. It looks like the whole thing was shot right out of somebody's garage.
Jane Eyre (1934)
Blond bombshell instead of 'Plain Jane'
I was very curious to see this film for a long time, and was happy to finally get the chance to see it when it came out on DVD not long ago. I've always liked Colin Clive, and it seemed to me that he would be a good choice to play Edward Rochester. I wasn't disappointed. He was nervous, agitated, sympathetic and quite tormented as usual. I wasn't familiar with Virginia Bruce going in, and was absolutely astounded that she was chosen for the part of Jane Eyre. What we have here is a big, buxom, beautiful blond with a flawless, pale complexion and a gorgeous smile. With her shoes on she's nearly as tall as Clive & that sultry, fleshy body of hers suggests she outweighs the gaunt actor by more than a few pounds as well. During the party Rochester has for his guests he says to Jane, "You're a funny little thing..." which I thought was a hoot since the script writer must have wrote the scene before clapping an eye on Ms. Bruce, who is anything but a "Funny little thing."
What does all this mean? Well yes, as others here have said, this film has only a glancing similarity to the novel. The discrepancies are so outrageous that they border on being quite charming and sweet. Aileen Pringle as Blanche Ingram is an attractive actress, yet Virginia Bruce has a huge advantage in looks over her that actually leads to dialog suggesting as much! In the novel Rochester is tormented and difficult, but he is a powerful and dominating figure. Here, Colin Clive as Rochester is tormented and weak, and as such we have a romance where he is all but consumed and comforted by Jane's tall figure and ample charms. The sequence where Rochester tricks Jane into choosing jewelry, clothes and other items out for herself and not Blanche Ingram (which is Jane's mistaken notion) is consistent with the novel and other film versions and is very touching. This is the no stress version of Jane Eyre that I found very pleasing to watch.
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)
Weak cast and low budget doom Hammer thriller.
Rasputin The Mad Monk is one of those films that has not stood the test of time. When I first saw it, I thought it was a good film, but subsequent viewings have soured me on the film considerably.
There are many problems with it, starting with the cast, which includes many of the players of "Dracula, Prince of Darkness," which is in its own right the most boring and tedious vampire film ever made by Hammer. Suzan Farmer is in both films, and as usual chips in a languid and insipid performance as a lady-in-waiting to the Czarina. Francis Mathews is also in both, and he gives another one of his light-weight efforts. Barbara Shelley makes a very compelling vampire in 'Prince of Darkness', though she is dispatched to quickly and brutally to save that film from itself. In Rasputin, she is ruthlessly dominated by the mad monk, and it's almost painful to watch how pathetic her character becomes as the film drags on. Richard Pasco is not in Dracula, but he has a major role as an alcoholic doctor in Rasputin. Pasco has to be one of the most irritating and grating actors I've ever seen. His herky-jerky mannerisms and high strung temperament ruined Hammer's "The Gorgon" and he's just about as pathetic here. Lee gives a two dimensional performance as Rasputin, which is heavy on the roar and heavy on the stare.
Also, all the sets from "Dracula, Prince of Darkness" are in clear view of this film, limited though they are. Rasputin looks so cheaply made and has so little scope, especially when one considers the historical context involved, that it has virtually no movement. This is Hammer on the cheap, big time. With all these things weighing against it, Rasputin can only crumble under its own ineptitude. And all those cockney accents in a supposedly Russian setting are more annoying than usual.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Them of sexual frustration separates March from Tracy.
Some reviewers have said that Spencer Tracy gives a measured and thoughtful performance in what is considered to be an interesting psychological study of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yet, what is Tracy's mild mannered and low-key Dr. Jekyll really after in this film? What are his needs and what are his problems? He seems to have a few ideas about the nature of good and evil in every man and he's doing some experiments to further explore this theory. Oh yes, he also has a pretty girlfriend he's going to marry one of these days and for the most part he gets along pretty well with her father.
Now, let's clap an eye on Frederic March's Dr. Jekyll. Here's a man who's so sexually frustrated that he's going to put his fist through the wall any moment, unless his future father-in-law lets him marry his daughter Muriel within about the next 15 seconds. Muriel is played by Rose Hobart, who's superb performance is often overlooked because of the great job done by Miriam Hopkins as Ivy Pearson. Muriel knows that Jekyll is on fire for her, and constantly battles her father to move up the wedding. In contrast to the fairly good relationship that Tracy has with Donald Crisp, who plays Sir Charles Emery, the father of Beatrix, (Lana Turner) the relationship March has with Haliwell Hobbes as General Carew is full of tension and heated arguments.
Also, where as Tracy conducts his experiments with all the gusto of reading a book by the fireplace, March as Jekyll is young, vibrant and enthusiastic. He's so excited about his experiement, and while Tracy was going to give the potion to a hospital patient initially, March always intended to be the first to try it.
Once Mr. Hyde is on the scene, it becomes clear just how more focused the March version is in comparison to the Tracy version. Tracy's Hyde is nothing more than the run-down, sadistic side of Jekyll. But Frederic March's Mr. Hyde is clearly the sexually liberated side of Jekyll. March's Hyde is not going to be put on indefinite hold by the Victorian convictions of General Carew. No, he's going to have some sex right now, and off he goes looking for Ivy Pearson. When he discovers she's not home, he's quick to ask a neighbor where he can find her. In comparison, Tracy's Hyde does not go to Ivy's home, but to a dance-hall, and by a trick of chance, discovers Ivy working as a barmaid in the place.
March's performance is also more moving emotionally when he is on his way to his engagement party. When Tracy begins to change into Hyde in the same scene, he seems confused and a little troubled, but doesn't seem to know what's actually happening to him. But March senses what is happening to him in the last seconds before Hyde takes over, and goes through tremendous suffering and moans aloud as he fights in vain in an effort to keep Hyde back.
The theme of sexual frustration always runs true in the March version. As Hyde, when he ridicules Jekyll in fron of Ivy, he calls him a hypocrite for conforming to Victorian morality instead of indulging his lust with Muriel before their marriage vows. When Tracy's Hyde needles Jekyll, the focus is more on his vain effort to protect Ivy, and not on sexual frustration at all, since that really isn't pushed as an issue in this later version. Although Tracy gives an interesting performance in the dual role, his Dr. Jekyll is too laid-back and subdued to be convincing as a daring scientist and his Mr. Hyde is little more than a bully and a mischief maker. The Frederic March performance is more powerful, and the film as a whole is more focused and full of tension.
Baby Face (1933)
Haphazard plot and shaky climax cloud daring pre-code film.
Baby Face is considered by many to be the most notorious film made before the production code was strictly enforced in 1934 when Joseph Breen came into power.
The plot involves Lily Powers, played by Barbara Stanwyck, leaving a dirty little bar in a grimy steel town to try her luck in the big city. She sets her sights on the 'Gotham Trust Company' and seduces one man after the other as she successfully claws her way to the top.
Despite the notoriety of 'Baby Face', most of the sex is suggested rather than seen, there is no on screen violence, and Lily's methods really don't go beyond the usual feminine flirtations of showing off a little leg, batting the eye lashes, and offering the occasional peak down the top of her dress. In fact, the other girls in the office, many of whom are as pretty as Lily, know exactly what she's doing, and it's even possible some of them are playing the same game.
The plot has some glaring errors. When Lily enters the personnel office, she finds a pudding faced clerk named Pratt behind the desk, who informs her, as he did two other gorgeous women before her, that the boss won't be back for an hour. Lily seduces Pratt, who follows her into a side room. But Pratt is not in charge and doesn't have the authority to give Lily a job, and since she realizes this, there's no way she should be giving herself to this man.
When Lily gets a job in the filing department, she quickly starts working on Brody, the supervisor, by leaning up against him and letting him look down her dress. He promotes her, but is caught in a back office with her by Stevens, (Donald Cook, who played Cagney's brother in 'The Public Enemy') a more powerful executive in the company, who fires him on the spot. Amazingly, Lily not only talks her way out of being dismissed, but gets promoted to being Stevens personal secretary.
When all her scheming results in violence and mayhem, Lily is transferred to Paris. At this point her character changes completely, and not only does she behave herself in Paris, but she does such a good job that she earns a legitimate promotion. Lily won't even date any men because she's focusing on her job and doesn't want to get involved. Then, the plot takes a ridiculous twist. The head of the company, Courtland Trenholm, visits the Paris office, and now, in a complete switch, Lily goes after him, partly because she likes him, and partly because he's rich. From here, the film gets more and more absurd. The two marry, and suddenly, Trenholm is in serious legal trouble. One moment he's rich, the next he's poor. Lily goes crazy trying to decide what to do. She should have stuck with her supervisory position in the Paris office and she could have avoided all the grief. The film has two endings, one after the other. You can see where the additional scene was tacked on, probably after the production code was strictly enforced a year later when Breen took office. Only the first one makes any sense, the one which ends in the ambulance.
Overall, Baby Face is much more tame than the critics have led us to believe. Barbara Stanwyck does give an excellent performance, and more than anything, this film illustrates just how easy sexy and beautiful women can manipulate men, regardless of their age or standing, by exploiting their inability to control their desire.
The 39 Steps (1935)
Spying with charm.
Robert Donat stars in this engaging spy thriller as Canadian Richard Hannay, who gets embroiled in all manner of intrigue when he attends a live stage show in London. The finale of the show features Mr. Memory, a remarkable man who has memorized thousands of facts on all manner of subjects. When someone asks Mr. Memory who the last British heavyweight champion was, before he can answer, one member of the audience calls out, "Henry V111", and another, "My old woman." Then shots are heard. Hannay finds himself escorting Annabella Smith to his apartment, where he feeds her a huge piece of fish fillet. Somehow, she manages to get fatally stabbed in Hannay's apartment, (A neat trick since he wasn't hurt, there was no hint of forced entry, and she certainly didn't go for a walk since she knew there were men after her and had alerted him about it.) and tells him sensitive information which will force him to go to Scotland with international spies and the police hot on his heels.
The film is very compelling and Donat is superb as the level-headed, easy going and remarkably shrewd gentleman who always manages to outwit his adversaries. One scene in particular is a riot. Hannay is on the run from spies in a large town in Scotland with handcuffs attached to one of his wrists. He manages to slip into a political meeting at the very moment a large room full of people are waiting for a candidate to arrive and give his views on the issues. Using platitudes, generalities, sincere fervor, and his dashing charm, Hannay delivers a rousing speech, demonstrating the seldom recognized truth that politicians rarely if ever say anything definitive about the 'issues'.
The cast is excellent, including Miles Malleson as the music hall announcer who introduces Mr. Memory. Miles was in "A Christmas Carol" with Allister Sim as a kind of disheveled pawn broker. He also played a minister who is an expert on tarantulas in the Hammer version of 'Hound of The Baskervilles', and he played a doctor in Hammer's "Brides of Dracula". Also in the cast is Peggy Ashcroft as Margaret Crofter, an attractive and lonely woman who is married to a farmer much older than herself. She falls for Hannay right away and helps him escape from the police ... and her husband! She had a pivotal role in "The Nun's Story" with Audrey Hepburn, as the nun in charge of the community in the Belgian Congo.
The "39 Steps" keeps up a bristling pace as Hannay races against time and continually must elude the pursuers who are after him at every turn. What is nice about the film is that it has a particular charm and a number of sweet interludes in unexpected places that do not diminish the suspense which keeps you completely engrossed in the story.
42nd Street (1933)
A steamy, erotic musical of the 1930's.
Do you find the musicals of the 40's and 50's pristine, sterile and virginal in the extreme? And based on this unhappy discovery you've decided that you don't like musicals. Please do not distress yourself and allow me to introduce you to the Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930's, starting with 42nd Street, the best of them all.
Like nearly all the musicals of its time, 42nd Street is a depression-era back stage musical which focuses on the grueling hours that have to be put in by the singers and dancers day after day in preparation of opening night. The film has a fine cast with lovely Bebe Daniels as Dorothy Brock, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers, George Brent and Warner Baxter, who chews the scenery in every scene he's in as the stage director of 'Pretty Lady'.
What separates films like "42nd Street" from the musicals of the 40's and 50's is the daring camera work of dance director Busby Berkeley. Berkeley loves his chorus girls, and he has no qualms about aiming his camera up their dresses at every opportunity. One of the sexiest moments in the film comes when the girls try out for the chorus in their street clothes. Each girl of course is dressed differently from the others, with a different hat (love those cute 30's hats) dress and high-heel shoes. This variety makes them look hotter than when they're all wearing the same chorus outfit. When they have to show their legs in the hopes of being chosen, Berkeley gets his camera down low and gives you a birds eye view of each girl's legs ... first a front view, than they turn and let you get a good look at their calves. It is a very erotic scene. Later, when the girls leave their dressing rooms and are coming down the stairs for opening night, Berkeley puts his camera under the stairs and shoots up their dresses as they pass. Again, when the girls emerge from backstage and high-kick out for the opening number, Berkeley has his camera down low at a 45 degree angle, aiming right up the chute of the costumes of the first few girls to dance out on stage. Further along, all the chorus girls form an arc in one number with their legs wide open and Berkeley tracks right thru their legs all the way around the circle. You can even see the last girl has a gold ankle bracelet on her left ankle. Once the production code was strictly enforced after 1934, shots like this were never seen again.
42nd Street has three great songs, "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me", "Shuffle Off To Buffalo" and of course "42nd Street". There have been many revivals of "42nd Street", and they often include the best numbers of other films, along with the three I mentioned, including "Dames" from the film of the same name, "Go Into Your Dance", a terrific number, and "Lullaby of Broadway", which is the highlight number from "Gold-Diggers of 1935", which has a spectacular tap dance sequence with 100 chorus girls wearing gorgeous, sheer black skirts as part of their chorus outfits. If musicals often leave you cold, and you haven't given "42nd Street" a try, than I suggest that you do so ... and sit close to the television set.
The Brides of Dracula (1960)
Beautiful 19th Century Gothic Vampire Film
Although Christopher Lee was an imposing physical presence as Dracula in "Horror of Dracula", he was never able to explore the character in any depth. Sensing this, writers who subsequently wrote scripts for Lee as Dracula in later years usually relegated the vampire to a few short scenes whose only interest was seeking vengeance for the most absurd reasons.
With this in mind it turned out to be a blessing when Christopher Lee turned down the chance to do a sequel to "Horror of Dracula" in 1960. Instead, David Peel was cast as the master vampire 'Baron Meinster' in "Brides of Dracula". "Brides of Dracula" has an interesting plot which involves a young teacher, Marie Danielle, journeying to the Lang School in the district of Badstein for the purpose of teaching French & decorum to young girls. She is duped into spending the night at the Chateau Meinster, when the old Baroness, (Martita Hunt) lures her there. At the chateau is the faithful and eccentric old serevant, Greta, wonderfully played by Freda Jackson. There is also a handsome young man who is chained to a pillar near his balcony. In the subsequent scenes, the script explores all of these characters in detail, for which the film is highly regarded. Ms. Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) unwittingly sets the Baron free, thinking he is persecuted by his mother, not realizing he is a powerful master vampire. She manages to escape, and is aided by Professor Van Helsing, played by Peter Cushing.
The film has a number of very suspenceful scenes, including the resurrection of a beautiful vampire girl from her grave that is strangely erotic to watch. The young vampire is played by Marie Devereux, who is as beautiful and buxom as any hammer actress. Unfortunately, the studio did not give Ms. Devereux any dialogue, and exploited her for her looks only. And so, after this impressive scene, her character is largely forgotten for the rest of the film.
When I saw "Brides of Dracula" in 1960, it contained scenes that are no longer in evidence in any known video release since. I've raised this point repeatedly at conventions and with the publisher of the magazine, "Little Shoppe of Horrors", Dick Klemensen, but haven't received a satisfactory explanation. For example, when I saw the film, I saw scenes in which the Baron takes the blood of the village girl when he first escapes from the chateau, and when he faces down a group of villages who pursue him after the girl's body is discovered. So many people think this is Hammer's greatest film, but I can tell you the film is much more powerful with these missing scenes included. Still, this is a wonderful film to watch, and shows that gothic horror is very effective when it has an aura of eerie beauty and compelling characters.
A grim and somber monster movie.
Just about everyone has seen Godzilla, King of The Monsters, but not too many people have seen Gojira with English subtitles. I had heard that the all-Japanese version was much better than the one with the scenes with Raymond Burr, and only recently was able to make that judgment for myself.
The American version includes all the monster footage from Gojira, (though the sequence of the shots sometimes varies) except for a few extra shots of the jets attacking him just before he returns to the sea after his second and most lethal attack on Tokyo. There is a little more discussion with Dr. Yamane explaining his findings with slides at the open forum and more discussion in Serizawa's lab with Emiko and Ogata, and aside from a few additional shots here and there, thats about it. However, what separates the two films is being informed exactly what is being said in Japanese, whether it involves a scene that is in both versions or just in Gojira.
For example, we learn in Gojira that people and livestock were killed on Oto Island when the monster came ashore during a storm at night. In the American version, it's unclear whether anyone was killed at all. The legend of Godzilla is played up more on Oto Island, and the belief in the need to sacrifice maidens to the creature.
At the forum, we learn that according to Dr. Yamane, Gojira is 50 meters tall, which is a considerable discrepancy from the American version where the scientist is dubbed as saying the monster is over 400 feet tall. Very importantly, we find out what that big argument is about when some women really get into it with some government officials. It seems the politicians want to keep Gojira's existence a secret from the general public, while the women think everyone should know about this prehistoric menace. We also learn Yamane anticipates before any battles are fought that it is unlikely that Gojira will be able to be killed by conventional weapons. We also obtain much more information about 'why' Dr. Yamane feels Gojira should not be destroyed.
Gojira (and Godzilla) is probably the most successful example I've seen of a man-in-a-suit monster. Somehow, the two night attacks on Tokyo are extremely effective. In fact, Gojira's slow, methodical and deliberate manner of annihilating everything in his path, including people, buildings and military weapons, comes across as wanton and sadistic. The music is a slow, hopeless, melancholy dirge that accompanies Gojira during his almost casual incineration of the city.
Overall, I'd say Gojira has the edge over Godzilla, mainly because you have so much more information about what is being said in Japanese, which of course gives you far better character development. Gojira is a dark, gloomy film that is very unsettling to the point that even the eventual defeat of the monster is somehow not particularly reassuring.