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Crack in the World (1965)
Rises above Expectations
I was not expecting such a well-acted exciting movie with at least some interesting science (save the crack itself). Real footage of volcanoes, lava at the beach, and a nuclear bomb explosion are seamlessly inserted into the movie to good effect. Miniatures are also well done. There is the usual background social drama added to the scientific end of the world story, something that typical sci-fi films of this era tend to include.
One scene of interest was the comparison of spectra from a generic nuclear explosion and the initial explosion the project set off to poke a hole in the Earth (to provide heat energy via lava bubbling up through the hole). The identification of hydrogen (assumed Balmer) lines in one spectra indicates to them that the explosion they set off ignited an underground reservoir of hydrogen and thus initiated the crack.
Yes, we now know that the crust of the Earth is already cracked, but that fact (like the premise in Journey to the Center of the Earth) does not detract from the story. Music deserves a special mention as well, although as the film proceeds the rumbling noise from the crack dominates the audio at times.
Dana Andrews (Best Years of Our Lives) is by this time a well-established quality actor, and his performance is fine in this role as well.
What really works in the film is the frightening prospect of setting off (by a man-made device) a set of natural responses that dwarf our ability to control them. Setting off another bomb in the path of the advancing crack ultimately turns the crack back on itself and causes a small chunk of the Earth to shoot off into space and form a new small moon (yes this is a stretch to say the least but all in good fun).
For any 50's and 60's sci-fi fan, this is a must have film and worth pursuing. I got my DVD on ebay, not a bad print considering the limited options at this point. It is surprising how many sci-fi movies not available anywhere can be had on ebay, of varying quality. Let's get a widescreen release of this movie.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
The grand and ancient stories of the Old Testament reach back to the very beginnings of human civilization. The story begins with Abraham, who traveled from the land of Sumer through Haran then down into Canaan and Egypt. We see images of his tribe set to reverent music traveling and arriving at the promised land, only to start fighting amongst one another until Lot and his party split from Abraham.
God and 2 angels appear in human form to Abraham, who, on their way to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, reveal to Abraham that his wife Sarah will bear him a son. Years later, his son Isaac is nearly killed by the aging Abraham in a climactic scene quite well done, until the voice of God stays his knife wielding hand.
We then move to the story of Jacob, who deceives Abraham into giving the birthright normally reserved for the firstborn (of Isaac, Esau) to himself. Esau's anger drives Jacob away to the city of Haran, where Laban, brother of Rebecca (Isaac's wife) tends his sheep. Jacob agrees to work for 7 then 7 more years to win the second daughter of Laban, Rachael, as his wife.
Jacob, after 20 years, decides to return to the land of Canaan, only to meet his brother Esau and his soldiers. As his people are surrounded by armed men, Jacob begs forgiveness and is granted such by Esau. They part ways and the movie closes with Jacob leading his people back into Canaan.
This Italian movie, available as part of a set of DVD's in a box entitled "Epics of the Old Testament" (VCI), is also available separately as of this writing. The DVD image quality is not so good, but it is presented in widescreen, albeit non-anamorphic letter-boxed. So, you will have to zoom to view it on your wide screen TV.
I was impressed with the production values, the music, and the reverent tone of the movie. It did have its occasional awkwardly delivered lines and expressions, but overall the acting was acceptable. If you enjoy some of the greatest stories that have ever been told, this movie and the boxed set is something worth having and enjoying.
Il colosso di Roma (1964)
The first 2 minutes
What singles out this feature is the grandeur of the first 2 minutes. What follows is a presentation typical of so many other works of this genre. The musical overture towers over this work like a mountain over a rolling plain.
The musical overture, written by A. Francesco Lavagnino, the great prolific Italian composer of this era, is another inspiring work that convinces one that this composer could have been a giant among classical composers of an earlier time.
Another feature, Duel of the Champions, contains an overture of similar stature written by Lavagnino. So, enjoy the first 2 minutes, and if you like movies within this genre, you may find this entertaining as well. After all, Gordon Scott is a pretty good substitution for Steve Reeves.
Esther and the King (1960)
Another underappreciated work
Like other Italian works of this era, underappreciated and cynically criticized for what it is not, this is a work of art, beautifully woven together in music, mood, and cinematography leaving the viewer in the end fulfilled in the desire to escape from the modern world into a place inaccessible, and, yes, surrealistic.
The music, written by the Italian master Francesco Lavagnino, one of the great movie music composers of the 20th century, commands the mood of each scene and spans the range of moods in the work, from the march of soldiers to the Queen in the flower garden to her love scene with the King to the mystic mood in the ruins where Simon hides. It is a fine piece of composition.
The words in the script are, in some scenes, not meant to be ordinary conversation, but rather noble thoughts, royal council, and human aspirations, and thus are written and delivered as such. When mental burdens weigh heavily on the King, he is told by his friend Mordecai that "... by lifting the burdens of others one can lift one's own burden ... " Such thoughts are actually quite profound, that in some cases depressed moods arise from self-centered thinking and self-victimization, and that by helping others in a selfless way one can relieve one's own burdens. In the garden, Mordecai councils Esther that " .. the King is attracted to her sense of justice and loyalty, the same qualities that bind her still to Simon, her previous love, and that may turn the King against her in jealousy..."
The cinematography in the scene of the death of Simon, where the camera rises above Simon and the queen to the Star of David, which then appears on the wall of the next scene, is very well done. In another scene, the King is asked whom he had chosen to be his queen, and as he replies "A girl named Esther", the camera pans past the concerned face of Haman to reveal the quite different satisfied expression of Mordecai.
There is much to appreciate in the music, words, and visual presentation of this work. Of course this is not meant to be a documentary, a faithful retelling of an ancient story. Criticism should be directed at how it fails in its own intent as a melancholic, romantic, and introspective fantasy, rather than based on the viewer's expectations. If my understanding of its intent is near the mark, then my conclusion is that this work, like the Raoul Walsh epic The Big Trail made 30 years earlier, succeeds very well.
Princess of the Nile (1954)
Better than expected
For the most part, I only enjoy the kind of movie that allows one to escape the current time into the future or past. This movie is pure escapism. The dancing starts almost immediately, and Debra Paget in her "purple harem" bikini dress simply has no equal in film in my opinion. Her dancing, while sultry, is surpassed by her dance in Fritz Lang's Tiger of Eschnapur, available on DVD, where she played the temple dancer Seetha.
One problem with the movie is the closed setting. There are few outdoor scenes shot, and they as well as other scenes are a bit claustrophobic. The same locations are used over and over again, but with some interesting secret passages and waterways. Her secret double identity is totally unbelievable with beauty of that magnitude. Debra even wields a sabre and holds 2 enemy soldiers at bay on a staircase, she could do it all.
What does work is Debra Paget as a princess. With her beauty, she certainly would be the center of attention anywhere at any time in history. This movie, when hopefully it becomes available on DVD, will be a must buy. Overall, taken with a bit of humor, I loved it.
Good idea and scenery but execution lacking (possible spoilers).
Ib Melchior has had a few good ideas put to film. Yes, the ideas were good but the execution in this case leaves much to be desired. It begins with the stock liftoff footage, some colorful planetary flybys, then entry to the planet Uranus using the same stock footage. When the crew gets close to the planet, an alien mind begins to appear in narration and some ghostlike lights flashing in the faces of the crew. The alien narration is overdone and becomes an annoyance when it appears in the film.
They land in an apparently Earth-like setting, but its just a false world constructed by the alien inside of a force field with trees without roots, and girls and houses, trees, etc. appear when the crew thinks of them. Outside the force field, the landscape is cold, with crystalline trees and ammonia snow. Their curiosity leads them outside the force field into a cave where monsters and the alien reside.
Some of the effects are well done, like the cold landscapes, colorfully lighted caves, force field, etc. It does get a bit claustrophobic at times in the sets. The dialog is awful and lamely executed. The attitude of the crew is pure camp, but expected for this type of movie.
I would be quite happy if the flip side of the DVD contained one of Melchior's other works, The Time Travelers (1964). This work is far superior to Seventh Planet and would have made a good DVD. Hopefully, Time Travelers will be appearing on DVD soon, its title alone would make it a hit in the stores. Another work of his was the episode of Outer Limits (season 2 DVD) called "The Premonition" where an X-15 pilot crash lands to an Earth where time is moving at 1 second per hour. He cannot move anything but can see a truck about to collide with his daughter on a tricycle. He has to somehow stop the collision and get back to the cockpit where he crashed when the world and his time resynchronize. A great story, highly recommended. The DVD quality is good considering the quality of the movie, but overall its watchable fun if you can become a kid for a while and enjoy the scenery.
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Directed as a play, Bad as a movie
I must agree with a previous contributor on this one and depart from the consensus. This is a terribly overrated movie. Its a depressing movie, a bunch of grumpy stubborn old men, a lunatic King that wants all to laugh when he laughs, yelling on the lawn as if he's on a stage, no real character development other than More, to quote Lerner and Loewe, "its a bore".
As said before, its really a play. With overacting, lecturing to a stage audience, it is not directed in the manner most movies are. A good movie for me will look and sound natural. This looked and sounded staged (like a play). Its not at all believable. There are positive aspects of the movie which others have already commented on, I will not repeat those here.
Sadly, as I treasure our library of classic movies, and loath the current state of the art, its one of the very few classic award winning movies that did not work for me.
Orazi e Curiazi (1961)
Interesting story of early Rome with a quality musical score
While those of us interested in ancient stories and sword and sandals productions will find this story to be interesting, it falls short, well short, in production quality and script to be the epic it could have been.
The plot follows the story of one of the Orazi brothers of Rome, at war with Alba. This brother is accused of cowardice in battle and is captured by the Albans. He escapes, but is not warmly welcomed upon his return to Rome. After years of war, the Romans and Albans agree to decide the battle in a duel of 3 Roman brothers (the Orazi's) vs. 3 Alban brothers. In the end, this Orazi wins the day but the victory is bittersweet as displayed with his disgust for the need for killing.
What stands out is the epic musical score composed by Francesco Lavagnino at his peak. Clearly, the music is at a far different level than the movie, it elevates the story but cannot raise the production near to the realm of an epic. Still, it is a collectible for ancient movie fans. Available on budget DVD, the DVD transfer is terrible.
Green Light (1937)
A melodramatic gem
Green Light is beautifully directed, has a first rate score, and has a melodramatic mood throughout that makes it wonderful to watch. It relates the story of a young doctor who takes the fall for an elder doctor's mistake. Errol Flynn delivers a fine performance as does Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Margaret Lindsay, and Walter Abel.
It is a terrible reality that so many fine classics are not yet available on DVD. In my opinion, better than its rating. Fans of Flynn will not be disappointed.
The Big Trail (1930)
A Wagon Train Heads West Lead by John Wayne
If one overlooks the technical problems of this early (1930) sound movie such as the sound quality and the occasional stiffness of John Wayne, one will find this movie to be an epic that is more realistic than almost any movie made since. Beginning at the Missouri, a large caravan of Conestoga wagons, people, and animals head west. The wagons are pulled down huge cliffs and cross a flooded river with considerable risk to the riders in the wagons. Indians meet with Wayne, and allow the train to pass through their land. Later, Indians gather west of the train to combat them. The wagons form a huge circle with horses and cattle in the circle, and fire their rifles creating with the circling Indians a veil of smoke.
When the battle ends, the dead are buried on the spot and the people and wagons depart. This scene is remarkable, as the camera stays with the dead as the living depart. It is unique in the way it links the viewer with the dead and separates the viewer from the living. The wagons encounter a major thunderstorm with torrential downpours and mud everywhere. They finally arrive at their destination near a redwood or sequoia forest in Oregon. The film is done in 70 mm widescreen at about a 2.0:1 ratio (in 1930!).
I haven't mentioned the plot because it is secondary to the scenic grandeur and the enormous amount of work involved in making this film. Moviemakers will never work this hard again to make such a movie or any movie. Given the technical limitations of the sound, the music is at times moving, such as when Wayne leaves his girl to hunt down his friend's killers and at the end.
While all the critics rave about The Searchers and Wayne's psychology, racism, short temper, and complex characters, The Big Trail gives us a story of simple people encountering extraordinary hardships. One of the best westerns I have seen.