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Of all bad movies in the world, "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" is one of the
worst. Now, certainly that's basically what makes it worth
To appreciate it fully you ought to get drunk and pretend you're in a seventies' drive-in theater. The (psychedelic?) soundtrack is just lovely.
Al Adamson was the best competitor for the space that Ed Wood left after his death. Old-time horror veterans J. Carrol Naish and Lon Chaney, Jr. act in their most terrible (well, in a double sense) rôles which unfortunately were their last ones respectively as well. The ridiculous story is completely unimportant, what matters is the cast: next to Naish and Chaney the producers assemblied Angelo Rossitto, Anthony Eisley, Russ Tamblyn, and Jim Davis! Of course, Forry Ackerman isn't missing, and the monster is played by the late John Bloom... Other, er, important parts are carried out (no more than that) by Adamson's ensemble players Bud Cardos, William Bonner, Greydon Clark, and busty Regina Carrol as a Las Vegas singer who is in search of her sister.
None of the crew's jobs were done with the endeavour to fulfil the audience's most unassuming expectations of lower standard horror at least, from camera work to special effects. Only effort seems to have been to put as much sex and gore in it without being x-rated. The (would-be) gross scenes are in strange contrast to the try at distinguished acting by Naish (in a wheelchair). The recall of classic horror topics in the title is simply for money purposes; there are more connections to Adamson's rocker/biker dramas, oddly interwoven with a smart mad scientist storyline.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Upper Bavaria, in the days of King Ludwig II: the inhabitants of a small
village mock Huber, called the "Wegscheidbauer" (Beppo Brem), who is an
important magistrate, because he has made a young girl pregnant. - In a
meeting of the village council with Huber and Thomas Stangassinger (Joe
Stöckel), they decide about Christian Süssbier, a poor day laborer
Lüders), who they want to get rid off. Christian secretly reminds two of
counsillors of their own transgressions, and so is eventually
The secret that he shares with Stagassinger is that Christian's illegitimate 19-year-old daughter, Vevi (Renate Mannhardt), is really Stangassinger's child, a fact that he has eagerly concealed from his henpecking wife Theres (Elise Aulinger) for many years. The Stangassingers have two sons, Sepp (Thomas Reyer), from earlier marriage of Thomas, and Toni (Albert Rueprecht), who are both in love with Vevi. When Stangassinger learns that Vevi is going to marry one of his sons, he does everything to prevent the marriage, knowing that she is his daughter.
One of his ideas is bringing in an unmarried girl from a neighboring valley with Christian's help, Afra (Hanna Hutten), who has been abandoned by her unknown mother before and has been raised by Vogelhuber (Wastl Witt). She is supposed to marry Sepp.
Now, in a "sinful village" (title) everyone has his share of sins but if you think you can guess the rest there are still some surprises to come. The humour certainly stems from the pairing of Stöckel and Aulinger, a regular couple in "Bauernschwänken" of the day, but the rôle of Christian is beautiful for any comedian and tailor-made for Lüders.
From a modern point of view, the story is hopelessly outdated and humour laid on a trifle too thick, but still I laughed a lot, which was basically due to the burlesque character portraits. Stöckel and Aulinger repeat their stage (screenplay is based on Max Neal's eponymous play) and cinema rôles (of the first filming in 1940, directed by Stöckel), as do Brem and Witt. The treatment of human misdemeanors and the resulting mendacity is dealt with in a funny way that had its followers in 1954.
Notable are some of the original interiors, including the Stangassingers' marital bed (sets by Max Mellin and Wolf Englert) and the traditional folklore dances which belong to the genre as much as a proper innhouse brawl.
Among Italian peplums of the period around 1960, there were some concerned
with Roman legend, including "Coriolano, eroe senza patria", which was also
helmed by Giorgio Ferroni. "Il colosso di Roma" is another
After having overthrown their king, Tarquinius Superbus (Massimo Serato), Rome is a young republic. Tarquinius tries to regain his throne with the military assistance of the Etruscan king, Porsenna (Roldano Lupi). Film sets in with Romans suffering from hunger, and top-notch soldier Mucius first securing the arrival of a corn transport, then deciding to kill Porsenna. In the king's camp he kills the wrong man, is captured, but proves his boldness by voluntarily burning his right hand in an open flame. The tiny, but crucial story about Roman bravery, which originally has a noble youngster as the failing killer, is generously embellished and furnished with a muscular experienced military leader as Mucius instead, played by ex-Tarzan Gordon Scott.
As the story progresses, it is interwoven with another heroic character from Latin legend, Cloelia, who is presented as Mucius' fiancée. She is among the hostages produced to secure the peace with Porsenna, but organizes the escape across the River Tiber when they find themselves betrayed. Her rôle is performed by one of the countless second-rate beauties of Italian screens, Gabriella Pallotta.
Although it may be deemed interesting to illustrate a national saga of yore, the film's pathetic hero-worship seems out of date for the mid-sixties. Still, monumental adventures were fashionable, and Italy's writers happy with any adaptable material. It is almost surprising how much of the legend's original idea can be recognized.
Expectations of a grand epic, as nurtured by the heavily orchestrated opening credits of nearly three minutes, are not at all lived up to by the following 82 (in the version I saw) minutes. Achievements are hardly average in all categories, although cinematography (Augusto Tiezzi) and score (Angelo Francesco Lavagnino) come from peplum's most experienced artists. Not even its best-hated villain, Massimo Serato, is really credible as Tarquinius. Fighting scenes are well staged, although some of the material seems to be taken from other films, too.
That "Il figlio di Spartacus" is one of the better sword'n'sandal flicks of
the main period (1958-64) is basically due to two aspects: a fluent
storyline and original sets in Egypt.
Writers Adriano Bolzoni, Bruno Corbucci and Giovanni Grimaldi (plus perhaps director Sergio Corbucci) have scripted a plot that continues the story of Spartacus where Stanley Kubrick left off in 1960 in his Hollywood production with Kirk Douglas. While Kubrick certainly stuck to the historical facts, the follow-up is complete fiction. Tough daredevil Douglas is replaced by smart bodybuilder Steve Reeves as his son, although this was not the worst choice. Reeves, the original Hercules performer of 1958, does quite well in the rôle of Randus, a Roman centurio (this seems to be considered as the highest military rank in "peplums"!), who is confronted with the fact that he seems to be the son of the legendary slave leader, Spartacus, who had once been smashed and crucified by the Roman consul, Crassus. Reeves' good looks distinguish him from Douglas very remarkably, but there's his Germanic combatant Verus (Franco Balducci), who is styled like Douglas two years ealier.
They needed to change history to a considerable extent (the story takes place in 48 B.C. when the real Crassus was already dead for five years) so that the fictive Randus could be 23 (Reeves was 36 by then) and Caesar could be involved. Note that the Sphinx has already lost its nose (which it did only 1850 years later) while serving as a likeable background to a talk between Caesar (Ivo Garrani), his adjutant Verulus (Renato Baldini, who has almost nothing to say), and Randus. Choosing the Egyptian landscape, including desert, oases and the pyramids of Gizeh, for the outdoor scenes adds greatly to the picture's atmosphere.
Corbucci manages to handle the camera positions and angles very well, almost experimentally for a production like this. Director of photography was Enzo Barboni, the later standard director of the Terence Hill/Bud Spencer movies. There is a foreshadowing of the spaghetti westerns not only in the techniques, but also with a surprisingly high level of brutality as depicted by Corbucci.
The story's main idea has Randus in the dilemma of being a Roman officer on the one hand and having the experience of being enslaved on the other. Only in this situation, he feels into the slaves' minds and puts himself at the head of the revolt against Crassus. The rest is a bit stealing from the "Zorro" idea, including the "S" (for Spartacus) mark. As Western European ideology would have it (we're at the climax of American-Russian confrontation) before a revolutionary attitude became fashionable in Italo westerns, Randus fights for freedom (from slavery), not for redistribution of capital.
Gianna Maria Canale, leading actress of many a peplum since the earlier days (playing the title rôle in "Teodora", among others), is fine as Crassus' love interest. But Claudio Gora can give all he can as the terrible Crassus, right down to an exaggerated paranoid Nero-like figure.
It's worth while, anyway.
If you are pretty mediocre as a director and they want you to make a film
with only very little money, what's the outcome? - "I due gladiatori" is an
excellent example of the cheap-produced Italian historical pictures of the
early sixties. Relying partly on models such as "Ben-Hur", one could call
them monumental, only there was nothing monumental left in
For instance: when a man is holding a rat that has been hunted by the hungry crowd, the next take shows a juicy meal, and, as the camera zooms, we see it being brought to the emperor at a small party. Nice idea so far, but we can be sure that Mario Caiano would have loved to show a vast orgy in consequence, but there's nothing more to eat than the bit that has just been carried in, and there's just a small number of guests standing around. As more examples, the arena fighting scenes are reduced to taking place at the 20-foot front of the stadium's wall, and what is supposed to be a battle between Romans and - Gauls (did I get that right?) is merely a skirmish of some 30 against 30.
The story, however, is somewhat interesting though not new at all. It is based on the true fact that emperor Commodus (180-192 AD) used to fight as a gladiator himself from time to time. Writers Amendola and Brescia also made use of the fact that Commodus had a twin brother (who died early); here, he survived and grew up unknowingly. - Now that emperor Mark Aurel has died (awkwardly dated into 191), his son Commodus succeeds to the throne and turns out to be a despot (that idea is poorly established). Loyal senator Tarrunio gets on his way to seek the twin brother he once was ordered to kill but saved. This man, Centurio Crassus, follows Tarrunio to Rome (hey, what about the Gallic invasion?) in order to overthrow the tyrant.
A couple of the ideas, especially the setting, are taken from Anthony Mann's "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (1963, with Christopher Plummer as Commodus), while the linking of brothers Commodus and Crassus reminds of Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston's doomed relationship in "Ben-Hur" (1959) - "closer than brothers", as Boyd says.
Handsome Richard Harrison is a poor replacement for Boyd (in "The Fall..."); but especially the task of writing effective women's rôles into the story remained unaccomplished. (Moira Orfei is a beautiful temptress as ever, though.) Giuliano Gemma and Alvaro de Luna as Harrison's faithful friends add to the hero's nonchalant bravado. Mimmo Palmara is an excellent fighter (as he has often proved in the genre), but as Commodus he is colourless. Peplum's classic heavies Piero Lulli and Alberto Farnese do well as the emperor's sinister advisors Cleander and Leto. Yet, it is not enough to make this cheap flick average at least, in a genre that had lost most of its momentum and magic anyway. Composer Carlo Franchi, too, has contributed better scores before.
Narrating from the Bible, director Marcello Baldi took the Book of the
Judges and turned its best-known chapters 6-8 (about Gideon) and 13-16
(about Samson) into a film. Well.
As a statement on responsibility and how people grow with their tasks, the first episode about Gideon's conversion to help his suppressed people fulfils its mission. Fernando Rey as the angel and Ivo Garrani as Gideon are equally effective. Garrani lends a touching element to the character of a simple farmer who is challenged to make the move from indifference to substantial leadership.
The second episode, as opposed to that, doesn't click at all. While "Gideon" has mostly outdoor scenes, "Samson" seems to have been restricted to the studio (Cinecittà, by the way). Yes - Rosalba Neri is duly ambiguous as Delilah, and Spanish veteran actress Ana María Noé is fine as Samson's mother - but muscular Dutch Anton Geesink reminds of a groggy Rocky IV. The concluding action scenes, though, were directed pretty well.
Remains unclear, what sense the picture had. Emilio Cordero's production company San Paolo, of Rome, financed three Old Testament filmings, apart from this one, "Giacobbe, l'uomo che lottò contro Dio", and "Saul e David", all directed by Baldi in 1963-4. If they were meant for people's spiritual edification, they probably didn't get off the ground as much as a service in St Peter. Italian release date, Oct 8, 1965, didn't quite support that idea, when most Bible flicks normally premiere around Christmas.
Another puzzle is the question who directed. Italian-language credits open with "un film di Marcello Baldi" and close with "regia: Francisco Pérez Dolz." It might be possible that either helmed one of the episodes, even more so because they are rather different in style.
The odd narrative technique (kind of a double feature, if you will), if appropriate to the Bible's episodical structure, tends to prove that the story of only one Israelite hero didn't fit the ninety-minute format, so, for the love of it, they put two stories together, presumably regardless of the fact that episodical films were alla moda in the mid-sixties.
Perhaps the weirdest bit about the movie lies in its resumption of the "Sansone" character, who, as a muscleman, had haunted Italian (and foreign) screens from "Sansone" (1961, with Brad Harris) to "Ercole Sansone Maciste e Ursus gli invincibili" (1964, with Renato Rossini). This one, however, is the only real Samson, although possibly the worst of all. It's like with the Bible: you've gotta believe in it...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Version I saw was the 60-min. showing on WDR on July 28,
Seen as a melodrama, the "Freaks" story is simple by nature: pure love between two circus performers (Wallace Ford and Leila Hyams) is displayed against the affair that the show's trapezist (Olga Baclanova) is having with one of the midgets (Harry Earles), her only aim being to marry and afterwards kill him with help from her secret lover, a strongman (Henry Victor), for his inheritance. The story is classical, but hardly suffices to fill the film's full hour length, although it starts with all the details on one evening: Baclanova tempting Earles, Hyams leaving Victor, Victor being seduced by Baclanova, antics between Ford and Hyams, jealousy of Earles' small fiancée (Daisy Earles). Simple so far.
But there are more characters in this movie and they are the real stars: so-called "freaks", a circus number. The first time the "freaks" enter, remarkably, it's within an idyllic scenery, disturbed only by the appearance of a squire and a man is his pay (Albert Conti and Michael Visaroff). The squire's decision of letting the disabled frolic on his land expresses the film's general attitude: they are no freaks. This is again contrasted with the behaviour of their fellow performers, the Rollo Brothers (Matt McHugh and Ed Brophy) who spit at the child-like people when they return to the circus.
Strictly seen, only the last eight minutes of the film are horror. The disabled therefore are not at all the scare in this film and that's what makes it so unique, while most horror pics just vary the same story. Only the "normal" have frightening features and they deviously turn against those who are supposed to supply atrocious terror. Instead, they lead normal lives. Only when the freaks' code is broken by Baclanova in the masterly banquet scene with familiar face Angelo Rossitto (a fine performance), and Rossitto witnesses her bad deeds, the "dirty, slimy freaks" become what Baclanova accused them to be in the first place.
The (intentional?) stage-like overacting by villains Baclanova and Victor doesn't damage the excellent overall impression, nor do the comic relief scenes between the Siamese sisters and a stutterer (Roscoe Ates, as usual) who is married to one of them.
"Freaks" has very intensive acting from Harry and Daisy Earles, as from all circus performers (who play themselves, if you will). Although there's very little music and quite a lot dialogue in the film, the atmosphere is always gripping. Whatever MGM took away from Browning's film or induced him to change (the ending is obviously a concession), there's still a perfect, uncopyable thrill left. The rainstorm night (5:26 mins.) certainly has its unforgettable share in horror film history.
One of my all-time favorites, a clear 10 out of 10.
(Been looking for him all over the film, but can somebody please tell me where Tom London is?)
(Version reviewed is the 95-minute showing on ARD on July 24, 2001. There
seems to be a scene excluded with Hildegard and Cpt. Lindner telling the
story as a flashback. Film has no credits at all.)
Dr. Harnack, once a resistance member himself, shot a fabulous, never boring picture, eleven years after the attempted assassination of German "Führer" Adolf Hitler. Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg (Wolfgang Preiss in an appropriate rôle), a leading member of the secret regime resistance group around Goerdeler and Beck (played by veteran actors Paul Bildt and Werner Hinz), decides to kill Hitler soon after his installment as chief of staff of Eastern replacement troops. After a first try has failed - General von Tresckow says: "That guy (Hitler) has even chance on his side" - , Stauffenberg himself places a time bomb in Hitler's headquarters in Eastern Prussia. Then follows a minute description of the main events of the rest of the day, July 20, 1944.
Authors Weisenborn, Lüddecke and Harnack extended the depiction of events to a preacher and a civilian resistance group in Berlin. The frequent change of perspectives, though, was an unfortunate choice.
Another plot is about two fictitious characters, Hildegard Klee (Annemarie Düringer) and Captain Lindner (Robert Freytag), who is a dedicated Nazi officer. When both watch how an innocent Jewish doctor is brutally arrested, the officer states: "These are excesses only. But the front isn't part of it. The front is clean!" - "But you're fighting for it!" Hildegard answers. - It's supposed to make clear why German resistance consisted of (aristocratic) officers to a large extent. - Lindner is finally convinced when he reports about witnessing the killing of women and children when he is back at war again.
Although there have been controversies among historians about the (would-be) assassins' motives, and research has been done for over forty years since, the film is still a fine history lesson. There is an indication of the different aims in one scene when socialists and monarchists quarrel at a secret meeting until a philosophical Maximilian Schell settles the conflict. The narrator later declares that the July 20 action was "about the destruction of illegitimate tyranny and about the honor of the German name."
In consequence, when Stauffenberg ponders over what he is resolved to do, Harnack lets him view scenes of bomb attacks, tanks approaching and soldiers wounded before his mind's eye (all archive material), but there is only a very short take of what might be a KZ barbed wire fence: the fate of millions of Jews appears not to have been a motive.
Although very well done, "Der 20. Juli" is not a stand-out cinematographically. It was produced in competition with G. W. Pabst's "Es geschah am 20. Juli", which premiered a trifle earlier. Of the actors, Ernst Schröder is very efficient as the relentless hunter of resistant fighters, credible and far away from the caricatures in some American and British war movies. Likewise, Düringer, Freytag and Preiss do fine jobs.
One effect of watching this one is that you will always read Frost's
"Stopping By Woods" from a very different point of view.
No question, there's a whole lot of good acting in Don Siegel's "Telefon" (from Tyne Daly, for instance), but the story, from Walter Wager's novel, is, at least partly, ridiculous. Criticism of international secret policy comes off o.k., claiming that what intelligence agencies have always lacked most is intelligence. But it's more about suspense and action; especially the blowing up of a whole valley is staged with Siegel's dynamic perfection routine.
The film has got Charles Bronson in its center and he does his usual fine job as an ultra-cool Soviet major smuggled into the U.S. in order to exterminate a fellow KGB agent (Donald Pleasence) who has gone crazy there and is now endangering the whole Cold War balance system.
Please note the important rôle telephones play throughout the whole film, not just for Pleasence's ambitions. And watch out for Roy Jenson as his last victim, a man who has played lots of minor parts in major movies. - And don't forget listen to the film, as Lalo Schifrin's score is very fascinating once again.
Hubert Schonger (who also did some nudist pictures) made another
fairy-tale-to-screen transfer in 1959 with "Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten",
directed by a certain Rainer Geis. The pictures all have some amateur charm,
to say it nicely. This one, as a later attempt, is better than others. In
his struggle for the young cinema goers, producer Schonger had to compete
with Fritz Genschow, who also filmed a number of fairy tales in the
Having actors dress up as the four leading characters (donkey, dog, cat and rooster) was the choice Schonger took (like in "Der Wolf und die sieben Geißlein"), and it was probably the best way to get around the problem of presenting animals alongside humans in the film. After all, in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale the animals represented human beings, too.
The story has an old donkey resolving to break away from the unbearable hardships of working for a fat miller (Alfred Pongratz). By and by, he recruits three more unsatisfied animals and convinces them to accompany him on his way to Bremen where they want to become musicians. Fighting off some robbers in a forest house then becomes an important part of the story. Strangely, the well-known repeated phrase of the original, "Come along with us, something better than death can be found anywhere" (also appears in Käutner's "Der Hauptmann von Köpenick" of 1959) is not included in the film. The fairy tale's obvious social criticism, though, is rendered well enough, in particular in the persons of the miller and the farmer (Ludwig Schmid-Wildy, seemingly dubbed by Erik Jelde) who exploit their animals. The four robbers are portrayed as ridiculous as the original would have it.
The filming is completely dated in today's world of special effects animation. Question is anyway, if fairy tales should be filmed at all (as they are part of an oral folk-lore). Competitors Schonger and Genschow chose to present them like this, knowing that they were no Walt Disneys. The risk of stealing something from the magic of a fairy tale t o l d to children is of course high. As a result, we have a routine product with some nice ideas but greatly lacking spirit and imagination.
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