Reviews written by registered user

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179 reviews in total 
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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Lost in the Empty Doom!, 27 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This serial has some great positives, but also some very strong negatives as well. First, its relation to the source material. It's based on a comic book (and supposedly the radio serial). For a movie serial, it is fairly true to its source. We have a good Superman who shows us many of his special talents -- stopping bullets, holding a bridge and building to keep them from collapsing, inhaling toxic fumes to save Lois and Jimmy (who are given actual real parts not just being 'follow behind the hero' non entities), smashing thru mountains, etc. etc. Good! We get a strong Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot) who every chapter is displaying his evil genius for scientific inventions, nefarious activities and desire to destroy Superman. Great! It gets a plus for being close to the source like the great 'Flash Gordon' (1936).

Unfortunately the 'Atom Man' theme, except for the name, has nothing to do with the original radio Atom Man. According to Anthony Tollin, an authority on broadcast history, the evil Nazi scientist Der Teufel ("the Devil") created the kryptonite-powered Atom Man, who became Superman's greatest foe during the radio serial run. In fact, Superman needed Batman and Robin's help to finally defeat Atom Man. Perhaps here in 1950 the script writers were trying to capitalize on the radio version's popularity, but the whole concept is totally misused, confusing and needless. From his earliest appearance, we have no doubt that Luthor is Atom Man, a fact off handedly confirmed in later chapters when Luthor refers to himself as Atom Man. Atom Man has no reason for being, story wise, since he is given no rationale for his presence or purpose, and does nothing but stand around giving orders to his henchmen. The presence of Atom Man is a glaring weak point of the serial--what do we need him for since Luthor is already so capably evil? A big negative, like the 'Captain America' (1944) or 'Dick Tracy' serials (1937,1938, 1939, 1941) that also bear name only similarities to their source material.

Secondly, in movies in which the villain has a double identity, there has to be some reason for it. Beginning with Fritz Lang's 'Spies' (1928), the super criminal mastermind who wanted to ruin German's economy, was disguised as a bank president, but also as a circus clown. Usually in the serials the villain plays a double role to gain information access to the doings of the hero, often as member of a council as in 'Zorro's Fighting Legion' (1939), 'The Adventures of Captain Marvel' (1941), 'The Crimson Ghost' (1946) or 'Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc.' (1941). In this serial the double identity of Luthor has no convincing rhyme or reason.

A real strong point of the serial is Luthor's attempt to destroy Superman by sending him into "The Empty Doom." In other serials where the villain has a dastardly device that you know he will try to put on the hero, it operates as a cliff hanger only, with the hero escaping at the beginning of the next chapter, as in 'Buck Rogers' (1939), 'Batman' (1943) and the heroine in 'The Crimson Ghost' (1946). But not here! Luthor sends Superman into "The Empty Doom" and he's stuck there! Not until Marvel Comics in the 60s when the Red Skull captures the Cosmic Cube and uses it to miniaturize Captain America to fit in the palm of his hand do we get such a "Now how is he ever going to get out of this?" heroic predicament. The entire development of "The Main Arc" and its use to eliminate Superman takes six chapters (chapter 4-9)! This story 'arc' is clearly the best part of the serial, and is why I'd rate the serial highly despite its other glaring faults.

Some other glaring faults include: no hand to hand combat with the villain, and needless chapters (10-15) that have no continuity or purpose. You only get climaxing hand to hand battles between the hero and villain in the western and police serials. When Superman finally captures Luthor in the last chapter, it takes him about two seconds to rush over, grab and put the cuffs on him. Very weak. We have Marvel Comics to thank for re-introducing and basing their whole post 50s output on making hand to hand battles with super villains the main theme of virtually all their stories, so that now we expect to see epic battles between the Fantastic Four vs. Dr. Doom, Spider Man vs. Dr. Octopus, or the X-Men vs. Magneto. But in the old science fiction genre serials, we never see it.

Finally, since the serial really climaxes in Chapter 9, when Superman after having spent the whole chapter "Lost in the Empty Doom" finally escapes, where else is this serial to go? The 'Atom Man' theme is going nowhere, the Empty Doom is dropped, so we get Lois Lane covering a flood! Then suddenly we have the appearance of Luthor's 'flying saucers,' and an A-bomb to destroy Metropolis. The last five chapters seem like time fillers, since there is no clear continuity between them as we had in chapters 4-9.

Too bad it couldn't have been as well scripted for the entire serial as it was for the "Lost in the Empty Doom" chapters. Well, we can't get everything; especially in serials and particularly those from Columbia. So we can just be thankful that almost half of it is really high standard. I give it a 7 (as a serial).

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
What Were They Thinking?, 12 July 2008

This is one of the worst 'monster island' type early fifties cheapies. It's note worthy only, however, for the mind boggling ending. This time the 'monster island' is actually a new Earth like planet, Nova, that has suddenly appeared near the Earth. The premise, development, dialog and acting are full of laughable 'science' making this an outstanding choice for Mystery Science Theater 3000. For some this also means it qualifies for the "So bad, it's good," category, but this is just plain bad film making. The great 'SBIG' movies, like Ed Wood's 'Citizen Kane,' 'Glen or Glenda' (1953) or 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' (1959) have absurd or unique qualities in the writing, photography, use of stock footage and acting.

You always hope that the dinosaurs in these films will not be men in monster suits as in 'Unknown Island' (1948), or close ups of iguanas and salamanders. But no-- there are the iguanas, but we also get a gila monster and a Kodomo dragon (monitor lizard).

It was Roger Corman who broke ground by creating his own monsters for his mid fifties science fiction films, definitely the peaks of the fifties genre with such wonders as 'The Day the World Ended,' (1955), the amazing story of the Ultimate Collaborator (Lee Van Cleef) in the under rated 'It! Conquered the World,' (1956), 'Not of This Earth' (1957), and 'Attack of the Crab Monsters' (1957), leading the way. But not Bert I. Gordon.

Usually when the characters first land and see a volcano, you know that at the end of the movie, the volcano is going to explode and destroy the island, a cliché done to death in countless movies (and serials) since the 1930s. But wait! This one ends differently! As two of the four scientists rush to the island to save the others, the man is lugging a rectangular box, and as they are reunited, running away from the 'dinosaurs' he says "I brought an atomic bomb. This is a good time to use it!" !! He sets the timer for 30 minutes, and they escape in rubber rafts to the mainland, hiding behind a knoll just as the A-Bomb goes off. As the mushroom cloud rises and blooms, one man says to the other, "Well, we did it!" The other replies, "Yes, we certainly did! We brought civilization to Nova!"

Your jaw drops in disbelief. The unintentional meaning of this according to our current reading (i.e., Civilization equals destruction by man-- see also the Catholic Church's list of new sins; Oppenheimer's naming the bomb Shiva, and the new definition of man as the species destroying the earth through global warming and causing extinction of other species) must be in stark contrast to the fifities' meanings, I'm assuming, which must combine "wiping out evils paves the way for civilization," and America's ability to wield such a weapon 'proves' that we are the forefront of 'civilization,' both referenced by our dropping of the A-Bomb on Japan.

Is that what they were thinking? Other than the ending, this movie was not absurd or well written enough to merit more than a 1.

NOTE: The current DVD version has another Lippert production, 'The Jungle' (1952), supposedly filmed in India, with a great Indian sound track, and some pre-Bollywood native dancing. Filmed in sepia, it's a better film.

Loan Shark (1952)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A Must for George Raft Fans Only, 12 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is included as part of the "Forgotten Noir" DVD series, which really means B-movie bottom billed Robert Lippert movies. Be warned! No wonder they are forgotten. The best Lippert Picture, however, now in a new fantastic DVD version, is 'Rocketship X-M' (1950) with uncredited script by Dalton Trumbo!

This one is a fair time passer. It's clearly built as a vehicle for George Raft, (who is in almost every scene) and his screen persona as a "tough guy." He walks like he has a coat hanger stuck in his back (a walk 'copied' by Jimmy Carter and Al Gore): this is the kind of walk you practice with a book on your head to improve your posture. It doesn't seem right these days for a tough guy, but Raft's look and famous staccato monotone compensate greatly for his stiff walk.

It's not really a noir film. Noir films have nice guys being caught up in a corrupt world-- they had titles like 'Undercurrent,' 'Whirlpool,' 'Quicksand,' 'Detour,' 'Roadblock,' 'Criss Cross,' etc. and often were shot in extremely low light and shadows like the amazing 'Out of the Past'(1947). This one is actually 'the good guy goes undercover to trap the Big Boss.'

Anyway, George Raft carries the film. For fans of George Raft, this is a must see. He's in his 'element' here with loan sharks, thugs and criminals, not hanging out in Morocco in the Foreign Legion. When he's on screen, we watch him. We also get great bad guy from Paul Stewart, the butler from 'Citizan Kane' (1941). With those eyes and eyebrows he's so good as a heavy! A young John Hoyt is also nicely bad. Dorothy Hart, a former fashion model, as Raft's 30 year younger love interest (!) has eyes that put you on Cloud 9. She quit movies and mostly did work for the UN, since she "hated Hollywood." This movie may be one reason why.

This is also for fans like me who enjoy seeing Los Angeles in the early fifties. Hey, when I was growing up in the fifties in the boondocks of Northern California (Petaluma), seeing black and white films of crime in LA, added to the thrill of my first visit to Los Angeles. Best of all, of course, is 'Kiss Me Deadly' (1955) where we get to see the apartments next to Angel's Flight on Bunker Hill before they were razed, and the super noir 'D.O.A.' (1951) which takes us inside the Bradbury Building in downtown LA.

Not an Oscar contender. I give it a four.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Fantastic New Print for a History Making Film, 11 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The 50th anniversary DVD of the 1956 'The Ten Commandments' includes Cecil B. DeMille's original 1923 version. The restored print of this history making silent film is simply amazing, so sharp and crystal clear with zero flickering. Furthermore, this version is the same, the reverse and also different from the 1956 version.

It's the same in that De Mille rebuilt the same set of Ramses' city -- larger than the towers built for D. W. Griffith's 'Intolerance' (1916)-- for the '56 version, used much of the same script, camera angles and other sets. It's the reverse, because as Katherine Orrison notes on the commentary track, if a shot was done from the right side in the '23 version, it was filmed from the left in the '56 version, and vice versa. She kids us not! She's written three books about "C.B."

It is different from the '56 version in two major ways. First, the story of Moses begins with him giving the ninth plague (killing the first born), and ends with him hurling the 10 Commandments down at the revellers worshipping the Golden Calf below Mount Sinai. Second, the movie then becomes a second story (the Biblical scenes are called "The Prologue"), taking place in San Francisco.

"The Modern Story" is about the brothers John, a carpenter (Richard Dix) and Danny, an architect (Rod La Roque) and their struggles with morality. Danny vows to break all ten commandments, and by the end of the movie, he has. Like Ramses drowned in the Red Sea, Danny, escaping to Mexico in his speed boat 'Defiance' also drowns smashed on a large rock that looks suspiciously like Mount Sinai. Note: Before Richard Dix went on to fame and success in sound movies (mostly for RKO), he starred in many other silent films-- check out his great performance in 'The Vanishing American' (1925) as an Indian.

Visually interesting throughout, the film even takes place on the construction site of the Catholic cathedral in Washington Square in San Francisco as it was being built. Actually shot in the outside construction elevator on the roof, you get to see a lot of the vista of 1923 San Francisco! Let's all meet at Washington Square for the 100th anniversary of this film!

Plus the whole movie really works. What sets and costumes! The parting of the Red Sea in this version is even better than the 1956 one!

I give it an 8.

5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Carmen Matthews Gives an Outstanding Performance, 10 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A year after Lizzie Borden (Carmen Matthews) is acquitted of "giving her mother forty whacks and... her father forty-one," a feisty newspaper woman (Polly Rowles) tries to get an interview out of her. Even though this is a spoiler, I don't want to tell you how the 'real' murderer is revealed at the end. What is important is that, for several reasons, this is one of the best 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' episodes.

First, the bravura performance by Carmen Matthews, usually type cast as a ditzy older sister in other AHP episodes. She really stretches here in a highly dramatic and touching turn about performance. Second, the episode doesn't follow the O. Henry last minute surprise ending fade out so typical of the majority of AHP episodes. The whole episode is a character study. The final slow fade is a poignant one of Lizzie sitting on a sofa stroking her cat. Third, we get Polly Rowles as the tough and persistent newswoman, Nell Cutts. We can also see her feisty toughness in her final movie 'Springtime in the Rockies' (1937) as Gene Autry's college educated ranch boss. Hitchcock's daughter Patricia plays the maid, once again showing us her limitations as an actress. But so what.

This great episode will stay with you as a real standout because of Carmen Matthew's best TV performance. I'll give it a 7.

Spies (1928)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The Whole James Bond Spy Genre Came From This Film!, 9 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is great film making.

The whole 'James Bond' spy genre came from this film. It has it all. First, we have Haghi, the physically flawed (here wheelchair bound, and exhaling cigarette smoke out of only one nostril) but evil genius masterminding a global plot. He's played by the great Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who was the too hammy Rotwang in 'Metropolis' (1927); he totally dominates the film in terms of screen time and acting. In his 'evil' disguise (he has two others) he looks just like Lenin!

Then we have the Secret Service spy hero, known as Number 326 (Willy Fritsch), who falls in love and has an affair with his Russian spy counterpart, Sonya (Gerda Maurus). Even the 'dialog' sequences between Haghi and Sonya have a Bondish flair! There's the female spy who seduces the Japanese diplomat to steal the Secret Treaty with Japan. Then there's the (seemingly) international cast of Germans, Japanese and a black bartender, and the movement between countries. There are the high tech gadgets, from the buttons on Haghi's desk, to the lapel mini-camera, and the screen relaying spy messages and the abundance of spies, moles and counterspies. Then comes the suspenseful plot to kill 326 on a train going to 'the border.' Finally, the exciting, dangerous rescue of Sonya, and the last undoing of Haghi. All this in a silent movie of 1928!

The masterful cinematography by Lang and his crew make this film immensely watchable. There are fantastic dissolves and rapid cutting, great close framing, and wonderful tracking shots. What a text book of film making!

The addition of a modern soundtrack to the KINO version, which uses various instruments (piano, flute, bassoon, koto, bongos and other instruments) in solo, duet, trio and ensemble passages is little more than amazing, and is without a doubt one of the most appropriate soundtracks ever made for a silent film. The music adds emphasis and feeling to every shot. One of the best moments is when the Japanese diplomat, deeply guilt ridden for allowing the evil spy Kitty (Lien Deyer, in her first film) to seduce him and steal the Treaty, commits ritual suicide (seppuku) in a tatami mat room, with koto and piano playing a duet symbolizing the clash of cultures. Masterful! Another fantastic modern soundtrack is the KINO one for 'Woman in the Moon' (1929), also directed by Lang and also starring Gerda Maurus and Willy Fritsch.

There are a couple of minor glitches, however. Willy Fritsch is not a rough, tough sexy Bond figure, but just moons over Sonya like a little puppy dog whenever he sees her; but Gerda Maurus as Sonya, aware of her dual role as his enemy / lover though he at first is not, does a much better job because she displays the range of conflicted feelings appropriate to the role, and without overacting. The other problem is the train wreck. It's not really made clear what train Sonya was on and why she wasn't involved in the crash of the two trains. This problem may have stemmed from the fact that this film has been reconstructed from various sources, primarily from an Austrian print.

So I'll give it a 9, not a 10, but it is certainly a film to be seen, and guaranteed to be enjoyed by anyone whether knowledgeable about silent films or not.

4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
It Needs More Than a Deep Voice and a Wide Grin, 9 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This "sort of a western" stars Tom Tyler, whose deep voice, wide grin and natural athleticism are the keys to the success of his two serials 'The Adventures of Captain Marvel' (1941) and 'The Phantom' (1943). Here they aren't enough to make this routine and formulaic film more than a pass the time waster.

He plays a prize fighter, 'Scotty' McQuade, who is tricked into losing a bout by the evil promoter, played by the smarmy Forrest Taylor. Cut to Scotty suddenly walking through the middle of a western prairie, renouncing his boxing career and getting a job working on a horse ranch. Taylor also shows up as he is now promoting horse races as well as fights.

We get all the clichés of a western without much western action: Charles King (as ranch foreman 'Bones') picking a fight with Scotty; the up and down relationship with the "Prairie Flower," (here played by Beth Marion who starred in Tom's next western as well) whose wifeless Dad runs the ranch; the obligatory false imprisonment scene; and the final 'rescues' of the ranch by our hero --in this case he wins both the horse race and the prize fight.

High points: Charles King gets in more dialog than usual, but his fights with Tom are too short; the presence of the comic Sammy Cohen, who had made some of the first Vitaphone talking shorts. That's about it. Hopefully Tom did better in his 13 '3 Mesquiters' films as 'Stony Burke.' I'll be generous and give this one a 3 for Tom's voice, grin, and Charles King's presence.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Too Routine To Be of Much Interest, 8 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This one gives us little more than the standard formula for B movie quickie westerns.

The bad guy Norton (played by the classic villain Forrest Taylor) steals the deed to the mine; the good guy, Tex Martin (the easy going but tough fighting Tex Ritter) immediately rides into the thick of the trouble, and is quickly involved in a barroom fight with Blackie (Charles King); then Tex and his partner Stubby (Horace Murphy) try to unravel the suspicious goings-on regarding the mine, and the evil gang of black caped and hooded horsemen (wearing a skull and cross bones logo) known as "The Masked Riders."

Tex infiltrates the gang, gets discovered, is falsely put in jail and then rescued by Stubby, and off they go with the vigilantes to pursue and capture the Masked Riders in a final mass horseback open prairie chase sequence, that by 1937 had been done many times: the Masked Riders finally being encircled by the vast group of vigilante horsemen. The 'mystery' of the title lay in discovering who the real boss of the Masked Riders would turn out to be. Although this is a spoiler, I won't tell you, but it's not the bartender!

Although too short and too routine to be of more than passing interest, the highlights are: 1) the direction of Ray Taylor, here giving Horace Murphy (described by Blackie as "short, fat, and wall-eyed") his biggest and best played role so far; 2) the fight between Tex and Blackie in the bar (one of their best-- too bad there weren't more); 3) the slight presence of the Priscilla Presley look alike, Iris Meredith as Nancy, who herself was in almost 50 films as the "Prairie Flower," mostly in the Charles Starret (who?) westerns, but also in those of Bill Elliot, Johnny Mack Brown, and Buster Crabbe's 'Billy the Kid.' She also played the helpless heroine in 'The Green Archer' (1940) serial.

The real high points, of course, in the Tex Ritter westerns are the musical numbers and his singing. We get a nice little yodelin' country and western swing banjo number from Ray Whitley and his band, and Tex singing "Ride Around Little Dogies," and "Ride, Ride, Ride," which is introduced by Blackie as Tex enters the bar: Norton says, "What's he doing here?" and Blackie answers, "I don't know, but it's a cinch he's up to no good." Does he mean his singing?

Other than the above, it's too routine to be of much interest, and too short, with not enough music numbers or enough fights of various types with Charles King.

1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
It Follows the Formula, But Doesn't Stand Out, 26 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is neither one of Gene's best, nor his worst. Instead of the non stop action in other kinds of westerns, in many of his movies we get the gentle Gene in well edited and scripted development of story, character, music and comedy. This one fits this Republic formula well, but one wishes it were a little more exciting.

Here Gene is a ranch foreman who wants to sell horses to the military. The first half is all about horses. Horses, horses, horses in the wonderful outdoor setting of the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California.

Smiley Burnette is not just a side kick, but a de facto co-star in many of his pictures with Gene-- he usually sings a solo (one of his own songs), and gets to do two or three comic relief bits. These scenes seem to be filling in for the fact that Gene is not an athletic fist fighting, gun shooting action actor. You can see how gingerly he dismounts Champion and carefully looks for his landing spot at the Lone Hills train station. So "Frog" gets almost as much screen time as Gene does.

We have "Wild Bill" Elliot (here as Gordon Elliot) as the villain. He's got that deep, tough, look and voice that makes him good either as a hero or a villain (like Humphrey Bogart or Lash La Rue). Unfortunately, the good guy / bad guy relationship is not the core of the film, and gets short shrift at the expense of Frog's comedy scenes, and the better developed love story.

Gene is really a singer, and we get six songs, four from him. Many westerns used a popular song in the title as built in recognition / promotion for the films themselves. Here we have 'Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddles' (1935) sung during the opening titles and at the end. Also noteworthy is 'Riding the Trail' by Gene in an almost music video edited production, with him singing, in a slightly resigned tone about how he'll be riding the trail 'the rest of his life.'

You'll probably stay awake during the entire movie; it's pretty well put together and edited, even if it doesn't rise above its formulaic and workmanlike construction. I'll give it a four.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
You Can Skip This One, 14 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We watch Gene Autry movies for his sincerity, his interplay with a female lead or Smiley Burnette (all on display in 'Yodelin' Kid From Pine Ridge' from 1937), a mean villain or an interesting story (as in 'The Big Show' from 1936) but in this film we get none of these.

Too much of it is outdoors with new or stock footage of cattle movements, rustlings and chasing of the rustlers. Unless Yakima Canutt is available for doing Gene's stunts, we get more singing than slam bang action. The only good song is "Old Buck-a-Roo" about an old man hanging up his boots and saddles.

We get to see the spunky Ann Rutherford, who went on to play Polly Benedict in the Andy Hardy movies. But in this one, too much time is wasted on poor low comedy (Smiley Burnette sitting backwards on a horse, trapped in a meat packing truck, and paired as the head in a two man steer costume), and outdoor landscape chases. One of Smiley's songs was cut from the edited version I have ("I Got the Heebie Jeebie Blues")and his "Defective Detective from Brooklyn" is certainly one of the high points (?) of his career as a singer-composer.

Hardly any character interaction or development to speak of. Only good if you like to watch lots of men on horseback chasing more men on horseback across the plains. I'll give it a two and half.

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