Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Early Cryptography Drrama -- Okay For Its Genre
There have been not too many films based on serious "codebreaking"; this one was associated with the famous cyrptanalyst, Herbert O. Yardley. An Army officer, who wrote a biook, "Ciphering and Deciphering," under a pseudonym is identified as the author by a young lady he was dating; she was the niece of the Secretary of War, so he finds himself assigned to the somewhat beleaguered cryptological group. He turns out to be good at it, trying to find out what the Germans were transmitting, since the Germsn submsrines were sinking allied shiops. Espionage s rife in Washington, and the crypto section needs to crack the German secret cipher to determine hoe they were directing their war efforts. The officer shows his crypto talents when he first enters the group's workplace and makes an instant analysis based on the statistical distribution of characters in the cipher Over the course of his studies, he also figures out a repetitive pattern of character shifts, which enables him to determine the actual message. Spoiler: The deciphered message reveals that the US code books have been compromised, giving the rendezvous point for military and associated ships en route to support the war effort, One could quibble that actual cipher messages would be in German rather than Ebglish, and that the enciphering schemer would be a little more complex than what was presented, but that's a quibble: the average moviegoer isn't a cryptologist. Although codebreaking plays a part in the film, the machinations of the espionage agents is as important in the story as the cryptanalysis. Not a bad drama, with a touch of humor added.
Walk East on Beacon! (1952)
Early Cold-War Drama
The story was developed some years after the close of World War II, and as some of the techniques of Soviet agents of the time. The basic story, a "professor" is developing mathematics that can be used for the development of missiles and the like, with Soviet agents trying to find out details -- apparently some exotic math -- from a project code-named Falcon. The story follows the various mechanations of enemy agents, and the details of how the F.B.I. coped with the covert actions of the enemy agents. Since the film is in monochrome, it's a bitironic to point out that the plot is In black and white, as are the characters. This follows the tradition of such films during the World War II period. The covert activities of the F.B.I. are a bit humorous to a modern eye -- for example, the call litters of the local Bureau home radio transmitter are WFBI, which would be anything but a low profile in case of people monitoring frequencies. Bugging a suspect's business with an early TV camera and audio link was more to show off the latest postwar technology than to show any practical means of snooping. To a modern eye, the precomputer "calculating machine" used somehow to develop what in the brief glimpse we see of it looks like a set of differential equations, seems to the modern eye rather amusing, but accepting it for the sake of the story isn't difficult: the developed sheet of equations is what the spy ring is seeking. A rigid analysis of the espionage and counteroffer's makes little more sense than counting the number of shots a six-gun in a Roy Rogers western manages to fire without reloading; some things one can't take too seriously. Entertaining, but not documentary.
Renfrew of the Royal Mounted (1937)
More of the Same Ain't Bad
This is one of a series of Renfrew films. Renfrew is a Mountie -- actually, a Singing Mountie, so he's bound to burst into song during the course of the film.
The story is not profound, and has a tad of the science-fictional invention in it. A gang of crooks has a member who's invented a kind of ray gun, carefully explained as a gun that sends out a tight beam of microwaves to short out the magnetos of an airplane. His invention works, but not well enough, so a university professor is tricked into helping them upgrade the device. The professor is led to believe that he's helping to perfect an antiaircraft device for national defense.
The crooks have planted a bug in the offices of a gold mine, and thus can overhear the plans for gold shipments. However, these are relayed to them by a person who pretends to be an amateur radio operator, with the information buried in children's stories.
Sgt. Renfrew is multitalented, being among other things, an airplane pilot. He and his sidekick, Constable Kelly, have been assigned to find out why the airplanes from the mine are mysteriously vanishing without a trace, so Renfrew goes airborne, with his sidekick either airsick or asleep.
Naturally, the professor has a pretty young daughter, who comes up to Canada ti visit him, and who is intimidated by the crooks into keeping quiet for her father's safety.
The Mounties finally figure out what's going on, and Renfrew goes aloft to pilot a gold shipment while Kelly goes to the crooks' lodge. The chief of the crooks, through the bug, determines that Renfrew would be flying an agglutinate route, and goes aloft himself to lure the Mountie into chasing him into the ray gun's range. The average viewer can figure out the end of this one.
The film is full of light comedic moments and a lit of fistfights. And of course, Renfrew sings a few songs, one in the airplane he' s flying on the supposed gold shipment.
You could do far worse, but it's not a film to take seriously.
A Classic Tale
When I first rented a copy of the film, I thought it would just be another Medieval oater, but was pleasantly surprised to discover it had classic roots. It's a retelling of the Song of Roland. As Excalibur was the best incarnation of Le Morte d'Arthur, and Dark Kingdom was an incarnation of the Nordic Nibelungen Ring Cycle, the roots of this go back to the legends of Charlemagne, most specifically, Ariosto's Orlando Furioso.
Naturally, the story is abbreviated from the original, and there are a few changes, possibly for simplicity.
Probably because of its Italian origins, the film features some really artistically designed armor.
The Magic Sword (1962)
Best For Youngsters
Do not expect high drama in a children's fairy tale. That being said, the film has its moments.
The overview: a youth "falls in love" with a princess from afar, seeing her in a magic mirror and a magic pool. He's only 20, and his adoptive mother thinks he's too young to get involved with anyone, particularly a princess who's been kidnapped by an evil sorcerer, Lokak, to be fed to his bicephalic dragon.
Spoilers in plot outline, below.
A knight, Sir Brantin, declares he's rescue the princess (the King indicates that he'll give half his kingdom to the rescuer, as well as letting the rescuer marry the girl). But the youth, Sir George, declares to the King that he, and his companions (knights that were magically kept in suspended animation until he awakened them) would rescue the princess. Sir Brantin tries to discourage the others, pointing out the curses that Lodak set in the pathway to his castle.
The knights start out, and some are picked off, curse by curse, until finally, only Sir George (and Sir Brantin) is left. It turns out that Sir Brantin and Lodak have a deal: Sir Branti will "rescue" the Princess and in turn will give back a ring that will give Lodak ultimate power again.
Just to complicate matters, Sir George's adoptive mother, a witch herself, miscast a spell so that instead of doubling the magical power of Sir George's armor and sword, removes the magical power completely.
Eventually, though, she appears at Lodak's castle, and while he's watching Sir George facing the dragon, recalls the correct version of the spell, restores power to sword and armor, and, while this distracts Lodak long enough, slips the ring off his finger (he got it back from Sir Brantin, then doublecrosses him), thus making herself as powerful as him.
Virtue triumphs, of course.
This is a good show for littler children. The menaces are scary enough for little ones, but there is no real on-screen violence. One could do far worse.
Fine Effort, Mostly Pays Off
There are well over 1,100 comments preceding thus one. Everything from praise to condemnation has already been voiced. So why another comment? Why not? The film isn't faithful to the text of the book, though it's fairly faithful to the spirit behind the book. As the opening of the Harry Potter saga, a lot of the film, as with the book, is introducing newcomers to the world of the young wizard. Meeting the characters -- Harrym Hagridm Ron, Hermione, and the like -- is important, and in the film, they're fairly well established. The whole magical world of Wizardkind is introduced, but shortcuts had to be made.
Harry's flying sequences had to be trimmed, though his elation at being a natural flayers, and some of his Quidditch practice were excised, more's the pity. Likewise, Harry becoming Seeker was a secret in the book, but the talk of the school in the film.
The fundamentals remain. The film is not the book, but it's close enough so that someone who's not roast the books first could be charmed by the film into starting to read them.
The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988)
Amazing For A Shoestring Film.
I saw pieces that were incorporated into the film on a Walt Disney telecast, titled "The Possible Impossible," or something of that sort. It was Mike Jitlov's marching tripods and biting clapper slates. Walt was the host of the show, and he explained that by using movie techniques, it was possible to present things that couldn't really happen.
Having had to improvise some low-cost special effects for an industrial film I did in the early 1970s, I sympathize with anyone who has limited cash and great ambition. Mr. Jitlov has done outstanding visual work in the film-within-the-film, and some excellent work in the rest of the opus.
A version of the short piece was shown at a New England Science Fiction society convention I was attending, so I got another glimpse of the picture. When the final (later) version of the film was released, I realized it's a one-of-a-kind film.
The feature is entertaining, and carries the viewer along with the story, which is full of Hollywood in-jokes. Even if you know nothing about the world of film, the movie still entertains.
Although the gentle story carries the viewer along, the real feature is the vast number of special effects scenes throughout the opus. They are sociometric eye candy worth repeated viewings.
Worth watching. Worth tracking down to watch.
Treasure of Monte Cristo (1949)
One Could Do A Lot Worse Than This One!
The "Monte Cristo" theme is kinda left in the background as the film evolves. At the very beginning, a businessman drops a letter addressed to "Ed Dantes" into a mail slot of the building he's in. He then goes into an office and is immediately struck down by a shadowy figure.
Then we meet the hero. He's a merchant seaman, with Second Mate papers. He's coming ashore, and as he gets his land legs, he sees a woman being chased by a couple of men. Being a gentleman, he rescues her. The two of them get away, and in time, she tells her story: she's an heiress who escaped from an asylum because she's being maneuvered into a situation where the people who've committed her would get her inheritance. If she reached a certain age (she's three months shy) or gets married, she gets the inheritance.
Her story seems valid, and she proposes that she and Dantes take a quick trip to Reno to get married (:only technically") so that she can get rid of all the interference. Circumstances maneuver Dantes into going along with the deal. They get a quickie marriage/honeymoon at a hotel, and the following morning, when Dantes goes for cigarettes, she disappears, and leaves a message with the address of the asylum.
Dantes returns to try to rescue her, and falls into a situation where someone gets killed. Dantes is arrested, and soon is convicted of the crime.
spoiler alert: by the trial, it seems obvious that the attorney Dantes has hired is no help. The girl he married fell in love with him (I wonder what the honeymoon was really like), and she tries to help him. He also has "family" -- San Francisco folk who effectively adopted him as a boy also help him.
More spoilers: One refreshing thing about the film is that unlike a lot of such movies, the police are not portrayed as being stupid.
The story pieces fall tiger rather rapidly toward the end, but this is a good, entertaining film. It's even better if the viewer is familiar with the Dumas story.
Sky Liner (1949)
Flight Of Fancy
Usually, films of this sort use fictional airlines; this film uses TWA. The "Air Liner" on the film is a Constellation, which became a shuttle aircraft between Boston and New York by the late 1940s.
The story has an on-ground prelude, where one person is shot dead as he enters his office after hours without a word being spoken by the killer. But that's the prelude. A number of diverse people are passengers on the airliner, and some of them interact with each other on things established before takeoff.
The flight crew are tipped off that there will be a "federal agent" aboard the flight, and one of the passengers, posing as a member of the diplomatic corps thus learns that a G-man was aboard.
One thing overrating is the Sly Liner's restroom. It apparently was conventional in those days for more than one person to occupy the restroom at a time. (In all the times I was a passenger on a Constellation, I never checked out the restrooms, but the airline was TWA, so maybe...) Anyway, it was because more than one person used a restroom at a time that the dead body was discovered, one that turned out to have been the victim of a murder.
Naturally, if it was a killing (unclear at first), the murderer had to be aboard. The airliner was diverted to a military base (for weather reasons) where a coroner does a quickie autopsy and determines that the cause of death was indeed deliberate) The airliner eventually takes off, while the F-man pits together the pieces.
The murder weapon, though clever, might not be immediately recognizable by younger viewers, but was a clever, though understandable, idea of the time.
Roaring City (1951)
Hugh Beaumont For Hire
As noted elsewhere, this film bears a strong resemblance to the Old-Time Radio program, PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE. The setup is virtually identical. The protagonist (calling him a hero is a tad generous) has a shop on a pier in San Francisco, is 'for hire" for any odd job that he feels comfortable with, legal or otherwise. As with the radio show, he has an intelligent, though alcoholic, helper who can do leg offstage to get him the data he needs to put the pieces of a caper together. Also like the radio show, he gets knocked out a lot.
The radio show had a lot of colorful similes, verging toward purple prose, that's diminished in the films, but then, Dennis O'Brien is no Pat Novak. (Only Jack Webb could deliver the lines the way they would work.) But, like Novak, O'Brien has a nemesis on the police force, an inspector (Hellman for Novak, Briger for City). The inspector in the film is played by Richard Travis; in the radio show, it was played by Raymond Burr.
That aside, the stories were structured like the radio show. Most of the women were, well, far from innocent victims or bystanders. This is clearly evident in both stories.
One thing in the first story that is bemusing. Toward the end of the story, Inspector Bruger becomes convinced about the guilt of the villain, gawking the heat off O'Brien. He holds the guy at gun point as O'Brien decides to call it a day. Exiting the apartment, O'Brien casually walks between Bruger and his prisoner, right through the line of fire! But nobody reacts. Criminals must have been a lot more cooperative in those days! The film is abstaining, but nothing special. A pale echo of PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE to that show's fans, though.