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Indecent Desires (1968)
Sex fantasies on blonde doll affect a real blonde
"Indecent Desires" (1967) is a Doris Wishman (1912-2002) film. Wishman was a creative maker of sexploitation films. "A sexploitation film (or 'sex-exploitation film') is a class of independently produced, low-budget feature film that is generally associated with the 1960s, and that serves largely as a vehicle for the exhibition of non-explicit sexual situations and gratuitous nudity." She wanted to be an actress, she says. Actually, she had worked in film distribution. When her first husband died at age 30, she started making films. She had energy, drive and needed a vocation. She lived and breathed her projects and became staunchly independent. She had to make pictures that sold, because even shoestring budgets add up. She also wanted to do them her way creatively, and she did. This is why her movies look like no one else's and are done like no one else's. By the usual standards, her movies are open to a lot of criticism. Some will call them disasters. However, they are fresh, direct, and they live on while more reputable films begin to look dated and fake. They hang together even as she breaks the rules. She was a sharp person, a survivor in a tough business. Wishman didn't make porn movies and didn't want to, but a movie like this has nudity and the star (Sharon Kent) likes to wear a sheer nightie. The movie has sexual situations. In fact, the whole story relies on a sexual fantasy that sort of comes to life.
In this film, we do not see glamorous people. We see ordinary people in ordinary apartments of the period. The New York they live in is not the ritzy downtown, but the borough dwellings, apartment houses, and parkways, fences. It looks rather rundown. The male lead (Michael Alaimo) lives in a tawdry little apartment. That set is so cheap that it's basically two walls and a big curtain to hide what's behind it. His character, Zeb, has no clear means of support or job. He probably has some sort of work. He's happy to find money in a telephone booth or pick stuff up that others have tossed. He finds a magic ring and a doll. The effect of the ring is that when he wears it and caresses or whips the doll, this has a real effect on a real woman, Ms. Kent. She's being traumatized by suddenly feeling hands on her when there is no one touching her. She can't tell her boy friend, and when she finally does the only help he can offer her is the name of a psychiatrist. She keeps saying that no one can help her. She instinctively understands that something beyond human control is happening to her and that she's in the grip of a strange power. Zeb knows absolutely nothing of the effect he's having on her physically. He stalks her and fantasizes about her. He sees the doll as her in his mind, but he doesn't realize that he's harming her.
Kent's co-worker (Jackie Richards) sees that Kent is having problems and tries several times to help her, but she cannot. Besides, Richards has her own life. She's in the middle of making love with a man and doesn't want to interrupt that to run to Kent's aid. She can't find a reliable man, but every one she begins to fall for eventually disappoints her.
This picture made me think of the opening sequence of George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" from the following year. Zeb is a lanky figure something like the first zombie. Both pictures have a grey look. Zeb is something like a zombie in delivering harm or even intending harm to a blonde. There really is not much similarity. It's just that the supernatural element is also present, and Zeb keeps raising the level of indirectly-administered violence as the picture moves on. He keeps coming back to his same tiny apartment, switching on the light, and then going into another routine with the doll. He does this something like 6 times. The rhythm is rather like the zombies continually attacking the people in the house. Here, Kent is under attack.
The story is definitely not a happy one. Forces are affecting everyone that they cannot control or are beyond their control. This includes the frustrated Zeb. He doesn't do violence to anyone, yet he's the instrument of bringing unhappiness and tragedy. Kent and her boy friend are helpless to control her affliction. Richards has some temporary sexual satisfaction, but that's about it. The world they live in looks grey and bleak. It's a far cry from the colorful and sunny world of a nudist camp or a nudie movie, such as Wishman had made earlier.
A mysterious apartment and lover of its former occupant shake up a bachelor's life
"Den hemmelighetsfulle leiligheten" (1948) means something like mysterious apartment or private apartment or secretive apartment. I'd rate this as 3/4 or 7.5 if I could. This is an unusual psychological story with suspense elements. Because much of it is told in voice-overs that reveal interior thoughts, it was radical or modernistic for its time. Similarly, the themes of identity, sexual repression and transference of love were uncommon at that time.
The sexually-naive bachelor protagonist (Ola Isene) in the story is a bureau chief, a white-collar job, and he's in his 40s. Social pressure from his card-playing friends helps lead him to buy the furnished apartment of an artist who died of oyster poisoning overseas. But what really motivates him is a mysterious attraction of the place, partly due to its furnishings and mostly due to something that holds the place together that he cannot identify. One item, a big bureau-desk, especially pulls on him and is why he buys the place. His father had the same kind of desk. As a teenager, Isene found a secret drawer in it in which were his father's diaries and love letters from his mother. He read these and felt ashamed and scared. This is connected to his repression, and he essentially wants to overcome it by buying the desk and examining its secret drawer.
When he opens the drawer, he discovers frank love letters written to the artist. This opens his eyes to the inner thoughts and feelings of women. Halfway through the story, he finds the attractive woman (Sonja Wigert) who wrote the letters inside the apartment looking for the letters; for she has a key to the place (Contrary to the sole IMDb review, these letters are not those of his housekeeper and he doesn't take up with her. Also contrary to the Norwegian wikipedia entry on this film, it is definitely not the case that he knows Wigert beforehand purely by chance.) At this point, having read her letters and begun to go through a transformation, he makes every effort to continue a relationship with Wigert, who still wants her letters back. The rest of the story shows how this develops. It is very interesting. It received a mixed reception at the time, but it has held up well over the years. By the end of the story, we learn what holds the apartment together.
Blood of Dracula (1957)
Carpathian medallion and hypnosis turn teenage girl into vampire-like monster
The novelty of "Blood of Dracula" held my interest, but it was bland and underdeveloped in important respects. So, while it was some fun and entertaining, it doesn't score high, not as high as "I Was A Teenage Werewolf", "I Was A Teenage Frankenstein" or "The Neanderthal Man" (1953).
The story has a mad chemistry teacher (Louise Lewis) who hopes to bring an end to man's wars by showing the power potential within each human being. Her rant doesn't make much sense, but it's fun to see this version of a mad doctor. Her technique is interesting too. She has traveled to the Carpathians (that's Dracula and Transylvania country) and brought back a medallion with powers when combined with her hypnosis. She needs the right subject, someone who holds a grudge, and that's Sandra Harrison. The setting is good. All of this takes place in a girls boarding school with some pretty and pretty wild girls around. The vampire makeup is reasonable enough.
The story, unfortunately, doesn't really build up in a logical way. What Lewis is after as time passes and why there are multiple deaths are not motivated. Her relationship with Harrison grows foggy. Little is done to ratchet up the suspense or the stakes for either one. We do not really see what Harrison is going through emotionally. The police appear and leave. Harrison's boy friend appears and leaves. These don't add much to the story. The ending is very abrupt. Harrison doesn't have the acting chops to develop sympathy for her plight.
These little movies from the 50s were fun and still are some fun. This one has its moments, but don't expect too much.
The Dark Light (1951)
Dark lighthouse conceals treachery
"The Dark Light" (1951) is a Britnoir. My copy runs 63 minutes and 27 seconds, no doubt cut from the IMDb official 75-minute version. Critic John Grant reviews this movie and lists an even longer 82-minute running time.
The first 9 minutes show a small ship engaging a dark lighthouse. This is a sea-lighthouse, not a land lighthouse. Three people from the ship go into the unusual structure to explore why it's dark. The rest of the movie dispenses with these characters until near the end and shows a flashback. Someone has doctored the video and superimposed "Previous Day" at the 9-minute mark.
In the flashback, the lighthouse keepers are three in number: David Greene, Norman Macowan and Jack Stewart. Greene is a simple beefy bloke. Stewart is older, wiser and cynical. Macowan is the old salt skipper. They spot a small boat at sea and take in three more persons: the leader Albert Lieven, Martin Benson, who is prone to violence, and the attractive and lively Katherine Blake. They have robbed a bank and escaped by sea, but had to take to the small boat. As this is revealed, conflicts develop as the guest trio wants to escape, not await a rescue, and as fissures develop within the host trio.
It's an unusual setting that makes for tension and mystery.
Dead Man's Evidence (1962)
Conrad Phillips sent to identify body of fellow spy
The dead man in "Dead Man's Evidence" (1962) is a frogman washed up on an Irish beach. A British intelligence chief, Bruce Seton, thinks it might be an agent (Ryck Rydon) that had disappeared in Germany and was possibly a double agent who had betrayed more than a handful of British agents. Since he had worked with Conrad Phillips, Seton sends Phillips off to identify the body without getting involved with local police. Two reporters, including photographer Jane Howard, were on the scene early and took photos. The body had a distinctive ring which then went missing. Phillips runs into a problem seeing the body at the mortuary, and he encounters Jane Griffiths as the first person who discovered the corpse and who may have taken the ring.
In scenes at the beginning of the story, Griffiths awaits Phillips at the airport, spots him, and reports this to a man with a beard who opened the movie by using binoculars to view the body on the beach and its discovery by Griffiths and the two reporters. These scenes tell the viewer that there is more to this mission than meets the eye. The story eventually delivers upon this promise. You have to stay on your toes to understand the machinations, but they are eventually explained. Unfortunately, the director Francis Searles was not able to inject subtle foreshadowings in order to raise the suspense, so that the story is more plodding than it should be. This is a difficult kind of story to pull off, however. The result is somewhat below par for the Britnoir genre. The IMDb rating of 5.0 accurately reflects this.
The Blue Parrot (1953)
Murder trail leads to a club named "The Blue Parrot"
"The Blue Parrot" (1953) is a crime story told as a police procedural. It might be classified loosely as a Britnoir, but it really lacks noir elements. The story is well-plotted, with a good deal of mystery and complication to it. Dermot Walsh, putting on an American accent and personality, stars. He's a well-known presence in a good many movies like this. He plays a cop that's visiting Scotland Yard. A Superintendent (Ballard Berkeley) takes him in hand and there Walsh meets the charming Jacqueline Hill. Ferdy Mayne is a patron of the Blue Parrot club run by John Le Mesurier, both actors that fans of these old movies will recognize. Several leads connect a murder to the club, which leads to undercover work by both Hill and Walsh, but most of the film is taken up by investigation and following leads. It's modestly mounted but tight and good entertainment.
Federal Man (1950)
Federal men face challenge of breaking a careful narcotics operation
"Federal Man" (1950) for the most part is a very solid and well-executed and paced crime story. Only the action ending is not up to par, but the rest of it moves along nicely between a narcotics operation and a police procedural attempting to uncover it and get enough evidence for a conviction. It's a decent b-movie.
The two main agents in the narcotics bureau are William Henry, unfamiliar to me, and Robert Shayne, who is well-known to me. Shayne stars, for example, in "The Neanderthal Man". Henry appears in several movies I've seen, so maybe next time I'll remember him. Lyle Talbot is a third member of their team; he's famous. The head of the narcotics operation is George Eldredge. He and actor John Eldredge were brothers and they resemble, right down to the mustaches. As character actors, they both have a well-groomed appearance, and their speech and speaking voices are sophisticated and smooth, not British but reminding one of that. B-movie fans may also recognize Joe Turkel in the gang; also, Noel Cravat as a heavy. And one more familiar player is Myron Healey who has a small part as a police technician. For song and dance relief, there is Movita.
The task of discovering the operation is not easy in this film, and Eldredge is very cautious. This makes for a good story. The latest mechanical techniques are brought in toward the end.
There are some lesser crime or crime-tinged movies of the 30s and 40s that, to me, are quite difficult to sit through, due to stilted acting or cheapness or drawn out pacing. "Federal Man" is not at all in that class. It was easy to watch and enjoyable.
World Without End (1956)
Spaceship crew of four lands in the year 2508
Although "World Without End" (1956) is not that terrific of a movie, I value it as one of a fairly small number of 50s sci-fi movies that are filmed in good-looking color, have good acting and show imagination in production design and story. I'm thinking of movies like "When Worlds Collide" (1951), "This Island Earth" (1955), "Invaders from Mars" (1953), "Gog" (1954), "Forbidden Planet" (1956), "4D Man" (1959), "Flight to Mars" (1951), "The Blob" (1958), "Conquest of Space" (1955), "Destination Moon" (1950), and "Riders to the Stars" (1954).
"World Without End" has a crew of four in a spaceship that has circumnavigated Mars and starts back to Earth, when it encounters a time displacement. The spaceship ends up in the year 2508 on an Earth that has been recovering from a nuclear Armageddon for a long time. On the surface are savage mutants mostly, and in caves are a civilized but defensive people that's dying out, even though it has maintained an advanced technology. In the crew are Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor, who would 4 years later win the lead in "The Time Machine". Fans might also recognize a good many of the other competent players, such as Nancy Gates, Christopher Dark, Nelson Leigh, and Booth Colman.
Their landing place in the Rockies is simulated by the Iverson Ranch, a favorite location for shooting westerns, and this external part of the movie shares some western feel as the explorers encounter mutant savages. The cave locations are colorful and modernistic sets with geometric patterns, beauteous females and less than robust men who all wear tight-fitting skull caps. The drama mainly involves the crew's attempts to motivate the cave-dwellers to take back the surface. This is tied in with a couple of triangular love conflicts and a power struggle on the ruling council.
It's pretty mild stuff. It's not big-budget. The effects are low-tech 50s. The focus is on the personal side of coping with a new situation in which the crew may never see family and friends again and in which persist the drives that led these men to be explorers on a dangerous task. In their philosophy, life must go on beyond living in a hole in the ground and the world must go on without end. They find more support from the underground females than the males. The females want robust babies and/or what produces them; the men's testosterone seems to be waning. The story drives this movie, put across by a capable cast.
If you are attracted to 50s sci-fi movies, you will want to see this one even though it is not at the top of the heap even of those in its subset.
Death of a President (2006)
Imaginary assassination of Bush 2 provides focal point for examination of Iraq War and much else
I rate "Death of a President" (2006) highly. It's a fascinating, engrossing, insightful picture. The screenplay is extremely clever. It imagines the assassination of George W. Bush, and that provides a way of examining a host of associated features of the post-9/11 American scene, psychology, politics and culture. The result is a treasure chest of scrutiny; but what one sees and hears and how one interprets it will depend very highly on what a viewer brings to the viewing.
From where I sit, the writing is brilliant. It gives plenty of room, well more than half I'd guess, to hearing the authorities. We hear from Bush, Cheney, Bush's main speechwriter, several layers of police including the Chicago police and the FBI, a forensic expert, and the secret service. No one is treated disrespectfully in this set of people. We hear and see them in discourses that sound absolutely real and how these people actually come across and think and feel. Yet simultaneously, one can see through what they are saying and how they are behaving. We see their limitations, the closed circle of thought in their approaches, and their failings. We see the organizational failures. We may see a good deal of hypocrisy, depending on what we bring to the movie.
On another plane, the movie just as accurately depicts a range of lesser lights, ordinary people, including protesters, Muslims living in the USA, and army vets who have fought in Iraq, and we get their viewpoints.
All of this is shown more or less in passing, as necessary parts of the plot. That's what makes it so clever, not to mention the script's ability to capture so well the different kinds of people involved. The plot basically shows the buildup to the assassination, the assassination itself, an investigation that leads to an arrest, trial and conviction, and then important post-trial revelations.
The main theme of the movie is justice. It examines the justice of the Iraq War and the justice of the domestic justice system. It uses a documentary form, all of it fictional but looking real, and using some actual footage of Bush and Cheney that add realism. Another theme of the movie is the divergence between the ordinary American and the leaders. The contrasts between the disillusioned veteran, the repressed Syrians, and the street demonstrators with the state's officials are brought out.
Gun the Man Down (1956)
Left behind wounded after a robbery, James Arness wants revenge
I'd like to rate "Gun the Man Down" (1956) at 3/4 or 7.5/10. This is a high-quality western in all respects and definitely one that shouldn't be overlooked. This was a Batjac production (John Wayne's company), and its level of quality is typically high.
James Arness stars as a reluctant bank robber in with Robert Wilke and Don Megowan. Angie Dickinson debuts as Arness's girl who's been around the saloon circuit. The robbery (not shown) goes wrong with Arness being shot, The others leave him behind, with Dickinson not wanting to leave him. Arness goes to jail for a year and upon release vows to find the lot of them.
There is one sequence (series of scenes) in this movie that is outstanding, almost achieving classic status. This occurs when a gunslinger (Michael Emmet), who is a friend of Arness, is paid $5,000 by Wilke to kill him and slowly trods through the small town hunting for him. Everything is done beautifully here: pacing, staging, deep focus shots, editing and emotional content.
The rest of the film is likewise done in an accomplished way by director Andrew V. McLaglen, son of actor Victor McLaglen. McLaglen would go on to specialize in westerns, directing Arness in 96 episodes of "Gunsmoke" and Richard Boone in 116 episodes of "Have Gun - Will Travel." The music of Henry Vars combines classic western sounds with themes that draw from great classical composers. Cinematographer William Clothier provided a very sure hand behind the camera. He too specialized in westerns, often of a darker-themed sort, and a smattering of noirs. This movie looks very good in its widescreen edition. Angie Dickinson certainly holds her own amid the experienced cast, and her role is not an easy one. She has always taken on challenging roles that required subtle shadings of character, and her good work has probably not been fully appreciated.