38 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Gunsmoke: Anybody Can Kill a Marshal (1963)
Season 8, Episode 26
The immortal Marshall
28 July 2016
Marshall Dillon sees himself as an ordinary man just doing his job the best way he knows how. But others look at him differently. To outlaws, he is a fearsome, unkillable foe. To citizens, he is more legend than man.

"Any Body Can Kill a Marshall" is a unique episode that looks at Dillon's legend. Two outlaws, Lucas and Clede, plot to kill Dillon so they can have free reign over Dodge City. Clede ambushes the Marshall at point blank range but fails to kill him. When the two are talking over how they'd like to kill Dillon but aren't sure how to go about it, they are overheard by a strange, shabbily dressed man named Painter. Painter offers to do the job for a flat $200 up front. The outlaws agree and pay the man, who vows he will kill the Marshall the next day.

Painter spends some of his money right away. We see him purchase a gun and a nice suit of clothes, with compliments to the shopkeeper. He shows kindness to a saloon girl and gives her a note to send to somebody the next day. He even compliments Marshall Dillon for breaking up a fight. The following day, he has sworn to kill him...

I won't spoil what happens next as others have done.This is a moody, melancholy episode of "Gunsmoke", made more atmospheric by ominous music. The music was courtesy of the great Bernard Hermann and appeared in several notable "Twilight Zone" episodes. Character actor Milton Seltzer steals the show as Painter, a man both sympathetic and creepy. It's obvious from his laconic personality that he has given up on life. "He just don't care no more!" says Clede. We later discover Painter's motivations and they are not what one would expect.

We see Marshall Dillon through many different eyes in this episode. Miss Kitty is furious with him because he constantly risks his life, telling him "You make me sick!" at one point. Painter discovers admiration for the Marshall, a man he's never met. Clede has almost supernatural terror of Dillon, bellowing at him "Why don't you DIE, Marshall Dillon?". Lucas sees him as an obstacle to be disposed of. Matt might be aware of these viewpoints but soldiers on because that's all he knows how to do.

The ending on the episode is ambiguous in a real life way that most TV Westerns would avoid. This episode is proof again why "Gunsmoke" was on one of the best.
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An Absolute Cult Classic!!!
24 May 2012
I defy anyone to find a 1950's film more off the wall and unpredictable than this. Even Nostradamus himself wouldn't be able to do it! Calling this campy trash is taking the easy way out. The film has more original ideas than a dozen big budget Hollywood films from the same period that cost a hundred times as much. If you have never seen "Man Without A Body" before, find it on Youtube, where it is presented in complete and pristine form. Then sit back and get ready to be amazed by the entertaining absurdity of it all.

To cover the basics of the plot, an egomaniacal millionaire in the vein of Charles Foster Kane and Howard Hughes is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor after he has head pains and starts answering phantom phone calls. Veteran actor George Coulouris plays Karl Brussard with lots of vigor. Of course Brussard cannot contemplate his own end, so he hooks up with renegade scientist Dr. Merritt, who has found a method of keeping long dead monkey heads alive and in perfect condition.The crazed Brussard has the idea to imprint his mind and personality upon the head of the greatest man who ever lived...the French prophet Nostradamus! After a grave-robbing expedition, the dessicated head of Nostradamus is brought back to life and asks Dr. Merritt and company: "Have they burned all my books?" Despite the cheesy effects, there is something quite eerie about the ease with which Nostradamus adapts to his new situation, saying "I have always lived in the future". Soon Brussard tries to brainwash Nostradamus into thinking he's Brussard, leading to one of the craziest scenes ever filmed.

Meanwhile, there's a lot more going on. Brussard's sexy nymphomaniac mistress Odette, whom he treats like an annoying pet, has hatched a plot to murder the old man with the help of Merritt's assistant Lou. At the same time, Merritt's female assistant Jean tries to get this frosty egghead to thaw out and return her advances. Finally, in an amazing scene, Nostradamus is transformed into a Frankenstein-like monster with a giant paper mache blob encasing his head. This crazy creature goes on the rampage in search of the now-fugitive Brussard, whose company has been ruined due to false stock market advice given by the prophet.

The ending is very abrupt, yet quite appropriate. It seems Nostradamus had foreseen everything all along, resulting in a satisfactory resolution where everybody gets their due.

Despite the cheapness of the production, "The Man Without A Body" holds you in a spell from the get go, with better direction than you would think. This film is begging to be discovered! I wonder if the real Nostradamus could have ever foreseen his participation in a movie like this?
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Beware the wrath of Prem
16 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Mummy movies are notoriously difficult to make interesting. The original Universal film with Boris Karloff succeeded by becoming a dark and dreamy romantic fantasy. Hammer's full-blooded remake in 1959 gave us a powerful yet sympathetic Mummy portrayed by Christopher Lee. Beyond those two, most mummy films have been of middling quality. This is one of the better ones, though it surely has its faults.

The lengthy historical prologue has been complained about by many, but I think it it necessary to show the great loyalty and devotion that the slave Prem has towards his young master, Kah-to-bey. It gives him a sympathetic edge, as he did everything to honor his master both in life and death. This aura of sympathy is in all of Hammer's Mummy films to some degree. Lee's Kharis suffered horribly for true love while Ra-Antef in "Curse of the Mummy's Tomb" was a noble soul terribly betrayed. Prem fits well with his predecessors.

The reanimated Prem is little more than a slave of the fanatical Hasmid and his crazed mother. But when he strikes, it's with a lot of violence in some very well-crafted death scenes. He crushes one character's head like an eggshell (off screen but we can imagine the gruesome details), splatters another with burning acid before setting him on fire, strangles another before dashing his brains out on a wall and wraps up another in a bed sheet before tossing him out a window to the street far below! Now THAT is a violent mummy and one capable of more than just simply strangling people.

Prem's unique look is based on actual Egyptian mummies. Some find it disappointing...I do not. One of the best scenes is when the mummy slowly opens its crusty eyelids. Prem is also mighty tough. He gets singed with acid (giving him a nice smoky look), hacked with an axe and shot to hell at close range without much effect. When destruction finally comes to the mummy, it comes in a most unique and gruesome fashion.

Most Hammer films boast good performances and there are several worth noting here. John Phillips hits just the right note as the arrogant and cowardly Stanley Preston. One of the more subtle horrors of the film is his completely loveless and emotionally dead relationship with his wife. Just before his meeting with the Mummy, Preston must realize that he will be missed by no one. Elisabeth Sellars as Mrs. Preston gives one of the most cold-blooded and emotionally detached performances I've seen. Roger Delgado is great as the sinister Hasmid, unleashing an amazingly perfect stream of Arabic gibberish. Delgado would perfect his evil as The Master in Dr. Who. Another wild performance is given by Catherine Lacey as the demented Haiti the fortune teller. Never has any fortune teller delighted in predicting her customer's deaths as much as Haiti.

One black mark against the movie is the criminal misuse of Andre Morell as Sir Basil. Morell was a terrific actor, so memorable in "Plague of the Zombies", "Hound of the Baskervilles" and the little-seen "Cash On Demand", but here he makes little to no impression. Something which I blame more on the script and the director than Morell himself.

Maggie Kimberly is quite stunning as Claire. She looks rather average at first, but the more she is in peril, the more attractive she becomes.

The actor who really walks off with the movie is Hammer mainstay Michael Ripper. What a versatile actor he was. As the meek and suffering lackey of Preston's, he makes for a perfect milksop. We feel an overwhelming sympathy for this simple character and his death is a brutal shock.

There are parts where the movie lags, particularly in the opening desert scenes, but once Prem is awakened, the action never flags and the movie builds to a powerful and action-packed climax. In the end, Hammer gave as much life as they could to the tired mummy concept with "The Mummy's Shroud" and the film should satisfy anyone looking for escapist horror.
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A B-movie tragedy
15 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If you can look past the crazy "man-gator" suit that pops up at the very end (admittedly, that may not be easy to do), you will find "The Alligator People" to be an original and even haunting B-movie with a very tragic edge to it.

The film's greatest advantage is heroine Beverly Garland, who has never been lovelier or more sympathetic than she is here as Joyce Webster. On her honeymoon with husband Paul, the couple look forward to a happy life together when Paul receives a telegram and vanishes without warning. Joyce is determined to track Paul down and find out what went wrong. Her search takes her to a mysterious mansion in the Louisiana Bayous, inhabited by a cold matron and a doctor performing strange experiments involving alligators. She discovers the horrible truth of what happened to Paul, leading to a final climax so devastating that her memory of it is wiped from her mind.

What makes the film different is the humanity and sympathy of almost all the characters. Joyce is spunky and devoted to Paul even when she sees what has become of him. The doctor, played by George McReady, is not crazy or even misguided but genuinely devoted to helping others. Even the millionaire heiress who acts so cold to Joyce is doing it to protect her. As the mutant Paul, Richard Crane is pitiable even when completely transformed into a monster. The only real villain of the piece is the drunk, hook-handed gator-hater Manon, played with over the top zeal by a badly out of shape Lon Chaney Jr. If it wasn't for his bungling interference, the story might have ended differently.

The ending,too, shows compassion, as Joyce's horrible memories of the ordeal remain suppressed.

The movie is directed by veteran Roy Del Ruth, whose career went back to the silents. Yes, the final "Alligator Man" can be seen as goofy, but I felt sorry for the poor guy and you definitely will NOT forget him! The "intermediate" make-up by Dick Smith is genuinely impressive, though.

I'll bet anything that comic book writer Stan Lee saw this movie, as his Spiderman villain The Lizard greatly resembles the monster here.
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War Paint (1953)
Grim, gripping and unsentimental
15 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Here's a great example of a Western with all the fat and unnecessary baggage trimmed from it. The story is brutally simple and shows no mercy.

Hard-bitten Lt. Billings (Robert Stack) and his motley crew of cavalrymen are charged with delivering a vitally important peace treaty to Chief Grey Cloud. If Grey Cloud doesn't get the treaty within a certain time limit, he and his braves will go on the attack, leading to a bloodbath.

The mission is plagued with mishaps from the start. The Indian guide Tasslik is Grey Cloud's own son and he has his own agenda. Merciless heat and thirst stalk the soldiers, as well as a mysterious sniper and saboteur. The more misfortune strikes, the more tension grows between the men, until it explodes into violent conflict.

Nothing is sugar-coated in this story and death can strike anyone at any time. Real Death Valley settings make heat and thirst almost palpable. The story starts with tension which only grows. But character is not ignored. Billings' strict discipline actually masks a man who is tired of war and hungry for optimist, at heart. The plight of the Indians is also given a sympathetic turn, even though their actions here lead to pain and death.

The cast can't be described as "A-list" but everybody does their job just right. Stack is excellent and other reliable actors like Peter Graves, John Doucette, Charles McGraw and Douglas Kennedy provide great support.

You want a tough, tense Western? "War Paint" is a perfect choice.
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Creepy little treat...
1 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When man was first venturing into space, fear of the unknown ran rampant. Think of movies like "The Creeping Unknown", "First Man Into Space" or TV episodes like "And Then the Sky Was Opened" from "The Twilight Zone" or "Cold Hands, Warm Heart" from "The Outer Limits". What exactly could be waiting for us OUT THERE??? Back then, we weren't as sure as we are now.

"Night of the Blood Beast" is another cautionary tale of man's first tentative steps into outer space and as usual, our worst fears are realized. There are not many 50's SF films I haven't seen, but this one eluded me until tonight. I was ready for something awful, but despite comments from the usual MST3K nerds, I found this movie to be very creepy and morbid in its way. With the exception of one scene (which many 50's kids will probably never forget), it's not that graphic, but some of the implications are unthinkable.

Pilot John Corcoran attempts to go into orbit, but loses control of his spaceship and is forced to crash in a remote area. Nearby are his scientific colleagues, including his fiancée Julie. This band make their way to the ship, only to find Corcoran dead and the craft a ruin. However, it is noticed that the body seems as fresh as if it died a minute ago even though Corcoran has been dead for hours. A strange kind of mud is also found clinging to the hull of the ship.

The scientists take Corcoran's body back to their isolated lab complex, where they see his blood is invaded by a bizarre parasite. The power inexplicably goes dead, cutting them off from contact with the outside world, and then Dave is attacked by something "huge like a bear" that is lurking outside. Something uncanny is going on, linked to Corcoran's crash.

And then, suddenly, Corcoran himself returns to life...

The movie is ultra-cheap, but has the claustrophobic feel of movies like "The Thing" and "Night of the Living Dead". Michael Emmet is excellent as the living dead astronaut who appears to be an incubator for extraterrestrial creatures (shades of "Alien", but 20 years earlier).The alien monster itself won't impress those used to only CGI creatures, but it's no worse than any monster on "Outer Limits" or "Dr. Who" of the period. In fact, the movie often has the feel of an "Outer Limits" episode, which is high praise.

The most startling thing about the film is how Corcoran pleads for understanding of the alien. When the alien itself finally finds its voice, it speaks in calm, reasonable tones despite its grotesque exterior. But is it really just misunderstood? Thereby hangs the tale...

Sure, it's cheap and some of the lines are goofy, but overall, this is a cool little film, well worth checking out if you like intelligent 50's SF.

And yes, Georgianna Carter is indeed a real looker as Donna Bixby...
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A Scream of Despair
7 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It took me 35 years to track down a good print of this film. I saw it on the Friday night horror show when I was about 10 years old in the 70's and many of the scenes were so shocking that I was just about traumatized for life. After all this time, the movie still possesses the power to hold the viewer in a state of uncomfortable, almost nauseous horror.

The horror is not just over individual instances of cruelty and bloodshed, but of the endless injustice and lust for violence that seems bred into the human race. This, I feel, is how young director Michael Reeves really saw the world...this is the despair that he felt, given life on the screen. Is it any wonder he overdosed on sleeping pills shortly after the movie's release?

His death was certainly a tragedy, because "Conqueror Worm" is the work of a master director, whose control of image, dialog and nuance were clearly visible and just starting to come into bloom. Despite the total bleakness of the movie, there is still a beauty to it...the English countryside has rarely looked more appealing. In the midst of this pastoral vista unfolds a tale of hellish corruption and utter madness.

The film grips you from the opening scene of a witch being hung. It is portrayed with no sentiment, no sign of Hollywood is a scene of utter brutality. The screams of the condemned witch are chilling and perhaps it can be said that no movie revolves around the agonized screams and groans of people in torment more than "The Conqueror Worm". This stark, almost cinema verite portrayal of physical violence and evil gives the movie unbelievable power and force. When John Stearne(Robert Russell, terrific as a completely barbaric thug) thrusts needles into the backs of his victims, the camera neither shrinks back or zooms in on the wounds. When Stearne himself digs a musket ball from his arm with a knife, his own scream is one of the movie's most chilling.

As Matthew Hopkins, Vincent Price is brilliantly cast. His sinister intellect and commanding presence shine through in every scene. Price knew when he could "camp up" a he wisely decides to deliver a cold, measured performance. Hopkins is a reptile, a two-legged snake. He's one of those vile opportunists who takes advantage of ignorance and moral chaos to satisfy his own desires. His kind has plagued mankind since the beginning...and will continue to do so until the end of time.

Where does the real horror come from in "The Conqueror Worm"? I believe it comes from the way that the best and most decent characters are destroyed by the evil roaming Reformation England. The kind Catholic priest John Lowes, the one true Christian character of the movie who detests violence and war, is tortured, humiliated and hung by the neck. The handsome and proud soldier Richard Marshall (very well played by Ian Ogilvy)is reduced to a raging maniac by the unchecked malevolence of everything he has seen. The final scene of the film is his wife Sarah's scream of complete despair. She screams not because of her own torture or the bloody carnage around her, but because she knows Richard is now a ruined man totally unlike the one she fell in love with. That is the real triumph of evil, even though Hopkins and Stearne lie dying on the dungeon floor.

Is there any decency at all in the world of "The Conqueror Worm"? Not much, but Marshall's soldier friend Robert shows that he has not lost compassion. As Hopkins lies hacked to pieces and writhing on the floor, Robert deliver mercy to the Witchfinder by putting him out of his misery. Which only leads to more horror, as the crazed Marshall yells "You took him from me!"

Don't look for humor, hope or relief here. This is the darkest of films, transcending the horror genre and yet encapsulating everything that makes it compelling at the same time. This is one of the strongest films that you will ever see.
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The Night Strangler (1973 TV Movie)
"The killer had the rotted features of a CORPSE?!"
25 May 2008
Carl Kolchak is my favorite TV character, hands down. So yes, I am pretty biased towards anything Carl appears in. This pugnacious misfit was an anachronism even in the 1970's...he would have been much more comfortable in the wild-and-woolly journalistic days of the 20's and 30's. He's clumsy...tactless...socially inept...and completely fearless in pursuit of the truth. He gets beaten up, but never beaten down. Plus, I like his hat.

Following the humongous success of "The Night Stalker", it was only natural that a sequel be commissioned. With Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson teaming up on the creative end, there were no worries that "The Night Strangler" would be second-rate or inferior. Even though in many ways it is a virtual remake of the first film, the sequel manages to be even eerier and more frightening, while containing many humorous touches and character bits.

Kicked out of Las Vegas after the Janos Skorzeny "vampire" debacle, Kolchak makes his way to Seattle...just in time for a rash of mysterious murders of young women to break out. The victims have had their throats crushed by a man with incredible strength and a small amount of blood has been syringed out of the base of their skulls. Obviously more than just a typical serial killer is at loose. Digging through the moldy archives of the local newspaper (with the help of Titus Berry, played by the great Wally Cox), Kolchak discovers that every 21 years since 1889, six women have been strangled during a period of 18 days. In each case, the killer was described as having superhuman strength and in some cases looking like a corpse.

When Carl proposes the theory that the same man is responsible for all the killings going back to 1889, he gets the same response he did in Las Vegas: disbelief, silence and stonewalling. His long-suffering editor Tony Vincenzo is driven almost to a heart attack by arguments with Kolchak and pressure from the police and the powers that be.

Kolchak learns that the killer may be lurking in the sinister Seattle "underground"...the remains of the 19th century town buried beneath the modern metropolis. With the help of a sexy belly dancer (cute Jo Ann Pflug), he plunges into the underground in search of the seemingly immortal maniac. The only question is: what will he do when he finds him? The villain in "The Night Strangler" is more interesting to me than the bestial Janos Skorzeny. He is more ghoulish because of his rotted features (depicted in a grisly police sketch) and yet more intellectual, because he is able to speak and articulate his mad reasoning. The scene where Dr. Richard Malcolm, the Night Strangler, converses easily with the mummified remains of his dead family sitting at a cobwebbed dinner table, communicates how utterly insane this genius has become. Richard Anderson, soon to play Oscar Goldman in "The Six Million Dollar Man", gives a chilling performance in his relatively brief scene as Malcolm.

As was typical for all Kolchak vehicles, the movie is full of well-known character actors. It's a joy to watch these old pro's in action. Scott Brady is the belligerent police Captain Shubert, cadaverous John Carradine is the publisher of Kolchak's paper, Al Lewis is a drunken bum lurking in the Seattle underground, and, best of all, the Wicked Witch of the West herself, Margaret Hamilton, is a stern college professor who gives Carl information on alchemy and immortality. She has the movie's best line. When Carl asks if everlasting youth was possible, the professor replies "If it was, I'd be an 80 year old sexpot." The scenes in underground Seattle are terrifically spooky and the sequence where the killer bursts through a glass window to get to a victim had me jumping out of my chair. The mixture of humor and horror was never done better than in the Kolchak stories.

Yes, the story is very familiar and yes, the shouting between characters gets a little overdone, but "The Night Strangler" is nothing but pure entertainment. Check it out and discover why Carl Kolchak is one of the greatest characters ever to appear on TV.
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No Room For a Giant
1 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This sequel to "The Amazing Colossal Man" has its flaws but is a more than acceptable follow-up to the earlier film and in some ways is even better.

Other have pointed out the inconsistencies in story and logic from the first film to this one. I can't dispute them, but I can put them out of my mind and enjoy this movie by itself. You don't really need to have seen "Amazing Colossal Man" to follow this flick.

Like other 50's monster movies such as "Them!" and "The Black Scorpion", this begins with a lot of suspense, as a terrified young Mexican boy flees in terror from something we cannot see. The most effective part of the movie except for the very end is in these early Mexican scenes, which set up a mystery. The sister of Colonel Glenn Manning, the Amazing Colossal Man, believes that the recent disappearance of grocery trucks in the Mexican countryside might mean her mutated "big brother" survived his previous fall from Hoover Dam. We get to see George Becwar playing the ultimate ugly American who owned the missing trucks and who constantly repeats "Get the Picture?" to everybody.

Joyce Manning's hunch is right: Glenn Manning is still alive but in even worse shape than the first film. His mind has been destroyed, leaving him more beast than man, and his face has been hideously scarred by his Hoover Dam experience. And I mean HIDEOUSLY! This half- skeletal face with its empty eye socket and exposed jawbone is one of the 50's most gruesome make-ups. Totally effective!

Using drugged bread, the Colossal Beast is captured and transported back to California, where he is restrained in an airport warehouse. A very amusing sequence shows how government bureaucrats keep passing the buck to each other as far as responsibility for the giant goes. Joyce tries her best to get humane treatment for Glenn, but when he inevitably breaks loose and goes on the rampage, the Army must do everything it can to contain him. The film ends tragically near the Griffith Park Observatory, with one of the coolest switches from black and white to color that you're likely to see.

This is hardly great art and unintentional hilarity ensues from some outrageous lines, but there is something pathetic and moving about the plight of the monstrous giant as he struggles to survive in a world full of enemies. Sally Fraser is cute as Joyce and Dean Parkin makes for an effective monster as the Colossal Man, complete with some beast-like growls and grumbles. Stock footage from the first movie is obviously used to pad the running time, but brings those who missed the first movie up to speed on Manning's back story.

I think the effects here are much better than in the first film. The Beast looks much more solid and substantial and again, that make-up is SO gruesome. But Bert I Gordon seems to be confused as to The Beast's scale. We're told he's 60 feet tall, but when he first appears, he looks almost 600 FEET tall!

The obvious humanity of Glenn Manning, even in beast-like mode, gives him a lot more pathos than the giant bugs and dinosaurs running amok around the same time. Along with "Earth vs. The Spider", I'd rank this as one of Mr. B.I.G.'s best monster flicks.
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Good Outweighs The Bad
15 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
From what I've heard about this one, I expected an Ed Wood style farce. What I got was a surprisingly literate and well-acted classic horror. The flaws are definitely present, but this flick has some genuinely chilling moments and boasts 3 outstanding performances.

Dr. Cadman, the mad scientist behind this whole house of horrors, is superbly played by Basil Rathbone. This was probably the last good horror role Basil had. He portrays Cadman as a supremely self-confident and utterly controlled man who has willingly tossed aside all ethics and morality in pursuit of his goal. Rathbone's command of dialog and smooth diction brings this human monster to life. And yet, in the scenes with his paralyzed wife, we feel some of the love and devotion that underlies his horrific crimes.

Cadman's partner in crime is the sly Udo the Gypsy, wonderfully brought to life by Akim Tamiroff. What a great character actor this guy was! His every facial expression and physical movement conveys what a greasy, unprincipled character Udo is. And yet his quick wit makes him roguish and likable in a way. It would be a mistake to consider Udo just a humorous character,though. The scene where he easily disposes of a prospective subject for Dr. Cadman to save his own hide is chilling. Great bit of character acting from Tamiroff!

The hero of the piece is Dr. Ramsay, whom Cadman has saved from the gallows to aid in his illicit research. Ramsay is played by Herbert Rudley, who I have not seen in any other roles. Rudley fits the part perfectly and more than holds his own in his scenes with Rathbone. I like the way he carefully tries to weigh all sides of the argument against Dr. Cadman before finally takes action against him. Rudley's revulsion against the crimes of Cadman seems heartfelt and authentic.

Those three strong performances anchor the movie, but not all cast members are so fortunate. A sickly looking Bela Lugosi is wasted completely as the mute butler Casimir. This was Bela's last "official" movie role not counting the stock footage that appeared in Ed Wood's "Plan Nine From Outer Space", which is a shame. His acting ability and speaking voice is wasted on a part that could have been done by any bit player. Lon Chaney Jr. comes across somewhat better as the moronic Mongo because of his physical size and truly crazed look, but he still deserved better. Mongo was originally a cultured professor and associate of Dr. Cadman until Cadman botched an operation on him. It might have been better to have Mongo as a "Jekyll-Hyde" character that veered between the man of science and the maniacal killer...more pathos that way and a better test of Chaney's acting.

A couple of scenes here are still capable of making the viewer queasy. The open brain surgery scene on the hapless sailor had to be shocking at the time...complete with fluid leaking from the brain. And the "tour" of Cadman's dungeon is right out of a carnival haunted house. John Carradine is crazed and over the top are the "crusader" Bohemund but he's in good shape compared to his cell-mates: the shrieking, laughing female with tufts of hair sprouting all over her body; the luckless sailor whose face has melted into slag; and hulking Tor Johnson, made blind and voiceless by Cadman's experiments. This is a nutty crew of mutants indeed and when they finally appear, "The Black Sleep" turns from a literate thriller of medical horrors into a sleazy, spook-house romp. "Kill, kill, kill!" yells Carradine crazily, and kill he does, bringing a visceral end to the movie.

If you don't require "Dr. Zhivago" or "Lawrence of Arabia" in every film, "The Black Sleep" should keep you awake for a while!
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Nightfall (1956)
Neglected Suspense Classic
23 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I wonder if Jacques Tourneur's "Nightfall" was a kind of influence on the Coen Brothers' "Fargo". It features quirky crooks and flawed characters stumbling about in a frozen wilderness in search of loot. Sure, this is not as wry as "Fargo", but I wonder. One thing's for sure...both films capture the essence of a snowy rural locale well. "Fargo" had death by wood chipper, "Nightfall" has death by snowplow...

Another reviewer made an astute connection to "On Dangerous Ground". I wouldn't put this on the emotional level of that wonderful film, but it does effectively contrast the cold dark city with the cold white space of the countryside.

The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks related by the singularly unlucky James Vanning, our hero. Vanning's luck is sure lousy, as he becomes the victim of a series of terrible coincidences and bad timing (as one of the hoods, Red, gleefully points out). It seems that while on a winter fishing trip with good pal Doc, Vanning comes to the rescue of two gents whose car crashes in a canyon. Unfortunately for Vanning and Doc, the duo, John and Red, are dangerous felons fleeing a bank robbery. John is the laconic brains of the outfit while Red is a jovial sadist itching for the kill. Before we know it, Doc is gunned down and Vanning is left for dead, while John and Red take off with what they think is a bag containing $350,000. But it isn't, it's Doc's bag...and the still-living Vanning stumbles into the snow in a daze with the real swag.

Circumstances are such that Vanning is now hunted as the murderer of Doc. The bag of money is laying out in the wilderness where Vanning left it. Vanning is forced to hit the road and change his name to avoid capture. Hot on his tail is amiable insurance investigator Ben Frazier, who suspects Vanning might be innocent. But to make things worse, John and Red also catch up with Vanning...and they're prepared to do whatever's necessary to get their money back.

The chase is on, with Vanning trying to elude the sadistic thugs as well as Frazier, while also romancing Marie, a sultry model who offers him shelter.

Beautiful cinematography is a given in any Tourneur film and the direction here is as top notch as ever. Strong performances and crisp dialog also make an impact. Aldo Ray wound up as a drunken hack in terrible films later in his career, but here he makes a rugged yet vulnerable Vanning. It's one of his best roles. The wonderful James Gregory is appealing as always as Frazer...what a terrific character actor he is. Anne Bancroft is most attractive as Marie, though I never shook the feeling she was a token female stuck in the movie for a tacked on romance.

As with just about any film, the bad guys really dominate. Brian Keith's John is a most peculiar bad guy...laid back, very reasonable sounding, yet something about him suggests this is a very dangerous man capable of great violence. That comes through best when he hauls a captive Vanning to an oil derrick and threatens to kill him with some of the derrick's huge machinery. In contrast, Rudy Bond as Red is a chuckling backslapping type who just happens to be a bloodthirsty killer. The scene where he casually, almost apologetically sets up Doc's murder and Vanning's "suicide" is chilling. The dynamic between these two is really strong and explodes into conflict at the end.

Not everything clicks. I found it pretty amazing that the bag of loot would sit out in the Wyoming winter countryside in the same place for so long. Even in remote areas, hunters often wander and wild animals could have taken the bag,too. Not too mention it should have been under a snowdrift. As mentioned before, the relationship between Vanning and Marie also seems artificial. And the plot of the show, while clever, is far from revolutionary. I can think of many crime dramas with more action and firepower.

But it all works out pretty well. I was gripped by the whole show and the final showdown is pretty intense, ending up in one of the most gruesome deaths in 50's cinema.

Well worth your time.
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Sacrifice From Despair, Madness from Revolution
21 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" translates extraordinarily well to the big screen. I haven't seen a version of the tale yet that was not well done. The 1935, 1958 and 1980 versions all had something to recommend them and all were faithful to the original story. 1935 gave us the most polished and iconic of all the Sydney Cartons, Ronald Colman. Colman's performance here is extraordinary. Not as abrasive as Dirk Bogarde or Chris Sarandon, this Carton instead is consumed by a wistful depression and thoughts of worthlessness, filtered through the genteel sensibility of an Englishman. Much of Carton's wry gloominess and longing for a better life is transmitted by physical means alone...a sadness in the eyes, a resigned body language. When this physical acting is combined with Colman's wonderful voice, the result is outstanding. Colman insisted on playing ONLY Carton, whereas the same actor almost always plays both Darnay and Carton. I think this works to the film's advantage.

The film deftly balances the more intimate human drama with the earth-shaking political upheaval of the French Revolution. You get quiet romance and drama, but also staggeringly huge scenes of the Revolution in full onslaught, including a thrilling march on the Bastille. We see the faults not only of the French aristocrats, but also of the mob of oppressed peasants who overthrow them. In a very strong scene, the aristocrats waiting to die at the hands of the guillotine seem to find the dignity and strength they lacked when in power. "God, forgive those who do not forgive us," begs one noblewoman soon to die. The righteous anger of the peasants, oppressed by the despicable likes of Count De Evremond, is flamed into a blood lust that even claims their own, such as the beautiful seamstress.

I've not seen Blanche Yurka in any other part, but she is absolutely striking as Madame Defarge. Tragedy and injustice had turned her into a fanatical sword of vengeance. Her speech to condemn Darnay to the guillotine is an acting tour De force. Every tyranny creates "broken" people like this, who can be as dangerous as the tyrants themselves.

The other cast is variable. Elizabeth Allen is gorgeous as Lucy Manette, but seems "precious" beyond belief. As Darnay, Donald Woods is a bland hero. These two are a concession to the "romantic couple" clichés which almost every 30's film demanded. Basil Rathbone is pure evil as Count De Evremond and Walter Catlett has a good turn as the mercenary Barsed. Probably the best of the supporting characters is Edna May Oliver, a real hoot as the starchy proper Englishwoman Miss Pross, who zings plenty of one-liners during the show. I'll bet the theater audiences cheered and roared when she physically stood up to Madame DeFarge.

But it's really Ronald Colman who dominates the story, which is as it should be. If you love period films with romance, spectacle and heart, "A Tale of Two Cities" is a no brainer and the 1935 version is certainly worthy of your time.
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We all have our own Green Mile...
23 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the rare modern films that feels really timeless. A better example of ensemble acting couldn't be found...just about everyone excels in their roles here. But I would like to put in a special word for Dabbs Greer, who did an outstanding job of portraying the older version of Paul Edgecomb. This man was a fixture in early TV and popped up in many B- movies over the years. No matter what the role or the movie, he always did well and never seemed to get the break he deserved. In "The Green Mile", and the twilight of his years, he delivered an outstanding performance as the good-hearted prison guard who is cursed with too much life and too much knowledge. Terrific actor.

And so are the rest. Hanks is great as young Paul Edgecomb and brings restrained humor and warm humanity to his part. Also good is underrated David Morse as "Brutal", a mis- named prison guard who is a rock of stability. On the opposite end of likability is the detestable Percy Wetmore, one of the most obnoxious characters I've ever seen in a movie, brought to life by Doug Hutchinson, who needs kudos for tackling such a difficult role.

Everybody seems to get their own thread to add to this tapestry: Graham Greene, whose brief soliloquy before his death is nonetheless moving; James Cromwell as the prison warden who's wife is dying horribly until John Coffey intervenes; Michael Jeter, as the death row inmate who becomes the protector of Mr. Jingles; Patricia Clarkson, as the warden's wife who is saved by John Coffey.

The only slightly false note I thought came from Sam Rockwell's portrayal of Wild Bill, which is so over the top that he seemed more foolish than frightening.

Of course, the performance that drew the most publicity in "The Green Mile" belonged to huge Michael Clarke Duncan as the simple-minded miracle man John Coffey (note the initials J.C.). Duncan not only projects child-like innocence and a good heart, but the incredible suffering of a man who feels the pain of all the world. "It's like pieces of glass sticking in my head," he moans to Edgecomb, practically begging to be put to death. It would be a pretty hard heart that wouldn't shed a tear during the final execution scene.

A terrific movie, a fable for the modern day, that sucks you in and doesn't let go. There aren't many like this any more.
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Unfairly Maligned by some
1 December 2007
This police procedural is no worse than many others of its era and better than quite a few. Obviously it is following in the steps of "Dragnet" and "Naked City" but emerges as an enjoyable programmer. The best thing about it is the unadorned look it provides into a world now long gone...the lower class New York of the late 40's/early 50's. Here it is in all its seedy glory, from the old-school tattoo parlors to the cheap hotels to the greasy spoons. These old police films are like travelogues to a bygone era and very bittersweet to anybody who dislikes the sanitized, soulless cityscape of today.

Also intriguing is the emphasis on the nuts-and-bolts scientific aspect of solving the this case, the murder of a tattooed woman found in an abandoned car. Our main heroes, Detectives Tobin and Corrigan, do the footwork, but without the tedious and painstaking efforts of the "lab boys", they'd get nowhere. Although the technology is not in the same league, the cops here use the dogged persistence of a C.S.I. investigator to track down their man.

The way some reviewers have written about this movie, you think it would have been directed by Ed Wood and acted by extras from his movies. What bosh! I enjoyed John Miles as the gangly ex-Marine turned cop Tobin...he had a happy-go-lucky, easy-going approach to the role that's a welcome change from the usual stone-faced histrionics of most movie cops of the period. Patricia Barry is cute and delightful as his perky girlfriend who helps solve the crime. Walter Kinsella is stuffy and droll as the older detective Corrigan. I rather liked the chemistry of these two and it made for something a bit different than the sort of robotic "Dragnet" approach.

The mystery itself is not too deep and the final chase and shoot-out certainly won't rank amongst the classics of crime cinema, but during it's brief running time, "The Tattooed Stranger" more than held my interest.
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Iceman (1984)
"I who have died shall live..."
8 October 2007
What you think of "Iceman" depends on your general nature. If you are sentimental and deeply moved by stories of great emotion, you'll love it. If you are hard-edged, cynical and opposed to the least bit of softening in life, you'll think it crass. I know what side of the fence I'm on. I loved the movie and was moved to tears the first time I saw it. It still moves me all these years later.

In the high arctic, the remains of a Neanderthal hunter are found perfectly preserved in ice. To the astonishment of the scientists who handle the remains, the capacity for life still lingers in the body. They return the frozen primitive to life in the 20th least 20,000 years after his "death". The revival of "Charlie" sparks a multitude of moral dilemmas for the scientists. Earnest young anthropologist Shepherd wants to know Charlie as a man and bonds with the primitive. Other scientists want to use the special properties of Charlie's blood to preserve human life...a good goal, but they look at him as a specimen.

When Charlie escapes from the special environment prepared for him, havoc ensues, leading to a powerful ending where he tries to complete the quest he started tens of thousands of years ago.

The tale is simple and heartfelt. John Lone gives an astonishing performance as Charlie. His physical movements and primitive vocalizations completely bring to life a man from the dawn of time. Yet we also sense moments of sadness, anger, humor and family pride from him. Thanks to the Academy's snubbing of fantasy/SF films, which would not be erased until the massive success of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy years later, Lone's Oscar-worthy performance was ignored. You will be amazed by the humanity he brings to the role. Timothy Hutton is earnest and sincere as the moral but naive scientist who tries his best to help his Neanderthal friend.

The movie is not perfect...some of the scientific jargon is overdone and I was incredibly annoyed by James Tolkan's constant gum-chewing...but it succeeds in matters of the heart. The ending is sad yet triumphant. If you think about the situation, it was the best possible ending for Charlie given the circumstances.

Anyone with a heart and a sense of wonder should enjoy "Iceman".
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A world of endless adventure
1 August 2007
Although I wasn't old enough to see this on its original run, I had the great good fortune to watch it in a theater when it was re-issued in the 70's following the success of the sequel, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad". You can't overstate the impact this movie has on the big screen, especially if you're a kid.

There's not much I can add to what the other reviewers have said. The collaboration between Ray Harryhausen and Bernard Hermann was one of the best in Hollywood history...Hermann's thunderous scores were the perfect accompaniment to the amazing, fantastic scenes that Harryhausen masterminded.

I did find Kerwin Matthews to be a bland Sinbad...the bearded, swashbuckling John Phillip Law from "Golden Voyage" was much closer to my idea of what Sinbad should be. Sinbad should be a rugged sailor and not a pretty boy prince! But that's a minor quibble and I have to say that Matthews fighting and swordplay skills are excellent.

The barrage of endless computer-generated monsters and scenes that movie-goers are bombarded with today have deadened the sense of wonder that audiences used to have. When the amazing becomes commonplace, imagination is diminished. People today are in large part jaded and cynical...too eager to look for flaws or toss out a snide quip.

The world portrayed here is dangerous and frightening, but full of wonders, marvels and adventure! Let yourself go and try to enjoy it on that level and you will be rewarded, just as Sinbad was here!
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Space Amoeba (1970)
A long-time favorite!
28 December 2006
For some reason, I remembered this flick more than many other kaiju eiga (giant monster movies) from the same period. In fact, I even have an original "Yog" poster on my wall right next to one for "The Green Slime".

The film is set on a remote tropical island that is being looked at as the possible home of a luxury tourist resort. Funky photographer Kudo (wearing a floppy hat) and his adorable female companion are there to take pictures and check in with some other company personnel on the island. Dr. Mida is there to study marine evolution. And then there is the suspicious acting Obata, who claims to be an anthropologist but is actually an industrial spy.

There is another visitor to the island and this one came from a lot farther than Tokyo. The misty blue space creature Yog (an "astro-quasar" he is called) has fallen to Earth on a space capsule and is now busy turning harmless animals into giant monsters. First of these fearsome freaks is the weird octo-squid Gezora, a plastic-eyed giant that uses its tentacles to walk (stagger is a better word) on land! Gezora sets about killing people and destroying the native huts, but Kudo and pals find a way to defeat the beast.

The only problem is, Yog just jumps to another giant monster. Ganime, a giant crab, is next and then comes Kameba, a titanic tortoise who could give Gamera a run for his money. Not only that, but Yog also takes control of Obata and uses him to sabotage the human's plans.

It's a sticky pickle but the Earthmen find a secret weakness of Yog's that they can use to attack the space monster. Another key to Yog's defeat is Obata...can his mind be turned against the Monster from Space?

The movie is fun and exciting if you're not too demanding. You see plenty of the monsters and even a nasty battle between Ganime and Kameba. Call me nuts, but I thought dialog and acting were a lot better here than other period kaiju films. The characters had more personality...especially Kudo, played by Akira Kubo...and I kind of liked the way every tied together.

Some may be disappointed that no cities get destroyed, but if you're looking for a Japanese monster mash with a bit of a difference, "Yog" will satisfy your craving!!!
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Quo Vadis (1951)
"Now Indeed Nero Will Have His Place In History..."
8 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I dearly love the old Hollywood costume epics and "Quo Vadis" is one of the greatest. When they want to recreate the ancient world in "Gladiator" or "Troy", they do it on computer. In "Quo Vadis", they recreate it from the ground up, with massive sets, lavish interiors, fabulous costumes and the sort of pompous "damn the cost" world-building that makes use of genuine blood, sweat and tears. The result is a feeling that newer epics can never fully capture.

It's the story that really makes a movie, though, and "Quo Vadis" has a very compelling one. I feel it is superior to "Ben Hur" or "The Ten Commandments". The heroes in those films were inhumanly noble. Not so "Quo Vadis". Commander Marcus Vinicius is an arrogant and violent man with a callous world view...only late in the movie is he finally moved to Christian nobility and even then, he retains much of his former earthiness. His slow realization that his life's path has been wrong unfolds with realism. When he finally cries out "Christ, give him strength" as Ursus battles the bull, we realize that he at last has left his former mindset behind. Robert Taylor, often criticized as a stiff actor, gives an excellent performance as Marcus, working hard to keep his character from seeming too "holy".

The Christian element of the movie is never far from the forefront but does not seem that forced. During the years immediately following Christ's death, it took daring to proclaim yourself a Christian. There was no powerful church to help shield believers. Being a follower of Jesus was like being in an underground resistance...a feeling that is well conveyed here. The singing of the martyrs as they are tortured in the Roman arena may strike the cynical as "corny", but there's a gripping power to these scenes of persecution and resistance. When the gentle giant Ursus is forced to battle a maddened bull to save the life of Lygia, no person with feelings could be unmoved. The same goes for the joy Peter expresses in meeting his grisly fate of crucifixion: "To die as our Lord died is surely more than I deserve".

Peter Ustinov has been praised for his portrayal of Nero and rightly so. Coward, egomaniac, idiot and clever manipulator, Nero is a textbook portrayal of detestable humanity. Surrounded by flatterers and degenerates, his madness runs wild, burning Rome and slaughtering Christians by the score. His close adviser Petronius realizes with horror that he has enabled Nero's worst excesses with his flattery. The best acting job in the movie comes from Leo Genn as the urbane and witty Petronius who nonetheless seals his own fate by his too clever manipulation of Nero. Genn is a pleasure to watch...classic British acting at its best. His death scene is a masterpiece of combined sadness, defiance and even humor as he repudiates his former Emperor.

The sharp dialogue, the massive spectacle, the outstanding performances, the firm moral grounding of "Quo Vadis"...all combine to make it as good as any historical epic ever created by Hollywood!
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Titanic Tussle of Good vs. Evil
3 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The realm of Lucha Libre is a world unto itself, completely separate from American and Japanese wrestling. In Mexico, the wrestlers really ARE superheroes and super-villains. And none are more heroic or revered than Santo and Blue Demon, the greatest of the masked luchadores who ventured into film. Here, they confront their sternest challenge yet, as Count Dracula and the Wolfman rise from their graves to torment the living! Cheesy or not, these films are fascinating with their surreal ignorance of reality and logic. Santo and Blue Demon have no secret identities...they are masked 24-7 and when they are not rumbling in the ring, they are fighting crooks, robots, spies and monsters.

The film begins with straight up lucha action as Santo faces El Angel Blanco in a weird empty arena filled with blues and reds. We hear the sounds of a crowd we never see! Santo gets a hard fought victory over Angel and then is called to the home of Professor Cristaldi, uncle of his current love interest, Lina. Cristaldi has just received a threatening note saying every member of his family is doomed. Centuries ago, an ancestor of Cristaldi vanquished Count Dracula and his servant the Wolfman with the help of a magic dagger. Before perishing, Dracula said he would return when the time is right to destroy all the Cristaldis! The time is now. A bearded, sinister hunchback named Eric kidnaps Cristaldi, hangs him upside down over Dracula's skeleton and slashes his throat. The drops of blood bring the suave Count back to life (his bare skeleton suddenly develops elegant clothing and even a cane) and also revive the Wolfman, who has the unlikely name of Rufus Rex. The werewolf makeup is not half bad and Rufus is quite handsome in his human form. This diabolical trio unleash a plot to eliminate the Cristaldis. Handsome Rufus will woo Laura Cristaldi (Lina's sister) and then sacrifice her during a full moon to the powers of darkness. Laura's young daughter will then be the next to fall, along with Lina.

Santo secures the services of his wrestling friend Blue Demon (who has just won a match against Renato the Hippie) and the two embark on a wild adventure where they fight not only a gang of thugs recruited by Eric, but a legion of vampire and werewolf slaves of Dracula and Rufus.

It's non-stop hilarity and also non-stop excitement. I'd take this over big budget Hollywood snoozefests like "Constantine" and "The Hulk" any day! All continuity with the past of Dracula is ignored. There's no mention of Transylvania, Dr. van Helsing, Renfield or anything else. Rufus can speak and reason while in his wolfman form, though his servants are growling beasts.

The movie subtly makes Santo the superior of Blue Demon. Word has it that the two luchadores did not get along all that well in real life, and Blue Demon eventually split off to appear in the "Campeones Justicieros". I would say Demon is the more muscular of the pair and also the better wrestler. There is something amazing about Santo, though...even through the silver mask, he has a heroic, easy-going and trustworthy quality that makes you believe he's a real champion.

As goofy as the movie is, it does have some atmosphere and there's one scene when the little girl is wandering around the spooky house of the monsters that actually jolted me pretty well. There is also death and mayhem here...some of the characters meet deadly fates! I dug the organ music throughout. Bottom line: this is one of the more entertaining lucha movies ever made and a great place for novices to start examining this unique form of cinema!!!
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The Sadist (1963)
No safety net here
11 November 2005
This movie is obviously inspired by the homicidal rampage of teenage Charlie Starkweather and his 14 year old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate in 1957. The thought of Starkweather's real victims enduring the same horror inflicted by fictional Charlie Tibbs here makes this movie incredibly disturbing.

This is stark, raw horror that is all too plausible. The movie is a masterpiece of compact film-making that unfolds in "real time". The movie lasts a little over 90 minutes and that is just how long it takes for the victims here to have their safe and secure lives ripped to shreds.

Three school-teachers on their way to a Dodgers-Reds game in L.A. are forced to pull into a deserted junkyard when the water pump on their car goes. In a grimly ironic statement, teacher Carl Oliver says "I'm glad we broke down when and where we did or we might have been in real trouble." He has no idea of the nightmare about to unfold. Oliver's two friends are hearty Ed Stiles, a former Army man, and prissy, naive Doris Page.

Befuddled by the emptiness of the junkyard, the teachers bump into sneering, pug-faced Charlie Tibbs and his creepy, silent Lolita of a girlfriend, Judy. Charlie has a gun and so great is the aura of sickness and depravity projected by actor Arch Hall Jr. that we immediately know he is a warped and dangerous man. Hall plays Tibbs as a fearless, ignorant punk who borders on the retarded. Charlie hates everybody better than he is...which means he hates everybody. His gun makes him God...a sadistic, bloodthirsty God.

Over the next 75 minutes, the teachers are tormented beyond reason and sanity by Charlie and Judy. Every veneer of civilization is stripped away as they are humiliated and terrorized by their captors.

The reactions of the teachers to this horror are superbly realized by a cast of largely unknown actors. As the older, paternal Carl Oliver, Don Russell delivers an anguished plea for his life that will chill you to the bone. Helen Hovey is lovely and believable as the shy schoolmarm who shows more backbone than you would think...she is the constant voice of moral outrage who is finally pushed beyond her mental and physical limits when she becomes the special target of Charlie and Judy.

Perhaps the best performance and the most intriguing character is Richard Arlen as Ed Stiles. Far from being the fearless hero we first expect him to be, Stiles is consumed with hesitation when confronted by terror. His physical acting is tremendous. He's a combination of bravado, cowardice and other words, he's fully human and fully developed. His final confrontation with Charlie will jolt you right out of your chair.

In the end, Charlie falls prey to creatures even more pitiless than himself...another irony in a film full of them. As the movie's last scenes play out, we hear the baseball game over a car radio...the sounds of happy people enjoying an all-American pastime. If the water pump on the car hadn't went out...if Charlie and Judy hadn't visited that one farmhouse(whose owners they also slaughtered)...if,if,if.

The message is brutal. This could happen to any of us. It DID happen to those who encountered Charles Starkweather.

A great, lean film with not one wasted image, not one bit of fat to be trimmed. Arch Hall Jr, star of fluffy programmers like EEGAH and Wild Guitar, leave nothing on the table with his crazed portrayal of Tibbs.

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Mr. Joseph Young of Africa
12 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the most entertaining and family-friendly films of its era. Made by the same crew that did the immortal King Kong, this movie wisely doesn't even attempt to match the thunderous, epic quality of that movie. Instead, it's a sentimental look at how "savage" civilization is and how "pure" the so-called jungle "beasts" are.

Mighty Joe is a gorilla left as a baby on the doorstep of an African plantation owner. The boss' young daughter finds the infant ape adorable and begs Daddy to keep him as a pet, which he grudgingly does. As the girl grows up, so does Joe...into a towering 15 foot giant. But the bonds of love and friendship between the two remain strong as they live in their idyllic African paradise.

Enter the scheming Max O'Hara, played with the usual abrasive aplomb by Robert Armstrong. Though the name is different, Max is pretty much the same as Carl Denham, the showman who brought King Kong to New York. Max's latest idea is to start a New York night club based on a Safari theme, featuring real African animals. He assembles a crew of Western cowboys to help him capture the animals and heads off to Africa.

Well, O'Hara and his cowboys manage to encounter the towering Joe and narrowly avert being crushed by the giant gorilla. Learning of the girl Terry's control of Joe, O'Hara sweet-talks her into traveling with Joe to New York, to become the star attractions of his new Safari club.

Terry and Joe are a smashing success as far as attracting attention go, but the truth is, neither one likes the soulless hustle of the Big City that much. Joe is made a fool of, forced to wear a bellboy outfit and play at being an organ grinder's monkey. When a bunch of abusive drunks harass him, the mighty ape loses control and goes on a violent rampage, completely trashing the Safari Club and almost killing his tormentors. Joe is now on the loose in civilization and the worried police have put a death warrant on him, feeling they have a giant killer gorilla stalking the countryside.

Can Mighty Joe escape the terrors of New York? Will his human friends be able to help him? And does the big gorilla have what it takes to be a real hero? Well, the movie is sentimental and even corny, but the ending gives the answer to all of these questions and more. The pace of the film is excellent and there are several scenes that stand out. In the Safari Club, Joe does an exhibition tug of war with a bunch of wrestlers and strongmen, including such well-known names as Primo Carnera, The Swedish Angel, Bomber Kulky and Rasputin. Carnera in particular is a hoot as he tries to bluster his way past the big ape. Joe's violent rampage after he escapes is breath-taking, as the Safari Club is destroyed in an orgy of violence. Other wild animals like lions are released during the rampage and they cause their own danger. Finally, Joe tries to rescue toddlers from a burning building in a scene tinted red.

The acting is so-so, but Armstrong is always great as a fast-talking con man. Ben Johnson plays the leader of the cowboys who falls in love with Terry, who is played by Terry Moore. Other familiar faces like Nestor Paiva and Frank McHugh pop up.

The real star, of course, is Joe himself. Both King Kong creator Willis O'Brien and his young protégé Ray Harryhausen worked on the film and brought their typical attention to detail and character to their efforts. Joe's height seems to change a bit during the picture, but he exudes so much personality that he outshines his human co-stars.

A charming film with a good message about who is really savage.
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You can smell the diesel and road dust
7 September 2005
This is gritty 70's B-movie action at its best. The CB radio craze was at its height when this movie first came out (I saw it on a double bill with "Jaws" at an outdoor)and the country was fascinated by the lives of long distance truckers. There were also a lot of violent films portraying the "little guy" sticking up for himself against the powers that be. These concepts coalesce in this fast-paced and tough action movie.

Carroll Jo Hummer is an independent long haul trucker whose whole life is tied up in two things: his wife and his truck The Blue Mule. He's no angel but he knows corruption when he sees it. When his greasy boss Duane (good ol' boy Slim Pickens) puts the arm on Hummer to deliver illegal cigarettes and slot machines, Carroll Jo refuses to go along. In doing so, he becomes an inspiration to other wildcat truckers looking to buck the system but he also becomes the target of a vicious campaign of intimidation endorsed by the corporate slimeballs in their ivory towers.

There's fist-fighting, road racing and down and dirty dialog galore as Hummer's war with his enemies escalates to "Walking Tall" levels. The concluding image of the Blue Mule smashing the glass emblem of the corrupt corporation is iconic.

This is a B-movie for sure and no Oscar contender, but the lives of the truckers are portrayed with some grit and realism. There's some breath-taking footage of cross-country journeys, particularly in a snowy Utah, and there's hardly a dull moment. Jan-Michael Vincent does fine as Hummer and it may be one of the best roles of his career (he did all his own stunts).

And how can you go wrong with a 70's cast that includes L.Q. Jones, Dick Miller, R. G. Armstrong, Don Porter, Kay Lenz, Sam Laws and Slim Pickens? Only obvious signs of sloppiness were a couple of shots where the boom mike or its shadow are visible. That's a minor quibble. If you're looking for a hell-raisin' bare knuckled story that pits a tough man against the odds, chances are this is what you are looking for.
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The Ghost of Karloff
26 August 2005
This was the first of the "B" Universals featuring the Frankenstein Monster and it gets things off to a rousing good start. Once you accept the fact that the movies were no longer being given the lavish Hollywood treatment that they got in the first 3 installments, "Ghost" is a fun movie with a great cast.

Karloff is definitely missed as the Monster, as no actor before or since has brought so much pathos and menace to the part. Yet even in the last of the "A" Frankensteins, "Son of Frankenstein", the character was beginning to diminish.

Lon Chaney Jr. was given the part of the Monster in "Ghost" and while he lacks the nuances of Karloff's version, he is still light years ahead of the horrendous Lugosi Monster in "Frankenstein vs. The Wolfman" and the robotic Glenn Strange in the remaining installments. Chaney's Monster emphasizes the brute force and indestructibility of the character, but pathos is not ignored. His scenes with the little girl have genuine impact and in fact, show a more sympathetic side than even Karloff portrayed in "Son".

The rest of the cast is outstanding. Cedric Hardwicke is impeccable as always, portraying a slightly less manic heir of Dr. Frankenstein than Basil Rathbone in "Son". Universal's great scream queen Evelyn Ankers is as pretty as always and meshes well with Ralph Bellamy as the romantic leads.

Bela Lugosi again provides a dominant performance as crippled Ygor, who must be almost as immortal as the Monster himself. Though not quite the bravura performance he gave as Ygor in "Son", Bela is still great with his sleazy, unsavory Ygor, a master manipulator. I was especially moved by his line at the picture's end, as he confronts an angry Monster: "Tonight, Ygor will die for you." The other noteworthy performance is by the great Lionel Atwill as the misguided Dr. Boumer. Atwill is one of my all-time favorite character actors. Boumer is not his greatest mad doctor role (that would be Dr. Rigas in "Man Made Monster")mostly because he is not really mad or particularly evil...just obsessed with getting his just due. Watching actors like Hardwicke, Atwill and Lugosi interact is a real treat.

The movie lacks the atmosphere of the previous entries, but this is only to be expected. What's important here is the story and the characters. Sure, the plot is kind of goofy, but the story creates its own kind of logic and moves like a rocket.

I still wonder what the film would have been like if Karloff has continued as the Monster or, perhaps, played Ludwig himself.
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Dreamy Gothic horror
2 August 2005
After years and years of being a Universal horror fan, I finally see "Dracula's Daughter". What an interesting and haunting film it is,too. It's way ahead of the curve in portraying a vampire that wants to escape its cursed existence. The "daughter" of the title longs to live as a real woman but must answer the call of her blood. Is she really a blood relation to Count Dracula or merely a past victim who was especially close to him? Beginning exactly where Todd Browning's "Dracula" left off years earlier, we see Prof. van Helsing arrested for murder when he is found in the vicinity of Dracula's staked-out body. The dull-witted police commissioner believes van Helsing is either a lunatic or a liar but respects his scientific credentials enough to keep him out of jail. Van Helsing seeks the aid of his old student, psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth, to prove his innocence.

Meanwhile, in a truly unusual scene, the body of Count Dracula is stolen from a pair of bumbling policemen by Countess Marya Zaleska and her pale, sinister servant Sandor. The undead Countess merely wants to give Dracula a dignified cremation by fire. His torment is over, but Marya's lingers. She is struggling mightily to resist the call to vampirism but Sandor seems to encourage his mistress to enjoy her bloody deeds.

Through a tangled web of fate, Prof. Garth and Countess Zaleska become entwined. The Countess begs the psychiatrist to give her the willpower to escape her "obsession"...meanwhile, Garth is becoming uneasily aware of Marya's link to several vampire-like murders that have occurred in town. Most tellingly, he notes that her apartment does not have a single mirror...a sure sign of a vampire, according to Van Helsing.

It all ends in Transylvania as the forces of good and evil collide once more.

Gloria Holden is striking as "Dracula's Daughter". Her exotic Slavic looks and wide, hypnotic eyes make it easy to believe she is more than merely human. She has a tragic aura to her, but when she seduces a young girl to become a victim, she also seems repellent.

The real monster of the movie is Sandor, who seems to be manipulating Marya for his own evil ends. Irving Pichel later became a director of some repute, but here he is a scary, foreboding presence with his ominous bass voice, deathly pale skin and Russian garb. Sandor's relationship with Marya is truly unique, as he talks to her as an equal, not a servant.

Otto Kruger is great as Jeffrey Garth, a man of reason and wit who is thrust into the twilight world of the undead. Kruger was a very under-rated actor who should have been more well-known. His sarcastic romantic sniping with his sexy and uppity secretary comes across just as well as his more serious dialogs with van Helsing and Marya. He's a refreshing change from the usual David Manners type hero in the old Universals.

It's a real treat to see Edward van Sloan return in the role of Dr. van Helsing. Calm, rational and collected in his thoughts, he is a contrast to the unholy creatures he duels with. ONe wonders if van Helsing would be sympathetic to Countess Zaleska...or if he would be hell-bent on her destruction. Never do we hear van Sloan's van Helsing voice any understanding or sympathy for the vampires he stalks.

There's some odd comic moments...the two nitwit bobbies at the beginning in particular stick out like a sore thumb...and director Lambert Hillyer's vision of Transylvania seems more like a clichéd Germany, but "Dracula's Daughter" dares to be different from its more famous predecessor and in so doing, emerges as a bit of a classic itself.
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The Fly (1958)
A nightmare
22 June 2005
The "help me, help meeeee" scene revolted and scared me so much as a young child that it was years before I could see this movie again. Even now I cringe when I witness that nightmarish scene. As good as Cronenberg's movie is (and it is very good), there is nothing that surpasses the delirious horror of the man-fly in the spider's grasp.

Elsewhere, the movie is rather subdued. In some spots, almost too much so. Although the first revelation of The Fly's appearance is another classic spot...the multiple reflections was a great touch. Like all great monsters, the Fly has a very sympathetic edge to it. We are revolted by the horror of this monster but we feel overwhelming pity for him as well.

Vincent Price does a workman-like job in a rather blasé part. Usually he adds a special touch to a film, but really, any number of actors could have played his part here.

The scientific basis of this movie is pure rubbish, as there is no way that insect and human parts could biologically interact with each other. The result of such a mixture would be instantly dead in real life.

But that doesn't matter here. A nightmare has its own logic. And "The Fly" is a nightmare.
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