> February 2018 - Political theory and practice

« January 2018 | Blog home | March 2018 »

February 2018

IMDb: 1 hour and 32 minutes of Dali time, rated 3.7 by 280 relatives of the actors.

A photographer and a model are in the English countryside doing a fashion shoot. Much snapping in a sunny lea occurs, then for a change of mood they enter a darkling glade, and after a few minutes there is off-camera heavy breathing. No, wait that was the fraternity brothers on the sofa.

Eyes behind12.jpg

Well, yes there is heavy breathing on the soundtrack, and we get a distant fisheye view, the first of many, of the twosome. They then feel creepy and scoot.

Back in his home dark room, the photographer develops the pictures and sees….! (Well, maybe it was David Hemmings from ‘Blow-up’ [1966] because it starts the same way). I was never quite sure what we were supposed to see in the photographs since they were out of focus as was most of the film, but latter it is declared that there were ETs on the snap. Ok, those with the script should know.

The snapper has a haircut like an unclipped Puli or maybe two Beatles’ wigs one atop the other. With that hair he cannot be too bright, and to prove the point in the dead of night he returns to the glade. Guess what happens to him!

Yep, the ETs get him, though not without a fight in which a local farmer and his dog are casualties. Thereafter the body count increases. Puli is on board the saucer and the twig-thin and short ETs in grey, polyester, and knit onesies with opaque blue visors set about him. These rompers are stompers!

Eye popper.jpg

Boy, can he bug his eye out! Boy he had reason to do so! See the size of that probe! Yikes!

Efforts to find a picture of the ET onesies failed. The conspiracy of silence applies even to that!

Puli had left a message for Eye Candy of his idiotic plan for a nocturnal visit to the glade and she turns, as one does, to the nearest blood sucker from the media, who sets about making matters worse.

Thereafter it is a race to see who can destroy the evidence of the ETs first, the ETs themselves with their fisheye views and heavy breathing, or the conflicting forces of order: police, detectives, military, secret service, and the men in black. Yes there three men in black and without the moral compass of a pug they go crazy. The forces of order want to suppress the ET news to avert panic and have been doing so for two generations. Well done, chaps. They spend a lot of time arguing among themselves about KPIs.

The ETs may have their own agenda but there is no communication with them. We are left to fear the worst, McKinsey managers! They just breathe and gander while themselves knocking off bystanders. The body count rises as both sides seek the pictures and then the negatives.

Spoiler alert!

It does have a twist in the tail. When Blood Sucker has the facts, the men in black, not wanting to be outdone on the KPI of bodycount, kill him and his two or three, I lost count, abettors along with Eye Candy in a hail of sound effects!

The end.

Moral? Do not cross men in black without a pug.

The closing title assures us that this story is based on fact. How so since most of the principals are dead is anyone’s guess? Did the the men in black kill-and-tell?

It is an Italian production set in England with German and American actors as well as Italians. While the number plates are English and there is Land Rover much in evidence neither this vehicle nor any of the others are left-hand drive. The American is dubbed with a Scots accent, sometimes. The German speaks German and is dubbed with a mumble.

Italians have been trying to pretend they do not have an ET problem by projecting such tales on to England, but Silvio has been a dead give-away.

From the IMDb: 1 hour and 12 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.1 by 912 cinemitizens.

Verdict: woeful.

In sum and in short, on the tropical island of Wongo, a tribe consisting of ugly men and of beautiful women discover that the nearby island of Goona is inhabited by a tribe of ugly women and handsome men. This discovery is made when one of Goonaese men paddles a canoe over the tepid Gulf of Mexico to warn the Wongoese that the bad Roman ape men without a GPS could not find Sabine, and will now raid Wongo in order to capture mates.

Wongo card.jpg

They combine….forces to fend off the even uglier ape men, well, there were two men in ape suits. The combining leads to attentions and tensions between and among the Wongoese and Goonaese. The result is like with like. That is a guess because the action is, ....wait, what action? The movement is, whoa, what movement? What dialogue? What direction? Yes, what direction? The pace is not leaden only because there is no pace at all. It seems to be the only credit of the IMDb for each member of the cast and crew in the Florida production. It seems they learned from this experience.

The 2.1 from 10 is a result of masochists rating it 4.0+ on the it-is-so-bad-it-is-good criterion. Still it a rare film that starts with a voice over from Mother Nature reminiscing about Father Time, and mentioning Aristotle. Florida is nice to look at as long as one does not feel the humidity, the dew-point, and the insects, particularly, the aptly named ‘no-see’ums.’

The ugliness is achieved by paste-on eyebrows, wax in the cheeks, and bad posture. The handsomeness and beauty is achieved by a filtered lens. Once again we have the magic of the silver screen.

The men on Wongo have blue hair, making the fraternity brothers think Superman might have been among them.

Among the things it is not, it is not Sy Fy, but it turned up - and with that title it was irresistible— when researching ‘Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women’ (1968) which led to ‘Women of the Prehistoric Planet’ (1966) which led to this. The previous two titles are Sy Fy, but this is not.

This just in!

There is a musical called, sit down, 'Wild Women of Planet Wongo.’ ‘Book the tickets now,’ cried the fraternity brothers! It has been reviewed in the ‘New York Times,’ so it must be real.

The fraternity brothers’ favourite a sub-genre of films is ‘Women without Men’ until some come along. The likes of which includes ‘Mesa of the Lost Women’ (1953), ’Prison Women’ (1955), ‘Swamp Women’ (1956), ‘Jungle Women’ (1959), and more.

IMDb: 1 hour and 24 minutes, 4.7 from 790 cinemitizens.

Pirates who steal a valuable space ship from a dock find on board a nine year-old boy who hid there when the raid started.

Space Raiders card.jpg

As required by the manual of 'Star Wars' knock-offs, the pirates are a mixed lot, one in a rubber mask, one a lady stick figure, one a cowboy without the hat, one New Age sensitive, and blah. Six in all, well, five because one is killed in the raid. One less pay cheque.

His death is one of the better scenes because it shows, unlike so many CGI shoot ‘em-ups the agony and the pain and the loss. However that mood is soon broken by endless games of Tron that follow.

Ben Casey is the leader of the pirates and at fifty-five he moves like he is older, though not wiser, or he would not be here. It is as painful to watch him as an action hero as it was to watch a sixty-five year old Dan Dureya do so in ‘The Bamboo Saucer’ (1968), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. The creaks were nearly audible in both cases.

To pacify him the Brat Ben promises to return him home. This promise leads to the death of everyone on his crew, Ben included. That is the spoiler. The corporation from which the pirates stole the ship sends its thugs after the raiders. Because a reward is offered for the boy, entrepreneurial bounty hunters gather. Bigger villains would like the stolen cargo and so on and on.

There is no rapport among the pirates. They act like people waiting on a bus stop. The vacant boy remains vacant. The villains are cardboard, well, rubber masked in most cases while others are CGI robots, and look it. The CGI in space is, well, as boring as CGI always is. The stunts when our heroes roll around to avoid invisible lasers, look like a geriatric exercise class. Yes, that is right, by the way, there are no light beams for the lasers.

The fraternity brothers liked the late scene where Brat dresses Ben's fatal wound with a glue gun. That is the Ben Casey touch! Let's see the twelve year old 'Good Doctor' do that!

Wikipedia has it that Ben’s celluloid career took a hit because of his addiction to Dame Fortune. He was a gambler, and it consumed him. Didn’t he read the Fyodor Dostoyevsky story ‘The Gambler’ or meet Pete Rose?

Since time began, or so it seems, Country Party, oops National Park politicians have been on high horses about the virtues of country life and country folk. While today they do not readily air those views on national news, they certainly do so when back in their constituencies. Chief among the country virtues touted is always family, family, and family. Cannot have too much family.

The implication is always that city folk are less wholesome, less virtuous, less trustworthy, less family. Ah, for the country life and family!

The reality is that farms are dangerous places for adults and children. All those chemicals that are handled, mixed, stored, and applied, and sometimes (sssh) applied in excess, often by people who disregard and deny unseen threats. Then there are the animals and diseases that attack them and that they carry. Finally, there is all that powerful equipment, occasionally operated by poorly prepared individuals since licensing is not required or enforced.

Some years ago a National Party leader proclaimed the evils of a Labor opponent with explicit reference to country life and family and invoked marital fidelity as an electoral standard. It was only later that all those chemicals got to this proclaimer of the virtues of the country life. As yet no ABC journalist has thought to re-air the archival video of this proclamation in the current context. Wonder why?

Self-appointed representatives of the Fourth Estate in Australia have also declaimed, more to convince themselves than any auditor, that the local media is too mature and elevated to invade the privacy of politicians, in so far as private life does not effect the performance of public duties. Yes, that has been said with a straight face, and I have heard it said by pundits more than once.

The reality behind this forbearance, which no one in the Canberra Press Gallery will admit, is that the many of the extramural activities of members of the political class are with members of the Canberra Press Gallery: member to member. The Gallery has its own version of omertà.

Despite my efforts to ignore reality, occasionally some of it seeps in.

Run time is 1 hour and 30 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.3 by 850 cinemitizens.

Verdict: guilty of a waste of celluloid.

When this title came up in research on another film, the fraternity brothers demanded it go to the top of the Watch Later List, and so it did. Their anticipation was raised by this tagline on one poster for the film: ‘It's the battle of the sexes as savage planet women attack female space invaders!’

Women Pre zPlanet card.jpg

Slowly the hiss of deflation followed. There are no women to be seen on the pre-historic planet, despite several publicity advertisements featuring women clad in fur bikinis. Yes this was the Year of Raquel in ‘One Million Years BC’ (1966). Despite this let down there are some points of interest in this yarn. The redoubtable Wendell Corey has the lead and the ever present John Agar is the loyal and bored lieutenant.

They are leading a flotilla of three starships heading home after a long mission. The ships travel at ‘near optic speed’ but even so the ‘time dilation’ is considerable. Huh? Check with Einstein. While the explanation, given twice for the dunderheads at the drive-in, is that time is relative between speeding spaceships and rotating planets. While the crew will have aged 18 months on the mission, the folks at home will have aged 18 years. That is keeping it simple for the dunderheads reading this.

That explanation makes little sense but give credit where it is due. It is the only time in the Sy Fy thus far reviewed that time relativity has been mentioned. A C+ for trying.

On the note of trying, there is Comic Relief from which we get no relief. One of the crew makes crass jokes every ten minutes. The fraternity brothers had hoped the boiling mud would get him, but no such luck. Then the giant snake. Nope. Then the leaping spider. Not.

The Red Shirts again get it though; but it is unusual that in this film they have names, Owens and Harris. Another victim is Angel from ‘The Rockford Files.’

No less unusual, there are many women in the crew and none of the men make deprecating remarks about having them on board. 'Can a woman really be a scientist, explorer, map reader, navigator, switchboard operator, or make tea?' None of that. However, the women are treated as sex objects, yes, but their abilities are not questioned.

The tension among the crew is race, not gender. Yes, race. Some of the crew are Centaurians, apparently distant offspring of ancient Roman centurions, and they look Asian. Well, the Romans in Syria may have done what we are supposed to do in Rome. Some of the whitebread crew mutter about the barbaric Centaurians. The only specimen of this race we see on the ship freely wanders without about any evident duties overhearing these remarks and biting her knuckle in a barbaric way.

Then the third and last ship in the formation veers off course, and Admiral Corey goes into command mode. By the miracle of cross-cuts we see that some of Centaurians on the third ship have mutinied, though why and to what end it is impossible to judge or to care. Their rebellion caused the driver to blink and the ship hit a magnetic field and down, down, down it went to the planet Solaris. Stanislav Lem’s novel of that name was published in 1961. Did someone sneak a peak at it?

Corey decides to go after it. Note, the admiral slurs his words sometimes and the pea brains who comment on these things suppose he was drunk on set. Well, it would not the first time an admiral was sloshed, but in this case Corey’s biography on Wikipedia indicates his speech was effected by a stroke, and he died a couple of years later. He kept working up to the end because there is no pension plan for supporting actors and he needed the money.

John Agar has no such excuse for mumbling through his lines on the way to the pay cheque and the elixirs it would buy.

The rescuers land and discover many planet years have passed (but only a few spaceship months, see time dilation above). The alienated Centaurian, let’s call her Eve, on the crew takes off on her own to sulk, while a search party looking for the downed ship finds many perils and the Red Shirts pay the price, along with Angel. Regrettably, Comic Relief survived.

The editing is so badly done it is quite impossible to figure out what the search party is doing apart from tripping over props, as its number dwindles. Are they searching for the downed ship? For survivors from the downed ship? For descendants of the survivors? For inhabitants? For a McDonalds? For a better script? No luck.

Eve succeeds where the search party failed. She finds someone, whom we shall call Adam. He looks Asian, too. They get on well together. Ahem. He is a sensitive prehistoric planet guy who has kept his deceased parents from the mutiny ship frozen in clear ice blocks in his cave. Eve does not find this odd.

They continue to get on well together, while the search party number further dwindles. Then Adam and Eve are attacked by the barbarians who live on the planet, and slo-mo replay by the fraternity brothers found that they were all men. Not a bikini in sight. Much confused editing follows. This attack lasts about thirty seconds. No doubt timed for minimum payment to the two attacking extras.

The theme within the adventure thus far was race and racism, Class. Again unusual for the genre at the time, though 1966 was in the midst of the U.S. Civil Rights movement, and the year ‘Star Trek' appeared with his ecumenical approach to race and nation.

Now pay attention because a spoiler is coming, and it will not be repeated but, yes, St Peter has it on the final examination.

The admiral gives up on finding Eve and the ship takes off leaving her behind with Adam. Got it so far? You got it.

Corey drones in the ship’s log that this blue planet shall be entered into the galactic charts as 'Earth,' and the camera pans over a globe with the Florida peninsula dangling. Did Erich like that or what! Adam and Eve were aliens. Why he chose to call it 'Earth' and not 'Blue' or Yuck' is not stated.

Which was the worse crime to Alabama audiences, the fraternity brothers wondered? That Adam and Eve were aliens or that they were Asians. That was an entertaining thought.

The IMDb metadata is: 1 hour and 18 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.7 by 1054 who admit knowledge of it.

Verdict: only for the very determined viewer.

Cosmonauts landing on Venus encounter dangerous creatures and almost meet some sexy Venusian women who like to sun-bathe in rocks in 1970s hip-hugging skin-tight pants and seashell brassieres. Sounds better than it is.

Viy Oerehistoric card.jpg

How could this be? ‘Why didn’t NASA get there first,’ demanded the fraternity brothers? Good question. The answer is that it is a Roger Corman production. That fact explains the inexplicable.

Corman bought the USA rights to Soviet films because they were cheap and the Sy Fy ones had good space flight effects. He then industriously dubbed them, edited them, cut-and-pasted them, added new sequences, omitted footage and from one Soviet film he got two and sometimes three D-pictures. D is for the Drive-In market. In the course of these exercises he hired impoverished Film School students like Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich to do the work for the experience, not the money.

In this case the original was ‘Planet of Storms’ (1962) or ‘Planeta Bur’ in the original Commie, reviewed elsewhere on this blog. In it a multi-national crew sets down in a forbidding Jurassic Park with a giant robot and stumble around from one perilous situation to another.

Being members of the NRA, they tote six-guns and blast much of the local flora and fauna. They speculate that there may have once been a civilisation on this planet, but now long gone, though the wind, which somehow they hear through their fishbowl helmets and inside their cute little hover craft, sometimes sounds like a woman’s voice. If so, it is no woman the fraternity brothers want to meet.

This was Corman’s cue to add about twenty minutes of footage, interspersed throughout the film, of ‘Bay Watch’ inhabitants who slowly become aware of the invaders and think bad thoughts about them. The leader of this rocky beach party is Mamie van Doren who dons a chef’s hat when she is really mad. There are seven or eight women as described above who stare vacantly at the camera while they communicate via the telepathy of voiceover. There is no sound technician needed, and the women cannot act but they can stare vacantly.

Likewise much of the early going for the cosmonauts is voiced over to set the scene. Dubbing is more expensive than a voiceover.

Among the casualties of the cosmonauts shot-em up is a rubber bird that the women worship.

God is dead.jpg God is dead.

This causes them to put a hex on the invaders and a big storm blows up as a result. Mamie puts on the hat and the storm gets worse for the Cosmo readers, while for the women it remains California.

Chefs hat.jpg

The Soviets just barely make their escape, leaving behind the big robot who had forgotten the laws of robotics and tried to save itself at the expense of its human companions. Bad Bot!

The cosmos and the prehistoric women never share a frame together.

The women find the remains of the robot which was disabled by the lava flow of an IOS update gone wrong and gather to worship it. On the Left Coast they will worship anything, Jerry Brown, Zinfandel, alfalfa, and a selfish scrap heap that once was a robot.

This film seems to have been the high point of MvD’s career, topping even ‘The Navy versus the Night Monsters’ (1966).

No doubt it was great fun pulling all this together, but not so to watch it. However, in reading about it, I discovered a whole cache of films about Prehistoric Women! The fraternity brothers have insisted this genre be explored in the coming weeks. At the top of the list is ‘Women of the Prehistoric Planet’ (1966) because it features the man who never said no to a bottle or a part, John Agar. aka Mr Shirley Temple.

Our hero is a homicide detective in Budapest, being of Romani extraction makes him both a curiosity and an asset. He is an asset because some major criminals are likewise Romani. Adolf Eichmann did not get them all.

Danube 1.jpg

Budapest is awash with Middle East refugees making their way west to Utopia. Reluctantly, the Hungarian government slows the migration to retain good relations with Western nations, while most people in the government try to profit from human trafficking. There are many wheels within wheels. So many I lost count and interest. Focus is not a word that applies in this book. Suffice it to say that everyone but our hero is corrupt to the core.

There is precious little detecting, and no police procedure to be found. Instead there is a thinly disguised critique of the corruption of Hungarian society and politics. It is laid on with a sledgehammer. The fittings and furnishings of every room are detailed. The attire of each actor spelled out. In this combination of Vogue and IKEA, motivation, character, and plot dissolve. Then their situation is traced back to the dire situation of Hungary trapped between Communism and Capitalism. The level of analysis is that of the ‘National Inquirer.’

There is some Gypsy lore and that was interesting to this reader, but it was not integrated into the plot for the simple reason that there was no plot. Just a pastiche of attacks on Hungarian society and politics. Everyone is either corrupt or incompetent. Fortunately some are both and that leads to their downfall.

In its eagerness to peach the book reminded me of the latter volumes of the Martin Beck series from Sweden. This series started out as low key police procedurals through which a reader learned much of Sweden but the books slowly became sermons on the evils of Swedish capitalism, as if the genocide of the 1930s Socialist eugenics program was somehow the good old days.

IMDB data: 1 hour and 38 minutes, rated 5.5 by 31,661 pre-pubescent boys,

After many months on Mars, the crew of the Irish Space Commission are packing up for a rendezvous in nineteen hours to return to Earth. The digits on the clock flip. (Clocks don’t tick anymore.)

Last Days card.jpg

Wait! Irish in space? Well the production was partly funded by the Irish National Lottery and directed by an expatriate Irishman who will never return to Eire. Plus the logo on the gear is ISC. Nothing gets past the fraternity brothers.

The set-up in Act I is good. There is a large and mixed team that represented the variety of Ireland, though no one mentioned James Joyce. Having been on Mars for six months, they are tired, care-worn, testy, and eager for the return flight. The gear and procedures have verisimilitude. Jordan once again doubles for Mars as it did in ‘The Martian (2015) and 'Mission to Mars' (2000), both reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

But…., yes, there is a big ‘But’ coming. The production team evidently thought getting to Mars, landing on Mars, surviving on Mars, doing science on Mars, leaving Mars, making it back to Earth, that all of this is boring. So instead of teasing out the drama implicit in the list above the film swerves to a creature feature. Oh hum. This is Act II.

Turns out in the last hours, one of the crew out spelunking, finds life, a microbe, which infects him and goes on to infect others, turning them into Zombies! Sometimes they remain in their space suits and sometimes not as they wander the Jordanian desert. These Zombies want company, and get it by infecting others. Is this a case of the selfish gene?

Becoming aware of the microbe, the leader the mission gives all kinds of orders that no one obeys. It reminded this writer of trying to get the fraternity brothers ready for Monday. Pointless.

Needless to say this ineffectual leader is one of the first to turn, first dead, then animate again! That is the nature of the zombie, despite the liberties taken by many scriptwriters.

With all the yawning, I lost count of the crew, but say Ten Little Indians. They all succumb but one who makes the rendezvous in Act III. Is he a carrier? That would surely explain the Living Dead Trumpettes.

Did the Irish Film Board recover any money on the Irish Lottery investment? The money was spent in England, in Jordan and in the USA. The fraternity brothers did not hear any Irish accents in the crew above chewing popcorn and slurping sodas.

IMDb 1 hour and 35 minutes, rated 6.1 by a paltry 179 ra(n)ters.

Jack and Jill are about to get married on a fine spring day somewhere in Europe. Jack buys flowers for Jill as he hurries to the get himself to the church on time. In the street a one-note newsboy shouts, repeatedly, ‘War declared!’ Jack only has ears for church bells and ignores this declaration, while others in the street react in alarm, amusement, and denial.

Rat card.jpg

The release title was ‘Rat’ which is ‘War’ is Serbo-Croatian, the language in which the film was made in Zagreb of the Tito’s Legoland Yugoslavia.

Mistaking him for Kevin, everyone asks Jack what will happen. His parents must have been Pollyanna and Dr Pangloss because he is exhaustingly optimistic about everything. For him an empty coffee cup is an opportunity to do without coffee, and not a life threatening disaster. Figure that out! Everything is fine. Everything will work out for the best. All is good. All is ad nauseam. He is the kind who would grin through a 360 degree review, because he enjoyed it!

While Jack and Jill are at the altar the bombs start falling. He keeps smiling. As they leave the church with you-know-what-in-mind he is press-ganged into the army. Next thing you know he has changed costume and is parading around in a uniform with a firearm. More bombing occurs, but Jack is sure wiser heads will prevail. As if.

While in a bomb shelter he suggests people proclaim their desire for peace. They do. He is then a traitorous ringleader in a rebellion, apprehended, and sentenced to be shot. He keeps smiling, while inviting the firing squad and the sentencing officer around for dinner when all this is straightened out. Which it will be very soon!

But then it gets brighter than a thousand suns. Afterwards while crawling around in the rubble, Jack meets the Prime Minister who assures him that war was the will of the people per the 'White Book,' on which more later. The shock wave blew off most of Jill’s clothes and that briefly piqued the interest of the fraternity brothers. As the radiation washes around them, Jack and Jill retire to their new apartment - a ruin - and he sets about making coffee. She does a swan die. Will Jack wake up to reality now? Fade to black.

The end.

Well, it is an anti-war film of sorts, with special reference to atom bombs, coming out of the precariously non-aligned patchwork that was the workers paradise of Yugoslavia. Given the post-Tito blood bath of that part of the world, I wondered if a contemporary audience in Belgrade would have perceived the origins and ethnicity of each of the players. Is that why Jill is played by a Pole? To confound that ethnic typing and residual animosity there in paradise? Or to gain it box office in Warsaw?

There is a cast of thousands, and it looks like the army cooperated, given all the marching men, weapons on parade, and fly overs. In the time and the place that cooperation would make it an official government film in all but name. It was bought, edited, and dubbed for the US drive-in market as background to anatomy lessons.

The cast and crew were among the best in Belgrade but this is not their best work. Most of the failure goes to Cesare Zavattini, the script writer who settles for simple-minded nostrums and witless Chaplineque situations, though that may have been what the producers wanted. Hard to believe the same typewriter produced 'Shoeshine' (1946) and 'The Bicycle Thief' (1948).

The 'White Book' the grovelling prime minister carried, seemed to be a report on public opinion regularly prepared for him. Gallup was not involved. A short search on Dr Google produced no enlightenment on the subject. But the combination of ‘White Book’ and Yugoslavia produces many hits, false positives.

The comparison has got to be ‘La Jetėe’ (1962), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, which is far more imaginative, creative, enticing, and enigmatic. It gets across more in its running time of twenty minutes than this feature length film does in ninety minutes.

IMDb 1 hour and 40 minutes, rated by 527 cinemitizens at 4.8/10.

In the year 2015 the first mission to Mars consists of Canadians! Well, they know cold weather and there is plenty of it on Mars, despite the sunbathing of ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ (1964), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. The Canucks are employees of a corporation. Shades of the Alien franchise.

Escape Card.jpg

With neither a creature, sex, nor a Hollywood name, its 4.8 is the result. It moves slowly and there is good deal of the science and engineering of spaceflight. The Laws of Physics are so hard and implacable that no creature is needed to complicate things. These Laws kill without hesitation or mercy. They are like a McKinsey manager managing.

We have five crew, two women and three men, one a Russian. We are guided along the way by a television news announcer. Everything is played up to satisfy the corporate sponsor who has invested frequently told billions of loonies in the enterprise.

They make it to Mars and land. Together the co-commanders (one for flight and the other for ground). a man and woman, take the first steps on to Mars. This was a nice touch. The exaggerated television account was a gentle satire that escaped the reviewers consulted.

Then the Band of Five are struck by a pile of clichés, namely meteors, which do not burn away in the thin Martian atmosphere, and pelt the landing craft - a shuttle mock up. Oh oh, even as all the onboard systems fail one by one, the crew gamely sends back to Earth upbeat video messages to satisfy the KPIs in their contracts which require them to remain plucky unto death.

Yes, it is starting to sound like ‘The Martian’ (2015) but there is much less scientific detail here and much more about the tensions among the crew in this dire situation. Ergo it is a character study of this crowd on the planet Otranto, and how they — individually and collectively — react to the dread they face.

It is all very Canadian. Low key does not quite describe it. Catatonic is closer. No one goes all Hollywood ballistic. Nor, thank the stars, is there any comic relief. A comparison might be ‘Operation Ganymed’ (1977), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, but this latter film has more mystery and drama. It, too, is about science, not CGIs. But the fraternity brothers liked the name of the mission, Sagan, and that it was not explained. Either one gets it, or one doesn't. It is not often they respond to such subtlety but they did this time.

There is spelunking and in a cave is to be found a biochemical reaction that bespeaks water. Sure enough there is a drip. No! Wait, that is the director. 'The Europa Report' (2013) compares on this point. It is reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

All problems are solved when one of them dies. Without him, they have food and fuel to ascend and return which they do. It seemed all too easy after the built-up of the hopeless situation. Likewise, there was talk earlier of contamination which disappears in Act III.

It was filmed in Winnipeg, of all places, but they know cold there, too.

IMDb information 1 hour and 24 minutes, rated 4.8/10 from 272 cinemitizens.

Norwegians in space!

Well, why not. All that oil revenue had to be spent on something. Why not space flights in 2054. Although the fraternity brothers recommend better footwear for inter-planetary travel than the Nikes one of Wegians was wearing.

Rising Moon card.jpg

Thanks to the discovery of an alien Tesseran ship years ago inter-planetary and inter-stellar flight is common. The key discovery was….a scriptwriter!

Fox News got the first ship and its life support keeps,,,, [Use imagination here.]

Now the Wegians have come across a second Tesseran ship it seems. Fox News dispatches one of trained killers to eliminate the Norse and get the ship. So far, so News Corp.

But the killer is Pentan, a female cyborg, who turns. That is turns with a capital ’T.’ She strikes several blows for the sisterhood, as inane screenwriters get the chop. There is quite a backlist of hacks for her to thump. Oh, that was wishful thinking on my part.

In between murdering her fellow employees come to fetch her back, she says she is sorry. Not very. This is one Cubicle Cutie to avoid at all costs.

She hires Han Duo to fly her around because he sports aviator glasses and chews gum. Must be a hot shot like the midget from ‘Top Gun.’ Off they go. A smart girlfriend is a good thing but a killer….? That takes getting used to for HD. Though she is fully functional.

Hitch! Once she turns. an editor from News Corp switches on the in-built destruction system in her head which will relieve all pain in seventy-two hours. She and HD head to Dr Nooniun Sing (or is that Sung) to fix this up and find him but they forgot to ask him to turn off the bomb. Ooops. Tick! Tick! Somewhere along the way this death-threat vanishes from the story or maybe my attention first vanished.

In between punching out villains, Pentan muses on her back story — boring — and ruminates on life, liberty, and stadium coffee. Did I mention boring? Far too often we hear the death knell of interest, 'As you know....' We didn't and don't want to ...know.

Although, we do learn that Cyborgs like a change of clothes and a shower. We also learn that handsome scientists on lonely, desolate moons keep on hand changes of clothes for passing lady Cyborgs, and are careful not to refer to her as a replicant for fear of IP and the descent of the trial lawyers. But does a Cyborg sweat? The Terminator never needed a shower and look at his body-count. Did Philip K. Dick cover that?

The showdown is a boring Tron game. All her missiles hit targets and the villains miss every time. Send them back to Villain School!

All trip and no arrival because Tesseran space ship just sits there.

This is an independent production, so the fraternity brothers cut it slack. But the direction is lethargic with many pointless close ups of actors who are silent. Is this deep thought? Is this waiting for the director’s cue? Is this waiting for the one camera to move? Most of the acting is leaden to match the pace.

Twenty years later the director re-cut, re-edited, and added many CGIs to the film and turned up the soundtrack for a second release aimed the brain-dead pre-pubescent audience at a theatre nearby. The You Tube version that I watched seems to be the original. The fraternity brothers liked the kick-boxing female.

Reptile suit.jpg

They also liked the reptilian regalia of the henchmen, as pictured above, though they were so slow…. must have been, under all that gear, emeritii henchmen.

There was no explanation of the title, and the re-release had two different ones, which likewise made no sense, namely ‘Star Quest,’ 'Black Moon Rising,' and ‘Outer World.’ Go figure.

IMDb 1hour and 43 minutes, rated 4.9 by 2032 raters.

A spin on the post-apocalyptic genre. ‘Having exhausted the Earth’s resources Nature took its revenge in a cleansing wind, the Slipstream,’ says an opening voice over. Social order has decayed to tribal groups who can only live along the Slipstream, away from its effect the air, earth and water are poison. It is a nice kick-off.

Slip[ card.jpg

Two self-described law officers — though what law exists in this world of detached tribes is an open question — apprehend a pin-stripe suited and passive Ray. He is quickly taken from them by a bounty hunter called Bill. Thereafter, it become a road movie as Ray and Bill bond in their misadventures among the tribes they pass through along the Slipstream. At first the destination is to turn in Ray somewhere, but later the goal is to get away from the two pursuing officers.

These two officers are a near albino Luke Skywalker and a pencil thin woman; they leave a trail of dead bodies behind them.

Ray and Bill encounter Robbie Coltrane in a hot tub, Murray Abraham in at a Viennese soiree, Turkish peasants, and others in a pastiche that has neither rhyme nor reason and most of the guest stars are cameos with no character or purpose. The unstated premise is that in a post-apocalyptic world like-minded people would seek each other out and set up their own communities. Think of Robert Nozick’s ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’ (1978), that missing Oxford comma a constant irritant. Our two murderous officers represent the Night Mare, er, Night Watchman state Nozick posited. Though how like-minded people could find each other in a post-apocalyptic world is left to the imagination.

As the fraternity brothers fidgeted, the plot thickened because the passive Ray feels no pain, has inhuman knowledge, and wears a necktie, all sure signs he is weird.

Peck ed.jpg

Ray finally has to tell the thick Bill that he -- Ray -- is an android. A nice twist.

Thereafter, Ray discovers the pleasures of the flesh, finds he is fully functional, and falls asleep for the first time. Bill releases Ray just as the two albinos kick-in the door. There is a pointless and incompressible shoot out. (Who would have guessed that?) More flying and crashing, and finally the End.

In sum, a good kick-off and a nice plot twist, but, well, there isn’t much of a plot to twist. The enigmatic Ray, played by the revered Bob Peck, remains a cipher thanks to the inane screenplay. Ditto all the others. The peoples and places they pass through are a vapid travelogue through a poor imagination.

There is compensation is some very nice aerial photography, part of it over Cappadocia in Turkey where we went hot air ballooning in 2015. Bob Peck, of course, commands attention even if the material does not.

From IMDb 1 hour and 29 minutes, rated 4.2 by 328.

RAAF officer Wagga Wagga Jones is assigned a secret and mysterious flight by Nemesis, an old rival, in August 1945. WW Jones has foresight, because even as he takes the assignment, he knows the war is about to end. This fact is something that no one else knew at the time, when feverish and enormous preparations were being made for a million-man invasion of the Japanese homeland with the expectation of a terrible price. Nemesis makes threatening noises and WW laughs them off. The fraternity brothers groaned with boredom already.

Sky P card.jpg

The cargo for this flight include an American general in an anachronistic uniform, a C of E vicar, and a couple of grunts, oh, and big wooden box with a very large label that says Do Not Open. (Wanna guess what happens?) Off they go in a Dakota (Douglas C-47) but no sooner do they set about bickering among themselves than they run into a CGI storm that throws everything about and they end up the water where the Red Shirts die. It seems one of now deceased grunts opened the box to find a light for his smoke. This individual was the product of free public education and carefully selected for this super duper top most secret mission, he evidently could not read the label.

Thereafter it descends into a delirium of images floating by, Easter Island Heads, Bermuda shorts, Stonehenge parking lots, an IBM selectric, Old Faithful, and Old Yeller, too. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but one thing is clear…..! Erich did it! Yes, 'what other explanation could there be, but aliens?' Well, could be the scriptwriter was chemically enhanced at the keyboard!

There is no whip, but there is a large pistol, a leather jacket that WW seems to wear even under his scuba driving gear, which he carries in the map pocket of his Lands End chinos. The sets are barren. Three is a crowd. The uniforms are inaccurate. WW’s mystique is sadly lacking. The haircuts are not military. There is a mixture of Indiana Jones and Mad Max in a pastiche of scenes that seldom connect one to another from Ayers Rock (unseen) to a cave on Easter Island (in a Melbourne sound studio).

There is a love interest who screams and faints in the 1950s manner. In frustration she assaulted the scriptwriter and quit the business. Whoa. Just made that up. But she should have. She did quit.

At forty-one WW remains a lieutenant. At forty-one he is greying at the temples. At forty-one he is creaking at the joints on some of the moves he makes. But at forty-one he is John Hargreaves whom the camera always loved and does so here. It is pretty clear he is in on the joke and makes sure any unfortunates who paid to see this blur get it, too. Bill Hunter injects some gravitas. Sky Pilot Max Phipps tries way too hard.

Why it is called ‘Sky Pirates’ is anyone’s guess. There is plenty of sky, but no Johnny Depp to be seen.

The only Sy Fy element is the reference to aliens, but since it came up in a search for Sy Fy, I had to watch it to be sure. The IMDb give its genre as Sci-fi as well as Adventure.

Moustaches, butter chicken, cricket, Pakistan, history, international intrigue, terrorism, samosas, this caper has it all!

India’s greatest PI is once again on the job. That is PI as in Private Investigator not as in Principle Investigator. Vish Puri by name, he lives in Delhi but in this outing his travels include Mumbai and…. Pakistan! Gasp! It is further away and more alien than Mars, New Jersey, or Indian take away in Ballarat!

Butter cover.jpg

While at a banquet after an Indian Super League cricket match in which his nephew played, Vish is there when a visiting Pakistani falls dead, face down in a dish of butter chicken. Holy samosas! Vish had earlier espied this Paki skulking about in the garden, though he did admit that all Pakistanis skulk as far as he is concerned. This dramatic death throws Vish off the current case of the moustache-napper. There are contenders for the title of the longest moustache in India and they are being shaved in their sleep! The mo disappears and a clean lip remains. Nothing is sacred in secular India!

His team consists of Tubelight, Handbreak, Facecream, and assorted others contracted in when needed. Back in the office Madame coordinates. It is a smooth operation, usually, mostly, sometimes. He meets contacts around Delhi in air conditioned ATM lounges (cages), those glassed in ones, where he sticks up a ‘Closed’ sign to deter others while in conference. No tricks are missed.

Along the way, much Indian cuisine is consumed, and why not. He has stuck a dowel in the bathroom scales so his weight remains constant when Madame checks him, which is all too frequently.

The plot thickens with international gamblers, Scotland Yard detectives, a digital gecko, and more. It become necessary for Vish to travel to Pakistan! He spends some time trying to avoid it, but in the end, applies for a visa, and after more delay crosses the border, where he expects to be murdered immediately. He is astonished to find he is treated civilly and respectfully. In the end what drove him to go was not the case but the chance at tasting a delicacy in Lahore. This is not the cesspit of violence and corruption he had expected.

There is much about the terrible days of the Partition, enough to put anyone off religion as Muslims hacked up Hindis who happily reciprocated.

Partition cover.jpg An unknown story to me.

The sins of fathers and mothers live on.

In fact the murder was part of the long fall-out of those dark days. Much to his surprise Vish finds several Pakistanis who are stalwart and amiable, and they share information. But he also discovers that his Mummy, who has long had a penchant for interfering in his investigations, much to his annoyance, has a deep and dark past. In fact, she was a secret agent for the Indian Rescue and Recovery Commission during Partition and went on many dangerous missions, as one of his new Pakistani associates tells him with admiration. ‘Mummy!’ Vish cannot believe it but somehow it fits. Not a word has she ever spoken of those days.

Together they crack the case of the murder and also the international gambling, while the team finds the mo-napper.

Much of the subject is serious, but the touch is light, and while the history is detailed, it is crucial to the plot and focussed, as well as informative. I also found enlightening Vish’s defence of India as a society compared to Pakistan and its generals. India may have corruption and incompetence galore but it has never resorted to the rule of the gun. Another a good show.

IMDb 1 hour and 5 minutes, 3.9/10 from 395 addicts.

Novelty value there is. This is a Swedish-American co-production, a rarity of the time. Moreover, it is set in the far north, Lappland, and features Sami in their costume. The ‘Seventh Seal’ also gets a look in. For the denouement read on.

Terror.jpg A Yankee lobby card.

Lappland card.jpg A Swedish lobby card.

Prof is at a conference in Sweden and his niece, an Olympic athlete, is training up north, when a meteor strikes Sami country. Prof just loves meteors and takes no convincing to go look at the object that may have come ’from another world.’ It is a nice line and delivered with conviction by Robert Burton, instantly recognised from countless 1950s and 1960s television programs where he invariably played authority figures: judges, senators, colonels, deans, and even professors.

Barbara Wilson is the athletic niece who starts off confident, poised, smart, determined, and no nonsense, which fits the Olympic achievements, and she can skate and ski. After her character is established it is thereafter destroyed by endless demands to scream and faint, four times that were counted by the fraternity brothers between trips to the beer fridge.

What is all the screaming about?

Prof joins with a Swedish love interest for his niece and some police officers to go investigate. Many shots of the white blankness of snow fields and of Lapplanders in their curly-toed shoes and frilly hats, each designed to deal with the snow. While the testimony of the Lapps is treated seriously by the Swedish authorities, pretty boy is dismissive.

What testimony?

They say that the meteor glided in at a low angle for kilometres and then skidded for a distance on a nice soft snow bank. Gasp! It sounds like a controlled descent. Sure enough, Prof confirms it. Meteor just hit. Wallop! No gradual descent. Pretty Boy shrugs. This gesture turns out to be his dramatic range but he speaks English.

Just where the Lapps said, the Prof's party finds the object and it is no meteor. It is the same ship that featured in ‘It Came from Outer Space’ (1955). Only part of it is visible in the snow bank. Much musing follows. Meanwhile, Hairy turns up. Hairy is big and hairy. BIG. He wanders around leaving enormous footprints which the investigators finally notice. Gulp. More musing.

The party divides. Some will stay on site. Others will go for help. Many will wait off camera.

Hairy grabs Niece who goes through her repertoire of screaming and fainting. It is King Kong all over again once more and anew. Hairy has found love and when she screams ‘No!’ he knows it is a come-on, and means try harder. He stashes her in a ice cave, and wanders around some more smashing balsa wood miniatures that someone spent hours making. Such are the frustration of interspecies love. Naughty, Hairy! But he is meeting his Yeti KPIs, that is Ka-blooie Performance Indicators.

Then his managers show up, and this is the best part of film. Three sketal skin heads in hoodies with bleached faces silently surround Niece, who…. [yep, screams and faints]. They do look like Death who played chess with the Knight in the ‘Seventh Seal’ (1957).

Spooks.jpg The Hoodies.

They an silent and stare at her. She screams and faints. Again. When she recovers, they point at an enormous footprint, and she screams and faints. Again. (Is it any wonder Barbara Wilson quit acting after this outing?)

They leave. Who knows why and where? Not the scriptwriter for sure.

Hairy returns and scoops her up as required in creature features. By this time the Samis are mobilised with torches. Remembers that scene from ‘Frankenstein' (1931). Like that, except it is bright daylight on blinding show. They corner Hairy on a cliff edge over an abyss. Hairy thinks, ‘What would my hirsute brother King Kong do in a situation like this?’ To think he puts down Niece on a nice bed of snow.

While he is thinking the Lapps fling so many torches at him that all that hair he has catches on fire and on the ensuing excitement he falls over the edge into the abyss.

Pretty Boy then scoops up Niece and Prof muses over what just happened. So did I. ‘Dunno’ was the unanimous conclusion of the fraternity brothers.

Were the skin heads keepers of Hairy? Did Hairy escape and were they looking for him? If so, such inept aliens should have stayed home if they could not spot a thirty foot pile of black costume hair against the white backdrop. Or was Hairy a local and the skin heads wanted to Yeti-nap him for a zoo back on home world? But there was nothing earlier to indicate the neighbourhood had a Yeti problem. Were the skin heads surrogates for Commies, all quiet and insidious. Was Hairy a metaphor for….the Welfare State, Volvo hegemony, IKEA tyranny? Pick one! Pick two!

Apart from its resonances with other films of the ilk, it is distinguished by the exotic locale, long before SBS brought Norseland to the a television near everyone. All that snow. All those Swedish accents, and some Swedish spoken. (A film with even one untranslated sentence in a foreign language was often regarded as a box office killer in Hollywood.) The Swedes wear Swedish clothing. It looks like it was filmed there but the backstories on the web are not decisive.

There were two subsequent re-editings for the USA drive-in market. One is by Jerry Warren and the other by the unstoppable Roger Corman and released as ‘Invasion of the Animal People’ in 1959 with an opening voice over from John Carradine, who never said no to a gig.

Animal.jpg The Corman lobby card.

In these two versions nothing is left to the imagination. The Beast has come for women. He is looking for fraternity brothers with whom to party and needs a date.

Web critics disparage both versions. The IMDb does not distinguish among these derivatives. The You Tube version I found looks like the original.

IMDb data: 1 hour and 23 minutes, rated 6.7 by 5824.

‘The End of Days is nigh!’ The Earth is doomed! Repent ye GOP voters!

Collide card.jpg

Yes, astronomers have once again spotted a heavenly body intent on smashing the Earth, styled ‘Bellus’ and its attendant satellite ‘Zyra.’ Travelling thousands of kilometres a second, they will pass close to Earth in a few months and the passages will wreak havoc on Earth. The oceans will rise in giant tsunamis. The mountains will crack open to spew lava. The plains will continue to vote Republican. Much stock footage will be shown.

Or so claims the Lone Voice, while all his colleagues fatten their CVs by debunking his claims. Nonetheless Lone Voice pressed on and his conviction and data convince some backers to fund his fantastic scheme. Larry Keating of ‘Mr Ed’ played Lone Voice with great integrity and authority.

The plan is to build a rocket ship and hop onto Bellus as it passes. One of his financiers is a hard case, played by the ever reliable John Hoyt who gives the best performance in the ensemble. A team of six hundred specialists is recruited to build the ship and from those ranks, forty will be chosen at the last minute to make the flight. At every point the risks and uncertainties are emphasised. It is all rather Calvinist. Work as if chosen, but nothing can insure it. Most will have laboured in vain.

To equip the ship with knowledge a team of women sit at 1951 photocopiers rendering a reference library into microfilm. That was a nice touch. Though I did not notice Plato’s ‘Republic’ being included. Now where will they be packing the 1951 microfilm reader?

Everyone on Earth will die, that being the only way to kill the GOP virus.

Those that take flight may perish in the flight, die in a crash on Bellus, default on their AMEX payments, or find Bellus uninhabitable. Note, while passing by it will destroy Earth, but Bellus is unaffected in scriptwriter’s logic. The number forty was decided by bodyweight ever so finely calculated, though at the end Lone Voice added Barbara Rush’s boyfriend, a waif, and the waif’s pet dog. But to make way for them he stayed behind with the troublesome financier to face certain death. Is this noble of what. Babs, by the way, went on to ‘It Came from Outer Space’ in 1955 to cement her Sy Fy credentials.

The fatalism is out of time for 1951, when most Sy Fy movies overcame all odds.

There are conflicts among the rocketeers who are widely mocked by the ever responsible media, until the Earth moves under their feet. Then they mob the rocket site and have to be fended off. Good thing there was an arsenal included in the research grant. The testy financier had predicted this reaction and prepared for it while dreamy scientists had not.

Ecooomy seating.jpg
For reasons known only to rocket science the passengers wear a uniform of brown sweat suits and fly economy class without overhead storage bins for roll-aboards.

When the crunch comes, despite all efforts to avoid conflict, conflict occurs and the launch is compromised, but the ending is upbeat. While the Earth is split in an apocalypse, Bellus is green fields and blue skies (in pictures that look like they were ripped from a kindergarten classroom wall, as what must have been a late addition to the production, so out of keeping they are with the forgoing standard).

New Eden.jpg

They made it and humanity can start its cycle of destruction anew! Whew!

There is much location shooting and an altogether big budget, mostly spent on the effects and not on big name actors.

The opening scene is an observatory in a remote South African location, and there are several subsequent references to other spaceship projects in other countries, but there is no technology transfer or cooperation among them. That seems realistic. There are never KPIs for cooperation.

The draw of the final forty seems to have been random, so it might yield forty tech heads who have never seen a vegetable or daylight. Neither does the six hundred nor the forty include any brown, red, yellow, or black faces. All whitebread, though, credit where it is due, many are women. For a New Eden science declares women are necessary. Amen, sighed the fraternity brothers.

Another Sy Fy offering from producer George Pal, known as the Happy Hungarian for his sunny disposition. He has many Sy Fy credits, some excellent, like ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) and the execrable ‘Conquest of Space’ (1957). Both are reviewed elsewhere on this blog. He tried to get the science right within the limits of the genre, the budget, and the capacities of the cast and crew.

IMDb metadata is runtime 1 hour and 18 minutes, rated at 5.8/10 by 1392 raters.

An asteroid approaches Earth and science is mobilised!  With flashing slide rules and pocket protectors, the equations lead the nerd brigade to only one conclusion. Blast it!  (‘Haven’t we seen this before,’ whined the fraternity brothers?  Patience, please.) But this asteroid uses the Delta Manoeuvre to elude the rocket's red glare!  Oh, oh!  It seems intelligence is at work! Then the asteroid harmlessly slides into the Pacific Ocean off Baja California. Whew! 

Kronos card-12.jpg

While it was passing over the desert south west (where the aliens get a special discounted rate) an orb split off and seizes the mind of the director of the nearest top secret defence laboratory.  Sure. This new zombie had previously led a crew to Mars in ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  In that picture he was supposed to land on the Moon but missed it and hit Mars.  Grounded!  Once zombied he engages in silent communion, ever so cheap to film, with....Kronos! Kronos? Kronos.

While his soul is being devoured, his three top minions go to Mexico to observe the asteroid in the ocean. They observe each other, too.  All is quiet on the asteroid front, so they get on with mutual observing, until...  yes, right on cue a dome appears in the waters, and, no, it is not another water park, but a Kronos factory that emits Kronos 1.0.

Kronis-2.jpg

People have noticed that Dr Zombie is not his usual self and that Sy Fyian extra-ordinarie Morris Ankrum fails to collect on his bill!

Pause.

Kronos is a big TinkerToy.  The trio borrow a handy Mexican helicopter for a closer look and land on the contraption just as it seems to stir, after a long-distance communion with Dr Zombie.  They scoot and Kronos sets off, stomping through stock footage from a variety of locales, none of them Mexican. There is no further attempt to share Kronos’s pain.

Kronos sucks down electricity as it goes.  It follows the grid to Lost Angeles! 

Kronos sucks.jpg

In so doing it by-passes the much closer San Diego, because more stock footage of Lost Angeles is available.

The slide rules flash again, the giant main frame computer from ‘Desk Set’ (1957) flashes lights and what other conclusion could there be! Blow it up.  More stock footage of boy toys.  The attack of the boy toys does not slow Kronos.  If only there had been a wall to keep out the Greasers! Kronos would have then stayed down Mexico way, supping on wattamales and voltstadas.

Somehow Jeff Morrow (after his frontal lobotomy addition in ‘This Island Earth’ [1955] [reviewed elsewhere on this blog] which by the way turned his hair white) figures it out.  The Kronosians must have depleted all the non-re-newable energy sources on Krono and have come to Earth to stock-up.  He also figures how to stop Kronos with wind farms and solar panels. 

Remember ‘Clockwork Orange’ (by the way a giant Jackson No-Prize to the first person to explain why ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is called ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and not yellow or cerise)?  Jeff did, and he gluts Kronos on so much juice not even Mylanta can help.  

The female lead, who does not even have to scream, finally gets her big line to ask if more Kroni are coming. Jeff said all deadpan, ‘Dunno, but if they are we’ll be ready!’ The end.

Sorry, Jeff, but there was no vote of confidence from the fraternity brothers for that encomium. What we saw was comprehensively unready. The super top secret defence lab was penetrated by a truck driver with a wrench. The biggest scientist was zombied with a couple of flash lights. Mexico was drained of juice in a few hours. Lost Angeles had to be nuked. This is ready?

It is on the cusp between Sy Fy and creature feature. Kronos is not much of a creature, no drool, no fangs, no GOP ugly look, no Twit in Chief leer, no grabbing tentacles, and 'it does not carry off a woman, as is mandatory in a Real Creature Feature,' declaimed the fraternity brothers. Nor are the electricity effects up to Dr Frankenstein standards. More like a bulb going out in the frat house than an eye-popper.

On the other hand, the acting is uniformly good. Jeff looks interested in the science de gook, and the Zombie’s inner turmoil is apparent, and Morris Ankrum is also pitch perfect, as always. The director keeps it moving. But the stock footage is not well chosen, nor well integrated. The miniatures for Kronos are nothing special, even for the times.

Interpretions of the symbolism can keep the fraternity brothers happy for hours. Is Kronos, the accumulator of energy, a metaphor for the unbridled consumerism of the era? For the insidious effects of Communism? For creeping managerialism that leaves empty KPI husks behind? For the spectre of technological growth represented in this film by a computer system called SUSIE that adds nothing to the proceedings? Or is a Trojan TinkerToy? Is Odysseus inside?


Computer hackers get control of Siri and Alexa!

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 22 minutes, rated at 5.5/10 by 822 raters.

The third and last of producer Ivan Tors loose sequence of stories about the fictional Office of Scientific Investigations, represented here by Richard Egan, who is summoned to shoot trouble.

Gog lobby card.jpg

Deep in the desert southwest, where else, in an underground laboratory, designed to withstand an atomic blast or one speech by the Twit in Chief, that nation’s best scientists labour to bring forth the first space station, before ‘They do.’ Yep, 1954, with the Korean War still Red and raw.

The Yankees have entrusted this super-duper top most secret facility to a one legged Brit by the name of Herbert Marshall, with his owlish eye glasses. Immigrants even in those days took American jobs!

‘What’s the trouble?’ The scientists are being murdered! Two were frozen, one after another, in the cryogenics lab. A radioactive pot plant crisps another. The whirly gig takes out two more. The body count rises in the Laboratory of Otranto, while Egan tours the several levels of the bunker. Is he bad luck or what?

The whole establishment is run by an IOS Home computer called NOVAC, which has two robot minions, Gog and Magog. Why names from the Book of Ezekiel are used is anyone’s guess. There is no explanation in the film.

Gog and Magog.jpg

These robots are precursors of Daleks with their waving arms and tank treads. They are as useful as Siri and Alexa. They can open doors, hand over screwdrivers, and strangle Mr Pomfrit. In addition, the lab has solar energy in use, and a sound laboratory full of deadly tuning forks. Yes, it is a lavish and inventive production.

The body count rises. Turns out NOVAC has been hacked by ‘Them’ and is itself destroying the Nobelists by using Siri and Alexa before they can give long, boring, pointless speeches, forgetting to mention the underlings who did all the work. Egan figures this out about an hour after the fraternity brothers did, and sets about thwarting it. How?

He calls in the USAF to shoot down an airplane that is always overhead. See, what I said about slow. The evil virus code is being transmitted from that aircraft. Stock footage of Saber jets taking off and in mid-air transformed into Thunderbirds. Kaboom! So much for that TWA flight.

Before that crescendo, Egan has to fight both Siri Gog and Alexa Magog mano à mano, well, with a flame thrower. Just the sort of thing to keep around super-duper top most secret deep underground laboratory working on space flight. In fact, they have two of the contraptions that have always killed more operators than enemies.

But wait, the plot thickens. How could good old American code be hacked? In the world of defence contracting it turns out Heidi built the robots in the Swiss Alps, and it must have been there that ‘they’ infected them with a virus which the bots in turn imparted to NOVAC. Moral? Build your own robots. That is a new twist on Cold War paranoia, blame the Swiss neutrals. Boycott Lindt!

In the interest of science there is some concern about radiation. Everyone wears a badge that reacts to it as a warning of exposure. When the killer pot plant is approached, the technician wears a hazard suit and uses some long kitchen tongs, dropping the killer ingot into a lead lined box. Good. Trouble is Egan, his girl Friday, and several gawkers peer over the hazard suit’s shoulder to watch the proceedings from two feet away.

Later they recover from a little radiation by lying down with aspirin.

Much of the first thirty minutes is an exposition of the different parts of the facility and an introduction to the scientists who occupy them, leading the viewer to suspect that the culprit is among them. Indeed, Egan says that at one point. That was a nice bit of indirection.

The scientists are all just west of mad and most have highly suspicious accents. Each has the ego of brain surgeon and the personality of a CPA at tax time. They have accomplished such astounding things as burning balsa wood models. No wonder they think so highly of themselves. Although, come to think of it, that is more than some egomaniacs of my acquaintance have done.

IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 23 minutes, rated 5.2/10 from 2356 opinionators.

Rocket M1 is en route, that is Mars One. It left Earth more than two months ago and nothing has been heard from it since it was scheduled to land on M A R S! Then it appears in the sky, Earthbound. Putting new batteries in the remote control, ground control lands it by pushing a lot of buttons. The procedures of the operation are shown in some detail, including concern for radiation.

Angry Ed card.jpg

Turns out things did not go well on Mars. There were four crew members, but in return only two remain alive, and one of those has been slimed. Wow! The details emerge in flash back from Irish Iris, who is traumatised by the screenplay. Who can blame her. She is a many PhDed biologist who is consigned to screaming.

The original crew also included Jock, who is the working class comic annoyance, Doc who smokes his pipe thoughtfully, and male lead, Gerald Mohr, who made a career in B-movie land out of a vague resemblance to Bogie. And Iris(h) makes four.

Angry crew.jpg The crew on Mars.

The players are all experienced and able. The direction is adequate, apart from the comic annoyance. Whenever he appeared the fraternity brothers cried, ‘Cut!’

They land on a very red Mars.
Angry red filter.jpg
This is 1959 and there are Reds under the beds as it is. Why go looking for more? There is no answer as to the purpose of the expedition.

What they find is a red jungle. Donning overalls with scuba masks, they venture out into the red filter and find... a jungle. Iris collects samples galore, and one of them tries to collect her. While Gerald has a six-gun — that he loaded before cleaning in the NRA-approved method! — and a sound bazooka, that is so cheap it does not make a sound. It wilts the plant. (By this time the space suits made for ‘Destination Moon’ [1950] must have been worn out from use in so many other films.)

Earlier they had to spray a bat-rat-spider (who knows). They espy the spires of a city in the distance across a lake. Yep, a lake wherein dwells an ugly Republican Senator who devours Jock. A word of thanks came from the fraternity brothers.

Now they rush back to the ship. It seems stuck but they struggle for lift-off, much as I did this morning, and while so doing, a voice comes over the speaker, a pleasing baritone, that tells them to scat. ‘No destructive Earthling immigrants are wanted on Mars’ gardening and exterminating. ‘Stay on Earth and kill each other,’ says the voice.

In the whirl, Gerald got slimed and retires to his cot. Doc and Irish throw a lot of switches and blast off, without following the checklist of procedures, with the result that Doc is crushed, pipe in hand. Iris did buckle up and survives but is rendered unconscious. Gerald has a green arm. Is he an incipient Green-voting bore in the making?

All of this is told in a flashback that is far from flashy.

Once back on Earth, Iris figures out what’s wrong with his arm and kisses it better. The end.

Huh? Can Reds on Mars exclude freedom-loving Yankees from Mars? No way! Is Mars a metaphor for Eastern Europe behind the Red Curtin. Time for Radio Free Mars to go on the inter-planetary airwaves. Drop gardening manuals and blue blockers to open the eyes of the downtrodden. The blue blockers will cut the red mist. Some gardening will make the lush Martian jungles Yankee-friendly. This is the Martian Plan.

We never see the Martians, just their pot plants and house pets, and the distant spires painted on a matte. But who are they to say ‘Yankee go home, and stay there!’

The word is that it was done in ten days, using a new filter that sometimes makes Mars and the space suited crew look like cartoons. This look was unintended but there was neither time nor budget to do anything but go with it. Likewise the creature models were not quite what the director expected but he had no choice but to use them.

Speaking of the director, it seems that he and scriptwriter have since duked it out in conventions and screenings for thirty years over which one was genius responsible for the film. Really. Say no more.

IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 13 minutes of Dali run time, rated at a generous 2.7/10 by 944 raters.

A group of people sit in bar and talk. That sums it up. About three-quarters of the film is stock footage from World War II of shells exploding, soldiers soldiering, airplanes flying, bombs falling, destroyed buildings, and on and on.

Unvasion card.jpg

The sitters are in a New York City sports bar and they watch the progress of nuclear war on television. The ‘enemy’ lands paratroopers in Alaska, and pictures of Germans landing in Crete are shown. That mix up is typical. There are references to jet planes when propeller planes are shown. Washington state and Washington DC are run together. The script is so sloppy that the Illinois Congressman in the bar is later posthumously elevated into a Senator.

The enemy is never named but we know who it is.

There follows bombings here, there, and everywhere. Sometimes they are called atomic bombs and sometimes not. More paratroopers paratroop against back projections of Capitol Hill. Is no where safe? Yankee Stadium?

In addition to the sitters we see four Americans in ill fitting, mixed uniforms sitting around a table telling each other the bad news in excruciating dialogue so bad that -- believe it or not -- McKinsey-speak would be better.

Occasionally we see six or eight others in drab uniforms and thigh boots shouting at each other in a variety of enemy accents, Latino, Slavic, Brooklyn, German, Armenian, Italian, Texan.

Commies.jpg

They go on about liberating the masses in a people’s government. The creeps! Wait until 1985 when cute little Chuck Norris gets ahold of them! He’ll kick 'em right in the knee, if he can reach it.

The barflies earlier bemoaned the heavy hand of government, of crushing taxes, of waste in defence spending, of watered drinks, of paper work, while the bartender boasted of ducking the last war, cocktail shaker in hand. Consequently, the US of A does not have the army, the weapons, or the will power to repel the Enemy!

When the going gets tough, however, the barflies become Minute Men and Women. The men rush to factories to produce tanks, to the ranch to produce food, to the library to pay overdue book fines, to the blood bank to give blood, to the blood bank to take blood….but it is too little and it is too late. The Enemy prevails across the nation. Leaving little to the imagination, there is also a rape. According to the fraternity brothers, whose expertise on such matters is complete, it was no worse than a NCAA football team on the loose.

Seattle, Omaha, San Francisco, Minneapolis, New York City are all levelled. There being no limit to the dastardly enemy’s evil, he blew up the Boulder Dam. The Enemy is frequently referred to as ‘he.’

Then…the sleepers awake from this nightmare. It seems Mr Ohman, Omen (Get it?), put them all in a trance with his restful Irish brogue combined with their many post-lunch martinis. Long before RoboCop, this is Dan O’Herlihy who describes himself as a forecaster, and this is his forecast.

Dan the Man.jpg The enigmatic Mr Omen.

He is marvellous in his smug superciliousness with an air of detached mystery. His purpose is for these barflies to see the errors of their ways. They do. As he departs (without leaving a tip) they are changing their ways. The only woman in the bar changes beaus.

Yet 2.7 seems too high and the Finn gives it 1/10 only because he does not give 0s. It is nearly unwatchable. My pants were safe, contrary to Hedda Hopper's prediction on the lobby card reproduced above.

In earlier scenes of the nightmare we saw lines of people at the New York City Airport trying to fly home, as one would during a nuclear war, and the two ticket agents were Lois Lanes from the Superman franchise, Noel Neill (in the 1948 film serial and later the television series with George Reeves) and Phyllis Coates (in ‘Superman and the Molemen’ of 1951).

William Schallert also puts in a brief and late appearance as a news reader. He’ll always be Mr Pomfrit to me and Dobie.

The surprising thing is that such a turkey was made by an experienced and talented cast and crew. One singular indicator of the incompetence on view is this: Twice the US President is shown on television calling for calm. Each time he is seen from the rear! We never see his face. Just a 3/4 profile from his rear left side. At first I thought this was somehow important later I realised it must have been a mistake and with no budget for re-takes it was used as is. The speaker was Joseph Granby, uncredited, but very reassuring.

The set-up has promise: are they really watching World War III on television? In addition to the RoboCop chief and the Lois Lanes, there is also Gerald Mohr and Peggy Castle, each with a long list of creditable performances in other movies. Likewise the director and producer have solid credentials. The writer had a Hugo nomination for one of his other screenplays. Yet taken together….. well, don't.

It does demonstrate the paranoia of the time, but not very well compared to many other films.

While hardly Sy Fy, the obsessive Finn (Scifist) includes it in his list and so I had a look.


IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 46 minutes rated 4.9/10 from 5730 raters.

A big budget disaster movie from the era of big budget disaster movies. The clichés are all there: the solitary Chicken Little, the fetching femme, the stalwart buddy, the doubting Thomases, the extras to become victims, the special effects of falling bricks and rising waters. But it does have some twists that set it slightly apart.

The set up is this: A large object is on a collision course with Earth! Only James Bond, once again, can save the world. With half-hearted grousing he is summoned for reasons that never become clear since he does nothing thereafter but snipe at others. President Henry Fonda mouths lines. Trevor Howard has a few moments to impart some purpose.

meteor dvd.jpg

The twist is that to destroy the Really Big Space Rock will take the combined effort of the USA and the USSR. Much mutual suspicion is exercised, but in the end the Soviets agree and trust the mission, controlling fourteen USSR nuclear warheads to one scientist and a translator, whom they send to New York City. Sure. That is the way the Kremlin worked in 1979. The Russians are coming.

Russians.jpgThe scientist is the redoubtable Brian Keith who does it well, and his translator is a very drawn Natalie Wood, who adds grace to anything.

The USAF in the person of Martin Landau opposes everything with childish temper tantrums. Salute that! Don't blame Marty because he is written that way.

Together the Russkies and the Yankees blast the rock but shards still strike Earth giving us some nice disaster scenes. Yuk. Bond saves everyone.

By the time this one was made the disaster tire had no tread left on it. All the tropes are there but everyone from the scriptwriter to the extras seems bored by it. Karl Malden puts the most into his part, and Keith seems to enjoy the language barrier, but Bond and the ethereal Wood seem to be waiting for it to end. So did I.

Richard Crenna in ‘A Fire in the Sky’ (1978), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, did the same part as Sean Connery in this film, and Crenna did it better - more energy, more intelligence, more conviction, and he had material that had some science and some compassion in it. This film seems to rest entirely on the big names in the cast, and they in turn go through the motions as quickly as possible.

The rockets in space was a neat idea and well presented for the toy model special effects used.

This block buster was delayed in production in the effort to improve it. Failed. The 'New York Times' reviewer, Jane Maslin, nailed it: slow, sludge, half-baked, boring. Those were her kindest remarks.

IMDb metadata: 180 minutes @ 6.6/10 from 333 raters

The scientists agree a meteor is headed for Phoenix!  Whoops!  The scientists do not agree!  Is it a meteor or comet? Will it hit Earth or pass by? If it hits where? If it passes by, then how close? How big is it anyway? There is disagreement among the boffins on each and every point.

Fire Sky newspaper ad.jpg

In a roomful of PhDs all the KPI career incentives reward disagreement, even at the end of the world. The bickering, logic chopping, semantics emerge to mask the egotism, opportunism, and careerism. Seminar normal.

The local political decision makers decide the financial disruption of an alert is too great. This decision is partly based on the belief a panic would ensue with loss of life, destruction of property, and worse, the arrival of Fox News. They are also sure that there they do not have the infrastructure of shelters or trained personnel to do anything constructive. No one wants to pay taxes for comet shelters.

Journalists, of course, know better and strive to tell all without regard to consequences! Situation normal. They tell all and panic ensues with the loss of life which in journalism logic is vindication.

In Arizona the gubernatorial response remains guarded and equivocal. After all only one scientist is doing Chicken Little. Why is he right and everyone else wrong? Because the script says so, that’s why! 

Meanwhile, the USAF applies the usual foreign policy response: blow it up. But the rocket misses. Whoops! So much for that.

The script includes a lot of science, including a distinction between a comet, asteroid, and a meteor. Despite the summaries and reviews on the net, in fact, the political decision making is shown to be careful and sensible. At first the Air Force general is reluctant to go the expense of a missile launch on the say-so of one scientist, but in the end there is a pre-emptive rocket fired and it is a miss, a near miss, but a miss. But the screenplay also includes far too many sidebars that blur the focus. Merlin Olsen is a treat but out of place. Ditto the thwarted young lovers.

Andrew Duggan imparts dignity to the proceedings as President. Governor Dukes lays out the complexity of the social consequences. But Richard Crenna carries the film with integrity and conviction.  Particularly striking was his effort to frighten the child as a way of showing the parents what the reality of the situation was likely to be. That was surprising and effective, and done with conviction. He learned a lot from ‘Our Miss Brooks.’  

The direction is leaden but perhaps that is because the material was stretched to 180 minutes! Had it been halved the pace would have been better.

The 1970s fashions are much in evidence, aviator glasses, wide neckties, hirsute faces with flared trousers, altogether enough to put off any time traveller.

The original plan was to air it on television after the theatrical release of the big budget ‘Meteor’ (1979) to ride its publicity coat tails. (Its IMDb score is 4.9.) But with the big budget went big egos and that production languished and in fact ‘A Fire in the Sky’ went to air first. Best laid plans and all that.

IMDb metadata: run time 1 hour and 50 minutes rated at 6.6/10 from 5206 raters.

A tale of survival on the Red Planet told in a semi-documentary fashion.

Crusoe civeer.jpg

Mars Gravity Probe 1 from the United States Air Force orbits Mars gathering data for subsequent surface missions: lights blink, levers click, wheels turn. The MGP1 has a crew of two and half. Half? There is Batman, Survivor, and … Monkey, part mascot and part scientific subject, but mostly comic relief. Ah huh.

Round and round they go in a low Mars orbit, until the script writer’s old friend, a meteor arrives to spoil the ride. They have to put the pedal to the metal to get out of the way. The budget cutters made sure the fuel was adequate with no reserve, so the MGP1 is now out of gas in a decaying orbit. Time to leave. They eject. Nice effects.

Batman cacks it on impact, but the monkey survives. Survivor also survives and the next forty-five minutes documents his determined efforts to find shelter, air, and water, which he does with the help of Scouting manual and the monkey. He records it all on his enormous iPhone for Watney in ‘The Martian’ (2015), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Mars is colourful and has all the survival-conveniences an astronaut could want. It reminded the fraternity brothers a lot of Arizona. It is also empty. Survivor hallucinates now and again. But he puts his training to good use. Blah, blah, blah.

Then company comes. Remember crossed telephone lines in rainy weather courtesy of Telecom? This movie gets crossed with ‘War of the Worlds’ (1953) and its Martian spaceships appear zipping and zapping. Well, it is their planet, after all.

Miner zaps.jpg

Someone should have yelled ‘Cut!’ and sent them to the right studio. But no, they are part of this story, too, working overtime.

It all seemed random to me, but Survivor concludes they are ‘interplanetary spaceships’ (psst, we know better, they are Martians) mining ores from Mars using slave labour with wardrobe by Pharaoh.

Survivor lies low but an escaped slave tumbles into his arms. They flee and in time bond, helping and saving each other from the perils of the pursuit of the mining zipper zappers, stumbling around the set, and enduring the monkey’s scene stealing. Survivor is left no choice by the screenplay and he calls this man Friday.

The miners search for Friday with more zipping and zapping repeated ad nauseam. The two of them make it to the polar ice cap for some reason. Maybe the miners are afraid of the cold. Shirtless Survivor finds it cold. Geez. The clock ticks. How will it end? ‘Soon!’ cried the fraternity brothers. A rescue mission from Houston arrives to collect them. What will become of Gypo? Where are the zipper zappers? How will the rescuers land and take off? These are some of the known unknowns to ask Donald Rumsfeld about the next time I see him on a crosswalk in DC.

Daniel DeFoe’s novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (1719) had themes of colonialism, racism, humanism, equality, fraternity, and more. Living with the noble savage Friday, DeFoe’s Crusoe comes to re-evaluate the norms and conventions of his society, and in so doing he himself changed. All of these themes are washed out of this rendering, leaving a documentary of Hollywood survival. Survivor spends a lot of time shirtless, sunbathing on Mars, Friday looks like he left a pyramid building site, and those cut-outs from ‘War of the Worlds’ do not fit.

Sunbathing.jpg Taking the air on Mars.

Survivor was Paul Mantee, an anonymous toiler in Telly-wood, cast precisely because he was unknown, and he stayed that way. This was his only starring role, and without a woman in sight, but, well, the monkey is called Mona. (Sniggering was heard from the fraternity brothers.) A cast of three and half is it. Batman has only two scenes, but the second, the dream sequences is very well done, with the blank face and dead eyes he anticipated his Batman.

In short, it lacks just about everything a feature film of the 1960s had to have, yet it runs for nearly two hours when the norm was 90 minutes for everything but a blockbuster with a giant cast of well known stars. I saw it on release, I seem to remember, but it left no impression. (Maybe it was date night.) Nor does it now.

IMDb metadata: 1 Hour and 47 minutes. 8.1/10 @ 312,875 Opinionators

How could such a tired, clichėd, and disjointed movie be made of this event? That it ranks highly as shown above only indicates the audience. I put off watching it knowing I would find the historical inaccuracies a pain. Right again.

Dumkirk cover.jpg

Why do the inaccuracies matter anyway? Isn’t it just a movie? Afraid not.

I have heard far too many people refer to movies for historical facts. None of the half a dozen reviews I read after watching it made any reference to historical reality. Yet many viewers, most viewers will take it just that way.

In short, both John Mills in ‘Dunkirk’ (1958) and Jean Paul Belmondo in ‘Week-end à Zuydcoote’ (1964) had better material and played it better.

What’s to like? It makes a short list.

It just starts. Bang. No information card. No voiceover. That makes it a fast and clean start. Good, let the ride begin.

The cinematography steals the show, especially in aerial scenes, and I am sucker for that. The best I have seen since ‘The Dark Blue World’ (2001) and before that ‘Piece of Cake’ (1988).

Some of the acting is up to the ‘Mrs Miniver’ (1942) standard, notably on the small boat, but most isn’t.

There is a high blood pressure soundtrack which too often competes with the screen. A mute button was needed for that. If the visceral reality is the point, then let’s hear that as the men did.

I also like that it is feature length and not an epic of endurance for the viewer!

What’s not to like is a longer list.

Overall we get nothing about the human side of it, the decision-making, Belgian, English, French, or German. Without that, it becomes a disaster movie where an uncontrollable force of nature erupts and a mix of individuals try to survive. It could have been played without a word of dialogue and that might have improved it.

This impression grows because we never see a German until a few shadows in the last scene. The unseen enemy becomes a malevolent storm, not other fallible human beings.

Likewise most of the characters are nameless ciphers. Though, curiously, some of the nameless are named in the credits. Confusing or confused? Pick one!

By default the movie also makes the evacuation seem disorganised but in fact the staff work to organise and plan was extensive and that is largely why it was as successful as it was. I have mentioned this is another post on this blog. The essential point is that it was ten, that is, 10 x, more successful than early estimates, most importantly including those made by the Germans.

Here are a few IS, that is, Irritating Specifics.

At the beginning, the five Brits amble down the street; they are too clean. They dawdle. There is no urgency. After at least five weeks in the field they are clean. Ah huh. They might have 2018 fashionably long hair after weeks in the field but they would also be unshaven and dirty with torn and soiled uniforms. This impression is not mitigated by a few close ups of dirty hands. Nor would they amble at this juncture. They dawdle for no other reason than to have the idyl broken by gun fire. Very staged and it is obvious.

The town of Dunkirk is shown tidy in the film when in fact it was rubble by the time the BEF got there. 'BEF?' That is, the British Expeditionary Force, as it was called.

Dunkirk city 1.jpg The reality.

Dunkirk was held to anchor the flank and it was devastated, a ruin, not a ghost town as presented here. This is an important point because the French did fight hard in the North, particularly around nearby Lille which was also flattened. The defence of Lille delayed the German advance in the North making the evacuation possible.

The mountain of sandbags is impressive and pointless. Who had the time to build it? And why bother? Manned by only three poilus, who are not even going to slow up a German patrol. Nor is it likely they would know about the evacuation. Master plans from London are seldom passed onto to isolated French riflemen like the uncredited Daniel Auteil. Moreover, more than 100,000 French were evacuated, some in French ships usually omitted from English telling of this story, though some of the ships we see in this film with British flags are French. Confusing, non?

Branagh does a lot of posing and takes off his hat for no other reason than the look. Who he is and what he is doing, apart from posing, is left to guesswork.

Why does the loaded hospital ship stay on the pier long after it is declared full? By the way it clearly was not full.

SHup not full.jpg This ship is full, not.

Ship full.jpg This ship is full.

Indeed the crowd in this film was often sparse. Except for a few scenes there were not many extras. The whole cast might has well have been CGIs given how little humanity is allowed to them.

While on matters nautical the destroyers do not seem to have anti-aircraft Bofors guns but the I-class ships did and they were the ones there.

The men who take refuge on the beached Dutch trawler make a sitting target for a Stuka bomb attack. Surely they would have known that. Nor do they take the simple precaution of posting a sentry. Why someone getting off would plug the holes in the hull is anyone’s guess. Yes, I know stress does bend the mind, but it does not enlist sympathy.

The choreographed cheering looks just like that. The news does not travel down the line but erupts all at once, clearly on cue. Moreover, most men on the beach were hiding in the dunes out of sight to avoid being targets for air attack until ships were available so they would not have seen much.

Nor did Branah have to wait for the French as the Irishman says in closing, because after the first day Churchill, unseen in this telling, ordered first come first served and about 100,000 French and Belgians were lifted to continue the war.

The aerial choreography was grand but full of inaccuracies. The Messerschmidts did not have yellow nose cones to make them easy to identify. The Spitefire carried ammunition for one 20-second burst, or divisions thereof. To hit anything they had to close to one hundred yards or less so that the target filled the target ring. This Spitefire has nearly forty minutes of ammunition. Moreover, after all the early fuss about fuel, the last one has a bottomless tank. Nor does the Spitefire have the endless glide path shown. With the engine, weapons, and pilot in the front, it was front heavy.

Yes, the Tommies on the beach did decry the lack of air cover but surely they would not have said ‘airforce,’ but RAF. Was it a marketing decision to script it as ‘air force’ in case some viewers did not know what RAF is? The RAF did want to preserve assets for the next round until Churchill overrode it. The limitation was distance and also guessing when the Luftwaffe would be there to attack.

The Luftwaffe did not have to go out in the Channel to engage the RAF. Why do so? The RAF attacks were limited by range and were as unpredicable as the German ones, while the beaches and waters were full of big targets.

Unlikely Heinkels were much used there but applied elsewhere to the main German drive, contrary to the myth, was miles away toward Paris with many stationery targets like railway yards, bridges, etc. For Heinkels to hit a moving ship with a bomb is a script writer's dream.

The Channel is too shallow for U Boats and Dunkirk was a resort town because of the shallow waters which kept the destroyers out to sea but made loading small boats easy. Shallow water made submarines easy to spot from the air.

Of course, a Heinkel might have been there, ditto a U Boat. The point is the film is pastiche of incidents with no coherent story line. Looks like someone did a lot of reading and picked out of context a diversity of incidents for their cinematographic potential and then strung them together, not to convey what happened but to hop from one tableau to another and back. The result is a series of incoherent images without rhyme or reason. There is neither plot nor character. And as noted a couple of times above, the direction is stiff.

Yet no doubt some viewers will conclude that they know the history now.

It is heartening to see that some user reviews on IMDB are negative, despite the average rating. Unlike the professional critics who carefully avoid ruffling any feathers. I pine for a Pauline Kael destruction of this nonsense.

IMDb metadata is 28 minutes of run time @ 8.2 from 23,848 raters.

Jette cover.jpg

A Sy Fy short that often appears on lists of great movies, and I can see why. It is arresting and mysterious.

It is after an atomic World War III and some think they have won but most died. Survivors have dug into the Earth.

Paris is a burned cinder but deep down in the Châtelet metro station in the first arrondisemen where six lines pass are survivors. A lot of them. They have prisoners on whom they perform experiments.

One prisoner is selected and he prepares himself to meet a terrible fate with a mad and cruel scientist only to find a placid doctor who explains that they are trying to time travel either to the past to avert the catastrophe or to the future to get help. Some who have tried to travel through time have been driven nuts, others just died, not being strong enough for the emotional wrench and the mental effort.

The major prop is an eye mask with some wires inserted in it and a hypodermic. The rest is imagination!

The Man without a name submits and dreams or travels. No one is sure which it is. He, too, is unsure. The doctor is unsure. The viewer is unsure. the fraternity brothers dozed.

In the course of his backward travels he meets a woman to whom he tells his story and she listens, calm, attentive, interested. He keeps going back to her, though we learn nothing about her.

He also makes one forward trip and meets in a cloud of mist four individuals from the future with two franc coins stuck to their foreheads. They reject him but later relent and offer him personal sanctuary but they cannot help the others.

However by then he prefers the past with She who does not have a name.

In a dreamy sequence he goes to her at Orly aeroport on the observation deck, the pier, la jetėe of the title, and he is murdered by someone from the Châtelet metro station who is there with the other prop, the scary goggles optometrist use to calibrate lenses corrections.

Goggles.jpg

He realises, as he dies, that he has seen this death, his own death, before. Huh. All very post-modern.

He dies. No one can escape fate is the moral, it seems.

There is an intermittent voiceover narrative that is laconic and cryptic. And all the film is still photographs, many striking ones of Paris in the spring and the gothic underground refuge evoking German expressionism. But all is done with a light hand.

At times in the silence, and there is a lot of that, there is a nearly inaudible whispering in German. Don’t know what to make of that. An echo from the past.

Mostly the palette is dark in that underground redoubt with many shadows in the black and white photography.

I have seen at least one repetition of that scene on la jetėe at Orly in a krimi with Alain Delon or Lino Ventura. Can’t pin it down. Orly was shiny, new, modern, and futuristic in 1962. Later it became shopworn and dilapitated, as when I made a pilgrim to it in 1980.

Marker was a photographer among other things and borrowed a video camera for one very short scene of a few minutes. Like others at the time nuclear war seemed inevitable to him.

He did other conventional documentary films, and what he called photoessays.

While he was a traveller to make the documentaries and friends with cinemaistas like Alain Renais, he shunned all publicity. No interviews.

Chris Marker.jpg Chris Marker

Few photographs of himself. No official explanations of his work. Lived to 92.

IMDb metadata: 2 hours and 24 minutes of life @ 8/10 from 597,255 zits

Martian DVD.jpg

The most boring job at NASA in 2055? Monitoring the visual feeds from its Mars satellites. But someone does it and detects activity on Mars!

Backup a little for the set up. Ares I is NASA’s first crewed mission to land on Mars with four men and two women. They are at work on the Red Planet collecting samples. The combination of camera filters and sands with the desert in Jordan is well done in creating a Mars.

As they work, on cue a large and powerful sandstorm strikes before they can all get inside the ship. In the ensuing maelstrom, one of the crew, Watney, is struck by a flying rock and carried away into the murky darkness. Meanwhile, the rocket is so buffeted that it is in danger of tilting too far to the looney right for takeoff. It’s a do-or-die situation.

Commander, as she is called, pushed the button for blastoff, after suitable lip chewing. It is clear they could never find him in the storm and that the computer predictions of a catastrophic tilt are accurate. Willpower does not overcome the laws of physics, as it too often does in Hollywoodlandia. It is five against one to complete the mission.

Off they go on the six month return flight to Earth. What can go wrong?

Watney did not die. Through a combination of circumstances he survived the impact of the rock and the storm but he is now ‘Marooned’ (1969) on Maris. (Remember that one?)

Mars Jordan.jpg Red Mars

He becomes a ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ (1964), remember that one, by first cleaning up his wounds and then setting about surviving with all the gear Ares I left behind.

Watney determines he will do science to survive. He uses his knowledge and sets about learning more as he goes. First air and water, then food. Then energy for the rovers and the Rube Goldberg mechanisms he engineers to meet his needs. It is not easy. Things go wrong. Mistakes are made, but he persists. Science is the way. Right down to burning a wooden cross left behind by a crewmate to make a fire. Banned in Alabama and Iran for that.

Homework.jpg He survives by homework, not prayer.

The storm destroyed communication so he cannot call home. Ares continues toward Earth. Watney does not know and does not ever seem to think the Mars satellites might spot him or his traces. He could have spelled SOS with the solar panels and saved us all a lot of time. On time see below. But his traces are spotted.

They watch his tracks as he manoeuvres solar panels and batteries. A lot of this. Too much.

NASA has thrown a lot of taxpayers money at Mars and left machines there from previous unmanned landings. Watney scavenges parts and material from the junk yard, including some communication devices.

Back at the ranch in Houston, Rubber Chin has to decide whether to tell the world Watney is alive and whether to tell the crew of Ares, some of whom are still chewing their lips. The decisions are complicated: nice scenes of hysterical journalists looking for a kill in a press conferences, and the political reactions related to funding some kind of rescue mission which may arrive too late anyway.

The two most interesting parts of that are the deux ex machina involvement of the Chinese space program in the planning and Richard Sharpe’s mutiny in leaking a hairbrained plan to the crew of Ares. By the rules of Hollywood, the hairbrained plan is the path of redemption which they must take.

Even more hairbrained schemes come into play to recover Watney. Glad wrap to the rescue. In ‘The Doomesday Machine’ (reviewed on this blog) it was aluminium foil.

Loved the emphasis on science and on teamwork and brainwork pace ‘Apollo 13’ (1995) to find solutions to one problem at a time. There are no histrionics. No he-man stuff and no resort to prayer to solve problems. Banned in another seven states and Syria.

Watney is well realised but not so Rubber Chin who has neither depth nor gravitas. Maybe I say that because in his efforts to look serious he reminds all too much of Al Gore whom I could never take seriously.

It is an ensemble piece and apart from these two, the screen time is distributed among the members of the group, many of whom are super nerds, as indicated by their ragged attire and evident poor personal hygiene. Keep those tired tropes coming!

Space flight, take off, link ups are marvellously presented, the gear has verisimilitude. No one smokes on Mars, unlike the 1950s visits to Mars by B-movie landers.

Again in contrast to that era, no big deal is made out of that the fact hat there are women on the crew or that the Commander is a woman. Even in the 1980s this was a theme screen writers had to use as a substitute for creativity.

Also mercifully absent were any magnified spiders much to the disappointment of the fraternity brothers.

R Scott.jpg Director Ridley Scott is the master of the medium.

It is an epic. — for the audience— to endure at two and half hours, and it could certainly have been cut to feature length. We don’t need to see everything when much of it is repeated in the video logs Watney makes and the ever present mini cams. Much of the footage seems to be there because we have it, not because the story needs it for the audience.

IMDb metadata: 1 Hour and 32 minutes. 7.8/10 from 68,694 discerning viewers.

‘Gort! Klaatu barada nikto.’ Repeat after me...... (and we pimpled youth did in case we ever ran into a Gort. We were ready!)

Earth still title.jpg

This was THE 1950s Sy Fy movie made with an A movie budget. Yet there was no creature in sight. But a very composed and dignified individual, Klaatu who made the mistake of trying to be rational in D.C. and got drilled for his trouble, twice over.

For the benighted, unenlightened ones, and included in this group all those who have seen the remake, the set up is this. One fine spring day a flying saucer finds a parking place on the Mall.

Saucer mall.jpg

It is a sleek craft and there it is. Rush Limbaugh denies it exists. The Army tries to blow it up. Republicans vote to cut its appropriation. The media goes into a frenzy. Democrats try to mate with it, and the gawkers turn out in force to see blood. The circus is always in town in D.C. Scientists write papers on it to fatten the cvs. (Not the CVS drug stores.) Two days of tension follow until the alien emerges to proclaim peaceful intentions.

Klaatu speaks.jpg

Obviously a Commie plot, so he is shot. Bang, problem solved, proclaims Rush.

Gort turns on his evil eye and atomises quite a few Red Shirts but then lapses inactive during an IOS update while Klaatu is carted off to a hospital.

Gort.jpg

When the alien comes around he is polite, correct, and rational. As such, no D.C. insider can understand him. ‘No, world leaders cannot be assembled to hear his message!’ Is the reply. ‘You are in our hands now,’ is the implication.

As if.

Klaatu commits an interstellar misdemeanour by stealing some perfectly fitting clothes and leaves the hospital. As usual the guards in this movie are always half-wits, relatives of the fraternity brothers.

Klaatu rents a room at Patrica Neal’s boarding house where he befriends her son Bob who becomes, unconsciously, his guide to the ways of humans. Cf. Carradine learning chess in ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1959). Seeing this refined, kindly stranger in the house, irritates Hugh Marlowe, Pat’s squeeze, she being a war widow. Hugh goes all passive-aggressive.

After a moving visit to the Lincoln Memorial, where Klaatu is impressed by the words of Abraham, Klaatu with Bob go to see Sam Einstein whom Klaatu helps with his arithmetic, and then reveals himself. He then arranges via Gort a selective but worldwide power blackout for thirty minutes starting at twelve noon Eastern Standard Time, just when he and Pat are alone in an elevator. He spills the beans to her, too. Now that he has started blurting it seems he cannot stop. The blackout was general but not complete in that aircraft in flight, hospitals, machinery supporting life continued to operate. We can hope it cut Rush off in mid diatribe.

Klaatu calls himself Carpenter. Get it? Smooth sailing to date, but Klaatu came out without his Amex card and he has to borrow bus fare from Bob in return for a pocketful of diamonds! Next thing you know, Hugh has sicced the army, police, navy, Rush Limbaugh, Girl Scouts, infielders, and the carrion of the media onto him. By the way, how did he pay the first weeks rent on the room in advance if he is busted?

Lock Martin wrapped in tin foil stands around, that is, Gort to the gormless.

The staging is simple and elegant almost documentary. Klaatu uses the flashlight on his iPhone one night to communicate with Gort. The interior of the ship is spare and yet intricate to the eye. Movement sensors turn light on and off, it seems. Mostly Klaatu listens and talks very politely, and correctly. With such good grammar and syntax, he must be an alien!

After Hugh has blown Klaatu’s cover, Klaatu and Pat scat, and in the ensuing chase the Rush posse kills Klaatu. Dead. So much for an alien taking a parking place on the Mall! That is a capital offence in the Capitol!

With his dying breath Klaatu sends Pat to Gort with that message. With the grit born of Kentucky coal country she does so, whereupon, as required by the film’s publicity department, Gort sweeps her up into his arms and carries her off to the spaceship, a helpless doll being carried by a creature was necessary for the advertising to communicate with the moronic members of the audience. That always works for the fraternity brothers. Gort then departs and recovers Klaatu’s body from the morgue by dissolving a wall and returns with it to the spaceship. There were only two guards, the third stooge, being absent, and Gort dissolved them, too.

We all know that left to her own devices Pat would not have gone all helpless and hurled herself onto a pile of folding chairs.

Neal.jpg Neal's face upon meeting the Twit in Chief.

That was the doing of the writer and director. On her own she would gulped and got on with it without the histrionics.

Earlier Gort had incapacitated guards while two of them lounged with their backs to him, never alert, but now that Klaatu is dead, Gort is more extreme without Klaatu’s restraining hand, one infers.

While a stunned Pat watches, Gort lays Klaatu into an MRI which klatters and whistles him back to life. Resurrected. Get it.

Now robed in his shiny spaceman’s suit, Klaatu emerges from the ship with Pat, who scurries away, and Gort the Impacable. Note, the fraternity brothers cannot take a spaceman seriously unless in shiny pants. Klaatu’s turns to the assembled scientists Sam had gathered and some itchy fingered army types. Klaatu’s Address is this.

Blow yourselves up, if you wish. But the combination of rockets and atomic bombs makes Earth a threat to other planets. The League of Other Planets, LoOP, employs many Gorts to prevent such intrusions. Gort is merciless and all powerful. Cross him and he destroys the planet. Get it? No excuses. No extension. No sorry. No mercy.

Even pithier than Lincoln.

Off he goes: whooshka!

That message ignited ranks of successor films to explain why advanced aliens would bother with Terra.

Michael Rennie was cast precisely because he was unknown to Yankee audiences, so he would not trigger any residual expectations in viewers. He is austere and yet warm with the boy and so much more mysterious than the excitable and predictable Hugh. Though Hugh earned his Space Cadet stars in ‘The Earth versus the Flying Saucers’ (1956). Pat is a one-woman congregation who learns the lessons of peace and forebearance, or else, from the carpenter’s messenger, Get it?

Billy Gray is crucial to the presentation of character, but his part is not kid stuff. The is no ‘Tobor the Great’ with childish antics.

While the Army is portrayed as alert, organised, determined, and prepared, except for the sentries at the saucer who were careless, unbelievably stupid, and itchy fingered. The guards around the saucer are inattenive, how else could a giant in tin foil sneak up on them. The first response of the Army is to shoot. When the guards are alert it is to shoot. Slack in that only two grunts are left on guard, no more, and no officer to make decisions or with some phone numbers to duck responsibility.

Press hysteria in newspaper, radio, news reels, and television is there but in a minor key.

While Klaatu, as with every other alien visitor, wants to talk to the whole world, the Yankees will not hear of it. The conclave of scientists Sam gathers is international by the stereotypes of dress and appearance.

Rob Wise.jpg Robert Wise

The director, Robert Wise made splendid films in many genres. His next Sy Fy was two decades later, ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (1971) and the first ‘Star Trek’ movie in 1979.

Pat reprised some of her role in a less dramatic account in ‘Stranger from Venus,’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog. To be enlightened find it.

The producer and director wanted to make a film about peace and cooperation during the Korean War and the evils of HUAC, a pre-Twit curse. To that end they rejected Spencer Tracy for the lead, thinking he would conjure up fatherly figures from his many other roles. They hired a brilliant musician for the score who cemented the theremin into Sy Fy. They risked offending Alabama with the temporary resurrection of Klaatu but put in a meaningless and distracting reference to ‘the almighty spirit’ to comfort the Alabamans who fear, rightly, that no one loves them. The producer insisted on employing the blacklisted Sam Einstein and not just for his electric hair. It would seven years before another producer would dare to employ him, such was the baleful influence of the junior Senator from Wisconsin whose name never crosses my keyboard. It took the decision and influence of the studio head, Daryl Zanuck to make all of the happen, and the risks for him were great but he ploughed ahead.

A second unit went to D.C. and filmed the Washington scenes, the actors worked in Hollywood and the editor brought them altogether in a seamless whole.

While it was stimulated by a Sy Fy story, the screenplay departs from and improves it immeasurably. It offers a more complex story with a larger cast of characters and a more fleshed out Klaatu. In this case the screenplay is superior to the story from which it is derived.

While channel surfing on a trip this popped up,and so I watched. Vaguely I had been putting it off until later, partly because it is not on You Tube and partly because I remember it very well,from previous viewings.

Disclosure statement. The reviewer has not seen ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (2006) and has no wish to do so, because it will give priority to CGI over the simple story and will replace the detached calm of the original with a fevered attempt at action. So I assume. No doubt the time will come when curiosity will take me to it, but especially not immediately after seeing the original for fear of spoiling it with an unpleasant after taste.

A novel that exudes the grim time and place of the divided and contested ruin of 1948 Berlin.

Ashes.jpg

‘La Guerre est finie,’ as they say. Gregor Reinhardt is no longer a Wehrmacht investigator, but rather a police officer amid the divided rubble of Berlin, 1948. The police service is awash with returned German communist exiles inserted by the Soviets during the months immediately after Der Untergang before the Western Allies made it to Berlin. Like their Nazi predecessors, the Reds suppose crime is a product of the attributes of individuals. Whereas for Nazis it was race, for the Communists it is class. In neither case is investigation or evidence necessary. Nazi justice was to find the nearest üntermensch, beat them to death and the crime is solved. Communist justice is to find the nearest bourgeoisie and do likewise. Case closed.

In this Red Sea are some honest officers but they survive by keeping their heads down, and of course the opportunists who are always with us and they follow the Red wind as long as it blows.

Gregor is assigned to homicide which is housed in the American sector and that gives him a little leverage, thanks to a deftly inserted backstory. My usual irritation at backstories is because they do not develop either plot or character, but in this instance the backstory develops plot nicely.

When the murders occur, Gregor’s superiors obstruct the investigation as required by the krimi playbook. But, strangely the Soviets seem to want an investigation as Gregor learns through a back channel, but they do not wish to broadcast that. Strangely, the Americans are reluctant but have no wish to advertise this fact.

There are some well realised scenes when a Soviet officer talks to Gregor who also debates conditions with the American angel who got him out of a POW camp and into the Berlin police. Within each monolith are many fissures.

The victims killed in the same manner pile up and the link among them seems to have been service in a special command of the Luftwaffe. Thin ice ahead! Gregor has to tread lightly.

He does much back and forth through the rubble that is Berlin, and I followed some of it on an old online map. He meets disconsolate war widows, bitter Luftwaffe veterans, cynical street orphans, callous local police officers, an enthusiastic archivist from Paris, deals with the indomitable Frau Dommes in his office, marvels at the resilience of Frau Meissiner, his landlady, and many other characters, like the thug Fischer.

Berlin_en_1947_(6328971517).jpg Berlin, 1947

That the trail was going to lead to some Nazi evil was a foregone conclusion. But that was moderated by the plot complication mentioned below, though it diluted the focus on the evil.

I particularly liked the time Gregor spent in the archives, using that mountain of paper to ruminate on the war and the place of individuals in it.

A couple of quibbles, first Nemesis is just too omniscient. He is a near übermensch. Moreover, Nemesis’s amalgamation of two groups of victims made no sense, but it was a means to complicate the plot.

Finally, could a unit of maximum Aryan Brandenburgeren really pass themselves off as Arabs? Really! I would have liked some coda with the unseen Lena. This is the second in the series I have read.

LMcallin.jpg Luke McCallin


This novel is a tribute to Universal Studio’s ‘The Mummy’ (1932) which spawned continual imitations, successors, parodies, and mutations.  There have been so many successors that they have nearly obscured the fount. The original, by the by, is moody, understated, and terse, whereas most of the spawn are bland, bloated, and blurred.  

Mummy cover.jpg

It starts with a museum of antiquities in Cambridge (England) among myopic bookworms and nerds, along with some shadowy figures who turn to kidnapping when Google Translate fails, and a dark prince.  In addition, far away there is a newly discovered and untouched tomb in the Egyptian desert.  With these ingredients the ride should be fun! It is a mile a minute once the big gong sounds! 
 
The prize Mummy in the Cambridge Museum breaks out of the glass case that has held its 4000 year old remains. Gulp! He staggers around with an ancient hangover. Woe to anyone who gets in his way.  Careful, all ye who look upon Mummy!

Soon the Brotherhood of Wannabe Villains appears to assist Mummy, while the Librarians rally to oppose them. Caught between are assorted Gypo nerds. There is a demonic cat. Feline situation normal.  

The cast assembles in the desert where they find the requisite dusty diggers under the direction of Maggie, a fiery site manager, who scares the Mummy.  In a straight-up no-holds-barred fight Maggie against the Mummy, the fraternity brothers bet on the Mags, but then changing the odds, the evil queen-pharaoh is reanimated for the showdown in a gore feast. Bad! Good! Turns out, at the moment of truth it was the wrong Mummy! How’s that for a plot twist. It is so hard for evil queens to hire good help for an eternity.  Incantations, EEO, hexes, KPIs, mesmerism, spells, LSAT, GPS, minimum wage; nothing is enough!

There are flash backs to the Lost Dynasty Egypt to explain the shrouded players: the priest, the pharaoh-queen, the rebel, and…[was there a cat?].  These seem to go on a little but it is all relevant at the end.  

The prose is expository, no flourishes, no elevation, no psychological depth, no big words, but well paced.  The characters are differentiated in manner and speech. It reads like a film script to some extent, a comment that would please the author, I expect.  

I came across Robin Bailes’s ‘Dark Corners’ movie reviews on You Tube by accident but once I found them, they became addictive.  The man has a razor tongue and a mastery of the form with few equals. His five-minute reviews are informative, amusing, insightful, and devastating.  Other reviewers on You Tube are, by comparison, self-indulgent, verbose, unfocused, and boring. Better yet, I lodged a suggestion for a film to review and he replied, and later screened the review acknowledging my suggestion. That feedback loop worked, a rarity that.

Bailes.jpg

I signed on as a You Tube follower, became a regular hit at his web site, donated to his cause at Paetreon, and now bought this, his first novel, does all of this make me a Bailesee?  

IMDB metadata: 3 hours in six thirty-minute episodes, scored at 8.2 by 640 scorers. The plus sign (+) indicates it was shown in December 1958 and January 1959 on successive Friday nights.

Q and Pit title card.jpg

Workers report finding human remains on a building site and a team of archeologists begin excavating the bones. Felix Leiter is a palaeontologist who leads the team and he needs publicity to delay the construction so that the remains can be carefully and fully removed in his own sweet time.

Meanwhile, Professor Quatermass is resisting attempts by the army to take over his missile experiments, but he is losing the ever so polite battle at the committee table.

Leiter calls a press conference and in the whirl runs into his old friend Prof Q. They compare troubles over brandy. The skulls are humanoid but not human. Are they the missing link, or that of the Twit in Chief?

Then the diggers come upon object, an object big enough and with the evident shape of a bomb, perhaps an unexploded bomb left over from the Little Blitz of V Rockets in1944. Down tools! In comes the UXB squad to do some more careful digging. Leiter fumes at being barred from his dig while the developer denounces the whole thing as a costly delay. By the end of the second episode anyone but a fool could see it is not a bomb, but Colonel Cardboard who has taken charge continues to insist, per the script, that it is German bomb. Unable to get his buddy James Bond, Leiter has called in Prof Q for moral support and together they do….research. This is not Indiana Jones country. This is thinking! Not punching.

They carbon date the remains and objects they find and they go to the library and archives to research the vicinity, Hob’s Lane. What do they find?

That the bones and skulls, though sort of humanoid, are five million years old. That makes them an odd fit for the chain of evolution as it was understood at the time outside Alabama, and for what it is worth, unlikely to be German. Not a single swastika was found. Moreover, they find that Hob’s Lane has a time-honoured reputation as a spooky place, with ghost stories going back to the Fourteenth Century and as recent as 1927 when the house adjacent to the building site was abandoned as unliveable because of…..'things.' That got the attention of the fraternity brothers. ‘Things!’ They like things.

Meanwhile the Colonel has unearthed an object about the size and shape of a flying miniature submarine. There is much ill will between Colonel and Prof Q about what it is. They discover that it is not metal, as they know it. Nothing can penetrate it. Not an acetylene torch, not a diamond drill, not a split infinitive, not even the Twit in Chief’s ego. Colonel Cardboard’s solution is the soldier’s old friend, TNT. Prof Q goes all quivery and talks him out of it.

Finally, they find an open door on the other side of the gradually unearthed object and enter an empty vessel. The interior looks like a culvert, but the forward bulkhead is sealed off. Again they try to penetrate it with their penetrators. Then one after another a soldier and a safe cracker go spare while belabouring the bulkhead. Others will follow. Colonel is at a loss but cannot admit it. He puts it all down to a diet lacking moral fibre. Prof Q is turning his thoughts skyward. Leiter is counting his Loonies.

Q ship.jpg The unexploded bomb of Colonel Cardboard's dreams.

The bulkhead has pentagrams on it. Whoa! Is it time for the occult? Then, seemingly of its own accord, the bulkhead opens. Inside they find……gargoyles!

The ship was clearly divided into two parts, a large compartment for passengers — those humanoids — and the sealed bulkhead wherein were found three deceased gargoyles on loan from Quasimodo. Huh? Moreover after careful examination the craft itself has no mechanisms. One officer, not Colonel Cardboard, speculates that the ship itself must be a mechanism of some kind. What a brew!

Quatermass does what scientists do best, speculate. He fumbles slowly to this conclusion. The gargoyles came from Mars five million years ago before life was extinguished on Mars. What were they doing? They were scooping up some of our simian ancestors, taking them to Mars where the Martians altered the simians by some means (surgical or biological), and then returned them to Earth. This find was but one of many such missions to alter the population of Earth.The other missions were successful but this one was not. Why they went to this trouble is not clear. This Martian intervention explains the missing link in human evolution. God does indeed work in mysterious ways because Martian insects made us human beings. Does that writer have a sense of humour or what?

This program of genetic engineering by the gargoyles was observed through the millennia five million years ago, and they were remembered in images of devils, satan, and other creatures that were the reality on which the gargoyles were modelled. First superstition and then religion arose against the reality of Martian insects.

Q and Martian.jpg Prof with his favourite Martian.

Meanwhile, Colonel Cardboard continues to yell about a German trick. Here the scriptwriter lets us down. Cardboard is so superficial it is impossible to take him seriously. But then the media begins to do what it does best, spread misinformation, panic, and hysteria. To hose it down, the Minister prefers the Colonel’s interpretation, and he makes sure he does not see for himself to keep his ability to deny reality in tact. That seems all to realistic.

Things go from stupid to disastrous when the minister decides, Colonel Cardboard being right, to hold a press conference on site and lay the whole story to rest as hoax. The energy of the crowd and the generators to power cameras, microphones, egos feeds the ship, which itself is some residual spectre, and things go flying.

Turns our Prof Q was right all along. It ends with his subsequent testimony laying out the story we have just seen.

It could not be made today. Bugs made humans. No God necessary.

There is much exposition across the episodes and each begins with a recapitulation of the story so far. It was re-made as ‘Five Million Years to Earth’ (1967). At feature length of 90 minutes this version compressed much with a faster pace.

It came from the fertile keyboard of Nigel Kneale, who has many noteworthy credits to his name, including the Quatermass franchise, ‘The Stone Tapes,’ and ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics.’


 

IMDB 1 Hour and 22 minutes @ 6.8/10 from 4295

On a mild autumn evening a young couple doing anatomical research in the long grass are disturbed by a rocket screaming overhead. It rattles the crockery and sets off the dog at a nearby farm. The eternal British Army Scotsman Gordon Jackson takes up arms to deal with the disturbance, but well none of his previous cinematic experiences has prepared him for rockets and it is his last scene above stairs. No, he doesn’t get zapped but calls in Professor Quatermass. Gordon went on to his next gig.

QXperiment.jpg

The QX was to send a three-man rocket into orbit and return it to Earth. While his rocket kit was home made, he has Lionel Jeffries from the Ministry ineffectually dogging his steps as he orders about everyone around with contradictory demands. Prof Q certainly likes being the boss!

After much dallying they pop the door and find one spaceman much the worse for wear. Where are the other two? Mysterious, indeed. Speculations follow.

Meanwhile, the Survivor, who gives a devastating performance, is rushed to a hospital for returned spacemen and guarded by a dolt. The spaceman's wife decides a private hospital would be better but Prof Q wants to study the Survivor by bellowing at the nurses. Wife decides to spirit him away. This does not go well.

Now he is on the loose, wandering and wondering around. Some very nice scenes of his encounters. There is an inner struggle and the man is losing to the protoplasm. Oops, that is a spoiler!

As his humanity recedes, the protoplasm’s appetite increases. There goes the zoo. Gulp. At this point my imagination turned D.C. How long are zoo animals there safe from the GOP protoplasm?

The rest is a police procedural to track him, which has become an it, down. They do so in Westminster Cathdral. Well a mock up of it since they film company was denied access to the real thing. There they turn to the mad scientist’s old friend, electricity, to fry it. Success! Fried protoplasm is on the menu.

The intrusion into Westminister is cleverly done to juxtapose a bland high arts program on the building with this thriller. The former represents most BBC television at the time, fussy, erudite, recondite, arcane, dusty, in contrast to the whiz bang of Quatermass and his happy band of alien hunters.

Everyone is exhausted! Aghast! Relieved! Many sighs are heard. Wife is not consulted about any of this. Meanwhile, Professor Quatermass has learned his lesson and strides off to build a new protoplasm-proof rocket.

It seems this first rocket while in space passed through matter that entered the ship by magic and absorbed the crew. That is where the missing two went. Since this was a new cuisine, Proto proceeded slowly,and was only starting on the third when the ship under remote control from the ground crashed interrupting the anatomy lesson.

This story had aired in the BBC in 1953 in six parts to a great reception. That emboldened the entrepreneurs who would become Hammer Films to hire the author, Nigel Kneale, to re-write the story into a continuous film script, Kneale went on to write more Quatermass, so much it is hard to keep it straight. He also wrote one of the best things I have sever seen on the box, namely ‘The Stone Tapes’ (1972).

This film has the look of a quota quickie because the Yankee action man Brian Donleavy plays Prof Q, and does so with evident relish. Quota quickies are explained elsewhere on this blog. The essence is that they were cranked out to meet local content requirements but often had an American actor for marketing there. Most were as quickly forgotten, but not this one. It triggered more Quatermass films and encouraged Hammer Films down the genre path of Horror.

In 1955 an X-rating meant adults only, and Hammer accepted that readily by incorporating it in the title as was the case with some other films like ‘The Man from Planet X’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog. What children were then denied they can get today on video games.

Deep space travel is routine and many planets have been surveyed. There was nothing of interest about the planet Solaris and so it was ignored for years.  An astronomer then noted that its orbit was odd. Because it circles a double star, one red and the other blue, its orbit should be erratic but it does not confirm to the laws of physics. (The same is often said of the fraternity brothers.)

Solaris cover.jpg

Solaris receives closer inspection.  It is nearly completely covered by an ocean with only a few rocky outcrops like a few tufts of hair on a bald man's head.  Landing parties use those but cannot find anything relevant, but they do see that the ocean’s motion is varied and unexpected.  Again they wonder about the laws of physics. After years of study, the field of Solaristics concludes there is an intelligence in the ocean regulating the orbit by some means. The book is replete with a gentle satire about academic specialisation as an end-in-itself.

More studies fatten cvs and efforts to stimulate communication are made using radio waves, ion streams, pictures of Mother Teresa, neutrino bombardments, pamphlets, and an unauthorised use of intense x-rays and other more destructive means to no avail.  Solaris seems immutable like reasoning with a Republican. 

A research station is placed in orbit to observe with a crew of three on a three-year stint and has been there for years. Then the one day commander of this station a the time requests base to send a psychologist.  Isolation in space does lead to mental problems so shrink Kris Kelvin is dispatched.  The novel opens with his arrival and the preceding information emerges piecemeal.

No one greets him. Odd. No one seems to be about. Odd.  Moreover, there is disorder everywhere. This is no way to run a space station!  He finally finds one of the scientists cowering behind a barricaded door. The other scientist will not leave his lab and speak to Kris. The plot thickens.

The commander who asked for the visit committed suicide that very morning. Odd! What to do?  Kelvin decides to examine the corpse in the best tradition of the police procedural.  En route he hears barefoot steps and passes a large black woman in tribal dress. She blankly ignores him. He is astounded. That is only the beginning. 

Cutting to the case, each member of the crew has a spectral guest. It is someone a memory of whom is found deeply etched in his psyche. This is not necessary someone he wants, but it is the deepest, most ingrained memory. In Kelvin’s case his guest is Harey, a girlfriend who also committed suicide, so that he feels guilt, regret, and remorse.

These guests, the crew concludes, are from the Solaris ocean which is engaged in a Communicate with the Humans Project of its own. The Solaris guests have assumed the identities they have because of the importance of the memories to each scientist. Once embodied the guest seems to know a lot but have no memories of specifics. Harey is sweet and clingy but has no idea how she came to be there, but strangely she knows things about Kelvin that occurred after her own death.  Evidently to some extent the guest can tap the host’s mind. But the commander’s guest has remained after his death! Talk about overstaying a welcome!

Various methods are tried to analyse the guests and to eject them from the station but they keep coming back.  Meanwhile, Kelvin finds it easy to have Harey around.  They engage in many conversations as she becomes aware that she is some kind of aberration, clone, replicant, or dream.  
She is a virtual reality girlfriend. She is self-conscious, intelligent, capable of learning but she can never be more than Kelvin’s memories of her. In that way she is limited, and realising all of this she grows despondent. Of course the fraternity brothers wanted to know whether she is full functional but that is not made explicit.

There are many conversations with one of the scientists about the ocean, god, creation, Amex bills, morality, metaphysics, ontology, bratwurst, on and on.  It is talky.  We never find out about the other guests, nor is there any contact with the ocean.  It is all trip and no arrival.

Is the omnipresent but uncommunicative behemoth of the ocean of Solars a metaphor for.... Soviet Communism viewed from the observation platform of Poland?  Or just a yarn?

It is a meticulously written and original work to read it today, let alone more than fifty years ago.  I sat through the Soviet 1972 film version years ago without it making any impression on me apart from the cruel and unusual  length of three turgid hours.  

socviet solaris.jpg The Grand Jury at Cannes is made of stronger stuff than am I.

But in the age CGI Über Alles I expect it will have to be done again one day. No, I have not seen the Yankee 2002 version either, well, except for some scenes that I came across somewhere.

Solaris USA.jpg

Channel flipping, no doubt.

Before I review the recent film, what follows sets the scene for the historical event, details largely absent from the film.

Staff work is never celebrated and when it works, it passes unnoticed. The Royal Navy began planning for a mass withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force, including directly from beaches, six days before the first lift occurred. Procedures were elaborated, the wording of simple and clear orders hammered out and communicated, beach wardens designated and briefings written for them, auditing began of flat-bottomed small craft on RN vessels, estimates made of rates of embarkation per hour under fire, distribution of medicine and field dressings to RN ships begun, drafting medical personnel and assigning them to ships started, listing civilian craft in southern ports was started, decks were cleared on RN transports, and so and on. Operation Dynamo started long before the first Tommie got wet.

Operating at the limit of the range of fighter aircraft from England, the Royal Air Force flew more than a hundred missions over Dunkirk during the evacuation. However, no one could guess at the timing of German attacks and so The RAF was often absent when the Luftwaffe was present and vice versa.

Nearly all of those evacuated were taken off piers and moles on RN boats and transferred to warships. The sea around Dunkirk beaches, by the way, is shallow, meaning the larger ships had to stand well out, and it was a long transfer from shore to ship. Six or more RN ships were sunk by German air attacks with much loss of life. At the initiative of their captains, some French ships also loaded troops, and likewise some French ships were sunk.

The French defence of a line around Lille resisted for four days against a superior force holding ten German divisions off Dunkirk, and that reduced the pressure on the perimeter. In the end much of Lille was levelled by house-to-house fighting. The town of Dunkirk itself was obliterated by artillery fire. By the way. These battles are seldom mentioned in the British accounts of Dunkirk. By the way, Lille was the hometown of Charles de Gaulle and members of his family died in this struggle.

Nearly all of the little ships that participated in the exercise had Royal Navy personnel on board, though often a very junior cadet, partly this was to honour the legality of impressing the boats into service and indemnifying the owners and civilian crew. The little ships ferried men from the beaches to the ships, and some sailed directly back to England, like that of Mr Miniver. One estimate suggests six thousand men were evacuated directly to England by little, civilian water craft. I have seen that said as ‘only six thousand’ out of the more than 330,000. True that is less than .02 percent. But it is 6,000 individuals welcomed home from the cauldron and as a whole they amount to a light division which later any general later would be glad to have.

While there was planning and preparation, there was also disruption and confusion. Much fell to the initiative to those on the spot. That initiative worked as well as it did in large part because of the planning that set the scene.

French troops had fallen back onto the line Dunkirk - Ostend which was slowly collapsing. There was no plan for them to do anything but fight. Communication between French field commands and headquarters were cut, and communication among the field commands was likewise nearly zero. (Much of the responsibility for the loss of communication must go to French High Command which refused the use of field radios.) Without communication, without orders, responsibility fell down the chain of command ever lower in an army that did not prize initiative.

When the British evacuations began, the French troops in the area had no orders. Some individuals made up their own minds and tried to join in. The best way was to change coats by peeling one off a deadman and trying to look English.

At times French officers on their own initiative tried to board their men in units, and some were successful and others were turned aside. This refusal to board some of the French was reported to Prime Minister Winston Churchill by British army officers, and Churchill immediately ordered that there be no discrimination but rather first come, first boarded. This applied to the French, the Belgians, the Dutch, and even some Poles and Czechs who were there.

There was the germ of a plan, hatched by the French Under-Secretary of State for War in the Reynaud Government to withdraw to the Cotentin peninsula in Western Normandy. Troops evacuated from Dunkirk could be fed into that plan. That Secretary of State was General Charles de Gaulle.

The 100,000 French troops disembarked in England from Dunkirk spent only two or three days there. They were entrained to Bristol, Swansea, and other western ports and shipped to Bordeaux while the war continued.

While French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud wanted to fight on, the generals at the French meeting table were defeated. They convinced the majority of cabinet that further resistance was futile. The cabinet asked the President, a figurehead, to empower Phillipe Pétain to ask what terms the Germans would offer. That was his mandate when named prime minister of a one-man government. Instead he surrendered without any effort at negotiation. Doubtless negotiation would have failed but the effort might have bought a little more time and much more dignity. But that surrender without the effort rendered the legitimacy of his claim to government suspect to many.

While 200,000+ men of the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated at Dunkirk, thousands of others were evacuated about the same time along the north coast, and later more than 100,000 others from the west coast of France. These other evacuations were less heroic and are not well known as a result but each was done in difficult circumstances. The shallow waters off Dunkirk kept the U-Boats away but not so off Bordeaux.

That Dunkirk became a moral victory has a simple but overlooked explanation. With the impulses of a democratic politician, Churchill who had become prime minister on the day Dynamo started, went to Waterloo Station in London to see for himself the battered and wounded troops returning from the south coast. As he walked among them, they cheered him and he they; he put his hat on his walking stick, and his resolve to fight on multiplied. Democracy at work. They were beaten but not defeated and he got the message.

At Dunkirk the decisions were many. When the Germans broke through at Sedan, one prong drove to the sea to cut off the British Expeditionary Force there and the two French armies in Belgium, while another drove at Paris to decapitate the French government. The French resistance was stiff in some places, like Lille, yet in other places it dissolved. The RAF decided to withdraw its aircraft from Frenchg airfields to England, lest their airplanes, fall into the hands of the advancing Germans, to save its assets to fight another day. This RAF withdrawal outraged many Frenchmen who hoped they would fight on, come what may. Here national interests diverged among the Allies. It seemed all or nothing right now for the French, but the English could wait to fight again another day.

Hmm, but the French did have an alternative, one that Reynauld proffered without success. To take the government into exile to Algiers and continue the war from the vast French Empire with the imperial army. There might have been another day for them, too. One of his generals had an airplane fuelled and ready to do just that.

While some French officers thought the British evacuation was a betrayal, that sentiment is largely hindsight. At the time, a withdrawal kept those troops, a third of them French, in the war and not in prison camps which was the fate of those who remained. Most of the defence of the Dunkirk perimeter fell to the French who held longer than the Germans had estimated they could.

That the Germans did not go all out against Dunkirk seems to be the conclusion. Why not? Partly because the strategic goal was Paris, and not Dunkirk. Most of the Luftwaffe efforts were directed to that end. As terrible as the Luftwaffe attacks on Dunkirk beaches and shipping were, most of its efforts went to paving the way for the advance on Paris.

It is also true that the German forces attacking Dunkirk were at the end of an attenuated and nearly exhausted supply line. Petrol, ammunition, medical care, medicines, fresh water, tires and treads, field dressings, food, oil, replacement parts, boot laces, all of these were depleted, as were the men. Machines were breaking down from two weeks of continuous use. The Germans had to slow down to recuperate and re-new energies. The horses that carried the vast bulk of the supplies were knackered.

There are other explanations that seem less credible. One is that Hitler gave the stop order, rather than just agreed to it, to open negotiations with England. Some connect this speculation to Rudolph Hess’s earlier flight. It seems a long bow. The best way to negotiate with England would be from strength by capturing the British Expeditionary Force which had in its ranks the vast bulk of England’s professional army at the time, that part which was not in the impregnable fortress of Singapore.

Another explanation is that Hitler wanted his genius recognised and gave the stop order to show the generals who was in charge. It fits the man, but it does not explain why the stop continued as long as it did. What explains the duration is the re-supply of the Wehrmacht and also that the forces in the north had a second-order priority compared to the forces driving onto Paris. This latter offensive is neglected by British accounts because their were no British troops involved, only French, of whom thousands died.

There was no hurry because the German supposition, based on its own staff work, was that most of the men trapped in and around Dunkirk had no where to go. What surprised the Germans was that the evacuation worked. Their staff work concluded that an evacuation would lift about 40,000 men plus of minus ten percent, and leave the rest. Ergo, the German General Staff did not see any reason to spend its assets at Dunkirk.

While the Luftwaffe attacked the evacuating ships at piers there were few U-Boat in those waters. Most were patrolling in the North Atlantic. German planning did not anticipate the concentration of Royal Navy shipping in the channel and so the Kreigsmarine added little to the effort. Moreover, the shallow waters of the English Channel are not U-boat friendly. But the British staff work had created the naval concentration in advance, including pulling ships back from the Norway campaign and stopping others from sailing to the Mediterranean.

Among the heroes of the Miracle at Dunkirk are scores of RN staff officers who worked around the clock for a week of more to set it up.

These ruminations were stimulated by the release of the recent movie but I did not bother to see it on the assumption I would find its inaccuracy annoying, curmudgeon that I am. No doubt others who saw it will now feel they know the history, having ‘seen the movie.’

No doubt the account above is incomplete and perhaps inaccurate in part, and corrections are welcome.

A police procedural set in London during the Little Blitz of early 1944 when V rockets rained down.

The murder of one and then two resident aliens, with a third suspected, is well out of the ordinary.  Our hero becomes obsessed by it to the neglect of other duties but his superior, though vexed, is indulgent, and even supportive.  

Black out cover.jpg

There is a large and intrusive US military establishment in London and it somehow seems involved In the mysterious deaths, so Plod noses around there, too.

There is much to’ing and fro’ing down mean nocturnal blacked out streets, many low lifes taking advantages of the circumstances, some patriots, and a lot of stoics hanging on.  

I never did understand what the villain was doing and there is no wrap up at the end.  What motivated him in targeting those three men remains unknown to this reader.  Still less could I tell if his motivation was  offical business, entrepreneurship, or just sadism.

Likewise I could not fathom his living doll who dutifully seduces Plod and then tries to kill him.  

The author has more success with some of the supporting players like the wooden top who deals with the first murder, and the US army sergeant, though she is shallow, at least she has some vitality but her backstory was superfluous and she would not have worn battle dress in an office.  I also like the brief role of an army guard who holds up Plod while Ike gets into a car.

That Plod is too dumb to realise the two women he has his way with are using him, is nicely done but in the end I am not sure that was intentional on the part of the author.

Plod’s own backstory which is parcelled out throughout the story is tedious and irrelevant, though it could have connected to that of the sergeant with some thought.  Missed opportunity there.

The coda in Berlin was just too long a stretch.  This reader was through long before that but kept reading hoping for enlightenment about the plot but none came.

John-Lawton.jpg John Lawton

I liked the setting and set up enough to read another.    

IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 18 minutes, 6.6/10 @ 320 opinions

Funded from the tip jar at the tea room, the sets are bare, the effects ordinary, but the scene is well set and there is enough mystery to hold interest. Strangely, John Carradine is not in it.

%22Unearthly_Stranger%22.jpg

It opens with a wide- and wild-eyed man in fear running down a dark and empty street. He looks back as if he is pursued. In a close up, John Neville is bathed in sweat. A paranoid atmosphere is established with a minimum of fuss. Neville ascends a circular staircase, working up more sweat, bursts into an office and starts a reel-to-reel tape recorder to tell the story in flashback.

Neville is a scientist in the Space Research Centre somewhere in Britain (where the streets are devoid of cars).

We learn in the flashback that he has just been promoted to the top job and that he has also just got married after a whirlwind romance in Switzerland. Is the conjunction of these two events a happy coincidence? Or has the script writer set it up? Guess!

The Space Research Centre consists of a receptionist, a large map of the moon on the wall, two offices, a chrome dome Philip Stone (who has been in everything), and Neville. His predecessor, whom we see ever so briefly, blew a brain gasket and died. Young, vigorous, and cheerful, yet he keeled over and the autopsy showed blood vessels shredded in his grey matter. Ouch.

Enter the rotund security officer,
Mother.jpg
Mother (as he was later to be in ‘The Avengers’), who tells Chrome Dome that a number of astro-scientists have blown brain gaskets in England, USA, and the USSR, though this latter report is suspect. Is looking at a large map of the moon the cause? What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Well, the fraternity brothers took a look at the wife. Ah ha! Turns out other brain-blown scientists also had new wives. Oh, ‘nocturnal over exertions may be the cause,' they cried. Rotund does not even consider this obvious line of peeping.

Neville, eyes turned to the heavens, speculates that 'they' (hint) up there may not want us to get there.

However, attention now swings to Wife. It seems Neville knows nothing about her, ahem, apart from that, and it also seems, as he gradually realises, she took all the initiatives that led to the marriage. What he just assumed was his magnetism can be interpreted otherwise.

At times he seems to have suspicions of her, and at other times he is quick to defend her from Rotund’s insinuations. Neville is clearly in thrall to her. The fraternity brothers terminology is not suitable for a family blog like this.

But even the smitten Neville admits she has quirks. She sleeps with her eyes wide open all night. (Androids do this in other films.)
Asleep.jpg
Okay. She has no pulse. Okay. (The fraternity brothers immediately spotted that as a trait of Venusians, per ‘Stranger from Venus’ [1954], reviewed elsewhere on this blog.) Moreover, she grabs a red hot casserole from the oven bare-handed with no ill effects. Later, the tears she cries burn her skin. What does all this add up to? See title above.

Aware of these oddities, Neville manages not to add them up. Nor does he connect the dots to his earlier speculations about what ‘they’ up there might not want. Thrall, indeed.

Wife gets misty at the sight of children. Hence the tears. Then when Neville cracks the formula for something crucial, who knows what, more tears come, because…. It is time to blow another brain gasket.

Spoiler.

She is indeed one of ‘they’ on a mission to stop the Space Research Centre from meeting its KPIs. In cinema-land few, if any other, aliens are women. What we get here is an alien who is conflicted, who has compassion, who has maternal instincts, as well as asbestos hands. This is a rarity in the Sy Fy genre. While some come in peace and do good works, no other alien to date falls in love and finds life on Earth good enough to stay. Wife does not want to hurt Neville, and she would like to have children.

Okay, okay. This is a pre-Liberated Woman who just wants to be a wife, homemaker, and mother, but in the context it is a volte-face. Of course, the fraternity brothers had a lot of questions, which are best omitted, about alien women.

When she wimps out of blowing up Neville’s brains, the receptionist steps in. Turns out for the last twelve years she has been erasing the blackboard every night, so that the scientists have had to start the formula over each day. This trick is called a Penelope among the Sisterhood. None of the big brain scientists have noticed this, not even the chrome dome boss.

However Chrome has figured how to overcome an alien. He grabs a sock from the laundry basket and the odour drives her to jump out of the window. Phew! Whew! Like Wife, she just vanishes. There today, gone today.

But there are plenty more aliens in the sea, since the last shot is of a group of women having a look. Gulp! Are they more of the Lunar Sisterhood? We’ll never know until the sequel.

No one smokes. Now that is odd in a piece from this period. No pipe fiddling. No cigars, No cigarettes.

Some reviewers call this an alien invasion film, but not so. there are aliens on Earth as agents of influence, but there is no invasion, nor a threat of one as long as the blackboard is kept clean over night. Brains are then safe.

The Cold War is there in the distrust of the Russkies, but the aliens are not a metaphor for them, or are they?

IMDB meta data: run time 1 and 45 minutes; scored at 7.3/10 by a paltry 124 voters.

‘Coming sooner than you think,’ is the opening title card.  About time, cried the fraternity brothers!

Made fifty years ago, this film is an anticipation of reality television, even before ‘Death Watch’ (1980).

Sex O card.jpg

The set up? The televised trials for a place at the next world Sex Olympiad are underway in a television studio. Watched from a control room by the bored producers, clad in paisley pajamas, who are dedicated to keeping the viewers apathetic in a society where

‘it is better to watch than to do.’  

They watch and so do we.  The vicarious sex on the telly is to sate the libidos of the audience so that there is less reproduction.  (Pornography has never done that for the fraternity brothers.)  There are other sex program catering to the artistic. Another program is aimed at reducing the appetite for food through custard pie throwing. Very Three Stooges. There is a joke about this in the credits with a long list of consultants on pie throwing, including Bernard from ‘Yes, Minister.’

Paisley PJs.jpg Those jammies.

In general the purpose of television is to quell the emotions, drives, and impulses of people because they cause conflict.  The goal is a quiescent society. like Canberra on Saturday night.  

This situation has gone on so long that the current generation we see no longer seems to know the larger context or purpose or the historical evolution of the industry and the society it serves. It just is this way.

Everyone speaks a clipped functional language.  The television producers are High-Drive people.  The audience they cater to consists of Low-Drive people, the vast majority.  That translates readily to the world of Channel 7Mate where the producers cater to an audience they despise and make millions doing it. No one goes broke underestimating the tastes of that demographic where urine drinking is a competitive sport.

Finding the balance in this television game is tricky.  Nat with eyebrows that often speak for themselves is pressured from above by the Controller, a standard BBC term, to improve his programs and threatened from below by a underling who wants his job. Situation normal in an organisation but mercifully this depiction is pre-KPI so there is no cloudy and vague McKinsey-speak further to confuse matters in the name of clarity.

Two disruptions occur.  First an artist arrives in the studio and he wants to upset people with horrifying pictures.  Think of Evard Munck’s ‘The Scream’ or the Twit in Chief smiling.  Ugh! These people are indeed horrified by the art.  The studio High-Drives are so cocooned they have never seen an unpleasant sight. The artist tries to disrupt a broadcast to show one of his pictures and becomes one himself when he falls to his death! 

Eyebrows, however, finds the pictures fascinating, albeit unsuitable for broadcast. He is, perhaps, not quite as superficial as he seems, then into his life comes a personal crisis when a child by his first wife is tested as Low-Drive, which will reflect badly on him.  He has no interest in Ex or Child except as they show in his file. He is a very model of a modern McKinsey manager avant le mot and only thinks of his KPIs. 

The idea emerges of isolating a couple on a deserted island amid cameras so that viewers can watch them cope. Eyebrows and Ex volunteer with Child. These three missed Scouting and know nothing. They do not know what fire is let alone how to start and maintain one or to pull a vegetable out of the ground on the windswept rain-soaked island in Holland Park to which they are consigned.

They have copious instructions from Wikipedia on an iPhone which are frequently consulted. Eyebrows had an iWatch in the studio bit he did not take it to The Island where he went low tech.

The program is called ‘Living Life.’  The audience finds it amusing and it is a hit. The audience by the way is represented by a focus group of twelve garbed in pink sweatshirts and pants. These are the Low-Drives of Channel 7Mate.

Without the professor from Gilligan’s Island, Eyebrows and Ex are hopeless.  They have been spoon fed so long that they only know the shape of the spoon. Child falls, breaks an arm, and slowly dies of an untreated infection.

Focus group.jpg

The sweatpantsers find that hilarious. Ratings soar. (See, like ‘Death Watch.’)

The inevitable comparisons are the E.M. Forester story ‘When the Machine Stops’ and George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’  Though as to the latter, there is no hint here that there is a regime oppressing people per Orwell but rather a commercial enterprise giving the Pink Sweatpants Nation what it wants, when it wants it, and how it wants it. Is not that broadcast populism, or democracy? Responding to what the people want is one definition of democracy. 

This is another gem from the fecund typewriter of Nigel Kneale. The players include Reginald Perrin and the estimable, but here very young, Brian Cox. I found it on the Internet Archive. 

It was filmed in colour but only a black and white archival print remains. The expensive colour film was reused though why the BBC did it in costly colour at a time when there very few colour televisions to see it on is anyone’s guess.

Inspired by this viewing, I will look for ‘Death Watch.’

The Authors

About the Blog

Thoughts on the canon of poltical theory and life.
More

You are visitor:
hit counter script