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IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 17 minutes of run time and rated 4.8 by 2400 cinemitizens.

It is a creature feature with some differences that surprised the fraternity brothers. See the list below.

Mole People card.jpg As misleading as lobby cards usually are. At no time does a Mole Person carry around the Marked Woman. Read on for explanations.

A party of archaeologists search for a temple of Ishtar in Sir Edmund Hillary’s stock footage of the Himalayas. The research grant that funded the trip did not include a GPS so they missed Babylon. Five in number they include the required local guide, the required Red Shirt, the required ethnic stereotype, the superfluous Beaver’s dad Ward, and a catatonic John Agar, doing what he does best, sleep walking to payday.

They come upon just such a temple as we saw in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Come to think of it, if in Berlin, why not in the Himalayas? During the ascent the local guide falls out of the picture and collects his check.

Next the Red Shirt carelessly falls through a crack in an earthquake. Agar, Ethnic Stereotype, and Ward descend to retrieve the Red Shirt's Actors Equity card, and another quake seals them in. Doomed!

Mindful of his own career trajectory, Agar concludes that the only way to go it down. Down they go. Nestor Paiva is the ethnic in tow, a talented actor who is completely wasted in this role as the cowardly lion. We know he soon will join Guide and Red Shirt at the pay window.

They encounter stunt men in rubber suits — the Mole People (because Superman had copyrighted ‘Mole Men’ in 1951, this lot are ‘People.’) These encounters are very effective as the MPs rise up out of the sand piled on the sound studio floor. This was an inexpensive and effective method of staging.

They are rescued from the MPs by Babblers in funny hats from 3000 B.C. who have been living underground since then. Driven there by real estate prices up top. For these albinos theirs is the whole and only world. The scriptwriters betrays knowledge, often a firing offence in Hollywood, by having King Albino use sixty as a base number.

An effort is made to explain how they have survived. Mushrooms, which as any Hippie will say, have a lot to offer, goats, and fish. Minerals shine for light.

Behind King Albino is the High Priest who babbles a lot of nonsense that brought to mind sermons from the era, about how God loves only them, provides only for them, must be prayed to, and so on. Agar remains inert. He's good at that.

The Babblers are suspicious of the surviving two, Agar and Ward. Nestor got Moled. But, well, maybe it is Ishtar’s will. Scripts work in mysterious ways.

Babblers live an orderly and clean life, but…. Yet, in short running time our heroes learn that the society exists on the slave labour of the black Mole People who are frequently beaten to death faire encourager les autres mining mushrooms. Moreover, the Babble-on population never exceeds 150. Never, because there are only so many mushrooms.

When there are more than 150, then the excess individuals are sacrificed to Ishatar.

Pause.

B movies were often accorded more latitude that A pictures, and that is apparent already in this one with its deprecation of religion, with the enslavement of blacks by the very white and cruel albinos.

We also get to see the sacrifice. Three young women calmly line up and pass through a door. Later guards remove three gruesomely charred corpses. It is the charred corpses that would never be seen in an A film. Young women dropping their robes as they serenely go to the oven, and that certainly got the attention of the fraternity brothers, is nothing new, but the crispy critters were. Is it another indictment of religious superstition?

These three had to go and they were chosen because they were marked! Yes they had some skin pigmentation. So those sacrificed were those of colour, Aryan though they seem, not so compared to the Babblers with their white pancake make-up.

By now Agar has his hand on a marked woman and she strokes his…ego.

Agar and Ward stop some cotton field overseers from beating three black Mole People to death, and free the beaten Moles. As the three freed MPs leave one returns and stares at Agar. This is communication of a sort.

Later when the Babblers decide there are not enough mushrooms for dinner they decide to toast Agar and Ward.

Agar and Ward prone.jpg Agar at his best. Ward patiently waiting.

Then, thanks to the miracle of scriptwriting, the Mole People erupt out of the ground in revolt. Fisticuffs ensue. Marked Woman fails the test of opening the door by removing the bar, preferring to pound on it per the director’s instructions.

End of Babblers. The Mole People return to watching reruns of ‘Superman versus the Mole Men’ (1951), each time hoping it will turn out differently.

The oven behind the doors is sunlight through a fissure. This sunlight crisps albinos to a charred, barbecue black. Ward, Agar, and Marked Woman climb up the fissure to safety. But there is a surprise in the end, one that makes no sense. Spoiler! Another quake occurs and Marked Woman dies, leaving Agar without a date for his next binge.

The End.

Points of note include:

1.The scientists in Sy Fy are archeologists with neither magnets nor electricity
2. Established religion is superstition at best and deadly at worst.
3. Political power is short-sighted and self-serving.
4. A flashlight is essential to a spelunker and an exception to (1) above.
5. The whitest of whites are albinos and they enslave blacks.
6. They are also cruel to blacks.
7. They enjoy (5) and (6) above.
8. Mushrooms are best in beef stroganoff.
9. Human sacrifice requires disrobing to save on dry cleaning.
10. Sunlight without sufficient SPF produces crispy critters, turning albinos into black cinders.
11. Is it smart to sacrifice young women? The fraternity brothers cried, ‘No!’
12. This is not the only world.
13. The screen play by László Görög has some posers in it but the direction is petrified.
14. Despite the lobby card, the Mole People are the victims of the monstrous albinos.

These items help to overcome the nausea caused by the first five minutes in which Professor Frank C. Baxter (1896-1982), English, University of Southern California, lectures stunned viewers on speculations of underground worlds, without mentioning Pat Boone. Baxter was a television personality of the era meeting KPIs, Key Pontificating Irritants. He was public intellectual before that execrable concept was devised to licence ranters.

For the numerate, a few numbers from the fraternity brothers who were taking notes. There were 31 deaths (humans, Moles, and Babblers), while Prof Baxter made 38 hand gestures in five minutes. Of the 150 Babblers, twice sixty and a half, only 34 were seen at any one time. Only 18 Mole People were seen at once, and they bore 88 lashes.

IMDb meta-data: 1 hour and 12 minutes, 5.2 from 509 discerning cinemitizens.

After five years of porridge George Zucco is out for revenge! Shiver those timbers. While he was slammed up, someone went to Fog Island and killed Karma, George’s wife! That made for bad karma for him.

Fog Ilsand card.jpg

Since release he has holed up in a mansion with his step-daughter on Title Island to avoid a media feeding frenzy. To find the culprit(s) who framed him for embezzlement, he writes to them in a perfect Copperplate handwriting inviting them to visit him for a reunion. Who can resist Copperplate?

Otranto Island here they come! Meanwhile, George in a boiler suit does some home renovations for his forthcoming guests. He assumes their greed will bring them.

Greed? Here is where it gets foggy. George was innocent and framed by one or all of the invited associates, but each comes thinking to lay hands on the loot he allegedly but did not steal. See? ‘No,’ cried the fraternity brothers. 'Did Georg Hegel write this,' they asked? 'Is it dialectic?' Be that as it may, it gets no clearer.

In addition to the four associates, there is also a skulking butler, an accountant who rows to the island on his own to cooperate with George, and a beau for the step-daughter. The butler and the accountant know that George did not steal the dosh. See?

The four associates are: the turbaned head of a Psychic Research Centre, Lionel Atwill who is always a superb villain, Jerome Cowan who usually plays light, and Veda Ann Borg another treat. After the gang assembles for dinner, the men wearing tuxedos they packed for Otranto Island, George presents them each with a party favour, a key to one, a miniature skull to another, a baseball card, a pencil…. That got the fraternity brothers thinking, briefly.

This mansion, by the way, has all mod cons, a dudgeon, peep holes, secret passages, a moat, an oubliette, suits of armour, an organ, a sly butler as mentioned above, false doors, copies of ‘Crime and Punishment,’ dark corners, and a séance!

The guests do a lot of snooping around the place, and spying on each other. Among the ladies there is a very brief implication of lesbianism during a discussion of cleansing cream. The butler is the first to go and no one seems to notice.

About half way through, George’s contract ran out. Lionel is quick with a knife. Exit George. He fell at Lionel’s feet dead. Lionel, accustomed to such deaths from many previous films, does not bat an eye. Evidently he was the major culprit in the framing of George and the murder of Karma. If so, he should know there is no gelt to be had. So why is the dork there?

Though earlier Veda wanted to leave regardless of money, the script requires her to become mercenary, which she does with enthusiasm. Likewise the accountant, who knew George did not do it, joins the gang to find the ill gotten gains, which he knows do not exist. What a loser!

Somehow or other the party favours figure in the plot, but how, that is one of life’s mysteries. Veda seems the most normal, while Turban Woman’s fabricated pronouncements come true! Remember those home renovations. Even after his own death George has his revenge, leaving the daughter and beau to start afresh. The end.

This was one of Atwill’s last credits. Zucco, as always, dominates the camera.

Zucco Zucco.gif George Zucco

Cowan is better at light. The scripts is disjointed. Lionel asks the Psychic to perform a séance and as the others are seated, he walks away; unnoticed it seems, for some more snooping. Much of the film is so murky the sets could have been empty and probably were in this production from the Picture Releasing Corporation which was several strata below the bottom end of Poverty Row studios. In the gloom this viewer was often not sure who was whom and it was probably best that way.

As audiences saw this film news of the death toll on Iwo Jima would have begun to spread via seven thousand dreaded yellow 'Regret to Inform you' telegrams. Worse was to come at Okinawa.

Internet Movie Data base meta-date is run time 1 hour and 53 minutes, rated 8.0 by 55,708 cinemitizens.

Audrey finds herself the target of three thugs and Cary comes to her rescue. Stanley Donen, a master of musicals, out Hitchcocked Hitchcock in this confection. It is absolutely marvellous and eye candy from the opening credits.

Charade card.jpg

There is zing between Audrey and the twenty-six years older Cary. The villains are downright villainous and the diplomat is so oily that frequent hand washing is required.

The three thugs think she has the moolah for which her unloved husband was killed. There are rifts among them but no doubting their individual and collective willingness to do whatever it takes to get the money. In the brew is Cary, seemingly a bystander, but then it turns out he is has been involved all along. He has convinced the trio he is with them, while convincing Audrey he is not. Sometimes when all parties are in the same room. Is this man teflon or what.

All that romance is nice but where is the green stuff? Then the number of villains is reduced. Whoa! Who did that? Is there another party in this party? The fraternity brothers broke into a sweat at this point. Indeed, no one ever raises the obvious questions, who killed hubby? Well, the underused police inspector did but no one else seems to care.

The plot unfolds, and in so doing makes use of everything, including young Jean-Louis and that dental appointment. The pace is effortless. The direction crisp. The delivery of the lines is perfect enough to please any author. And the lines, including Audrey’s last, are gems.

I enjoyed seeing the American Express office in Paris where once I, too, along with Tyrone Power, collected mail. Niggles, I had a few. I bristled at the bland statement that the OSS was G2, Army Intelligence. No so. Nor was I at all sure that slipping 250,000 American dollars into 1944 France made any sense. Nor did the ease of infiltrating the US Embassy in Paris fit the Cold War milieu. The snapshots of the trio in uniform shows them in post war uniforms and haircuts. Hmm.

Hard though it is to believe, it did not win any Oscars. George Kennedy as the crazed Herman deserved one, along with the director. ‘Tom Jones’ and ‘Hud’ dominated the major awards that year. Granted ‘Hud’ had memorable dramatic performances from two veterans, Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas. But 'Tom Jones' came and went without a trace. Fun while it lasted but it did not last.

It has to be said that Funny Face carries the film, proven when one reviews the still photographs on the IMDb. She does comedy, romance, drama, determination, fear, alarm, conviction, love, all with elegance and grace. Her star eclipsed Cary's in many a scene, so said the fraternity brothers.

Try this. Imagine a remake today with one of Hollywood’s drug addled egomaniac midgets in the lead, wearing a torn tee-shirt with a drippy nose. Audrey could be a self-centred talentless person famous for being famous on the way in and out of rehab with white spots on her cheeks. The writer will be a case of arrested development. This combination seems a sure recipe for success. All it needs is a lot of CGI and a soundtrack of train wrecks.

Instead of dirty money the quest can be….a vaccine to cure stupidity in climate deniers. No, that would not sell. Then the quest can be for… a lot of money to pay for making a trashy remake.

I hesitated to write it up, thinking there was nothing left to say, but the idea of remake and a check of Oscar winners for the year overcame that doubt. Moreover a look at some of the user reviews on IMDb brought up some truly ridiculous post-modern interpretations, which are beyond mockery, but there was the reek of PhD theses among them. A masochistic reader may wish to have a look.

IMDb meta-data: run time, 1 hour and 7 minutes; rated 5.4 from 1,610 cinemitizens, and released 14 May 1941.

Handsome, Sidekick, and Comic Relief make a forced landing on a Caribbean island en route to Panama from the Bahamas. Thump and bump and the three emerge in the studio conservatory. Comic Relief gets to work, on whom more later.

The trio find a mansion in a jungle clearing and unbidden enter. Whoops! There they encounter the Mad Scientist who has taken a lot of Prozac for the occasion and speaks slowly with eerily correct grammar and a strudel accent. That grammar alerts viewers that MS is not all he seems. It is going to take more than a few hints to alert Handsome. ‘Well MS seems weird,’ admitted the fraternity brothers, ‘what more could he be?’

Check the release date, lads!

King Zomibies card.jpgThe lobby card is wrong on every count. The ritual is from a Masonic Lodge. There is no torture and no human sacrifice.

Prior to crashing the trio picked up a radio message in German. Though the word ‘German’ never passes their lips for reasons to be explained below. After apologising for the intrusion, Sidekick politely asks to use the radio to call for help. MS denies possession of a radio. Hmmm.

His wife joins them for dinner. She has the vacant eyes and slack jaw of a Republican Senator. She speaks not a word, which MS confides is just her way.

By now even the fraternity brothers would have been suspicious, but not these two. We will leave Comic Relief for later. They blithely get into their jammies, which they must have brought along from the plane, and hit the sack. The two of them are in a double bed! Banned in Alabama!

They snooze through much coming and going elsewhere in the mansion as MS gets about his KPIs. He has in the handy dudgeon a US Navy Admiral whom he is torturing for details of the defences of the Panama Canal! Meanwhile upstairs Handsome is getting his beauty sleep.

All the while Comic Relief, played by that one-man band Mantan Moreland with 130 credits on the IMDb, enlivens proceedings with his black racial stereotype, excitable, ignorant, and incoherent. He has learned the word ‘zombie’ below stairs where he was relegated, and he has seen these hollow-eyed slack jawed GOPers with his own eyes. His several reports of these doings below stairs to Handsome and Sidekick are waved off as delirium induced by his skin colour.

The irony, perhaps unintended, in the very watery script is that Comic Relief is factually correct long before the whitebreads realise what is happening. He noses around, asks questions, checks things, and reports to his superiors who dismiss him. If he is dumb what about Handsome and Sidekick? Beyond dumb.

Handsome rises to the occasion when the MS’s comely niece is introduced. Sotto voce she tries to tell Handsome things are crook; he seems not to hear as he studies her form. Subtle. She is trying to free her aunt, the Mrs MS, from the hypnotism she is under. ‘Hypnotism’ is too big a word for Handsome so he goes to the library. Meanwhile, Comic Relief is trying to explain zombies to him. Whew! Handsome was not cut out for graduate school.

‘What is a zombie,’ he asks. It is a good question. The fraternity brothers thought a zombie was dead risen, like Lazarus. But here as in ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ (1936), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, they are hapless folk hypnotised to lose their wills and become the slack-jawed instruments of another like a Republican.

Finally Handsome realises something beside the niece’s form requires his attention. When Comic Relief and Sidekick go missing he stirs.

He stumbles into action, discovers and frees the admiral, which actor gives the only genuine performance in the movie in a brief scene. Comic Relief and Sidekick reappear to help out, as does Niece.

The grammatically correct Mad Scientist was using VooDoo magic to transfer the mind of the admiral with its secrets to his wife, whose mind an earlier effort had blanked. That is the price of scientific progress. Next up was Niece. MS speaks with a Hollywood German accent and claims to been an Austrian refugee. Of course, Handsome buys that.

The VooDoo magic was aided by a face mask that the MS says is an Irish Druid mask. Smooth talker.

At no time is the word ‘German’ used. Why not? Because at the time other films that did were sometimes boycotted by German-Americans before Germany declared war on the United States on 8 December 1941. One instance had earlier bankrupted the Poverty Row studio that put it out. Still less was there a reference to Nazis. But the German on the radio is there to be heard and MS speaks some German to a black untermenschen. But instead of Germany there is a reference to a ‘European power.’ They speak German in Liechtenstein, right?

Sidekick had been clobbered, stashed, and hypnotised but it seems his will is stronger than the black untermenschen and it wears off. Yet when he attacks MS, the bad doctor pulls a gat and shoots him three times at close range. (It is the sort of thing that the fraternity brothers count to earn NRA demerit badges.) He survives without a visible scratch and Handsome says a few days in the hospital will fix him up.

Huh?

Does being partly hypnotised make the subject bullet proof? It did in this screen play. All the whitebreads leave with Comic Relief. No idea what happens to the remaining zombies and MS’s many black servants, retainers, and co-conspirators.

While picking nits, how did the admiral get there? It is said he was lured by a radio beacon. How does that work. Was Circe on the radio?

That it rates 5.4 must be because the Undead are voting for it.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 4 minutes, rated 4.7 by 1013 raters.

The brother of a kindly and diffident small town physician dies and at his funeral are many grim faces. While no one comes forward to stick pins in the body to make sure it is dead, per Herman (George Kennedy) in ‘Charade’ (1963), the relief at the brother’s death is expressed by one rather distraught woman who flings open the church door and delivers a rant that briefly livens up proceedings.

MV5BZmZmNTRiZGQtYjcyMS00YzM4LWFkYzEtNjJhZjAxZDY2NDM1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDMxMjQwMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,669,1000_AL_.jpg

It is a nice touch to interrupt this conventional and somber scene with a vicious denouncement delivered by a mousey-looking woman.

She proclaims the deceased to be Satan’s spawn. ‘Must have parked in her drive way,’ mused the fraternity brothers, remembering the times those words had been directed at them.

The deceased is the identical twin brother of George Zucco, and George plays a double role. No, there is no flashback, because dead Brother is much in evidence. See title, though note it should be singular, Dead Man Walks, Talks, Nips, Sips, and More.

No sooner is Brother buried, despite the woman’s suggestion that he be burned, than Igor digs him up and opens him up so that Brother can join the Undead. Pedants note: The Undead also include zombies and that is what I was expecting. But no, here we have a vampire, but a second rate one since he has no cape, and -- more importantly-- he is not the singular Bela Lugosi.

The Undead are those who do not return the many books they have checked out from the library and have learned how to become a vampire by correspondence school. Brother graduated at the top of his class. Risen, this Evil Lazarus preys on the locals, well on George’s niece, sipping her blood every night to sustain himself. Though later an excited crowd accuses him of more, there is no indication in film he did anything more than dine at home on his niece.

This incestuous necking makes her intended mad, though why he is so far away at the sipping times is a mystery. He takes out his bile on innocent George. Denouncing woman offers helpful hints from ‘Women's Weekly’ on how to cope with a vampire uncle in the family. After several bouts of sibling rivalry, George accepts the idea that Brother is Undead.

Igor is the weak link in this exercise, as he rumbles around the coffin on a wheel barrow at all hours. Obviously he is a Villain School drop out.

In the end George has to go down mano-à-mano with his evil twin Brother in the flames. Cain and Abel all over again, once more, anew. The end.

Zucco (1886–1960) played suave villains or mad scientists in many B pictures, including Professor James Moriarty. He has 98 credits on the IMDb and half would fall on the shady side of the moral street. But he always made an impression with his presence.

Here is a change of pace and yet not. In one part he is an innocent who slowly comes to realise the truth about his brother, though how he missed it in the first place is open to question, and also the evil brother. He managed to distinguish the two characters in appearance, voice, manner, and gait. Accomplished was this stager who was born in England but started acting in provincial Canada. Close observers will note he lacks two fingers on his right hand, a war wound.

IMDb meta-data is run time of 1 hour and 18 minutes and rated 6.6 from 792 cinemitizens.

This is film noir at its best, simple, direct, dramatic, and basic. Erich von Stroheim is the title character who has vaudeville shooting act (sponsored by the NRA) where he hits everything but Dan Duryea. It has the requisite very femme very fatale in Mary Beth Hughes (seen in some Charlie Chan movies).

flamrion card.jpg

Femme decides to shed Dan and his many empty bottles, and seduces the Frog with the gun. Erich is no pushover since in an unstated backstory a woman ruined his life by taking his monocle. But over he goes, heels over head. Picture that. Dan has been unreliable for some time and Erich gives him notice with a .38 caliber bullet in the act!

Since Dan was stiff with drink, no charges follow. Frog promises all to Femme and she takes it. Scram. It takes Frog some years to figure out he has taken to the cleaners and dumped. He freed her from husband Dan and she freed him from all his dosh. Off she went.

Thereafter Frog dedicates himself to tracking her down for….revenge! He does and he does. The wages of sin are paid in full per the Code.

At one point Femme has four men on the string, and they not playing yo-yo. Whereas A pictures in 1945 were subject to much restraint both external and internal, B pictures like this one were allowed more license regarding sex. B pictures were often screened after the A picture to a dwindling audience.

Moreover, there is some eroticism with the guns in both the action and the dialogue. Why did I think of Charlton Heston stroking that rifle at the NRA convention? That scene is available on You Tube for those who wish to lose any respect they might yet have for Chest Heston.

Regrettably most of this film is told in flashback, and in this case that takes the air out of the drama. No doubt considerations of timing and cost dictated that approach. It means Frog delivers some of his best lines while dying on the floor.* The gossip mill says the Frog resisted the flashback approach to no avail. He always wanted linear stories and that is another reason to like him.

The director was Anthony Mann at the beginning of an illustrious career and he certainly shows his talents for pace, timing, mood, energy, angle, light and dark. Some of the double shots are startlingly even to this jaded viewer. He elevated a common story on a skimpy budget to something more for over an hour despite the draining flashback.

When trawling through You Tube offerings for Sy Fy I came across a thumbnail for this and recognised Erich von Stroheim. He is always must see, so I did. His transformation from Prussian autocrat to love sick puppy is forced by the run time but he carries it off.

Chapeux to Mary Beth Hughes who delivers lines with double and triple meanings with no apparent effort. She does not miss a beat as she turns from one man to another with a lie. How it is that she did not make the A list of stars is a mystery in itself. Fox Studios failed to renew her contract in 1943 and she found her way to Poverty Row with Republic Pictures. In time, she quit and worked as receptionist in a doctor’s office where she said she met a better class of people than in Hollywood. Perhaps she was a #metoo in her day.

DD also gives a fine performance, combining as only he could vulgarity and vulnerability in one line.

*Yes, I thought of William Holden face down in the pool, too. Why not when Billy Wilder’s older brother was credited as producer for this film as W. Lee Wilder. Of course Erich is there with William in that picture, too. It is perhaps thanks to Mann that this Lee Wilder production is miles better than most of the others he turned out, like 'The Snow Creature' (1954) reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

IMDb meta-data 1 hour and 32 minutes of Dali time, rated 3.9 from 4657 time wasters.

A cheap and cheerful exploitation of Star Wars from the heartland of such ersatz imitations, Cinecittà in Rome. This film is often cited at the spoor that released scores of Italian Sy Fy simulacra. It is also often proclaimed as the worst of the derivative spawn it spewed.

Starcrash cover.dms

First the setup, then the tear-down.

Lord Bad’s lines are ‘Kill. Kill. Kill them.’ He knows what he wants and how to communicate it. His aim is to displace Plummy and rule the Ford Galaxy. Lemmy Caution would then not be able to visit Alphaville.

The only things standing between Lord Bad and success are the bikinis of Stella Starr! The fraternity brothers cheered!

Bond Girl struts around as Stella in a fur bikini on the ice planet, a metallic one at a rock concert, a feathery one with the Amazons, and more, sometimes less. David Hasselhoff’s bouffant displaces Marjoe Gortner near the bikini. The fate of the Samsung Galaxy depends on Bond Girl, Bouffant, and a boy with a woman’s name. Only the scriptwriter could save them.

Gortner had been a child evangelist who turned and tried his hand at this. He needed no make up to look alien. In a pinch Gortner has laser eyes so he can do his own cataract surgery. Handy. Nothing is ever forgotten or done only once at Cinecittà and the same gag is used at the end of ‘Escape from Galaxy 3’ (1981), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

The effects are coloured paper and so are the characters. The dialogue is speech balloons from comic books. Recall Lord Bad’s dialogue as quoted above more or less in its entirety. There is neither science nor fiction though there is energy and zest. Altogether it looks like a failed animated Marvel Comics pilot, it lacks the pathos characteristic of Marvel heroes.

Looking disconsolate, Christopher Plummer, as Lord Good Guy, aka Plummy, after hiring Dr Who as a consultant, stops time. Indeed watching this treacle feels like time has stopped. Gossip is that Plummer signed for three days but finished in one to get it done and get out. He had to rush back to London to throttle his agent.

Then there is the Texas robot who keeps Bond Girl warm on an ice planet by holding her….hand. 

Lord Bad Guy sports a Princess Leia hairstyle when shouting his monosyllables.  With that hair bun it is hard to take him seriously. 

Bad Hair stella.png See.

Disclosure Statement. About half way through I left it running and took the dog out for a turn in the park for thirty minutes. Did I miss anything?

Be warned! It has been released under a variety of titles to lure audiences to the miasma.

IMDb meta-data 1 Hour and 32 minutes of Dali Time, rated 4.7 by 243 relatives of the producer.

In psychedelic 1969 Chicago the world has been taken over by The Monitors who are silent men in long black over coats, black turtle neck sweaters, and black bowler hats who speak slowly and politely. Only if necessary do they spray sleeping gas to quell a disturbance.

Monitors card.jpg

With the advent of the Monitors peace and prosperity reign for one and all around the world. No more storm clouds over Lake Michigan. No more poverty, racism, corruption, war, disease, or reruns on television. In fact the only television broadcasting is testimonials to the benevolent rule of the Monitors.

In this Eden emerge NRA reactionaries who pine for the good old days when murder and mayhem were a constitutional right. They make SNL efforts to undermine the pacific order of the Monitors who in turn infiltrate secret agents into their ranks. These skits would have been rejected for SNL. Then lust or is it love rears up. This surge briefly aroused the fraternity brothers from their habitual lethargy, but not for long.

There is satire here but it is laid on like a load of bricks. Why would anyone revolt against perfection? So asked the Hall Monitor in Chief, and the hero has no answer. I wondered if the Chief Monitor was related to the Honcho Monitor in 'The Island Earth' (1955), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. He has the hair for it.

There are hip Sixties fashions piled high. There are a great many cameos by one and all from ChiTown from Xavier Cugat, Ed Begley, Sherry Jackson, Alan Arkin, to Everett Dirksen. But no Ernie Banks, Gale Sayers, Harold Washington, or Bob Boozer. Indeed this Chicago is all whitebread as are the Monitors.

Also absent are a story, plot, or purpose. The level varies from Sy Fy to slapstick and back. Then it tries for comedy with the finesse of the Three Stooges. Mugging does not comedy make.

Disjointed is the word for it.

The acting is mostly ham from Corporal Randolph Agarn, though the leads Vina and Dean's older brother try. They act like they are in a different movie, and they would certainly want to be. The sets are bare but the cinematography in, around, under, and above Chicago is delightful.

Though the Monitors are all knowing and all powerful they cannot push open a door and retreat when assailed with rotten fruit. Sure. We never learn anything about them. Where did they come from. How did they take over? What is their purpose? Where did they park the flying saucer? Where did they get those hats? What did they do with Fox News? Did it hurt?

The momentous five days are May 24 to May 28 1940 when Winston Churchill became Prime Minister and overcame the resistance to his leadership within the War Cabinet and stiffened British resolve to resist Hitler and Naziism.

Five Days Luk.jpg

In so doing Churchill felt the pulse of the British people far more accurately than his many opponents, most gathered behind him in the Conservative Party. British resistance at the time of Dunkirk prevented Hitler from winning the war so that later American gold and Soviet corpses would win it.

These two paragraphs above sum up this book, the nature of which will be discussed at the end.

The story is without parallel. At age sixty-five Churchill became PM in the deepest crisis ever for Great Britain. His energy and concentration alone are noteworthy. His hour had come and he lived up to it. He was certainly the Greatest Britain.

First to the internal resistance. When Neville Chamberlain, over seventy himself stepped aside, after tumultuous scenes in parliament, he remained in the five-man War Cabinet, literally there was no one else at the starting line but Churchill. As PM he alone, it seemed, could restore order to Parliament which was elected in 1935 in far different circumstances. And many in the Conservative Party thought it best to let him try …. and fail, and then the real heir apparent could sweep up and take over. That was Edward Halifax (who had so many names and titles I gave up trying to keep track of them).

An aristocrat to the core, Halifax could not push himself forward but would wait to be called. He was, after all, a personal friend of the King, and a vastly experienced parliamentarian, diplomat, cosmopolitan, and more.

Why no one thought of calling new elections is not considered in this text.

As darkness grew with the fall of the Netherlands, the surrender of Belgium, the defeat in Norway, the collapse of France, the entry of Italy on Hitler’s side, the neutrality of the United States, Spanish troop movements near Gibraltar, the aggressive noise of Japan in Asia, the reluctance of Canada, many Brits wanted a truce with Germany.

While the British Expeditionary Force flailed, Churchill spent five days out-manoeuvring Halifax, Foreign Secretary in the War Cabinet, who kept on about a truce, a pause, an arrangement with Germany, brokered by France, by Belgium, by Italy, by the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. On and on he went in the super secret discussions, which remained secret at the time. According to the author, efforts were made subsequently by weeding archives to bury the secrets.

Halifax minced words, explored semantics, twisted meanings to find a way to open a mediated dialogue with Nazi Germany, anything to avoid another blood bath like World War I. He talked repeatedly with the Italian ambassador until Italy invaded France. He sought out informal intermediaries. He lunched with the King.

If there were a way to stop the war and guarantee Britain’s freedom by making concessions to the Naziis, Halifax wanted to discuss it. While nothing concrete remains on paper such an arrangement would involve leaving Europe to Nazi domination. Period. It might also involve emasculating Britain sufficiently so as not to pose a threat in the future to German domination of Europe by reducing the British fleet, by forcing it to withdraw from the Mediterranean and sacrifice Malta, Gibraltar, even Suez. Further it might involve disarmament, as it did for Vichy France in a few weeks. Would it also involve compliance with Nazi racial policies....starting with sending back refugees.

Churchill took the view from the start, albeit muted, that there was no point in trying to negotiate with Hitler. Either Hitler would propose impossible demands, or, if not, he would not keep his word. In either case for it to be known that Britain had begged for a separate peace on such terms would destroy British morale on the domestic front and comprise British standing on the international front with the Dominions and the United States.

The author makes a tenuous distinction between public opinion and popular sentiment in the era. The former, public opinion, was formed by the intellectual classes in newspaper articles, letters to the editor, lectures, universities, BBC interviews, essays, and the like. The opinion leaders were fearful of Germany’s might and had little confidence in Britain’s ability to withstand it. As a consequence many in these ranks were Defeatist to one degree or another. Some were admirers of Hitler. A small number wore the black shirt of Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats (16 November 1896 – 3 December 1980).

Popular sentiment in contrast was the silent majority of the day, largely working class, generally uneducated and unaware of the wider world, although a great many had served in World War I and the author seems to forget that. The author makes extensive use of reports from the Mass Observation Survey, begun in 1935, as a window on to this stratum. These reports were qualitative surveys of doorstop interviews, pub conversations, overheard remarks on buses, talk in queues at the market, or discussions exiting cinemas. Unsystematic to be sure, but rich in detail. Yes, that is true but it is also true they were a lot more like gossip than systematic observations in the specimens I have read.

Popular sentiment was resolutely patriotic with none of the weakening cosmopolitanism of the intellectual classes. Germans were the Hun, not the progeny of Brahams, Beethoven, and Bach. It also had a rugged confidence in muddling through and took pride in that. They had once crossed the Siegfried Line and could do it again. This was the heart beat that Churchill felt, because he shared it, and which he mobilised.

While it is not emphasised Churchill’s mastery of the forms of British parliamentary democracy and cabinet government gave him an advantage. He timed meetings of the cabinet of thirty where he had many supporters, War Cabinet where he had none, parliament, BBC speeches, and personal meetings to create support and momentum for his commitment to war, war, and more war, and so to undermine Halifax's position. In part his publicity campaign was to show to the United States and the Dominions that Britain would prevail.

While Dunkirk is mentioned, it is not the focus. In the foreground is the tactical conflict between Churchill and Halifax across the meeting table against the backdrop of the war. War Cabinet met two or three times a day.

For Halifax what was a stake in the war was the future of Britain. For Churchill what was at stake was Western Civilisation. It seems laughable to a jaded intellect today to say that, but that was both Churchill’s rhetoric and his perception. Naziism was a ravening and devouring beast that could not be caged, tamed, constrained, or reduced by negotiation and treaties. Even to try to treat with it was to become corrupted by its touch in one’s own eyes and in the eyes of the world. To plead with this beast from a position of weakness was suicidal. In a few weeks the French example would prove that point.

While Halifax evidently thought negotiation, even if it failed would enhance rather than diminish Britain’s claim to the moral high ground. It would show that Britain had done everything possible to avoid war. That almost makes sense, until considering the sacrifices that would have to be offered or made to a Nazi dominated Europe and Mediterranean. The willingness to bargain away the defeated countries (some of which had formal alliances with Britain, many of whose fleeing citizens had taken refuge in England) and those that might follow would never be forgotten nor forgiven.

He also differed from Halifax and his ilk in another way. He saw Naziism as the greatest evil and threat to Western Civilisation. Whereas Halifax and his kind feared Communism above all else, and many had earlier seen in Naziism a bulwark against the Red Tide, as earlier had many German nationalist, liberals, monarchists, bankers, musicians, and jurists who supported or tolerated Hitler at the outset.

The comparison has to be France, where nothing was ever secret and where the disputes within cabinet were blood thirsty. Every remark in cabinet was in the boulevard press within the hour. The conflicts between cabinet members were personal, religious, regional, and racial as well as ideological. Finally, the French generals gave up before the politicians. They were ready to surrender before Paul Reynaud, the last Prime Minister. Indeed Reynaud resigned rather than surrender.

Three things then distinguished Britain, secrecy, impersonal argument, and military resolve.

Lukcas mug.jpg John Lukacs has a long list of impressive publications.

The book does not do the events justice. It treats Dunkirk and the decision-making about that as an annoyance to the cabinet machinations rather than central to it. It is replete with asides and ruminations that lead no where. Much of it is parsed in the negative, e.g., 'he was not entirely wrong,' 'there is some truth in this matter,' and so on. A manuscript like this submitted blind to a publisher today would be unlikely to be produced. ‘While the references to the Mass Observation reports are interesting, it is not convincing unless one is already convinced and then it confirms.’ That would be one of the many things an anonymous assessor might say.

I read it years ago and did not find it satisfactory but recent stimulation about Dunkirk brought it back to mind and I tried it again with the same result.

IMDb meta-data 1 hour and 31 minutes rated 6.5 at from 2846 cinemitizens.

The majesty of the roof of the world in Tibet provides the background to this tale. Peter Cushing is the very British scientist scouting high altitude plants and Sergeant O'Rourke is the bluff American showman. They join forces to search for the Title Character is this Creature Feature with many a difference.

AB Snow card.jpg

The crass showman explains his desire to profit from the increasing curiosity of people about the world which can now be satisfied by radio, television, and movies. His interest is commercial but he sees a larger meaning in it. Like Benjamin Franklin, he wants to do well by doing good. Cushing’s interest is a personal obsession since he once saw the footprint of a gigantic Title Character. While he is a Sensitive Victorian Age Chap in manner with pipe, tea, and scarf, his interest is personal, not scientific.

Though muted, the collision course is set. Cushing wants to take pictures, open a dialogue, exchange email addresses, and become Facebook friends with the Title Character. Sarge wants to cage one and take it back for show and tell. Maybe run it as a Republican for the Senate from Wyoming. As tensions rise, the worst comes out in each of them.

Sarge gets more huckster and Cushing gets more sanctimonious. They compete vigorously in stereotyping.

Is the Abomie an offshoot of human evolution? Is Abomie an alien hiding out in the mountains, waiting for Zontar? Is Abomie the successor to humanity so that after we all kill each other and leave the Earth will Abomie and company come down out of the mountains to claim the world? Is Abomie id?

There are many nice touches. The telepathy of the Lama and the Abomie added to the spookiness, as did the dark interior of the lamasery. Then there is the whistling and whispering wind in the mountains.

Then one dark and windy night in the high peaks, they shoot and kill an NBA player, eleven feet tall with the shoe and ego size to prove it.

Yeti big.jpg Big.

But dead. Well a dead NB-Abomie might still be worth something, both of scientific and commercial value. Time to pack up and go home.

Ah huh.

Turns out Abomie has family and friends and they want … to give his body an Himalayan burial, cash-in his Opal card, take revenge on the murderer, keep their secret by killing the whole group, or watch 7Mate.

It is 1957 and everyone smokes, even on Mount Everest they stop for a fag.

Cushing and co.jpg Before the body count starts.

Between smokes the party of five is reduced, to four, to three…. The guide runs away. Two of the dead have no marks on them, yet they are dead. One of them commits suicide, more or less, and the other dies of fright after reading the script to the end. Two little Indians remain on the India side of the mountains.

To bait a trap Sarge had convinced one of the party to be a scapegoat. And arms him with a rifle loaded with blanks. Nice guy. His excuse was to avoid killing another creature. Not out of concern for the creature but to have a live example to exhibit. Nice guy. Now he has a dead scapegoat.

Yet later Sarge tries to expiate his guilt and finds himself trapped in an avalanche of his own making. As he turns to face it, perspiring, exhausted, gaunt, his fatalism is complete. But that pales next to Cushing’s final confrontation.

Yes, there is no Yeti.

In a display of spunk rare for a 1950s damsel, Cushing’s scientist wife whom he left back in the lamasery making tea and cataloguing the specimens, sets out to find him, fearing the worst. By force of will she drags along his assistant and she finds him. Atta girl! Whew!

There is intelligence and wit in the screenplay that rises above the stereotype of the Creature Feature genre and the subsequent reputation of Hammer Films. Let be said that the reputation is largely undeserved, but there it is.

The comparison has to be ‘The Snow Creature’ (1954), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, which stems from the same premise, scientist and showman in search of the Yeti in the Himalayas, and the two films differ thereafter in every respect. In ‘The Abominable Man’ the natives are accorded respect and even deference, as it is their country. While the showman is crass he can explain and justify his approach and he shows remorse later. The party consists of mixed characters and not disposable cardboard. And Abomie is granted a spirituality denied to the lab specimen in the telephone booth.

The ice and snow came from a second unit working in the Pyrenees, and it is marvellous. No CGI there but guys slogging through snow.

Nigel Kneale wrote the story and then the screenplay, and it is directed by Val Guest who mastered mystery, pace, locale, tension, drama, who dared leave much to the imagination of the viewer. This started as a story called ‘The Creature’ for the BBC two years earlier. This combination of Kneale and Guest produced quality time and again.

Sergeant O’Rourke did several B picture in England like ‘The Strange World of Planet X’ (1958), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

I found it on Daily Motion and the print I watch was jerky but easy enough to watch and hear.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 22 minutes of Dali time 3.7 from 538 cinemitizens

Having just inherited the vast Stanton fortune, Scott Brady descends on the Stanton Institute for Time Research to get his watch repaired. Brandishing KPIs he demands results!  The lab coats there cannot even change the battery in his Rolex! Useless! If they cannot do better he will divert the funding to Weapons of Crap Destruction and start with Hollywood!  

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Whoa! Under that gun the Senior Scientist skips pages in the Time Traveller's Manual and throws all the switches. 'More power,' Igor, the ever present assistant, cries and more power he gets from somewhere.  
They get comfy and tune in the same television I had in grad school with endless horizontal rolling and showing nothing but very old, very tired reruns on the only channel it can receive. They watch about 30 minutes of the film excerpts from public domain stock footage of rubber dinosaurs, fake cowboys, playful cavemen, decent Republicans, forbearing Christians, and other forgotten pre-Fox News relics glimpsed briefly when the horizontal roll pauses. ‘Comfy,’ well there is only one chair. Guess who occupies it? Yes, Scott Bully.

Time Lab YV.jpg The time lab where they watch television. Note the sunken floor.

The other notable accoutrement of the lab is an elevator that descends two steps to the sunken floor of the lab. Brady makes ostentatious use of it when he comes to crack the eggheads. Later, as below, when he is running for his life, he skips the elevator and uses the steps. Makes sense, but why is it there in the first place. We’ll never know.

Well Brady is impressed that the time travel lab seems to travel in time, but where is the dollar in the past?  Let’s try the future. Hmmmm, but it is his dime so Senior and Igor with the requisite female on screaming duty comply.  They go looking for Yvette Mimieux and the Eloi in the future. The fraternity brothers cheered.

Whooska, and they flit through time to…. some time. There they find a spaceship and Blue Poles, yes, Slavs standing on plinths. See, it’s like this. Bully Brady, Senior Scientist, Igor, and Screamer are standing in their sparsely furnished time lab blaming each other for forgetting to order Indian takeaway before launching into the future, when the men in blue… No, wait, that is the blue men kick in the door and take them away at finger point. Thereafter the blue men, showing their superiority, climb on top of the plinths to lecture them. Well, it makes as much sense as some of the training seminars I have had.

Blue Poles.jpg

Then in another empty room they encounter the rest of the Blue Poles who recite gibberish from the script about being in the middle of a war.

Here was Bully Brady’s chance at some technology transfer for his weapons industry. But does he take it? No, he is too busying plastering his remaining hair to his forehead to make a deal, grab a phaser, steal a super secret blue print pinned to the notice board, slip a plinth in his pocket, or anything.

Seeing how useless these travellers are, the Blue Poles send them back to the Time Shed amid a hail of sound effects. Once there levers are levered and switches switched, though what the power source would be out there is unknown to them and to us. They go whirring back to 1967 hairstyles.

But wait, Bully Brady annihilates himself. That was a nice touch, but completely incomprehensible. In short, he played chicken with himself and lost. That was one ka-boom we all cheered.

This film is proof that things can always get worse.  After a run B films rated below 5.0 comes this entry. The director, writer, producer David Hewitt came to this movie after his remarkable ‘Monsters Crash the Pajama Party’ (1965) in his own search for the bottom of the barrel. This latter film has proven illusive on the inter-web but the fraternity brothers continue the search during their conscious hours.

Hewitt’s efforts are ably assisted by Scott Brady who exudes bad will with a thuggish air few could equal. He is perfectly loathsome but waiting a long time to see him get his comeuppance was boring. The direction seems to have consisted mostly of Brady turning his head to the left, and then… to the right. Wow! That’s entertainment, not. Was he rolling his brain into the socket, watching a tennis match, feeling water in the inner ear, or doing as he was directed? Decide now! 

For most of the cast this is the single entry on their IMDb vitae.  The fraternity brothers had no trouble predicting that.

The production values are well below Dr Who. Indeed a Dalek or two would have livened up the otherwise dead script. Moreover, the 1967 Tardis was a luxury craft compared to this Time Shed.

A krimi with energy, wit, chemistry, zest, and pigtails. It starts and ends with our heroine Flavia de Luce bound and gagged. As if that could stop this dynamo.

Sweetness pie.jpg

It is rural England of 1950. Flavia with her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne lives with Father in the crumbling estate of Buckshaw. Ophelia and her co-conspirator Daphne delight in tormenting Flavia who reciprocates with chemistry.

Unwisely stepping into this combat zone of sibling rivalry are a pair of villains who seek postage stamps. Yes, they want to send cards home to mum with Penny Blacks!

Father came back from the war a colonel with Dogger, the handy man, and both are largely silent. Dogger had been a POW on the Burma Railroad, and he goes blank now and again. The Colonel spent four years in Changi.

Father’s wife, mother of the girls, Harriet disappeared and then died. As the story opens Father spends most of his time with stamp albums.

Flavia does chemistry upstairs in a laboratory fitted out and left by a remote forbear. Daphne reads, often aloud, from the English classics lining the decrepit shelves, and Ophelia, the oldest at 17, preens constantly in the reflections of tea spoons, mirrors, water glasses, windows. She knows who is the fairest of them all and wants to know it constantly.

Then at 4 am one morning, while waiting for an experiment to percolate, Flavia comes across a dead man in the cucumber patch! Zounds! What to do? There are many house rules against ever intruding on Father and they would likely involve capital punishment at 4 am. Dogger, then. Yes, and for a man more of less comatose he proves very practiced at dealing with the dead. Flavia reflects on the fragments she has heard about him.

Plod arrives and dismisses the ‘little girl’ Flavia with a wave. Big mistake. That sets her off on her own mission. She tries to figure it out like a problem in chemistry: identify the interactions, resolve the components, assess the intensity, and so on. She interviews neighbours ever so subtly, researches in the county library, examines parish church tombstones, walks the woods for time and distances, talks to the old school tie, climbs on roofs, and more, all with the obsessiveness only a tweenager can muster. Meanwhile Dogger confesses to shield Father who confesses to shield Dogger, and Flavia, what else is a chemist to do to buy time for maturation, confesses to shield them both.

Then there is the itinerant architectural researcher tramping about. Is he really what he seems? Or did he come from Norway? Who ate the slice of cream pie? Why was the dead bird left on the back door step? Why is the county library closed just when essential information has to be found?

This title is the first in a series, and it is a delight. The erudition spills off the page with vitality. The learning is immense but the load is light as air. Flavia’s constant resort to chemistry provides the pole star. The plotting is meticulous and integrates everything. There is nothing superfluous. Every detail dovetails into the plot like Shaker furniture joined without a nail.

The denouement does drag on, but it works a delight when comes salvation in white. Loved the convoluted chain of reasoning that Flavia developed to arrive at Norway, matched to that of Plod who found it on a clothing tag.

Alan Bradley.jpg

Alan Bradley is a Canadian with many writing credits. There seem to be nine in this series to date.

An irreligious and illegitimate, left-handed vegetarian homosexual pacifist with one name and a shock of flaming red hair who dressed as dandy, seldom finished a job, and never published, that is Leonardo from Vinci (1452–1519). He would be banned by the NRA in Alabama, hung by the Veep, and not get a job at a university today.

Never hit a KPI. No tenure. No promotion. Try imagining his 360-degree review. Go on, try!

He was the illegitimate son of a notary and a servant girl.  His father recognised and accepted him though for the first twelve years or so he was brought up by his mother, the servant girl, and her new husband. At about twelve Leonardo went to live in his father’s home.  There is no doubt the first eleven years were formative. Read on.

Leo birth house.jpg His father's house.

While in the care of his mother he was free to roam unshackled by the conventions of the notary’s higher social status and rigidly conventional family life.  Roam he did through hills and dales where he began the close observation of nature that never stopped.  Like the boy who became Peter the Great, he was free of the inhibitions of the status that he later acquired.

His father soon realised that this boy was never going to be a notary. He was dreamy, always scratchy away at things, doodling in the dust, pulling things apart.  His father arranged to apprentice him to an artist's workshop in nearby Firenze. It was hog heaven for the lad.  He did the work assigned to him, starting with crushing shells to make paint, cleaning brushes, and sweeping floors. Then he went on to preparing the surface of boards, walls, and canvases for paint.  He worked his way up from these entry jobs, very quickly, to painting backgrounds like sky and hills.  Next he was painting background figures which soon got him promoted to foreground figures. While a teenager his talents surpassed the master of the workshop.

Leo stayed an apprentice for longer than usual because he was content, but eventually his father staked him to set up his own workshop, and perhaps assisted in getting some early commissions for him. Leo’s talents bloomed. His only ambition was to keep puzzling away at things.

He took commissions and worked on them, in some cases for years, without finishing many of them. As he did so, he invented new techniques, the most significant being oil painting, which in turn led to his famous technique of sfumato.  Together these two measures allowed him to produce colours and dimensions unlike anything previously done in tempura. Later he would stress the goal of creating the illusion of three dimensions on two. As did Ludwig von Beethoven, so Leonardo invented form and content together.

Living in bustling Firenze, Leo extended his close observation to people. He begun to carry a small notebook night and day and he sketched endlessly, as he observed. He also wrote notes and puzzles. About 7,200 half-quarto pages from these notebooks have survived that is, perhaps, a mere portion of the original total. Still this is more on paper than a contemporary biographer of Steve Jobs could find because Jobs worked in digital media from the get-go and most of it has disappeared with the passing of floppy discs, hard discs, and web sites. 

Instead of finishing a commission, Leonardo would spend hours examining the condensation on a glass of cold water on a hot day, ants on a leaf, the faces of men in a pub, or applying the eighteenth coat of oil paint to a tree in the background of a painting. While he concentrated hard on what he did, he did not focus on completing tasks. All trip, no arrival.

The anonymous accusation was a common practice of the time and much emphasised in Firenze.  Write out an accusation and drop in the box. Done. (This was a practice revived by the Naziis in Occupied France.) These accusations covered everything from tax dodging, to cheating business partners or customers, short changing deliveries, adultery, and homosexuality.  While sodomy was a moral sin and a capital crime, it was also much practised in Firenze. Hypocrisy is not confined to D.C.

One such latter accusation was made against Leo but it was unsubstantiated upon investigation and he saw it off.  Other similar accusations, however, followed. Whether any specifics in the assertions were so, it is true that he preferred boys to girls or women. True or not, sustained or not, the accusations and innuendoes were making his life and work difficult. After he left Florence, nothing more is heard of such accusations, though it is clear that was his way of life.

In Milan the usurper Il Moro, was buying legitimacy by attracting entertainers like Sharon Stone to Milan. To make peace with the new ruler of Milan, the Signoria of Firenze commissioned Leo to make a lyre of silver for Il Moro and personally to deliver it. While so doing, Leo also applied for a job as engineer, maestro, painter, and celebrity pet.  The duke commissioned him to do a giant equestrian statue which of course remained unfinished during the seventeen years Leo spent on Moro’s dime.

He did earn his keep by producing entertainments for the duke. These shows included automatons, flying hoists, tableaux, and all manner of smoke and mirrors.  The author makes the point that with these shows, Leo had to deliver on time, on target, and on budget. And he did! Repeatedly.  

Being an impresario distracted him from the equestrian bronze but made a great reputation for the duke. (Later this duke would invite the French to come to his aid and that precipitated more than thirty years of incessant war in the Italian peninsula. The French liked shopping in Italy, and paid with swords, crossbows, siege guns, cavalry, and more.)

In these shows Leo’s engineering and artistry were united. They also demonstrated his management ability to prepare and stage them.  He spent years in Milan and only left when Il Moro’s world collapsed. He returned to Florence briefly and then in a dream come true King Francis I of France offered him a pension, not a commission for a specific work or works, but retainer to do what he liked.

Clos Luce.jpg
He set up a house and pottered away.

While he had been a strapping red head in his prime, he aged rapidly and badly. Those who met him for the first time in his fifties and later routinely took him to be ten or more years older than he was.

R Plato.jpg
There is some reason to believe that Raphael used him as the model for Plato, as above, in his great painting of the Academy for a Pope.

Most of Leonardo’s engineering ideas were never tried, and he completed few paintings, yet he was recognised far and wide as the genius of the age. How does he compare to Paris Hilton, that is a question to consider. His recognition infuriated toiling rivals like the religious zealot Michaelangelo who tried to blacken Leo’s name at any opportunity.

To commission a work from Leonardo was difficult and almost always fruitless. He often played hard to get and declined commissions. When he accepted, whatever the notarised contact said, it was done in his way and on his terms. That most famous of all paintings, the Mona Lisa, which the author details at length was never finished. While Signor Giaconda commissioned it, he never saw the completed work. Instead like several other paintings Leo carted it from Milan, to Florence, to Rome, to France, daubing at it off and on for years.

It was not procrastination. His technique took time. In Lisa’s case, the canvas had a base of white lead, which even with other coats of paint over it still reflects light like nothing else. The lead coating took time, and by the way, this unique property of white lead paint was recognised by others and commonly used on the eyes of portraits. An artist who licked his brush to get a point with this lead for the white of eye developed lead poisoning and this killed many.

Over the white lead Leonardo added very thin coat of oil paint and then waited weeks or months for it to dry. Then another with a wait. And so on. At times he changed his mind and altered a painting and waited. He out waited all of his patrons except Francis who had hired him as a companion more than anything else and they seemed to enjoy each others company. When Francis had time off from murdering Protestants or sacking Italy, he visited Leo for a natter. Though I did wonder, without enlightenment, what language they spoke together.

Leonardo was never idle and in the weeks of waiting for paint to dry he would take up a new project and do, say, a series of drawings of water falls, or rivers. He was always fascinated by the motion of water. Indeed at times he speculated that water to the Earth was as blood to the body, and he meant that literally as much as figuratively. Though for all his polymath genius he never understood the fifth grade science of evaporation.

While he learned much from reading, he never published his own research, though he spoke of doing so, but those words became another unfinished project. He had been an autodidact in his early years and had so little education he could barely read, and he was defensive about that for years. More or less secretly he spent years trying, off and on, to learn Latin with little success. (Miss Vera Earl, MA, would have put his declension in order in no time!) Gradually he came to read Italian and learned from the tomes he read. Perhaps there was a psychological barrier to publishing because of his early life in which books were for others.

It is a wonder, in an age without knowledge of germs, he lived as long as he did. That the white lead did not kill him may be down to his slow pace of painting. But also, where local circumstances were conducive, he did hundreds of autopsies with accompanying drawings of the muscles and bones of the human body without much hand washing, sterilising of knives, and such. Since most of the cadavers he could work on came from the poorest strata of society, often they were diseased and infested, yet he lived.

This quintessential embodiment of the Italian Renaissance, this son of Firenze, this Tuscan-speaking Italian died in France and King Francis gathered his mortal possessions, so that in time the Mona Lisa and many of the drawings passed to the Louvre, where I once saw Lisa behind a bullet proof glass and over the heads of and in the storm of flash bulbs from hundreds of Japanese tourists. I also saw for a few seconds two of his completed, smaller religious works in the Hermitage in a squeeze play.

Isaacson has a prosaic explanation for Leonardo’s (in)famous mirror writing, which is best read in its entirety. It demystifies this practice, and disqualifies Leonardo from the Rosicrucian Hall of Fame.

He was a contemporary of Niccolò Machiavelli, who signed for the city of Florence a contract commissioning Leo to paint a triumphal scene. Needless to say it was never completed. Isaacson supposes Machia and Leo were friends, but I rather doubt it. The evidence is circumstantial at best, and as personalities they had nothing in common. Geniuses do not always attract each other.

Still Isaacson’s book is extensively researched, measured in its inferences, and concentrates almost always on available evidence, which is almost always art, paintings, sketches, models, and drawings, much of it from the notebooks Leo always carried. He succeeds in bringing alive this man who could spend hours examining the condensation on a glass of cold water, drawing the shapes as they came and went, or simply staring intently at the glass as if it alone existed in the world.

Issacson.jpg

The notebooks were numerous and many have been lost. Some were sold off to admirers on his death, and so valuable was anything of his that some notebooks were ripped up and the pages sold separately. In this practice was room for forgeries. Yet much of them remains and they are the only autobiographical source for this remarkable man. On the pages are his many interests, and lists of things he wanted to do, find, understand, know, and test. By the way, though he was pragmatic enough to keep it to himself one entry in the notebooks says that 'the sun does not move.'

He was so remarkable that even in his lifetime apocryphal stories of his powers were circulated and these multiplied after his death. The journalist of the time, as now, were completely unscrupulous in the exaggerations heaped upon his name to peddle their wares. Thus he became encrusted with myth and legend. Part of Isaacson’s achievement has been to strip away those layers that readers may see the man within.

Dublin in the early 1950s is a world unto itself turned inward. Dr Quirke is a pathologist who observes much and suspects more. When a road accident victim’s corpse is examined he finds a contusion on the temple that is inconsistent with the car crash. Musing follows. In time, he mentions his doubts to the Inspector Hackett of the Serious Crimes Squad who noses around and finds unpleasant emanations. This is the seventh entry in a series and it is tired, but perhaps complacent is the right word: 'If I write it, the reviewers will praise it.' He did and they did.

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Though the spring weather is benign, the choking conformity of Maxima Catholic Dublin is inescapable. All in Dublin is more Catholic than the Pope. It is certainly more Catholic than the Rome of the time. The Bishop’s Palace is the seat of power in Dublin, not Tithe an Rialtais, the large Edwardian building enclosing a quadrangle on Merrion Street wherein dwells the Taoiseach by which we once walked.

There is only one escape permitted from this suffocating pall and that is alcohol. Frequently in Quirke stories, and no doubt in 1950s Dublin life, the pregnancy of unmarried women is paramount. Moreover, every thread, however long and ravelled, eventually traces back to the Catholic Church and its baleful tentacles.

These books are very well written and the picture of Irish life seen through Quirke’s eyes is to travel back in time. Yet in these books there is precious little detection, no police procedure despite Hackett’s occasional plod, and no mystery. Much is also predictable, as Quirke’s sexual conquests. As soon as a women is introduced into the story, we know she will soon succumb to his charms.

Instead we have Quirke, holder of a prestigious and authoritative position, a highly trained and accomplished medical doctor, a widower, father of a bright grown daughter, comfortable of income, handsome and attractive to women, who spends nearly every minute feeling sorry for himself in a self-imposed melancholia where he wallows for pages and pages, smoking cigarette after cigarette, drinking drink after drink. Evidently his pathologies did not involve lungs or livers.

Instead of detection we have meals, drinks, cigarettes, meals, drinks, cigarettes, meals….. On it goes. Yes, the prose is polished and the observations of life’s details exact, but repetitive and inert. There seems to be neither point nor purpose to the the prose. Some of the characterisations are profound, like Quirke’s terminally ill brother but have no place in the plot.

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There is no doubt John Banville, Benjamin Black’s after ego, can write. The portrait of the victim’s father is striking and sympathetic. The contrast, however, is the government official whom Hackett interviews, who is little more than a cartoon character, flustered by the simplest question. Banville has respect for the father and none for government officials and it shows as he makes up the reader’s mind. Take that all those who work for the government, including those who uphold the intellectual property and copyright laws that secure Banville’s income. all those who regulate and maintain the internet services that provide a platform for his novels, all those who police crime and who had to deal with IRA on the border for a generation, all those who make difficult decisions about troop deployments on UN Peace Keeping missions, these are all clots!

I also found the reference to the Spanish Civil War confusing. The International Brigades were certainly there but the specifics mentioned in the story did not compute.

IMDb metadata: run time per episode in 26 minutes, rated 8.1 by a paltry 122 cinemitizens.

A one-year television series in thirty-eight episodes from the United States depicting space flight pioneering with respectful attention paid to the science and technology. Willy Ley would have approved. Maybe he did. It stars everyman William Lundigan.

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And he alone is the constant through the episodes. No other player is listed for more than eight outings. That may partly explain its failure, not enough characters to develop audience identifications, together with the lack of dramatics from calm, cool, collected, and sometimes nearly catatonic Bill. The tone is realistic and the presentation emphasises the difficulties. Space flight is hard enough without zombies, meteors, or John Carradine.

The drama emerges from the divergences among the crew, and occasionally from mechanical elements. Some of the crew are determined to complete the mission even at high risk, and others are more cautious. Everything is being done for the first time, and some of the equipment fails. Think Apollo 13. Think low-bid contractors.

The series was made with what appears to be the unstinting cooperation of the USAF, as noted in the terminal screen acknowledgements. These Saturn rockets are military without a doubt.

In 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower created NASA to explore space. There must be quite a story there of Ike wresting some of the missiles from the generals. But who mistrusts generals more than a one-time general, and who better to convince Congress likewise than that same general.

No doubt this creation was part of a policy to encourage the Soviets not to use space for military purposes. But of course there must have been some serious cooperation between NASA and USAF that continues today. Those rockets grow on money trees in the defence budget green house. No doubt there have been occasions when the USAF made a bid to take over from NASA, too. These bureaucratic fights would be fascinating studies in themselves.

This series might have appealed to the Air Force as publicity for its sole-agent claims to space. Though the references to an enemy ‘them’ are few. Indeed in one episode the safe return of Bill himself is only possible with the cooperation of a Russian tracking station. No doubt when the script writers get bored they will throw in some sabotage, and that friend of the jaded writer, the meteor, but not in the early going.

Even so it is notable that each of three episodes seen so far end in failure. The Moon orbit is aborted and the whole crew returns safely. The Moon landing is compromised and one crewman dies on the Moon, and the rest have to leave before completing the mission. Ditto the third, another injury truncates the it. The program, a cynic might say, was creating a climate of low expectations for space exploration.

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The key is so low that the first steps on the Moon are nothing much. The door opens, down the ladder they go and start standing around waiting for the director to cue them. No dramatic pause before the step onto the surface. No finely calibrated remark. No excitement.

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No speeches and no flag. Neil Armstrong got no tips from this scene for his step into eternity.

While there is a revolving door of characters the sets are of great verisimilitude for the day, thanks no doubt to the Air Force. The acting is fine, the more so considering how quickly each episode was made. Maybe not in one-take, but close to it. The worried wives, look very worried. The anxious generals on the ground look anxious. The stressed flyboys look stressed. By the way, the ubiquitous Australian Michael Pate appears in one episode.

The one mistake is in the portrayal of the representatives of the media of the day as sober, sensible, and civil, but then maybe they were back in those days. Certainly today no self-disrespecting ABC journalist would fail to badger the worried wives with questions about death, children about absent fathers, generals about incompetence, and so on. Why let the dust settle when stirring it up goes on the resumé.

Like the acting and realism, the special effects with models and travelling matte are far superior to many a B-movie reviewed on this blog. Free-fall in the cabin is fun to watch. In space there is no flame from the rockets. The EVA astronauts are floating in the ether.

The Mind Palace has no entry for this program from the time. It was programmed against ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’ and ‘The Price is Right,’ so I guess our boob tube was on the Nelsons in 1959-1960.

IMDb metadata is this: 1 hour and 32 minutes of treacle, rated 3.2 by 277 cinemitizens who confessed to seeing it.

First there was ‘Starcrash.’ and then when it seemed Italian Sy Fy films could not get worse, the same production crew that made it came out with ‘Escape from Galaxy 3,’ from which there is no escape. The production liberally plagiarised the special effects, vista shots, and costumes from the earlier film, and this story, such as it is, starts where ‘Starcrash’ (mercifully) ended.

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What is the set up? Princess Lolo and King Dad are in for trouble when Liberace shows up dressed for the Newtown Mardi Gras right down to sparkle in his beard.

Liberace.jpg Looks like he fell off a float.

He has cosmic mega candelabras and blasts them. He did not come in peace. He came in sparkle. Since he is styled ‘King of the Night,’ the fraternity brothers wondered if he was searching for the Queen of Night from Mozart with her very, very high Cs. Should be able to hear her anywhere in the galaxy when she hits it.

Yes, this is yet another Italian Star Wars exploitation. It goes to the bottom of a long list.

Lolo with Seia, her bodyguard, flee. Liberace pursues. They flee some more. Liberace pursues some more. When he gets close they fire their puny candlesticks and he replies with his cosmic mega candelabras that destroy whole planets that get in the line of fire. This takes forty-five minutes or five on Very Fast Forward, best friend of the obsessive film reviewer.

Desperate for an espresso, Lolo and Seia land on Earth, 20,000 years ago to tank up. Yep. the fraternity brothers recognised the Italian peninsula for what it is, a phallic symbol. So do the travellers. Once there they learn from the birds and bees. This couple of losers did not know what those bits were for back home. Now Seia takes his duties as Lolo’s body guard to new…. No wonder Liberace thought it was time to exterminate them. There follows about forty-five or five minutes of frolicking. Old Liberace has been forgotten. Oh, sure.

Until he arrives with his mega cosmic candelabra and starts blasting Earth, then the script remembers him. The natives blame Lolo and Seia for making God mad at them, and so they should. A soccer riot follows and Liberace grabs Lolo and Seia, though why he wanted these two stick figures is not clear. They face off, and — whoa! — Seia burns Liberace to a crispy critter with his laser eyes. ‘Laser eyes?’ Yep. Saved those for the end.

Lolo and Seia decide to stay on Earth and start Italy.

The end.

In a word: terrible.

The Italian title makes it sound far better than it is, namely, ‘Giochi erotici nella terza galassia,' which according to Siri translates as ‘Erotic games from the third galaxy.’ There is no science and the fiction is incoherent, bland, and predictable (except for those laser eyes, which he must have borrowed from Superman and augmented them somehow).

It was also released in English-speaking markets as ‘Starcrash II’ to warn off movie goers. It worked. Other Italian imitations of ‘Star Wars’ include the aforementioned and difficult to forget ‘Star Crash’ (1978), ’Star Odyssey’ (1979), ’War of the Planets’ (1977),' ‘The Humanoid’ (1979), and others I have successfully forgotten.

IMDb metadata is 1 hour a 25 minutes, rated 7.0 by 2773 cinemitizens.

When Quatermass’s moon project is starved of funds, he goes to Whitehall to bludgeon bureaucrats into stumping up the dosh. This method has always worked before so off he goes. Meanwhile, his crew watch the gentle ascent of a flock of meteors.

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Strangely in London no one this time is moved by Quatermass’s bluster and bullying. Quatermass draws the only conclusion possible, eh Erich. Yep, the aliens are at it. That, by the way, would explain a lot about Whitehall decision-making over the years.

After shouting at his subordinates for a while, Prof Q pays attention to the meteors, and now having nothing better to do, he scouts the location where they fell. Well, no, he cannot do that because it is fenced off in the manner of a German death camp. Moreover, the perimeter is patrolled by some very silent, icy, and heavily armed guards in get-up that is un-English.

Q plaform view.jpg A conveniently located viewing platform offers perspective to the Prof.

These guards spirit away the hapless assistant who drove Quatermass to the locale, and as Quatermass goes all Alpha Male on them, one steps forward and hits him with the butt of a gun. Down went Prof Q to the cheers of the fraternity brothers. ‘About time someone told him where to get off for assigning all that homework over Easter,’ they cried! Aside: all profs look alike to the fraternity brothers.

The meteors are eggs that hatch out a gas that infects humans, turning them into slaves. The word ‘zombies' is used once, but oddly not the word 'Republicans.' The slaves built in a day or two the great complex Quatermass espied before his lights went out. When he recovers he rushes about, partly to find his assistant who has the keys to the WC, and to divert funding from this mystery project back to his own KPIs.

More doors are slammed in his face. Ah ha! It is a vast conspiracy. Yep the ‘Invaders’ (1967) have been at it a decade before Roy Thinnes came along, and most positions of authority are occupied by Republicans aka aliens! Look at those little fingers! Proof positive!

There is a fabulous scene where a delegation is being shown around the facility and a parliamentarian wonders off and is slimmed! Slimmed! There are many striking touches like this in the film. But consider what does it take to slime a politico.

Sid James appears as a sotten journalist who telephones in the story from the local pub, only to be mowed down by the aforementioned security guards. Witnessing this murder, shakes up the locals and to calm down they watch ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) and get an idea. They gather with torches, pitchforks, straw hats, darts, and other accoutrements of rural life to march on the mystery site.

Mayhem ensues around a Shell Oil refinery. Quatermass just happens to arrive to boss everyone around. Meanwhile, his deputy, Bryan Forbes, launches the rocket and somehow this disconcerts the alien protoplasm. Forbes went behind the camera to direct later in his career.

Protoplasm march.gif The protoplasm which looks like that of the earlier 'Quatermass Experiment.' He needs an autoclave in his laboratory to clean up and prevent such growths.

At no time does Q try to negotiate with the amoebas. A big BOOM follows. Catastrophe averted, yes, but Quartermass strides off to prepare for the next one.

The Quatermass Franchise grew from Nigel Kneale’s typewriter first as serials on the BBC and then films. He was a very fine writer, some of whose other works are reviewed elsewhere on this blog. This script was filmed as a television series but it did not survive the BBC policy of taping over past productions. The director was Val Guest, who once again offers a masterclass in pace.

This outing presages much to follow in its paranoia, the mark of Cain on the humans who have succumbed to the aliens, the James Bond shoot out in the refinery, but also draws on the established tropes with those meteors. The obvious compareson is ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956) which stole much of this film's thunder in the North American market.

Scuttlebutt on the interweb street says Kneale and Guest argued about the character of Prof Q. Kneale wanted an avuncular English eccentric, but Guest wanted energy and tension in the part, and the producer wanted to sell the finished movie to the American market, so he wanted an American in the lead. Some of the more inane remarks, and that is a competitive field, on the IMDb blame Brian Donlevy, who played Quatermass, for the characterization, but it is obvious to anyone but a retard that the director did it. I guess the blunt, belligerent, brash, bossy, bullying, boorish, and bellicose Professor Quatermass was their idea of an American after having studied Dwight Eisenhower.

The IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 10 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.5 by 1099 cinemitizens.

In the middle of El Muerte desert in Old Mexico Uncle Fester is conducting experiments to recreate Gale Sondergaard! ‘No chance,’ said the fraternity brothers, ‘she was one-off.’ Fester is splicing genes from an unlimited supply of spiders and an unlimited supply of Hollywood wanna-be starlets. The result was Tandra Quinn aka Tarantella! There were many others such women with Fester but only she had a name in the cast list. The others are termed, with admirable imagination, ‘Lost Woman.’ About ten of them. They were not even distinguished by a number like Lost Woman 1. The fraternity brothers hoped to find them when the lights came on.

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Two bumps upset Fester’s apple cart laboratory. First he awarded a nationally competitive research grant to a scientist to join his lab. Fine. When this aged Post Doc shows up, turns out, he doesn’t like this kind of gene splicing. What a sissy! He even recoils from the fifty-pound spider Fester keeps as a pet, an early experiment that did not work out quite right.

Second, an airplane crash lands on the mesa and brings onto the Rock of Otranto a mixed group of passengers and crew. They blunder around. Smoke cigarettes. Blame each other for the crash. Decry Republicans. And notice, slowly, that their number is being diminished.

Fester has sent his little men after the intruders. ‘Little men?’ Yes, a by product of splicing the spider women is the production of shrunken dwarfs as their paramours and ….. [Here the veil is drawn.]

The film was a boon for Hollywood’s dwarf population some of whom got a day’s work out of it. Likewise for the wanna-be starlets. Neither dwarf nor starlet had any lines. These human spiders, as Fester likes to call them, communicate by telepathy. Ergo, the actor’s minimum wage did not have to be paid.

This set-up has at least as much potential as ‘The Wild Women of Wongo,’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog, but the execution undermines any prospects it might have had. Though admittedly it is better than that film but then so is a blank screen.

It is told as a flashback within a flashback and the characters are undifferentiated so that the audience — me — was never quite sure who was whom, apart from Fester. The oil man who finds the couple wandering in the El Muete desert and the airplane pilot were identical twins on camera, but in the credits different guys. Oh.

Though the second scientist escapes from Fester’s Mesa later he just happens to the on the airplane that crashes on to the mesa. How easy is the scriptwriter's life with such coincidences.

Equally coincidental Fester's oriental servant is one of one of the passengers on that plane, though he is not a dwarf. How he got from the laboratory in one scene to sitting on the airplane in the next is down to the magic of the scriptwriter's typewriter.

Within minutes of leaving the wrecked plane the just married bride among the passengers leaves her husband and goes into the bushes with the pilot for a anatomy lesson. She wants him to understand her. He does.

That second scientist, when he fled put miles between himself and the mesa, yet by coincidence he found Tarantella in the bar he walked into for a drink. After he shot her dead, she got up and left. Spider women never die! He then boarded the airplane to....the Mesa of Lost Time.

Yet later they all die in a fire started by our hero, whoever that was.

Throughout the mish-mash are interspersed for no discernible reason close-ups of Fester, perhaps he is using You Telepathy Tube, but who knows. There are also a number of equally pointless close up of the wanna-be’s larded into the proceedings. The fraternity brothers will explain those transactions to anyone who writes in and asks nicely. The dwarfs don’t get many close-ups.

There is an intrusive musical score that sets teeth on edge. It consists of three chords on a guitar repeated without purpose or end, punctuated now and then by a vase falling on a piano keyboard. Half-way through the fraternity brothers formed a lynch mob and set out to find the composer.

The direction is haphazard, if existent. The production values came fo Filene's Basement. Fester is too low key to laugh at. Most of the cast are described on the IMDb with this phrase, ‘little remembered.’ Yep. For most of them this film was the apex of their career.

This movie is another example, among many, of the overlap of the genres science fiction and horror. There is ostensibly science in Fester's lab explained with dialogue, but the results are horrible. Well not so horrible as to require expensive make up and costly special effects. Though, admittedly, the finger nails take seeing.

Internet Movie Data base metadata: 1 hour and 15 minutes in Dali time, rated 2.8 from 819 cinemitizens.

The International Space Organisation represented by silent film star Francis X. Bushman (born in 1883) proclaims ‘the greatest day in human history' with the launch of the ISO ship and crew for the Moon! ‘All nations have contributed’ to this ‘Earth shattering event,’ he says. FXB has other Sy Fy from this era on his CV.

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The twelve are diverse, including two women, who are not demeaned or deprecated, as is so common Sy Fy of this era and ilk. They go about their business without sneering by any of the men, or — what is always worse — efforts at comic relief at their expense.

The security is tight. Each crew member has to say his or her name! Wow! That would stop the fraternity brothers most days of the week, without a peek at the driver’s license.

We have a Frenchie, a Germanian, a Brit, a Jap, a Swede, a something else, a Nigerian, an other, and a Pole resident in Israel, and a Russkie. This Russkie is played by someone born in Russia, namely the Saint cum Falcon, showing the wear and tear of the bottle. The leader of the pack is Yankee Doodle.

Smooth sailing does not last long. Members of this handpicked crew soon fall to bickering among themselves, per the script, and then they have to duck meteors, the scriptwriter's friends. Whew! Still they make it to the Moon, where their number quickly diminishes. I seem to recall one of them falls down a hole. Gone. Two others wander off. Gone. Another gets clonked by a blunt meteor. The crew is getting less international by the minute.

Then from the ship’s computer comes a string of meaningless characters, which Yankee Doodle immediately recognises as Moonshine. Ooops, just kidding. He says they look Oriental and since one Oriental looks like another he orders the Jap to translate. Being a smart fortune cookie she quickly learns this Moonie lingo and translates. The message is: ‘Scram! But leave the cats.’

Cats? Yes, they brought two cats for scientific reasons which are too delicate to reveal on a family blog. (They also brought a cocker-spaniel to sniff their luggage.) Evidently the ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1953) wanted company. (This gem is reviewed elsewhere on this blog.)

We never see or hear the Moonies, hiding as they are deep underground to save on the production budget. As if! Maybe this is a trick to ruin the mission by one of the crew, shouts the hysterical genius. He is slapped down with his own slide-rule. But it turns out, in a twist, that the Frenchie is trying to scuttle the mission because he is one of ‘them,’ though the Russkie is not. Those who figure this out get a giant No-Prize. The geriatric Russkie is no match for the geriatric Frenchie, and Yankee Doodle has to whack him.

They lam off the Moon only to find the Earth a snowball. Yes, the Moonies want to watch ‘Ice Age’ (2002), not reviewed anywhere on this blog. What will Twelve Minus do? Of courses, blow it up! Huh?

They resolve to build an atomic bomb, fly over a handy volcano, drop the bomb down the spout, and the explosion will restart the carburettor, or something. This is a risky mission so the two who are to do it are bitter enemies, who have a reconciliation just before they ride the bomb down, like Slim Pickens. (You either get it, or you don’t.) Two more gone to dust.

That fixes that. Twelve went away and seven came back. I lost count, as did the director.

The end.

This a work of fiction without the science. The absence of anything remotely resembling scientific knowledge is complete. The ship exhaust flames in the void of space. The cats breathe on the airless Moon’s surface. The gravity is one-sixth so that of Earth, some characters trudge along as though under the sea. When the explosion in the volcano occurs we get shots of solar flares. Though they are always putting on and taking off crash helmets, there is no glass in the front of the faces because it is unnecessary thanks to hocus pocus. The list goes on. Since the film presents itself as a near documentary account such errors are laughable.

But even more amusing than these mistakes is the apologies for them in some of the User Reviews on the IMDb. Usually I skip these comments because so many of them are egotistical drivel, but since few of the critics linked to the IMDb, and none of the ones I have learned to respect, comment on this sludge I scanned the User Reviews. It was a refresher course in why I do not do this. Several scored it as 10 because of the gripping story. Oh hum. A couple of others praised its scientific acumen. No doubt a climate change denier. ‘Stop!’ I cried, and I did — stop.

Then there is the stage craft. In space we see the black pole on which the spaceship is stuck as it passes in front of the star matte. In the first shot of the Moonscape there is someone walking in front the light casting a shadow on the distant cliff face. Boom mikes occasionally intrude at the top of the screen. The actors sometimes speak so slowly it is clear they are repeating lines just recited to them.

It is also a creature feature that spares the expense of having a creature. We never see the Moonies, though the fraternity brothers suspected the Cat-Women were the culprits.

All in all though it is a crowded field, it is a contender for the worst of Sy Fy.

IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 5 minutes, but it seemed longer, rated 3.2 by 1241 cinemitizens.

The set-up is complicated for such a short pot-boiler, but here it is. During the Great War a French Army is being overrun by Huns, when….a regiment of Colonial Troops from Cambodia appears and proves impervious to German steel and lead. France is saved! A dead soldier cannot be again killed, and these are zombies, the animated dead.

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They were raised from the dead for just such an emergency by a Cambodian priest who parades around the winter trenches in a loincloth.

In a show of gratitude the priest is murdered because such zombies could mean ‘the extinction of the white race,’ cries one general to another.

While Woodrow Wilson was re-drawing maps at Versailles, these generals convene an international meeting for the purpose of eradicating the zombie threat to 'the white race.' Managers are keen to do this since it is a waste of ammunition trying to kill the dead. The plan is for an International Expedition disguised as archeologists to find the heart of Zombiedom at Ankgor Wat and kaboom it. A few back projections from a real expeditions suffices to set the scene.

Indiana Jones was too young to get a visa so instead they have assembled Dean Jagger with hair, Frail, and Beau among others. The latter two are as one whenever possible and a few times when it seemed impossible, according to the expert opinion of the fraternity brothers. Yet Dean professes his love for Frail, who is kind to him, always a bad sign, kindness like that. He does not take it well.

By now Dean, since he cannot be one with Frail, has been swotting the books and has discovered the secret incantation that saps everyone of their will — McKinsey Speak! The mumbo-jumbo of Key Performance Indicators, 360 degree reviews, deliverables, and the living dead are conjured, as can be seen in any meeting room nearby.

There in front of the back projection Dean has his way! The fraternity brothers took copious notes.

But Frail still does not love him! There is no money back guarantee with McKinsey-Speak so Dean falls for the oldest trick in Eve’s book. He renounces his mystic powers so that Frail will love him for what he is: A dope.

Even as the pompous Dean does on about what a noble thing he is doing, relinquishing his supernatural powers, all for Frail, those Cambodian zombies in the back projection revolt against his will-sapping tyranny. End of Dean, hair and all.

The end.

Good thing Woodrow was busy with the crayons, because if he had got wind of any of this plan, he would have banged on about applying the Fourteen Points to zombies. (Woody never knew when to quit.)

However, the scriptwriter would have done well to borrow a map from Woody since this scenario starts in a battle along 'the Franco-Austrian frontier.’ Huh! No such place. The Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Great War was a vast conglomeration in central and southern Europe a long way from France.

The border between science fiction and horror is permeable and one genre informs and influences the other. Thus it happens that horror movies like the one at hand turn up in searches for Sy Fy. Seeing it on a list one night, I chose it because the length suited the nocturnal schedule. I watched a very poor print on You Tube, though subsequent investigations found a better one at the Internet Archive.

The commentariat has a lot to say about this film, despite its well-deserved obscurity. It attracts attention because by some measures it is the second zombie film to come from the Dream Factory. The first was ‘White Zombie’ (1932), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, which was a commercial and critical success. No wonder: it starred Bela Lugosi. ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ came from the same production crew in the effort to recapture the magic and the money, and recycles some scenes from the earlier film, but lacks the verve, plot, and -- most of all -- Lugosi. These two films gestated a plethora of subsequent zombie movies and in time the concept of the zombie evolved to meet the needs of scriptwriters.

‘The concept of the zombie’ is something, along with much else, to which the fraternity brothers have heretofore given no thought. That time is over.

A zombie is a corpse raised from the dead and animated but without human qualities, like greed, emotion, hate, stupidity, and the other loveable features of our kind. They are directed by the mind of another, like robots. Indeed the word ‘robots’ is used in ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ about the Cambodian zombies in the trenches. That is per the ‘Oxford English Dictionary,’ which finds the word 'zombie' used in English in 1819 by a traveller returned from Brazil who observed Voodoo rituals.

Wikipedia assures the gentle reader that zombies play no part in 'the formal practice of Voodoo.' ‘The formal practice of Voodoo,’ that wording set the fraternity brothers to wondering about the informal practices. Or is Voodoo just about dolls and pins? (Is this the place to confess my own flirtation with a doll and pins?)

It is absolutely obvious that the Cambodians whom Dean enthrals are alive, and have not yet ever been dead, ergo proclaims the commentariat they are NOT zombies. Tricky. They have no wills and are mentally enslaved, but they have yet to be dead so how can they be undead. This circle goes around and around.

Zombies living dead.jpg 'The living dead march again' screams this lobby card yet the movie belies it. Moral? Never trust a lobby card.

In the spate of zombie films that followed, especially in the 1940s when horror films diverted audiences from the real horror of the Great War II, the zombie mutated to become a flesh eater. Nor was it any longer necessary to die first before dining on the flesh of others. Zombieism became virus passed by touch or bite, taking a tip from Dracula, a nip. In the Cold War, the soulless Zombie got red.

For further details see….‘I Walked with a Zombie’ (1943), ‘Revenge of the Zombies' (1943), ‘Zombies on Broadway’ (1945), ‘Valley of the Zombies’ (1946), ‘King of the Zombies’ (1953), ‘Voodoo Island’ (1957), ‘Zombies of Mora Tau' (1957), ‘The Dead Live’ (1961), ‘Voodoo Swamp’ (1961), 'The Plague of the Zombies' (1966), ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978), ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’ (1979), and more. Oh, and the personal favourite of the fraternity brothers, ‘Cockneys versus Zombies’ (2002). No doubt there a PhD dissertation or two charing the mutation of the concept of the zombie and its influence on.....

IMDb runtime 1 hour and 36 minutes, rated 6.8 by 1184 masochists.

It opens ever so slowly with a moon landing, then cuts to one space-suited astronaut dragging another across the surface of the moon, only to abandon the dragged body and ascend in the LEM. Meanwhile, bug-eyed as always, Klaus Kinski is shouting into a microphone at what looks like mission control. Who would put Klaus in charge of anything! Keep that man away from the matches!

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Then we turn to Alice, a translator in Rome, who goes off the rails. She misses days at work without herself noticing it. She finds things in her apartment of which she has no memory. She has lost an earring somewhere, somehow. All of these things she mentions to her friends who tell her to get some rest.

Because she found a postcard from Garma without a message on it in her apartment, she heads there, a remote and obscure location we are given to understand. When she arrives it is all but deserted in this resort for it is out of season. There she meets Beau, annoying Brat, and Lila. It seems she has been here before but everyone there knows her as Nicole. She also finds the missing earring. Thus the audience is sure she has been there before, even if she still is not.

Alice remains positive she has never set foot in the place, yet when Nicole’s clothes are presented to her they are a perfect fit. And so.

Brat tells her Nicole was on the run. Beau hangs around. Alice has recurrent images from that moonwalk and abandonment. She buys a second pair of large, and — no surprise — lethal scissors. The only reason she buys them is to have them handy later, it would seem.

It is a nice set up and then it is repeated for the next hour or so. Oh hum. It put the fraternity brothers in mind of ‘L’année denier à Marienbad’ (1961) though less glamorous. The repetition is eased by some very dreamy photography of Garma, about which more later, and an elegiac musical score.

Florinda Bolkan as Alice or Nicole carries the weight well enough but she has little to do but look perplexed. But she does not materialise from the screen like Delphine Seyrig.

It was released in one of its edited versions on DVD as 'Primal Impulse' in an effort to attract an audience by arousing expectations irrelevant to the film. Another triumph from a marketing department.

Primal card.jpg

Completely misleading though the title is.

Spoiler.

After investing an hour and a half of watching and trying to fathom Alice’s predicament the end is a royal cop-out. After so much brain taxing the fraternity brothers were exhausted and then upset to arrive no where. Do not bother to look for meaning because there is none. The closing title card says Alice is a psycho to be confined to an asylum in Switzerland. End.

Guess where she left the scissors. No not in the Brat. But Beau is no more.

The visuals are striking, including the last scene on the pebble beach, but pointless.

Remote and obscure Garma was Kemer on the south coast of Turkey, hence the mosques and Arabic script on buildings. The sequences in Rome were filmed in the EUR district which is as unRoman as possible with glass, pre-fabricated cement and steel office blocks, and a grid of streets rather like La Défense in Paris. Everywhere the Romans went they laid out orderly cities with wide streets in rectilinear alignments. But not in the rabbit-warren that Roman itself remains.

The film has not been well served by time and tide. It failed to get many theatrical releases. Its production is unclear. One source says it was filmed in English and then dubbed into Italian. Then in an effort to get a theatrical release in the Anglo markets the Italian version was dubbed into English. Likewise, it was re-edited. None of these efforts bore fruit. It more or less disappeared for a generation.

Then some enthusiasts came upon it and have since gathered different versions and spliced them together, and one such example is what I watched on You Tube. It is indeed confused. The English dubbing is occasionally dropped and we have a scene in Italian, at other times there are Greek subtitles with English dubbing, and on still other occasions French dubbing with English subtitles. Variation also applies to the title cards, some in Italian and some in English. I compared two of the several versions available on You Tube and confirmed the observation that scenes have been edited out of some versions.

The critics linked to the IMDb site agree that these changes do not alter the substance, which is ethereal, insubstantial, and vapid.

‘Giallo’ is the Italian word for mystery stories like this, but knowing that did not help.

It came up in You Tube searches for Sy Fy because the references to the Moon, and at the outset it looked like a Moon mission was the key.

In the end it seems these early and recurrent images of the Moon mission came from a movie young Alice saw as a child, which frightened her, because one living astronaut was abandoned on the Moon, so that she ran from the cinema without seeing the end. Ergo, neither do we see the end. We never do find out what Kinski was up to but then he never knew either.

It was intriguing to watch with the eye and ear candy, and a change from elderly male actors slugging it out with CGIs. which is too much Sy Fy these days.

Cairo, May 1942. The Desert Fox is a hundred miles away or less. Where? No one is sure. But close. Of that everyone is sure. Despite prodigious efforts the British have been unable to staunch Erwin Rommel’s relentless advance.

City Gold cover.jpg

Egypt is a sovereign state with its own army, but it is neutral in this struggle. Its sovereign, the boy-king Farouk I, has invited the British to Egypt to protect the Suez Canal. Well, that is diplomatic fiction. The reality is that the British have occupied Egypt to protect the Canal, and thought it best to retain the façade of Egyptian sovereignty by leaving the king on the throne in the hope of stability in the rear.

Nationalists in Egypt are ready to welcome a Rommel victory as the means to end British domination and the corrupt local elite that thrives on that domination. Members of the Egyptian Army plot to that end, though there are many divisions among them.

British soldier Jim Ross arrives in Cairo in the custody of an MP who dies of food poisoning unexpectedly and quickly, and Ross switches places with the dead officer as a means of escape. But once in Cairo he is mistaken for that officer and soon finds himself growing into the role. That is a nice twist, and it is well realised.

Ross's assignment is to find Rommel’s spy in Cairo who is feeding the Desert Fox very detailed information about the British forces, deployments, morale, weapons, Egyptian nationalism, shipping in the Canal, promotion of officers, developments in the Sudan and more. Ross discovers he has a penchant for reading files and making inferences.

Into the mix come many others. There is a resident white Russian prince, a widowed nurse, a Jewish gun runner for the Haganah, Ross’s superior and subordinate officers, and the comely Alice who finds him a man of alluring mystery. Throughout is the rogue Wallingford, a man of infinite charm, bottomless self-confidence, utter audacity, and who is amorally unscrupulous enough to go into politics. Even with a gun to his head, he continues to bargain.

Each character has a personality, but the sharpest is certainly Sergeant-Major Ponsonby who runs the office, and much else. In a complicated set of circumstance Ponsonby is forced to comply with the request of the arrogant women, the wife of a high ranking officer. Meekly he does so. Then, in a phrase Ross learns to respect, Ponsonby makes ‘a few inquiries.’ The woman's request, though granted, seems thereafter never to progress through the works. At every stage it is misplaced, misfiled, mis-stamped, mis-signed, or mislaid. In the end Ponsonby is proved right, what she wanted was a bad mistake, and he explains the delays in action to Ross by saying 'the SMs stick together.'

There are also vivid portraits of Egyptians caught between the worlds of the past, the present, and the future. Though the reaction of one Egyptian seems mistaken to this reader. His enemy was the king not the nationalists, but plots must have their devices.

The source of Rommel’s spy is adroitly handled, and is evidently historical fact, though it was all news to me (again). Though the plot device creaked here in the person of Percy, the ersatz South African.

For those that must have it, there is also one skirmish as the Germans advance, and Ross is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Len Deighton's name on the cover is always a guarantee of high quality plot and prose.

Deighton.jpg Len Deighton
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After false starts with some krimis I wanted something to read that I could and would read, so I turned to an old reliable. While sure I had read this before, I remembered nothing of it, not even as I read it. Hmmm. In any case it lived up to my hopes, it was engaging, informative, amusing, and enlightening with a story, a plot, characters, and such that the krimis that I had aborted did not have.

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