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Peter Graves made this for a Wilder in 1954, the year before he had made ‘Stalag 17' for a Wilder. What a different a Wilder makes. More on this enigma at the end.

First the IMDb facts, it runs for 1 hour and 11 minutes of Dali time, and the 1566 ratings average to 3.1/10. That is right at the Mendoza line.

Grave Peter is abducted by aliens, a frequent occurrence for those from Minnesota, but instead of the anal probe that St Paul of ‘Paul’ (2011) made (in)famoius, they bring him back from the dead with a heart transplant. He never says ‘Thank you.’

Killers poster.jpg A lobby poster straight out of Faux News

What happened? Grave Peter is a nuclear scientist who knows as much as Kevin about nukes, and is participating in above ground nuclear testing in Nevada (which then as now is not much good for anything else). Since the tests are atomic bomb drops and the technicians, politicians, generals, grunts, journalists, and scientists stand around with sun glasses on to watch, there is also plenty of longer term killing right there. In addition, everyone smokes.

The plane Grave Peter is in mysteriously crashes and is incinerated. The assumption is that he was barbecued in the pile of ash. Grieving Wife sheds a tear. Wooden colonel stiffens his upper lip. The next test is scheduled. Must not hold up progress to Armageddon.

Then Grave Peter in a ragged jumpsuit walks home in a daze. Whacko! He survived! But how? He is stunned and remembers nothing. Not even the massive butchers’ scars on his chest. The fraternity brothers were sure they would remember something like that no matter how OBs they drank.

He is physically fit after a shower, shave, coffee, and a pipe (being a tweedy scientist he smokes a pipe so he can leave a trail of ash for the plot). Yet he remembers nothing. Mondayitis? While the examining doctor remarks on the scars, he does not investigate them in any way. Guess it was a short 15-minute consultation on the Medicare scale and there was no time for more.

The shadow of the Cold War falls with a thump. What if this Grave Peter is a substitute planted by you-know-whom. The real Grave Peter could not have survived the crash. Ergo this one is an imposter. What other explanation could there be, Erich? This possibility does not explain the scars but no one seems to care about that. He is sequestered in the base hospital under observation, i.e., hospital arrest to await the Good Doctor to come and fix him up. But he is compulsive about carrying on. This arouses more suspicions by the wooden FBI man on the scene.

With the touching faith in drugs of B-movies, they shoot up Grave Peter with a truth serum, and he tells all. This is one blabber mouth. It goes like this:

He awoke on an operating table just as a heart, he says his, but he would wouldn't he, was stuck back in his chest by a mechanical arm attended by the losers of a Ping Pong match.

Graves post op.jpg Grave Peter in post-op.

He raves about those eyes. ‘Those eyes!’ He does this a lot.

Then the drug wears off and he wakes up in the hospital to find the doctor, the colonel, the stooge, and the FBI staring at him liked he just confessed to liking the Osmond Family’s music! Disbelief isn’t the half of it.

Conclusion: He’s no commie plant; he’s crazy. They change the locks on the hospital door. Well, no they don’t. And he is now determined to clear his name alone! Not only is he not a commie, he is not crazy, though why else did he accept this part? Grieving Wife is nowhere to be found. Another abduction? We’ll never know.

He breaks into the top security military base, he breaks into the top security safe, where he leaves pipe tobacco ash (was this an unconscious plea to be stopped?) and steals the nuclear test data.

He drives into the night, since the budget did not run to lighting, and sticks the top secret results under a rock. Oops! This is the very rock the FBI man is standing on in Bronson Canyon. Of all the rotten luck! There is punch up and Grave Peter flees. For a tweedy scientist he can hit below the belt with the best of them.

While I was raiding the refrigerator, he got himself into the aliens’ den where the Bug Eye in Chief talks to him. ‘We speak all languages,’ replies bug-eye numero uno Grave Peter’s amazement that he speak English. Polyglot, uh, a sure sign of someone up to no good. BEiC then explains to him in detail the nefarious plot in the best Dr No fashion.

They have destroyed their own world thanks to the climate change deniers and now have to relo. Earth will do, but first they have to rid it of us humans. To do this, sparing Occam’s razor, they will use the radiation from nuclear tests to charge the batteries in the hot house where they are breeding giant spiders and ants (some of which escaped to ‘Them’ [1954] - much the better film) and once they have enough creatures for a feature, they will unleash them to devour humanity. Gulp! One suspects a sequel in the works.

Now the Earth will be overrun with big bugs, but not to worry, then the bug eyes will spray DefCon to kill the insects, whose rotting bodies will fertilise the soil. See, a grade A plan with KPIs galore. In this case of McKinsey speak KPI means Killing People Immediately. Grave Peter is impressed with the grantsmanship of the plan, but instead of throwing in with them as a nuclear expert and getting promoted to Honorary Bug Eye, he escapes.

No gratitude has he. While babbling Geordie-speak he rushes to the one power planet in the place and brandishing a pistol that came with the elbow patches on his tweed coat, he throws all the switches to Off, including the MASTER Switch. Darkness fell. Iron lungs stopped, ‘I Love Lucy’ went blank. Surgeons said ‘Oh Oh.’ Nine months later there were surprises. But the power is off only a ten seconds, so maybe not so much of the latter.

The wooden ones, the colonel, the FBI, the stooge, Grieving Wife are now looking for a net to throw over Grave Peter when KABOOM! That was the sound of the aliens’ den blowing up, just as Grave Peter predicated! The mere sound of the explosion clears everything up and he is welcomed back on the road to Armageddon.

The end.

Seen today there is a message about destroying one's own world by electing idiots, and another about the dangers of radiation. But neither of these was intended at the time. Just plot devices though a few films like 'Rocketship X- M' (1950), reviewed elsewhere on the blog, do have an ever so carefully put case about the dangerous of nuclear radiation. Enough to get the screen writer a mug shot it was. But that was exceptional. In 1954 any doubts about the safety of nuclear energy and weapons were Commie tweets.

The only thing a sensible viewer remembers from this celluloid is the bug-eyed aliens. There are conflicting stories about this effect was achieved. The budget did not run to having anything made by a optician. They look like Ping Pong balls and that is the usual explanation, cut in half, with a black dot painted on them in which is a pin hole so the actors with them glued to his eye sockets does not stumble over a paycheque.

Though there is another story according to which Wilder himself came up this idea. He opened the refrigerator at home to get a beer and noticed the white egg rack built into the refrigerator door. Hmmm.

He yanked the rack out, cut the egg cup receptacles off, and ‘Voilà!’ alien bug eyes without the expense of Ping Pong balls. Because this is a difference without any significance, it heats up cyber space as adherents to the Ping Pong ball explanation dispute with Egg Rack believers. The tweets fly. Good thing they don’t have nukes.

Bug eyes.jpg Ping Pong balls or egg cups? You must decide.

Peter Graves went on and on. His last credit was in 2010, the year of his death. This man seldom said no. Witness ‘Airplane!’ (1980). In the latter part of his career he often played, parodied, himself, grave, stalwart, gravelly voiced, and wooden. In 1954 he was impossibly handsome and trying very hard. But maybe he should have said no now and then.

Lee Wilder produced and directed ‘Killers from Space; hot on the heels of the ‘Snow Creature’ (1954). Since a Lee Wilder movie took no more than a week to film, he could turn them out when there was coin. Coin? The story goes that Lee left his native Austria and migrated to New York City where he became a very successful hat maker. Whether for men or women is a question only further research could answer. His younger brother Billy was cinema-struck as a boy and had gone to Berlin to learn the business.

Reading the blood signs on the street in Berlin, Billy wanted to go the Amerika, and brother Lee paid his way. Billy said thank you and took train to Lost Angeles where talking movies were the go, and he saw his future in that. Off he went, and the string of commercial and artistic successes is now legend. He made one of his masterpieces, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ in 1950. By then he was so well established he could defy Tinsel Town conventions, command extraordinary budgets, attract great stars out of retirement, make a star out of an also ran..…

Lee Wilder.jpg Lee Wilder

Is this a case of inverted sibling rivalry? Older brother Lee then sold his New York City business and moved to Lost Angeles and set himself up as an independent film producer with his son Myles, who did not have to be paid, as the screen writer.

My five minutes of web research indicates that there was no rupture between the brothers, but though they both made films and lived in Lost Angeles they never met there and when they bumped into one another, they exchanged nods, not words, and went on.


IMDb 3.1/10 from 711 votes at 1 hour and 9 minutes of Dali time.

This title is often found on those list of films that are so bad that they are fun to watch. Just about everything is wrong. Error spotting keeps the viewers interest. Nothing else does.

Snow poster.jpg

An American scientific team scales the Himalayas to find rare botanical specimens. This team has only two members, the botanist and a newspaper reporter to publicise the investigation for the ‘Daily Plant.’ To ascend the mountains they hire locals to schlepp the gear, including a radio (so they can follow the World Series?). They encounter the abominable snow man! Yeti they do! They subdue him and ship him back to Lost Angeles where half the film is set in the dark. He escapes and wreaks so little havoc few in LA would notice. The forces of order are mobilised and slay the beast. End of story.

At least half the footage is stock film of airplanes landing and taking off. Nearly all the shots of the actors are in the middle distance. No close ups. A sure sign of a tip-jar budget. Shots of the trekkers are repeated again and again. The one close up of Abominable is repeated three times. The first time it was effective when he stepped back into the darkness. Less so on each repeat. When he is photographed on a slope in the distance, he looks so awkward and fragile that a gust of wind would level him. Some threat.

Another sign of a micro budget is that much of the story is told through voiceovers and not dialogue. That indicates no sound man on the payroll. Nor is anyone credited with make-up in the credits, so Abominable had to do his own. He is clearly wearing a two-piece fur suit. He is seen only once in a close up, and he looks wrapped up like the invisible man.

The fraternity brothers liked the footage of aircraft. In the first, the voiceover ponderously says they are flying into Bombay. Time to change airlines, folks! On the ground beneath the aircraft clearly visible are the pyramids of Giza. That pilot missed India! Cairo, Bombay, what’s the difference?

But wait, there is more. Later after boxing up Abominable (on that more in a moment) the voiceover has them landing in Lost Angeles. Hmm, yet beneath the aircraft we see the Statue of Liberty from New York City Harbor. No continuity editor is in the credits either, though this blunder is beyond the pay grade of a continuity editor.

Those instances indicate the quality of this celluloid from the Dream Factory.

The natives who figure in the first half as bearers are Sherpas, only one of whom is endowed with a name. The others go by ‘Hey you!’

But wait, there is more. They all speak Japanese. Yep, all the Sherpas are Japanese. The fraternity brothers thought the Japanese had been driven out of India by 1944 but apparently some remained under cover as Sherpas. The more prosaic explanation is that the only extras who looked Asian the producer could get at the price were Japanese, and to let them use Japanese was good enough for the Sherpa tongue.

There are condescending and racists asides by our heroes about the Sherpas on whom their lives depend.

The duo stumbled upon Abominable in his lair and the roof fell in and stunned him. Thus incapacitated they tied up this Gulliver and shipped back to the States for study in a refrigerated telephone booth. This was no Tardis.

They knew Abominable was about because it was alleged he had creature-napped a Sherpa woman, but that loose end it left flapping. Just one less Sherpa to make stupid remarks about.

Abominable descends into LAX, and like many travellers is consternated. Officials with clipboards appear, asking what is in the phone booth. Having seen, Dr Who in action, they are careful. If it be man, where is his visa and passport? If it is beast, where is the quarantine certificate? The officials cannot decide. Can we? This is the only interesting scene in the film, and much, much more could have been made of it. Is Abominable a man or a beast? What about the Twit in Chief?

The journalist has made a sensation of him as a man, whereas the good doctor refers to him as an animal. The officials are inclined to believe what they read in the ‘USA Today.’

Newspaper.jpg The Murdoch press, as responsible as always.

Yep. Hard to believe, but if a journalist says Abominable is a man, maybe he is.

To resolve this conundrum, the officials send for an expert. Huh? An expert in what? A theologian perhaps? A talk-back radio shock jock? A fraternity brother, often accused of crossing the line between human and beast? Who?

Whatever this Doctor’s qualifications he arrives, and sits at a desk. No, he does not look at the subject but smokes cigarettes at the desk. That’s how we know he is a regular guy.

By this time, Abominable has had enough waiting in his cubicle and he tips it over and this breaks it open and off he goes to wreak havoc here and there. Women are his prey, though why and what his motivation is, no one bothers with. Maybe he wanted return fare?

At no time was any effort made to communicate with Abominable but maybe he only understood Nepalese and neither Japanese nor Hollywoodese. To keep him quiet before the phone booth was ready they just keep cracking him on the noggin.

In Lost Angeles the rampaging Abominable Man is declared NRA-bait and Bam! They get him. Too bad, but it had to be is the coda.

The one cliché absent from this hash is the comic relief. For that relief much thanks.

No one is credited for the part of the Abominable Man but the gossip is that it was Lock Martin, whose role as Gort was unforgettable and this one was unfortunate.

Late in the piece the ever reliable William Phipps enters and tries to eject some life and humanity into this script but even he fails.

This film is one of several B- creature features made by W. Lee Wilder, the older brother of Billy Wilder, who got all the cinematic genius in the family. Lee Wilder used a screen play written by his son Myles Wilder. Case closed. They say Lee Wilder made worse films, hard though that is to believe.

From the IMDB 3.7/10 from 878 votes, running 1 hour and 30 minutes Dali time. For a Sy Fyan this is a zero (0).

It comes up in searches for Sy Fy but it does not make the grade, but since I had to sit through it to discover this fact, I will give it a few words.

Prsioners Lost card.jpg As crassly misleading as adertising must be, it seems.

In 1983 contemporary Lost Angeles a blood sucker (journalist), a working stiff, and an uncle of Erich’s get transported to an ‘alternative universe.’ One at a time. Like the Three Stooges, each one makes the same mistake and gets transported through the photocopier. Pretty sure they did not go to Wonderland.

Prisoner lost.jpg This poster pretty sums up the picture.

Once there Uncle is nowhere to be found, while Blood Sucker and Working Stiff stick together, ahem. Yet even afterward they still seem tense. The Fraternity Brothers found that odd, but then there were no cigarettes available.

After some roaming around they conclude that this is Disneyland with creeping thingies, hairy cave men, green elves, and more. This is a stone age world with spears, animal skins and furs for clothing. Altogether so primitive that the fraternity brothers felt right at home amid the grunts, thumbs, and beasties. They get into and out of scrapes and the time passed, slowly. S l o w l y,

The credits promised Carmine Orrico and so I persisted because if there anyone who can inject life into …, well, into a film it is Carmine. By the way the Hollywood gossip vine is full of strange stories about his life style choices. Even in Tinsel Town it is outré. He must have saved all his vices up for that because in this part as the Villain in Chief he looks bored, distracted, and worried (about his next doctor’s appointment). In equally limp offerings he has put some steel into the flaccid films. Not so here.

Uncle is working for Carmine as a wizard and Carmine makes sure his wizard does not find a way back to his own alternative universe.

Working Stiff is Richard Hatch from both versions of Battle Star Galatica with Sy Fy credentials, which also enticed me into viewing this swords and sandals bore.

Kay Lenz is Bloodsucker and she reminded me of Gretchen Corbett from ‘The Rockford Files,’ an old favourite. Doppelgänger one for the other they are, as a check for net pixes confirmed.

Most of it is out doors and though it starts with Lost Angeles, the whole thing was filmed in the Republic of South Africa of apartheid. When Bloodsucker is driving to meet Uncle at the outset the car radio is from LA and she drives not on the right, though the car is left-hand drive. The first hint that it was not filmed in the Alabama Hills, though that is the look, in a very dry summer. While the credits show many actors from the Republic I heard nothing I think of as a South African acccent. Still less did I see any black faces. Apartheid on the set, did not present a problem to the cast and crew, it seems.

The director also wrote the screenplay, served the tea, and must have many relatives to account for the few positive remarks in the User Reviews on the IMDb.

While Uncle refers to it as an alternative universe, in the marketing department this became ‘the Lost Universe.’ Of course, it is not lost to those who live there.

1 hour 24 minutes of Dali time, rated 2.5/10 from 415 on the IMDB

In the effort to ride on the ticket sales of ‘Star Wars’ this quickie was rolled out, one of several Italian efforts of this kind. It is hard to get a rating as low as 2.5 on the IMDB.

It is, oh hum, another yarn about the end of the world. A mysterious spaceship appears from the void and penetrates all the many space defences Earth has, satellites, space stations, rhetoric, and an armanda are brushed aside. There is no reply to communication and atomic missiles bounce off.

Sette over.jpg

There is only one thing to do in this crisis! Yes, project the Bat Signal into the night sky.

But wait, Batman took early retirement and is unavailable. Forget about, Robin. He was only ever there to hold the cape.

Instead High Command calls in Big Brain; Italian screen writers have an endless supply of bad tempered professors on call and Big Brain gets this part. He carries on like he is God’s gift to the world, while much of the world is destroyed. He rants on.

Later by some fancy screen writing the villain is defeated. The end.

At the end we learn the villain is a mega Meriton developer who bought the Earth at an auction to market its population as McKinsey KPI slaves. That might have been a better start.

The villain had some makeup! The fraternity brothers could not decide whether it was a road map of New Jersey projected onto his face or he was wearing the netting from last year’s Christmas ham, but he looked weird. In addition, his spaceship was overdue for service because it evidently has killer drafts, considering the triple high collar he wore on the back of his neck.

To subdue the Earth’s primitive inhabitants this bogey man dispatches an endless army of wig wearing androids, who when cut in half look like robots, but the characters insist on calling them androids. Droids or Bots, they all look alike to me.

The Earthlings fight them off with camera flashes. Honest, that is what it looked like. Luke also lent them a light sabre. Yes, indeed.

The decor of Big Brain’s house is all very stylish, I am told, but he never dirties his hands with any science, though some of the Z-team he assembles peer down lens and point at steaming vials.

There are also two or three robots brought onto the team who move like molasses and only bicker among themselves. These two would be an asset in any fight to save the world, not! Ditto the rest.

Though most of the film concerns assembling this team of Z-grade treacle, they prove ineffective against the Bogey Man and his wig-wearing automatons. As a last resort Big Brain wills the Bogey Man away. Wow!

Frontal lobes are creased in ominous and continuing silence. The Bogey Man relents. So that is what it takes to save the world. Wrinkle the frontal lobes and hang on.

There is also a lot of staring as coloured lights play on the irises of the one staring. If it was hypnotism it did not make the time pass any quicker, though we all hoped it would.

In contrast to some of the other Italian stallions in this stable of ‘Star Wars’ copies, the players in this one seem to be in on the joke and none try too hard to make it stick.

The title roughly means ‘Seven golden (hu)men(s) in space’ making this a variant of the Seven Samurai. Note the seven includes at least two women in this case. None of the characters is developed and none of their talents contribute to the defeat of Bogey Man. Figure that out. Why it appears in English as 'Star Odyssey' is anyone's guess. It has also been marketed as 'Prisoners of a Lost Universe' but that may refer to the money put by the investors. It has been released under several other titles too trivial to list. But beware.


A German production running 1 hour and 23 minutes, which rates 4.0 from 10 on the IMDB from 924 votes. Oh. My vote would be zero (0). The video quality is HD but the sound is not. It is replete with CGI and when they appear it is loud, while the dialogue is quiet. Up and down went the volume.

Ice Planet cover.jpg

The plot? Good question, one I still have though I watched it. Some Earthlings on a space station get attacked and take off, ending up on the Ice Planet. It is a mixed bag of space cadets. travellers, research scientists, and odd balls. (Yes, really fresh-faced space cadets.) Now they have to work together to survive.

Sound familiar? Try Star Trek: Voyager, for one.

The players are the usual suspects. The martinet commander, the slinky woman, the bewildered astronomer, the square jawed cadet, the androgynous waif, and many disposable red shirts. The red shirts get toasted and roasted by a variety of mean CGIs. Boom, crash, wham! Perhaps forty minutes of the picture in all is a CGI mosh pit nonsense.

The visuals of the ice planet are neat but contribute nothing to the plot. They might just as well have landed in New Jersey for all the relevance it has.

A meeting with Ice natives made-up like Inuits is promising but dissipates into nothing. What I liked was the challenge of communicating without a language on the home turf of the Inuits.
Inuit.jpg Moreover, with their local knowledge they seemed like good allies, but no…..

Enigmatic or unintelligible, cryptic or vague, mysterious or incomprehensible, puzzling or impenetrable, full of ideas or indigestible, stimulating or half-baked? Those who gave it a 4.0 or higher on IMDb went for the former in each of the preceding pairs. Me, went for the latter in each case.

The IMDb has a plot summery that may have come from the press kit, because no one relying only on viewing the film would find it even that coherent. There seems to have been plenty of budget for CGIs but not for a continuity editor, and that adds to the confusion. The sound technician was AWOL.

Yet the director was Winrich Kolbe who has many credits from the Star Trek franchise. Many. Now that is a mystery. How did he come to make this…, hum, pastiche seems too elegant a term.

This was a movie-length pilot for a television series, and so we have something for which to be grateful. It was not continued. Reviewed elsewhere on this blog is ’Destination Space’ (1959) was likewise a pilot that failed but a far better exercise with some intellectual content and character development in a mere 41 minutes.

Much of it was filmed in Canada, and a web whisper is that Michael Ironside was in line for the captain’s chair if the series eventuated. Seems best this way.

2.9/10 from 617 brave souls but the zero (0) in the title seems to have application. It runs 1 hour and 29 minutes Dali time.

The only surprise here is that it is rated as high as 2.9 from 10. One of the many films trying to cash in on the success of ‘Star Wars’ but there is no comparison on any score. It looks like something from Poverty Row in the 1950s. The props look like leftovers from Flash Gordon of that era.

A strange signal disrupts all communication. That much is clear and that it about all that is.

Planets poster.jpg

The Italians launch a Ferrari space ship which traces the signal to an undiscovered planet somewhere. They need to clean the lenses on the telescopes more often to spot these things.

On this murky planet they find a giant juke box robot that has enslaved the humanoid locals with a GOP spiel and is now after the Earth! The plucky Italians in cute, colour coded skull caps set out to put things right amid incomprehensible cross-cuts, dialogue that sounds like out-takes from another film, a soundtrack that bears no relation to the action on the screen, until one of the crew takes off the skull cap and goes nuts. Guess that is why they keep them on. Prevents going nuts.

Planest cap.jpg
Proof? Did Silvio Berlusconi ever sport a skull cap? No. Is he nuts? Yes.

Most of it is so dark and so poorly photographed, who knows what is going on. The fraternity brothers made many rude remarks about this.

Our heroes, their numbers diminished in the dark, confront the juke box and talk it to death, and thus distracted, they then blow it up. At last!

Most of the cast and crew are Italians using English aliases, for reasons best known to the marketing department.


The IMDb info is this: 1 hour and 33 minutes of Dali time, rated at 4.3/10 by 563 ratings.

Long before Star Wars, the Italian cinema offered this title. Directed by Antonio Margheriti, who like others in the cast, used an Anglo pseudonym in the credits. In his case, it was Anthony Dawson. The aim was to sell the film into the American market, and along with the aliases, the director/producer recruited the Invisible Man Claude Rains for that purpose.

The set-up makes as much sense as some of the later Italian Sy Fy films. Z e r o.

Rains is a curmudgeon and at first I liked that but it went on and on and on. He lives in a palace by the seaside somewhere surrounded by bright young things. Easy to see why Rains liked the part for the three or four days he spent on it. Every one stands when he enters a room, and the bow their heads to him. Moreover the set abounds with sunshine, nubile and virile creatures coming and going, and no script to remember, just snarl.

Rains poster 2.jpg

Downstairs in his palace is a scientific establishment that by some unspecific means monitors the heavens. The fraternity brothers accomplish this with beer. How it is done in this seaside palace is less clear. Many bright scientists come and go; sometimes they enter Rains’s inner sanctum where they bow and hand him written reports in ring-binders. Furturistic, not. He looks disdainfully at their efforts, and in one case, while declaiming how useless the report is, an over the shoulder close-up shows he is holding it upside down. Well, it would not make much sense that way, would it. (Though I have tried that a few times with journal manuscripts I have had to review.)

He tells everyone how stupid they are repeatedly. He must be emeritus because he is never going to get another research grant with all the friends he is making.

Thanks to the Stockholm Syndrome, the more he abuses people. the more they think he is a genius. Why did not I try that in my career?

Then the Outsider, Planet X on loan from ‘The Man from Planet X,’ appears in the Solar System. Gulp! All eyes turn to Rains, who tells the eyes how stupid they are. See, he repeats the same line again and again. Easy to remember. He punctuates his castigations with cigar smoke.

High Command mobilises its Ferrari spaceships to blast Planet X. Rains tells them how stupid they are. Planet X will not collide with Earth, and only fools would think it would. However, it will pass so close that it will cause catastrophes of all sorts. This last fact does not bother Rains who is more interested in telling the others how stupid they are, while puffing away on his life-ending cigar.

Stock footage of catastrophes appears on cue. Floods, fires, short-order famines, hysterical people, GOP majorities, and stampeding animals, empty coffee cups and other signs of devastation. Rains tell everyone how stupid they are.

High Command sends the rockets to blast Planet X. Whoa! Flying saucers appear from the surface and blast the rockets. Game and set are lost. The Ferraris were a lot more show than go.

Rains tells everyone how stupid they are.

Planet X goes into orbit around Earth. Laws of physics go out the window. Whooska! Rains admits he had not foreseen this, but quickly recovers to tell everyone how stupid they are.

To prove his point he kneels on the floor and writes a few squiggles with chalk. High Command is so astounded that a man of seventy-two can kneel on the floor and get up that it gives in to his demands.

He claims as his own the discovery of an underling that the flying saucers go wobbly when hit with classical music. Phasers and atomic bombs have no effect, but a piano sonata does the trick. How much better it would have been had it been the Queen of the Night's aria!

rains stupid.jpg Rains tells everyone how stupid they are.

At seventy-two he takes rocket to Planet X, but at least this geriatric is not smoking a cigar in-flight. However he does tell everyone how stupid they are.

Sure enough the defending flying saucers go all dishy with the music allowing the Italians to land. Rains penetrates the interior to find THE TRUTH. Meanwhile, the landing party has started a giant doomsday bomb to blast Planet X into the void. (I held out hope this crescendo would be the Queen of the Night's aria, but no.)

There are no inhabitants of Planet X and the flying saucers were automatons whose code was scrambled by the music. It seems an IOS update killed all the Xers long ago.

While telling everyone else how stupid they are, Rains ignores the calls to return to the rocket and leave before Kaboom. He stands around agape. Maybe he is wondering where his cigars are. No need because KABOOM! Now who is stupid?

The end.

That terse summary makes it sound better than it is. Watch at your own risk as they warn on CSPAN.


It runs 1 hour and 24 minutes and it seems like more. Four hundred and twenty-two opinionaters at the IMDb rate it 5.6/10 as of 3 December 2017. A generous lot they are, too.

It comes from the imagination of Arch Oboler, who did much television work, and it seems like an extended skit from a 1950s television variety show.

Twonky (2).jpg

A hapless college professor, played by that television stalwart, Hans Conreid, buys a television, entering the analogue age with reluctance. This is a man who prefers to listen to Mozart while reading large and dusty tomes. I warmed to him right away. Not so the fraternity brothers who made a play for the remoter that had to be smacked down.

To please Wife, who finds him boring, and who would not, he buys the latest television, a device strange to him. It is delivered and left sitting in his study, it seems, while she is away.

Soon enough its true black-and-white colours show. It is Siri on steroids! A beam from the television knocks the second cup of coffee out of his hand. Not believing his eyes, Hapless tries again. Again a beam from the screen foils the caffeine intake. One cup, yes. Two cups, no.

Thereafter this TV Siri takes over. Its beam whirls records onto an off the turntable. Turns off lights when it thinks he should retire and so on. That beam is handy and it also vacuums the floor, answers the telephone, finishes Prof's solitaire games, and prepares food. (However it does not mark the pile of student papers he carts around.) Wife being way, he suspects madness.

To get a witness he calls in his buddy, the ageing football coach whose playing days were well before the concussion protocol. Nonetheless, in time coach is also persuaded that the TV Siri is doing all these things. Even when it is not yet plugged in. Yep. No one has plugged it in or anything else and yet it is taking over. Did Marshall McLuhan see this film?

Twonky vaccum.jpg Twonky at work. Siri does not vacuum.

Efforts are made to return the television to the store. Foiled. To reason with it. Foiled. To cover it with a blanket. Foiled. To lock it in cupboard. Foiled. And so on, for forty-five minutes while Coach mumbles and Prof flicks dandruff off his collar, evidently a task Wife usually does.

Coach, after consulting his inner Erich, concludes this is a TV Siri from the future which has traveled back in time. What other explanation could there be?

This is the future that awaits us! A know-it-all Siri which will restrict our free will. It will light one cigarette for Prof but not a second. One a day is OK as with the coffee, but not two.

Prof gets even goofier than television profs usually are and embarrasses himself in front of a class. I kept looking at the clock, noting how slowly Dali time was passing.

Finally, this Siri TV is destroyed, by accident. Whew! Prof is free to drink more coffee and smoke more cigarettes.

Slight though it may seem, it is prescient because we now have our very own Twonky in Siri who can be programmed to ride herd on us.

Slight as it seems Arch Oboler always drives the points home with an axe. This is our future. Control and repression of our freedoms through technology! If so the film offers nothing about how to avoid this micro Nineteen Eight-Four future, but drink that second cup and smoke that second fag while one can.

Oboler's best Sy Fy is ‘Five’ (1951) though it lacks the leaden humour of this film, it addresses serious subjects, so many that indigestion follows.

The term ‘twonky’ comes from the concussed coach and it means a MacGuffin, something that has no other name.

From the IMDB: 1 hour 11 minutes, 7.4/10 from 23,534,

Genre schizophrenia here. Is it a horror movie or is it Sy Fy? Arguments over definitions are best because they have no end, and no point.

IM poster.jpg

H. G. Wells published the novel ‘The Invisible Man’ (1897) first as a magazine serial and then as a title. His hand makes it Sy Fy, but when Universal filmed it, that studio’s association evoked Horror because Universal had specialised in that genre. Though British in look, it was made in the USA.

Invisible book.jpg

The film differs from the book in several ways. The first and most important is that the Invisible Man is mad from the beginning on film, whereas in the book he becomes more and more unhinged the longer he stays invisible, which may be due to the drugs he is taking for the pain that the invisibility drug causes and the other drugs he is taking trying to become visible again. On top of that he takes strychnine as a pain killer. Killer, indeed. This guy could give the wanna be druggies around Kings Cross lessons in shooting up.

In the film his ambition from the get-go is a Reign of Terror, because he likes having power over others. In the book he comes to this term in his frustration to control the environment so he can concentrate on research to find a way back to visibility. He grows ever more unstable and despicable, but it is a process.

The film gives him a love interest absent from the book. She is played by a luminous Gloria Stuart who later appeared in ‘Titanic’ (1997) and whose last credit was in 2004. There was a sabbatical between 1946 and 1975. There are many familiars in the cast, and some familiar footage that was used again later in other Universal pictures, like the train crash.

While the Invisible Man causes as much mayhem as the fraternity brothers at the end of the semester in the book, in the film the Reign of Terror is not merely a threat, he kills at least two people, including his would-be confederate Dr Kemp. Moreover, he causes a train to crash with countless death and injuries. He is beyond redemption even by the love of good woman.

The book has some discussion of invisibility as a way of being. See! Sartre is relevant, albeit cryptic. (It takes him hundreds of pages to be cryptic. Nausea is certainly relevant to Sartre.) There is no doubt that Wells knew the references to the Ring of Gyges in Plato’s ‘Republic’ and in some way thought he was dramatising something of that philosophical discussion.

The fraternity brothers cut that class, and so for their benefit here is a refresher: Glaucon says a person is only moral because the responsibility imposed by society. Persons free of consequences of their actions would behave selfishly, knavishly, piggishly in the manner of the Tweet in Chief. If an ordinary Josephine came across a ring that could make one invisible, she would get up to no good. Want to know what Plato replied? Read the book! Wells’s novel is an examination of what an invisible person would then do. Though Dr Griffen, the Invisible Man, would hardly consider himself an ordinary chap.

At times I thought of the Invisible Man as an alter ego for Wells himself, and took the study to be autobiographical in a way. This is not a standard interpretation, so do not crib it.

The special effects must have been mind-numbing in 1933. Objects floating in the air, like a telephone. A cigarette smoking itself in mid-air. An unbuttoned shirt dancing by itself. The bicycle riding along sans rider. But most of all the several unveilings when the invisible man removes the bandages that conceal his nothingness. Did Jean-Paul Sartre see this film? Bet he did.

Invivisle chin.jpg The Invisible Man unveils himself.

The denouement is the dealh of the Invisible Man, when the police cordon has finally tracked him down in the fresh snow and dealt him mortal injuries. His shoe prints were easy to track in the snow. Yes, shoe prints. But the shoes were not visible…

Invisisb clade.jpg
Lying in a hospital bed he gradually dissolves into view as the very young Claude Rains.

By the way, the cinematic invisibility of Claude Rains was achieved by wearing a black velvet body suit with no holes. None. Then putting the bandages on and then the clothes over the top. Altogether an uncomfortable and awkward business. Then he would be filmed against a matte, but the technical matters are best left to technicians. The point is that it was hard work being invisible on film just as invisibility was a curse to Griffin in the story.

Claude Rains was a young actor who had appeared in some silent films but who preferred the theatre and was content there. That is, until the Great Depression thinned theatre audiences to nearly nothing and income was hard to get. The Universal agent who negotiated the film rights with Wells agreed to an English lead and Rains, a near unknown then, was recruited. It was easy money for him and a free trip to the USA.

It made sense. A big name actor would be expensive and wasted since unseen until the very end in one shot. Indeed a big name actor might not wanted the part or demanded it be changed for more face time. Not even still photos before invisibility or flashbacks are used to show Griffin before. Plus the Invisible Man had to command the attention of the audience with his voice. Rains’s perfect diction and distinctive intonation did just that. He made it seem credible that he could dominate scene against visible actors where he was unseen, and so carry the audience with him.

Rains had done some screen tests earlier and they were terrible. He effected a declamatory style suited to nailing the back wall of a large theatre, entirely wrong for the camera, which magnifies everything. See Marshall McLuhan on hot and cold media for enlightenment, Mortimer. However his voice got the attention of the casting director and since he would not be seen, Rains’s emoting would not be seen. Moreover, the oral intensity of his emoting was in keeping with the Invisible Man’s madness.

In time, Rains liked earning a living in films and the sunshine, and adjusted his style to the camera. This story is a reminder of the differences between stage and film, and why some players prefer one to the other, and all find the change an effort.

Social invisibility has been a theme in literature and I expect somewhere there is a syllabus that brings some of it together. There is Fyodor Dostoevsky. ‘Notes from Underground’ (1864) and
Ralph Ellison, ‘The Invisible Man’ (1952). (Ross McDonald’s ‘The Underground Man’ is literally a man underground, buried.) Plus the other Universal films and their many imitators.

1 hour 30 minutes, 6.5/10 from 58,642

Europa cover.jpg

Sy Fy, drama, mystery, documentary, these are all terms that might apply to this film. In it a multi-national, multi-ethnic crew pilots a spaceship from Earth to Europa, a large moon of Jupiter. Europa is an ice world and where there is ice there might be now or once water, and where there is water, there might be life. That is why Europa.

There is not a uniform or rank in sight. This mission is that of private company. Shades of the Alien franchise.

The approach is near documentary and the time line is jumbled as new data is made available. The perspective is a forensic investigation into what went wrong, using video sent back by the ship. ‘Everything’ is the short answer. The company CEO reports on the mission … [to the shareholders]? It was amusing to imagine Richard Branson doing this, flipping his hair, flashing his teeth, and thrusting forward the hips, as he does.

We are treated to the starry firmament and the awe of the deep and dark unknown. There is much display of the tedious work of running a spaceship. William Xu is in command but there is much discussion, but no one ever calls him captain.

Europa crew.jpg The crew before....there were none.

Repairs have to be made and are routine,… not all. One repair requires an EVA and when a bolt flies out, the first crewman is lost, drifting off into the void in radio contact for a while…. No bang, just a whimper.

They land on Europa, as per plan, leaving the orbiter above. It is indeed ice, but not solid. Hmm. Will the ice withstand the weight of the lander? It seems OK. They do some ice fishing, cutting a hole and dropping a probe down into…. yes, it is water. The data streams in, then the probe stops. Huh? What happened? An IOS update? Flat battery? One of the crew goes to change the battery and sees the ice cracking and… Two down.

Another one forgot to fasten the seat belt. Whack. Three down.

So it goes until only one is left.

These are explorers like those who went with Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Captain Cook, Marco Polo, Edmund Hilary, Robert Scott, Thor Heyerdahl, and their ilk. They want to know what is there, and send that knowledge back to Earth. Or the scientists like Marie Curie who exposed or injected themselves to their discoveries to see what happens.This desire to know kills each of them one-by-one like the Agatha Christie story shorn of the evil mastermind making it happen. Just the laws of physics.

Europa with Jupiter.jpg

The film is distinctive in good part for what is not there.

1.There are no meteors to provide an easy crisis. This is the oldest chestnut in the Sy Fy writer's manual.

2.There is nothing military about the exercise, and no weapons of any kind were on show. No wonder the NRA banned it.

3.There are no political echoes from Earth of any kind. No scheming Russians, no holy Greenies, no nothing of that sort. In no sense is this mission to save Earth, another common trope omitted.

4.There are two women in the crew of six, and there is nary a word about whether a woman could be a scientist and a woman, etc. All that tiresome, trite, and trivial nonsense so favoured by scriptwriters of Sy Fy in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Oddly, they got paid for writing such bilge. One hopes they are out of work today.

5.Although the mission is a private business there is none of the corporate chicanery beloved by the scripts in the Alien sequence. The CEO suppresses emotion at times recounting the fates of the minions.

6.There are daring deeds but no grandstanding heroics to pull off a miracle. It is realistic enough that most of the time crew members are wrapped in safety gear, which they do not rip off for close-ups pace ‘Arrival’ (2016). None have make-up like Sandra Bullock in ‘Gravity’ (2013).

7.There is no creature in this feature. Much to the annoyance of the monkeys at keyboards who have commented on IMDb and You Tube. Yes, they do find an amoebae of sorts in the water and that is life, and that is tremendously exciting, but that bug does not cause any trouble. It just is.

8.There is, mercifully, no comic relief. No character who tells jokes trying to be funny, emphasis on trying. This figure appears far too often and in many films the butt of the humour is woman. Glad to be rid of that.

9.And there is no salvation. They all die. Very lifelike.

‘Completing the Channel Tunnel in 1940….’ are the opening words of this futuristic movie made in the depths of the Great Depression from the typewriter of the then recent German refuge Kurt Siodmak while in England.

Tunnel poster.jpg

Face-time video telephone calls are common. Giant television screens in public squares, on outside walls, in railway stations are the source for news. Aerodynamic designed automobiles glide by. Non-stop transatlantic flights ply the airway from London to New York City and back. (The first non-stop flight on that route occurred in 1958). The face-time calls are also made from the airplane to home. The first passenger train took the Chunnel in 1994. As always Curt was ahead of the times.

The 1940 Channel Tunnel led to the development of a steel that can hold up the universe and a radium drill that churns through all matter and antimatter, too. The investors who paid for the development of those technologies want to see them used again for a return on that investment. The financiers gather to start the trans-Atlantic tunnel. Among them are many wheels within wheels. Some are motivated by philanthropy, others see in the Tunnel greater unity to prevent (another) war (though the Great War is never mentioned explicitly or implicitly). some are there for the likely profit, and then there are the merchants of death who think the tunnel (somehow, and this is never explained) will lead to war and increase demand for the armaments they have to sell.

There are three plot lines, which is three more than in some films reviewed on this blog. First is the Tunnel itself. Second is the personal life and relations of the Chief Engineer on the project. Third are the machinations of the financiers. Without a doubt the Tunnel is the star of the show.

The Tunnel is a gigantic maw that consumes money, labour, tools, lives, men, emotions, patience without end.

Drill.jpg

The five year project takes twenty. (Mega-engineering forecasts have not improved since then.) Chief is so obsessed by it that he does not notice his son or his wife. Wife tries to share his passion for the Tunnel by going to work as a nurse in it, where she contracts Tunnel disease from the gases and goes blind. Chief does not notice. Now blind (but evidently wealthy) she leaves him with the son. Chief does not notice. The son grows up. The Chief does not notice.

The daughter of one of the philanthropic investors is madly in love with Chief, married or not. Chief does not notice. She throws herself at him repeatedly. Chief does not notice. (This man needs glasses. Look at those assets.)

The financiers buy and sell Tunnel stock to drive others out of the project and Daughter sells her body to the arch villain to secure continued funding for the Tunnel. Chief does not notice.

Accidents, floods, power surges, equipment failure bedevils the project. These the Chief notices. He throw himself even deeper into the work. Workers die. The Chief does not notice. HIs son comes to work in the Tunnel. The Chief does not notice. His son dies in the Tunnel. At last the Chief does notice this, and united by grief he and Wife reconcile.

The Tunnel is vast, on two vertical levels with two way monorail traffic and a two lane road between the monorails.

Tunnel car.jpg

Nothing like the dual tubes that comprise the Chunnel, which is still losing money. Its investors are still in the red.

Daughter discovers that life with the villain is exciting.

The British Prime Minister and the US President pontificate on the unity of the English-speaking people, though Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Bahamas, and Australia are absent from this incantation. Walter Huston does the US President whose pathetic pension meant he had to go to Mexico to find ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948).

In the end, Chief has to do it himself. He does. End.

It got a laudatory review in the ‘New York Times’ and so it should. The design and staging are striking even today. Siodmak’s futuristic toys outdo ‘Metropolis’ (1926) and its successors like ‘High Treason’ (1929), ‘Just Imagine’ (1930), or ‘Non-Stop New York’ (1937).

The Chief was completely consumed by the Tunnel. How will he live now that it is completed?

It was made at a time when talkies were filmed in three (or more languages) in parallel. The props, costumes, designs sets, and story on the English version were used with a different actors and directors in French, and then again with another cast and crew in German. All this was done quick smart. Doing this led to huge multi-lingual and multi-national production facilities like Gaumont in Paris and UFA in Berlin.

Tunnel French.jpg The French version.

These polyglot facilities later opened doors for actors, writers, directors, designers, engineers, cinematographers, and others to move from one country to another after 1933.

From the IMDB, 1 hour 34 minutes at 6.2/10 from 548

‘They won’t believe me,’ should be the tag line for this story. It has been rendered twice. In 1953 it ran one hour and seventeen minutes scoring 6.6 from 5828 votes, while the big budget CGI version in 1986 is 5.5 from 5972 votes running one hour and forty minutes.

Invaders 53-1.jpg The 1953 lobby card makes it into a creature feature.

Invaders 86-1.jpg The 1986 cover.

A boy of twelve is a star gazer, and he sees a bright light land just over the tree line. He convinces his dad to check it out. The re-make mimics the original in this scene and yet it is played differently. In the original there is mystery, while in the second it is explicit. In the original the loving father comes back from checking out the light a zombie in some kind of inner pain. While in the second he comes back an automaton with no interior. Leif Erickson in the original plays this transformation very well. He is no longer the loving father, but in distancing himself from his son, on his face we seen confusion and even anguish, while in the latter version the dad comes back an expressionless robot.

Leif.jpg

The subtlety of the original is lost in 1986. While in 1953 the persistence of the boy triggers events, in 1986 he is a midget Indiana Jones who makes things happen. Indeed at one point the Marine general defers to him. Ah huh.

Mind, there are some nice touches in the 1986 take, as when Nurse Ratched is caught eating a live frog, legs last. If only Red could have seen that. I also liked the unspoken reaction to the mother, now a zombie, burning a pile of bacon to blackened ruins and then calmly eating it. A frog, well that is odd but what do you expect from Ratched, but charred bacon is positively appalling. She must be an alien to do that. Burn it, I mean.

The only character in the 1986 version who bites into his role is the general who hams it up for all its worth. He, at least, knows it is a joke. While I loved the general, the time it takes him to blast the Martians was boring.This part was played in 1953 by that Sy Fy stalwart Morris Ankrum, of whom no criticism will be heard.

In 1986 Karen Black gives a a good performance but it does not match the material, but this woman can look worried, thoughtful, determined, and more. She is trying but …. its not enough. Yes, I know the boy is her son and perhaps that explains a lot. He seems to be stubborn, wilful, and blank most of the time.

There is far too much CGI of the Martians and their tunnel. It goes on and on and bored me. The rubber suit for the Martian in 1953 is preferable to this monotonous red CGI. The planet is red, see, so the Martian bugs are red, too, and everything around them is red, see. Yes, I saw.

In addition, I was never quite sure what the Martians were up to. Ugly yes, but what else? Yes, yes, I saw the NASA connection but I still did not fathom the point there, and since it is all boom-boom there is never an exposition, not at least while I was still engaged enough to notice. In 1953 it was clear they wanted to thwart the spaceflight but in 1986 there seems to be more to it, and less.

I liked the tribute of 1986 to 1953 in casting Jim Hunt, who was the boy in the earlier film, as the sheriff in the re-make. A nice touch.

OK, I admit I did some FF and may have missed the subtlety. While confessing, my comments on the 1953 version come from the Mind Palace, not a recent viewing.

Operation Ganymed 1 hour 56 m 6.6/10 from 258 : Orion’s Loop 1 hour 25 m 5.6/10 from 78

These two Sy Fy movies have much in common with each other and with ‘Space Odyssey’ (1968) and ‘Solaris’ (1972). As to the latter they are post-modern avant le mot, ambiguous, incomplete, contradictory, unreliable, deceptive, all much like some …[fill in the blank] I have known.

‘Operation Ganymed’ from West Germany starts with astronauts returning after several years from a mission to Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, which went wrong, leaving members of the expedition dead. (We never find out why Ganymed?) The five left are returning to Earth, among them Jürgen Prochnow, in a hurry to get to Das Boot. These survivors are dazed, battered, and anxious as they power home. The anxiety turns to angst as they near the blue dot because there is no radio communication. They keep calling but no one picks up, and yet they are sure their radio is working. If they cannot get ground help, it will be hard landing. Siri! Wake up!

Gany poster.jpg

As for the Russkies, there are many space ships out and about and recently a number of them have come to grief. No, not by coming across Rush Limbaugh broadcasts, nothing that awful. Rather some unknown kind of radiation is penetrating the ships and driving the crews mad, and killing many of them. Video evidence from an Italian space ship shows the crew, eschewing pasta, and bashing into walls in their orange jumpsuits, double knit with flared trousers. Hold on, any Italian made to wear such a clown-suit would surely contemplate suicide.

Orion poster.jpg

A committee meets. [Shudder.] Pontificating follows. Ditto. Ditto. The Libras want to study the phenomenon for a while, maybe forever. They can see research grants galore, fulfilling their KPIs, until retirement. The Taureans want to get out and taste the radiation. The noble Russkies agree to lead the mission in purpose-built ship they have whipped up. There were eight or nine of them. Each is cloned into an android to ease the burden. This gimmick is not integral to the plot and used in only two scenes. Much ado about little. The androids do not seem to be proof against the brain pain radiation later.

Distracted by the hijinks of the fraternity brothers, this correspondent missed some details, now and later, in both films. Ahem.

The Germans have no help and have to land hard and out of control. Surviving the landing, they emerge from their craft rocky and rolling after years in low gravity space. After some this-and-that, they guess that they missed the Pacific Ocean! Instead they are in Baja California near that ocean.

That is the mystery. What happened? Where is everyone? Meanwhile, how are these weakened men with only a few leftover supplies from a four-year mission survive in the harsh desert conditions in which they now find themselves? This environment is as harsh and forbidding as any Martian landscape shown in other Sy Fy films.

While the imperatives of the operation on Ganymede and then the concentration required to return kept the five cohesive and sane, this empty desert weakens those bonds. Injuries, delirium, dehydration further impair them. They head north and come across a few abandoned trucks and a few empty villages at crossroads. But no people, dead or alive, nor any animal or bird life. Just that rugged, endless, dry stony desert under a relentless sun.

Gany walk 1.jpg The walk.

We then get the dreams and nightmares of the individuals. I loved one who dreamed of being the only survivor interviewed by the media while himself dying. The carrion of the media attack him with a battery of trivial and stupid questions, oblivious to his mortal distress as he dies under the barrage of their self-serving and aggressive questions. It seemed so plausible and realistic it could have been on the ABC.

Another stunned astronaut, blinded by the sun, imagines himself in a ticker tape parade of welcome.

A third has disconnected, blurred flashes of what happened to the others on Ganymede.

This parade of delusion interspersed with conflict among the five, though they are too exhausted for much.

On the other fork in the space-way, the Russkies are nearing the energy source which is cotton candy whirling in space. Their craft has all manner of special shielding, such as applied to those about the go to a dean’s budget briefing, but even so members of the crew start experiencing brain pains of considerable magnitude, though not as bad as though endured by budget meetings. It kills some. Even the androids need Tylenol. Others put on headphones to listen to Reiki music to recover. (Well, that is what it looked like, and I missed some the subtitles.) The crazier ones want to destroy the ship by pulling the USB cables out without ejecting the device in the prescribed manner! Unsafe withdrawal! That is a death wish! Others just want to go home. More die, though there is no gorefest. They just creep off and lie still. Kind of like Alexander Technique exercises.

Barnars loop.jpg Barnard's Loop stands in for Orion's.

Whoa! Other members of the crew get holographic visitations that seem to be communicating with them. It takes a while to tune into the channel, but when they do, the message is, ‘Wait! I am not a dream. Listen.’

These visitations cause pain to the one visited, like when the in-laws come for Thanksgiving. The holographs have been trying to tune their visits so as not to kill those visited, something in-laws never do. The holographic visitors do some Geordie Speak and claim that they are there to help. Ah huh, this is after killing the crews of several other ships with these brain-pain inducing visitations. The energy field called Orion’s Loop, which the holographs have created, will save Earth from a speeding orb on a collision course, not yet sensed by Earth’s primitive instruments. Ah huh. But Earthlings must not interfere with the Loop. (Why did I just think of El Trains in Chi Town?)

‘We come in peace. We are here to help.’ That is what the holographs say as they flicker in and out. The visits seem to take a lot out of them, too. Why they did not try FaceBook is unknown where all the other weirdos go. The Russkies have heard all that before. Said it even. Some think it is a trick and without ejecting pull out more USB peripherals, while others dally with these spectral visitors. Dally. Pull. Dally. Pull.

Then it ends.

Back to the Germans. A couple of the wandering astronauts die in the desert.

Then it ends.

‘Operation Ganymed’ is a character study as each of the survivors deteriorates. While ‘Orion’s Loop’ shows the reactions of crew members to these alien apparitions.

Both movies have effective set designs, especially the Russkie computer, which is walk-in, like the one that used to be in the computer museum in Boston. The spaceships, the space suits, the instruments, especially in the German take, all have a verisimilitude to this viewer. Though the Germans are always complaining about what junk their Audi ship is. Whinge. Whinge. Whinge. It got them there and back.

Both movies are like ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Solaris’ in being cryptic, and it is left to the viewer to get something out of them. OK. Not something I would pay to watch, but far preferable to the Italian Sy Fy I have seen where there is a story and plot and both are confused and nonsensical, and evidently forgotten by the cast half-way through. No loss.

At 1 hour 10 minutes, 5.3/10 from 417 casters.

A missile appears on Soviet radar and the response is measured but finally an effort is made to intercept and destroy it. It fails, while intelligence reports that the missile did not originate in the USA or its allies. Huh!

The Soviet interception, while it did not disable the missile, deflected it into an Earth orbit. Around it goes at such great speed that the heat and sound in its trail destroys all. The new course will bring it over New York City in an hour. The countdown begins. (Note: the Russkies did it even they did not mean to do so.)

Lost Missile.jpg A misleading lobby card because there is no creature in this feature.

In Gotham we learn that a really big missile called Jove is soon due for a test flight at nearby Havenbrook. In New York City itself other scientists are making a bigger and better bomb; all are enlisted in finding a way to eliminate this threat. Among them is Robert Loggia, he of countless television programs, who spouts Geordie-speak and proposes to use Jove to carry the bigger and better bomb to blast the Lost Missile. He and his colleague Philip Pine, another TV regular, set to work against the clock. Tick, tick, tick…

Will exploding a hydrogen bomb in the atmosphere near New York City be wise? The Geordie-speak covers that. As the missile continues, it destroys Ottawa; no one noticed.

Only Philip Pine even wonders where the missile came from or with what intent and that is brushed aside by Loggia. Who cares? Let’s blow it up! Though admittedly, communicating with the silent runaway does not seem the obvious thing to do.

To get the plutonium bomb from New York City to Havenbrook, Loggia puts it in a Macy’s bag and sets off with his fiancée in tow. Sure.

Loggia.jpg Loggia rides to the rescue and his own demise in one of his few leading roles.

He sacrifices himself to arm the missile and launch it in the best Hollywood manner by installing the shopping bag in the missile, handling the plutonium. As crude as that it is, this is one of the few instances of movies of that era that emphasises the deadly radiation of nuclear weapons and atomic energy. Contrast that to ‘The Atomic Man’ (1955) where radiation is an annoyance to be treated with soap and hot water followed by a lie down and an aspirin.

Meanwhile, New York City is evacuated and those that stay in Gotham imitate Brits in the Blitz and gather in air raid shelters in a tense but calm manner to do the crossword puzzle. As if…

In between this action we see a lot, too much, stock footage of rockets, airplanes, weapons, wreckage, city streets, panic, and so on and on. These inserts seem promotional videos for the Air Force, for Conelrad, for NORAD, for Civil Defence, Macys, for…. One of them showed school children calmly crawling under their school room desks which would… (Remember that drill? I do.) Those inserts are good quality but pointless in the story. Perhaps sixty percent of the screen time is this padding. That made me wonder if the story was originally conceived to be shorter for a television playhouse program and then padded with this footage to B movie length.

The action with Loggia and company is well acted and briskly directed, but there is too little of it. Given that there is nothing about the origins of the missile, despite the misleading lobby cards with the hoary hand releasing the missile, it is hardly Sy Fy. We are none the wiser after it is blasted. Hope it does not have any siblings.

Again unusual for the time, the Soviets are shown to be cautious and the population of New York City includes blacks. Both are unusual for the time.

Common to the times is the role of the women to panic, cry, shout, and so on. Loggia's girl is a scientist but you'd never know it after the introduction. She performs the stereotype duties well enough but there is no hiding how tiresome those duties are.


3.7/10 from 575 at 1 hour 25 minutes

A slasher movie with invisibility and no slashes.

A convicted murderer reads a lot. Strange. He murdered his celebrity mother because she ignored him. HIs reading has given him telekinetic powers and also the on/off switch for invisibility. Wow! Mrs Hoover was right in the sixth grade when she said reading broadened the horizon.

Astral coveer.jpg

The cast includes some name-recognition players: Sue Lyon, Elke Sommer, Leslie Parrish, Stephanie Powers, and Marianna Hill. Most of these women get one scene where they pretend to be strangled by an invisible man. Put that on the demo tape. On the other side, Percy Rodrigues is wasted though he imparts gravitas and integrity to a cardboard role. But the male lead is Robert Foxworth, about whom more later.

Back to the crazed killer.

Astal man.jpg

His reading homework done, the villain, Sandman, uses his telekinetic powers and invisibility to escape the slammer and mow down the those enumerated above. The only incident that engaged the jaded attention of the fraternity brothers was the murder during a modern dance performance, and that was the choreography. Honest!

To get ‘The Invisible Strangler’ (alternative title) the master plan is to bait him onto a stairway and then remodel the house with gunfire. The bait at the top of the stair is Elke Sommer. Well, that would work. A step is loosened under the carpet so that it squeaks. Set! Wait a minute, who put the cat out?

Sandman is duly riddled in an NRA-approved fusillade. For about five minutes. End. Though how they know he is dead remains a mystery since he is still invisible, or did I blink.

Did not these people watch any of the Invisible Man movies? Evidently not. To flush out an invisible man or woman, blow smoke, pour water, vent steam, spray insecticide, use paintball, something. But not here; instead it is a hail of bullets.

To attract the slasher demographic the alternative title was used when it was finally marketed. ‘The Astral Factor’ is never explained in the film anyway, and it would just confuse the anti-vaxxers. Mondays do that, too.

There were no special effects. No floating glasses, moving telephones, and since he strangles there are no wafting weapons. Nor is there any problem with invisible clothes and shoes or going bare and barefoot. Nor is there ever any explanation of how Sandman does it. Who cares anyway? (But which book was he reading? )

It was made in 1976 but not released until 1978 for the desperate VHS market of the day.

Seeing Robert Foxworth reminded me of one of the most enjoyable movies that has ever come my way, ‘The Black Marble’ (1980). It is a police procedural that is sad, funny, romantic, idealistic, pragmatic, has dogs, a chase, singing, and gave me an appetite for St Petersburg Russia, which was satisfied in 2017, though not in August. I re-read Roger Ebert's laudatory review from the time and agreed with every word and sentiment. Foxworth is the movie but it helped to have that Amazon from Texas, Paula Prentiss, and the desiccated Kentuckian Harry Dean Stanton alongside. Joseph Wambaugh, the author of the novel, one of many, felt that previous Hollywood renderings of his books were stupid and superficial, so he decided to do it himself with this one. He succeeded! Chapeux!

A boring film of 1 hour and 13 minutes about a nuclear apocalypse. It is marked as 5.5/10 from 557 time wasters.

A highway patrol officer in the Alabama Hills near Los Angeles is ordered by radio to set up a one-man road block in the middle of nowhere because a fugitive is about. He complies.

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For nowhere there is lot of traffic and each time he orders the driver to stop, pull over, and wait without a word of apology or explanation. Send him back to the training course, cried the fraternity brothers. The motorist are varied.

Yes, this the Otranto roadblock where a mixed group of individuals are thrown together by larger, external events and must interact with each other. A disaffected wife sneaks off into the bushes, unbuttoning her blouse with the virile truck driver, a worried businessman has to fly to Mexico, a drunken socialite wants more liquor and her ageing beatnik boyfriend wants to match macho with the police officer who promptly clocks him with a rifle butt. This is a man of few words.

Copper forbids them from returning to their vehicles and has pocketed all their keys, hence no one can listen to commercial radio. The only source of intel is the police radio which begins to talk about evacuation of the city with the title phrase, ‘This is not a test.’ Everyone of a certain age will recognise the title as the Conelrad alert for atomic armageddon. Sixty minutes is mentioned as the time to….. Transmission ends.

The police officer redoubles his efforts to keep the party together, get those two out of the bushes, whack some sense into the would-be beatnik, kill the socialite’s annoying dog by strangling it, and coerce the truck driver and his off-sider to empty the truck. Why? So that it can be used as a bomb shelter! Yep. Well it is better than nothing. That was one training course he did.

So they crowd into the Otranto moving van truck which just happens to have a supply of canned food and bottled water, well beer. There was not much bottled water in 1962. Everyone in the truck feels sorry for themselves and has to decide how to live the remaining hours of their lives. Mostly they stand around saying that. They need an agenda and chair to focus the discussion. They need a McKinsey-speak manager to confuse things properly with micro-managed KPIs.

One hopes that in the truck's supplies there is plenty of deodorant, because they may have to stay there for months. So it is said. It varies between oblivion in sixty minutes or months of waiting while the radiation dissipates, and that seems to be realistic in a way. Who knows? Who has tried to sit out a nuclear war in a truck before?

In 1962 nuclear war was a reality though the Soviets are never mentioned, and there is no chest-thumping about the American way in the back of the truck. Ergo it is certainly of the time but subdued. There are many films with a similar setting, like ‘Five’ (1951), ‘Alas, Babylon’ (1960), ‘Ladybug, Ladybug’ (1962), and more. Each of these three has a lot to offer.

Like many of those other films this one is intended to be a taut character study, but, well, it never had a theatrical release, not even for the triple feature drive-in market, where the cheap schlock was always welcome, and it is easy to see why. It is not taut though it is confined like a stage play. The writing does not produce or reflect tension though it is combative. The characters are so shallow, who cares. The more so when compared to the films named above. It seems to be the only credit for the director, screen writer, producer, and lead actor. The cinematography is either bleached or shadowed.

The Easter Islander playing the lead is monosyllabic and seems to have no inwardness. Some the players are familiar like Thayer Roberts, the farmer driving a crop to market and Norman Winston as the husband who shoots himself, not at the prospect of incineration but because it was his wife off in the bushes with the truck driver. In the hills the fugitive is still after the one-armed man.

However, despite its qualities, the film brought back a lot of unpleasant memories from that time and place when nuclear Armageddon was a prospect. The drills in school. The repeated testing, as in 'This is a Test' of the Conelrad network. The public service announcements on television about taping windows in preparation for annihilation. The ominous announcements in October 1962. Then there was the ordinary high school day when we were sent home early without explanation. Gulp! I have never been able to watch 'The Day After' (1983) because I thought I would relive that.

A novel about two underlings in the negotiations at Munich in 1938. Years ago I read Georges-Marc Benamou’s ‘The Ghost of Munich’ (2009) concerning the late-life recollections and reflections of
Édouard Daladier, the French Prime Minister who took part along with Neville Chamberlain.

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The stereotypes of this episode are many and seldom varied. Too bad. Harris, as always, digs deep into the strata and finds complexity, contradictory strands, variation, mixed motives, and men in way over their heads in deep and dark water where there is no bottom to touch.

In the main the reader looks over the shoulder of the youngest of the private secretaries in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s office, Hugh Legat. At times we see his Oxford friend, Paul Hartman, sometimes it is implied ever so delicately that they were very close and more than friends, who has become a translator in the Wilhemstrasse Foreign Ministry. They meet at Munich.

Much of the novel demonstrates the great pressure Chamberlain was under to find a way to peace and avoid another blood bath, his heart-felt desire to do that, his unflagging energy even at age seventy to pursue every last chance to the Nth degree, and his creative strokes in keeping the peace-process, as we have since learned to call such negotiations, alive on the assumption that talk-talk is better than kill-kill. He emerges as a good swimmer destined to drown in a mighty tsunami.

While the sniping from the Churchill lobby is noted, the real problem is always Hitler. He is the swirling eddy sucking everyone else into the maelstrom. Harris is a master of the detail of the Nazi regime down to the buttons on the uniforms of the waiters, and yet if comes across easily.

Chamberlain’s most creative stroke was to draw Benito Mussolini into the conference and that did buy several days, a week even. Hitler could hardly refuse the participation of his one and only ally, and Mussolini liked a stage and made the most of it with his prolix German and French. But here he is relegated to the wings.

Daladier said virtually nothing, so exhausted and preoccupied was he by the back-stabbing and internecine struggles in Paris that he spent most of the negotiating sessions making plans to do down some of his host of opponents at home. Among his own dwindling supporters some rallied under the banner ‘Better Hitler than Blum,’ the socialist Jewish alternative.

Chamberlain’s second stoke came after the partition of Czechoslovakia was agreed; it was to extract from Hitler that piece of paper he brandished at Heston aerodrome. At the end of the formalities in Munich he asked for a private meeting with Hitler and presented Hitler with a joint statement that paraphrased one of Hitler’s own recent speeches about peace. Clever that. Although Hitler had no interest in seeing Chamberlain he did so, he said, out of courtesy. Still less did he want to issue a joint statement, but he could hardly repudiate his own words just then. Moreover, it was just a piece of paper so why not sign it, if for no other reason than to get Chamberlain to leave. So he did and he did.

Chamberlain is shown to be a terrier about details throughout and to have an encyclopaedic grasp of the situation. He is also aware of how greatly people wanted peace.

Indeed, one of the interesting elements in this telling is the jubilant popularity Chamberlain had in Germany where the women and men in the street saw him as a messenger of peace, and cheered his every appearance. They crowd around the hotel and call for him to appear, but he does not do so in deference to his host. This popularity annoyed Hitler, who darkly grumbles about the problems with Germans weakness.

There is much in the book about how the PM’s office worked, relations with the cabinet, and with the Foreign Office, that shows the stage machinery of such dramas as well as the rivalries. As always Harris has immersed himself completely in the subject. Likewise, we read much about how Hitler’s entourage was organised at the time, as Hartman is drawn into it, and then recoils from it.

Legat and Hartman have their own private dramas but the master narrative that unites them and propels the book is this. What if Chamberlain (and Daladier) knew for a fact that Hitler’s intention was to go to war? Would that knowledge have led to a change at Munich with a different result?

I included Daladier about in parenthesis though there is virtually no liaison with the French shown in these pages. The French were paralysed by their own domestic strife and were present only in body. In Benamou’s novel Daladier is fatalistic. War is coming and there nothing to do but wait, and then he had faith in the Maginot Line. He is more worried about the prospect of a French Civil War similar to that in Spain.

Legat and Hartman offer such proof of the bellicose intention, and Chamberlain refuses it. Intentions can change, he may have believed, and maybe here today we can influence that change. Moreover, there is no advantage in being seen to be the aggressor. He is perfectly aware of the fact that a signature on a peace of paper will not stop Hitler from doing his worst, but it will give England the moral high ground. And it might delay the inevitable if it is inevitable for a few more days.

Furthermore, Hartman’s suggestion that an aggressive Britain would precipitate a coup d’état against Hitler is so much wishful thinking. Everything the Brits saw in Munich convinced them that Hitler had complete control of the country and that fit with every other source of intelligence they had. To be sure there were dissidents but they were but fleas.

Appeasement to use a word that barely figures in this text is the term usually associated with the period immediately before World War II. In its earliest days, when Germany reclaimed the Saar, and the Rhineland, and unilaterally cancelled some debts, appeasement was a positive policy by England, France, and Italy to assuage some of the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles, which had been imposed upon Germany at the insistence of Georges Clemenceau who wanted forever to cripple Germany. Subsequent French governments wanted, not to ease the German plight, but to strike at Clemenceau’s legacy for momentary political advantage, and so acceded to British initiatives to relent. The Brits wanted a German bulwark against Communism from the East.

But the demands from Germany continued, and no one in France or England wanted another war. While England and France had won in 1918, the war nearly destroyed both. Peace was popular, very. In addition internal political turmoil in France was paralytic as its own fascists were inspired by the Italian and German examples and the Spanish Civil War. Italy soon went with the wind into Hitler’s camp. The French hated each other more than any enemy and locked themselves in a battle to the death; that is no exaggeration because there were assassinations and beatings aplenty.

Chamberlain had learned the value of publicity and ensured that the press with BBC news cameras were waiting his return, though Harris is silent on this point, and in the wind after a rain shower he made that much quoted remark with that peace of paper in his hand which promised ‘Peace for our time’ but I have heard it said that this seventy year old after the arduous days in Munich where there was little sleep and no rest misspoke and meant to say ‘Peace for a time.’ By that measure it was a success.

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It is certainly plausible but Harris passes on this possibility in silence.

That possibility reminded me of Neil Armstrong’s much quoted 1969 remark ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Wikiquotes now does Armstrong the service of inserting an indefinite article in from of the noun ‘man’ so that it reads: ‘one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.’ But accompanying sound file has no ‘a’ in it. The commentariat has been squeezing ego-time out of that ever since.

What else then could Chamberlain do but buy time, and hope against hope that the winds might change, and those cheering crowds in Munich heartened him, though his long political experience meant that he did not bank on an enduring vox populii.

For some years I was an HSC examiner and read each night for three weeks countless, well in fact they were counted — eight an hour — handwritten scripts on Modern History examinations on appeasement and this era. The words occasionally swam before my eyes but on it went but I learned a lot, about both the subject matter and the high school examination process, though as to the latter I was disappointed by its mechanistic rigidity, no paper could be awarded the highest grade of twenty unless it had mentioned every possible point on the list, emphasis on list. Out of the scores I read there was an outstanding one that was intelligent, well written, insightful, and probing but which, because of its tight focus, omitted a single point on the checklist and so, despite my advocacy, it was docked. That still rankles all these years later. (There were many other good ones but I refer to the one I tried to promote. Thereafter I learned my lesson and did not push.)

While indulging in autobiography, I spent a day in Munich in 1983 in a driving rain that inhibited much sight-seeing but I did find the bookstore that figures in a few episodes of 'Derrick,' a long running German cop show on SBS.

Starring Christopher Lee and Lolita, this was released in the same year as ‘Start Wars.’ That is the only thing they have in common apart from the genre classification of science fiction. This one is in the class ‘End of the World’ films like ‘Doomsday Machine’ (1967 and 1972) reviewed elsewhere on this blog and watched on consecutive nights. Contra T. S. Eliot on both nights it ended with a bang, not whimper. 'Start' for 'Star Wars' is the fraternity brothers' idea of a witticism, since that first film started the endless franchise that is still with us.

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This entry runs feature length of 1 hour and 28 minutes; by the end we all wanted it to end. The End of the World was a small price to pay for the relief. On the IMDB it rates 2.9/10.0 from 654 votes. That comes in below the average excrescence from Adam Sandler, but 0.5 ahead of ‘Doomsday Machine.’

It starts well, and that has trapped a lot of viewers per the comments on the IMDB. The cadaverous Lee in a Catholic priest’s garb with a vacate look blunders into an all-night dinner; no one else is there but the attendant. Lee is sub-verbal, like a 7MATE announcer, but looks like the survivor of a car wreck. Stunned, dazed, off-centre, and muttering about calling the police. OK.

Then the telephone explodes off the wall! That’s Telstra service! Anyway, then the coffee urn explodes and the whole place goes up in blazes. Lee stumbles into the dark and ends up in front of St. Demon’s church, where he is greeted by …. himself! This is a mysterious start…and most of the mystery ends there, too.

Meanwhile we see Square Jaw sitting at a 1970 dumb computer terminal in a room full of clicking, spinning, blinking gizmos, so we know this is hi-tech. We see a lot of him sitting. He's good at it. Sometimes he smokes a cigarette in this hi-tech environment. Then he sits some more. Occasionally he furrows his frontal lobes. Is this gripping or what? “Or what,’ said the fraternity brothers.

After what seemed like twenty minutes of furrowing, he says he is receiving messages from S P A C E. No one cares. His boss, the redoubtable Dean Jagger (what porkies was he told to take part in this travesty?) wants him to get back on schedule and forget this nonsense. Stick to the KPIs! Lolita just wants to party.

There must have been a sweet talker in the production because some of the footage is from the Rockwell plant where a space shuttle is under construction. This part is limited but it is impressive.

In the best tradition of a earlier era, Square Jaw takes Lolita hither and yon. No doubt the director knew who viewers wanted to see more.

They go to a super secret facility and walk in to find Lew Ayers who injects gravitas and humanity to this connect-the-dots exercise. More on Ayers below. We never see him again, nor is any use made of the gobbledegook he spouts from the screenplay.

They go to St Demon’s which is a convent and nose around. They nose around some more. Square Jaw exerts his lobes again.

Most of this movie was evidently filmed at night, in the dark, and through a fish tank. Much is not seen and every comment I found on the inter-web said that, so the print I watched was not unique.

Spoiler.

It turns out the alien garbage crew has landed. These aliens have duplicated Lee and the nuns at St Demon’s, though the real Lee keeps wandering about. (He rehearsed this role earlier in an episode of ‘The Avengers [1965].) No explanation of that. The avatar Lee explains that the Earth is a menace to the universe with its pollution, 7Mate, wars, hideous advertising, immorality, lousy presidents, and he and his crew of nuns have come blow it up.

Today that message has resonance about the pollution and destruction of the Earth but in 1977 it sounded dopey, the more so when joined with moralising about how evil humans are. That is, considering the the avatar Lee boiled the short order cook alive in the opening scene, and murdered a few others along the way, including his alter ego. Is he above reproach, not hardly.

With that explanation avatar Lee sets the bomb ticking and his crew step through a portal to go home, as avatar Lee steps up he invites Lolita to come along and Square Jaw, too. in an after thought. The former the fraternity brothers could understand but not the latter. Anyway without a word of demur, they do so.

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After all, the news on CNN is that the world is ending. Kaboom! The END of the movie.

This is a production that languished without release, until it was bought by another producer and sold to the late night television market, where it continued to languish taking a few unsuspecting viewers with it.

In the paranoia of the 1950s witch-hunting, Lew Ayers became suspect to the Tweets of the Time in a whispering campaign. After all he had starred in an anti-war film early in his career. This, they alleged, set him on the Red path as a fellow traveller. The film was ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (1930). Worse, in World War II he had served as a front line medic, rather than carry an NRA approved gun. His film career slipped away and he turned to television. Many years later inspired casting made him the incoming President of the United States in ‘Advise and Consent’ (1962) and that put him back on the wide screen.

From the IMDB: 1 hour 35 minutes and 6.2/10 from only 88 opinionators

A movie made on the cusp of talking pictures. It was made silent and then shortly thereafter a soundtrack was added, though the inter-title cards from the silent version remain. It is called the British response to ‘Metropolis’ (1926) with its futurism rendered by miniatures.

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It is set in the far distant future of 1950 where face-time phone calls are the norm at the top of the social pole.

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We never see any proles. Everyone of the elite scoots around in a personal airplane. Art Deco is über alles. The gear is all sleek and flapper with cloche hats. Fantastic, perhaps, but the clipboard is much in evidence. Not a computer in sight. But rows and rows of clerks adding things up. What things? Dunno.

The post-Great War world is divided into the Federated States of Europe and the Atlantic States, as illustrated on a map. Did Eric Blair see this movie?

Somewhere there is a land border between these two. Greenland? Bermuda? Wales?

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At the border the opposing guards play cards and joke about another war. A futuristic car pulls up and much suspect behaviour ensues. Will they declare the duty free or not? Not! Finally the car breaks away and shooting follows. The guards in the best NRA training start shooting each other rather than the fleeing automobile, which looks like a low-slung rocket on wheels. We never do find out what this is all about except that the guards are trigger happy, and that is well conveyed.

The blame bat swings and the politicos on each side of the border pontificate and bluster. All this is observed over a tele-screen by a room of bearded men in a smoke filled room who are spying on the politicos and brag about manipulating them. These are the plutocratic merchants of death. They are indicted by the film for encouraging war, but how they caused those border guards to go all NRA is never explained.

Once the bluster starts it has no end. See Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The Guns of August’ reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

In a parallel path we have the World Peace League, which is compromised mainly of women who wear white. There is a lot of white. There are millions of members, but, of course, the head is a man, ahem, whose daughter is betrothed to a soldier. The Montagues and Capulets at it again.

When Romeo and Juliet go to a ball and dance there is marvellous scene with an automated orchestra and a mechanical dance. The scale is great but the movements are stiff and poorly timed, by purpose, to reflect the pace of the instruments. At least that is what I think the point was.

Dad Montague is president of the Atlantic States and keen for war. No reason is offered for his belligerence; he is just written that way. Romeo Montague is a pilot who is ordered to bomb the Federated States of Europe, which is headquartered in London. Juliet Capulet in white harangues one and all campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize or at least the Sydney one.

There follow two confrontations. One is choreographed like Busby Berkley at the aerodrome between the bomber pilots in slick black leather gear, and the women in white, lots of them. They mill around, confront, mill some more, while Romeo dithers. This scene is very nicely staged. The pilots have to get to those boy toys so they can blow people up, and quick! Guns are drawn, but…

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Meanwhile, Dad Capulet in white goes to see President Montegue in his private sanctum. In passing we learn that many chaps are keen for another war, though there are some chaps who know better in white, too. Not a white feather is sight. Boys Own stuff. This man of peace carries in his pristine, moral high ground white clothing a gat. A smile comes to the NRA composite. Got a problem. Shoot it! Problem gone.

Ah…. Peace now prevails in this world of personal rule. No more detail about this miracle is offered. If Hitler had been murdered at Munich….? Well, then perhaps Reinhard Heydrich for Führer. Gulp.

Instead we have the trial of Dad Montague in white for murdering President Capulet in black. The judge, determined to make the law an ass, rules irrelevant all matters of context and intention. A life for a life is the rule he knows. Though the jurors are anguished cravenly they comply with the direction of the judge, and he is sentenced to death, left then staring at the camera, while Romeo comforts Juliet. He never seems to note or care about the murder of his dad. Will the Federated States now launch an attack. Unknown. Maybe they are having their own white and black confrontation. Who knows.

That is where the version I watched faded. Fine with me. It is available for Free View from BFI web site, but I cannot access that. I found it on the Internet Archive and mirrored it to the Apple TV.

The futurism is fun, and the extended Art Deco set design and costumes are noteworthy. The comparison to ‘Metropolis’ is right for the staging, but not the story. War and peace is a big subject, true, but here it reduces to the bad will of a single individual, President Capulet. There is never any indication that the beards with cigars have any influence on Prexie Capulet and they disappear from the film. Or will they return to manipulate his successor into war? ‘Metropolis’ offers a more complex account of good and evil. Nor are there the macabre touches from ‘Metropolis.’

Start with the IMDB information: 1 hour and 23 minutes, with a score of 2.4/10 from 761 brave souls.

It is also a fact that it has two dates. The core was filmed in 1967. Notice the bouffant hairstyles and the hairspray required to hold them in place. The film, however, was not released until 1972 when a creative entrepreneur bought it, and proceeded to cut and paste into and around the core excerpts from two other, as yet unidentified movies, to produce this pastiche. Ordinarily such comments about production follow a discussion of the film but in this case they offer an explanation for the mish-mash.

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Let’s try to take it in turn. It opens with a woman sneaking into a secret (but poorly guarded facility) and since everyone looks California Chinese we are to conclude it is RED CHINA! This woman is a spy and she proceeds to murder the hapless security guard. Evidently the budget cutters had been at it and reduced the security to this schmo. She also -- and the fraternity brothers liked this touch -- strangles a lab technician with her own pigtails. She also stabs another lab rat who happens along. With her blood lust sated, she then examines a throbbing mechanism. Imagine what the fraternity brothers made of that.

Next she is seen behind a slide carousel (that’s a memory test) projecting pictures of the aforementioned mechanism to a room full of hirsute men with yacht sails for neckties, saying only Chairman Mao has the key for it. Heavy! They conclude it is a Doomsday Machine and pick up the phone to call the president in Florida on the golf course.

This is part one and it is lifted from another film entirely and we never see any of these characters again, but it justifies the title that was put on in 1972. It is all poorly staged, acted, lit, photographed, and very unbelievable. Not even the Twit-in-Chief would fall for it. Hmm.

Now we come to the core which has an airforce mission to Venus in preparation. NASA is nowhere to be seen but there are many blue uniforms and much saluting. There are seven men, straight and tall, ready to go. Much banter among them. Much stress on the physical rigours that await them, and their superb preparation. More saluting.

Then a car pulls up, security here, too, is lax, because a civilian emerges. Suits are always bad news among uniforms and this suit has three women in tow, but at least they are each in uniform. Gasp! One of them is in a brown uniform with a Red Star on it! Gasp. A Russky! Gasp! [It goes on like this for a while.]

By order of the Twit-in-Chief, three of the men are stood down and the three women replace them. Much amazement among the men that a woman might be a flight surgeon, a space pilot though this patricianly specimen was the first woman on the Moon, and an astrophysicist. Uniforms, military rank, a bushel of advanced degrees these they may have but they are WOMEN!

However ‘ein Befehl ist ein Befel’ and Colonel Physique submits, though he asks repeatedly why, especially as to the Red Russky. The long established plan is abrogated and they are launched toute suite, without a lot of TSA pre-flight checks. Again there is no explanation for the rush, but viewers know it must have something to do with Chairman Mao.

In sum, we have three young men and the old codger along with three nubile young women with bouffants. The fraternity brother had no trouble following this.

Sure enough the codger goes crook, and the women look after him, when not serving drinks. Colonel Physique strips off his shirt, and on him and this more below to reward the persevering reader, and parades around bumping into the women in states of undress. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he shouts. So did we. The visual evidence confirms three young men and three young women.

Pairing begins immediately when one unstable, snivelling male, let’s call him Donald, jumps on one of the women. So this the elite of the best of the best. His approach reminded the fraternity brothers of things they had seen in the zoo. The object tries to put him off, short of belting him. 'No' is not the answer Donald wants, and we all knew ‘he’ll be back.’

Meanwhile, they lose contact with ground control, because…. there is no longer any ground. Turns out the China Syndrome was right. Bored one night, Mao turned the key on the throbber and it split the world apart. Gasp! They watch the CNN broadcast of the end of the world, but give it a stingy two stars. Bang. No more Earth. Ah ha, that is why the women are on board. The United States Air Force has sent Adams and Eves in space with that codger as chaperone, though why a Russky was included still baffles Physique.

As usual, a meteor has crippled the ship and radiation is bad so they apply much Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty here and there to fix it up. But they have used too much fuel outrunning the debris that once was Earth and dodging the meteors. Meanwhile, Donald continues to harass the object of his extension. In fact, and this is a first for the Sy Fy seen thus far he tries to rape her, in an airlock.

Remember how lax the security has been everywhere? Ditto for airlocks. There is a big red button with a sign in 8-point type that says Do Not Push. In their struggle it gets pushed and the load is lightened by two as they are blown out into space. Donald, OK, but her, she was the victim. There is no justice in space.

Still the load is too heavy to reach Venus. Whoa. Almost forgot Venus, and so did the director and producer. They talk about throwing each other out to lighten the load.

‘Why didn’t they use the hairspray aerosols for propulsion?’ cried a fraternity brother. ‘Why not ditch the codger? asked another. A third, suggested that they jettison the hairspray tins and the brushes, combs, and other impedimentia seen earlier. In fact, he suggested they ditch their clothes. These boys are smart despite their grades.

In the meantime one crewman and the Russky in space suits clamber outside the ship to repair a tear in the Reynolds Wrap and accidentally on purpose the rocket zooms out from under them and the are lost in space floating. They make comic relief remarks.

But by chance, in the vastness of space, there floats by a Russky spaceship. Is that handy or what! They board… Wait.

Here is where another, third film is cut and pasted in showing two completely different people in different space suits entering a ghost space ship where they find the crew dead but the ship fully operational, though it is the comic relief man who pilots it, the Russky ship, and not the Russky woman pilot with him. No women drivers in space. Note for pedants. These space suits are not those originally made for 'Destination Moon' (1951) and used repeatedly in other films since that year. Either they were worn out when this clanger was made or they were checked out to an Apollo mission.

They radio the mother ship [get it] and there is much talk of heading on….

Cut back to Adam and Eve, oh and the codger is still looking on and moving his lips about the future. An eternal optimist.

At this point a title card came up: The End.

Word on the inter-web is that the producers of the original film about the Venus mission went bankrupt before filming the Venus part and that is why it went on the shelf in 1967. The new producer spliced in other stuff and added a voice over ending with the codger rabbiting on about little rabbits or something to sell the resultant turkey to the drive-in market.

Roger Corman also spliced in various visuals of the destruction of the Earth from public domain news footages of fires, floods, GOP majorities, and other disasters, passing space junk, including two or three ersatz space stations cribbed from other movies and which were never noticed by the crew, and many different rockets. The ship they set out on morphed into two later configurations. Ditto the space suits as noted above.

The comic relief by the way was played by that triple threat performer Bobby Van, cannot sing, cannot dance, and cannot act. Confirmed. Confirmed. Confirmed.

Physique is played by Denny (Scott) Miller, a Hosier. whose stint as the title character in ‘Tarzan, the Ape Man’ (1959) left him forever shirtless. His parents were physical education nuts and passed it on to him. He went into television and had a long career as an extra, often unnamed. I recognised him from something but could not identify it, though he was recurrent on ‘Wagon Train’ (1961-1964). Although his real claim to fame is that he played basketball at UCLA. Most Hoosiers are born with cross-over dribble in the blood.

His Eve was Ruta Lee neé Ruta Kilmonis from Quebec, who likewise had a long subsequent career on day-time televisions soap operas up to and including 2017.

Mike Farrell has a few early lines as a journalist, before he went to Korea.

After completing the Invisible WoMan spin offs, this seemed the next logical title. It was all the more intriguing for being directed by Edgar Ulmer whose ‘The Man from Planet X’ (1951) and ‘Beyond the Time Barrier’ (1960) had merits and his ‘Detour’ (1945) has many rave reviews. That was enough for me to tune in.

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It starts with a boring jailbreak where the villain climbs a wall and hops into a hot convertible driven by a moll. In the dark he sheds his prison stripes for civies and in a moving car without the aid of mirror he ties a bow tie! Wow! This is a man to watch, as long as possible.

Bow tie.jpg Note the bow tie.

I knew then why his name was Joe Faust. He had already sold his soul to the devil if he could do that.

The convertible was driven by B-picture stalwart Marguerite Chapman, who topped the bill in ‘Flight to Mars’ (1951). Her childhood nickname was Slugger and it seems she lived up to that name in later life as a few wanna be Lotharios discovered. Now if she had just knocked some sense into this screenwriter.

James Griffith, familiar from 1950s television, wants Faust to steal radium for experiments he is running with a coerced German scientist whose daughter he is holding captive. Faust was in the slammer as an ace number-one bank robber, and so knows a thing or two about vaults, entering and exiting there from.

So far, so what, but…Griffith wants radium for transparency experiments. The word ‘invisible’ was never used, and I listened for it, as I am sure the lawyers for the Universal franchise did too. His German scientist, who gives the only creditable performance, can render living beings transparent for brief periods but he needs more radium to perfect the process and extend the time. Of course with prolonged exposure one becomes dead and buried, beyond transparency.

Faust talks tough but agrees quickly. Faust by the way is a behemoth and why he did not just muscle his way out then or later passes belief. Griffith is no match for him on any score and his one measly henchman sleeps most of the time. It is so hard to get good henchmen in B movies.

Faust steals some radium and has fun assaulting unsuspecting people in his transparent state. Since funds are needed he decides to do likewise in a bank where a wad of cash is conveniently bagged on a table top. Off he…, whoops, the transparency juice wears off and he passes into and then out and then back into whole and part visibility. The effects are good but very brief and not well centred.

Marguerite and Faust plot against Griffith and in the resulting showdown the radium is ignited. Kaboom. End.

Earlier the daughter was freed, and she had a non-speaking part and stuck to her amazing silence, and the scientist was liberated. These two survive and he offers the last line asking the audience ‘What would you do?’ The question is about the secret of transparency but most of the audience was surely already gone by then. They knew what to do: L E A V E.

Griffith is referred to throughout a major. He seems very unmilitary and there no explanation. At times he waxes on about a transparent army. His unseen army would have an advantage over the invisible characters from H. G. Wells because they would be clothed. When transparent Faust remains clothed. Huh? Yep. When he comes to light in the bank he has his clothes on. Never tried putting on a pair of invisible pants myself but…. don’t want to try. Would the weapons of this unseen army also be transparent, and if so, how would they ever find them.

The imprisoned daughter is in a bedroom upstairs. Go get her would seem the obvious solution. The gunsel has no loyalty to Griffith and with a word breaks from him. Within five minutes of snarling, Marguerite is in with Faust who hulks and towers over the whole rest of the cast assembled. Talk about a house of cards.

Ulmer did not apply himself, is all I can conclude. Nothing is made of that name Faust. There is no science in the transparency. Just dim the lights and poof! There are no sight gags like floating telephones or drinks. Just guys pretending to be punched and falling over. The fraternity brothers can do that after a night on the keg!

Still less is there any reflection on the advantages and disadvantages of transparency, like finding the pants.

The set, apart from the convertible, is an A-frame farmhouse. Most of the acting looks like it was done in one-take. Yet it was shot back-to-back with ‘Beyond the Time Barrier’ using the same camera crew and so on. This latter film has a poor story but it has some intellectual content and a distinctive visual style. Ulmer’s earlier ‘The Man from Planet X’ had an ethical ambiguity that was intriguing. Here we only have the heavy hand of Joe Faust slapping people around.

In sum, it is not Sy Fy but a very cheap and nasty film noir done in five days for the drive-in market. None of the characters are engaging. Even the grey-beard scientist who freely and quickly admits to having performed experiments on live human subjects to earn his crust. These victims included his own wife. So how come he goes all gooey about a daughter? Was she on his Green Card? Does he need her to remain eligible for his next role? Does art imitate life?

On IMDB 3.8/10 from 1,782 brave viewers. Run time: 58 minutes.

Dare I suggest that the 3.8 is boosted by the short running time. If it had been longer, the score would be lower.

Running 1 hour 27 minutes, 4.9/10.0 from 904 opinionators

The sagacious Finn Janne Wass gives it 1/10 and still that requires justification. Read on.

It is very well staged, acted, and photographed. though conspicuously lacking flying saucers or Martians. The laboratories are well stocked. The telescope looks serious and not cardboard. The interiors are fully furnished in Palm Springs, perhaps owned by someone in the production. The acting is fine. That is the good news.

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Then there is the script and direction. There are too many speeches about nothing much to slow things down and pad it out to feature length. Some of that may be down to the director who does not give pace a priority. There are bumps and drags. But the greatest problem remains. Before getting to that, some context.

The dumb blonde Peter Graves is a radio astronomer who has a home laboratory where his wife assists. He collaborates with Distinguished Professor who has a big telescope. There is much blah, blah, blah. The Prof has photographic evidence of the Schiaparelli canals on Mars and has observed how the polar ice cap is melted into the canals. (These canals were born of the fertile imagination of Giovanni Schiaparelli [1835-1910].) This is proof of intelligence at work! What other explanation could there be, Erich?

It fits because Blonde Peter is getting radio messages from Mars, sort of. He is sending to Mars and later he gets a reply that is identical to his message. It is not an echo, that has been checked and ruled out. So he says ‘tomato’ and later the reply comes ‘tomato.’ It is the way a child might repeat what a parent says to it. This conversation is so boring, Peter will never get another research grant unless he can move things along.

Pete.jpg Peter doing his dumb blonde routine.

Ah ha, an MIT graduate, Blondie decides to send the mathematical constant, pi. Why didn’t he think of this earlier? Well he is a dumb blonde. The Martians will recognise it and extend the result, and… Not only is this a mathematical constant, it evidently is a universal. Huh?

The Martians use the decimal system and Arabic numbers? Clever those redskins. Oh and Morse Code, too, since that is what Peter uses to send.

Worse the explanation of pi is inverted while it also asserted in this garbled dialogue that one cannot have, make, or use a wheel without knowing pi. Oh. Even the fraternity brothers snorted at that, during a brief moment of consciousness. A circle can be made with two sticks and piece of string. Stick a stake in the ground. Tie the string to the second stick and extend the string and walk about the perimeter. The footprints describe a circle. Voilà! A circle. Then there are round stones and logs, and….

Still this is a good set-up. It has basic credibility, an element of mystery, attractive leads. and the promise of more to come. The pace is good at the start; the cinematography is crisp. That is the first third of the run-time.

But wait, wifey goes all wifey. She is a zealot and fears all this science might disorder the Lord’s work. She goes on and on. Science destroys. Prayer is good. Though we never see her doing anything Christian, like shut up and do good works, give away some of the luxury furnishings in their home, teach their children to offer hospitality to visitors, or any of that boring stuff. Rather she fulminates. (Another case this is where the actor ought to have punched the lights out of the screen writers, John L. Balderston and Anthony Veiller.)

Still she wants to send truckloads of prayers to hurricane victims and not desalination planets, vaccines, or MRI machines, and trained up doctors. For this, by the way, she is much praised in the half-witted remarks on You Tube. So much for the longterm salutary effects of free public education.

Peter puts his Jim Bakker wife into her box, and continues talking to the Martians. Which one is the nutcase?

In a parallel plot the Russkies are also trying to dial up Mars. Red Planet Mars, right? It must be Red. (Get it, Mortimer?) No luck. Their vacuum tubes are leaky, just good enough to listen in on Peter’s transmissions. Some Russian is spoken though the chief villain is Michael Anthony, later of fame on television, who speaks only nasty.

The NBN connection to Mars clears and Peter get the skinny on Mars from his unnamed correspondent. Mars is Eden. There is no scarcity. No disease. Obama-care for all. No bad stuff at all. Not a single Republican on the planet. Everything is free. Everything is good. It is an all-over Donna Reed Show world. Average life span is three hundred years. (Think about sitting through strata meetings for three hundred, that is, 3 0 0, years while Mr. Numnuts bangs on about the drain pipes.) But not a word about those canals or the ice cap.

News of this paradise gets out and hits the spinning headlines around the world. Realisation that Mars is so well off depresses everyone on Earth in a kind of reverse of schadenfreude and they stop consuming, working, earning, start phoning in sick, altogether which makes the world economy crash and society begin to collapse.

How come the Martians are so well off, asks Blondie? Well, they follow the words of the Lord to the last detail. Yep the little green man from the Red Planet starts spouting the King James translation of the New Testament. No copyright?

This news heartens the god-fearing Westerners, and does-in the Earth Reds. The Soviet peoples rise up and overthrow the Commies. Bye, bye Michael Anthony. The Patriarch puts Vladimir Putin in the big chair and he in turn puts the Twit-in-chief in the Oval Office.

Red Planet god.jpg

At this point the Hallelujah Chorus should have cut it, but there are few more twists and turns. They just do not know when to quit, these people. Fortunately, I do.

Why the good news about Mars should depress people and lead to social, economic, and political collapse in the West is anyone’s guess. Likewise, why this news should arouse the Soviet populace is another guess. After all, if they needed scientific evidence via that radio to uphold their faith, well then, it is not faith now is it?

All of this is presented with a straight face. God is a Martian! He is a Red from the Red Planet. See title. And like all Martians he is a little green man. Tricky as a Red could be, hiding behind that green look. Lyndon LaRouche is right the Green movement is Red at heart! Mars, the symbol of war and blood, is E D E N. Is there an NRA message in this? (Don't know this Lyndon? Keep it that way.)

No wonder the half-wits commenting on You Tube love it. Still less, do any of them understand the liberation rhetoric of the King James edition of the New Testament, but they wax enthusiastic in the self-imposed dark.

Janne Wass says on the blog Scifist that the original stage play from a generation earlier used the religious card for laughs, but when the playwright tarted it up for the cinema in the frigid atmosphere of the Cold War, it went all serious, solemn, and sanctimonious, a cynical judgement of the audience in 1952 and one that continues to payoff. It is impossible to underestimate some things. It was during the Korean War and the HUAC rampage for those who were not born and have no brain.



From IMDB 3.4 / 359, 1 hour and 18 minutes

In far distant 1975 four astronauts are Mars-bound when they check in with Earth control. Everything is AOK. We knew that would not last. It didn’t. No sooner did Deep Voice hang up the phone, then strange things began to happen.

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The plan had been to orbit Mars once, gathering data by scans, ogling, and pressing buttons, when the ship began to shutter and shake. Was it a meteor strike? Meteors are always on hand during space flight films. Was it some force from Mars? Had the lease expired on the ship? Was not it built by the low bidder?

The crew is four, along with Deep Voice, for whom this is the single credit in the IMDB, there is Goofy Charlie, Doc, and Whiner. The dialogue goes like this, repeatedly: ‘I dunno,’ Deep Voice. ‘Let’s find out,’ Goofy Charlie. ‘I’m scared,’ Whiney. ‘Let’s study it,’ Doc. This four-cornered exchange occurs enough times to send me to the crossword puzzle. Deep Voice never knows anything, making him the perfect McKinsey manager, having no encumbrance of knowledge. Charlie is always ready to leap into confusion. Doc wants more data before moving.

Whiney is the woman in the crew and she is always scared, when is not afraid, worried, sick, crying, or wailing. Personally I thought she should walk off the set and sock the script writer for sticking her with such a pathetic character. After all she sat on a mountain of combustible liquid rocket fuel to travel a squillion miles through the void of space to get there, and once there she goes all mushy. Really! 'Sock him, girl,' we cried!

More generally I considered the question of whether these four were the best the population of the Earth could find for this unique mission. A leader whose big line is ‘Dunno.’ Doc who looks like a Colombian drug lord. All that about study is just cover. Charlie the dolt. Really, this is the A-Team. Next thing a television clown will be US president.

Oh.

When things go wrong the crew has to land on Mars, though the ship, was not designed for that purpose and compromises have to be made. They use the command module as a heat shield and retreat to the landing pod. They jettison the module and bump, bump, bump, they land on Mars!

Doc wants to wait in the pod for rescue, estimated at four months. Whew, did he bring that much deodorant? (Well, it is a fair question.) Whiney also wants to sit tight and be scared, but Dunno Deep Voice wants to find the remains of the command module and salvage the radio and his PlayStation from it. Using the radio they can pinpoint their location (if by some miracle they can figure it out) and he can pass the time with the PlayStation. ‘Let’s,’ says Charlie, again, and again. My brief hope that they might jettison him went for naught.

Since he has a deep voice, the others agree with Dunno. They don their space suits, for once not those from ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) which must have disintegrated from repeated use under bright lights, and sally forth. Whiney goes on about water, food, nail polish, while silently cursing the script writer. Doc constantly falls behind studying sand, rock, paper, scissors, whatever. Charlie bounds around like a puppy off the leash. Whiney…. well,… Dunno still doesn’t.

For the next thirty minutes or more they traverse Mars. They are awed by it, fascinated by it, wary of it, and thrilled to be the first Earthlings to see it.

Mars sand.jpg

What a change of pace from Mars movies up to this time, when most Earthlings on Mars, just want to go home. Though ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950) has some splendid imagery of a mysterious sepia toned Mars, none of the intrepid adventurers seem to notice, while in other films the explorers do no exploring whatever. In this respect, ‘The Wizard of Mars’ is superior in its effort to present Mars as unknown, mysterious, different, and so on.

The science may be whacky but at least it tries to present a brave new world.

That the only creature in the feature is a PVC alligator is down to the materials at hand. Though the creature high point has to be the Ferengi under glass with a transparent skull for a dome in the city they discover.

Yes, they discover a city by following, I am not making this up, a yellow brick road to the castle on a hill. The Wicked Witch was out but the Ferengi was in. (If you don’t know ‘Ferengi,’ get a life! Or ask The Google, as we were once advised to do.)

Regrettably the Ferengi with the glowing dome merely points the way, and bows out. Too bad because though he had been dead for eons, he showed more life than the Wizard to follow.

The Wizard is the head of John Carradine projected against a field of stars mouthing a ridiculous but lengthy speech about space (vast), time (long), and Visa card payments (overdue). He went on and on, and I began to pine for the thirty minute trek across the sands of Mars, which sands by the way, were white and not red, because it was filmed in Great Basin National Park in Nevada where red sand is scarce. Most of the time during this rant he is out of focus and that helps endure it.

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Finally he comes to a point. (He must have been paid by the word, though pretty clearly this is one take and his contribution to the film is this ramble.) If these strangers (I’ll say) will just adjust the universal symbol of time, he will - Hey, presto! - power their rocket ship back to Earth. It seems his watch has stopped and he has forgotten how to set it. Just like my granny.

Charlie says, ‘Let’s.’ Deep Voice, ‘Dunno.’ ‘Let’s study it,’ Doc. And, inevitably, ‘My watch has stopped,’ Ms Whiney. (She really should have socked the writer. Though it should be noted she is not harassed by the men in the crew.) Turns out easy enough. The Universal Symbol of time is a pendulum. Remember that, class. Charlie adjusts it by replacing the rock crystal with the city within. Don’t ask.

Whuska! Off they go back on board the space ship, checking in with ground control for re-entry, only two minutes after their last check-in! Two minutes! What? Was it all a dream? The laundry suggests otherwise but these four are puzzled. Look at yourselves! Their clothes look lived in, torn, dirty, and rumpled. Moreover, and conclusively, wee Charlie has grown a dirty upper lip for Movember. The script writer and director have overlooked this obvious and visible evidence.

This opus has had other titles. including ‘Horrors of the Red Planet’ and ‘Alien Massacre.’ Neither is accurate but the marketing department prefers alternative facts. It has also been re-cut hither and thither to make a silk purse out of it. No go.

A word on John Carradine (1908-1988), the man who pursued a triple career. He appeared in many classic A-features like ‘Stagecoach’ (1939), ‘The Grapes of Wraith’ (1940), ‘The Last Hurrah’ (1958), ‘The Man who shot Liberty Valance’ (1962), ‘Cheyenne Autumn’ (1964), working with some of the greatest stars and directors in the Hollywood firmament. This is by no means a complete list.

In parallel he also was also a guest star in every television series of the epoch, 'Gunsmoke.' 'Perry Mason, 'Mr Ed,' and so on and on and on. Though not, I noticed, in 'My Favorite Martian.'

But by night he also appeared in such cinematographic works as ‘Captive Wild Women’ (1943), ‘Revenge of the Zombies’ (1943), ‘The Mummy’s Ghost’ (1944), ‘Half Human’ (1958), ‘Invasion of the Animal People’ (1959), ‘Curse of the Stone Hand’ (1964), ‘House of the Black Death’ (1965), ‘Blood of Ghastly Horror’(1967), ‘Vampire Hookers’ (1978), ‘Evil Spawn’ (1987), and ‘Buried Alive’ (1990), which fittingly appeared two years after his death and that was not his last credit for he died on set. This is by no means a complete list. It would seem, he never said ‘No’ to a part.

The script writer’s previous major work is listed as ‘Monsters Crash the Pajama Party,’ which was never produced. Sighs of gratitude were hears around the room at that news.

Perhaps it was best that the print I watched was smeared. Then again, perhaps, it was made that way. Per Wikipedia it was made using an optical printer for special effects and was filmed for $33,000. A glance at the cast and crew on IMDB suggests none of them had a prior or subsequent career in the dream factory. Still the space suits looked good, and the desert trudge was noteworthy, if boring.

The facts from the IMDB: 1 h 53 m and 5.5 from 507

A whopper from 1880, oh wait, make that 1930, but it opens with a comparison of New York City in 1880 with that of 1930 to illustrate the change in fifty years and then projects another fifty years into the future for the story of Romeo and Juliet in space suits, sort of, with singing and dancing. Yes it is that rarity of rarities, a Sy Fy musical, only the second I know of. (Read to the end to find out about the other, or just scroll there.)

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In distant 1980 things have come, pace H. G. Wells. Evidently traffic is so bad that everyone uses a personal, fold-up light hover craft to get around. The craft is a light airplane capable of vertical take off and landing, and can hover, as the opening scene shows. In it Romeo and Juliet meet in the air and each sets their craft to hover, while they talk of their troubles.

Romeo and Juliet Air.jpg

Troubles? Yes, they have troubles right there in Sky City.

For a start the Volstead Act is still in force, as one of the characters says in a contemporary reference. Fraternity brothers, cover your ears. Moving on.

Think of Plato’s marriage festivals first, to get in the right frame of mind, Mortimer. A man has applied to the Marriage Bureau to conjugate with Juliet against the application of Romeo, whom she prefers. In this world she is not even consulted in the matter. The Bureau decides in the favour of the other chap, whom we shall call OC. OC is of a higher status than Romeo and so gets the wife he wants. Period. End. Well, if it ended there, it would be not one hour and fifty-three minutes long.

Men apply to marry women, but women, as it explicitly stated, cannot apply to marry men. This process is asymmetrical.

Romeo appeals and has four months to lodge a counter application. But how can he raise his status in that time? He is already at the top of his profession as a Zeppelin pilot and there is no way up from there. (Get it, Mortimer? [Probably not]) Not sure why but he does not think of going into management. Guess the scriptwriters did not foresee the Invasion of McKinsey Managers and the havoc their KPIs can bring.

He wanders around the Big Apple and bumps into Igor to whom he tells his troubles. This is just the man Igor is looking for, because he boss, Mad Emeritus Professor 1, wants a disconsolate but experiences Zeppelin pilot to fly his experimental, virginal spacecraft to Mars. To be the first man to fly to Mars and return will give Romeo a super deluxe status and he will easily win Juliet’s hand and all that goes with it. If he survives the trip.

Earlier when he was drowning his sorrows with this buddies, they went to watch, as one does, Mad Emeritus Professor 2, resuscitate a dead man killed in 1930.

JI Lab 1.jpg

He is the Comic Relief, whom we shall call Lazarus. Lazzie tells stupid jokes for the rest of movie. Reviews from 1930 suggest this was instantly detected.

Naming the characters at will is both easy and necessary because in 1980 no one has names but only numbers, e.g. JN-102.

Romeo, one of his drunk buddies, and Lazzie fly to Mars. Gaavoom! And their iSpaceShip hits Mars. There they are greeted by Busby Berkley’s dance company and have a high-ho time.

Girls girls girls.jpg

Though things are confusing because everyone on Mars is a twin, one good and the other a Republican. They get confused. They do look alike.

Every now and then someone breaks into song, and there are many dance numbers. Indeed the Martians are mimes who express themselves in dance, a lot.

The film was enormously expensive to make with all those sets, mechanical contrivances, travelling mattes, and extras, and it bankrupted the studio just as the Great Depression closed theatres. Not a CGI in sight. It was made prior to the Hayes Code and there is much female flesh on display, and some implicit homosexuality. On the other hand, there is little cigarette smoking, which is so pronounced in some other, later Sy Fy films on the Moon and Mars and even in the space ship en route.

In 1930 talking pictures were in the first decade and many of the conventions, camera angles, transition cards, and the like are used. In vaudeville shows there was often a comic or clown on the stage between acts, as one set of performers cleared out and another set up, to fill the gap and hold the audience. That is what Lazzie does here, though in this case he had the reverse effect of clearing the sofa for a time, with his lame, forced, often incomprehensible efforts at humour. Suddenly an urgent need came over this viewer to fill the dishwasher.

Maureen O’Sullivan is in it, before she landed in the jungle with Tarzan, but like most of the other players, she goes through the motions. Marjorie White as her brassy girlfriend is the only one who injects energy and vitality, albeit not creditability, into the proceedings in her scant screen time. The word ‘scant’ also refers to some of her costume, what there is of it.

Among the other appurtenances of 1980 are video phones and televisions, and meals in pills. Buildings with two hundred stories are equipped with light-speed elevators.

Among the songs in this film are ‘Old-Fashioned Girl,’ ‘I'm Only the Words, You Are the Melody,’ ‘The Drinking Song’ and ‘Never Swat the Fly.’ ‘The Drinking Song’ is staged on a dirigible and the ‘Never Swat a Fly’ was a show stopper when, instead of Fast Forward, mistakenly I pressed Pause.

Before condescension overtakes us, pause to consider how well we might do today just imagining 2067? About as well as John Lennon did?

Fritz Lang’s monumental ‘Metropolis’ (1927) had only appeared a couple of years earlier, and many in the audience for ‘Just Imagine’ may have been unaware of it. The ‘New York Times’ reviewer, at any rate, does not mention it. Mortimer, that was a silent movie with a wall of sound for orchestral accompaniment.

‘Time Flies’ (1944) is the only other entry in the category Science Fiction, Musical, Comedy. Believe it or not, it was made in England. In it four contemporaries travel backward in time to the Sixteenth Century to correct Shakespeare’s spelling. Well, what other explanation could there be, Erich?


From the IMDB: I hr 9 m with 6.1 / 3674.

A creature feature concerning a Mars mission. Here is the set-up. In distant 1973 square-jawed Marshall Thompson is the man-in-charge, but, well, on Mars things happen - off camera. His whole crew of nine has been killed and only he survived to be rescued by a second mission. Marshall is suspected of murdering his crew, since what other explanation could there be, Erich? Marshall does not know what happened. Napping while in command it seems. Even if he did not kill them, and no motive is ever mentioned, he is guilty of malfeasance.

It Terror.jpg

But on the way back in the rescue ship…., yes, down in cargo hold is a very ugly and very large set of bunions. Any one with feet like that is going to be irritable. But what podiatrist would take on such an impossible set of toenails? For convenience let’s give this creature a name, something creative and imaginative: Mars Bar (MB). Where was TSA when this piece of work boarded?

MB sets about murdering the crew of the ship on the return flight while Marshall is locked up, so he is off the hook. No effort is made either to communicate or contain MB, instead the crew, mid-flight through space, get out their war-surplus pistols, rifles, bazookas, and hand grenades which they use with the panache of Hollywood, shooting from the hip. None this blasting bothers MB much, nor does it rupture the ship’s skin. They must have build it it for inside battle. Me, I would have aimed at the toes.

Murdering members of this crew is almost too easy. They repeat their mistakes repeatedly. They open hatches to see what is going on and the opener finds out the hard way. That does not discourage his mates from doing the same thing again, and again…. Until there were (just about) none.

MB stowed away on Mars for reasons unknown, and so comes from a particular place. How that could be ‘beyond space’ as per the title is lost on me.

Spoiler Alert. When all else fails the remaining crew don the well-used space suits originally made for ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) and seen in many films since, including this one, and let the oxygen out and this kills the creature. Quite how the surveyors are going to re-inflate the ship and return home is elided. That the creature needs oxygen is ... just said since he parades around in the rubber buff.

Also lost on me was the skull with a bullet hole in the forehead which is produced by one point to prove Marshall’s guilt. No explanation is offered then or later that I heard, but napping I may have been. Yet at no time did MB pack a rod. With feet that like he had no need of a gat.

There is nothing about Mars, though two ships have landed on it. Both were clearly and exclusively American. There are two women in the crew who by turns serve coffee and scream. On the other hand the writers were confident enough in the audience to include an airlock without and explanation and also to a multi-story ship again without stopping to explain it. That is some evidence that the genre was maturing.

The end is the tag line that ‘Mars is death!’ No more missions will go to Mars. Instead the strange creatures called Republicans will be examined.

Still this experience did not deter him from 'First Man into Space' (1959) where things were even worse.

Marshall Thompson geared his whole life, it seems, for Hollywood stardom, or so it is said. His family moved to Los Angeles to give him a shot while he was but a boy. He grew into a handsome young man and did all the right things and in 1944 and 1945 when many other Hollywood stars were involved in war work of one kind or another, from active service to fund raising or propaganda filming, he got some parts, but thereafter 'It! The Terror from Beyond Space' is what he is best know for. Except for...

Marshall.jpg Marshall Thompson was so named because his family claimed relation to the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall.

Yes, 'Daktari' in the late 1960s. By some twist of fate he got cast as the veterinarian in an African game reserve and made a success of it. Moreover, even when it wound down, Thompson found he could not let it go and thereafter worked as a philanthropist to raise money for African animals the rest of his days. Though he was upstaged in 'Dakar' by chimpanzees and lions, he forgave them and became a friend to they and their kind.


A Whodunnit on an international space mission made in Canada for television with a major cast including Michael Ironside, Wilford Brimley, Martin Balsam, and more. The Conestoga has a crew of nine: two Soviets, two American, one Canadian, Italian, French, England, and East German. This crew has just completed the first Mars landing and exploration and are returning to Earth, a few days from re-entry when things start happening.

Murder Space cover.jpg The graphic is misleading as there is never a cadaver floating around and no one wears a space suit.

Contrary to the IMDB summary, the start is the unexpected and unexplained death of a Soviet woman on board, about thirty years old. That engages the attention of ground control in the form of Wilford Brimley. Fearing a Martian pathogen is on board, the ship is ordered to hold position for further analysis. There follows a long distance autopsy using the facilities of the ship and analysed at ground control. This is one the many interesting ideas in the film that are not developed.

The IMDB data is 4.7 / 160.

There are political repercussions to consider and the Soviet ambassador is Martin Balsam who intrudes, ever so tactfully into the proceedings along with Arthur Hiller as the US Vice President in charge of the space program. The more so when the autopsy reveals that the Olga, the victim, was suffocated.

Murder! In Space! That is bad. It redoubles the reason to delay landing. There is worse. Another one of the nine little indians snuffs it due to cyanide poisoning. Yikes! Is this homicidal cabin fever when so close to home, or what? Or what?

Spoiler follows. There follows a convoluted Agatha Christie like unraveling. The East German killed her because she threatened to reveal his homosexuality. Before she died Olga put cyanide in the insulin of the poison victim who refused to help her. Ironside killed the East German in his self-appointed role of judge, jury, and executioner because he figured out he had killed the Soviet. The second Soviet accidentally blows himself up - this is the explosion mentioned on the IMDB — when he responds to a coded order to seize control of the ship.

Qualifications are in order. First as to the explosion. It was not clear to me, and yes I was paying attention, whether the explosion was triggered by accident or it was booby trap to silence the Soviet planted by the Soviet government. While he was fumbling with the gear someone was knocking on his door and that distracted him. Despite the fact that the explosion fatally ruptured the ship, the door knocker walked away. More on the fate of the ship and surviving crew below.

Second, Ironside kills the East German because no one has jurisdiction in space and he would otherwise go free on landing. Really! I would have thought the Soviets would deal with him. Jurisdiction is much discussed but not developed in plot or intellect. It caught my attention because we used space jurisdiction in debate in college. The details have long since been overwritten.

The TSA was not on the job for this flight. Olga had a supply of cyanide for recreational use and the Soviet man had a sub-machine gun in his NRA-tagged luggage.

There is nothing about Mars, the mission, or space flight in the movie. Our nine might well have been on a railway train, a ship at sea, a castle on a hilltop, or cut-off by the weather in Otranto Inn. That was a major disappointment. After the ship is damaged by the explosion, despite the earlier worries about either a pathogen or a killer on the loose, the remaining crew members exit via an escape pod and land.

Likewise I never understood why the US Vice President had the call on an international space mission to Mars. In general I thought the political dimension was well handled, though a needless plot twist was inserted when the Soviet premier changes mid-flight. That is linked to Olga, the first victim, but it seemed a needless distraction. Although none of the other nations figures in the diplomacy.

The Wikipedia entry says the film was made without an ending, and only after some focus group screening, was the explanatory end filmed. Groan. That tells me that no one knew what they were doing or why. It shows.

On the plus side there are women in the crew and there is sex but the women are portrayed as capable crew members with jobs to do and they do them, only once is one of them required to go all female and scream, this from someone with the grit to walk on Mars. But otherwise the film has left behind the puzzle of how a woman could be a scientist that bothered so many men in earlier Sy Fy. A small mercy.

The pressure of the media feeding frenzy is well realised, but rather subdued compared to the reality. But the constant demands by representatives of the media distracts and confuses everyone.

The direction is crisp and the actors are fine. The cinematography is fluid. Ironside was effective as the man in charge who never expected this!

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Brimley is always a treat.

The last of the Universal franchise of TIM (The Invisible Man) before descend to Abbott and Costello. The credits declare this to be an original screenplay, and the ubiquitous Kurt Siodmak is himself invisible. The story lines from ‘The Invisible Man’ and ‘The Return of the Invisible Man’ have atrophied.

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In this outing the invisibility is born of John Carradine, squinting to prove his intellectual credentials, who experiments on birds, cats, and dogs until Jon Hall comes to the door. This is Hall’s second tour on invisibility duty. When last unseen he was saving the USA from a Nasty invasion, when not lecturing on the American Way.

Instead of another mission as a secret agent, Hall is now a homicidal maniac who has escaped from the White House, oops, from an asylum in South Africa. The film opens with him cutting his way out of Qantas class… from Durban on the docks of Southampton. He seems to have surrendered his Yankee citizenship, too, become Hollywood Brit.

He has come to England for revenge on Spider Woman and her insipid husband whom he claims earlier cheated him out of a diamond mine Africa.

Gale S 2.jpg Spider Woman

Spider Woman is no one to trust, but it seems she and her husband did not cheat him or leave him for dead after clubbing him, though he alleges all of this. Reality does not matter to him, in the spirit of the Tea Party, for Hall thinking it is so makes it so and he sets out to bedevil them. After efforts to placate him fail, they put the local plod onto him and he absconds, stumbling to Carradine;s door.

Carradine is ready for a human subject, and here he is! One jab and there he isn't, now invisible. Special effects follow, one being a darts game in a pub. Oh hum. Then floating glasses and such. The magic, however, has worn off for this viewer.

The twist here is that Hall wants to be invisible to elude the plod but visible at other times to assume a new identity, and to make that transition between the two states he needs blood, and lots of it. Several home-brew transfusions follow, and Carradine pales to dry. Much to’ing and fro’ing follows, all without eliciting much interest. This sanguinary element references the conclusion of ‘The Return of the Invisible Man.’ Hall’s megalomania is also of a piece with the foundation stone, ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933).

In the end Brutus kills him. The end. Brutus? Carradine’s loyal and once-invisible dog which has dogged his steps since the death of Carradine. We cheered Brutus on. At 1 hour and 18 minutes we only wished Brutus had got him earlier.

This outing has shifted genres to Horror and left Sy Fy. This villain is a competitor with Bela Lugosi for blood. One imagines, and if I can imagine it, surely some hack did, too, Dracula and TIM fighting it out in a Red Cross blood bank, like two oenological connoisseurs in a cellar of fine wines. Crash and smash! This idea is copyrighted but for sale, cheap. Contact the agent, if he can be seen.

In sum, TIM has gone back to his origins in England and there are no references to the war, though this was made in Hollywood in 1944. No doubt the assumption was that audience had enough of war entertainment, as the casualty lists grew.

Spider Woman, Edith Holm (Gale) Sondergaard (1899–1985), won an Oscar in 1936 and was nominated again in 1946. She quit films in 1949 and left Hollywood when her husband, Herbert Biberman, was pilloried by HUAC and she only reappeared on film in 1969. Our loss. In the interim she trod the boards in New York City.

More shenanigans from an invisible man with a screenplay by Curtis Siodmak, also known as Curt and Kurt. In 1942 the more Anglo-Saxon name Curtis appeared in the credits. And this title is very much a wartime period piece.

IA poster.jpg Lobby card.

From get-go our hero, Jon Hall, is accosted in Nowheresville USA by thugs led by the ever so British Cedric Hardwicke, all dressed in mufti, and Hall knows instantly that they Nasty Germans. Cannot fool a Yank in 1942. Hardwicke knows invisibility when he sees it since he saw it in 'The Return of the Invisible Man' (1940) in which he led the bill. Since the invisible man punched his lights out in that film he became a Nasty and is out for celluloid revenge.

In this series the name of the invisibles has varied, Griffin, Radcliffe, Nerks. Is such confusion the inevitable result of invisibility, ahem, because maybe the lady did not know which was whose. That is the conclusion of the fraternity brothers.

The Nasties are Naziis. They want the formula for invisibility or else…. Hardwick is a bloodless reptile, but the scene belongs to the understated Peter Lorre as a malevolent Japanese along for the fun. Hall is a printer and in his printshop is a guillotine paper cutter. Shiver! Lorre thinks of ways to use it, on Hall.

The Nasties are overmatched, four thugs and a Nip against one Yank on his home court. He fights them off and they scurry away.

That Japanese is Mr Kentaro Moto who has answered the call to the flag and is now working for Japan and not the International Police. Yikes. He is perfectly sinister but he was useless in the fight. Strange how he had forgotten all that judo.

Hall is then asked ever so politely, not a waterboard in sight, to give his formula to the USA government, but he gets all pompous and refuses because it is too terrible a secret to reveal. In earlier films the serum was dangerous to the recipient because of its side effect (megalomania, aka Potomac Fever) but that is largely omitted here. The terror is in the capacity to be invisible and the evil that invisible evil men would wrought. As already seen the invisible woman was resistant to Potomac Fever.

Then the spinning newspapers report Pearl Harbor, and remembering Moto from the printshop disturbance, Hall goes to a Big Committee meeting in D.C. Who these men are is never explained, and some speak with European accents and some look more oriental than Moto ever did, amid the many Midwestern American accents at the table. Hall offers the formula, and speeches of gratitude are heard, but he has a caveat. Oh?

Only he can be inoculated, and he must do it himself, with the drug because…. Is it the side effects? Is it the secret which might fall into the wrong hands? Not clear to this viewer.

Now as a weapon in war, what good is an invisible man, naked, barefoot, and unarmed? Would invisibility have helped the Finns in the Winter War? This question is never pursued, we just segue to the secret agent, the spy, the invisible agent spy: bare of foot, naked of clothes, and without a weapon in sight.

It seems the Nasties are planning to invade the USA, and the question is when is Invasion Day. Kind of reverse of D-Day in Normandy. They will launch this attack from Nasty HQ in Berlin! Amazing logistics will be needed for that in 1942 This practical matter is later brushed off with a throw-away reference to a suicide bombing fleet leading the way (for the U-Boats laying a bridge across the Atlantic).

Hall is parachuted into Berlin to find the date. Yes, Berlin, well Potsdam a few klicks from Berlin,though conveniently the road signs are in miles. At headquarters the Nasties are Abbott and Costello.

Mind, while parachuting down, Hall strips off his flight gear and that is a marvellous effect. He is invisible when he lands and the Nasties run around crashing into each other. Hereafter the invisible man, while remaining invisible, draws a great deal of attention to himself. The fraternity brothers recognised a kindred spirit in this ghostly presence.

Since he had no training, it seems also that he has no sense. He all but tweaks the noses of Nasties, leaves a trail even Abbott and Costello could follow, and generally makes it known that there is an invisible agent at work.

Lorre and Hardwich.jpg Moto and Hardwick get the word and converge on him, setting a trap, one even Homer Simpson would have detected, but not this ingenue who blunders in and when apprehended blames everyone else!

Not to worry, the Nasties even in Berlin are overmatched and Hall has little trouble in breaking jail, getting the exact date of the invasion, himself bombing Berlin for good measure, and flying off. Whew!

The special effects of invisibility are good. Here he is as a spectral presence which is far more eerie than complete invisibility though he is usually the latter.

IA outine.jpg

In addition to the parachute drop, our invisible hero takes a bath and as he soaps himself the lathered parts of his body appear, mainly his leg, an echo of the stocking scene in ‘The Invisible Woman’ (1940). Earlier there was a scene of his footprints in straw of barn, an echo of a scene in the original ‘The invisible Man’ (1933). Food, drink, telephones float in the air.

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K(c)urt(is) Siodmak with a line from this movie

It was 1942 and Hall gives lectures time and again on the American way. If all of that was so important maybe he should been more responsible in concealing himself. The propaganda was dished by writer Siodmak, born a Polish Jew, and no doubt heartfelt since he had fled Hitter’s Germany a decade before finding his way to Hollywood, but it is also leaden and seems out of sync with the Abbott and Costello hijinks our hero gets up to when not at the podium.

George Pal produced this title and he always tried to get the science right, and left the screen play and direction to others in a division of labor, but, of course, he selected and hired the director and writer.

Conuest poster.jpg

In this case he hired a director who specialised in special effects and knew nothing about directing a drama and a writer, well that is the problem, not one writer but several writers each of whom stitched in this and that and evidently no with a whole perspective. One output of the rumour mill has it that the studio executive in charge of production concluded during filming that the story lacked drama and insisted on adding the Oedipal element half-way through, while cutting the budget, a McKinsey manager avant le mot.

Pal’s groundbreaking ’Destination Moon’ (1950) had many critics who found it more like a boring documentary than a dramatic film. They said
it lacked humour
it lacked tension
it lacked sex appeal
it lacked humanity
it had too much science
it was too expository
it had too much vastness of space
and so on.

Pal went with the flow(s) and this is the result. All those elements ostensibly lacking in ‘Destination Moon’ were shoe-horned into the film. It is easy to picture the Happy Hungarian, as Pal was known, with a clipboard checking all these elements off the production schedule. The result is a mishmash of checklist items.

Coqnuest Geo Pal.jpg

In a giant space station, the inevitable wheel because scientist at the time thought it was the way to the stars, a superior elite of the world’s best are preparing for the first moon landing. These individuals are the best of the best of the best of the best, a reference to the Men in Black for the cognoscenti. Each man is a volunteer, each man, for there are no women on the wheel, but yet there is still sex appeal. Intrigued? Read on.

That is the set-up and the ride is downhill from there. The writers reanimate the conventions of World War II submarine movies, where all the men were draftees, few were trained in more than turning a wrench, and the captain had sailed yachts. These superior spacemen complain about everything, want to go home, and are all Americans, almost. If this crew is the best Earth can do, better to stay at home.

Amid the crew are two foreigners, a Japanese and an Austrian. The Japanese gets one speech where he goes on about chopsticks as the miserable future for mankind, while the Austrian’s big scene is as hard to describe as it is to watch. Suffice it to say here it is pure kitsch.

The humour is supplied by an uneducated engineer who cracks jokes, I think, at intervals. Check. By the way this is a reprise for ‘Destination Moon’ where the radio operator did that.

The humanity must be all the whingeing by members of this superior elite who just want to go home. They are just regular guys, not super spacemen. Indeed.

The tension is maxed between commanding officer father and subordinate son, as if this is any way to run a railroad. Though there is a similar paternity in ‘Riders to the Stars’ (1954) from the typewriter keys of the ubiquitous Curt Siodmak.

The scientific exposition remains though, interspersed with lame jokes from the lame joker. Yes, these supermen in space still do not know the basics. All that training, all the preparation, all that work in building the space station wheel which was emphasised at the outset and gravity is still unknown.

‘The sex appeal?’ I hear the fraternity brothers asking. In another parody of World War II tropes the crew of the space wheel watches a movie with dancing girls and an uncredited Rosemary Clooney singing about love in the sand, an excerpt from ‘Here Come the Girls’ (1953). Sex appeal? Rosemary Clooney?

When that excerpt mercifully ends there are excruciating video messages for some crewmen. The Joker’s girlfriend drips 1950s celluloid sex on the screen, and then that Austrian, remember him, Ross Martin (who was born in Poland), who seems to combine German, Austrian, and Jew in a stereotype. His mother sounds like something from a Yiddish burlesque. Poor Ross. More humanity. Her private message to her son is screened in the recreation hall in front of the whole crew. Sensitive New Age management there.

The special effects are well done though many are borrowed from other films. But the vastness of space is there, and the movement from the wheel to the rocket and back is nicely done on a sled. And there is one memorable scene when the body of Ross Martin. who got in the way of an old reliable meteor, is consigned to the stars, though again the procedure mimics burial at sea.

Conquest funeral.jpg
Who had to tell his mother? I wondered.

As Launch Hour nears, the impossibly handsome William Hopper, before Perry Mason took him on, appears to tell the elite team that their mission is not the Moon but MARS! Gasp! Groan! More whingeing follows from the supermen volunteers.

Walter Brooke as the general is top-billed, a journeyman television supporting actor. Who knows why Paramount with its stable of talents chose him is anyone’s guess. He seems flat and robotic, in what I suppose the director thought was military discipline. There is a subplot about space fever that comes from being in space too long or maybe from watching this film.

Since the mission has crept to Mars, the general asked for volunteers and some of the whiners volunteer so they can whinge some more, and a small crew sets off for the Red Planet. As they do the general gets religion from out of the black and blue of space. He goes bonkers and tries to scuttle the rocket ship and kill them all. Wow! Eric Fleming, before heading them up and moving them out on ‘Rawhide’ is his son and socks him. This sock saves their lives but infuriates one of the crewmen whose unexplained loyalty to the general is so great that seemingly he would rather be killed by him than see the general’s son sock him on the chops.

Even though the general has gone Tea Party feral, the son leaves him at large, while they land on the Red Planet, which looks like the red hills of Georgia. These space explorers show no interest in Mars and wait for the opportunity to leave. The general continues to gum up the works, until…. Remember Oedipus.

The Japanese plants a seed and it grows.

Conquest red.jpg

See, Georgia. Trite as it is on screen there is an important point which we would recognise today but which was missed both by the scriptwriters and the audience at the time, namely that we Earthlings are destroying our own planet and the mission to Mars is to find new resources, including food. It turns out the earlier speech about chopsticks had a point in its garbled nonsense.

They have to wait on Mars for the next launch window, though nothing about that is explained, though gravity had to be explained earlier, and thanks to the general their supplies are low. They make no effort to record observations or explore the red planet. However, it snows and with the water from that they can power the rocket back home! Well that is what it looks like.

But the snow is for Christmas and we have another derivation from WWII movies, with a schmaltzy Christmas on the front line. All the while the loyal crewman mutters threats to the son. It is all so stagey that no one is interested. least of all this observer.

Eric Fleming had a career on television which was cut short, when he drowned in an accident while filming on location.

This film concentrates on the psychological aspects of life in space, and not the technology, nor hairy and scary aliens. That is a welcome focus but the execution is so diluted that most viewers will miss the point. It is diluted mainly by all the tropes from World War II movies, the static direction, the wooden acting, and the mechanistic checklist. Moreover, there is little interest shown in space and exploration by this crew who just want to go home.

One famous scene is the dining hall. Yes, there is a dining hall per all those World War II movies, but in this hall there is no food, but only pills. Yet there is still a vast hall with cafeteria tables and the whole crew assembled for the service of pills. Another pointless trope that undermines the awe and mystery of space travel.

4.9 from a measly 46 opinionators

An earnest portrayal of the political, social, and technical challenges of space exploration two years after Sputnik. The Cold War backdrop is there in the frequently mentioned enemies.

Destination space wheel.jpg

In the foreground is a massive space station wheel serving as a base for Moon exploration and landing with a view of colonising for purposes not specified, but to get there before the enemy does. Here as in many space ship films the underlying cinematic conventions come from submarine movies.

The technical problems of space travel are many but mercifully the Geordie-Speak is kept to a minimum. The social problems are surfaced. There are jealousies among the space station crew. The long stints there undermine normal life on earth. But the major problem is politics, the securing of ever more appropriations from Congress. Nothing is cheap in space and Amazon Prime does not deliver there (or here).

A qualification is in order before continuing. This 51 minute film was the pilot for television series and one assumes the other issues would be played out in future episodes. In contrast ‘Project Moonbase’ (1953) started as a television pilot and was converted to a movie, with the result that it is neither an episode nor a movie.

The bulk of this episode is the aftermath of a meteor strike on the station. What would script writers of space Sy Fy do without meteors arriving on cue? Some of the reaction is technical, fix it, and some social, get over it. But the major result is political, going back to Congress for more money.

The big scenes are courtroom-like committee testimony which is well done but which is more Perry Mason than Flash Gordon. The opposition wants to scrap the money pit that the space station is and blast multi-stage rockets straight from Florida’s Cape Canaveral to the Moon to get there before The Enemy. That would be like launching the D-Day invasion of Normandy from New Jersey, though no one says that. But then the American invasion of North Africa in 1942 was launched from Virginia.

Perhaps the best scene involves a visiting scientist come to the station to have a look, being confronted with a leap of faith into space to move from the commuter rocket to the wheel. The look on The Chief’s face was superb as was the crocodile smile Townes gave him before pushing off the ramp into the void. It is The Chief from ‘Get Smart.’ This effect and many others were well done but they came from that mishmash known as ‘Conquest of Space’ (1955).

At the end we are left uncertain of the outcome, but the characters have been established, the station, the Moon mission, the protagonists on Earth, and so on. The outcome of course was ‘No Sale’ and so no more.

Though John Agar is there, his part in this episode is small indeed. That surprised me since I supposed he would star. Rather Harry Townes leads the cast in camera time, and he does it well but he is no leading man.

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He was a well travelled television character actor with a long string of forgettable credits and an Alabama accent where he was an Episcopal preacher between takes. He had gone north to Columbia University where he caught the acting bug. He certainly could act and here he twitches with nervous energy and delivers his testimony with conviction. Yet I could not see him attracting an audience with his earnest admonitions. Neither did the network buyers.

John Agar by contrast had worked for John Ford in the Cavalry Trilogy with John Wayne and married Shirley Temple. He was definitely on the A list of celebrities.

Agar with USAF.jpg

But came the fall. Temple divorced him citing alcohol, and he proved her right by finding the bottom of many more bottles, and spending months in jail on drunk driving charges. He made a comeback of sorts in B movies, especially Sy Fy and creature features and then television. But the drunk driving recurred.

The comparison must be Star Trek in 1966 where the Earth is left behind for space in a clean break. In ‘Destination Space’ the crew are all Americans and all are in Airforce coverall uniforms with the exception of the scientists who wear suits and ties to space. The crew is entirely masculine, and no women appeared on the space station, thus depriving the script writer the opportunity for the stupid sexist remarks prevalent at the time.

Absent are any women. Absent are the futuristic fashions of Star Trek. Absent are the multi-national and poly-ethnic crew. Absent is a united Earth. Absent is the alien Mr Spock. Absent is much technology, clipboards and pencils are in use. Though no one seemed to smoke on the space station. Absent is a dynamic leader, for Townes plays the committee man to a T but that is all. Absent also is any humour; no Bones to bring things down to the ground, though there is by-play among the crew that lightens the load a little, though it sounds like something the writer heard others say, and is so stale in the re-telling.

Most of all, absent is any sense of adventure or wonder at space and the cosmos. By the way, Harry Townes appeared in 'Star Trek: Original Series' as Reger in ‘Return of the Archons’ where he announced the Red Hour! Strong stuff that.

The fashions may seem out of place in the list above but the fashions alerted one and all that ‘Star Trek’ had left our time and place. Ditto the technology of coloured lights, automatic doors, tri-corders, and the medical scanners. Taken together these two dimensions helps convey the distance, the break between 1965 and this world of the stars.



The second in the Universal franchise after ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933). In the intervening years the magic of special effects improved and those that moved slowly and awkwardly in 1933 flow nicely in this one, e.g., the telephone in the air.

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Pedants will note that the Invisible Man played by Claude Rains died at the end of eponymous film, and seven years later his cadaver must have been in no fit state to return. But Universal had paid H.G. Wells for the right make five films, though corporate memory failed until 1940, and a return on investment was to be had. Voilà! Put the scriptwriter to work. On that hack more below.

What we have then is a new invisible man. This one is the brother of the deceased Claude, who in death is portrayed as a nice guy. The scriptwriter evidently neither read Wells’s book nor saw the first movie. Claude became a right bastard from the get-go and the drugs that made him invisible only made him even worse. He was vindictive, small-minded, thin-skinned, vitriolic, inhuman, and cruel. Sound like any Twits-in-Chief? Readers and viewers were all glad when he snuffed it.

But history is written by the survivors in the first instance, before the revisionists make careers out of muddling things up. In retrospect Claude is portrayed as the victim of the drugs, ahem, which he himself developed specifically for the purpose of terrifying others. Some nice guy.

Anyway he is in misty hindsight much missed and it has been concluded, again by those unencumbered with knowledge of the novel or film, that his brother did him in, and this hapless brother has been tried and found guilty and is about to be hanged. Meanwhile the brother’s chaste fiancee frets and his stalwart friend, the doctor, tinkers in the lab. This doc has a nurse but no patients and so, like Batman, is always ready to hand.

While in the early going there are many references to brother Geoffrey, he remains unseen in the slammer.

Spoiler.

On a visit to the slammer Doc slips Jeff some invisibility juice and he does a bunk in the nude. An invisible man hunt ensures and some of it is brilliantly done, as when his ghostly outline appears in the rain or amid the cigar smoke of the detective in charge, who is avuncular and unhurried about the pursuit of a convicted murderer.

Of course Geoffrey was framed and the three try to uncover the real culprit who is before their very eyes and quite visible to us all because he is top billed. But now invisible Geoffrey develops a Trump-complex and starts to rant about world domination seemingly having forgotten his own situation. He blames Hillary for everything. Meaningful glances are exchanged by chaste fiancee and stalwart Doc.

With Jeff on the loose the careful façade of the real villain crumbles and justice wills out, as it does in cinema. There is a terrific fight scene at the colliery and Geoffrey is near death. However Doc finds treating his wounds is difficult since…. he is still invisible. But the blood he has lost is evident.

Invisible or not, Geoffrey needs blood so Doc does a transfusion. Whoa. How did he find the right spot. When I go the Red Cross that is not always easy. Sometimes impossible. Quibble. Quibble. Quibble. Anyway the transfusion works and the new blood brings Geoffrey back to the land of the visibles, and low and behold it is none other than Vincent Price! He appears only in the last scene.

Price arteries.jpg First to reappear at the arteries with the new blood, then the skeleton and then the man himself.

Price visible.jpg

Earlier on the run Geoffrey dons the clothes of a scarecrow in an amusing scene that took hours to film, but seems effortless on the screen.

Like Claude Rains, Price was cast for his mellifluous voice and crisp diction, since the voice alone has to carry the leading role. His work is superlative from the resigned prisoner to the disturbed invisible to the lovesick man to the gloating would-be tyrant.

Surprising enough the effects were not special enough for an Academy Award. Beaten instead by the flying carpet in ‘The Thief of Bagdad’ (1940).

The director was Joe May, an expatriate German who fled the Vaterland in 1933, and who, despite his name, never learned a word of English and who is said to have had the dictatorial manner of his mentor Fritz Lang which earned him many enemies and ended his career. The scriptwriter who bridged the gap from the first film was the redoubtable Kurt Siodmak who gave us Wolfman and much else in Sy Fy and creature features.


Just the facts: 1 hr 7 m and IMDB 6.9/200

Janne Wass includes it in his blog ‘Scifist, a history of science fiction movies in reviews,’ and so I had a look on You_Tube. Such is the Finn’s influence.

Wass Janne.jpg Janne Wass

The film is a conventional krimi set in an airplane. The players are fine but the script is neither fish nor fowl, but more of a homophone of the latter. The villain is so flamboyant even the naive boy spots him long before the dense and dull copper does. The shyster blackmailer is too stupid to live. Sometimes it played for laughs, hearts and flowers at other times, and deadly drama, and back and forth.

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Another case of the lobby card bearing no relationship to anything in the movie.

As to its credentials as Sy Fy, it was made in the USA in 1937 but is set in the distant year of 1938. No, that will not make the cut. After much dithering in the first half, the second half all takes place on a giant airplane that flies from London to New York, non-stop! In eighteen hours! Non-stop! Gasp!

That seems to be it.

The size of the craft is enormous and the non-stop flight over the Atlantic, these get it on the SciFist list. In 1937 that would have been phenomenal because Trans-Atlantic flight was still for daredevils. Most flights were by flying boat aircraft taking off from the waters of western Ireland and landing in Newfoundland. The alternative route, again by flying boat, was to go south through Lisbon, the Azores, Bermuda, and so on. Straight across from London to New York City only came with jet engines in 1958 when the British Overseas Airways Corporation, as British Airways was then called, flew did it. The route was over the northern most North Atlantic to Gander in Newfoundland where the aircraft stopped for fuel, catering, and relief. I once laid up there for a few hours because of weather. I cannot find a time given for these trips in 1958 but they were not non-stop even twenty years after this film.

Today the British Airways web site gives 8 1/2 hours from London to New York City. It is 7 1/2 back to London thanks to the winds. Both of these flights are direct. Singapore to New York City is more than 18 1/2 hours these days. Imagine sitting next so some fool bellowing into a mobile phone for that flight.

Let’s call the aircraft Titan, a flying boat, too; inside it is even bigger than the Tardis. The staterooms put those of ocean liners portrayed on film at the time to shame. The windows are far bigger than those that brought the Constellations down. And, get this, there are open air balconies frequented by the passengers as it wings over the North Atlantic. The baggage hold is cavernous and largely devoid of bags. There is more than one dining room. There are multiple decks and if that is not enough room our hero has to climb outside over the top of the speeding aircraft to enter the cockpit, because its doors only open from the inside. While we can appreciate this limitation as a security measure, it begs the question of how the pilots get in.

Considering that context, ‘Non-Stop New York’ is certainly futuristic in its background, but….. [quibble alert] still not Sy Fy. That futurism contributes nothing to the plot which is an unsolved crime, a missing witness, young police officer meets young woman, etc. It just so happens that the resolution is on the Titan. It could as well have been on a ship, in mountain hotel, on a lake. The futuristic element is incidental background. Harrumph. No outer space, no science of any kind, no aliens, no superwomen, none of the usual Sy Fy suspects.

The heroine, Anna Lee, is feisty, independent minded, and smart. She knows what to do and does it.

Stowaway.jpg The stowaway strides up the gangway to board the airship.

There were a few such celluloid female role models in the 1930s but they evaporated from the screen by the homogenous 1950s. Lee had top billing on the poster and cards of the time and carries the picture.

The story is confused and confusing and tries to slip a ninety-minute feature into an hour. It starts in New York City, then the heroine travels by boat home to England, then back to New York City as a stowaway in the aforementioned Titan. It ends somewhere over Newfoundland. All this to’ing and fro’ing reveals all too clearly the mini-budget. The New York City sets look just like the London ones and vice versa. The whole dynamic rests on the idea that in those pre-NRA days a gangland slaying in New York City is world news, and there are many spinning newspaper headlines from around the world. Some in foreign languages. Wow!

There are some good laughs and some good lines but they do not zing in the spongy morass.

By the way it is derived from a novel by Australian Ken Attiwill and one of the players later emigrated to Australia, namely Desmond Tester, who is the youthful comic relief in this tale. Tester made a career in children’s television in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s and those of certain age remember that name. He also did some Strine television drama in the 1970s. In contrast Attiwill was born in Adelaide and migrated to England. Three of his novels were filmed. As with me, there is no entry for him in either the 'Australian Dictionary of Biography' or 'Wikipedia,' but traces in the former suggest he was a journalist who married an English woman in Adelaide and went to England with her.

The saxophone playing boy Demond Tester is in the charge of his Aunt Veronica and she seemed so familiar to me, but from where? And then it came to me, as things less and less often do, from the mind palace: she was a biologist in ‘The Man-Eater of Surrey Green’ (1965) from ‘The Avengers,’ one Athene Seyler.

Athene Seyler.jpg Athene Seyler in the 1950s.

She had earlier been in ‘Build a Better Mousetrap’ (1964) where she showed the local biker gang a thing-or-two. Curmudgeonly and quirky with a lived-in face even in 1937, she was in much demand in films of the 1940s and 1950s.


Those quaint English villages always scare me. First there was ‘Village of Damned’ (1960) and if that was not bad enough along came ‘Midsomer Murders’ (1997+). Thus alerted, when this title opened on a picturesque English countryside I feared the worst. and I was not disappointed.

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Two pals do science, a lot of it. There is a tedious backstory first, but the chase is this. They invent a replicator that 3-D prints anything from energy not raw materials. They refer to making works of great art available by reproducing them and supplying rare drugs to hospitals. So far, so altruistic.

Then their prepubescent friend Lena reappears and, gulp, there has been much puberty. Scientist Robin marries Lena, leaving scientist Bill, who is a dopplegänger for Liam Neeson out in the cold, old shed where they have perfected the 3-D replicator.

Neeson Steve Murray.jpg Stephen Murray as Liam Neeson.

Robin goes off to London to square the deal with Whitehall, while Bill mopes. A lot. Mopes some more.

Then, no doubt while thumbing though a copy of Mary Shelly’s most famous book, sets to work on improving the replicator to replicate…..Lena! Yep. It is quite a step from replicating a blank cheque to replicating a person but Bill does it. Much bubbling of liquids, flashing of lights, throbbing of boxes, muttering of incantations in the shed and the rabbits multiply. Next up Lena.

He talks her into it. He talks fast because this a short film. She agrees though why is by no means clear. Hey presto! Now we have the original Lena and the duplicate, Helen.

She is such a perfect duplicate this Helen that she, too, loves Robin, though he still in London. What is he doing there anyway when he has Barbara Payton back in the shed, chorused the fraternity brothers? Strange.

Bill has Helen but he does not have Helen. What to do? Ah ha! He will fine tune her in the shed. Not with roses and sweet words but with the mad scientist’s old friend, electricity! He will adjust the clone to erase her memories of Robin and start fresh with her. Lena, having come this far, agrees to assist so on a dark stormy night the three of them gather in the shed and strap Helen into the dental chair and set to work.

Kaboom! Too much juice and the contraption blows up like a Samsung Galaxy: Bill and one of the women perish in the fire. But which one? A nail biter that.

There is also the implication that the details of the replicator have also been lost in the fire and we will have to wait until the Twenty-First Century for 3-D printing. No more duplicate rabbits or Helens in the meantime.

Gosh, where to start. The ideal of reproducing at will objects from energy is to be found in much Sy Fy like Star Trek. But here no consideration at all is given to the consequences of doing so, though maybe that is why Robin got stuck in London. Some pedant there wanted to think about it. If gold is replicated in masses then its value will fall. If rare works of art become commonplace, they are no longer the rarities they were. If rare drugs proliferate like penicillin maybe diseases will mutate faster.

Still less is any thought given in the screenplay to the moral consequences of replicating a sex toy. Bill just assumes Helen will love him. He just assumes he will love her and not pine for the real thing. He just assumes no one will notice or question the uncanny resemblance of the two women.

Barbara Paton plays both Lena and Helen and she is indeed eye candy in the garish manner of the time. Never do we see any interaction between Lena and Helen, though each is aware of the other. That would have been too expensive to film for a quota quickie.

payton-barbara-1.jpg Payton at the time.

Payton was dead a few years later. The sex, drugs, and alcohol of Hollywood drove her to an early grave. She went to England to film this, it is implied in the Wikipedia entry, to escape these bad habits, but a few weeks in a facsimile English village and she could not wait to get back to Sin City. Once back there she reverted to her old ways.

Together with the robotic ‘The Perfect Woman’ (1949) and the retiring ‘Invisible Woman’ (1940) we certainly get the manners and mores of the times for women in Sy Fy. However in both these titles the women more than hold there own, not so here where Payton is little more than a Barbie doll.

It rates on IMDB 5.9 from 425.

This early Roger Corman effort comes in at 4.8 over 1,618 votes on the IMDB. It runs 1 hour and 11 minutes.

What is the set-up? Buddies Peter Graves and Lee van Clef are doing science of some sort off camera in the desert southwest where most Sy Fy science seems to be done. Each has a wife with whom to play house. While the impossibly handsome Graves is very playful, van Clef with those beady eyes even at this early stage in his career has discovered the pleasure of (H)am_ateur Radio and talks to the stars, well no not his wife played by the redoubtable Beverly Garland who outlasted the man from Davanna in ‘Not of this Earth’ (1957), but to Zontar of Venus. Okay, so it is a planet and not a star for the pedants.

Conquered osyrt.jpg

Zontar plays an old sweet song. He, well maybe Zontar is a she, gendering slime ball aliens is not in my pay grade, but Lee calls him a 'he,' Zontar, has travelled to Earth in Qantas economy class and is recovering strength from the rocket-lag of the trip in nearby cave motel. Been there.

Zontar promises Lee a heaven on earth for all humanity if only he is allowed to take over their souls. Seems a fair deal to Lee. After all Lola wanted a soul for a ball game, admittedly the stakes were higher there with the World Series. (Ray Walston had to go to Mars to escape Lola, but that is another story.) Zontar wants all souls, not just infielders.

In return for this Red Faustian bargain the reign of Zontar promises the peace and prosperity of slavery. No more wars. No more conflict. No more fights. No more pollution by green voters. No more tweets by twits. Please, no more ‘Top Gear’ I asked. Is this world communism, or what!?

Lee has no sales resistance and has bought the pitch and will do anything for Zontar in his blind alien-crush. He is the idealistic, weak-willed intellectual sort who would sell us out to the Enemies of Freedom so conspicuous in movies of the era. He is an enthusiastic fellow traveller. Amen. Meanwhile Zontar is mind-napping some local military types who are pushovers and Big Z wants Peter Graves, not for his chiseled chin, but because his scientific knowledge will help with the enslavement. It is a big world for one Zontar to conquer single-handedly but he is an ambitious red alien.

While Lee runs up the astral roaming phone bill talking to Zontar, his wife listens. She puts up with a lot as 1950s wives were supposed to do. She does protest when Lee kills some people at Zontar’s direction but relents when he gets all sweetness and light. Briefly. On it goes, back and forth. Zontar has brought a few trained bats in his checked baggage from Venus to transmit his mind control venom, but Graves fights them off. I left the room.

Graves’s wife however gets a hickey and becomes one of Them, a Zontar zombiette! Evidently there is no way back, and Graves with barely a moment’s hesitation shoots her dead with his handy NRA piece. Whoa! That was a surprise to this jaded viewer. Was that within the informal production code of the time? Shouldn’t he have socked her and tied her up for a later cure? On the other hand, there is no salvation for those who go Red. Better off dead.

Meanwhile, Zontar is running out of bats and orders Lee, who by now is so batty no bat is needed to infect him, to whack his old college roommate and buddy Peter. Lee pauses, briefly, before reaching for his rifle. All this NRA product placement has got to be seen to be appreciated. This is the last straw for Bevs, a registered Democrat, and she sets off to top Zontar herself with the last line, ‘I’ll see you in hell!’ (In that pithy phrase she sums up my reaction to 'Top Gear.')

Zontar looks like a tall condom with tentacles. No one would notice him at Frat party.

Zontar.jpg See.


This is one of many such creature features with Peter Graves, who was just too handsome to be a movie star. No one could take him seriously as an actor.

Graves.jpg

The masculine version of the Dumb Blonde, there for his looks. (I know the feeling.)

‘Zontar: The Thing from Venus’ (1966) remains to be seen. Keep watching this space for a report.

1 hr 3 m @ 2.8/10.0 from 813 with nothing better to do on the IMDB.

He says ‘Project Moonbase’ and she says ‘Project Moon Base.’ Will they call the whole thing off? Nope. See below.

Never a good omen when the publicity department does not know the name of the film. The opening title on the film is ‘Project Moon Base’ but the lobby cards more often than not have it as ‘Project Moonbase.’

Moon Base.jpg Two words

Moonbase.jpg One word.

Schizophrenia goes deeper than the title and for that read on.

Many Sy Fy films of this era use aliens, consciously or unconsciously, as surrogates for communists with dark powers, malevolent purposes, and slavering tyranny. Whoops, starting to sound like the Twit-in-Chief. Sometimes that analogy is vague and in rare cases even absent.

Here it is front, centre, and explicit from the start in Robert Heinlein’s screenplay. The Enemies of Freedom (aka Commies) are no longer under the beds but under the launch pads of Yankee-doodle rockets. They have been there before in ‘Destination Moon’ (1951).

The Russkie spies in this yarn are dumb enough to sleep under the launch pads. They have an elaborate organisation that is run like General Motors with flunkies doing whatever it is that flunkies do and exact doubles for everyone in the space program so when a scientist is called into the Moonbase project, the Russkie tsar consults the space age 3" x 5" inch card file for the dopplegänger. Stupid, yes, but organised.

They off the scientist and insert their sleeper agent, who probably was — asleep — during agent training given how inept he proves to be at agenting. Not only does he know nothing about science, that could be overlooked, but more importantly he knows nothing about baseball and that is a dead giveaway. Although the crew is less than adept, too.

Paranoia is always a strand of Heinlein stories and it is the major theme here in this one. Another strand is that civilians are all stupid clots, and it is applied here with a sledge hammer key of the typewriter. Only men in uniform know what is what, though they seldom seem to know why is why. But as to the uniforms…well, seeing is believing.

There is a space race and the USA has a space station wheel from which will be launched the first mission to the moon to set up a Moon base as a peace-loving hydrogen bomb missile platform. Yep, it is that explicit. The general does say we had to include some science babble to get the funding, but it is will be ignored. Got it. That is democracy at work, lie and cheat.

The general then tells the putative leader of the mission to the Moon to stand down, because by presidential order the mission commander will be Colonel Bright Eyes. (Well that is what it sounded like to me.) Gasp! Those civilian fools in Washington interfering again in macho military business. This latter theme is another old faithful in Heinlein’s cosmology.

The general and the major agree that Bright Eyes is one giant pain in the rear echelon. Cue Bright Eyes to enter.

Whoa. Colonel Briteis is a woman. Gasp!

Bright eyes.jpg She leaves her shirt unbuttoned so as....

She gets to go because it is good publicity and she is half the weight of a man. Huh. Much was made in the opening that on the Space Station weight did not matter but now it does. Hulking Major Dimwit goes along as co-pilot to save the bacon later.

To make sure Colonel Bright Eyes knows her place, the General threatens to spank her. Yep, that is the military. Coercion and brutality are the order of the day. Later the major in a stirring display of military discipline tells the commanding Colonel to powder her nose. Later the general on the space radio sends Colonel Bright Eyes away for a private chat with Dimwit, thus abrogating the chain of command.

Meanwhile, the Russkies have planted that double as the civilian scientist. See, the civies can never be trusted. He sets about gumming up the works in the most obvious fashion possible, but Major Dimwit lives up to the sobriquet. Colonel Bright Eyes and Dimwit spar. (We all know how that will end.)

There is a rocket called Canada and another Mexico, but rest assured both bear USAF markings. They serve no purpose in the film but pad it out. There is a lot of padding to get a 25 minute film up to the 63-minutes that this is. Everyone walks very slowly. Slower. Slowest. The countdowns to launch are in real time. Zzzzzzz.

The scientist spy is Doctor Wernher whose name is spelled out three time for the dolts in the audience. Get it? Wernher von B….

The story published in 1948 gets some things right. A space station by 1970. Check. Well in 1971 Salyut 1. Oops, a Russkie. A lunar orbit for Discovery. Check. Apollo V in 1968. And that a special lunar landing craft would make the descent. Check. Apollo XI in 1969.

The stress of takeoff is well presented. The fight during takeoff with heavy gravity is an interesting idea, a slow motion struggle against the G-force and each other. The moonwalk is up to Michael Jackson standard. The wall walking and upside down meeting in the space station are contrived for effect and add nothing to the story or ambience. Moreover the general who was left on Earth pops up there in a tee shirt and beanie. It is easy to see why this general was demoted to a colonel on ‘I Dream of Jeannie.’

The Russkie agent is a klutz but Dimwit is just as bad when he rats out the Russkie to Colonel Bright Eyes well within earshot of the klutz. Loose lips. They then fight as above.

The sets are silly, the dialogue insipid, the acting robotic, the sexism suffocating, and the like. Then there are the Peter Pan hats and short-shorts as space wear, perhaps to reduce weight.

Hats and walls.jpg

On weight, the general says no one sent up weighs more than 150 pounds yet earlier he said Dimwit weighed 180 pounds. See what can be learned by listening.

Silly, well consider this. Once they are stuck on the Moon high command calls it Moon Base (Moonbase) One. But with a young man and young woman in a tin can on the moon for weeks or more while a relief force is sent, it would look better in public opinion if they were married! Dimwit is reluctant. See, a dimwit. But Colonel Bright Eyes can hardly wait! She literally jumps at the chance! What all women want, even on the moon is to be married to a hulking hunk. Without courtship and in low gravity they get married. Think about that low gravity, because the fraternity brothers did.

It is worth watching to the very end. Because after they are married up there on Moon Base One the President of the United States appears on the space videophone, and it HILLARY CLINTON. Yes, a woman in the White Hosue by 1970 according to Heinlein.

And Major Dimwit is promoted to general to outrank his colonel wife. The end.

The deeper schizophrenia of the film per ‘SciFist’ is this. The production was commissioned for a ten-part television series with the budget and cast for that. Heinlein’s story and screen play were adapted for that purpose. In pre-production (preparing wardrobe, renting space and equipment, gathering cardboard props, hiring extras, and so on) the studio changed it to a B feature film. Why? Because the success of other Sy Fy films offered an opportunity to ride the coattails of those successes. By this time Heinlein was paid off and gone. The director agreed to add to the script with the result we see. The budget did not change nor the casting. Walking slowly was one way to pad it out to feature length.

The essential difference is that in the original the first episode would be an exploratory orbit of the moon, and in subsequent episodes there would be a landing. In the film the lunar lander crash lands because of the fight with the enemy of freedom agent.

Strangely, along with ‘Destination Moon’ (1950) this was the last movie form Heinlein’s work until ‘Starship Trooper’ (1997). Odd that.

In mentioning props above, I should have noted that the space suits used are the very well used ones first made for ‘Destination Moon’ (1951) but here they have different helmets. They also figured in ‘Flight to Mars’ (1951).

One of the high water marks for 1950s Sy Fy, subspecies flying saucers, phylum alien invasion.

Hugh Marlowe carries the movie in nearly every scene. He was a sceptic about aliens in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) but he is persuaded, slowly, in this 83 minute excursion. He is ably supported by Joan Taylor and Sy Fy stalwart Morris Ankrum. The special effects were quite special in the day and remain compelling.

Marlowe is the lead scientist and the decision maker in Project Skyhook located in the desert southwest. Where else? While driving along with his newly married wife he dictates the latest report on the project which involves launching a dozen satellites to scan the heavens. Then…..

EvFS poster.jpg

A weather balloon appears behind their car and buzzes it. Zounds! Some weather balloon! Yes, Erich, it is a flying saucer for what other explanation could there be given the title above.

Hugh, remembering his journalistic skepticism earlier, will only admit to Joan that they have seen something that looked like a, ahem, a…flying saucer. This scientist is not leaping to tweet the sighting but sitting on scholastic dignity. Joan is incredulous because she knows very well what she and they saw. In all it is a nicely done in-joke about those who doubt their own eyes.

It is also the pivot of the plot, but that emerges only later in a spoiler below.

They report the sighting to Morris at Skyhook who is skeptical but indulgent.

It turns out the Skyhook satellites disappear as soon as launched. Is there a connection between the what-appeared-to-be-a-flying-saucer and these disappearances. Hmmm. Then one of the saucers lands at Skyhook and the doubts and many of the doubters vanish in a cloud of atoms.

Two tin men emerge from the saucer and Morris immediately opens fire on them with an anti-aircraft gun he keeps nearby, killing two of them. This greeting is reciprocated with a disappearing ray that disappears a good number of grunts. The saucer then destroys the whole facility for good measure. Thanks to the script Hugh and Joan survive and lead the response.

Response? Well there is no denying that the Skyhook base has been levelled and hundreds killed, leaving no eyewitness left alive. While the taxpayers money was being burned, Hugh and Joan were sequestered in an underground bunker canoodling and only glimpsed part of the destruction on closed circuit television. There were no tapes. Just their assertions.

The batteries on the tape recorder Hugh was dictating into during the drive get low and that slows the playback of the recording reel where they hear a strange voice proposing to meet at Skyhook tomorrow! Next time, High, check the voice mail sooner! Had he done so earlier the destruction could have been avoided. No wonder his reception in D.C. is frosty. The project he managed is gone. His Key Performance Indicators are zero. Minus even.

The Pentagon panel to which they report is stacked with faces from 1950s television and they are no push overs for wild assertions about flying saucers because they have heard it all before on ‘Perry Mason.’ They listen to the odd message but doubt its relevance, authenticity, and its Euro Vision potential. Still they do know something is up. Just look. Flying saucers are crowding the airspace. O’Hare is even more chaotic than usual.

Hugh calls the aliens on the interplanetary radio he happens to have in his D.C. hotel room and makes another date.

Get this and get is straight! The alien asylum seekers called Hugh and made an appointment. They showed up at the right time, at the right place to be blasted by a 75 millimetres cannon. Bam! Bam! Two dead. Not a good start. The American Earthlings were the aggressors! Gulp. There goes the moral high ground.

Since blasting Skyhook in retaliation to the massacre of their two defenceless asylum seekers, the aliens have been busy. They apprehended Morris and have scanned his brain for intel. (Too bad they didn’t get Pat Robertson. Please!)

EvFS Morris brain.jpg

They now know enough to compete on ‘Eggheads.’ Many viewers long suspected Morris knew a lot more than he was saying.

It turns out the aliens’ plan all along was to conquer Earth! Ah, the moral high ground is restored. What appeared to be an aggressive and gratuitous assault on the alien landing party was a preemptive strike. Maybe the moral ground is more a hillock.

The aliens tell Hugh they had hoped to negotiate an accommodation, having done that elsewhere. Well there are always those parts of the Earth not fit for human habitation, e.g., the Gobi Desert, New Jersey, Mormonland, Trumpville, and the WestConnex wastelands of Australia. But no, we human do not compromise with asylum seekers.

While the military’s weapons bounce off them the saucers, like evidence off an anti-vaxxer, they wreak havoc with special effects on D.C.

EvFS DC.jpg

The saucers destroy the Trump Hotel (the Old Post Office) to cheers from a nearby sofa. Meanwhile super nerd Hugh has come up with a film producer’s dream weapon, wired together from junk, firing an invisible ray, and inaudible sound wave that drives the flying saucers away! And it cost next to nothing to assemble or use. It is one step up from pointing am index finger and say ‘Pow!’

Whew!

There are many visuals of flying saucers, a lot in a prologue that to my mind spoils some of the drama to come. The destruction of scale models of Washington D.C, is well done. Loved seeing the Washington Monument fall on a gathering of Tea Party acolytes denying flying saucer change.

The saucers leave but will they return? Will there be a sequel? We are still waiting on that one.

Made at the height of the Cold War there is no doubt that the aliens are surrogate commies with a nefarious plot. When things go wrong, it is the commies’ doing, even if it is not apparent. And they will stop at nothing, including brainwashing scans. Moreover, when they talk at Yalta their plans are already laid for conquest. Get it?

The United States is leader of the world and has to go it alone. There are only perfunctory references to the rest of the world.

While the military is ready with atomic bombs it does not seem a good idea to use one on D.C., though today some might differ.

Hugh had some extra-planetary experience earlier in ‘Worlds without End’ (1956) and he puts it to good use in this movie. Later he played Rush Limbaugh in ‘Seven Days in May’ (1964).

Ray Harryhausen did the special effects from a story by Kurt (sometimes Curt) Siodmak. The incidents and the visuals became touchstones in the subsequent Sy Fy films like ‘Mars Attack!’ (1996). The direction is crisp and the pseudo-science is mucho pseudo

The asylum seeking aliens are enigmatic in their wardrobe and even more so when uncovered.

EvFS aliens.jpg

I saw it on the widescreen in Lexington Kentucky with cousin Don in 1957, and it stayed with me.

Sy fy but only just, and played for laughs. First there was The Invisible Man’ (1933) and after his return there was the invisible woman. For Plato’s perspective read on.

Invisibl woman poster.jpg A lobby card.

Universal Studios secured the agreement of H. G. Wells to make five films using the invisible man, and this is the third of them. It would be churlish to point out an invisible woman is not an invisible man, the more so when s/he cannot be seen.

Seen or not, here we have a female lead in Virginia Bruce who makes the most of it. Some very costly special effects for the invisibility combine with some stock characters, the absent minded professor who started the whole thing, the cantankerous house keeper, the playboy financier, and Charlie Ruggles as the long-suffering butler. Then there are the villains who want to steal the secret of invisibility and offer more slapstick in their effort to do so, one being Shemp Howard. Say no more.

Invisble stocking.jpg

The stocking scene was a shocker at the time.

The Sy Fy element is a combination of flashing lights, sizzling electricity, and an injection of invisibility serum to activate it all. Alcohol has a deleterious effect on the process. The story is credited to Sy Fy great Kurt Siodmak.

Bruce is a hard working mannequin desperate to keep the pitiful job, bossed around by a petty tyrant. When the professor advertises for a subject to become invisible, among the applications from Christian zealots is her letter. There is no pay, only, say, three hours of invisibility. She jumps at the chance. Her motivation in taking the risk of invisibility is to terrorise the boss at work. She uses the first period of invisibility to do so and he changes his ways thereafter. If only.

What could, should, or would one do if invisible is a question to conjure but no conjuring is done here. On this latter point more below.

Thereafter is much comedy about clothing, which cannot be made invisible. Some of it is funny and all of it is harmless. The villains trip over each other and ham it up something terrible. Oscar Homolka’s eyebrows are positively feral.

Bruce is not the typical retiring silver screen maiden of the era when she literally kicks ass, slugs down booze, straightens out the playboy, and flattens the villains single-handedly. This is all done with élan. Ruggles as the fainting butler handles the duties often given to leading ladies of the era.

The playboy falls in love with this wonder woman and they all live happily ever after.

Bruce of Fargo North Dakota was a student at UCLA and worked as a film extra for the readies and one job lead to another. She was also a voice actor on radio and that talent is well used in this film. She appeared in a few A-pictures as the second female lead, but mostly did B work like this title. When I scanned the list of her credits on the IMDB nothing stood out. This title rates there 6.1 from 1,441 opinionators.

In Book II of Plato’s ‘Republic’ is a discussion of the Ring of Gyges. The Ring, when the bezel is turned just so, renders the wearer invisible. Glaucon, brother of Plato, suggests that given such a ring, a normal person would become immoral because the invisible person is then freed of the social repercussions of one’s actions. Instead an invisible man would perv at naked women, steal, injure or murder rivals, and perv some more. Sounds like the Channel 7Mate demographic. Or Christian zealots.

Ring notes.jpg

Socrates replies anyone who is virtuous only due to the constraints of social consequences is not virtuous to begin with.

When Wells wrote ‘The Invisible Man’ (1897) he was well aware of this discussion in Plato. Other genre writers have riffed on Wells’s take on invisibility ever since. The one at hand is Robert Silverberg’s 1963 story ‘To See the Invisible Man’ in which a future society makes invisibility the punishment for certain crimes. The story considers the social and psychological effects of such treatment.

‘No battle and little sun, but two for the endurance of one.’ That is the tag line that applies to this 1hr 17 minutes exercise. On the IMDB it is titled ‘The Sky Calls’ (1959) yet the art work proclaims the title ‘Battle Beyond the Sun.’ Go figure.

Battle Sun cover.jpg

It was made in the Soviet Union a short while after the launch of the first Terra satellite, Sputnik, in October 1957 as the threshold of space flight was crossed. In some shots it shows something of Star City where the Soviet space program developed and the displays of weightlessness are good. These effects are several cuts above the norm at the time. However the space flight effects are at the norm, e.g., flames in the void of space.

Two for one? There is the original Soviet version and another. In the first version the Soviets with rockets clearly marked CCCP have an orbiting space station devoted to celestial science and are methodically preparing a peace-loving mission to Mars. Then out of the void a US rocket calls for permission to dock and repair engines. The Soviets graciously agree. Though the interaction is constrained, the sneaky Americans learn that the Soviets are Mars-bound.

The Americans rush back to their ship and blast off for Mars in the hope of getting there first and claiming all the Mars Bars for Yankeeland. In the haste, the back draft of their rocket injures a hapless Soviet crewmen star-bathing on the deck of the space station. He is long suffering and very forgiving.

In due course the Soviets take off for Mars and no sooner do they do so than the impetuous Americans run into trouble and SOS to the Soviets, who divert from the Mars course to rescue them, and in so doing they expend most of the fuel. Gulp!

Both crews are only two man, one a retiree and the other younger, both clad in polyester knits. Remember those? If not, lucky you.

Both rockets were built for a two-man crew, right, but somehow the two American passengers squeeze on board into the micro-economy seats. The Soviets decide to land on a convenient asteroid and send for road side assistance. They borrow a dime from ET and call home. An automatic, pilotless fuel tanker is dispatched to the asteroid. It is no recommendation for Tesla self-driving cars that the fuel tanker crashes into the far side of asteroid. Gulp!

It seems the asteroid is too hard to hit for a computer so a second pilotless fuel tanker rocket is sent with a volunteer pilot. How he squeezed in is left to the imagination. The fraternity brothers imagined the worst.

He pilots the rocket to the asteroid and lands. The stranded spacemen do not seem to notice, so busy are they in trading clichés about cooperation and peace. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

The tanker pilot of the once-pilotless ship becomes sick from radiation poisoning since the pilotless fuel tank rocket had no shielding to protect the pilot. Did anyone tell him? Is there workers compensation? What are the KPIs here? Did the manager manage? The sick pilot roams around the asteroid and dies. The maroonies find the dead man and realise he came by rocket. They are scientists after all and they can make inferences. Zounds! They tank up and blast off for Terra to carry the clichés back. The end. Then the dreamer awakes and it was all a dream. The double end.

Wait! There is more!

Roger Corman bought the film and edited it for the US market in 1962. He hired a destitute film school student to do the work and credited him as associate producer, that was Francis Ford Coppola's first on-screen credit. He took liberties in the Corman manner.

All references to the the CCCP and the USA are obliterated by kindergarten finger-painted blobs of colour. A voice over prologue says the following story takes places after an atomic war and it is a race to Mars between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere, the two Orwellian blocs that emerged from the rubles. (Joke.) The dialogue was cleansed of the anti-American references or mentions of the Soviet Union. The dubbing is as annoying as it usually is. The nylon double knits remain, as do the geriatric Soviet actors who move with glacial speed. It is set in 1997 and, despite the insertions, is shorter than the ponderous Soviet original. Mercy be. It remains ponderous.

Knowing the market, Coppola also exercised artistic license to insert a scene on the asteroid while the dying tanker pilot wanders around, in which scene he observes two proto-CGI creatures fighting each other. This scene qualified the movie to go on a double-bill of creature features, and the fight has nothing to do with the story and is never mentioned by any of the survivors. Accordingly they do not warn future travellers not to stop there. They bad. Thus launched was FFC’s film career.

In the end, the rocketeers watch red Mars in the near distance as they blast off for home.

Mars red.png

Yes, they have their clichés safely on board. This is no dream.

But to watch it is to see, Braque-style, two movies in one. The original Soviet snooze and the Corman mash-up.


An emeritus professor played to a T by Miles Malleson — described as the lord of Brit screen eccentrics — wants to demonstrate conclusively to skeptical colleagues that he has mastered robotics by presenting The Perfect Woman to them. Before exposing his creation to the doubting Thomases the Prof wants the Perfect Woman road tested, and hires a ne'er-do-well who, like all the best cinema ne'er-do-wells has a butler at hand.

Pefrfect poster.jpg

In the comings and goings at the Prof’s house and laboratory his niece insinuates herself into the proceedings and the ne’er do well mistakes her for the robot he is to escort around. ('Quiet down, Fraternity Brothers!' 'Stop that snickering!') She plays along for laughs. The sight gags are many, as is the word play as Ne’er and his butler read aloud the user's manual for the robot to learn the voice commands. 'Siri!'

Perfect inspection.jpg Inspection of the robot with manual.

From this set up it descends into a genteel bedroom farce, rather than a rumination of what it means to be human or for that matter to be a robot. There are no laws of robotics here. While the pace dragged a little early, in the last reel it rattles along and ends with a bang.

The rattling offers the stereotypes and conventions of the time and place. The Perfect Woman does exactly as she is told, has no will, does not eat or sleep, does all woman's work without a word, and stands mute. Just what a 1949 chap wants in bride, and Ne’er is smitten. Screened in a gender studies class today, it would confirm much of the syllabus. Screened on Channel 7Mate and it would fit right in.

Truth will out and in the aftermath they lived happily ever after.

All the players ham it up and the energy is good in the latter half, including a ride on the tube with the robot. Patricia Roc is top billed and carries the picture with her sly looks, inner smiles, blank stares, and mischief. Likewise the robot Olga is played perfectly, too.

Perfect till.jpg A production still that shows how hard it is to be intimate on film.

By the way, this was a major production with well known actors, extravagant sets, many extras to fill the screen, and plenty of cameras, very unlike the Quota Quickies that dominated Brit Sy Fy at the time.

Not something I would ordinarily have selected but I noticed it on SciFist, an excellent blog about the history of science fiction films, and looked for it thereafter. It is a 6.0 from a paltry 107 votes on IMDB.

The data: 1 hr 22 m at 4.3 from 481 opinionators on the IMDB

Sky X cover.jpg Lobby card.

Paul Hubschmid, Switzerland’s best known movie star, plays a fearless spaceman riding the first rocket to the stars from Cape Shark in FNQ, that is, Far North Queensland to the shoe-wearing southerners. Whoa, ‘Switzerland’s best known movie star,’ some of the weberati say, but the fraternity brothers demur, remembering that scene in ‘Dr No’ (1962), they cried Switzerland’s best known movie star is Ursula Andress.

That Paul is Switzerland’s biggest movie star is uncontested. At 6 feet and 4 inches plus he looks like a small alp among the cast in this Sy Fy yarn. How did they get him into that rocket. He looks bigger than it does in some shots (and he certainly was because it was table top model).

Paul.jpg The alp that is Paul.

HIs bold launch is acted out with a micro budget and a lot of wire. The main prop is a crash helmet borrowed from Ro-Man. Throughout the film is padded with stock footage of airplanes landing, airplanes taking off, more airplanes landing, animals rampaging, football fans rioting, crowds crowding, managers managing, and close listeners will hear the same laments in the background a dozen times as the tape loops.

Though made in the deep freeze of the Cold War it is international and ecumenical, quite unlike most other productions of the time. In that sense it is hopeful and optimistic. It does not use space as a metaphor for dealing with commies. Rather it starts with the Franco-Italian production company and continues in the cast which includes Swiss, Brazilian, German, French, Russian, and Italian names. No Brit or American though it was clearly made with those markets in mind, hence the Australian setting (in an Italian sound studio), which, by the way, for a film of the time was extraordinary. There is no Cape Shark in FNQ but there is a Cape York and at times Queensland governments anxious to distract voters from reality promote Cape York as a spaceport, perhaps because Joh Bjelke-Petersen, long time Czar of the North, saw this movie and got the idea; Richard Branson has even had a look. What he saw was the traditional aboriginal owners who showed no interest in a spaceport. If and when Branson flashes that big smile and that even bigger bank roll they may see the stars, but not just yet.

The space mission portrayed in the film includes Russians! Yes, all nations are cooperating in this fictional 1958. Many chefs spoiled the stew because the mission cocks up. After launch the controls on the spacecraft seize up, probably during an IOS update, and Paul bails out. Bails out from space.

I blinked and missed the detail but he bailed out and returned to Earth leaving the rocket to plow on into deep(er) space. He did not, he claimed that he was unable to, set the auto-destruct. One measly button and he forgot to push it, probably ogling a picture of Switzerland’s best known movie star when he should have been watching the dials. That is what the fraternity brothers thought, judging from the guilty look on his face. The rocket with its 1958 atomic reactor engine retrofitted from the Nautilus is left to fly on. There are some recriminations about this oversight of the ‘I thought you did it’ kind with ground control. Key Performance Indicators are brandished. Then all is forgiven.

Georg Hegel once said that nature always wins. (It took him nearly a whole 500-page book to say that.) In this case the rocket blows up in space and that explosion throws a giant meteor onto a collision course with Earth!

Sky exploding.jpg See, exploding sky. If it is missed the first time, it is repeated twice more.

That turn of events occasions much footage of scientists making presentations to each other about the forthcoming catastrophe, talking heads explaining planetary extinction to each other, and breathless journalists trying to get a last exclusive onto their obituary CVs. Meanwhile animals stampede, crowds lament, and women cry in the recycled stock footage. I left the room while the padding played on.

There are sub-plots. There is a young woman referred to as a mathematician who inputs data into the calculator, which is sometimes called a computer on other pages of the script, and the man who wonders if being smart is not unnatural for a woman. Being smart was not a burden for him.

Paul has a wife and child and occasionally they appear only for him to say he is too busy saving the world to see them. The icicles between Paul and the Brazilian playing his wife lowered the room temperature at our place. ‘No rapport’ does not convey it, more like an open hostility that did not bode well for Swiss and Brazilian relations. Proof? Well look at Brasilia. Are there any alps there? See! Case closed.

As DOOM approaches, one of the German scientists goes nuts. He turns off the air conditioning and in FNQ that is a capital offence and goes around shooting people with his NRA-approved Lugar which is only a misdemeanour there. For once the Swiss stand up to the Germans and Paul knocks him into a Mars orbit.

Then Paul, having flexed some of his many muscles, has the bright idea of having all nations, and I mean all, fire their entire armoury of nuclear armed missiles at the meteor and blow it into meteor dust. The list of nations with nuclear armed rockets includes Japan, Australia, Netherlands, India, USA, Denmark, Texas, USSR, France, England, San Marino, Andorra, but strangely not North Korea, Israel, or Iran.

It works. The end. Ahem, the science correspondent on the sofa thought the ensuing meteor dust would blanket the Earth and end any further career openings for Switzerland’s biggest movie star.

Was Brazil dropped from the list of nuclear armed nations, is that why Paul's wife is so angry? Did she forget to iron his shoe laces, is that why he is so reluctant to go anywhere near her? Kevin may know, but I do not.

The version we watched was dubbed for release Stateside in 1960 and some spinning newspaper headlines referring to JFK were inserted to connect with that. The variety of accents from the polyglot cast of dubbers was good but we wondered about the Strine drawl of the 1960 Australians for that was a time when the BBC accent was a Down Under thespian requirement. Still there it is.

As I watched Big Paul tower over the others, I wondered was it in his contract that no one in the cast could be as tall? Then I realised that I recognised him. He was Johnny Vulkan in ‘Funeral in Berlin’ (1966) with the white Cadillac convertible tooling around West Berlin.

Vo;kam car.jpg

By the way he had an earlier film career in Berlin working for Dr Goebbels in Nazi Germany with small parts in about a dozen of light-weight entertainments that the Evil Dr used to distract people from reality. This was no bar to Paul making a few movies in Hollywood, including several as the male lead with a major star like Debra Paget.


Fresh from ‘Cat-Women of the Moon,’ Al Zimbalist cranked this one out. Some facts first, it runs for 66 minutes and scores 2.9 from 3,772 rankings on the IMDB. It is often cited as a leader in the category of It’s-so-bad-it-is-good. It certainly is bad. By comparison ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ is sophisticated cinematography.

Ro man poster.jpg

Yet ‘Robot Monster’ is distinctive in the creature feature annuals for one very important reason. The creature - Ro-Man, as he sometimes styles himself - has a soul and it shows. Keep that in mind for later. Did The Blob have a soul? No! Did the Creature from the Black Lagoon have a soul? No! Do Republicans have a soul? But Ro-Man does! Compared to these other creatures he has a spiritual quality.

The set-up is loopy to be sure. Bang. The Robot Monsters have killed all Earthlings but seven or is it eight. The count changes through the movie. (In addition, in one scene a passer-by strolls along the back of a shot. Is she in the count or not?) At least two of the survivors mentioned are never seen. Then there is a garrison in the space station who seem to be sitting out the apocalypse and do not figure in the count.

A Robot Monster has been sent to find and kill the last remaining aboriginals so that the Earth can be colonised as Terra nullius. Take that, White Man! With that Key Performance Indicator in mind Ro-Man gets right to work with a billion bubble blowing machine and television screen transmitter. These survivors are a family of two adults, three children, and the elder daughter’s boyfriend, played by George Nader on whom more in a minute. The budget is so small it does not run to a shirt for Nader in most scenes.

The players try to make something of the script, and fail. The two younger children are annoying enough to invoke the curse of W. C. Fields. It was a relief when the heartless Ro-Man killed them. Yes, for despite the unofficial and all the more stultifying Hollywood code at the time, Ro-Man strangles the children, to the cheers of the fraternity brothers.

Ro man slays boy.jpg

The code did not allow for children to be murdered. They could die, disease, war, accidents, but not be murdered, kind a reverse spin on the current NRA approach. The code was not rigorously imposed on B pictures which is why they are often racier than their A picture peers, as known to all fraternity brothers.

Ro-Man's HQ is a cave in a rocky desert with the bubble blowing machine and the intergalatic portable TV. This is the best he could do for real estate, this superior alien being? A cave? Take about low rent!

Ro man.jpg

What a dump!

What makes ‘Robert Monster’ singular is that Ro-Man goes all Frankenstein’s monster and wants Alice, the older daughter, to love him, after he has murdered her husband, and her siblings and is about to murder her parents. In fact, he seems to ask her to sit tight while he goes off to murder her parents. Is this a sensitive New Age alien in the making? He refuses to murder her, and goes into a Hamlet soliloquy:

‘We are not built to feel emotion. Please do not hate me. Yes! To be like the Hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan? I must, yet I cannot! How do you calculate that?! At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I cannot … but I must!’

Move over Shakespeare! Here are words.

This is deep thinking for a man in an ape suit with a fish bowl on his head. That is Ro-Man. The back story goes that the producer had a robot in mind but could not find one available at his price, and found the expense of having one made beyond the small-change budget, but he knew a fellow who once worked vaudeville in an ape suit! Voilà! But the titles had all ready been run and there was no budget to do them again, so... The fish tank went on to complete the ensemble.

Nader was her boyfriend but somewhere along the way, they got married, and went off on their own for honeymoon during the apocalypse. Believe it or not. While canoodling away from the protective shield of the family home (which does not seem to have a roof but has some kind of electronic barrier), Ro-Man finds them, throws Nader off a cliff to his death and ravishes Alice. It is all very Channel 7Mate.

Robot Man is the furriest robot ever filmed, and could be mistaken for Yeti except for the Newtown fashion accessory of the fish bowl. He plays a double part as himself and as his merciless control back home on Robo-World who is called Great Guidance. This is someone that no one would dare call GG. Despite the lobby poster shown above, neither of the Robot Monsters has a face. That must have made talking hard.

Great Guidance tires of hearing Ro-man going on about his existential crisis of conscience rather than the KPI. This crisis cuts in when Ro-Man seems to have started to rape Alice, by tearing her dress off, again crossing the prevailing code line. Fraternity brothers supposed that the sight of her wherewithal gave him a reaction.

Anyway, Great Guidance zaps Ro-Man from afar, and he dies. Such is corporate power when one misses the KPI targets.

The end! The end. The end? Not quite. Whereupon the annoying little boy wakes up and evidently it was all a dream. Maybe that it was all a dream, like life, excused the code violations, though it is hard to believe this title had much distribution to theatres.

George Nader is quite specimen here, seldom with his shirt on.

Nader German.jpg He played G-Man Jerry Cotton in more than a dozen West German films.

He left Hollywood and went on to a film career in West Germany. Like Eddy Constantine, Jess Hamm, and Lex Baxter he became the American in European movies. The word on the web is that Nader was a homosexual who found it increasingly difficult to get parts in Hollywood, at least parts that he liked, and Baxter was an old friend who suggested he try Europe. Some years later he returned Stateside to work in television.

It says it all when the distributors do not know the name of the movie. In England where it was made, it was released as ‘Fire Maidens from Outer Space’ while Stateside it went out as ‘Fire Maidens of Outer Space,’ giving members of the commentariat endless fun in a pointless discussion of the difference. Still it is not often that ‘Fowler’s Guide’ is brought into B-film reviews.

fire Maidens title.jpeg

If that was not enough to signal the fun ahead, then there are the credits in which the name Cy Roth figures, repeatedly: A Cy Roth presentation, produced by Cy Roth, directed by Cy Roth, story by Cy Roth, screen play by Cy Roth, tea service by Cy Roth. See. For someone in love with the sight of his own name, Mr Roth is quite shy on the internet. I could find nothing but the scant entry on the IMDB. Not even a photograph. His other credits are few. Very. Conclusions to follow: Cy cannot present, produce, direct, write, stage, or pour.

The conceit of the movie is that the two great postwar powers, the United States and Great Britain combine to launch a manned space flight. Ah, the James Bond illusion that in 1956 Britain was a great power. As if. England was still rationing food and petrol. The war debt remained crushing. Victory had nearly destroyed England, just as victory had nearly destroyed France in 1918.

The early going is treacle. We see people walk down stairs, slowly, and then back up the same stairs, slowly. The action stops while the men light pipes. ‘Action?’ Well in fact, the only action is lighting the pipes.

Then with no further preliminaries than a voice over, the six spacemen strap into their office chairs (with rollers) for blast off. Stock footage of V-2 rockets and such follows. The wires are visible in some of the later effects. This must have been a quota quickie to supply British content, as legally required, for theatres. What other explanation could there be, Erich? Quota quickies are explained elsewhere on the his blog. To find out about them do the homework.

Their flight is interminable, or so it seemed. The goal? The thirteenth moon of Jupiter. Huh? Jupiter has dozens of moons and there is no saying which one is the thirteenth. The thirteenth in size, the thirteenth from Jupiter but that varies as some of the orbits are irregular, the thirteenth discovered, thirteenth from the left or from the right, the thirteenth in Republican voters. The scientists Roth consulted found that this moon is like Earth, so off they go. Vroom. In their V-2.

They pass flight time smoking. The number two never takes his naval hat off. That always makes me think the head in it is bald. Keep that hat in mind.

They land in Sussex, a long trip to end up there, and then go outside for more cigarettes. It’s all good. Someone throws rocks at them. (The audience?) They see an object and hear voices. They divide. One group stays with the rocket ship and calls home, repeatedly. Repeatedly. Those they call intermittently never move from their floor marks. It is one shot repeatedly shown to save costs.

The other three go to find the voice(s). On the way they cross three fields, repeatedly. By this time, the fraternity brothers were desperate for the Fire Maidens.

The three explorers show no interest in anything. Oh hum. Another day in space on a distant world for the first time! 'Got a cigarette?' They are as bored by it all as the audience, like one of those works of modern art that is intended to be boring. That is, until they find the Fire Maidens when they perk up a little. Not much.

They find a walled garden and enter it to find it is the Fire Maidens’ dormitory. What luck! There are scores of the women twirling around in short skirts no one wore on the street in 1955, except men in Scotland. The fraternity brothers came to attention.

They meet the top man, whom we shall style the Professor. Yes, it is a man. An old one. He tells the travellers that these are the last of the Atlanteans, as in ‘from’ or is that ‘of’ Atlantis. That explains why they speak English. (!) When the waters rose, the Atlanteans took to the skies, assuming the water would engulf all. That was a blunder, but once airborne they could not cash in their non-refundable Virgin Spaceways tickets so they went to the end of the line. Since then, as the millennia passed, the men have died out — why they died is never mentioned and the explorers, men themselves, have no interest in such incidental matters — but somehow new beautiful woman keep coming along. Maybe Prof is not as old as he looks?

When the conversation lags, which is often, Prof venerates a cheesecake picture on the wall, as his grandmother, as his daughter, as Aphrodite, as Hestia, as his mother, as whatever comes to mind. Not the sharpest laser in the block is the old Prof. Definitely emeritus material.

Here is the tricky part. Prof wants the travellers to stay, what with all these nubile girls around….and the need for more Atlanteans. The travellers don't get it. Why does he want us to stay? It takes them a long time to get his drift. Whatever fraternity they were in must have been a sorry lot. Prof drugs them so they will not fly away and they sleep a lot. Great footage of the navy man sleeping with his hat on.

They sleep some more. (So did I.) Meanwhile one of maidens loves the leader of the spacemen. He may be a distant, cold, and arrogant fool but she loves him anyway.

Fire Maidens lead.jpg

He is one Anthony Dexter who once played Valentino and never got over it. His subsequent credits include some other Sy Fy entries, before he saw the light to became a high school teacher. Think about that. Valentino at the chalk board.

The three stay-behinds keep calling home. The team at home never moves between calls. The three in the dormitory sleep some more. Oh, and the Fire Maidens dance. Not once, not twice, not three times, but four. Music and choreography by Cy Roth? The men sleep; the maidens dance. Is this edgy or what? Or what.

The stay-at-homes finally come looking for the three wanderers because it is time to return the V-2 or they will lose the deposit on it. They encounter the rock-throwing creature of the feature who is impervious to their pistols, though since they fired from the hip, having seen too many westerns, it is doubtful they hit the barn door, so they subdue him with a gas grenade. It was a well equiped mission, cigarettes, pistols, and gas grenades. Check, check, check.

Meanwhile, the sleepers awake and make trouble. The Fire Maidens dance. The creature breaks in on a dance routine and the spacemen throw a gas grenade at him, while he is cutting in on the Fire Maidens dance, near an open flame amid them all.

Fire Maidens dance.jpg

Thanks to some quick typewriting by Cy Roth, only the creature is killed.

Oh, earlier Prof was walking in the garden and the creature killed him. That was an afterthought.

Freed of the tyranny of the old doddering Prof emeritus the Fire Maidens…yep, they dance. Six of them pair off with the visitors, but Valentino assures the others more Earthmen will come. When last seen the fraternity brothers were booking their tickets.

It is a well used trope in B movies, the island, mesa, cave, moon, valley, planet, swamp, town, castle, world, office building of women without men, who do not know what they are missing until the men arrive. Then they find out. Housework. Ironing. Babies. Shopping. Drunken husbands. Sweeping. Dusting. Putting out the rubbish. Moping the floor. Cleaning the toilet. It is an adolescent fantasy. Somewhere are women so desperate that they will want even.....spacemen.

Scifist, a blog on the history of science fiction films that is meticulous and amusing, does not deign to review this length of film, and it stoops to review quite a lot like it. The line had to be drawn somewhere and this title ended up on the far side. At 78 minutes it seemed longer and less than the IMDB score of 2.1 from 1,277 votes. To date it is the lowest scoring film I have watched to the end.


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Cashing in on the rash of Sy Fy movies in the 1950s the dreaded production team of Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin rented a studio for a week and produced from blank paper this celluloid story. The mob at the IMDB score it at 3.6. It is definitely below the Mendoza Line. (You either get it, or you don't.)

The lobby poster says it all. But note that Marie Windsor gets top billing but that is not her on the lobby car below. Figure the out. On her more later.

Cat cover.jpg

In the first manned, emphasis on ‘manned,’ space flight a crew of five sets off for the Moon. On the way it is struck by the de rigueur meteorites. How is it, in the vastness of space, every Earth ship is struck by 1950s meteors that is one the mysteries of the genre.

The crew is led by Sonny Tufts, and consists of Victor Jory, William Phipps, and Douglas Fowley, and Marie Windsor. The last four are reliable B picture regulars. Jory, perhaps for the only time in his fifty-year career, plays the romantic lead, sort of. An eternally young Phipps is the ingenue, and Fowley the greedy bastard that each crew must carry. Marie is the navigator and that is a refreshing change.

Knowing its reputation, when I started watching it, I was surprised to find I liked it at the outset.

Why? A woman has to be in the crew so that the man can fight over her, that is understood. In this case she is navigating rather than serving coffee. Excellent.

Moreover, in the opening scenes as the meteor damaged rocket approaches the Moon she is sassy and demanding. The men want to turn back without landing now that the rocket has a scratch on the paintwork. Not Marie. She came for the landing, not the ride, and she has her way with Sonny Tufts who then orders a landing. That is so different from the usual role for women in the genre.

Cat Windsor.jpg

Marie Windsor takes charge, as Jory stares with incredulity, and Sonny looks for his flask.

There is mystery since she seems to know where to land, how to get there, and what to do next. She seems to be in charge while Sonny tries to remember his lines. Again so unusual, so excellent.

They don the spacesuits, rented from a novelty shop, and trudge in front of a matte painting of the moon done by one of the producer’s nephews, or so it seems. Along the way there is the only science in this science fiction film, and it is the science of Anti-Vaxxers. Even by the standards of the redoubtable Ed Wood, it is silly. No fifth grader would swallow it. Oh, wait, anti-Vaxxers would.

Some features of the Moon are demonstrated using cigarettes which the crew brings along on the flight and on the journey they make.

Journey? Once they land, Marie once again suborns Sonny into a walking tour to collect samples. Once again the men want to go home. Once again Marie prevails and Sonny gives the order.

See, she is in charge, though Sonny is the captain and Jory has a hard pistol at the ready.

A word on Sonny Tufts for those who don’t know him. He was a journeyman in Hollywood who got some lead roles in the 1940s when others were away on war service, then receded to this, and this, I am afraid, was not as low as he could go. In this picture, for those that pay attention, there are at least two occasions when all eyes turn to him for the next line and he stands mute. He forgot his line. Missed the cue. Was checking his hip flask. Or all the above. Fowley fills in for him once and Phipps the second time, as would happen in a stage play. More on old Sonney at the end.

The production is so cheap there were no re-takes. Indeed, so cheap that the end was truncated when they were told to vacate the studio and so some sources say six-pages of script were skipped, and they blast off.

Marie Windsor was the frail and sometimes the femme fatale in a number of excellent B noirs, like these crackling films: ‘The Killing’ (1956), ‘The Narrow Margin’ (1952), and ‘Hellfire’ (1949). She often played women of whom her Mormon relatives in Utah would not approve. She did everything on television, including ‘Murder, She Wrote.’ A real trouper. Ditto Jory, Phipps, and Fowley.

On the Moon she leads the party into a cave that has an atmosphere and Earth gravity, such is their science. They doff the rented spacesuits which had to be returned for the deposit and encounter the inhabitants.

In a creature feature a creature is necessary and they encounter several large rubber spiders like the one the fraternity brothers put into each others clothing. Yuk.

While quick draw Jory blasts away at these creatures, they are observed by shadows with up-do hair buns. Yes, these are the cat women. And about time.

These Earthlings are scientists, the first on the Moon, who show no interest whatever in anything they find. Despite Marie’s urging, they collect no samples, but once the spacesuits are off, they light up those fags. For her part, she plunges on ahead, annoying the men who still want to go home.

Though it is only sixty-four minutes long, it seems longer, and they eventually met the cat women who are described in the credits as the Hollywood Cover Girls, eight in number, in black leotards. These are the only survivors of a once thriving race in the Moon caves, with the spiders. No cats are present. No cats are mentioned. No cats are shown. There are no cats. But then the Hollywood Cover Girls had no existence outside this movie either.

Here is the back story of the Moon. The women grew to dominate the society and the men died out. Without the men there were no more women. So far, so biology.

This is what happens when women get bossy. They take over. The poor hapless men lose their manly vigour and MPG - Minus Population Growth.

In fact, this tale has been acted out on the flight to the Moon, where Marie bosses them around and then leads the men into this trap. Their vigour, however, remains in tact.

Trap? Yes, trap. The cat women want that ship to travel to Earth and boss the men around there, too! First an inch, then 250,000 miles.

And this nefarious plot explains everything. They used their telepathic powers to identify Marie years ago, and to impart to her knowledge of solar navigation. How else could a woman find the Moon? The cat women had learned all this from their last men before they went emeritus. With this knowledge Marie became the navigator. As the ship approached they telepath-messaged her again and she then landed the ship on the spot, and led the ground party to the cave, and while the crew was having a smoko, the cat women swiped the rented spacesuits and returned them to the novelty shop, thus capturing the crew for their purposes. Note, the women get all the knowledge from men and past it on.

Maire is but a puppet controlled by mental telepathy. Jory has been irritated all along what with Sonny missing his cues, and Marie ignoring his charming smallpox scars, so he brandishes his six-gun now and then, disrupting the catty plan. At one moment, he grabs Marie for some within-code manhandling, and in the clinch the telepathic hold on her is broken by his manly grip and smell, and she blurts out the secret femme fatale plan!

Jory likes that and continues the manhandling so that Marie will tell the others. Sonny gets confused and forgets the name of Fowley who has wondered off to get killed. Remember the spiders? No one seems to miss him.

Phipps has found true love among the cat women and his squeeze confirms Marie’s warning. Gadzooks, as we say on Tuesdays.

Then Jory starts shooting. End of cat women, including Phipps's true love. Maire, Jory, and Phipps skedaddle for the rocket ship. Sonny stayed in the bar. THE END.

Technical notes. While the space ship has a lot of dials and levers, it also has a lawn lounging chair where Tufts lies recumbent much of the time.

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Sonny strapped into his lounger from whence he commands.

Indeed, throughout the picture a lot of people are shown sleeping, not all of them are in the audience but many must have been. Maybe these were candid shots because the cast found the whole thing a bore. The cat women dance.... for themselves. Their guests are…sleeping. Once the guests are gone, the cat women can no longer resist the impulse to put those leotards to good use.

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They dance for a while. Looks like a 1950s Beatnik number.

I made light of finding the Moon above, but in ‘Rocketship X-M’ (1950) the crew missed the Moon and hit Mars by mistake. Maybe solar navigation is harder than it looks from the ground.

Sonny Tufts was a high diver. The scion of a Boston banking family, he made the Back Bay mistake of graduating from Yale University and pursued a career as an opera singer in New York City, until it was discovered he could not sing. He was forty-one when Cat-Women was made and looks more than ten years older and the paunch is clearly visible in standing profiles. That is why actors befriend cameramen, to avoid such shots. He was big and lettered in football among the Elis, playing against the Crimson. This was a sin never forgiven in Boston. By the time this film was cast, his name was a joke in show business. He had fallen head over heels in love with alcohol. His wife frequently had him jailed. Several women sicced the police on him for his unwanted attentions. He was to be found wondering the streets in the wee hours looking for another bar. He is parodied in Humphrey Bogart’s ‘In a Lonely Place’ (1950) as the drunken and permanently between engagements thespian next door. ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ may have been the highpoint of his career.




Everyman Richard Carlson leads a handsome cast in this Gothic thriller made for the Fright Night drive-in market.

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Carlson is dancing the night away to celebrate engagement to Beauty, when he receives a telegram. The news is bad but not that bad. His Scots uncle has died and he is the new baron, required to go to the distant, remote, and forbidding castle…in studio 13 of Roach Pictures. Few who go there, return…to A pictures.

Richard takes leave from his fiancée with many endearments and promises a speedy return after completing the formalities.

Guess what happens next?

The movie opened with a cryptic conversation between Australian Michael Pate and another retainer in the dank, dark castle when his Lairdship cacked it. An air of menace hangs over them. Carlson’s inheritance seems tainted even before new reaches him.

Some days later Beauty gets a letter from Carlson blowing her off, for good, for ever. for good-bye.

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She and her aunt study the letter for its subtleties.

It is a ‘Dear Joan’ letter to end ‘Dean Joan’ letters. It stings but she is one bracing woman and with her aunt in tow sets out to Studio 13, that is, Scotland, to straighten out Richard. Could not quite see why she was so determined to land him, but she is.

It takes some will power to get there, first the Atlantic, and then across the moors (of course), and even more to get into the door of the castle. Michael Pate is one polite but reluctant doorman. Once admitted she meets again her beloved and finds him a changed man.

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Once young, now old. Once affable, now grim. Once in dinner suits, now in tweeds and argyle socks. Changed. (The fraternity brothers were betting on a kilt.)

Yes, about a pound of make-up has been pasted onto him along with much grey hair spray to age him and make him look haggard, like a man with a credit card debit he cannot pay and a pile of unmarked examination papers waiting for him.

This shock redoubles her determination to get to the bottom of this mess. A sensible woman, her aunt wants to go home. So did I by then. Various hijinks and confrontations follow. To continue the narrative I have to spoil the denouement and I want to, because it is so Abbott and Costello. To ask an audience to suspend disbelief is one thing, this is another.

As Richard explains in the wrap-up at the end, when he arrived at the castle he discovered that his great grandfather was a frog. That was bad. Worse was that frog great gramps still lived, because some frogs are long lived. The slithering in the hallways at night, the midnight splashing in the pond at the middle of eponymous maze, Carlson’s make-up, these all trace back to great gramps, who still runs the place, frog though he be. The succession of Barons, Carlson being the latest, have been fronts for great gramps, tenderly cared for by Michael Pate and his Igor, who runs the show as Frog in Charge. Everyone addresses this frog as 'Sir.' Sure. I kept thinking of Elmo.

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Carlson reading up on teratology in the amphibian section.

The Castle of Otranto atmosphere is thick and entertaining. There are lots of cobwebs. The mystery of Carlson’s transformation is intriguing. The confrontation in the maze is creepy. The players are fine, and the pace is measured. Pate is so ominous no denouement could live up to the foreboding he inspires.

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Carlson and Pate trying to look the parts.

In short, the set up and the build up are good, but the result in Act III is a fizzle. Like those storms that crack and whirl and then dissipate with a drop or two of rain. The screenplay had no finish. ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon' (1954) or ‘The Fly’ (1958) made more sense.

How uncle combined the mind of laird and the body of a frog is Ed Wood science. Moreover, with that family tree, why would Beauty want to marry Carlson? Newts, efts, and toads to come are there? Or did she trust that her kiss would transform?

The novelty of 3D at the time was such that even this schlock-fest was given the treatment. But 3D never worked in drive-ins anyway.

Who could resist such a title? Not me.

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On the IMDB it is described as a comedy. I hoped it would equal, nothing could surpass, ‘Spaced Invaders’ (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). Not so. At first I thought it was a documentary about the Republican Party. Mea culpa.

The set-up is priceless and the execution is consistent, but it is not comedy as we know it. The genre would have to be Horror, sub-species ‘coulrophobia.’ Look it up, Mortimer and be enlightened, for once.

A circus tent complete with an ensemble of grotesque clowns, oops, klowns, lands in Royal Dano’s (who else!) pasture outside Hicksville USA. The Klowns set about harvesting climate change deniers, wrapping them in cotton candy to ferment, and when just right…..

When interrupted by teenagers doing extracurricular biology lessons, the alien klowns call out the dogs. That was a cackle and a half.

There is a phylum of Horror movies where teens discover the evil and try to report it to authorities, who stupidly reject the reports until it is too late. ‘The Blob’ (1958) was the landmark in this category, though not the first and certainly not the last. In this instance authority is played brilliantly by Sheriff John Vernon, and we waited for his comeuppance which came on cue.

KK Vernon.jpg Comeuppance delivered.

We also like the shadow play on the wall, and then wooshka!

There is an ice cream truck, lots of red noses, and a Willy Wonka interior of the Tardis space tent.

There is one scene of tension with a little girl and a wooden mallet.
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And a long, boring, and pointless scene in a pharmacy.

The Klowns are frustrated by the teens and blast off in their tent spaceship before hundreds of eye witnesses who use alternative facts to explain the destruction left behind. These are people are known as the Klown deniers. But more importantly, what did happen to Royal, his dog, and the others? Who knows. What were the Klowns doing? We’ll never know, until we watch the sequel.

IMDB has it at 6.1, which way to high to me, though I admired the artistry in the effects when it was clear the budget was … well, what budget? The cast, apart from Mr Dano, were unknown to me as no doubt I am to them.

A much better movie than its paltry IMDB rating of 5.3 indicates. What I liked was the message that we are destroying ourselves. Who needs aliens when we are so good at it. I also liked the integrated set design and the ambiguous ending. Altogether it is more thoughtful and well realised than the score which puts it a mere 0.2 points ahead of the turgid and indigestible lump that is the big budget ‘Saturn 3’ (1980) at 5.1 with its all star cast.

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Lobby card.

Chuck Yeager had the day off and in 1960 test pilot Robert Clarke (remember him from ‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ [1959], probably not under all that make-up of sun skin cancers) flies his X-Plane into the year 2024. High octane, indeed! Whoops!

He seems to land back at the airbase he left, unaware of the elapsed time and finds it an abandoned ruin. Empty. Spooky. Eerie. Nice. There is no one and nothing among the ruins. Not even a calendar. Little does he realise he is beyond the Time Barrier! (Most airlines charge extra for that.)

He heads toward a distant light, wearing his flight suit and helmet. He does that a lot. Not the most comfortable of gear, but it does make him stand out.

He stumbles on to an underground civilisation where, after assaulting the first natives he meets, as per his survival training, he is perceived to be an enemy, a spy, a threat. Dunno why. I suppose the flight gear partly explains that reaction but it is not made explicit. He is imprisoned and in time finds there are three other prisoners, Russians who, thanks to the miracle of Hollywood, speak perfect English. Russians. 1960. Oh oh.

There follows much Geordie-speak about the time barrier. Oh hum. When they show him the current Dilbert desk calendar Clarke finally gets it: 2024. (He goes all able when he thinks of how many IRS returns he has missed!) While these four realise they are time travellers, the Mole people do not believe such a thing is possible and deny reality. Now who does that remind me of….

The four scapes decide to use Clarke’s plane to go back in time to warn humanity of the plague and so prevent its occurrence. ‘Scapes’ are those who escaped the plague. (What a struggle to quell automatic correction to ‘scares.’)

Plague? Yes, as one of the Moles explains to Clarke, the accumulated pollution of earlier times had depleted the ozone layer and harmful radiation bombarded the Earth in 1994 creating a plague. There were three results: most people died, others mutated into beasts called GOP, and a few fled underground but are now sterile moles.

To review, class, the dead are gone. Forget 'em.

The mutant beasts roam around the surface making it unsafe for the Moles, though Clarke encountered no beasts on his wanderings thanks to the low budget for wandering beasts. When we see some of these beasts in The Pit where Clarke is briefly incarcerated they are straight out of a Weimar expressionist horror movies like ‘Nosferatu’ (1922), white as Dracula, bulbous shaved heads, and slavering creatures. Yuck. They are certainly Republicans. We never see any of their brethren or sistren in the out of doors, nor is there ever any explanation of why these several have been imprisoned in The Pit except as a forthcoming plot device.

The Moles are a classy lot with swanky gear and funky art deco furniture but their kind is dying from sterility caused by the plague. Only Eve is not sterile and from the get-go she fancies Clarke as her Adam. Must be the sexy flight pressure suit codpiece. Ahem. He is slow on the uptake and who can blame him since Eve says not a word, giving him the silent treatment. She is a deaf mute but the Mole scientists are sure she is not sterile. And ready for …. Uh huh, but how do they know that?

She communicates by sign language. ‘One is for….’ She is also a telepath who reads minds and finds that Clarke is harmless and protects him with vigorous sign language like a third base coach on speed.

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Triangle on the wall, who is the fairest empath of all?

A silent role is not a good foundation for a Hollywood career and she has few other credits and some are hard to forgive, like ‘The Dukes of Hazard.’

There is also one reference to other survivors but that is left a loose end for those of us who were paying attention.

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Clarke and the Russians hatch a plan. However, well, it is 1960 and the Russians are not to be trusted now are they.

Still, Clarke, a changed man, is intrepid and makes it back to 1960 to warn the climate change deniers, the anti-vaxxers, and the Tweet-in-Chief of the coming plague. Yeah, right, that’ll do a lot of good.

Edgar Ulmer (he of ‘The Man from Planet X‘ reviewed elsewhere on this blog) was the director and once again he showed Roger Corman how to do a lot with a little.

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It was filmed in five days funded from the tip jar. The set design of triangles is brilliant and consistently carried through in the camera dissolves and fades.

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There are also automatic doors, and sometimes the triangles are askew, giving the effect of a world gone Escher.

Some of the comments among the self-appointed reviewers are a cackle. One shouts ‘time travel does not work like that!’ Evidently there are daughters among us those who know how time travel works. Keep that in mind.


A late entry in British 1950s science fiction on a par with Gerry Anderson productions. (Mortimer, you either get or you don’t.)

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A misleading lobby card.

Meteors land all in a row in a Sussex field and bright lights take over the minds of the scientists sent to investigate. Only the Top Scientist is immune, because he is numbskull.

Spoiler! The Anti-Vaxxers are right! Colanders with tin foil do offer protection.

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These guys are ready for 'They Came from Beyond Space.'

The Top Scientist finds that his squeeze now rejects him. She must be possessed by an alien. What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Top is multi-skilled in marksmanship, judo, lock picking, all skills the essential for a PhD in astrophysics. He can also talk opponents to death in the best seminar manner. He is a boring James Bond with a nary a twinkle. He, unlike Bond, is not in on the joke.

He has resisted the mind control of the alien meteors because of the tin plate in his head, the result of too much McKinsey speak at the university with the research manager so off to the kitchen for colanders. Thus equipped he and his elite unit tackle the aliens’ HQ on the Moon.

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The Moonies hangout.

The Moonies have been alien-napping hordes of rustics, who are never missed, to toil at a Big Dig on the Moon. Top and team liberate them and then they — the freed rustics — spontaneously overthrow the Moonies in their lair.

As if.

Once under the tin hats, the rustic toilers would probably turn on their liberators and blame them for not getting there sooner, for letting them be alien-napped in the first place, file for compensation, whine about Toto, argue with each other about whose feelings were hurt the most, reject the tin hats as not eco-friendly or stylish, go on strike for better conditions before rebelling, and so on.

Why fight enemies when fighting friends is so much easier.

At the denouement the Master of the Moon, Michael Gough in a Carnaby Street robe, explains his innocent motives to Top who then graciously agrees to help. Huh? All the fisticuffs, shoot ‘em up, slavery, and mayhem, and yet they shake on the deal.

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'Groovy robe, man.'

Did Bond make a sweetheart deal with Dr No? No way!

Can anyone come from Beyond Space anyway? That threw me. Beyond Space, where is that? The Moon? New Jersey?

Much of earlier science fiction used the threat of aliens directly or indirectly as a metaphor for the Cold War, communism, and brain-washing as illustrated here. Hence the proliferation of colanders in the 1950s in Middle America. On the whole the production is lifeless. I did not care if the hot rocks zapped them all. No loss.

It is a common motif in sci-fi that the aliens are vastly superior to us primitive Earthlings, yet somehow the puny Earthlings overcome the aliens. Because of their superiority the aliens are able to come to Earth while weak humans remain planet-bound. The aliens’ superiority is usually shown in technology, but mental powers are also invoked, and in some cases there is moral superiority - think of those that are Greener-than-thou (and everyone else).

Yet somehow the runts of the galactic litter that is humanity overcome these leaders of the pack. Often doing so involves judo. Using the strength of the aliens against them. In Captain Kirk’s case it all too often involved talking them to death.

It is also a common motif that the aliens have come to Earth for real estate because they have mucked up their home world by listening to the climate-change deniers. In other cases they come for other resources, including US!


A crew of five sets off for the Moon but takes a wrong turn and hits Mars instead. So much for fancy integrated Solar Positioning System of navigation in the new rocket. The film combines very little technology with some striking photography, and the slow and fast death of one and all, and a message. In ground control is that eternal Sy Fyian Morris Ankrum who tries to make it upbeat in the end. He fails.

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Lobby card.

For the first time, say the know-it-all web sites, a movie shows a multi-stage rocket. Indeed Dr Egghead, leader of the eXpedition to the Moon (hence X-M) explains this to the assembled media, who are sworn to secrecy. (These are the same hacks who a few years earlier published details about US depth charge tactics in the Pacific Ocean in newspapers. Guess what. The Japanese kept up their subscriptions and in turn changed their own tactics. Loose newsprint sank a good number of ships. The Newseum in D.C. strangely does not feature this episode in its trumpeting of the free press.)

That verisimilitude is quickly lost when the intrepid crew undergoes rigorous physical examinations fifteen minutes before launch. Blood pressure tests are administered: Readings are elevated as is to be expected. End of physical. They are also wearing buttoned collars and neckties like RAF pilots.

In addition to Egghead, there is Hotshot pilot, moody Stargazer, and Comic Relief. Wait, that is only four. Who is the fifth? The frail. A lady scientist. Egghead says her discoveries made the propulsion system of the rocket possible. Atta girl! However, thereafter she serves as the object of Hotshot’s lust, Egghead’s condescension, and Comic Relief’s efforts at humour. Star Gazer has eyes only for the stars. Though in one brief aside it seems her calculations of fuel use were right and Egghead’s were wrong. He is not big about it.

Off they go. Vroom! Things go wrong. That is what happens with the low bid contractors. They miss the Moon. Yes, They miss the Moon and find themselves Lost in Space, closer to Mars than anything else. They talk. The talk some more. [I left the room.] They are still talking. Finally they head for Mars and land. Well, why not. ‘M’ works for Mars, too.

Sidebar: They may have gone to Mars to avoid unpleasant comments about plagiarising the story ‘Destination Moon’ (1950). The same is said of ‘Flight to Mars’ (1950) by the know-it-alls.

On Mars the washed out rust coloured photography as they traipse around in mechanic’s coveralls and war surplus respirators is very striking. (It was filmed in the Mojave Desert.)

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Red Mars.

The awe and wonder of the red planet comes across, accompanied by some muted theremin music, an essential for quality Sy Fy. More of the silent majesty of a new world would have been nice.

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Note the gear for Martian exploration.

But by this time they are running out of B movie time, and ideas. Albeit, the direction does not feel rushed.

There is movement in the distance among the russet rocks. Natives. Martians who look like injured wrestlers from WWE, limping around with shaved heads, hairy backs, lantern jaws, tiny frontal lobes, big biceps, lots of scars and bruises. The crew stumbles on a sunbathing Martian woman, who does not look anything like something from WWE, and she sets off the alarm with a Hammer horror film scream. Wow! She is blind for reasons to be explained later. Read on.

The cavemen from WWE arrive bearing rocks and hurl them at the crew who conveniently remain within range below the cliff faces. Comic Relief goes first, as we knew he must. He was, by the way, Noah Beery, Junior, who was as ever charming and likeable, if tiresomely predictable. Egghead cracks next. Hmm, these are the best of the best the United States had, sent into space, and they are beaten and battered to death by cavemen. Maybe the physical should have been more rigorous.

The surviving crew shows surprisingly good sense in abandoning these fallen comrades and rush back to the ship and blast off. They have dragged along the square jawed Stargazer who also got clobbered, and is a burden. For some reason the two survivors did not consider lighting the load by jettisoning him. I did, maybe because he is the impossibly handsome Hugh O’Brian. That latter fact might explain both his retention as well as my suggestion to dump him.

Now the Lady Scientist and Hotshot alone together are rocketing back to Earth. She does more calculations with her slide-rule. This is one calculating gal. They have not the fuel for a controlled re-entry! She was indeed right about that as above. Crispy critters are on the menu. Gulp.

But first they have to warn Morris back in control of the dire fate that befell the Martians in the sure and certain hope it can be avoided. Huh?

It seems they made a lot of inferences from their two-minute first and last contact with the Martians, some radiation readings, and an fabricated icon in the red dust. Mars had an advanced civilisation (Exhibit A, the icon) that destroyed itself in a nuclear holocaust (Exhibit B, the geiger counter clicking) and has reverted to the mutant primitives they encountered (Exhibit C, hairy and blind) who walloped them. What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Is this a composition error? They met one blind woman and a few hairy-backs and have concluded all Martians are blind or hairy. Come to Newtown on a Saturday night and meet the local animal life and from that generalise to us all. Gosh, I hope not.

Hotshot and Lady Scientist in a broken transmission to Morris Ankrum back home pass the word: Don't blow yourselves up! Message received. (Blow up others.) They then plunge to a fiery death while in a fiery embrace. Morris, like some surgeons, declares the operation a success though the careless patients died.

Oracle IMDB weighs at 4.9 opinioniums. That is below some of the effluvia of Adam Sandler.

But wait, there is a serious message buried in the melodrama as Hotshot and Lady Scientist clinch in the barbecue.

Atomic radiation is deadly, long-lasting, unavoidable, and even worse than Faux News. (Yes, that is possible.)

In many Sy Fy films of the era the official line of the US Atomic Energy Commission was followed according to which radiation was a minor nuisance. Wear gloves. Take aspirin. Say the Pledge of Allegiance. No problem. The films from this era are too numerous to list where atomic power is used like overproof diesel to power lawn mowers. It is no solace to know that the same thing happened in the Soviet Union, another example of convergence.

In the early 1950s concern about radiation in the United States was widely disparaged as a communist disinformation plot to inhibit the development of righteous American nuclear weapons and power. If a scientist published data about the ill effects of radiation, it was denounced as Red propaganda by the HUAC and Tail Gunner Joe. These were the climate change deniers of the day. Scientific evidence was dismissed toute suite! Alternative facts were manufactured.

In that context the screenplay’s emphasis on the evil of radiation was a show-stopper. In fact, the screenplay does have a moral within the Tom Swift adventure and the melodrama of the doomed lovers, and that is the evil of nuclear weapons. Subtle huh?

Not subtle enough because the screen writer fell to the HUAC lynch mob for his trouble and spent time in the slammer as a red incubus. That was the very talented and much accomplished Dalton Trumbo, who lives in my affection as the author of ‘The Happy Jack Fish Hatchery Letters.’ All of this cryptic to someone who wasn't even born then: Tough.

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Dalton Trumbo on the way to the slammer.

By the way, 1950 was the very year the lynch mob turned on Robert Oppenheimer, whose leadership led to the atomic bomb, but who had many qualms about nuclear energy, nuclear power, and nuclear weapons. Red qualms said HUAC. What other explanation could there be, Erich?

Morris Ankrum must have had a deal according to which he had to be in in every Sy Fy pot boiler. My man-crush on him is explained in another post. Search for it and be enlightened.

Personal note. I did a brilliant grade school project on Atoms for Peace based on the Atomic Energy Commission's publicity when I was a cute little boy. It set me on the way for the great career I had in Physics lab in college. Little did I know.

Second personal note. Learning to use a slide-rule was a major accomplishment and I still have it in my desk. (Though I have completely forgotten how to use it.)


Here is a set-up: A mysterious alien in a black business suit with a briefcase comes to Earth to subdue the Earthlings and harvest their blood. A boring Organisation Man, he carries in the briefcase a McKinsey Management Manual and uses it to condemn the hapless Terrans to endless meetings where the blood drains to the sitting position while they try to out-cliché each other with key performance indicators! Everyone’s job to manage something, but no one does anything. Get it? The aliens take over and no one notices.

Good, huh?! The idea is for sale. Every one has a price, and mine is cheap.

‘Not of this Earth’ is a Roger Corman production and surprisingly low key for this auteur. Paul Birch is the man from planet Davanna in a black suit with dark glasses and a stony expression who is lonely in a crowd. Well. no expression at all and a dry as dust delivery.

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Lobby card.

HIs mission on Earth is laid out in a teleported communique from his commander: to assess human blood, to collect human blood, to teleport this blood to Davanna, to teleport a living human to Davanna for further blood tests, himself to die if the blood is useless, but before dying to destroy the Earth for good measure. He repeats each instruction in a voice without inflection or emotion to make sure the audience gets it. Creepy. He sounds almost mechanical, like a GOP robot.

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Birch without the shades.

What a set of Key Performance Indicators!

Lemmy Caution in ‘Alphaville’ (1961) had it easier. And Birch reminds some viewers of Caution, well, this viewer. But in comparison Caution was a regular guy. He shows interest in some of the people he meets, likes Akim Tamiroff, and makes off and out with a woman. Plus he knows how to drive a car. Not so Birch for whom none of it is personal. How could it be that since he has no personality. (See, I said a McKinsey manager, soulless.)

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How does Birch collect blood? Well, don’t knock on his door and then follow him to the basement. Do not accept an invitation to dinner either. Glug, glug. The story is cryptic but it seems more than a dozen victims have littered the streets, unnoticed by the carrion of the press, each drained of blood. The word ‘vampire’ is mentioned once in connection with puncture wounds found on these victims. Ssssh.

That might sound like a big deal, what with a dozen dead young women lying about, but in the cop shop it is business as usual. Much sitting around eating donuts and complaining about the station coffee is done.

Birch does some analysis in the basement with the chem set from the brief case. Glug, glug. Looks like the Davanans can use human blood, so he opens the closest in his bedroom and teleports thirty cubits of blood to Davanna. (Yes, ‘cubits.’ To find out what the length of a forearm has to do with blood ask Roger Corman.) He also tries to teleport a living specimen, but this specimen arrives compressed. That is best left to the imagination. Bones was right not to trust beaming.

Birch himself is none too healthy and visits a doctor early in the going. With telepathy Birch exercises some mental control over the physician. To keep his strength up for blood-collecting Birch hires a nurse to live in his house and administer blood transfusions each night from some identified source of blood. She is Beverly Garland, who had a career in television with hundreds of credits. Can she handle this blood sucker!

Birch goes to libraries and bookstores to research humanity with special reference to matters sanguinary. He is socially inept and cannot drive a car. Odd for a man of his years in that time and place.

Then in a marvellous scene he passes a woman on the street and then stops to look in a shop window.

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Alien window shopping for the latest Earth fashions.

She catches up with him and stops next to him, and they stare silently into the window, communicating by telepathy with voice overs. She, it turns out, is another Davannan whom he knows and she has come through the teleport in his closet, without asking permission, so desperate are things getting back home. Her account is cryptic. Some reviewers think she is describing a nuclear war on Davanna. I thought it sounded more like the destruction of a Republican Congress.

That is very like the enigmatic account in ‘Alphaville.’ Lemmy drove his Ford Galaxy across intersidereal space to Alphaville to talk the boss computer to death, while smoking forty a day. We are never quite sure why. Just seemed like the thing to do. Jim Kirk watched this as a lad and got his line in talking computers to death from it.

The situation on Davanna is desperate, and this Davannan woman herself is near death. This grim news and her perilous state drives Birch to act in haste (and repent at leisure). By now his cover is blown. The nurse knows something is up, and she no longer trusts the evasive doctor who seems to be part of it, so she rats them all out to the cops.

Birch realises she is onto him and asks her ever so politely and dryly to stand still while he dispatches her. Yikes! She does not comply.

Loved the scene when she calls the police with a perfectly clear demand for help, and let us remember all of those earlier victims, because the cops seem to have forgotten them, while the male officer on the phone dismisses her as an hysterical woman! So stupid, so annoying, so credible.

Birch has an Achilles ear and Beverly figures out how to deal with him. Stunned, weakened, confused, under a great deal of pressure, and an inexperienced driver, Birch rams his big Buick into a wall and dies.

The end! The end. The end?

Not quite. As the final credits roll, another man in a black suit with a brief case wearing dark glasses and a dead face strides across the grass toward the camera. Nice. Looks like Davanna has sent in Lemmy II.

The film opened with a scene before the credits, a rarity in 1957, in which the stone-faced Birch behind the dark glasses recites his collection of blood. Unusual and ominous.

The film is well paced, and low key. The music score matches the action, which is not always the case in this genre. The direction is deft and the pace is pacy.

Birch is sometimes called the poverty row John Wayne. He is perfect here, though he does not have the flat delivery the Duke could produce. Birch, too, had a long career in television. The rumour mill has it that Birch and Corman had a mighty argument about something, and Birch quit, leaving Corman to hire another actor to fill-in for him in distance shots. Since much the film takes place the dark, he is after all a vampire in all but fangs, who can tell.

When the doctor recovers his wits and tries to report to the police his conclusion that Birch is
'Not of this Earth,’ Birch conjures a floating octopus that flies through the air and envelopes the doctor’s head like a feral lamp shade. The doctor is no longer of this Earth.

If Birch had flying octopi in reserve why did he not make more use of them? I would.

That creature is utterly gratuitous. Did the marketing department want a creature to feature on the posters and magazine advertisements, and did Corman oblige with this lamp shade which is but a sidebar. It may have also padded the movie when Birch quit or maybe he quit because of it.

On the IMDB is rates a respectable 6.4, though that puts it on the same level as the execrable Adam Sandler movies.

A deuce documentary approach to the first flight to the moon, and back from producer George Pal, who went to great lengths, consulting Willy Ley, to get the science right, as it was then understood, and to get a major studio to release it for an A movie audience. He succeeded with the former but not the latter. The film was so eagerly anticipated that it spawned several quickies to ride the coattails of its publicity. e.g., ‘Flight to Mars’ (1950) and ‘Rocket X M’ (1950) and others.

Destination Moon poser.jpg

Lobby card

Space flight in 1950 was kid stuff, Buck Rogers, Captain Z-ro, Space Cadets, Flash Gordon, and Rocky Rocket, not for adults. The ‘New York Times’ reviewer, Bosley Crowther (1905-1981), agreed in a condescending, snide, and asinine review at the time. Crowther offered his own scientific advice, according to which space flight was i m p o s s i b l e. Period. He explained that the acceleration necessary to leave the Earth’s gravity could not be achieved. Never. Crowther also garbled the concept of ‘free orbit.’ No doubt he would be an Anti-Vaxxer climate denier today with that grasp of physics. Good thing he did not have to review ‘Fantasia’ (1940).

The film follows the preparation, launch, landing, and return of four astronauts from the United States in the hard Korean winter of the Cold War. The word ‘astronaut’ is not used, rather they are spacemen. There are obstacles aplenty. Test rockets that check out perfectly then fail on launch. How can that be? Sabotage by ‘them.’ Get it? The Reds left the beds and are now under the launch pads.

Indeed ‘they’ have infiltrated the government so that it cannot develop the moon missiles. Sounds like the party line from the House Un-American Activities Committee via the typewriter of Robert Heinlein whose story is the root of this film.

Yet it is imperative to get to the moon to prevent ‘them’ from getting there and using it as a missile platform. Something that ‘we’ would never do.

It is up to all those defence contractors to build the rocket. One of their number convenes a meeting and puts the proposal. Time to put up or shut up! After some hemming and hawing they agree. (As if!) A good thing, because if they did not, then no movie and no paycheque for Heinlein.

Destination Moon Woody.jpg

Woody explains space flight to the magnates.

Four aged men, none of them a pilot, one a general who evidently is free to roam the cosmos, two technicians who developed the engine, and the red shirt comic relief are the elite crew. In contrast to many other genre films of the time, there is no woman on board to be the butt of stupid remarks. In this outing the stupid remarks come from the comic relief. His naive and querulous remarks allow the three smartypantses to explain the science of moon flight to him. Also absent are tensions among the crew whose members work well together. Space flight is difficult enough, leaving no time for bickering and acrimony and that makes a refreshing change of clichés.

The gravitational force on takeoff, weightlessness, space sickness, free orbit, the starry cosmos. extra-vehicular activity are all there, and well done. The desolate moonscape is very nicely done, though the cracks on the studio floor imply it was once wet like a dry river bed. Hmm.

There are moments of drama during the EVA (see above, Mortimer). The landing is rough and consumes a great deal of fuel, compromising the return flight. Before facing that, the scientists in bright coloured, high visibility space suits claim the moon for the United States. oh, and all mankind. That’ll fix ‘them.’ ‘They’ would not dare set foot up there now!

Destination moon suits and crcks.jpg

High visibility space suits, which were later re-used in other films. Check out the floor cracks.

At the approach of the launch window for the return flight the crew must shed weight from the ship. A lot. More. Yes, as predicted, though they rip out just about all the props there is still too much weight. By coincidence the excess weight matches that of the red shirt comic relief. Gulp!

The three big brains sit around trying to out noble each other by volunteering to stay behind for certain death. The industrialist, the AWOL general, and the engineer with the deep voice compete in declaring themselves useless. [Pause.] While they are listening to themselves, it’s a no-brainer and the comic relief jumps ship to sacrifice himself. ‘Good,’ I said, ‘no more stupid questions.’ But ‘we’ do not leave anyone behind (as ‘they’ would, is implied.)

But wait, at that moment the industrialist sees a way to shed more weight, and it is an ingenious idea, and can only work if the comic relief returns, which he does.

Whew! The four of them make it back to a return of heroes. A few bold individuals can do what the government cannot. Was this Ayn Rand’s favourite movie? ‘The End … of the beginning,’ says the closing title. Six years later Sputnik went beep beep in Bosley Crowther’s ear. George Pal was way ahead of the curve unlike the ‘New York Times’ reviewer whose mea culpa could not be found on the interweb.

Pal could not convince a major studio to make the film so he created a shelf-company and did it himself as an independent production. The can-do spirit of private enterprise did not apply to the big studios. He did negotiate release through Allied Artists.



On a remote, fogbound Hibernian island in the far Outer Hebrides beyond the end of the line an astronomer sets up a small private observatory in a conveniently abandoned castle with his bright and beautiful daughter along with his assistant Igor.

Why?

The locals find Prof avuncular and his daughter comely, but still a puzzle. This Scottish island was in Studio 13 on Poverty Row, i.e., Monogram Pictures.

Planet X poster.jpg Lobby poster

Fredrick Ulmer, the director, grew up on German expressionist films before fleeing the new regime in 1933, and it shows in his many American films. The set is dark; it is foggy; it is misty; it is ominous in silence; it closed in and stifling; nothing is quite in focus. Ulmer did much himself, from painting the backdrops to manhandling the camera, and the editing.

The professor went to the island because Planet X has come swooping into the Solar System and is headed for a near miss with Earth. The island is the point on Earth closest to the passing Planet X from whence the Prof will train his telescope onto it. So much for science.

Then in the island gloaming there are flashes of lightning without thunder. Strange that. A handsome young American journalist comes from Chicago to interview the prof but finds the daughter in the gloaming.

Then there is a diving bell on the moor in the mists, in the dark, in the fog, in the night, and ….

Planet X diving bell.jpg


There is a diver in the bell!

Plane X with girl.jpg Diver with woman.

The diver is very well realised, and there is an intriguing ambiguity in this alien. The sci-fi imperative is that the alien is evil, aggressive, mean, in short, a Tea Party acolyte, or a benign figure, because of bad table manners, who is misunderstood by the locals. Not so here. This alien is neither one stereotype nor the other in Act I. Damn confusing that mystery.

The Tin Man from the diving bell is tiny, expressionless behind the fish bowl on the head, and vulnerable with a gas regulator on the back shoulder which he can barely reach. (The designer of this space suit, the low bidder, has a lot for which to answer.) Once revealed Tiny Tin Man hardly seems a threat. In fact on first sight he keels over and only quick thinking by Handsome restores the gas supply to the fish bowl.

Yet when the intrepid journalist and doddery Prof then try to communicate with him, the Tin Man projects a beam on the professor that saps him of the will to publish (and so he will perish on the horns of key performance indicators). Whoa! They beat a hasty retreat.

But Tin Man follows them back to the castle, rather like a lost dog in the park and, well, they take him in. That castle will be familiar to cine-junkies because it was the set for Ingrid Bergman’s ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ (1948). Director Ulmer borrowed the keys to use it.

Igor is a greedy bastard, the goatee being a dead giveaway. See!

Planet X Igor.jpg

He proceeds to torture the Tin Man with the calculation of pi! The Tin Man cannot take it! Who could? Igor is none too subtle but subtle enough to mislead Handsome, Prof, and Daughter. While they are otherwise occupied, Igor hopes to extract technological secrets from the Tin Man to make a fortune. It does not occur to Igor that the Tin Man might have an agenda. He does.

Tin Man subdues Igor with his mind ray and the plot thickens. Tinny also grasps the daughter and zombies any number of locals who all work on his diving bell in the gloaming, which seems twenty-four hours a day.

By now Handsome has convinced the local plod that all this is really happening and together they decide to tell the truth to the local citizens, such is their faith in rationality and discipline of the demos. Hysteria and blind panic ensue. So much for the community spirit and the democratic ethos.

This Island of Otranto is cutoff from outside help, as per the script. Handsome alone must overcome the odds. He does.

What is interesting is the intention of the Tin Man. Was he always intent on enslaving the locals. despite the kindly assistance Handsome and Prof lent him at the first? Or did Igor’s clumsy mathematical abuse rile Tin Man up to retaliate? Or were Tin Man’s intentions always malevolent but tactically concealed at the first while sussing things out?

In the B sci-fi genre of the time this ambiguity is unusual. Stopping to think is usually not the objective of the B film maker.

Equally out of the ordinary is the daughter who has a cool head, a steely determination, and a sense of humour. She is not the stock celluloid woman of the time, weak, flighty, hysterical, uninformed, and the target for sexist remarks. If she looks familiar in the dark, she should, being Margaret Field, the mother of ‘Norma Rae.’

Igor is played by Mr Pomfritt, a stalwart of B movies, especially science fiction, with more than 370 credits on the IMDB. Yes, Mortimer, it is the ever reliable William Schallert whose laconic and sanguine guidance of Dobie Gillis lives on.

The hypothesis of this feature film is intriguing. What should a reasonable person in authority do with a bona fide flying saucer?

Hangar 18 cover.jpg

The DVD cover.

There it is, without a doubt an alien spacecraft, come to Earth in what seems to have been an accident. It struck a communication satellite just put into orbit and landed hard in the remote west Texas desert in a controlled descent. The craft is inert with no signs of life. Now what?

From that intriguing start there follows a slow descent into clichés.

Step one is to take possession of the object.

H 17 saucer.jpg Much bigger inside than outside is this Tardis.

The Air Force just happens to have a base nearby and in the middle of the night a the airmen dig it out and uses a crane to put it on a truck taking it to the eponymous hangar, a facility devoted to serving NASA space shuttles. Hush, hush, hardly, hardly. It is thus well equipped for such a call-out. So far, so convenient.

What had happened? A NASA space shuttle was deploying a satellite and the saucer appeared in a blur and hit the satellite just as it was released. Two of the shuttle astronauts saw it all and have the telemetry to prove it. Ah huh.

NASA in the person of Darren McGavin, who breathes purpose, intelligence, and energy into his role, wants to know what happened, since nothing untoward appeared on the ground instruments.

H 17 McGavin.jpg

McGavin

The Air Force base commander recognises this as an unprecedented situation out of his pay grade so he does what he was trained to do and bucks it up the line.

Now one might think extraterrestrial contact is big enough news to get the attention of the President, but no he is busy tweeting, instead the message goes to the chief of staff, played with the casual arrogance of a master by Robert Vaughn, who briefs the unseen President.

What to do?

The Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff argues for segmented and contained revelation starting with American Nobel Prize winning physical scientists sworn to secrecy and flown to Hangar 18 and allowed to see for themselves, and then to help in comprehending what the thing is, how works, where it came from, what to do with it. There are a myriad of questions. Why is it there? Why did it crash? What are the intentions of the occupants? Starting with, how do we get into it?

But no, Vaughn fears premature leaks with consequent panic. The fewer who know anything the better to allow time for proper decisions. The first time it is said that seems reasonable.

Hmm. It is certainly true that swearing scientist to secrecy will not work. It is equally certain a panic would ensue.

It is also easy to believe that saying to the world ‘We have a flying saucer’ will invite national and global ridicule that photos, videos, and testimony will not dispel and, worse, it will unleash every one of the millions of nut cases around the world to The End of Days. Alternative facts will abound. I thought of the apocalyptic scenes in ‘Contact’ (1997). I thought of Ann Coulter, and preferred The
End of Days.

Yes, but…

Vaughn’s desire to suppress the news is explained by a looming presidential election within two weeks, so that is the efficient cause (per Aristotle) of Vaughn’s effort to keep the secret. Ever since ‘Bullit’ (1968) Vaughn has specialised in these oily political operators.

Oh hum. There is always an excuse, if an excuse is needed, see Jean-Paul Sartre on inauthentic choice. Which is the bigger deal here? Alien contact or the electoral college? Current incumbent excepted, I would like to think any occupant of the Oval Office would see the priority here. Not so the screenwriter.

We never see the President, and the suspicion grew in my mind that Vaughn was playing a lone hand and not briefing the POTUS who would then have perfect deniability because he does not know a thing. Ronald Reagan in good conscience could always convincingly claim complete ignorance. What was harder to believe was that Vaughn did not go to Texas and see for himself. Too jaded to bother, I guess. In DC aliens are commonplace, after all.

Once the craft is secured the second step is to discredit all those who saw it, starting with the shuttle astronauts. Again the general dissents but is overruled on the ground that later when the story can be told in full they were be exonerated. Later never comes for underlngs.

The telemetry from the shuttle is altered. Video is edited in a flash. Voila! No saucer. In addition the farmers who saw it must be rendered harmless, suborned by alcohol and a rumour campaign. Sounds like Scooter's work. Of the grunts who dug it up, the base personnel, and the technicians who edited the data, not a word. Sworn to secrecy?

From now on we have an update on the Roswell fable. An inept government cover-up ensues of necessity involving very few conspirators who thunder and blunder about leaving a body count. After several accidental deaths and one murder, even the scheming Vaughn pauses.

Then, being an ideas man, he has an idea straight out of US foreign policy. Get all the witnesses together in Hangar 18, and blow it up. Problem solved.

H 18 Vaughn.jpg The ideas man is having an idea. Kaboom, it is.

With genius like that it is easy to see why he is chief of staff. This decision is made by Vaughn alone and one lackey. Evidently the general has been cut out of the loop for being too fussy.

The problem now, it is clear, has become the guilt of the conspirators more than the saucer itself: Goal displacement once again prevails in public administration.

In fact, the only witnesses gathered are the astronauts and dozens of NASA scientists working on the saucer.

H 18 scientists.jpg

The witnesses about to be obliterated by the ideas man.

The Air Force grunts who dug it up are not there nor the technicians who edited the telemetry, nor are the two farmers who saw it fall and watched the digging from afar. The screen writer erased them I guess because no one will believe them anyway. No one but the ‘National Inquirer’ and ‘Faux News.’ (One imagines how Faux News would work Hillary Clinton in the frame.)

Meanwhile, the NASA scientists enter the saucer and find two dead humanoids killed by a gas leak (precipitated by the collision with the satellite) and that led to the crash-landing of the saucer which is otherwise sound. They also fathom the onboard IOS computer system and the alien language to learn much about these saucerites. Talk about a fast study! Thereafter it is straight from the playbook of Erich von Däniken. Stupid and boring.

When watching the film I read a few reviews, including Vincent Canby in ‘The New York Times’ who was so….[what is the right word] disdainful, I wanted to defend the movie. The tone of Canby’s review is personal irritation that he, reviewer for ‘THE NEW YORK TIMES’ had to review it, but that is hardly the fault of the film-makers. Complain to the assignments manager and in the meanwhile act like a professional and ‘Do your job’ as they say at Foxboro.

The set up reminded me of Stephen Coonts's ‘Saucer’ (2002) which I liked for its mile-a-minute ride. The conundrum of what to do with evidence of alien life also called to mind ‘My Favorite Martian’ but not for long.

This is a B picture par excellence. According to those who say they know, it was rushed out in fifteen days to get into the market ahead of George Pal’s bigger budget, aspiring A picture. ‘Destination Moon’ on which I comment elsewhere on this blog. There was a buzz of anticipation for this latter film and the effort here was to ride on that free publicity.

Flight Mars poster.jpg Spot the Martians in this lobby poster.

It is a melodrama in which the science is displaced by the fiction from the start. The science of space flight is an E-Z boy recliner with some grimaces on takeoff. These intrepid spacemen head for the Moon, and then take a hard right for Mars. So that is how solar navigation works. Please note that the top dog of the mission smokes his pipe while flying the M. A. R. S. to Mars. The mission is called M. A. R. S. for reasons that escaped me. (A lot did because I watched a poor quality print with skips in it and Portuguese subtitles. It’s what I could get at the time.)

Fl;ight Mars poster 2.jpg The latest launch gear.

Why they want to go to M. A. R. S. did not get through to me. Perhaps. because it is T.H.E.R.E.!

They make a hard landing on Mars, though even that seems odd because the Red Planet (in every other sci-fi movie) is white with snow. No idea why. Yes, it is the North Pole of Mars. Maybe it was too dangerous in 1951 to have anything to do with Reds even on Mars. Did I mention science? They emerge from their battered craft in bomber jackets with surgical face masks for the Martian environment shod in war surplus boots soon to be sent to Korea. Oh boy. This seems to have been a come-as-you-are space flight.

That gets even stranger when they encounter the Martians who wear proper-looking and very familiar space suits. (These were borrowed from the Pal production, as were most of the other props.) Let’s get this straight. The aliens from distant Earth are wearing jackets and the local Martians are in spacesuits. Figure that one out.

To spice it all up this crew includes a journalist who is brazen, loud, nosy, and affable. There is also ‘a lady scientist.’ Cringe. Her presence, first in the crew, and later on Mars occasions some truly embarrassing dialogue for which the author was paid. For a start the journalist cannot fathom that a woman could be a scientist, and if by some anomaly in the universe she is, then she is no longer a woman. He makes sure to tell her this a couple of times. This man has charm, and knows it. It gets worse.

She is spared overt sexual harassment by the silent production code of 1950s films, but there is a love quadrangle later that I found as confusing as the participants did.

The crew also includes some geriatrics who were passed fit for bomber jackets. They wax philosophical at times.

On snowy Mars they encounter those real(er) space suits encasing Martians who welcome them with a handshake and a hot meal. Everything seems to be hunky dory. The Martian chief in a red cape to make Zorro envious is that sci-fi stalwart Morris Ankrum, who should have a star on Hollywood boulevard for the most aliens played.

Morris and cape.jpg

Ankrum, per Wikipedia, did a law degree at USC and à la Perry Mason dabbled in amateur theatrics as preparation to be a trial lawyer and liked that better than trial-lawyering. He has an uncanny resemblance, including the voice. to a boyhood friend of mine, and so I always think of Larry when I see him.

Mars may be a bit out of the way, but it is not behind the times. The Martians have monitored Earth radio and television broadcasts since they began so well that they all drive on the left, play baseball, and speak English, which makes eavesdropping a lot easier than it might otherwise have been. After dinner everyone sets to work repairing the spaceship. Maybe it was called M. A. R. S.

The love triangle gets a fourth with one of the Martians (no anatomical details were supplied), Marguerite Chapman, who by the way got top billing on the lobby posters although she does not appear until half-way through. The lady scientist is delighted to learn that Martian technology has automated both the preparation of dinner and the washing up, so she does not have to do it. She loves Mars for its kitchen. This lady scientist, however, shows no interest in how that technology works. Indeed she contributes nothing to the ersatz science and technology while on Mars. Don't blame her, she is written that way.

The Martian women sport surprisingly micro mini skirts in garish CineColors that anticipate the bad taste of Sixties by more than a decade. These get-ups also have ballistic bras and Everest should pads.

Micro skirt.jpg Martian fashion.

The Martian men DO NOT wear flared trousers, so we have something for which to be grateful. But they do sport fey little cloches for hats.

The ingenuity that went into these costume appurtenances has sapped the Martians of the technical capacity to build two-way radios or spaceships. While they can receive everything broadcast on Earth (in English - what will they make of 'Gilligan's Island'?) they cannot transmit. Still less can they build spaceships. What losers!

Warning! Here comes the melodrama. The fossil fuel Martians need for their underground cities (why are there so many moles in sci-fi?) is running out. They had their own Tony Abbot telling them that re-newable energy was unnecessary. Now what, Tony? Morris hatches a desperate and dastardly plan to let the Earthlings complete repairs, and make the ship spaceworthy, then top them, and replicate the ship into an armada to invade Earth, conquer it, and take over a habitable world. He thinks big for his KPI. No wonder he is top dog. See ‘Invaders from Mars’ (1953) where the stalwart Morris, now an Earthling, is to be found with some others from this cast dealing with the consequences of that scheme. What goes around, comes around, Morris.

For those who doubt Tony Abbott’s Martian duel citizenship, take a close look at those ears.

The naive Earthlings press on, but then get a tip off; plot and counter-plot is played out in a static set. B-o-r-i-n-g.

Walter Mirisch produced this lemon, but lived it down to become a big-time Hollywood mogul. He moguled on into his Nineties.

One of the first and best flying saucer movies, but without a flying saucer in sight. Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush star with a very able supporting cast. Jack Arnold keeps the pace moving.

It Came form oUtspace poster.jpg It was made in 3D when that was the fashion for creature features.

The film is dominated not by the leads nor the alien(s) but by the Sonora Desert around Sand Rock, Arizona, replicated in a studio. The screen play and the director make full use of it.

Mojave.jpg The desert created on a soundstage.

There is the starry sky of desert at night. In the early morning comes whispering wind in the telephone wires along an empty highway. In the Death Valley heat of the day prevails an eerie silence of a sun bleached desert. The long shadows of dusk make Joshua Trees seem alive. It is itself an alien environment that serves as a surrogate for the alien(s). (In the same way the Arctic does in 'The Thing from Another World' [1951].)

Richard is an amateur astronomer and with his best girl, Barbara, see a gigantic nocturnal meteor fall nearby and investigate. Whoa! He clambers down into sizzling hole and sees a craft. but before Babs can have a look rocks fall on top of it and conceal it. Was the fall of rock an accident or a contrivance? He does not know.

Will she, the science school teacher, take his word for it, or not?

This is the first of several instances where Richard has to convince another. He does so by persistent reason, evidence, and argument, and he succeeds first with Babs, and later with Sheriff Drake. How rare it was in a Sy Fy thriller to see sceptics brought around by argument and evidence. What it usually takes to change their minds is a god-awful slavering alien as in ‘Killer Klowns from the GOP.’ Not so here. Personal credibility, circumstantial evidence, the accumulation of oddities, and more reach the tipping point.

Richard Carlson is perfectly cast and plays the reserved and introspective intellectual right down to the elbow patches on his Harris tweed sports coat. Later he was busy leading three lives.

At the climax Barbara Rush, blank and expressionless in an inexplicable posh evening gown fit for a royal reception and a flowing scarf, is ethereal on the ridge. She says nothing but nothing is sometimes a lot, Cordelia.

Babs 2.jpg Dressed for dinner with the aliens.

In this regalia she and Richard have a showdown that still surprised me when I watched it again recently on Daily Motion. This is a teaser, more below.

Earlier the telephone repairmen, Joe Sawyer and Russell Johnson, get some of the best lines and moments on camera. Again that is a rarity in the genre for supporting actors to get this much screen time and importance. These two working stiffs respect the desert, and even see poetry in it.

Linemen.jpg The stiffs at work.

Sawyer, the older man, does a memorable turn as a zombie, his face so cold and dead… [Words fall me.]

Joe zombied.jpg Zombied.

Russell is good too but not quite as otherworldly as Joe. Yes, this Russell was later the professor with Gilligan. [Those poor people!] Sawyer served his time later in ‘Rin Tin Tin.’

The alien(s) get up to some mischief and Richard Carlson is on the case and in time slowly convinces others to cooperate, though of course the carrion of the press mock him at every turn. He discovers that an alien ship has crashed and is being repaired in order to leave. To make those repairs it has zombies Joe and Russell and others to work on the ship. Once the repairs are complete, they will leave. Promise. Promise. Promise. Is this Yalta again? Will the Reds leave Eastern Europe after things are righted? Ha! The Sherrif knows his Paul Harvey and does not believe a word of such promises.

Will egghead Richard fall for that line? Is he a fellow traveller? Or will he be a real man and give in to xenophobic hysteria and blast the damn thing!

This is the Cold War moment. Will Richard go all weak and liberal and let the alien(s) complete the business, or will he get all macho and call out the nuclear posse? Which will it be? A shoot out or a truce? Or something in between.

Again a rarity in the genre at the time even to pose such a question, let alone the way it works out.
Spoiler coming. Richard convinces the posse that an accommodation with the alien Reds is best for one and all, and it is. Once the ship has a new muffler, off it goes, first releasing all the zombies.

When Richard follows Babs off the ridge he is in for several surprises. First she tries to lure him to his death. Some squeeze she is. When that fails, she fires her phaser (where did she stash that phaser in that form fitting gown, the fraternity brothers asked) at him and, zig-zag, it cuts into the rock behind him, while he fumbles for the gun in his pocket; he has fumbled for it before, and he....yes, he shoots her dead. Huh! Because he realises she has been zombied, too, and this is not the real her but an avatar used by the aliens.

This is where the logic breaks down. Clunk. It seems that for the aliens to use a person's avatar they have to take physical possession of the body. They create avatars of Joe and Russell to do the shopping and keep their real bodies on alien ice in the cave. See? They have done the same with some others and the avatars are all busy working on the space ship when Richard, fresh from killing avatar Babs rushes in on them. So far so good....

But first, why would aliens need human labor in the first place. Yes, to go into town to buy and steal copper wire, but to work on the ship? Is this a design flaw, that the aliens cannot work on their own ship but need human hands to do that? How low was that bidder.

The human avatars are working under the supervision of.... [wait for it] an avatar of Richard himself with whom he proceeds to negotiate. But, they have his avatar, having earlier cleared his closet of clothes, though no one knows why all his clothes were needed for one scene, but not his body! See? No, neither do I.

But at least two of the aliens have been killed. The avatar Joe was shot by the sheriff's posse at a roadblock and incinerated, and Richard plugged Babs with his fumble shooter. No fuss is made over these collateral KIAs by the aliens.

The sheriff holds off when the real bodies are released in a show of good faith while Richard and himself take a tearful farewell.

Kind of surprising that HUAC did not come red-baiting after the makers of this film, as it did after so many others for so little because a headline is a headline.

Is it an alien or aliens, singular or plural? It is never quite clear. Sometimes there is a subjective camera from the alien point of view, watching the repairmen, or others, through a clouded (vaselined) lens. So simple and so effective. There was a production argument about whether to show the alien. The marketing department won that argument. It wanted a creature to feature on the posters and in the trailers. Something for the women to scream at. Though in fact that never happens in the film, it featured in the advertising. There are lies, damned lies, tweets, and advertising.

In the early 1950s enthusiasm for creature features, Sy Fy got a boost. Ray Bradbury, who later became one of the deans of Sy Fy, was hired to write story for film. He did it in five weeks and turned in a hundred page story. All the ideas are there, but it was not a screen play.

It was turned into a script by a hack who broke up the monologues into dialogues, blocked the content out into scenes, and re-arranged it into set-ups. Then the director went through it and cut much text to be replaced by camera shots, gestures, close-ups, stage directions, and tracking shots. The the producers reorganised it into a shooting schedule to economise on sets, costumes, extras, camera time, and so on. The hundred pages shrank.

In Bradbury’s story the alien is singular and never seen. What is the old adage? Leave the creature unseen and let the reader’s imagination fill it in. But that was too subtle for the creature feature market. Indeed, rubber masks and suits of the creature features were awash at the time and to be competitive in that market segment, there had to be a visual.

It rates a mediocre 6.6 on the IMDB; that puts it level with some of the excrescence of Adam Sandler.

A movie made for the drive-in market, written, produced, and directed by Leonard Katzmann who has a lot to explain. The IMDB score is 3.8/10. With that in mind…. Some 1960s role modelling kills any nostalgia for those days.

In the distant future year 2000 the Space Probe Taurus is launched, though the probe is called Hope One. The crew members say repeatedly that their destination is Tyrus. Watch and listen but Taurus never puts in an appearance. That slip is characteristic of the standard of this waste of celluloid.

Probe gat.jpg Notice the gat in hand. Wanna shake? Ready to shoot.

The crew of four strap into the La-Z-Boy recliners and blast off beyond the solar system. Note: beyond the solar system. Got it? Good, on that more in a moment.

There in deep space they come upon another space ship drifting by. They hail it but no one is picking up the phone. OK, they suit up, and the suits look pretty good (credit the wardrobe department) and float over where they force the door, saying it was not locked. Ah huh, burglars aways say that. Then they enter the engine room and start checking the instruments. Whoops! An alien appears in a rubber suit to protect those delicate instruments. After some mutual staring, the rubber alien refuses the handshake the unwelcome and intruding Hope captain offers, who then promptly shoots the alien with the .45 he was packing into deep space. Bam! So much for first contact. Shake or else!

Wait! It gets worse. They decide to blow up the alien ship. Whatever for? To hide the body of their victim? No, but because gravity will pull it to Earth where it will crash and hurt someone. This from beyond the solar system, remember? Deep space, get it?

Are there any more aliens on board? Are there other alien crew out and about in their rubber suits yet to return to the ship. No one knows. No one checks. No one cares. Boom!

The Probe is called the United States Probe. Not Earth probe, but United States Probe. It fits US foreign policy, bam and boom.

There is more to come. Through no fault of their own they do land on a habitable planet, where they promptly kill the first inhabitant they meet. Consistent anyway. Thereafter they congratulate themselves on finding a habitable world. It will be habitable as soon as all the indigenous inhabitants are murdered. Think Australia. Hence the 'nullius' in the alternative title above.

There is no irony in any of these events. Not hint of it. The acting is leaden. The story, well, what story. The special effects are rubber. Could be I am making it sound better than it is. This'll cork it: Roger Corman made better movies! Thought I would never say that of anything.

The crew of four includes a woman, much to the annoyance of the captain who wants chaps. Bet no one expected that! But she got the job because she is a light weight. Literally. She weighs less than a male scientist. Is this clever or what? (Or what.) The two younger crew men hit on her and she finally relents. The rejected suitor, sacrifices himself to extricate the ship from another blunder. Role modelling, indeed. THE END. Amen.

In the second to last scene we learn that the probe is a desperate effort to find a place to relocate the population of the Earth or is it the United States, for reasons not theretofore mentioned or further explained though i suspected it was the aftermath of a GOP majority. Maybe as the end neared someone thought to justify the mayhem earlier in the film. Hmm. Not likely. Probably filmed that last scene first, a common practice, and then just forgot about it. Something I have tried to do myself.

No one ever watched the last feature at a drive-in, anyway. Wisdom in that, as well as hormones.

Leonard_Katzman.jpg Leonard Katzmann much later.

Thirty years later Katzmann directed more than sixty episodes of ‘Dallas.’ Atonement in that punishing duty?

It has also been released as ‘Timeslip,’ which reveals the plot. It is a low budget science fiction film.

Atomic Man poster.jpgTime slip.jpg

The acting is fine and the direction is crisp in the film noir manner of the era. (It was cheaper to film in low light and so many B movies were noir primarily for this financial reason.) The story is another matter. The science is silly. The villains do their best with underwritten parts. For a thriller there is a lack of urgency.

It was a ’quota quickie’ and that explains its schizophrenia about whether it is American or British. All the cast are British except for the two leads, Gene Nelson and Faith Domergue, but all speak of dollars, not pounds. Newspaper reporter Nelson fastens onto the mystery man pulled from the river who bears an uncanny resemblance to a nuclear scientist splitting atoms at a top top secret installation down the road. Connect the dots.

The secret work is no secret to Nelson who barges in and around with insufferable audacity that only works in movies. Ditto he has no trouble getting into the hospital ward guarded by the police where the victim is lying in a stupor.

Nelson and Domergue are a good team, she being a newspaper photographer.

Dom and Nel.jpg The team at work.

He is the action man and she does the thinking. Sporting a noir trench coat, she figures out the problem and takes several initiatives, unlike the female lead in many films of the era. But she is also stereotypical enough to wait in the car while Nelson does man-stuff, i.e., yelling at people. Don't blame him, he did not write it.

More interesting than anything in the movie is the public policy of the ‘quota quickie’ in post war Great Britain. Westminster legislated that 25% of all cinema screenings be British made. This was not in the interest of stimulating the British film industry which at the time was working at full capacity. No. The purpose was to reduce the importation of American films by crowding them out of the theatres so that the earrings of imported films would not taken out of the country. Subtle, huh? There was no prohibition on American films, but a squeeze on cinema proprietors to discourage showing them.

However, because the British film industry was already at capacity, many studios subcontracted the films needed to meet that 25% quota to all comers, like the legendary Danziger brothers (who could knock of the unforgettable ‘Devil Girl from Mars’ in ten days), and to American shell companies set up in London in response to this opportunity. These American companies in turn put a few American touches in the films so that they could be shown in the States in the bottom half of a program or a drive-in triple feature. (Those were the days.) The touches might be leads like Nelson and Domergue, references to dollars, or mid-Atlantic accents from Brits.

This practice of subcontracting undermined the purpose of the policy yet complied with it and yet all the same channeled the money into American companies, actors, and writers.

Nelson started as a dancer but three years in the army in World War II ended the dancing days. In movies he played opposite Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, and Virginia Mayo early in his career but as their stars ascended his did not. Who knows why. In this film he is energetic, times his lines exactly, and knows where to look, as they say behind the camera. Television offered him a second bite of the apple and there he turned to directing and made quite a career of that.

Domergue, once a protege of Howard Hughes, played a scientist in a number of B sci-fi pics like ‘This Island Earth’ (1955), which is a keeper. There is pathos here because plastic surgery figures heavily in the plot of ‘The Atomic Man’ and she herself had extensive plastic surgery as a young woman when a car crash sent her through a windscreen.

The story is by Charles Eric Maine, who also did the screen play; he was a science fiction writer with little interest in and no knowledge of science. It shows.

C E Maine.jpg

He was really a detective writer who used science fiction conventions to set up his stories, and viewed against those expectations this film is worth more than the 5.4 rating on the IMDB. This film is not science fiction. The action turns around a nuclear research laboratory and that is it. He has a long list of titles ascribed to science fiction.

For those who thought ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980) was rock bottom, try this offering.

Starship Invastion.jpg

Leading the cast are Christopher Lee and Robert Vaughn. Quality right? Wrong!

The acting is Easter Island stone faces. Lips not moving. Not moving?

The aliens are telepathic; ergo their lips are sealed. Most of the film shows expressionless actors staring at each other with a voiceover for the dialogue. Exciting stuff, not. This has to be the dumbest production decision ever made, well, apart from casting Tom Cruise in anything. Christopher Lee as the chief villain imitates a department store window mannequin in a black onesie with a hood over wires on his head to make him look even stranger than usual. That works. He looks constipated.

Lee in uniform.jpg Here is Christopher Lee lips sealed ordering the destruction of the human population of Earth. Ho hum.

Even in the midst of a CGI spaceship battle the extras move like mannequins. An alien commander yells to his only underling, ‘Quick, shields up!’ The underling moves like he is underwater to the console, only to discover it has been sabotaged. That is quick? By the way, was this minion the one who failed to do the pre-flight check? After corporate downsizing, the alien is reduced to one underling. No backup.

Vaughn as a UFO scientist has a few lines which he manfully utters, but mostly the aliens read his thoughts. (I could read them, too, namely ‘Get me out of here! I am going to fire my agent!’) The UFOs whiz around, crash onto highways, are sighted by crowds of airforce personnel in a flyover, land in front the Toronto telephone exchange to steal some vital — as if! — computer equipment (1970s telephone routers, evidently picking up a few things for ET to use in calling home), and crash into the tower of the Bank of Montreal (which relocated to the safety of Toronto when the PQ won an election, and now this), while the authorities and media use alternative facts to deny the existence of UFOs. Faux News strikes again. That part is credible.

The one interesting idea in the screenplay is mentioned and then dropped. Early in the going Christopher Lee examines human DNA and concludes that his own race is the offspring of ancient Earthlings. Huh? How did that happen? But Lee puts aside such girly question and...villain that he is, does not hesitate for a moment to order the planetary extermination of his forbears. That intriguing idea was never mentioned again. It is treated in an episode of ‘Captain Future’ (1948) with far more energy and wit.

The Internet Movie Data Base offers a plot summary, which I do not have the will to do so myself. Yes there is a plot of sorts. The rating there of 4.0 seems high, though, as always, some liked it. That 4 is an average; some of the scorers gave it an 8 or so to balance my 1. (A '0' cannot be cast. i know; I've tried.) Think about that. The only explanation of this celluloid muddle is the tax credits the Ontario government once offered foreign film companies when it laboured under the delusion it was going to create Onty-wood on the Mississauga. This cheap production was subsidised by Ontario taxpayers. Hence some of the supporting actors, like Vaughn’s screen wife, speak with the Ottawa Valley accent.

Another overblown and undercooked science fiction film with a sizeable budget is this entry: ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980), a CGI vehicle for John-Boy Walton, and little else.

Battle Beyond Stars poster.jpg

The set-up is intriguing and there are some imaginative elements along with some major talents in supporting roles, but it is decidedly underdone. It transposes ‘The Seven Samurai’ (1954) directed by Akira Kurosawa to outer space via ‘The Magnificent Seven’ directed by John Sturges (1960). Though not credited the word on the web sites is that Roget Corman directed ‘Battle Beyond the Stars.’ That alone would explain why it is so lifeless, listless, and down right lazy. Kurosawa and Sturges could direct a script from the telephone book and make it interesting, not so Corman who could make ‘The Fall of House of Usher boring.’ Not could, did.

The imaginative element was mostly in the creature-features, always a speciality of Corman. There are several but the one that caught my eye was the multiple Nestor who got the only zinger in the dialogue — ‘We always carry a spare.’ In the context it gives chuckle. And the spare comes in handy. (There is pun there for the cognoscenti.)

Nesstor.jpg Nestor(s)

And Nestor got the only really science fiction element in this shoot ‘em space western with the moving arm. But two moments in 1hr and 44m is too little.

The major talents are Robert Vaughn and John Saxon, both of whom play their parts with deadly earnestness, and George Peppard, who quite obviously wanted to be elsewhere, and should have been. Vaughn reprises his role from the 1960 ‘The Magnificent Seven’ as a world weary, no, galaxy weary, phaser-slinger, though what his particular talents are as a murderer for hire receive no explanation, nor is there any character development apart from his clenched jaw, and ennui filled sighs.

Vaughan jaw.jpg Vaughn and jaw.

In contrast, John Saxon is a wonderful one-armed galactic villain! He is steely and focussed enough to burn through steel, as if this role were his chance at the stardom that eluded Carmine Orrico.

Saxon mean.jpg Saxon scowling.

He does not drool nor scratch, but otherwise he has all the mannerisms of a major league Hollywood villain. He shouts at underlings, describes them as idiots, delights in torturing helpless victims, indulges his senses, devises impossible key performance indicators, cuts budgets, wait, he starting to sound like someone for whom I once worked.

A final confrontation between Saxon and Vaughn might have added up to something.

As it is, the crescendo, and I do mean crescendo because it is loud, of the movie is a twenty minute plus CGI shoot out that goes on and on, and on. (I did the crossword while the CGIs duked and nuked it out.) Peppard, Vaughn, and the Valkyrie, and finally Saxon get killed. At that point the film lost all interest for me, while the ever prepubescent John-Boy waxed on.

Did I mention the Valkyrie? No? What an omission!

VAlkyrie.jpg Spot the Valkyrie!

She has to be seen to be believed. Roger Corman can do some things right and she is one of them. Sybil Danning, need I say more, the queen of B-movie babes who started her career, I do not joke, with ‘The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried.’ Lucky Siegfried.

The mystery is how Roger Corman got such talents to work for him as Vaughn, Peppard, Saxon, and, this time let us not forget, Danning. These players are way above his usual payroll. John-Boy must have had some influence.

A pair of micro-budget parodies of big budget science fiction movies that offer more diversion than most of the films they mimic. Indeed while composing these bons mots I (tried) to watch 'Saturn 3' (1980) with Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel. It has a big cast, all that hair from Farrah Fawcett, and a big budget and set designs beyond the pale. It is pretentious and portentous. Now if it just had a story, a sense of humour, a purpose....something. I flicked away after twenty minutes. That the screen play was by Martin Amis probably explains all of that. (I tried reading one of his novels year ago, and it felt good when I stopped.) While enduring it I found a review from the doyen of reviewers, Roger Ebert, who mercilessly caned it. Amen, Brother Roger.

The ‘Space Invaders’ are the Z-team from a Martian armada bound for Alpha Centura. This hapless crew mis-read the map (upside down) and missed the fleet rendezvous (awoke too late) and is roaming around (lost in space) trying to catchup, meanwhile exhausting the fuel. Think of those laggards with the Spanish Armada in 1588 who stormed ashore in Norway to… I was told once that the genetic inheritance from these dimwits explains both the swarthy genes and the stupidity of some Norwegians. It was Swede who passed the word on this.

Spaced Invaders poster.jpg

While tooling around in the flying saucer the spaced-out invaders intercept a broadcast of Orson Wells’s ‘War of the Worlds.’ It being Halloween a local radio station is airing an old recording for the occasion. These dolts from space lock on to that signal and land in…Hicksville Illinois, blasters drawn and ready for a fight. It is Halloween so one and all are decked out as the weird and wonderful; ergo they fit right in. What if the Martians invaded and no one noticed? They did. They didn't. Just as well because a dolt forgot to charge the blasters.

Moreover, the townsfolk are in an expansive mood because an off-ramp from the I-80 has been built which will bring untold tourist wealth to this dying farm town when motorists fill one tank and empty another. (Think about it, Mortimer.) A few odd little guys in strange costumes are most welcome.

The cast of small town inhabitants is marvellous. The wannabe dumb blonde who cannot quite conceal her superior intelligence but irony is not something much noticed. The shy gas pump jockey pines for her but she’s out of his league so he studies advanced physics journals between horn honks for service from the town bullies. The jostling among the local magnates to take credit for the off-ramp goes on in costume. Then there is Royal Dano, instantly recognisable and whose memorable name is never remembered, as a cantankerous farmer who is about to lose his farm to a slimy small-time, small-town developer.

Dano conference.jpg Dano in conference with the Xers.

Vainly trying to keep order in this mix — the farmer has a shotgun or two and the developer has a bulldozer — is the lantern-jawed sheriff whose ten-year old daughter really likes the costumes of the Martians. Upon discovering they are not costumes, she says, ’They’re not bad. just stupid.’ Very.

Sapced invaders the F team.jpg The Z-Team.

Delightful mayhem ensues. The off-ramp is offed. The developer loses his shirt and much else. The dizzy blonde figures it out. The gas pump jockey discovers the inner he-man. The angry farmer has the means to put things right. (Think silos.) With his help the Spaced Invaders might be able to catch-up with the Martian Amanda, or at least get to Norway and enrich the gene pool.

Segue.

‘Dark Star’ started as a student project by John Carpenter who went on to bigger but not always better things.

It is refreshing change of pace from so many portentous and pretentious A and B science fiction films about the meaning of life or the end of the world. Oh hum.

Dark Satr poster.jpg

This entry is strictly working class. Five grunts who share a disheveled and no doubt odiferous dorm room on a space scow go about their business obliterating planets with smart, and talkative, bombs. They are galactic garbage men clearing up the detritus. That the planets may or may not be inhabited is of no interest to them. The planets are in the way of West-Connex and have to be demolished to create a space route. Sydneysiders know all about this mega road project which is consuming whole suburbs in its path. It is the local version of Boston’s Big Dig and has been in the offing even longer than that behemoth.

Cinephiles will think of the later ‘Quark’ (1977), but Quark was not working class. A garbage scow yes, but piloted by the well-spoken, highly educated, very clean, and aspirational Richard Benjamin who hopes for a promotion and a better assignment. None of that fits ‘Dark Star.’ This crew has topped out with Dark Star. Their career and life trajectories are down, not up.

On board Dark Star an industrial accident has killed the captain but head office demands that the remaining crew press on, though the faults on the ship multiply, even as their budget is cut-and-cut again. Situation normal.

To relieve some of the boredom one member of the crew has a pet. Which tickles. Even in elevator shafts. Has to be seen.

Meanwhile, systems on the ship malfunction, but appeals to head office for permission to put in for repairs are denied. Off camera I imagined the suits in the boardroom suppose the ship, Dark Star, is beyond repair and that these working stiffs are expendable. The crew members are contractors, so there will be no payout to beneficiaries. Mangers managing.

Indeed most of the events can be explained from the McKinsey management manual, though it is well before the Age of Managers Managing. Shiver! That would make a slasher movie.

It all finally comes to a head …. There is a Silver Surfer at end. Intriguing that.

Apart from the gung-ho talking bombs, and the tickler, another high point is the sound track, most of it written and some of it performed by John Carpenter before he turned his hand to slasher movies with which he made a killing.

Dark Star bomb.jpg One of the smart (-mouthed) bombs.

Roget Ebert liked it and that is all I needed to know.

A low-key science fiction movie about, oh um, the end of the world. The set-up is interesting, but it limps in the middle and reaches a puzzling conclusion.

27Day Poster.jpg A misleading lobby poster. There are no zapping flying saucers chasing Valerie French in a bathing suit.

Gene Barry with his experience in outwitting Martians from the red planet at the height of the Cold War in ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1953) is here, sporting a RAF moustache that looks so fake that we knew it would have to go and it did. Arnold Moss as the alien is so effortlessly grave that … [on him more at the end].

Five individuals from around the world - Chinese, Russian, American, Brit, and Dutch - are plucked from their routine and plonked into plastic chairs in a bland conference room looking very modernistic though not modern. There is nothing special about them, one a villager, another a sentry, a press hack, a sunbather, and a scientist. With gender diversity the Chinese and the Brit are women. The Dutch scientist is in fact visiting the United States, so that gives Uncle Sam two.

After having proven to the gathering that they are on a spaceship, Arnold Moss presents the dilemma. His planet is doomed and the population must relocate. These are planetary asylum seekers. The Third Rock will do nicely, but being pacifists, they cannot conquer though it is evident that their technology is far superior. Even big Gort seems a clumsy relic against Moss’s magic.

27 DAy.jpg You have the power! (An early iPhone advertisement?)

Apparently, neither can they negotiate. Instead Arnie will give each of the five a weapon (the size of an iPhone) that cam destroy their enemies. Note, it destroys only persons and not material. It works by thought control. If these weapons are not used by the end of the 27th day, the aliens will look elsewhere for suitable real estate and leave Earth alone, and the weapons will become useless. The explanation of the weapons is as detailed and as incomprehensible as McKinsey-speak but it covered every contingency the screenwriters could imagine, however, there is no manual for those who were not paying attention.

Knowing Earth history, it seems the aliens assume that some or all of the weapons will be used, and in effect that will depopulate the planet for their immigration. Rather like the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War stopping short of Paris, leaving the French there to murder each other and to save ammunition. Cynical. But then look at the news today.

During the briefing, Gene Barry gets the phone number of the English woman, clad in a bathing suit because she was plucked from the beach (hence the poster above), and then ‘Hey, presto!’ they are right back where they came from. She promptly throws her device into the sea, telephones Gene, and flies to LAX. She certainly has initiative and tenacity.

The Chinese woman, who says not a word and has no close-up, commits suicide. This seems to be in reaction to the massacre of her village which was underway when she was alien-napped. The cadre were practicing on the helots, they way they do.

The Soviet sentry is dumbfounded and keeps his mouth shut.

The Dutch scientist is on his way to a conference in New York City to which he now travels. Thus three possessors of this doomsday weapon and two of the devices are Stateside.

Sitting tight is not an option, because ….. Spoiler.

Because alien Arnold Moss goes on the air around the world on every radio and television channel, he is more of media hog than the Twit in Chief. He tells everyone about the weapons and names the five who possess them. Cover blown! He had not told the five that he was going to rat them out like that!

The Feds latch onto the Dutchman as he lands at La Guardia.

Barry, having peeled off that moustache, thus disguised he grabs the Brit bit at LAX before the Forces of Order spot her, and together they head off to a hideout he just happens to know. (Probably cased it when dealing with those pesky Martians earlier.)

Pause for thought. Five randomly picked individuals have a doomsday weapon in their pockets. What will they do with them? That is one interesting proposition. Some will see parallels with the New Testament; I did.

Individual choice is quickly compromised by the public broadcast of their names. The Soviet grunt is arrested, suborned, tortured, but remains silent for a time. His motivation is left a blank. In the end, rather than see the weapon used he commits suicide by throwing himself out of an upper story window.

Barry and his girl puzzle over what to do in their hideout. The Dutchman, like the Soviet, keeps the secret…for a time. Though he is pressured relentlessly by the CIA operatives, but none of his inquisitors brought a waterboard.

The second interesting proposition concerns how others react. That an alien is at work becomes accepted by authorities and the public at large. The five individuals are then seen in the ensuing panic to be agents of the alien with Rush Limbaugh-like hysteria laid on. Imagine that! A man bearing a resemblance to Barry, remember that mo, is murdered by a mob. Add Faux News to that equation and the lynchings would be general.

Barry’s idea is to sit out the twenty-seven days, and by some miracle he and his squeeze seem to have enough provisions in the two bottomless grocery store paper bags they have to survive for the duration (of the film) undetected. Until….

Yes, the Soviet grunt finally cracks and the weapon is now available to the USSR, which promptly proclaims it to blackmail the USA to pull out of Europe and Asia. Uncle Sam complies.

This turn of events brings patriot Barry and Valerie out of hiding in the hour of need. The Western Alliance of the American Barry, the Brit bit, an the Dutch professor stall but time is running out. The Russkies know that the weapon will lapse at the end the twenty-seventh day so if it is to be used then it must be before then. To prevent a retaliation from the weapon(s) in the USA, the best time to use is just before expiration. The Cold War context weighs heavily throughout.

Meanwhile, Barry and company test the iPhone weapon app and it does indeed work. Ergo the compliance noted above.

But the professor has a trick or two up his academic gown. When Moss handed over the devices he said it has ‘the power of life and death.’ Significant that? He did not say ‘life or death.’ This egghead applies himself to re-programming the devices with his big brain so as to kill only ‘the enemies of freedom.’ Wow!

We all have candidates for that hit list. Think of whom Ayn Rand would put on that list. Try not to think of Rush Limbaugh. Try harder!

Ayn Rand.jpg Ayn Rand

As the clock ticks and the Soviets prepare to activate the weapon app, the professor does his stuff and … that is it. ‘The enemies of freedom’ die! How easy was that! Lots of Russkies pile up in the streets.

In the aftermath at the United Nations there is an expansive spirit of unity of those who made the cut and Barry suggests offering the aliens some help. Maybe they could inhabit the parts of the Earth that are uninhabitable. The Antarctic is mentioned. New Jersey near the Kardashians seems logical? Some nice real estate in the Gobi Desert can be had for a price. This message is broadcast, and on the eighth ring Arnold Moss answers and rather than accept the offer instead welcomes the Earth into the community of 30,000 worlds! Whoa!

Huh? Was this some kind of fraternity initiation? That seemed to be the conclusion invited by Moss's last remarks. Such a test for admission is a common theme in sci-fi but here it is explained no further.

The film drags in the middle with Barry and the Brit in the hideout listening to the radio. The minutes seemed like hours to them and to me, too. The whole exercise would have been much better in a half-hour Twilight Zone or Science Fiction Theatre episode.

A few notes. Two suicides. The voluntary production code that dominated Hollywood at the time forbade suicides in word or deed. Yet there are two here. The Chinese woman early on and the Soviet soldier near the end. Perhaps because they were both commies, they were better dead than red.

Both the women endowed with the weapon reject it. The Chinese throws it on the fire burning the remains of the village before committing Chinese-kari and the Brit throws it into the sea before flying to Hollywood, well, LA. Lesson? Never trust a woman with a weapon of mass destruction.

Moss 27.jpg Arnold Moss (1910-1989)

Moss appeared in ‘The Conscience of the King’ in ‘Star Trek: TOS’ as Karidian the executioner. With his aristocratic bearing, perfect diction, and melliferous baritone voice he always dominated any scene. Something (else) William Shatner complained about. Moss was Phi Beta Kappa with a Columbia PhD who constructed crossword puzzles for the ‘New York Times’ while waiting on sets.

This film rates a miserable and miserly 5.9 from 660 votes on the IMDB. That puts in the company of some Roger Corman’s creations.  Democracy, so overrated, as Plato said.

This is a thoughtful science fiction film about racism and bigotry in a post-apocalyptic world.  It starts with 92% mortality in a nuclear war, the origin of which is unknown, after which the survivors have created ever more elaborate and human-like robots. The robots are programmed to serve the best interest of humanity! Always tricky that, just ask anyone in politics. (Only journalists know all the answers.)

Humaoids cover.jpg A lobby poster

The robots are necessary but they have to stay in their place! Evidently some Republicans survived — no holocaust is ever perfect — and those who most want to restrict the robots are members of the Order of Flesh and Blood, i.e., code for the GOP. Indeedy. These Luddites accept the work the robots do so long as they look and act like mechanical contrivances and stay in their distant and inferior place. Jack Haley as the Tin Man in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is their idea of a good robot.

However, the robots themselves realise that such Tin Men are inefficient. They are technically inefficient, clumsy of movement, slow afoot, so they improve themselves with each new iteration. (The make-up is good on this.) The more important way in which they are inefficient is that there are social and psychological barriers between them and human co-workers. Some humans refuse to work with these talking machines.

The robots face the facts: the long term effects of the massive radiation unleashed in the forty minute war has doomed the capacity for human reproduction. The birth rate is falling at an increasing rate.

Humanoids confer.jpg The robots confer on their Key Performance Indicators.

For the Flesh and Blooders the answer is simple, ahem, as always, to get rid of those damn robots. Period. Their service makes us soft! Rid of them, humanity would fend for itself and grow stronger again, scientific evidence be damned! Ayn Rand should get credit for this part of the script. In her world the will power of rugged individuals could triumph over any old facts.

The Flesh and Blooders wear party hats and harass those who support and use robots. (On the hats, read below.) They skulk around robot recharging stations. Among themselves, the robots call the charging stations temples and refer to the master computer with admirable and anticipatory political correctness as the Mother/Father or Father/Mother. As it turns out, there is a point to this mumbo-jumbo.

Humanity is dying out and the robots will have to put a stop to it. And they do!

The drama is played out with two principle characters (Don Megowan and Erica Elliott).  The irony is that the Luddite leader, vociferous and violent, is himself an undercover humanoid!  But wait there's more. His squeeze is also one of THEM!  The explanation of all of that is ingenious and thought-provoking.

It is all talk and no action against cardboard sets spray painted in primary colours.   It seemed more like a play than a movie, but the talk is interesting and I paid attention. A rarity that. That there is no action, that the women are fully clothed, and that it is complicated talk must together explain the democratic rating. The Maestro of 'Dark Corners of this Sick World' Robin Bales, no democrat he, also shreds it for the inertia and the inconsistencies in the story, while admitting that it is full of ideas. The alleged inconsistency is that it starts out about the downtrodden robots and then shifts to the future of humanity. Get with it Robin! It is a segue. Stories develop.

By the way, he, too. suspected theatrical origins but evidently found no confirmation, an inference since he left the point hanging. Just the sort of omission he derides in the films he reviews with his razor tongue.

Don Megowan, large of size, chiselled of chin, deep of voice, dark of hair, was a stalwart in television westerns for years, while Erica Elliot quit with this role, she also started with it, as did the director Don Doolittle whose coda was a nice touch.

Doolittle Dr.png Dr Doolittle, who talked to the vacuum tubes.

The opening credits say ‘Introducing Don Doolittle’ and the Internet Movie Data Base indicates this introduction was also his finale.

The hats the Flesh and Blooders wear are ersatz Confederate forage hats. They were sold as novelties at the centenary of the Civil War. Yes, I had one.

Humanoid hats.jpg Big Don is the big one.

Did they purloin those hats from the dustbins after a revival of ‘Gone with the Wind?’ Who knows. It is all of a piece with the hundred dollar budget for the film.

I came across it on You Tube when trawling for 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s science fiction.

It has whet my appetite for ‘Real Humans’ (2012), a Swedish series aired here, which for reasons lost to time, we did not watch.

Jaded cinephiles will think of Isaac Asimov’e ‘I, Robot’ and ‘Blade Runner.’ Readers may recall 'Tin Men' (1965) by Michael Frayn, which tried awfully hard to be funny.

One of the great westerns.  It combines a young director with two of the wisest hands on the ranch. Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea between them must have been in more than a hundred and fifty oaters. McCrea made it a point only to accept roles in Westerns and Scott did virtually the same thing though less explicitly. I would like to think that they did so for the same reasons that Justin Playfair gives in ‘They Might be Giants’ for only watching western movies. See the review of this latter film elsewhere on this blog for further explanation.

Ride High poster.jpg

The gossip is that McCrea and Scott flipped a coin to see who played the good guy and the not so good guy.  What a tour de force for the young director, Sam Peckinpah, and what a swan song for Scott and McCrea who both retired after this film, Scott at 64 and McCrea at 58.  

Scoot=McCrea.jpg A publicity photograph.

Two ageing lawmen find the west has changed and so have they.  It is no longer in need of them. One has become a sideshow barker and the other a bar-room bouncer.  Then a job comes up, one with a modest reward but it smacks of the old days and the old ways, off they go once again a team. One is losing his sight and other has arthritis but this is too good an opportunity to miss….for one of them it offers vindication and for the other one it offers something more venal.  

In 1962 audiences were also changing and the Western was on the way out. Nor was there any further need in Hollywood for these two old actors in particular. The screenplay reflects their own situation, too.  It becomes a story about the actors as well as the characters they embody.  

The tattered McCrea remains steadfast, but the flamboyant Scott has heard a different drum, after countless brawls, wounds, ambushes, shoot outs, injuries, chases, beatings, falls, and betrayals it is time to taste the honey. With what he thinks is subtlety Scott tries to suborn McCrea who seems not to realise what is going on. Subplots add depth and as in every Peckinpah film, each character however minor has a name.  Edgar Buchanan’s brief speech at the wedding, Federico Fellini could not have done better, gave me pause for thought.

Peckinpah.jpg Sam Peckinpah

The Biblical reference to ‘entering the house justified’ is another gem.*  Any close observer of Peckinpah’s films will realise, he was student of the Bible and studded his films with imagery and lines from parables, hymns, letters, psalms, and words of the prophets. 

The landscape of the high country is an elegy to a cleaner, better world made foul by humanity at its worst.  

high-country.jpg

Then the denouement comes. Perfect. The exchange of looks between McCrea and Scott constitute a master class in acting in a few seconds. Each man sums up his own celluloid career in a single glance.

Ride High End.jpg The end.

Then there is that last line of dialogue delivered by McCrea as his sun sets.  Moving and marvellous.  Redemption is even sweeter than honey.  

*Luke, 18:14

A very cold Cold War film noir set in the Berlin of 1953, just after the Korean War. Everyone is on edge. The military presence — USA, Great Britain, Soviet Union, and France — in Berlin is considerable. Is there going to be a European encore for the Korean War there in Berlin?

NP poster.jpg

Gregory Peck is in US counter-intelligence, trying to extract a Soviet defector when he is lumbered with the kidnapping of an American soldier, a private, with a very influential and noisy father, played to a T by Broderick Crawford. It is taken as obvious that the Soviets have nabbed the son, but why?

Crawford flies to Berlin to show the paper-pushing bureaucrats how to get results in the real world! This he tells to newsmen whose circumspect replies tip off viewers to what will follow.

In this Berlin human beings are trafficked in all kinds of ways and this incident is another example of that. Nothing happens by chance. Everything connects, somehow, but how?

Crawford discovers a world where insistent bluster and big bucks do not matter one whit. No one wants his money and his bellows fall on deaf ears. Peck gives him a marvelous dressing down but Peter van Eyck does even better in an earlier and lower key scene in breaking the news that his big money and many friends mean nothing in this time and place.

Before he became Jed Clampett, Buddy Ebsen is a perfect chorus to Peck who is effortlessly glamorous and briskly decisive, while Ebsen is an ‘ah shucks a good ole boy,’ but one who knows how to get things done even in this dark and menacing place.

Pecl, Crawford, Ebsem.jpg

Much of the screen play is cryptic by today’s standards. It takes awhile to realise that the extraction is afoot, and the importance of that briefcase Peck constantly carries around slowly dawns. He carries it around, I inferred, because in it he has the most top secret confidential documents that he does not trust, even to a safe at HQ. It is always in his hand or always in his sight. Almost.

Since he is there, Peck insists that Crawford witness the proceedings. He does and it is an eye-opener for him, and a growth experience, though Crawford’s change of heart is a little too quick but the clock ticks relentlessly in this film, and if the final result is just a little too easy, it does wrap everything up with a mighty twist.

There is a lot of talk and virtually no action. In Hollywood terms that makes it cerebral and it would probably not be made today in this way. Most of it occurs in offices or rooms, with one scene in a bar and another at the loading dock of a hospital. One punch is thrown when Peck strikes a woman!

Nunnally Johnson (1897-1977) wrote the screenplay and it is a corker for its overall plot, its humanity, and dialogue.

Nunnally Johnson.jpg If only.....

Among his many other credits are ‘Grapes of Wrath’ (1939), ‘Tobacco Road’ (1941), ’The Moon is Down’ (1943), ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1953), and ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ (1956). The themes in these films include that depression, corruption, oppression, anti-semitism, and racism, and then there is the delightful comedy of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire.’

The military parade at the beginning does drag on but to original audiences in 1954 it would have been reassuring, and it segues nicely into the plot. Original audiences would also have seen that both Peck and Ebsen wear uniforms with shoulder patches indicating combat service in World War II and both uniforms sport impressive ribbons betokening Silver and Bronze Stars. They have been in the shooting war.

I watched it on a DVD acquired from Amazon.

One of the many Westerns that Gregory Peck (1916–2003) made. That alone recommends it. The opening scene is superb and those that follow in the first act are on a par with it. Then comes the slide….

Stalking moon cover.jpg

The silence, the eternal and forbidding landscape, the big sky, and the taciturn dialogue get it off to a good start.

Robert Forster steals some scenes from his mentor Peck, but ever gracious Peck rolls with it. Forster has since been in every television program there is but never equalled this turn.

Foster cards.jpg Robert Foster waits.

There are some moments of humour as with the train ticket that it would take an IRS accountant to figure out.

Harder to take is that chiseled block of satin wood, Eva Marie Saint. That she is largely silent helps but the constant squeeze of the frontal lobes indicates her thespian range. When she speaks it is in whispers which I suppose is to add to the drama. It didn’t. (I admit that she was superb in ‘Don’t Come Knocking’ [2005] with Sam Shepard. Maybe with age directors were less inclined to limit her to eye-candy.)

Most of the faults of this film, however, lie with the screenplay and the director, Robert Mulligan (he of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’), and not the players. Where to start?

Eva, after ten years of (implied) brutal captivity, emerges with makeup intact and speaks English within five minutes as though nothing had happened. It is a strength of the screenplay that what happened is left to the viewers imagination and not stated, agreed. Yet she is none the worse for it.

Peck’s change of heart is a plot device and nothing more. It does not emerge from the events or his character. He says she can cook for him and Ned, but in the only scene of cooking, Ned, does not eat with them. Ned, too, is a plot device and meets the fate of a Star Trek Red Shirt in due course. That was obvious from his first appearance.

The aggrieved indian husband come to fetch home his son is granted no humanity. He is a spectre. Yet Peck has stolen his son as well as his wife. Why Peck chose to invite his wrath remains a mystery. This indian is supposed to be preternatural, yet when the showdown comes he is very visible and it must have taken practice to miss him with fusillade of rifle shots fired at him. He on the other hand drills Forester with one shot.

For a spectre he was none too bright. He lured the two younger men away but did not then go back to fetch his boy, who would have willingly come to him. Instead he prolongs the movie another twenty minutes. So that he can do the same thing again. In a Randolph Scott movie, made on a smaller budget, this kind of repetition did not exist.

But then Peck seems to lack smarts, too. In the last confrontation the indian is backlit in a doorway and Peck has a cocked rifle in hand, but waits politely for nemesis to enter the darkened room and shut the door so that they can slug it out in the dark. Go figure that one, Mortimer. Shouting at Peck to shoot, did not work. Indeed many of the interiors are too dark to see much.

Indeed the boy is likewise not granted humanity. He is a prop for Eva. That he might have collaborated with his father at the moment of truth seemed on the cards (joke, but to get it see the movie) but was forgotten come the time.

While decrying plot devices there is the dog. It is not present until needed for one scene, then is conjured as the watchdog. Ned’s reaction as that of a hardbitten frontiersman is a scriptwriter's cliché.

The final contest between the two alpha males is a forgone conclusion. If that is all that was at stake, we all knew how that would end, and we did not need 1 hour and 59 minutes to get there.

I watched it on Daily Motion and read Roger Ebert’s contemporary review. He nailed it. But then when did he not?

The ‘7th Cavalry’ (1956) is about the aftermath of the Battle of Little Big Horn in June of 1876 when many plains indians united in the Great Sioux War. George Custer led his seven hundred troops into a trap of which he was warned by scouts and against the objections of subordinates. Though dead when this story starts, Custer’s pall lies over it all. He is lionised as a great leader, soldier, general, man, and paragon down to his yellow hair. On him more at the end.

7 cavalary poster.jpg Lobby poster.

The story is a combination court room drama, star crossed lovers (for once Scott gets the girl), dissension in the ranks, and a culture clash.

The tension arises because Scott was sent on leave by Custer just before he set out for the valley of the Big Horn River. It was verbal order and in a subsequent inquiry the suspicion arises that Scott had deserted and is lying about the order. (How anyone could believe for a nanosecond that Scott would do something so dastardly beggars belief.) The result of the inquiry is inconclusive.

Then comes an order from distant Washington D.C. to retrieve the bodies of the now honoured dead. Gulp! The war is on and that is a battlefield. There are seven hundred dead, only a few hundred remain in the fort, demoralised, frightened, and confused without the great Custer.

Who will do it?

Scott volunteers.png I'll go.

Scott steps forward. (Of course.) He’ll go where the others fear to tread. With a detail of a few misfits not otherwise needed by the garrison, off he goes, tall in the saddle as always. The misfits include J. C. Flippen, Frank Faylen, and Denver Pyle. Familiar faces all. How this handful of misfits is going to bury hundreds and cart home the remains of the officers is anyone's guess.

There are many vistas of the Alabama Hills where it was filmed, and much dissension in the ranks, which Scott deals with - wallop. Denver Pyle is ever reliable as a malingering whiner.

The high point of the picture is the negotiation at the Big Horn with the Sioux, who are forbearing, dignified, and conscientious.

Negotation.jpg The negotiation.

The Sioux belief that the spirit of slain enemies nourishes their strength means the dead must remain in situ, especially Yellow Hair, the leader. Hearing this explanation from a Christian mission-reared Sioux, Scott says, ‘but you know that is all superstition’ to which the Sioux replies ‘just like your Christianity.’ Scott offers no reply. Superb. A moral and intellectual standoff between two well-meaning individuals who are now on a collision course.

Spoiler alert! Though guns are drawn and arrows slung, an ominous silence reigns. What Hollywood director would dare do that today? Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse have no wish to desecrate the field, but neither will they relinquish the bodies.

For the denouement have a look on Daily Motion.

It is a loose end that the messenger whose testimony finally and fully exonerates Scott does not seem ever to have delivered this testimony, and is killed without a comment. It was Harry Carey Jr.

George Custer had a great press, partly because of the efforts of wife and widow. He was careless with the lives of his men throughout his career, though of course he took the same risks himself, if that is any consolation. In the spring of 1865 when the ghost Army of Northern Virginia manoeuvred out of the deathtrap of its trenches at Petersburg, Custer ordered his cavalry division into a frontal attack on a scant division of emaciated infantry under Richard Anderson's command.

Think about it. Men on horseback at a distance of several miles array in a line and then gallop over water courses of a wet spring and scrub bush toward a line of infantry men who, seeing them far off, had enough time to build defensive breastworks of fencing and wagons, unlimber and aim artillery, and to lock and load, take aim, and fire, long, long before the horsemen get close. An infantry musket had a killing range of five hundred yards. In the hands of a marksman the range was as much a 1,200 yards.

The feeble grey infantry killed a great many mounted bluecoats and broke the attack. It was madness. Custer’s command had the latest repeating rifles but even if an trained horseman could handle the weapon while galloping, the chance of hitting anything were near zero and reloading once the first seven shots were fired was impossible at a gallop.

The advantage of numbers saved the day, and the headlines, for Custer. His vastly larger force withdrew and flanked the Confederate line and compelled a withdrawal. How much better it would have been for the widows and orphans of the men in his command if the flanking move had preceded, and thereby obviated, the frontal attack. There was no Tennyson to immortalise this catastrophe. Yet the Custer publicity machine turned it into a great victory for him at Little Sailor’s Creek.


This might be the best of the seven Ranown (Boetticher-Brown-Kennedy-Scott) movies. Why? The complexity of the plot and the surprise ending. Well, it surprised me and I thought I knew the formula backward. In fact, the end, the last scene is most fitting, though it left me wondering about a few things.

Ride poster.jpg A lobby poster.

It starts as the usual story. Scott is the cryptic loner who appears from the dust to aid the damsel, Karen Steele, in distress. He has in tow the murderous James Best, who, as always, makes one’s skin crawl with his servile, whining, inept, craven villainy. Moreover, Scott with Best and Steele falls into the company of a dubious pair, played superbly by Pernell Roberts and James Coburn, both outlaws themselves but not in Best’s class. The shadow of a future confrontation between this pair and Scott is obvious both to the viewer and to the parties. This was Coburn's first film role.

Roberts and Coburn.jpg Roberts and Coburn confer.

Best brags repeatedly that his big brother, the redoubtable Lee van Clef will be coming to his rescue and kill them all. I would certainly fear Lee VC, as he liked to be called.

Lee van Clef.jpg Lee Van Clef on his film career. Regrettably most directors asked no more of him than to squint those beady eyes.

Before that confrontation they have to elude the raging Mescaleros, Apache Indians, who are raiding and have killed Steele’s husband. This is one occasion in the series when the indians are a mere plot device and given no explanation. This party of five had better make tracks to escape the indians and Van Clef.

Yet, at Scott’s insistence, they take the long way, travel in daylight, and cross open country rather than sticking to tree lines and ridges, moving at night. No effort is make to cover their many tracks. It dawns on Roberts that Scott wants to be caught, not by the Apaches, but by Lee van Clef, because…

Roberts and Coburn have a powerful incentive to take Best away from Scott and deliver him to the law, for then they will gain amnesty for their own earlier and lesser crimes, and so be free to live an ordinary life. Roberts is magnificent in wrestling with this temptation. Understated and taciturn per the screen play but endowing it with depth and delivering it with timing. Coburn as a naif is the perfect foil to his ruminations.

Scott never has doubts and so never ruminates: Best is a murder and he must be delivered. He is Scott’s prisoner and so he will deliver him. End of story.

Well not quite because there is a confrontation with Lee Van Clef, the one villain in this series who is not fleshed out but left a cypher, as Van Clef usually was.

Then comes the surprise.

Then comes the ending.

Burning tree.jpg The end.

‘It figures,’ says Roberts in another of his diamond lines tossed over his shoulder.

My homage to Randolph Scott continues, after an hiatus. This one is near the end of the series, and the formula shows through it. Scott, as ever is a loner somewhere, sometime after the Civil War in the West. Reticent, stoic, confident, straight as the Indian arrows he dodges, here he is st age sixty-two.

Comanche Station poster.jpg A lobby poster.

His path crosses that of a damsel in distress, and she finds the enigmatic Scott compelling, yet he a distant and perfect gentleman and she, usually, is another man’s wife. To spice up the mix there must be villains, and to the credit of these productions the chief villains are never Indians, though they are there, but other Europeans. The villains are thrown together with Scott and his charge in hostile circumstances and, in this case, they have to cooperate to avoid the Indians, but we all know a showdown is coming at about minute 70. We all know who will prevail, but the skill of the writer and director still manage surprises through the supporting players like the damsel and the naif.

Inevitably, the naif grows to admire Scott and the naif's commitment of the Villain-in-Chief wobbles. Inevitably, the damsel misunderstands Scott’s motives and only gradually sees through that misconception to his noble core. Thus there are several nested stories. The overarching narrative is to survive the hostile circumstances and return to a town. Within that we have the menace and final confrontation with nemesis. Nested still more are the doubts of the naif and also the dawning realisation of the damsel that Scott is a knight without armour. When all these themes have played out, inevitably Scott rides off alone. Oh, and inevitably Scott wears a neckerchief. Don't know why. To hide a scar?

Another credit to the production is that the villain has personality, and is not just the CGI cipher villain now in Hollywood productions. In this tale the villain is Claude Akins, who combines a rude charm with a bottomless evil.

Randy and Claude.jpg The protagonist and antagonist discuss their differences.

I was disappointed to see Akins's name in the credits when it rolled off ‘Daily Motion,’ the website from which I streamed it, because I remember the caricatures he used to play on television in the 1950s and 1960s but here he projects a distinct individual who is not all bad and yet is - in a different sense - all bad. He is aided in his villainy by the ever reliable Skip Homeier, who is knocked off too early for this connoisseur of slim-balls. The villain in this formula usually has two acolytes, and third in this party is Richard Rust, otherwise unknown to me, who is a naif who has fallen into bad company and knows no way out. The list of chief villains Scott bested in these last films is impressive, starting with the most complex, Richard Boone, Lee Marvin, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Clef, and Warren Oates, and many others.

Indians, I mentioned Indians and they are here and on the warpath, but they are also shown to be honourable. The Comanches kept the deal they made with Scott at the outset. Moreover, that they are making war is, we learn, precipitated by the murder of many of their women and children by still other bad Europeans off camera. In fact, they are victims who are lashing out at those to hand.

Scott made at least a hundred films and perhaps eighty of them were Westerns. He got type cast but he also liked that. He rode on to the screen time after time with a self-confidence and poise born from having been through it all before, again and again. It is no wonder Sheriff Bart invokes him in ‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974).

Seven of the films Scott made at the end of his career have been the object of my veneration in this homage. Why these? Because by that stage in his career, with the astute management that made him a millionaire many times over, and too old to remain under contract to a studio, he was a free agent who could decide what he wanted to do and then do it. This he did with some long time friends and associates producer Harry Brown, director Budd Boetticher, and writer Burt Kennedy. They were made in the Alabama Hills on the east side of the Sierra Madres. Each films includes many elegiac passages as the cast travel through the area. All of them also put the life-and-death human concerns against a timeless and limitless backdrop that shows just how small those concerns are in the ultimate scheme of things.

Budd B.jpg Budd Boetticher at work.

Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorcese and others have both expressed their admiration for these films. Look for them on You Tube. It is exactly this sort of the film that George C Scott refers to in 'They Might be Giants.'

Scott’s career culminated in one of the greatest Westerns, ‘Ride the High Country’ (1962), Sam Peckinaph’s first western, featuring a near-sighted Joel McCrea with an arthritic Scott, the ingenue Mariette Hartley, the drooling Warren Oates, and more. The gossip is that Scott and McCrea flipped a coin to see who would play which part, one a huckster and trickster and the other a pillar of unassailable integrity. Both were pitch perfect and both quit on that note. I will also sneak a peak at one of his defining films that etched itself into my prepubescent mind, ‘7th Cavalry’ (1956).

The other day by accident I came across a reference to this film somewhere or other, and much of it came back in a rush. That is a tribute to director William Wyler who got a performance of a career out of the block of wood known as Dana Andrews. A screenplay by that remarkable wordsmith Robert Sherwood is understated. and often pensive. There is much that is not said because it cannot be said. But it weighs on each of the three principle characters, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell.

That jolly upbeat title belies a taxing story which I doubt I would have the fibre to watch today.

Best Years poster.jpg Then there is this jolly lobby poster which in no way prepared audiences for what they were to see.

These three Odysseuses survived to return when so many others just like them did not, an indelible fact each carries everyday; moreover they return to a new and different world. They have changed and the world has changed, too. The three Penelopes have also changed, and that enters the equation.

Every viewer will remember Homer (Harold Russell) and so we should. How daring Wyler was to cast a paraplegic to play a paraplegic. It broke the unwritten law of Hollywood of showing reality.

Howard Russell.jpg Harold Russell

Even more daring was Sherwood putting the word ‘divorce’ in Fredric March’s dialogue. At the time and place it was simply not a word said in public. That word was the reason the film was not shown in some places. Perhaps the supposition was that to hear the word ‘divorce’ would drive couples into divorce.

The ghosts are many and mighty that overtake Dana Andrews. Andrews, in a long subsequent career, much of it in B-movies, never equalled his portrayal of confusion, consternation, and dread, no shouting, no hysterics but driven deep none the less. That scene when he once again sits in that seat is indelible.

Dana 2.jpg Andrews driven deep within himself.

Perhaps that was Wyler’s genius, to have an actor who would not over do it. But just let it happen. It happened.

If this is too cryptic, Mortimer, watch it. Those who have seen it, they will remember it well. Those who have not, have an experience in store that has no equal in contemporary cinema.

This is the second episode of Maigret with Rowan Atkinson in the title role.

It is a masterclass in drama. Every scene is a tableau. Nothing is extraneous. The characters are rounded, not stereotypes. All the loose ends are resolved. Marvellous.

Maigret deadman tv.jpg

When a crisis demands every police officer’s attention, Maigret insists on pursuing what seems in comparison a trivial case. Why? Because it has become almost personal.

A man in a panic had telephoned Maigret at the office saying that his wife, Nina, knew Maigret…. But he rings off, later to be found murdered. But Maigret knows no woman named Nina. Nor does he recognise the dead man when he is found. Who is Nina? And who is the victim?

This murder has the earmarks of a gangland slaying, and accordingly the powers that be see no reason to investigate it. But Maigret cannot let go. The victim personally asked for his help and Maigret feels obliged to do what he can now, even if it is too late.

What is refreshing about this, as with the first, instalment is the quiet plod of police work. There is no shouting, no histrionics, no flashes of insight, no scientific magic. Instead there is Just plod and more plod, piecing the puzzle together one part at a time. Even when Maigret is proved right, there is just a shrug without triumph.

Atkinson projects the authority, the calm, the impenetrable inwardness of a Maigret who has the strength to remain silent.

The direction is so confident and so demanding that viewers, well these viewers, were gripped by the slow movement, like a very slow tango with complicated steps that seem to go nowhere and yet fascinate.

All the heavy artillery in the opening scene soon makes sense. That the provincial police officer overreacts is hardly surprising. I also liked the respect accorded to him rather than the ridicule routinely written into most cop shows for such individuals. He is in over his head but who would not be so in the circumstances.

A quibble, however, in the novel Maigret slowly takes over Chez Albert. When he finds and gets in, he noses around and then it seems too late to go home and so he beds down there for the night intending to return to home and office in the morning. Then the next morning a punter knocks the door for coffee, and Maigret obliges. Then another punter arrives…. Margret soon calls Madame Maigret, Louise to the cognoscenti, to come and help out. He becomes a stand-in for the absent Albert.

It is the essence of Maigret to enter into the life of the victims and that is very well realised in this film in several ways, including this stay at Chez Albert, but also the betting slips and the lemon frappé. Atkinson performs these moments of abnegation well, very well, when his Maigret surrenders his persona to the milieu.

One powerful scene occurs when an exhausted and so far frustrated Maigret returns home to 54 Boulevard Richard Lenoir where an anxious Madame Maigret says a man is waiting for him in study. It is obvious at a glance that this visitor is one very hard man, a villain, but he has come to help, and after they talk, Maigret hands him a drink. It sounds like nothing to describe it but the humanity, the compassion is all the deeper for being unsaid. In other versions this scene would have handled much differently with some more, superfluous dialogue and perhaps a witticism, as often in the Gambon versions, but not here.

Purest will say that Atkinson is not a doppelgänger for Maigret, and they would be right. He does not have the bulk of Maigret. Michael Gambon fit that bill perfectly.

I said no stereotypes at the outset, and that has to be qualified. The villains are one-dimensional. They are elemental forces that rip through the lives of those caught in their path.

The second to last scene with the bejewelled girlfriend of the instigator is far too pat for this viewer. A woman so easily satisfied with baubles would not bow to reality quite that readily.

Inspired by ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951) the prodigious Danziger Brothers — Harry and Edward — turned their hands and low budget to sci-fi in this effort. It offers inspired casting and a prescient screenplay, and we watched it the other night. Well I watched it twice. to get the subtlety.

Devil Girl, indeed. Patricia Laffan is THE movie. When she is on screen there is tension, there is presence, there is drama and when she is not, there is none of the above. On her more below.

Devil poster-1.jpg

In the remote Scots moors an odd assembly takes refuge in a lonely inn. A married couple run the place, baby sitting a grandson, with a handy man, elderly Jim, and girl of all work who is mainly seen at the bar. With the winter approaching the only guest is a beauty from the big smoke and then a scientist with a newsman in tow arrive to investigate the strange lights in the sky. An escaped convict also insinuates himself in the group. Otranto Inn is now ready for the night ahead.

Devil poster-2.jpg

The scientist and newsman provide masculine leadership by debunking the worries of the women about those strange lights in the sky. ‘Just your imagination, my dear.’ They seem to have forgotten that those lights are why they are there in the first place. By now we know better. After the predicable confrontation with the convict, instant jealously over the beauty, and more condescension, Nyah appears!

Can that woman make an entrance. Seven times by my count. Shazam, indeed. The part of Nyah was made for Patricia Laffan, who is cool, calm, implacable, and pronounces her diabolical purpose with diction that would bring a smile to the twisted lips of Professor Henry Higgins. Her vowels are so round; her consonants are so icy.

Nyah-1.png

With a black leather body suit, a cat-like skull cap, a Darth Vadar cape, a mini-skirt avant le mot, and a ray gun, she has it all. Then there is the spaceship and within, Chani, the tin-man. (I thought she was calling him ‘Johnny’ which seemed awfully informal for Nyah, but on a long flight, well….)

Nyah has no time for small talk, nor, I suppose, for a shipboard romance with Chani; she is all business and the business is men!

The near-sighted, shuffling Jim with the feeble manner of an emeritus professor is a poor physical specimen, she declares. Poof! That's it for Jim. He is no longer a drain on the taxpayer.

On Mars the emancipation of the women led to open warfare between the sexes. The females won, usurping the political power of the men. This eventually led to the sexual impotence of the planet's entire male population. (Remember Louis Malle’s ‘Lune Noire?’ Look it up, Mortimer.)

She is Hillary Clinton! Come to emasculate the Republicans! ‘Go, girl’ we shouted from the couch! Grab ‘em by you-know-whats!

Just like the Republicans, the first reaction of the men is amused disbelief. What, after all, would a woman know!

After a few object lessons, the next reaction is brute force. Why negotiate when a good whack should fix things. Think of the 7MATE demographic. Efforts to beat sense into her backfire.

Stage direction. The telephone lines are down. The only automobile won't start. Darkness falls. They are isolated and alone. They will have to work together to overcome this one woman who threatens life as men know it. Gasp!

But wait, what is the problem?

She wants men. Call for volunteers, Nyah! But stand back to avoid the rush!

The screenplay wobbles. At times she wants spirited and unwilling men and at other times the docile tweenager seems to be preferred. This Devil Girl has trouble making up her mind. How like a woman in the stereotype of the era.

The screenplay is inane and most of the acting, especially the male leads, ranges from wordy to wooden and back. The special effects are far from special, even by the standards of 1954. The tin-man clearly had no tin or much of anything else barely making it down the ramp much like the late Jim.

Lobby posters on the interweb give three women top billing. How rare is that! How rare was that in 1954.

Patricia Laffin, per the biography on the IMDB, was ‘a statuesque and striking actress with vaguely reptilian aspects, at once sinister and alluring; a smile that was as much a sneer and a commanding, imperious presence suggesting innate superiority with a delivery that was at once sardonic and disdainful.’

Stop there. That is Nyah.

Nyah is precise, frigid, fiery, and languid. This woman could be hot and cold simultaneously.

Laffan did not fit the pigeon holes of the time and was relegated to supporting roles as a villain or an eccentric. Our loss. (But she stole the show from Peter Ustinov in 'Quo Vadis' (1951) before hitting warp speed as Nyah.)

The men had their turn in ‘Mars Needs Women’ (1967), but Tommy Kirk in a wet suit one size to large for him just does not have what Nyah had! He did call for volunteers and not even Annette came. Mickey Mouse, indeed.

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Both can be found on You Tube.

We idled away a hot and humid Sunday afternoon at the Newtown Dendy to see ‘Arrival.’

First contact with aliens is a gold standard in science fiction. Many examples are shoot ‘em ups from ‘The War of the Worlds’ to ‘Independence Day’ and their kind. Nothing more will be said about these sort.

Before going to ‘Arrival’ I checked an on-line trailer to see if it met our preliminary standards, little or no CGI and little or no shoot ‘em up. CGI is Computer-Generated Images, which are a fatal virus in most movies these days, an easy substitute for thought. It passed these two tests which rule out most of the dross from the dream factory.

Arrival poster.jpg

Off we went. What’s to like?

First and foremost its lead and star is a woman, who is neither glamorous nor trying to be a man. Amy Adams plays a skilled linguist named Dr Louise Banks. What she does is listen and think. That is a tough ask for Hollywood: thinking.

The usual currency for thought is the full face close up with wrinkled frontal lobes, but we get little of that here. Instead we get a lot of flashbacks, flash forwards, or flash sideways. I am not sure which, and will return to this point below. Adams does it well, and carries virtually every scene, certainly every scene worth watching.

The movie has pace but it is in no hurry. There is movement but not those crazy camera cuts loved by action directors who have never been in action themselves.

There is an intellectual puzzle — how to communicate with these aliens, who are very alien — placed in a high-pressure context.

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We loved all those alien zeros with their minute differences.

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They were incomprehensible. That is the mystery. What a relief from the NRA-approved Hollywood films, made by bleeding heart liberals, where all solutions lie in a gunsight. Bam! See any of the recent Star Trek movies. Incomprehensible is better than splat.

In the original ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ (1951 [and 2008]) Patricia Neal had to say ‘Gort, Klaatu barada nicto.’ It worked. Whew!

gort.jpg Gort.

To do that she had to get to the right place passed the guards, overcome her own fears for herself and her child, and remember the incomprehensible message, and deliver it by rote to the scary robot. That was hard. Especially when his light went on. See above.

Dr Banks's mission is infinitely harder. With all the same fears that Neal had, she has to figure our first what it means and then how to say it in zeroes. That is some tough exam. It is even more difficult than understanding something said by the Cheeto President-elect.

The biggest theme is time’s arrow which seems to be the governing narrative.

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However, neither of the professional reviews I read from the ‘New York Times’ or ‘Sight & Sound’ mention it. All the flashes, back, front, side, seem to be about the simultaneity of time about which we might find out more in a sequel three thousand years later. (To get the point, see the movie.)

I also liked the understated Forest Whitaker for whom dealing with aliens is another day at the office. Indeed, he is almost catatonic. Of course, it is unlikely a mere colonel would have command of such a situation, though most generals would try to avoid the likely career-ending duty. The massive overkill of the U.S. response rings all too true. The motto of the Pentagon seems to be 'Nuke the jaywalkers!'

Not so likeable were these things.

The dark cinematography defeated some of the exercise. I never did get a good look at Whitaker or anyone else. I expect it will be even more difficult on DVD.

Whitaker.jpg See what I mean?

The helicopter landing at the start is gratuitous, distracting, and unbelievable. The helicopter is seldom the fastest way to travel because its airspeed is nothing special, especially when in civilian airspace full of other aircraft. The noise distracts from the dialogue. It is unbelievable that a pilot would land in a wooded residential area at night.

‘They have to see me,’ Dr Banks says ripping off her Hazard Suit (coloured to remind us of ‘Space Odyssey’ I suppose) mask for no discernible reason than that its time to get that Hollywood star our of the glare of the plastic mask.

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That the hero is bold where others hesitate is a tired trope trotted out here several times. Cemeteries are full of such bold wanna be heroes who never made it to celluloid fame.

The nicknames ‘Abbot and Costello’ come from nowhere and went right back there. While we silverbacks got it, did anyone else, or have these two execrable comedians been resuscitated? I hope not. Unless it referred to the two Australian politicians Tony and Peter.

The screenplay has its share of clichés. Top choice is the Chinese general who has mastered McKinsey-speak when he says that Dr Banks ‘reached out to him.’ I have heard that too many times from cliché-speakers who did the training course. At least he did not insert a meaningless ‘actually’ in his remark. The scene is good and the point is part of the mystery but all of that is deflated by this McKinseyism. The air went right out.

As expected, there is a hot headed soldier, though here the idiot is a working stiff who acts on his own with a few buddies, where in reality it would be an educated and overpaid general in D.C. who wants to blow something up to get another star. Think Sterling Hayden from’ Dr Strangelove' (1964) and you have the reality of General Curtis LeMay, a one time vice-presidential contender. The aside with Russ Limbaugh, the most shocking of jocks, was perfect but added nothing here.

If the pointless tracking shots, and empty rooms were cut, we could lose thirty minutes and not notice it. It is too long and indeed the longer it goes, the less the tension. A slow leak is still a leak.

I have to enter a plea for the chain of command. In this movie a Chinese general acts without the authority of the Communist Party. Never. All those purges Mao unleashed were partly aimed at cowing the army and keeping under the thumb of the party where it still is. Nor would the Director of the CIA call the shots as rendered here. There is a president to do that. Gulp.

The director, by the way, is Canadian Denis Villeneuve who has many other credits that I have not seen.

villaneuve.jpg Denis Villeneuve

Seeing this reminded us of the other First Contact movies. Chief among them is ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ as mentioned above in which a passive alien ambassador is murdered by a trigger happy grunt to the cheers of Russ Limbaugh and his kind. Then there was Jodie Foster in ‘Contact (1997).’ A cut above the mill, this one is for its intelligent screen play. In a class by itself is ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).’ As is ‘Paul (2011),’ though this not really first contact it is unexpected contact. There are also many instances in the Star Trek canon before the franchise descended into CGI shoot ‘em ups. Some of these are very thoughtful when thinking was still valued out west.

This is Year Fifty. It all began in September 1966 and I was there to see it on that night in September. All Trekkies will have to see this, whether they like it or not.

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What’s to like?

The cast members are superb simulacra of the Originals. That is partly looks, assisted by make-up, but also mien, accent, and attitude. The actor’s craft is to inhabit another person and they do it with ease. Bones is perfect and so is Kirk. Spock is more nebbish than the Original. Uhura is more wonder woman, and Scottie is more excitable, but these are quibbles.

The distribution of lines and incidents to the ensemble cast of the crew. Scottie, Sulu, Uhura, Spock, Bones, all have more than one moment in the camera’s sun. Only Chekov misses out, in my memory. It is not all about Kirk, as too many episodes of the Original were.

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There are some zingers to be sure. Throw aways lines like ‘they say it hurts less if it is a surprise.’

The women hold their own. Uhura may answer the phone once or twice but she also delivers some surprises.

Jaylah’s literal-mindedness was amusing. Though good to have on side in a fight, Jaylah seems to be there mostly for the make-up.

The idea of heavy metal music can be used as it is in the movie was marvellous. I am trying to steer clear of a spoiler here.

The explicit tribute to the Originals in the last scene with Spock was humble.


What’s to not like

The repetitive shoot ‘em ups are incomprehensible and pointless and there are many of them, at full volume.

The holes in the plot are sufficient to pass Africa through. The villain’s backstory is vacuous. The Franklin is ... What's the word, it is impossible to suspend disbelief.

The Federation’s own responsibility for its problems is a worn out motif in Star Trek but here it is again.

The variation are the returned veteran was the theme in the predecessor ('Into the Darkness') but here it is again in a slight re-configuration. These writers need to read more to find inspiration, say Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope to broaden the horizons and deepen the insight.

The theme about unity and strength is said a couple of times but left empty. Recalling as I do all those conversation with thesis writers where I would say integrate, e.g., Michels’s Iron Law, and the writer would say ‘But it is on page 46’ and indeed it was mentioned there but it was not developed and integrated into the text. Neither is the unity-strength couplet here. It is a case of 'words without the music.'

The army of CGIs dispatched in the action scenes bring the franchise closer to the comic book status of Start Wars.

Kalara, the bait, with that strange head more or less disappeared from the story.


Summing up.

At two hours and two minutes it is about thirty-two minutes too long. The interest and intelligence of the story do not sustain the duration. It is out of balance.

The effort put into those CGIs and choreography of the action scenes might better have gone into the script.

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What made 'Star Trek' a keeper in 1966 was that it was not just another shoot ‘em up on television where there were plenty others of that ilk. There were genuinely intellectual puzzles, like ‘Court Martial’ and morally challenging episodes, like ‘The Devil in the Dark’ and ‘The City of the Edge of Forever.’ In its current embodiment most problems are solved with a fist and a phaser. Such a contrast to the Original, e.g., ‘Nomad, ‘Return of the Archons,’ or ‘The Doomsday Machine’ where some thinking had to be done.

The Original was made for adults and ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ brought that to fruition. The present version is regressing to an audience of prepubescent boys which is probably inevitable since that likely describes the filmmakers from writers, directors, and producers.

A ten-part television series from Iceland.  Nordic noir without the computer graphic images of gratuitous gruesome gore that typify far too much of the genre. IMDB rates it at 8.2.

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It kept us coming back for more. Each fifty-minute episode ending on some crisis, and each subsequent episode beginning with a recapitulation.  Slow and old fashioned.

What's to like?

The pace is measured and low key. No shouting, table banging, or the other crutches mentally impoverished screen writers and directors use to distract from the superficiality of the work.

The setting is great travelogue. Snow, mountains, and fjords, oh, and plenty of ice on the north coast of Iceland.

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The Iceland’s weather is a major character that directs and limits what the human agents can do.

The interaction of the public and private lives of the characters in the small town which is cut-off by a storm.

The three small town cops, each different, make a good team, fallible though each is.

The crippled watcher. But we got too little of him.

The several wheels within wheels which were neatly wrapped up in the end.

The redemption of the falsely accused and imprisoned boyfriend.

'The devil entered me' said the grieving grandfather.

That most of the trouble was all homegrown and did not come on the ferry.

The mixture of languages, Icelandic, Danish, German, French, and English. 

The cannibalistic media. Another tired trope but I am not yet tired of it.

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What's not to like?

The big city cops are a trope, arrogant, easily satisfied, and incompetent.

The ex-wife's boyfriend is ever present, leading to the conclusion that he will figure in the plot, but he does not. A blue herring.

The ferry captain's change of heart was pat.

The police commissioner in Reykjavik was built up to be important in the story and then dropped.

Andri’s backstory was a boring distraction as they always are. This is another crutch.


We found it on SBS On-Demand.  Hooray!  

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But we found it very difficult to find on the telly. The TV screen search function could not find itself! Nor could it find ‘Trapped.’ 

The iPad app is great. It was easy to find ‘Trapped’ on it but we wanted to watch it on the big screen in front of the easy chairs. The app does not communicate with the television as far as we could see.  

Sherlock Holmes has taken many forms over the centuries, none more compelling and engaging than in this eye-popper.

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George C. Scott, at the height of his considerable powers, is Justin Playfair who had been an attorney of note and then a judge of discerning insight, striving always for justice in large and in small things. Striving always and never yielding, but the years passed and world seemed no more just and then his wife died. Lost of her compass, Justin shut himself away in the family mansion, for Justin has many dollars, and became….a reborn Sherlock Holmes, complete with period costume, laboratory, and (a poor) Brit accent. He secrets himself away in the house for months at a time in a waiting game with Professor Moriarty, who else, the nemesis.

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Justin’s brother needs money and a lot of it soon to pay off a mobster, and sets in motion the wheels to have Justin committed to a mental asylum so that he, the brother, can take control of the dosh. He finds a compliant doctor who will sign anything for a dollar, and then needs a second expert’s signature. Enter none other than Dr Mildred Watson, played by that star of the Hollywood firmament, Joanne Woodward, a frumpy single woman with broken fingernails and an irritating manner.

Yes, Holmes has his Watson, at last! What follows is movie magic when movies still had magic.

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Playfair as Holmes is a force of nature and intellect (‘I never guess!’). When she introduces herself as Dr Watson, Scott’s eyes pop off the screen; even on a DVD on a small television, he is electric.

Of course, he’s nuts, she can see that, but…. well, it takes time to be sure. He meets her, he because he wants a Watson, she because she wants a diagnosis that can be published to enhance her career. Both get more.

Scott’s march down the hall of the mental hospital is a delight to behold. Force of nature, indeed! (No spoiler. But Scott was a Marine for four years and it shows.) It gets better when, with his deductive powers, he diagnosis one of Watson’s patients far better than she has been able to do, working by the book.

It turns out someone is now out to get Scott, to settle the wayward brother’s debts, and the game is afoot.

The search for clues leads to a telephone exchange where a scene with a caller and an operator stayed in my mind for near fifty years. That is some credit to all the players, writers, and directors. When the operator turned, I knew what to expect. It was silent comment on enslavement of us all to the machine that is society, which Michel Foucault would recognize.

There is much more, but best of all is a scene and speech. which over the ensuing many years I have sometimes quoted and often recalled.

Seeking respite from the pursuing villains, Scott takes Watson to a theatre, an old broken down movie house; as they climb the stairs, she, querulous, asks ‘Why here?’ ‘Why … because they only show westerns here,’ says Scott as though naming the self-evident.

‘Huh!‘ is the learned doctor’s reply. Patiently, as to a slow-witted child, he explains why westerns are the ultimate expression of morality. It goes something like this: ‘If you look closely at Westerns you can see principles, the possibility of justice; you can see individuals who move their own lives, bringing them to the ends they deserve.’ There are no masses, no bureaucracies, no excuses. (Bring on Randolph Scott! I cried.)

There are false notes to be sure. Jack Gilford is wasted. The episode with the garden elves is pointless. The scenes of sidling are silly and without purpose. The plot is full of holes. If it is blackmail, no one seems to care. The march of acolytes at the end is fun but pointless, and the final descent in the end still seems…. confusing., incomplete, a let down. Writers sometimes just cannot figure out what to do at the end, maybe because they do not want it to end. I know, in this case, I did not either. A great trip with no arrival like ‘L'année dernière à Marienbad’ (1961).

It is a tribute to many hands that Joanne Woodward, that belle from Georgia by way of LSU in Baton Rouge, could be turned into this dowdy woman, she who melted the screen fours years later in ‘The Drowning Pool’ with that molasses accent and honey blond beauty. Here she looks exhausted and cranky or cranky and exhausted with a big city accent, and shambles around like a lame department store window mannequin. She has many other credits, of course, and I mention a few for the sheer pleasure of calling them to mind: ‘The Long Hot Summer’ (1958), ‘The Sound and the Fury’ (1959), ‘The Fugitive Kind’ (1960), ‘Paris Blues’ (1961), ‘A Fine Madness’ (1966), ‘Rachel, Rachel’ (1968), ‘Winning’ (1969), ‘The Effect of Gamma Rays’ (1972), the list goes on.

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Scott, he too from the South — Virginia, was never better, and that is high praise. Among his remarkable performances was the prosecuting attorney in ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ (1959) who was so smart that he outsmarted himself, ‘The Hustler” (1961) as an avaricious agent, one of many crazed generals in ‘Dr Strangelove’ (1964), before taking the world by storm in ‘Patton’ (1970). He also did a noteworthy television series ‘East Side, West Side’ (1963-1964) as a social worker in the bowels of New York City. He had the reputation for professional intensity that sometimes put off other actors. Once he was in-character, he stayed there for the duration. Though not trained as a method actor, he out-methoded most of them.

Scott intense.jpg That intensity shows in another role.

The IMDB entry is sketchy with only first names for the characters, and not all of them. It has a rating of 7.0 which is respectable but not high enough.

I saw ‘They Might be Giants’ on the wide screen in Edmonton Alberta Canada when a callow graduate student and a night at the movies was a major financial commitment. It was memorable and I have checked many times in the following decades to see it again. No luck. Then a few weeks ago I happened to check again and lo, there it was on the Amazon site. I ordered it and when it arrived, I ripped it open and watched it, a rare treat that has withstood the test of time.

It was a morning on the Sydney Opera House Quay at the Dendy Cinema Theatre where Jim Kitay and I went to see the antics of the Marx Brothers, Julius, Leonard, and Arthur, and so on. Neither Karl, Milton, nor Herbert are in this one.

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It is feature length at 93 minutes, cut from the original release of 98 minutes, and it is a big production, i.e., a large cast, and some set-pieces worthy of Busby Berkeley. Old troupers like Margaret Dumont and Sig Ruman liven things up. The screen play is by that stalwart of the typewriter, George Kaufman. It is scored at 8.1 on the IMDB. That is impressive.

Among the outstanding scenes are the crowded stateroom on the steamship and the aerial acrobatics in the theatre. There is also a good deal of ‘Il Trovatore’ sung by Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones. Ms Carlisle continued to sing well into her 90s, says the fount Wikipedia.

Otis B. Driftwood, now there is name with which to conjure, reminds me of some scholars I have known. Always on the prowl for easy takings and completely irresponsible.

These things are best seen on the wide screen without distractions, but if that is not an option, turn the lights down and cue it up on the idiot box. These idiots always have something to offer.

While marvelling once again at Willa Cather’s life and work in Red Cloud recently, we acquired this video as an aide-memoir. It is as wonderful as the woman herself. There is a very intelligent narration delivered with grace by David Strathairn, punctuated with interviews from critics and scholars.

While most of the talking head spouted the professional cant, a few seemed to be so emotionally attuned to Cather that they spoke in plain English with a catch in the voice. Those are the capital 'R' readers to this reader.

The sayers of cant are the sayers of cant, and their careers will flourish as they impress each other, but they have nothing to say to a reader.

Someone who hesitates to speak, who pauses to think, who slowly finds the right words within, and then says them slowly in simple declarative sentences without the blot of jargon, these people I want to hear. The video had several of these Readers.

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More important are the readings from passages of her novels through her life as she explored new themes and ideas, but always returned to Red Cloud for inspiration from her formative observations and interpretations.

How a fourteen year old girl could fathom death, as she did, and revert to it more than once, is one of things that makes me think that Willa Cather and her kind are aliens, come to earth to teach us about ourselves.

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That she resigned as the most highly paid and influential editor of the most successful magazine, ‘McClure’s’ in New York City, this girl-woman from Red Cloud, because the magazine kept her from writing is quite a story in itself. Be glad she did.

Led by that man of limited ability and unlimited ego, Ernest Hemingway, she is often disparaged by the literati. So be it. Theirs is the loss. Let them sup on the cant.

Her books earned many favourable reviews and a Pulitzer Prize, but more important, millions of Readers.

This film is more explicit about the lesbian relationship(s) than anything at the Cather Center, but leaves open the question of which her friendship with two other women was erotic. (Figure it out, Mr Spock.) All done with a respectful tact. Ergo not done by journalists.

Welcome to Alliance Nebraska, population 8,519, home of CARHENGE.

Carhenge? Just what it sounds like, Mr Spock. It is Stonehenge with cars.

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We have seen Carhenge with our very own eyes, and long to see it again!

Alliance and its sister city Chadron (population 5,767), which is about an hour by car due North, were way stations for French explorers and trappers who followed the Platte River. Practice French pronunciation on each: Alliance, Chadron, and Platte, and voila!

This video is an account of the origin, creation, and development of Carhenge, featuring the founder, Jim Reinders, who discovered his home was not his castle even on the Sandhills. There are interviews with townspeople who reacted to Carhenge. Some for it and others against.

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I particularly loved the interview with the mayor whose determination to ensure that it is someone else’s problem appealed to me. The first solution was to move the city boundary line a few feet so that Carhenge no longer fell within the zoning laws of Alliance, which laws in turn had to comply with state standards, which have to comply with Federal standards (to qualify for grants and funds, say emergency relief in crisis). So the boundary was moved. Other issues followed about parking, about toilets.....

Some residents objected to this gloried car wreckers yard, as they saw it, as the emblem of the modest little burg. While others saw it, I think, it was hard to tell, as public art to which one must bow. Others heard to slide of credit cards as tourists left I-80 to give it the once over.

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Then there were the hoons who vandalised it.

Patiently Mr. Reindeers and his family responded to each assault, verbal, legal, or destructive, and Carhenge has outlasted its critics and despoilers for more than a decade, evolving in the process.

Having read, Jim Work’s krimi ‘A Title to Murder’ which parallels Cargenge to Stonehenge as it figures in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the Dubervilles,’ I was reminded of Carhenge, and ordered the DVD.

I would like to see the real thing again on my occasional visits to Hastings on the Platte, but it would a major expedition for Alliance is five hours by car. It closer to Denver.

A little gem from Finland. A blind Lutheran priest takes on as an assistant a paroled murderer, Leila. Father Jaakob has a reputation as an intercessory, I.e., he prays for people and offers advice to those who write to him.  While no time period is given it looks like the 1950s.  He lives in a forest near a church on a lake.  Nature dominates the time and the day.

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His only contact with the outside world is the post and the postman.  The pastor has long since given up preaching because of blindness, and he lives for those letters.  

Leila is angry at the world and makes no effort to cooperate though she is glad to be out of the slammer. She is neither particularly bright nor attractive, and expects people to dislike her. They oblige in the person of the postman.

At first she thinks either the priest is shamming or is a fool. In time she comes to respect, if not share, his faith in a meaningful world.  Or so I surmise because the dialogue is like much from Finland, practical and not introspective.  And there is little of it.  Much is told by the camera.

She also realises that he needs her if he is to live - she reads the letters to him and he needs those letters, just as the writers need him.  And she also learns she owes not only her freedom to him, but more, too.  No spoiler. His previous letter-reader left for the city to take care of grandchildren.

For some reason never explained the letters dry up and that brings the needs of each to the forefront. Earlier she destroyed some of the letters and perhaps his consequent failure to respond to those, discouraged others from writing. It is not clear, nor need it be. Little of life is that, clear.

In fewer than eighty minute there is more about life in this film than the latest CGI-infected three hour Hollywood brain-buster.  

Klaus Haro director.jpg Klaus Hãro, the director.

It earned place on my list of Finnish movies along with

Leningrad Cowboys (1994)
The Man without a Past (2002)
Vares (2004)
The House of Branching Love (2009)
Rare Exports (2010)
Midsummer night's tango (2013)

Top marks must go to ‘Rare Exports.’

This time the aliens try South London instead of East London, and find the locals even tougher!

What’s to like?

The gradually revealed social order amid the outward chaos of the streets, alleys, trash, and detritus of squalid urban life. The additional revelation that for most of the boys in the gang, there is a home to go to but the streets are more exciting.

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The mix of races and ages. Mugging passers-by is acceptable to the code but not dealing drugs to brothers.

The foul mouthed swearing is for the streets, not when safe indoors among friends. The swearing and cursing is part of the role of the street-tough.

The implicit social criticism. First the bullies and thugs, then the police, then the drugs, then the guns, all sent to destroy the black migrants of south London.

Then come the aliens. No point in calling the police because they will blame everything on the street toughs and lock them up, leaving the aliens to destroy everyone else. When confronted with the pistol-totting drug lord, the police prefer to arrest the street boys. So much easier. No, the boys from the Block have to look after their own, so they arm up and take on the aliens.

The dope growing nerd, Nick Frost, and his nephew prove to be surprising helpful in the denouement. Some basic sciences goes a long way in this script.

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When the newly-moved in nurse tries to explain to the police, who arrive in the end after the street toughs have destroyed the aliens, that the boys saved her and everyone else, the police conclude she has been traumatised by assault, threats, and perhaps rape, Stockholm Syndrome, one officer mutters, while arresting the boys.

The leader of the gang is, by the way, Moses (who led his people to the promised land).

From SBS-2 a foul-mouthed slaughter-fest featuring the geriatrics at a nursing home who take on THE ZOMBIES.

I gave it a three and a half snorts rating (four is tops) as I guffawed my way through it.

The nursing home is threatened by a new residential development for the Yuppies who have discovered how handy and cheap East London is. Two grandsons of one of the geriatrics swing into action to come up with the dosh to help out. Their solution is to rob a bank. They assemble a team. This is no A-Team, and includes a klutz, a psycho, an absent minded type, and a cousin who does have some nous. While the lads are busy robbing the bank, the zombies rise and demolish most of the East End.

When the team emerges from the bank, all is devastation. ‘Wh ‘append?, they ask? They are all pretty clueless. But the zombies soon make themselves known. Yes, the have a lot of money now, but who cares! Off they go to save granddad, sure that he will have survived the onslaught, taking along a couple of superfluous hostages who now do not want to be let loose.

What to do? Stay on mission and rescue Granddad.

It is a wild ride and perhaps not best viewed around meal time.

The nursing home includes many familiar faces from Brit cop shows hamming it up, among them Richard Briers who tapes an Uzi to his Zimmer frame, Honor Blackman who knows how to handle a gun, Alan Ford who for years played characters on ‘The Bill’ and similar programs listed in the credits as First Thug, Second Villain, Dudley ‘Tinker’ Sutton whose wheel chair becomes a tank of sorts, and Tony Selby who uses his wooden leg to beat one zombie into pulp.

These seniors have survived Dunkirk, the Blitz, Hitler and World War II, cancer, fifteen years of rationing, the Beatles, divorce, porridge (that is jail time), bell-bottomed trousers, colonial wars, Thatcher, and other catastrophes, a few zombies will not lay them low.

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The discerning viewer detects a certain satire here. The Zombies taking over East London surely represent those Yuppies who are driving out the respectable and toiling masses. But then the working class is not spared either, shown to be idle and criminal in the McGuire family.

That it rates a measly 5.9/10 from 14,386 votes on the Internet Movies DataBase confirms a lot about the people to do those ratings, none of it good. There are sixty-eight reviews and I do not recommend reading any of them but I do recommend watching it, though I fear some knowledge of Brit cops shows, personnel, and conventions, will add some seasoning denied those without this background knowledge.

Our last Sydney Festival gig was this film. Through images and dance it conveys the ambiguity of being an aboriginal in contemporary Australia. Note it is not a narrative.

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Unlike some of the annual breast beating about Aboriginal Australia that usually occurs on Australia Day and then is quickly filed away, this film is direct without either villains or victims, although there are some cringe-making moments.

A young man undergoes an initiation ritual. Into what? Is he affirming his aboriginal heritage or leaving it behind? Should he do one or the other? What is the past in Arnhem Land? What is the future in Redfern? There is some symbolism interspersed with some very literal and brutal honesty.

Some of the emotions are expressed through dance, somr through symbolic figures. and once and while in words. Mostly it is introspective with some aboriginal language, music, and bird calls. It is spare.

The boy witnesses much and is left to make his own choices, day-by-day.

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There was much that I did not get, like the upside down man, but the movement, the intensity, the creativity, they were more than compensation. There is some film on You Tube for samples.

We have seen some of Bangarra’s other productions and found them compelling. Ditto this.

Here I am again with another Randolph Scott western movie. This time he plays against type, though it took this viewer a while to realise that. The certainties of the western genre are used as a foil to go further and to go deeper.

Bart Allison (Randolph Scott), is slowly revealed to be a crazed obsessive who stubbornly persists in his destructive ways against all evidence and reason.

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Moreover, it is also against genre since westerns invariable take place before a background of wide open spaces. Not so here, where nearly all the action is confined to one cramped interior.

But wait, there is more! It is also against type in the portrayal of the villain, Tate Kimbrough (John Carroll). He certainly seems to have the town under his thumb, but he seems to have accomplished that with some greasy charm, a wad of dosh, and veiled threats, nothing more. As it turns out, the villain is not guilty of the heinous crime, Allison supposes, but Allison will not hear the truth nor accept that exculpation, not even from his best friend, Sam, played by the ever-charming Noah Beery, Jr.

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Only later does Allison seem, at least for a few seconds, to realise his colossal folly, but even then he persists in his mad quest for vengeance. This is one of Randolph Scott’s darkest role, made all the darker by the expectations audience bring to his films.

The counter point to Allison’s moral disintegration is the gradual moral reintegration of the town’s people to throw off the yoke of Tate Kimbrough. Shades of ‘High Noon’ (1952), though the threat there was far more visceral and immediate.

The town doctor is a one-man Greek chorus who comments on the folly around him without getting involved in it himself.

In the end there is mano-a-mano shoot-out in the great tradition of the western, but this one has a surprise result. The last line of the film from the doctor says it all. See the film to find out about both the surprise ending and the last line.

The cast is full of familiar faces from 1950s television from the sheriff to the bartender, the barber, the banker, and more.

It offers lessons for film makers any time. In less than 80-minutes we have an ensemble cast, vivid scenery, much debate, some soul searching by both Kimbrough and Allison, violent death, and true love.

There are plot holes here. In the first scene, why is Scott in the stage coach, and why is it necessary for him to stop it with threats to meet his partner? Why could he not get a horse and ride to the meeting? Or why could he not arrange for the stage driver to stop at the locale he wanted, and just get off? Perhaps his threats to stop the stage are meant to indicate just how unreasonable he is to become later.

In the town of Sundown, how did Tate Kimbrough establish his hold? What about him led the decent and upstanding Lucy (Karen Steele) to want to marry him? (There is no affinity between them in a few scenes they share.)

Randolph Scott rides onto the screen with the confidence of a man who has emerged victorious in a previous fifty westerns, relaxed and confident. That slow and easy smile is knowing.

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Tom Buchanan (Randolph Scott) is returning to West Texas to settle down, having made enough money in Mexico to buy a ranch. He re-enters the United States at the town of Argy. Big mistake. The town is owned by the Argy family, each member of which is more corrupt than the other.

Although the Argys are all stinkers, individually and collectively, they do not amount to much, and it is a foregone conclusion that Buchanan will best them.

Amid this venal bunch, there is Abe Carbo (Craig Stevens, before his ‘Peter Gunn’ days) who advises the Argy patriarch. Carbo seems to have some sense of honour that is not for sale, and becomes a neutral arbiter in the moral equation. Why the Argys tolerate him is a mystery.

The Argys steal Brennan’s swag while trying to lynch him and then to ransom a Mexican boy whom he befriended. The plot is disjointed with too much repetition and too little tension. The Argys have no honour among themselves and fall to bickering, first over Brennan’s stake, and then the Mexican ransom even before they get it. They end up killing each other. The body count rivals some of the riper episodes of ‘Midsomer Murders.’

Buchanan will ride on, alone, while Carbo will take over in Argy for the better.

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The screen play has the Elmore Leonard touch in the dialogue, but not in the story line. There is a nice performance by L. Q. Jones as Pecos Bill. Did Craig Stevens ever play a heavy? That reassuring baritone of his is hard to imagine as menacing. The Internet Movie Data Base entry refers to him as a ‘light leading man.’ There I learned that he did dentistry at KU before the acting bug bit him. Sci-Fi fans may remember that he alone saved us from ‘The Deadly Mantis’ in 1957.

Unlike many of Scott’s other westerns there is no damsel in distress for him to rescue.

Psychopathic killer Frank Usher played by Richard Boone captures Pat Brennan (Randolph Scott) by mistake. Boone almost steals the show (with that hat he always seemed to wear in Westerns).

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By a chain of incidents, each of which is unexceptional in itself, Brennan and newly weds Willard and Doretta Mims are kidnapped for ransom, well it is Doretta (Maureen O’Sullivan) who is worth the money. Her husband Willard is eager to sell her to the villains to save his own skin, a fact which the reticent Brennan does not reveal to her.

It is based on a story by Elmore Leonard; need I say more. It is terse, focused, and with depth. Within the conventions of an oater, it is a character study. Brennan and Usher are more alike than different. Loners and lonely, each too smart for the lives they live.

When Usher takes a cup of coffee to the sleeping Doretta and as he stoops to leave it for her, he pulls the blanket up to cover her better, well, that is some villain, isn’t it? That is an Elmore Leonard touch and Richard Boone is just the man to do it, that combination of menace and tenderness, as he, for a moment, realizes the life he has missed. It is a bittersweet moment passed in silence and seen only by the audience.

Doretta, who barely speaks in the first half, rises to the occasion with the encouragement of Brennan. To survive they have to out-think the villains.

Usher is ably assisted in his villainy by Billy Jack (Skip Homier) and Chink (Henry de Silva). What a crew of drooling half-wits! As we learn quickly they murdered a ten-year old boy for fun.

We know from the opening credits that the end will come down to Brennan (Scott) versus Usher (Boone) and that Brennan will prevail. Even so the tension throughout is well maintained.

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And the final confrontation reveals the self-destructive — even self-hatred — of Usher. He has no wish to continue into the future the life he has been leading with morons like Billy Jack and Chink.

By the way, the title, ‘The Tall T,’ is never mentioned or explained. I supposed that it was the name of Brennan’s ranch, but that is nothing but a guess.

The same story is the basis for ‘Hombre’ (1967) and Richard Boone is there again, with that hat.

Guilty secret number 71.

I learned much about manhood from Randolph Scott. Who? Randolph Scott (1898-1987), the movie actor. His westerns in the 1950s left an indelible imprint on the prepubescent consciousness of any boy who saw them and was conscious. This second criterion eliminates quite a few. Scott was everyman, whereas John Wayne was always much bigger than life. It was fun to watch the Duke, but no normal boy could aspire that high. Scott was so much lower key, he might live around the corner going about his business.

He was taciturn, honourable, persistent, and polite. For years I have toyed with watching the famous (in a quiet way, befitting his screen persona) seven films he made at the end of his career with Burt Kennedy (the writer) and Budd Boetticher (the director) in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I may have seen them each once upon a time, but the hazy ambition was to watch them in sequence. However, lacking the courage of my convictions I never got around to ordering them on DVD, and the local Civic Video did not have them or access to them. In any event the DVD collection on the market is incomplete.

Then came the miracle of You Tube and there I discovered ‘Seven Men from Now’ (1957). The candle was lit, and the next night I dialled it up.

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When it was released in 1956 Scott was almost sixty years old. That was the year of Wayne’s greatest film, ‘The Searchers.’ and while the two movies share the conventions of the western there are differences. Let me see if I can put my finger on some of the difference(s).

It starts it the middle at a time when linear story telling was the dominant approach. At the outset Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) seems ominous, and even malevolent. Though the narration soon reveals he is a man on a deadly mission to find and kill the seven men who robbed a Wells Fargo Office during the course of which they shot and killed a clerk, this being Stride’s wife. Thus we have a tale of revenge. Seven to one against Randolph Scott. Don’t take the bet!

He kills the first two within five minutes of run-time. That is fast action. It also seems unjustified. Is not the good guy supposed to try to arrest them and take them back to jail, not provoke a gun fight?

While Scott pursues the villains, in parallel that wonderful heavy Lee Marvin pursues the gold they stole. From the second scene onward, we all know that in the end it will come down to Randolph Scott versus Lee Marvin at even money. Marvin's villain has a certain vulgar charm and a great deal of intelligence; he is not ravening beast that villains are sometimes made to be. He makes a superb foil for Scott’s reticent decency.

There are some nice twists and turns, personal growth, and irony that is unspoken but revealed in the actors’ faces, all too subtle for the Hollywood hammer these days. Truth to tell, there are also some gigantic plot holes that I will pass in silence. Plot holes remain a common Hollywood currency.

While there are rumours of restive Apaches, these indians are portrayed as victims. The real evil ones are the robbers, and Lee, as he shows soon enough. There is an obligatory old-timer who adds a lighter touch to one scene with some self-deprecating humour. I suppose since Gaby Hayes the old timers are there also to show that a man can grow old in the wild west. The conventions of the western are honoured in this.

There is some marvellous countryside as the wagon (loaded with the illicit gold) rolls to its destiny. It has pastoral moments.

Through it all Scott utters very few words, but when he does, we all know he means exactly what he says, and says exactly what he means — not one word more, not one word less. We all also know he will do what a man has to do in a quiet, dignified way. Wow! What a guy.

By the way, the female lead, Gail Russell, had near-clinical stage fright in front of the camera, and dealt with it by drinking whiskey. She had the reputation of being unreliable and the director Boetticher, the wiki-gossip goes, made a considerable effort to coax her through her scenes and to keep her off the drink during the production. It was her first film in four years and one of her last.

John Wayne made many westerns but he did a variety of other films, while Scott more or less settled in the western genre and stayed there. He accepted and made his own the type casting of the strong, silent loner. Apart from his early career, and the war years, his film credits are westerns, westerns, and westerns, including some based on stories by that stylist of the sage brush, Zane Grey.

By the way, the main difference between 'Seven Men from Now' and 'The Searchers' is John Ford with his capacity for poetry, faith in the camera to show the grandeur of nature and the small size of men, irony, and even sense of humour. 'Seven Men from Now' is just much lower key, nothing mythic about it.

Next up will be ‘The Tall T’ released in 1957.

‘The Searchers’ (1956)

After much anticipation I took myself off the Dendy on the Harbour to see ‘The Searchers’ on the wide screen. Wow! I expected that at two+ hours it would drag now and then, but no. The lights went down — and mercifully we were spared Val Morgan’s assault on intelligence — and the titles started. There in the darkened theatre the mythic events and characters came to life. Roger Ebert said a movie is a machine for empathy. Click went the machine.

‘The Iliad’ with the doomed Achilles, ‘The Odyssey’ with the bedevilled Odysseus, and ‘The Searchers’ with the haunted Ethan Edwards are each epics of endurance but also of self-realization. Each is a man of war whose role in peacetime is uncertain, precarious, and unhappy. But each is needed in times of war.

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What can be said about ‘The Searchers’ that needs saying, or has not already been said many times? Film schools have dissected its technical aspects, deep focus, Vista Vision, the framing shots, the comic interludes, filming the horseback chases, the terse screenplay, and more that I do not fathom. I am even more sure that Cultural Studies aliens have parsed it into an empty husk in more than one PhD dissertation, burying it under polysyllabic barbarianisms to prove to each other how smart they are. The pygmies must have their days.

Yet it remains on any informed list of great films and at the top of its genre, the Western. ‘Shane’ (1953) is so elegiac it is hard to watch without choking up, and there is no greater moral lesson than ‘High Noon’ (1952) or ‘The Unforgiven‘ (1992), and a personal favourite is the laconic ‘Comes a Horseman’ (1978) or the profound 'The Misfits' (1962), not to mention Ford's own cavalry trilogy. All are excellent and so are many more, ‘Lonesome Dove’ (1989). ‘Ride the High Country’ (1962) but they are second to ‘The Searchers.’ To the reader who has never seen ‘The Searchers,’ what can be said?

First, the film has pace. At nearly two hours, it is long, but the pace keeps an audience engaged, as I rediscovered.

Second, it offers the remarkable landscape of Monument Valley and the Grand Tetons. For the geographically deprived, Monument Valley looks just like its name, a flat, red plain with soaring rock monoliths, while the Grand Tetons are mountains that rise from a high grassy plain without foothills of any kind. (We spent a few days in both some years ago, and they still look just like that.)

Searchers Monument.jpg I stood on this very ledge once upon a time.

Third, there is the cast of characters from John Ford’s stable, each supporting actor getting face time, and some memorable dialogue. Today supporting actors might as well be CGI.

The natural and social context is rich then in place and people.

Four, the Indians are allowed an integrity not seen again in Westerns until Ford’s ‘Cheyenne Autumn’ (1964). The whites fear and hate the Indians for good reason in this world, and vice versa. This is a clash of equals who are enemies.

Fifth, there is the moral tale of redemption as Ethan Edwards, whose hate knows no bounds, whose disappointments are innumerable, whose future is bleak, whose past was bitter hardship and defeat, finds the little remaining humanity he has, much to his own surprise. Some of the close-ups of John Wayne's expression of hate are works of art.

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The most powerful one I could not find on the web. That is when he looks back at the crazed women captives at Fort Robinson. It delivers a silent jolt of hatred that foreshadows all that is to come.

This Wayne character is an unpleasant and twisted man, not the anodyne hero he often played. Added to that is the flat voice only he could ever do.

Ethan has one moment of pathos, yet he has no future, ergo the last scene when from the doorway he turns away. This Achilles has no place in an ordered society. He knows that even if no one else does. It is a moment of self-consciousness worth seeing, made the more powerful without either a close-up or a comment. Understatement, thy name is no longer Hollywood.

The story is simple, as epics are. A Comanche raiding party carries away a young girl and the Texicans pursue it. The going is hard, and in time most of the pursuers give up, but not Ethan for whom the pursuit becomes an addiction that gives his miserable life meaning. This man who has lost so much, will not accept another loss. That obsession transmutes into blaming the victim, and when the opportunity comes to rescue the girl, well, there is a moment of profound hesitation and doubt, which is beautifully realised by the camera, the dialogue, the director, the actors, as if for a moment they were all elevated to a higher plane to produce a masterpiece. All this is silently observed by the vastness of nature broken by a single line of dialogue: 'Let's go home.'

The pygmies find much to fault. The cast is replete with the stock characters of westerns. The subplot involving a romance is not well integrated. As there are stock characters, so there are stock events and incidents, a dance, a fist fight, etc. One part of the film is Ethan’s gruelling quest played out against the social context back home. In joining the two, Ford perhaps made the former acceptable to audiences by reassuring them with the latter. Maybe the combination also satisfied him, too. It certainly satisfied Homer because he juxtaposed Ithaca with the war at Troy.

Those who are easily satisfied can hang the label ‘racist’ on Ethan and leave it at that. Ethan does hate, and these Indians have done much to earn his enmity, and vice versa, but Indians are also shown as majestic, insightful, good humoured, and with a nearly divine endurance. The only reprehensible character in the film is the store-keeper Jerem Futterman.

It is a movie that has a coherent screen play complemented with some very astute camera work to punctuate the story, and then there are Ford’s veteran actors who know what to do and how to do it. Though it does lack one of his usual features, namely a chorus to note silently the futility of it all. The assembly of the family on the porch at the initial homecoming is a near example, as are the Comanche women lined up when the Mexican trading party enters. But neither shot is held, nor is there any obvious emotion.

Ford momument.jpg John Ford on location in Momument Valley

That dean of movie reviewers Roger Ebert used words like magnificence, unforgettable, influential to describe it. Though it is clear to this reader Ebert was gun-shy of praising the film too much for fear of eliciting rants from the pygmies. On You Tube there is a comment on the film from Martin Scorsesse who styles Ethan Edwards a 'poet of hatred.'

Perhaps one day, Hollywood will butcher this one, ah, remake it. How would that go? Scar will be an innocent victim, and will be played by … Angelina Jolie. Like it so far? The Rupert Murdoch's cavalry will kidnap Scar’s little brother played by Johnny Depp, using his Tonto make-up which hides the white spots on his face. Angelina can lead a band of Amazons to abstract Johnny from the clutches of the villainous general played by ... Ron Howard! Is this gold, or what!

That is Major The Honourable John Wickham Gascoyne Beresford Steed, MC, OM, graduate of Eton (where he knew James Bond as the school bully), resident at 5 Westminster Mews. Further details may be found at his Wikipedia entry or in one of the biographies of this estimable but fictional English gentleman.

Steed-1.png Steed, ready for action with bowler and brolley.

However gallant and distinguished Steed was to earn the MC and OM, he was nothing without Patrick Macnee (1922-2015). Gone recently to his reward.

Steed created the Avengers. The details are many but the nub is this. The original television series was a vehicle for Ian Hendry, called ‘Police Surgeon,’ with Steed as his assistant. When Hendry left to pursue other options, as they say in show biz, the producers gambled on Steed and reshaped the series. Therein lies an explanation for the title, ‘The Avengers,’ for the police surgeon sought vengeance for victims by identifying the villainy and the villain. I know when it was broadcast Stateside a different gloss was put on the title, what I have offered is the historical dimension.

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In the 1962-1964 episodes Steed evolved into the bowler hat, the Saville Row suits, the bow tie or ascot, the umbrella, and the ever present smile. In the 1961 series he usually wore a shabby trench coat and a glum expression.

News of Macnee’s death prompted me to spin the old DVDs and watch the 1965-1968 episodes. There are many tribute web sites that say everything that needs to be said and which say quite a bit more than needs to be said. The later evolutions of the series I leave in silence, including even those that retained the services of Macnee.

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We are at last catching up to the technology of the Avengers:
Pagers
Drones
3 D printing
Mobile telephones
TV remote controls
Self-driving cars
iPods
Web cams
Anti-gravity boots
Electronic IDs
The smart house
Satellite communication
Miniaturisation

But we still do not have Cybernauts.

More generally:
One episode concerned climate change,
another plant genetics
militant feminism
Ebola
student rebellion
Arab oil
Marvel comics

Each ‘ripped from today’s headlines,’ as the movie posters once proclaimed.

On a more personal note I learned from Steed that the glass is always half full, that a smart girlfriend is essential, that tying a bow tie is de rigueur, and a boutonniere is better than a medal. He was also known to drink rosé wine. I have tried to follow his example in all these ways and more.

The award for best victim goes to J. J. Hooter (‘How to Succeed at Murder’) with a close second to Ponsby Ponsby Hopkirk (‘Honey for the Prince’).

JJ Hooter.jpg J. J.

The unrivalled champion of villainy is Z. Z. von Schnerk (‘Epic’)!

Schnerk.jpg Z. Z.

It is not often that I hear my own department at the University of Sydney mentioned on stage, but it is in this production.

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We entered committed to dogs in the eternal world war between the canine and feline, at the end we had to admit that the cat stole the show.

But as any dog will say, the problem with the first part of the title above is that there was NO dog. What is a dog to do if it is not there? That sounds like a Zen question. Moving on.

The staging was exhilarating. The players were exuberant and mournful by turns as we charted the ups and downs of the love lives of the principals.

It is sold out for the remainder of this season but there is a waiting list for cancellations. That might be worth a try.

I booked long ago after reading a review, but when Herself asked me on the night why I had wanted to go I had forgotten the substance of the review. It didn’t matter. The show sold itself. No mediation required.

Dear diary,

We went to see ‘Mr Holmes’ at the Newtown Dendy last night. I am glad we went but I found the film a disappointment. First, the molasses, and then the vinegar.

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It was a pleasure to watch Ian McKellen hold the camera. Marvellous is this old trouper. And what knees he has for a man born in 1939.

The story does draw from the well of Sherlockiana. Holmes did retire to keep bees on the south coast near Dover. He did have a brother Mycroft whose reach was international. And there were nice touches, e.g., that 221B Baker Street was a false address to mislead curiosity seekers. The glass harmonica pricked my interest and off I went to Wikipedia to be informed. We also cackled at the film within the film, in part because it looked like more fun.

After Hamlet and Henry IV, Holmes must be among the most sought after roles in British drama. Yet having said that there is no Holmes from Laurence Olivier and the other celluloid knights. McKellen certainly lives up to the standard. It was because of him we went, as it was because of Robert Downey that we did not go see his 2009 travesty,

McKellen at 77 convincingly handles the various flashbacks and forwards from 93 to 58. Though what the point of the flashbacks and forwards was, that was lost on us. It just seemed pointless to put Holmes in Hiroshima. The film is based on the novel ‘A Slight Trick of the Mind’ (2006) by Mitch Cullen for those who want to make up their own minds. Perhaps it makes more sense there.

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The supporting players were fine, though it was all so predictable. Mrs Munro was just cardboard. Full marks for transforming American beauty Laura Lynney into this Devonshire frump. Roger goes from monosyllabic to articulate in one scene. Me thinks also, the author of the screen play has not spent much time with the elderly. It is not just not remembering but not knowing that one is not remembering. When it is gone; it is all gone. One does not struggle to remember, rather it is gone without a trace.

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The mystery of beehive murders, now that would certainly have been enough plot for a good film, about Holmes passing the baton — the deerstalker — to Roger, but that was nearly lost in the all the flashes this way and that until it was needed to find somewhere to end.

The setting along the white cliffs was nice but throughout the cinematography was washed out and blurred.

Thanks to the miracle of SBS Television we went to Japan last night and got back in time to go to bed, watching ‘Departures,’ a life-affirming film with cello music about death. Slow, meticulous, and accessible with some travelogue, the story of young Daigo Kobayashi’s transition from mediocre cello player to encoffiner is related, and the effects of the move on those around him, starting with his loyal, but taxed wife.

‘Encoffiner’ is one word Noah Webster did not get. In this case it means laying out of dead person to be placed into a coffin. This is a task performed before the undertaker disposes of the body. ‘Task,’ no, not the right word. Ritual is the word, a performance before the deceased’s family. It is done with the decorum, grace, and precision of the best of Japanese culture, but achieving that takes time and practice, and sometimes the difficulty is compounded by the emotions which the death has unleashed in the family. All of this, and more, is carefully documented as Daigo, reluctantly, enters this world.

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He is broke, in debt far beyond Mika's, his wife, wildest guess: celli are expensive. The ready money NK Agents offers is too tempting to refuse.

His initial revulsion at both the physical and social aspect of the work is gradually overcome when he realises slowly that the ceremony is of great solace to many families. In time he finds solace of his own in the task. Though it does take a longtime to close the loops and there is more repetition than I liked. Robert Ebert reviewed it in 2009 and gave it four stars out of four and wrote his usual perceptive comments with some comparisons to other films.

yojiro_takita.jpg Yojiro Takita, the director with the Oscar for best Foreign Picture.

We could have watched Computer Generated Images slug it out on 7MATE but we preferred something about life and people, not comic strip nonsense made by prepubescent boys for prepubescent boys, or is that the other way around. Or we could have been hectored by an ABC journalist firmly brandishing one end, usually the wrong end, of a stick. So many choices.

I record a selection of SBS free-to-air movies based on David Stratton’s comments in ‘TV Week.’ I use his comments and not his ratings, which I find too high, though he has recently changed the method and I am still trying to gauge his new approach of categorising rather than numbering.

This is a feature film from Finland, the land of low-key but often very interesting and accessible movies.

Genre? Mockumentary, I guess. It is told deadpan. A Finn writes to a tango club in Buenos Aires, claiming that the tango originated in Finland, and supplies a long and detailed history of its evolution in the far north of the far north. While the Argentines laugh it off, it is, well, curious, and what, after all, is Finland like that these people would make such a stupid claim.

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Three of them club together — a guitar player, a singer, and a dancer — to head north to the land of midnight sun, endless forests that all look alike, wrong turns, language barriers, a dead battery, and reindeer on the road.

They find something they never found in Buenos Aires, peace-and-quiet, and also people who have plenty of time for them to get past that language barrier and they learn some things about themselves, Finland, and even the tango, as they finally admit. The explanation of why Finnish men like the tango is perfect.

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Completely unpretentious, no plot twists, plenty of travelogue, first in Buenos Aires and then Lapland. That deity of film criticism Roger Ebert would certainly give it all thumbs up, and so do I.

Fiction? Well not quite. See Wikipedia for an entry on the Finnish tango, and be enlightened.

I read a charming review of this Finnish film about a year ago, and determined to have a look at it. I tried to get it on iTunes but failed. It could not be sold into the Australian market. I even tried to fool iTunes by logging in while in the States to no avail. Though it was available for purchase, I could not purchase it. Frustrating. Yet another chance to develop my patience. (Yes, I know about VPN, but my needs are few.)

I thought that by June 2015 it would surely be available. I was assuming it would be screened at the Sydney Film Festival, since it seemed perfect for that, and then have a commercial release and we could see it on the wide screen. I checked with a Film Festivalian of my acquaintance, who said no, it was not on the program. Rats!

I tried again to locate it for purchase and lo and behold I found a vendor and ordered it toute suite! It promptly arrived and we gave it a spin.

Robert van Gulik (1910-1967), a Dutchman, wrote a series of krimies featuring Dee. Gulik was an orientalist and lived most of his life in the Far East. Scrupulously following the trail of historical authenticity in the novels, Gulik’s Dee is a judge, rather like a circuit court judge who travels around China finding wrongs and righting them, and not a detective. One supposes that the label ‘detective’ is used to make Dee accessible to contemporary audiences, unlikely to know their own history. Having read a couple over the years, when I saw this title in the SBS line up, I was curious to see what contemporary Chinese would make of a European’s appropriation of their society fifty years ago.

van-Gulik-robert.jpg Robert van Gulik

The short answer is not much. This is an original story, per the IMDB information, and the title does not match any of Gulik’s at my glance. I rather think this film takes more liberties with Chinese historical accuracy than did Gulik. It seems as free as a Hollywood script, veering this way and that, with talking animals, ghosts, and other excuses for CGI, CGI, and more CGI, without a meaningful story line or characters with any depth. A moving comic book, but then Stan Lee has ascended to royalty on that. I let it run but assigned only 1% cognitive attention to it while plowing through the NYT Sunday crossword puzzle.

Dee cover.jpg

IMDB scores is 6.6 and some reviewers found it ‘enthralling’ and ‘sumptuous.’ I found it repetitive, predictable, incomprehensible, and boring by turns. Something for everyone then.

There are ghosts in the Dee stories I know, but inevitably it turns out that some villain is trading on the belief in ghosts to get up to some dastardly deed, and the no-nonsense Judge Dee soon settles that!

Reading about Vichy France reminded me of this film, so I watched it again.

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Love the film, but not the many historical inaccuracies in it, though it is easy to forgive them, still we should not forget them. Here are a few.

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1.There were Germans in Morocco to monitor the neutrality of the Vichy Administration, but none were permitted to wear uniforms.

2.The Germans dressed in mufti and were confined to poor hotels in Rabat, not Casablanca.

3.The Germans were permitted out and about only when escorted by many French soldiers, almost as though they were prisoners. Had they travelled to Casablanca, they would have had a large French military escort.

4.The French governor of Morocco in Rabat, General Auguste Noguès, had in 1940 advocated continuing the war from North Africa, and he made as many difficulties as possible for the Germans in Morocco, while following the letter of his orders to cooperate. There were complaints by the Germans, but the matter was too low a priority for pressure to be exerted.

5.Ergo there would have been no singing in nightclubs.

6.No questioning of travellers.

7.No truckloads of German soldiers.

8.That immutable letter of transit is wrong, too. De Gaulle’s signature would have landed the bearer in the slammer. Pėtain's signature perhaps.

9.There was little if any unity among the anti-Nazis within a single country let alone internationally as depicted in the film. No Norwegian would not flash the cross of Lorraine to anyone let alone a Czech.

10. There was a sizeable language barrier between Norwegians, Bulgarians, Czechs, French.

The deep ambiguity of the situation is certainly true and Casablanca was perhaps, I do not know, a magnet for refuges.

Hitler's only interest in the French Empire was to keep it and its colonial army, warships at anchor, and other military, financial, and natural resources from the Allies. Germany did not have the troops or the access to the four corners of the globe directly to do this, but if the paper-mâché regime at Vichy could effect those exclusions, it was worth the comic opera pretence that it was independent.  

There is another ambiguity, too, that of the Roosevelt's enduring effort to maintain diplomatic relations with Vichy, first when both it and the USA were neutral, and when the USA entered the war he tried hard to maintain diplomatic relations with the still neutral Vichy. Ergo there may well have been an American consul in Casablanca. 

FDR also undermined de Gaulle for years, even after the invasion of North Africa, when much to the chagrin of some advisors to FDR, the French troops there responded to de Gaulle, and not the puppet they had put up instead.

These ambiguities muddle the clean lines of the story from the first shooting in front of the poster of Pėtain's to the bottle of Vichy water at the end, but they explain how confused and confusing the situation was for those individuals. 

It is unlikely that the screenwriters had this detailed knowledge. And finally, who cares! It is entertainment not a history lesson.

A Danish drama courtesy of SBS. The title translates as Murk.

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It is a study in ambiguity and the viewer's sympathies flow back and forth between Jacob and Anker. Is Jacob, the tall dark, handsome, and assured Copenhagen journalist, an obsessive nut case, while the fat, ugly, placid farmer Anker the victim of circumstances? Or is Anker a devious serial murderer several steps ahead of Jacob, who was right about him all along? Most of the action occurs in the village of Murk (indeed) in Jutland, flat, wet, brooding skies, the smell of farms (manure).... Be glad there is no Smell-O-Vision. [Remember that? Just wait; it will come again.]

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The local plod cannot believe Jacob's wild accusations, and he certainly is unstable by then. But Anker is on a mission and he cannot deviate....

With the resolution at the end, a number of loose ends arise: Did Hanne make the last phone call? Where is the razor blade or knife?

Maybe we need a little more of Anker to understand the mission. Is it because he, too, is outcast by his looks and so knows what his victims really want even if they never say it, may not ever say it. Why did Jacob keep waking up to answer the phone that did not ring?

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In Denmark, one of the most regulated societies, could a serial widower like Anker pass unnoticed by the police, media, and the vigilantes of the blogosphere? Still less in the small villages where he passed. But what if he could….

Another gem from SBS world movies, which I recorded years ago and just got around to watching. A feature film from Brazil without slums, guns, drugs, or violence, it is a rarity indeed.

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Brazilian film makers seem as fixated on guns as the prepubescent boys of Hollywood.

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The film offers a set of character studies, and a daring one at that for the characters neither intersect nor interact, though we keep expecting that they will since that is the film convention invoked. Instead São Paulo Stories sums it up. Along the way there is a travelogue of São Paulo, much of it from the air, Google earth, and the streets, too. It moves slowly. The director is in no hurry and establishes the place before the people.

Centro_SP2.jpg Centro, São Paulo

Three sad, frustrated, and bereaved people make the best of it and get on with life. These are real people, not the products of the adolescent mind of a script writer. What a treat. By the end, Ênio reunites with his daughter. Pedro comes to terms with his grief. Lúcia quits her job and finds the cloud lifting.

There is one surprising almost staggering moment, and I suppose this is a spoiler of sorts. Be warned.

When Pedro and Lúcia pose for a picture against a great vista it seems they are reaching an understanding that they can help one another. Then later she discovers, by chance, that he has photoshopped her out of the picture and inserted his deceased girlfriend, and indeed perhaps the whole trip to the vista and the photograph had the purpose of getting that pose so that she, Lúcia, could be removed, or so she might well conclude. She is, to say the least, stunned, hurt, angry…. How would you liked to be photoshopped out of a picture by someone you cared about?

The opening titles and then first scenes establish the thesis. Oh, yes, there is a thesis in the film. It is that we and all around us flow through time and space, here illustrated with São Paulo’s road traffic.

highway-freeway-São-Paulo-traffic-Living-in-Brazil1.jpeg" The traffic


Enio at work.jpeg The traffic controller, Ênio, at work

Fluid dynamics provides a model for both traffic flow, and human interaction. There is no intent and yet there is order. Chance creates meaning, I would say, contrary to the title, in Portuguese ‘Não Por Acaso’ which is literally ‘Not by Chance.’ Whether that phrase has an idiomatic meaning in Portuguese, I cannot say.

The effort of Pedro to plan ahead his pool games, and of Ênio to foresee and avert traffic jams, and Lúcia to predict the commodities market, these actions can influence events, they can divert the flow, but they cannot change the fundamental dynamic. The sequence when Pedro realises his plan for the pool game is wonderfully rendered. It is the payoff of earlier preparations both by Pedro and the film maker.

hqdefault.jpg Philippe Barcinski

This film is Philippe Barcinski's first feature length movie and yet is assured and controlled as if by an old pro.

All trip but no arrival. Wait! That is not quite right. There is a charming end.

Toufic wanders around Beirut by night, leaving work at an internet café to got to a party where he hopes to meet Yasmina. He stops home to change clothes (one grungy tee-shirt for another) where he has a loving mother and a younger brother who worships him and a father who provides well for them all. All perfectly Main Street. On the way, while fuelling his moped he sees in the middle distance a kidnapping, from which he averts his eyes once he (and the viewer) realises what is happening. He crosses the city, past the neon lights, the lines of sedans at traffic lights, fast food joints, bars. Buses with workers going home. It could be a city anywhere. Note it is all set at night and so many of the images are dark, very dark.

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At the party in a private apartment the misadventures begin when one of his buddies flies into a jealous rage and has to be placated. There is an argument in the parking lot over a dented fender. One of the antagonist deliberately batters his moped.

Testosterone now rising, the mild mannered Tou seeks out a weapon with which to deal with this malefactor. He travels on the damaged moped along the famous Corniche around the bay. He encounters a friendly garage owner who helps out with the moped, an officious paramilitary policeman who is heavily armed for a traffic cop, an arms dealer who pines for the good old days when the private armies bought big-time, some unpleasant goons, while his buddy, now back to normal, seeks him out to stop him doing anything stupid.

There is much back and forth and in the end Tou, though he now has a weapon, goes home and plays with his younger brother, and the two of them fall asleep. The End.

While the story in the foreground is a staple ‘what Toc did last night’ it is placed in the context of street kidnappings, trigger happy cops, and psychotic merchants of death. It was made fifteen years after the last war fought in Lebanon and about four years before the next one, a time of relative calm and normality. These twenty somethings lust after one another, dance to the latest European craze, talk of American block buster movies, the girls strut their stuff, and the lads admire it up close. They speak Arabic but act like Europeans in every way. See, normal. Yet just a few feet outside the bubble are the guns, kidnappers, paramilitary thugs, and street gangs looking for easy meat. There are few words of French with some visitors.

150px-Michel_Kammoun,_Cines_del_Sur_2007-1.jpg Writer and director Michel Kammoun

It had a surprisingly good but superficial and mostly descriptive review in 'Variety' I found on the IMDB.

I recorded it from SBS because of its origin in Lebanon at a time of (relative) normality.

A combined performance of Legs on the Wall, Vox, and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs for the Sydney Festival 2015 at the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta. I went to a matinee to see the alto do her stuff. I class this entry as a Film Review for my convenience.

SF15_Riverside_Puncture_960x295.jpg The lobby card.

What singing! What energy! What colour and movement? And some of it was in black-and-white, too. It had everything.

RiversideTheatre-e1389226725630.jpg The Riverside Theatre, the one in Parramatta, not Milwaukee or San Francisco.

It is presented as one continuous piece with breaks for applause. There were several distinct parts. The opening reminded me of ‘West Side Story,’ later there was a one-note ’Space Odyssey,’ a soprano ascendant, a Strauss waltz, lost souls in the haze à la Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ some aerial fish on harnesses, and — best for last — a superb, creative use of iPhone cameras which I thought was delightful, and apt with the app! All done in about an hour.

The black-and-white were shadows projected on the wall. Having recently seen the relevant episode of ‘Rectify’ I agreed, Plato was on to something. [You either get it or you don’t.]

Wait there is more! The audience entered through the tradesman’s door and snaked down a maze of hallways to sit on the stage with the performers. I had already instructed me to seek the high ground and I found out why later. In stagecraft-speak that is supposed to break down the barrier between audience and performer. Hmm. Reduce it yes, conceded.

This piece has been the Sydney Festival for 2015 for us. Kate has had numerous rehearsal with much get ready and wait along with seven (7) performances, sequins and all in the haze.

It was blisteringly hot day in the centre of Sydney, Parramatta being the geographical and historical centre of the greater Sydney metropolitan area.

aerial.jpg The red flag at the top edge centre left is the Sydney CBD with Parramatta in foreground.

I took the train back to Newtown, glad of the air conditioning on board. Kate had to stay for the evening performance, returning much later ready for a large one.

As this nerd’s tribute to another nerd, I left my desk this morning to ride Bus 352 to the Chauvel theatre in Paddington to see Roger Ebert in ‘Life Itself.’

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A movie is a machine for transmitting empathy by telling the stories of other people, of other times, and of other places … and there we find something of ourselves and we experience it in the silent company of hundreds of others. No, we are not alone. Call that an Ebertism. I am sure he said something like that but I could not track it down.

The movie chronicles Ebert from cradle to grave, the small town mid-western only child who made his way in the big wide world. At the University of Illinois he worked his way up to editor the ‘Illini Daily’ where he rose to the occasion in November 1963. (By the way, I loved seeing that two-storey printing presses, the rumble of which is heard streets away.)

The essential loneliness of the man is inescapable in his earlier years, here portrayed as his salad days, the life of the party with no home and no one to go home to, drinking all night and eating like a pig, and he poured himself into his typewriter.

That Ebert was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his movie reviews is noted and mentioned a couple of times, but nothing is said about why he got it. A quotation from the citation would have been valuable. It was remarkable that a film reviewer would receive such an accolade. Still is.

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One of the major themes has to be the odd coupling with Gene Siskel. They were from different worlds, and found little in common. If they bickered on screen, they positively reviled one another off it. Though even some of that seemed forced yet it was amusing to watch the out-takes, boys being bad boys because it was expected of them.

Film literati never accepted Ebert and hated the influence he gained with audiences and indeed directors and studios. His most egregious failing was that he did not write in the inscrutable, closed, self-referential way beloved of Cultural Studies. I think of all those films made for other film directors lovingly reviewed in the ‘The Story of Film: an Odyssey’ (2011). (A documentary film reviewed elsewhere on the this blog.) Ebert cut through all of that.

Whenever I see a movie I like, I check the Ebert archive in the hope that he wrote about it, putting into words some of the things that occurred to me and, more importantly, putting into words things that did not occur to me at all.

This is the man who recognised Martin Scorsese’s genius in ‘I Call First’ (1967), who searched out and encouraged independent film makers like Errol Morris, reviewed documentaries as if they were feature film when other reviewers ignored documentaries, and made subtitled movies acceptable to an ever larger audience. Credit where credit it due.

By the way ‘I Call First’ was retitled ‘Who is that knocking at my door’ when it got a wide release thanks to Ebert’s push. His battles to review independent films with little or no theatrical release is more than enough to make the case that he expanded the realm, likewise, his thinly disguised efforts to review some obscure film three times to give it exposure. Siskel played a part in all of this, too, but is not given credit for it in these 120 minutes. No time, I guess. See my comment on length at the end.

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Among the many likeable moments in the documentary are these:

Martin Scorsese’s perplexed reaction, even years later, to a bad review from Ebert was delicious. Not only did Ebert start Scorsese's career but he resurrected it once, but even so he did not like 'The Color of Money' and said so.

The continental tensions with the rulers of popular culture in Los Angeles and New York City who ignored those two guys living in a movie house in Chicago for years and years. (I always thought they lived there anyway.)

His abiding loyalty to the working class 'Chicago Sun Times' and its readership even under the baleful influence of Rupert Murdoch's ownership was staunch. It gave him his start and he repaid that everyday.

Werner Herzog’s description, delivered in the thick overcoat of a German accent, of Ebert as a comrade wounded in action who soldiers on was charming, grim, and exact.

Richard Corliss of 'Time' magazine eating the words of some of his early attacks on Ebert's approach to reviewing. Too down market for the young Corliss. An older and wiser Corliss sees a bigger picture now, or having made his career, Corliss perhaps now has no need any longer to attract attention by attacking an established figure.

The recitation of the last page of 'The Great Gatsby,' 'Most of the shore places were now closed...[get it and read it for yourself].' A dirge to be sure, but 'Gatsby believed in the green light.' So did Roger Ebert. Find and follow the green light....

Art mirrors life but it need not reproduce it, as Ebert said more than once. There was about 30 minutes too much of life in the film for this viewer, the grieving wife, the loving grandchildren, the lingering camera shot to wring every last drop of emotion from the take, enough already!

I enjoyed leaving my well beaten paths for a while today, but I won’t make a habit of it! I have footnotes to go and chapters to write before I play hookey again.

A Walter MItty story set in contemporary Montréal. Jean-Marc lives a downward spiral in a world that is collapsing all around. To escape he daydreams, nightdreams, afternoon dreams his life away, enduring an impossible job, a loveless marriage, a daily trek to be demeaned at the office while being incapable of assisting any taxpayer who comes to him for assistance. It is a well worn franchise, this story but it is handled with vigour and imagination. If the whole does not compute, many of the parts are great fun, some of them instantly recognisable.

Days Darkness

For instance, the committee meeting of ten to explain to Jean-Marc that ‘negro’ is a non-word in his first official disciplinary warning. The elaborate methods of the smokers to avoid the anti-smoking patrols. Yes, security guards with dogs on anti-smoking patrols. Then there is the singular Montréal touch, that Olympic stadium white elephant. Though no government in fifty (50) years has a found a use for that monument to the ego of Mayor Jean Drapeau, Denys Arcand has: government social services offices.

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Why not, a billion tax dollars went into that monstrosity at the end of the metro. It is has been cited in every other Olympic bid as an example of what not to do.

Of course the functionaries have little time to deliver social services since they are constantly in meetings to hammer each other very politely with a host of conflicting and contradictory rules, to be motivated even if depressed and dispirited by Humour Quebec, to be trained in the latest trivial tweak to the meaningless rules, planning how to cut the next budget, and scheduling the next meetings. See, I said instantly recognisable.

His daydreams about revenge on his line manager and the supervisor….

Equitorial Prince.jpg The prince's minions at work.

Well that prince of equatorial origin is famous for his cruelty. Seeing a Roman emperor dragging on a cigarette, that is worth the price of admission.

His imaginary girlfriend’s anger at being the dream girl for such a loser, ouch, that hurt! But she did not seem to mind his other fantasy women.

hareem.jpg The harem.

The high-powered wife is a caricature, to be sure, but then so is everything and everyone else. The news on the radio, television, and newspapers is one downer after another. Everyone wears surgical masks in public because of an unfathomable disease that the authorities cannot control. The commuter train, which breaks down everyday, is repaired by the driver with a sledge hammer. The metro is packed with unpleasant people. Criminals with guns are released on technicalities that no one understands. Gangs roam the streets at night. The sky will be falling soon. This is not a Montréal for tourists.

Perhaps thanks to a chance meeting with another fantasist, and more importantly the death of his mother, Jean-Marc is jarred out of his mind world. He leaves home just when his wife returns. I started to type ‘estranged’ wife but their relationship is not close enough to become estranged. He banishes his dream girl with the recriminations of a long married couple. By the way the earlier shower scene with the reference to American film classifications lets us all in on the joke.

Arcand.jpg Denys Arcand gesturing. A great talent, this one with a string of thoughtful and memorable films including 'Jesus of Montréal,' 'Decline of the American Empire,' and 'The Barbarian Invasion.'

Recorded from SBS and watched later. The title ‘L’Âge des ténébres’ is literally the Dark Ages, but for reasons best know to themselves the SBS producers called it ‘Days of Darkness.’

Bletchley Park first was unknown, then a curiosity, a historical drama, and now a fantasyland.

Bletchley,jpeg Bletchley Park, now open to the public.

It remained secret for most of the Cold War, then a little information became available in the 1960s, then a lot more in the 1980s, and now the facts no longer constrain the story teller. ‘Enigma’ in 2001 was one take on it, a drama with a tortured performance from Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet playing against type. It was perplexing and rousing.

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In 1968 Dirk Bogarde ran the show in ‘Sebastian’ with understated panache.

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’The Bletchley Circle’ has also been on the small screen, which after a great start descended to the average, emphasising special effects over intellectual content.

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We dithered about going to ‘The Imitation Game.’ Seeing man’s inhumanity to man, well, we could see that on the television news any day. Huh? The publicity emphasised the abuse of Turing for his homosexuality; no doubt this was done to martyr him, but it put us off. For a while.

Bletchley Park, I had to see that again. Nerds winning the war! Near sighted, stoop shouldered, shuffling wallflowers with bad table manners, I could identify with them! Sorry Brad Pitt but you are not in my league.

The importance of codes and decoding has a long history to be sure. There is that Zimmerman telegram of 1917, a coded German message to Mexico that was intercepted and decoded and gave the United States a push into the war. More on the Zimmerman letter at the end. Read on.

To compare ‘Enigma’ to ‘The Imitation Game’, a few points standout. ‘Enigma’ showed Bletchley Park to be the gigantic factory it was, employing in 1944 about 12,000 people. The Bletchley Park’ of ‘The Imitation Game’ is confined to less than a dozen people with a few CGI backgrounds. In ‘The Imitation Game’ Commander Alastair Denniston is a foolish martinet, played to a 'T' by Charles Dance, but in fact he was the one who decided very early that code breaking in this war required mathematicians and engineers. In earlier years, decoding had been the province of linguists and translators. Not this time. Likewise, running crossword puzzle competitions to recruit personnel was his, not Turing’s, brainchild. Nor do I think the beard is right for 1942. None of the pictures I could find show him with a beard in the 1940s.

Colossus was indeed a digital computer but it was neither designed nor used by Turing but by others. Turing devised and built another device, but the film is 'based on a true story' so the slather is open.

Many reviewers have focused on Turing’s homosexuality, and it certainly was the man. For the one-eyed there is not enough emphasis on that, no doubt, but to this viewer it seemed partly anachronistic, i.e., the references were too explicit for the time when homosexuality was the love that did not (dare) speak its name. The very word itself in 1942 would have not always been understood. Having said that, there was plenty of emphasis on it, though Turing suffered also from autism, and code-breaker he might be, but he could not see double meanings in conversation, a fact that is very nicely presented in the scene in the pub. There was also paranoia in the mix.

There is no historical reason to believe that Turing made any decisions about the use of the material. Disclosure by using the intelligence, this was a command decision made at the very top. though Turing may have realised the implications of acting on the information but it hardly seems consistent with his complete self-absorption most of the time. Making a member of the inner circle, who apparently does nothing, a relative of a sailor on a convoy was a very midday soap opera touch. Every ship had brothers and sons on it, a good many wives, sisters, and daughters, too. ‘Enigma’ plays this straight and the result is all the more powerful when the senior naval officer implicitly orders his men to their deaths for the greater cause.

It seems very unlikely to me that a one page letter from Turing to Churchill would have uncorked a £100,000. Perhaps Leo Szilard, Churchill’s science advisor, interceded, but we will never know in ‘The Imitation Game’ where Turing is the singular Atlas on whose shoulders the world rests. On the same page the confrontation after the door is kicked in seems almost childish in its resolution where the messenger from the Home Office without word of dialogue has the authority to nod to a six month extension but mutely accepts a one month edict instead. Hello! It does not work anything like that.

Turing did write to Churchill at one point to ask for more clerical staff, and Churchill did reply immediately for ‘Action this day.’ Based on a true story they say. Hmm.

I found the chopping back and forth through time from 1928 to 1942 to 1955 confusing and distracting. The only reason the schooldays of 1928 were there in the end was to explain the name Christopher on the last contraption Turing built. It was unnecessary to the story.

Benedict Cumberbatch strives to save the day and nearly does. He does not need that backstory of 1928 to be confused, arrogant, inept, autistic, brilliant, frightened, determined, lost, secretive, brassy, paranoid, unpredictable, lonely in a crowd, and more. He did them all by turns and at times a couple at once, riveting.

Turing,jpeg Alan Turing

The female lead by comparison goes through the motions without ever quite inhabiting the part, made more difficult for being underwritten. She becomes nothing more than a plot device. Joan Clarke in fact became Deputy Head of Hut 8 which housed the first Colossus, but you’d never know it in ‘The Imitation Game.’ And she did not secure this position by patronage from Turing, to be clear. By the way she wore glasses, as did Kate Winslet in ‘Enigma.’ Hooray for Four Eyes!

The idea that the air is full of secrets is quite an idea and I wished the film makers had scrapped the CGI warfare, which was uniformly poorly done, for something creative. Would there not be a way to show those messages passing through the air like tracers and being netted at British listening stations. Now that would excite any viewer. Maybe something like this map of transponders on European air traffic.

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There are several scenes of Turing running and he was a Olympic class distance runner, who failed in an Olympic try out because of an injury. One of his many personal eccentricities was to run to London for meetings, carrying a back pack with clothes. Another was to chain his perfectly ordinary tea mug to the radiator.

The imitation game is still a test for artificial intelligence pretty much as described in the police interview room where Turing breaks the Official Secrets Act he signed in 1939 to tell the plod all.

The Zimmerman telegram was decoded and acted upon in 1917 by a team that included Alastair Denniston. A feeble effort was made to hide its source, and the Germans continued to use the same code. More intelligence from broken codes was used, and the German continued to use it. Even when the pretence of hiding the sources was dropped, they continued to use it. Why? Because it was a German code and so it was the best. It was unbreakable, despite the evidence that by the middle of 1918 the Allies were reading every radio message. See Barbara Tuchman’s marvellous book ‘The Zimmerman Telegram’ (1985) for tale of his Teutonic arrogance and folly matched only by that of the United States.

Another little gem from SBS Television, this one from France.

A la suite d'un accident de voiture, Arthur est plongé pendant quelques heures dans un coma. Durant sa phase d'éveil, dans un délire verbal, il exprime des phrases incohérentes qui trouvent leurs racines directement dans son inconscient. A son réveil, il est face à une curieuse énigme : Que faisait-il la nuit sur cette route, proche de Cherbourg?

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The title is perfect, once you get it, and as soon as it is said it clicks. The Black Box, c'est toi. Nice, very nice. The layers of reality and illusion are nicely done and the preoccupation with the brother begins to seem strange, and it is.

At first it seemed to be the story of an amnesiac who sets out to investigate himself, to recover his memory, as in a detective story, but it drifts away from that to science fiction or fantasy with the masked ninja. Even so, compelling viewing. It remains a study of unresolved guilt and obsession unleashed. Perhaps the larger purpose is to challenge the borders between reality and illusion but it does not succeed at that.

Juan Garcia’s many transformations from bland, sad, angry, confused, disoriented, lost, forgiving are worth the 90 minutes. He is in virtually every scene and carries the film. He is a superb actor and when we watched another SBS movie later I missed his depth, variation, and intensity compared to the callow actors in the next film who were so clearly going through the motions. Garcia believes what he is doing and makes the viewer believe it, too.

I recorded it because I saw that Richard Berry was the director and that it featured the ever versatile Juan Garcia.

Garcia I got to know when he played Adamsberg in a film based on one of Fred Vargas’s superb novels, altogether very fine that one,’Pars vite et reviens tard’ (2007) from ‘Have mercy on us all.’ That title in French is an idiom like ‘scoot and come back later’, and has nothing to do with the title of the book which is the same in both languages. Go figure. I cannot think of English equivalent to this idiom, though no doubt there is one I just cannot recall.

Richard Berry took his place in my mental pantheon with ‘C’est la vie’ (1990), another gem, directed by Diane Kurys, in which he played one of the parents, with only one scene but that was cut glass. I have kept my eye out for him ever since. He has a long list of credits including “Tais-Toi’ (2003).

The tag line on the poster above, 'it is necessary to forget' is perfect. It also reminds me of that old maxim that successful people have short memories. They forget their failures and mistakes and keep going. Selective memories is more accurate, but the point is not to dwell on mistakes, errors, and failures, and to keep going. When you quit, the others win.

I see that on the IMDB 'La Boîte Noire' scores a miserly 5.8/10. Well that confirms a conviction that most people do not recognise quality.

Driven by the pack instinct of nerds, we went to the Dendy Newtown to watch ‘Particle Fever’ about physics. The star of the show was the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (Centre Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire) in Geneva.

MV5BODg3MTM3NTY1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDg5NTM2OQ@@._V1_SY963_CR10,0,630,963_AL_.jpg Lobby card

The focus of the 100 minutes was the alternative explanations offered by theoretical and experimental physicists. The commitment of the individuals portrayed to pursuing ideas and testing them was inspirational. All the more so, considering the diversity of their background and formative experiences.

The theoretical issues were well enough explained to keep interest. The mix of interviews, exposition, graphics, background, and images of that Collider kept us engaged. Though much of it was in the form of extended selfies, and that got thin. A super nerd talking to an iPad camera is not entirely captivating.

The search for evidence of the Higgs Boson particle provides the drama, and there is a lot of it, including a meltdown. That Peter Higgs is there to see it was touching, affirming, and delightful.

7969331_orig.png The theoretical matrix in which Higgs Boson is crucial

Along the way are messages about the importance of basic research which everyone wants and no one wants to fund. The clips of United States congressmen defaming such research is sobering, though the conditions of unfettered thinking that physicists at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton enjoy is the obvious counterpoint which left in silence.

Also left in silence is the engineering that built that sucker, and the endless political work that must have gone into securing, maintaining, retaining, perpetuating, and using its funding.

ATLAS.jpg Look closely at the people in the bottom left for perspective

This is a film about the actors on the stage, the physicists, and not about the stage machinery that made it happens. More’s the pity, because the people who made it happen also include all the politicos who sold the project, and continually re-sold it to keep those Euros coming in.

My visit to Geneva years ago took me to the League of Nations archives where I read 3x5 index cards from 1939. Fascinating!

It has fifteen parts and is currently being aired on Studio TV. We have watched three episodes with great interest, and occasional comprehension.

What we like is the low-key presentation and comments, the worldwide scope from Zimbabwe to Afghanistan and the generosity of spirit that underlies both. All so rare on the air these days when shouting replaces thought, when the crass drives out all else, and the relentless me-focus shrinks the world, and that is on the the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)!

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The most recent episode was an account of the last days of celluloid filmmaking before the CGIs (Computer Generated Images) conquered all.

Among those in the spotlight were Lars von Trier one whose films deadened me when I was a film festivalian, but he gave a modest and cogent explanation for his approach, as did some others, though none of it encouraged me to watch their films. They make 'L'Année dernière à Marienbad' (Last Year at Marienbad) (1961) seem like an action movie! It is all so intellectual, dessicated, retentive, inward, abstract, meta, self-referential, reflexive, slow ... well you get the idea by now or you never will. Gone are plot and character, gone are place and time, and with them, meaning. Instead the images on the screen are to trigger some unconscious response in the viewer. Uh huh... Well, unconscious anyway.

However, the broader theme was that actors are human beings and CGIs are not. Accordingly, Mark Cousins featured directors who concentrated on film characters as human beings. They have imperfect bodies, which age, sag, and sometimes let them down. (Amen.) They also have emotions that cannot be articulated in an six-second scream but have to have portrayed. (For an example, BCGI (Before CGI) recall Steve McQueen, without a word, bouncing the ball off the wall in 'The Great Escape' [1963].)

Tsai Ming-liang, a Taiwanese director, had some insightful things to say, and talked mainly about his ‘Vive l’Armour‘ (1994). His comment on the Hollywood fetish of CGI concerned the deadening effect of the screen busy with multitudes of CGIs from spaceships, endless weapons, to vampires, and a deafening surround soundtrack. Sadly that is too often true.

Tsai-Ming-liang.jpg Tsai Ming-liang

Cousins focussed on the last scene in ‘Vive l’Armour’ where a distressed young woman cries, and cries, and keeps crying in an exhausting (to watch) seven-minute take. Emotions engulf and cannot be switched on and off, that is the point. I appreciated that argument intellectually, but I confess it did not inspire me to sit through any of his work.

images-2.jpeg Here she is.

As said above, I found much of the material covered in this segment, as in some of the others, to be inward looking, made only for other directors, not an audience. Though much was said about humanity in the program, it seemed there was little for the actors to do but stand in front of the camera. These directors often prefer a single handheld camera, cutting the cost of elaborate camera work, producing little more than a home movie to my eye. The director is the auteur who creates everything, when everything else has been discarded, the actor is the last prop. More than once Von Trier has done films without sets, leaving only actors. Maybe next he will dispense with them, too. That would leave the director doing a selfie into the camera, which some of these films seem to be anyway.

"The Caine Mutiny" (1954) at the Dendy Quay on the very wide screen.

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What a treat! A great cast, a rattling story, superb performances, starting with the conscience-stricken Executive Officer Steve Maryk played by Van Johnson (showing the scars on his face of a car accident before filming started). José Ferrer does a star turn in the last segment (with a bandaged hand, a result of a sporting injury off the set). These blemishes add to the authentic feel of the movie. Fred McMurry, E. G. Marshall, Claude Atkins, Lee Marvin, Tom Tully, James Best, and more offer chiseled performances.

But none can match Bogart when he testifies. No rolling of eyes, no histrionics, no drooling, none of that Jack Nicholson stuff. Click, click, click go the ball bearings as he goes off the deep end, and then, oops, tries to pull back, but it is too late - the Mad Hatter has been seen by one and all. It is the one scene everyone remembers.

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Bogart said he never did understand Queeg so he just did what the director, Edward Dmytryk, told him to do. Ever the professional Bogart did it well for a short guy with bad teeth, a receding hair line, and a weak chin. No matinee idol good looks had he. He'd never make it today in Hollywood.

The film is much more focussed than Herman Wouk's novel, which wanders all over the landscape of the civilian lives of the officers and men, yet the film did seem long to me at 124 minutes. The ingenue Mr Keith seemed an unnecessary distraction, though perhaps he is what Maryk was two years earlier. But his mother, his girl friend, his immaturity are annoying. While in the cutting room I would also have cut some of the repeated vistas of the mighty U.S. Navy and the repeated passages under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The film is a set of character studies, of Queeg, the worn out captain, of Maryk the Executive Officer in over his head, the glib but spineless would-be novelist played to a T by Fred McMurray, the defense lawyer who knows the mutineers were both right and wrong, and the ingenue.

For all of that I see that the imbecile factor is such that it rates a 7.9 on the IMDB just ahead of some of Adam Sandler's films, a benchmark for puerile nonsense.

This film comes from Chile and offers an account of the advertizing campaign that unseated the Pinochet dictatorship.

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To placate world opinion in 1988 (perhaps in anticipation of the medical care that tyrant might one day need, and mindful of the example of the Shah of Iran in 1977) the dictator of Santiago decided to stage manage a plebiscite.

It was contrived to insure a victory. The proposition was a simple 'Yes' or 'No' to the continuation of the one-man rule of Pinochet.

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Pinochet

The graylings of the regime assumed (1) ‘Yes’ could not lose on such an All or Nothing vote and (2) the many opposition parties would never unite but would rather tear themselves apart, confusing and repelling votes by the ever more holy competition among themselves. As additional insurance the campaigning was be limited to two 15 minutes time slots on the television every day. The ‘Yes’ segment to be aired first in prime time. The ‘No’ segment at 11 pm, when honest workers should be asleep. Finally, leaving nothing to chance the voting day and poll hours were chosen to minimize turnout.

As much by accident as design one of the opposition parties hired an advertizing consultant who in time shapes a very simple, very direct, very funny set of television advertizements.

The ad man is reluctant to be hired, the money is laughable, the people are tiresome, it threatens his place in society and the firm to consort with such outsiders. He is threatened and yet, well, his father was exiled, friends from university disappeared, and he feels the pall that hangs over the past, so he took it on after hours.

Then there are the committee meetings. My god, I thought I had endured Dante’s committees, but these surpassed even Mr. Aligheri’s curriculum meetings. They are Olympian in scope, starting at 8 p.m. and going on and on and on, as everyone present airs every grievance they have against the regime with the demand that it be included in every installment of the 15 minute episodes. It is attrition by the self righteous.

There is indeed no agreement among the many opposition groups, several of which depart in moral outrage and make their own episodes, 15 minutes of a very sincere talking head putting any hapless viewer into a trance. Some of the programs seem like televised therapy for the talking head. ‘Now is my chance to tell my story of trial and suffering to indict this despicable regime.’ Others dwell on stern didactic messages documenting the many misdeeds of the past, and there were many, in mind-numbing detail.

The fact that it is all true does not make it either good television or good advertizing.

This is the lesson some of the opposition leaders have to learn and it is an emotionally hard lesson to realize that today’s generation does not much care about the dark deeds of the past. [Pause and consider how much Reader you really care about the dark deeds done in the 1950s and 1960s to aboriginals by people who are still alive and to whom you politely yield your seat on the bus.]

The final indignity to those who had so long risked life and limb to resist the Pinochet dictatorship and its willing thugs was the advertizing jiggle, calculated to catch on! What they wanted was a stirring anthem, what they got was a 30 second lilt!

By the way, the No vote was 55% and the Yes 45% in a 97.5% turnout! Having invited the world media to witness the affirmation of the Pinochet regime, the outcome could not be concealed, but instead led to constitutional revisions that in time eventuated in a reformed regime. (Stan Freberg always said advertising worked, and he was right!)

I am not quite sure what conclusion to draw. Are voters so fickle that a catchy tune sways them? Is voting just another product?

Or, are people motivated more by the future, which was the focus of the episodes? Are viewers more receptive to a message delivered with wit and good humour than one presented in self-righteous hellfire and brimstone?

What I got out of it can be summed up in this way, ‘It is not about me.’ That was the mistake so many of those oppositionists made, too much about me, my suffering, my tears, my journey, my commitment, my sincerity, my trials. Just another kind of self-centred self-absorption that is rife everywhere.

By the way those committee meetings are still going on. The Wikipedia entry for the film and the IMDB page are replete with combatants still claiming that everyone else was wrong!

A sports documentary like no other!

The film tracks eight (8) players making their way to the World Table Tennis championships.

That sounds conventional and boring. NOT!

These athletes, both women and men, are each 80 or older, well Dot of Australia owns up to 100. The Germans Inge and Ursula are in their 90s, Inge having found that her ping-pong training seems to stave off dementia. Rune from Norway jogs to keep fit at 85. Sun from Mongolia is not sure whether he is 82 or 83, the papers having been burned long ago by the invaders, either Chinese, Japanese, or Russian. Who can say?

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Les has been devoted to body building since he left the RAF and never misses a chance for press ups, or cleaning and jerking twice his own weight! Terry has been repeatedly told he has only a week to live for the past two championships, but there he is, at the bell with paddle in hand.

Then there is that self-described reverse Marshall Plan, the wise-cracking Viennese from Texas Lisa (85) who wants to be first and best at everything! She may have only 1/8th of the camera time but she steals the show and wins the women’s final in a walk. Terry feels a failure when he finishes second, but looks forward to next year, just to prove those doctors wrong.

Les, in between reps in the gym, composes poems about life, nature, and people. Sun decides he has to change his training to compete. Lisa searches for a spot on the mantle to display her latest triumph.

What a crew!

When reviewers do not know where to start a review, they sometimes start by slagging off at other reviews. In that spirit I recall a review of an exhibition of Impressionist paintings complaining that it was too French; another that faulted a film about cricket for too many references to cricket. Then there are film reviews that find Hollywood movies so American. I can say, without fear of contradiction that ‘The Great Beauty’ is very Italian. That is why we went; to see some of Italy without the travel.

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'La grande bellezza' poster

The film features that greatest of Italian film stars: Roma itself.

The other actors, fine though they be, are supporting players to this great star with its architecture, its lavish art works, its vistas, its history evoking buildings, it inspiring sunsets and ravishing sunrises, its profligate statuary, its intimate chapels and by-ways, its grande boulevardes, its.... Well, one sees the point by this time, or will never see it. The film is a paean to Roma.

Jep, played superbly by a very serious actor Toni Servillo, has frittered away his talent as a novelist along with his humanity, by living the indolent life Roma offered him with a spacious apartment overlooking the Colosseum, bedding so many willing women that he has long since lost count, rising at 3 pm on many days to party the night away. His being is certainly light in the sense of Milan Kundera’s ‘the lightness of being.’ To reach for another metaphor, it is the 'feathered life,' as the Aztecs offered their sacrificial victims before the knife. I read it as a character study but he could be taken as an exemplar of the milieu in which he swims, and thus the film offers some social criticism, too.

Sounds familiar? Yes, ‘La Dolche Vita’ (1960) comes to mind and there are many fountains. By the way, ‘La Dolche Vita’ is thirty (30) minutes longer than ‘La grande bellezza,’ which is listed at 142 minutes. Yet it held our attention as did ‘La Dolche Vita.’ Confession, one also thinks Silvio Berlusconi who defies parody. Then there is Fellini's own 'Roma' (1972) with the Master's taste for disconnection and the grotesque.

'La grande bellezza' has many tributes to Federico Felllini in its tableaux, its return to the sea, and -- it has to be said -- the dwarf, who here is a real person, not a circus prop, and even a giraffe, a knife thrower, performance art, and on and on.

Jep at 65 is bored, bored, bored, bored; he is also sometimes boring. He lives like a king, dresses like a prince, wanders the haut monde with nary a care in the world, except the dawning realization of his mortality. Jaded, cynical, and worn he is, yet he is not bitter, not angry, not a victim. But he is defeated. He wrote one novel forty (40) years ago, yet he still occasionally meets people who quote from it. He brushes off their admiration and when they ask him about another, second novel he is so long-practiced at diversion that the question does break his emotional skin. Instead he writes witty fluff for a newspaper which must pay him way over the odds so he can afford all those perfectly tailored 3,000 thread-count suits he wears.

It is all trip and no arrival. Much happens, but nothing matters. A tourist faints. Is that part of the story? It is not part of Jep’s story, no, but it is part of Roma’s story. A young man is killed in a car crash, or kills himself by crashing his car and either way drugs may have been involved. His life does not go on, but Roma's does. One of Jep's girlfriends dies and he hardly notices. He goes on ... for now. Roma goes on forever.

In addition to the gorgeous photography of Roma in its many faces there is a wondrous array of music -- some ethereal, some energising, some reassuring, and some that sounds like a train wreck -- in the soundtrack, and all the Milano style in the clothes on the actors. Though in Roma the Milano labels would be cut out. Eye and ear candy supreme.

For the viewer it is two and half hours spent following a camera around Roma over the shoulder of a wastrel named Jep. The camera is at times sinuous, at other time inert, then it seems to dart through the air, or float over the Tiber. However, Jep, no fool, is completely self-aware and perhaps he may yet try to write another novel, but probably not. It makes no matter to Roma.

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Tony Servillo as Jep

I refered to Toni Servillo as a serious actor because I have seen him many times before, including as the very humane detective in ‘The Girl by the Lake’ (2007), a surprising story of what people will do for love. He also directed ‘Propaganda’ (1979) and ‘Guernica’ (1985). Both as serious as the titles suggestion. Though he smoked enough cigarettes in this film to reduce his chances of doing much more work.

Who is the greatest philosophy of the Twentieth Century? 

Before reacting with answers, think about the question. The question implies there are many philosophers from whom to choose, after all ‘greatest’ is a superlative that is the third is a series: great, greater, and greatest, and before that the very good, good, and so on.  Taking the question in that light several names come immediately to mind:  Bertrand Russell for ‘Principia Mathematica’ (1910) and his other technical studies of knowledge, language, and logic;  Jean-Paul Sartre for ‘L'étre et le néant’ (Being and Nothingness’)(1943) and the essays that led up to it; or even -- in the German world -- Martin Heidegger for ‘Sein und Zeit’ (Being and Time) (1927).  Maybe even Richard Rorty, ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature’ (1979).  Remember the honour is the ‘greatest’ and that excludes both the great and the greater, like Michel Foucault, John Rawls, Roberto Unger, Martha Nussbaum, and more.

But what if we re-phrase the question? What if we ask 'Who was the only philosopher in the Twentieth Century?'  That question requires us to think about what we mean by 'philosopher.'

Hannah Arendt is my answer. If by ‘philosopher’ we mean someone who makes sense of life, then she is in a class by herself.  Always was, always will be.  She was the only philosopher in the Twentieth Century. This sense of the word ‘philosopher’ is what Aristotle meant by it.
Arendt film.jpg It has taken two generations for the dust to settle on the story that lies at the centre of this film, for her life and works to be appraised in their own light, not against national priorities, political necessity, ethnic identity, ideology, the lust for revenge, blind emotion, crowd mentality, etc.  In this context the film, by letting her words and ideas speak for themselves, is a tour de force.  And more. Here’s a word one does not see often: magisterial. 

With clever staging and segmenting of the story, Arendt’s singular voice is heard just enough to show how penetrating her thought was, and how naively courageous she was in pursuing that thought where it led. Publish and be damned! 

She did publish and she was damned!  Lifelong friends from childhood (and as an Jewish exile émigré she had few of those left to lose), genial neighours, editors, professorial colleagues, personal friends until then, shunned her. The hate mail, obscene phone calls, attacks on her husband, and her ever loyal intern multiplied, threats from Israel’s Mossad, a deathbed denunciation by an uncle, (her only living relative thanks to the Holocaust), feces smeared on the door of her apartment, and so on (the film omits as much of this as it includes of all this, details to be found in the biographies), none of these stopped her. 

Give her the Socrates Medal for putting Truth before all else.  

In the film, her greatest sin is the passing remark (ten pages of 300 in the book 'Eichmann in Jerusalem') that in some cases some leaders of Jewish communities co-operated with the Nazis as the Final Solution was implemented. These leaders calmed their followers, tried to slow the process by working with it, took over the administration of death at its zero point, selected their fellows for transportation on those railroads run by Adolf Eichmann and his ilk. Indeed this very point was made in passing during the Eichmann trial which is why she reported it.

It is this factual observation that lit the atomic bomb that almost destroyed the 'New Yorker' magazine where her articles on the Eichmann trial appeared.  To wash this linen in public was the sin that had no atonement, not that she was ever about to atone. It was to blame Jews for their own destruction. It was to betray Israel. It was to blaspheme Judaism. It was ....

Her second sin was to believe her eyes. She saw Eichmann as a nobody, a nothing.  How then to reconcile the equation with on one side the unbelievable evil of the Holocaust and on the other side this insignificant nobody?  The Darkest events of Dark Times were not committed by John Milton’s magnetic Satan of 'Paradise Lost' (1667) nor by Johann Goethe's breath-taking Mephistopheles from 'Faustus' (1808).  Instead, Eichmann was just what he appeared to be, everyman, anyman, noman.  Just a man, not the raging beast of Baal.  Evil could work through such a man. Though there is no denying, and she certainly did not deny it, that there were evil men and women in Nazism, but they worked much of their evil through everyman and anyman. A very fine, if harrowing, empirical study is Christopher Browning, 'Ordinary Men' (1992). But this too was unacceptable because if a nobody could destroy Jews then Jews were… weak, or should have resisted, or something…

What the film elides, though there is an early reference for the cognoscenti, is that Arendt’s ‘On Totalitarianism’ (1951) argued the unpalatable case that every means, device, and tactic used by the evil dictators Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin and their many imitators in Europe, had been developed, tested, applied, refined, implemented, and perfected by the Enlightened Western European colonial powers in Asia, and most of all in Africa, and, in truth, in Australia, too.  Selective murder, denigrating humanity, rape upon rape, displacing populations, mass murder, separating families, slave labor, industrial-scale cruelty, brutality for fun, group punishments, dehumanizing victims to themselves, genocide, all of these are well documented in colonial history long before 1939. Every colonial power made use of these atrocities.  Though she is careful to distinguish between the degrees of evil among the colonial powers, while she is ruthless on the collective guilt of the peoples of those colonial powers who did not (want to) know the evils done in their names in far away places that produced the riches that we still see today in a city like Brussels.

What the Twentieth Century dictators did was to repatriate those practices to Europe. They invented nothing.  But brought to new levels the technologies of destruction perfected in the colonies. (By the way this return from the peripheries is just what Michel Foucault detected in other social institutions at a lower level.)

Even generous reviewers have found it hard to work up much enthusiasm for this film about ideas with virtually no action, though there are enough tensions to produce heart attacks, fist fights, and brain aneurisms all around, and to ruin more than one career.  Apparently this is not enough to hold the attention of even a sympathetic reviewer. Admittedly, the film also features much thinking time when Arendt broods on what she has seen and concluded, and sees how all those other journalists who were there have trumpeted the conclusions they took with them. They react; they do not think. Thinking takes time and this director respects that and expects her audience to have the attention span to cope with it. Amen!  

The film integrates black and white film footage from Eichmann's trial and it is essential.  Because, at least to this viewer, it confirms everything Arendt said.
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Adolf Eichmann

It is unmistakeable. No re-enactment, not even I suspect by the great Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, could do it better, and Ganz even briefly made Hitler seem almost human in “Der Untergang‘ (Downfall) (2004).

Barbara Sukowa offers a superb performance.  She projects a laser intelligence that burns through all the irrelevancies thrown in her path.  She dominates the camera when she sits silently in a crowd watching Eichmann testify as she seems to suck out of the air his every word, twitch, tic, hesitation.  It is a remarkable sequence in which she alone seems alive to what is there before all but she alone sees him for what he is - nothing.  It is a scene that is repeated in the press room among the cynical and jaded journalist there seeking sensationalism, and finding it. They react. They are satisfied with the prejudices they came with, but she, silent and still, is not. Though she is silent and still she is more alert, alive, and active than any of them because she is thinking, and they are not. So said Plato of Socrates’s silences.

Margarethe von Trotta is a very experienced director and I found her 'Das Versprechen' (The Promise) (1996) which mirrored the Cold War history of Berlin in a love story memorable for its compassion.  She also made 'Rosa Luxemborg' (1985) and 'Katrina Bluhm' (1975).  Both of these I found heavy-handed.  

But for this film she deserves her own medal for taking it and conceptualizing it in a way that could be filmed, and then selling the project to those that supported it.

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Hannah Arendt

In the film nothing is made of Arendt's most important book 'The Human Condition' (1955) and most important essay 'The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man' (1963).  There is nothing else Iike either.

The official website for the film which is in German but there is an English translation button.
http://www.hannaharendt-derfilm.de

When Alain Resnais died a few weeks ago I stopped to think about his films, well to be exact, the ones I have seen.
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Recently when browsing ‘Le Monde’ I saw another tribute to him and that prompted me to be more systematic about my own recollections. I put them in three categories: (1) compelling, (2) entertaining, and (3) undecided.

1. Compellng does not always mean comprehensible.

‘Nuit et Brouillard’ (1955)
nuit.jpg A very short film (22m), believe it or not, a lyrical meditation on Nazi death camps from the German ‘Nacht und Nebel’ in Wagner's Rheingold where it is magic spell, but it became a code for extermination. The many enemies of the Reich began to disappear into the ‘Night and Fog.‘ Understated and cryptic.

‘L'Année dernière à Marienbad’ (1961)
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Everyone tries to figure our what it all means, and like James Joyce it may mean nothing at all but it is gorgeous to look at it.

‘Muriel’ (1963)
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Though not a word is said about the Algerian War (torture, genocide, coup d’état, betrayal, treason, lying, cover-ups, assassination, a putsch) and yet its shadow falls across everything. Long silences. Social dysfunction. Unspoken and unspeakable guilt and shame.

‘Providence’ (1977)
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John Gielgud writes a novel which Dirk Bogarde Ellen Burstyn, and David Warner are living, or are they? An ode to the creative process of the novelist.

2. Entertaining is not always funny.

‘Le guerre est finie’ (1966)
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The most acessible and explicit of his films, an absurdly romantic vision of a communist cell plotting against the Franco government, but Yves Montand burns with conviction.

‘Pas sur le bouche’ (2003)
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A musical comedy is a real change of pace for the master at 81 years of age; it is fast and furious. ‘Not on the lips’ is the title.

3. Undecided.

‘Hiroshima mon amour’ (1959)
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War is bad, atomic war is worse, yes, I got that much but as for the rest, it is too deep for me.

He made a lot more films, I see from the Wikipedia filmography.

Missed this film during its short theatrical release in Sydney, but noticed it in Civic Video après le gym the other day. There was only one copy on the shelf.

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It is a very clever and daring film. Silent and in black-and-white, so that means 95% of those under 40 will ignore it. On the other hand, because it is silent the language barrier is lower and the title cards are far fewer and easier to read than subtitles.

The film transplants 'Snow White' to Seville 1925 in the milieu of bullfighting and bullfighters. The usual suspects are present: the evil step-mother, the helpless father, the seven dwarfs who are aspiring bullfighters. It all hangs together though Snow White as a bullfighter takes some getting used to.

By the way, the bullfighting sequences make it very Spanish but are filmed very carefully for an international audience, i.e., not cruel or bloody.

In addition to the step-mother, Snow White also has to deal with a corrupt and incompetent press and a manipulative and scheming promoter. It is a lot for a fairy tale to deal with, but she does well, despite the downbeat end.

The Brothers Grimm would approve.

Technical note, the black-and-white in this is not monochrome. Believe it or not monochrome film stock is far more expensive than colour these days. The technical notes on the official web site it was shot in colour and then it was developed as black-and-white, I think it says that. Some will notice this film lacks the subtly of monochrome which offers a world of greys. Whereas in this film, and perhaps it fits the story, everything is either black or it is white.

We had to see it, and see it we did. It is King Lear in worn jeans with grease under the fingernails.

For plot details see the Internet Movie Database entry at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1821549/
Or the official web site: http://www.nebraskamovie.co.uk

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What I liked about it included, the wonderful cinematography that made the Sandhills seem almost alive in the background of the long drive.

But even better was the slow and steady camera survey of the ruined and wrecked Woody’s face in confusion, despair, determination, loss, repose, fatigue, purpose. Bruce Dern is center stage and mostly silent while the camera follows the emotions across his face.
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Viewers may remember Bruce from ‘Coming Home” (1978) or ‘Silent Running (1972). If not, they should!

Having yielded reluctantly his kingdom to age, like Lear, Woody tries to reclaim it a little of it in that lottery scam.

One of his two sons, having nothing better to do makes the futile trip with him. During the drive this son, David, learns many things, some about himself and some about his irascible, volatile, not very loving or lovable father. And he meets many very nice people and a couple not so nice. Such is life.

David sees in Woody lost opportunities, mistakes, quiet achievements that no one knows about but his wife Kate, who wants to stomp Woody more often than not but destroys those others who might criticize or take advantage of him. All in all, it gives David a lot to think about in his own life, about 40, going grey, bunking alone in a motel room.

The other son, Ross, seems completely self-centred, and yet when he is needed, he is there. Capped with a marvelous scene when the two brothers momentarily return to their youth, communicating preternaturally, and off they go to get that damned air compressor. They learn next time not to take quite so literally what is said by someone diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Well, maybe not diagnosed, for when a well-meaning stranger asks David if Woody has Alzheimer's he replies in the payoff line of the movie: ‘No, he just believes what people say to him.’ It is such a gem I thought, in my perfect hindsight it should have come later to cap it off.

The most powerful scene? Several come to mind, but none can beat Kate, Woody’s long suffering wife, when she bellows down the ravenous relatives who think Woody has indeed won the lottery. Jane Squibb as Kate blows their hair off, and the eyes of her two adult sons pop when she does.

I could not find an image of this scene, but here she is pensive.
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But even more moving is the short drive down the street with Woody at the wheel of a new truck with an air compressor in the back. Redemption without a word.

Some critics, seeking always to be critical, which is usually translated as different if not perverse, suppose the director, writer, producer Alexander Payne is mocking the people who inhabit this story. I heard that a lot regarding his earlier movie ‘About Schmidt’ (2002) and let it go through to the keeper since the very assertion betrays an incomprehension so deep no remedy applies. It is a conclusion only a critic could draw.

This is not the country of Bill 'The-Cheaper-the-Shot-the-Better' Bryson.

Payne shows us a world, complete unto itself. It is light and dark, and within its confines, it has good and evil, too, but they shade into and out of each other. It is life.

I did not know Hollywood still made movies about real people, living real lives. It is a pleasure to see it is. Made by adults for adults.

I have no doubt that higher being Roger Ebert would put all thumbs up for this one.


'Casablanca' has slipped a rung in the list of the greatest movies ever made.  'Backyard Ashes!' Bergman's 'The Seventh Seal' has got nothing on it.  That chess game is dead boring by comparison. The drama! The pathos! The barbecue! The googley! It has everything!  And it has more!  

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'Citizen Kane,' move over.  This is an instant classic.  ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ is so last century. Why bother? [Confession: I thought that at the time.] But before cinema history is revised let’s go back to the beginning.

Blue ticket in hand I set out from the Ack-comedy on the 370 bus which wound about to Coogee Bay Road where I dismounted and walked around the corner to the Randwick Ritz, an Art Deco picture palace.  Leaving the wind and the rain behind I flashed the receipt on my iPhone and entered.  The password was ‘Cinema 2, on the right.’

The Best and Brightest showcase, unanswered emails, summer projects, the Machiavelli exhibit, the British International Studies Association conference paper, the remaining 400 pages of James Joyce's 'Ulysses,' the Prague utopian presentation PowerPoint, mysteries of the slate roof, all of these fell behind in a thrice. The lights went off and the magic started.  

After some initial stereotypes to set up the people, the place, and the tensions, time flew by all too quickly.  There was so much snorting and guffawing I am sure I missed some imperishable dialogue. A fellow nearby slid off his chair laughing.  At the end several patrons seemed unable to move, paralytic with amusement.  

Shades of Big Merv, the key in the wicket, Dennis the Mo, Richie, body line, to say nothing of the specter of BRADMAN which hangs over it all with Wilma and Mack.  Best for last, that ball from Seven-Eleven.  

Oh, and the cat!  

If only Roger Ebert could see this.  He'd love it for what it is: Warm, witty, wise, and wonderful. Just like Wagga Wagga.

I do feel sorry for the professional critics who have to find fault with it, e.g. ‘rough around the edges,’ ‘a cast that combines professionals with some amateurs inevitably...‘ Here’s a perfect example: ‘Wearing its heart and hopes on its sleeve may help patch over the repetition and derivation that monopolises the movie; however, the passion of the production can’t conceal the standard and less-so elements,’ says one reviewer on ArtsHub giving it a measly two stars from five. But wait, ‘repetition and derivation that monopolises the movie,’ what does that mean? How can ‘derivation’ ‘monopolise’ anything. Is this Monash English? Only a self-described film critic can answer that. This Einstein also finds the references to cricket in a movie about cricket to be annoying. Go figure. I know what Spock would say.... [In this case, Spock is one of the cricket players.]

Such reviews are as infantile and self-obsessed as 90% of posts on Trip Advisor. This film is a GEM.

A character study set in the German Democratic Republic (DDR) of 1980.  Understated, muted, ambiguous, spare, unadorned, and demanding. Recommended for adults.

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Dr. Barbara Wolfe applies for an exit visa to leave the Workers' Paradise that is the German Democratic Republic. Verboten! She is transferred from the prestigious East Berlin university clinic to an under-equipped small hospital on the Baltic Coast. Her visa request is denied.  We piece this together from cryptic remarks and visuals. There is no exposition. One is left to infer the meaning of what one sees. Nor is there music. Instead there are winds in the trees and the distant sea and the creak of floorboards.

Rejection and transfer confirm her desire to leave.  

Meanwhile, at the provincial hospital she sees the next generation being ground down by the regime. Dr Wolfe befriends a young girl who has repeatedly escaped from nearby Labor Camp.  Quick to apply the regime-approved label, the physicians suppose she is anti-social, seeking only to avoid work. Dr Wolfe finds that she has meningitis and sets about treating her.  She also observes the consequences of a young boy's attempted suicide.  His attempt was born from a love affair but it becomes a crime against the state and when he recovers he, too, will go to another labor camp. Wolfe says these ‘Arbeitlagers’ are in fact ‘Sozialistische exterminaiton Lagern.’ I am sure readers can work that out.

Everything is the business of the STATE in this world.

Throughout Dr Wolfe is harassed by the police, and I mean harassed! Throughout she distrusts her new colleagues and they reciprocate.  It is a society where everyone reports on everyone else, perhaps like North Korea today.  

The paramount importance of the East German state justified its totalitarianism but totalitarians will always find a paramount cause to justify telling everyone else how to live be they self-righteous Greens or God-bothering Christians. One totalitarian is pretty much like another.

In time Barbara Wolfe comes to terms with her Sisyphean existence and concentrates on her work.

There is a remarkable scene when the Stasi officer comforts his wife that shows a humanity I have never before seen credited to agents of the DDR on screen since 1989. I thought that more striking than the self-abnegation at the end, surprising as that was.  Wikipedia has it that as many as 4,000 East Germans died in the Baltic Sea trying to get to Denmark. 

To find out more about life in the DDR I recommend Timothy Garton Ash, The File: A Personal History (Random House, 1997). Many who have commented on this film on the Internet Movie Data Base know nothing of the DDR, it would seem.

In 1980 pin-headed intellectuals in the West routinely denounced the evils of liberal-democracy, while enjoying its fruits, and defended regimes even worse than the DDR. I have yet to hear a mea culpa from these sycophants.

By the way, the past is still with us. The Wikipedia entries on the DDR are contested. Its apologists insert and insist on its merits, denying the facts of their own lives at times, it seems, such is the power of a dream, albeit totalitarian. Perhaps the most profound judgement on the DDR lies in this fact: from 1947 to 1989 its population shrank from 19 million to 16 million. As the young girl says, in effect, in Barbara this is no place to be born.

A small quibble: Nina Hoss's eye shadow, if I have the term right, was distracting and out of place.  I cannot imagine the exiled women in the DDR has the means, the time, the motivation to apply blue eye shadow to get that Cleopatra look.

Times are tough in her one-woman restaurant and when the offer comes to cook for a senior official in Paris for a couple of years at an incredible salary, Hortense takes the bait. I particularly liked the stunned silence when she is told that Joël Robuchon recommended her. (It is like being recommended by Zeus, a higher being.) Soon enough she realizes she is cooking for the President of France (loosely based on François Mitterand) in the Élysée Palace at 55 rue de Saint Honoré.

Recommended for adults.

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There are some insights into the workings of the Building and its many thousands of employees, with some amusing, perhaps alarming scenes for taxpayers, examples of the waste caused by a ten minute delay in a departure for the airport. There is the inevitable tension between different departments within the household.

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Hortense's mission is to cook for the President in a simple way to give him a contrast to the formal, state dinners with their elaborate sauces, etc. Yet she has no way of knowing what the President likes, since she has no access to him, so she examines his plate when it is brought back from the table and infers from that.

The men in the main kitchen, they are all men, resent the existence of this small private kitchen in the residential wing do all they can to undermine it. All too believable. They would do this in any case but that the private cook is an unknown women triples their efforts.

She struggles, not always with success, to limit cost, achieve the highest quality, and stay within the dietary regime of the dying President. Meanwhile, the boys in the main kitchen carp, grudge, cheat, backbite, undermine...

It is great fun, plenty of food to drool over, and I also liked her brief excursion to the Antarctica research station to cook for the crew. There she talked to the diners, learned what they liked, enlisted their help in securing items, and enjoyed it a lot more than than the starched, constrained, combative, zero-tolerance, macho environment at Numero 55. Yes, strange though it may seem the Palace was presented as much more macho than the research station on the edge of the world, which by contrast seemed much more like a family, a large and noisy one to be sure.

While the 'Tastes of the Palace' makes perfectly good sense, for reasons unknown the distributor of this film have called it 'Haute Cuisine' in English. It is a title at odds with the major theme about food, namely that simple food is best when made from the best available produce. No doubt an advertising agency thought Haute Cuisine would appeal to some regardless of the intellectual coherence of the film.

Upon the recommendation of Jerry, guide and driver in West Arnhemland, we watched on DVD the four-part ABC documentary ‘First Footprints.‘ * * * * Highly recommended.

It is an engrossing examination of aboriginal life on Greater and Lesser Australia since time immemorial. Well, to be more specific, the 60,000 years before 1788.

It is part travelogue and part archeology with some ethnography, too, all with a light touch that lets the evidence speak for itself.

What the evidence shows is how aboriginals coped with the changing climate and the coming of the first boat people from England. They dealt with rising sea levels, epic droughts, and a changing fauna. Resilience is the word that applies.

It explores the development and transfer of technology within and among the peoples of Australia through time. A technological breakthrough in one part of Australia would be communicated to another part, three thousand kilometers away in a very few years, evidence of a continuous trade across tribal boundaries. If Joe figured out how to chip a stone tool in Sydney harbor, that knowledge would be in evidence in Geraldton within a generation.

There was so much that new and surprising to me that I cannot recount it here. We will have to watch them all again one day the better to take it in.

There is evidence of fish farming and settled agriculture in Greater Australia before the rising waters separated New Guinea and the Torres Islands. How did these primitive people do it before those advanced Europeans arrived to save their souls with gun powder and whiskey? I mimic the dreaded Erich van Däniken. The answer, Erich, is that they figured it out.

I though EvD several times on our recent tours through West Arnhemland and Kakadu because of the elongated human figures I saw in some rock art.

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I could hear the egregious Swiss voice saying, ‘What else could they be but aliens!’ The answer Erich is artistic license. Check with Salvador Dali about watches!

‘First Footprints’ is also very informative about rock art, though it is never enough to satisfy me. I wanted more detail about the cosmology and less ‘Isn’t it great!’ expostulations from our guides. While I am carping, I would also have liked more about the social organization that underlay the art, the fish farming, the trade, and so on. Though perhaps we just don’t know, though surely everyone at the ABC knows how to speculate with pompous authority, or is that skill confined only to the News department.

The URL is http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firstfootprints/

An understated tale of redemption in face of the absurdity of life. Wry humour, pathos, and friendship across barriers are the motifs. Now that Roger Ebert is no longer there, I try to view movies as he would. He would like this I am sure.

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Ricardo Darín is, as always, impeccable as the wary and weary Ricardo. He is subdued, defeated, grumpy, sullen, grey, grizzled, ragged, prissy.... He counts the nails in a box, in every box, delivered to his hardware store. The count is short, as frequently it is. On the telephone he complains in a tirade that seems an often repeated performance well out of proportion to the offense. When the supplier tries to make amends with some free extras in the next delivery, these he refuses and sets about counting the nails in this delivery. Take that! What is at stake is not the nails but the principle! But what principle?

When not counting nails, at the end of the day Roberto compiles newspaper cuttings into albums that demonstrate the absurdity of life. He subscribes to a lot of newspapers to find these stories. Some of the stories are hilarious, as long as it is not you. In each case Roberto pictures himself in the victim's role. Get it? In time even the absurd opening scene is explained. (During the credits this explanation is vindicated, so keep watching.)

Maria throws herself at him but he cannot let anyone touch his emotions because, as the evidence in the albums shows, it will turn out badly, everything turns out badly, even having a shave in a barber's chair. Then the Chinese, Jun, pops up and somehow gets inside the shell, and stays. In time Roberto learns he is not alone in his misery. In time he learns that life goes on and there is no escaping from it. He learns this from Jun's persistence in the face of even greater adversity.

If you have no emotions then no one can hurt you, this seems to be Roberto's approach to life. But Jun has even less than he has, so Roberto helps him, reluctantly, then for a moment the tables are turned and Jun comes to his rescue. Now Roberto has to stay the course. And there is Chinese take-away.

Some of the comic scenes are overdone like the one at the Chinese Consulate but who cares. The film oscillates from realism to parody but it does not go to either extreme.

With any and everything from Argentina I look for the Dirty War. This one refers to the Falklands War. And once again here the police are malevolent, a staple of Argentine films, and perhaps a reminder of the Dirty War. Also the newspaper that has the picture that starts the album is Italian, not Argentine because, I assume, of censorship in Argentina.

Civic Video in Newtown has one copy.

Recommended for adults.

A stranger enters a small, close-knit, inward-looking, isolated community. As the locals react to him the papers over the cracks give way and old animosities flare, pent up desires surface, suppressed hopes roil, unspoken truces are broken, irritations long ignored are scratched. The ructions spring from ambition, from dominance, from emotions, from lust, from insecurity, it matters not the origin once they are loosened.

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It is a common trope in westerns. Examples include 'Shane,' 'Red Harvest,' 'The Quiet Man,' 'Bad Day at Black Rock,' 'Bus Riley is Back,' 'The Wild One', 'Suddenly Last Summer,' and many more, including 'As It is in Heaven' (2004), this delightful film from Sweden. There is much singing and dancing, but also wife-beating, shotguns, fistfights, car smashing, and a lot more.

The world renown musician Daniel has a heart attack and leaves the international music grind, buying an abandoned schoolhouse in his home town, which he left at age seven. He has long since adopted a stage name as his own, so to the locals he is a stranger, a famous stranger to be sure.

Little by little he is drawn into the local church choir where he returns to the fundamentals of music like breathing, projecting, relaxation, and so on. The choir is the reactor that leaks emotional radiation. Those who hold apart from the choir suspect demonic doings there, and a mole confirms that. Among those who participate there are old rivalries, conflicts, and trouble at home from spending so much time practicing.

Daniel has no wish to become involved in any of this but it is inescapable in such a small community. The characters are well rounded though the two villains are the least developed, the jealous and envious parson and the wife-beating truck driver. The changing Nordic seasons contribute to the story. Along the way love is explained.

Despite frictions and cross purposes the choir hangs together, shielding the wife from the thuggo, accepting the retarded Toré, matching up an elderly couple, and recruiting more young people. These successes infuriate the parson.... It is Gabriella whose courage inspires the others to persevere when the centripetal forces threaten.

It has a marvellous end that draws together the larger theme explaining why a great musician found it so satisfying to work with this village choir from the remote north of Sweden. Bicycle riding is a metaphor for facing fear for Daniel and despite his worldly successes he, too, has fears.

I could not find a review by the Dean, Roger Ebert. If he missed it that is too bad because he would have liked it.

An art history student's thesis research is presented through the cinematic conventions of a mystery. Recommended for adults. If you like X-Men XV do not watch this movie.

The student notices female figures in Watteau paintings: always these figures have their backs to the viewer. The more she studies them, the more she sees them in many of Watteau's paintings, and the more it seems to be always the same woman with her back turned. Who is she? Why is she always there, with her back turned?
Watteau.jpgA little tension is added to the plot with a thesis supervisor who discourages the quest. We discover he pursued the same line once and it came to nothing. Is he simply trying to steer her onto safe ground, or is he, brusk and uncommunicative, hiding something?

Then there is the mime in square outside the print shop where she works; he is young and handsome but begs for a living. They meet and she discovers he is a deaf mute but through him she finds a painting similar to a Watteau by an obscure painter called Opener.

With the single-mindedness and doggedness of an obsessive only child she tracks down this similar painting and acquires it (by selling a treasured watch from her deceased father). She has also tracked down every site in Paris that Watteau painted (miraculously most are still to be recognised these hundreds of years later) and lived, though this latter information is scarce. She also researches the people in his paintings. She triangulated onto the actress Charlotte Desarmes as the mystery woman, a prospect rejected by the supervisor as unsubstantiated.

She persists and persuades a friend to x-ray the Opener painting and voila there is a Watteau beneath it, as her supervisor is the first to acknowledge. It seems there was no Opener, but it was a second name that Watteau used for some of his painting when Charlotte rejected him. He could not bear to destroy his work but he did paint over it.

Her travels through libraries, archives, auctions, Parisienne sites are entertaining to us nerds. The silent boy friend remains a cipher. The landlord never gets the rent. Her mother remains at a distance, a reluctant banker at times. The boss at the print shop is sympathetic but has a business to run. Indeed all of the supporting characters are positive, if sometimes upset, distracted, or angry. I liked that. I find the cynicism of Hollywood cheap and no substitute for plot, story, or character. By 'positive' I do not mean singing and dancing but not cunning, malicious, sinister, predatory, sneering or anything like that. Just people going about their business; such people are seldom to be seen in Hollywood anymore because they do not interest fourteen year old boys.

But an obsessive would probably use them as she does with few qualms, especially when the trail is hot.

The supervisor has the best line: express your passion in your life, your work needs detachment and perspective. Of course, it bounces off the knight on the quest but they are words to live by.

I was interested to see the techniques and technology used in the research shown here. I found the image of the lion subdued by love very charming, and it is the key that opens the way to Opener. (Could not resist that.)

I did quite see what either the French or English title meant to the story, respectively, 'That which my eyes have seen' and 'The vanishing point.' I was also surprised when this penurious student produced a Visa card to pay 400 euros.

Thank you SBS television.

Free from the timetable of classes and meetings, and more meetings, I have given in to the temptation of Dendy’s classics and gone to several movies on Monday morning, while Kate goes off to good works. Today it was “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) With Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim, and Nancy Olson, along with Jack Webb (of Dragnet) before he got his teeth straightened. To see it on television is nothing compared to the wide screen: Marvelous. A very excellent print that gives us the crisp light and dark and many shades between that only black-and-white can do.

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Leaving aside all the lore and gossip, the parade of celebrities, the contrivances of staging that swimming pool scene, after all that it is Gloria Swanson who dominates everything, and not just the scenes she is in, but through her presence manifested in the house and its furnishings, in the soul of von Stroheim, and seen or unseen clutching always at Holden. It offers a parallel love story of two women and one man. The man is Holden and the women are the aging relic Swanson and the fresh-faced ingenue Olson. He disappoints both because at his core, well, he has no core, though Olson shows him the way out and after he sacrifices himself to drive her away, he seems resolved to break the cancerous link with Swanson. Or is he.... we will never know.

It is a talkie, of course, and Swanson has some remarkable lines penned by the one and only Billy Wilder, and she by turns spits, drawls, mumbles, hisses, and declares them, all with lift of the chin, the bulge of the eyes, and turn of wrist. An Oscar does not seem a high enough award. With her increasing histrionics von Stroheim is the perfect foil, a rigidly controlled man whose unrequited love drives him to accept every humiliation with the merest flicker of an eyebrow.

Hollywood eats its own, and in 1973 Holden reprised this film in reverse as an older man captivated by a much younger woman who barely notices him in "Breezy," and it was directed by Clint Eastwood.

No one ever says it better than the dean of movie reviews Roger Ebert:
http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-sunset-boulevard-1950

Cut-and-paste the link above to see his comments.

Après le gym I often pass through Civic Video on the way home. It is a short cut of sorts with some added benefits. The other day I saw ‘The Sound of My Voice’ on the shelf. It caught my eye because (1) there was only one specimen there and (2) the cover art was arresting. One of my criteria for considering a video is that it is not there in dozens of copies. Figure that out. For the cover art, have a look.

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Once in hand I realized it was the same crew that made ‘Another Earth’ (2011) , and I was hooked. I have commented on ‘Another Earth’ in another post.

I watched 'The Sound of My Voice' the other night, and have no idea what to make of it. It is studied in its ambiguity and enigmatic in its approach, and I like that. Subtle, open-textured, mysterious, and in no hurry. That kept me interested. It seemed to me it was a variant, on a micro-budget, of ‘Contact’ (1997). In 'Contact' the aliens approach humanity in a surprising way. In ‘The Sound of My Voice’ the surprising contact is from the future....or is it? That is the ambiguity.

There are many discussions in the ether, e.g. IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Facebook and more.
Cut and paste this link to find it on The Internet Movie Data Base:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1748207/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

More importantly, there is a measured review from Roget Ebert, the greatest, at http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-sound-of-my-voice-2012

Better yet see it for yourself. It will leave you thinking and it is a vote against Hollywood. Two good things there.

Good Trekkies that we have been since 1966, off we went to the Dendy Newtown last night to watch Start Trek: Into Darkness in 3D. Trekkies will have to see it. But many of them will be disappointed. Everything those who promote it say is true: it is high energy, it is fast and furious, it is action-packed, it has some etched characters...

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It is also true to say that it seems to have been created by writers with arrested development and targetted at twelve year old boys. No doubt that is a winning formula.

It is also true to say that it quite indistinguishable from three other movies currently showing in the Dendy chain: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, and Escape from Planet Earth. It is loud, it is trivial, it is superficial, it is one-dimensional, thoughtless, inconsistent, with a leaky plot and inexplicable action and eighty (80) minutes of gratuitous violence... It lacks the gravitas of even a Marvel Comic.

What is worse, the local reviewers seem to think that it is an authentic representation of Star Trek and thus the reason there are Trekkies like us. WRONG!

Star Trek the Original Series featured more than one meeting where the assembled staff tried to think of ways to do things, debated over a table the limits of their orders, and then went away to think about it, because thinking takes time. In many episodes not a shot was fired or a punch thrown by the crew of the Enterprise.

Thinking time in Into the Darkness is 5-6 seconds. That is perhaps indicative of how decisions were also made about the film. Or is it the reality of Bush Junior White House?

Moreover, many episodes of Star Trek: Original Series posed questions about life and humanity from start to finish. I will cite only one example: The Devil in the Dark (Season 1, Episode 25 in March 1967). There are plenty of others from Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, too. Of course, to cater to the television audience there is action, as well.

Into the Dark has many allusions to the Star Trek lore. The villain of the piece is Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban in ‘Space Seed.’ broadcast in February 16, 1967, and he reprised the role in the 1982 film. In 1967 the issue was returned soldiers. He was a great villain, as is Benedict Cumberbatch in this outing. That issue of returned soldiers remains relevant -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- but not when it is only an excuse for more fisticuffs.

This Captain Kirk is everything his mentor says he is, except for the potential for greatness. He is as arrogant, opinionated, and uninformed as a radio shock jock. Admittedly, he is far more handsome than any shock jock I have seen in the jungle.

There were certainly things for a Trekkie to like. The opening sequence is dazzling, albeit pointless. The Mr Spocks dialogue was delicious. And the actors were excellent at creating those familiars: Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, McCoy, Scottie, Spock, and Kirk, as well as Khan. They could do it, now if they had just had something interesting to do.

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We watched this documentary about the redoubtable Diana Vreeland last night. Recomended for adults.

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I knew nothing about Vreeland but thought the distaff side might be interested, so I borrowed it from the local Civic Video on spec. What I found was a force of nature who had no taste whatever but had drive, pride, intelligence, wit, and a capacity to learn. Her attitude seemed to be: be what you are. And strut it. She joined all of that to an enormous appetite for the world, realized through the no-expense-spared camera shoots she did for her magazines. All of this, in some measure, she passed on to those who looked at the editions of her magazines.

She was the long time editor of Harper's Bazaar and then Vogue. She was one of the models for the demanding editor in 'The Devil Wears Prada.'

In the boundless energy, enthusiasm, and bullying she reminded me of Lyndon Johnson. She was likewise as profligate.

Perhaps the most amusing part of the story is her last assignment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where her shows, and shows they were, brought in masses of paying customers. Those successes condemned her in the eyes of the other curators, numbering her days there. It was easy to imagine meetings where curators argued that having people crowding into the Met was undesirable! I expect they did, though veiled and subtle in public.


http://www.dianavreeland-film.com

On a fine Sunday afternoon with blue sky and green grass aplenty we sat in a dark room and watched “Kon Tiki (2012). Recommended for adults.

Thor Heyedal’s greatest contribution is that he believed those primitive people had the wit and willingness for such a colossal undertaking. I said ‘primitive people’ to mimic that great scourge of reason, Erich von Däniken who always says in response to his own rhetorical question: "How could these primitive people do it?" by saying the aliens did it. Heyedal is a wonderful antidote to that drivel. Moreover, they did not just go with the flow but also charted their travels with the stars.

The film has something for everyone. Some intellectual weight, a cast of handsome Aryans, some light relief, and plenty of adventure and action. Though some viewers may conclude that it all came down to Heyerdal’s will power and conviction and not to the evidence he had before he started and that would be a shame. He did have evidence, and faith does not move ocean currents.


No doubt the moronic fault-finders will find that which they seek and miss the point.

Films are often based on books, but as a rule films simplify books. A novel of 400 pages is reduced to a screenplay of 60-80 pages or less. Minor characters are deleted, background events glossed over, and the context is muted, if not altogether blanked out, to focus on two or three protagonists. As a reader I have generally found the novel much better than the film that claims to be based on it. There are exceptions and I saw one recently. ‘The Secret in their eyes’ (2009) is from Argentina. To read all about it go to the Internet Movie Data Base. (The tools to insert hyperlinks, bolding, and so on remain off-line.)

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It is long at 129 minutes and has a surprisingly high score on IMDB of 8.2. It is well deserved. I read the novel some time ago and my notes (yes, I keep notes about the novels I read) speak of a lack of tension, the icy detachment of the central character, underdevelopment of the judge ... concluding that I will not bother to read any more by this writer. Oops! I must have missed quite a lot, because this film follows the book’s plot closely and it is a revelation.

On the surface it is a police procedural with a exotic setting: Argentina during the Dirty War of the 1970s. That is why I read it. Though my notes also say that the Dirty War is never mentioned and there is only one character who seems to have anything to do with it. While that is literally true, the film unmistakably communicates the repression of the society, when even tying a shoe is suspicious, when it is far better not to know than to know ... that secret.

Since most of the film is about files, judicial processes, and the writing of a novel an archaic Olivetti typewriter is where much of the action occurs. The lead is Benjamin Esposito. See the film poster above. While there are two murders, each brutal, the tone is, apart from those punctuations, contemplative and inward. The greatest tension in the film is the elevator ride in the devil's lair. Nothing is said. But when the doors open the judge is gasping for breath and Benjamin is as pale as a ghost. See it!

For action fans there is one incredible scene at a soccer match that leaves one wondering how it was filmed, but filmed it was, not computer magic. The production and direction are supremely confident and fluid in this scene as throughout.

Espositio’s associate Pablo Sandoval also deserves a word. He is played by Guillermo Francella to a T. Sandoval is slovenly, disorganized, reckless, persistent, noble, and -- at times -- creative. It is his constant study of the files that produces the insight which both resolves the plot and states the meaning of the exercise. No one can change who he is. (Yes, no doubt the Word Police will pounce on that rendering as sexist though it is an accurate description of the point in the story, and it does not mix singular and plural.) Gomez is a fan of Racing soccer club and remains that even when he is on the run. Esposito is hopelessly and wordlessly in love with the judge and has been since the first moment he saw her. Sandoval is a nerd.

What I did not get from the book by Eduardo Sacheri, 'La Pregunta de sus ojos' (2005), which by the way I take to mean ‘The question of her eyes,’ is the parallels between the two, intersecting cases of love at a distance.

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But thanks to the players and the pacing that gives priority to looks, pauses, and hesitations, it becomes clear first to the viewer and then to the protagonist Benjamin. His unspoken love for the judge is very like the love Isidore Gomez had for his victim, and like Isidore he is incapable of expressing it in a positive way. Or is he? On several occasions the damn he has built around his emotions seems about to burst, but it holds, until a delightful, if incredible, last scene when the judge says, with characteristic understatement, ‘It will be complicated.’

Pedants note. The novel, in editions after the film, has been retitled to match the film.

Conclusion? I will re-read the book, and I suggest that others might do both, read the book and see the film. What is that secret? I think I know. We each have to find it for ourselves.

SBS late night movies has once again given us a gem.

The dean of film reviewers, Roger Ebert, gave it a glowing review. By the way, he is absolutely right about the judge. (As noted above, the hyperlink tool remains unavailable.)

We enjoyed watching Samsara at the Dendy Newtown. Breath-taking visuals from around the world combined with uplifting music. No Brad Pitt, no screen play written by a case of arrested development, no shouting, no message shoved down one's eyes. A meditation, most of which works, some of which does not. All trip and no arrival, much like life. So many arresting images, so many of them completely foreign and yet familiar for all that.

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http://barakasamsara.com/

Once again, well still, really, the tools for underlining and linking are unavailable. Cut and paste the link above to see more.

Melvyn Bragg is a higher being. He is erudite, cogent, neutral, and direct. He is an expositor with few equals. I am addicted to 'In Our Time,' his weekly podcast from BBC4. It is a feast for the mind each week. He handles the panel discussion with three specialists with a deceptive ease, striving always to get them to drop the academic caution, the polyglot speak, qualifications that swamp the main point, and communicate to the educated listener who would like to be informed.

Some of these qualities can be seen in the ABC-Television interview he did recently in Sydney in the link below.

Compare him to the aggressive, simple-minded journalist who interviews him. Her goal is to trip him up into yet another slang-off at the Murdoch press, as if the ABC was ever short of them. When that fails she loses interest until another slang off at religion from the ever full arsenal of clichés that pass for journalism. Spirituality is evidently unknown there.

Along the way, by implication, he gives her a lesson in interviewing, help the subject say what he has to say. Point not taken, I should imagine.

As a result only about half the interview concerns the subject that brought Bragg to the interview. Thus do ABC journalist grind their own axes on the public dole.

www.abc.net.au

Lord Melvyn Bragg of Wigton is a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction. We first encountered him with his masterly "The Adventure of English." There is a book, but it is boring compared to the film, so find the DVD. We loved the recitations.

Bragg adventure,jpg

Dress sense was not his strong point in this film.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Adventure-English-Remarkable-Language-REGION/dp/B004X2PEKW/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1332465289&sr=1-1

Euripides pared to the essentials. Not one word, not one gesture is wasted. Nor is there ever an iota more than necessary.

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"Edge of Darkness" 1985.

As Karl Marx said, the first time is tragedy and the second time is farce. This review concerns the first time "Edge of Darkness" was produced.

Edge.jpg

Changing policy is easy, changing people is impossible. This is the link to my IMDB review.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090424/reviews-43

One of the central political points of the story is that policies come and go, but people stay. When one policy is set in motion, it rolls on, even if back at headquarters the policy has changed. Darius Jedburgh explains the changes of policies in Washington to Ron Craven, with a shrug. The policy changed but the people who worked for the previous policy went on. Policies can be turned on and off, in this case, by executive orders, but people cannot. When Jedburgh set up GAIA he recruited believers who would do some serious work, and when Washington policy changed, they just kept going as best they could. There is an important message here that few people in the policy business ever get. Once something is started, it may take on a life of it own. The lesson to draw then is to be careful about what is started, a lesson few learn.

What is the difference between the voice of the mob and the voice of the people?

Seven days in May.jpg

The core of the film is a compelling dialog about democracy. The general just might be right. The beleaguered president still has one thing the general does not have, an electoral mandate. When he explains what that means, it is worth listening.

My IMDB review
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058576/reviews-61

Recommended for adults.

Il generale della Rovere (1959) has been released, at last, on DVD.

rovere.jpg

A measured story of spiritual growth, self-realization, and redemption in the worst of times. For adults.


MY IMDB review.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053856/reviews-7

Recommended to all students of the human condition.

Persistence pays off again.

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