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The Return of Mr. Moto (1965)
No classic but lots of fun; you be the judge!
I'm not one of the reviewers who apparently lined up to bash this movie; I think that 20th Century-Fox guaranteed it a hostile reception by inviting comparison with the fondly-remembered Peter Lorre series of thirty years before. On its own it's a efficiently-produced crime thriller that moves along briskly and offers some genuine surprises and suspense to open-minded viewers. It's been suggested by some (including Henry Silva himself, in the DVD's audio commentary) that Silva is physically unsuited to play an oriental, but the same could be said of the Hungarian Peter Lorre in the earlier series, or the Swedish Warner Oland who became the definitive Charlie Chan. And it's worth mentioning that Henry Silva has convincingly played characters of various nationality over the years.
A beautiful letterboxed transfer of this film can be found as an extra on the final disc of the Peter Lorre/Moto DVD series; I found it well worth seeing for its entertainment value as well as Henry Silva's fascinating audio commentary.
Fingerprints Don't Lie (1951)
no classic but lots of fun, especially for boo-boo spotters
After reading those comments by other viewers I was prepared for the worst, but I enjoyed this movie more than I expected to; that organ music in the background is a real scream. By the way, has anyone other than myself noticed that the outside shot of the Marsden Building is flopped (printed in reverse)? Try reading the street number or the name Marsden over the entryway! This film was apparently shot back-to-back with MASK OF THE DRAGON, which has an almost identical cast, including hapless Sid Melton who is saddled with badly-timed "comic relief" scenes in both films, which is a pity since Melton was a talented comic when given good material; fans of the Gomer Pyle TV series may remember Melton as a bumbling con artist in several episodes. Appearing as a brutal thug in both films is huge wrestler "Killer" Karl Davis, known as the man with the world's coldest stare. (Davis also made an unforgettable zombie in the unsettling opening scene of 1955's CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN; watch for it!!)
Terror from the Year 5000 (1958)
Good movie, bad DVD presentation
RE: The DVD edition of 1958's "Terror From the Year 5000" recently issued by Incredibly Strange Film Works (ISFW) of Jamestown, MO: Those of you who've been waiting for a pristine-quality DVD edition of this fun Sci-Fi oldie will have to go on waiting. The very fuzzy picture and sound quality (with contrasts so bad that some night scenes are nearly impossible to make out) make this ISFW DVD a big disappointment, especially considering the $24.99 price tag! (The Horror/Sci-Fi fans among you may also remember ISFW's equally unsatisfactory VHS video edition of 1964's "Horror of Party Beach", mastered from a toned-down TV print with all the gore removed!)
I'd say that any DVD or VHS video bearing the ISFW logo should be approached with caution.
One Dark Night (1982)
Much better than its reputation suggests; watch for it!
The first sixty-or-so minutes of this undeservedly obscure horror film, when we're introduced to a fairly typical group of prankish teens, is unremarkable. However, the film offers a memorably horrifying climax that's well worth hanging on for: As the kids are setting up an elaborate practical joke in a mausoleum, a supernatural force causes numerous corpses, in varying stages of decay, to leave their coffins and pursue the now-terrified pranksters through the dark corridors. The film contains no gore (which is unusual for a horror movie of this period), but if your tastes run to ambulatory corpses it really delivers the goods. By the way, the film's shooting title was "Rest In Peace".
Phoney Cronies (1942)
Very funny; well worth a look
This obscure but lively slapstick comedy was probably intended by Columbia for The Three Stooges, but is quite funny as it is. Dudley Dickerson (who appeared in more Stooges shorts than any other black actor) easily steals the show; the sequence where he attempts to catch a mouse in the kitchen is priceless.
Three Little Kittens (1934)
Not your average thirties cartoon
A real oddity, this cartoon. It starts off with the three kittens singing and dancing, the sort of sugary cuteness typical of cartoons of the thirties, then veers off into a wild orgy of violence. The villain of the piece is a large rat, who isn't nearly as scary as what's done to him: After being lured from his hiding place he has his head slammed in a cash register, is hanged by the neck, then bombarded with walnuts, fruit, cans, burning cigars and pesticide. Finally, a heavy shoe is hoisted into a bombs-away position and dropped from on high, crushing the rat's head. (This is for kids?!) The kittens then exit, singing and dancing.
The Tell-Tale Heart (1960)
Builds slowly to some memorable horror scenes
One critic described this film as "A real bore"; I vigorously disagree. It has its flaws - modern audiences would probably find it slow to start, and that blaring backround music detracts from a few scenes - but it does build slowly to some wonderfully creepy and horrific scenes during the second half which are well worth hanging on for. I was also impressed with the sincerely tormented performance of Laurence Payne in the central role.
A Simple Sap (1928)
Still a delightful comedy
When this film (which, sadly, proved to be Larry Semon's last) was first released (February, 1928) critics grumbled that it was ten years behind the times. Seen today, however, it's still a lively and very funny slapstick comedy. Among connoisseurs of silent film comedy it's generally agreed that Semon's brief but impressive career got off the track because he didn't change with the times, but while it's true that too many Semon films seen too close together do show some repetitiveness, when viewed separately by modern audiences Semon's silent comedies can hold their own against those of any other silent comedian.
Song of the Birds (1949)
Still very powerful
The argument that it's wrong to kill or injure animals just for the fun of it could hardly be made more effectively or powerfully than in this simple, short film. Despite its age, it's lost none of its power to grip the emotions.
Georgie and the Dragon (1951)
VERY funny; don't miss it!
Quite simply one of the funniest cartoons ever made. When young Georgie brings home a baby dragon, his mother takes it in stride, but Georgie's highly excitable father is another matter, and he and the dragon just can't stay out of each other's way. This little comic gem is way overdue for re-discovery on video; what's taking Columbia Pictures so long?!
The Little Match Girl (1937)
Hasn't aged a day; still works stunningly well!
I was fortunate enough to get hold of a Super-8mm sound copy of this animated masterpiece. Every time I watch it I promise myself I won't choke up, but it gets to me every time (and I'm not emotional as a rule). That any film, regardless of subject matter or style, can still grip the emotions so strongly after sixty-odd years says something about the talents that combined to make it. It excels on so many levels: One could watch it once for its gorgeous use of color, once for its visual concepts, once for its story - suffice it to say that it's a film I've never stopped discovering. And since it tells its story with no dialog, its appeal is truly universal. Why this hasn't been reissued on video by Columbia/RCA is anybody's guess.
Highly recommended to nostalgia and comedy fans.
This short film is both a comedy and an educational film, and works very well both ways as Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand take us on a tour of the 1915 exposition's biggest attractions. Frequent co-stars Arbuckle and Normand had great comic chemistry, and there are quite funny moments along the way: Fatty getting popped in the face by Mabel after nearly slamming the spiked Iron Maiden on her, and opera star Ernestine Schumann-Heink's horrified reaction when Fatty attempts to sing for her. The film is also priceless as nostalgia, giving us a unique look at an America long vanished, and at a San Francisco still rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake. The film concludes with stunning night-time shots.
Lee's presence makes it worth seeing.
This movie contains two continuity errors very surprising for a Hammer Film: (1) in the opening scene, the young boy leaves his bicycle leaning on the front steps of the church, but when the priest is shown approaching the building a moment later the bike isn't there, and (2) at the scene of Dracula's resurrection, the priest hits his head on a stone and opens a bloody gash, but when he regains consciousness moments later both the gash and the blood have disappeared completely. These minor quibbles aside, however, this is still one of the best Hammer Draculas, with Christopher Lee's onscreen moments some of his most impressive ever.
A very unusual and interesting western
Much of this film will seem familiar to anyone who's seen 1947's "Kiss of Death", which plotwise it closely resembles, and some of the theme music heard over the opening credits was borrowed from 1951's "The Day The Earth Stood Still". That having been said, however, this film has much to recommend it on its own. Most critics disapproved of Robert Evans in the title role, but I found him very impressive: funny and likeable one minute, menacing and really frightening the next; the stuff of any true psycho. The film isn't without flaws; the direction is frankly uninspired, and several opportunities missed. But Evans (in one of his last roles before giving up acting to become a producer) remains fascinating to watch; he's very unlike any other western villain you've ever seen. Emile Meyer (as a brutal prison guard) and Stephen McNally (as a good guy for a change) offer strong supporting performances; Hugh O'Brien is his reliable self as the hero.
The Bakery (1921)
An absolute joy to watch!
A hilarious slapstick comedy from Larry Semon's best period, with a sight gag every few seconds, stunt work that still amazes, and several scenes that show magnificent comic timing. Also, it's interesting to see Oliver Hardy (several years before teaming with Stan Laurel) playing the villain, as he did in many Semon comedies.
Great nostalgic fun, particularly for railroad fans
This short film is lots of fun to watch (particularly for railroad fans), with brisk direction and full-blooded acting, although the premise that an entire community would be thrown into uproar over the presence of a fugitive whose worst crime is auto theft seems almost comical in light of today's mores. Still, the film is well worth watching both as entertainment and as a time-capsule look at an America that's long gone. (PS: Several years after its premier this film was re-titled and re-issued disguised as an episode of the "Hazards of Helen" serial, but the title and release date shown above are the originals.)
Works well despite its age
Despite its age and the fact that the acting is overly melodramatic even by silent movie standards (it's basically a photographed stage play), this short film remains thoroughly involving and its tragic premise still has the power to grip the emotions. Definitely worth a look if you can find a copy!
It ain't really that bad!
I'd file this under "No classic, but lots of fun!". The cast is good: It's interesting to see Robert Reed in his pre-Brady Bunch days. The late Wilton Graff (as the villain) is one of those faces many remember but can't name; he was usually seen as concerned fathers or business execs who knew more than they were telling. He gives a convincingly understated performance in this film; one is constantly reminded of Vincent Price. Plotwise, there are some effective jolts along the way (bodies floating in tanks, or posed in realistic attitudes in a "trophy room"). There's also a memorable scene where a young lady karate-flips a would-be attacker into a vat of acid; we're offered screaming closeups of his skin peeling away. The lively finale involves quicksand, leeches and a body hung (still living) on a spiked frame. Like I said, no classic, but if you enjoy the occasional anything-goes exploitation film, you could do worse!
The Sweet Ride (1968)
Much more interesting than it sounds!
A word of reassurance to anyone who's just read Mr. Stockett's plot summary: The character played by Jacqueline Bisset is NOT murdered, although she comes close enough. Actually, she's raped by a cycle gang leader, beaten by a Hollywood producer, then dumped in the street to be run over (a near miss results); the rest of the film unfolds mostly in flashback. This story of assorted aimless young folk who hang out at a tennis bum's beach pad could have been a real pain to sit through, but thanks to a good cast and understanding direction it holds the interest all the way, and accurately captures a certain American lifestyle. (Most critics hated this film, which is always an encouraging sign.) The talented cast makes the characters real and interesting; you really like most of these people, and their interplay is always interesting. And that terrific title song (performed by the late Dusty Springfield) should have been a big hit!
Captain Sindbad (1963)
Loads of fun for Sinbad and fantasy fans
Through many viewings I've enjoyed this Sin(d)bad film much more than any in the better-known Columbia/Harryhausen series, which I thought had great monsters but dull stories and heroes. This one has it all: gorgeous color photography, interesting plot and characters, and unusual monsters (including an invisible (!) dragon. The late Guy Williams is fine as Sinbad, and more mature and dignified than any in the Columbia films. And Pedro Armendariz, in one of his last roles before his untimely cancer-related death, is simply wonderful as the villain, El Karim. This film (produced by the same folks who gave us "Gorgo") is aimed at young audiences, but I've watched it with viewers of varying age, and never run across anyone who wasn't delighted with it.
Corridors of Blood (1958)
Well worth seeing for many reasons
Boris Karloff, as usual, is a joy to watch, as is Christopher Lee, who was right on the verge of becoming a big star in the Hammer films. This film is also notable for strongly evoking the grimy atmosphere of those out-of-the-way areas in 1800's England, worthy of comparison to David Lean's "Oliver Twist" (1948). Coincidentally, not long after seeing this film I happened to read the true life story of Horace Wells (1815-1848), a Connecticut dentist who experimented on himself with ether, chloroform, and laughing gas in an effort to discover a painless method of oral surgery. He succeeded, but became an addict in the process; his behavior subsequently became so violent that he was placed in prison, where he committed suicide. I wonder if Karloff's character in this film is at least partially based on Horace Wells.
The Hideous Sun Demon (1958)
Worth seeing for two reasons
This semi-professional low-budget horror film is worth seeing for two reasons: The tormented performance of Robert Clarke in the title role, and the terrific creature makeup. The film does have its weaknesses; the low budget shows, and we see (or, rather, we hear) several good examples of why a film's dialog track is rarely recorded on location but usually dubbed in later in a studio: Several of this film's locations were acoustically unsuitable, as the soundtrack clearly reveals. Nevertheless, I still insist that this film, with a title creature that's certainly original, offers rewards for patient viewers.
The Monster Maker (1944)
Worth catching for several reasons
This is one of those films that's entertaining for its sheer audacity. It also has an unusually interesting cast for a small-studio B-picture. J. Carroll Naish (as the evil Dr. Markoff) and Ralph Morgan (as victim Anthony Lawrence) were veteran character actors who were always worth watching, and Glenn Strange (as Steve, Markoff's giant-size henchman) would be promoted that same year to playing the Frankenstein Monster in the first of three films for Universal.
This professional cast tries to lend believability to several ludicrous situations. At one point Markoff attempts to put his nervous female assistant under a Svengali-like hypnotic influence; when this fails, Markoff turns loose his pet gorilla (!) in the hope that the beast will kill the beauty, though all it does is overturn a table.
Some critics have found this film particularly distasteful since it deals with acromegaly, an actual disfiguring disease (see the bio for actor Rondo Hatton elsewhere on this data base). And the sight of the malformed Mr. Lawrence (when his daughter suddenly enters a darkened room) is certainly an unforgettable jolt.
Reach for Glory (1962)
This one hasn't got the rep it deserves
This is a disturbing film on a difficult subject, handled extremely well by all involved, particularly the young actors. Although this film is capable of several interpretations, I'd guess it's intended as a plea to adults not to force our children to grow up too fast. This film hasn't gotten the attention it deserves and isn't shown very often in the U.S., but it's well worth looking for.
Face of Fire (1959)
Well worth seeing for many reasons
I'd recommend this film highly for many reasons, most notably its beautiful black & white photography and the authentic small-town feel it evokes, thanks to very sensitive direction and performances. By the way, in the original Stephen Crane story this film is based on, Monk Johnson is a negro.