I will be on hiatus until October 31 for a road trip to see my niece in Provo, Utah, with some Las Vegas thrown in on the margins. See you then!
The World, the Flesh and the Devil
Directed by Ranald MacDougall
Written by Ranald MacDougall from a story by Ferdinand Reyher and a novel by M.P. Shiel
Ralph Burton: That’s white of you.
I was loving the post-apocolyptic part. Then it turned into a more ordinary but still OK love triangle.
Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) is a miner who is waiting to be dug out following a mine collapse. After a couple of days he stops hearing any digging and can’t get anyone on his radio. Eventually, he frees himself. When he reaches daylight he can’t find anyone around – anywhere. He makes it from Pennsylvania to New York City, which is absolutely deserted. Gradually, he learns that an unknown country let loose a killer radioactive gas into the upper atmosphere, the big cities were evacuated, and he may be the only person left alive.
There is at least one other person, though. She is Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens). She watches him long before he sees her. Finally, they meet and become friends. They are clearly attracted to one another but neither breaches the racial divide. Then suddenly Benson Thacker (Mel Ferrer) arrives from South America. He is not shy about what he wants and what he will do to get it.
The clever us of the atomic poison, which wipes out people but not things, allowed the filmmakers to create a convincing post-apocolyptic world on a small budget. Belafonte is very good, especially in the early sequences when he is all alone. The scenes with Inger Stevens are also kind of endearing. Then Mel Ferrer shows up. The love triangle is much less effective, though there is a racial prejudice/tolerance angle to it that is an interesting glimpse into the times. Give it a try if the plot appeals.
Letter Never Sent (Neotpravlennoe pismo)
Directed by Mikhail Kalatazov
Written by Valeri Osipov, Grigori Koltunov, and Viktor Rozov
Director Kolotozov and cinematographer Sergey Urusevskiy created a series of some of the most breathtakingly beautiful images ever made. Unfortunately the love triangle turned disaster flick doesn’t take off.
Each summer a group of geologists goes to the Siberian wilderness to search for diamonds, so far without success. The story is framed by a long letter the lead geologist is writing to his wife back home. Since there is no way to send it, it is more or less a diary. The other people on the team are a bespectacled nerd-type and his beautiful girlfriend, Tanya, and a lusty young man named Sergei. Sergei is in love with Tanya (Tatyana Samoylova) and there is much unspoken tension as to whether Sergei will shoot the boyfriend or rape Tanya.
Before that issue can be resolved, however, the team is caught in a raging forest fire with a broken radio. Most of the film is devoted to their agonizing struggle to survive long enough to be rescued.
This movie is pure eye-candy and eye-candy is my favorite food. However, I longed for a little more. Both halves of the movie drag on and on. The survival story goes from bad to worse with little action or suspense. There’s a bit of propaganda thrown in to boot. Too bad.
Note: I watched this one out of sequence because IMDb changed the date of this film from 1959 to 1960 and I didn’t catch it. There doesn’t seem any rhyme or reason to how their system works.
Samurai Vendetta (Hakuôki)
Directed by Kazuo Mori
Written by Kosuke Gomi and Daisuke Ito
First viewing/Amazon Instant
This is notable mostly for its swordplay.
Nakayama Yasube is one of the 47 Loyal Ronin. It is helpful but not essential to be acquainted with that story (see The 47 Ronin). He is advancing on Lord Kira’s castle with his comrades while reflecting on his life and the film segues into flashback. Samurai Tange Tenzen befriends him when he is engaged in a fight with about 10 opponents to defend his school of swordfighting. Their lives will be entwined ever after. For one thing, they both love the same woman, whom Tange marries. Most of the film deals with Tange’s quest to avenge her honor.
Even knowing the back story, this one is pretty hard to follow. There are a host of characters who all have some sort of agenda or other. Fans of martial arts will not want to miss it though. There is good sword fighting throughout and the final fight in which the one-armed, one-legged dying hero takes on his five enemies in the snow is nothing short of spectacular.
Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever? (Hunde, wollt ihr ewig leben)
Directed by Frank Wisbar
Written by Frank Dimen, Heinz Schröter, and Frank Wisbar from a novel by Fritz Wöss
Deutsche Film Hansa
This is the story of the German 6th Army’s defeat at Stalingrad told from the perspective of a young officer. It’s quite watchable.
Oberleutnant Gerd Wisse is an attractive man with a bright future. Then he gets assigned as liaison to the Romanian army at Stalingrad. He distinguishes himself there to the chagrin of his superior officer, Major Linkmann. Linkmann plots to have him transferred to his command at the heart of the fighting in the city. Wisse becomes increasingly disillusioned by the pointless, endless fighting, the dwindling supplies, Linkmann’s cowardice and the callousness of Hitler, who will not countenance retreat.
This is a straightforward historical movie that kept my interest all the way through. I learned a lot about conditions at Stalingrad. Immediately after I watched the movie, the next thing on the YouTube AutoPlay was a documentary about Field Marshall Paulus. Oddly, he is presented much more sympathetically in the movie than his quote or the documentary would indicate.
Suddenly, Last Summer
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams from a play by Williams
Columbia Pictures Corporation/Horizon Pictures/Academy Pictures Corporation/Camp Films
First viewing/Netflix rental
I don’t know how or why I avoided this film all my life. It has my new favorite Katharine Hepburn performance.
Dr. Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) is a young psychiatrist and neuro-surgeon from Chicago. He is at the State Hospital in New Orleans to perform his specialty, lobotomies. The condition of the hospital and operating room is deplorable and the asylum’s director (Albert Dekker) is desperate for an infusion of cash.
The eccentric and immensely wealthy Violet Venable (Hepburn) lost her son Sebastian suddenly last summer while he was on a European vacation with cousin Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor). Now Violet is desperate to shut Catherine up about the circumstances of his death. A lobotomy is just what she wants the doctor to order.
Violet sweetens the pot with a million dollars for the hospital if Dr. Cukrowicz will perform the surgery. The doctor inconveniently needs to determine if drastic action is actually necessary, He visits Catherine and decides that what she really needs is to dredge up her repressed memories of last summer. These will prove more horrifying than anyone could imagine.
If I had known this would be at bottom a pitch-black comedy, I might have seen it long before this. Hepburn captures the essential tone of the piece beautifully. I had a grin plastered on my face each time she appeared. I am surprised they were able to get away with the homosexual sub-text in this. While not actually saying so, the images and words made it abundantly clear that Sebastian’s primary interest in the women in his life was to attract a better class of young men. Taylor is pretty terrific herself. Recommended.
Suddenly, Last Summer was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress (Hepburn); Best Actress (Taylor); and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.
The Angry Red Planet
Directed by Ib Melchior
Written by Ib Melchior and Sidney W. Pink
American International Pictures/Sino
First viewing/Amazon Prime
This movie is a lot of boring build-up to some bad matte paintings and a bat/spider puppet.
The first mission to Mars has been lost for over two months. Then the spacecraft is spotted and brought home. Only two of the four crew members survive. One is being attacked by an amoeba like growth and is in a coma. The other has been so traumatized that she can’t remember a thing. Under hypnosis, she finally tells the tale of their ordeal via flashback.
This is packed with filler consisting of the operation of the spacecraft and lots of “scientific” discussion. Then the money shots don’t pay off.
Third Man on the Mountain
Directed by Ken Annakin
Written by Eleanore Griffin from a book by James Ramsey Ullman
Walt Disney Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental
Lizbeth Hempel: Yes. Or of a dishwasher, or a hotel proprietor. But never the wife of a hotel proprietor who wanted to climb mountains! Because a man must do what he feels he must do; or he isn’t a man. And no one, wife mother or sweetheart, has the right to make him into something that he wasn’t meant to be.
Here is a good family adventure film with an excellent cast of mostly British actors.
The setting is 19th Century Switzerland. Rudi Matt (James MacArthur) is the son of a famed Alpine guide. His father lost his life attempting to scale the Citadel and his mother and uncle (James Donald), also a guide, are doing everything in their power to prevent Rudi from climbing. He is currently washing dishes in a climber’s hotel. But nothing can keep Rudi out of the mountains and he spends much of his time dreaming about scaling the Citadel one day himself. His biggest fans are the hotel cook, a former guide, and the hotel owner’s daughter Lizbeth (Janet Munro)
One day, Rudi plays hooky and happens upon famed climber Captain John Winter (Michael Rennie), who has fallen into a cravass. He saves Winter’s life and Winter rewards him in various ways, including asking for the boy as a porter. Rudi has a lot to learn before he becomes selfless enough to be the guide his father was. With Herbert Lom as a guide from a rival village.
The closest I have gotten to real life peaks is to gaze at them. Yet, mountain climbing is one of my favorite topics. The number of books I have read about Everest may be in the double digits. This film scratches that itch in a wholesome Disneyfied way and I really enjoyed it.
The Matterhorn stands in for the fictional Citadel in this movie, which was the inspiration for the famous attraction at Disneyland.
Directed by George P. Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane
Written by William J. Sheldon; story by George P. Breakston
Lopert Pictures Corporation/Shaw-Breakston Enterprises/United Artists of Japan/William Shelton
First viewing/Amazon Prime
Something about the ultra-creepy creatures in this really got under my skin.
Dr. Robert Suzuki is experimenting on creating a new species using some kind of chemicals. Unfortunately, his idea of the next generation of homo sapiens seems to be a murderous two-headed monster/man. Or maybe he hasn’t worked out all the kinks in his plans …
At any rate, when foreign correspondent Larry Stanford comes to interview the good doctor, Suzuki spots his perfect experimental subject. He overpowers Larry with a combination of spiked liquor and femme fatale Tara, his assistant. The rest of the movie follows Larry as he goes completely off the rails.
The whole concept grabbed me and kept my attention throughout the short running time. I wouldn’t even call it a bad movie for the genre. There is action all the way through, evil Orientals, and decent special effects. Recommended for fans of cheesy sci-fi and horror. The complete film is currently available on YouTube.
Clip – Larry sprouts a third eye
Last Train from Gun Hill
Directed by John Sturges
Written by James Poe; story by James Poe
Bryna Productions/Hal Wallis Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant
This superior Western boasts an outstanding cast.
As the film begins, a couple of young hoodlum types harass a Cherokee woman and her young son. Then one of them rapes and kills the woman, but not before she has scarred him. The boy nabs the rapist’s horse to run for help. Rapist Rick Belden (Earl Holliman) now has three problems. First, the woman was the wife of the Marshall Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas). Second, the saddle of the horse bears the initials of his father Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn). Third, his scar is a sure giveaway. Matt naturally swears vengence. Conveniently, the father is his old friend.
Matt takes off immediately for Gun Hill, where Belden lives, via train. On board, he meets Linda (Carolyn Jones), Belden’s mistress, who is returning from a stay in the hospital. Belden is clearly disappointed in his son but refuses to let Matt bring him in. The rest of the movie is devoted to Matt’s efforts to get him aboard the last train from Gun Hill.
This one moves very nicely and boasts some very good acting. I particularly liked Quinn. It has been a while since I have seen him in a non-ethnic role. Carolyn Jones is also unusually good as the worldly-wise ex-shady lady. Douglas is obviously a dynamo. The story contains no surprises but when done as well as this is it doesn’t really matter.