The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

The Beast of Yucca Flats
Directed by Coleman Francis
Written by Coleman Francis
1961/USA
Cardoza-Francis Productions
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Narrator: Flag on the moon. How did it get there?

This gem gets one star for quality and 4.5 stars for entertainment value!  I knew I had hit bad movie gold within the first two minutes.

The first thing you need to know is this movie was shot without sound so much of the “action” is narrated by the writer/director.  Most dialogue is spoken with the actors’ backs to the camera.  The story begins out of nowhere with a bare-breasted woman toweling off after a shower.  She moves from the bathroom to the bedroom, where, still wrapped in the towel, she removes her shoes (!).  Then mysterious hands strangle her and leave her dead in her bed.

We move into flashback where we learn that humanitarian Soviet scientist Joseph Jarvosky (Tor Johnson, an Ed Wood regular) has defected, taking with him secret photos of a flag on the moon in his brief case.  After a loooong and inept car chase with Soviet agents, he escapes into Yucca Flats where he immediately is exposed to an A-bomb test and transformed into a crazed Beast.  He is a victim of “progress”, as the narrator reminds us over and over.

Narrator: Boys from the city. Not yet caught by the whirlwind of Progress. Feed soda pop to the thirsty pigs.

We have to assume he killed the girl in the opening scene.  His next victims are a couple stopped to repair a flat tire in the desert.  The Beast immediately kills the man and drags the woman into his cave.  Police find the body and the woman’s purse and begin the search for the culprit.

In the meantime, a family of four makes a stop in the desert and their two little boys run off to explore.  When the boys do not return, the father goes off to look for them.  Big mistake as one of the policemen is up in a helicopter looking for the killer and has instructions to shoot first and ask questions later.  He only wounds the man who manages to return to the car.  He leaves his wife alone (!) while he goes off to get help.

I won’t pursue this any farther except to say that the ending sequence with the jack rabbit is absolutely classic.

This looks and feels like something a maniac like Ed Wood could churn out in a couple of hours.  Coleman Francis possesses that special genius for the bizarre that is right up my alley.  I didn’t think I would find anything to compete with my beloved Robot Monster but this did.  The jury is still out because I would need to see if it holds up to repeat viewing like that film.

Somebody took the trouble to restore a pristine looking print which can be seen on Amazon Prime. The complete film is also available on YouTube, as is an MST3K version.

Trailer

Trailers from Hell

Town Without Pity (1961)

Town Without Pity
Directed by Gottfried Reinhardt
Written by George Herdalek and Silvia Reinhardt; adapted by Jan Lustig from a novel by Manfred Gregor
1961/USA/West Germany/Switzerland
The Mirisch Corporation/Osweg/Gloria-Film GmbH
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Col. Jerome Pakenham: This is no cross-examination! It’s a circus!

The story had real potential but is very oddly told.

The setting is a small West German town near a U.S. military base.  The year is 1960.  the story is narrated by a female tabloid journalist whom we do not actually meet for several minutes.

A group of four GIs goes into a local bar seeking to hook up with some prostitutes they know.  The ladies are not there.  They leave, disgusted.  We segue to a scene in which teenager Karin Steinhof (Christine Kaufmann) is making out with her boyfriend by a river. His mother objects to their romance and she tries and fails to seduce him.  She runs off and starts changing from her bikini into her street clothes.  The GIs spot her while she is naked and rape her.

The local community is outraged and the base command is determined to make an example of these soldiers with maximum publicity.  They agree to seek the death penalty, which is available for rape under military law but not under German law.  Maj. Steve Garrett (Kirk Douglas) is selected to defend the soldiers.  This he does in the most vigorous way possible.  The ordeal might be too much for the fragile Karin who, like everyone, does not have a spotless past.  To add to her troubles, the community is not only small but very small-minded.  With E.G. Marshall as the prosecutor and Frank Sutton, Richard Jaeckel, and Robert Blake as defendents.

This was a joint U.S.-Swiss production and the device of the voice-over narrator was used to stitch the languages together for English-speaking audiences.  It has a strange distancing effect.  To add to that the title song is played incessantly, whether it has any relevance to the scene or not.  You are almost guaranteed an ear worm by the end of the film.   A lot of good acting and some sharp courtroom tactics were lost on me during the barrage.

Dmitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington were nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for the title tune.

Trailer

Gene Pitney in a contemporary TV performance.

The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer

The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer (Ningen no jôken)
Directed by Masaki Kobayashi
Written by Zenzu Matsuyama, Koichi Inagaki, and Masaki Kobayashi from a novel by Junpei Gomikawa
1961/Japan
Ningin Club/Shochiku Eiga
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.” ― Plato

A reluctant soldier’s war gets even worse in the conclusion to Kobayashi’s anti-war trilogy.

Part II of the trilogy found Kaji sent into the final days of battle with the Soviet Union.  This film begins in the days surrounding the Japanese defeat.  The now battle-hardened Kaji leads a small group of survivors toward southern Manchuria, where he hopes to reunite with his wife Michiko. She has been in his thoughts since they were separated in Part I. The harrowing journey takes Kaji and his men through a nightmare landscape of starvation.

Finally, Kaji and a few stragglers become POWs.  He becomes further disillusioned when his jailers do not act in accordance with the Communist ideals the pacifist Kaji has long held.

I consider Kobayashi’s Harakiri (1962) to be one of the greatest films ever made.  It therefore pains me that I have never been able to get similarly excited about his very highly rated anti-war trilogy.  In this film, the characters walk and suffer for over three hours.  The film is very competently made but there are just not enough high points to keep it compelling for me.  I must admit the ending sequence was worth waiting for.

Trailer for the Trilogy

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo
Directed by Eugene Lourie
Written by Robert L. Richards and Daniel James
1961/UK
King Brothers Production
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Joe Ryan: What the hell’s the matter with you? This is the twentieth century. There must be some way of handling an overgrown animal!

If you are in the mood to smile at a ridiculous monster and some bad special effects, this British Godzilla/King Kong rip-off could be just the ticket.

A couple greedy skin divers are searching for treasure off the coast of Ireland.  The area has been declared off limits by an equally greedy harbor master.  Finally the loss of several boats to a mysterious force convinces the harbor master to allow the divers’ boat to come to the rescue.  They manage to capture the culprit, a 20-foot tall creature.

An Irish boy, the lone voice of reason in the film, urges the divers to leave the monster in the sea.  However, they see marketing potential and take it live to London for exhibition. When will humankind ever learn?  Soon enough the creature’s mama, who is 200 feet tall, arrives to save her baby, threatening the total annihilation of London in the process.

Gorgo’s monster follows in the Japanese man-in-a-rubber suit tradition.  Unfortunately, Gorgo is no Godzilla.  The combination of the monster’s face and the sub-par miniature work makes his workings all too obvious.  On the other hand, Gorgo’s very ludicrousness gives the movie its goofy charm.  Recommended to afficionados of this kind of thing.

Trailer – the picture and color were much better on Amazon Instant

Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)

Invasion of the Neptune Men (Uchu Kaisoku-sen)
Directed by Kohi Ohta
Written by Shin Morita; story by Akihiro Watanabe
1961/Japan
Toei Company
First viewing/Netflix rental

“It wasn’t easy looking dignified wearing a bed sheet and a purple cape.” ― Rick Riordan, The Son of Neptune

Coneheads are defeated by a martial artist and a bunch of little kids.

My intro sentence can actually also serve as the plot summary.  All the forces of science are helpless against aliens from Neptune.  Fortunately, Japan is armed with sassy shorts-wearing children and Space Chief, who appears whenever the going gets tough with his ray gun.

This movie was tailor-made for MST3K.  I have not seen that version,  just the dubbed American release.  The story does not stand up to a 90 minute running time but there are smiles to be had.

Clip

Surfing Hollow Days (1961)

Surfing Hollow Days
Directed by Bruce Brown
Written by Bruce Brown
1961/USA
Bruce Brown Films
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Surfing is attitude dancing.” –Gerry Lopez

Aimed at surfing enthusiasts, Brown’s documentary also brought back strong memories of a time and place to this Southern California non-surfer.

We follow a group of professional surfers from California to Hawaii to Australia and even Florida in search of “hollow waves”.  Glimpses of surf culture are interspersed between shots of some truly astounding feats, including the first time a surfer rode the Pipeline, a huge and dangerous wave in Hawaii.

This documentary is the kind of thing that would have been shown in small surfing clubs and not in the theater.  The tone is light with a lot of joshing between the guys.  The slightness of the subject matter does not weaken the impact of the grandeur of the battle between man and wave.

Clip

Viridiana (1961)

Viridiana
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Julio Alejandro and Luis Buñuel
1961/Spain/Mexico
Union Industrial Cinematografica/Gustavo Alatriste/Films 59
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Viridiana: I know my own weakness, and whatever I do will be humble. But, however little it is, I want to do it alone.

I had to keep reminding myself to keep a sense of humor during this unforgettable and very black comedy.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is an extremely devout novice who is about to take her vows as a nun.  Her uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), whom she has hardly ever seen, has paid for her training and her “dowry”.  She has no desire to see him but he more or less orders her to visit, backed up by the Mother Superior.  Viridiana’s instincts were all too accurate.

When she arrives, she reminds Jaime strongly of his dead wife, who died of a heart attack on their wedding night.  Jaime begins a campaign to make Viridiana his own.  This culminates in the administration of a date rape drug.  Whether or not a rape actually occurred is left to our imagination.  At any rate, Viridiana can no longer return to the convent.  Jaime dies soon after.

During Act II, Viridiana decides to live a Godly life by taking in a group of the most ungrateful and downright sinful poor people imaginable.  Her situation is made even more miserable by the arrival of Jaime’s worldly illegitimate son.

“Vivid” is the adjective that comes to mind for this movie.  Buñuel takes each scene to the edge of surrealism and beyond, leaving an indelible impression.  The seduction scenes early in the film and the poor people’s orgy – with its “Last Supper” tableau – are particularly memorable.  All of this stuff is both hilarious and viscerally disturbing.  If one took it even slightly seriously, the story transforms into something truly depressing.  I have to recommend it even if I don’t think I will be giving it a re-watch anytime soon.

U.S. Trailer

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Pit and the Pendulum
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Richard Matheson from a story by Edgar Allan Poe
1961/USA
Alta Vista Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Don Nicholas Medina: Do you know where you are, Bartolome? I’ll tell you where you are. You are about to enter Hell, Bartolome, HELL!… The netherworld.The infernal region, The Abode of the Damned… The place of torment. Pandemonium. Abbadon. Tophet. Gehenna. Naraka. THE PIT!… And the pendulum.

Vincent Price is at his most indulgent in another of Corman’s Poe-inspired Gothic horror shows.

Poe’s short story needed considerable embellishment to fill out a full-length movie.  It is 16th Century Spain.  Francis Barnard (John Kerr) visits the castle of Nicholas Medina (Price) to investigate the death of his sister Elizabeth (Barbara Steele), Nicholas’s deceased wife.  He finds Nicholas traumatized to the point of madness from witnessing the cruel tortures of his father, an Inquisitor.

Several possible explanations for Elizabeth’s death emerge and several suspects are revealed.  All this gives ample scope for revisiting tortures old and new and for the specter premature burial to raise its ugly head.

The movie, completed in only 15 days, looks splendid, rivaling the delights of the Hammer horror films made during the same period.  Price chews the scenery as only he can.  This might be much too much in any other actor but with Price it is delicious fun.

The DVD I rented included a commentary by Corman.

Trailer

Salvatore Giuliano (1961)

Salvatore Giuliano 
Directed by Francesco Rosi
Written by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enzo Provincale, Francesco Rosi, and Franco Salinas
1961/Italy
Galatea Film/Lux Film/Vides Cinematografica
First viewing/Netflix rental

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.” ― Frédéric Bastiat

Rosi gives us some beautifully shot violence and I have a confession to make.

The film is told in a series of flashbacks within flashbacks spanning the years from 1945 to 1960 in Sicily.  At the end of WWII, a Separatist movement arises in Sicily that conducted a reign of terror against both the police and the mafia.  Young Salvatore Giuliano is recruited and becomes an impassioned advocate for independence as well as an adept killer.

Eventually, Sicily is granted a form of autonomy.  Now the separatists become more like the lackeys of the mafia.  Giuliano mostly sticks to his mountain hide out.  He is later betrayed by his right-hand man, Gabrieli Pisciola.

My confession.  I listened to the commentary track on day 1.  On day 2, I watched the film. I had had a bad night the night before and kept drifting between sleep and consciousness.  So this review doesn’t mean much.  I’m not going to be watching it again so this will have to do.

Trailer – no subtitles

Underworld U.S.A. (1961)

Underworld U.S.A.
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Written by Samuel Fuller
1961/USA
Globe Enterprises
First viewing/FilmStruck

 

Sandy: Why don’t you take a good look at yourself. What do you see? A doctor? A scientist? A businessman? You see a scar-faced ex-con. A two-bit safecracker. A petty thief who don’t know when he really made the big time. Where do you come off to blast her? No matter what she’s been, what she’s done. She’s a giant! And you wanna know why? Well, I’ll tell ya. Because she sees something in you worth saving. If only one tenth of one percent of all the good in her could rub off on you, you’d be a giant, too. But you’re a midget! In your head, in your heart, in your whole makeup. You’re a midget!

This is Sam Fuller at his lurid best aided by the performance of Cliff Robertson and the cinematography of Hal Mohr.

Tolley Devlin had a terrible childhood.  He was raised in prison until his convict mother died.  His father is a small-time hoodlum.  Tolley is taken in hand by kindly Sandy.  Shortly thereafter as a young teenager, he witnesses shadowy figures beat his father to death.  Rather than cooperate with the police, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

This has to wait until 20 years later when Tolley is in prison for burglary.  One of his chief suspects is dying in the prison hospital and Tolley wangles a job there.  On his death bed, the suspect reveals the names of the other murders.

Tulley insinuates himself with the gang, now a major organized crime ring, and plays both ends against the middle.  In the meantime, he earns the love of a drug courier for the mob. Much violence and skullduggery ensue.

Any one familiar with Fuller’s work would not need to see the credits to know he directed it.  He takes a time-worn format and makes it quirky enough that the same old story seems new and interesting.  I had forgotten how good an actor Robertson was.

Trailer