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
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.


Surfing Hollow Days (1961)

Surfing Hollow Days
Directed by Bruce Brown
Written by Bruce Brown
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.


Viridiana (1961)

Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Julio Alejandro and Luis Buñuel
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 (Francisco 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
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.


Salvatore Giuliano (1961)

Salvatore Giuliano 
Directed by Francesco Rosi
Written by Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Enzo Provincale, Francesco Rosi, and Franco Salinas
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
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.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by George Axelrod based on the novel by Truman Capote
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Holly Golightly: Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.

The movie opens with Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy and you think you have found movie paradise.  Then Mickey Rooney takes the screen in yellow face and buck teeth and you start to doubt it.

Holly Golightly (Hepburn) has the charm, beauty and sex appeal to easily score 50 dollar bills when she goes to the powder room while on dinner out on the town.  What she does in addition to get the money is left unstated.  She is slightly dotty and often loses her building key.  Upstairs neighbor Mr. Yunioshi (Rooney) constantly is interrupted with her buzzing him to let her in.  He is big on ineffectual bluster but will resort to calling the cops when Holly’s parties get out of hand.

Holly meets writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard) as he is moving in to the building.  They have a lot in common as he is being “kept” by his interior designer, a wealthy older woman (Patricia Neal).  They bond early on.  He reminds her of her brother Fred, who was her constant companion during her terrible childhood and she calls Paul “Fred” for the rest of the movie.

We learn that Holly is sweet and vulnerable but also a bit of a fraud.  Her English accent and frequent use of French belie a hardscrabble Texas upbringing.  Inevitably, Paul falls for Holly but she is more interested in marrying for money to support her brother, who will soon be discharged from the army,

I have a long-running love/hate relationship with this film.  This is the iconic Hepburn performance and she is just perfect in it. My next favorite is Martin Balsam as Holly’s agent. It’s a good story which has me in tears by the end

The producer’s commentary expresses regret that they didn’t cast Rooney’s part with a Japanese actor.  That would have helped a bit but the offensively stereotypical characterization of the man would still have been a gigantic problem.  1961 was the tale end of the time when White actors could play Asians and if the performance had not been so broad and obnoxious it might have been a mere footnote to discussions of this film.

Still, I recommend seeing this one before you die – or get much older.

“Moon River” won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song and Henry Mancini won for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s was nominated in the categories of Best Actress; Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color.  How did it miss for Best Costume Design?


Night Tide (1961)

Night Tide
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Written by Curtis Harrington
Phoenix Films
First viewing/YouTube

Mora: Yes, I love the sea most of all. But I’m afraid of it, too.

Johnny Drake: I guess we’re all a little afraid of what we love.

This is the kind of dreamy “horror” movie that Val Lewton used to make – albeit on a higher budget.

Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) is a lonely sailor on leave.  At a coffeehouse, he spots Mora, a dark-haired beauty, sitting alone .  He tries to chat her up but she would prefer to listen to the music.  He is nothing if not persistent and follows her until she eventually becomes more friendly.  He learns she is an attraction in the pier amusement park appearing as a mermaid.  She has a strange affinity with the sea.

They fall in love.  Soon Johnny becomes acquainted with the very strange people surrounding Mora.  All warn him that her two previous boyfriends were found drowned. He is not dissuaded.  Eventually he begins to wonder if she really is a mermaid.

Far from being a prequel to Splash (1984), this movie portrays mermaids as menacing creatures who lure sailors to their doom.  The potential that Mora is one gives Johnny some pretty horrific nightmares.  This movie is strangely hypnotic.  On the other hand, most of the acting other than Hopper’s is fairly stilted and the pacing could have been better.  On balance, I’m glad I saw this unique little film.


Il Posto

Il Posto
Directed by Ermanno Olmi
Written by Ermanno Olmi and Ettori Lombardo
24 Horses/Titanus
Repeat viewing/FilmStruck


“Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.” ― Drew Carey

Olmi deserves a lot of credit for turning a story as slight as this one into something really enchanting and memorable.

Domenico Cantoni has recently left school and has received a letter allowing him to take an aptitude test for employment at a large corporation in Milan.  The wages are low but a job there means lifetime employment.  We follow Domenico through the slightly surreal examination process, during which he meets and tentatively attempts to court a female applicant.

Both Domenico and his friend are eventually hired. No clerk job is available so he begins working life as a messenger.  She works in another building, has a different lunch break, and is very difficult for him to make contact with.  He bumbles along during his working life and the social life the company provides at a very weird New Year’s Eve party.

Everybody has felt like a fish out of water at some time and Olmi perfectly captures that feeling.  His Domenico is young, vulnerable, and totally endearing.  Although absolutely nobody would sign up to work at this particular corporation, the director takes an amused and even affectionate look at the organization and its employees.  I enjoyed this very much.  Recommended.


Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)
Directed by Stanley Kramer
Written by Abby Mann based on his original story
Roxlom Films Inc.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental


Hans Rolfe: My Country, right or wrong.

This multi-star production examines changing attitudes to Germany post-WWII.

The film is set in 1948 towards the end of the many Nazi war crimes trials.  The court now reaches the trial of a group of judges that applied Nazi race laws.  The head of the panel of Allied judges is Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy), a middle American district attorney, who, with the film’s audience will be educated in the legal system under Hitler.  The judges are defended by attorney Hans Rolfe (Maximilian Schell) and prosecuted by JAG Col. Tad Lawson (Richard Widmark).  The most prominent of the German jurists on trial is Dr. Ernst Jannings (Burt Lancaster) a widely published and respected legal scholar.

Rolfe’s defense hinges on depicting his clients as patriots and as judges whose duty was to apply the law of the land.  But the prosecution shows that the judges succumbed political pressure to rule contrary to the established facts.  With Marlene Dietrich as the widow of an executed war criminal, Montgomery Clift as a man sterilized as a “mental defective”; and Judy Garland as a Gentile whose innocent friendship with an elderly Jew led to the man’s execution.

The film is three hours and six minutes long and probably would have been even more powerful with at least half an hour worth of cuts and a tighter screenplay.  That said, it kept my attention throughout and is always thought-provoking.  In the background of the trial lurks the Cold War, in which the U.S. needs the support of West Germany.  Gradually, we see suggestions that Nazi misconduct should be relegated to the history books.  The film comes down squarely on the side of holding individuals responsible for the consequences of their actions.  There’s quite a bit of speechifying but it is of a high standard and goes down fairly easily.

Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor and Abby Man for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.  Judgement at Nuremberg was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Clift); Best Supporting Actress (Garland); Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; and Best Film Editing.