Dr. Blood’s Coffin (1961)

Dr. Blood’s Coffin
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Written by Nathan Juran; adapted by James Kelly and Peter Miller
1961/UK
Caralan Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

This gory twist on the Frankenstein story doesn’t quite deliver the thrills it should.

Dr. Peter Blood (Kieron Moore) is a frustrated man.  Small-minded professors in Vienna refuse to let him experiment on human subjects.  He returns to his native village in England and the home of his physician father in hopes that he will be left alone.  He is foiled at every turn but not before one last, successful, attempt at reanimation.  With Ian Hunter as his father and Hazel Court as the love interest.

Moore seems too much like a romantic lead to be very convincing as a mad scientist. There’s lots of filler between the blood and guts sequences and those don’t add up to much in the end, anyway.  Missable.

Trailer

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

Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)

Creature from the Haunted Sea
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
1961/USA
Roger Corman Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Sparks Moran: [narrating] It was dusk. I could tell ’cause the sun was going down.

The “unspeakable secret” is that the creature is a badly executed muppet.

The Bay of Pigs was apparently on Corman’s mind.  A gangster, his moll, and his gang transport a group of Cubans and stolen loot from the Cuban treasury to the US for use by counter-revolutionalry forces. Among the gang is an American spy. The gangster’s plan is to bump off his passengers and steal the money. The gangster invents a sea creature as the cause of the mysterious disappearances.  Little does he know that there really is a monster.

The film feels a lot like a spoof of James Bond movies a year before they even existed. The monster is ridiculous but some of the dialogue is pretty funny.

Corman had an extra couple of days while shooting The Last Woman on Earth in Puerto Rico so he commissioned a script that could use the same cast.  The rush job and ultra-low budget certainly show.

Joe Dante – Trailers from Hell

Bloodlust! (1961)

Bloodlust!
Directed by Ralph Brooke
Written by Ralph Brooke based on the story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
1961/USA
cinegrafik
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Dean Gerrard: I can’t go on forever pretending to be a useless drunk.

Do yourself a big favor and watch the original 1932 The Most Dangerous Game instead of this low-budget rip-off.

It is 1961 and therefore the heroes and heroines of this tale must be teenagers (played by actors in their twenties).  They are out on a yachting trip and spot a mysterious island. When the captain of the vessel passes out, they decide to take the boat in and explore. They meet crazy island owner Dr. Albert Balleau.  His hobby is hunting … humans.

The best thing about this movie is that it is only 68 minutes long.  It’s not campy enough to tickle my fancy.  Also, it does not feature Joel McCrea with his shirt off like the original version.

Trailer

The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap
Directed by David Swift
Written by David Swift from a book by Erich Kastner
1961/USA
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Sharon McKendrick:  Watch out for snakes!

I hadn’t seen this since childhood and had forgotten a lot.  Haley Mills is fantastic as usual.

Identical twins Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick (both played by Mills) have been separated since infancy when their parents divorced.  Susan has lived in California with her father Mitch (Brian Keith) and Sharon in Boston with mother Maggie (Maureen O’Hara).

They meet at summer camp and get off to a very rocky start.  When they discover they are sisters, however, their greatest desire is to meet the parents they have been denied and to reunite the family.  They decide the easiest way to get their first wish is to switch places when they go home.

Susan and Sharon are surprisingly convincing at imitating each other.  Maggie even seems amenable to their plan.  The great sticking point is Mitch who is about to marry a gold-digging young blonde bimbo named Vicky (Joanna Barnes).   Sharon, Susan and Maggie all hate the two-faced Vicky.

The entire family eventually assembles at Mitch’s house, where wedding plans are underway.  The rest of the story deals with the the ladies’ plot to oust Vicky.  With Charles Ruggles as the girls’ grandfather, Catherine Nesbitt as their grandmother, Una Merkle as Mitch’s housekeeper and Leo G. Carroll as a sympathetic preacher.

This was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  With this cast it was almost bound to be enjoyable.  My favorite parts were the scenes with Vicky.  These Disney films are also good for catching beloved character actors from the 30’s and 40’s.

When did Hollywood decide that Bostonians speak with British accents?  It was a tradition that lasted since the first talkies.  Mills does pretty well with her American accent as Susan.

The Parent Trap was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

Mills and Mills sing “Let’s Get Together”

Too Late Blues (1961)

Too Late Blues
Directed by John Cassavettes
Written by Richard Carr and John Cassavettes
1961/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

People all over the world have problems. And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die. B. B. King

I love John Cassavettes. This early studio film shows a lot of promise but is let down by its script.

John “Ghost” Wakefield (Bobby Darin) is a jazz musician who marches to a different drummer.  He refuses to play or allow his band to play any music he does not deem worthy.  He adopts Jess Polanski (Stella Stevens), a messed-up singer with a very eccentric style and eventually falls in love with her and takes her away from her boyfriend, who happens to be his agent.

Eventually, Ghost’s refusal to do anything that might potentially earn money drives away his band.  The agent already hates him.  Then Ghost splits up with Jess who slides deeper into despair.  With Seymour Cassels as one of the band members.

On the positive side, the look of the film is wonderful and there are some improvisational-feeling group scenes in the beginning that are classic Cassavettes.  By the second act, however, the story lost me.  I still don’t know exactly why Ghost found the need to break up with Jess.  It ended up being a decidedly mixed experience.

Trailer

Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog (1961)

Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog
Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Robert Westerby; story by Eleanor Atkinson
1961/USA
Walt Disney Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

“I heard of Bobby first early in the winter, from a Bible-reader at the Medical Mission in the Cowgate, who saw the little dog’s master buried. He sees many strange, sad things in his work, but nothing ever shocked him so as the lonely death of that pious old shepherd in such a picturesque den of vice and misery.” “Ay,” ― Eleanor Atkinson, Greyfriars Bobby

This wholesome story of a dog’s devotion is for the whole family.

As the story starts, Auld Jock is ending his 60 year’s working as a shepherd.  The Farmer (Gordon Jackson) says he is forced to let him go, despite his chronic cough and advanced years.  Jock gives his sheepdog Bobby, a Skye Terrier, to the little girl of the family.  The farmer and Jock depart for Edinburgh and Bobby manages to escape and keep up with them for the 20-mile journey.

The Farmer leaves the shepherd off with nary a penny to scrape together.  Fortunately, he has been coming to the same market for many years and people reach out to help him.  He accepts a free meal but adamantly refuses to go to the infirmary about his cough.  At night, he resorts to an inn of very low repute for a bed.  By morning he has died of pneumonia.

The pub owner that fed Jock finds out about this and buries the illiterate Jock in Greyfriars churchyard, where Edinburgh’s elite have been interred for centuries.  The rest of the story follows Bobby’s persistence in spending each night atop his Master’s grave for the next fourteen years, despite many efforts to remove him.  With Donald Crisp as the caretaker of the churchyard.

If you are looking for something sweet, funny, and sentimental, this could be just the ticket. It went down well with me.

What a career Donald Crisp had!  He appeared in his first film in 1908.  My earliest memory of him was his scary performance as Battlin’ Butler in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms.  All these years later he is still rock solid.

 

Trailer

Terminus (1961)

Terminus
Directed by John Schlesinger
Written by John Schlesinger
1961/UK
British Transport Films
First viewing/YouTube

 

Millions of people swarming like flies ’round Waterloo underground/ But Terry and Julie cross over the river where they feel safe and sound / And they don’t need no friends/ As long as they gaze on Waterloo Sunset they are in paradise – “Waterloo Sunset”, lyrics by Ray Davies

I really enjoyed this documentary account of 24 hours in London’s busy Waterloo Station.

There is no plot but various vignettes including train side meetings and departures, different kinds of business travelers, the arrival of a large Jamaican contingent and the saga of a lost child.

The film has no narration and is supported mostly by its jaunty score.  There is some incidental recording of station announcements, bits of conversatiion, etc.  Schlesinger obviously had enormous affection for Londoners and eccentrics and this shines through. Recommended.

Clip

Bonus – early live Kinks performance of “Waterloo Sunset”.

The Misfits (1961)

The Misfits
Directed by John Huston
Written by Arthur Miller
1961/USA
Seven Arts Pictures/Seven Arts Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

Roslyn: If I’m going to be alone, I want to be by myself.

This isn’t Arthur Miller’s best work but it’s excellent to look at and you can’t beat the cast.

Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) is in Reno to get a divorce.  There she is befriended by worldly-wise Isabelle (Thelma Ritter).  They hit the bars together and meet up with pilot Guido (Eli Wallach) and his friend aging cowboy Gay (Clark Gable).  Obviously, Roslyn is a man-magnet and Gay and Guido are immediately vying for her attentions.  Gay tells her she should stick around and see the real West and Guido offers to put her up in his house in the desert.  Having nothing better to do, Roslyn agrees.

It is Gay and Roslyn that start up a romance.  They spend an idyllic time together in the house but we also see a developing friction between the ultra-sensitive woman and her lover, a man’s man if ever there was one.  Then Guido returns with the news that there is a herd of mustangs in the mountains that they can round up.  They hit a rodeo to find a third man to help.  This is reckless, sensitive Perce Howland (Montgomery Clift).  Soon he is also in the explosive mix of lusters after Rosalind.  Matters come to a head during the mustanging expedition.

This movie is famous for being the last on-screen work of Gable and Monroe.  It’s more than a curiosity however.  The leads and supporting players also do some of their best work.  If I had to choose among them, I would say Gable’s performance is the stand-out.  On the other hand, a lot of the dialogue didn’t ring exactly true to me and the ending didn’t really follow from the rest of the film.  I did think the theme of the changing West and changing male roles was very interesting.  The film is beautifully shot.

Trailer

Konga (1961)

Konga
Directed by John Lamont
Written by Kaben Kandel and Herman Cohen
1960/UK/USA
Merton Park Studios
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Dr. Charles Decker: Margaret, I can’t stand hysterics. Especially in the morning.

Every person’s comfort viewing is different.  Mine is apparently bad movies featuring men in ape suits.

The movie begins with an airplane exploding in a ball of flames as it hits an African jungle. The accident appears unsurvivable but one year later the passenger, botanist Dr. Charles Dekker (Michael Gough), makes his way back to London.  His year in the Heart of Darkness and study of carnivorous plants has given him the key to the link between plants and humans.  He also has Konga, a cute baby chimp, in tow.

Dekker begins growing specimens in his greenhouse with the assistance of his faithful housekeeper and frustrated girlfriend Margaret.  He is quickly able to distill the serum and test his theory on Konga, who grows up to be a man in a gorilla suit.  He hypnotizes Konga and then “tests his obedience” by sending the ape out to kill his enemies.  Margaret is rapidly wise to the doctor’s scheme but keeps quiet in exchange for a proposal of marriage.  But Dekker is mad in every sense of the word and soon is making a fool of himself over blonde co-ed Sandra.

This movie is thoroughly bad but has plenty of goofy charm.  It is kind of a bargain basement combination of Frankenstein, King Kong, and The Murders on the Rue Morgue. The cross-eyed ape is irresistibly silly.  The special effect miniatures are endearingly terrible. And Gough’s overacting is the icing on the cake.  Only for fans of this kind of thing.

I also enjoyed all the stock footage of Papua New Guinea tribes, here standing in for exotic Africans!

Trailer