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Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

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All right, ladies and gentlemen, it is found footage time once again and you know what that means; I have to yell “get back here!” before you flee this review and click over to something else, like maybe a Buzzfeed quiz on “Which Little Pony am I?” (I’m Princess Sparklefeather).

In Soviet Russia, found footage finds you!

In Soviet Russia, found footage finds you!

But  you should stick around for this one, ’cause it’s some serious fun. I really had a good time with this zany, gory delight.

Fools Russian where angels fear...

Fools Russian where angels fear…

Our story takes place toward the end of WWII, as a squad of Soviet soldiers is off on a secret mission in Germany. As a propaganda exercise, their exploits are being filmed (or so they are led to believe). They fight some soldiers, brutalize some civilians, etc. etc. But as they move deeper into German territory they encounter some weirdness. Empty graves, skeletons that seem to be weird human/metal hybrids, etc. etc. But everything goes south when an “innocent villager” found tending rabbits (aww!) sends them off into some tunnels under abandoned church. And before you can say “monsters with sickle hands”…

Let's have some monster action, chop chop!

Let’s have some monster action, chop chop!

There are a lot of things to like about this movie. First, the slow buildup works well but doesn’t take up too much screen time – too many “found footagers” are all buildup with the action only coming in the last few minutes (if at all – I’m looking at you, Frankenstein Theory). Here, we get monster goodness right in the second act. And what monsters!

Dieselpunk monstrosities - you know the drill

Dieselpunk monstrosities – you know the drill

They keep on coming through the film, each one weirder and more grotesque than the last. My favorite is “Propellerhead” (which I won’t spoil with a screen grab), but you might find Clamphead or Sawhands more to your liking. It’s a big world, and there is room for all tastes.

Though I'm not sure how much taste has to do with any of this...

Though I’m not sure how much taste has to do with any of this…

It all ends up at Frankenstein’s factory, where half the film’s budget seems to have been spent on buckets o’ grue. I’m not a huge fan of gore movies, but this is such a romp in gleeful grand guignol that I watched it with a big sick grin on my face. Sure, whiners may quibble: this “Russian” found footage is in “English” (though spoken with a Russian accent, so there’s that little nod to authenticity); it’s anachronistically in color and sound (though they make a lame stab at explaining this); and most of film’s middle third is a long series of pop-up scares not unlike a theme park haunted house (though why the hell this would be a complaint is beyond me). All in all, it’s a sick little gem and one of the most fun horror films I’ve seen since Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil.

It even has moments of pathos - poor mine-head.

It even has moments of pathos – poor mine-head.

 

 

 

 

Posted on 15 February '14 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

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And so here we are at the end of our little Abbott and Costello retrospective. For a team that was working with spooky themes almost from their outset (Hold that Ghost was their second starring feature filmed, remember) it is fitting that their final film for Universal (they made one more, Dance With Me Henry) should be a spook-fest.

Abbott and Costello: Taking the pith out of the horror genre since 1941

Abbott and Costello: Taking the pith out of the horror genre since 1941

However, this final monster team-up is generally regarded one of their worst ever. Having rewatched most of their Universal pics recently I’d say that’s not really that derogatory a remark, as the quality of their work for the studio remained constant. Nevertheless, people don’t like this one. Why?

 

Bud and Lou greet the critics' opinions with practiced stoicism

Bud and Lou greet the critics’ opinions with practiced stoicism

Honestly, I had that opinion as well. But this rewatch opened my eyes a little. From the outset, this is not a weak A+C comedy but, in fact, a superior one.  The duo are in top form and work together with an accustomed precision. The first two acts are quite funny, and the supporting cast includes Marie Windsor, Michael “Kang the Klingon” Ansara, and The Dick van Dyke Show‘s Richard Deacon (also memorable in The Thing From Another World) improbably cast as an Egyptian cult leader. So why the hate?

The Voice of the Mummy says: You Shall Face the Curse of the Underappreciated Comedy

The Voice of the Mummy says: You Shall Face the Curse of the Underappreciated Comedy

It’s pretty simple, really. The last act, which features not one but three mummies wandering around (and one is Bud) sounds like it should be funnier than it plays. It’s not bad, but never rises to the level of zany and we leave the film feeling slightly underwhelmed.

Proper attire for catacomb creeping

Proper attire for catacomb creeping

This is one of the rare times that Bud and Lou play characters named “Bud” and “Lou” rather than “Slim” and “Tubby” or “Svelte” and “Fatso” or some other names designed to delight the tempremental Costello. It’s also the only one of their monster-mashes that features trademark A+C verbal humor aside from the usual double-takes and slapstick.

Slapstick or verbal wit, take your pick

Slapstick or verbal wit, take your pick

The production values are high and there’s a good creepy atmosphere in the tomb sequences. The opening musical number is mostly acrobatics and has a murder theme, so even that part is above average (and its interspersed with a fun bit where an unusually quick-thinking Lou reacts to a flaming shish-kebab by dousing it and Bud with water).

Okay, the mummy makeup is kinda weak

Okay, the mummy makeup is kinda weak

If you’re one of those who never watched this ’cause you heard it sucked, I say take a look; if you’re one of those who always loved it but felt guilty because no one else did, then I say you were right all along, sir or madam!

I'm sure their are scarier skeletons in your video closet

I’m sure their are scarier skeletons in your video closet

 

 

 

 

Posted on 31 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)

a and c meet dr jekyllWe’re nearing the end of our Halloween look back at Abbott and Costello’s horror-ish comedies, and not coincidentally nearing the end of their career as a team – they only did three more after this one. They’d been making movies for not much over a decade and this was movie number 30, give or take… and critics usually make a point of noting how “tired” they seem in these “lackluster” final outings. Are the critics right?

The critic in Lou's mirror seems to think so

The critic in Lou’s mirror seems to think so

Nah. Bud and Lou go about their business here with customary vigor and their screen chemistry and timing are drum-tight (concurrently with this movie they were also shooting their TV series, which critics have called “their best work” – so which is it, “they’re tired” or “at their peak”?). However, there is one aspect of the movie that may explain why it’s so maligned compared to its actual merits.

And recycling of Three Stooges gags is not the culprit

And recycling of Three Stooges gags is not the culprit

There is an unspoken rule in A+C movies. While there may be a brief bit at the film’s opening that establishes the central conflict and tone, we are immediately thereafter introduced to Our Heroes, usually in a comic sequence that establishes their characters. Here, once again, we have that brief opening bit – Mr. Hyde attacking someone – then we meet some suffragettes, then they turn out to be dance-hall girls who perform an excruciating musical number, then there’s a fight scene (and I left out the sexist flirt-dialogue between the film’s romantic leads) and only then, FINALLY, do we encounter Bud and Lou, almost seven minutes into the movie (but it seems longer). SO right away it feels like an Abbott and Costello film without Abbott and Costello, and we’re bored and annoyed. From there it’s a bit of an uphill battle to get us involved in what’s going on – Bud and Lou seem absent, even though they’re the focus of the next 80 minutes or so.

And no amount of hat-twiddling can buy back our good graces

And no amount of hat-twiddling can buy back our good graces

But overall, once we’re over that hurdle, this is a funny outing. Bud and Lou play American cops sent overseas to learn British police techniques. It’s the 19th century, and a mysterious killer stalks the streets of London. Is there some connection between this hairy killer and the impeccably upstanding gentleman’s gentleman, Dr Henry Jekyll?

What mischief could this gentleman possibly get up to?

What mischief could this gentleman possibly get up to?

That’s Boris Karloff, of course, in his second A+C outing (interestingly, fellow screen Frankensteins Lon Chaney Jr. and Glenn Strange also did two A+C films each) and in this case we get much more Boris than we did in the film that had his name in the title. His jekyll is interesting in that he knows he’s Hyde and takes his serum to release the Id side of his nature. He also keeps several transforming serae (that’s the plural of serum, right?) lying around in his basement lab, which Costello gets injected with of course.

What does a human mouse gotta do to get a drink around here?

What does a human mouse gotta do to get a drink around here?

And of course later on Lou turns into a shorter Mr. Hyde and menaces people. Eventually there’s rooftop chase between Bud, the two Hydes and romantic lead Craig “Deadly Mantis” Stevens that reminded me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Time for some Hyde and seek! Get it?

Time for some Hyde and seek! Get it?

As usual the production values are superb and there’s even a Costello/Frankenstein rematch in a wax museum. Yep, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is much better than its rep and a fine entry in the A+C vs.Evil canon. Now, what about the next and final film in the series, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, often considered one of their worst? Find out next time!

Come at me Bro!

Come at me Bro!

 

Posted on 28 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Poster - Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man_02

Some writers have said that The Time of Their Lives is the Abbott and Costello movie for people who don’t like Abbott and Costello movies. In that case, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is a a movie for people who love Abbott and Costello movies. If you don’t enjoy antics, you won’t like it much, but if you do, you’ll be laughing. A lot.

You'll be knocked out! says the tagline writer

You’ll be knocked out! says the tagline writer

As I’ve said before, this is the funniest of the monster-meetups. There are lots of great sight gags, and a fun prize-fight climax. But what makes this film work so well, and what makes it one of their all-time best movies, is the plot. There is one!

Spoiler: it involves an invisible man

Spoiler: it involves an invisible man

Arthur Franz plays a boxer who refused to take a dive; in retaliation gangster Sheldon Leonard has framed him for the murder of his trainer/manager.  On the run he hooks up with fledgeling detectives Bud and Lou, who he enlists to help him clear his name. Also enlisted: his scientist pal, who (wouldn’t you know it) has an invisibility serum.

That's Claude Rains' picture on the wall there, a nice touch

That’s Claude Rains’ picture on the wall there, a nice touch

Even without A + C this would be a pretty good B-movie invisible man sequel, on the level of The Invisible Agent or The Invisible Man’s Revenge. Like those movies, the effects range from “quite good for their day” to “How the hell did they do that?”

Like this scene where the invisible man shuffles and deals cards to Bud and Lou

Like this scene where the invisible man shuffles and deals cards to Bud and Lou

And there are plenty of effects shots, too. This isn’t some shopping-cart movie like Mister Incredible Superinvisible or whatever where “the invisible man” mainly manifests by opening doors (unconvincingly).

Nope, you get lots and lots of headless bathrobes

Nope, you get lots and lots of headless bathrobes

Of course, this is an Abbott and Costello film and you aren’t cheated there, either. They’re as funny as ever and still have that great chemistry. Lou does a lot of first-rate physical comedy – the plot calls for him to pretend to be an incredible boxer (with the invisible man delivering the punches) so that the gangster will try to bribe him to throw a fight so that… hmm, perhaps the Invisible Boxer took a few too many shots to the head when he came up with that scheme. Anyway, it all comes together in a big prize-fight finish (where Lou accidentally knocks out the his invisible sidekick) and that’s as funny as you’d expect (or not funny if you don’t like Costello).

In real life Costello was a basketball star in high school - true fact

In real life Costello was a basketball star in high school – true fact

And we have a unique scene where Bud Abbott carries the comedy weight all by his lonesome – this might be the only instance of this in the A + C canon (correct me if I’m wrong here – no wait, you can’t, I disabled the comments due to Russian spam overload). He has to babysit a drunk Invisible Man at a restaurant and pretend that he’s the one drinking the extra drinks and singing tipsy songs. It’s pretty funny but you can see why he’s the straight man.

Of course they're both for me I'm Bud Abbott

Of course they’re both for me I’m Bud Abbott

We’re nearing the end of our revisitation of the Abbott and Costello monster movies. So far we’ve enjoyed some terrific comedies with no duds; however the final two entries in our recap are not very well thought of by fans and critics alike. What’s my take? Tune in and find out!

Posted on 16 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)

AandCmeetK

Okay, first the truth: this movie doesn’t really belong in here with Abbott and Costello’s other monster romps. There’s no monsters, and only a hint of the supernatural (Boris plays a swami with eerie powers). And (spoiler!) Boris isn’t the killer! (A movie lied!? Say it ain’t so!) But it has “Meet” and “Boris Karloff” in the title, so here we go!

Boris looks delighted to be here

Boris looks delighted to be here

The plot finds Bud and Lou working at an upstate resort. Quickly a well-known lawyer is murdered and bellboy Lou is the chief suspect. Hotel detective Bud knows Lou couldn’t be guilty (“He’s too stupid to kill anybody”) and together they try to find the real killer – well, not really, they mostly try to keep Lou from being blamed from any of the other murders that keep happening.

The face of a killer

The face of a killer

This is not generally rated highly as one of A+C’s films but I suspect that this is largely due to the disappointment people have when they realize that Karloff isn’t in it much (in fact he didn’t join the cast until just before the film went into production). As comedies go, it’s solid, with lots of laughs and some seriously dark humor – the funniest parts involve multiple corpses (leading to some Weekend at Bernie’s-style gags) and an attempt by Boris to hypnotize Costello into commiting suicide!

Boris seems to be enjoying this scene a little too much

Boris seems to be enjoying this scene a little too much

It all ends up with a masked killer pursuing Lou through a spooky cavern. So, while it may not be the horroriest of their spook-shows, it does offer a lot to reward a fan of macabre slapstick.

Like this guy, who seems to have wandered over from a giallo or 80s slasher flick

Like this guy, who seems to have wandered over from a giallo or 80s slasher flick

Boris would tangle with Bud and Lou again shrtly, but first we’ll visit the well-regarded Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. See you next time!

Or you can just hang around

Or you can just hang around

 

 

Posted on 9 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

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In any discussion of comedy/horror movies, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room (though the film is oddly lacking in gorillas). Okay, maybe Ghostbusters and Shaun of the Dead have superceded it in the “Definitve Horror/Comedy” sweepstakes… or maybe not. (Honestly, these days Ghostbusters looks dated in a way that the much older A+C Meet F does not).

Who ya gonna call?

Who ya gonna call?

Let’s face it, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a capital ‘C’ Classic. One of the Greats. But a lot of the  time “Classics” are movies we admire more than we enjoy. How does A+C Meet F stand up after all these decades?

Frankie about to stand up after all those decades

Frankie about to stand up after all these decades

Damn well. This is a movie that’s firing on all cylinders from the git-go, starting with the terrific animated opening which segues from zany Bud and Lou skeletons into a nicely stylized and moody parade of the film’s monsters that captures the film’s tone beautifully, helped along by the score by Frank Skinner (say it with me Skin-NER!) which is one of Universal horror’s best.

Animation by Walter "Woody Woodpecker" Lantz. Ha-ha-ha-HA-ha

Animation by Walter “Woody Woodpecker” Lantz. Ha-ha-ha-HA-ha

And about those monsters, let’s be real here. 100 years from now only horror historians are gonna have any idea who Jason Voorhees was, or Zuul – but the Universal archetypes will continue to define Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s Monster), and the Wolfman.

 

Mary Shelley's creation was talkative, philosophical, and handsome, but this is how we all see him now

Mary Shelley’s creation was talkative, philosophical, and handsome, but this is how we all see him now

And (barring some unlikely genius performance in the future from, I dunno, Rupert Grint or someone) Bela Lugosi will remain the archetypal Dracula – a role he only played twice on screen and one of them is this here movie.

No, this is not Ed Wood's chiropractor

No, this is not Ed Wood’s chiropractor

Oh man, this movie just gets so much right: the atmosphere, the aforementioned score, those great Universal sets and, most importantly, the monsters are not played for laughs. Bela plays Dracula as only he can, broadly, theatrically, but never campy, never silly.

This is what Dracula looks like when he's not on his way to the opera

This is what Dracula looks like when he’s not on his way to the opera

And Lon Chaney Jr. frigging brings his A game as Larry Talbot/the Wolfman. He plays Talbot’s anguish as 100 per cent real; it’s like he knows that this is the role he’ll be remembered by and he’s not gonna cheese off for one damn second. Everyone knows the bit where Costello says “You and 20 million other guys” after Talbot says he turns into a wolf at the full moon, but it’s Talbot’s enraged reaction that Lou isn’t taking him seriously that’s the truly great thing about the moment.

It's a culture not a costume and this is not OK

It’s a culture not a costume and this is not OK

And, okay, Glenn Strange is not the definitve Frankenstein(‘s monster) but I’ll make the case that his brute physicality in the role made him the iconic figure that haunted the nightmares of a million monster kids, moreso even then Karloff. My old Don Post mask is definitely Glenn.

Lou won't take any Glenn Strange disses sitting down

Lou won’t take any Glenn Strange disses sitting down

Many reviews I’ve read have mentioned how the monsters in this movie aren’t scary but I beg to differ. If you put your head in the right place, the same place you need to put it in order to see any classic-era monster or movie as “scary”, then the fiends deliver the goods. The wolfman gets a nice scene where he approaches an unsuspecting Lou that uses an out-of-focus background to eerie effect…

Dear critics: stop looking at 40's movies with a 21st century eye

Dear critics: stop looking at 40′s movies with a 21st century eye

Lugosi manages to bring his full command and bearing to scenes where he summons Lou to his bidding; there’s a real power being conveyed in these bits. And scenes where the Frankenstein Monster demonstrates his power, first by breaking out of a crate in the early museum scene and later when launching into a rampage at the laboratory, generate real tension, helped by the aforementioned score by Frank Skin-NER.

Eep

Eep

“Now, wait a minute,” you’re saying (I’m imagining you saying it in a Paul Lynde voice, sorry), “You just said that The Time of Their Lives was a better movie. Now you’re saying this is their all-time classic. Consistency, please!”  Well, it’s true. There are some flaws here. The plot is silly and Lugosi’s make-up is overdone to the point where you expect him to start singing “Come to ze cabaret old chum” or maybe trying to escape from an invisible box. And, honestly, it’s not their funniest movie (Hit the Ice) nor even their funniest monster-mash (Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man); most of the gags are variations on the “moving candle gag” (which is included here) where Lou sees something scary, gets amusingly terrified, then tries to convince a skeptical Bud that scary stuff is afoot. Don’t get me wrong, that’s funny stuff, and Lou does the scared-and-sputtering bit better than anyone – it doesn’t get tired. But there are bigger laughs in other A+C movies.

Their best movie? Critics go back and forth

Their best movie? Critics go back and forth

Nonetheless it’s a masterpiece of Universal Horror AND Comedy. The stars were so aligned for this movie that its final gag features Vincent Price as the voice of the Invisible Man, adding a third horror icon to the cast list – almost a decade before he even became a horror icon! (Yes, he’d played the Invisible Man eight years previous, but there had been two other actors in the role since he’d played it – and that was his only genre role to date.) However, there was one horror icon who didn’t make the party; but we’ll encounter him soon enough in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff. Is it as great as this movie? Tune in to our next installment to find out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on 6 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

The Time of Their Lives (1946)

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The classy script of the title tells us right away that this won’t be a typical Abbott and Costello film (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The Time of Their Lives was Bud and Lou’s 17th movie since 1941′s Buck Privates and they were getting tired of the formula (and each other – they weren’t speaking during production and this is one of only two films where they don’t play friends or partners).

Not theat they strayed too far from formula

Not that they strayed too far from formula

The movie starts during the revolutionary war. Lou plays a humble tinker and Bud is his nemesis, a butler at Lord Danbury’s manor house.

Verily, Who doth be upon first.

Verily, Who doth be upon first.

Lord Danbury is planning to sell out the colonial rebels to Benedict Arnold. Lou and Danbury’s fiance, patriots both, ride off to worn Gen. Washington’s forces but in a zany mixup they are shot as traitors and tossed in a well. D’oh!

Well, this is a predicament! (Do you see what I did there? With the pun? Take note, Webby Awards!)

Well, this is a predicament! (Do you see what I did there? With the pun? Take note, Webby Awards!)

The leader of the Colonial forces also apparently doubles as a Voodoo priest or something, because he takes the time to curse the “traitors” to be earthbound for all eternity, unless of course evidence can be found proving their innocence. Lou had just such proof, a letter of recommendation from Geo. Washington, but it was lost when the manor was looted and burned. So Lou and Lady Melody are stranded as unhappy ghosts… unless….

Lou's motives are transparent. Ha, I'm on a roll!

Lou’s motives are transparent. Ha, I’m on a roll!

It’s present day (well, 1946) and the new owner of the property has rebuilt the house and, conveniently, re-acquired all of the furnishings that were looted. Now all the ghosts have to do is to find out where Lord Danbury hid Lou’s letter, and they’ll be free! Only problem: they’re ghosts.

And Lou isn't very good at it.

And Lou isn’t very good at it.

Bud Abbott is back on the scene, too, as a skeptical psychiatrist descended from Danbury’s butler. In a fun twist on their usual dynamic, here Bud is the victim of Lou‘s pranking and these are some of the funniest scenes in the movie.

Though Lou is far more convincing as a ghost than Bud is as a psychiatrist

Though Lou is far more convincing as a ghost than Bud is as a psychiatrist

As you might guess from the description, The Time of Their Lives has more in common with the  whimsical fantasies of Thorne Smith (Topper, I Married a Witch) than it does with A+C’s typical burlesques. There’s plenty of slapstick, naturally, but there’s also an involving plot and good characters. Not to mention a generous supply of top-notch special effects which made this the most expensive of the A+C comedies at the time.

Like when this car drives right through Lou, which looks like it was a pretty complicated effect back then.

Like when this car drives right through Lou, which looks like it was a pretty complicated effect back then.

Even better from a Halloween perspective, there’s a cool seance led by the spooky housekeeper, played by spooky Gale Sondergaard (The Spider Woman) which starts out funny as Lou and Lady Marjorie try to communicate then gets genuinely creepy when a third ghost joins the party.

The would have made a great episode of Ghost Hunters

This would have made a great episode of Ghost Hunters

To my mind this is A+C’s best movie, easily as good as Topper or any other similar film from the era.

Up next: a re-watch of their most famous movie, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein! Is it as good as its reputation? Find out tomorrow!

 

 

 

Posted on 2 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Hold That Ghost! (1941)

HoldThatGhost

Greetings, spooksters! It’s time for the annual Countdown to Halloween and to kick things off we’re going to enjoy a re-watch of all of Abbott and Costello’s “spooky” comedies from the forties and fifties. This was a genre they jumped into with both feet right from the start with Hold That Ghost!, their second starring vehicle more-or-less (they interrupted filming halfway through in order to shoot In the Navy because the studio thought another service comedy was needed to follow up their smash debut Buck Privates).

The Universal suits busy deciding A+C's next project

The Universal suits busy deciding A+C’s next project

Another way they decided not to take any chances: since the hit Buck Privates had musical numbers, Hold That Ghost needed musical numbers. So an excuse was found to shoehorn the Andrews Sisters into the plot. And not a very good excuse, either.

They were the Destiny's Child of the 40's, kids.

They were the Destiny’s Child of the 40′s, kids.

Basically the first fifteen minutes is a long sequence of song and dance where Bud and Lou play waiters at an upscale club. Later it will be established that, no, they run a gas station. Huh? Forget it, just sit back and roll your eyes at the kinda racist “Me and My Shadow” number and wait for the plot to begin.

Waiter, there's a fly in my soup

Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup

Said plot involves finding a way to strand Bud, Lou, and some other people at a spooky old house so shenanigans can ensue. Forutnately, this happens pretty quickly and the cast finds it self stuck at a deserted tavern that Bud and Lou have inherited from a dead gangster.

Rustic!

Rustic!

At this point we get a good run-down of gags that are familiar to us now from countless episodes of Scooby-Doo but delivered in a solid fashion by Bud and Lou and the film’s snarky secret weapon Joan Davis, who would later have the hit TV series I Married Joan. She’s very funny and gets almost as many laughs as the two stars (which apparently pissed off Lou at the time, but I digress).

Bud and Lou and... Joan?

Bud and Lou and… Joan?

Also helping things is the fact that the subplot featuring the “romantic leads” (something you’d find in every comedy back in the day) is not a bad one and the star-crossed kids are Universal Horror/Sci-Fi icons Evelyn Ankers and Richard Carlson. Not helping things from a “spook” perspective is the Scooby-Doo quality I mentioned earlier; there aren’t really any ghosts, its a gangster trying to find a hidden treasure.

Ruh-roh

Ruh-roh

This is widely considered on of A+C’s best but I’m gonna be sacrilegious and disagree. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really funny at times and features the classic  “moving candles” gag and lots of Lou sputtering as he stumbles over dead bodies and hidden compartments (including a room that turns into a speakeasy) but I wouldn’t put it in their top ten. For one thing, they’re still new to movies and their antics lack the easy looseness that later movies have. And second, musical numbers (there’s more at the end as well!).

But I could watch this part all night. Hey wait, if the "ghost" is just a disguised gangster how are the candles moving by themselves?

But I could watch this part all night. Hey wait, if the “ghost” is just a disguised gangster how are the candles moving by themselves?

When you watch the “spook comedies” back to back it’s pretty clear this one is an outlier – it’s got a different tone, a different rhythm than the “Meets” comedies we’ll get to shortly. But first, the next one we’ll cover is really different; and their best movie. Join me tomorrow when we re-watch The Time of Their Lives!

 

Posted on 1 October '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

The Lost World (1960)

lost world movie

Here’s another Irwin Allen feature from the early 60′s. It predates Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea slightly but wasn’t the smash that the later film was. Really, it’s pretty much an attempt to remake the hit movie Journey to the Center of the Earth (you know, the one with Pat Boone) on the cheap.

Professor Challenger shows what he thinks of low-rent versions of his adventures

Professor Challenger shows what he thinks of low-rent versions of his adventures

As usual Allen has assembled a first rate cast including Michael “Klaatu” Rennie, Fernando “Lorenzo’s Dad” Lamas, and, best of all, Claude “The Invisible Man” Rains, who kills it as Professor Challenger and makes one wish the movie was as good as his performance. Bonus casting points: includes both a Bond girl (Jill St. John, Diamonds are Forever, annoying here but not quite at a Kate Capshaw level) and a two-time Bond Buddy Felix Leiter (David Hedison, Live and Let Die and the last really great Bond film before Skyfall, License to Kill. That’s right, I said it.)

The crowded cast looks off at something happening to their left, or maybe their right

The crowded cast looks off at something happening to their left, or maybe their right

The plot, for those not familiar with it, sees Professors Challenger and Summerlee getting into an argument over whether or not there are dinosaurs still alive on a plateau in the South American jungle and thereafter setting out to decide the issue with a crew of adventurers and hangers-on. Are there dinosaurs? Yep! Well, sort of.

"Dinosaur" eating breakfast

“Dinosaur” eating breakfast

Typically for the era, dolled-up lizards are used to stand-in for dinosaurs. Ironically, Allen wanted to use stop-motion instead (King Kong’s Willis O’Brien worked on the FX for this) but the budget wouldn’t stand it. So… lizards.

Fabulous lizards

Fabulous lizards

Truthfully the effects aren’t terrible for the time period (except for an obviously superimposed giant spider). So if we pretend they’re just giant lizards instead of dinosaurs, the movie isn’t all that bad.

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Rarr!

Which isn’t to say it’s all that good. Unlike with the superior Voyage, there’s little sense of adventure or suspense for most of the movie, and the script fails to give its best characters much of interest to do.

Hang in there baby

Hang in there baby

Only in the film’s last act, featuring an escape through an active volcano, does the movie generate the Saturday Matinee-style thrills we’ve been waiting for. This is a fun sequence and it has a cool dinosaur giant lizard attack.

Plus boiling lava, treacherous cliffs, giant bones, etc... really, the whole magilla

Plus boiling lava, treacherous cliffs, giant bones, etc… really, the whole magilla

The Lost World is a classic adventure novel that was written in 1912 by the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was previously filmed as a silent movie in 1925, which amazed audiences with its stop-motion dinosaurs. It’s weird to think that this 1960 film version actually came out a point closer in time to the book’s release than to our present day. Here’s the public domain silent version (which is about two reels shorter than the recently restored version) so you can watch a much better version of the story.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on 29 September '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1

In the sixties and seventies producer-director Irwin Allen would become practically a brand-name for unchallenging but eager-to-please genre entertainment, sci-fi in the sixties and then disaster-movies in the seventies. It all begins here, with the first of his sci-fi smashes.

Nifty title fonts are also an Irwin Allen trademark.

Nifty title fonts are also an Irwin Allen trademark.

And, in keeping with Allen’s penchant for overkill, it’s a sci-fi/disaster two-fer: the futuristic submarine designed and commanded by Admiral Nelson (Forbidden Planet‘s Walter Pidgeon) surfaces one fine morning to discover that the earth’s Van Allen radiation belt has caught fire, and all life will be snuffed pretty damn quickly unless he can figure out something to do about it.

Polar ice melting rapidly seemed like a disaster in the silly sci-fi sixties

Polar ice melting rapidly seemed like such a disaster back in the silly sci-fi sixties

Of course, since Nelson is both an Ayn Randian supergenius and a no-nonsense cold war military guy, he knows exactly what to do: blast the atmosphere with nuclear missiles, which he just happens to have a bunch of. Namby-pamby liberals (led by The Body Snatcher‘s Henry Daniell) think the fire will burn itself out if we just let it be, man, but Admiral Nelson knows better. He’s gonna nuke the sky, dammit, and nobody better get in his way.

"Get a haircut, hippie!"

“Get a haircut, hippie!”

Of course, everything that can get in his way does get in his way. In the course of the adventure Admiral Nelson and the Seaview face mutinous crewmen, fields of leftover mines, the torpedoes of pursuing NATO subs, sabotage, attempted murder, an angry sawfish (!), and attacks by both a giant squid AND a giant octopus.

The kitchen sink attack was edited for time

The kitchen sink attack was edited for time

It all sounds pretty stupid but it never plays that way. The solid script and Allen’s sure-handed direction pull you right into the plot and pretty soon you’ll pretty much go along with anything.

Even the gratuitous jitterbugging

Even the gratuitous jitterbugging

Helping things along is a typically great Irwin Allen cast: besides a stoic, confident Pidgeon we get stalwart Robert Sterling as the sub’s nominal captain, vivacious Barbara Eden as his fiance (and Nelson’s secretary), Joan Fontaine representing Old Hollywood as a psychologist, the late Michael Ansara as a beatnikky scientist rescued from an ice floe, Frankie Avalon as a jazz-trumpeting lieutenant (he sings the title ballad as well). And of course, Peter Lorre as a grumpy oceanic expert with his own on-board shark tank.

And, yes, the film does follow Chekhov's Law of Sharks in Drama

And, yes, the film does follow Chekhov’s Law of Sharks

Not to mention the part played by the submarine Seaview itself, another one of those cool sci-fi vehicles from the greatest era of vehicular design.

It's long and hard and filled with dedicated naval officers

It’s long and hard and filled with dedicated naval officers

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was a huge hit in its day and its easy to see why; this is old-fashioned adventure writ large, and in crayon. You might find it goofy at times but you’ll never be bored. It even spawned a successful TV series, which like most Irwin Allen TV productions started out as a serious adventure show and devolved rapidly into silliness with undersea leprechauns etc.

 

Posted on 24 September '13 by , under Uncategorized. No Comments.