The first Godzilla was released in 1954 by the Toho Company of Japan. There were other creatures that were “inspired” by Godzilla, perhaps, most famously, Gamera – a giant flying turtle with big teeth. The original Gamera film was released in 1965. This is the Japanese trailer.
Death Rides a Horse
Dir. Giulio Petroni
Starring: LEE VAN CLEEF, John Phillip Law, Mario Brega
PEC [production company? - that's all I have is the initials]
With the All-American badass Lee Van Cleef
Wow, first, a side note. The quality of the available print, to be frank, sucks, at least the one I watched on Amazon Instant Video. The colors were somewhat washed out, there were lots of scratches, the sound at the beginning was so muffled it was difficult to hear what they were saying. Sad but there it is. This movie is only ten years older than I am, I sincerely hope there are better prints out there. It’s strange to think that a thousand years from now, people may be able to read what we said about movies, they may not be able to see those movies that we loved to write about. That being said, try not to let the quality of the print affect your enjoyment of the movie.
The movie starts, as Snoopy would say, on a dark and stormy night. An outlaw western gang closes in on a house in the night, slowly eliminating anybody who would stop them. The gang then gets to the door and kicks it in to find a family – father, mother, son and daughter – at the dining table. The father tries to resist but is shot down when he goes for his gun. The young boy runs to hide and ends up watching as his mother and sister are brutally raped in a surprising scene and then shot by the gang. The boy looks at the features of the men – their faces, eyes, scars, tattoos and, in one case, a skull on a chain, which implant themselves in his head, making for lasting memories.
Next we see Lee Van Cleef being taken out of his chain gang chains on a rock-breaking detail. We learn that his character, named Ryan, has been in prison for fifteen years and today is the day of his release. He gets his $83, his gun back and buys a horse to set out to find the men that double crossed him fifteen years ago.
Next, we see the boy, named Bill by the way, grown up and practicing his shooting. As he shows us, again and again and again, he is a hell of a good shot, landing each bullet exactly where he wants it to go. And then he shoots a hundred more times.
As you might have guessed, Ryan and Bill cross paths quite a bit over the course of the movie, as they find out that they are both after THE SAME GROUP OF OUTLAWS! What a coincidence, right? Bill is the young and impetuous, acting with his heart on his sleeve whereas Ryan is the cool, calm, calculated man out for revenge with a gun sight for an eye and a cobra for a trigger finger. While the two are after the same group of outlaws, they are also competing with each other, as both of them want to get first crack at the rapscallions. Deserts, run-down towns, horses, six-shooters, braless Mexican women, banditos, cowboy hats and playing cards are all here in their wonderful spaghetti western glory. It’s, on the whole, better than average for the genre, though not as good as the best.
All in all a solid spaghetti western and definitely worth watching, especially if you’re a sucker for spaghetti westerns, though don’t expect HD.
Entertaining – 3.5, Serious Movie – 3.5, Goofy, campy silly – 1.5
Available on Amazon Instant Video
Dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale
The Directors Company/American Zoetrope
This isn’t a B movie or an obscure movie but it is an old movie (old being defined as older than me – I’m of late 70′s vintage)) and so I think it fits under the broader umbrella of the movies I want to talk about on my site.
The film opens on a square in San Francisco. The camera is up on high, slowly zooming in towards the people milling about in the square during lunch. A street mime is going around, bugging the shit out of people, as street mimes tend to do. We see Gene Hackman as Harry, a guy who, along with his team, are eavesdropping on a younger couple in the square. The viewer doesn’t know anything about the younger couple – who they are, why they are there, what they are really talking about or anything else. Neither does Harry. Everything the viewer learns about the younger couple, who are pivotal to the plot, they learn the moment Harry learns it. We also learn that Harry is paranoid. Very paranoid. Harry is acutely aware of the degree that he is able to learn everything about everybody and the better he does, the more he decides that he himself must become more private. Not only that, Harry learns that he doesn’t want to have any secrets, or that’s the way I interpreted it anyway. His entire life, like the toilet lid (you’ll see it in the movie) is sanitized for his own protection. His paranoia only builds as the movie goes on. Also he pretends that he doesn’t care about the people he bugs, which probably isn’t true. Harry only tells himself that he doesn’t care as a sort of defense mechanism – insulation for his true feelings. His schmaltzy short fat competitor from Detroit shows himself as the one who really doesn’t care, and Harry is not like that man. Harry does care, and that’s what starts to destroy him. Part of what I found creepy about the movie was that I see a little bit of myself in Harry Caul.
Gene Hackman is, well, he’s Gene freaking Hackman. He could play a mailman and make it compelling. I’ve seen him play a cop, a thief, a basketball coach, a football coach, a con man of sorts, an Admiral and a B movie producer, among other things. We’ve seen him chase heroin importers, be a Polish general, be the President, fight Superman, and offer to make espresso. The man is a bad ass and a fine actor and in this movie he does not disappoint.
Hackman is supported by some other good actors. John Cazale, who always seems to play a great sort of nerdy loser plays Hackman’s work partner in the bugging business. His scooter-riding, pervy picture taking guy makes a nice foil to Hackman’s straight-laced lifestyle. Hackman’s competitor in the bugging business is played by Allen Garfield. who is one of those guys that you see in several movies and recognize in a moment, but never know his name. Garfield always seems to play a sort of shifty sleaze ball, which he also does pretty well in this picture. He totally looks like he should be a used car salesman. Han Solo, I mean Harrison Ford, plays the assistant to the man who hires Harry to do the bugging.
This was a movie I knew nothing about, other than its existence. I went into it knowing the lead actor, director and after reading a little bit about the plot. This movie was really interesting and definitely worth watching. It doesn’t quite fit into any of the “normal” movie molds. The plot and story slowly build, piece by piece, until you slowly realize you, like Harry, are in over your head. The pieces slowly come together one…at…a…time… and until all the pieces are finally put together, you don’t know what the puzzle is supposed to look like.
A note about John Cazale which I learned while writing this: He only acted in five movies – The Godfather I & II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. Every movie he was in was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award! He sadly died from lung cancer shortly after filming his parts for The Deer Hunter.
The Thing from Another World
Dir. Christian Nyby (but apparently really by Howard Hawks)
Starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan and James Arness.
RKO Radio Pictures
A group of pilots are flying to a remote research base in the arctic but their compasses keep getting thrown off by some magnetic disturbance. Eventually, they go to investigate this disturbance and find what appears to be a spacecraft from another planet. They seem pretty darn calm to have just discovered a spacecraft from another plant. The bad part is the spacecraft is buried under several feet of ice. To get to the spacecraft, a rare artifact from another planet, they naturally chose the delicate method of using a shitload of explosives. KABOOM! Ok, the ship is mostly gone but somehow it’s pilot survived encased in a big block of ice. The big block of ice is a useful gimmick – that way you can’t see exactly what the creature looks like – they just say it’s man-shaped. They bring the Thing via airplane back to the research center and debate what to do with it. Of course, shenanigans ensue when the guy guarding the Thing accidentally leaves his electric blanket on top of the Thing’s block of ice. The Thing attacks and kills some sled dogs BECAUSE IT NEEDS BLOOD. Oh, by the way, they discover that it’s a plant too. A PLANT THAT NEEDS BLOOD! Oh shit! They go on to fight like hell against the dreaded plant/man/alien/monster/bloodsucker/dog killer/celery stalk from hell. The action and dialogue in the fighting or good enough. Naturally one of the scientists is wowed by the alien plant and wants to protect it. Scientists, pffft.
The Thing from Another World was “unofficially directed” by Howard Hawks, a legendary director who directed other movies like Sergeant York, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Rio Bravo. Sorry Howard, but I like Rio Bravo, with John Wayne and Dean Martin, better than this movie. I didn’t like The Thing from Another World quite as much as Them! or The Beast from 20000 Fathoms. The acting, dialogue, cinematography and the like were all fine but the least convincing thing was The Thing. To be a plant from another planet, it sure looked a hell of a lot like a regular guy from earth. Since it’s black & white, you can’t even tell that he’s supposed to be green. Given the vague clues given by the scientists about the nature of the plant creature, they could have gone any direction with the evil plant effects, instead, they just put a guy in a green suit. When you make a monster movie, the identity of the monster is important! Interestingly enough, the guy playing the plant was James Arness, who later became better known as Marshal Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke. Granted, this movie was made in 1951, before films like Them! and The Beast from 20000 Fathoms. But still, I found the Thing himself (itself?) to be not as interesting of a bad guy as in some other monster movies. Still worth watching.
Entertaining – 4, Serious Movie – 3, Camp/Silly/Goofy – 4 (because of the damn bad guy costume)
Available on Amazon Instant View
The Beast from 20000 Fathoms
Dir. Eugene Lourie
Starring Paul Hubschmid, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway and LEE VAN CLEEF!
Warner Bros. Pictures
The snowy arctic. There’s a government research station setting off nuclear bombs in the arctic. I’m not sure why they are doing this but it’s the 50s and it’s the government so don’t ask too many questions. Two scientists go out in the snowy hinterlands to measure their scientific instruments…but only one comes back alive! The one that comes back alive, Professor Nesbitt, swears that the creature that attacked the two scientists was a dinosaur. Ok, it’s a gigantic dinosaur that can swim like Michael Phelps. Nobody believes him, of course, but he keeps trying to prove the existence of the beast. In the meantime, the beast attacks a lighthouse and a fishing vessel on its way to New York City, apparently guided by GPS. Eventually, Professor Nesbitt is able to convince another respected scientist of the existence of the beast but… it’s too late. Naturally, Nesbitt also wants to boink the scientist’s female assistant. The giant beast arrives in New York Harbor without enough money for even a hot dog and proceeds to wreak havoc. The army fights it block by block through the streets of Manhattan. Hey, who’s the sharpshooter with the rife? Why it’s Lee Van Cleef! Maybe my favorite spaghetti western actor making an appearance as the guy who finally does the big, bad lizard in. Hey, you knew someone had to.
The stop-motion special effects are interesting. The monster effects in this movie were done by Ray Harryhausen. Though they may look dated to modern eyes, they were state of the art for the time. What’s even more amazing is that supposedly, they were done in camera – the background of the dinosaur would be shot, with the bottom part of the frame covered and then the film would be rolled back, the top now covered, and the bottom portion with the crown reaction was shot. Simple but effective. The movie is dated but entertaining. The effects are dated but important to see if you want to compare and contrast them with movies today.
One note – the story is told that this movie was what inspired the Toho Company of Japan to start making the Godzilla movies. So we have it to thank for that.
A second note – 20000 fathoms is almost 23 miles. No ocean is that deep.
Entertaining – 4, Serious Movie – 4, Camp/Silly/Goofy – 2
Available on Amazon Instant View.
Last night, I found an interesting website about more obscure American films and TV shows. It is:
This guy finds more obscure movies on the Internet, DVD services, box sets and the like and helps give them a bit of a secon life on the internet – basically the same thing I kind of want to do here. He’s reviewd a few hundred films already and done a really nice job. Kudos to Ben! By the way, I have seen The Manhattan Project, The Phantom Tollbooth and Executive Action – three films on his extensive list.
Dir. Gordon Douglas
Starring James Whitmore, Edmond Gwenn
Warner Bros. Pictures
The movie starts in the New Mexico desert. The New Mexico state police are investigating some suspicious reports. They find a little girl walking dazed through the desert. They also find her family’s camper trailer with the side completely torn out – something no ordinary human can do. The only clue they can find is an odd sort of footprint, likely made by an animal of some sort After more suspicious deaths in similarly inexplicable circumstances, the local FBI office sends a cast of the mysterious animal footprint to Washington, D.C. to see if any of the government scientists can make anything of it. The FBI can find nothing, but a team of scientists at the Department of Agriculture are sent to investigate instead, further confusing the local authorities. What the government scientists discover in New Mexico is… well I’m not going to tell you. It’s a 50’s monster movie so, yes, it’s some kind of gigantic freaking bug. Also, the area where the movie is set happens to be very near the site of the first nuclear bomb explosion – hint, hint.
I was actually pretty impressed with this movie. The moviemakers very wisely hide the bad creature from the audience until about a third of the way through the picture. The characters spend that time slowly putting the clues together and adding to the suspense. Sure the special effects are a little primitive and goofy to our eyes, but I imagine they were pretty damn good for the time. It is said to be one of the signature giant monster movies. Ultimately it’s entertaining and worth watching.
Available on Amazon Instant View
Entertaining – 4, Serious movie – 4, Camp/Silly/Goofy – 2
I wanted to watch some 1950’s monster movies. You know the type – Giant Worms conquer Chicago; stuff like that. I remember watching some as a kid on UHF stations on the weekends. When I was a kid, our house did not have cable, which I hated then but appreciate now that I’m the one paying the cable bill. This spurred me to find out what was available on the UHF stations that I could pick up with our rabbit ear antenna. In DFW, these were often channels 21, 27, 33, 39 and also channel 11 which, at the time, was not a network affiliate. UHF stations had mostly old movies and TV shows, so I watched a lot of them.
Anyway, I went on Netflix and Amazon to try and find three more or less random 50′s monster movies. I ended up, by accident and chance, watching three of the biggest and “most important” ones that were made. Anyway, those three movies are the next three reviews.
Plan Nine From Outer Space
Starring: Tor Johnson, Vampira and other Ed Wood regulars
Distributors Corporation of America
The movie starts poorly with completely ridiculous narration by a psychic. It may be the worst part of the whole movie. He tells the audience that they will be living their lives in the future. No shit, Criswell, really? Then the real movie starts. Aliens from space station something or other have come to earth to try out their new method of using their ray-guns to control human beings. A pilot who sees one of the UFOs from his airplane just happens to live right next to the cemetary where the aliens are hiding their space ship – saves the aliens cab fare. The aliens kill some cemetery workers and then kill and take over the gigantic police inspector who comes to investigate (Tor Johnson). Tor may be a bad actor but I would not want to meet him in a dark alley. A woman (Vampira) also randomly wanders around the cemetery for the purpose of showing her cleavage, I believe. The police and pilot go again to investigate the cemetery and find the alien craft, but in the mean time the big-ass alien has taken the pilot’s wife. The “good humans” finally meet and have conflict with the aliens and…well you’ll just have to watch the rest.
The plot holes are…well who cares, theres several, but big deal, it’s a B movie. Yes, the special effects are rudimentary at best. Often you can see the string holding up the “flying” UFOs but that kind of adds to it’s hand-crafted charm. It even features some modest doses of moralizing over the atomic bomb and human beings wanting to destroy everthing, which has a bit of the truth to it. After all, remember that this movie was made in the midst of the cold war when everybody thought Russia had their finger on the proverbial trigger. Back then, the “fuck up your life” posibilities of nuclear power were high and it wasat the forefront of everybody’s mind.
Seeing the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood spoils a bit the fun of watching plan 9 from outerspace for the first time. The Tim Burton biopic tells the story of a man who wanted nothing more in life to make motion pictures. He didn’t have the beauty, the talent, the connections but by God he had the balls and the gusto to make his movies, no matter what he had to do to get them done. I admire that about him. Wood would use friends as actors in his movies. He used his wife’s chiropractor as a fill in actor for Bela Lugosi after Lugosi’s death. Wood didn’t care; he just wanted to get the picture on the big screen. I think Woods was a true believer in the “Magic of Hollywood”. Standing here in 2012 looking back almost sixty years at the decade of the fifties, everything back then kind of looks ridiculous. The clothes, the talk, the morals, the movies all seem to be from almost another world. We modern, forward-looking people like to think we are so much evolved from the simpletons we picture our ancestors to be. It’s mostly bullshit, of course. We just do it to make ourselves feel superior. I think calling this film the “Worst Film of All Time” is a prime example of that. Trust me, I’ve seen bigger piles of shit on the big screen, some which cost tens of millions of dollars. This movie at least has some heart.
As Citizen Kane is probably not the best film of all time, Plan 9 from Outer Space is probably not the worst film of all time. It only started getting that moniker in the early 80′s. What it probably truly is is the best-known bad movie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For a B movie, it makes the film memorable. Nowadays with the internet and given the pseudo-public domain status of the film, it can be viewed by anyone, anywhere. Fifty-plus years later people are still talking about it and watching it, which is more than you can say about a lot of other movies from that time which may have been “better”. Ultimately it’s so goofy that it’s entertaining, and I think that’s a big part of what people look for in a B Movie. Bottom line – watch the damn thing.
The movie is, I believe, in the public domain and can be watched online for free at archive.org and bmovie.org
Entertaining – 3, Serious Movie – 1, Campy/Goofy/Silly – 4