Film Review: Teenage Caveman (1958)

Also known as: I Was a Teenage Caveman, Prehistoric World, Out of the Darkness
Release Date: July, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: R. Wright Campbell
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall

Malibu Productions, American International Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“In a wonderful and strange world, before women knew shame.” – marketing tagline

Being that I am a big Roger Corman fan, I’ve seen most of his ’50s and ’60s stuff multiple times over. This film, however, I have only seen in the form of it’s riffed version, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000,

I probably should buy this for my Corman collection and actually give it a watch without the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots.

But anyway, I just revisited this, as I’m trying to work through all the MST3K featured films for review purposes.

The only real highlight is the terrible dinosaur battles that is comprised of stock footage of lizards fighting. And they’re scenes you’ve probably seen in similar films already, as Corman tends to recycle stuff that doesn’t cost money or is very cheap to obtain.

I guess the fact that Robert Vaughn is in this is also a highlight. He’s fairly charming but this is a production that his presence can’t save.

Now while I love a lot of these bad Corman cheapies, this one lacks the magic of some of the others and it isn’t as endearing in its weirdness.

Still, it’s not terrible and if you have the right kind of mind and stomach for Corman cheese, it’s worth a glance.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman sci-fi movies of the later 1950s.

Film Review: The Sniper (1952)

Release Date: May 9th, 1952 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Written by: Harry Brown, Edna Anhalt, Edward Anhalt
Music by: George Antheil
Cast: Adolphe Menjou, Arthur Franz, Gerald Mohr, Marie Windsor, Richard Kiley, Ralph Peters (uncredited), Karen Sharpe (uncredited)

Stanley Kramer Productions, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You know how much coffee I’ve had today? 17 cups. The Brazilians ought to give me a medal.” – ER Doctor

Up until this was featured on Noir Alley, I had never heard of The Sniper. But man, this film was pretty damn remarkable. It will also have to go on my eventually updated list Top 100 Classic Film-Noir Pictures of All-Time. This is a film that will be pretty high up on that list.

For a movie released in 1952, this was pretty darn realistic and had a serious grit to it that put it at a different level than most film-noirs, which typically have a hefty amount of grit already. The subject matter was pretty heavy, even by today’s standards and I was surprised by what they were able to get away with in this.

Additionally, the film is scary, as it deals with a mentally deranged man that hates women to the point that he shoots and kills them from rooftops throughout the city. But this doesn’t feel like exploitation, it is well made, well crafted and spends enough time dealing with the mental state of the character that it has some real depth and meaning.

There are a lot of narrative paths this film can take you down. People today might see it as toxic masculinity run rampant, some may see it as a critique on a justice system that is broken, others may see this as an exploration of mental health and mania and some might even see this just as simple exploitation.

Regardless of how one views The Sniper, it asks a lot of questions and explores a lot of this territory pretty bluntly. But this is why it sticks out among the run of the mill film-noirs of the classic era.

The level of violence was pretty high but even though you see heinous acts committed on celluloid, it’s similar to Texas Chain Saw Massacre in that a lot of the violence happens in your mind, as it fills in the blanks. An example of this is when our killer shoots a woman and she smashes into glass, headfirst. There’s no gunshot wound or blood but your mind interprets it as more shocking than it actually was within the shot.

Edward Dmytryk did a damn fine job directing this motion picture. He had noir experience with Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet but this eclipses those films, in my opinion. And frankly, those films were damn good too.

The Sniper is highly unsettling but it has aged tremendously, as it is still unsettling and it’s narrative still works in 2018, two-thirds of a century later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures directed by Edward Dmytryk: Crossfire and Murder, My Sweet, as well as other noirs like Murder by ContractHe Walked by Night and Gun Crazy.

Film Review: This Island Earth (1955)

Also known as: Bloodlust In Outer Space (reissue title)
Release Date: June 10th, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph M. Newman, Jack Arnold
Written by: Franklin Coen, Edward G. O’Callaghan
Based on: This Island Earth by Raymond F. Jones
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein (all uncredited)
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason

Universal Pictures, Universal International, 86 Minutes

Review:

“It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass, imagining the image you see is the image of your true size.” – The Monitor

Sometimes Universal lumps this film into their Universal Monsters franchise. This is mainly due to the alien monster the Metaluna Mutant, who is one of their most iconic creations. However, as much as I like the monster and this film, it doesn’t fit within the general Universal Monsters style. Plus, this is more sci-fi than horror. Really, it isn’t horror at all, unless for some bizarre reason you are actually scared of the big brained rubber suit alien. Also, unlike the other Universal Monsters movies, this one is in color.

Also, this film has the distinction of being the only film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the big screen, as it was the one featured in the MST3K movie. That film stars Mike Nelson and it came out between seasons 6 and 7, so it was devoid of TV’s Frank and hadn’t yet given us Pearl. But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk specifically about This Island Earth. And to be completely honest, it is the film least deserving of getting roasted in the entire history of MST3K.

It’s not a bad movie for its time. It has hokey effects and doesn’t look as refined as some of the bigger sci-fi films of the time but it’s still imaginative and the effects work does its job for 1955.

The real highlight for me is the Metaluna Mutant but sadly, the monster doesn’t get much screen time. The bulk of the film deals with coming into contact with an alien society and then going into space to meet them. There is a sinister plot underneath it all but that doesn’t mean that every alien our Earthlings encounter is evil.

This used some pretty great matte paintings in several scenes and while it’s obvious, the art direction was really impressive and you do get immersed in this world.

I thought that the use of Technicolor was well done and it made this film flourish in a visual way that couldn’t have been achieved in standard black and white. The Metaluna Mutant certainly wouldn’t have looked as cool and its doubtful he would have become as iconic as he did without color. He probably would have just been filed away into the depths of old movie history with a slew of other black and white rubber aliens.

If you are into classic sci-fi from this great era, you’ll probably find this pretty enjoyable. It’s not the best film of its type but it is much better than average.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien threat movies: When Worlds CollideWar of the WorldsThe Day the Earth Stood StillIt Came From Outer Space and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Film Review: The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

Release Date: April 7th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: Harold Medford, Jerome Weidman
Based on: a story by Gertrude Walker
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Warner Bros. Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.” – Ethel Whitehead

The first fifteen minutes of this film sucked me right in. It had a very effective start but then it didn’t let go as it rolled on.

Man, I just really loved Joan Crawford in this. She’s always a treat to see in anything but something about how she played this role felt a little bit more organic and closer to her real personality and charm, as opposed to being the centerpiece in a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production. Not to say that this wasn’t a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production but it seemed like she had more room to breathe with her performance. I’d almost say that there was more emphasis on freedom of performance and realism than just trying to make her look gorgeous mixed with a touch of viciousness.

As the story goes on, we see Crawford play out the typical femme fatale shtick. She uses her sex appeal and charm to work her way up the social chain from man to man, not caring much about how she burns them on the way. So it should go without saying that this doesn’t lead towards a happy ending for most of the main players. But there is a dark twist at the end, which surprised me, considering how the morality code in Hollywood worked at the time.

It’s fun watching this story escalate and seeing characters turn into monsters as it progresses, all because of the selfish actions of one broken woman. It’s a movie where likable characters evolve into unlikable ones, even if you initially just see them as victims of Ethel’s (Crawford) toxic antics.

The story moves at a pretty brisk pace and it doesn’t relent from start to finish. The plot has a lot of pieces and clever swerves but it’s crafted well and goes off without a hitch. This had some solid screenwriting work from Harold Medford, as well as Jerome Weidman.

This also had crisp cinematography and obviously the lighting was fine tuned to make Crawford glow but the picture also has a dark and brooding, organic grittiness to it. Sure, a lot of it looks like classic Hollywood and fantastical in its magic but the movie is well balanced between the shiny veneer and the darkness that the veneer is made to distract you from. You see beyond the beautiful and superficial topical layer, right into the abyss that’s waiting to pull all these people down.

This is a top notch film-noir, from a top studio and featuring one of the top stars of the era. I can’t say it enough, Crawford was an absolute gem in this and it’s strange to me that this isn’t one of her better known motion pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford film-noir pictures like Mildred Pierce and Possessed.

Film Review: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Also known as: Frankenstein (Netherlands)
Release Date: May 2nd, 1957 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart

Hammer Film Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!” – Baron Frankenstein

It’s Halloween season and since it’s been a couple years since I watched through the Hammer Horror Frankenstein series, I felt that revisiting it was needed.

This is really the point where Hammer hit the right note, at the right time. The success of this film not only led to a slew of Frankenstein sequels, it also opened the door for their Dracula and Mummy film series and a bunch of other classic monster movies reinvented for the time.

This also sort of solidified the working relationship of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who ended up doing nearly two dozen pictures together. Plus, they became best friends and were forever linked. This is the film that also gave them long lasting careers and established them as horror movie legends. Without this film Gran Moff Tarkin and Count Dooku may have never existed in the forms that we know. Not to mention, without the longevity that this gave to Lee’s career, we might not have ever gotten to see him as Saruman, a role he was absolutely perfect for.

The Curse of Frankenstein is a very important motion picture for the reasons I just mentioned and because it changed the horror genre going forward. Hammer would inspire other studios like Amicus in the UK and American International in the US, who probably took cues from Hammer’s movies when they produced their Edgar Allan Poe films of the 1960s.

However, looking at this film, apart from all that context and it’s importance in film history, it still stands pretty damn tall on its own.

This isn’t quite on the level of Universal’s Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein from the 1930s but after those two films, this is the best version of the story out there. It’s very different from the literary source material but I like the changes and that was Hammer’s thing. They often times rewrote the classics in an effort at keeping them fresh and not just rehashes of the same thing you’ve seen before. Besides, as a series, Hammer’s Frankesntein films are a better complete body of work than the Universal ones. This series did get really weird but it was cool because, at its core, Frankenstein is already a weird story.

The Curse of Frankenstein was a good foundation to what Hammer would build for a solid fifteen years after this with all of their iconic horror pictures. Sure, they took creative liberties but they always seemed to respect the material and to look at these classics from new and interesting angles.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Daddy-O (1958)

Also known as: Out On Probation (working title), Downbeat
Release Date: March, 1958
Directed by: Lou Place
Written by: David Moessinger
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dick Contino, Sandra Giles, Bruno Vesota, John McClure

American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Couldn’t help ya if I wanted to, fella. Gym policy.” – Bruce Green

Daddy-O is really only notable for two things.

One, it was the first motion picture scored by movie music maestro John Williams.

Two, it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Other than those two things, this would probably have been lost to time, an ancient relic forgotten and swallowed up by the massive trash heap of terrible movies that’s buried somewhere deep, underneath Hollywood.

The film stars accordion maestro Dick Contino and a lot of bad ’50s styled pop tunes. It features youth trying too hard to be counterculture, a badly filmed car race and dancing that looks more like mental patients having a party in the seizure ward.

The humor is dry and terrible, the dialogue is atrocious, the direction is ineffective and the cinematography is so basic that it has an app that sends push notifications when it’s pumpkin spice latte season.

Daddy-O, for all its faults, isn’t the worst movie ever featured on MST3K but it is still tough to get through on its own. Like most MST3K movies, it’s best watched within the framework of that show because there’s too much material to riff on and you’d be bored senseless otherwise.

However, I did actually like the music that John Williams contributed to the film. But when the opening credits of booming Williams tunes to the sight of a car wheel spinning is the highlight of a film, you’re left with a long strip of celluloid that would have been more useful cut into 4 inch strips for bookmarks.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible excuses for old school youth movies: The BeatniksUntamed Youth, Catalina Caper and The Choppers.

Film Review: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Release Date: October 14th, 1959 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Robert Wise
Written by: Abraham Polonsky, Nelson Gidding
Based on: Odds Against Tomorrow by William P. McGivern
Music by: John Lewis
Cast: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley Sr., Gloria Grahame, Shelley Winters, Robert Earl Jones (uncredited)

HarBel Productions, United Artists, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll kill you and everything you own!” – Bocco

Wow. I’m probably going to have to adjust my Top 100 Film-Noir list after seeing this picture for the first time in a really long time. It’s pretty damn incredible and much better than the majority of what you’ll find in this great genre or style or whatever you want to classify noir as.

I guess the thing that I love most about this movie is its tone. Unlike most film-noir pictures, it doesn’t have the pristine look of the style. It doesn’t spend a lot of time on manufactured sets with studio lighting. This film gets outside and has a real urban grittiness to it. Even some of the shots of streets look different and almost have this sort of haze, as opposed to the typical crispness you see in a noir picture. However, they did use infrared film in some scenes, which was a deliberate attempt at making this have its own unique visual pizzazz.

The cast in this film is also pretty stacked. You have Harry Belafonte, noir legend Robert Ryan, Ed Begley Sr. and two superstar female leads in Gloria Grahame and Shelley Winters.

This film is a heist picture but it’s the story leading up to the heist that is the most compelling. Especially in regards to Belafonte’s character. He also has to deal with a lot of racial hatred in the movie and it served as a good historical look into the social climate in America at the time, as this was just a few years away from the large Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

This is well written, well acted, looks great and doesn’t have any real down time or dull moments. I was engaged by this picture from the start all the way to the big, sudden finish. And sure, the finish takes its cue from a better known film-noir picture but man, it was a perfect exclamation point to cap off this intense and emotional ride.

I also want to point out that the musical bits in the film were awesome. That brief moment where Belafonte fears for the life of his wife and children and loses it to the music in the club was emotional and narrative perfection.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Touch of EvilThe Third ManWhite HeatHe Walked by NightThe Killing, Naked City and Night and the City.