Documentary Review: Kon-Tiki (1950)

Also known as: A Aventura de Kon-Tiki (Brazil), Kon-Tiki 1950 (Swedish re-issue festival title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1950 (Sweden)
Directed by: Thor Heyerdahl
Written by: Thor Heyerdahl
Music by: Sune Waldimir
Cast: Thor Heyerdahl, Herman Watzinger, Erik Hesselberg, Knut Haugland, Torstein Raaby, Bengt Danielsson, Ben Grauer (voice), Gerte Wald (uncredited)

Artfilm, Janson Media, Sol Lesser Productions, 77 Minutes, 58 Minutes (TV edit)

Review:

For those who don’t know the story of the Kon-Tiki expedition, you are sorely missing out. Back in 1947, a brave Norwegian, Thor Heyerdahl, rounded up a team to construct a primitive style raft with local materials in Ecuador and Peru for the purpose of setting sail towards Polynesia to show that such a task was possible in order to prove that it’s also possible that the Pacific islands were populated by people who migrated from South America.

Heyerdahl also kept things as primitive as possible, as far as the method of travel. They did bring some military rations for food and had a radio, in case of emergency and to make contact with the outside world in an effort to check-in on their progress.

If you love nature documentaries or seeing real men do some really manly shit, than this is something you’ll probably enjoy. It’s really exciting, informative and kind of magical. It makes you wish that you were there, even though it was hard and strenuous. But these guys really tested their mettle and spirit but got through it okay.

Also, if you’re into history, science or just love things pertaining to South Pacific culture, this really delves into all of that.

There is a great scene with curious whales, another regarding the dangers of having freshly caught sharks on the boat, as well as the big climax where they have to work their way over a massive and dangerous, razor sharp coral reef in an effort to finally hit land.

I loved this documentary and it’s made me want to go back and watch the 2012 motion picture based on this expedition. Mainly, because I want to test its accuracy after having seen this documentary and just because this is such a great and incredible story.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The 2012 motion picture Kon-Tiki and the other Thor Heyerdahl seafaring documentary The Ra Expeditions.

Film Review: Wind Across the Everglades (1958)

Also known as: Across the Everglades, Lost Man’s River (working titles), Inferno Verde (Uruguay), Muerte en los pantanos (Spain)
Release Date: September 11th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Budd Schulberg (uncredited)
Written by: Budd Schulberg
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Burl Ives, Christopher Plummer, Gypsy Rose Lee, Chana Eden, Mackinlay Kantor, Emmett Kelly

Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“Ah! The sweet-tastin’ joys of this world!” – Cottonmouth

I never knew about this movie, which is odd, as I have grown up and lived near the Everglades almost my entire life. I’m also a fan of Nicholas Ray’s films but I am also mostly just familiar with his work in film-noir. Needless to say, this was an interesting discovery, as I was perusing the content on FilmStruck (a streaming service every cinephile should get).

What’s fantastic about this film is its use of on location shooting. This was legitimately filmed within the Everglades, which is really impressive for a motion picture that came out in 1958.

Having lived on the edge of the ‘Glades, I know that the production must have been an insane undertaking. The swamps are a hell of an undertaking just trying to hike them and since this film really gets into the murk, lugging all that heavy equipment had to be a hell of a workout. Plus that heat, the humidity, the never knowing when the hell you’re going to get instantaneous downpour from the heavens, the bugs, the snakes, the alligators, the boar, the bears, the panthers, the snapping turtles, all of it, man. So I can’t give enough props and respect for the crew that captured this beautiful picture.

I really loved that this film put its focus on environmental conservation, especially in the Florida Everglades. I loved the opening sequence that showed a train arriving to Miami around 1900 or so. The lavish outfits of the women and their love of fashionable plumage was a good addition to the film’s backstory of showcasing how mankind doesn’t really give a crap about how it wrecks the planet, as long as they can achieve the level of status that affords them the luscious plumage of birds being hunted towards extinction. I’m not a super lefty or anything but pillaging nature for fashion is pretty f’d up, just sayin’.

Anyway, Christopher Plummer (in his first starring role and only his second film) shows up in Miami, which is pretty much just a swamp with a train station in 1900. He makes a goofy mistake and finds himself forced into being a game warden for the Audubon Society. He is warned about a man named Cottonmouth (Burl Ives), who has a posse that kills wild birds for their feathers. The two men cross paths and make their intentions clear to one another.

As the film progresses, Plummer’s Murdock falls in love with the job, the wild around him and pretty much sees God’s hand in it all. This isn’t a religious film, he just goes on some tangents about natural beauty and whatnot from the perspective of a dude from 1900ish America.

The two men, despite their rivalry and being on opposite ends of the law, develop a respect for one another, which all comes to a head in the film’s climax. This isn’t a predictable film. It actually feels a lot more realistic than Hollywood’s standard theatrics of the time.

It’s worth noting that Nicholas Ray was fired before the film was completed and Budd Schulberg, the film’s writer, took over and then handled the editing. His lack of experience is apparent in how the film is cut and paced but Ray’s vision still comes through in the framing of most of the shots and the general cinematography. There are just a handful of things that come off as weird in the film. For example, when Murdock, talking about the majestic birds, refers to the sun gleaming off of their feathers, a shot of birds in silhouette is cut over the dialogue. But maybe getting all the wildlife footage was difficult and this is all they had to work with in post-production.

I really liked this movie, despite its few flaws. Plummer and Ives had a good chemistry, the direction was mostly pretty good and it just taps into the history of a place I call my backyard.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Nicholas Ray films: Hot Blood, The Savage Innocents and Bitter Victory.

Film Review: The Indestructible Man (1956)

Release Date: March 25th, 1956
Directed by: Jack Pollexfen
Written by: Vy Russell, Sue Dwiggins
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Max Showalter, Marian Carr

C.G.K. Productions, Allied Artists Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Remember what I said. I’m gonna kill ya. All three of ya.” – Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton

Released theatrically in 1956, as part of a double bill with World Without End, this picture was the shitty half of that pairing. Really, it’s probably the shitty half of anything you could pair it with.

It stars Lon Chaney Jr. which used to mean something a decade and a half before this came out. By the time the younger Chaney got into the ’50s, he was mostly relegated to starring in complete schlock. Sometimes there was a good role for him, like Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace alongside Vincent Price in 1963. Most of the time, however, this was the shit that Chaney was stuck doing. I probably would have turned into a fat, cranky alcoholic too.

The story is about a killer that is experimented on because that always works out well. His skin becomes indestructible and he can’t be killed. Well, he can be burned and get disfigured from fire, as we see towards the end. He can also die of electrocution, as he takes his life that way in the chilling climax. But yeah, other than that, he’s indestructible.

This is a short, shitty motion picture with terrible acting, abysmal directing, no artistry in anyway whatsoever and is about as entertaining as watching some old guy in front of you in the Golden Corral line confused about whether he prefers vanilla pudding or banana.

But luckily for us, the film was lampooned by Joel and the ‘Bots on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you have to watch this film, you probably need to talk to a therapist. But if you insist, watch it via MST3K and at least laugh along with how mundane and awful it is.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: World Without End, and then a long list of 1950s horror/sci-fi MST3K featured films.

Film Review: The Thing From Another World (1951)

Release Date: April 6th, 1951 (Cincinnati, Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Christian Nyby
Written by: Charles Lederer, Howard Hawks (uncredited), Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Based on: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Douglas Spencer, Robert O. Cornthwaite, James Arness

Winchester Pictures Corporation, RKO Radio Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“So few people can boast that they’ve lost a flying saucer and a man from Mars – all in the same day! Wonder what they’d have done to Columbus if he’d discovered America, and then mislaid it.” – Ned “Scotty” Scott

This film would eventually be remade in 1982 as one of the greatest horror pictures ever made: John Carpenter’s The Thing. That is a movie that is in my personal Holy Trinity of Horror. This original version isn’t as good as the ’80s one but it is still a better than decent horror picture for its time.

The Thing From Another World was produced by the legendary Howard Hawks and put out by RKO Radio Pictures, who were mostly known for their plethora of film-noir movies. They did dabble in horror too and before this, put out some solid horror films under their in-house horror maestro Val Lewton. I’ve reviewed a lot of the Val Lewton produced horror films at RKO already. This came out after the Lewton era and isn’t as good as those films but it still kept the horror bug alive for RKO.

This version of the story is pretty different than the remake. It takes place in a similar location but it’s near the North Pole as opposed to Antarctica. Also, it isn’t as confined. Plus, there is a woman present, where the remake was a bunch of rugged manly men. The biggest difference however, is that this film just has a humanoid alien where the remake had an alien that was infinitely more terrifying and near impossible to detect until it was too late. Here, we have a hulking brute carrying a big stick: think Frankenstein’s monster cosplaying poorly as Theodore Roosevelt.

Regardless of a pretty straightforward alien killer, this film is still effective. The creature had a brooding presence, was rather large and looked cool for a ’50s film.

Compared to the other similar alien invasion type films of the decade, this one would be almost forgettable if it weren’t for the legendary remake. Yes, this is good. Yes, I like it. But I don’t think it is better than Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), War of the Worlds (1953), Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

Film Review: The Unearthly (1957)

Also known as: House of Monsters, Night of the Monsters (working titles)
Release Date: June 28th, 1957
Directed by: Boris Petroff
Written by: John D.F. Black (as Geoffrey Dennis), Jane Mann
Music by: Henry Vars
Cast: John Carradine, Myron Healey, Allison Hayes, Marilyn Buferd, Arthur Batanides, Sally Todd, Tor Johnson

AB-PT Pictures, Republic Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Time-fo’-go-ta-bed.” – Lobo

Well, at least this has two horror actors I enjoy in it. Those men being John Carradine and Tor Johnson. That being said, this is still a tough movie to get through. But luckily for all of us and the good of humanity, this was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, so we can at least laugh at it along with those guys.

The story follows a doctor played by Carradine. He is experimenting with artificial glands in an effort to extend life. He has a brutish assistant named Lobo (played by Tor Johnson and not the only time he played a Lobo).

The experiments obviously have disastrous results and we end up getting gross, mutated people.

This is a plot that has been done to death, even by 1957. This feels very much like an Ed Wood film but completely devoid of Wood’s charm and character. This falls flat in every way even with Carradine in the lead and with Johnson playing basically the same character he did in the Ed Wood films Bride of the Monster and Night of the Ghouls.

Overall, this is slow, pretty friggin’ boring and the acting, camera work and sound are all abysmal. Carradine isn’t terrible but he was at that stage of his career where he could just dial this shit in and collect a paycheck.

This really isn’t worth watching unless you want to see all of Carradine or Johnson’s filmographies or unless you have the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version in a place you can stream.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Night of the GhoulsBride of the MonsterThe UndeadThe Disembodied and Zombies of Mora Tau.

Film Review: Roadblock (1951)

Also known as: Walk a Crooked Mile (working title)
Release Date: September 17th, 1951
Directed by: Harold Daniels
Written by: George Bricker, Steve Fisher, Richard H. Landau, Daniel Mainwaring
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Charles McGraw, Joan Dixon

RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“You’re a nice guy, Honest Joe, but you’re not in the right league. I’m aiming for the World Series.” – Diane

Roadblock stars Charles McGraw and was put out by RKO but it doesn’t seem to be a well known film-noir picture. I discovered it by seeing it featured on TCM’s Noir Alley. Even though I’ve become a fan of McGraw’s work, it’s nice to see something I wasn’t familiar with.

The film also stars Joan Dixon and she is quite the femme fatale. I really liked her in this and I wish she would’ve been in more of these films and grown into a more prolific actress. I don’t know, she was pretty effective at luring me in, as well as McGraw, who is usually a heroic character but falls into the dark depths because of the sultry and seedy touch of Dixon.

The plot involves an insurance scam so it’s impossible to see this picture and not immediately think about Double Indemnity, which did insurance scams first and much better. However, that film really is a classic and it is hard to compete with it. At least this doesn’t try to copy it and tells its own fairly unique tale.

Here, McGraw’s Joe Peters is an insurance investigator that wants to win over Dixon’s Diane. They crossed paths while traveling and Peters discovered that she was into the finer things in life. Not being able to afford the type of lifestyle Diane is attracted to, Peters uses his knowledge about a $1.25 million dollar cash shipment to do some dirt in an effort to give Diane the life she desires.

What’s strange about this film-noir for its time, is that the femme fatale starts to come around when she realizes that she loves Peters more than money. By that point, it is too late. But when all is said and done, Diane walks away from the chaos unscathed. Sure, Peters gets his just desserts but Diane can go on living her life, albeit with a broken heart. Back in the days of classic film-noir, a character like Diane couldn’t go unpunished. But here, she does – defying the Hollywood censors and codes of the era.

Apart from that, there isn’t much here that is all that special or noteworthy. It’s a good movie but far from a great one and there are probably fifty classic noirs I’d put before this one but I enjoyed it, nonetheless.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Some other lesser known noir movies: The Man Who Cheated Himself, Jealousy, The Underworld Story, The Accused, I Wake Up Screaming and The Threat.

Film Review: Party Girl (1958)

Release Date: October 28th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: George Wells, Leo Katcher
Music by: Jeff Alexander
Cast: Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb

Euterpe, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve been out with the mobs before. Most of the time all they want to do is wear their cash around. By the end of the evening they’re usually too drunk to for anything else.” – Vicki Gaye

A classic film-noir in color?! That’s crazy talk! But that’s what this film is. But it is also more than just standard noir and it came out at the very end of the style’s classic run throughout the ’40s and ’50s.

Party Girl is directed by Nicholas Ray, who also did the film-noir classics They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe Racket and On Dangerous Ground. He also directed Rebel Without a Cause.

We also get to see Robert Taylor and Lee J. Cobb come together in this picture, bringing it a supreme level of gravitas. Cobb plays a sadstic Chicago mobster during the height of the city’s organized crime. Taylor plays the nice guy lawyer that is the confidant to Cobb’s Rico Angelo thus making him the one man that knows all the man’s dark secrets.

Taylor gets in a little too deep, Cobb gets a little too paranoid and well, we get a classic noir tale of deception, betrayal, twist and turns. Plus there is a beauty thrown in and also a sneaky ex-wife that has some devious plans of her own.

I liked Party Girl but I wouldn’t call it a noir classic even though it came out in the classic era, has a good cast and is directed by a noir maestro. But it is certainly worth your time, considering that you are into these sort of films.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Nicholas Ray films I already mentioned: They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe RacketOn Dangerous Ground and Rebel Without a Cause.