Film Review: Mr. Arkadin – The Comprehensive Version (1955)

Also known as: Confidential Report (UK)
Release Date: June 27th, 1955 (Barcelona premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: original radio scripts by Ernest Bornemann, Orson Welles from The Lives of Harry Lime
Music by: Paul Misraki
Cast: Orson Welles, Robert Arden, Paola Mori, Akim Tamiroff, Michael Redgrave

Filmrosa/Cervantes Films/Sevilla, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes (Spanish version), 95 Minutes (public domain version), 98 Minutes (TCM print), 99 Minutes (Corinth version), 106 Minutes (The Comprehensive Version – The Criterion Edit)

Review:

“You are simply a fool. I will not ask you your price, because you have nothing to sell. But, still, I’ll make you an offer. I am going to give you something to sell. And, then, I will pay you for it. Come on. You have tried to threaten me with a secret that does not exist. Now, I will make you a present of a real one. The great secret of my life.” – Gregory Arkadin

Mr. Arkadin is an Orson Welles movie that has eluded me until now. While I’ve known of its existence since I was studying Welles in my high school film studies class, I knew that it was a film that had a half dozen different edits, lots of missing pieces and it wasn’t really a complete body of work.

It’s not quite a lost film, as a 95 minute version of the film has existed in the public domain for quite some time, but much of it was lost and even with the more recent Comprehensive Version, we still don’t have an edit of the film that is Orson Welles’ complete and realized vision.

The genesis of this film is pretty interesting though, as the story was adapted from a few episodes of the radio series The Lives of Harry Lime. Fans of Welles probably already know that he played the character of Harry Lime in Carol Reed’s film-noir masterpiece, The Third Man.

Additionally, Welles once referred to this film as the “biggest disaster” of his life. This was because he lost creative control after missing an editing deadline, which then led to the film’s producer taking over and eventually releasing several different edits of the picture. The multiple edits created a lot of confusion and none of the released versions of the film were done so with the approval of Welles.

The Comprehensive Version, which is the edition that I watched and am reviewing here was made by taking pieces from the multiple versions of the film and trying to re-edit them into a form that makes the most narrative sense. However, the film still doesn’t feel whole and it isn’t.

That being said, it’s kind of difficult to review a film that isn’t complete and ultimately, wasn’t a fully realized concept brought to life by the artist that created it.

But you can still see how good it was by seeing some of these segments come to life. Welles employed great cinematography and one can’t deny that the film looks good and consistent with the level of visual storytelling that his movies were known for.

It’s also finely acted, even if some moments might not feel as coherent as they should. That’s not the fault of the actors, that’s the fault of the producer and editor. Well, at least they should take the blame based off of their involvement in making a chopped up and messy version of what this was intended to be.

It’s sad that this film didn’t get to be seen in its best form. The most recent form that exists is seemingly the best and it is still watchable but it just makes me wonder how different Welles’ version would have been. Additionally, for those that don’t know the full story behind this film, how would they see it? As a bad movie, a confusing one or even as an example of Welles not being on his A-game?

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Orson Welles’ other noir-esque pictures.

Film Review: Girls Town (1959)

Also known as: The Innocent and the Damned (reissue title)
Release Date: October 5th, 1959
Directed by: Charles F. Haas
Written by: Robert Hardy Andrews, Robert Smith
Music by: Van Alexander, Paul Anka
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Mel Tormé, Ray Anthony, Paul Anka, James Mitchum, The Platters

Albert Zugsmith Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 89 Minutes

Review:

“This is Chip’s father.” – Michael Clyde, “You killed my son!” – Mr. Gardener, “I’m sorry for you, Mr. Gardener, but you’re dialing the wrong number.” – Silver Morgan

This movie was the focal point of the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s sixth season, the first full season to star Mike Nelson. It was also the last episode that I needed to cover for that season, as I had watched and reviewed the rest of the pictures from that lot. In fact, I have one episode left in season four and then a handful or so in season five.

So on this journey of reviewing every film featured on MST3K, I have come across a lot of ’50s delinquent movies. While this one is equal to the quality of the rest of the lot, which doesn’t say much, this may be the most star-studded of them, as it features rising star Mamie Van Doren, as well as musicians Mel Tormé, Paul Anka and The Platters. It also has James Mitchum in it but James’ career never rose to the heights that his father’s did.

Sadly, despite the musical flourish, Girls Town is a pretty boring movie.

The story follows Van Doren’s Silver Morgan, who is sent to a Catholic reform school, where she doesn’t quite fit in. Additionally, Silver has been accused of killing a rapist but the girl that actually did the killing was Silver’s sister. The sister is then blackmailed by a creep who is into “hands-off drag racing”. The same creep has plans of selling the sister off to some Tijuana slave traders.

Yes, that’s really the plot. I didn’t pull any of that out of my ass. It’s fucking insane, I know.

And well, the film itself is just a baffling mess that deals with heavy subjects like rape, sex slavery and swooning over Paul f’n Anka. That’s pretty hardcore shit for 1959!

Anyway, there’s nothing all that noteworthy about the film, other than its cast and how nuts the story is.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other delinquent movies featured on MST3K.

Film Review: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

Also known as: Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (complete title), Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (poster title)
Release Date: December 23rd, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Earl Felton
Based on: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Music by: Paul Smith, Joseph S. Dubin
Cast: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“I am not what is called a civilized man, Professor. I am done with society for reasons that seem good to me. Therefore, I do not obey its laws.” – Captain Nemo

Even though I own most of the stuff I want to see on Disney+, I love the streaming service because I’m exceptionally lazy and it allows me to stay sitting on my ass because I don’t have to walk across the room and get the physical disc.

I’ve wanted to revisit and review this for awhile but it’s one of the films I was waiting to re-watch once Disney+ debuted. Plus, the HD quality of the streaming version is better than my two decades old DVD.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite adventure movies as a kid and still, to this day, this is my favorite Jules Verne film adaptation.

This motion picture is close to perfection from top to bottom. It is the best big budget live action film of its decade and it captures the spirit of the book, the magic of Disney and the incredible fun of high adventure done right!

Richard Fleischer has done several films that I’m a fan of but I have to say that this is truly his best work. Although, I’m not sure how much control he had over the production and how much Walt Disney himself was involved. Whatever the case may be, this was a perfect storm behind the scenes that gave the world one of the greatest adventure movies ever put to celluloid.

As old as this movie is now, it doesn’t feel dated other than how it looks. It still flows nicely, has a great pace and there isn’t a dull moment in its 127 minutes. Everything that happens on the screen is necessary and enriches the story. It’s not bogged down by filler, unnecessary side plots or characters and it doesn’t dilly dally.

The film is also greatly accented by its four leads: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Peter Lorre and Paul Lukas. Each man played their part to perfection, each had unique voices and points of view and it was their chemistry and camaraderie that was the glue of the picture.

The special effects were also the best of the era. I’ve really tried to think of anything that can compare to it and there really isn’t anything, at least not in the decade that this came out in. It was ahead of its time and the effects were done so superbly that even now, 65 years later, it’s hard to tell what shots are actual effects. Everything looks good and seamless. Even the big rubber tentacles of the giant squid hold up. Plus, that sequence is still captivating and hasn’t become cheesy in the way that giant rubber monsters of yesteryear have become.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an incredible picture and it also launched its own genre for awhile, as a slew of Jules Verne adaptations and ripoffs started to flood theaters for twenty years following this. Frankly, I think they only died off due to the disaster movie trend that really took off in the ’70s.

It’s probably hard to quantify just how much of an impact this movie had on the film industry and American culture but I don’t think that the modern blockbuster would exist in the same way without this film’s existence.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the era.

Film Review: Manhunt In Space (1954)

Also known as: Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Manhunt In Space (complete title)
Release Date: 1954
Directed by: Hollingsworth Morse
Written by: Arthur Hoerl
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett, Sally Mansfield

Official Films, Roland Reed Productions, Space Ranger Enterprises, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Well, the Double M just became the scrambled M.” – Winky

Like the recently reviewed Crash of the Moons, this movie is actually just three episodes of the syndicated television show Rocky Jones, Space Ranger edited into a singular feature length picture.

Also, like Crash of the Moons, this is a pretty awful flick that was a product of its time but with seemingly less of a budget than other productions like it.

Rocky Jones is very similar to the motion picture serials of the time. It’s obviously this studio’s attempt at trying to create their own sci-fi hit like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

Out of the two Rocky Jones films I’ve seen now, I’d have to say that this is the weaker one.

Not a lot goes right with this production but I can imagine that 1950s boys didn’t care. The show was short-lived, living and dying in the same calendar year, but it did stretch over two seasons in that short time and thirty-plus episodes were made.

In retrospect, it doesn’t have the lasting impact that other sci-fi space operas of the era had. In fact, I think that the only way people today might even know about Rocky Jones is because two of the film versions were lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, as well as other ’50s and ’60s sci-fi that was shown on MST3K.

Film Review: Invasion U.S.A. (1952)

Release Date: December 10th, 1952
Directed by: Alfred E. Green
Written by: Robert Smith, Franz Schulz
Based on: a story by Robert Smith, Franz Spencer
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O’Herlihy, Edward G. Robinson Jr.

American Pictures, Mutual Productions of the West, Columbia Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“For every atom bomb dropped on our country, we have taken three to the enemy’s heartland and we have huge stocks of atomic weapons in reserve.” – The President

I already reviewed a film called Invasion U.S.A., but that one was a far superior ’80s Chuck Norris film put out by the best action studio of all-time The Cannon Group. I think that one is really a remake in name only of this film but they have the same general premise of the United States being invaded by a foreign power.

Mostly, this is a crappy film. But in its defense, it’s actually not that boring and some of it is interesting.

I like the premise and these sort of stories are always intriguing to me, as the United States, generally, feels like a place that is safe from foreign harm. The idea of the whole country being invaded seems insane and it is but that doesn’t mean it’s not an intriguing concept. It’s just that no one has made a great film about it.

The best parts of this film aren’t the bits that show actual invasion, instead, they are the simple scenes, like the ones in the bar with patrons having conversations about communism and war. While the dialogue isn’t good and the acting and directing leave a lot to be desired, it’s interesting to hear different viewpoints from the time, expressed and discussed.

Invasion U.S.A. sort of exists as a time capsule in how it captures the sentiment of different Americans from the 1950s, post-World War II and just as communism was becoming the enemy of the day.

There were a lot of paranoia films in this decade and this one is no different. Just instead of giant atomic monsters and science run amok, this channels fear around the idea that your safe haven might not be as safe as you perceive it. That’s unsettling however you want to present it.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: the far superior sort of remake, 1985’s Invasion U.S.A., also another film with a similar plot, 1984’s Red Dawn.

Film Review: Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956)

Also known as: Love Maidens of Outer Space (alternative title), The Thirteenth Moon of Jupiter (script title)
Release Date: July, 1956 (UK)
Directed by: Cy Roth
Written by: Cy Roth
Music by: Trevor Duncan
Cast: Anthony Dexter, Paul Carpenter, Susan Shaw, Harry Fowler, Sydney Tafler, Jacqueline Curtis, Rodney Diak

Criterion Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll go with my beloved to Earth but I shall return!” – Hestia

The first sentence from the plot section on this film’s Wikipedia article pretty much got me pumped for its 1950s schlockiness: “The discovery of signs of life on the 13th moon of Jupiter leads to the sending of a crew of five chain-smoking male astronauts, armed with handguns, to investigate.”

Another selling point was that this was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I hadn’t seen the episode yet.

Upon arriving on the moon, guns and testosterone blazing, they save a beautiful girl from a monster. This leads to them discovering New Atlantis, a dying colony made up of descendants from the original Atlantis.

The colony has seventeen survivors, only one of which is a man, who happens to be middle-aged and a sort of adoptive father of the sixteen women. While that sounds like a great existence, he’s pretty old and useless and he needs the Earth soldiers to destroy the monster that keeps terrorizing them. However, one of the women wants to hold the men captive and force them into being their mates. That also doesn’t sound like a bad existence.

Anyway, some women die, the soldiers kill the beast and the remaining women allow the men to return home with one of the ladies. The men then promise to send spaceships of men back to the moon so that the remaining ladies can procreate. Sign me up!

After summarizing the film, I don’t think that this is something that could get made in 2019 with everyone being easily outraged snowflakes that spend all day looking for shit to be offended about.

If this were made today, hopefully it’d be done much better because this is a fairly mundane movie. The premise isn’t that original, especially for the ’50s, and even though the monster is kind of cool, he doesn’t seem like that big of a threat. Sure, he’s impervious to bullets but he’s also just some humanoid lummox. I feel like you could easily lure him into a pit and bury him alive in a multitude of things. Or hell, trick him into walking through some grease and then laugh at him when he keeps trying to get up and busts his ass, again and again.

The film is riddled with bad acting, sets that look like community theater stage props and too much clunky dialogue.

But, I did find it pretty watchable for what it is and it is something I could sit through, even without the added humor, as provided by Joel and the ‘Bots.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s & ’60s sci-fi movies shown on MST3K.

Film Review: The Dead Talk Back (1957/1993)

Release Date: 1993
Directed by: Merle S. Gould
Written by: Merle S. Gould
Music by: Don Cheek, George Rhoden, Van Phillips (uncredited)
Cast: Aldo Farnese, Scott Douglas, Laura Brock, Earl Sands, Myron Natwick, Kyle Stanton, Sammy Ray

Headliner Productions, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Tellin’ them innocent kids stories about the dead and their hauntings! That’s the work of the devil. You’ll pay for it. The Devil! That man is the Devil Himself!” – Christy Mattling, “Oh shut up, you potentate of righteousness!” – Renee Coliveil

The Dead Talk Back was a lost film; shot in 1957, it never saw the light of day. Nearly four decades later, however, it was discovered in a warehouse and then found a video release in 1993 by Sinister Cinema. A year later, it was ripped to shreds courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

At the start of this picture, I was taken aback by the really bad opening titles. But once the film cut to the first scene and the fourth wall was broken by the paranormal scientist guy explaining what we were about to see and the “science” behind the dead’s ability to speak to us, I was sort of captivated.

The opening was so bizarre that it was intriguing. It wasn’t something that you really see from the era in which this was made and it showed me that this schlock-y filmmaker was possibly ahead of his time or that he was so bad he broke the rules of the medium without realizing he was doing so. I think it might be a little bit of both because as hammy as it was, it still aroused my curiosity in a way that was positively effective to the narrative of the movie.

Beyond that, however, everything really does sort of turn to shit.

This paranormal scientist lives in a house with a bunch of roommates. One of the girls is then killed by a crossbow, which is pretty brutal and over the top for 1957. Anyway, the paranormal scientist is pretty sure that one of his housemates murdered her. The police also believe this so they hire the scientist to conduct a paranormal investigation.

The scientist interviews his housemates in an effort to draw out clues or a confession. He can’t really talk to the dead yet so he makes it appear that he can, hoping that the experience will cause the killer to crack under the pressure.

The killer is discovered and then the scientist admits to his ruse but says that he will eventually find a way to communicate with the deceased.

I actually like the concept and thought that the plot was interesting, however, it was unfortunately executed poorly and the film is mostly drab and boring despite a few neat highlights.

It keeps you a bit on edge, thinking that something paranormal may actually happen but I like that it doesn’t and that this is realistic in that way, as opposed to going for a cheap, predictable thrill. I’d like to think that this was an intentional subversion of expectations but I think it had more to do with the limitations of the production.

The Dead Talk Back is mostly a bad movie. But it was still engaging in parts and quite unique.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime/mystery movies shown on MST3K.