Film Review: Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)

Release Date: July 11th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Peter R. Newman
Cast: Stanley Baker, Gordon Jackson, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern, David Oxley

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“He knew there’s only one way to fight a war, any war. With your gloves off.” – Captain Langford

Yesterday’s Enemy was the second war movie that I have watched from Hammer Films, who were mainly known for making horror pictures. This came in a Blu-ray set I bought, which included a lot of Hammer’s more obscure stuff.

The story follows a group of British soldiers retreating from the Japanese by going into the Burmese jungle in the hopes of getting back over their defensive line and to safety. With that, this is a pretty intense film that does a great job of building suspense and having pretty decent payoffs whenever their is a skirmish in the thick, dense, swampy jungle.

The movie really maximizes its environment well and the jungle really is the main character of the film. Even though this is a 62 year-old picture and in black and white, you do feel like you’re there with these guys and I found that to be pretty impressive due to the limitations of the production and the era in which this was made.

That being said, I can’t call this a very memorable film and it really just stands out in the moment due to it’s environment and atmosphere.

I thought the acting was also decent enough but no one really stands out here. Granted, no one was bad either. But maybe that also helped with the immersion into this tale, as you weren’t distracted by a grand performance and these guys just came across as totally natural.

If war films were my thing, I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more. They never have been, though, except for an elite few. But still, this did work and was effective and it certainly exceeded my expectations going into it. 

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: While the City Sleeps (1956)

Also known as: New Is Made at Night (working title)
Release Date: April 19th, 1956 (London premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Casey Robinson
Based on: The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein
Music by: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cast: Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, John Drew Barrymore, Ida Lupino, James Craig, Robert Warwick, Mae Marsh, Leonard Carey

Bert E. Friedlob Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“What a beautiful nightgown; and it’s a shortie!” – Ed Mobely

I love Fritz Lang’s work, especially in regards to the noir narrative and visual style. And while noir films were waning in popularity by 1956, Lang still managed to make a pretty good one with this picture.

The film is about a serial killer that is terrorizing the city. All the while, a media tycoon dies and leaves the business to a son he despises. The son, played by Vincent Price, doesn’t know much about running a news company, so he creates a new “second-in-command” position. He holds a contest between the company’s best investigative journalists to catch the killer. The one who does will be given the new position and some lucrative perks.

The movie has a weird but interesting premise and all the core actors in this do a good job with the material.

One thing Lang does exceptionally well in his films is how he builds up tension and suspense. He does a fantastic job in this one, as well.

I think the serial killer stuff is also a bit darker and more gruesome feeling than other serial killer movies before this. But going all the way back to 1931’s M, Fritz Lang showed that he didn’t shy away from the darkness and was able to really push the envelope in spite of the limitations of what was deemed acceptable at the time.

This movie is full of characters that are entertaining and fun to watch. However, there is still this haunting presence looming over everything.

Ultimately, this isn’t Fritz Lang’s best noir picture but it also solidifies the fact that the guy never made a bad or even mediocre one.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Camp on Blood Island (1958)

Release Date: April 15th, 1958 (London premiere)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Jon Manchip White
Music by: Gerard Schurmann
Cast: André Morell, Carl Möhner, Edward Underdown, Walter Fitzgerald, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Michael Ripper, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve no use for shirkers and there’s no room for self-pity here.” – Col. Lambert

Being that André Morell is my third favorite Hammer actor after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it was cool seeing him in something from the studio that wasn’t horror. Well, it’s a war film and with war there are certainly horrors.

This also features other Hammer regulars like Barbara Shelley, Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn. Being that this came out in 1958 also makes it pretty early on in their Hammer careers.

The plot revolves around the tension between a Japanese prison camp commandant and a British colonel held captive. The colonel knows that Japan has surrendered but the commandant isn’t yet aware of it. The colonel hides this fact, as the commandant has promised to slaughter a nearby camp full of women and children if Japan loses the war.

It’s a damn good setup and the film slowly continues to build its tension to a point where things start boiling over.

Some of the acting in this is really hit or miss and even if the film is a product of its time, it’s still weird seeing a non-Asian guy playing a Japanese commander. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, I don’t have any qualms with Christopher Lee playing Fu Manchu in the ’60s, as he did a stellar job and was believable. Also, his makeup was done by someone making a real effort. Here, the guy really doesn’t even look Asian. It’s just kind of jarring and takes my head out of the film, as I can’t suspend disbelief enough to ignore the glaring detail.

The good acting, mostly by Morell, isn’t enough to offset the strangeness of the Japanese commandant.

Also, this film moves really slow at times, which is surprising to me as it is only 81 minutes.

This is still pretty good, though. Morell absolutely steps up and brings his A-game making this movie much better than it would have been, otherwise.

I also thought that Barbara Shelley held her own and put in a believable performance, as a regular woman trapped in a very perilous situation.

All in all, this was a real departure from what Hammer is generally known for but they still put in a solid effort and this was better than I thought it would be.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The African Queen (1951)

Release Date: December 26th, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, John Collier
Based on: The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Music by: Allan Gray
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley

Romulus Films, Horizon Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William the Second I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution.” – Captain of Louisa

Seeing two absolute legends like Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn come together in a motion picture is a pretty special occasion, if handled and managed correctly. Being that this was directed by another legend, John Huston, the task was achieved and what we got was one hell of a film.

This is a mix of really emotional drama, romance, war and adventure.

It’s a great mix and it’s executed exceptionally well with the bulk of the film relying on the performances of just two characters, stuck together, traveling down a perilous river, against impossible odds and two personalities that clash quite often.

However, with both characters being strong people and having to rely on each other, they bond. In fact, they fall in love. And while this is a story that’s probably been done to death by now, Bogart and Hepburn did it better than any other onscreen duo that I have ever seen. It’s this bond, above all the other great things, that makes this picture so damn good.

But speaking of the other great things, I thought that all the other actors were good as well. I especially liked Robert Morley in this. He was mostly a portly, often times comedic, British character actor. However, he brought some real gravitas to his role, here. Even though I’ve seen this movie at least a half dozen times, I’m still saddened by his death early on in the picture. Although, without it, the real story doesn’t start.

Additionally, Huston’s direction is perfection. He took the great script and really massaged it into something greater than a less capable director would’ve been able to do. He also pulled out great performances from everyone. Granted, when you have Bogart and Hepburn at your disposal, that might not be too hard.

I love that this was actually filmed in Africa. It gave the movie a real authenticity that it otherwise wouldn’t have had if it was primarily shot in a studio or somewhere like central Florida, which was used as a stand-in for lots of jungle/swamp pictures.

Allan Gray’s score is pretty iconic but it stands strong on its own despite being forever linked with this classic picture.

I only have one real gripe about the movie and that’s the ending. To be clear, I definitely wanted the two main characters to survive and live a happy life together. However, I thought that the way they were saved from their execution was way too convenient, even for 1950s Hollywood. Still, I’m pretty okay with it because these characters should definitely not have had a tragic ending.

For this type of movie, there really aren’t any greater than The African Queen. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of romantic adventure movies. Unfortunately, for those others, this one takes the cake and probably always will considering how shit the film industry has become.

Rating: 9.75/10

Film Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Release Date: September 9th, 1951 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Elia Kazan
Written by: Tennessee Williams, Oscar Saul
Based on: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Charles K. Feldman Group, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth.” – Blanche

I’m a fan of Elia Kazan’s noir movies but I had never seen this picture, which really isn’t noir, but it employs a similar visual style and pacing.

This is considered one of Kazan’s best films, alongside On the Waterfront, which also stars Marlon Brando and is also a movie I haven’t seen.

This motion picture is about a woman, who had fallen on really hard and tragic times, moving in with her sister and her sister’s husband in New Orleans. This woman, Blanche, lost her husband to suicide and it’s alluded to that he was gay. However, she tells her sister that she is on leave from her teaching job due to anxiety.

As the story rolls on, we learn that Blanche is full of shit and she often times embellishes and flat out lies about things because she is hiding how screwed up she and her life is. Granted, she does this more to convince herself and live in a fantasy world. But this does draw the ire of the husband, Stanley.

Stanley is a gruff asshole most of the time but he does love his wife and doesn’t like this interloper, who has her claws too deeply into his romantic and social life since she moved in on a lie.

Their dislike of each other grows with each passing scene and it culminates in a physical fight where it’s alluded to that Stanley probably raped her. In the Broadway play, he did rape her but in the film, due to the morality code, such things couldn’t happen onscreen.

The ending is really tragic and hard to watch but everything falls apart for everyone but for each person, it’s also probably for the best, looking at the bigger picture.

One thing that stands out in this picture, above all else, is how stupendous the acting is between Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. There are some powerful scenes throughout this movie and honestly, there aren’t any weak or wasted ones. Everything in this has purpose and thanks to Kazan’s direction, he really got the absolute best out of his core cast.

The film also looks amazing, even if it mostly takes place in a very dilapidated apartment in the French Quarter. The New Orleans architecture really gives the movie a very specific and very lived in world that probably felt somewhat exotic to those in the 1950s that had never been down to Cajun country.

In the end, this isn’t my favorite Elia Kazan picture but it is still really damn good and you become pretty immersed in this world he crafted for the big screen.

It’s also hard to believe that this was just Brando’s second film. The guy had “it” from the get go.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Tingler (1959)

Release Date: July 29th, 1959
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Von Dexter
Cast: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Philip Coolidge, William Castle

William Castle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic! But scream! Scream for your lives!” – Dr. Warren Chapin

The Tingler was another William Castle picture that relied on the viewer watching it in a gimmicked movie theater with chairs that shock you and things that fly towards you from the screen. As with all gimmicky Castle pictures, the original theatre experience must have been really fun.

However, watching this sixty-two years later on a television doesn’t quite do the film justice or come close to what Castle crafted. But he probably didn’t envision streaming services in 1959 or VHS, DVD and Blu-ray for that matter.

Still, this is a fun, kind of bonkers movie. Being that it stars horror icon Vincent Price, makes it worth watching, even if the film’s full effect can’t be experienced.

The story is about this creature that lives along your spine in your lower back. The actual creature is way to big to be on your spine undetected, though. So one has to severely suspend disbelief there. However, this creature is strong as shit and can actually break your limbs or crush your throat if it feels like it. The only defense to this seemingly invincible parasite is to scream.

So the film really leans into the screaming gimmick. If you’re in the theatre and your seat gives you a little shock, you’re supposed to scream as loud as possible. Granted, I’m not doing that in my condo with my asshole neighbors next door and above, as old Floridians like to tattle tale about every minor thing they perceive as disrupting their vegetative state of living. Actually, they could probably benefit from a William Castle production but now I’m on a tangent.

Anyway, the movie may be a gimmick that I can’t fully experience but it’s still an amusing relic that’s an entertaining watch for those who like stuff like this.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)

Also known as: Stranglers of Bengal (alternative title)
Release Date: December 4th, 1959 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: David Zelag Goodman
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, Andrew Cruickshank

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Whoever rules decides the truth.” – Patel Shari

I have never seen this long lost Hammer Films gem. Granted, I don’t think many people in modern times have seen this.

However, I’d gather that the people working at Lucasfilm in the early ’80s knew the picture, as some pretty major elements from it are pretty damn similar to some of the plot details in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Now Temple of Doom isn’t a blatant ripoff of this but it seems pretty likely that George Lucas himself was inspired by The Stranglers of Bombay, as he wrote the story to the film before handing it off the script writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Beyond just that, it’s aesthetically similar, as well.

While this isn’t as great as Temple of Doom it is a pretty good occult horror flick that features action and adventure. It’s primarily about a cult in India that is very much like the one headed by Mola Ram in that 1984 Indiana Jones movie.

However, this is pretty slow moving and uneventful for good stretches of the film. It does make an impact in the scenes where it really leans into the cult in their activities, though. It’s dark, creepy and I really like the costumes, sets and general look of the picture.

With that, I don’t think that this has aged well and other films have come along and done this better.

In fact, besides Temple of Doom, Hammer even did a loose remake of this just two years later with Christopher Lee as a Fu Manchu type of character. That picture was called The Terror of the Tongs and while it’s not an exact remake, it reimagines these concepts and sets the story in China. I plan to review that one in a few weeks.

As for The Stranglers of Bombay, it’s certainly worth seeing if you’re a Temple of Doom fan but if you just like occult horror in general, it’s still a decent movie to dive into.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Return of the Fly (1959)

Release Date: July, 1959
Directed by: Edward Bernds
Written by: Edward Bernds
Based on: The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham, Danielle De Metz, John Sutton

Associated Producers Inc., 20th Century Fox, 80 Minutes

Review:

“[voice over] Here passes from this earth Helene Delambre, widow of my brother, Andre, whom I loved deeply, hopelessly. She was destroyed in the end by dreadful memories, a recollection of horrors that did not dim as the years went on, but instead grew monstrously, and left her mind shocked and unsteady, so that death, when it came, was a blessed release.” – Francois Delambre

Return of the Fly was rushed into production pretty quickly after the immense success of its predecessor.

That being said, it’s not as good as the first film and it also lacks color but I thought that the story justified its existence and it added something fresh to what would become a franchise starting with this movie.

The story follows the young son of the Fly from the first movie. Except now, he’s a full grown adult that has studied science and wants to follow in his father’s footsteps in an effort to honor him and prove that he was a genius that just took one terrible misstep.

It’s kind of odd that the kid is now a grown man and Vincent Price looks like he hasn’t aged a day but this is a 1950s atomic age horror flick, so suspending disbelief isn’t too difficult.

The son gets into bed with a business partner that has criminal aspirations and with that, comes a grave double cross that sees the son become a human fly like his father.

The finale of this picture isn’t as tragic, however.

While this does follow some of the same beats of the first movie, once the man becomes a fly, the people working to solve the problem have more success, here.

All in all, I enjoy this chapter in the series. It found a decent way to milk the original film and to keep this concept going. Still, it’s not as good of a movie and the scientist’s fate as a fly never feels as permanent in this one.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as its sequel Curse of the Fly and the ’80s remakes.

Film Review: The Fly (1958)

Release Date: July 16th, 1958
Directed by: Kurt Neumann
Written by: James Clavell
Based on: The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman

Regal Films, Twentieth Century Fox, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I shall never forget that scream as long as I live…” – Inspector Charas

People love the hell out of the 1986 remake of The Fly but with that, they really sleep on this one. Plus, this also features Vincent Price, so that alone makes it worth a watch.

Anyway, this is pretty damn good for its time. Price isn’t the main character and his role is sort of a bookend to the larger story, as he appears early in the film to inspire the wife of The Fly to tell her story and then is there at the end, just in time for the big climax.

The story follows a scientist, who is working on teleportation technology in the basement of his large house. As the film rolls on, he gets more and more reckless with his experiments and takes risks he shouldn’t. Eventually, he ends up experimenting on himself but accidentally lets a fly into the machine and turns himself into a half man/half fly monster. Also, there is a fly with a white head flying around. Once we see that fly up close, we discover that the scientist’s human head is attached to it.

The main character is really the wife, played by Patricia Owens, who had to really carry the picture, as the scientist becomes The Fly and thus, has his face obscured, as he hides in the basement. It’s the wife that you really connect to, as she tries to be supportive and help her husband but ultimately, has to deal with heartbreak and desperation as things continue to spiral out of control. All the while, she’s trying to be protective of her young son.

Owens did a solid job in this and she really turned the drama up, which worked like glue, holding the picture together but also making the film feel more legitimate than just a simple 1950s creature feature.

The ending is really f’d up and kind of terrifying in how it was shot and presented on the screen. The sound of the little fly screaming is pretty effective and still disturbing. Sure, the effects look hokey now but it’s all just kind of surreal and gruesome.

The Fly is one of my favorite movies with Vincent Price in it before he started hooking up with Roger Corman on their Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: its sequels and ’80s remakes, as well as other ’50s creature features.

Film Review: The Snorkel (1958)

Release Date: June 18th, 1958 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Guy Green
Written by: Anthony Dawson, Peter Myers, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Francis Chagrin
Cast: Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller

Clarion Films, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You think I’m mad, don’t you? They all thought I was mad when I said he killed my daddy.” – Candy Brown

This is another Hammer film I have never seen but was introduced to through a beefy Blu-ray box set I recently purchased, which features some lesser known gems by the greatest horror studio that ever existed.

The Snorkel also has one of the coolest posters I’ve ever seen but sadly, the movie doesn’t live up to its awesomeness. But that’s not to say it’s bad, it’s actually pretty good with a unique story, good performances and beautiful scenery.

The plot of the film is about a murderer that wears a diving mask equipped with air and then hides while he kills his victims with gas. He likes to knock his victims out, then turn on the gas lamps without flame, letting the gas fill the room to asphyxiate his victim. All the while, he hides under a trapdoor in the floor, breathing in clean air through his mask, where he can also listen to the conversations of the police investigating the scene.

Initially, he kills his wife but her daughter alludes to the fact that he also killed her father, previously. The girl isn’t sure how and no one believes her, so she starts snooping around. As the film rolls on, the killer attempts to kill the girl a few times, which culminates in him trying to murder her the same way he did her mother.

The film primarily takes place in a coastal Italian villa. The sets are pretty impressive and just look cool and exotic, especially for what Hammer usually did, which was Victorian horror stories set in England or Germany, in the case of the Frankenstein movies, and various Eastern European places, in the case of the Dracula films.

This is presented in black and white but it’s pretty stylized, which is also bolstered by the exotic locale.

In the end, this movie was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it. I thought it was a cool concept, even if it was a bit hokey and odd. The film is held together by the performances by its leads and it did a good job of separating itself from the standard Hammer formula and excelled at doing its own, unique thing.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’50s through ’70s.