Film Review: Swamp Diamonds (1956)

Also known as: Swamp Women (original title), Femmes Gangsters (France, Belgium), Cruel Swamp (reissue title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1956 (Coshocton, Ohio)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: David Stern
Music by: Willis Holman
Cast: Beverly Garland, Carole Mathews, Mike Connors, Marie Windsor, Jil Jarmyn, Susan Cummings

Bernard Woolner Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

“[digging for diamonds] Ouch! I busted the only nail I had left!” – Billie

Out of all the Roger Corman films that I’ve seen, this might be my least favorite.

I actually think that it would have benefited more from being in black and white instead of color. Mainly, because ’50s Corman films have a certain look to them, which this film is missing, and because the color in this looks terrible. Maybe it looked better in the ’50s before age did its number on the surviving prints but there isn’t a version of this that I’ve checked out that looks good.

Out of the Corman flicks featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I really disliked The Gunslinger but this one is worse. Strangely, they both star Beverly Garland but that shouldn’t be a knock against her, as I typically like her in movies and television shows. Frankly, this is just a bad script with pretty bad acting and extremely bad dialogue.

Despite the poor writing, most of the bad acting falls on the director: Roger Corman.

This came out very early in Corman’s career, however, and I don’t feel as if he really found his footing as the man behind the camera. He was the master of filming movies at a rapid pace and putting out as many films as humanly possible. Swamp Diamonds is a clear example of the fact that he hadn’t quite mastered his tried and true formula yet.

While the acting in Corman movies was never great, excluding his movies with Vincent Price, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, it would get better and work well within the style of his pictures.

I think that the idea for the plot was okay and this has some exploitation vibes to it, which I dig, but the execution was poor and everything seems off.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman movies of the era, as well as other schlock-y D-movie crime films of the ’50s.

Film Review: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (1953)

Also known as: Sadko (original Russian title)
Release Date: January 5th, 1953 (Soviet Union)
Directed by: Aleksandr Ptushko
Written by: Konstantin Isayev, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Music by: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Vissarion Shebalin
Cast: Sergei Stolyarov, Alla Larionova, Yelena Myshkova

Mosfilm, 85 Minutes

Review:

In researching this, I’ve seen that some people really like it. However, being that I’ve only seen the poorly dubbed American version as it was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s hard for me to see what’s so great about it.

No, not because it is being made fun of but because there isn’t much here that makes it stand out as the pillar of quality. But if I’m being honest and comparing it to other Soviet films of its time, it certainly looks good for what it is and it looks like they spent some money on it.

That doesn’t excuse the fact that it is dreadfully boring with clunky action and more dialogue than I care to sit through.

I guess it’s imaginative but it doesn’t have anything of note going on for it; no sequence that I can point to and say to myself, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

The sets are a mixed bag, the costumes are pretty basic and the technical stuff is fairly shoddy. It’s competently shot but everything is pedestrian looking and straightforward. Other than the period piece sets and costumes the films feels devoid of any real artistic flourish. Well, that big octopus puppet was kind of cool but it didn’t actually do anything except twitch while people danced beneath it.

It’s hard to say much about the acting, as I’ve only seen the shittily dubbed version. At first glance, it doesn’t appear to be great but without actually hearing and seeing the actors deliver their performances without the hindrance of the dub track, I don’t want to pass judgment.

While this didn’t satisfy any part of me, I can’t necessarily call it a bad movie. It’s just kind of meh. But I hate “meh”. I’d rather it be awful than meh.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other foreign fantasy films with bad dubbing that made their way onto MST3K.

Film Review: The Painted Hills (1951)

Also known as: Lassie’s Adventures in the Goldrush (alternative title), Lassie’s Christmas Story (DVD title)
Release Date: April 21st, 1951 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Harold F. Kress
Written by: True Boardman, Alexander Hull
Based on: The Lassie novels by Eric Knight
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Pal (credited as “Lassie”), Paul Kelly, Bruce Cowling, Gary Gray, Ann Doran

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 68 Minutes

Review:

This must have been featured on one of the few Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I missed because I don’t remember Joel and the ‘Bots ever riffing a Lassie movie.

In fact, based off of the film’s title, I had just assumed this was a standard western. Now while it is a western and a pretty basic one, Lassie the dog is front and center and gets top billing.

All that being said, this is a pretty boring movie even for a Lassie one but full disclosure, I’ve never been a big Lassie fan.

It lacks the energy and spirit of the television show, the version of Lassie I, and probably everyone, am most familiar with.

The story actually doesn’t even feel that much like a Lassie story, as the dog is named Shep. It’s also a darker tale than the television plots, as it focuses on a nice old prospector who finds gold but is then murdered by his partner. The evil partner also poisons Shep the dog and nearly kills Tommy, the little kid in the story. Lassie… er… Shep gets revenge though, as she chases the evil bastard until he falls off of a cliff to his death.

I should’ve prefaced that paragraph with a spoiler alert but I’m saving my readers from watching this dud. However, I guess it’s palatable if you watch it on MST3K.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Lassie movies, as well as the long running television show.

Film Review: Gunslinger (1956)

Release Date: June 15th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Beverly Garland, John Ireland, Allison Hayes, Dick Miller

Roger Corman Productions, American Releasing Corporation, 78 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll make you a deal. I won’t try to make you a bad woman, if you stop trying to make me a good man.” – Cane Miro, “You’re not bad, you’re just no good.” – Marshal Rose Hood

This came out before Roger Corman really found his footing as a filmmaker. While I love how Corman could make so much with so little, his pictures typically survived on the charm he was able to put into them. Gunslinger, however, is just so drab and pedestrian that I have to put it as one of Corman’s worst.

That sucks because the film does have an interesting premise, especially for a mid-’50s movie. It sees the town sheriff get murdered by criminals and then his widow picks up his badge to take out the scum that killed her man. The story is the type of female empowerment stuff that I love. But unfortunately, it completely lacks any sort of badassness and feels more like a half-assed pilot to a ’50s western show that had no chance of getting picked up.

The film stars Beverly Garland, along with John Ireland and a small role for Corman favorite Dick Miller but it lacks any sort of energy or emotion.

Even though Roger Corman may have the record for most films riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I don’t feel like this one really fits the mold that well. It’s just dry and weak and even though MST3K features schlock, this film feels out of place among the other Corman flicks they lampooned.

In a time where I hadn’t seen this, if someone came up to me and asked, “Hey, have you ever seen that Corman picture where the dead sheriff’s wife picks up his badge to get revenge?” I’d have been like, “No! Fuck! We gotta go watch it!” But I would’ve been let down, severely.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other western schlock from the time, as well as other ’50s Roger Corman pictures.

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.