Film Review: Invaders From Mars (1953)

Also known as: The Invaders (working title)
Release Date: April 9th, 1953 (Detroit premiere)
Directed by: William Cameron Menzies
Written by: Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle
Music by: Raoul Kraushaar
Cast: Jimmy Hunt, Helena Carter, Arthur Franz, Morris Ankrum, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke

Edward L. Alperson Productions, National Pictures Corp., Twentieth Century Fox, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Please God, let them find Mom and Dad before something bad happens. I don’t want them to die too.” – David Maclean

I’ve seen the ’80s remake of this film a half dozen times or more. Weirdly, I’ve never seen the original one until now.

I’ve got to say that this was pretty enjoyable but one would have to be a fan of ’50s sci-fi cheese for this to work for them. Since I am a fan of this type of stuff, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how good and cool this picture was when compared to the other films like it from its era.

Side note: this was the first movie to show space aliens and their craft in color. It was paired with War of the Worlds on a double bill but it was the film that was featured first and thus, got the distinction of being the world’s first color alien invasion flick.

For a picture that was rushed through production, just so it could be paired with War of the Worlds, the finished product is really good. The picture is kind of enchanting and beautiful and now seeing it, I understand why they designed the sets and shot the remake the way that they did. In fact, the remake is pretty damn close to this movie with the only major difference being the design of the aliens and the fact that the remake was friggin’ bonkers (but in an awesome way).

The kid actor isn’t annoying, which is a big plus, and the rest of the cast was decent.

Most importantly, the aliens were rather unique and cool looking and it made the picture that much better for just how truly bizarre the Martians were, especially the leader.

In the end, this was an amusing movie that worked well for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi/horror pictures of the 1950s. Specifically, those dealing with alien invasion.

Film Review: Glen or Glenda (1953)

Also known as: I Changed My Sex (script title), Male or Female (poster title), Glen or Glenda, Which Is It? (alternative title), I Led 2 Lives (reissue title), He or She (Venezuela), The Transvestite (Venezuela alternative title), Louis ou Louise (France, Belgium)
Release Date: April, 1953
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: William Lava (uncredited)
Cast: Ed Wood (as Daniel Davis), Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, Conrad Brooks

Screen Classics, 65 Minutes, 74 Minutes (1982 re-issue), 68 Minutes (DVD cut), 71 Minutes (alternate DVD cut)

Review:

“The world is a strange place to live in. All those cars. All going someplace. All carrying humans, which are carrying out their lives.” – Narrator

I’m a pretty big fan of Ed Wood but this movie is so dreadful, even for Wood’s standards, that I’ve only seen it once and that was a few decades ago. But I figured that revisiting it was long overdue.

Well, it’s still a stinker of a movie and I think that has to do with the fact that it’s a drama where Wood’s other movies are typically about horror, sci-fi, crime, exploitation or any combination of those. Glen or Glenda is, instead, semi-biographical.

The film is kind of about Wood’s life as a transvestite. He likes to wear women’s clothes and he thought that by making a movie about the topic it would somehow help make a more tolerant society.

While the subject matter is definitely ahead of its time, it’s just a terrible film and it’s not going to win anyone over simply because it is a real chore to sit through. And while his message is fine, it’s hard to get that message out without making it more palatable for those who would’ve been open-minded enough in the early ’50s.

It’s poorly shot, atrociously acted and further butchered by a ton of editing mistakes. Weird, trippy, nonsensical things happen throughout the picture but none of it is interesting enough to give the film any sort of redeeming qualities.

Glen or Glenda also lacks the charm of some of Wood’s other films.

It’s kind of sad to think about, as this was probably his most personal project but it is also one of his worst. I don’t know if there is anyone that would actually enjoy it without really knowing the backstory about it or developing some curiosity after seeing Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other films directed by Ed Wood.

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: Beat the Devil (1953)

Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: John Huston, Truman Capote
Based on: Beat the Devil by James Helvick
Music by: Franco Mannino
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Bernard Lee, Peter Sellers (voice, uncredited)

Romulus Films, Dear Film, Santana Pictures Corporation, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.” – O’Hara

I decided to check out Beat the Devil because a description I read for it referred to it as John Huston’s parody of his own movie The Maltese Falcon. Since this also starred Humphrey Bogart, I was intrigued to see what exactly that description meant.

Well, that description was terrible, as this isn’t a parody of one specific film, it is actually a crime comedy with adventure and romance thrown in. And while that description was bullshit, the movie is not. It was mostly amusing and fun.

Overall, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me but it wasn’t dull and it was cool seeing Bogart ham it up a bit with Robert Morley and Peter Lorre, along with Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida.

The story is actually about an ensemble of people stranded in Italy while trying to get to Africa. All of them are shifty types that are trying to lay claim to a property that is believed to be rich in uranium. So it’s definitely not a straight parody of The Maltese Falcon, other than it has the same director, two of the same stars and has some criminal scheming and twists.

In the end, I was disappointed by this being very different than how it was sold to me. It was still refreshing and kind of unique. I liked the camerawork, the on location shooting and how this felt like you were in a genuine space with these actors, whom are usually surrounded by lavish, indoor sets on big budget sound stages.

Beat the Devil wasn’t a waste of time and it’s kind of charming.

Side note: Bogart got into a car accident during production and lost some teeth; so he had a hard time speaking. Therefore, up and coming actor, Peter Sellers, was brought in to record dubbed dialogue for Bogart while he was having trouble adjusting to his lack of canines.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Humphrey Bogart films of the time, most notably his film-noir work.

Film Review: Pickup On South Street (1953)

Also known as: Pickpocket, Blaze of Glory (working titles)
Release Date: May 27th, 1953 (Boston and Philadelphia)
Directed by: Samuel Fuller
Written by: Samuel Fuller, Dwight Taylor
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter

20th Century Fox, 80 Minutes

Review:

“I know you pinched me three times and got me convicted three times and made me a three time loser. And I know you took an oath to put me away for life. Well you’re trying awful hard with all this patriotic eye-wash, but get this: I didn’t grift that film and you can’t prove I did! And if I said I did, you’d slap that fourth rap across my teeth no matter what promises you made!” – Skip McCoy

For those that don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had an interesting working relationship with 20th Century Fox. Hoover allowed the studio access to investigations and files and thought that allowing some “transparency” through a Hollywood lens would make the public more supportive of the FBI under Hoover.

However, this film is what ended that relationship, as Hoover wanted it changed due to what he felt wasn’t a complete condemnation of communism. The studio stuck by writer/director Samuel Fuller and this film was released, unaltered.

Hoover was upset because this has a plot that involves Richard Widmark’s character being involved with passing off a piece of secret film to those bastard Reds. Widmark’s character, regardless of the communist involvement in the plot, seemed unfazed as to who his employer was. And he never really shows any remorse for the communists’ plot that he was a part of and certainly doesn’t have a moment of reflection where he turns over a new leaf. Apparently, this infuriated Hoover but it does seem more genuine and leaving the story as is, was probably for the better, regardless of the political climate of the time. Plus, it makes for an interesting tale that is larger than the movie itself and has thus, elevated this motion picture’s importance in a time when film-noir movies were a dime a dozen and most have been forgotten.

But regardless of all that, this is still a superb noir, carried by the solid perfromance by Widmark, as well as Jean Peters, his gal, and the always stupendous Thelma Ritter.

For the time, Ritter has a death scene here that is really damn dark and makes your heart sink. While I’m a fan of just about everything in this picture, it’s this scene where you really see the great talent of Ritter, as well as the greatness of Samuel Fuller, who picked the music and shot the scene, using fabulous camera work, lighting and cinematography. Granted, he had help in the cinematography department by Joseph MacDonald, who also worked on Panic In the Streets, Niagara, Hell and High Water, The Young Lions, Pepe and The Sand Pebbles.

The story is also engaging and the threats in this feel genuine and real. Despite Hoover’s concerns, this certainly doesn’t paint the Reds in a positive light.

I also have to give props to Jean Peters for how physical she had to get with this role. I’m not sure if they used a double or not and I don’t think that they did, but when she literally gets the crap kicked out of her in her own apartment, it’s absolutely brutal for 1953 standards. Hell, it’s hard to watch for 2019 standards where movie audiences see some pretty violent stuff on a regular basis.

Pickup On South Street will probably always be a footnote in Hollywood history. However, it deserves its recognition in spite of its controversy. It’s a solid picture, lifted up by its players, its director and its cinematographer.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other film-noirs: Night and the City, Gun Crazy, Kiss Me Deadly, Where the Sidewalk Ends and Naked City.

Film Review: The Maze (1953)

Release Date: June 24th, 1953 (Portland, Oregon premiere)
Directed by: William Cameron Menzies
Written by: Daniel Ullman
Based on: The Maze by Maurice Sandoz
Music by: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery

Allied Artists Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“SHOCKING CHILLS..Bloodcurdling suspense! A thousand thrill-maddening horrors!” – tagline

I never knew of this film’s existence until I stumbled across it on YouTube. But I’m glad that I gave this a watch, as I was pleasantly surprised by it.

I was initially drawn to the film because the idea of a horror film that takes place in and around a maze intrigued me. Plus, it takes place in Scotland with a Scottish castle and promises of “The Deadliest Trap in the World!” This film actually had several good marketing taglines but there wasn’t a single trap at all, really.

Now even though I enjoyed this film, it is very slow. But it does build up suspense pretty well so that once you get to the big finale in the maze, you feel a legitimate sense of terror and tension.

The big reveal at the end was pretty damn surprising too. The first time you see the creature scurry across the ground in the shadows, it’s a really bizarre moment and it’s hard to make out what you’re looking at. However, the full reveal is pretty damn shocking even for the hokiness of the monster.

If you want to watch this movie, ignore this spoilery paragraph and skip to the next. The creature is a big frog but it’s really a dude in a suit with a pretty realistic frog head. What’s really bizarre, is that he crawls across the ground. He sort of does this hop thing but barely. And what’s even more bizarre is that the frog dude’s screams sound like an elephant. Still, this was a really cool creature and I was caught off guard by it and also amused by it.

While the slow walk through the dark maze, at the end, was really well done. The lighting needed to be better. To simulate candlelight, the crew used a spotlight to illuminate the two women. However, it just looked like they were walking towards a spotlight and it didn’t seem to work as faux candlelight. Even for 1953, there were better techniques for lighting a scene like this. The only real reason why I’m actually pointing it out though, is that it distracts the viewer during this sequence, which was near perfect other than this glaring flaw.

Regardless of that one lighting issue and the slow pace, this was still thoroughly enjoyable. The last ten or fifteen minutes were solid. But that great climax probably wouldn’t have had as much impact if not for the slow, suspenseful build up.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Night Walker, The Psychopath and X the Unknown.

Film Review: Hondo (1953)

Also known as: They Called Him Hondo
Release Date: November 24th, 1953 (Houston premiere)
Directed by: John Farrow, John Ford (uncredited, final scenes only)
Written by: James Edward Grant
Based on: Hondo by Louis L’Amour
Music by: Hugo W. Friedhofer, Emil Newman
Cast: John Wayne, Geraldine Page, Ward Bond, Michael Pate, James Arness, Leo Gordon

Batjac Productions, Wayne-Fellows Productions, Warner Bros., 84 Minutes

Review:

“Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.” – Hondo Lane

I haven’t watched a John Wayne movie in quite a while. Since I was working on a post about Louis L’Amour’s books, I felt like I should go back and revisit the film adaptation of Hondo, as it is my favorite L’Amour book and it stars the Duke himself, John Wayne.

I love that this movie starts out kind of small and confined but then ends with such a big, epic battle.

Now even though most of the film does take place in wide expanses of Old West wilderness, it was still a small picture for the first two-thirds. A lot of the scenes were on the ranch and in the tight quarters of the ranch home. Other scenes, while outdoors, were usually in smaller secluded places like the creek where the boy likes to fish. I don’t know if this was intentional or budgetary but when the film gets to its climax, the expanse of the open desert and the final battle feel even bigger than it normally would.

And man, I love the final battle in this movie between the white people leaving the Apache land and the angry Apache trying to make their escape impossible. The story also serves to setup the oncoming battle that wiped out the Apache warriors soon after this film. But not without Wayne tipping his hat to the Apache and their way of life.

But that’s what I love about this movie and Louis L’Amour stories in general. Even though they are seen through the eyes of mostly white men in the Old West, there is still a respect for other cultures underneath the chaos and conflict. I feel that John Wayne felt the same way and that’s why he works so well as the protagonist in a L’Amour film adaptation. Well, John Wayne was also the king of westerns but I like how he fits within L’Amour’s literary style.

Hondo isn’t as remembered as some of John Wayne’s other westerns but it is one of his best, even if I think it’s way too short and could’ve been fleshed out a bit more.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: ChisumTrue Grit and The War Wagon.