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: Crash of the Moons (1954)

Also known as: Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Crash of the Moons (complete title)
Release Date: July 10th, 1954
Directed by: Hollingsworth Morse
Written by: Warren Wilson
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Richard Crane, Scotty Beckett, Sally Mansfield

Official Films, Roland Reed Productions, Space Ranger Enterprises, 78 Minutes (original cut), 86 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“Without a fixed position in outer space, they’re unable to make astronomy an exact science.” – Rocky Jones

Like several other science fiction pictures that were lambasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000Crash of the Moons is actually a couple of television episodes chopped up and re-edited into a movie format.

The footage is taken from three episodes of the short-lived syndicated TV series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

This film is low budget even for the television standards at the time.

I can’t fault the creative team behind this though. Their hands were tied, their funds were limited and they at least tried to make something imaginative and fun that sort of captures the film serial, space opera trend that was popular back in the day.

And honestly, even though this was on television for less than a year, it helped pave the way for science fiction on the medium. For the time, it also isn’t terrible and I can imagine a lot of young, 1950s boys sitting in front of the TV with their toy rocket ships, playing along with the action.

But when I look at it alongside other ’50s pictures and serials of the sci-fi genre, it is fairly boring and uneventful. I can’t speak for the entirety of the Rocky Jones show, I can only speak in regards to this film version.

While the episodes here mostly work as one body of work, things still feel disjointed and the story is bogged down by its pacing and editing. Its like we’re given a small chunk of the show without the added context of what happens around it and even if this were made to be episodic, it’s like big pieces of the plot, that we’re supposed to know, seem to be missing.

This just isn’t very exciting. I can imagine that it was for young males in 1954 but they also didn’t have a lot to compare it to back then, as television was a new medium and young boys tend to be captivated by outer space shit and adventure.

Rating: 4/10
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: Shield for Murder (1954)

Release Date: August 27th, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edmond O’Brien, Howard W. Koch
Written by: Richard Alan Simmons, John C. Higgins
Based on: Shield for Murder by William P. McGivern
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Marla English, John Agar, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Atkins

Camden Productions Inc., Aubrey Schenck Productions, United Artists, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[to police reporter] Write his story good.” – Capt. Gunnarson

Man, what a dark and gritty movie, even for 1950s film-noir standards. I’m a fan of Edmond O’Brien and other crime movies he’s starred in have had a sort of harshness to them but this might take the cake.

This one follows O’Brien as he plays veteran cop Barney Nolan. It’s the story of a good cop turned bad but the film starts with him murdering a bookmaker and stealing $25,000 from him only to tell the other cops that he was forced to shoot the man because he escaped custody. While his colleagues believe him, a reporter thinks the story sounds fishy.

Everything escalates from the pretty brutal opening and you know it’s just a matter of time before things catch up to Nolan but as the story progresses, he becomes more and more unhinged.

This is pretty action picked and as high octane as a 1950s film could be. What I really liked about it was some of the settings, as this wasn’t just some cookie cutter noir that just saw cops and criminals fighting in the streets. There is an incredible shootout scene in a public pool full of lots of bystanders, as well as other location shoots that just have unique looks to them.

Additionally, one scene that really makes this film quite memorable involves Carolyn Jones, before Addams Family fame and while she was platinum blonde. In that sequence, Nolan meets her at a bar, she’s flirtatious but he soon finds out that she’s been abused. The scene ends with Nolan violently and excessively pistol whipping two men in front of a terrified Jones. It’s pretty raw stuff for 1954 but it adds an exclamation point onto the self-destruction of the Nolan character and the escalation of the plot.

In the end, Nolan has to pay for his crimes and he does. The final scene is well shot and it felt like a great final moment reminiscent of Cagney’s end in White Heat, except instead of fire we get gunfire.

All in all, this was solid, intense, well paced and superbly acted by its main players.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Undertow, Manhandled, Down Three Dark Streets and Behind Green Lights.

Film Review: Seven Samurai (1954)

Also known as: Shichinin no Samurai (Japan), The Magnificent Seven (US premiere title)
Release Date: April 26th, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Music by: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katō, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Kokuten Kōdō, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Eijirō Tōno, Jun Tatara, Atsushi Watanabe, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yukiko Shimazaki

Toho Co. Ltd., 207 Minutes, 160 Minutes (international), 202 Minutes (2002 re-release), 150 Minutes (original cut), 190 Minutes (1991 re-release), 207 Minutes (restored), 202 Minutes (DVD)

Review:

“What do you think of farmers? You think they’re saints? Hah! They’re foxy beasts! They say, “We’ve got no rice, we’ve no wheat. We’ve got nothing!” But they have! They have everything! Dig under the floors! Or search the barns! You’ll find plenty! Beans, salt, rice, sake! Look in the valleys, they’ve got hidden warehouses! They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They’re nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy, and mean! God damn it all!” – Kikuchiyo

Akira Kurosawa is absolutely one of the greatest film directors to ever live. Hell, he could be the best but there are other elite talents in that discussion and taste is subjective.

But for a man that is such a master of his craft, it is hard to imagine that there is one film that stands above all the others. This is that film.

Seven Samurai is at or near the top of most legit film critics all-time best lists. It is cinematic perfection, a film of the highest artistic caliber. I can’t call it my favorite of all-time but it is definitely the king of Asian cinema and boasts a story so rich and beloved that it has gone on to inspire countless other movies, television shows, novels, comics and stage plays.

I know that I am really talking the film up but what I’m saying is not an oversell. From top to bottom, everything about Seven Samurai is top notch. So good, in fact, that it is hard to break it all down and review it.

The direction is superb, the acting is captivating and convincing, the narrative and the plot’s pacing are intriguing and perfect, this boasts incredible cinematography, lighting, shot framing and employs an understanding of mise en scène that allows this film to exist on a level that most other filmmakers will never be able to achieve.

Seven Samurai is truly a perfect storm. It is one of those films that I assume that everyone claiming to be a “film aficionado” has seen.

Sure, it is very long, which is something I tend to be annoyed by with many films but there isn’t a dull moment and every scene has genuine purpose.

But I also get that a three and a half hour, subtitled, black and white movie about samurai and farmers in 1500s Japan won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s also not as action packed as action fans would hope for but the combat situations are still quite compelling.

This is a drama more than it is an action or adventure story, however. But that is also why this stands shoulders above other films in the jidaigeki genre. Seven Samurai is about life, perseverance and heroism. It is a tale that most people are familiar with and should love.

If you’ve made it this far in life and have never seen the film but fancy yourself a real film fan, you need to correct that injustice. You owe it to yourself.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other films by Akira Kurosawa: The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Kagemusha, Throne of Blood, Ikiru, Rashomon, etc.

Film Review: Godzilla (1954)

Also known as: Gojira (original Japanes title), Godzilla: King of Monsters! (US version)
Release Date: November 3rd, 1954 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Kenji Sahara, Raymond Burr (US version)

Toho, 96 Minutes (original), 80 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.” – Kyohei Yamane-hakase

There are two different versions of this film: the original Japanese version, which was released to theaters in 1954, as well as the English language American version from 1956 that featured new scenes starring Raymond Burr.

This is primarily a review of the original Japanese version of the film, as it is the superior version, in my opinion. Also, the American version loses some of the context and political themes within the picture.

Out of all the Godzilla movies ever made, there are now over thirty, this one is still the best of the lot. It’s just got such a dark and brooding nature that the tone is vastly different than the more kid friendly entries that would follow it. And I’m not saying that I don’t love kid friendly Godzilla, because that’s the Godzilla I fell in love with, but this is a film that had a deeper and more meaningful purpose than just counting kaiju sized piles of cash.

Godzilla makes a very bold statement, a statement that can still be felt today and it is still very relevant.

For those who might not know, Godzilla was created as a commentary on the horrors of nuclear bombs and their side effects. Coming out less than a decade after Japan was bombed by the United States to end World War II, the Japanese were certainly justified in making an artistic condemnation of nuclear technology. Plus, mass destruction was something that everyone in Japan had already lived through and it was still very fresh in their memories.

While the film gives us mass destruction in a different way, Godzilla, the monster, is unleashed on Japan due to the use of nuclear bombs and his rampage throughout the film is just as catastrophic. But at least with the monster in the movie, the Japanese people were able to find a way to defend themselves and bring the horror to an end on their own terms. That’s not to say that another Godzilla doesn’t show up later but within this movie, Japan perseveres, even if it comes at a great cost.

The special effects in this are dynamite, especially considering that this came out in 1954 and was made by a country that didn’t have the resources of a big budget American studio. Eiji Tsuburaya was the man behind the effects and his work here created a whole new genre, which would make his career, as he would go on to do many kaiju films for Toho, as well as creating his own studio, Tsuburaya Productions. Tsuburaya would later create the Ultraman franchise and other famous franchises beloved by the Japanese and fans of kaiju and tokusatsu films and television.

This was director Ishirō Honda’s big break and doing this film would pave the way for the rest of his career, as well. He ended up directing a ton of Godzilla movies, as well as other kaiju and tokusatsu pictures for Toho. In fact, he was pretty much the godfather of the two, overlapping genres.

Godzilla is a chilling film. The monster is truly a monster, which fans of the later films might be shocked by. It is this film that had the greatest impact on moviegoers upon its release, however, and it is why every single Godzilla reboot goes back to this well and presents the title character as a true harbinger of doom.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Film Review: Suddenly (1954)

Release Date: October 7th, 1954
Directed by: Lewis Allen
Written by: Richard Sale
Based on: Active Duty by Richard Sale
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Nancy Gates

Libra Productions, United Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not an actor, bustin’ my leg on a stage so I can yell ‘down with the tyrants’. If Booth wasn’t such a ham he might’ve made it.” – John Baron

This film was pretty heavy stuff for 1954. While there had been films about presidential assassinations before this one, never had their been one that took place in modern times. And on top of that, Frank Sinatra plays the man gunning for the President.

The film sees a widowed mother, her young son, her father-in-law and a cop that has the hots for her, held hostage in her home, as a gangster and his men are planning to use the home’s vantage point to stage a presidential assassination.

Sinatra plays a scumbag and there are no bones about it. I feel like it was probably hard to accept him in this role, given the time and for the fact that he was such a lovable icon. Still, his performance is solid and he carries himself well. He brought some gravitas and machismo to the screen and was unrelenting as this sinister killer.

Sterling Hayden plays the cop trapped with the mad man in the house. He is a good foil to Sinatra and their dialogue exchanges are engaging and serve to paint Sinatra’s John Baron as something darker than what you first assume. He’s a man with a screwed up history and a vendetta.

Nancy Gates plays the mother and she really is the heart and soul of the picture, even if she feels overshadowed and outnumbered by the men in the film. She has this likable sweetness and it is easy to understand her concerns, as the mother of a small child who has been threatened to be killed if any of the adults try to play hero.

Suddenly is well shot, well acted and has held up quite nicely.

The film ended up being at the center of some major controversy, however. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, it was said that Lee Harvey Oswald was inspired by this film. While that wasn’t necessarily true, Frank Sinatra was deeply upset about it, as he was close friends to the real-life president. It’s said that Sinatra pleaded with the studio to pull the film from circulation and that he tried to buy up all the prints in an effort to destroy them. This also wasn’t true but Sinatra did have some regrets about playing a part in this movie. And regardless of the true story or not, this film has very strong similarities to that dark day in American history and sort of foreshadowed it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Manchurian Candidate, another Sinatra film with similar themes.