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 Violent Years (1956)

Also known as: Female, Teenage Girl Gang, Girl Gang Terrorists (alternative titles)
Release Date: 1956
Directed by: William Morgan
Written by: Ed Wood (uncredited)
Music by: Michael Terr (as Manuel Francisco)
Cast: Jean Moorhead, Barbara Weeks, Arthur Millan, Glen Corbett, I. Stanford Jolley, Timothy Farrell

Dél Productions, Headliner Productions, 65 Minutes (original cut), 57 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“These aren’t kids. These are morons!” – Detective

The Violent Years is the most successful film of Ed Wood’s career. The sad part about that is that he didn’t direct it, he just wrote it. What’s even sadder is that he didn’t even get an official credit on the picture.

Now while this is far from a good film, I did enjoy it, as the story has that sort of bonkers Ed Wood charm to it. And maybe this goes to show that his work gave way to better results when it had someone else direct his written words. But I still love most of Wood’s directed films despite the general consensus about them.

Like several flicks that Wood was involved with, this one was showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000. That’s also probably why this is still somewhat remembered today.

This is an indie exploitation film at its core but it is also flim-noir and a fairly compelling crime thriller.

It stars Jean Moorhead, who is most famous for being a 1950s Playboy Playmate. And while she didn’t have the acting chops of noir’s greatest femme fatales, she did have a presence when she was on the screen and if I’m being honest, she does kind of carry the picture. She did end up having seventeen acting credits when it was all said and done and this film falls in the middle of her thirteen year run as an actress, so she wasn’t really a newbie and had done some TV and uncredited work before being given the lead here.

The film is pretty short and it has some dull moments but when the crimes are happening the scenes are energetic and actually kind of fun. I love bad girl gang movies and this is no exception. It’s pulpy, gritty but it has a coolness to it. And again, it exudes that hokey but swell Ed Wood charm.

Out of all the motion pictures that MST3K featured, this is one of the few that I can watch without the added riffing.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other films written by or directed by Ed Wood, as well as other schlock-y noir pictures.

Film Review: The Mole People (1956)

Release Date: November 21st, 1956 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Virgil Vogel
Written by: Laszlo Gorog
Cast: John Agar, Hugh Beaumont, Cynthia Patrick, Alan Napier, Nestor Paiva

Universal-International, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Archaeologists are underpaid publicity agents for deceased royalty.” – Dr. Roger Bentley

Being that this is a Universal movie, I feel like the Mole People should be considered Universal Monsters by default. Maybe they aren’t included due to this film not being at the same level of quality as the debuts of their more famous monsters but if I’m being honest, it is better than a lot of the sequels once those properties went really deep into their runs.

Also, even though this was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is better than the vast majority of films that they lampooned.

You are exposed to the monsters pretty early on and for audiences of the 1950s, seeing creatures emerge from the dirt that can pull you under and suffocate you in the ground was probably legitimately scary.

And what makes this interesting, is that as the film evolves, you learn that these monsters are victims, enslaved by some shitty humans. So the real monster is man. Granted, this wasn’t a new angle, even by the time that this came out, but it adds an extra narrative layer to this film, making it more than just a standard, cheap thrills, creature feature.

Additionally, the sets are pretty impressive for the time and what I’m sure was a fairly scant budget, even for a major studio production. Sure the matte paintings are obvious with 2019 level HD but they were probably convincing backdrops for the time.

The Mole People is a film that is better than I thought it would be. I don’t ask for much with these sort of pictures but this one wasn’t your typical MST3K schlock and plays like something worthy of being on a double bill with the better Universal Monsters pictures.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: This Island Earth, Monolith Monsters and The Deadly Mantis.

Film Review: Nightfall (1956)

Release Date: November 9th, 1956 (UK)
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Stirling Silliphant
Based on: Nightfall by David Goodis
Music by: George Duning, Morris Stoloff
Cast: Aldo Ray, Brian Keith, Anne Bancroft, Jocelyn Brando

A Copa Production, Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“Anyway, I’m scared. You don’t know what it is to live with your back against the wall, Marie. Inside you change. You really change.” – James Vanning

Jacques Tourneur was always a solid director, so I definitely wanted to check out this film-noir picture of his, as I hadn’t yet seen it. Plus, it was part of the Criterion Channel’s Columbia Noir featured category and I’m trying to work through all of the films on that list that I haven’t yet seen.

I jumped on this one because I like Tourneur and I also wanted to see something with Anne Bancroft that came out much earlier than her most famous role as Mrs. Robinson in 1967’s The Graduate.

Tourneur had a great eye and a real understanding of cinematography, lighting and shot framing. He was a maestro of mise en scène, which is very apparent in his earlier horror films: Cat People, I Walk With a Zombie, The Leopard Man and his most famous noir: the Robert Mitchum starring Out of the Past.

Nightfall is no different and frankly, it’s a fabulous looking picture with a meticulous attention to detail in a visual sense. It looks crisp, pristine and the silvery hues are greatly accented by a mostly subdued but pretty apparent chiaroscuro presentation. The film uses contrast greatly, which is mostly done fairly subtly except for the wilderness scenes where the snowy landscape sort of works as a blank backdrop and pushes the characters to the forefront. The big fight at the end is the greatest example of this, as the two men fight in the snow, ending with the villain getting eaten alive by a snowplow truck. I kind of expected some black blood splatter but that was too graphic for 1956. Tourneur probably would’ve given it to us if this was one of his horror pictures though.

The film also benefits from the good chemistry between its leads: Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft. Their relationship seemed natural and organic and in the early moment in the film where you feel that she set him up, your heart sinks a little bit.

Aldo Ray, who I haven’t seen in much, made me a fan with his performance here. He is a rugged man but he is able to convey a sort of gentle softness without sacrificing his masculinity. You feel for the guy and want to see him come away from this story unscathed but this is a noir picture and that’s something that rarely happens.

While you may feel a bit of frustration with Bancroft after her first encounter with Ray, she wins you back over rather quickly and even if you are waiting for that standard femme fatale double cross later in the film, she’s very easy to like. But does she turn against our hero? And does he have a happy ending? I’d rather not spoil it.

Nightfall is a much better film than I anticipated it being, even as a Tourneur fan. It’s a solid film-noir even if it doesn’t go as dark as the genre typically does. I’m kind of baffled that it isn’t more widely known and held up as one of the top noir pictures alongside Tourneur’s Out of the Past.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Columbia Pictures noir films: Pushover, My Name Is Julia Ross and Drive a Crooked Road.

Film Review: The She-Creature (1956)

Release Date: August, 1956
Directed by: Edward L. Cahn
Written by: Lou Rusoff
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Chester Morris, Marla English, Tom Conway, Cathy Downs, Spike

Golden State Productions, Selma Enterprises, American International Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“I hate this place. I hate the sound of the ocean. I hate you.” – Andrea Talbott

This film suffers greatly in that it doesn’t feature enough of the She-Creature.

While I like the creature design for the time, which kind of looks like the Gillman mixed with a bug and the demon from Night of the Demon, it’s truly underutilized. But that’s also not too uncommon with creature features from the era. Especially those made for barely a dime and distributed by American International Pictures.

This, like many films of its type, was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is rife with riffing material and it makes for a good episode. However, as a motion picture trying to stand on its own, this really is a boring dud.

The acting, directing and just about everything else is at the level one would expect from this sort of picture. There is nothing unique to help it stand out and without it being the focus of an MST3K episode, it probably would have been lost to time.

This certainly isn’t a must watch movie, even for fans of the genre and era. It’s not a complete waste of time though, either. But if you do give it a chance, you should probably just watch the MST3K episode.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: Voodoo WomanIt! The Terror From Beyond Space and The Horror of Party Beach.

Film Review: The Indestructible Man (1956)

Release Date: March 25th, 1956
Directed by: Jack Pollexfen
Written by: Vy Russell, Sue Dwiggins
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Max Showalter, Marian Carr

C.G.K. Productions, Allied Artists Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Remember what I said. I’m gonna kill ya. All three of ya.” – Charles ‘Butcher’ Benton

Released theatrically in 1956, as part of a double bill with World Without End, this picture was the shitty half of that pairing. Really, it’s probably the shitty half of anything you could pair it with.

It stars Lon Chaney Jr. which used to mean something a decade and a half before this came out. By the time the younger Chaney got into the ’50s, he was mostly relegated to starring in complete schlock. Sometimes there was a good role for him, like Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace alongside Vincent Price in 1963. Most of the time, however, this was the shit that Chaney was stuck doing. I probably would have turned into a fat, cranky alcoholic too.

The story is about a killer that is experimented on because that always works out well. His skin becomes indestructible and he can’t be killed. Well, he can be burned and get disfigured from fire, as we see towards the end. He can also die of electrocution, as he takes his life that way in the chilling climax. But yeah, other than that, he’s indestructible.

This is a short, shitty motion picture with terrible acting, abysmal directing, no artistry in anyway whatsoever and is about as entertaining as watching some old guy in front of you in the Golden Corral line confused about whether he prefers vanilla pudding or banana.

But luckily for us, the film was lampooned by Joel and the ‘Bots on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. If you have to watch this film, you probably need to talk to a therapist. But if you insist, watch it via MST3K and at least laugh along with how mundane and awful it is.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: World Without End, and then a long list of 1950s horror/sci-fi MST3K featured films.

Film Review: The Killing (1956)

Also known as: Bed of Fear, Clean Break, Day of Violence (working titles)
Release Date: May 19th, 1956 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Jim Thompson
Based on: Clean Break by Lionel White
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Joe Turkel

Harris-Kubrick Pictures Corporation, United Artists, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You like money. You’ve got a great big dollar sign there where most women have a heart.” – Johnny Clay

The Killing is one of the really early films in auteur director Stanley Kubrick’s long and storied oeuvre. It came out less than a year after his previous film and first attempt at film-noir, Killer’s Kiss. With similar titles and coming out around the same time, the two films may confuse people looking back into Kubrick’s filmography. Also, Killer’s Kiss and The Killing are both noir pictures and presented in silvery black and white.

The Killing is the superior of the two pictures, however, and Killer’s Kiss feels like more of a practice run leading up to this damn fine motion picture, which boasts the star power of well known noir actors Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Elisha Cook Jr. Plus, Marie Windsor is perfection in her role.

The plot of this film is about a high stakes heist at a horse track. A team is assembled, a greedy femme fatale enters the mix and we get scheming, violence and chaos. And it is all capped off by the immense talent of Kubrick behind the camera and a stellar and more than capable cast in front of the camera.

The truth is, The Killing, as great as it is, has always been overshadowed by Kubrick’s more famous pictures: 2001: A Space OdysseyThe ShiningA Clockwork OrangeDr. StrangeloveLolitaFull Metal Jacket, etc. The Killing is a top notch crime thriller and true to the film-noir style, even coming out late in the style’s classic run through the 1940s and 1950s. It is one of the best heist pictures ever made and like John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, it helped create a lot of tropes used in heist pictures since its time.

Being a fan of Elisha Cook Jr. for years, I especially love this film because he gets a really meaty and pivotal role. He is one of the top character actors of his day, was in more noir pictures than I can count and even went on to some well-known westerns and popped up in a few Vincent Price horror movies. He really gets to display his acting chops in this and it is nice to see the guy’s range, as he was a more capable actor than one being relegated to playing background characters and bit players.

The Killing was an incredibly important film in the career of Stanley Kubrick, as it lead to bigger things. He would go on to do Paths of Glory and Spartacus and eventually start making more artistic films that changed the filmmaking landscape forever. The Killing was a big part of Kubrick’s evolution and thus, the evolution of motion pictures in general.

Rating: 9/10