Film Review: The Space Children (1958)

Release Date: June, 1958
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on: The Egg by Tom Filer
Music by: Van Cleave
Cast: Michael Ray, Adam Williams, Peggy Webber, Johnny Washbrook, Jackie Coogan

William Alland Productions, Paramount Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“Slowly…and with horror the parents realized THEIR CHILDREN WERE THE SLAVES OF ‘THE THING’ FROM OUTER SPACE!” – tagline

This film has an incredibly low rating on IMDb. I mean, I guess I get it, as it’s not a good movie or even well made. However, I think it’s a bit better than a 3.7 out of 10.

The film is fairly imaginative, I actually liked the story and for a movie with a bunch of kids in it, they aren’t too annoying. Plus, ’50s alien sci-fi schlock is just a cup of tea that I like to sip on the reg.

The Space Children was showcased in one of the later seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and this certainly deserves that sort of treatment but it isn’t as bad as most of the ’50s sci-fi fare that they’ve riffed on the show.

The story is about this alien brain that comes to Earth and hides out in a cave on the beach. Nearby, the government has a nuclear weapons facility. Now the nuclear missile looks more like a space rocket but we’ll ignore that. Anyway, the alien brain takes over the minds of the children of the scientists working on the nuclear weapon. It uses the kids to sabotage the nuke and we later learn that other alien brains did the same thing to other kids in other countries so that no one had nuclear weapons. While it sounds over the top and cheesy, it’s still a fun plot that worked and this felt like a smarter movie than some run of the mill alien invasion picture.

It’s a really short film and there isn’t much to hate about it. Plus, it was directed by Jack Arnold, who did the first two Creature From the Black Lagoon movies, This Island Earth and other pictures in the sci-fi genre.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: really, any low budget ’50s alien sci-fi flicks.

Film Review: Earth Vs. The Spider (1958)

Also known as: The Spider, Earth Vs. The Giant Spider (Germany), Vengeance of the Black Spider (Italy)
Release Date: September, 1958
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: László Görög, George Worthing Yates
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Eugene Persson, Gene Roth, Hal Torey, Sally Fraser, June Jocelyn

Santa Rosa Productions, American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Well, speaking of spiders – are you sure rifles are just the thing? Insects have a pretty simple nervous system, sheriff. You could plug holes in one all day and never hit a vital spot. If you want to be on the safe side, call the pest control people in Springdale and have ’em send out all the DDT they can find.” – Mr. Kingman

As bad as Bert I. Gordon movies can be, they get a much worse wrap than they probably deserve. Reason being, they all have some sort of charm to them and even if they are a clinic on how not to make a film, they are still pretty entertaining for what they are.

Earth Vs. The Spider is no different.

This is not a good film. It’s riddled with bad effects, bad acting, bad direction and a bad script. But if you love giant insect, reptile, amphibian or atomic disaster movies from the early Cold War era, then you’ll probably enjoy this on some level.

The sets in this actually weren’t bad for the time. The stuff in the cave actually looks good, even if the giant spider’s web looks like rope netting from a playground. The setting within the spider’s lair does come off pretty well for a ’50s low budget sci-fi picture.

A problem with this film, which is a problem with all the films within this weird but popular subgenre, is that it’s predictable and there aren’t any real curveballs thrown. But no one watches these flicks for intelligent storytelling.

This was one of many Bert I. Gordon movies that was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In fact, MST3K is how I originally learned of Gordon and came to have an appreciation for the poorer man’s Roger Corman.

I’d say that this is one of the better films in Gordon’s oeuvre. It might not seem like it has any merit at first glance but there is something about it that brings me back to it every now and again. But I also have a deep appreciation for old school schlock films.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other low budget, giant animal movies from the 1950s.

Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Teenage Caveman (1958)

Also known as: I Was a Teenage Caveman, Prehistoric World, Out of the Darkness
Release Date: July, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: R. Wright Campbell
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall

Malibu Productions, American International Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“In a wonderful and strange world, before women knew shame.” – marketing tagline

Being that I am a big Roger Corman fan, I’ve seen most of his ’50s and ’60s stuff multiple times over. This film, however, I have only seen in the form of it’s riffed version, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000,

I probably should buy this for my Corman collection and actually give it a watch without the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots.

But anyway, I just revisited this, as I’m trying to work through all the MST3K featured films for review purposes.

The only real highlight is the terrible dinosaur battles that is comprised of stock footage of lizards fighting. And they’re scenes you’ve probably seen in similar films already, as Corman tends to recycle stuff that doesn’t cost money or is very cheap to obtain.

I guess the fact that Robert Vaughn is in this is also a highlight. He’s fairly charming but this is a production that his presence can’t save.

Now while I love a lot of these bad Corman cheapies, this one lacks the magic of some of the others and it isn’t as endearing in its weirdness.

Still, it’s not terrible and if you have the right kind of mind and stomach for Corman cheese, it’s worth a glance.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman sci-fi movies of the later 1950s.

Film Review: Daddy-O (1958)

Also known as: Out On Probation (working title), Downbeat
Release Date: March, 1958
Directed by: Lou Place
Written by: David Moessinger
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dick Contino, Sandra Giles, Bruno Vesota, John McClure

American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Couldn’t help ya if I wanted to, fella. Gym policy.” – Bruce Green

Daddy-O is really only notable for two things.

One, it was the first motion picture scored by movie music maestro John Williams.

Two, it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Other than those two things, this would probably have been lost to time, an ancient relic forgotten and swallowed up by the massive trash heap of terrible movies that’s buried somewhere deep, underneath Hollywood.

The film stars accordion maestro Dick Contino and a lot of bad ’50s styled pop tunes. It features youth trying too hard to be counterculture, a badly filmed car race and dancing that looks more like mental patients having a party in the seizure ward.

The humor is dry and terrible, the dialogue is atrocious, the direction is ineffective and the cinematography is so basic that it has an app that sends push notifications when it’s pumpkin spice latte season.

Daddy-O, for all its faults, isn’t the worst movie ever featured on MST3K but it is still tough to get through on its own. Like most MST3K movies, it’s best watched within the framework of that show because there’s too much material to riff on and you’d be bored senseless otherwise.

However, I did actually like the music that John Williams contributed to the film. But when the opening credits of booming Williams tunes to the sight of a car wheel spinning is the highlight of a film, you’re left with a long strip of celluloid that would have been more useful cut into 4 inch strips for bookmarks.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible excuses for old school youth movies: The BeatniksUntamed Youth, Catalina Caper and The Choppers.

Film Review: Wind Across the Everglades (1958)

Also known as: Across the Everglades, Lost Man’s River (working titles), Inferno Verde (Uruguay), Muerte en los pantanos (Spain)
Release Date: September 11th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Budd Schulberg (uncredited)
Written by: Budd Schulberg
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Burl Ives, Christopher Plummer, Gypsy Rose Lee, Chana Eden, Mackinlay Kantor, Emmett Kelly

Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“Ah! The sweet-tastin’ joys of this world!” – Cottonmouth

I never knew about this movie, which is odd, as I have grown up and lived near the Everglades almost my entire life. I’m also a fan of Nicholas Ray’s films but I am also mostly just familiar with his work in film-noir. Needless to say, this was an interesting discovery, as I was perusing the content on FilmStruck (a streaming service every cinephile should get).

What’s fantastic about this film is its use of on location shooting. This was legitimately filmed within the Everglades, which is really impressive for a motion picture that came out in 1958.

Having lived on the edge of the ‘Glades, I know that the production must have been an insane undertaking. The swamps are a hell of an undertaking just trying to hike them and since this film really gets into the murk, lugging all that heavy equipment had to be a hell of a workout. Plus that heat, the humidity, the never knowing when the hell you’re going to get instantaneous downpour from the heavens, the bugs, the snakes, the alligators, the boar, the bears, the panthers, the snapping turtles, all of it, man. So I can’t give enough props and respect for the crew that captured this beautiful picture.

I really loved that this film put its focus on environmental conservation, especially in the Florida Everglades. I loved the opening sequence that showed a train arriving to Miami around 1900 or so. The lavish outfits of the women and their love of fashionable plumage was a good addition to the film’s backstory of showcasing how mankind doesn’t really give a crap about how it wrecks the planet, as long as they can achieve the level of status that affords them the luscious plumage of birds being hunted towards extinction. I’m not a super lefty or anything but pillaging nature for fashion is pretty f’d up, just sayin’.

Anyway, Christopher Plummer (in his first starring role and only his second film) shows up in Miami, which is pretty much just a swamp with a train station in 1900. He makes a goofy mistake and finds himself forced into being a game warden for the Audubon Society. He is warned about a man named Cottonmouth (Burl Ives), who has a posse that kills wild birds for their feathers. The two men cross paths and make their intentions clear to one another.

As the film progresses, Plummer’s Murdock falls in love with the job, the wild around him and pretty much sees God’s hand in it all. This isn’t a religious film, he just goes on some tangents about natural beauty and whatnot from the perspective of a dude from 1900ish America.

The two men, despite their rivalry and being on opposite ends of the law, develop a respect for one another, which all comes to a head in the film’s climax. This isn’t a predictable film. It actually feels a lot more realistic than Hollywood’s standard theatrics of the time.

It’s worth noting that Nicholas Ray was fired before the film was completed and Budd Schulberg, the film’s writer, took over and then handled the editing. His lack of experience is apparent in how the film is cut and paced but Ray’s vision still comes through in the framing of most of the shots and the general cinematography. There are just a handful of things that come off as weird in the film. For example, when Murdock, talking about the majestic birds, refers to the sun gleaming off of their feathers, a shot of birds in silhouette is cut over the dialogue. But maybe getting all the wildlife footage was difficult and this is all they had to work with in post-production.

I really liked this movie, despite its few flaws. Plummer and Ives had a good chemistry, the direction was mostly pretty good and it just taps into the history of a place I call my backyard.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Nicholas Ray films: Hot Blood, The Savage Innocents and Bitter Victory.

Film Review: Party Girl (1958)

Release Date: October 28th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray
Written by: George Wells, Leo Katcher
Music by: Jeff Alexander
Cast: Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb

Euterpe, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve been out with the mobs before. Most of the time all they want to do is wear their cash around. By the end of the evening they’re usually too drunk to for anything else.” – Vicki Gaye

A classic film-noir in color?! That’s crazy talk! But that’s what this film is. But it is also more than just standard noir and it came out at the very end of the style’s classic run throughout the ’40s and ’50s.

Party Girl is directed by Nicholas Ray, who also did the film-noir classics They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe Racket and On Dangerous Ground. He also directed Rebel Without a Cause.

We also get to see Robert Taylor and Lee J. Cobb come together in this picture, bringing it a supreme level of gravitas. Cobb plays a sadstic Chicago mobster during the height of the city’s organized crime. Taylor plays the nice guy lawyer that is the confidant to Cobb’s Rico Angelo thus making him the one man that knows all the man’s dark secrets.

Taylor gets in a little too deep, Cobb gets a little too paranoid and well, we get a classic noir tale of deception, betrayal, twist and turns. Plus there is a beauty thrown in and also a sneaky ex-wife that has some devious plans of her own.

I liked Party Girl but I wouldn’t call it a noir classic even though it came out in the classic era, has a good cast and is directed by a noir maestro. But it is certainly worth your time, considering that you are into these sort of films.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Nicholas Ray films I already mentioned: They Live by NightIn a Lonely PlaceThe RacketOn Dangerous Ground and Rebel Without a Cause.