Film Review: High School Big Shot (1959)

Also known as: The Young Sinners (UK)
Release Date: June 21st, 1959 (Fargo premiere)
Directed by: Joel Rapp
Written by: Joel Rapp
Music by: Gerald Fried
Cast: Tom Pittman, Virginia Aldridge, Howard Veit, Malcolm Atterbury

Sparta Productions, Filmgroup, 70 Minutes

Review:

“I am a thief, not a crook.” – Harry March

Mystery Science Theater 3000 used to feature a bunch of juvenile delinquent and beatnik movies from the late ’50s and early ’60s. This one probably takes the cake as being the worst though. Well, maybe not the worst but certainly the one that has the least impact.

It’s just not that interesting and frankly, we’ve seen these stories before and done much better in films that are still pretty terrible films.

Surprisingly, this was financed by Roger Corman, a master of schlock, but by comparison, this film makes Corman schlock look like ’70s Coppola.

Also, the film borrows heavily from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. In some ways, I guess this film is kind of noir but it lacks any sort of visual style to make it look like anything other than some film school reject’s guerrilla project.

The plot revolves around a teen with an alcoholic father. The teen gets used by the hot girl in school to help her cheat. He obliges but gets caught and destroys his academic future. After overhearing the plans for a drug deal at the docks, he decides to steal the one million dollars being held in a safe there. The idiot teen boasts to the hot girl but she obviously has backstabbing plans of her own.

Where noir has twists and turns and surprises, this is a predictable dud with a predictable ending and honestly, it mostly feels like the film is a total waste of time.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other awful beatnik and juvenile delinquent movies from the time.

Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Release Date: January 14th, 1959 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Richard Kayne, Richard Loring, Von Dexter
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook Jr., Carolyn Craig, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum, Richard Long

William Castle Productions, Allied Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“If I were gonna haunt somebody, this would certainly be the house I’d do it in.” – Lance Schroeder

House On Haunted Hill is one of Vincent Price’s most highly regarded films. Granted, it’s not my favorite and barely cracks my top twenty (see here) but it’s still an entertaining affair that’s full of the great gimmickry that director William Castle was known for.

I also love the fact that the exterior of the mansion was actually the Ennis House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and was also used in Blade Runner, The Karate Kid Part III, Black Rain and a slew of other films due to it’s odd and iconic look.

The majority of the film takes place indoors and was shot on a sound stage made to look like an opulent mansion but it didn’t feel like it had a cohesive look with the exterior shots, even though the set designers sprinkled in replicas of the Ennis House’s famous building blocks.

The story is kind of hokey, even for 1959 and so are the frights. Still, this movie is kind of cool because of its hokiness and charm.

Overall, the acting is pretty over the top in a lot of scenes but Vincent Price and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. keep things fairly grounded for the most part.

It’s probably a controversial take but even though I enjoy this and love Price in it, I actually prefer the 1999 remake, as it took this concept and gave us something far more frightening and more complex.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as the 1953 version of House of Wax.

Film Review: Our Man In Havana (1959)

Release Date: December 30th, 1959 (London premiere)
Directed by: Carol Reed
Written by: Graham Greene
Based on: Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene
Music by: Frank Deniz, Laurence Deniz
Cast: Alec Guinness, Burl Ives, Ralph Richardson, Noel Coward, Maureen O’Hara, Ernie Kovacs

Kingsmead Productions, Columbia Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“In our service it is essential to bury the past very quickly and very securely.” – C

This has been in my Criterion Channel queue for a bit and I noticed it was leaving the service, so I wanted to give it a watch.

I didn’t know much about this film other than it starred Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars trilogy), was directed by the fabulous Carol Reed, who made one of my favorite films of all-time with The Third Man, and it took place in Cuba before the revolution.

Interestingly, some of the film was shot on location in Havana only two months after the overthrow of the Batista regime. Fidel Castro even visited the film’s set and met the crew while they were filming in Cathedral Square.

I had to look the stuff up about where it was shot, as I assumed it couldn’t be shot in Cuba. But the streets and the world looked just like it. I was surprised to see that most of what was captured on screen was authentic other than some of the interior scenes, which were shot at Shepperton Studios in England.

Carol Reed did a stupendous job in capturing the life of Havana at the time. His eye and use of cinematography really brought everything alive in the same way he did with Vienna in his superb masterpiece The Third Man. In fact, this film sort of feels like a true companion to The Third Man in style and subject matter.

Reed also worked with novelist Graham Greene again, as this was an adaptation of Greene’s book of the same name.

Unlike The Third Man, however, this film has more comedy. It follows similar tones but its lightheartedness sets it apart in a unique and charming way. Not to say that Orson Welles didn’t have a charm about him in The Third Man but he’s only in that film for a short bit. Alec Guinness in this picture is in just about every scene and he exudes an infectious charm that lures you in and holds onto you until the final frame.

I really loved this movie. Carol Reed took another Graham Greene story and gave it a pretty pristine visual counterpart. This is a movie that feels truly authentic to the subject matter and gives us a great story in a very lived in and genuine world.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Carol Reed films, as well as the political thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock.

Film Review: The Rebel Set (1959)

Also known as: Beatsville (Sweden)
Release Date: June 28th, 1959
Directed by: Gene Fowler Jr.
Written by: Bernard Girard, Louis Vittes
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Gregg Palmer, Kathleen Crowley, Edward Platt, John Lupton, Ned Glass, Collette Lyons

E. & L. Productions, Allied Artists, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Stew oceans of lotion on the beards of each man!” – King Invader

Other than the underappreciated Bucket of Blood, I’ve never seen a beatnik movie that I’ve liked. Maybe they all need the magic touch of Roger Corman and the acting chops of Dick Miller.

Well, since The Rebel Set has neither, it’s pretty much just mundane and drab schlock deserving of being lambasted on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The plot sees the owner of a beatnik coffee shop hire three of his patrons to rob an armored car. The plot is overly complicated but also dumb. This is a bad heist movie and even though it’s a late ’50s crime picture, it’s nowhere near good enough or stylish enough to fit within the classic film-noir genre.

The acting is well below sub par. The script is terrible, the direction is also terrible and it’s an ugly movie to look at.

Frankly, this is a waste of time unless you’re an MST3K completist and haven’t seen it yet.

Beatnik pictures were a thing for some reason though. None of them are particularly good, especially those that were featured on MST3K. And as far as Beatniks go, they were only enjoyable when Roger Corman parodied their culture in Bucket of Blood or when Don Draper cucked them out in Mad Men.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other beatnik movies, most of which are about the same quality as this one.

Film Review: The Day the Earth Froze (1959)

Also known as: Sampo (original title)
Release Date: August 24th, 1959 (Soviet Union)
Directed by: Aleksandr Ptushko, Risto Orko
Written by: Väinö Kaukonen, Viktor Vitkovich, Grigori Yagdfeld
Music by: Igor Morozov
Cast: Urho Somersalmi, Ivan Voronov, Anna Orochko, Andris Ošiņš, Eve Kivi

Suomi-Filmi, Mosfilm, 91 Minutes (original cut), 67 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“[Ilmarinen hammers a viking ship out of molten iron, greatly distressing Louhi’s trolls] What is to become of us?” – Troll

Cold War fears were real. I think that a lot of them were compounded by the terror and weight brought on by this motion picture, which is the Soviet Union’s worst and most widespread form of torture.

While this made it to America and eventually found itself as a victim to the riffing greatness of Joel and the ‘Bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was still a boring, dreadful dud.

Although, that episode became one of the more memorable ones from its season, as it gave us the whole “sampo” gag. I still don’t know what the hell sampo is, by the way.

This is a Soviet fantasy film and the Soviet’s have actually done some good ones. But this is a film I’ve seen a few times now and my brain just can’t stay awake enough to try and follow the plot. I think the real reason is because there isn’t much of a plot. There’s just this witch that steals your loved ones and demands “sampo” for their safe return.

This is an ugly film to look at whether you watch the black and white or colorized version. That could be due to this being a 1950s Soviet film and because of that there aren’t any good prints of the picture left… or any that don’t look like relics that have been pissed on by vodka chugging Bolsheviks.

Unless you are an MST3K completist, you should give this film a hard pass.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: other Soviet tortures of the Cold War era.

Film Review: The Alligator People (1959)

Release Date: July 16th, 1959
Directed by: Roy Del Ruth
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Charles O’Neal, Robert M. Fresco (uncredited)
Music by: Irving Getz
Cast: Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney Jr.

Associated Producers, 20th Century Fox, 74 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll kill you Alligator Man! Just like I’d kill any four-legged gator!” – Manon

This was a film that I first discovered around six years-old, watching it on the floor in my grandmum’s living room. I loved the big finale and the design of the Alligator Man at the end. It inspired me to draw a picture book about the Alligator Man, which was really my first attempt at a comic book, before I really even got into the comic medium. Years later, I wrote a three-part script outline for a Skunk Ape movie trilogy featuring very similar Gator Men. Needless to say, this movie had a strong grip on my imagination at a very early age. But I actually hadn’t seen this picture in over a decade, so I wanted to revisit it.

I still love it. It’s certainly a film with a plethora of flaws and really bad science when it comes to swamp life but it’s entertaining nonetheless and it’s a real treat for fans of cheesy ’50s sci-fi about genetic science run amok.

Lon Chaney Jr. is in this as a total bastard but he was so good at those roles. Here, he’s a total bastard that yells at alligators because he’s pissed off that one ate his hand years earlier. At one point he tries to run an alligator over and at another point he’s drunk, shooting aimlessly at them but doesn’t even come close to actually hitting any.

What’s really surprising is that this film does use a lot of real alligators. Granted, most of them are pretty small and of a manageable size but I was surprised to see the lead actress, Beverly Garland, running through fake swamps with actual alligators and snakes around her. Maybe they were safely behind glass but the shots came off really well and it created legitimate tension. But at one point, Chaney actually runs out to save her and wrangles an actual snake. It looked to be a non-venomous indigo snake but it was effective and looked so much better than an actor wrangling a fake rubber snake.

The movie does drag in certain points but the story is well-crafted and you care about the good characters. You’ll want to see Chaney get his comeuppance though, especially after he attempts to rape Beverly Garland.

This is a solid movie for it’s genre. It seems to be somewhat forgotten, even in old school horror circles, but it’s definitely a worthwhile picture and much better than the standard for the time.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Man-Made Monster, the Creature From the Black Lagoon trilogy and The She-Creature.

Film Review: Prince of Space (1959)

Also known as: Yūsei Ōji, lit. Planet Prince (Japan), The Star Prince, Prince Planet, Invaders from the Spaceship, Invaders from Space (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 19th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Eijirō Wakabayashi
Written by: Shin Morita, Masaru Igami
Music by: Katsuhisa Hattori
Cast: Tatsuo Umemiya, Joji Oda, Hiroko Mine

Toei Company, 57 Minutes (Part I), 64 Minutes (Part II), 85 Minutes (DVD cut), 121 Minutes (full cut)

Review:

“You there! Discharge the caustic vapors!” – Phantom of Krankor

This isn’t the first Japanese superhero character but he is a very early example of one before the superhero tokusatsu genre took off. This is sort of an early prototype for more famous characters like Ultraman, Kamen Rider and the Super Sentai team (Power Rangers in the States).

Like several tokusatsu “films” that are released to American audiences, this one was comprised of episodes of a television show. In Japan, the original show consisted of 49 episodes that were broken up into multiple segments. Some of the segments were edited into a two-part film series, which was released theatrically in Japan. Once this made it over to the States, those two separate films were edited into one very choppy motion picture.

Like many other tokusatsu show to movie edits, this one was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It appeared in the original first season when the show was just shown locally in Minneapolis. This movie was never recycled into the show once it went national on Comedy Central.

Being that I am a fan of tokusatsu entertainment, I’m always eager to check out some of the more obscure offerings. While I found this entertaining, due to the nature of what it is, it was still a poorly edited mess and rather boring.

The special effects are dreadful, even by the tokusatsu standard. But in this show’s defense, this did come out well before stuff like Ultraman. That classic tokusatsu show wouldn’t debut until 1966.

Unless you are a hardcore fan of tokusatsu or a Mystery Science Theater 3000 completist, you won’t get much benefit from watching Prince of Space a.k.a. Planet Prince a.k.a. The Star Prince a.k.a. Prince Planet a.k.a. Invaders from the Spaceship a.k.a. Invaders from Space.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other really early examples of tokusatsu, most of which was bad until Godzilla and Ultraman took the world by storm and became top franchises.