Film Review: Pollyanna (1960)

Release Date: May 19th, 1960
Directed by: David Swift
Written by: David Swift
Based on: Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter
Music by: Paul Smith
Cast: Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, Richard Egan, Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorehead

Walt Disney Productions, 134 Minutes

Review:

“We looked for the good in them, and we found it, didn’t we?” – Reverend Paul Ford

There are few motion pictures as sweet and heartwarming as this one.

It’s been at least three decades since I’ve seen this film but just about everything that Disney put out with Hayley Mills as the star was a classic in my book. Well, except maybe those ’80s Parent Trap sequels but I guess I’ll revisit those in the future to see how they measure up.

But this is a pretty good film that showcases Mills’ natural talent and displays just how charismatic she was and how infectious her charm could be.

I didn’t really love this movie as a kid. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t something I wanted to watch more than a few times because I would’ve rather spent my time watching action, adventure, monsters and spaceships.

As an adult, I was really impressed with this film and I kind of felt like I bonded with it in a way that I never had before. Sure, it’s more of a girls’ movie if you take it at face value but it has a message for all humans and it’s a great message: always look for the positives even in the worst situations.

While that may sound cliche and cheesy, this film presents it in a really lighthearted, digestible and pleasant way. And I don’t think that the film’s message and impact would have been nearly as strong without Pollyanna being played by someone as capable as Mills.

The film is actually an ensemble piece that Mills is the center of. She comes to town to live with her rich aunt after the death of her missionary parents. Pollyanna then touches everyone in town in a pretty profound way that brings people together and helps to unite a community that really needs it.

But there are so many colorful and unique characters that every interaction that Pollyanna has with someone is pretty entertaining and serves a real purpose in progressing the plot towards its emotional conclusion.

Pollyanna might feel dated and slow in parts but it’s a movie with a good message that is timeless. It’s also a well made and beautiful film with equal parts drama, comedy and charm.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hayley Mills Disney movies.

 

Film Review: Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Also known as: Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (original Italian title), Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (original English title), Hercules Conquers Atlantis (UK), Hercules and the Haunted Women (alternative title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1961 (Italy)
Directed by: Vittorio Cottafavi
Written by: Vittorio Cottafavi, Sandro Continenza, Duccio Tessari, Pierre Benoit, Nicolo Ferrari
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr., Armando Trovajoli
Cast: Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin

Comptoir Français du Film Production (CFFP), SpA Cinematografica, 101 Minutes (original Italian cut), 94 Minutes

Review:

“Uranus… to rule over all!” – Androclo, Re di Tebe, “What you say is blasphemy!” – Ercole

After seeing about a half dozen (maybe more) of these Hercules films, as well as other sword and sandal schlock, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, they all sort of blend together in my mind. It almost doesn’t matter that this is the most recent one that I watched, most of it already got flushed down the memory hole.

I mean, if anything was truly a dime a dozen, these Italian sword and sandal flicks would take the cake. While there probably aren’t as many of them as there were spaghetti westerns, which took over when these died out, the quality is generally pretty poor. This film is not an exception to the rule and other than dudes yelling about Uranus the whole movie, there’s not much worth remembering.

Hercules in this outing was played by Reg Park, birth name Roy Park because he’s surprisingly not Italian. In fact, he was an Englishman and won Mr. Universe in 1951, 1958 and 1965. He also played Hercules four times. Most importantly, though, he was an idol and mentor to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Park couldn’t save this movie, however, but what Mr. Universe has ever saved a film apart from Schwarzenegger?

This is a pretty mundane and monotonous movie where a whole lot of nothing happens, other than a buff dude solving problems by lifting heavy things.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Hercules picture, which means there’s not much to give a shit about. If you feel compelled to watch it, just watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Italian Hercules movies, as well as the other sword and sandal pictures of the era.

Film Review: Colossus and the Headhunters (1963)

Also known as: Fury of the Headhunters (alternative title)
Release Date: January 10th, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Guido Malatesta
Written by: Guido Malatesta
Music by: Guido Robuschi, Gian Stellari
Cast: Kirk Morris, Laura Brown, Demeter Bitenc

RCM Produzione Cinematografica, Alta Vista, 79 Minutes

Review:

Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured a ton of sword and sandal movies, especially those from Italy. The vast majority of them featured Hercules, however. So I guess seeing one focused on Colossus was kind of refreshing. But then again, it’s not Colossus from the X-Men franchise and is instead some buff Italian dude named Maciste.

Regardless of which Colossus Italy gave us, this is a total dud of a movie.

Kirk Morris, birth name Adriano Bellini, was an Italian actor that played the Maciste character a few times, as well Hercules in a couple pictures. He was an Italian bodybuilder that had to be billed with an American sounding name like many Italian actors that found themselves in movies that were trying to get a big piece of the pie that was the United States film market.

Most films like this aren’t very good though. Well, some spaghetti westerns ended up as masterpieces but that genre was sort of born when the sword and sandal pictures became passé. When spaghetti westerns also died off, Italy went and split their action cheapies up between sword and sorcery Conan ripoffs, as well as Mad Max clones.

Point being, the Italians loved making cheap action flicks in the desert. Colossus and the Headhunters was no different. But it, at least, featured some coastline and was actually shot along the Adriatic Sea in the Slovenian region of then Yugoslavia.

The problem with the movie is that even if it has a plot and things happen, it still comes off as incredibly drab and it’s tough to get through without the added commentary of the MST3K cast.

I can look past the production values, the bad dubbing and the shoddy acting. I can’t, however, look beyond the fact that it’s about as energetic as watching a sloth eat a peanut butter sandwich. Colossus and the Headhunters is just a really boring film for the most part. And I think a lot of that has to do with just how generic the action is, even for its era.

I know that these sword and sandal movies had their fans back in the day but if I’m being honest, it’s the one once popular genre that I’ve never encountered a fan of. I know it’s a bygone style of film but lots of old, short-lived genres have their fan communities. I’ve just never heard anyone ever tell me that they’ve got a deep rooted love in the old school Hercules-esque flicks of yore.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: the Hercules movies that were featured on MST3K.

Film Review: Bloodlust! (1961)

Release Date: September 13th, 1961 (San Diego premiere)
Directed by: Ralph Brooke
Written by: Richard Connell, Ralph Brooke
Music by: Michael Terr
Cast: Wilton Graff, Robert Reed, June Kenney, Gene Persson

Crown International Pictures, Cinegraf Productions, 68 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, Mister Balleau, fun’s fun. But if you think we’re gonna be the clay pigeons in your shooting gallery – you’re just a little far out!” – Johnny Randall

I’ve seen Wilton Graff appear in other films but mostly as an uncredited bit role. Here, one of his last films, he gets some time to shine. And frankly, he comes off like a poor man’s Vincent Price. But honestly, that is kind of cool, even if he doesn’t quite nail Price’s eloquence, panache and poetic way with words.

Despite that, however, this is a pretty crappy film that was deservedly lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The plot sees some vacationing doofus couples hijack a boat from their drunk captain. They get the genius idea to go explore a jungle island. The drunk captain wakes up and warns them not to. The doofuses quickly discover that the island is owned by a madman. Their insane host then holds them hostage in his home. They all want to escape but before they know it, they’re used as game in the madman’s manhunt.

While I like manhunt movies, this isn’t a near masterpiece like 1994’s Surviving the Game, I say that facetiously, since tone can’t be expressed properly with typed words. But honestly, this is amusing to a degree but far from anything all that worthwhile and the concept has been done much better elsewhere.

On a side note: there is a chick in this movie that is the daughter of a judo expert and she judo flips a henchman into a pool of acid. So for all the weirdos that didn’t think that there were badass female heroes before Captain Marvel, you’re stupid.

Anyway, this isn’t a film that I can recommend unless you watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other black and white horror schlock that was featured on MST3K.

Film Review: The Magic Sword (1962)

Also known as: The Seven Curses of Lodac, St. George and the Dragon, St. George and the Seven Curses (alternative titles)
Release Date: January 25th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Bernard Schoenfeld
Music by: Richard Markowitz
Cast: Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood, Anne Helm, Gary Lockwood, Liam Sullivan, Maila Nurmi

Bert I. Gordon Productions, 80 Minutes

Review:

“[chuckling] You don’t like Sir Branton? Oh, come now. A damsel in distress can’t afford to pick and choose.” – Lodac

Bert I. Gordon may have been one of the few true kings of schlock but he was also one of the best. While his films are all pretty terrible from an academic standpoint, they all exude a special sort of charm and are very watchable if you are a fan of pure hammy schlock.

This movie is no different and like many of his other films, this one found itself reaching a sort of immortality by being riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The Magic Sword is a pretty neat early ’60s sword and sorcery flick. It also stars Basil Rathbone, a fantastic actor but one who also found himself in a lot of schlock-y pictures later in his career.

But that doesn’t mean that Rathbone gave up and didn’t put his best foot forward. He is the best thing about this movie and he’s committed to his role of evil sorcerer quite well.

I loved Rathbone in this and even if the film is kind of shit, he elevates it when he is present onscreen.

Now this film did have a scant budget but it made the most of it and gave the audience some pretty decent sets and a cool battle with a giant dragon at the end of the film. I really dug the finale and the dragon model’s giant head looked pretty impressive for an early ’60s low budget adventure film.

Bert I. Gordon isn’t quite Roger Corman but this is one of those pictures where he does give him a run for his money.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery or sword and sandal pictures of the era.

Film Review: Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)

Release Date: January 27th, 1960 (Japan)
Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa, Kazuo Shimada
Music by: Koichi Kawabe
Cast: Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Misako Watanabe, Shinsuke Ashida

Nikkatsu, 79 Minutes

Review:

Take Aim at the Police Van is a pretty early film in Seijun Suzuki’s long and storied career. In fact, it is the oldest of his pictures that I’ve seen.

Like many of his other films, it borrows heavily from the classic film-noir style in its look and narrative.

I wouldn’t say that this is as stylized as his films from a few years later, 1966’s Tokyo Drifter and 1967’s Branded to Kill, but it definitely has a certain panache to it that is very much Suzuki.

The story starts with a sniper killing two men on a police bus transport. One of the cops on board, a friend of one of the criminals who was set to be released, takes it upon himself to figure out why the bus was attacked and why these men were murdered.

Suzuki with a script by Shinichi Sekizawa, a guy who wrote a lot of kaiju movies for Toho, tells this tale very visually in a style similar to the two decades of American crime films before this. He uses a lot of high contrast shots and the movie, overall, is mostly pretty dark with a big emphasis on shadows.

This is pretty straightforward for Suzuki. He gets in, tells the story and leaves his imprint behind fairly strongly.

For an early foreign neo-noir, this has the right look, the right tone and it perfectly emulates the pictures that visually inspired it.

Now Suzuki would go on to make some real arthouse neo-noir gems with his style turned up to eleven but it’s kind of nice seeing this, a movie that exists before he started taking a lot more creative liberties with his work.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Seijun Suzuki neo-noir and Yakuza pictures.

Film Review: The Skydivers (1963)

Also known as: Fiend From Half Moon Bay, Panic at Half Moon Bay (alternative titles)
Release Date: November 13th, 1963 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Coleman Francis
Written by: Coleman Francis
Music by: John Bath
Cast: Kevin Casey, Eric Tomlin, Anthony Cardoza, Marcia Knight, Titus Moede, Keith Walton, Paul Francis, Jimmy Bryant, Harold Saunders

Crown International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Suzy, you’re a broad. Get lost!” – Harry Rowe

There are very few things in life as dull and boring as this movie. This is also painful to sit through, even with the added laughs provided by Mike and the ‘Bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Coleman Francis is synonymous with the dullest of all schlock. And out of all of his films, this one is absolutely the dullest of the lot.

What’s the plot?

There is none.

There’s just a fuck ton of skydiving and then some mundane talk about coffee sprinkled in to add some excitement.

According to Google, though, the film’s premise is this: A spiteful rich girl plots murder in an attempt to sabotage a sky-diving school run by an ex-GI and his wife.

Yeah, I guess it does have a semblance of a plot but I barely noticed.

Additionally, Wikipedia claims that this is generally considered to be the most watchable Coleman Francis film, albeit still of sub par quality. Citation definitely fucking needed there, Wikibois. I’d watch The Beast of Yucca Flats a hundred times over this shit festival.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the movie. It’s mostly just skydiving footage with terrible acting, directing and writing trying to string this all together into something coherent. But it failed miserably.

Rating: 0.5/10
Pairs well with: other Coleman Francis schlock. Or if you want something less painful, skydiving into a volcano.