Film Review: Ironfinger (1965)

Also known as: Hyappatsu hyakuchu (original Japanese title), 100 Shot, 100 Killed (literal English title)
Release Date: December 5th, 1965
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Michio Tsuzuki, Kihachi Okamoto
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Mie Hama, Ichiro Arishima, Jun Tatara, Akihiko Hirata, Sachio Sakai, Susumu Kurobe, Toru Ibuki, Chotaro Togin, Naoya Kusakawa, Koji Iwamoto, Mike Daneen, Haruo Nakajima

Toho Co. Ltd., 93 Minutes

Review:

Jun Fukuda is most famous for being the second best Godzilla director after the legendary Ishiro Honda. However, being number two behind a legend like that, a guy who gave us the first Godzilla film, is still a hell of an achievement. Plus, many other directors have come and gone but Fukuda’s films have still stuck out in the people’s conscious.

However, Fukuda didn’t just do big monster movies. He did some spy comedy parody films for Toho when they weren’t looking at him to pump out more Godzilla sequels.

This is the first of those movies and I have never seen it, so I was kind of excited to check it out. Especially, since I also love the spy genre, as well as ’60s Japanese crime cinema and noir-esque visuals.

This also has Mie Hama in it, so that’s a massive plus, as I was crushing hard on her back in the day from her appearances in Godzilla films, as well as her most famous role as a Bond Girl in 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

The film’s story is similar to a ’90s American teen comedy I recently reviewed, If Looks Could Kill, which saw a high school student on a class trip to France get mistaken for a secret agent. Funny hijinks ensued and the inexperienced regular Joe had to find a way to save the day. While the main character in this film isn’t a high school student, he’s just as inexperienced and a bit of a goof.

The lead, played by Toho regular Akira Takarada was energetic and pretty hilarious. It was hard not to like the guy and to cheer for him to beat the baddies and impress the girl.

Ironfinger is a funny, stylish picture that was lighthearted and endearing. It was neat seeing what else Fukuda did for Toho that wasn’t sci-fi related. It also got me excited and motivated to check out its sequel, Golden Eyes.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel Golden Eyes and other Japanese crime films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Twice-Told Tales (1963)

Also known as: The Corpse-Makers (working title)
Release Date: October 30th, 1963
Directed by: Sidney Salkow
Written by: Robert E. Kent
Based on: the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Music by: Richard LaSalle
Cast: Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey, Beverly Garland, Richard Denning, Joyce Taylor

Robert E. Kent Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Your daughter is a fine specimen, too, isn’t she father? A specimen of the most deadly thing that was ever given life.” – Beatrice Rappaccini

While I’m not the biggest fan of anthology movies, this one is pretty good and it was better than I remembered.

I think that the last time I saw this was when it first came out on DVD, which had to have been more than fifteen years ago now.

I did remember the first two stories in this pretty fondly but I couldn’t recall the third and final act of the film. Seeing this now, I can see why, as it is definitely the weakest of the three.

However, the first two stories are both so good, that I can’t let the third one ruin the movie. Although, it probably should’ve gone first, as it sort of kills the movie’s momentum and pacing.

I’ve never actually read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, even though I own a pretty ancient copy of it. So I’m not sure if the order of the stories are the same in this film as they are in the novel. If so, I get why the film put them in that order.

Between the first two stories, it’s hard to pick a favorite, though, as both are wonderful.

love Vincent Price in this but then again, when don’t I love the man? The first story might take a bit of an edge, however, as I really enjoyed his chemistry with Sebastian Cabot.

All in all, this was neat to revisit and it fits well with the tone of Price’s Edgar Allan Poe movies and another anthology with him in it from the same era, Tales of Terror.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s and ’70s horror anthology films, specifically Tales of Terror, which also stars Vincent Price.

Film Review: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Also known as: I Am Legend, The Naked Terror (working titles), The Damned Walk at Midnight (alternative title)
Release Date: May 6th, 1964
Directed by: Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Written by: Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo B. Ragona
Based on: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi Stuart

Associated Producers (API), Produzioni La Regina, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Another day to live through. Better get started.” – Robert Morgan

When I was a kid, this was a movie that bored me to tears. I didn’t revisit it again for decades because I thought it was so drab and slow. However, I wanted to give it a fair shot and this time around, I liked it a lot. 

I guess my memories of it weren’t all that accurate either, as I just remembered the scenes of Vincent Price driving around with bodies everywhere and then spending all his time reinforcing his house and lying around on the couch as zombie vampires called his name from outside. All these things do happen, however there is much more to the picture.

We do get flashbacks to the time before the virus completely wrecked the planet. We see Price as a scientist who has a hard time believing what’s happening because it’s… well, so unbelievable. After spending so much time with Price alone, these flashback scenes are a welcome sight, as we get to see him interact with human beings again. All the slow, monotonous stuff served a real purpose with the narrative and tone of the film. Like Price, you yearn for more humans and when you get them, you feel that emotional effect.

Apparently, this film was supposed to be produced and shot by Hammer Films. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen and production moved to an Italian company. They were able to lock down Vincent Price and frankly, despite my poor taste as a kid, the end result is something incredibly worthwhile.

This film also features one of Price’s best performances, which is very reserved and somber. Price acts very much in contrast to what most people remember him for, which was his flamboyant and energetic characters. Seeing Price play his role this way, also adds to the emotional effect of the picture. I’ve seen enough of Price to understand his range and this wasn’t the first or last time he played a softer, more subdued character, but this story might make it his best version of that.

The Last Man On Earth is a film that most horror historians look at really fondly. I had a bad take on it for years and I’m glad that I decided to give it a chance. After seeing it now, I feel like maybe I never finished it, as a kid, as all I remembered from it was the stuff that happened in the first act.

I certainly didn’t remember the ending, which is quite impactful.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: early zombie films, as well as other films based off of this story like The Omega Man and I Am Legend.

Film Review: Paranoiac (1963)

Release Date: May 1st, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Josephine Tey, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed, Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion, Maurice Denham

Hammer Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Now I need to drink some more.” – Simon Ashby

Last week, I watched Nightmare, another rare black and white movie from Hammer and also directed by Freddie Francis and written by Jimmy Sangster. While I enjoyed it and felt like it slightly missed the mark, I feel like this picture, which came out a year earlier, is a better film.

Granted, a lot of that credit could go to Oliver Reed, as his performance here is intense and enchanting. And honestly, this is one of many movies I can now point too and say, “That guy is an underappreciated and underutilized actor and here’s why!”

Something else that helps this movie is that it is horror but it also has a film-noir type plot about family inheritance, a once dead sibling returning, a psychotic narcissist trying to turn his sister insane, an incestuous subplot and more twists and turns than that silly road in San Francisco.

Even though this doesn’t feel like a typical Hammer Films movie, it’s kind of cool and does a lot with very little.

The end sequence is really well executed and in both noir and horror fashion, the asshole gets some good comeuppance.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, as it’s one of the few Hammer films I haven’t seen but I was pleasantly surprised. Especially, when I just thought it’d be a lot like Nightmare. It definitely exceeded that decent movie and also provided a memorable performance by Reed.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Nightmare (1964)

Also known as: Here’s the Knife, Dear: Now Use It (alternative title), Satan with Long Lashes (Germany)
Release Date: February 28th, 1964 (Germany)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: David Knight, Moira Redmond, Brenda Bruce, Jennie Linden

Hammer Films, 83 Minutes

Review:

“You found me out there, didn’t you? That part of it wasn’t a dream! Where does the dream finish and reality begin?” – Janet

This movie is a bit of departure in style from what one would expect from Hammer Films in the mid-’60s.

To start, it’s in black and white. Secondly, it doesn’t really star anyone of note or any of the regular faces that you’d see in a Hammer production during their peak.

However, this is written by Jimmy Sangster, who penned a lot of Hammer’s best scripts. It’s also directed by Hammer regular Freddie Francis. So there was at least a solid crew behind the camera.

Still, this isn’t quite what one would expect from a Hammer picture and that probably has a lot to do with why I hadn’t watched it until now. It’s not a bad film, by any means, but it’s unique and strange.

I found it mostly enjoyable, even if it wasn’t as fantastical and visually alluring as the studio’s typical output. This felt much more like a low budget indie horror movie of the ’60s and tonally, reminded me a lot of the black and white Roger Corman productions of the time, as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13.

The story is about a young boarding school student that has nightmares of her institutionalized mother haunting her. Because of her horrible dreams, the girl is expelled from school and sent back home. Once there, things get even worse.

While it’s an interesting enough setup, the story does feel a bit paint-by-numbers. It kind of goes in the direction you’d expect.

I did like the over-the-top acting in some scenes and actually thought that it was really effective, as the main character slipped further and further into madness.

Still, this is far from Hammer’s best and while it’s a neat experiment and departure from their style, it also shows that the studio was at its best when it was sticking to the great style it had already perfected.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’60s.

Film Review: The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Also known as: Kiss of Evil (US TV title)
Release Date: September 11th, 1963
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: John Elder
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Willman, Barry Warren, Brian Oulton, Noel Howlett

Hammer Films, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“When the devil attacks a man or woman with this foul disease of the vampire the unfortunate human being can do one of two things. Either he can seek God through the church and pray for absolution or he can persuade himself that his filthy perversion is some kind of new and wonderful experience to be shared by the favoured few. Then he tries to persuade others to join his new cult.” – Professor Zimmer

Man, this was a really solid Hammer vampire flick and even though I saw it years ago, I didn’t remember it being this good.

The story follows two newlyweds traveling for their honeymoon. They end up in a small Bavarian village in 1910. While there, they come to discover that the people are a bit off. As the story rolls on, we come to learn that the small community is being controlled by a vampire cult that lives in a nearby castle. The cult tricks the newlyweds at a party and abducts the wife, trying to make the husband believe that he arrived there alone. The husband then teams up with a Professor, who lost his daughter to the cult. The two men then seek vengeance against the vampires in an effort to save the young man’s wife.

For a Hammer film that doesn’t feature any of Hammer’s go-to big name actors, this is still on the level of those other movies. Clifford Evans and Edward de Souza had worked for Hammer before and they did hold their own without the help of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed or Andre Morell.

This was directed by Don Sharp, though, and even if he wasn’t one of the top two Hammer directors, he did a good amount of films for the studio over his career and always hit the right mark, tonally and narratively.

This picture looks great but then again, all Hammer films of the 1960s did. It recycles some furniture and other set pieces but that kind of just adds to the overall appeal of the Hammer aesthetic.

Additionally, the climax to this film is superb and I dug the hell out of it. For the time, the special effects worked well and it was cool seeing these vampires meet a sort of ironic demise.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer vampire movies.

Film Review: A Colt Is My Passport (1967)

Release Date: February 4th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Takashi Nomura
Written by: Shūichi Nagahara, Nobuo Yamada
Based on: a novel by Shinji Fujiwara
Music by: Harumi Ibe
Cast: Joe Shishido, Jerry Fujio, Chitose Kobayashi, Ryōtarō Sugi

Nikkatsu, 84 Minutes

Review:

Japan really made some visually stellar and interesting motion pictures in the 1960s. This one takes its inspiration from classic film noir, French New Wave and the spaghetti westerns of its time.

In fact, despite being a simple Yakuza crime flick, this has a score very similar to the ones you’d hear in Sergio Leone’s western movies.

Beyond that, this feels similar to Seijun Suzuki’s crime movies from the same decade. Although, this one is less stylized and surreal.

Director Takashi Nomura’s work here is incredible and since I’ve never seen any of his work before this, I kind of want to check out what else he’s done based off of how enjoyable, artistic and technically savvy this film is.

It’s also pretty well acted from top-to-bottom and features characters you’ll like and despise.

One thing that really stands out about this movie is the energy of it. The big finale is absolutely incredible and way ahead of its time in how it was shot, executed and presented.

Additionally, the cinematography is beautiful and it truly embraces the best parts of the classic film-noir aesthetic with a high contrast visual style and the clever use of shadow and light.

While I hold the Seijun Suzuki and Akira Kurosawa Yakuza films in very high regard, this lesser known film by the uber talented Takashi Nomura deserves to be in the same circle as those other amazing and game changing pictures.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir styled Yakuza movies, such as some of the ’60s films of Seijun Suzuki.

Film Review: The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Release Date: December 25th, 1968 (Canada)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: William McGivern
Based on: The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Nigel Green, Tina Louise, Wilhelm von Homburg (uncredited), Chuck Norris (uncredited)

Meadway-Claude Productions, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“So this is the place I was gonna get shot in the back. Kind of a stylish pad to take off from.” – Matt Helm

I’ve arrived at the fourth and final Matt Helm film and while the Dean Martin spy comedies have been enjoyable, this one showed me that maybe they had already run out of steam.

That’s not to say that this one wasn’t enjoyable, it was, but it was the weakest in the series and just felt like everyone involved was simply running through the motions and the entire production had become a paint-by-numbers affair.

Sure, Martin is still charming and suave and the women are beautiful. But this really felt like they were dialing it in, trying to get one last glass of milk out of the cow.

However, if they did make a fifth film, I’d still watch it. It’s hard not to like Dean Martin in this role, as it’s tailor made for him and who the hell doesn’t like Dean Martin?

One of the strong points in this film was the villain, who was played by Nigel Green, who is most known for his roles in classic horror films.

This is also sort of bittersweet in that it was Sharon Tate’s last movie before she was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969. I enjoyed her in this but I think that she hadn’t reached her full potential and it’s hard to say whether or not she would’ve grown into a real film star that could’ve carried a production on her own.

The film also featured a bunch of boxers, wrestlers and martial artists, all of whom were uncredited for their small roles. However, it’s worth mentioning that Bruce Lee worked on the film, behind the scenes, and this was also Chuck Norris’ first film, even though he’s so far under the radar that I didn’t even notice him.

Another interesting thing about this movie is that it was directed by the same guy who did the first Matt Helm picture, Phil Karlson. He’s a director mostly known for his fine noir movies and while I enjoy his work in the Matt Helm series, it doesn’t quite live up to the movies he did before them.

The Wrecking Crew was an okay finale to the Matt Helm film series. It could’ve tried a little bit harder and gave fans something better but in the end, it did get this far and that’s something.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row and The Ambushers: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: The Best Man (1964)

Also known as: Gore Vidal’s Best Man (complete title)
Release Date: April 5th, 1964 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Frank J. Schaffner
Written by: Gore Vidal
Music by: Mort Lindsey
Cast: Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams, Margaret Leighton, Shelley Berman, Lee Tracy, Ann Sothern, Gore Vidal (cameo, uncredited)

Millar/Turman Productions, United Artists, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Y’know, it’s not that I object to your being a bastard, don’t get me wrong there. It’s your being such a stupid bastard that I object to.” – President Art Hockstader

Today is Election Day, so I wanted to watch a film about the subject. Yesterday, I reviewed 2011’s George Clooney directed The Ides of March and was fairly disappointed by it. This film, written by the legendary Gore Vidal, was at least a better experience.

One big selling point on me choosing this film to watch was due to it coming out in ’64, a year that featured one of the most interesting presidential races of all-time and because it starred two greats: Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Plus, I’ve never seen this and have been meaning to check it out for years.

While I can’t call this an impressive film, as I did anticipate it to be really good, it’s still engaging and it explores morality at the highest level of American politics in the time that this was made. Frankly, things were nowhere near as bad as they have become nearly sixty years later. But that’s okay, we lived in a politically charged and changing world back then but something about it was more wholesome and honest.

The performances in this movie were top notch but honestly, I was more captivated by the political debates and candidates’ platforms. It’s funny because the core things behind their issues aren’t that different from what we’re dealing with today. Although, in modern times, people are a lot more extreme and there is a widening divide that feels like it could lead to institutional collapse. But let’s not dwell on that.

The Best Man is thought provoking and engaging and it makes me wish that politicians in 2020 were in the game for the right reasons. Obviously, there were opportunists and assholes in 1964 but at least it felt more pure, less divided and both sides appeared as if they wanted to work together in some regard.

If anything, this film just made me yearn for a simpler, more unified time where our differences didn’t tear us apart but instead opened up genuine debate in an effort to make the world better.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other films about presidential elections.

Film Review: The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)

Release Date: March 15th, 1967
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: John Gilling, Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Andre Morell, John Phillips, David Buck, Maggie Kimberly, Elizabeth Sellars, Michael Ripper

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He says that death awaits all who disturb the resting place of Kah-to-Bey.” – Sir Basil Walden

Being that this was the third Mummy film by Hammer, the momentum started to slow and what we got was a formulaic mummy movie that feels pretty thin when compared to the two before it.

However, I did like the whole gimmick regarding the shroud and how whoever had possession of it had control over the undead mummy in the story.

Michael Ripper returns in a supporting role, although he is playing a different character than he did in the previous film.

One benefit this picture did have over the second one, though, is that it had one of Hammer’s top stars in Andre Morell. I always liked him and he’s my third favorite Hammer lead after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It was cool seeing him get to star in a Mummy picture, as he has a certain panache and a commanding presence.

Overall, though, this is just more of the same even if it does have a few things working for it.

I know that I’ve seen this one before and probably multiple times, as I own the DVD. However, everything about it slipped down the memory hole because it’s pretty much derivative of every other better known Mummy movie before it. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.