Film Review: Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)

Also known as: Uchu Kaisoku-sen (original Japanese title), Invasion from a Planet (alternate title), Space Greyhound (US promo title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Koji Ota
Written by: Shin Morita, Akihiro Watanabe
Music by: Michiaki Watanabe
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kappei Mastsumoto, Ryuko Minakami, Shinjiro Ebara, Mitsue Komiya

Toei Company, 75 Minutes

Review:

Not all tokusatsu films were created equal and that’s certainly the case with Invasion of the Neptune Men.

Even the great and legendary badass Sonny Chiba couldn’t save this picture from itself.

However, if you do have a soft spot for the obscure tokusatsu genre, then this may still hold your interest. But there are much greater films within that genre and from this era. All the Toho stuff is damn entertaining and I’m not just talking about Godzilla and other kaiju films.

This is probably most famous, at this point, for being lampooned in one of the later seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mike and the ‘Bots really suffered through this one but they make it more watchable than it is on its own.

The special effects are terrible but that goes without saying. Toei wasn’t at the level of Toho or even Daiei.

The alien robots looks like generic knockoffs of Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (and a dozen other films and shows).

This is also littered with really annoying kids thanks to the awful dubbing. If you want 75 minutes of shrill screaming and loud talking, this will probably be right up your alley. But you should also talk to a psychiatrist because something is wrong with you.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: the worst Japanese tokusatsu of the 1960s.

Film Review: The Choppers (1961)

Also known as: Rebeldes del volante (Mexico)
Release Date: November 30th, 1961
Directed by: Leigh Jason
Written by: Arch Hall Sr.
Music by: Al Pellegrini
Cast: Arch Hall Jr., Marianne Gaba, Robert Paget, Tom Brown, Burr Middleton, Rex Holman, Chuck Barnes, Bruno VeSota

Fairway International Pictures, Rushmore Productions, 66 Minutes

Review:

“[to Jim Bradford, as he is being arrested] We had a ball. A real ball.” – Jack ‘Cruiser’ Bryan

Out of all the films with Arch Hall Jr. in them, this is the best. I first discovered him on Mystery Science Theater 3000 years ago when the Eegah episode first aired. Most of his films are written and directed by his father, Arch Hall Sr. While this one is written by Sr. it isn’t directed by him. That’s probably why this is a better film than the others and Hall Jr. came off a bit more relaxed and natural than when he was directed by his dad.

For those that aren’t familiar with Arch Hall Jr., he was an aspiring pop singer and guitarist that was really into hot rods and the rockabilly lifestyle. That being said, The Choppers was a good vehicle for him, pun intended.

The premise is about this gang of young hoods that chop up parked cars and steal their valuable bits. The don’t really steal the cars, they just strip them and then use the parts to make or enhance their own vehicles.

Arch Jr. plays Jack ‘Cruiser’, who is a hot rod driving, guitar strumming, wannabe badass. He gets in way over his head due to his gang of misfits and eventually finds himself in some serious shit.

This film is pretty damn tame though. It’s like if you took The Outsiders, stripped it of everything that made it cool, tried to edit it down to a G-rating and then de-saturated all the color and gave the lead a guitar so he could randomly break off into song from time to time, than you would have this movie.

In the end, this is a really short picture and it isn’t boring. It’s not exciting but it has some value, more so than the other films from this creative team.

But there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to this picture other than reminding kids in 1962 to not be juvenile delinquents.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: ’60s hot rod and biker movies. Also, other stuff with Arch Hall Jr. like Eegah and Wild Guitar.

Film Review: The Phantom Planet (1961)

Also known as: Planeta Fantasma (Spanish title)
Release Date: December 13th, 1961
Directed by: William Marshall
Written by: William Telaak, Fred De Gortner, Fred Gebhardt
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Dean Fredericks, Coleen Gray, Francis X. Bushman

Four Crown Productions Inc., 82 Minutes

Review:

“We are able to translate all languages with voice tone waves.” – Sessom

Another day, another terrible movie that I watched due to it being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve been slowly working my way through the entire MST3K series and I know that I’m more than halfway through it, at this point, but man, there are so many episodes and this feels like a never ending endeavor.

The Phantom Planet is exactly what you would expect from a rocketship movie from 1961 that was made with no budget, very little creativity and a script that probably would’ve been better used to stabilize a wobbly table at Shoney’s.

However, this movie has Coleen Gray in it, which probably means nothing to anyone reading this but she once worked with Stanley Kubrick in The Killing and was in two very good film-noirs: Kansas City Confidential and Nightmare Alley, which is one of the top things Tyrone Power has ever starred in, mind you.

This was also directed by a guy named William Marshall but he isn’t that William Marshall. You know, the suave and sexy black dude that starred in the Blacula films. No, this is just some boring white guy that directed a turkey wearing bells and called it The Phantom Planet.

Now this isn’t the worst space faring sci-fi flick that MST3K has featured. By comparisons sake, it isn’t that bad, actually. It’s still not a good movie but it has the sort of hokiness that is charming.

But let’s run it all down.

The effects are awful, the acting is mostly bad, the direction was pedestrian, the sets were deplorable and the editing was so choppy that I got sea sick and barfed on my popcorn. Still, I don’t hate this.

But that won’t save this movie from going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Other MST3K fodder that featured rocketships: Women of the Prehistoric PlanetProject MoonbaseRocketship X-MFirst Spaceship on Venus, etc.

Film Review: Hamlet (1961)

Also known as: Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark (original German title)
Release Date: January 1st, 1961 (West Germany)
Directed by: Franz Peter Wirth
Written by: Franz Peter Wirth
Based on: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Music by: Rolf Unkel
Cast: Maximilian Schell, Hans Caninenberg, Wanda Rotha, Dunja Movar, Franz Schafheitlin, Karl Michael Vogler, Eckart Dux, Karl Lieffen, Alexander Engel, Paul Verhoeven

Bavaria Atelier, 152 Minutes

Review:

This adaptation of Hamlet actually was fairly well regarded before it was lampooned in the final season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But to be honest, and this isn’t due to me seeing this get riffed to death by Mike and the ‘Bots, this version of Hamlet really isn’t that great. In fact, it’s boring as hell and Hamlet is a story I have always liked.

Still, this is just dreadful overall. I wanted to be fair to it but even watching it with MST3K commentary was a tough task. At least the comedic bits around the commercial breaks were funny.

There are so many versions of Hamlet that wasting your time on this one isn’t recommended. In fact, I could name a dozen that I would put ahead of this version.

This movie is one of the drabbest that MST3K has ever featured. If I were making a list of the worst of the worst films featured on that show, this could possibly be ranked numero uno. I found it to be literally unwatchable yet I probably deserve a medal because I got all the way through it.

This obviously needs to be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read,”Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 1/10

Film Review: Mothra (1961)

Also known as: Mosura (Japan)
Release Date: June 30th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Based on: a story in Asahi Shimbun by Shinichiro Nakamura, Takehiko Fukunaga, Yoshie Hotta
Music by: Yuji Koseki
Cast: Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyoko Kagawa, The Peanuts, Ken Uehara, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 101 Minutes

Review:

Mothra is the most famous Toho kaiju after Godzilla. Even though he started out in this film, his very own movie, it was probably a nobrainer to bring him into the larger Godzilla mythos. But before all that, there was Mothra and frankly, it was great revisiting this monster in his debut solo flick.

In a change of pace, Mothra’s introduction is due to people messing with his island. He doesn’t come to Japan because he’s just some rampaging beast. A bunch of jerks stole the Shobijin, who are two miniature female twins from Infant Island. Mothra crashes Japan to find the Shobijin and to return them to their home.

The special effects are amazingly handled by Eiji Tsuburaya. The miniatures were great and the heat ray trucks were a prototype for the maser weapon trucks that would be used throughout Godzilla films forever after this movie.

Mothra, as a creature, was the most beautiful and ornate kaiju of his day. Tsuburaya pulled off the creature effects superbly and the art department did a fine job in decorating the monster.

It is more fun to see Mothra rough it up with other monsters but even though he is the only creature in this film, it still plays well. It is similar to Rodan in that it didn’t need to rely on other kaiju to be a success and to leave a mark on the genre.

To this day, Mothra is still incredibly popular. A version of the creature also had its own trilogy in the late 1990s, after popping up in that era’s Godzilla movies.

Mothra will probably just always be around. In fact, Mothra’s first American incarnation is coming in Legendary Pictures’ upcoming Godzilla 2.

As for Mothra, the movie, if you are a kaiju fan, this is a must-see.

Film Review: Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961)

Release Date: June 1961
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Fred Katz
Cast: Anthony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Edward Wain

Filmgroup, 75 Minutes 

Review:

Creature From the Haunted Sea is famous for having one of the most hokey monsters in cinema history. As a kid, I saw several late night horror shows that featured a clip of the monster in their credits sequence. He was also used in a lot of other stuff too, always to be made fun of.

The film itself has an abysmal 3.4 rating on IMDb. While it is a bad film, that’s a bit harsh and maybe goes to show that this is the sort of film that only appeals to old school horror lovers that can see beyond the flaws of the era and this film’s budgetary constraints, appreciating the whole picture for what it is, a lot of friggin’ fun.

Directed by Roger Corman, it is safe to assume that this was shot in an afternoon on a budget that could only afford snacks for the cast and a a pair of googly eyes for the creature that was essentially just a big dude wrapped in a sheet of dark wool. Corman was famous for being able to film an hour of footage in a fifteen minute shoot. While I am being facetious, if anyone could bend the laws of space and time like that, it would be Roger Corman.

This film has a great sense of humor and maybe that is lost on modern audiences. Although, it does go a bit overboard and becomes bizarre, at times. There is a character that is a complete moron and he mostly speaks in animal impersonations. He meets a Puerto Rican island woman who does the same thing and they fall in love. Her name is Porcina and it is really fitting.

The story is fairly interesting at its core. A criminal lot makes a deal with a Cuban general to steal a bunch of gold to fund a counterrevolution, as this takes place just after Fidel Castro gained power. The criminals plan to double cross the Cubans and fake an attack by a sea creature, sinking the gold to the bottom of the ocean, only to be procured at a later date, once the Cubans are picked off. Except, there really is a monster.

The final shot of the movie is one of my all-time favorites as it shows the creature, picking his teeth at the bottom of the sea, while sitting on the trunk of gold.

Creature From the Haunted Sea is a delight, if you have an appreciation for the work of Roger Corman. It teamed him up with long-time collaborator Charles B. Griffith, who wrote a ton of his earlier films.

Film Review: Yojimbo (1961)

Release Date: April 25th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Ryūzō Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Eijirō Tōno, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takashi Shimura

Kurosawa Production, Toho Co. Ltd., 110 Minutes

Review:

Akira Kurosawa is one of the five directors in my Holy Quintinity of Auteur Filmmakers. He is absolutely one of the greatest directors to ever live. While it has been awhile since I worked my way through his entire oeuvre, it is Yojimbo that I have always had the fondest memories of.

I am working through Kurosawa’s films in an effort to review them but we will see where this ranks once I release my list of Kurosawa films, ranked from greatest to still damn good – because he is incapable of creating bad pictures.

Yojimbo is also one of the most influential films ever made. That might even be an understatement. To start, Sergio Leone’s near masterpiece A Fistful of Dollars is a loose remake of Yojimbo. That film spawned a trilogy starring Clint Eastwood in his most iconic role. The other two films were For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which is arguably, the best film ever made. That trilogy, The Dollars Trilogy, went on to spawn a bunch of ripoffs in the spaghetti western genre throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Those films were eventually ripped off by Quentin Tarantino and a bunch of other modern directors. Ultimately, Yojimbo, a Japanese film that was released 56 years ago, still influences the film industry today on a global scale. Its effects will always be felt. Not a lot of movies can achieve something like this. It is important to know the history of these things and to give credit where credit is due. Yojimbo was a total game changer in 1961.

All that being said, it was great revisiting this film, as it has been some time since I’ve seen it. I lent my Kurosawa collection to a friend several years back. That asshole fell off the face of the Earth and ended up moving to Denmark. I’m sure my DVDs went with him. I will track you down, Svend!

If you have seen A Fistful of Dollars, the plot here is basically the same. A stranger strolls into town and discovers that it is overrun by human vermin. He takes it upon himself to rid the town of the human vermin and save its people from tyranny. To do this, our hero joins one gang and then switches to the other and vice versa. He displays his bad assery by besting the best thugs these gangs have to offer. He also uses his influence and skill to play both gangs against one another. The plot is very layered but well-written and executed. Eventually, his scheme is figured out and he is overwhelmed and beaten nearly to death. He recovers, hides out in a nearby shack and returns, killing all the bad men and returning the town to the nice people. Then our hero walks off into the sunset to probably find another town to save from evil.

Yojimbo is a manly man’s movie but it can be enjoyed by anyone that has a love for justice and for pieces of crap getting wiped off of the Earth’s crust. It is perfectly paced, immaculately shot and well acted. Toshiro Mifune has a certain amount of gravitas and this is probably the most gravitas he’s every freely waved around, as he cuts through vermin and becomes a one man army against not just one but two large gangs of violent evil scum. It is like Death Wish 3 set in feudal Japan but with a lot more talent behind and in front of the camera. I personally feel that Death Wish 3‘s last twenty or so minutes are the greatest action finale ever ingrained on celluloid. Apart from that, it doesn’t hold a candle to Yojimbo, just to be clear.

By the time this film was made, Akira Kurosawa was already a master. He had already made Seven SamuraiThe Hidden FortressRashomon and a slew of other classics. Yojimbo is excellence in execution. It was a perfect collage of all the techniques Kurosawa had mastered on those other masterpieces. To be honest, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about the film. Seriously, I tried to pick things apart while watching it and I mulled it over for hours. Yojimbo is a perfect film or at least, as perfect as a film can get.

There was a direct sequel made a year later, which is just a bit of a step down but it is still pretty amazing too. It’s called Sanjuro and I plan to rewatch that one again soon in an effort to review it.