Film Review: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Release Date: December 10th, 1962 (London – Royal premiere)
Directed by: David Lean
Written by: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Based on: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole

Horizon Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 222 Minutes (premiere), 202 Minutes (theatrical cut), 187 Minutes (1970 re-release), 228 Minutes (1988 restoration) 

Review:

“I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.” – T.E. Lawrence

My grandmother used to watch this movie a lot when I was a kid. It was always on her television and I’d catch big chunks of it from time-to-time. While I was always enthralled by it, especially its epic scope and cinematography, I never actually watched it in its entirety from start-to-finish until I was in my late teens.

From that point on, this became one of my all-time favorite films. Granted, it’s not something I can revisit too often, as it’s incredibly long and it doesn’t need to be revisited frequently, as its effect is almost otherworldly and sticks with you pretty deeply.

That being said, I’m not sure what it is about this that makes it pretty damn close to perfect and a bonafide masterpiece. But if you look at every element of this picture, there really isn’t anything one can pick apart. I guess some modern filmgoers might think that the pacing is too slow but I feel like the whole story is sort of a slow burn towards the end and once you get there, the payoff far exceeds the time invested in the picture.

Earlier, I mentioned its cinematography. For me, this is probably the first film that I saw that made me start paying attention to these sort of details and craftsmanship in motion pictures. I wanted to be a filmmaker, as a kid, and while I was more inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas back then, it was films like this, Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus that really opened my eyes to the actual art of filmmaking and what was possible using just the beautiful real world outside your door.

This movie also introduced me to Peter O’Toole, who I would go on to love in every role that I saw him in after this, except maybe King Ralph. I thought that one was well beneath his talent level (and also beneath John Goodman’s).

Lawrence of Arabia is an exceptional masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that everyone should have seen at least once. Honestly, even if you don’t think that it’s your cup of tea, you should give it a shot.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other all-time classic films. Specifically those that are true epics.

Film Review: These Are The Damned (1962)

Also known as: On the Brink (working title), The Damned (alternative title)
Release Date: November 16th, 1962 (Australia)
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Ben Barzman, Even Jones
Based on: The Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, Alexander Knox, Viveca Lindfors

Hammer Films, 87 Minutes, 96 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I like to listen to people who know what they’re talking about. My trouble is I never believe anything they say.” – Simon Wells

This is a Hammer movie that I have never seen. Also, I didn’t know anything about it and went into it blindly. That was the best way, as it went in wild directions, surprised me and kept me pretty glued to it until the final frame.

That being said, this was great and if you want to check it out, don’t let my review spoil it for you. Just go watch it because it shouldn’t disappoint and it’s better to know nothing about it. Even the trailer is too much of a spoiler.

If you’re still here, some spoilage will happen as I continue to write.

Anyway, this started out as youth biker movie and I kind of thought it might just be Hammer’s attempt at capitalizing off of that growing trend. However, it evolves into a chilling science fiction horror flick of a pretty high caliber. It also takes awhile to get to the sci-fi twist, which made it even more effective once you get pulled out of the real world and into something much more fantastical.

This was a chilling and pretty emotional picture, much more so than your standard Hammer fare. You really felt for the kids in the movie and their terrible situation. But this also drew you in like the early episodes of Twin Peaks, where you knew there was some great, strange mystery and you had to see how it could possibly be explained.

There is a secret military base, a wild conspiracy and it’s the human adults that are the real monsters.

Frankly, this is a departure from what Hammer is most known for and it’s damn refreshing to see, even all these years later, as the studio tried to move outside of its stylistic box and ended up succeeding, creatively speaking.

Additionally, this is really well acted and it’s no secret that I love Oliver Reed but this has to go down as one of his best performances and I’m really glad that I sort of just stumbled upon this.

These Are the Damned isn’t widely known, even by Hammer aficionados like myself. It should be, though. It’s one of Hammer’s best pictures and one of the best horror/sci-fi pictures of its time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known Hammer films and other genre bending films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Tower of London (1962)

Release Date: October 24th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, Robert E. Kent
Music by: Michael Anderson
Cast: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Robert Brown, Charles Macaulay, Joan Freeman, Morris Ankrum

Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

“[as a ghost, showing the whip lashes on her bare back to Richard of Gloucester] Wouldn’t you rather look at my back? Is it not attractive as a woman’s back should be?” – Mistress Shore

Growing up a big fan of Vincent Price, Tower of London wasn’t really a favorite film of mine. Although, I have to say that I kind of enjoy it now.

Sure, it wasn’t as colorful and energetic as his other pictures with director, Roger Corman. However, it is well acted and showcases Vincent Price as a real bastard with a certain charisma. He takes this completely evil character and gives him life in a way that is unique, entertaining and chilling.

No, you never like Price’s Richard III but that doesn’t matter, as you’re not supposed to. He’s just a hell of a villain played by a hell of an actor and once he gets his just desserts, it’s damn satisfying.

Like all Corman pictures, this was made quickly and on the cheap. But also like many Corman pictures, the end results are much better than one should expect and that’s just a testament to the man’s skill and his brand of cinematic magic.

This is an often times unnerving story but it features ghosts, magic, murder, torture and a legitimate power hungry madman. What’s not to like?

I’m glad that I watched this for the first time in about twenty years, as my opinion on it has changed somewhat. 

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films of the ’50s and ’60s, especially those with director Roger Corman.

Film Review: The Pirates of Blood River (1962)

Release Date: May 9th, 1962 (Denmark)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Gary Hughes
Cast: Christopher Lee, Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corebett, Oliver Reed, Peter Arne, Marla Landi, Desmond Llewelyn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[to the elders] I am not guilty. The cause of Maggie’s death… was fear. Fear of her brutal husband. Yes, fear is your weapon, and it’s a dangerous weapon because one day it will recoil on your heads.” – Jonathan Standing

Well, since I recently watched The Devil-Ship Pirates, one of the few Hammer Films swashbucklers, I figured that I’d also check out this film, which came out just before it and also stars Christopher Lee.

I actually liked this a wee bit more than The Devil-Ship Pirates, as it seemed to have more going on. I really enjoyed the plot of the other film but this one seemed to have more layers and more at stake. Regardless, they’re both enjoyable for those who like classic swashbuckling tales.

In this one, we see Lee play an actual pirate, where he played a Spanish naval commander in Devil-Ship. It was cool seeing him with the traditional garb and eye patch. He also got to use his sword, which is always a bonus. I don’t think people know that Lee actually has the most sword fights in motion picture history. I think that’s a cool fact that gets lost because he’s primarily known for being in horror movies and not action pictures.

I really enjoyed Kerwin Mathews in this, as well as Hammer regulars Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. We even get to see Desmond Llewelyn, which is always a treat when he appears outside of his most famous role as Q in the old school James Bond movies.

All in all, this is a pretty decent swashbuckler from a studio that probably should’ve made more than they did. But I get it, horror was Hammer’s real bread and butter. 

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other swashbuckling/pirate movies by Hammer like Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures and The Devil-Ship Pirates.

Film Review: In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Release Date: November 14th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Lowell S. Hawley
Based on: In Search of the Castaways by Jules Verna
Music by: William Alwyn, Muir Mathieson, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman
Cast: Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Keith Hamshere, Jack Gwillim, Wilfrid Brambell, Michael Anderson Jr., Antonio Cifariello

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know which is worse, by George: having you so happy you sing all the time, or so glum you won’t even talk. “The ombu tree is gorgeous. Enjoy it!” Huh!” – Lord Glenarvan

While these kids today won’t have the attention span for this movie, it’s still one of the greatest family adventure films of all-time!

Sure, you may disagree, but you’re wrong.

This was made by Disney at the height of their live-action adventure epics. It also starred one of their most bankable stars, at the height of her young career: Hayley Mills.

In Search of the Castaways was also an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel and while it might not be as well known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In 80 Days or Journey to the Center of the Earth, it is still a grand adventure of the highest and most exciting caliber.

Disney did a fine job in creating this motion picture and despite a few spots with wonky effects, it is one of the best effects blockbusters of its era. Sure, some of it looks dated but there’s also a certain appeal to it. And frankly, none of it breaks the movie or ruins the magic. In fact, it adds an extra level of charm and for fans of classic filmmaking, it’s just cool to experience on the screen.

This is one of those larger-than-life classic films that I wish I could’ve seen on the big screen but it predates me by a few decades. Unfortunately, I’ve never caught it playing anywhere but that’s probably because it’s a fairly forgotten movie. Hell, it isn’t even streaming on Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+.

Honestly, it’s a film that deserves more love. From start-to-finish it is energetic and fun. You’ll like most of the characters, even if the French guy can sometimes grate on the nerves with his singing and goofiness. But for something that is only 98 minutes, the picture covers a lot of ground, goes to a lot of exotic locations and constantly pushes these characters into new situations to overcome.

The core of the story is about two kids looking for their father who is missing somewhere in the world. They’re not immediately sure where but they set off on a long journey, trying to find answers to their father’s whereabouts.

I’m actually kind of surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to reboot this movie yet. I mean, they probably will at some point because original ideas in Hollywood are like trying to catch a leprechaun. However, it’d be damn hard for a modern version of this story to have the same sort of cinematic magic.

All in all, this is just an amusing and lovable picture. It’s a sort of perfect storm of several important factors just coming together and gelling the right way: a Jules Verne story, Disney’s blockbuster filmmaking style and Hayley Mills in her prime. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the ’50s & ’60s, as well as other Disney Hayley Mills movies and other Disney adventure films of the time.

Film Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Release Date: June 25th, 1962 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Music by: Edwin Astley
Cast: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I am going to teach you to sing, Christine. I am going to give you a new voice! A voice so wonderful that theatres all over the world will be filled with your admirers. You will be the greatest star the opera has ever known. Greater than the greatest! And when you sing, Christine, you will be singing only… for me.” – The Phantom

My memories of this film were much fonder than they probably should have been. Granted, I love Hammer horror, especially the films directed by Terence Fisher. Plus, this had Michael Gough in it and that guy’s typically fantastic.

I still like this film and I thought that the look of it was great and akin to what one would expect from a Hammer horror movie of this era. I also love the look of The Phantom and thought that his mask is one of the best the character has ever had in this story’s long history and countless adaptations.

My biggest issue with this film, though, is that it is really slow and kind of boring, as some segments just drag along at a snail’s pace.

Also, the alterations to the plot didn’t really seem to benefit the story and I have to question why this deviated so much. I mean, that’s something that Hammer did often, as they wanted to tell their own story while using these famous literary characters but The Phantom of the Opera is already a pretty one-note story with a pretty one-note monster. This is probably why there weren’t a slew of Phantom sequels in the classic horror runs of Universal Studios and Hammer Films, which saw several Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies.

Still, this is a good, competent film. It’s just not Hammer or Fisher’s best and it sort of feels like it was half-assed at the production stage. Maybe Hammer kept striking oil with all of Fisher’s other films based on classic monsters and all parties involved just phoned this one in.

I used to think of this as one of my favorite film adaptations of the story but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lon Chaney or Claude Rains versions.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer films of the late ’50s through early ’70s, especially those directed by Terence Fisher.

Film Review: Night Creatures (1962)

Also known as: Captain Clegg (UK)
Release Date: June 13th, 1962
Directed by: Peter Graham Scott
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, Milton Reid

Major Pictures, Hammer Films, Universal-International, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Well if you’ve all done staring.” – Imogen, “If it’s all the same to you miss I’d like a few minutes more.” – Jack Pott

A movie featuring pirates should always feature a good amount of swashbuckling. This one doesn’t but it actually doesn’t hurt it, as it is a Hammer horror picture and there’s more emphasis on the creepy and weird than any sort of pirate action. For this film, non-swashbuckling pirates just work. But adding in some swashbuckling would’ve made it even cooler.

Also, this features three heavy hitters for Hammer with Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. All three of these guys did multiple Hammer movies and their performances were always up to snuff and typically exceeded it.

That being said, I love this movie and I especially loved the concept of it, as well as how the monsters looked, what they actually were and how it all played out visually onscreen.

While Hammer was most known for their re-telling and re-imagining of classic monster stories, they’d always fill in the blanks with cool motion pictures like this that have an original, haunting story and also fit perfectly fine within the larger Hammer horror oeuvre.

The plot here is about a small town that sits near a marsh where the ghosts of men on ghostly horses haunt the area. There is also a creepy scarecrow that seems to appear in different places, watching those who pass through the marshes.

The town’s leader is a minister played by Peter Cushing but we soon learn that he is a famous pirate that has faked his own death and hid within this small community. The other men in the town were also his crew and they have to protect themselves when a hard-nosed naval commander comes to the village in search of the pirate Captain and the truth about what happened to him.

Night Creatures isn’t a complicated film and even the twists aren’t that surprising but honestly, they don’t need to be, as this is just a cool picture with a neat premise and great monsters.

The movie has a very eerie vibe and yet, it’s still a lot of fun and pretty lighthearted. While this might not be very high up on classic horror fans’ lists, it’s always been one of my favorite Hammer movies ever made.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the era, especially those starring Peter Cushing.

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: Samson Vs. The Vampire Women (1962)

Also known as: Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (original Mexican title)
Release Date: October 11th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona Blake
Written by: Alfonso Corona Blake, Rafael Garcia Travesi, Antonio Orellana, Fernando Oses
Music by: Raul Lavista, Galdino R. Samperio
Cast: El Santo, Lorena Velazquez, Jaime Fernandez, Augusto Benedico, Maria Duval, Javier Loya, Ofelia Montesco

Filmadora Panamericana, Fonexsa, Tele-cine-radio S.A., 89 Minutes

Review:

“The fight must go on.” – El Enmascarado de Plata

I think this is one of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I missed. I was probably out macking on chicks at a high school football game or something. But I didn’t remember them ever riffing one of the El Santo movies. Also, I thought I saw TV’s Frank’s last episode but this played out in a way I didn’t recollect, so I guess I never saw it.

Anyway, this is one of the many El Santo movies from Mexico. He was the top lucha libre star of all-time and a bonafide movie star in his country.

However, all of the old school lucha libre movies are strange, low budget affairs that usually saw luchadors fight supernatural or alien threats. Here, El Santo fights a horde of vampire women. In other words, the premise is awesome, if this is your sort of thing.

What I like about these lucha movies is that they feel like Mexico’s version of Japan’s tokusatsu genre. El Santo is Mexico’s Ultraman and I guess that makes Blue Demon Mexico’s version of Kamen Rider, albeit without the sweet motorcycle.

As far as El Santo pictures go, this one is pretty good. It almost taps into a Hammer Horror vibe with its vampire women and it reminded me of The Brides of Dracula. Granted, Peter Cushing wasn’t here to kick ass as Van Helsing but Santo did a fine job and even got to mix it up in the ring, which is always a plus even if it is customary in a lucha flick.

I thought that this film was pretty entertaining for its genre and I can’t shit on it like most people without an appreciation for lucha movies would. In fact, it is one of the more enjoyable films featured on MST3K and TV’s Frank should be happy that he went out on this one.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other El Santo movies, as well as the films starring Blue Demon.

Film Review: Neutron the Atomic Superman vs. the Death Robots (1962)

Also known as: Los autómatas de la muerte (Spanish title), Robots of Death (informal title)
Release Date: August 10th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Federico Curiel
Written by: Federico Curiel, Alfredo Ruanova
Music by: Enrico C. Cabiati
Cast: Wolf Ruvinskis, Rosita Arenas, Julio Aleman, Armando Silvestre, Roberto Ramirez Garza, Rodolfo Landa

Estudios América, Producciones Corsa S.A., 80 Minutes

Review:

Holy fuck, this was unwatchable. I only made it through, actually, because I watched the version that was lampooned by the RiffTrax guys.

This is essentially a lucha libre movie without an actual luchador in it. Maybe the hero was a luchador but he’s not one that I ever heard of and if he is, the way he played this role breaks the sacred rules of lucha libre anonymity.

I can’t imagine trying to watch this without the riffing expertise of Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett but I guess Mexicans and American drive-in patrons suffered through it in the early 1960s.

This is a nonsensical mess that doesn’t care in the slightest about fluidity, consistency, coherence or any of those pesky things one needs to make a film that has some sort of actual plot. I guess there’s a plot but it’s all just a weak thread weaving through the random bits and pieces only to create a reason for a luchador superhero to fight “death robots”.

This is a headache. It’s barely a film. As I said, it is unwatchable and I know that I’ll never have the urge to revisit it and I often times revisit bad movies for the sake of re-experiencing their awfulness. But what makes this worse than the worst of films is that it is dreadfully boring. It’s not the sort of bad that you can admire in its own way. This is just a dry, dusty fart of a motion picture.

I’d just say that one should avoid this at all costs. Unless, you are a RiffTrax fan and don’t mind suffering through it with those guys.

Rating: 0.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Mexican lucha libre style movies of the 1960s.