Film Review: The Ambushers (1967)

Release Date: December 20th, 1967 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: The Ambushers by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Herbert Baker, Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Kurt Kasznar, Beverly Adams, John Brascia

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

[a new female recruit gets turned on by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” playing in the background] “You really like Perry Como that much?” – Matt Helm

The first two Matt Helm films were a lot of fun and really capture the magic and charisma of Dean Martin. I thought the first two were pretty consistent, overall. This one, however, falls off a bit and it looks as if the formula is running out of steam.

Still, Dean Martin makes this picture work and it’s hard to deny his charm and his ability to command the screen and make his audience smile along with him.

As far as the story goes, this one was weak. It features a government made UFO for some reason and a lot of wacky stuff that doesn’t work as well as the wacky stuff we saw in the installments before this chapter in the franchise.

Also, the intro to the film and the title are confusing, as we’re introduced to the idea of this all female assault team called “The Ambushers” but really, they don’t exist in the film in any sort of meaningful way to justify the title or the movie’s awesome opening credits sequence.

Sure, we get to see Dean Martin hamming it up and flirting with good looking ladies at the agency’s HQ in the first act but once he’s off to Mexico, that’s pretty much it for Dean Martin being a guy in a sea of hot women.

The film does have some strengths apart from Martin.

I thought that the Mexican brewery shootout and fisticuffs were well done and the environment was used superbly within the sequence.

Also, the big climax was well written, well structured, executed nicely and pretty energetic. It had a lot of good hilarious bits in it and it sort of makes up for the duller parts of the film.

Now there aren’t many dull moments but the film feels as if they blew most of the good jokes in the first two pictures and didn’t have a lot left to work into this one. But Martin did his best.

I thought the special effects came off well. There is a lot of cheese with it though, like the sparkler guns that levitate objects and the weirdly out of place UFO but some of the levitation gags worked. Well, except for the parts where you could clearly see wires lifting up people and objects. I was pretty impressed with how well the bar scene came out though. The sequence with the bottle pouring and the floating glasses moving across the room and into people’s hands looked perfect.

The Ambushers is certainly a step down. But it still entertains and keeps the party going.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: The Million Eyes of Sumuru (1967)

Also known as: The 1000 Eyes of Su-Muru (review title), Sax Rohmer’s The Million Eyes of Su-Muru (UK long title), Sumuru (UK alternate title)
Release Date: May 17th, 1967
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Kevin Kavanagh
Based on: a story by Peter Welbeck, the Sumuru novels by Sax Rohmer
Music by: John Scott
Cast: George Nader, Frankie Avalon, Shirley Eaton, Wilfred Hyde-White, Klaus Kinski

Sumuru Films, American International Pictures, Warner-Pathe, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I have a million eyes… for I am Sumuru!” – Sumuru

This seems like it had the makings of something that could have, at the very least, been an enjoyable spy romp. It was anything but.

The Million Eyes of Sumuru is a pretty dreadful and boring movie. It was featured in the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local television in Minneapolis. But even with the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots, this was really damn hard to sit through. There’s probably a reason why they didn’t resurrect this for the show once it went national on Comedy Central.

I mean, this is a film with Frankie Avalon and Klaus Kinski in it; two guys I never imagined would wind up in the same motion picture or even find themselves in the same room together.

This also stars George Nader, Wilfred Hyde-White and one of the most memorable Bond girls of all-time, Goldfinger‘s Shirley Eaton. You know, the girl that was actually turned to gold.

I’m just not sure what this film was going for, other than trying to tap into to ’60s movie spy craze that was created by the success of the James Bond franchise. This almost feels like poorly crafted parody that is devoid of any sort of intentional humor. There are things you can certainly laugh at but that was not the intent of the production.

But this isn’t so bad that it’s worth seeing because of its awfulness. It’s terribly slow, boring and tapped into my strongest primal instinct: hitting the fast forward button. But I stuck with it and fought this fight just for the sake of writing a review about this total mess of a movie.

I mean, I’m on a mission to review every single film ever featured on MST3K, so I couldn’t just skip over this. And still, it isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen on MST3K but it is way down in the murky bottom amongst some of the more abominable movies the show has made me aware of.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: really bad spy films from the ’60s that were poor attempts at cashing in on the James Bond craze.

Film Review: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Also known as: Frankenstein Made Woman (Portugal)
Release Date: March 15th, 1967 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder)
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, 86 Minutes (UK), 92 Minutes (US)

Review:

“Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not.” – Baron Frankenstein

I was working my way through the Hammer Films Frankenstein series but I had to jump ahead to this, the fourth installment, as it’s the only one I don’t own on DVD and I can only see it on FilmStruck, which is sadly closing up shop November 29th.

This one is a bit different than the three before it, as Baron Frankenstein actually seems pretty level headed and exhibits some empathy. While I prefer the mad scientist role for Cushing, he was never quite as mad as Colin Clive’s Frankenstein and he actually seemed fairly rational at times. I guess, he was less cartoony but at the same time, his evil nature felt more pure and less like a caricature.

I do enjoy seeing Cushing’s Frankenstein seeming to have learned from his past mistakes and shitty behavior. That doesn’t mean he’s stopped his work but he is more responsible and less reckless with it.

Also, his work has strangely evolved, as now he’s found a way to trap the souls of the recently deceased in an effort to put them in a new body and give them life again. It’s a really bizarre turn but I’ll accept it, as this is the fourth of these films and it allows for some creative freedom and not just a rehash of the standard Frankenstein plot.

The monster in this chapter is a young girl with a disfigured face. But before she becomes a monster, we see her and her father constantly bullied by three rich assholes from the village. The girl’s boyfriend is one of Frankenstein’s assistants but he is blamed for the murder of the girl’s father, which was actually committed by the rich assholes when they were trying to steal wine. The assistant is executed but Frankenstein is able to trap his soul and return it to his deceased body.

The girl is severely upset over the death of her boyfriend so she drowns herself. The body is eventually brought to Frankenstein, who is able to not only revive her but to cure her of her disfigurement and physical handicaps. But she loses her memory while Frankenstein and his assistant Hertz try to slowly bring her back towards a normal life.

As she starts to remember things, she is taken over by the vengeful spirit of her dead boyfriend. Possessed, she exacts revenge on the three assholes who killed her father, allowed her boyfriend to be executed and eventually drove her to suicide.

There are a lot of twists and turns and the plot is absolutely bonkers but it’s pretty exciting if you are a fan of Hammer.

Cushing gives a solid performance and I really liked Susan Denberg, as she had a lot of different angles and personalities she had to convey within the 92 minute run time.

This is not a great Hammer movie or anywhere near Terence Fisher’s best but it reinvented the wheel a little bit and for some, that might not work, but for me, I welcomed it, suspended disbelief and just accepted the insanity of the plot.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: The Producers (1967)

Also known as: Mel Brooks’ The Producers (complete title), Springtime for Hitler (alternate title)
Release Date: November 22nd, 1967 (Pittsburgh premiere)
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn, Lee Meredith, William Hickey, Mel Brooks (voice)

Embassy Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?” – Max Bialystock

I have seen just about every Mel Brooks film, as well as the remake of The Producers, the stage show and the season of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry was starring in the play. But I have never seen the original.

Being a fan of early Mel Brooks movies and Gene Wilder, I’m surprised it took me this long to get to the film but I spend a lot of time watching complete dreck because I review a lot of obscure movies, some of which I discover should remain obscure and mostly unknown.

Anyway, I was glad to see this pop up on FilmStruck because I’ve always wanted to watch it and because I needed something funny and entertaining to get me out of the funk I was in after a half dozen horrible pictures.

Quite frankly, this is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It is in the upper echelon of all comedy for me and right up at the top of the list of Mel Brooks’ best. This and Young Frankenstein take the cake for me but it’s hard to decide between the two.

What makes this film unique in comparison to Brooks’ most famous work, is that it isn’t parody. This is an original story and it showed that Brooks can make comedy gold outside of just making fun of genre tropes.

Plus, the superb talent of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel is on full display here, as both men play off of each other so well, they almost have a presence similar to other great duos like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and well… Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

The cast is also rounded out by other hilarious performances. Kenneth Mars is hysterical, as is Dick Shawn. In fact, Shawn really steals the show in the few scenes he has.

This is a rather short film, at just shy of 90 minutes, but it packs a lot of laughs and energy into that time.

The Producers is absolutely one of the greatest things that Mel Brooks has ever done. It has held up exceptionally well and deserves its status as a true comedy classic.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early Mel Brooks films: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

Film Review: Branded to Kill (1967)

Also known as: Koroshi no rakuin (Japanese)
Release Date: June 15th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Written by: Hachiro Guryu
Music by: Naozumi Yamamoto
Cast: Joe Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami

Nikkatsu, 98 Minutes

Review:

“This is how Number 1 works: first he exhausts you, and then he kills you.” – Number 1

While I have only seen a handful of Seijun Suzuki’s motion pictures, he has become one of my favorite directors of all-time. Between this and Tokyo Drifter alone, he has proven to me that he is a true auteur with an incredible eye, an enchanting style and impeccable craftsmanship.

I thought Tokyo Drifter was one of the coolest, if not the coolest, movies I have ever seen. Branded to Kill is nearly as cool and just as perfect as Tokyo Drifter.

Suzuki has a way of taking something pretty standard like a Yakuza picture and making it much more interesting than it needs to be. But that is also why his films are so unique and incredible and not just forgettable chapters in a massive genre of Japanese cinema.

The bizarreness of this film can’t be understated. The main character is an assassin for hire and is ranked Number 3. He is in a battle with the other ranked assassins throughout the film but is specifically being targeted by Number 1. He also has a fetish that sees him obsessively inhaling the aromas of freshly boiled rice.

The movie is mostly a series of assassin battles playing out, as these killers try to outwit and survive one another. The story also has strong film-noir elements in its visual style, use of a femme fatale and constant twists and turns. It is one of the most artistically sound Japanese neo-noirs of all-time, right alongside Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter.

It is easy to see where some other noteworthy auteur directors were influenced and inspired by Suzuki’s work here. The film almost has some David Lynch qualities too it, decades before Lynch really emerged and crafted his own interesting oeuvre. It would also influence John Woo, Chan-wook Park, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino.

Interestingly enough, this film made no money upon its release and Suzuki was fired for making films that “…make no sense and no money.” Suzuki successfully sued the studio and caused a major controversy within the Japanese film industry, which resulted in him being blacklisted. He didn’t make another film for ten years and became a sort of counterculture hero. Because of this, he became recognized as an artist with something more to say than just a standard director pumping out low budget gangster movies for a paycheck.

Nowadays, this film is heralded as an incredible body of work and even has its own Criterion Collection edition.

Over thirty years later, Suzuki filmed Pistol Opera for Nikkatsu, the studio he had the falling out with. That film was a loose sequel to this one.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, as well as some of his other films: Youth of the Beast, Pistol Opera and Gate of Flesh.

Film Review: The Wild Rebels (1967)

Also known as: The Angels of Satan (West Germany)
Release Date: September, 1967
Directed by: William Grefe
Written by: William Grefe
Music by: Al Jacobs
Cast: Steve Alaimo, Bobbie Byers, John Vella, Willie Pastrano, Jeff Gillen

Comet, Crown International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He’s square baby. Really square. ” – Banjo, “Look, you just keep trying to put that square peg in a round hole and everything’ll be FINE!” – Rod

If a movie is featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is pretty much guaranteed to be a total shitfest. There are only a few movies MST3K featured that were probably better than you’d expect but they either featured Godzilla or had something really unique about them. The Wild Rebels isn’t quite at the bottom of the MST3K barrel but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad.

It is a bad biker picture that came out in an era with a slew of bad biker pictures, many of which were also featured on MST3K. I do like this one, even if I have to be honest and give it a low rating. It is easier to watch than most of the others and maybe I feel a bit of favoritism because it was filmed in South Florida, where I’m from and still live.

But it goes beyond that. In fact, I actually like the big shootout finale in the lighthouse, which I’m pretty sure was filmed at the Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne. I used to go there as a kid and never realized that a movie was shot there, albeit a shitty movie. Still that’s pretty cool but locale aside, the scenes that took place there were much better than the scenes in the majority of the other bad biker pictures of the ’60s. Also, the gun store robbery, while hokey as all hell, was still an amusing sequence.

Look, this is not a technical marvel or a film that is well directed, well acted or really boasts any other positives other than a few fun bits. However, even though it is bad, it is still better than it deserves to be, at least in my opinion and I’ve seen a ton of these crappy B-movie biker exploitation films.

Yes, the rating for this movie is low but it was one of only a few films featured on MST3K that I will liberate from the strong clutches of the Cinespiria Shitometer.

Rating: 3.75/10