Film Review: Swamp Diamonds (1956)

Also known as: Swamp Women (original title), Femmes Gangsters (France, Belgium), Cruel Swamp (reissue title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1956 (Coshocton, Ohio)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: David Stern
Music by: Willis Holman
Cast: Beverly Garland, Carole Mathews, Mike Connors, Marie Windsor, Jil Jarmyn, Susan Cummings

Bernard Woolner Productions, 84 Minutes

Review:

“[digging for diamonds] Ouch! I busted the only nail I had left!” – Billie

Out of all the Roger Corman films that I’ve seen, this might be my least favorite.

I actually think that it would have benefited more from being in black and white instead of color. Mainly, because ’50s Corman films have a certain look to them, which this film is missing, and because the color in this looks terrible. Maybe it looked better in the ’50s before age did its number on the surviving prints but there isn’t a version of this that I’ve checked out that looks good.

Out of the Corman flicks featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I really disliked The Gunslinger but this one is worse. Strangely, they both star Beverly Garland but that shouldn’t be a knock against her, as I typically like her in movies and television shows. Frankly, this is just a bad script with pretty bad acting and extremely bad dialogue.

Despite the poor writing, most of the bad acting falls on the director: Roger Corman.

This came out very early in Corman’s career, however, and I don’t feel as if he really found his footing as the man behind the camera. He was the master of filming movies at a rapid pace and putting out as many films as humanly possible. Swamp Diamonds is a clear example of the fact that he hadn’t quite mastered his tried and true formula yet.

While the acting in Corman movies was never great, excluding his movies with Vincent Price, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, it would get better and work well within the style of his pictures.

I think that the idea for the plot was okay and this has some exploitation vibes to it, which I dig, but the execution was poor and everything seems off.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman movies of the era, as well as other schlock-y D-movie crime films of the ’50s.

Film Review: Gunslinger (1956)

Release Date: June 15th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Mark Hanna
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Beverly Garland, John Ireland, Allison Hayes, Dick Miller

Roger Corman Productions, American Releasing Corporation, 78 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll make you a deal. I won’t try to make you a bad woman, if you stop trying to make me a good man.” – Cane Miro, “You’re not bad, you’re just no good.” – Marshal Rose Hood

This came out before Roger Corman really found his footing as a filmmaker. While I love how Corman could make so much with so little, his pictures typically survived on the charm he was able to put into them. Gunslinger, however, is just so drab and pedestrian that I have to put it as one of Corman’s worst.

That sucks because the film does have an interesting premise, especially for a mid-’50s movie. It sees the town sheriff get murdered by criminals and then his widow picks up his badge to take out the scum that killed her man. The story is the type of female empowerment stuff that I love. But unfortunately, it completely lacks any sort of badassness and feels more like a half-assed pilot to a ’50s western show that had no chance of getting picked up.

The film stars Beverly Garland, along with John Ireland and a small role for Corman favorite Dick Miller but it lacks any sort of energy or emotion.

Even though Roger Corman may have the record for most films riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000, I don’t feel like this one really fits the mold that well. It’s just dry and weak and even though MST3K features schlock, this film feels out of place among the other Corman flicks they lampooned.

In a time where I hadn’t seen this, if someone came up to me and asked, “Hey, have you ever seen that Corman picture where the dead sheriff’s wife picks up his badge to get revenge?” I’d have been like, “No! Fuck! We gotta go watch it!” But I would’ve been let down, severely.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: other western schlock from the time, as well as other ’50s Roger Corman pictures.

Film Review: The Alligator People (1959)

Release Date: July 16th, 1959
Directed by: Roy Del Ruth
Written by: Orville H. Hampton, Charles O’Neal, Robert M. Fresco (uncredited)
Music by: Irving Getz
Cast: Beverly Garland, Bruce Bennett, Lon Chaney Jr.

Associated Producers, 20th Century Fox, 74 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll kill you Alligator Man! Just like I’d kill any four-legged gator!” – Manon

This was a film that I first discovered around six years-old, watching it on the floor in my grandmum’s living room. I loved the big finale and the design of the Alligator Man at the end. It inspired me to draw a picture book about the Alligator Man, which was really my first attempt at a comic book, before I really even got into the comic medium. Years later, I wrote a three-part script outline for a Skunk Ape movie trilogy featuring very similar Gator Men. Needless to say, this movie had a strong grip on my imagination at a very early age. But I actually hadn’t seen this picture in over a decade, so I wanted to revisit it.

I still love it. It’s certainly a film with a plethora of flaws and really bad science when it comes to swamp life but it’s entertaining nonetheless and it’s a real treat for fans of cheesy ’50s sci-fi about genetic science run amok.

Lon Chaney Jr. is in this as a total bastard but he was so good at those roles. Here, he’s a total bastard that yells at alligators because he’s pissed off that one ate his hand years earlier. At one point he tries to run an alligator over and at another point he’s drunk, shooting aimlessly at them but doesn’t even come close to actually hitting any.

What’s really surprising is that this film does use a lot of real alligators. Granted, most of them are pretty small and of a manageable size but I was surprised to see the lead actress, Beverly Garland, running through fake swamps with actual alligators and snakes around her. Maybe they were safely behind glass but the shots came off really well and it created legitimate tension. But at one point, Chaney actually runs out to save her and wrangles an actual snake. It looked to be a non-venomous indigo snake but it was effective and looked so much better than an actor wrangling a fake rubber snake.

The movie does drag in certain points but the story is well-crafted and you care about the good characters. You’ll want to see Chaney get his comeuppance though, especially after he attempts to rape Beverly Garland.

This is a solid movie for it’s genre. It seems to be somewhat forgotten, even in old school horror circles, but it’s definitely a worthwhile picture and much better than the standard for the time.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Man-Made Monster, the Creature From the Black Lagoon trilogy and The She-Creature.

Film Review: D.O.A. (1950)

Release Date: April 21st, 1950
Directed by: Rudolph Maté
Written by: Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland (as Beverly Campbell), Neville Brand, Lynn Baggett, William Ching, Henry Hart, Laurette Luez

Harry Popkin Productions, Cardinal Pictures, United Artists, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Do you realize what you’re saying? Well, you’re telling me that I’m dead.” – Frank Bigelow

This film-noir came out at the tail end of the genre’s immense popularity. In fact, it came out just before Sunset Boulevard, which is the movie that many film historians and noir purists consider to be the final curtain call on the genre’s run. Obviously, there were many noir pictures after 1950 but it would never again reach the heights it did in the 1940s.

Despite the hundreds of noir films before it, D.O.A. still feels like a really fresh take on the style.

I can’t recall any other film (before this, anyway) dealing with a man in a race against time to expose his killer before the poison in his body finally puts the nail in his coffin. This story has been recreated many times since 1950 but it was unique for the time and really, it made this picture a fast paced nail biter.

The movie is quite short but that’s okay. It moves at a good speed, is exciting from beginning to end and doesn’t waste time on filler or window dressing. This is a true action film before action films really existed.

Edmund O’Brien carried this entire picture on his back and he did a damn fine job. He was believable as the already murdered man, trying to solve the mystery surrounding his fatal condition.

Some of the acting was a bit over the top but to be honest, it fit the tone of this high octane action noir. Add in the fact that this film also had a genuine grittiness to it, due to being shot on real city streets. Location shooting still wasn’t a regular practice for this sort of picture. The action shots capturing the motion of O’Brien running or the vehicles chasing him was downright impressive.

D.O.A. is a solid motion picture that presents an authentic film-noir visual style while mixing in a true sense of realism by taking this out of closed studio sets and putting it on the streets. It moves at breakneck speed and never lets up.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: It Conquered the World (1956)

Release Date: July 15th, 1956
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Lou Rusoff, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, Sally Fraser, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze

American International Pictures, 71 Minutes 

it_conquered_the_worldReview:

In the early days of American International Pictures, they did some imaginative low-budget sci-fi and horror films. Roger Corman will always be known for being the king of the cheapo horror feature but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. He turned films out at a record pace and was more concerned with tight shooting schedules and doing things as cheaply as possible. His formula worked for a really long time and you have to kind of admire some of the films he was able to put together using this formula.

Most of Corman’s pictures turned a profit and he created a way of doing business that still exists in Hollywood today. Granted, now it just gives us unnecessary Saw and Paranormal Activity sequels, as well as “found footage” horror pictures but Corman was certainly onto something in his heyday.

It Conquered the World is one of these Corman classics. And no, it isn’t a particularly good film but it is still pretty enjoyable and it features a hokey yet really cool monster, a Corman staple.

The film stars Peter Graves, a beloved icon to Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s Crow T. Robot, and one of my personal favorites, Lee Van Cleef. We also get to enjoy the talents of one of Corman’s favorite actors, Dick Miller. Granted, Miller’s role here is really limited.

Van Cleef plays a scientist, Dr. Anderson. He has made radio contact with a creature from Venus. The alien monster claims it only wants peace but it actually wants to enslave humanity through mind control. The alien claims he can bring peace by eliminating human emotions, which is a ploy to administer the brainwashing technique. The alien disrupts all electric power on Earth, crippling the planet’s technology. The alien also releases bat-like creatures carrying mind control devices. Graves’ character, Dr. Nelson, finds his wife to be already assimilated and she attempts to use one of the bat-like creatures on him. The film then takes some dark turns until ultimately, there is a final showdown with the bizarre creature.

The acting isn’t great, the direction isn’t either but Roger Corman didn’t concern himself with these things. He had a monster movie to pump out and couldn’t waste time. It should go without saying that the special effects aren’t fantastic either.

It Conquered the World is one of those sort of films where you either love it or you hate it. It only works for a certain kind of audience: one that is familiar with Corman’s style and can look beyond the problems with the film and just enjoy it as a mindless creature feature that, at its high points, is a lot of fun.