Film Review: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Also known as: Into Thin Air (working title), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (complete title)
Release Date: April 29th, 1956 (Cannes)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes, Charles Bennett, D. B. Wyndham-Lewis
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles, Christopher Olsen, Daniel Gelin, Reggie Nalder, Carolyn Jones

Filwite Productions, Paramount Pictures, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, you will only have time for just one shot. If you need another, the risk is yours.” – Edward Drayton

I think that the 1950s were my favorite decade for Hitchcock movies and this is another really enjoyable one that just adds to that hefty pile of cinematic greatness.

This one also stars two of my mum’s favorite leading stars: James Stewart and Doris Day. That being said, this is also the first really dramatic role I’ve seen for Doris Day, as I mostly saw her comedies and musical movies as a kid.

This is also the second film that Alfred Hitchcock made with the name The Man Who Knew Too Much. This isn’t a remake of the black and white ’30s version of the picture, as both are very different. I’m not sure why we reused the name and it probably creates some confusion for those who haven’t seen them. I plan to watch that ’30s one in the near future though, so I can compare the two and because it features Peter Lorre, a favorite actor of mine.

Anyway, this is a story about a husband and wife traveling to Morocco with their son. They initially get confused for another married couple, who are there as spies. In this confusion, a good guy is murdered and the husband is taken into the police station for questioning. The couple leaves their son with another couple they met on the trip but soon realize that this was a grave mistake and that their friends were actually the spies. The son is held hostage, as the couple does everything they can to try and get him back.

This is a great thriller in the way that any fan of Hitchcock’s work should expect. While it’s not my favorite of this era or with James Stewart, it’s still a damn fine picture that keeps you on the edge of your seat once the real plot kicks in about a half hour into the proceedings.

It’s superbly acted but that should go without saying. Doris Day was really impressive in this and I’m glad that I got to see her outside of the type of roles she’s most known for. I also really liked Stewart kind of being a real fish out of water but rising to the occasion and being a real hero to his son.

1956’s version of The Man Who Knew Too Much was a solid ride that wasn’t predictable and ended up giving the viewer a very satisfying and emotional finale.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Alfred Hitchcock thrillers.

Film Review: House of Wax (1953)

Also known as: The Wax Works (working title)
Release Date: April 9th, 1953 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Andre DeToth
Written by: Crane Wilbur
Based on: The Wax Works by Charles S. Belden
Music by: David Buttolph
Cast: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni, Charles Bronson (as Charles Buchinsky)

Bryan Foy Productions, Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’m afraid that the visit of a such distinguished critic may cause my children to become conceited. To you they are wax, but to me, their creator, they live and breathe.” – Prof. Henry Jarrod

House of Wax is hand down, one of my favorite Vincent Price films ever made. In fact, as much as I love the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he’s in, this was the movie that really sold me on the guy and opened up the Pandora’s box that sent me down the rabbit hole of classic horror.

While I had already loved the Universal Monsters films and older black and white stuff, House of Wax really introduced me to the generation of films that followed, many of which starred Vincent Price, Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee… and sometimes a combination of two of them or on rare occasions, all three.

At a very young age, this also introduced me to the original version of the 3D gimmick. While I didn’t see this in 3D, it gave me an understanding of it and how these films were shot. Plus, it’s cool seeing it on a normal screen, as in 1953, movies weren’t made to be digested at home on a television set.

This was directed by Andre DeToth, who had previously made some memorable classic film-noir pictures. He had an eye for cinematic composition and he would utilize that to great effect, here, while also applying it to the 3D effects shots.

What sets this apart from DeToth’s beautiful noir movies is the use of color, which is vibrant and vivid, even more so than the colorized pictures of the day. Even when the film takes place in darkness, the world is still alive with dynamic hues.

Additionally, DeToth’s mastery of a high chiaroscuro style comes into play in the great sequence that sees the film’s female lead running through the urban streets and alleyways with the grotesque killer in hot pursuit. While this wasn’t done in black and white, it used dark hues and a lot of contrast with bits of color accenting the composition, helping to boost texture.

Vincent Price is dynamite in this and it is one of his best roles. He was on his A-game and his performance in this film is what led to him having a career as America’s top horror star for decades.

I also loved seeing a young Charles Bronson in this, who would work with DeToth again in a noir movie titled Crime Wave.

As an Addams Family fan, I also like that Carolyn Jones is in this, a decade before her most famous role as Morticia Addams.

One thing that really stood out to me when seeing this, as a kid, was how messed up and dark the story was. It’s about a wax artist who lost everything and was only able to reestablish himself by killing people and using them as the base for his wax figure creations. In fact, the plot of this film inspired two different horror short stories I wrote around middle school age. I’d assume that it also inspired Roger Corman’s classic beatnik horror comedy Bucket of Blood.

Overall, this is not just one of my favorite Vincent Price films, it is one of my favorite films of all-time. It led me down a path that I have enjoyed immensely for thirtyish years and I still tend to feel the need to watch this every October.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Also known as: Walter Wanger’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (complete title), The Came From Another World, The Body Snatchers (working titles), Sleep No More (Germany)
Release Date: February 5th, 1956
Directed by: Don Siegel
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring
Based on: The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Sam Peckinpah

Walter Wanger Productions, Allied Artists Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“They’re here already! You’re next! You’re next, You’re next…!” – Dr. Miles J. Bennell

The Body Snatchers story has been adapted at least a half dozen times over the years. Most of them have been pretty meh but this one, the original version, is pretty great for what it is and it is one of the best science fiction films of its era.

Honestly, when compared to what was the 1950s sci-fi norm, this film is pretty exceptional and it sort of legitimizes sci-fi film in a time where they were mostly ignored by critics and looked down upon as cheap, pulpy schlock made for kids that were rotting their brains reading comic books.

This isn’t my favorite version of the story but it only falls behind the ’70s remake with Donald Sutherland, which was pretty close to masterpiece levels.

My first experience with this film came when scenes from it were featured in Joe Dante’s Gremlins from 1984. Those scenes sort of enthralled my young mind and I remember asking my dad where they were from and he told me and then showed me this film when it popped up on television one night. It is probably one of the things that really got me into classic horror and sci-fi.

The film, unlike others like it, is actually well acted, well shot and it comes across as a competent, bigger budget movie. It feels as if it was put out by a major studio but it wasn’t. It was made by Walter Wanger Productions and then got distribution by the larger Allied Artists.

The story is creepy as hell and it’s still effective, even if this film couldn’t get as dark and harsh as some of the remakes.

Ultimately, this is a superb looking motion picture that eclipsed its similar competition and helped to move science fiction cinema forward.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien paranoia and atomic era science fiction.

Film Review: Shield for Murder (1954)

Release Date: August 27th, 1954 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Edmond O’Brien, Howard W. Koch
Written by: Richard Alan Simmons, John C. Higgins
Based on: Shield for Murder by William P. McGivern
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Marla English, John Agar, Emile Meyer, Carolyn Jones, Claude Akins

Camden Productions Inc., Aubrey Schenck Productions, United Artists, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[to police reporter] Write his story good.” – Capt. Gunnarson

Man, what a dark and gritty movie, even for 1950s film-noir standards. I’m a fan of Edmond O’Brien and other crime movies he’s starred in have had a sort of harshness to them but this might take the cake.

This one follows O’Brien as he plays veteran cop Barney Nolan. It’s the story of a good cop turned bad but the film starts with him murdering a bookmaker and stealing $25,000 from him only to tell the other cops that he was forced to shoot the man because he escaped custody. While his colleagues believe him, a reporter thinks the story sounds fishy.

Everything escalates from the pretty brutal opening and you know it’s just a matter of time before things catch up to Nolan but as the story progresses, he becomes more and more unhinged.

This is pretty action picked and as high octane as a 1950s film could be. What I really liked about it was some of the settings, as this wasn’t just some cookie cutter noir that just saw cops and criminals fighting in the streets. There is an incredible shootout scene in a public pool full of lots of bystanders, as well as other location shoots that just have unique looks to them.

Additionally, one scene that really makes this film quite memorable involves Carolyn Jones, before Addams Family fame and while she was platinum blonde. In that sequence, Nolan meets her at a bar, she’s flirtatious but he soon finds out that she’s been abused. The scene ends with Nolan violently and excessively pistol whipping two men in front of a terrified Jones. It’s pretty raw stuff for 1954 but it adds an exclamation point onto the self-destruction of the Nolan character and the escalation of the plot.

In the end, Nolan has to pay for his crimes and he does. The final scene is well shot and it felt like a great final moment reminiscent of Cagney’s end in White Heat, except instead of fire we get gunfire.

All in all, this was solid, intense, well paced and superbly acted by its main players.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Undertow, Manhandled, Down Three Dark Streets and Behind Green Lights.

Film Review: Eaten Alive (1976)

Also known as: Brutes and Savages, Slaughter Hotel, Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Horror Hotel Massacre, Legend of the Bayou, Murder on the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter, The Devil’s Swamp (alternative titles)
Release Date: October, 1976 (limited)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Alvin L. Fast, Mardi Rustam
Music by: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Roberta Collins, Robert Englund

Mars Productions Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Name’s Buck… and I’m rarin’ to fuck.” – Buck

A film that was directed by a young Tobe Hooper that features both Robert Englund and William Finley is enough to hook me. Now add in great TV legends Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones and you’ve got me hooked even further. Toss in Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns and Roberta Collins and this picture is now boasting some serious f’n talent!

But overall, this isn’t a classic and from a historical and cultural perspective, doesn’t hold a candle to Hooper’s previous film: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

However, this was still an awesome experience and even though I know that I had seen it in my youth, I barely remembered anything about it other than it taking place in a shitty bayou hotel where the owner chases people with his scythe until they fall into a pit where he keeps a large man eating crocodile.

But you don’t really need to know more than that. And frankly, that’s all the film needs to be. One doesn’t need to get bogged down by details and an elaborate story. This was ’70s horror. Just throw boobies and blood at the screen every few minutes and consider it a job well done. Granted, this could’ve used more boobage.

This is gritty and pretty brutal but not so much so that it’s a gore festival. But if you like watching people get slashed by a madman and then chomped by a large animal, this should satisfy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Tobe Hooper’s other earlier films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Funhouse and Salem’s Lot.

Film Review: Road to Bali (1952)

Also known as: The Road to Hollywood (working title)
Release Date: November 19th, 1952 (premiere)
Directed by: Hal Walker
Written by: Frank Butler, Hal Kanter, William Morrow
Music by: Joseph J. Lilley
Cast: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Carolyn Jones, Humphrey Bogart (cameo), Jerry Lewis (cameo), Dean Martin (cameo), Jane Russell (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“He’s gonna sing, folks. Now’s the time to go out and get the popcorn.” – Harold Gridley

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made seven Road to… movies. This was the sixth one and the only one filmed and released in Technicolor. It actually benefited from the process, as this is an incredibly exotic looking picture with a strong Tiki aesthetic in the height of the Tiki loving era in America.

I had seen bits and pieces of all these movies when I was a kid because my mum and granmum used to watch Bob Hope movies all the time. I always loved the look of this picture, mainly because I’ve always had a love for everything Tiki.

Crosby and Hope were always really fun together and by this point, they were so familiar with one another that everything they did was incredibly natural. They were a great and iconic duo and this film is one of the times that they were at their absolute best.

I don’t like musicals. I’m not a fan of musical numbers advancing plot. I don’t mind music heavy movies, typically I love them. Just musicals have never worked for my brain, I guess. Still, I like the musical numbers here and while some are used to advance plot, most of the numbers work organically. In the opening, the musical number is actually Crosby and Hope performing on stage. These stage sequences are better than the ones where the picture follows a more traditional musical style.

Road to Bali sees Crosby and Hope take a treasure diving job on a tropical island in the Pacific. They both fall for the same girl and spend the movie competing to try and win her heart. The movie is lighthearted and energetic and these two have a magnetic charisma. Dorothy Lamour also added a lot to the picture, as the apple of these boys’ eyes.

This a a beautiful but kitschy looking film that should make any Tikiphile smile.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other Road pictures with Hope and Crosby. For the Tiki aesthetic and also featuring Dorothy Lamour, check out Donovan’s Reef, which also features John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Cesar Romero.