Film Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

Release Date: June 30th, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Howard Browne
Music by: Lionel Newman, Fred Steiner
Cast: Jason Robards, George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson (uncredited), Jean Hale, Jan Merlin, Clint Ritchie, David Canary, Harold J. Stone, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, John Agar, Joseph Turkel, Alex Rocco, Leo Gordon, Dick Miller (uncredited), Jonathan Haze (uncredited), Paul Frees (narrator)

20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Wanna know something Jack? I like a guy who can use his head for something beside a hatrack!” – Al Capone

This is definitely in the upper echelon of Roger Corman’s motion pictures. Since I hadn’t seen it until now, it was a pleasant surprise and it actually shows how good of a filmmaker he was in spite of his rapid paced productions while doing everything on the cheap.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of Corman’s more serious films. There are no monsters, ghosts or sci-fi shenanigans, this is just a gritty, hard-nosed gangster movie that features a damn good cast with Jason Robards at the forefront, as the world’s most famous real life gangster, Al Capone.

The cast also features several Corman regulars like Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Leo Gordon and Jonathan Haze. Beyond that, we also get a young Alex Rocco, as well as Frank Silvera, Joe Turkel and John Agar. This is a movie full of iconic character actors who benefit greatly from the type of characters this picture needed to make it something special and authentic.

At its core, this really feels like an exploitation picture due to the level of violence in it yet it plays like more serious cinematic art. Now I can’t quite put it on the same level as the first two Godfather films but I’d say that it is actually a lot better and more impressive than the standard gangster films that existed before it. It is also somewhat surprising that this was put out by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, as opposed to being released by Corman’s regular studio at the time, American International Pictures.

Man, I enjoyed this a lot. There are a lot of characters but they’re not hard to keep track of and this moves at such a brisk pace, it’s over before you know it. Also, 100 minutes for Corman is pretty much an epic, as he tends to like that 65-85 minute mark.

I feel as if this is a flick that has been somewhat forgotten and lost to time, as it came out well after the gangster genre peaked and a few years before it made a comeback. It’s weirdly sandwiched between the two greatest eras of the genre and despite it having a hard edge, it’s groundbreaking feats were quickly overshadowed and surpassed by films of the early ’70s like The Godfather and Chinatown.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other gangster and crime films of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as Roger Corman’s more dramatic work like The Intruder and The Trip.

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: The Mole People (1956)

Release Date: November 21st, 1956 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Virgil Vogel
Written by: Laszlo Gorog
Cast: John Agar, Hugh Beaumont, Cynthia Patrick, Alan Napier, Nestor Paiva

Universal-International, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Archaeologists are underpaid publicity agents for deceased royalty.” – Dr. Roger Bentley

Being that this is a Universal movie, I feel like the Mole People should be considered Universal Monsters by default. Maybe they aren’t included due to this film not being at the same level of quality as the debuts of their more famous monsters but if I’m being honest, it is better than a lot of the sequels once those properties went really deep into their runs.

Also, even though this was showcased on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is better than the vast majority of films that they lampooned.

You are exposed to the monsters pretty early on and for audiences of the 1950s, seeing creatures emerge from the dirt that can pull you under and suffocate you in the ground was probably legitimately scary.

And what makes this interesting, is that as the film evolves, you learn that these monsters are victims, enslaved by some shitty humans. So the real monster is man. Granted, this wasn’t a new angle, even by the time that this came out, but it adds an extra narrative layer to this film, making it more than just a standard, cheap thrills, creature feature.

Additionally, the sets are pretty impressive for the time and what I’m sure was a fairly scant budget, even for a major studio production. Sure the matte paintings are obvious with 2019 level HD but they were probably convincing backdrops for the time.

The Mole People is a film that is better than I thought it would be. I don’t ask for much with these sort of pictures but this one wasn’t your typical MST3K schlock and plays like something worthy of being on a double bill with the better Universal Monsters pictures.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: This Island Earth, Monolith Monsters and The Deadly Mantis.

Film Review: Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966)

Release Date: April 15th, 1966
Directed by: Arthur C. Pierce
Written by: Arthur C. Pierce
Music by: Gordon Zahler
Cast: Wendell Corey, Keith Larsen, John Agar, Paul Gilbert, Merry Anders, Stuart Margolin, Todd Lasswell, Irene Tsu

Realart Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

Women of the Prehistoric Planet is most famous for being featured in the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is considered to be horrendous and it holds a 2.3 rating (out of 10) on IMDb. I don’t think it is as bad as a 2.3 would suggest, however.

This film is pretty hammy but it has a good amount of charm to it.

It follows a group of astronauts sent on a rescue mission to save the possible survivors of a ship that crashed on an unexplored primitive planet years earlier. There is one survivor, who has grown up to be a man on the wild planet. Linda, one of the crew members, meets Tang, the man who grew up marooned on the planet. The two fall in love but they must deal with the dangerous natives of the planet. The rest of the ship’s crew, separated from Linda, search for her and the survivors while encountering their own strange challenges.

Women of the Prehistoric Planet is not a good film, at all. It doesn’t have very good actors, the direction seems nonexistent, the cinematography is very basic and the sets, while lush and inviting, are very limited in scope and design. Yet, the film isn’t awful and it is still fairly fun and watchable. Although, the film’s title is a bit misleading.

The movie has a sort of sci-fi meets Tiki vibe. It feels like an island movie, even though it is primarily set on a tropical jungle planet. It isn’t ugly to look at, despite its technical flaws and limited budget. In fact, the people who made this did a pretty good job using the tools that they had.

This isn’t a film that I would tell people to run out and see. You’ll do just fine never spending your precious time on it. However, it does make for a good episode of MST3K and it certainly isn’t anywhere near the worst schlock that they had to watch and riff on the show.

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: Universal Monsters, Part VI – The Creature From the Black Lagoon Series (1954-1956)

I have reached my sixth and final series of Universal Monsters franchises to review.

Now let me state that this is my favorite series. I’m not sure why but the Gillman (a.k.a. the Creature From the Black Lagoon or just the Creature) is my favorite movie monster of all-time. Something about the prehistoric aquatic swamp beast just tickles my fancy.

While I don’t consider these films to be as good as the James Whale films for Universal, I do watch them more and find them to be more entertaining overall. But let me get into each film and elaborate.

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954):

Release Date: February 12th, 1954 (premiere)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Maurice Zimm, Harry Essex, Arthur A. Ross
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein
Cast: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva

Universal Pictures, 79 Minutes

creature_from_the_black_lagoonReview: 

This may just be my favorite classic horror film of all-time and it is rated “G”.

Creature From the Black Lagoon is a masterpiece. Is that a bold statement? No.

This film, for its time, was incredibly unique. Being a part of the Universal Monsters franchise, even though it came out more than a decade after that franchise peaked, this movie stands on its own and didn’t need other monsters sprinkled in to capture the public’s attention. In fact, this film was so successful that it spawned two sequels within two years.

Getting away from the standard Universal gothic horror style that was a staple in the Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolf Man series, this film brought us to the Amazon and gave us a creature from the depths of the swamp. And with that, we got a new formula. No mad scientists, no undead creatures, no supernatural horror. Instead, we get a prehistoric monster that is smitten with a girl and just wants to swim with her. Granted, he eventually wants to go one step further and kidnap her and take her to his cave so she can lay on rocks and look sexy all day.

I just love the tone of this film and I can’t necessarily say that it brings a level of terror and dread as some of its predecessors at Universal, but it is a fun film and the most adventurous one in the Universal Monsters catalog. Plus, Julie Adams is really nice to look at.

Rating: 10/10

Revenge of the Creature (1955):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1955 (Denver premiere)
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: William Alland, Martin Berkeley
Music by: Herman Stein
Cast: John Agar, Lori Nelson, Nestor Paiva, Clint Eastwood (uncredited – first role)

Universal Pictures, 82 Minutes

revenge_creatureReview: 

The first sequel in this series is the weakest installment overall but it is still a great film and really enjoyable.

In this one, the Gillman is captured and brought to an oceanic park in Florida to be treated crappier than the orca in Blackfish. The Gillman doesn’t like it, the Gillman gets pissed, the Gillman escapes and tears up the oceanic park, flips a few cars and goes off into the ocean to leave humans behind.

Except there is that new girl he is smitten with who isn’t as cute as Julie Adams but is still cute. The Gillman stalks the leading lady like an aquatic swamp pervert should. He eventually gets her and then carries her around for the rest of the film until the heroes show up to save her.

The plot moves a bit slow, as a big portion of the film deals with the scientists interacting with the Gillman while he is in captivity. It is worth mentioning though that this is Clint Eastwood’s film debut and his role is somewhat bizarre.

I should also mention that this film in the series is featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Rating: 7/10

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956):

Release Date: April 26th, 1956
Directed by: John Sherwood
Written by: Arthur A. Ross
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Leigh Snowden, Don Megowan

Universal Pictures, 78 Minutes

the_creature_walks_among_usReview: 

So what do the logical and ethical human scientists decide to do to the Gillman in this film? Well, they think it is a good idea to give him surgery in an effort to make him better fit in with humans. By surgery, I mean they cut off parts of his face and body and pretty much butcher him alive. Yeah, the plot is bizarre and insane and makes little sense but we don’t watch these films for logic and sometimes crazy equals awesome.

This film and the others in this series all have a consistent vibe and even though there is some experimentation with the plots in each sequel, they all feel like they belong to the larger series’ narrative. And the experimentation is kind of refreshing in this series, as each movie has its own identity. We’re not subjected to a string of rehashes of the same film like the Mummy and Frankenstein series.

This film also explores the humanity of the monster – does it exist, who is the Gillman, what motivates him, can he be human? It also explores what it means to be human and are we really just monsters ourselves. There is a lot of psychology at play in this film which makes it a pretty special experience for a horror film of its era.

And at least in this movie, the last shot of the film isn’t a beaten and bloodied Gillman sinking to the bottom of the river assumedly dead. This time the disfigured and biological tampered with monster just wants to get away from humans and go home and after all the horrible things that have been done to him, he at least gets back to his familiar environment.

Compared to the other two films in this series, this one really connects the audience to the creature on an emotional level and that is what makes this movie special.

Rating: 6/10