Friday, November 16, 2018

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

Very low budget monster and rock & roll thrills. Deep in Texas a giant monster (which just happens to look like a normal lizard - but scaled up) has gone on a rampage. Killing kids who just want to make out in their souped up hotrods and drink coke.

Local mechanic Chase (Don Sullivan) and his French girlfriend Lisa (Lisa Simone) know that something is amiss but the authorities don't realise what is going on until the monster attacks a train. The monster then heads to town where the youth have gathered for some rock & roll, can Chase save the day with a car load of nitroglycerin?

Although a cult classic, this is a pretty awful film all in all. The "monster" is just a lizard attacking models and with the camera zoomed in close to make it look large (and not always succeeding). It is great fun though, largely because it is such nonsense.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Death Kiss (1932)

The Death Kiss includes three leading actors from 1931's Dracula (Bela Lugosi, Edward Van Sloan and David Manners) but is a very different kind of film being a decent though sometimes a bit muddled crime drama.

During the filming of a crime drama the lead actor is shot... for real. Studio manager Steiner (Lugosi) tries to pass it off as an unfortunate accident but the police led by Lt. Sheehan (John Wray) discover it was no accident and a murder investigation begins.

The victim's ex-wife and leading actress Marsha (Adrienne Ames) is found to have a motive, but she isn't the only one. Studio writer Drew (Manners) seems to have plenty of theories about what is going on and conducts a parallel investigation with the police but someone is trying to cover their tracks.

The Death Kiss isn't a bad film but is a little awkward at times but has some decent wit which carries you along. It has some good satire of the inner workings of the film production business and a complicated and engaging plot.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Hero Never Dies (1998)

Leon Lai and Lau Ching-wan play rival Triad gang leaders, always trying to outdo each other with bloodshed and violence and then settling down for a glass of wine after a hard day's killing.

Both men end up being betrayed by their bosses, Leon hides out in Thailand while Lau Ching-wan is paralysed from the waist down and is nursed back to health by his girlfriend Fiona Leung (and who has to do anything to earn the money needed). Lau Ching-wan makes it back to HK to face his boss and take vengeance but requires the help of Leon to finish the job...

It is nonsense of course, endless bloodshed and ridiculous gun play where the bad guys get killed with one bullet but the good guys can survive several hundred. It's not a subtle film but I've always enjoyed it. It was the first HK film i actually saw in a cinema in HK on release and i've always had a soft spot for it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Sinister Hands (1932)

Ah the mysteries of the Orient and the occult, a common Golden Age trope. In this film a millionaire is murdered at a seance held by the Swami (Mischa Auer). The police are called in but Detective Devlin (Jack Mulhall) finds that everyone seems to have a motive.

Mrs Lang (Lillian West) is obsessed with her Swami, whom she hopes will tell her who troubles her (for the right amount of cash of course). Her husband Richard Lang (Phillips Smalley) rails at his house full of gigolos and other low-lives including her daughter's (Gertrude Messinger) hoodlum boyfriend (Louis Natheaux). Meanwhile Richard Lang's friend John Frazer (Lloyd Ingraham) is getting increasingly jealous of how his young wife (Phyllis Barrington) hangs around Lang...

Although a bit slow at times and frequently ridiculous overall it is a decent murder mystery film that plods along. The addition of the occult adds that little something to raise it above the mundane.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Inner Circle (1946)

The Inner Circle is a crime drama starring Warren Douglas as happy go lucky private investigator Johnny Strange (no really). He hires (or is rather forced to hire) a new secretary Geraldine (Adele Mara) who promptly lures him into a trap where he is found with a dead body! He is then knocked out by Geraldine disguised as a widow.

Detective Webb (William Frawley) finds Strange and the corpse (who turns out to be a gossip columnist). Strange is arrested, then Geraldine turns up and says he killed the man in self-defence. Not knowing Geraldine's involvement Strange tries to find out what is really going on...

A fast moving drama with some good performances. The plot is a bit far fetched though nicely complicated, unfortunately it does get a bit absurd. For a supposedly smart PI Strange is rather naive. If you suspend disbelief a bit the film is very enjoyable.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Danger on the Air (1938)

A bright and breezy murder mystery set in a radio studio. Prime sponsor Kluck (Berton Churchill) is found dead during a radio broadcast, unfortunately there are plenty of people who might have motive especially young lady Steenie (Nan Grey) who Kluck was last seen making a pass at. Later incriminating evidence is found in her purse.

Radio Engineer Benjamin Butts (Donald Woods) doesn't believe Steenie has anything to do with it and investigates the murder himself. There are plenty of suspects including the father (Lee J. Cobb) of another girl Kluck was all over like a cheap suit, the radio company owner (Jed Prouty), a gangster (Joe Downing) and a desperate young man (Peter Lind Hayes) who wants to get on-air at all costs.

An enjoyable crime drama with an air of farce. Although a B-movie its very well made with some good performances especially from Grey and Woods who make a nice couple and have some snappy dialogue to play with. The most interesting aspect of the film is the look at how radio was produced in the 1930s. One criticism is that the final unveil of the perpetrator is a bit left field, a character that barely featured in the film. Though the murder method is innovative.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Flying Serpent (1946)

The Flying Serpent is a typical low-budget monster thriller, with some of the best acting by the ridiculous looking "beast". George Zucco is mad archaeologist Dr Forbes who has discovered the secret Aztec treasure and what's more has also discovered the flying serpent god Quetzalcoatl who was guarding the treasure and now does Forbes' bidding.

Forbes sets Quetzalcoatl off to kill his "friend" Dr Lambert (James Metcalf) when he angers him. Richard Thorpe (Ralph Lewis) is a mystery writer working as a radio investigator who arrives in town to investigate the murder of Lambert. Forbes decides to set his flying serpent god to kill Thorpe too... He survives that attack but is joined by Forbes' step-daughter Mary (Hope Kramer) to try and find out exactly what is going on.

So far so good (if not that original a story). Naturally the Quetzalcoatl looks ridiculous, in the start of the film it is kept in the shadows and to be honest the film would have been better off if the monster had been kept that way. However the attacks of the Quetzalcoatl are genuinely scary. Zucco also plays a good role.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Study in Scarlet (1933)

A decent Sherlock Holmes mystery. A Study in Scarlet has the same title as one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's mysteries but the plot has little to no relation to it (the film makers bought the rights to the title and characters not the story!) Reginald Owen plays Holmes, only a year after he played Dr Watson in an earlier Sherlock Holmes film!

Holmes and Watson (Warburton Gamble) investigate a series of murders. Someone is bumping off members of a secret society. The notorious blackmailer Merrydew (Alan Dinehart) is involved, he collects the assets of deceased society members and then redistributes them to the others...

This is an enjoyable but frequently ridiculous romp involving murky dealings in Limehouse, secret meetings and coded messages, and a high death toll. Owen plays a decent - though somewhat different to the usual - Holmes, the supporting cast does well too and includes the always exotic Anna May Wong and June Clyde.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Jesse James meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966)

An example of the rather niche and obscure genre of western/gothic horror crossover. Jesse James (John Lupton) is still on the loose with his butch but dumb henchman Hank (Cal Bolder).

After a failed raid on a stagecoach carrying lots of cash Jesse and Hank end up in the clutches of Frankenstein's grand-daughter (Narda Onyx) (not daughter as the title says - obviously was too long to fit in the extra grand!) She is using local peasants for her depraved experiments to try and replace human brains with artificial ones to create a slave.

Frankenstein decides that Hank will be perfect for her experiment and finally help her achieve her goal...

So it sounds like the most ridiculous idea for a film ever but what makes this nonsense actually fairly enjoyable and watchable is that it is played quite serious and straight. It has many flaws though including the tiny budget. As a western it is mundane and as a horror film it is limited but the sheer strangeness of the premise carries it. Veteran of many Roy Rogers films Estelita Rodriguez plays a nice role as Jesse's love interest though sadly she died at an early age just after making this film.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The House of Secrets (1936)

Americans have always seem to have been obsessed with English heritage and ye olde history, it plays a big part in this film. Happy-go-lucky Barry (Leslie Fenton) is a broke American who makes it to England - after he saves young lady Julie (Muriel Evans) from a fresh guy on the ferry. When he reaches London he finds he is the sole heir to an old estate and he has to sign an ancient agreement to take over the estate in blood.

Only when he reaches his estate he finds it already occupied, including by the girl on the ferry Julie (what a coincidence eh?) For some reason they are very keen to buy his estate and keep him away...

Barry begins to investigate the mysterious goings on and gets entangled with gangsters, hidden treasure, secret formulae and screams in the night at the mysterious house. This is a fairly entertaining film with a good story and some snappy dialogue, though at times is a bit slow and frustrating and you just wish they could have progressed the plot a bit faster. The stiff old English lawyer being bamboozled by Barry's American slang is very amusing.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Robbery Under Arms (1920)

An early Australian tale of bushranging in the Outback (though amazingly already in 1920 the third adaptation of the novel Robbery Under Arms, there were films in 1907 and 1911 too - two more were made after this one). What are bushrangers? They were outlaws in the Australian outback who were at their height in the nineteenth century, the most famous being Ned Kelly of course.

This film stars Kenneth Brampton as Captain Starlight who is a "gentleman robber", a nicely ambiguous character - a criminal but also a hero seemingly in the Australian tradition. He gets involved with two brothers Roland Conway and S.A. Fitzgerald who join him on his escapades.

The escapades are pretty epic too with plenty of action scenes against a superb backdrop. The Australian countryside being the real star of the film. After many shoot outs and horse chases the gang face the music. The moral angle is played heavily at the end (presumably to get over a ban at the time in parts of Australia for films depicting bushrangers). Crime doesn't pay, apparently.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Murder on the Campus (1933)

Murder on the Campus is an enjoyable if fairly unlikely murder mystery - though does keep you guessing.

Charles Starrett is Bill, a reporter who is near the scene when a university student is murdered in a bell tower. How the murder got away is unknown but the police detective (J. Farrell MacDonald) is on the case. Though for some reason he is happy to have Bill along with him for questioning suspects and discussing the clues. Things get hairy for Bill though when one of the prime suspects turns out to be his squeeze Lillian (Shirley Gray).

With things looking bleak for Lillian Bill enlists the help of college professor and criminologist Hawley (Edward Van Sloan) but has Bill made a fatal error?

Although quite low budget and static (there isn't a great deal of action - such that there is is often off-camera) the plot is pretty decent and has a good twist.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

After the high-concept science-fiction of the first Star Trek movie, Star Trek 2 was a much more straight forward action film and probably the best Star Trek film of all. A sequel to the Star Trek TV episode "Space Seed" with Ricardo Montalban reprising his role of the genetically enhanced warlord Khan.

Khan escapes his exile and gets his hands on a starship, the Reliant. He also finds out about a science project led by Dr Marcus (Bibi Besch) called Genesis that can turn a lifeless world into one filled with abundant life, Khan realised that this also makes it the ultimate weapon. He sets a trap for his nemesis Kirk (William Shatner) and the Enterprise...

Star Trek 2 portrays space travel along very nautical lines, the film could pretty easily have been set underwater with the Enterprise and Reliant as submarines. They even both have torpedo bays. Beyond the action (which is pretty decent) there are themes of ageing, friendship and humanity which are well explored. It was this which elevated Star Trek 2 beyond just another film about model spaceships blowing lumps out of each other. Great science fiction (and Star Trek) has always been about exploring humanity more than anything else and this film accomplished this more than many.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Days of Jesse James (1939)

Roy Rogers is out after the Jesse James (Don "Red" Barry) gang after a string of railway robberies and finally a bank robbery. The bank was owned by Mr Wyatt (Arthur Lott), but is everything quite how it seems?

Indeed not, Wyatt has robbed his own bank and blamed the James Gang. Rogers and grandpa Gabby (Gabby Hayes) chase after and infiltrate the James Gang to find out exactly what is going on.

Expect some run-of-the-mill Western adventure and punctuated by the rather lovely "Echo mountain" sung by Rogers. Hayes is great as the old gold miner, his dog Whiskers also plays a great role. Jesse James is portrayed as a rogue with honour (so not that realistic).