Archive for the ‘1950s films’ Tag

The Giant Claw (1957)   2 comments

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Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow), pilot, electrical engineer, and bon vivant, pilots a radar research plane full of radar researchers. During the flight, Mitch reports seeing a UFO.

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What the…?

The Air Force scrambles its fighters, but no one else sees anything unusual and radar comes up empty. Everyone makes fun of Mitch and calls him names and plays keep away with his hat until planes begin to go missing. Now even the authorities begin to take notice.

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Did you see something?

Finally everyone from General Considine (Morris Ankrum) to weather mathematician (?) Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) believes Mitch and needs his help desperately. Instead of telling them all to pound sand, Mitch agrees to investigate. On a flight to return to the scene of the bird, Mitch and Sally discover a pattern and each other. After some sexual innuendo disguised as baseball metaphors, Mitch draws his spiral on Sally’s map and they’re engaged…or something.

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Grand slam!

At this point we meet the required novelty character, Pierre. Pierre has an outrageous ‘Savoir Faire is everywhere’ accent and makes apple jack in his quaint cabin. He sees La Cocoña, a mythical Canadian creature with the face of a wolf, the body of a woman, and wings, and promptly goes into shock. Pierre kindly invited them into his home and sheltered them so after he sees the French Canadian Bigfoot, Mitch and Sally desert him because they’re sweet. Anyway, the creature described as big as a battleship…a lot, continues its ‘fantastic orgy of destruction’ (thanks, movie) destroying planes and eating the passengers dramatically with cool crunching sounds.

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“B-7.” “Ahhhhhhhhh!”

We get to see Battleship Bird plucking victims from a Miami swimming pool and a London street. He’s a quick flier. We even see the goofy bird crushing the UN building in New York and hanging out atop the Washington Monument.

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Where’s Angelina?

The Deadly Mantis, released the same year, visited the monument as well. I wonder if they got some kind of group rate. So the Army shoots at the bird and the Air Force strafes it to no avail until they get a scientist. Dr. Norman (Edgar Barrier) looks like a guy Ed Wood would know and says things like “You’re both right and wrong.” He explains that the big bird consists of matter/anti-matter and Scotty mentions dilithium crystals and before you know it, Spock has a goatee and a sash. I digress. The scientists devise a plan, but one of them can’t make it so they have to bring Sally which is a drag because she’s a girl and all. They rig up an anti-large bird thingee and get on a plane and things are tense because they forgot a part and Radio Shack doesn’t exist yet and since there was no Giant Claw II: The Molting, you can probably guess what happens.

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Trust me, honey. Just close the window.

I like this movie because a giant malicious muppet dangling from a very obvious wire threatens the entire world and a guy who combs his hair with a pork chop comes to the rescue. Mara Corday is lovely and she and Morrow have some nice chemistry going. Morris Ankrum does his general thing admirably and the squawking sounds of the bird make me giggle. Director Fred Sears (Earth vs the Flying Saucers, Crash Landing) tries for a Cat People effect by showing only the bird’s shadow for the first part of the film. All bets are off, however when he shows the whole googly-eyed bird and the challenge…and the fun is to believe this ungainly behemoth could really accomplish all the destruction in the film. As with most mutant creature films of the 1950s, the science is less factual and more two boys chatting in a sandbox about dinosaurs. Also the fact that Mitch, as a free-lance pilot, has the ear of the joint chiefs strained credulity. The Giant Claw makes up for all that with its patented drinking game. If you take a swig every time a character says ‘big as a battleship’, you’ll forget all your doubts and possibly your first name. So stock up on mixers and watch a big puppet eat planes. You’ll be glad you did.

Best line in the film: “I’m the chief cook and bottle washer in a one man bird watcher society.”
-Mitch MacAfee (wordsmith)

face
How the hell are ya?!

The Killer Shrews (1959)   3 comments

Thorne Sherman (James Best) and Rook Griswold (Judge Henry Dupree) moor their boat on the shore of a small island hoping to sit out a rough storm as they deliver supplies to the island’s inhabitants. They arrive in time to see the residents of the island heading toward the boat hoping to leave. When told of the approaching hurricane and that they must stay at least one more night, Dr. Craigis, his daughter Ann, and Jerry Farrell rush back to the house and ask Mario, their live-in-mixologist, to start making martinis. This should have been our heroes’ first clue.

At this point we meet Dr. Radford (Gordon McLendon) who took acting lessons from the David Caruso School of Dramatic Eyeglass Removal and slowly, almost painfully learn about the problem that has them all in a dither. It seems they’ve been experimenting with metabolisms in shrews as a way to fight starvation and overpopulation. Well, you see, they kind of made the potion a bit too strong and someone left the cage door open (JERRY!) and now the little tiny shrews you can fit in the palm of your hand are the size of Afghan Hounds and have nasty big pointy teeth.

There’s more drinking and Jerry (Ken Curtis, Gunsmoke‘s Festus) gets trashed and Thorne and Ann (Ingrid Goude) fall in love even though she’s engaged to drunk Jerry and can’t seem to look anywhere near the camera. People yell at each other, fire weapons, scream whenever they see a shrew, and generally fall to pieces until they come up with a cunning plan to outwit the rodents.

Will two PhDs, a boat captain, his mate, a bartender, and a drunk prove smarter than large dogs wearing bathmats? I’ll never tell. Ray Kellogg directed The Killer Shrews the same year he helmed The Giant Gila Monster. The production values rival that of a middle school language arts project and the only one with any acting chops is James Best who did some cool Twilight Zone and Andy Griffith Show episodes soon after. The Killer Shrews made me laugh. I recommend it highly.

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Hiya!

Rashomon (1950)   Leave a comment

rashomon

I’m not sure why, but sometimes seeing foreign films feels like homework to me. It shouldn’t because I’ve seen a few (Rififi, Das Boot, The Killer) I’ve really enjoyed, but there it is. I watched this on a computer and I cannot wait to see it on the big screen.

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A woodcutter, a commoner, and a priest take shelter from a torrential rain storm and tell the story of a horrific crime.

The men describe how a samurai (Masayuki Mori), his wife (Machiko Kyo), and a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) meet tragically in a lonely clearing in the woods. One man dies and the resulting trial reveals a great deal about the people involved and much larger issues. In a method which would later be known as the Rashomon effect, each of the participants tells his side of the story and the audience is left to discern the truth.

Rashomon played in only a few theatres outside of Japan during its initial release, but introduced the western world to its director, Akira Kurosawa (Yojimbo, Ran). Kurosawa and his cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa (Ugetsu, Yojimbo) made a beautiful film about an ugly crime and in so doing brought Japanese cinema to the world’s attention.

The actors tell the different versions of the tale using every part of them. The performances are feral and nuanced at the same time. These actors pull feelings out of their souls. I couldn’t look away. Kyo (Gate of Hell, Ugetsu), as the samurai’s wife shows tremendous range and Mifune (Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood) looks like he’s spring-loaded. He’s all energy and extremes which gives his bandit/sociopath character an almost child-like quality. The priest and the wood cutter, Minoru Chiaki and Takashi Shimura, had long and prestigious careers in Japanese cinema as well, acting in kaiju films, detective stories, and Shakespearean epics and give wonderful performances here. You see the pain in their faces as they recount the terrible crime to the unfeeling commoner Kichijiro Ueda. Rashomon touches on morality, shame, the place of women in society, and the very nature of man. That it does so with such sparse dialogue (Japanese with subtitles), few locations and sets, and seven characters, serves as a testament to the acting, direction, and writing in this absolutely incredible film. I was blown away. Watch this film as soon as you can.

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Them! (1954)   Leave a comment

them for

A series of bizarre deaths and some odd footprints baffle New Mexico policeman James Whitmore. His superiors send the prints to Washington. FBI agent James Arness and father/daughter entymologists Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon arrive to investigate and soon they’re battling huge mutant ants in the desert. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

kid
Bueller?

It is. An engaging story, solid performances, and convincing large insects make Them! the best of the mutant bug movies of the 1950s. In fact, Them! serves as a template for many of the alien invasion/giant insect films to follow. It’s even scary. Scenes in which the team goes underground to explore the ants’ lair have you on the edge of your seat and the sudden blast of ant sound effects (made by the grey tree frog) was startling.

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I am not an ant.

Veteran director Gordon Douglas (In Like Flint, The Detective) keeps the pace brisk and the story compelling. We learn enough about these characters to like them and the cast, made up of A and B+ level actors push this film way above many in the genre. Warner Brothers made the film and used many of its up and coming actors in cameos.

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Live long and…?

Leonard Nimoy, Fess Parker, Richard Deacon, William Schallert, and Dub Taylor show up in small roles and help give the film some of its polish. They also had a A-list crew with Bronislau Kaper’s original score and Gordon Bau’s make-up. Them! was even nominated for Best Effects/Best Special Effects at the 1955 Oscars and was the highest grossing film Warner Brothers made in 1954. So next time someone tells you mutant bug films don’t cut it in the quality department, tell them about Them!. I mean, any film that has the Wilhelm Scream, moulage, and Santa battling giant, homicidal ants must be a winner.

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Peek-a-boo!

Tarantula (1955)   Leave a comment

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A horribly disfigured man in pajamas stumbles through the desert, collapses, and dies. When local doctor, Matt Hastings (John Agar) sees the body, he doubts Professor Deemer’s (Leo G. Carroll) diagnosis of acromegaly (gigantism) and suspects the professor might be complicit in his colleague’s death. While he ponders this, Steve (Mara Corday) arrives in town, in a stunning white travel ensemble, to work in the lab for the pajama-clad dead guy. Since he’s not hiring, Steve begins working for Deemer instead, but not before igniting a little romantic fire under Dr. Hastings.

He has little time to plan his love life though because something attacks the livestock in their sleepy little community and leaves nothing but bones and a big puddle of white liquid. Testing proves the white stuff comes from a tarantula so we’re treated to a filmstrip on them right out of the substitute teacher collection. Soon Dr. Hero Guy discovers Professor Deemer in an advanced state of acromegaly and the truth comes out.

Deemer, fresh from his work on the Manhattan Project, opened his lab in the desert to work on a nutritional supplement designed to rid the world of hunger. His experiments on rabbits and guinea pigs showed great promise and Deemer fed the animals the formula exclusively. They matured at an advanced rate and grew much larger than their usual size. A couple of his colleagues figured if the serum made a guinea pig grow to the size of a police dog it must be great for humans, so they injected each other with the stuff. Oddly enough, the two men suffered tremendously when the radioactive isotopes clashed with their body chemistry. One wandered into the desert in his pjs and the other, miffed about his impending demise, wrecked the lab and shot the professor up with the serum. The lab animals either died in the ensuing blaze or scurried off to roam the countryside.

Since this film is called Tarantula and not Guinea Pig, I’m sure you can figure out who made it out alive.


“Pssst, it was me.”

As to why they used tarantulas in lab tests I’ll never know. I guess the profs just liked having them around. Since they have a humungous radioactive spider snacking on the locals, the sheriff (Nestor Paiva) calls the state police, who in turn call the Air Force. Napalm encrusted hijinks ensue and we see the requisite fighter squadron stock footage. Director, Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man) does an admirable job and uses decent effects and appropriate music to create suspense. A few of the scenes made me jump. The cast of B/A- actors deliver solid performances and the natural dialogue moves along nicely. There’s some real chemistry between Corday and Agar and we care what happens to these characters. I love big bug movies and Tarantula is a fun one. Oh, and look for Clint Eastwood in one of his first movie roles.

clint
“Go ahead, make my day.”

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)   Leave a comment

leeches

Lem, a moonshiner famous for telling tall tales, claims he saw a giant ‘octypus’ while poaching deer near the swamp. When he goes missing, Game Warden Steve (Ken Clark) and a handful of men search for him. They find him dead and drained of all his blood. Despite this minor red flag, no one in the Florida country town believes Lem’s stories except Steve, his girlfriend Nan (Jan Shepard), and her father, Doc Greyson (Tyler McVey).

Steve and Nan take a boat out on the swamp to search for anything out of the ordinary, but come up empty. Meanwhile back at the general store, slatternly Liz Walker (Yvette Vickers) teases and belittles her wimpy husband Dave (Bruno VeSota) and takes off to be sleazy elsewhere. After a bunch of conversation that goes nowhere, we find that Doc Greyson wants to dynamite part of the swamp to flush out whatever killed Lem, but Steve won’t allow it.

Here’s where this film differs from most mutant creature films. Steve, the game warden takes his job seriously and wants to protect the animals in his jurisdiction. He won’t allow Doc to dynamite the swamp or do anything else that might harm wildlife in the area. Compare this to Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) in which the ‘scientists’ throw chemicals, poison, bombs, and everything but the kitchen sink into poor Gilly’s lagoon in the name of science. I digress.

Back at the general store, Liz puts on her favorite low-cut frock and heads out to the swamp for her date with local creep, Cal. Liz’s husband, Dave, wielding a shotgun, surprises the couple mid embrace which ruins the mood completely. Dave’s a bit put out, so he chases them through the swamp at gunpoint and forces them into the water. He just wants to scare them though and as they attempt to crawl out of the swamp a couple of slimy, suction cup covered creatures grab the lovers and pull them down into the swamp. Dave, shocked, tells the police, but oddly, they don’t believe his tentacled fish-man story and toss him in the brig. The sheriff offers a reward to whoever finds the bodies and two more locals disappear. Doc Greyson introduces a theory that nearby Cape Canaveral’s radiation may have caused the leeches’ mutation and brings up dynamite again but Steve vetoes his suggestion. As soon as Steve leaves, the doctor, who may have a problem, and Nan place charges in the swamp anyway and up come the bodies of three of the four missing locals. Since Liz hasn’t turned up yet, Steve and a former Navy buddy strap on air tanks and go swamp diving. An underwater battle between Steve and a giant leech guy leaves the leech wounded and Steve convinced that maybe blowing up the swamp isn’t such a bad idea after all. A huge blast brings the dead leech and Liz to the surface. Everyone sighs with relief because Liz was a sleaze anyway and the nightmare is over…or is it?

I liked aspects of Attack of the Giant Leeches, but on the whole it left me cold. The story, written by Leo Gordon (The Terror, Tobruk) held my interest, but the acting was pretty poor and that dragged it down a peg. The eerie music, by Alexander Laszlo, worked though and helped set the stage for bloodsucking fun. Bernard L. Kowalski (Night of the Blood Beast, Rawhide TV series) uses a fairly straight forward approach to directing. It’s a Roger Corman production, so they wasted no time with flourishes. There’s nothing arty here, but no matter.

A few scenes really stand out. The scenes in the leeches’ underground lair are pretty creepy. Watching mutant leeches suck the blood out of their captives and leave their hickey-covered bodies in a crumpled heap made the film worth watching. All in all, Attack of the Giant Leeches is worth a watch and at sixty-two minutes, the leech-filled time flies by.

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