Halloween Havoc!: THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (Universal-International 1956)

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THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US – and he’s not too happy about it! Can’t say that I blame him, as once again he’s used and abused by humans, kidnapped from his watery home, suffers third degree burns, and transformed into a landlubber! This third and final entry in The Gill-Man saga unfortunately isn’t as good as its two predecessors, with too much melodramatic nonsense spoiling what was an intriguing premise.

Dr. Bill Barton (Jeff Morrow ) leads a search in the Florida Everglades for the Creature, who escaped Ocean Harbor Oceanarium in the last film. Along with Barton are geneticist Dr. Tom Morgan (Rex Reason), Dr. Borg (Maurice Manson), Dr. Johnson (James Rawley), and macho guide Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer ). Also on board is Barton’s wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden), a beautiful blonde trapped in a loveless marriage with her insanely jealous, controlling prick of a husband.

The Creature…

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Film Review: This Island Earth (dir by Joseph M. Newman and Jack Arnold)

Oh, those poor aliens!

Ever since the 1950s, intergalactic diplomats, soldiers, and explorers have come to Earth looking for help.  Some of them have come from planets that orbit dying stars.  Some represent civilizations that have been destroyed by war or pollution.  Some of them have come here looking to inspire us to be more peaceful and less destructive.  Others were just looking for something to eat.

What they all have in common is that they all came to Earth and things really didn’t work out that well.  Occasionally, they ran into humans who, due to cynicism and skepticism, simply weren’t willing to help.  Often, the aliens arrived just to discover that the humans had no interest in being conquered.  Remember what Eros yelled at the Plan 9 From Outer Space?  “Your stupid, stupid minds!”  Oh yeah?  Well, our menfolk kicked your ass and blew up your flying saucer.  So there.

Consider the sad case of Exeter (Jeff Morrow), the alien at the center of 1955’s This Island Earth.  Exeter has come to Earth with his associates and disguised himself as a human.  Despite the fact that they all have remarkably high foreheads and a total inability to relate to actual humans, no one seems to suspect that Exeter and his friends are from outer space.  Even when he starts recruiting leading scientists to come hang out at his isolated headquarters, it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that they should be too concerned.  Exeter’s just a little bit weird.  Why worry?

Well, Dr. Carl Meacham (Rex Reason) is worried!  He’s a pilot and a scientist and he’s got a square jaw and one of those deep, 1950s American male voices.  Everything that Dr. Meacham says sounds authoritative.  When you hear that confident, take-no-prisoners voice, you have no doubt that Eisenhower’s in the White House and everything’s going to be alright.  Carl doesn’t trust Exeter and he suspicions are proven correct when he and Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) are taken to Exeter’s war-ravaged planet.  Not only is the planet on the verge of blowing up but the whole place is crawling with mutants!

Unfortunately, it takes a while for Carl, Ruth, and Exeter to reach the planet.  This Island Earth is an oddly structured film.  The first third of the film deals with Carl and his squirmy associate, Joe (Robert Nichols), building something called an interocitor.  Once Carl has shown that he can follow the alien instruction booklet, Carl is allowed to meet Exeter.  (For some reason Joe is left behind.)  Once Carl arrives at Exeter HQ, it’s another lengthy wait before he, Ruth, and Exeter are launched into space.

Still, on the plus side, one of the scientists gets to drive this really cool car:

(Unfortunately, the car doesn’t make it to the end of the movie.)

The movie gets a lot better once the action moves to Exeter’s home planet.  The planet was a gloriously realized world, a pop art masterpiece:

And then there were the mutants!  Look at this thing:

Anyway, despite the slow start, This Island Earth is a classic of 1950s science fiction, one that manages to maintain a perfect balance between the sublime and the ludicrous.  Rex Reason and Faith Domergue are inoffensively bland as Carl and Ruth but Jeff Morrow brings a weary and even tragic dignity to the role of Exeter.  If nothing else, it lives up to its title by suggesting that Earth actually is just one insignificant island in the vast ocean of the universe and that both humans and aliens are mere slaves to fate.  For all of his deep-voiced authority, Carl really doesn’t accomplish much over the course of the film.  By that same token, for all of his efforts and his integrity, there’s little that Exeter can do to alter the destiny of his planet.  At times, This Island Earth is almost existential in its portrayal of both human and extraterrestrial inability to alter the whims of fate.  Of course, it’s also a frequently silly film that will be a lot of fun for anyone who appreciates a good B-movie.

On Saturday night, I watched This Island Earth with my friends in the Late Night Movie Gang.  After last week’s experience with Disco Beaver From Outer Space, I decided to play it safe this week.  We had a lot of fun with This Island Earth.  In case you want to learn how to make an interocitor of your very own, the film is available on YouTube.

Creature Double Feature 3: THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (UA 1957) & THE GIANT CLAW (Columbia 1957)

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Welcome to another exciting edition of Creature Double Feature, a fond look back at the type of weird and wonderful monster movies that used to be broadcast Saturday afternoons on Boston’s WLVI-TV 56. Today we’ve got twin terrors from 1957, one beneath the sea, the other above the skies. Let’s dive right in with THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, a soggy saga starring former cowboy star Tim Holt and a monstrous giant sea slug!

An earthquake has released the beast in California’s Salton Sea, and when a Navy parachutist and a rescue crew goes missing, Commander “Twill” Twillinger (Holt) investigates. A mysterious, sticky white goo is found on board (no “money shot” cracks, please!), and a sample is taken to the lab of Dr. Rogers (Hans Conreid). Rogers analyzes the substance, a “simple marine secretion” (again, no wisecracks!), later discovered to be radioactive.

Rogers’ secretary Gail (Audrey Dalton) and Twill get off…

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A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Robe (dir. by Henry Koster)

As part of my mission to view every film — good or bad — ever nominated for best picture, I spent last night watching 1953’s The Robe (which was nominated for best picture but lost to From Here To Eternity.)  The Robe is an old school biblical epic, the type of film that used to regularly get nominated for best picture but which you don’t see much of anymore.  If you’re wondering why that genre hasn’t stood the test of time, I’d suggest watching The Robe.

Richard Burton stars as Marcellus, a womanizing Roman centurion who falls in love with young, pure noblewoman Diana (Jean Simmons).  Unfortunately, Diana is set to marry the decadent Caligula (Jay Robinson).  (Yes, that Caligula…)  Burton’s rivalry with Caligula leads to him being reassigned to Jerusalem where he not only witnesses the crucifixion but also wins Jesus’ robe in a dice game.  However, Marcellus soon finds himself being haunted by nightmares of the crucifixion and he discovers that he can’t even wear the robe without having a seizure.  His slave, Demetrius (played by musclebound Victor Mature) has secretly become a Christian and steals The Robe before disappearing into the Holy Land.  As Marcellus, who believes that only by destroying the robe can he free himself from his guilt, searches for Demetrius, he is reunited with Diana and, since this is an old school biblical epic, he also ends up converting as well.  Unfortunately, he does all this around the same time that Caligula becomes Emperor and (in this film if not in actual history) begins to persecute the early Christians.

The Robe was the first film to made in “Cinemascope” and, while that may have been an amazing development back in 1953, when watched today, it’s obvious how much of the film is really just made up of filler designed to show off the new process.  Again, it may have been amazing at the time but today, it just seems like a slow movie.  Even more importantly, The Robe itself is so reverent and respectful of its subject that it’s just not that interesting.  Speaking as a nonbeliever, I’ve still sometimes feel that a lot of contemporary films make it a point to ridicule Christians because they’re an easy target.  Unlike a certain other world-wide religion, most Christians aren’t going to blow you up just because you featured an image of Jesus in your movie.  However, movies like The Robe were not only extremely reverent and respectful but they went out their way to let you know how reverent and respectful they were being.  The result is a film that lack any hint of nuance or anything that might actually challenge the audience.  It’s like Avatar with Jesus

Since he’s best known for being an alcoholic and marrying Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton might seem like an odd choice to play an idealistic Christian martyr.  And, quite frankly, he is.  Throughout the film, he’s visibly uncomfortable and, quite frankly, he didn’t have the legs necessary to pull off the ancient Roman look either.  Jean Simmons is also stuck playing a stock character — the virtuous maiden.  As with a lot of the old school biblical epics, the lead characters are so boring that you can’t help but feel they had more fun as pagans.  Meanwhile, poor Victor Mature wanders through the film struggling to show anything resembling emotion.   I mean, he tries so hard that its impossible not to like him.  At the very least, The Robe proves that any film featuring Victor Mature will have some sort of camp value. 

(As I watched The Robe, I kept thinking about a comment that Groucho Marx supposedly made.  Apparently, he said he wouldn’t watch any movie starring Victor Mature because “I won’t watch any movie where the guy’s tits are bigger than the girl’s.”)

The Robe does feature some interesting supporting performances from several wonderful B-movie character actors.  Jay Robinson is obviously having the time of his life playing the Emperor Caligula.  Robinson’s version isn’t quite as effective as Malcolm McDowell’s but Robinson is a  lot more fun to watch.  Richard Boone is effectively slovenly in the role of Pilate and there’s a nice little throw-away scene where Pilate absent-mindedly washes his hands twice.  Meanwhile Ernest Thesiger (who played Dr. Pretorious in the Bride of Frankenstein) is an oddly benevolent Emperor Tiberius while Michael Rennie, the alien from the original The Day the Earth Stood Still, plays none other than St. Peter.  Even Jeff Morrow (from This Island Earth) has a small role.

Like most of the old school Hollywood biblical epics, The Robe seems pretty hokey when viewed today and I get the feeling it probably seemed hokey when it was first released back in 1953.  Still, I remember that my Grandma Meehan used to love to watch these movies whenever they would show up on television.  She would have deep theological debates with the images that flickered across the screen.   I can still remember spending multiple Easters listening to her argue with The Ten Commandments.  I don’t know if Grandma ever saw The Robe but I do know that she believed that the Holy Tunic was presently located in France and not at the Cathedral of Trier in Germany.  Seriously, you did not want to question her on this point. 

To be honest, watching this type of film is always an odd experience for me.  Up until recently, I described myself as a “fallen Catholic” and I always felt so proud of myself afterward.  I could spend hours telling you why I no longer believed in the faith of my childhood and I could get quite smug about it.  I guess I still can but, as of late, I’ve discovered that humility goes well with a lack of faith.  I’ve also been forced to admit that when you’re raised Catholic, you’re a Catholic for life regardless of whether you believe in the Holy Trinity or not.  If pressed, I guess I’d call myself “an agnostic Catholic.”  I’m the type of nonbeliever who still feels the need to go to confession after a long weekend.  It’s not so much that I doubt my doubt as much as I wish that I could still go back to a time in my life when I actually could have faith without feeling like I was in denial.  So, even as I openly scoff at these films, there’s always that small part of my heart that wants to embrace the film in all of its simplistic and hokey glory.

That said, it’s also true that The Robe is a lot easier to resist than a film like Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Saint Matthew or, for that matter, The Exorcist.