Horror on the Lens: Attack of the Crab Monsters (dir by Roger Corman)

For today’s horror on the lens, we have the 1957 science fiction film, Attack of the Crab Monsters!

About a month ago, I watched this film along with Patrick Smith and all of our friends in the late night movie gang.   To be honest, everyone else seemed to enjoy it a lot more than I did.  It was a fun little movie but … well, maybe I was just having a bad night.

Here’s why you should take 62 minutes out of your Saturday and watch Attack of the Crab Monsters on the Shattered Lens.  First off, it’s a Roger Corman film and anything directed by Roger Corman automatically needs to be watched.  Secondly, it’s about giant crabs that communicate through telepathy.  And when was the last time you saw that!?

(“Last night,” someone in the audience shouts, “as the sun went down over the crab-covered beaches of Denmark!”  I pretend not to hear.)

Anyway!  Here, for your viewing pleasure, is Attack of the Crab Monsters!

Insomnia File #1: The Story of Mankind (dir by Irwin Allen)

Story of Mankind

What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were suffering from insomnia at 3 in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1957 faux epic, The Story of Mankind.

I call The Story of Mankind a faux epic because it’s an outwardly big film that turns out to be remarkably small on closer inspection.  First off, it claims to the tell the story of Mankind but it only has a running time of 100 minutes so, as you can imagine, a lot of the story gets left out.  (I was annoyed that neither my favorite social reformer, Victoria C. Woodhull, nor my favorite president, Rutherford B. Hayes, made an appearance.)  It’s a film that follow Vincent Price and Ronald Colman as they stroll through history but it turns out that “history” is largely made up of stock footage taken from other movies.  The film’s cast is full of actors who will be familiar to lovers of classic cinema and yet, few of them really have more than a few minutes of screen time.  In fact, it only takes a little bit of research on the imdb to discover that most of the film’s cast was made up of performers who were on the verge of ending their careers.

The Story of Mankind opens with two angels noticing that mankind has apparently invented the “Super H-Bomb,” ten years ahead of schedule.  It appears that mankind is on the verge of destroying itself and soon, both Heaven and Hell will be full of new arrivals.  One of the angels exclaims that there’s already a housing shortage!

A celestial court, overseen by a stern judge (Cedric Hardwicke) is convened in outer space.  The court must decide whether to intervene and prevent mankind from destroying itself.  Speaking on behalf on humanity is the Spirit of Man.  The Spirit of Man is played by Ronald Colman.  This was Colman’s final film.  In his heyday, he was such a popular star that he was Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.  However, in The Story of Mankind, Colman comes across as being a bit bored with it all and you start to get worried that he might not be the best attorney that mankind could have hired.

Even more worrisome, as  far as the future of mankind is concerned, is that the prosecutor, Mr. Scratch, is being played by Vincent Price.  Making his case with his trademark theatrics and delivering every snaky line with a self-satisfied yet likable smirk on his face, Vincent Price is so much fun to watch that it was impossible not to agree with him.  Destroy mankind, Mr. Scratch?  Sure, why not?  Mankind had a good run, after all…

In order to make their cases, Mr. Scratch and the Spirit of Man take a tour through history.  Mr. Scratch reminds us of villains like the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (John Carradine) and the Roman Emperor Nero (Peter Lorre, of course).  He shows how Joan of Arc (Hedy Lamarr) was burned at the stake.  The Spirit of Man argues that, despite all of that, man is still capable of doing good things, like inventing the printing press.

And really, the whole point of the film is to see who is playing which historical figure.  The film features a huge cast of classic film actors.  If you watch TCM on a semi-regular basis, you’ll recognize a good deal of the cast.  The fun comes from seeing who tried to give a memorable performance and who just showed up to collect a paycheck.  For instance, a very young Dennis Hopper gives a bizarre method interpretation of Napoleon and it’s one of those things that simply has to be seen.

And then the Marx Brothers show up!

They don’t share any scenes together, unfortunately.  But three of them are present!  (No, Zeppo does not make an appearance but I imagine that’s just because Jim Ameche was already cast in the role of Alexander Graham Bell.)  Chico is a monk who tells Christopher Columbus not to waste his time looking for a quicker way to reach India.  Harpo Marx is Sir Isaac Newton, who plays a harp and discovers gravity when a hundred apples smash down on his head.  And Groucho Marx plays Peter Miniut, tricking a Native American chief into selling Manhattan Island while leering at the chief’s daughter.

And the good thing about the Marx Brothers is that their presence makes a strong argument that humanity deserves another chance.  A world that produced the Marx Brothers can’t be all bad, right?

Anyway, Story of Mankind is one of those films that seems like it would be a good cure for insomnia but then you start watching it and it’s just such a weird movie that you simply have to watch it all the way to the end.  It’s not a good movie but it is flamboyantly bad and, as a result, everyone should see it at least once.




Embracing the Melodrama Part II #20: Magnificent Obsession (dir by Douglas Sirk)

Magnificent_obsessionThere’s a scene early on in the 1954 melodrama Magnificent Obsession in which formerly carefree millionaire Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) meets with an artist named Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger).  We know that Randolph’s brilliant because he speaks in a deep voice, tends to be unnecessarily verbose, and often stares off in the distance after speaking.  Bob wants to know about a dead doctor who was a friend of Randolph’s.  Randolph explains the late doctor’s philosophy of doing anonymous good works.  Bob’s mind is blown.  (Hudson, who was never the most expressive of actors, conveys having his mind blown by grinning.)

“This is dangerous stuff,” Randolph warns him, “One of the first men who used it went to the cross at the age of 33…”

And a heavenly chorus is heard in the background…

And that one line pretty much tells you exactly what type of film Magnificent Obsession is.  It’s a film that not only embraces the melodrama but which also holds on tight to make sure that the melodrama can never escape.  There’s not a single minute in this film that is not hilarious overwritten.  It’s not just Randolph who tends to be portentous in his pronouncements.  No — everyone in the film speaks that way!

The dead doctor is dead specifically because of Bob.  Apparently, the doctor had a heart attack but the local hospital’s only resuscitator was being used to save the life of Bob who, while the doctor was dying, was busy recklessly driving a boat.

Helen (Jane Wyman), the doctor’s widow is, at first, bitter towards Bob and when Bob offers to donate $250,000 to the hospital, Helen refuses to accept his check.  This leads to Bob doing a lot of soul-searching and eventually having his life-changing conversation with Randolph.  Excited at the prospect of doing anonymous good works for the rest of his life, Bob tracks down Helen and tries to tell her that he’s a changed man.  Helen, however, wants nothing to do with Bob and ends up getting hit by a car while running away from him.  Helen survives but now, she’s blind!

Now, at this point, you might think that Bob has done enough to ruin Helen’s life.  At least, that’s the way that Helen’s family views it and when Bob attempts to visit her in the hospital, they order him to go away.

Eventually, Helen comes home from the hospital and starts to adjust to a life without eyesight.  One day, she meets a man on the beach and they start up a tentative romance.  What she doesn’t realize, at first, is that the man is Bob!  By the time she does realize who the man is, Helen has fallen in love with him.  However, she feels that it wouldn’t be fair to Bob to pursue a relationship with him and she leaves him.

So, of course, Bob’s response is to go to medical school and become a neurosurgeon.  Many years later, Helen has a brain tumor and needs an operation to survive.

Can you guess who her surgeon turns out to be?

Magnificent Obsession is almost a prototypical 1950s melodrama.  It’s big, it’s glossy, it’s self-important, and undeniably (and occasionally unintentionally) funny.  Even the total lack of chemistry between Hudson and Wyman somehow adds to the film’s strange charm.  It’s hard not to admire a film that starts out over-the-top and just grows more excessive from there.

Watching Magnificent Obsession is a bit like taking a trip into a parallel, technicolor dimension.  It’s strange, fascinating, and far more watchable than it should be.