Thursday, October 27, 2011

What! No Beer? OK Keaton, bad Durante

What! No Beer? 1933. B&W, MGM, 70 minutes. Directed by Edward Sedgwick. Starring Buster Keaton as Elmer J. Butts, Jimmy Durante as Jimmy Potts, Phyllis Barry as Hortense, Edward Brophy as Spike Moran and Charles Giblyn as Chief. Schlock-Meter rating: Four stars out of 10 stars.

What! No Beer? is a curio, a relic from the past. The plot of the mostly unfunny comedy deals with prohibition and efforts to repeal it, an issue which dominated headlines nearly 80 years ago. It was a box office winner due to its stars, Keaton and Durante, but is generally regarded as one of the unfunniest comedies of the 1930s. It was the pair's last film together. Keaton's drinking problem and absences from the set caused the studio to fire him even before the film was released. It was the start of a spiral into film oblivion for Keaton, and his career did not surge again until television began to thrive two decades later.
The plot: Jimmy Potts (Durante) is a barber and Elmer J. Butts (Keaton) is a luckless businessman. Potts, incorrectly thinking prohibition has been repealed, convinces Butts to invest his money in a long-closed brewery. The stone-faced Butts moons over a pretty gangster moll named Hortense (Barry). He wants to be a millionaire so he can win her love. Seeing no other way to earn the million bucks, he agrees to get into the beer business. Police quickly raid the brewery and arrest the pair, but discover there's no alcohol in the brew. Later, a hobo at the deserted plant confesses he was once a great brewer and real beer is made, which is a big hit. Soon the police and the mob muscle in on Potts and Butts.
The film is as unfunny as it sounds. Durante, in particular, is just pathetic. He bellows and brays and cracks unfunny jokes. It's painful to watch him flop on the screen. Although he is clearly half-bagged in many of the scenes, the best part of the film is comic great Keaton. His talent for physical comedy is on display in several scenes, and his naivete and trusting demeanor leads to misunderstandings that bring laughs, particularly a scene where gangsters, sent to muscle him, interpret his bland replies as extreme coolness under pressure, and leave impressed. What! No Beer? is not a good movie, but it's worth a rental to see an early sound Keaton offering.
-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Attack of The 50 Foot Woman – Every Man’s Nightmare!

By Steve D. Stones

Allied Artists distributed the famous and notorious for being laughable- Attack of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). Director Nathan Hertz (AKA Nathan Juran) was at the helm of directing both pictures. 

Attack of The 50 Foot Woman stars buxom brunette beauty Allison Hayes and Playboy Magazine’s Miss July 1959 – Yvette Vickers. Both women serve as rich eye candy for the male drive-in audience, which is part of the appeal of the film, if not the only appeal. 

Much has been written over the years as to whether or not Attack of The 50 Foot Woman is a ridiculous, kitsch-laden film with no redeeming social value, or a pure feminist work of art that makes a bold political statement about the breakdown of male-female relationships and angst female power. In a time when women stayed at home cooking and cleaning in poodleskirts, it certainly serves a message that was well ahead of its time. 

 Hayes plays a wealthy socialite who drives directly into a satellite from outer space in the desert after an evening of heavy drinking. She becomes terrified as a giant alien, who looks a bit like President Eisenhower, leaves the satellite and chases after her. Her two timing husband refuses to believe her story when she returns home. He even suggests that she go back to a sanitarium for psychological treatment, after having already spent some time there. 

Meanwhile, Hayes’ husband Harry, played by William Hudson, is running around town and drinking heavily with a local harlot named Honey, played by Yvette Vickers. The two have plans to put Hayes into a crazy state of mind to drive her back to the local booby-hatch in order to take over all her wealth. After several attempts to convince Harry that she is not crazy, the two decide to drive out into the desert to find the satellite and giant alien. Hayes expresses her disgust and awareness of Harry going around with the town tramp. 

Sure enough, the two encounter the giant alien, and Harry quickly drives away, leaving Hayes behind. Hayes later returns home, although it is never fully established in the film how or why she was able to get back. We learn that she is growing at a fast pace, and must be administered drugs to slow down the growing process. 

One hilarious scene shows a nurse entering Hayes’ room with a giant rubbery hand chained to the bedside as the nurse administers a drug to her. This is likely the same hand that was used in an earlier scene in which the giant alien picks up the sheriff’s car and throws it, only this time it does not have hair painted on the knuckles. By all appearances of the fake hand, her body would be much too large to fit into the entire bedroom. Talk about cheap, unconvincing special effects. This is down-right hilarious! Hayes eventually breaks out of her bedside shackles, tears down her own house, and goes on the prowl for Harry. Now she has grown 50 feet tall, is dressed in a low cut bikini skirt and blouse, sporting eye-popping cleavage. 

We don’t know whether to be scared of her, or to stop and look up her giant skirt for an eyeful. She is sexy, mad as hell, and ready to tear Harry apart, just like the house she left in shambles. As she walks around town in unconvincing rear projected photography superimposed over shots of town environments, she continually yells out Harry’s name. She tears through the roof of the town saloon to grab Harry. Here we see another unconvincing shot, only this time it actually is Hayes carrying a doll instead of the actual Harry. Enough gunshots are put into Hayes to bring her down, with the dead Harry in her hand. 

 It is safe to say that Attack of The 50 Foot Woman serves as an early feminist tale of women who want to have a sense of independence and power in a 1950s male-dominated society. No longer are women content with staying home, cooking and cleaning all day for their men. Director Nathan Juran and screenwriter Mark Hanna may not have had this in mind at the time Attack of The 50 Foot Woman was filmed, but viewers of today certainly view the film this way. 

 Sadly, actress Yvette Vickers was found dead in her Benedict Canyon Drive home in Beverly Hills in April 2011. After not hearing from Vickers for several months, a neighbor crawled through a house window to find the mummified remains of the 50s sex symbol. It is speculated that she had been dead for over six months before the neighbor found her. A sad ending to a once-promising young woman who appeared in the pages of Playboy. She was 82. 

Fans can also see Vickers in the 1959 film Attack of The Giant Leeches (AKA The Giant Leeches), once again cast as a town harlot. Attack of The 50 Foot Woman was remade in 1993, with Daryl Hannah in the lead role. This film does not have the enjoyable, feminist, camp quality that is apparent in the original. Happy Viewing!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Unearthly: Carradine as mad scientist, again

The UnearthlyThe Unearthly, 1957, Director: Brooke L. Peters; Cast includes John Carradine, Tor Johnson, Allison Hayes, Myron Healey; About 75 minutes in most prints. *******1/2 out of 10 stars on the Schlock-Meter

The Unearthly boasts Ed Wood’s giant Tor Johnson among its cast, which automatically bumps it up a star or two on the Schlock-Meter. The tale is pretty standard fare for 1950s sci-fi/horror filmdom; Mad scientist John Carradine uses unsuspecting patients to try and graft on a “17th gland,” which the “good” doctor hopes will create eternal life. The problem is, all of the previous human guinea pigs he’s tried the gland procedure on have turned up mentally impaired and deformed. They exist -- a pretty motley bunch -- in the basement.

Pretty Allison Hayes is Carradine’s next intended victim, but she’s saved by Myron Healey, who plays an undercover cop who infiltrates Carradine’s sanitarium pretending to be a killer on the lam. Don’t you love these convoluted plots. Anyway, it’s up to Healey to save the day, since the patients of Carradine are too dense to realize that their ranks are shrinking rapidly.

Surprisingly, Carradine makes a pretty effective bad guy in this low-budget offer. He’s more subtle, resisting the urge to revert to his usual “over-the-top” overacting. The few times Carradine raises his voice in anger, his sinister side is effectively revealed. Tor Johnson, as Carradine’s hulking helper, is actually allowed a few lines of garbled dialogue. There are a few shots of Allison Hayes in a low cut nightgown, which must have a excited quite a few movie-going boys just entering puberty in 1957.

Some of the more glaring inconsistencies include: The sanitarium appears to be located in a secluded, out-of-the-way site, but it only takes the police a couple of minutes to arrive when called; none of the “patients” of Carradine’s doctor appear too concerned that Tor Johnson’s grotesque “Lobo” is on the staff; also, it’s amusing to see characters feign the effects of being shot in the stomach without any blood or bullet holes showing up.

The Unearthly is definitely worth a rental, if just to see one of the few films Tor Johnson made.
-- Doug Gibson

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Wizard of Gore - Marvel At Montag The Magician's Gruesome Illusions!

By Steve D. Stones

Over the years, gore specialist Herschell Gordon Lewis has not spoken fondly of his 1970 film - The Wizard of Gore. He claims he was unable to achieve the believable gore effects that he wanted in the film. His watershed gore film - Blood Feast, from 1963, broke all the rules for what was acceptable in showing extreme violence on the screen. His reputation for showing some of the most gruesome and over-the-top gore effects soon earned him the title of "The Godfather of Gore."

Blood Feast broke all the rules of tasteful entertainment in showing a woman's leg sawed off in a bath tub, a young girl's brain removed from her head, and another woman's tongue ripped out. Lewis is responsible for more sick-to-their stomach movie goers at the movie house as Russ Meyer was responsible for sexually arousing male viewers with his films at the drive-in movie circuit of the 1960s.

Like so many of Lewis' gore epics, The Wizard of Gore suffers from technical problems and strange, kitsch ridden acting, particularly from actor Ray Sager, who plays Montag The Magician in the film. Montag is not your usual dog and pony act wizard. He actually shows his illusions without any barriers blocking the audience's view.

In the opening act, he cuts off his own head with a cheap looking, cardboard guillotine. The head that rolls into a basket below the guillotine is obviously a rubber stage prop that looks nothing like actor Ray Sager, giving the viewer a taste of Lewis' tongue and cheek effects.

Next, Montag asks for volunteers from the audience to perform his gruesome illusions. The volunteers are conveniently women, and appear in a zombie-like trance. In one act, Montag saws a girl in half with a chainsaw, then pushes her innards around with his hands in extreme camera close ups. Another volunteer is punched through the stomach with a punch press. A third victim has a spike nailed through her head.

Each victim lives through the act, then later dies after leaving Montag's theater. Audience members are puzzled as to why each woman walks away from the illusions unharmed.

Lewis' next gore epic is the much less entertaining Gore Gore Girls from 1972. Lewis retired from the film business in the 1970s, and worked in the advertising industry for many years. He is now back in the director's chair directing new gore films. For further information about The Wizard of Gore and the career of Herschell Gordon Lewis, read the two very informative books: "A Taste of Blood" by Christopher Wayne Curry and "Herschell Gordon Lewis - Godfather of Gore: The Films" by Randy Palmer. Something Weird Video in Seattle, Washington has also recently produced a new documentary about Lewis. Be sure to have a vomit bag on hand if you watch any of Lewis' gore films. Happy Viewing! (or should I say - Happy Vomiting!).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Detective meets Baldy! Dick Tracy versus Cueball

By Doug Gibson

The Medved brothers list Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball as one of the 5o worst films in their book, The 50 Worst Films of All Time, that was a popular a generation ago.

They're wrong, of course, "Dick Tracy vs. Cueball," from RKO Radio Pictures, is a lean 62-minute programmer that provides exactly what is offers. A very fast-paced cartoonish detective story of the famous detective stopping a dangerous mug, Cueball, who starts strangling people with a hatband who get in his way of getting full value for the diamonds he stole.

Morgan Conway as Tracy lacks the facial looks and screen presence that Ralph Byrd brought to the role but he does an OK job. The funny-pages feel to the picture is accentuated by colorful characters, including Anne Jeffreys as Tess Truehart, Tracy's girl and Lyle Latell as Pat Patton, Tracy's silly sidekick.

The other characters have names that highlight their personalities, such as Jewels Sparkle, Percival Priceless, Vitamin Flintheart, Filthy Flora and, of course, the baddie Cueball, played in sinister fashion by Dick Wessel. A chief clue toward catching Cueball is learned when a youngster tells Tracy all the kids bought hatbands made by a prisoner who was recently released. ...

A 50 worst film? ... NONSENSE. I loved this action programmer from director Gordon Douglas. Why don't we watch the trailer below! Or start watching the entire film above via YouTUbe!