Friday, 29 May 2015

TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN












d. Lee Sholem (1949) 


One of my great heroes is Johnny Weissmuller, so I'm not predisposed to like Lex Barker, the man who replaced him as Tarzan after 16 glorious years. I'm not an unreasonable person, however, so I thought I'd give Barker the benefit of the doubt and see how the interloping twat does at filling Johnny's loin cloth (although I'm assuming Barker got a new loin cloth when he started. I certainly hope so).

These days, Tarzan's Magic Fountain would be described as a franchise reboot: new lead actor, some new sets, some new matte paintings - and a return to some of the gruesome violence that the series was originally notable for but became less prevalent as the films became popular with children. This is counter balanced by an awful lot of comic relief, mostly Cheeta related. There is still a reliance on (often badly matched) stock footage, much of which has already appeared in Tarzan films many, many times over.

The story meanders around a long lost aviatrix (40s horror favourite, Evelyn Ankers) and the idea of a hidden jungle city that has the secret of eternal youth. It's not particularly interesting, and there is an 'of its time' sub-plot where Jane takes charge of an expedition in order to demonstrate all that she has learned from many years of living in the jungle. It's a total disaster, and it's not long before she's lost, covered in killer ants and caught in a flash flood, flapping her arms around and shouting for Tarzan. That will teach the woman to try and do stuff.

So, what does Barker bring to the role? Well, he's fifteen years younger than Johnny Weissmuller, and, understandably, in better shape (Johnny filled out a bit when he hit 40). His biggest contribution, however, is smugness: his Tarzan is extremely pleased with himself, and forever smirking at some private joke or other. It's not an admirable quality, nor is the fact that he wears espadrilles all the time

As ever, the film ends on some Cheeta related tomfoolery. This time, Cheeta drinks from the magic fountain of youth and turns into a baby Howler Monkey. A baby Howler Monkey. They must think we are fucking idiots. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN













d. Edward Dmytryk (1943)


Noted endocrinologist John Carradine has made the familiar transition from dedicated scientist to unhinged maniac. He steals a friendly gorilla from a circus and implants it with the glands of his nurse, who made the mistake of suggesting that he was probably working too hard. The result, somewhat improbably, is a beautiful, exotic looking woman who he names Paula Dupree (she's played by Acquanetta, 'the Venezualan Volcano', actually born in Wyoming).

Because he's mad and drunk on his own cleverness, the doctor takes his creation back to the circus, where it becomes clear that Paula has a miraculous power over animals: they are shit scared of her. She is immediately enlisted as an assistant to the big cat tamer, her main role being to stand outside the cage in a spangly outfit just looking intently at the lions and tigers*. Occasionally, if they become unruly, she will look harder, perhaps arching an eyebrow. It's nice work if you can get it, though, presumably, there isn't a massive amount of demand for that sort of talent.

Falling in love with the big cat tamer sends powerful emotions coursing through her reconfigured body, however, breaking her new glands and unleashing her inner gorilla. By the time she is shot by an over zealous cop (nothing much changes in America) she has fully reverted to her old, hairy animal self, but there is a moment roughly halfway between her initial retro-transformation from human lady to ape woman to gorilla in which she is probably the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

* These scenes feature Clyde Beatty, the world famous animal trainer. It is amazing to watch him face down a dozen snarling big cats, but his methods leave a lot to be desired. There is also a lot of footage of lions and tigers fighting each other, an incredible but unedifying spectacle. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

THE FLIGHT THAT DISAPPEARED













d. Reginald Le Borg (1961)


Resembling an over extended episode of The Twilight Zone (there's half a compliment there, anyway) this film tells the story of three people who meet on a flight to Washington and realise that they are all on the way to the same meeting, a meeting that might actually lead to the extinction of mankind. For the record, they are a nuclear physicist, a rocket expert and a theoretical mathematician and between them their heads hold the ingredients of a super weapon which would make the H Bomb look like the cordite strip from a Christmas cracker.  

As they fly towards the American capitol, however, something strange happens. Despite the pilot's best efforts, the plane keeps rising and rising, even after all four engines cut out. At a height of ten miles, the plane becomes frozen amongst the clouds, and only our three boffins are left conscious. They make their way onto a mist shrouded patch of land (in the sky!) and are met by a group of ticked off looking people representing the as yet unborn generations of Earth. Yes, it's a trial, an unusual court where people who may never exist are passing judgement on people for something they haven't actually done yet. 

Just as the trio of scientists are being sentenced to an eternity in stasis, an older white haired man emerges through the fog and challenges the verdict. I think he might have been God, he certainly didn't look like a human rights lawyer. In any event, the three are returned to the plane which is allowed to continue its journey.

At first, the three assume it was all a bizarre dream (perhaps not surprising given how many cigarettes, cups of coffee and glasses of scotch they had imbibed on the flight) but, when they get to Washington and informed that they are over 24 hours late, they admit that something truly cosmic has happened and throw all their notes into the nearest waste paper basket, presumably to be immediately picked up by the nearest commie spy masquerading as an airport cleaner.  

Friday, 8 May 2015

THE 27th DAY













d. William Asher (1957) 

'People hate because they fear, and they fear everything they don't understand, which is almost everything'.


Aliens abduct five people from as many different countries: an English woman, an American journalist, a German scientist, a Chinese refugee and a Russian Soldier. Aboard the mother ship, a rather suave alien spokesman tells his guests that his planet is dying and his people would quite like to move to Earth but, as they are a fair and peaceful people, an invasion is out of the question. He goes on to say that as humans seem pretty intent on destroying themselves, anyway, the aliens have come up with a plan. Each of the abductees is given a box that contains three capsules holding enough combined power to kill every human being on Earth quickly, quietly and cleanly without the destructive power of a nuclear war. The alien simply requests that if the people of Earth do decide to blow themselves to bits in the next 27 days, then could they please use the capsules rather than bombs to facilitate human extinction, as this will leave the planet intact so the aliens can move right in. After 27 days, the aliens will have to make other arrangements, perhaps look to rent some temporary accommodation.

Not blowing up the Earth for 27 days seems fairly straightforward, of course, even at the height of the Cold War, but the Aliens immediately up the ante by appearing on every TV in the world and giving out the names of the abductees and some tentative details of the incredible power that they now possess. There's nothing like a bit of extraterrestrial intervention to put mankind into a tail spin, of course, so everything goes mental: there are riots in Cornwall, panic in Los Angeles; the Chinese lady stabs herself, the German professor searches for a solution, the Brit and the Yank fall in love. The Russian soldier, poor devil, is almost tortured to death by his own evil communist overlords, so eager are they to find out the secret to killing every American. Damn Russians*. 

The ending has not one but two very gratifying twists, a more than satisfactory ending to an unusual and intriguing film about how fundamentally rubbish humans are - and how ultimately marvellous they can be once the get past all the bullshit.    

* In contrast, the US government are shown as a benign, supportive group of people who have only humanity's best interests at heart. Yeah, right.   

Friday, 1 May 2015

PRESSURE POINT











d. Hubert Cornfield (1962)


I've always loved films about psychoanalysis, mainly because they provide so much scope for offbeat and inventive attempts to turn the objective camera into a subjective eye. I particularly enjoy dream sequences, haunting visuals, unusual staging, blurred edges, atonal electronic music and lots and lots of mime. Pressure Point is almost mainstream in many ways, but has some fascinating components that keep it plenty weird enough for consideration on this somewhat specialist blog. 

The very great Sidney Poitier is the prison psychiatrist, Bobby Darin the prisoner patient, an American Nazi imprisoned when the USA entered the war with Germany. They are diametrically opposed from the outset, of course, but the tension between the racist loser and the black high flier sparks some soul searching from each of them, which makes for a fascinating conflict. 

Their sessions together open up all sorts of odd, abstract flashbacks from Darin's less than illustrious past, sometimes staged in anonymous dreamscapes (the scenes where a young Darin bullies his imaginary friend), sometimes in Poitier's office (the venue for a fantasy about Darin ordering an elephant to stand on his pathetic hypochondriac Mother's head). It's pretty intense, particularly the restaging of a unsettling incident in which Darin and his drunken friends play Noughts and Crosses on every available surface in a bar - including the landlord's wife.   

Although the narrative is framed as a fairly conventional tale of triumph over adversity, Pressure Point does a lot more besides, riveting the attention and stimulating the imagination, and the performances, particularly from the under-rated Darin, are excellent.