The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues

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One of the last entries in the ever-declining line of sea monsters of the mid-fifties, this super-low-budget film was released by ARC as a B-bill to Roger Corman’s Day the World Ended. An incompetent spy whodunnit meets a ridiculously bad nuclear monster hunt. One of the worst scripts of the fifties, but the acting is surprisingly good. Stars later exploitation staple Kent Taylor.

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues!

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues!

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955, USA). Directed by Dan Milner. Written by Lou Rusoff. Starring: Kent Taylor, Cathy Downs, Michael Whalen, Helene Stanton, Phillip Pine, Rodney Bell, Vivi Janiss. Produced by Jack & Dan Milner for Milner Brothers Productions.
IMDb rating: 3.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

Poster.

Poster.

You may or may not remember that I recently gave 2/10 stars to Roger Corman’s post-apocalyptic snooze-fest Day the World Ended (1955, review). Well, that was American Releasing Company’s (ARC) top-billed film on a double feature that also included The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues. To be perfectly honest, I would like to give this film a 0/10 rating, just to clearly mark the distance in quality from Corman’s movie, that was at least competently filmed. But unfortunately The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues has a so-bad-it’s-good charm about it, that makes it impossible for me to give it a zero. This, by the way, was a quality that Day the World Ended sorely lacked in its grave melodrama. Continue reading

Journey to the Beginning of Time

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(7/10) In 1955 ”the Georges Méliès of Czechoslovakia” directed an imaginative ”lost world” film in colour. With stop-motion puppetry and cutout animation, split screen techniques, mechanical puppets, suits and forced perspective shots, Karel Zeman gave life to the wonders of the prehistoric world. Although more ”edutainment” than drama, the film about four boys travelling backwards in time still manages to captivate its viewers with its innovative special effects, its naive and warm approach and the great performances by the young actors. Some special effects do feel a bit creaky.

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Vladimir Bejval and Zdenek Hustak inspecting a dead Stegosaurus.

Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955, Czechoslovakia). Directed by Karel Zeman. Written by Karel Zeman, J.A. Novotný. Starring: Vladimir Bejval, Petr Herrman, Zdenek Hustak, Josef Lukás. Produced for Ceskoslovenský Státni Film & Filmové Studio Gottwaldov.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

In 1955 American audiences were being wowed by Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation in films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, review). But Europe had their own Harryhausen, who was much less known to American audiences, partly because he worked behind the iron curtain, and partly because the one film he made that got a wide release in the US, Journey to the Beginning of Time (Cesta do praveku), downplayed his contribution when studios tacked on a newly filmed American beginning and end when it was released overseas in 1966. This was Czechoslovak director Karel Zeman, one of the most brilliant, artistic and inventive animators in the history of cinema. Continue reading

It Came from Beneath the Sea

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(4/10) A giant radioactive octopus destroys San Francisco in Columbia’s stale rehash of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. This low-budget programmer is saved by a good leading cast and Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation. George Worthing Yates writes a strong part for scream queen Faith Domergue, giving it a feminist slant. The hero from King Dinosaur, William Bryant, is back in a bit-part, but this time it is sci-fi stalwart Kenneth Tobey’s turn to ”bring the atom bomb”.

The hexapus attacking the Golden Gate in the later colourised version of the film.

The hexapus attacking the Golden Gate in the later colourised version of the film.

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955, USA). Directed by Robert Gordon. Written by George Worthing Yates, Harold Jacob Smith. Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis. Produced by Charles H. Schneer for Clover Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.9/10. Tomatometer: 67% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.

Poster.

Poster.

Radioactive deep-sea dangers menaced the world in the mid-fifties, and it all started with the Warner-distributed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review), which in turn was inspired by the immensely successful re-release of King King (1933, review) in 1952. King Kong showed Hollywood that stop-motion animation was still as effective a way for creating giant monsters as it had been twenty years earlier. King Kong, or course, was animated by legendary Willis O’Brien, as was its inferior slapdash sequel Son of Kong (1933). A much worthier follow-up was made in 1949, Mighty Joe Young, which gave O’Brien his only Oscar, although most of the animation was done by his apprentice, a young man called Ray Harryhausen, who would hone his animating skills on George Pal’s Puppetoons replacement animation film series. When producer Jack Dietz had the idea to make a giant monster film about a radioactive dinosaur wreaking havoc in New York, the call went out to Ray Harryhausen to create the creature in the stop-motion technique, and that film’s huge success spawned the inferior rip-off It Came from Beneah the Sea. Continue reading

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

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(8/10) Disney began producing live-action films in 1950, and by 1954, with its newly created distribution company Buena Vista, decided to go big or bust. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a magnificent adventure film with groundbreaking special effects, majestic Cinemascope Technicolor photography and beautiful designs. A star cast led by Kirk Douglas and James Mason help create what is regularly seen as the best Jules Verne adaptation of all time. However, the script is a bit disjointed, the film a bit too long, and Douglas steals a bit too many scenes with clowny over-acting. The highlight is the Nautilus crew’s fight with the film’s legendary mechanical squid.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954, USA). Directed by Richard Fleischer. Written by Earl Felton. Based on the novel with the same name by Jules Verne. Starring: Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre, Robert J. Wilke, Charles Grodin. Produced by Walt Disney for Walt Disney Productions.
IMDb rating: 7.2/10. Tomatometer: 89% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.

The pride of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - the giant squid, engineered by Robert A.- Mattey.

The pride of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – the giant squid, engineered by Robert A. Mattey.

Underwater shenanigans had been a thing in science fiction films in 1954, with Universal rolling out its final (belated) ”golden era” movie monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon (review) and Roger Corman making his production debut with Monster from the Ocean Floor (review). One of the reasons for this fad was the fact that a piece of technology had recently been unveiled that revolutionised underwater photography: scuba gear. But another, perhaps even greater reason was that movie lovers around the world were anxiously awaiting the Christmas release of Walt Disney’s mega-production 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Continue reading

Gog

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(5/10) Ivan Tors’ third OSI film was hugely influential on sci-fi writers such as Michael Crichton, who basically ripped the film off in his book The Andromeda Strain. Extremely ambitious, the film ticks so many boxes of ”first time ever on film” that I can’t fit them all into this introduction. The script doesn’t live up to its ideas and director Herbert Strock fails to create a claustrophobic suspense drama. The viewer forgets that the protagonists are trapped in an underground lab because of the bright Eastman colours and the seemingly spacious science lab, where a giant computer runs amok and killer robots stalk the corridors. Quintessential cold war drama with communist infiltration, nuclear threat, space race science and casual sexism.

Gog (1954, USA). Directed & edited by Herbert L. Strock. Written by Ivan Tors, Tom Taggart, Richard G. Taylor. Starring: Richard Egan, Herbert Marshall, Constance Dowling, John Wengraf, Philip Van Zandt, Michael Fox, William Schallert, Billy Curtis. Produced by Ivan Tors for Ivan Tors Productions. IMDb rating: 5.5/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Killer robots on the loose: Gog and Magog!

Killer robots on the loose: Gog and Magog!

If science fiction enthusiast bemoan the exclusion of visionary producer George Pal from discussions about pioneers of the film genre, then they should be doubly as wronged over the fate of the now almost forgotten Ivan Tors. If Tors is remembered today, it is mainly as creator of the Flipper franchise and other family-friendly animal shows. But in his own way, Ivan Tors was just as visionary a science fiction producer as Pal in the fifties, albeit working with significantly lower budgets. His main claim to fame within sci-fi is his movie trilogy about the fictional OSI, or Office of Scientific Investigation, a sort of precursor to the X-Files, without the new-age mumbo-jumbo and lacking in aliens. Gog was the final film in the OSI series, and probably the most ambitious one. Continue reading

Monster from the Ocean Floor

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(4/10) This 1954 shoestring-shocker is the first ever film produced by the king of B movies, Roger Corman. Despite a non-existing budget, Corman and director Wyatt Ordung are able to cobble together a film that looks like it was produced by decent Poverty Row studio. Lead actress Anne Kimbell’s warm and sympathetic portrayal of a tourist hunting a mutated sea monster in a Mexican cove does much to raise the film above its meagre production values. A surprisingly entertaining film that is perfect for a few laughs and a bowl of popcorn.

Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954, USA). Directed by Wyatt Ordung. Written by Bill Danch. Starring: Anne Kimbell, Stuart Wade, Dick Pinner, Wyatt Ordung, Inez Palange, Jonathan Haze, David Garcia, Roger Corman.. Produced by Roger Corman for Palo Alto Productions. IMDb rating: 3.3/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

Anne Kimbell exhausted after having encountered the monster from the ocean floor.

Anne Kimbell exhausted after having encountered the monster from the ocean floor.

This blog has chronicled the history of science fiction cinema from its humble beginnings with Georges Méliès’ groundbreaking extravaganza A Trip to the Moon (review) in 1902 through the pioneering work of masters like Fritz Lang (Metropolis 1927 review, Woman in the Moon, 1929, review) and the creators of the Universal monsters to the fifties. Beginning with George Pal’s ambitious Destination Moon (1950, review), the early fifties marked the beginning of nearly every subgenre now found in science fiction movies of today, whether it was the alien invasion (The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951, review), the alien monster (The Thing from Another World, 1951, review), the post-apocalyptic world (Five, 1951, review), the colonisation of space (When Worlds Collide, 1952, review) alien duplicates (Invaders from Mars, 1953, review), the futuristic war (The War of the Worlds, 1953, review) or the atomic monster (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, 1953, review). Continue reading

Creature from the Black Lagoon

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(7/10) In a nutshell: While Universal made this film in 1954 as a cheap money-grabber to cash in on the 3D craze, they once again underestimated the magic created by combining producer William Alland, director Jack Arnold, actor Richard Carlson and the studio’s brilliant design and makeup team, just as they had done on their previous collaboration. Despite a clumsy and derivative script, the film has some poetic quality and is a superbly directed, action-packed shocker. In good Frankensteinean fashion, the movie puts the audience on the side of the monster, and while the suit might seem hokey today, it was a sensation in its time, and served as a benchmark for science fiction films to come. Whether the film itself falls under the sci-fi umbrella is a matter of debate.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, USA). Directed by Jack Arnold. Written by Arthur A. Ross, Harry Essex, Maurice Zimm, William Alland. Starring: Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Whit Bissell, Ricou Browning, Ben Chapman. Produced by William Alland for Universal-International. IMDb rating: 7.0/10. Rotten Tomatoes: 84% Fresh. Metacritic: N/A.

Ricou Browning as the classic movie monster.

Ricou Browning as the classic movie monster.

In 1954 the old Universal monsters had fallen into decay a long time ago, and few cared about the old gothic legends like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy or the wolfman. During the forties the studio had milked everything and then some from them, resulting in an ever-declining parade of monster mashes, ending in The House of Frankenstein in 1945 (review). Presently, the old monsters were little more than punchlines in Abbott & Costello films. The political landscape, pop culture and filmmaking had changed. The old style, inspired by German impressionism, 19th century horror novels and Soviet montage symbolism had fallen out of style. The new science fiction style was cleaner, modern, urban and more linear. Nevertheless, the old monster makers still had one last shot in them, before the field was completely taken over by little green men, giant insects and computers-run-amok: Creature from the Black Lagoon. Continue reading

Killers from Space

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(2/10) In a nutshell: The second sci-fi film by Billy Wilder’s less talented brother Willie mashes up a cold war spy yarn with an alien abduction story and nuclear fright. The underlying story is a sound one, but it gets messed up by a thin script and a shoestring budget that relies on stock footage for filling time and has some of the most profoundly silly-looking aliens in film history. Future TV star Peter Graves of Mission: Impossible fame lends the film some dignity in the leading role, but it doesn’t help to save this ineptly produced and directed oddity. A must for lovers of bad B-movies, though.

Killers from Space (1954, USA). Directed by W. Lee Wilder. Written by Myles Wilder and William Raymond. Starring: Peter Graves, James Seay, Steve Pendleton, Frank Gerstle, John Frederick, Barbara Bestar, Shepard Menken. Produced by W. Lee Wilder for Planet Filmplays. IMDb: 3.1/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A. 

Are these not the most terrifying killers you have ever seen?

Are these not the most terrifying killers you have ever seen?

This here is something of a cult classic with lovers of bad movies – mainly because of the hilarious look of the aliens. Once seen, they can never be unseen. First of all, there’s the ridiculous jumpsuits. But most of all, what we remember are the eyes – the wonderfully wacky ping pong ball eyes. This 1954 film was supposed to be serious – and the aliens were supposed to be frightening. And then they stuck ping pong balls on their eyes. It’s wonderful! Well, in fact, they are not ping pong balls at all. Director Willie Wilder had suggested ping pong balls, but makeup artist Harry Thomas thought that wouldn’t really look realistic, so he went to an actual optical shop to ask for glass eyes, that he could cut in half. But they cost 900 dollars apiece, which was probably more than Thomas’ entire makeup budget. John Johnson’s book Cheap Tricks and Class Acts quotes an article in Filmfax, where Thomas is interviewed. Thomas describes how after being turned down at the opticians’, he stayed up all night wrestling with the problem of the aliens’ eyes, and how to make them realistic, so he wouldn’t have to settle for Wilder’s idea with the ping pong balls: ”I was almost completely discouraged when I opened up the refrigerator to get something to drink, and there was my answer: a white plastic egg tray.” So there you have it. In your face, haters, those are not ping pong balls, they are very realistic egg tray bottoms. Good on you, Harry Thomas! Continue reading

April 1, 2000

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(2/10) In a nutshell: This 1952 musical comedy is a propaganda film made in Austria during the occupation of the Allied forces, intended to promote the withdrawal of international troops and boost the national identity. Set in the year 2000, it follows the proceedings of a prime minister rolling out the greatest hits of Austrian history, art and music in order to convince the leaders of a global police force to finally lift the occupation from the country. Much singing, dancing and historical re-enactment, but very little actual plot. Plus for gathering the creme de la creme of Austrian stage talent, minus for blackface.

April 1, 2000 (1952). Directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner. Written by Rudolf Brunngraber and Ernst Marboe. Starring: Hilde Krahl, Josef Meinrad, Waltraut Haas, Judith Holzmeister, Elisabeth Stemberger, Ulrich Bettac, Karl Ehmann, Peter Gerhard, Curd Jürgens, Robert Michal, Heinz Moog, Paul Hörbiger, Hans Moser. Produced by Karl Ehrlich and Ernst Marboe for Wien-Film and the government of Austria. IMDb score: 5.9

Curd Jürgens and Waltraut Haas in April 1, 2000.

Curd Jürgens and Waltraut Haas in April 1, 2000.

This is one of the more interesting science fictions films to come out of Europe in the early fifties. That’s not saying a lot, though, as the sci-fi craze didn’t quite catch on in the Old World with the same speed as in Hollywood. With the exception of the British The Man in the White Suit (1951, review), the Europeans really didn’t make science fiction worth noting between 1950 and 1953, when the TV-series The Quatermass Experiment (review) renewed the continent’s interest in the genre. April 1, 2000 (or 1. April, 2000) also has the distinction of being only the third science fiction film to come out of Austria, unless you count The Hands of Orlac, which I stubbornly call a supernatural horror film. Even more interesting is that it was commissioned by the Austrian government. Continue reading

Unknown World

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(4/10) In a nutshell: The first actual hollow Earth film made in Hollywood, this 1951 cheapo produced by visual effects wizards Jack Rabin and Irving Block is almost a good picture, but stumbles in basically all departments. Pretentious, illogical, naive, chauvinistic, shakily directed and badly acted, but it does move along at a decent pace, is filmed in stunning cave locations and has occasional glimpses of profundity and brilliance. Loosely based on Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Unknown World (1951). Directed by Terry O. Morse. Written by Millard Kaufman. Inspired (uncredited) by A Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne and At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Starring: Bruce Kellogg, Marilyn Nash, Victor Killian, Otto Waldis. Produced by Jack Rabin & Irving Block for Lippert Pictures. IMDb score: 3.9

Some guy (seriously, I can't tell the apart!), Marilyn Nash and Bruce Kellogg in Unknown World.

Some guy (seriously, I can’t tell the apart!), Marilyn Nash and Bruce Kellogg in Unknown World.

Released two years earlier, Unknown World might have become a minor cult classic, so novel was its idea in Hollywood at the time. But released in late 1951, the movie faced such stiff opposition from other science fiction films, like The Day the Earth Stood Still (review), Superman and the Mole-Men (review), When Worlds Collide (review) and Flight to Mars (review), that it was a bit overlooked. And unfortunately it hasn’t received the same sort of delayed love as other cult classics by later generations, either. The main reason being that it is neither very good nor campy enough to be loved by the so-bad-it’s-good fans. But for any completist sci-fi fan it is definately a must-watch, since it is the first full-length feature film to tackle the hollow Earth genre. Continue reading