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

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

Superman and the Mole-Men

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(4/10) In a nutshell: George Reeves parades through this first full-length Superman film in clearly visible shoulder and chest pads, which says just about everything about the production values of the B effort, made as it was as a pilot for the successful TV series Adventures of Superman. The script is confusing and thin, but very sympathetic and sincere, and Reeves saves the day through his innate charm.

Superman and the Mole-Men (1951). Directed by Lee Sholem. Written by Robert Maxwell and Whitney Ellsworth. Based of characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Starring: George Reeves, Phyllis Coates. Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, J. Farrell MacDonald, John T. Bambury, Billy Curtis, Produced by Barney A. Sarecky for Lippert Pictures. IMDb score: 6.0

Superman and the Mole Men poster.

Superman and the Mole Men poster.

Superman and the Mole-Men (1951) was the first full-length Superman film brought to American audiences. This low-budget production was, in fact, not so much a film that was intended to stand on its own legs, as it was a pilot for a planned Superman TV series. The 58 minutes long movie was produced by Lippert Picturs, the company behind the low-budget surprise hit of 1950, Rocketship X-M (review), the first serious US film to feature a space adventure. The TV series was picked up by ABC, and started airing 1952, and to the surprise of everyone involved, became a major hit show, turning Superman actor George Reeves into a national celebrity. Continue reading

The Phantom Empire

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(4/10) In a nutshell: Not even the worst serial acting in the history of bad serial acting is able to completely sink this brilliantly delirious sci-fi western musical comedy starring western and country legend Gene Autry. The film combines wild west adventure, lost Atlantis-type fantasy, Flash Gordon tropes and country singing in one of he most bizarre train wrecks of film history.

The Phantom Empire. USA, 1935. Serial film. Directed by Otto Brower, B. Reeves Easton. Written by: Wallace MacDonald, Gerald Geraghty, Maurice Geraghty, Hy Freedman. Starring: Gene Autry, Franky Darro, Betsy King Ross, Dorothy Christy, Wheeler Oakman, J. Frank Gleeson. Produced by Nat Levine for Mascot. IMDb score: 6.2

Gene Autry and the Junior Thunder Riders.

Gene Autry and the Junior Thunder Riders.

Although the United States can’t lay claim to the origins of sci-fi films (that would either be France or Denmark), there is a proud subgenre that is wholly and exclusively American – and that is the science fiction musical comedy. Now, one would think that after turkeys like Just Imagine (1930, review) and It’s Great to be Alive (1933), someone would have pulled the plug. But no. Instead the idea seems to be that once down in the dirt, the only way up is by going even deeper down. Thus we get the pulp magazine science fiction musical comedy western gangster serial. And that is exactly what The Phantom Empire is. And it is awesome. Continue reading

The Tunnel

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(4/10) In a nutshell: This German/French 1933 film pivots on the preposterously silly idea of building a tunnel between Europe and America. The acting is good and the tunnel sets impressive, but there is too much pointless melodrama the visuals are flat. Enjoyable as acuriosity. The review concerns the German version.

The Tunnel (Der Tunnel). 1933, Germany. Directed by Kurt Bernhardt. Written by Kurt Bernhardt, Reinhart Steinbicker, Henry Koster (uncredited). Based on the novel by Bernhard Kellermann. Starring: Paul Hartmann, Attila Hörbinger, Olly von Flint, Gustaf Gründgens, Max Schreck. Cinematography: Carl Hoffmann. Music: Walter Gronostay. Produced by Ernst Garden for Bavaria Film. IMDb score: 6.2

Paul Hartmann giving a passionate speak to his tunnel workers.

Paul Hartmann giving a passionate speak to his tunnel workers.

Der Tunnel (The Tunnel) is a curious project in a few ways. Firstly it is one of the films of the early thirties that were made into multilingual versions, using the same sets and script, and often the same director, but different actors (see F.P.1. Does Not Answer, 1932, review). This 1933 film was made as a German and a French version. A British remake was done in 1935. The film had previously been made in Germany as a silent movie in 1915. Continue reading