Invasion U.S.A.

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(1/10) In a nutshell: One of the true bottom-feeders of the cold war propaganda films, this movie depicts five people who oppose the universal draft seeing USA invaded by the Soviet Union. Despite good talent both behind and in front of the camera, this startlingly dumb movie is singularly boring and consists to a large part of military stock footage and five people talking in a bar. Worth watching perhaps only because of Dan O’Herlihy of Robocop fame and the fact that it features two Lois Lanes.

Invasion U.S.A. (1952). Directed by Alfred E. Green. Written by Robert Smith & Franz Shulz. Starring: Gerald Mohr, Peggie Castle, Dan O’Herlihy, Robert Bice, Tom Kennedy, Wade Crosby, Phyllis Coates, William Schallert. Produced by Robert Smith & Albert Zugsmith for American Pictures. IMDb score: 2.5

New York City getting bombed in Invasion U.S.A.

New York City getting bombed in Invasion U.S.A.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant is one of the most brilliant film critics on the internet. But sometimes I am completely flabbergasted by his judgement – like when he uses words like ”well-handled”, ”neatly structured”, ”clever” and ”excitingly assembled” about a film that the rest of humanity agrees is a big giant pile of turds. This film is Invasion U.S.A. To Erickson’s defense, he also calls it ”one of the weirdest political films ever made”, writes that it reaches ”the heights of camp hilarity” and that it is hard ”to be sillier than this movie”. Continue reading

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Rocketship X-M

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(6/10) In a nutshell: First serious American motion picture to go where no man has gone before. This 1950 Poverty Row movie was rushed into production to beat the lavish Destination Moon to cinemas and take advantage of the media buzz surrounding it. However, in some regards the cheap ripoff actually surpasses the ”original”, thanks to an Oscar-winning screenwriter, one of Hollywood’s greatest cinematographers, good acting and a movie with a good deal of heart and soul.

Rocketship X-M (1950). Directed by Kurt Neumann. Written by Dalton Trumbo, Kurt Neumann, Orville H. Hampton. Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Osa Massen, John Emery, Noah Beery Jr, Hugh O’Brian, Morris Ankrum, Judd Holdren, Barry Norton. Produced by Kurt Neumann, Murray Lerner for Lippert Pictures. IMDb score: 4.9

Osa Massen, John Emery, Hugh O'Brian and Lloyd Bridges in Rocketship X-M.

Osa Massen, John Emery, Hugh O’Brian and Lloyd Bridges in Rocketship X-M.

Poster.

Poster.

After the abysmal sci-fi decade that was the forties, fans of the genre finally got to look forward to well-made, original, lavish, high-quality – actual – science fiction films. The spark that ignited the explosion of A-list science fiction films about space travel in the early eighties was a costly gamble of 600 000 dollars, in lavish colour, co-written by author Robert A. Heinlein, that won an Oscar for special effects and was nominated for another for art direction – the first American moon landing film that strived for scientific accuracy. Except that was not this movie. That movie was George Pal’s Destination Moon (review). This film is the low-budget, black-and-white quickie produced by Poverty Row studio Lippert Pictures about a rocketship that accidentally end up on Mars instead of the moon and meet the family from The Hills Have Eyes. Continue reading

Krakatit

∗∗∗NO RATING: CAN’T FIND COMPLETE FILM∗∗∗

In a nutshell: The first full length feature film in the world depicting a nuclear holocaust, this 1949 Czech movie directed by ”the father of Czech cinema” Otakar Vávra is based on the novel Krakatit by the influential sci-fi writer Karel Capek. This dark fever dream of a movie follows protagonist Prokop who invents a new explosive, as he torments himself by imagining the evil it could be used for. Reviewers have given moderately good reviews, but feel it stumbles on melodrama and simplifies Capek’s complex book into an anti-war punchline.

Krakatit (1949). Directed by Otakar Vávra. Written by Otakar and Jaroslav Vávra. Based on the novel Krakatit by Karel Capek. Starring: Karel Höger, Florence Marly, Eduard Linkers, Jiri Plachý, Natasa Tanská, Frantisek Smolik. Produced for Ceskoslovenska Filmova Spolecnost. IMDb score: 7.2

A striking image of Prokok (Karel Höger) in the 1949 film Krakatit.

A striking image of Prokok (Karel Höger) in the 1949 film Krakatit.

DVD cover.

DVD cover.

I keep getting surprised by the fact that the science fictions films in the United States were always desperately late to pick up at science fiction themes in feature films in which I previously thought they were pioneers. By 1949 Hollywood hadn’t yet made a serious film about space travel. Germany, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and even Denmark had beaten them to the mark. Aliens hadn’t landed on American soil, either – for some reason they seemed to be very fond of Germany, though. American mad scientists were also very slow to get into the robot business, whereas USSR, Great Britain, Germany and Italy already had top notch robot scientists. Both the Hungarians and the Brits had invented time machines, but the Americans were stuck in 1949. Sure, these themes were abundant in American serials and had even enterered American TV, but still not the full lentgh feature films. The world hadn’t even ended on the American big screen, whereas both Denmark and France had been wiped off the map. Great Britain had experienced WWIII, a zombie apocalypse and a moon flight all in one film. And now the Czechs even beat the United States to the nuclear holocaust with Otakar Vávra’s Krakatit. Continue reading

Things to Come

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Screenwriter H.G. Wells, producer Alexander Korda and director William Cameron Menzies take us on an epic journey through the future in this pompous 1936 social prophesy. The most expensive film ever made in Britain in 1936, Things to Come boasts incredible sets and miniatures, great effects, high quality filming and a team of great actors. But ultimately the movie trips on its clay feet, which is the impossibly stiff script, lacking in emotion and real dialogue. Wells is using his biggest sledgehammer to pound in his message, and prevents the audience from doing any thinking for themselves.

Things to Come. 1936, UK. Directed by William Cameron Menzies. Written H.G. Wells, based on his own novel The Shape of Things to Come. Starring: Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedric Hardwicke. Music: Arthur Bliss. Produced by Alexander Korda for London Film Productions. Tomatometer: 92 %. IMDb score: 6.8

In the future the world will be ruled by stiff philosophers decked out in gowns and big shoulder pads.

In the future the world will be ruled by stiff philosophers decked out in gowns and big shoulder pads.

Things to Come was Great Britain’s most impressively epic science fiction film to date – without even a close rival – when it came out in 1936. It had a budget of about 350 000 pounds, equal to about 21 millions today; an absolutely astounding amount of money to put on a film back in that day. And thus it would remain all the way to 1968 when Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey in London. Penned by the 70-year old sci-fi master H.G. Wells from his own 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come, it was however more an ideological treatise and a futuristic prophesy than a dramatic film. Although time has conjured up a good deal of latter-day apologetics who hail Wells’ vision and – rightly so – praise the production design, the simple truth of the matter stands: Wells was an awful screenwriter. Continue reading

Undersea Kingdom

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(3/10) In a nutshell: Inspired by Flash Gordon and The Phantom Empire, the young Republic Studios launched their own sci-fi serial in 1936, and the result was an action-packed, but rather brainless concoction relying heavily on horse chases and pointless crowd battles. Occasional good design and an energetic Crash Corrigan, nice action scenes, or even some merited actors can’t save this awfully scripted and blandly acted Atlantis-themed hotchpotch.

Undersea Kingdom. 1936, USA. Serial. Directed by B. Reeves Eason & Joseph Kane. Written by John Rathmell, Maurice Geraghty, Oliver Drake, Tracy Knight. Starring: Ray ”Crash” Corrigan, Lois Wilde, Lee van Atta, C. Montague Shaw, Monte Blue, William Farnum, Smiley Burnette, Frankie Farnum, Lon Chaney Jr, Sinbad the parrot. Produced by Nat Levine for Republic. IMDb score: 4.7

Crash Corrigan fighting off two Black Robes in the Republic sci-fi serial Undersea Kingdom.

Crash Corrigan fighting off two Black Robes in the Republic sci-fi serial Undersea Kingdom.

I’ve stated numerous times that I normally don’t review serials. But I can’t seem to keep away, can I? Well, just to put my review of Flash Gordon (1936) in perspective, I’ve decided to write a few lines on Undersea Kingdom, released barely two months after Flash. The cheap ripoff showcases almost everything that Flash Gordon got right, by getting it all wrong. Nonetheless, for some peculiar reason, the serial seems to hold a very special place in the hearts of the friends of the Republic serials. Admittedly, it is not without its technical merits, and one does learn to enjoy the horrible acting the way one enjoys Plan 9 from Outer Space. Continue reading

Loss of Sensation

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(5/10) In a nutshell: A 1935 communist propaganda film with quite a few enjoyable quirks. Capitalists and communists fight over an army of robots that is controlled by saxophone. Based on a story by “The Jules Verne of Ukraine” and directed with a certain expressionist and avantgarde flair, the film is not without its merits, although the acting is stiff and amateurish and the script and dialogue leave room for improvement.

Loss of Sensation / Jim Ripple’s Robot (Gibel Sensatsii / Robot Dzhima Ripl). 1935, Soviet Union. Directed by Alexandr Andriyevskiy. Written by Georgiy Grebner. Based on the novella Idut Roborati! by Vladimir Vladko (uncredited). Starring: Sergei Vecheslov, Vladimir Gardin, M. Volgina, Anna Chekulayeva. Nikolai Rybnikov, Vasili Orlov. Produced for Mezhrabpomfilm. IMDb score: 6.5

Capitalist robots dancing to modern jazz on a drunken sax in the 1934 Soviet sci-fi propaganda Gibel Sensatsii.

Capitalist robots dancing to modern jazz on a drunken sax in the 1935 Soviet sci-fi propaganda Gibel Sensatsii.

Loss of Sensation apparently made a tour of the modern art circuit in 2012 as a part of a collection of Soviet films, which has led to some commentators euphorically labelling it as a forgotten Soviet alternative to Fritz Lang’s silent sci-fi masterpiece Metropolis (1927, review). Well, let’s start off by putting that one to rest: it is not. Not because Loss of Sensation would necessarily be a bad film, but because Metropolis was made by one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema, on a budget that was the biggest the world had ever seen at that point, and the film subsequently laid the groundwork for futurism, mad scientist films, dystopian films, created the android as we know it and even inspired architecture and interior design, and has frequently been placed among the three best sci-fi films in history. Loss of Sensation has not.

Good.

I’m glad we got that out of the way.

Now to the film. Continue reading

The Death Ray

No rating due to partly missing film

In a nutshell: This 1925 Soviet action film by master film theorist Lev Kuleshov is all about editing and light-hearted spy fun in a pre-James Bond era. Both critics and the audince found the film too experimental or too dumb. Still it is a masterpiece of expressive editing and has some spectacular stunts.

The Death Ray (Luch Smerti). 1925, Russia/USSR. Written and directed by Lev Kuleshov, Vsevolod Pudovkin. Based on the novel Lord of Iron (Povelityel Zhelyeza) by Valentin Katayev (uncertain, uncredited). Starring: Porfiri Podobed, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Sergei Komarov, Vladimir Fogel, Alexandra Kokhlova. Produced for Gosfilm. IMDb score: 6.4

One of the film's many exciting action scenes.

One of the film’s many exciting action scenes.

No-one should fault me for not trying to dig up what I can about these films. In researching this film I have requested corrections for both the film’s English Wikipedia page and IMDb.

The problem with Lev Kuleshov’s 1925 film Luch Smerti, or The Death Ray, is that there is very little information to be found about it online, even on Russian web pages. This is a bit surprising, as Kuleshov was one of the Soviet Union’s foremost directors and The Death Ray was made with a large budget and was highly publicized when it was released. It was, however, a flop both with audiences and critics, and it was later disowned and buried by the powers that be (was), because the Soviet bureacrats under Stalin thought it was too influenced by Western cinema, and the sci-fi element didn’t sit well with the demands of Soviet realism. Continue reading