Day the World Ended

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(2/10) Roger Corman officially directed his first science fiction film in 1955. Seven people hole up in a secluded bungalow after total annihilation in a nuclear war. As personal tensions mount, it is a race to see if the blood-thirsty mutant prowling the valley kills them before they kill each other. Richard Denning leads a capable cast, but the film is done in by a 45-minute deadly boring stretch where nothing at all happens. Paul Blaisdell’s crude mutant costume is fun to look at, but as half the film is padding, there’s just no way of saving it.

Marty the Mutant carrying off Lori Nelson.

Marty the Mutant carrying off Lori Nelson.

Day the World Ended (1955, USA). Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Lou Rusoff. Starring: Richard Denning, Lori Nelson, Paul Birch, Mike ”Touch” Connors, Adele Jergens, Paul Blaisdell. Produced by Roger Corman for Golden State Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A. 

Poster.

Poster.

First of all, I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of actor Mike Connors, who sadly passed away on January 27, 2017, at the age of 91.

Second, I feel I should address the elephant in the room, namely my low rating of this film. Of course, this can probably be partly chalked down to personal taste, but it is rather seldom that I wander 3.5 stars off the IMDb consensus. I have a feeling that some reviewers tend to bump up their assessment of this film based on a notion that it is a trailblazer, and thus should warrant extra points for its ideas, even if they are poorly executed. But this notion is false. Day the World Ended was not the first post-apocalyptic movie – but it was almost certainly the worst at the time it was made. Continue reading

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Gojira

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(7/10) Inspired by King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Gojira gave birth to the massive Japanese kaiju movie industry, and more or less single-handedly brought science fiction into the country’s mainstream. Eiji Tsuburaya pushed Japan’s severely under-developed special effects industry forward by a mile, but the quality was still a far cry from Hollywood at its best. Despite its clumsy rubber monster and the under-developed characters, Gojira is a tremendously gripping and stark allegory for Japan’s experiences during WWII, and director Ishirô Honda elevates Gojira above its B movie roots with his beautifully grim visuals and his relentlessly intimate focus on the casualties of war.

Gojira/Godzilla (1954, Japan). Directed by Ishirô Honda. Written by Ishirô Honda, Takeo Murata & Shigeru Kayama. Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Kokuten Kôdô, Haruo Nakajima. Produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka for Toho Film.
IMDb rating: 7.5/10. Tomatometer: 93% Fresh. Metascore: 78/100.

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Gojira destroying Tokyo.

In 1954 a horror was unleashed upon the world that resonates to this very day. Few movie monsters have the distinct honour of impacting our culture so that it actually changes our language, and becomes a concept in and of itself, even for people who have never seen the films they appear in. We talk about ”the King Kong of” some product, Frankenfood, the Governator and of course Bridezilla. The list could perhaps be made slightly longer, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find many more monsters, or indeed film concepts, that resonate so strongly throughout the entire world. Godzilla is one of those rare creatures that everybody in the world can conjure up an image of, regardless of age or geography. And like most great movie concepts, the reason for Godzilla’s timeless appeal is a number of happy (or unhappy) coincidences. Continue reading

Robot Monster

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(5/10) In a nutshell: Often named as one of the worst movies ever made, this 1953 cult gem is actually better than its reputation, despite the super-low budget, the sloppy direction, the non-existent sets, the complete lack of logic and the truly bewildering script. It makes up for this with ambition, imagination and soul, and a huge amount of talent both in front and behind the camera. And an obese robot gorilla in a diving helmet that gets an existential crisis while trying to eliminate the last seven people on Earth with a death ray that shoots soap bubbles.

Robot Monster (1953). Directed by Phil Tucker. Written by Wyatt Ordung (and a shady furniture salesman). Starring: George Nader, Claudia Barrett, Selena Royle, John Mylong, Gregory Moffett, Pamela Paulson, George Barrows, John Brown. Produced by Phil Tucker for Three Dimension Pictures. Tomatometer: 31 %. IMDb score: 2.9

Robot Monster in all his poetic beauty.

Robot Monster in all his poetic beauty.

There are bad movies and then there is Robot Monster – a film nearly as bad and nearly as loved as Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). It is often cited as a ripoff of standard fifties sci-fi films regarding aliens coming to Earth to wreak havoc, but it isn’t all that simple. In 1953 there simply hadn’t been many of these movies made. There was a string of such films released in short succession during the spring and early summer of 1953, but with its release date of June 10, 1953, Robot Monster was definately a forerunner. Continue reading

Five

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Arch Oboler’s independent 1951 film is the first American film to deal with nuclear annihilation, the first real post-apocalyptic film, the first empty world film and the first serious science fiction feature film with a major black character. Heavy on biblical reference and weighed down with pompous monologues and slow pacing, the film nonetheless has startling moments of cinematic brilliance and bold editorial and cinematic flourishes. A gritty, bleak vision of the future driven by a humane core, good ensemble acting and glimpses of lyrical beauty.

Five (1951). Written and directed by Arch Oboler. Starring: William Phipps, Susan Douglas Rubes, James Anderson, Charles Lampkin, Earl Lee. Produced by Arch Oboler for Arch Oboler Productions. IMDb score: 6.5

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If 1950 marked the beginning of the golden age of Hollywood science fiction with the space flight films Rocketship X-M (review) and Destination Moon (review), 1951 was a year of many firsts. The Man from Planet X (review) was the first feature film to introduce the goldfish bowl alien with his ray gun, and The Thing from Another World (review) gave us the first bona fide alien monster. Later in the year the first benign feature film alien arrived in Washington in his UFO (the first actual alien flying saucer on film) in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, review), and the first trip to the hollow center of the Earth commenced on October in Unknown World (review). But in April, about the same time as The Man from Planet X was revealed, Columbia Pictures released the first film depicting the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust in the independently produced Five, something of a great white whale for movie fans for a long time, since in wasn’t made available for home viewing until 2011. Continue reading

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

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

Charleston Parade

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(5/10) In a nutshell: A bonkers short subject by master director Jean Renoir from 1927 shows an African explorer in a spacecraft discovering a white native in a post-apocalyptic Paris, and they dance the Charleston for ten minutes. 

Charleston Parade (Sur un air de Charleston). 1927, France. Directed by Jean Renoir. Written by André Cerf, Pierre Lestringuez, Starring: Catherine Hessling, Johnny Hudgins. Cinematography: Jean Bachelet. Music: Clement Doucet. Produced by Pierre Braunberger for Neo-Film. IMDb score: 6.0

Catherine Hessling and Johnny Hudgins meet each other in Jean Renoir's strange short film.

Catherine Hessling and Johnny Hudgins meet each other in Jean Renoir’s strange post-apocalyptic short film. Hessling’s rather skimpy outfit led to the film being labelled as an erotic film on some occasions (in IMDb, for example).

Considering his experimental streak, it is a bit odd that the French film innovator Jean Renoir didn’t lend his talents to science fiction more often. The only time he ventured into the territory was in 1926, when he filmed the 17 minutes long experimental film Charleston Parade (Sur un air de Charleston), which was released the year after.

The intertitles tell us that in 2028 the world has been ravaged by an apocalyptic war, and the pinnacle of civilisation is now Africa, whereas Europe is now known as ”the unknown area”. An African explorer (Johnny Hudgins) sets out towards this savage and unexplored urban wilderness in his spherical spacecraft, and lands on top of a so called Morris column (advertising column) in the middle of Paris. Here he encounters a scantily clad white native girl (Catherine Hessling), along with her pet ape (uncredited, but wearing one of the worst ape suits in the history of cinema). Despite the sexy native’s alluring gestures, she brushes off the black explorer’s advances, and instead opts to teach him the local custom, the Charleston dance. Continue reading