(3/10) Future James Bond producer Albert Broccoli and Irving Allen masterminded this 1956 British genre mashup about two journalists fighting zombies and gamma ray cannons in a made-up European micro state. Individual parts work fine, but the balance between horror and comedy doesn’t gel, and too many different ideas and concepts compete for space and time. Features sex symbol Jocelyn Lane and Hogwarth’s Sorting Hat.
The boys of Gudavia getting Dr. Boronski’s gamma ray treatment.
The Gamma People (1956, UK). Written by John W. Gossage, John Gilling, Louis Pollock, Robert Aldrich. Starring: Paul Douglas, Leslie Phillips, Eva Bartok, Walter Rilla, Philip Leaver, Michael Caridia, Jocelyn Lane. Produced by John W. Gossage for Warwick Film Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.3/10 Tomatometer: N/A Metascore: N/A.
This is a project that was long in the making and met a number of difficulties and should, perhaps, have been abandoned. However, the film finally came to fruition January 1956, and the result is one of the more bizarre science fiction films of the fifties. Set in a fictional European micro state, it follows two unlucky journalists uncovering the plot of a mad scientist creating his own private super race with the help of a radioactive ray. The concept of the death ray was almost old hat when Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi teamed up around it in The Invisible Ray (1935, review) twenty years earlier, and certainly must have felt archaic in 1956. It doesn’t help that the film can’t decide whether to be a comedy or a horror film. Continue reading
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 (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.
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
(6/10) This 1955 film marked Universal’s entrance into the giant bug market, and along with Them! it stands as one of the classiest examples of the subgenre. Sci-fi stalwarts John Agar and Mara Corday back up a good Leo G. Carroll in a rather anachronistic mad scientist role. The script is derivative and somewhat clumsy, but moves along at a good pace and avoids communist/nuclear hysteria. Occasionally flawed, but ultimately impressive visual effects make Jack Arnold’s fourth sci-fi picture a genuine classic.
Tarantula (1955, USA). Directed by Jack Arnold. Written by Robert M. Fresco, Martin Berkeley, Jack Arnold. Starring: John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Eddie Parker, Clint Eastwood. Produced by William Alland for Universal-International.
IMDb rating: 6.5/10. Tomatometer: 92% Fresh. Metascore: N/A.
1955 stood in the middle of a decade that marked the second Golden Age for monster movies. But unlike in the thirties, the monsters were no longer gothic undead ripped from the pages of literary classics and folklore. No, these were the monsters of the atomic age – mutants, radioactive giants and overgrown insects. The hugely successful re-release of RKO:s King Kong (1933, review) in 1952 spurred Warner to take a chance with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review), and the old masters of the monster genre, Universal, answered with Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, review). Smelling success for science fiction in general, Universal splashed out with a big-budget space epic, This Island Earth (review) in 1955, and even if the film made back its budget, it wasn’t the hit they had hoped for. So, the studio decided, space rockets and far-off planets still weren’t the money-cows they needed, and for the rest of the decade decided to play it safe with an ever-declining line of mutated insects, arachnids and other critters. Tarantula isn’t the first time we’ve seen giant spiders on films, but it is the first time the spider has taken the size of a house. And this movie is without a doubt the best of Universal’s post-1954 sci-fi horror films. Continue reading
(4/10) Cult director Edward Cahn’s comeback film from 1955 has sci-fi favourite Richard Denning tracking nuclear-powered zombies. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak is back at his favourite subject – brains – but it’s not his best script. An exploitation cheapo with major studio backing, this was a gore-fest in the fifties. Today it seems flawed, but still entertaining and competent.
Creature with the Atom Brain (1955, USA). Directed by Edward L. Cahn. Written by Curt Siodmak. Starring: Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Michael Granger, Gregory Gaye, Linda Bennett. Produced by Sam Katzman for Clover Productions.
IMDb rating: 5.4/10. Tomatometer: N/A. Metascore: N/A.
”In a sense, this film’s title sums up the appeal of the science fiction/monster movies of the 1950s. It’s lurid, it’s to the point, and it deals with (a) monsters, (b) atomic radiation and (c) intelligence, all within a single exploitable phrase. Creature with the Atom Brain. Run that around your tongue for a while, and imagine yourself a 12-year old”. Thus writes Bill Warren in his fifties’ sci-fi bible Keep Watching the Skies about the film that this review concerns, a cheap exploitation affair from Sam Katzman’s Clover Productions, a subsidiary of mid-level studio Columbia Pictures. And for once, the title actually lives up to the film. Nay, it undersells the film – it should be in plural: CreatureS with Atom Brains!
Creature with the Atom Brain was produced by Katzman himself as the bottom half of a science fiction double feature (I have waited almost three years to get to write that phrase!), alongside Charles Schneer’s and Ray Harryhausen’s giant octopus film It Came from Beneath the Sea, which I reviewed just a few days back. It was written by Curt Siodmak, probably as a commission, and directed by Edward L. Cahn, an industry veteran known for his ability to shoot films fast but competently. In fact, this was his first brush with sci-fi, unless you count a short Our Gang effort from 1940, which involved a robot, but it certainly wouldn’t be his last. Continue reading
(3/10) In 1955 legendary producer/director Ed Wood released the first film of his sci-fi trilogy, and to his great satisfaction was able to place aged horror icon Bela Lugosi in the lead. Often considered Wood’s ”best” movie, this low-budget schlocker has to be ingested with a good dose of good-will. The inaptly made film is good for a whole bunch of laughs, but Lugosi plays his mad scientist with great gusto and even has some touching moments, and the movie has a very distinct charm.
Bela Lugosi as Dr. Eric Vornoff in Bride of the Monster.
Bride of the Monster (1955, USA). Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr. Written by Alex Gordon and Edward D. Wood Jr. Starring: Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy, Loretta King, Harvey B. Dunn, George Becwar, Paul Marco, Dolores Fuller. Produced by Edward D. Wood Jr. for Rolling M. Productions.
IMDb raring: 4.1/10. Tomatometer: 45% Rotten. Metascore: N/A.
The fifties were a golden age for filmmakers without money, time or any particular talent. If you could raise 30 000 dollars, conjure up a script and stick a monster in the film, you could almost bet that someone would pick up distribution rights and make their money back, no matter how bad the movie was. There were quite a few hacks who tried their hands at sci-fi programmers, such as W. Lee Wilder or Bert I. Gordon. Roger Corman, who was in truth a very good producer and director, made an art out of making films on almost no money. But for some reason the name that has gone down in history as the king of bad movies is that of Edward D. Wood Jr. or Ed Wood for short. Best known for his ”magnum opus”, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), he did once produce and direct a film that had an actual budget and an actual script, and is often considered his best movie, and that is Bride of the Monster. Continue reading
(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!
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
(5/10) In a nutshell: Clearly a passion project of sorts for director Chano Urueta, The Monster, as it’s been labelled with the US DVD release, was a pioneering Mexican medical sci-fi movie upon its release in 1953. Made with virtually no budget the movie is clunky and the script absolutely zany, but holds up thanks to strong acting and a well-built eerie atmosphere. The star name was the ill-fated Czech immigrant Miroslava, or ”the Marilyn Monroe of Mexico”.
El monstruo resucitado (1953, Mexico). Directed by Chano Urueta. Written by Adruino Maiuri, Chano Urueta. Starring: Miroslava Sternova, Carlos Navarro, José Maria Linares-Rivas. Produced by Sergio Kogan, Abel Salazar for Internacional Cinematográfica. IMDB rating: 5.8/10.
Miroslava as Nora and José Maria Linares-Rivas as the mysterious Dr. Hermann Ling in The Monster.
First of all, please forgive my long absence, I’ve been stressed out by my day job as a magazine editor and haven’t had the energy to do the blog well, and decided it’s better to not do it at all than to do it poorly. But now I’m back with yet another look at an obscure horror sci-fi film. With this last of my review of 1953 I’m tackling something of a cult classic with Mexican horror lovers – El monstruo resucitado, directed by Chano Urueta. It’s literal translation is The Resurrected Monster or The Revived Monster, and it’s been released on DVD in the US simply as The Monster. It is also sometimes referred to as El monstruo Dr. Crimen. Continue reading
(5/10) In a nutshell: Based on The Wolf Man creator Curt Siodmak’s influential novel, this is the first real sentient-brain-in-a-vat film. It’s hampered by a rather dull tax fraud subplot and the generic mad scientist storyline, which was quite passé in 1953 – even though the scientist, played by Lew Ayres, isn’t mad at all. On the plus side, the direction feels modern and grounded and the acting is primarily good. Holes in logic abound, and the ending is a cop-out. Stars future First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Donovan’s Brain (1953). Directed by Felix E. Feist. Written by Hugh Brooke & Felix E. Feist. Based on the novel Donovan’s Brain by Curt Siodmak. Starring: Lew Ayres, Gene Evans, Nancy Reagan, Steve Brodie. Produced by Tom Gries for Dowling Productions. Tomatometer: 50 %. IMDb score: 6.0/10.
The original brain in a vat.
There are tropes in science fiction that have become so commonplace today, that they are reduced to clichés. The time machine, the UFO, the mad scientist, the lunar landing, the killer robot, the invisibility serum, and of course the disembodied brain. The ”brain in a vat” has become a staple villain of sci-fi comics, the best known are probably Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Brain in DC Comics. The disembodied brain has also turned up in a number of TV series and films, and the basic concept has been drawn upon for cyborgs like Robocop. But the one film that people keep referring to as the essential brain-in-a-vat film is the independently produced Donovan’s Brain, made in 1953, based on Curt Siodmak’s novel of the same name. Continue reading
(3/10) In a nutshell: Dynamic producer duo Pollexfen & Wisberg bring you this independet low-budget riff on Jekyll and Hyde or The Wolfman, directed by former star director E.A. Dupont. A mad scientist develops a serum which turns his cats into sabre-tooth tigers and decides to turn himself into a Neanderthal man just to prove his theory that the Neanderthal was just as smart as his descendant, homo sapiens. Decent acting and flourishes of directorial style can’t hide the low budget, bad props and make-up and a derivative script with some of the worst science in movie history.
The Neanderthal Man (1953). Written by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg. Directed by E.A. Dupont. Starring: Robert Shayne, Joyce Terry, Richard Crane, Doris Merrick, Beverly Garland, Robert Long, Tandra Quinn. Produced by Jack Pollexfen & Aubrey Wisberg for Global Productions & Wisberg-Pollexfen Productions. IMDb score: 4.5/10
Intro credits of The Neanderthal Man, 1953.
It is interesting how some careers in the film industry can derail completely. German Ewald André Dupont was once one of the most celebrated directors in Europe. Lauded as an expert camera handler and one of the pioneers of sound cinema, with two or three internationally successful German and British films under his belt, he took on Hollywood in 1933, along with the boatloads of other Central European filmmakers fleeing the rise of the Nazis in Germany. But where directors like Fritz Lang or F.W. Murnau became stars in Tinseltown, Dupont went from disappointment to disappointment, at one point even dropping out of direction altogether, and ended his career in a haze of booze with Z-grade schlockers like The Neanderthal Man. Continue reading
(2/6) In a nutshell: Sci-fi radio and 3-D film pioneer Arch Oboler touches the low-point in his career with this ill-advised comedy of a TV set from the future that takes charge over the life of a college professor. Badly adapted from a sci-fi horror satire by Lewis Padgett, the film never finds its tone, the actors struggle with the concept and Oboler continues to use a sledgehammer to pound in his anti-authoritarian message, in case the audience is slow to catch on.
The Twonky (1953). Written & directed by Arch Oboler. Based on a short story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore. Starring: Hans Conried, William H. Lynn, Gloria Blondell, Edwin Max, Janet Warren, Evelyn Beresford, Connie Marshall, William Phipps. Produced by Arch Oboler for Arch Oboler Productions. IMDb score: 5.6
Promotional poster for The Twonky.
If there was one thing that filmmakers were more afraid of in the fifties than UFOs, nuclear war and those damn Commies combined, it was the television set. Hollywood was in open rebellion against TV, with some studios even banning televisions altogether from their movie sets. This is why it is easy to misjudge the prevalence of the goggle box when watching films from the early fifties. Hollywood was so afraid that television would make people watch films at home instead of going to the cinema, that filmmakers collectively stuck their heads in the sand and pretended that TVs did not exist in the lives of their movie characters. When included, the television was often shown as a menace or a nuisance. Writer-director-producer Arch Oboler decided to put the cat on the table and made a satirical comedy featuring a TV set from the future that becomes a tyrant in the house of an unlucky college professor. Continue reading