The War of the Worlds

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(8/10) In a nutshell: With his third try at a science fiction epic, producer George Pal finally ironed out some of the kinks that made his first two attempts fall below the mark. This adaptation of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion classic is a stunning tour de force of special effects, aided by a fast-paced script and beautiful design. The breezy plot helps to partly cover up that Pal has stripped Wells’ story of all ideology and satire, and reversed the author’s position on key issues, and Pal’s insistence on drowning his movies in schmarmy religious tirades makes for a cringe-worthy ending. Despite this, The War of the Worlds is a brilliantly entertaining nail-biter and visually a true masterpiece.

The War of the Worlds (1953). Directed by Byron Haskin. Written by Barré Lyndon. Based on the novel The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Lewis Martin, Paul Frees, William Phipps, Cedric Harwicke, Charles Gemora, Carolyn Jones. Produced by George Pal, Frank Freeman Jr. & Cecil B. DeMille for Paramount Pictures. Tomatometer: 85%. IMDb score: 7.2/10

The iconic war machines of The War of the Worlds, designed by Albert Nozaki.

The iconic war machines of The War of the Worlds, designed by Albert Nozaki. Look closely and you see the wires.

There are a few films that stand towering over science fiction like giants in respect to their influence on the genre. George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902, review), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927, review), and Woman in the Moon (1929, review), James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931, review), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) and the Wachowksi Brothers’ The Matrix (1999) are among these. They are not always the best in their subgenre and some of them are hampered by by serious problems. They are not always first in their field with their ideas, but execute them in ways that make them milestones to which you can pin flags and draw a line: this was science fiction film history before this-and-this film, and this is what it looks like afterwards. George Pal’s The War of the Worlds is one of these films, it is the Magnum Opus of a filmmaker that wasn’t always savvy to what made a good sci-fi script, but without question one of the great visionaries of movie history. Continue reading

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Where Did You Get This?

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(5/10) In a nutshell: This 1952 movie, Min aina laka haza? in Arabic, has the distinction of being the first science fiction movie of Egypt. Starring four of the biggest movie stars of the country and directed by the B movie specialist and effects innovator Naizi Mostafa, this film is inspired by Universal’s Invisible Man films, but plays out as a romantic musical comedy. A fun, light-hearted and well-made popcorn movie that is enjoyable even without understanding the dialogue.

Where Did You Get This? (1952). Directed by Niazi Mostafa. Written by Ali El Zorkani and Muhammad Fawzi. Starring: Muhammad Fawzi, Madiha Yousri, Farid Shawqi, Ismail Yasseen, Hassan el Baroudi, Zeenat Sidqi. Produced by Muhammad Fawzi for Film Company Muhammad Fawzi. IMDb score: 5.0

Muhammed Fawzi becomes invisible in Niazi Momammad's Where Did You Get This?

Muhammed Fawzi becomes invisible in Niazi Momammad’s Where Did You Get This?

This is a rare entry on this blog of Arabic science fiction cinema, which is certainly not a huge subgenre, but nevertheless not to be completely overlooked. As a prosperous, stable and fairly secular country, Egypt was long the dominant film producer of the Arab countries and the golden age of Egyptian cinema lasted from the forties to the sixties. To a modern viewer, the liberal take on violence and sex in of some of the genre films of the golden age is surprising. Where Did You Get This? is in comparison a rather timid little film, and like much of the genre cinema of Egypt in the day, it was a blatant ripoff Hollywood’s genre films, in this case the Invisible Man franchise by Universal. Continue reading

Tales of Tomorrow

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(6/10) In a nutshell: Tales of Tomorrow aired on ABC in the US from 1951 to 1953 and was the first exclusive science fiction anthology series. Adult, intelligent and genuinly unsettling scripts are intermingled with more staple mystery and sci-fi fare. The live broadcast sets limits for direction, but genius camera work and editing sometimes surpass these limits. Leslie Nielsen dominates the cast, and watch out for the masterclass in method acting between Rod Steiger and James Dean.

Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953). Created by Mort Abrahams and Theodore Sturgeon. Directed by Don Medford, Charles Rubin, et. al. Written by Man Rubin, Mel Goldberg, Frank de Felitta, Alvin Sapinsley, David E. Durston, Max Ehrlich, Gail Ingram, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Henry Kuttner, et. al. Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Cameron Prud’Homme, Walter Abel, Edgar Stehli, Theo Goetz, Olive Deering, Edith Fellows, Bruce Cabot, Rod Steiger, Gene Lockhart, Una O’Connor, Boris Karloff, Eva Gabor, Veronica Lake, Joanne Woodward, James Dean, Lon Chaney Jr, James Doohan, Paul Newman, et. al.  Produced by George F. Foley Jr, Mort Abrahams, Richard Gordon for George F. Foley, distributed by ABC. IMDb score: 7.4

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

Opening credits for Tales of Tomorrow.

I’ve been reviewing a lot of television lately: there was the first televised sci-fi series, Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949, review), the first anthology series featuring science fiction, Lights Out (1949, review), but now we get to the third one, and the last one I’ll be reviewing in a while: Tales of Tomorrow, which ran on ABC from 1951 to 1953. This has the distinction of being the first television anthology series to feature exclusively science fiction, foreshadowing legendary TV shows like The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and The Outer Limits (1963-1964). Continue reading

Tômei ningen arawaru

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(5/10) Tômei ningen arawaru or The Invisible Man Appears has the distinction of being Japan’s earliest preserved science fiction film. More inspired by Universal’s Invisible Man films than H.G. Wells’ novel, the film concerns a mysterious invisible man out to steal a diamond necklace. This crime mystery drama meets tokusatsu film boasts the special effects of the great Eiji Tsuburaya and a superb performance from one of Japan’s biggest cinema legends, Takiko Mizunoe; a singer, dancer actress, gender bender and union activist who would go on to become Japan’s first female movie producer at a major studio.

Tômei ningen arawaru (1949, Japan). Directed by Nobuo Adachi. Written by Akimitsu Takagi & Nobuo Adachi. Starring: Chizuguru Kitagawa, Takiko Mizunoe, Daijirô Natsukawa, Mitsusaburô Ramon, Ryûnosuke Tsukigata, Shôsaku Sugiyama, Kanji Koshiba. Produced by Hisahi Okuda for Daiei. IMDb rating: 6.2/10. Rotten Tomatoes N/A. Metacritic: N/A.

The invisible man appears!

The invisible man appears!

Here’s one that got away! I finally managed to find an online copy of the Japanese film Tômei ningen arawaru (透明人間現わる or The Invisible Man Appears), made in 1949. And lo and behold! It even had English subtitles – unusually good subtitles, in fact. Now, I won’t be able to give you as detailed information on this film as I normally do, since there is not a lot of information about it online in English. What I know about it I’ve picked up from Japanese sources. I don’t read Japanese, and Google translates the language into almost unintelligible English. Please let me know in the comments below if I’ve misunderstood something or if you have any additional information on the film! Continue reading

Time Flies

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(4/10) In a nutshell: In this breezy 1944 musical comedy from Britain, four friends accidentally travel to 16th century London where they meet William Shakespeare and try to sell America to Queen Elizabeth. Petite American jazz singer Evelyn Dall is the real star of this B movie, since radio comedian Tommy Handley’s horrific puns get old even before they get going. Good production values, the lighthearted tone and nice musical numbers make it worth a watch. Not, however, as often claimed, the first film featuring a time machine. 

Time Flies (1944). Directed by Walter Forde. Written by Ted Kavanagh, J.O.C. Horton, Howard Irving Young. Starring: Tommy Handley, Evelyn Dall, George Moon, Felix Aylmer. Produced by Edward Black for Gainsborough Pictures. IMDb score: 5.4

Tommy and Bill fleeing the police into the time machine in the musical comedy Time Flies fron 1944.

Tommy and Bill fleeing the police into the time machine in the musical comedy Time Flies from 1944.

Filmmakers in the United Kingdom were certainly not too hot about science fiction in the thirties and the forties. Most British sci-fi in the thirties was co-produced with either Germany or France, other films just slightly dipped their toes in sci-fi matter. Science fiction guru H.G. Wells momentarily awakened the British film industry’s interest in the genre with his extremely expensive Things to Come in 1936 (review), directed by William Carlos Menzies. Although it was the most lavish sci-fi production in the world since Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis (review), audiences and critics panned the sluggish and moralistic script and the partly wooden acting brought on by the bombastic, long-winded dialogue. The film nearly bankrupted the studio and made the British industry shun sci-fi for one and a half decade. Continue reading

Invisible Agent

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(5/10) In a nutshell: The fourth of Universal’s invisible man films, made in 1942, has a Griffin descendant fight Nazis in Germany. The special effects are impressive, as is much of the cast, incliding Cedric Hardwicke and Peter Lorre. But the comedy is lame and the script by Curt Siodmak falls far from his best efforts. Still, it is fairly entertaining as bit of a jumbled spy thriller.

Invisible Agent. 1942, USA. Directed by Edwin L. Marin. Written by Curt Siodmak. Inspired by the novel The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. Starring: Jon Hall, Ilona Massey, Cedric Hardwicke, Peter Lorre, J. Edgar Bromberg, Albert Bassermann. Produced by Frank Lloyd for Universal. IMDb score: 6.0

Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey) and the invisible agent (Jon Hall), covered in cold cream.

Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey) and the invisible agent (Jon Hall), covered in cold cream.

I almost feel like I’ve got to apologise for posting yet another bland five-star review. But that’s just the thing with a lot of the sci-fi in the late thirties and early forties. The momentum that drove especially the mad scientist subgenre in the first half of the thirties was gone, and many of the directors that created such visionary films had been replaced by studio hacks. But on the other hand: even when relegated to Povery Row studios and bigger studios’ B units, there was still a lot of talent surrounding the genre, who were often able to elevate the films above their slight budgets. Such was the case with Invisible Agent. Continue reading

The Invisible Woman

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(6/10) In a nutshell: The third ”invisible man” installment is a good, solid comedy with a great female heroine, but hardly brings anything new to the sci-fi table.

The Invisible Woman. 1940, USA. Directed by A. Edward Sutherland. Written by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, Gertrude Purcell, Joe May, Kurt Siodmak. Inspired by H.G. Wells’ novel The Invisible Man. Starring: Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore, John Howard, Charles Ruggles, Oskar Homolka, Edward Brophy, Donald MacBride, Margaret Hamilton, Shemp Howard. Produced by Burt Kelly for Universal. IMDb score: 6.1

Virginia Bruce not seen in The Invisible Woman.

Virginia Bruce not seen in The Invisible Woman.

Number three in the Universal Studios Invisible Man franchise takes the humorous elements of its predecessors to a new level. While James Whale added his pitch-black witty comedy to The Invisible Man (1933, review), it always remained at heart a horror film. Joe May toned down the horror for laughs in The Invisible Man Returns (1940, review), but still kept the serious mystery thriller element dominant. With director A. Edward Sutherland, one of the original, Keystone Cops, it is slapstick comedy all the way, and now there is very little, if anything, to remind the viewer of H.G. Wells’ original novel written in 1897 – which still gets screen credit. Continue reading