Saturday, October 9, 2021

The Twonky - 1953


I had the twonkies when I was a child.” - Coach Trout

It shaved me today.” - Kerry West

Something is happening, but you don't know what it is.” - Bob Dylan

A philosophy professor battles The Twonky. Colleges will survive into the dystopian period.

Writer-Producer-Director Arch Oboler has one of the great punchline names (3 vowels and 3 consonants.) He directed Five (1951), The Bubble (1966), and Bwana Devil (1952.) Hans Conried was in Peter Pan and The Great Dictator and The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. Janet Warren appeared in The Ghost of Frankenstein and Buck Privates. William H. Lynn was in The Outcasts of Poker Flat. The movie is based on a short story by Henry Kuttner. The title music by Jack Meakin sounds like a bonk, a plonk and a twonk.

Meet the device with a 'super-atomic brain.' To give away the secret of 'The Twonky' would be a miscarriage of justice. Maybe the secret of 'The Twonky' is a thing we weren't meant to know. Post-war America met its greatest enemy in the ubiquity of the television set. It is true that no one could anticipate the long-term ramifications of beaming visual media into the home. Conried's character is a philosophy professor; philosophy was dead the minute the television was invented. Finally, in the dystopian future of 1953, Technology will ultimately and totally control our lives; we should have listened to Hulot in Mon Oncle. Conried's protagonist character lives in a palace with a twelve-inch television. Hollywood loves deflating stuffy intellectuals with the introduction of unknown phenomena. Early on there's a joke about 'obstetrical history' that has to appreciated for its ironic understatement. What exactly is a 'red cent'? Who doesn't love a 'wubba-wubba' soundtrack? 'Coach Trout' is a humorous character name. That character is the voice of cynical realism (one who's usually less than functional except to deliver exposition) At one point, Coach Trout drops a load of incredibly detailed information pertaining to the fantastic, and one goes, 'Wait. How did he know that?' Coach Trout orders his students to 'Smash the Twonky!' That's sagacious advice. Then the elderly Coach looks at the co-ed's backside and implies something rather sexual. That wouldn't fly today. An absent wife is compared to an “entertainment.” 'I got no complaints' sounds like a motto of middle-class conformity. There's some special fx magic as the Twonky ties a knot for Kerry West. Disney might have taken this premise and overcharged in the color go-go 1960s; alas, until the third act, most of the movie takes place in Conried's house, and that tends to limit the scope. The trilling on the soundtrack is incessant. The middle part of the last century was a time of much humorous drinking. That television prefers Sousa over Mozart, which might be a preference for the popular over the high-brow.  The police threaten to send our protagonist to Alcatraz. The sassy black maid tells Conried that she has a larger television. The college is integrated, so I guess that's progressive. The Twonky can change genders. That's progressive too. A clerk brags about his experience with 'time-payment merchandise.' The Twonky is as nightmarish as a Dalek. This is something like a slightly more humorous take on a body snatching movie. Women come to collect money and never leave. Is this a horror movie or a comedy? Is The Twonky Oboler's masterpiece? Stay tuned on your orthicon tube to this very channel.

The Twonky is on Youtube in atrocious quality, missing, in fact, the title card. It was apparently recorded from a television broadcast. I want to live in any town where they show on The Twonky on television. I might even watch The Twonky on my Twonky! The movie is 69 minutes long, so there's that to its credit. Other sources give a running-time in the 80+ minute range, so I don't know if anything is missing.  No one wanted a partial Twonky.  File it next to the Babadook and The Hidan de Maukbeiangjow.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Head (1959)


“Put down that telephone. You really are insane.”

“I think that, on the contrary, men are certainly going to look at you.” - Dr. Burke

“Are you an undertaker? You hold me like I was dead.” - Lily

“The last chance was to perform the dog operation on your head.” - Dr. Oud

A mysterious stranger arrives. Something's coming to a head at the Tam-Tam club.

Director Victor Trivas has a few directorial credits, but his writing credits are more numerous, including Hell on Earth (1931) and The Stranger (1946.) Barbara Valentin was a sex symbol in Horrors of Spider Island (1960.) Producer Wolf C. Hartwig produced that film and a whole bunch more. Christiane Maybach was in A Study in Terror. Horst Frank was in The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971.) Michel Simon worked from the mid-20s to the mid-70s. Karin Kernke was uncredited in Schoolgirl Report 12 (1978.) Paul Dahlke had a career from the mid-30s to the mid-80s.

It is an important lesson: Science will not stop until it destroys us all. Another lesson: Someday our matter will become the matter of others.  Better lesson: The soul of a harlot is scientifically transportable to the body of a deformed virgin. We have here a German variation on the mad scientist trope. That character says things like, “I have beaten death” and “I have saved your brain for mankind” and “You'll learn that everything is possible!” and even "The price of my genius was madness."  Well, that's all pretty clear.  Our good doctor is a real tragic superman, alright.  He makes something 'Serum Z,' and that's nothing but fun. Such films wrestle with the dangers of becoming addicted to the erotic tease of scientific progress. Sex is science, after all. It's a clear progenitor to The Brain that Wouldn't Die. This is a better produced film by far, but you may have more fun with 'Jan in a Pan.' Stan in a pan? The film picks up the thematic trope of 'obsessive, doomed love' too. The good doctor says things like, "You belong to me alone!"  Unfortunately, the development of the plot sinks in a gloomy black and white swamp. There's some cool tech in the lab to keep the film in line with its type. Vital signs are indicated by a polygraph type squiggle. I suppose only very rich people in the 1950s had TVs installed into their walls. The film provides the expected continental sex appeal, uh, for those who care more for anatomy than surgery. The sets are spacious, if unrealistic in practical function; a spiral staircase runs through the center of the house, from the lab to the upstairs quarters. Your ostensible noble scientist is a drunken Lon Chaney Jr type with a Nietzsche mustache; his less than noble colleague takes it to another level of science to keep him alive. That shot of the moon looks a lot like a blacked-out shot of the sun. The wide trick shot is unconvincingly matted. A lab is destroyed with a superimposition.  The serious German inspector is a classic type, but he plays a very small part, doing not much in the way of inspecting.  The end title card is in a fun, spooky font.  There's a painting in the artist's studio that I don't think you would have seen in an American film at this time. At one point the stripper refers to being in 'Europe,' so there's that geographical certainty. But, really, how many other films give you a female hunchback? Come on, Irene!

'The Head' can be viewed on Youtube in a dubbed print of abysmal quality. Some reels have visible matting at the top of the frame. Does the harsh splicing of music indicate the removal of offending material? Use your, uh, noggin, and figure it out.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Miami Golem (1985)


  Golem - “An artificial human being in Hebrew folklore endowed with life.” - Merriam Webster.

    “Your face. It's all banged up. We should stop at a hospital.” - Joanna Fitzgerald.

    A television reporter finds himself drawn into a plot to steal an incredible scientific discovery. A ditzy secretary has had enough of the Man's crap.

    Alberto De Martino (1929-2015) had been writing and directing films since the early 1960s (Will anyone claim this veteran as a personal favorite?) It appears Miami Golem was his very last directing credit, topping off two and a half decades of solid work. Among his credits are westerns and comedies and western-comedies and peplums too. Holocaust 2000 (1977) was not Kirk Douglas' proudest Hollywood hour. De Martino directed the Neil Connery vehicle Operation Kid Brother too. Miami Golem comes subsequent to the particularly infamous Puma Man (but let's forget it was mentioned) Star David Warbeck is here only a few years removed from having crossed over to The Beyond. Laura Trotter was one of the residents of Nightmare City. John Ireland had been in films since the mid 1940s. Miami Golem belongs to that trend of Florida-set Italian films of the period, including American Rickshaw, Cruel Jaws, Miami Supercops, Cut & Run; itself a subset of the group of Italian films set in diverse American locations.

    We love Italian films because the filmmakers understand the necessity of zipping along; in other words, keep exposition minimal, and, as quickly as possible, find the most interesting and exploitative element of the story. Stay on target! Deploy your nudity strategically when the plot begins to sag in the second act. Helicopters and explosions are super cinema value! Splatter the orange stuff around as much as possible. Over here in America, Roger Corman had a similar model; even his PG movies keep it going with the Ramones or the occasional car action. True to fashion, we can say that Miami Golem keeps it moving and does not overstay its welcome. Something new happens every ten minutes. This is not a film laboring under the illusion that it's an 'important' treatise. Unfortunately, there's no visual flare here, no Spontaneous Spider Attack, no raison d'etre for anything really, and so it's harder to overlook the illogical progression of this particular sequence of events. The love interest is a total blank – Nice Body, Unfortunate Hair. You would think any story involving other worlds would tend to raise the dramatic stakes. Alas, it's just another sunny day in Miami. Don Dohler did more for the promotion of aliens out in the hinterlands. Here, alas, there's no money in the budget for an amazing technicolor saucer. Warbeck's character is pushed along through action and exposition; as for motivation, the viewer is left to infer that, maybe, he's in it for the excitement of the news game. He's a near zero on characterization. The basic frame of the movie is a Hitchcockian plot of a man finding himself in over his head, albeit with splashings of Ghostbusters, Close Encounters. It's not as much fun as it sounds. A fan boat chase precedes Miami Vice. There was one in Invasion, U.S.A. too. This is not one of those Italian films from the later 80s fortunate to have been shot with live sound; the whole thing bogs down under its canned audio. That's a cool poster. It should be tattooed on the moviegoer's neck: “The woman on the poster is not in the movie.” There's a strobing climax right out of Alien. The thing is in the jar like The Jar. People are tossed around like The Exorcist.

    An alternate title is Miami Horror. Times are strange when American Rickshaw has a fancy special edition bluray (but then Martino surely gets more respect than De Martino.) Can Miami Golem stay forever a stepchild in the cold? Like an avid beachcomber without his matching carcinogenic tan? In the meantime, while we wait, the curious can find the film on Youtube in awful quality with Turkish subtitles or slightly better quality with Japanese subtitles.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Journey To The Seventh Planet (1962)

People once gazed at the stars in wonder and dreamed of awesome possibilities, those blinking lights in a black canvas firing creative imaginations in print and on screen. Pulp magazines of the 1940s and 50s were filled to the brim with tales of rocket-ships roaring through space and swashbuckling heroes of Mars. These bled into Hollywood b-movies throbbing with radioactive giant insects and invaders from Mars alongside mad scientists and beasts from under the sea. This leads us to Journey To The Seventh Planet, from 1962, a film produced between Denmark and AIP studios, directed by Sid Pink. Mr. Pink (haha!) is an interesting character, somewhat an early pioneer of 3D movies and was an early distributor of spaghetti westerns before the Leone boom. He produced or distributed a string of genre movies from the early 1950s to the 1970s, along with a smattering of films to his own name of which this is one.

Journey To The Seventh Planet is set in the year 2001, when the world is now unified behind the United Nations and in echoes of Star Trek, rockets blast into the cosmos as part of a space fleet to explore. A crew of five square jawed astronauts land on Uranus to find, not the world of sun seared rocks they expected but a lush land of pine woodland. Nothing is what it seems, with dream women appearing out of nowhere and a picture postcard village, complete with windmill. The rugged space adventurers pull on their nifty spacesuits to investigate and adventure ensues! They find that nothing is what it seems, and encounter strange beasts in dank caves and a glowing space brain than plans to use them for nefarious purposes! Gasp! 

I had a lot of fun with this, I expected nothing and got a lot back. It had a pea sized budget but the makers got a lot out of their money as far as I can see.  There is nifty costumes, including fab blue spacesuits, and even some stop motion monsters and some good old bug eyed aliens. Yes there is some stock footage of rockets but its inserted into the picture well. Hell the movie is cheesy and dated and sexist as hell, but zips along at a rocket pace, never dwelling too long on any particular area before rolling on to the next scene. on the negative side the cast is a bit of a charisma blackhole apart from 50s sci-fi mainstay John Agar, but they are all Danish actors dubbed into English. But its not Kubrick's 2001 and the film doesn't try to be. Agar is my favourite part of the film, he comes across as a Flash Gordon type that probably has a whisky bottle shoved down his trousers and three women in every spaceport. Story wise alas with the passage of time its a plot folk will have seen before, over and over, particularly the Star Trek episode "Shore Leave" but at only 77 minutes its a breezy pulp tale and doesn't outstay its welcome. I dug it.

Most Valuable Thing: John Agar. His randy but cheery astronaut brings a dose of spark to the crew.

Make Or Break: When the crew put on their suits and go exploring.

Score: 6 outta 10