Saturday, October 1, 2016

THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS








THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1958) is more famous for its publicity photos (such as the one above) than anything that happens in the film. The stills, which show the Monster in various poses with a human head, have appeared in dozens of horror film books & magazines. These images prove that the movie has a bit more gruesomeness than the typical 1950s sci-fi/horror flick--but in the end it still remains nothing more than a okay little low-budget monster tale.

THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS has just been released on Blu-ray and DVD by Olive Films (I purchased the DVD version). A small sleepy village on the coast of California is being beset by horrific murders which involve the victims having their heads severed. The excitable local grocer seems to think that it is the work of the legendary "Monster of Piedras Blancas", while the grouchy lighthouse keeper seems to know more about what's really going on than he's willing to tell. The local doctor and constable team up to try and solve the mystery, with help from the lighthouse keeper's voluptuous daughter and her biologist boyfriend.

This movie is 71 minutes long, but even at that length tends to drag at times. The Monster, which looks like a cousin of the Creature of the Black Lagoon, is barely seen until the climax. Director Irvin Berwick manages things in an efficient if workmanlike manner. The film was produced by Jack Kevan, who had worked as a make-up technician in Hollywood on such films as, you guessed it, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.

The best thing about THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS is its small-town atmosphere, due to the real-life California locations. The movie doesn't have a "Hollywood" feel to it, and neither do the lead actors and extras. except for familiar character player Les Tremayne as the doctor. In the story the local grocery also has to serve as a temporary mortuary (I bet this made the townsfolk think twice about buying ice cream). Considering that this town is so small, and the only authorities are a middle-aged doctor and a even-older "constable", I had to wonder why no one thought to call in some help from the county or the state. (Of course, if they did, the movie would have lasted about 15 minutes.)

Jeanne Carmen plays the lighthouse keeper's daughter, and she makes a very attractive Scream Queen. She also gives the girl a independent mindset, but she still winds up wearing a nightgown and being carried off by the Monster (not that there's anything wrong with that). The climax involves the lead characters, the Monster, and the lighthouse, which is another actual location. I couldn't help but feel that the lighthouse ending was reminiscent of the windmill ending featured in James Whale's 1931 FRANKENSTEIN. (An earlier scene in the film, where a distraught father silently carries the body of his little girl though the town, also brought to my mind the Whale classic.)

Olive Films has released THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS in black & white 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture and sound quality are fine--I doubt a low budget almost-60 year old film is going to look any better. As usual with Olive, there are no extras.

I wouldn't call THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS a great film, or even a great 50s monster picture, but it does have some unusual elements. The most unusual is the gruesome tone--and that's not just referring to the decapitations (in the actual film we only see a couple quick shot cuts to a human head). Among the victims are two young brothers and a little girl--it's very rare to have victims that age in a movie like this. You can call this a poor man's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON--but unlike the creature, the Piedras Blancas Monster doesn't engender much sympathy from the audience.





Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Keep Watching The Skies! Blogathon--THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN











When one thinks of 1950s science-fiction films, it is natural to focus on the many American productions that defined the genre during that particular decade. But there were several British movies that were also important to the period.

Hammer Films is best remembered for their colorful Gothic horrors, but they were making standout black & white science-fiction features before they started on their Frankenstein and Dracula series. THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (U.S. title: THE CREEPING UNKNOWN) was Hammer's first real horror tale, based on a TV play by Nigel Kneale. Hammer would go on to make a very Quatermass-like film with X THE UNKNOWN, and a true Quatermass sequel in QUATERMASS 2 (U.S. title ENEMY FROM SPACE).

Both Quatermass films were directed by Val Guest, who brought a documentary-like precision to Nigel Kneale's fantastic tales. In 1955 Kneale wrote another TV play for the BBC called THE CREATURE, about the search for the legendary Abominable Snowman. Hammer bought the rights to make a feature film version. Peter Cushing had starred in the TV play, and would soon make his Hammer debut in the groundbreaking THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Hammer would film the play in early 1957 and change the title to THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (in America the official title was THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS. Here I will refer to it as THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, because that's what everyone calls it, and it saves me a lot of typing.) Cushing would reprise his TV role in the film.

THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN isn't as famous as the Quatermass films, or a few other British science-fiction movies of the 1950s, but it deserves to be. Peter Cushing plays John Rollason, a scientist doing research at a Tibetan monastery. Despite his wife Helen's (Maureen Connell) reservations, Rollason decides to join a climbing expedition led by the roguish Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker). Friend's plans are not scientific--he's intent on capturing a Yeti, and Rollason is intrigued about having the chance to find such a creature. Rollason, Friend, and a small party venture out into the snows, and an actual Yeti is found--but the group is soon whittled down by their own fears. Rollason begins to realize that the warnings given him by the monastery's Lama (Arnold Marle) should have been heeded.

When I first saw THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, I was a bit disappointed, for the simple reason is that the Yeti is barely shown. After other viewings, however, I started to appreciate the film for what it is--a thinking person's science-fiction film instead of a typical monster show. Cinematographer Arthur Grant's stark black & white photography of the barren snowy landscape gives the movie an almost noirish feel. (Director Val Guest and doubles for the actors traveled to the French Pyrenees for location shooting, and production designer Bernard Robinson built matching snowscapes at Pinewood Studios.) Humphrey Searle's Oriental flavored music adds a haunting element to the scenes, and Val Guest uses the widescreen "Hammerscope" to give a sense of loneliness and desolation.

Nigel Kneale wrote the screenplay, and he infuses the story with some of his favorite themes, such as the insignificance and childishness of the human race. Friend and his team believe that they have things under control, and that they have planned for every situation, but it soon comes to pass that they are very wrong. The group of Yeti that are besieging the group (we are made aware of their presence, but we never really see them) are more of a mental threat than a physical one. It is established in the story than a Yeti is around 10 feet tall, and may be hundreds of years old. Nigel Kneale thankfully doesn't explain everything that is going on, letting the viewer decide whether the Yeti are "controlling" the members of the expedition. One can't help but be reminded of H. P. Lovecraft's novel AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS when watching THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN--the Yeti, as presented in the film, are very reminiscent of Lovecraft's "Old Ones".

What really gives THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN added heft is the performance of Peter Cushing. One of the many reasons Cushing was so successful in the genres of horror and science-fiction was his innate ability to make any outlandish plot line seem realistic and understandable. Right from the beginning the audience knows that John Rollason is an intelligent and earnest individual. Rollason may lack the melodramatic flair that Cushing's two most famous doctors--Frankenstein and Van Helsing--had, but he shares with those characters traits such as dogged determination and personal courage. Rollason truly hopes that he may be performing a service to mankind if he finds the Yeti, but Cushing also shows that the man has great doubts about the entire affair, especially when he gets to know Tom Friend and the other members of the expedition better.





Peter Cushing as John Rollason 



In the TV play THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN is based on (which I have never seen), the role of Tom Friend was played by Stanley Baker. Here Forrest Tucker plays Friend, and the contrast between Tucker and Cushing helps the story immensely. While Cushing is thin, studious, and mild-mannered, Tucker is big, loud, and emphatic. But one shouldn't assume that Tucker's Friend is the obvious "bad guy". Tucker actually brings some surprising subtlety to the role--you may not like Friend, but you certainly don't want to underestimate him. After Hammer started making their Gothic horrors, the company for the most part stopped importing American actors like Tucker into their films. Tucker himself would go on to make a couple more British sci-fi features--THE CRAWLING EYE and COSMIC MONSTERS. Despite the fact that Tucker is now best known for the goofy TV show F TROOP, he's very effective here, and he and Cushing play off each other very well.

Usually in a 1950s science-fiction film the leading lady role is played by a gorgeous scream-queen type. Maureen Connell as Helen Rollason certainly isn't that. The reason that she is with her husband to begin with is that she is helping him in his work. Instead of wearing a nightgown and being carried off by a monster, Mrs. Rollason actually goes off on her own expedition into the mountains to try and find her husband, a very unusual and welcome thing for a woman character in this type of movie made in this period.

One other performer I have to mention is Arnold Marle, who plays the Lama. A wizened, little old man, the Lama is constantly making mystical pronouncements and looking off into the distance, as if sensing something. Watching the Lama I couldn't help but be reminded of Yoda! Marle makes a large contribution to the otherworldly aspects of the picture.

THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, like just about every Hammer film, did not have a huge budget. In this case I think that was a help rather than a hindrance. Because of the black & white photography, the location scenes match very well with the studio snowscapes. The monastery set looks fine, and you really don't need millions of dollars to make fake snow. Some may quibble that there's very little that's abominable and there's not much snowmen, but in the end this is a well-made, adult science-fiction adventure that gives the audience something to think about. All of Hammer's science-fiction tales deserve reappraisal, and THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN is one of the most underrated entries in that wonderful sci-fi movie decade of the 1950s.




Monday, September 19, 2016

GODZILLA 1984/THE RETURN OF GODZILLA On Blu-ray









Kraken releasing has come out with one of the very few Godzilla movies not officially available in North America on either DVD or Blu-ray--the original Japanese cut of GODZILLA 1984, also known as THE RETURN OF GODZILLA.

GODZILLA 1984 was basically a "reboot". It was the first Godzilla film made by Toho Studios in nearly a decade, and it launched what is now referred to as the "Heisei" series of movies featuring the King of the Monsters. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka decided to ignore all the Godzilla entries of the 1960s and 70s, and mount GODZILLA 1984 as a direct sequel to the very first Godzilla film made in 1954. (GODZILLA 1984 does not explain how the Big G was able to survive the effects of the Oxygen Destroyer that killed him at the end of the '54 movie.)

Not only does GODZILLA 1984 ignore the various Godzilla sequels, it also ignores those movies' goofy, kid-friendly tone. GODZILLA 1984 tries to be more serious, with a major Cold War subplot involving the nuclear weapons of both the United States and the Soviet Union. Godzilla is the only giant monster around this time, so there's no wild kaiju fighting action. There's almost no intentional humor in the story, except for the character of a looter who has very little screen time. There isn't even an annoying baseball cap-wearing little kid tagging along and commenting on the action.

The lack of typical kaiju movie weirdness may sound welcome to some, but it also cuts down on the entertainment aspect of the picture. The Japanese cut of GODZILLA 1984 is 103 minutes long, and it is a very slow-moving film. Godzilla only shows up twice during the first hour, while most of the scenes center on groups of politicians and high-ranking military officials talking about how to handle the beast. (The action does get ramped up a bit during the climax.) Like many of the classic Godzilla films, this one has two young leading men--one is a journalist, and the other is a college research student, who just so happens to have a cute sister that attracts the attention of the journalist. Usually in the classic Godzilla movies one of the leading men would contribute some comedy relief--but there's none to be found here, and while the performers who play the trio are adequate, there's nothing about them that makes the audience all that interested in their fate. In another nod to the older Godzilla outings, the young leads are teamed up with a middle-aged scientist, who comes up with the idea of a homing device to lure Godzilla into a volcano.

As for Godzilla himself, he's way bigger than he was in the classic series, and he's a lot more fearsome looking. (Godzilla's look would for the most part stay the same throughout the "Heisei" series.) The thing is, he really doesn't get much to do here--it's as if Toho wanted a "badder" Godzilla, but at the same time made sure he wasn't too destructive.

GODZILLA 1984 was released in the U.S. the very next year and called--you guessed it--GODZILLA 1985. That version was handled by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, and the biggest change was added scenes with Raymond Burr reprising his role from the U.S. version of the original GODZILLA. The U.S. version of GODZILLA 1984 is not on this Blu-ray, due to rights issues. Many of the internet have complained about this--I find that ironic, because it used to be that film geeks whined about the U.S. versions of Toho kaiju movies popping up on home video. It's been a very long time since I saw GODZILLA 1985 (I believe I had it on VHS), and I honestly can't remember if it is a better version than GODZILLA 1984. (I have a feeling that the American version moved a lot quicker--it was a shorter cut.)

Kraken's Blu-ray of GODZILLA 1984 is not exemplary from a visual standpoint. The picture is not very sharp, and the colors are not very bold. The entire film has a murky look to it (in all fairness, that may be because the movie had a darker tone than the classic Godzillas), and the many matte shots in particular appear shaky. (The FX would improve greatly in the next film in the series, GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE.) The 5.1 DTS sound is very good. There is a Japanese language track with English subtitles, and a English-dubbed dialogue track, in which the voice artists sound Australian! The only extras are trailers for GODZILLA 1984 and older Godzilla movies that Kraken has released on home video. Considering the importance of this film in the history of Godzilla, an audio commentary from someone like August Ragone is sorely missed.

GODZILLA 1984 is more significant from a historical perspective than an entertainment one. I would rate it as a "fair" Godzilla movie--in my opinion, most of the later entries in the "Heisei" series are better. GODZILLA 1984 was rather successful when originally released in Japan, and if it had not, there might not have been more Godzilla movies made at all. I got this Blu-ray from Amazon for $10, and I assume that anyone interested in this will want it to add to their kaiju movie collections. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that one day very soon somebody will finally release the American GODZILLA 1985 on Blu-ray--which means that monster movie fans will essentially be buying the same movie again. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Mill Creek Hammer Blu-rays








The Mill Creek Hammer Blu-rays are here--and film geeks all over the internet have been commenting on them. Having finally seen all four features on the two discs, it's time for me to throw my two cents in.

Mill Creek Entertainment released two Region A Blu-rays of Hammer material from Columbia. One disc has THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB, the other disc has THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL and THE GORGON. THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN was first released on DVD years ago, and the other three films were part of the ICONS OF HORROR DVD set released by Sony.

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen...and from my point of view doesn't look all that great. As a matter of fact, I think the old DVD of ROF looks as good, or maybe even better. I was really hoping that ROF would be a major upgrade, since it is one of Hammer's best films (even though a lot of Hammer fans feel rather lukewarm toward it). THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB looks a bit better than the DVD version, but not enough for me to say that it is a major improvement. CURSE is one of Hammer's more mediocre outings.

As for the other disc, both THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL and THE GORGON look superior to their DVD counterparts--THE GORGON especially so. Watching TWO FACES on Blu-ray reinforces the artistry of cinematographer Jack Asher and production designer Bernard Robinson--unfortunately the movie itself is something of a misfire. (I'd have to write an individual post on it to explain my feelings, if anyone would be interested.) THE GORGON on Blu-ray showcases the work of cinematographer Michael Reed.

Mill Creek Entertainment is known for their budget home video releases, and I got these for $9 each from Amazon. But you get what you pay for--there are no extras on these discs, not even any trailers. And apparently the low price means you're not going to get proper spelling either:




The Gorgan??



If you think that's bad, consider what it says on the spine of the REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN/CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB blu-ray--instead of "CURSE" it says "CURESE". Is this nit-picking? Well...if you can't even spell the name of the film's title on your packaging correctly, what does that say about your company?

Hard-core Hammer fans like me are going to buy these no matter what--but these are no "must have" discs. If you have the ICONS OF HORROR DVD set, I don't think you really have to get these discs, unless you just want to take the opportunity of a cheap upgrade. The thing is, the REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN/CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB disc isn't all that much of an upgrade. If you had to buy just one of these I would definitely pick the TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL/THE GORGON disc. If any of you would appreciate my expanded feelings on any of the films contained on these discs, please let me know by making a comment below.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Announcing THE GORGON Stone Cold Tweet-a-thon!








One of the things I do on most Saturday nights is partake in the Svengoolie tweet-a-thon. What that means is while watching Svengoolie on MeTV, I (and many others) on the internet go on Twitter and make various comments about the movie that Sven is showing. It's a lot of fun, and it also helps explain why I don't have much of a social life. I have also on occasion participated in live tweeting during Turner Classic Movies programming, using the hashtag #TCMParty.

Now I'm proud to announce that I and my good friend independent filmmaker Joshua Kennedy have created our own special tweet-a-thon. It will involve the new Mill Creek Blu-ray of the 1964 Hammer film THE GORGON, starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The festivities begin on Friday night, September 23, at approximately 8 PM EST (North American time). If you own a copy of the Blu-ray and would like to join in, get your disc playing at 8 PM, and add the hashtag #GorgonBluray to any comments you would like to make.

But what if you don't own a copy of the Blu-ray yet? Well...you can always demand that your friends and family buy you one. Actually, if you have a DVD or a VHS copy of THE GORGON, that will work too....heck, we'll even accept a ViewMaster version of the film.

THE GORGON happens to be Josh's favorite film of all time (he even wrote a guest post on this blog about the movie in May, 2015). Josh will certainly have plenty of factoids about the film, and I in my inimitable fashion will be chiming in as well. Depending on the feedback we get from this (that is, if we get any feedback at all), Josh and I may be do more Hammer film tweet-a-thons in the future.

Just remember that it all happens Sept. 23 at 8 PM EST. Our Twitter handles are on the banner posted above. If you have any questions about the event, please leave a comment here or at the Hitless Wonder Facebook page.


Monday, September 12, 2016

DESTINY On Blu-ray From Kino








In 1921, director Fritz Lang, based in Germany, started on a run of films for the rest of the decade that would be hard to match. They are among the most renowned and influential movies made during that period. Here's the list:

DESTINY
DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER
DIE NIBELUNGEN
METROPOLIS
SPIES
WOMAN IN THE MOON

The list is even more impressive if one continues it with Lang's first two films of the sound era: M and THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE. The only title I have mentioned which I did not own on home video was DESTINY. Now Kino Lorber has released a superb Blu-ray edition of that film, which is also known as DER MUDE TOD (meaning "The Weary Death").

DESTINY concerns the attempts of a young woman (Lil Dagover) to save her young fiancee (Walter Janssen) from the clutches of Death himself (Bernard Goetzke). The literally weary Death, who is tired of his job of ending people's lives, gives the woman three chances to save a life in three different time periods and locations, and if she does, her lover will be brought back to her.

A simple description of the plot is not sufficient enough to put across to the reader the artistry of this film. DESTINY is an exquisite visual feast, with the young woman's three challenges set in an Arab city, Venice in the 14th Century, and ancient China. The three stories give Lang and his art directors (Robert Herlth, Walter Rohrig, and Hermann Warm) several opportunities for some inventive shot selections. DESTINY is a movie that needs to be watched--in other words, the viewer should pay attention to the composition and the background of each scene as well as the characters in it.

Among the many visual highlights is Death's "Hall of Candles", in which human lives are represented by a burning candle, and the appearance of Death, who wears a black cloak and a wide-brimmed black hat. When Death stops a carriage transporting the young lovers, I couldn't help but be reminded of a scene in WHITE ZOMBIE where a similarly-garbed Bela Lugosi also halts a carriage containing a young couple. Despite its subject matter, DESTINY is not a horror film, but more of a dark fable which winds up having an ultimately moving ending.

Many of the talent involved in the making of DESTINY would go on to be major figures in the genre of German Expressionist Cinema. Lil Dagover had already starred in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who plays two roles here, would soon play Dr. Mabuse for Fritz Lang, as well as the mad scientist Rotwang in METROPOLIS. Lang co-wrote the film with Thea von Harbou, and the two would marry and work together until Lang left Germany in the early 1930s.

When it comes to releasing silent classics for home video, nobody matches Kino. This Blu-ray features a 2K digital restoration of the film, including restored intertitles, tinting, and toning. A 15 minute featurette visually explains the choices made for the tinting and toning of the movie. The music score was newly composed by Cornelius Schwehr and performed by the Berlin Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, and I have to say it fits the film rather well. An audio commentary is included featuring VIDEO WATCHDOG editor Tim Lucas. As usual, Lucas' talk is insightful, focused, and informative, and it increases the viewer's knowledge and appreciation of the film. Lucas manages to connect DESTINY to such diverse subjects as Amicus horror anthologies, spaghetti westerns, and even CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

I was highly anticipating this Blu-ray release...and I certainly wasn't disappointed. The more I am exposed to silent cinema, the more I am reminded of how beautiful it can be. I feel sorry for those who feel that watching a silent film is "uncool" or embarrassing. DESTINY is definitely going to wind up on my list of best Blu-rays of 2016.

Friday, September 9, 2016

GENGHIS KHAN







I'm fond of buying obscure movies at a cheap price because....that's what I do. One of my latest DVD acquisitions is the 1965 historical epic GENGHIS KHAN, which I purchased from Edward R. Hamilton Booksellers for $6.

Earlier this year I wrote a post on the infamous John Wayne as Genghis Khan movie THE CONQUEROR. Do I really need another underwhelming Genghis Khan film in my collection? Hey, why not? GENGHIS KHAN is better than THE CONQUEROR, but not by all that much.

GENGHIS KHAN was made at the height of the big-budget historical spectacular. It shares many of the same features these films all seem to have--a number of noticeable name stars in the cast, scenes of cavalry sweeping across the wide screen, far-flung locations, and large-scale sets. At a little over two hours, GENGHIS KHAN doesn't have the mammoth running time that most epics have, and in this case, that's a good thing, because the movie has a ponderous pace to it.

Omar Sharif is Genghis Khan (he's called by his real name, Temujin, throughout the story). At the start of the film we see the boy Temujin forced to watch as his father is executed by Jamuga, the leader of a rival Mongol tribe. Jamuga is played by Stephen Boyd, who, due to his role in the '59 BEN HUR, wound up appearing more than a few epics at this time. (In THE CONQUEROR, Jamuga is Temujin's brother--here, he's his arch-enemy.) The young Temujin is held as a slave by Jamuga, but the future Khan escapes once he reaches manhood. Temujin decides to begin to implement his dream of uniting all the Mongol tribes and ruling a great empire. Among Temujin's closest allies are characters played by Michael Hordern, Telly Savalas, and Woody Strode.

Before he can do that, Temujin must first capture his true love, Bortai. The role of Bortai in THE CONQUEROR was played by Susan Heyward, and in this film it is played by French actress Francoise Dorleac. If you think Susan Heyward was far too white to play a Mongol Princess, wait till you see Dorleac in the role--despite supposedly living her life in the Central Asian steppes, she's paler than the 1976 version of David Bowie. Temujin wins Bortai's affections (he is played by Omar Sharif, after all), and she becomes the Mongol Lord's loyal wife. She also brings along her three brothers to serve as Temujin's lieutenants, and if anything they're whiter than she is.

Temujin decides to take his ever-growing tribe east to the empire of China. A major part of the film is devoted to this sequence, so much so that the viewer begins to wonder if this is actually a movie about Marco Polo instead of Genghis Khan. This sequence introduces us to Robert Morley as the Emperor of China, and James Mason as one of the Emperor's advisers. (If you're wondering which actors are in this film that really are Asian, well...there aren't any, at least in the major roles.)

Robert Morley plays the Emperor as basically Robert Morley, which is fine. As for James Mason...you have to see his performance to appreciate it (and to believe it). Mason spends his entire time on screen squinting his eyes and showing his teeth in a goofy grin, all the while speaking in an accent which makes him sound like a British Elmer Fudd. It's the type of "Chinese" portrayal that one expects to see in a Three Stooges short rather than a historical epic. I don't know if Mason was trying to be the comic relief, or if he just didn't give a hoot to begin with, but his "acting" here throws the entire movie off balance. What makes Mason stick out even more is that no one else in the multi-national cast tries to affect an accent. Mason had just played another Emperor's adviser in another epic, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, and in that movie he was his typical dignified and articulate self. When one considers that, it makes his appearance here even more disappointing.

Tired of being cooped up in China, Temujin and his band make their escape with the help of a giant fireworks display (and I have to say that the display is more impressive than the Comiskey Park scoreboard going off). Temujin then sends off Bortai's brothers to conquer parts of Asia. Unfortunately we see Temujin talk about this, instead of actually seeing it happen. The movie climaxes with the now-Genghis Khan finally having a showdown with his nemesis Jamuga, who has allied himself with a sneaky Shah (played by Eli Wallach).

GENGHIS KHAN, as a film, is...okay. It lacks a certain "oomph" to make it a bold adventure, and it isn't bad enough to be as notable as THE CONQUEROR. The movie is ably directed by Henry Levin, and it has some very nice cinematography by the great Geoffrey Unsworth. (Sadly, a lot of Unsworth's work is wasted by the many "day-for-night" scenes which look murky.) The movie was filmed in Yugoslavia, which does give it a bit of a different look than most epics of the time. What hurts GENGHIS KHAN the most is that the average viewer doesn't have much of a reason to care about what happens to any of the characters. A lot of that has to do with Omar Sharif. His performance isn't lacking...but he seems too refined to be Genghis Khan. Say what you want about John Wayne as Genghis, at least he was a guy that you believed would be tough enough to try and take over the known world. Sharif's Khan is constantly going on about his dream of uniting the Mongol tribes, but the movie doesn't mention that the real-life Genghis had to slaughter untold numbers of people in order to fulfill his wishes....probably because the audience is supposed to be sympathetic toward Sharif. I honestly think Stephen Boyd would have been a better Genghis than Omar Sharif--Boyd may look a bit silly as a Mongol chieftain but he at least brings some passion to the role.

The DVD I have of GENGHIS KHAN is from Mill Creek, who has been releasing a lot of Columbia Pictures products at budget prices. "Budget prices" means you get what you pay for--the movie is presented in 2:35.1 anamorphic widescreen, but there is definitely some compression issues. As with most of the movies I buy, GENGHIS KHAN will have more interest to history and movie buffs than mainstream viewers. It really is one of the films "they don't make any more"....for the simple reason of the casting. If James Mason tried his "Chinese" act today in a major film, there would be riots at your local googleplex.