Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Another Hammer horror classic gets the Shout Factory deluxe Blu-ray treatment--THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.
This film was the only time Hammer ever dealt with the subject of lycanthropy. It had a very complicated pre- and post-production history, which is discussed in the extras on this disc. It also had a very unusual story structure--the prologue detailing the main character's heritage is basically a mini-movie, and Oliver Reed doesn't have his first real scene until 47 minutes in the film.
The movie was directed by Terence Fisher, and it is one of the darkest and most tragic of the Gothic tales he ever helmed. In his first major screen role Oliver Reed already displays a strong, forceful presence, and he's quite stunning in his full werewolf phase, courtesy of what may be Roy Ashton's best overall makeup effort.
THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF had already been released on Region A Blu-ray a few years ago as part of the Universal Hammer Horror set. For whatever reason the Universal set presented the film in a very strange 2.00:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer on this Shout Factory disc is in a 1.85:1 ratio, and the framing is much better. This transfer is very sharp, and one is able to see more detail in certain scenes. It must be pointed out that this Blu-ray features the complete, unedited version of the film.
There's plenty of extras here, and this movie deserves it. There's a program on the making of the film, and it contains interviews with cast members Yvonne Romain and Catherine Feller. There's also a discussion on the film's problems with the British censors, and a short talk on lycanthropy. "The Men Who Made Hammer" series continues with LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS publisher Richard Klemensen talking about his long friendship with Hammer makeup artist Roy Ashton.
There's two audio commentaries--one has Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, and the other features Yvonne Romain (accompanied by her husband Leslie Bricusse) with FX artist Mike Hill. Yvonne has plenty of interesting stories to tell about her time working for Hammer in the early 1960s.
If you order this Blu-ray direct from Shout Factory, you get a 18 x 24 poster of the disc cover artwork by Mark Maddox (if they are still available--see photo above). The disc comes with a slip cover featuring the Maddox art, and the reverse of the disc cover sleeve has a drawing from the movie's original ad campaign.
I'm sure most Hammer fans have THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF in their home video collections already. I honestly think the Maddox poster alone makes it worthy of a re-buy....but the fact that this disc has a more fitting aspect ratio and numerous extras is icing on the cake.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Shout Factory's impressive series of Region A Blu-ray Hammer releases continues with CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER.
CAPTAIN KRONOS is one of the many Hammer productions that is more appreciated now than when it came out. It was made in 1972, but not even released until two years later. Hammer head Michael Carreras didn't know what to make of it, let alone know what to do with it. The mysterious Kronos--a European soldier who has dedicated his life to eradicating the undead--is a fascinating character, and he's brimming with all sorts of possibilities. Co-producer--writer--director Brian Clemens was hoping that the movie would spawn an entire series of tales, but sadly it didn't.
The main reason, in my opinion, that CAPTAIN KRONOS was not originally successful is that it was too far ahead of its time. The idea of a swashbuckling professional vampire hunter, traveling through a fairy-tale Europe and surrounded by quirky characters, seems perfect for a high-concept action-filled 21st Century production. (Why someone hasn't remade or rebooted CAPTAIN KRONOS by now is beyond me.) Brian Clemens didn't have much of a budget to work with, but he made the most of what he got, giving the show style, flair, and plenty of dry humor. Clemens also played around with the "rules" concerning cinema vampires, and he also touched upon several different genres in the story, much the same way that big-budget action blockbusters do now. Some have stated that Horst Janson as Kronos is not engaging enough, but the Captain is supposed to be a bit remote (I'm sure the character would have been explored more in any sequels).
CAPTAIN KRONOS features one of the best supporting ensembles in a Hammer film, with John Cater stealing the show as the Captain's hunchbacked assistant, along with John Carson, Shane Briant, Lois Daine, Ian Hendry, Wanda Ventham, and Caroline Munro at her loveliest. The movie is greatly enhanced by Ian Wilson's cinematography and Laurie Johnson's pulsating score.
Once again Shout Factory presents a fine-looking transfer of a Hammer film on this Blu-ray. The sound quality is quite distinct, and it really brings out the music score.
For whatever reason, there's not a lot of extras for this Blu-ray. The main one is a program called "Anything Goes: Hammer Film in The 70s". It has genre experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones engaging in a wide-ranging but enjoyable talk about the state of Hammer Films in the early 1970s, and the entire horror film market at that time. It's basically two films geeks have a friendly conversation.
There's a new audio commentary by Hammer historian Bruce Hallenbeck, who gives all the pertinent details on the film while relating how much he admires it. Thankfully Shout Factory has carried over an earlier DVD audio commentary with Brian Clemens, Caroline Munro, and Jonathan Sothcott. It's an entertaining talk, and it's a pleasure to listen to, with Clemens and Caroline clearly enjoying the discussion. There's an original trailer for the film, and some radio spots that sound so silly it's amazing that they were judged sufficient enough for the listening public.
CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER is one of my favorite Hammer movies from their 1970s period. It should have helped take the company into new and vibrant directions. At least this new Blu-ray will help it to be better appreciated today.
Friday, April 24, 2020
Recently I received in the mail a fantastic Blu-ray set called "Their Finest Hour: 5 British WWII Classics", from Film Movement. The set includes some of the best British war films ever made: WENT THE DAY WELL?, THE DAM BUSTERS, DUNKIRK, THE COLDITZ STORY, and ICE COLD IN ALEX. It's filled with extras relevant to each film, and it comes with a booklet discussing the titles.
The first film in the set that I viewed was WENT THE DAY WELL?, a 1942 fictional tale that presents a group of German paratroopers taking over a small English village as a prelude to a planned invasion. The premise is basically the same as that in the Jack Higgins novel THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (which was also turned into a fine film), except the emphasis here is on the villagers instead of the Germans.
Before reviewing WENT THE DAY WELL?, one must realize that it was made when World War II was still very much going on, and the outcome was far from certain. In fact the main story of the film is told in a future flashback, in which the war has been won by the Allies (thankfully those behind the film were correct in predicting this).
WENT THE DAY WELL? could be considered nothing more than wartime propaganda, but it's much more than that. It's a tightly structured, suspenseful thriller, with touches of quirky dry humor. It very much reminded me of the movies Alfred Hitchcock made in England during the mid-1930s before he went to America. If Hitchcock had stayed in England, this story would have been perfect for his talents.
The movie is quite brutal at times, and many characters are killed off in shocking and unexpected ways. Usually in an older film it's easy to guess who is going to make it to the end, but here everyone is up for grabs, adding to the suspense. The story feels realistic due to the fact that the English villagers do not automatically turn into hardcore action heroes when they have to fight back against the invading Germans. They bravely take up arms, but they don't become soulless killing machines. The viewer gets the feeling that they are seeing what it really would be like if everyday English country folk encountered a German invading force.
WENT THE DAY WELL? was produced by the famed Ealing Studios and directed by the Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti. At times Cavalcanti uses an almost documentary-style look to present the quiet village and its bucolic surroundings. Once the conflict between the villagers and the enemy begins, the style shifts to expressionistic sets and atmospheric nighttime photography. Three famed British cinematographers worked on this film: Wilkie Cooper (who was the credited DOP), Gerald Gibbs (who was credited as camera operator), and Douglas Slocombe (who was credited as "documentary photographer").
The cast is filled with highly professional character actors. The movie is an ensemble piece--there isn't a leading man/main action hero role. The focus is on a group effort instead of individualism. Leslie Banks (THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) plays an English squire who is actually a Nazi collaborator. Classic monster movie buffs will notice Elizabeth Allan (from THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE) and Frank Lawton (THE INVISIBLE RAY).
WENT THE DAY WELL? is not just a great WWII film--it is an involving and dramatic story in its own right, especially for first-time viewers. I'll be doing other blog posts on the contents of this wonderful box set from Film Movement in the future.
Sunday, April 19, 2020
One of the main things that has affected me during these recent events is the lack of sports programming. If it wasn't for sports and movies, would I even need TV?? I'm starting to wonder.
One of the tasks I have been doing lately is going through my extensive home video collection, and picking out titles I haven't viewed in a while. I recently pulled out a James Stewart DVD box set from Universal. It's an okay collection of mid-range films, the most well-known being THE GLENN MILLER STORY. There happened to be one film on the set I had not even watched yet--in fact a film I had never watched period--the 1948 YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY.
YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY is one of the least known James Stewart films. Even books written about the actor barely cover it. I don't even remember it ever been shown on broadcast TV. After watching it I can now understand why it's not better known.
My research on YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY indicates that the movie was set up as a vehicle for Joan Fontaine by her then husband, producer William Dozier. It's a comedy (or at least it tries to be one), and this may have been meant as a change of pace for Fontaine, who was best known for her dramatic roles.
YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY plays out like a 1930s screwball vehicle. Many of the typical screwball ingredients are in it: flighty rich runaway bride, a leading couple who seem totally incompatible with each other but still fall in love, and a group of quirky characters stuck in an unusual situation. It's an okay movie, but nowhere near the same level as the screwball classics made about a decade before it.
Joan Fontaine is a indecisive heiress who immediately regrets marrying her stuffed shirt boyfriend. On her wedding night she stumbles into the man staying in the room next door, a no-nonsense pilot (James Stewart) who is trying to keep his air cargo service going. Fontaine convinces Stewart to fly her to California, and of course they run into all sorts of impediments.
YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY was directed by H.C. Potter, who had done a number of comedies by this time (his most famous film is probably MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE). It is competently made, and it has the major studio style one expects from the Golden Age of Hollywood. That being said, it lacks the spark and the crackle of the great screwball entries. It also lacks the edge that the better screwballs had--the comedy is cute rather than sarcastic or truly funny. Many of the subplots that are injected to create problems for Fontaine and Stewart never properly develop, or just fade away by the end of the story.
Joan Fontaine and James Stewart
It's ironic that this movie was developed specifically for Joan Fontaine--even though she gets first billing, she doesn't get all that much to do in it. Her character also doesn't act very wacky or flighty (was Fontaine worried about coming off as too silly?) A true comedic expert, such as Carole Lombard or Jean Arthur, would have made the character far more memorable.
James Stewart appears to have more screen time than Fontaine, and he's the best thing in the movie. I'm sure the aviation-obsessed actor was more than happy to play a pilot, and to have a cross-country flight a major part of the storyline. (At one point the plane has to make an emergency landing in bad weather, and this sequence seems to come from a totally different feature.) Stewart could have walked through a part like this, but he doesn't--he's likable and believable as always, no matter how silly the story gets.
And the story does get very silly, as the cargo plane winds up carrying a few oddballs, along with a cigar-smoking chimpanzee that seems to get more close-ups than Fontaine. The plane's emergency landing takes place on a farm inhabited by one of those "funny" old movie rural families (headed by Pa Kettle himself, Percy Kilbride). If you've seen enough of these extremely lighthearted stories you know exactly how it's going to end. YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY lasts for about 100 minutes, and tighter editing would most certainly have helped.
If you are a Jimmy Stewart fan, YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY is worth watching for him alone. But it remains one of the actor's lesser post-war films. He would appear in much better titles in the next few years.
Saturday, April 11, 2020
I didn't want to bring up the present situation in any of my blog writings--the last thing I want to do is remind readers of all the problems we face--but for today's subject I have to.
A week ago I stopped at a local Dollar General to look for....bath tissue. (Sad, isn't it??) They did have some left, and while I was there I looked through the cheap Blu-ray display. I came across the movie pictured above, MACARTHUR (1977), starring Gregory Peck as the legendary American military commander.
(By the way, it's always a good idea to go through any cheap movie racks you find at any store or business...because you never know what you might discover.)
MACARTHUR was released by Universal Pictures, and it has several important names attached to it. The executive producers were Richard Zanuck and David Brown, the main producer was Frank McCarthy, and the music was by Jerry Goldsmith.
McCarthy and Goldsmith had worked on PATTON, and this film tries to compare to that award-winning epic. Joseph Sargent, the director of MACARTHUR, was no Franklin Schaffner, and the result is what I think a very good film, but not a great one.
Douglas MacArthur was one of the most important figures of the 20th Century. The man was involved in so many world-shaking events and incidents that one could easily make about three or four different films based on certain parts of his life. MACARTHUR roughly covers about a decade of the General's career, from the Philippines in early 1942 to his service in the Korean War.
MACARTHUR is a little over two hours long, and there's plenty of things packed into it--MacArthur's escape from the Philippines before Japanese forces take over the country; the General's command in the Southwest Pacific; his attempts to rebuild Japan after the end of World War II; and his personal battles with other military brass and politicians, including his disagreements with President Harry Truman, which led to him being removed from his post during the Korean War. MACARTHUR tries to cover so much ground that at times it feels like a highlight reel.
Ironically, MACARTHUR was filmed entirely in the United States, with the result being that it comes off at times as a lower budget feature. (The reenactment of the Japanese surrender ceremony was filmed on the actual deck of U.S.S. Missouri.) Joseph Sargent was a long-time TV veteran, and certain sequences do have a small-screen feel. Overall, MACARTHUR lacks the epic, big-budget scope of other great historical films.
Gregory Peck is excellent as MacArthur (the actor even bore a certain resemblance to the General). Peck's MacArthur isn't as bombastic or as outlandish as George C. Scott's Patton. This MacArthur is a bit haughty, and hard to read. He's also absolutely convinced that his ideas are the right ones. Despite the fact that Peck is in almost every scene, Douglas MacArthur winds up being an unknowable figure, filled with contradictions. Historians are still trying to figure him out.
There's no other star actor in the movie to act as a counterpoint to Peck's MacArthur, the way Karl Malden did to George C. Scott in PATTON. There are fine performances by Dan O'Herlihy as FDR and Ed Flanders as Truman. Film geeks will be interested to know that among the supporting cast are such names as Russell Johnson as Admiral King and Kenneth Tobey as Admiral Halsey.
All in all, MACARTHUR was a pretty good buy for $3.95. Gregory Peck carries the film (his recitation of the General's final speech at West Point is the best scene). The film is a worthy attempt--but because its subject was such a larger-than-life intriguing figure, only a multi-part major documentary could do him justice.
Wednesday, April 8, 2020
I don't know where this idea originally popped in my head--heck, I never know where most of my ideas come from--but it's one I've had for a while. The idea is simple: what if you made up a baseball team of nothing but classic horror film stars??
It would be easy just to throw a list together, but I'm going to go even further. I'm actually going to try and build this team based on what I think are the athletic talents of each performer. I'm not going to just randomly assign someone a position--I'm going to attempt to put each actor on the field according to his individual strengths. (And yes, this is an all-male team. If someone out there wants to field a squad of classic scream queens, by all means go ahead. I'm not going to deal with that one.)
I'll cover every position on a baseball diamond, and I'll give you my personal choice each, and explain why.
CATCHER--Lon Chaney, Sr.
This was the easiest pick. In his normal guise, Chaney looks like a catcher--a tough guy who can weather some knocks.
FIRST BASE--Christopher Lee
First base is usually a position for a tall, power-hitting type of player, and Lee definitely fits the bill here. I also think his height will allow him to reach wild throws from the other infielders.
SECOND BASE--John Agar
Agar certainly isn't on the Karloff-Lugosi level, but I'd like to have as many Americans on this team as I can. For some reason, Agar seems like a second baseman to me.
Cushing wasn't considered physically impressive, but he was a lean, wiry guy, and he was quite athletic. (Let's face it, he fought supernatural creatures one-on-one.) He'd be perfect for one of the most important spots on the team.
THIRD BASE--Kenneth Tobey
This pick gives me a chance to add another American. I don't know whether Tobey was even a baseball fan, but he seemed a steady, hard-working, dependable guy--a team player.
OUTFIELD--Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Dwight Frye
Now here is where I had some issues. I was originally going to have Lugosi and Carradine as pitchers--they both had the ego that some great ace twirlers have--but while planning out this list I realized I didn't have enough outfielders. I'd have to put Lugosi and Carradine on the corners...maybe Bela in right field?? As for center field, I was really racking my brain on that one. Center requires a speedy type who can run down anything hit to that area--what great monster movie star fits that description?? I decided on Dwight Frye, but I think this is the one position that could be upgraded.
DESIGNATED HITTER--Lon Chaney, Jr.
The reason I'm putting the big lug here is that he looks like a power hitter--and besides, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to put Lon Jr. out on the field for any length of time.
PITCHING STAFF--Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Michael Gough
Boris Karloff was a life-long lover of cricket, so I figured that pitcher would be the easiest position for him to master. Besides, Karloff had bowed legs and a bad back, so he probably wouldn't do too well at any other defensive position. Vincent Price was a huge baseball fan (this was personally verified to me by his daughter Victoria when I met her at Monster Bash), and he had the height necessary for a strong starting pitcher. I couldn't figure out where in the heck to put Atwill and Zucco on this team...so, hoping that they might have some familiarity with cricket, I made them pitchers. Same thing for Michael Gough.
Somebody has to manage this team, although with all the various egos, it wouldn't be easy. I couldn't imagine James Whale doing it. Tod Browning was the real-life nephew of 19th Century baseball star Pete Browning, but Tod was...a bit strange, so I don't know how proficient he'd be in a game situation. Who else could do it? Terence Fisher? Roger Corman? William Castle? The more I think about it, the best idea might be Lon Chaney Sr. as player-manager. Most great catchers are basically captains on the field anyway, and Lon Sr. could certainly stand up to any guff the rest of the team might give him.
So there's the list. Not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but admit it, wouldn't you love to see these guys play an actual game??
Monday, April 6, 2020
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know about HOUSE OF THE GORGON--writer-producer-director-star Joshua Kennedy's tribute to the English Gothic, starring four notables of that genre: Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson, Martine Beswicke, and Christopher Neame. The movie was filmed in southeast Texas during March of 2018, and it was released on DVD last year.
I had a very small role in the production, both on-screen and off. But there were several talented individuals who had a far bigger hand in it than I did. And the genius behind it all was Josh Kennedy, who overcame many obstacles and setbacks to get what he wanted accomplished.
I'm proud to say that HOUSE OF THE GORGON has won the 2019 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Independent Film. Josh's past films have been nominated for Rondos a number of times, but his tribute to the Hammer films he has loved all his life finally enabled him to claim the coveted prize.
The Rondo Awards are produced in conjunction with the Classic Horror Film Board website. They have been awarded since 2002. The aim of the Rondo Award is to honor the best in classic horror research, creativity, and film preservation. There's nothing corporate about these awards--the voting is done by fans all over the world.
I'm pleased to say that I know many artists and writers who have won Rondos--I won't list them all because I know I'm going to leave someone out. The Rondo Award is a huge honor among fans of classic horror & science fiction cinema.
I personally know how much this award means to Josh, and I hope it gets him the respect and attention he deserves. I'm proud to have had a quite small part in the whole thing, but I have more pride for Josh and what he was able to accomplish.
Being involved in HOUSE OF THE GORGON has literally changed my life. I've gotten to know many wonderful people, and be involved in many wonderful events due to it.
The state of the world today is very unsettled. But there is one thing I can guarantee you--the main core behind HOUSE OF THE GORGON will be reunited again for a future production. Josh has a tantalizing idea in mind--I can't reveal the details, but trust me, it's a winner. One thing I've learned from my association with Josh is that if he wants to do something...one way or another, it's going to get done.
Congratulations to all the people involved with HOUSE OF THE GORGON!
Veronica Carlson, yours truly, and Joshua Kennedy during the making of HOUSE OF THE GORGON
Sunday, April 5, 2020
In June of 2017, I wrote a blog post on the 1973 film FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY, which was made by Universal Studios for American television. That post was inspired by Sam Irvin's encyclopedic article on the movie for issue #38 of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine.
FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY is a hard film to categorize, since there is nothing really like it. It was originally shown in two parts on TV, and its uncut running time is around three hours. It's a sprawling, ambitious production, filled with major guest stars and impressive technical details. Despite its title, the script deviates greatly from Mary Shelley's famed novel, and presents several new ideas and situations (some which work out better than others).
I viewed FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY for the first time on a bare-bones DVD that had no extras. The DVD also made the film look somewhat pallid. I felt that the title definitely needed a home video upgrade.
Now Shout Factory has come along and given FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY a proper presentation. According to the disc cover, Shout Factory used a new 2K scan of the original film elements, and the picture quality is fantastic, which a rich color scheme that shows off the excellent production design and Arthur Ibbetson's cinematography. The audio, which is in DTS-HD mono, is bold and clear.
This Blu-ray would be a winner on the improved visuals and sound alone, but Shout Factory have also included new extras, involving Sam Irvin and Constantine Nasr. There's interviews with cast members Jane Seymour and Leonard Whiting, who look back fondly on the project. (The duo also reiterate that producer Hunt Stromberg Jr. was the main creative force on the film, not director Jack Smight.) Sam Irvin also sits down for an extensive talk with Don Bachardy, who co-wrote the script with Christopher Isherwood.
Sam Irvin also contributes a full-length audio commentary (Sam really, really loves this film). It is extensive and thorough, and Sam keeps up his energy--and the listener's attention--for the entire three hour running time.
The disc cover features new artwork from the renowned Mark Maddox (the reverse is a reproduction of the mediocre DVD cover).
I wouldn't consider FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY one of the best adaptations of Shelley's tale....but I would call it one of the most unique and interesting. It has some striking sequences, but I feel that at times it bites off more than it can chew. Nevertheless, it does have a fervent following, and those that do appreciate the movie's take on the horror legend, and even those who just want to know what the fuss is about, will enjoy this Blu-ray.
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Earlier this week TCM showed CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY, a 1970 family-oriented fantasy-adventure made in England. I had never seen the film before.
Even though this movie was released in 1970, it feels like something that should have come out at least ten years before. The success of Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA in the mid-1950s started up a near mini-genre made up of cinematic adaptations of stories from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. This combination of Victorian quaintness and science-fiction adventure had run its course by 1970. CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY is something of a throwback considering it was made in the era of EASY RIDER.
This film is not a straight adaptation of any particular Jules Verne story--it is "inspired" by his writings. During the American Civil War, a ship bound for England is heavily damaged by a storm. The passengers rush to the lifeboats, and a small group of them are rescued by men under the command of the imperious Captain Nemo (Robert Ryan). The group is taken aboard Nemo's fantastic submarine, the Nautilus, and transported to a incredible city built 10,000 leagues under the sea. Here Nemo and his followers have created what appears to be an idyllic paradise. Nemo tells the people he has rescued that they must never leave his underwater city--he fears that once back on the surface they will tell the world about his secret society. One of the new captives is an American Senator named Fraser (Chuck Connors), who was on his way to England by orders of the U.S. government. Fraser is determined to escape, but instead of antagonizing Nemo, he gains his trust and friendship. The Senator does get a chance to get away by appropriating the newly built Nautilus II.
CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY has a lot in common with many large-scale family adventure films of the 60s and early 70s--it has impressive technical details and scope, but comes up short in plot and characterization. The production design is visually intriguing, if a bit ostentatious, and the movie takes every opportunity to show it off. Much of the story concerns the rescued characters being shown almost every facet of Nemo's underwater city--so much so that the movie feels like a travelogue. The settings do catch the viewer's eye, but they seem to exist to provide eye candy than to be part of an actual working society. (Speaking of working, the citizens of the underwater city don't seem to do much of it.)
There isn't a lot of conflict in the movie either. The relationship between Nemo and Fraser is far more cordial than that between James Mason's Nemo and Kirk Douglas in the famed Disney adaptation. One of the rescued characters is a sniveling coward who can't stand enclosed places, and he almost succeeds in destroying the place, but he's stopped in the nick of time. There's a couple of English louts who are obsessed with the idea that in Nemo's city, gold is so common it's unimportant. This duo is supposed to be the comic relief, except they're not very funny. The underwater city does have one major threat--a kaiju-like monster who resembles a giant manta ray. The creature is not very well realized, and it winds up getting defeated rather easily.
Robert Ryan was one of the most exemplary all-time movie actors, and he certainly had the strong screen presence for the role of Captain Nemo. Personally I think Ryan just wasn't exotic enough to be the captain. He's good in the role, and he takes the whole project dead seriously, but his Nemo isn't the brooding loner portrayed by James Mason and Herbert Lom. This might be due to the fact that Ryan's Nemo has basically created his own world, and doesn't need to worry about the "real" one. One would expect two manly actors like Ryan and Chuck Connors to set off some sparks, but their characters get along quite well most of the time. Ryan does get a few chances to show Nemo's anger at the state of mankind, but for the most part the captain is quite content here.
If CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY had being made during the height of cinematic Victorian science-fiction fantasy, it might have had a much more notable supporting cast. The main player of interest here is Luciana Paluzzi, who played the bad Bond girl in THUNDERBALL. She gets to have a sort-of romance with Chuck Connors, but due to the family nature of the story, it's very tame.
This film was directed by James Hill, who made one of the most renowned family adventures, BORN FREE. The main writers on the film were the husband and wife team of Pip & Jane Baker, who wrote the Terence Fisher/Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing sci-fi outing NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT. The Bakers also wrote a number of DOCTOR WHO episodes, which this story closely resembles.
If CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY had been made about ten years earlier, and involved someone like George Pal or Bernard Herrmann, it might have more of a reputation. One reason I had never seen it before is that I honestly can't remember it being shown on TV. It apparently wasn't that much of a success when originally released. The main problem with the film is that it meanders about, and doesn't have all that much energy to it. The practical effects--the various models and miniatures--are above average, and the movie doesn't look cheap....but it lacks excitement, and the characters (other than Nemo) are not all that memorable. Certain aspects of this film reminded me of a couple of Japanese fantasy films from Toho Studios: ATRAGON and LATITUDE ZERO. But those two movies are much better, in my opinion. I realize that CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY was geared to younger viewers--but I bet even the kids of 1970 probably found it boring.