Saturday, February 27, 2021



THE DIRTY HEROES is a 1968 Italian-made WWII adventure story. In a review of the film I found on the internet, it was referred to as a "macaroni combat" movie--I assume this was the equivalent of a Spaghetti Western. 

In 1945 Holland, three Americans escape from a German POW camp. The group is led by a sergeant, Joe Mortimer (Frederick Stafford, who starred in Hitchcock's TOPAZ). Joe's nickname is "Sesame", because he was a crook and safecracker in civilian life ("Open Sesame"--get it??). Joe finds refuge with a group of Dutch partisans, and plots with their leader (Adolfo Celi) to infiltrate the German headquarters in Amsterdam and make off with a fortune in diamonds that the Nazis have looted from the country. Joe and his crew hope to pull off the perfect crime, but the Dutch resistance has other ideas. There's also a vicious SS colonel who wants the gems for himself, a German general (Curd Jurgens) who realizes the war is lost, and the general's wife, a gorgeous blonde who is actually using an assumed identity because she's really Jewish (Daniela Bianchi). 

The American title of this film is obviously supposed to remind one of THE DIRTY DOZEN, but this is nowhere near as brutal as that blockbuster. (The original Italian title of THE DIRTY HEROES is DALLE ARDENNE ALL'INFERNO.) This movie is more like a comic book than a realistic war epic. There's no gore or overt sexual situations, and the overall tone is more James Bond than gritty combat. That's to be expected when one knows that the director. Alberto De Martino, had made Eurospy entries such as OPERATION KID BROTHER and SPECIAL MISSION LADY CHAPLIN (both of which starred Daniela Bianchi). 

The movie does make a few twists on the WWII caper formula. One is that Curd Jurgens' General is a man who just wants the war to end, and also wants to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed. The General also does not treat Bianchi like a trophy wife--he genuinely loves her. Bianchi is stunning as always--she gets to wear several different flattering outfits, but it's hard to believe her character is actually Jewish. 

John Ireland plays one of Joe's cohorts, an American pilot who, at one point in the story, is able to fly his reconnaissance plane over the German lines and somehow drop a payload of bombs greater than that of a B-25. English actor Anthony Dawson (DR. NO) plays an American general. 

The movie ends with a large-scale battle, featuring paratroopers, bazookas, and tanks (as is usual in this type of picture, the tanks are not of WWII vintage). The print of the movie I watched on YouTube was the full two-hour version, and while the story wasn't spectacular, it did keep up my interest. The print was English dubbed, with Curd Jurgens and John Ireland supplying their own voices. 

007 fans will want to check out THE DIRTY HEROES, since it features three actors who played Bond villains (Jurgens, Celi, Dawson) and a Bond leading lady in Daniela Bianchi. Frederick Stafford also played the Bond-like OSS 117 character in a couple of films. The music for the movie was provided by none other than Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, although I wouldn't call it one of the best scores for either of them. 

THE DIRTY HEROES is a diverting tale, with an interesting cast. Just don't expect a hard-edged historically accurate WWII story. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021



Another obscure British science-fiction film directed by John Gilling. This time it's the 1956 production THE GAMMA PEOPLE. Gilling also co-wrote the script. 

Two newspaper reporters (Paul Douglas and Leslie Phillips) are traveling on a train through Europe, when they are inadvertently stranded in a very small principality called Gudavia. The place seems to be still stuck in the 19th Century, and the main authority is a scientist who calls himself Boronski (Walter Rilla). The reporters recognize him as a man who disappeared years ago under another name. Boronski has a laboratory inside a large castle, where he experiments on the local populace with gamma rays. Boronski also has Gudavia under his thrall--he has a personal army of unfortunates who are the results of his unsuccessful experiments, zombie-like creatures called "goons". A young woman who assists Boronski (Eva Bartok) decides to help the reporters in trying to stop the scientist's plans. 

THE GAMMA PEOPLE is a strange film that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. The country and people of Gudavia are portrayed in an almost comic manner (the place resembles one of those fictional communities the Three Stooges would often find themselves in), while Boronski is a deadly serious fellow who experiments on children. At times the story seems to veer toward a Cold War political thriller, but it's hard to consider Gudavia and its citizens much of a threat. 

The science-fiction elements don't jell well with the rest of the film, and the more intriguing situations are not explored enough. One of Boronski's "patients" is a young boy who acts like a little tyrant, and he leads a group of similar-looking and similar-dressed children, who remind the viewer of the kids in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. (Ironically, Walter Rilla's son Wolf was the director of that film.) 

There's also some Gothic elements here, with Boronski the equivalent of a Dr. Frankenstein or a Count Dracula, in that he lives in a large castle outside of town, is the instigator of mysterious happenings, and has the local populace afraid of him. The pack of "goons" could have been a highlight, but they seem more silly than horrible. 

Paul Douglas and Leslie Phillips play very unusual leading characters for this type of film. Douglas, a middle-aged American character actor, is brusque and sarcastic, while Phillips does a "Cheerio, old chap" type of Englishman. (It's hard to believe that these characters are long-time friends.) Douglas is essentially playing the role that Brian Donlevy and Forrest Tucker did in many other British sci-fi movies of this period. 

THE GAMMA PEOPLE isn't boring--if anything it has too many things going on in it. There are some nice Austrian locations used for Gudavia, and a few incidents in it bring to mind scenes in John Gilling's later films. For example, Boronski's lab and castle go up in flames at the climax, and a shot of characters viewing the blaze reminds one of a similar set-up in both THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE. 

THE GAMMA PEOPLE is a weird concoction that might have been better if it had a more focused plot.  

Saturday, February 20, 2021



This is the 1962 American version of a 1958 Toho film originally titled DAIKAIJU BARAN. The Toho version is not one of the company's best science-fiction features, but it is a fairly decent giant monster movie. It also had the involvement of Toho's talented trio: Ishiro Honda as director, Eiji Tsuburaya as special effect director, and Akira Ifukube as music composer. 

The American VARAN wastes the talents of these three men. It changes the original story around completely, without any improvement in pace, mood, or style. Akira Ifukube's original music was not used for the American version, and Eiji Tsuburaya's FX work is drastically curtailed, and presented in an unflattering way. 

The American VARAN stars B movie actor Myron Healey as a US Navy Commander who is engaging in experiments at a lake on a small remote Japanese island. The experiments somehow awaken a giant beast, which in the usual fashion runs amuck, and has to be destroyed by the military. 

VARAN attempts to be another GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, where footage of an American actor is intercut within the original Japanese version to try and make it more mainstream to a Western audience. The difference is that the 1956 American version of GODZILLA was cleverly crafted, with Raymond Burr believably interacting with the Japanese scenes. VARAN is clumsily edited and stitched together, and Myron Healey has almost no connection whatsoever with what is going on in the story. (I will say that Healey does play his role with total conviction.) Jerry A. Baerwitz is credited as the director/producer of the American VARAN. Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya, and Akira Ifukube are not credited...which is probably just as well. 

As for the title creature, he's not one of Toho's more memorable monsters. He (or it) is a ugly, scaly, reptilian beast, with no personality. In the original Japanese version, Varan is able to take to the air like a flying squirrel! Varan's flying scenes were not used in the American version, which is a shame, since they would have given it some interest. Varan would later return with a small cameo in Toho's magnificent DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.  

The original Japanese version of this movie can be found on a DVD from Tokyo Shock, which came out earlier in this century. This DVD is now out of print, but it contains the uncut original film, with the Japanese soundtrack. (Of course, I own this disc....what do you take me for??)

Needless to say, the Japanese version of VARAN is much better than the American one. The 1962 VARAN, along with other American versions of kaiju cinema, is one reason why so many looked down on the genre. But it must be pointed out that these hybrid films also introduced the genre to many fans. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021



THE NIGHT CALLER is a 1965 British science-fiction film directed by John Gilling (THE REPTILE, THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES). The movie is also known as NIGHT CALLER FROM OUTER SPACE and BLOOD BEAST FROM OUTER SPACE. 

A strange object from space lands in the English countryside, tracked by a group of scientists (John Saxon, Maurice Denham, and Patricia Haines). The scientists assume that it is a meteorite, but it is discovered to be a basketball-sized sphere. Upon investigation, the sphere is found to be an "energy valve", and its true purpose is to be a receiver for transmitted matter. The matter happens to be a being from the third moon of Jupiter, who escapes from the base where the sphere is being studied. The being takes the sphere with him, and soon a number of young attractive women have gone missing. The being contacts the women through an advertisement for models in a girlie magazine! The scientists and Scotland Yard team up to try and stop the "night caller" from abducting more women. 

Like so many English sci-fi films made in the same period, THE NIGHT CALLER has a low budget, and a very low-key tone to it. If you're expecting weird monsters and plenty of special effects, you'll be disappointed (it's nothing like the poster shown below). The movie resembles the first two Quatermass stories made by Hammer Films, with stark black & white photography and serious, hard-working scientists dealing with military men and police officials. 

The first part of the movie not only has a Quatermass feel, it also brings to mind the early 1970s DOCTOR WHO episodes that dealt with the UNIT organization. John Carson (who would also work with John Gilling in THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES) plays a no-nonsense army major that reminds one of UNIT's Brigadier. (Jack Watson, another Hammer veteran, plays his sergeant.) After the alien escapes from the base with the sphere, the movie turns into a noir-like police investigation story on the streets of London. Saxon and the cops figure out how to track down the alien, but instead of a major confrontation, the story comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying end (probably due to the budget). 

THE NIGHT CALLER is very talky at times, and it also has a title song that seems more suited for a romantic drama. John Gilling does the best he can to enliven the material, with plenty of hand-held camera work and unusual close-ups. The alien is kept in shadows for most of the film, except for his claw-like hand, which wouldn't be out of place in a AIP 1950s drive-in flick. 

The climax reveals the being's plan--it's the one about kidnapping Earthlings to replenish a dying alien race. When the alien is finally fully shown, it's a big letdown (unless you think that a race from a moon of Jupiter would look mostly like us). 

A poster far more exploitative than the actual movie.

The cast of THE NIGHT CALLER play it absolutely straight, especially Saxon, who would go on to make plenty of science-fiction and horror films that were far wilder than this. THE NIGHT CALLER should get some credit for taking itself seriously, but one can't help but wonder if it would have played better with some more pulp elements injected into it. The idea of an alien basically using a "casting couch" to get women for breeding purposes is a notable one, but the story doesn't take advantage of all the possibilities such a situation could present. THE NIGHT CALLER is much better made than one would expect, but I felt that it could have been more memorable. 

Friday, February 12, 2021



NIGHT OF TERROR is a 1933 mystery-thriller from Columbia Pictures, starring Bela Lugosi. I recently watched it for the first time on Tubi. 

This is the first of many old dark house/mystery/horror films that Bela would appear in during his acting career. Lugosi would always be a red herring, or, in other words, the guy that didn't do it. These movies usually had a comedic element to them (or, more accurately, tried to have a comedic element), and Bela would often be a suspicious butler or servant. Despite the presence of Lugosi, these movies would invariably never be all that exciting or entertaining. 

NIGHT OF TERROR concerns strange events happening at the Rinehart estate. Despite a running time of little over an hour, the movie packs in plenty of plot contrivances. There's a knife-wielding murderous maniac (who resembles a grungy werewolf) prowling outside the estate, while there's another killer at work within. There's sliding panels, greedy relatives who want a bigger slice of the murdered Prof. Rinehart's will, an scientific experiment involving a man being buried alive, a young beautiful woman, a dopey detective, an annoying reporter, and even a scaredy-cat black chauffeur. 

All of these elements do not fit together very well, and the story doesn't seem to know whether to be silly or serious. Despite all the goofy characters, the movie is quite brutal, with over a half-dozen murders, and it opens with the knife-wielding maniac sneaking up on a innocent young couple sitting in a car at night and murdering them. (One gets the feeling that the body count would have been much lower if the film had been made later than the Pre-Code era.) 

Bela Lugosi plays Degar, a Hindu servant to the Rinehart family. Bela gets to wear a turban and a earring, and he acts as mysterious as all get out, constantly giving everyone shifty looks. Surprisingly, Lugosi gets a wife in this film--she's a medium who holds the aforementioned seance, and gets murdered before she can reveal anything. This allows Lugosi some emotional moments, and he even gets a chance to capture his wife's killer. NIGHT OF TERROR is not an example of an all-out, full-blown Lugosi performance, but he does get to do much more than he would in his many later suspicious servant roles. 

Bela Lugosi as Degar

The supporting cast features two actors who would have later connections with Bela. Wallace Ford is the pain-in-the-neck reporter, and he would in the future play basically the same role alongside Bela in THE MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG and THE APE MAN. Sally Blane is the female lead, and she was a sister to major screen star Loretta Young. Another one of Loretta's sisters, Polly Ann Young, would play Bela's daughter in INVISIBLE GHOST. 

Ben Stoloff was the director of NIGHT OF TERROR. He keeps thing moving rather quickly here (of course, with so much material to work with, he didn't have much of a choice). A number of extreme close-ups are used to punctuate the action. 

The ending features the knife-wielding maniac (played by Edwin Maxwell) breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience. I assume this was meant to be creepy...but due to Maxwell's over-the-top performance, it comes off as silly. It's an outrageous way to climax the picture--but one could say that it makes it memorable. 

And that is one thing that can be said about NIGHT OF TERROR--it's memorable. It may not be all that great, but it has enough going on in it that at least it isn't sleep-inducing, the way some of Bela's other low-budget features wind up being. 

For some reason, NIGHT OF TERROR has not had a major official home video release. One would expect that with Bela Lugosi being the top-billed star, that alone would have been enough. (If this movie had been produced by Universal, I'm sure it would be on Blu-ray by now.) A restored release by a company like Kino or Shout Factory, with an audio commentary, is sorely needed. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021



THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR is a stylish 1933 courtroom drama produced by Universal and directed by the great James Whale. 

The story is set in Vienna, where distinguished lawyer Paul Held (Frank Morgan) defends his friend Walter Bernsdorf (Paul Lukas) after the man has killed his unfaithful wife. As Walter tells Paul about the events leading up to the crime, the lawyer starts to doubt the love of his own wife. Sure enough, Mrs. Held (Nancy Carroll)--a young, beautiful woman, like Mrs. Bernsdorf--is having an affair. The distraught Paul comes to the conclusion that if he can get Walter off by claiming temporary insanity, he might be able to kill his own wife--and get away with it as well. 

THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR is not a whodunit--it's more of a "Will he do it?", as in, will Paul get his friend off from a murder charge, and then kill his own wife? It's an unusual plot that gets the viewer's interest, especially due to the fact that this is a Pre-code film, which means all bets are off when it comes to the usual Hollywood movie morality. (Universal and Whale remade this film in 1938 under the title WIVES UNDER SUSPICION. I haven't seen that picture, but it was apparently changed considerably, with lesser results.)

What really sets this film apart is the visual highlights injected into it by director Whale and cinematographer Karl Freund. The constantly moving camera and the expressionistic lighting fit the melodramatic aspects of the story perfectly. The acting is quite melodramatic as well, but in a good way. Frank Morgan will forever be known as the Wizard of Oz, but he fits the bill quite well as a sophisticated and intelligent man whose suspicions nearly drive him over the edge. Paul Lukas plays Bernsdorf as a man emotionally drained by his crime, and Jean Dixon (who played the maid in MY MAN GODFREY) grabs attention as Held's level-headed associate. Monster movie fans will notice Michael Mark, who is in attendance at Bernsdorf's trial. 

Gloria Stuart and a very young Walter Pidgeon have cameos as Mrs. Bernsdorf and her lover in the opening sequence. The beginning of the film must have been a shocker to audiences--Stuart and Pidgeon are preparing for a night together, and one thinks that they are the main characters of the story, when Lukas sneaks in and puts three bullets in his errant wife. 

THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR looks spectacular on this Kino Blu-ray, with a sharp black & white picture that offers up plenty of detail. There are times when the sound level needs to be turned up a bit, but I believe that is due to the original source material. 

The main extra here is a new audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who spends most of her time theorizing about gender politics. (I wish that someone who was an expert on the history of Universal during the early 1930s, such as Greg Mank, had done a commentary for this.) There are also some trailers included of other Kino releases that were made during the same period as THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR. 

James Whale is one of my favorite all-time movie directors, but his non-horror work has gotten very little attention so far on home video. Hopefully this release means that Kino has plans for other Whale films in the future. THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR shows what Whale could do with a contemporary story, and his quirky editing style (and humor) are in evidence here. At only 69 minutes, THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR is a fast-paced, intriguing movie that deserves to be better known. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021



THE CARPET OF HORROR is a 1962 krimi film, a German/Italian/Spanish production. It stars the royal couple of the krimi genre, Joachim Fuchsberger and Karin Dor. The original German title for this is DER TEPPICH DES GRAUENS. 

Despite the title, there's no horrific carpets on display here, so no one has to call 588-2300 EMPIRE. It's what's placed on a carpet that is horrible. A gang of criminals based in London are killing off their enemies by depositing a substance shaped like a marble on the carpets of the victims. The substance evaporates into a deadly gaseous poison. 

Secret agent Harry Raffold (Joachim Fuchsberger) is investigating the case, and he becomes close with the niece (Karin Dor) of one of the victims. Harry tracks down the gang to a run-down auto repair shop, which is above a series of secret tunnels. With the help of Scotland Yard, the villains are captured. 

Despite its krimi status, THE CARPET OF HORROR has nothing to do with anything written by Edgar Wallace (or even his son). It still has most of the attributes associated with the krimi--excellent black & white photography, atmospheric nighttime sequences, a mysterious gang operating in London, and some science-fiction and Gothic horror elements. It's not as outlandish as many of the krimis I have seen, but it's still entertaining, and worth checking out. 

Among the highlights here is the early "texting" system the criminal gang's unseen boss uses to communicate with them. The Mabuse-like boss figure is not revealed until the end (my guess was wrong). As with most krimis there's plenty of shifty and suspicious characters about, and Karin Dor, as she would often be in these films, gets kidnapped and tied up in the gang's secret hideout. 

According to internet sources, most of this movie was filmed in Madrid, despite being set in London (and the opening shot of Big Ben). I noticed a few Spaghetti Western supporting actors among the criminal henchmen. 

I viewed THE CARPET OF HORROR on the Tubi streaming channel. The print was surprisingly excellent--it was sharp and clear, and it was in widescreen. It had English main titles crudely added to it (which misspelled the names of most of the actors). The movie was dubbed in English, and many of the phony Limey accents added on were quite silly. 

THE CARPET OF HORROR isn't overtly gory or violent, and it is well directed by genre veteran Harald Reinl. 


Monday, February 1, 2021



Sunday, January 31st, was the 100th anniversary of John Agar's birth. Agar is well known to film geeks for his numerous appearances in low-budget horror and science-fiction films made during the 1950s and 60s. When I wrote a blog post on my personal list of the greatest movie monster fighters of all time, I made darn sure Agar was on it. 

I figured I just had to watch a John Agar movie on the night of his centennial. But instead of re-watching one of his many genre outings, I decided to pick a film I had never seen before. 

I chose a very, very low budget feature produced by American-International Pictures and released in 1958 called JET ATTACK. This "epic" has been given a BOMB rating in Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide, and it is included in the notorious book THE FIFTY WORST FILMS OF ALL TIME. 

Agar stars as Air Force Captain Tom Arnett, a jet pilot in the Korean War. A plane carrying an American scientist who has achieved a breakthrough in communications has been shot down in North Korean territory, and Arnett is tasked to see if the man has survived. The Captain and two of his Air Force buddies parachute behind the lines, and make contact with Korean guerrillas. The three men also meet up with a Russian nurse named Tanya (Audrey Totter) who helped Arnett out a year ago when he crashed behind enemy lines. Arnett and Tanya get the scientist out of a North Korean hospital, and the captain steals a MIG to get back to his base. 

JET ATTACK is a prime example of a late 1950s AIP movie, except for the fact that it has no horror or sci-fi overtones. It's in black and white, there's plenty of military stock footage (this is what the entire "jet attack" is made up of). The story veers between being hokey and ridiculous, and the film runs not much longer than an hour, since it was supposed to be on a double-bill. The director was Edward L. Cahn, and the credited writers were Orville Hampton and Mark Hanna. All three men were veterans of low-budget drive-in 1950s movies. JET ATTACK really one of the worst films ever made? It certainly isn't good--but I wouldn't call it totally awful. John Agar himself made plenty of films worse than JET ATTACK. In my opinion it's's not so boring that you'll fall asleep. It was made to be cheap entertainment, and that's exactly what it provides. 

Agar is his typically earnest self in the lead role. He certainly doesn't burn up the screen with intensity here, but I doubt even someone like Spencer Tracy could have fared all that much better in the same circumstances. Agar doesn't get all that much help from Audrey Totter, who gives her character a generic accent that doesn't sound the least bit Russian. Totter is best known for playing film noir femme fatales, but she and Agar have little chemistry, despite the fact their characters are supposed to be attracted to each other. 

The rest of the very small cast makes very little impression, except for an actor named Nicky Blair, who plays one of the men accompanying Agar on his mission. Blair is supposed to be comic relief, but he's overtly annoying while spouting off beatnik dialogue that isn't at all funny. 

Needless to say, no one involved in this movie got anywhere near Korea (at least while making it, that is). The Korean guerrillas who help Agar out are dressed, and act like, Chinese peasants. Some of the stock jet footage is repeated, and some of the planes change shape and style from one shot to another. The movie does have a very boisterous score by Ronald Stein. 

The most surprising thing about the film is the ending. Agar and the scientist do get away in a MIG (which isn't a MIG, it's an American jet fighter with a Soviet star painted on it), but every other main character winds up dead, even Tanya. Despite this, Agar doesn't seem all that broken up about it, considering he's sporting his trademark grin once he gets back to his Air Force base. 

For those that actually went and paid money to see this picture, I can imagine what they must have felt, especially if they were in any way influenced by the poster above. A couple of kids playing with airplane models could probably whip up more excitement. 

If you really want to see JET ATTACK (and why wouldn't you after reading this post?), the Tubi streaming channel has a very nice widescreen print of it available.