Saturday, March 26, 2022



SKI TROOP ATTACK is a 1960 black & white film produced and directed by the legendary Roger Corman. I stumbled upon it recently on the Tubi streaming channel. 

During WWII, a (very) small American patrol is scouting in the snowy Huertgen Forest, when the Germans begin the attack to open up what would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. The patrol is cut off, and its commanding lieutenant (Michael Forest) decides to continue on ahead and search for any available targets. The patrol gets the attention of a German group, and while trying to stay ahead of them the Americans come upon a railroad bridge. They attempt to destroy it, while holding off their German pursuers. 

When it comes to the low, low, low budget flicks Roger Corman was involved in during the late '50s-early '60s, the behind-the-scenes tales are usually more entertaining than what goes on in the films themselves. For SKI TROOP ATTACK, Corman took a small crew to South Dakota, and enlisted two high school ski teams to help with the skiing sequences. Right before shooting the man that Corman hired to play the leader of the German patrol injured himself in a skiing accident, so the director decided to play the role himself (despite the fact that he barely knew how to ski, and he didn't speak German). SKI TROOP ATTACK was filmed back-to-back with BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE, the latter film produced by Roger's brother Gene. (The reason the two films were made together was--you guessed it--to save money.) 

SKI TROOP ATTACK was written by longtime Corman collaborator Charles B. Griffith, but it's not one of his better scripts. Even at only about an hour long, the American patrol spends a fair amount of time wandering around and discussing what to do. The movie's running time is augmented by actual WWII footage taken on the Eastern Front. 

At one point, the patrol comes across a cabin in the woods, inhabited by a German woman (Shelia Carol), but this sequence doesn't amount to much. The pace picks up when the patrol comes across the railroad bridge, and the battle scenes are handled okay, even if they are a bit haphazard. 

Michael Forest is somewhat underwhelming as the American patrol leader (as he would also be as the lead in Corman's sword & sandal "epic", ATLAS). Future Euro Western veteran Frank Wolff has the best role as the sarcastic sergeant. Corman regular Wally Campo plays another member of the patrol. 

SKI TROOP ATTACK is no impressive WWII action-adventure, but the real-life wintry locations do help, and like all the other Roger Corman one-week wonders, there's a few elements worked in that gets the viewer's attention. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

METROPOLIS And The Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra


The spectacular German silent epic METROPOLIS is one of my favorite films of all time. I've been mesmerized and entranced by it since I first saw it as a young teenager. 

Seeing METROPOLIS at any time, under any circumstances, is a great experience. But seeing the restored version in a theatrical venue? With an audience? AND with live orchestral accompaniment? AND with that orchestra playing the original music written for the film in 1927 by Gottfried Huppertz? 

That's what I experienced last night at the Schrott Center for the Arts, located on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

I actually have seen METROPOLIS in a theater before--back in 2010, I saw the restored version of the film at the Browning Cinema on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. But the live music provided by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra gave an added dimension to the experience--it made the viewing of the film more emotional, more immediate. 

Before the screening the orchestra's conductor and musical director, Matthew Kraemer, gave a short talk to the audience, giving some background on the film and its music. He explained that there would be a 20 minute intermission about halfway through the film, and a short break later, for purposes of giving the musicians a rest. He pointed out that the orchestra was going to play two and a half hours of continuous music, and that this type of score certainly couldn't be practiced. (I'm glad he pointed this out--I think most people who attend any sort of concert takes for granted how hard musicians work.) I have to say from my perspective the ICO played magnificently. 

The audience seemed most appreciative, although it appeared to me that many in the crowd had never seen METROPOLIS before--after the show I overheard some snippets of conversation from folks who mentioned they were a bit mystified by it. The main thing is that one of the greatest films ever made got a public screening, with a live performance of its original score, and that it was a wonderful event. 

Before the showing I met up with my friend Dustin Jablonski, and he gave me some copies of a Japanese METROPOLIS poster book from the very files of Forrest J. Ackerman! 

I have to say that last night was one of the best cinematic experiences I have ever had. It was much, much better than watching a typical new three-hour big budget franchise film. 

Saturday, March 19, 2022



AIR HOSTESS is a 1933 Columbia film, directed by Albert Rogell. 

The title role is played by Evalyn Knapp. She is Kitty, who works on the TWA airline out west. Kitty's dad was killed serving as a fighter pilot in WWI, and the airplane pilots and mechanics who are her friends are overly protective of her. Kitty rebels by getting married to Ted Hunter (James Murray), a nefarious stunt pilot who flew with her father during the war. The devil-may-care Ted tries to reform for Kitty by designing a new airplane, but he needs financial backing. He gets it from the sultry Sylvia Carleton (Thelma Todd), a woman who has gotten rich due to alimony from her numerous ex-husbands. Sylvia puts the moves on Ted, causing distress with Kitty, but an emergency brings them back together. 

The main reason I watched this film was for Thelma Todd. This is another one of Thelma's "Other Woman" roles, but she's really in home wrecker mode here, flirting to the max with James Murray. The problem is that Murray just isn't all that charismatic or exciting as Ted, and one wonders why a rich sexy woman like Thelma's Sylvia would go to so much trouble over him. 

James Murray is best known for starring in the silent film classic THE CROWD, and for how his career faltered when sound came in. AIR HOSTESS was one of Murray's last leading roles before alcoholism ruined his career. The role of Ted should have been played by someone like Clark Gable, or a lovable bad-boy type. Murray as Ted comes off as a bit dense. 

Usually in a movie where Thelma Todd plays the "Other Woman", the actual leading lady gets overshadowed, but Evalyn Knapp shows some spunk and is quite appealing as much so that one wonders why she would be so smitten with Ted. Knapp's acting career started to fade later in the decade, but at least she didn't have the personal problems that James Murray did. J.M. Kerrigan and Jane Darwell have supporting roles. 

The climax of the film goes away from the Knapp-Murray-Todd triangle and deals with Kitty as a passenger on a train that is heading toward a washed-out bridge, with Ted and his pilot rival taking off in planes to try and stop a wreck from happening. The sequence is very well done, but it feels as if it was randomly dropped into the story to provide an exciting ending. 

Aviation buffs will enjoy the various 1930s planes and airfields, while Pre-Code fans will appreciate seeing Evalyn Knapp and Thelma Todd in lingerie. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Akira Takarada (1934-2022)


Akira Takarada was one of the true legends of fantastic cinema. 

Takarada not only appeared in the very first original Godzilla movie made back in 1954, he made several other appearances in the classic series of science-fiction/fantasy films made by Toho Studios in the 1960s. He starred in two of the greatest kaiju films ever made--MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA and INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER. He also had the lead human role in EBIRAH, HORROR OF THE DEEP, playing a different kind of character than his usual clean-cut hero. Takarada was also in KING KONG ESCAPES and LATITUDE ZERO. In later years he would have small roles in GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1992) and GODZILLA: FINAL WARS.

Takarada brought a strong screen presence and a sincere professionalism to all the kaiju movies he was in. The plots of these films may have been utterly fantastic, but Takarada never acted in them as if they were a joke. The human actors in Japanese Kaiju Cinema never get much respect, but Takarada, with his believable and likable characterizations, made his science fiction forays more entertaining. 

As an American, my exposure to Takarada has only been through his kaiju films, but he was a mainstream celebrity in Japan. (He was even referred to as the "Clark Gable" of that country.) The actor was still working recently in various media. 

I'm honored to say I got to meet Akira Takarada twice. The first time was at the 2012 G Fest Convention just outside of Chicago. I got to the event early, and I and a number of other attendees were waiting in the hotel lobby for the convention to open up. A very distinguished-looking, well-dressed Japanese gentleman walked into the lobby, carrying a briefcase. It was none other than Akira Takarada himself, and he soon was deluged by fans. Even though the convention hadn't even officially started yet, Mr. Takarada made time for everyone who approached him, and treated everyone with respect and courtesy. I waited for the crowd to die down and I managed to have a short chat with him, and get a picture taken (see above). The man on the right of the photo is Bin Furuya, the original Ultraman, who saw us posing and decided he wanted to be in on it as well. 

The second time I met Mr. Takarada was at the 2016 G Fest. The big news at this convention was that Takarada was appearing with his KING KONG ESCAPES co-star, Linda Miller. Of course I had to get my picture taken with them (see below). While waiting in line to meet them there was a couple of young girls ahead of me dressed as the twin fairies from MOTHRA. When Takarada saw them he started singing the "Mothra" song....was that a fanboy moment of what??

Each time I got to meet and observe Akira Takarada, I was impressed by his kindness and affability toward everyone. He certainly wasn't embarrassed about being associated with Godzilla movies--he seemed to revel in it, I've spent a lot of my life dealing with snarky remarks about those "dopey movies" that I watch--but interacting with wonderful people like Akira Takarada makes it all worthwhile. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022



IL DEMONIO is a black & white 1963 Italian film concerning a young woman named Purificata, called "Puri", played by Daliah Lavi. The story shows how Puri's strange and unearthly behavior upsets her family and her fellow villagers in a small backwater town in rural southern Italy. 

Puri is angered after being rejected by a former lover named Antonio (Frank Wolff). Puri does everything she can to disrupt Antonio's marriage, and her outlandish actions cause her family to have her exorcised and the townsfolk to chase her away. Puri winds up at a convent, but she sows discord there as well. She and Antonio wind up having a final confrontation. 

IL DEMONIO is a very unconventional film, in that while it has suggestions of terrible and supernatural events, it is not a standard horror movie. The production was filmed entirely at real remote locations in Italy, and most of the other characters are played by non-professional actors. IL DEMONIO has a documentary-like feel about it (at the beginning of the film is an intertitle stating that it is based on a true story). Director and co-writer Brunello Rondi (who was a frequent collaborator of Federico Fellini) avoids the usual scare tactics and instead keeps the focus on Puri's aberrant behavior, and the bleakness of her village and the surrounding countryside. 

Daliah Lavi (best known for starring in Mario Bava's THE WHIP AND THE BODY and several James Bond knock-offs) gives an amazing performance as Puri. It's a physically demanding performance as well--Puri is whipped, bound, sexually assaulted, attacked, and chased down. She also undergoes self-mutilation and several instances of weird body contortions. (In an interview for VIDEO WATCHDOG magazine, published in 2012, Lavi stated that she actually met the young girl who was the basis for the film.) 

One of the most notable things about IL DEMONIO is that it doesn't try to explain why Puri acts the way she does. There's no flashback giving an insight into Puri's mind, there's no "expert" that shows up and gives a diagnosis of her problems. Is Puri mad? Is she acting like she is mad?? Is she really possessed, or do the villagers think she is because she is a beautiful young woman who does not act properly? (The males in this story fear Puri, but they desire her as well.) 

One explanation is that Puri may have been driven mad by the people and the circumstances around her. Director Rondi goes out of his way to show that Puri's village is ruled by superstition and religious ritual, and that the people who reside there act just as bizarrely as she does. Puri lives in an area that is cold, sparse, poor, and depressing--an attractive woman like her wouldn't be too excited to spend the rest of her life in such a place. 

I viewed IL DEMONIO on the Tubi streaming channel. The print looked outstanding--a very sharp black & white widescreen presentation, uncut, with the original Italian soundtrack and English subtitles. 

IL DEMONIO certainly sticks in the memory. Despite its lack of gore and explicitness, there's an unsettling air about the entire affair. Some have defined it as an early version of "folk horror", although I don't think it fits into any easy categories. I will say that fans of Euro Cult cinema need to check out the excellent version of it provided by Tubi. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022



At the beginning of this year I wrote a series of blog posts on a Sherlock Holmes Blu-ray set from The Film Detective. The set featured three of the five films in which British actor Arthur Wontner starred as Holmes. 

One of the Wontner-Holmes films, THE MISSING REMBRANDT, is considered lost. The other one which is not in The Film Detective's set is THE SIGN OF FOUR, made in 1932. It's curious why this movie did not wind up in the aforementioned set, since it is widely available on YouTube (that is where I viewed it). 

THE SIGN OF FOUR is one of my favorite Holmes stories by Conan Doyle. This film version condenses the plot considerably, but it is a quite effective adaptation, even though it is set in contemporary times instead of Victorian London. 

A frightened young woman named Mary Morstan (Isla Bevan) seeks out Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Wontner) over a number of strange messages. Holmes discovers a plot concerning a treasure looted from the Orient years ago, in which Miss Morstan's late father was involved. While Dr. Watson (Ian Hunter) and Mary fall for each other, Holmes uses his mental (and physical) powers to battle the rogues who are after the treasure. 

Of the five films (all made in England) in which Arthur Wontner starred as Holmes, four of them were produced by Twickenham Film Studios. THE SIGN OF FOUR is the outlier--it was made by Associated Radio Pictures. It has a different Watson and Mrs. Hudson than the other Wontner-Holmes movies, and it also has a much better pace to it. THE SIGN OF FOUR is also far more inventive visually than the Twickenham Holmes series, and it has a bit of light humor to it as well. It was directed by British film veteran Graham Cutts, and Rowland V. Lee (who directed SON OF FRANKENSTEIN) is credited as production supervisor. 

Arthur Wontner is remembered for playing a older and sedentary Holmes, but here he wears a hairpiece that makes him look younger, and he even gets to engage in a knock-out brawl during the climax. (Wontner also gets to use a couple of disguises.) Ian Hunter's Watson is more of a leading man type, in order to provide the love interest for Mary Morstan.

THE SIGN OF FOUR is also enlivened by a pair of nasty villains: Graham Soutten as Jonathan Small, and Roy Emerton as his sidekick. Miles Malleson is perfect casting for the role of the quirky Thaddeus Sholto. 

Out of all the movies in which Arthur Wontner played Sherlock Holmes that are available, the 1932 THE SIGN OF FOUR is in my opinion the best. It is the one that really deserves a restoration and a proper home video presentation. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022



I've long been a fan of Buster Keaton--I believe THE GENERAL is one of the greatest films ever made. When it comes to information about Keaton and his films, I've long been frustrated that the many books written about him and his career are lacking in one way or another. This even includes Keaton's autobiography. 

Most of the books about Keaton focus mainly on his silent movie work, which of course included his best achievements. But these volumes almost ignore or gloss over Keaton's work in the sound era, and give a very basic "MGM treated him bad and he started drinking" explanation about his problems in the 1930s. 

A number of Keaton books try to analyze his silent films and what "Keatonesque" means. There are some worthy attempts at this, but a lot of this type of writing tends to be pretentious, when Keaton himself was anything but. It also much more fun to watch Keaton's silent films than to read someone's interpretation of them. 

James Curtis, who has written the definitive biographies of several cinematic legends such as James Whale and William Cameron Menzies, does it again with a mammoth, detailed, and much needed examination of the entire life of Buster Keaton. 

BUSTER KEATON--A FILMMAKER'S LIFE runs over 800 pages, and gives in one volume all a reader needs to know about this multifaceted man. Curtis makes clear that Keaton truly was a filmmaker--when he was given the opportunity, Buster wrote, produced, directed, and starred in numerous short films and features that are still amazing to watch today. 

Keaton's fantastic silent era is well-covered, but Curtis takes pains to deal with Buster's entire life. The author makes very clear, with impressive research, that even before Keaton first stepped in front of a movie camera, he was already a seasoned entertainer, having appeared on stage as part of his family's comedy act for over a decade, with thousands of performances. 

Curtis also makes clear that Keaton was always working, even during the years of his supposed "downfall". Keaton appeared in movies, on stage, worked as a gag man, and was one of the first important big-screen talents to realize and appreciate the power of television. Much of Keaton's sound-era work may not have been up to his standards, and he wasn't making tons of money, but he certainly wasn't a destitute wreck. 

The author doesn't shy away from dealing with Keaton's personal problems. MGM certainly did Keaton no favors in the early 1930s, but his drinking and family issues didn't help. Even the most obscure productions that Buster was involved in are discussed here, most of them probably for the first time in any book. 

Curtis has a very straightforward writing style that avoids complicated verbiage and keeps the focus on the subject, as it should be. The book includes a complete film chronology and a list of Keaton's significant television appearances. 

This is by far the best book I have ever read about Buster Keaton, and the most detailed look at his life I have ever read. I predict that it will be added to the bookshelves of many a film buff in the future. 

Saturday, March 5, 2022

The VCI Santo Blu-ray Box Set: Disc Three


Disc Three of VCI's Santo Blu-ray box set presents two of the wildest and weirdest entries in the masked marvel's cinematic career, in widescreen and color. 

SANTO VS. FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER (1972) has elements of LADY FRANKENSTEIN and THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, and it has a scene that reminds one of the climax to DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. Dr. Freda Frankenstein (Gina Romand) is about 100 years old, but she looks much younger due to a serum she has created. The serum is losing its potency, however, so Frankenstein's daughter decides to use the blood of the powerful Santo to prepare a new version. The doctor has also created a half-man half-beast, and a being made up of various body parts, and both creatures wind up fighting Santo. 

This is a particularly notable entry in the Santo series, with all sorts of crazy goings-on. Gina Romand makes a fine villain, striding around in go-go boots and at one point even trying to seduce Santo. The old-age makeups and the look of both monsters (actually played by the same stuntman) are not on the Jack Pierce level, but they work in this context. 

Director Miguel Delgado (best known for his work with Mexican comedian Cantinflas) doesn't put much visual flair into the proceedings, but with all the wacky things happening he doesn't really have to. It's a goofy movie, but very entertaining. 

SANTO & BLUE DEMON VS. DRACULA AND THE WOLF MAN (1973) goes the Universal monster rallies of the 1940s one better by having multiple monsters and multiple professional wrestlers. A greedy hunchback revives Dracula and a werewolf so they can take revenge on the Cristaldi family--one of their ancestors had destroyed the monsters. El Santo happens to be the boyfriend of Prof. Cristaldi's daughter, and he enlists the aid of his fellow wrestler The Blue Demon to help protect the family. 

Aldo Monti (who played Dracula in SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA) returns as the Count, which means he can be placed in the same group of actors such as John Carradine, Bela Lugosi, and Christopher Lee who played the character in multiple films. The wolf man in this story is not a sympathetic Larry Talbot type--when he's not in monster mode, he's a snazzy dresser who puts the moves on the cousin of Santo's girlfriend. Dracula and the wolf man scheme to turn the world into creatures like themselves--which means Santo and the Blue Demon fight off plenty of threats. (Ironically, there are no werewolf transformations in the film, obviously to save money.) 

The scene where the hunchback revives Dracula and the wolf man is a direct steal from DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS. The climax is very action packed, but two wrestlers means more wrestling footage (this movie has three different matches). The story is very long as you don't think about it too much. 

Both films in this set get informative introductions by Dr. David E. Wilt. The picture quality is very colorful, but once again the main problems with these films are the English dub tracks, which are too campy-sounding. The main extra on this disc is a poster and photo gallery.