Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 28, 2019


Yes, it's time for the monthly installment of B Movie Nightmare, which you can find by clicking on the link.

Great Old Movies will be back next week. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Rise Stevens and Nelson Eddy
THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER (1941). Director: Roy Del Ruth.

Karl Lang (Nelson Eddy) and Maria Lanyl (Rise Stevens) are a married couple in Vienna who appear nightly in a production of The Chocolate Soldier. Karl is generally surrounded by adoring young ladies, but he is still jealous of the attentions his wife receives from other men, and thinks that she has quite a romantic history. He fears it is time for her to take yet another lover and his marriage may be doomed. To test Maria's affections, he disguises himself as an intensely romantic Russian singer ...

Eddy disguised as the Russian
Like Sweethearts, which Eddy did with Jeanette MacDonald three years earlier, The Chocolate Soldier completely throws out the plot of that operetta -- while retaining some of Oscar Straus' music -- and substitutes the storyline of that creaky old standby The Guardsman (which Lunt and Fontanne actually filmed ten years earlier). This plot was recycled for more than one I Love Lucy episode which at least had Lucy and Desi yukking it up. However, to be fair to the leads in this picture, they are both excellent and amusing in their own way. Often damned as a lousy actor, Eddy is actually quite effective in this, including when he is impersonating the love-mad Russian. Stevens, a mezzo-soprano to reckon with and a genuine operatic star (and with a voice far superior to Jeanette MacDonald's ), also proves a delightfully talented and sophisticated actress. Stevens may not have been a stunning beauty, but with her personality, manner and charm -- not to mention her cute appeal -- I have no doubt she had plenty of male admirers (she was happily married for 61 years, however).

Nelson Eddy as Karl
But then we come to the music. The best song, of course, is the gorgeous "My Hero," which is reprised more than once in the movie and deserves to be. Vivian Vance sang this song in the classic "Ethel's Home Town" episode of I Love Lucy, but while Vance had a nice voice, she can't compare to Stevens, who gives a superb rendition, joined in by Eddy, who is also in fine voice, at one point. Stevens is also given a beautiful aria from Samson and Delilah, while Eddy does Tannhauser.  There are other musical interludes, including a weird, unmemorable piece sung by Eddy as the Russian, and a frenetically-edited dance at a drinking establishment.

Rise Stevens
Frankly, the script for Chocolate Soldier is not the chief appeal of the movie, although it does manage to remain amusing and watchable due to the actors and the soundtrack. Florence Bates [The Brasher Doubloon], Nigel Bruce, and Nydia Westman [Forty Little Mothers] add to the fun as assorted associates of the lead couple, and all are very good. Rise Stevens did a version of The Chocolate Soldier for television with Eddie Albert in 1955, which I believe stuck to the original story of the operetta. Stevens had a long and wonderful career with the Metropolitan opera in New York and did very few films, one of which was Going My Way. She did a few operas, such as Carmen, on TV as well.

Verdict: Despite its obvious flaws, this is still quite entertaining. "My Hero," indeed! ***. 


Donald O/Connor
ARE YOU WITH IT? (1948). Director: Jack Hively.

Milton Haskins (Donald O'Connor of Something in the Wind) is an actuary with an insurance firm who puts a decimal point in the wrong place and gets in hot water. Contemplating his future in the park, he encounters carny worker "Goldie" McGoldrick (Lew Parker), who thinks he can use his obvious smarts working for the carnival. His fiancee, Vivian (Olga San Juan of One Touch of Venus) isn't as enamoured of the idea, especially when there are dancing girls in his act. There's not much more to the film's plot, aside from some business about Milton exposing a woman who is trying to buy the carnival from Pop (Walter Catlett of Fired Wife).

Olga San Juan 
Are You With It? is an amiable if distinctly minor musical that has a fine lead performance and some engaging enough supporting players, but is not distinguished by any great songs (Miller and James). The production numbers go from mediocre ("Baba's Alley") to terrible ("Prince of a Fella"). There is, however, a lively dance competition between Milton, Goldie and a bartender in a tavern, and "What Do I Have to Do?" cleverly features O'Connor in advertisements that come to life. Lew Parker seems like a cross between Milton Berle and Phil Silvers but isn't as interesting as either. This was his only big role in a theatrical film as most of his work was on the stage or television.

Verdict: Some fun but fairly forgettable. **1/4. 


Loretta Young and David Manners
THEY CALL IT SIN (1932). Director: Thornton Freeland.

New Yorker Jimmy Decker (David Manners of Crooner), supposedly a "nice guy", is engaged to Edith Hollister (Helen Vincent). On a business trip to Kansas, he meets up with church organist Marion (Loretta Young) and begins a romance with her. After Jimmy returns to Manhattan, Marion's hateful mother (Elizabeth Patterson) tells her that she is not only "sinful" but was adopted and not wanted in the first place. Marion takes off to New York to find David, as well as work as a musician, but she doesn't know that the guy has a fiancee ...

Loretta Young and George Brent 
In New York Marion gets involved with two other men, Jimmy's friend, Dr. Travers (George Brent) and theatrical impresario Ford Humprhies (Louis Calhern of Athena). The latter character, who hits on women shamelessly and fires them if they don't play ball, is meant to be the true "bad guy" to make Jimmy look better, but that doesn't quite work. In any case, the film has an abrupt, surprising and unconvincing wind-up that -- despite this being a "pre-code" film -- smacks of compromise, although most viewers will be glad that Marion winds up with the man she eventually chooses. There are also some melodramatic and rather absurd complications before the fade-out.

Hateful: Elizabeth Patteron. 
Young gives an excellent performance, which is no surprise. Manners and Brent are both fine, but it is Calhern who nearly steals the movie from the better-looking gentlemen. Elizabeth Patterson is sterling as usual in a very unsympathetic part that is a far cry from the babysitter on I Love Lucy. The scene when she reveals the truth to her "daughter" is one of the best in the movie. Jimmy is such a clueless idiot that he actually asks his fiancee to take Marion under her wing -- this before either lady even knows what's going on! Una Merkel [Red-Headed Woman]  is also in the cast as a chorus girl friend of Marion's and she is even more ugly and grotesque than usual. George Brent is top-billed with Young even though Manners has the much, much bigger role.

Verdict: Morally ambiguous, but at least it's unpredictable for the most part. **1/4. 


HITCHCOCK'S PARTNER IN SUSPENSE: THE LIFE OF SCREENWRITER CHARLES BENNETT. Edited by John Charles Bennett. University Press of Kentucky; 2014.

"I hate the talk of this being a young man's industry ... Not because I am an old man, but because I hate the notion you must be young to be hot ... Experience is terribly important, a tremendous help in writing." -- Charles Bennett.

This very interesting tome is essentially the memoirs of screenwriter Charles Bennett, with added chapters written by his son, John Charles Bennett. Bennett did several screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock -- Blackmail (from Bennett's play), The Man Who Knew Too Much, Foreign Correspondent etc. --  and much more work for the movies and television, along with plays and novels. While never denying Hitchcock's talent, both Bennetts seem to feel, rightly or wrongly, that the elder Bennett didn't get enough credit, and like many screenwriters, feels that directors walk off with the lion's share of the attention whether they deserve it or not. Bennett felt that Hitch was a great director, not a great writer. Bennett spends a lot of pages writing about his wartime experiences, in which he admits that he had it much better than most because of his wealth at the time. Bennett's first marriage ended when his wife left him for another man; she knew he had had numerous affairs with other women. His second disastrous marriage went on the rocks quickly but continued for many, many miserable years. The most affecting chapter in the book is one in which his son describes in heart-wrenching detail and effective prose how his childhood was all but ruined by his mother's alcoholism and emotional issues and his father's comparative neglect. Soldier, spy, writer and lover boy, the narcissistic Bennett remains a fascinating figure, but sadly, he wasn't much of a father, and the emotional scars endured by his son have clearly not quite healed. Charles Bennett, who did some wonderful screenplays for such films as Night of the Demon and Where Danger Lives, doesn't emerge for the most part as an especially likable character, but his comments on the age discrimination of Hollywood are well-taken. The chapters which describe his struggles to be taken seriously despite his advanced years make him a more sympathetic figure, at least during that period. For money, Bennett did several entertaining screenplays for Irwin Allen [The Lost World; Voyage of the Bottom of the Sea], which Allen would invariably muck around with to their detriment. When Bennett was in his nineties he was hired to write a remake of Blackmail, but the film was never made, although he briefly became a name again.

Verdict: Excellent bio-memoir from a Hollywood insider's pov and a highly interesting slice of film history. ***1/2. 


Ezio Pinza as the prince
MR. IMPERIUM (1951). Director: Don Hartman.

Showgirl Fredda Barlo (Lana Turner) is performing in a nightclub in Italy when she encounters a dashing stranger named Mr. Imperium (Ezio Pinza). Imperium is actually Prince Alexis, heir to the throne of an unspecified nation, as well as the widowed father of a twelve-year-old boy. Alexis' father dies and he is called to duty. Several years later, Alexis makes plans to abdicate and  reunites with Fredda, who is now a famous movie star, in Palm Springs. They stay in separate rooms at an inn run by Mrs. Cabot (Marjorie Main) and her niece, Gwen (Debbie Reynolds). But just as the two lovers are planning their film-making future together, they get a visitor from the dour prime minister (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) with bad news ...

Pinza ands Lana Turner
Mr. Imperium was a starring vehicle for famous Metropolitan opera bass Ezio Pinza, who had also conquered Broadway with his role in South Pacific (he died the same year the film version was released). Pinza and Lana Turner, while obviously not the perfect pairing, still play well together, and both give good performances, as do the other actors in the film, including Barry Sullivan as Lana's producer and would-be lover. A more subdued Marjorie Main and a very young Debbie Reynolds are also notable. One problem with the picture is that in the earlier part of the film the prince nearly comes off as a kind of creepy stalker, overly confident of his somewhat oily charm and appeal. The situation at the end has its moving aspects, but the script is a bit too superficial to make this more than a reasonably pleasant time-passer. Pinza gets to sing some nice songs, including "Let Me Look at You" and "Andiamo," a duet with a dubbed Turner. Has the usual MGM gloss but it doesn't look like this had a tremendous budget.

Verdict: Always a pleasure to hear Pinza sing. **3/4. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019


Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald
SWEETHEARTS (1938). Director: W. S. Van Dyke.

"She's in the hospital for over work. She can't even see the doctor for six months."

Gwen Marlowe (Jeanette MacDonald) and Ernest Lane (Nelson Eddy) have starred in the hit Broadway musical "Sweethearts" since the show opened -- and they were married -- six years ago. Producer Felix Lehman (Frank Morgan of Saratoga) is horrified at the notion that his stars may flee to Hollywood, but they are so fed up with demands upon their time that they agree to go west with movie man Norman Trumpett (Reginald Gardiner). But then the show's lyricist, Leo Kronk (Mischa Auer), comes up with a rather cruel way to keep the couple in New York -- by breaking them up! To do this he plants the notion in Gwen's head that Ernest is having an affair with their secretary, Kay (Florence Rice of Mr. District Attorney).

Eddy, Frank Morgan and MacDonald
Let's make it clear from the start that although Eddy, MacDonald, Morgan and others are swell, the true star of this picture is Victor Herbert. The plot of the great composer's operetta was thrown out for this mild backstage roundelay in which the lead characters only appear in "Sweethearts," which retains Herbert's music while attributing it to fictional composer Oscar Engel (an amusing Herman Bing). So we get the gloriously romantic title tune; McDonald warbling "Summer Serenade;" Nelson delivering "Marching On Parade" with real panache; and the couple dueting on "A Little Gray House in the West,"  memorable tunes all. MacDonald is delightful as she jazzes up "Pretty as a Picture."

Nelson and Jeanette
The shame of it is that the stars, especially MacDonald, seem more than up to the task of delivering what's required if there had only been a more sophisticated and/or meatier script. Both Gwen and Ernest have parents who are or were in show biz, and who talk about their past glories endlessly. but their children's near-contempt of them is a bit unsettling. Lucile Watson and George Barbier are two of the parents. Ray Bolger has no dialogue but does a snappy dance number, and Douglas McPhail [Babes in Arms] and Betty Jaynes show up briefly as young hopefuls. Fay Holden and Olin Howland have smaller roles. The two leads are in fine voice, even if they at times tend to over-sing, and Ms. MacDonald can occasionally be shrill.

Verdict: Beautiful MGM technicolor, some good performances and vocalizing, and lilting Victor Herbert music -- but oh that script! **1/2. 


SWEETHEARTS: The Timeless Love Affair -- On-Screen and Off -- Between Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Sharon Rich. Donald Fine; 1994. NOTE: This is a review of the original 1994 edition. There is an updated 2014 edition of which I have read the new introduction and the afterword, and some of the source notes.

"[Eddy] ripped off [MacDonald's] blouse and described to her in graphic detail what he was going to do to her to make sure she never forgot she was his. Then he threw her down on the bed and raped her (my underlining)." from the book, page 116.

Where do I begin? Sweethearts purports to tell the "timeless love affair" between Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald, which seems rather odd when one participant -- according to this book -- actually raped the other. Although decades later the author addressed this bombshell on a blog post, it certainly should have been addressed more thoroughly in the book itself. What's amazing is that Ms. MacDonald seems to have no real reaction to being raped! Whether it was an actual rape or not is worth debating, but "rape" is the word the author uses.

It reminds one of old style soap opera plots where women would get raped and later on fall in love with their rapists, plots that were eventually and thankfully discarded by modern soap writers, especially women.

This section (as are many sections) of the book is also confusing. Did Eddy not go to bed with MacDonald for a long time (apparently "raping" her out of frustration) because he put her on a pedestal and didn't wish to despoil her -- despite knowing that she was not a virginal girl scout --  or because she was, as is later implied, supposedly frigid?

In any case, Sweethearts suggests in occasionally tedious detail that MacDonald [Love Me Tonight] and Eddy [Phantom of the Opera], although married to other people, were actually in love with each other, but one thing or another kept them apart. First, MacDonald quite sensibly refused to give up her career. Then, after both were married to others, Eddy's wife, Ann, threatened to destroy the both of them if Eddy left her. MacDonald tried hard to get divorced from actor Gene Raymond [Million Dollar Weekend] -- who was, according to this book, more interested in men than in MacDonald -- but this never occurred, either. Finally, when both were virtually seniors, Ann agreed to a divorce, but when Eddy found out how much it would cost him he told his supposed beloved MacDonald that "he would never marry her." And so on.

Frankly, as I read Sweethearts, which does have its entertaining sections, it came off to me as a Hollywood story somehow genetically combined with a Harlequin romance, a good old-fashioned "bodice-ripper" with misunderstandings, reconciliations, stolen kisses, unfortunate spouses, passionate trysts, and all the rest, told with rather purple prose that is almost comical. I'm not necessarily saying that the book is fiction, but it reads like it is.

The chief problem for me is that I found far too much of the book to be seriously unsubstantiated. Most of the more incredible information supposedly comes from many letters written by Nelson Eddy's mother, Isabel, or are taken from her unpublished memoirs. Apparently Isabel quoted at length from her son's diary, putting long, long sections in her letters and her memoirs. Well, maybe ...

It's somewhat amusing that there's been a mild Internet war amongst MacDonald-Eddy fans, some of whom think the book is a load of crap and others who swear by it, even its most dubious passages.

I don't know anything about Gene Raymond's private life, but I do know that if the book is true, he wouldn't be the first gay or bisexual man to be married to a famous movie star. We all know that affairs are very commonplace in Hollywood (and elsewhere). And Eddy and MacDonald could indeed have had secret feelings for one another. But after reading all 450 pages of this eventually laborious tome, I have to say my mind is not made up.

The funny thing is that I have always thought of MacDonald and Eddy as being relatively sexless, so the notion that they carried on this torrid, long-standing, on and off, horribly tortured love affair seems mildly comical, although if even half of the book is true I 'd have to say their relationship caused them much more misery than joy. What's worse, both of them come off as drama queens who only made everything worse. According to the book, Eddy also wanted to date a 15-year-old girl and flirted with Scientology. Oy vey!

Oh, along the way there are notes about the films they made together or apart and there is some interesting information there. The book has a not very revealing introduction by a man who claims to be Eddy's illegitimate son (sometimes his first name is spelled "Jon," other times "John"). The author, Sharon Rich, was a Eddy/MacDonald fan club president.

Verdict:  Your call. Just as exhausting as it is seemingly exhaustive. **.  


Upper classman Rock Hudson gives those cadets their orders
AIR CADET (1951). Director: Joseph Pevney.

Three men room together in the Air Force academy with the hopes of becoming top-notch pilots: Russ (Richard Long), Walter (Robert Arthur), and Joe (Alex Nicol), who was a sergeant in the Army but now finds he has to start proving himself all over again. An unnamed upper classman (Rock Hudson) seems to delight in making life miserable for them, especially Walter. But the real trouble begins when Russ becomes sweet on Janet (Gail Russell), who is separated from her husband Major Jack Page (Stephen McNally). And Page is one of the men who decides if Russ and the others make the grade or will be given the heave-ho.

Alex Nicol and Robert Arthur
There is an attempt to present some interesting drama in this story of the three cadets -- James Best plays a fourth cadet who is ousted from the program early on -- but it never really amounts to much. More interesting than the mild triangle business with Page, Janet, and Russ, is the sub-plot with Russ coming to partially blame Page for his brother's suicide (due to what today we would call post-traumatic stress disorder). Frankly, both men behave like assholes. There is, however, some terrific aerial shots, especially when the boys fly in formation with their planes only 18 feet apart throughout and one begins hurtling towards the ground. 

Gail Russell and Stephen McNally
Rock Hudson actually has little to do in the movie, but he does it very adeptly. McNally and Russell [The Uninvited] are top-billed and are more than satisfactory in their roles, while Richard Long gives one of his best performances as the troubled Russ. Alex Nicol [Heatwave] is professional, even if his character is somehow unlikable, but Robert Arthur [September Affair] is charming and appealing as the plucky "little guy" that most of the audience will be rooting for. Charles Drake is fine as another flying instructor, and Peggie Castle adds some "femme appeal" as a lady who can't seem to make up her mind between Nicol and Arthur.

Verdict: Acceptable aviation film with decent players and some good aerial shots. **1/4. 


ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS: A Biography of ROCK HUDSON. Mark Griffin. HarperCollins/2018.

This welcome if imperfect new biography of Rock Hudson looks back at the man's life and career and sexuality with some reflection, generally without employing too breathless a tone. Mercifully, it dispenses with the notion that there was anything real about Hudson's marriage to essentially lesbian Phyllis Gates, who was hoping for a cushy lifestyle as Mrs. Rock Hudson. It looks at Hudson's early days, his ambitious and ultimately successful attempts to get into the movies, the early influences and patrons who helped him achieve his goal, and his many friends and romantic partners -- such as actor Craig Hill [The Flight that Disappeared]--  some of whom are quoted extensively in the book. Understandably anxious to put all of his research and sources into the book, the author sometimes quotes people who I would consider suspect (do we need to know that Hudson supposedly "took" Mamie Van Doren on her kitchen floor?) and there are, perhaps, too many quotes from Phyllis Gates' unreliable, phony and totally discredited memoir, as well as long-time companion Tom Clark, who "in'd" both himself and Hudson in his own autobio. The business that Hudson may have fathered a child during his early years is never satisfactorily resolved. Griffin includes quotes from Hudson's two best friends, Mark Miller and his partner actor George Nader (via Nader's diary), and mentions the assertion from some that they may have manipulated Hudson into leaving them most of his money. Mark Christian's lawsuit against Hudson's estate, claiming Hudson never told Christian he had AIDS, is also scrutinized, and found wanting. Some women claim affairs or "interest" from Hudson as if they want people to think they are simply so sexy that they can temporarily turn a gay man straight, but this book pretty much portrays Hudson as essentially gay and not bisexual in any meaningful way. Griffin does not ignore Hudson's work in films (All That Heaven Allows; Pillow Talk; Seconds), on television (Macmillan and Wife) and in the theater (Camelot, etc.)  and analyzes his subject's thoughtful approach to his performances in different media. There are continuous testaments throughout the book as to Hudson's kindly and helpful nature -- he didn't just give career boosts to his boyfriends -- which makes it odd that he stayed away from his dying mother for six months, despite her wanting to see him, simply because he couldn't deal with her condition -- what sort of son is that? But when all is said and done, Hudson may have been a decent guy for the most part, but a movie star is a movie star is a movie star, more of a creature, an invention, than a real human being, although All That Heaven Allows does its best to humanize him.

Verdict: Readable, informative and entertaining. ***. 


Leslie |Howard as Henry Higgins
PYGMALION (aka Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion/1938). Directors: Anthony Asquith; Leslie Howard.

Phoneticist Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard of The Animal Kingdom) encounters a shabby flower girl named Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller of Making Love), and this leads into the latter asking the former for speech lessons so she can get a job in a shop instead of selling flowers in the gutter. Higgins has his work cut out for him, but with the help of Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) and housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (Jean Cadell), he is able to work wonders and introduce Eliza to his mother (Marie Lohr). Eliza not only turns into a lady but excites the fancy of young Freedy Eynsford Hill (David Tree). But Eliza can't help but wonder: what is to become of me?

Wendy Hiller as Eliza Doolittle
Some liberties were taken with George Bernard Shaw's play, but the notion that the two lead characters were turned into a more romantic couple is not borne out by the movie. Arguably, Alan Jay Lerner based his libretto for My Fair Lady more on this movie than on Shaw's play. In any case, while you definitely miss those great songs as you begin to watch Pygmalion, after awhile you forget about that and just get pulled along by a great story and dialogue, and two very wonderful performances, along with a host of well-done supporting performances -- a particular mention must go to Esme Percy, who is excellent as Count Aristid Karpathy, a former pupil of Higgins' who is determined to find out exactly who this Miss Doolittle is. Wilfrid Lawson is also fine as Eliza's father, Alfred, although he is nowhere near as lovable as Stanley Holloway in the musical version.

Esme Percy and Leslie Howard
Some may never see anyone else as Higgins except the marvelous Rex Harrison, but Howard is also great, as well as younger and better-looking. Hiller, who was introduced in this film, is certainly not as attractive as Audrey Hepburn, but she gives a sterling performance (one might argue that Hepburn is a bit more moving in the role, however). Eliza is admirably proud and feisty and her attempts to improve both herself and her lot in life are certainly to be respected. The movie was photographed by Harry Stradling, and Arthur Honegger provided some musical cues. Despite the fact that My Fair Lady may have eclipsed this, it is still definitely worth a look. Anthony Asquith also directed such masterpieces as The Browning Version and The Winslow Boy.

Verdict: Amusing and engaging comedy with fine performances. ***. 


LOVERLY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MY FAIR LADY. Dominic McHugh. Oxford University Press; 2012.

This scholarly tome looks at virtually every aspect of the world-famous and wonderful musical, Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion to the Broadway (and subsequent) productions of the musical, the acclaimed motion picture version, and reassessments of the show over the decades. McHugh goes into various attempts to go against Shaw and turn the piece into a conventional romance, and how librettist and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner did his best to avoid that situation. The book goes into casting choices and decisions -- Mary Martin was for a long time the front-runner to play Eliza Doolittle -- as well as rehearsal problems and how they were dealt with. McHugh also scrutinizes and analyzes the music (unless you're a music student these passages may be a little dry, of course) and cites composer Frederick Loewe's influences. McHugh hardly leaves a stone unturned, although I must say I was given pause when he describes "On the Street Where You Live" -- in my opinion a beautiful and soaringly romantic number and a major highlight of the score -- as "superficially pretty, but a little dull and insipid [like Freddy]." Dull and insipid? To each his own. I also recommend The Musical Worlds of Lerner and Loewe.

Verdict: More than anyone could possibly want to know about My Fair Lady. ***. 


Prisoner: Lubor Tokos
THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (aka The Deadly Invention/Vynalez zkazy/1958). Director: Karel Zeman.

In the late 18th century Simon Hart (Lubor Tokos), an assistant to Professor Roch (Arnost Navratil), is kidnapped along with his employer by Count Artigas (Miroslav Horub) and his piratical associate, Captain Spade (Frantisek Cerny). The count has appropriated a submarine with which he rams ships and robs them of their bounty One of the survivors is a young lady named Jana (Jana Zatloukalova). Everyone is taken to the count's headquarters inside an extinct volcano, where the professor is forced to work on an explosive with which Artigas hopes to eventually rule the world. Simon and Jana try to figure out a way to escape ...

Octopus attack
The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, filmed in "misti-mation," is a real oddity. The images of the film can be quite arresting, as it presents a combination of live action, cartoon animation, crude stop--motion, cut outs, drawings and other techniques, but despite this it still comes off a bit backwards in the FX department (especially as compared to such items as Harryhausen's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, which was made the year before and was state of the art). It would have been more impressive had it been a silent movie, which in many ways it resembles. Although it cites another Verne novel as its source, this is clearly most inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and is vastly inferior to the 1954 Disney version despite that picture's flaws. Fabulous World does boast some striking art direction and photography (there is a wonderful shot of masses of birds surrounding a small balloon in mid-air), has an interesting score by Zdenek Lista, and a sequence when the sub rams a ship is rather well-handled. However, this Czech film has been vastly over-praised and will ultimately have many discerning viewers reaching for their fast-forward buttons.

Verdict: Clever in some ways, but not very exciting. **1/4.