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

Thursday, April 29, 2021


Todd Armstrong
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). Director: Don Chaffey. 

With a crew of brave and adept champions, including the mighty Hercules (Nigel Green), Jason (Todd Armstrong) sets sail on the Argo to the ends of the earth in an attempt to find the famous golden fleece. Jason is unaware that he has been sent on this journey by his hated enemy, Pelias (Douglas Wilmer), who only wants him out of the way. Also accompanying Jason is Pelias' conniving son, Acastus (Gary Raymond), and Argos (Laurence Naismith), the ship's builder. Jason has been granted several wishes by Hera, queen of the Gods (Honor Blackman) and she greatly enjoys stymying the plans of her husband Zeus (Naill MacGinness). But can even Hera help Jason overcome the incredible challenges he faces? 

The humongous Talos bears down on the Argo
These challenges, brought to life by the stop-motion wizardry of Ray Harryhausen (possibly his greatest achievement), include the gigantic bronze statue of Talos, which comes to life; tormenting harpies on an island paradise; the many-headed, slithering hydra; the clashing rocks, which would destroy the Argo were it not for the help of a very huge Poseidon; and the living and armed skeletons of the hydra's victims in the bravura climax. Jason is also graced with a rich and exciting score by Bernard Herrmann, excellent production values, skillful photography by Wilkie Cooper; and often stunning costuming and art direction to boot. In fact, Jason looks almost as good as MGM's Captain Sindbad

Jason confronts the gods of Olympus
The actors are also well-chosen. Todd Armstrong makes the perfect Jason. Although he had a perfectly good speaking voice which you can hear in other movies he made, he is dubbed as Jason. Nancy Kovack is also dubbed as Medea, who falls in love with Jason and vice versa when he rescues her from the sea. Blackman, MacGinnes, Naismith, Raymond, Green, Wilmer -- as well as John Cairney as the young and ill-fated Nylas and Jack Gwillim as King Aeetes -- all give flavorful and adept performances. Sadly Jason was not the big box office hit it deserved to be because people confused it with one of the ever-proliferating Italian "peplum" movies of the period when it was on a much, much higher level. The film did not do much good for the career of handsome Armstrong, who tragically committed suicide at 55. 

Verdict: Jason and the Argonauts gets my vote as the greatest classic fantasy film ever made. ***1/2.


Vincent Price
MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961). Director: William Witney.  

In 1868 a man called Robur (Vincent Price) takes off in a heavier-than-air craft, the Albatross, with an international crew and several prisoners, including agent John Strock (Charles Bronson of Crime Wave), munitions manufacturer Prudent (Henry Hull of Werewolf of London), his daughter, Dorothy (Mary Webster), and her fiance Phillip (David Frankham of The Return of the Fly). Robur has decided the only way to create a lasting peace is to bomb war ships and fighting armies. Strock and the others do their best to ground his ship and put him out of action.

Frankham, Webster, Hull, Bronson
Master of the World
 is loosely based on two late Jules Verne novels. Screenwriter Richard Matheson has turned Robur into a variation of 20,000 Leagues' Captain Nemo. Although Robur may have been a bit crazy in the books, he did not have the same mission as Nemo. Arguably the best thing about this movie is the performance of Vincent Price, who invests the project with a dignity it probably doesn't deserve. Frankham is also good, Bronson is solid, Mary Webster is more decorative than anything else, and Henry Hull is, in a word, awful. Attempting a comic portrayal from the beginning, he is merely annoying. The movie starts out as a light comedy and its transformation into a thriller isn't always convincing. 

the Albatross in flight
William Witney, the great serial director, is at the helm and there are a couple of exciting sequences, most notably when Frankham and Bronson are lowered on ropes from the Albatross and nearly careen into trees and mountain tops. The philosophy of the film is a bit muddled -- no one ever points out the sheer illogic and hypocrisy of Robur's actions. Trying to stop war is an admirable goal but doing it by killing peacetime sailors and blowing up armies is hardly the way to go about it, yet Master tries to turn this idiot into some kind of tragic anti-hero. 

Verdict: Half-baked, modestly entertaining sci fi film actually has little to do with Verne. **1/2. 


Hercules shows off muscles to Curly
THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES (1962). Director: Edward Bernds. 

The Three Stooges work in a drug store and have befriended a tall if nerdy scientist named Schulyer Davis (Quinn K. Redeker). Davis is working on a time machine, and when the stooges fiddle around with it they, Davis, and his fiancee, Diane (Vicki Trickett), all wind up back in Ithaca in 900 B.C. Greece. Their untimely arrival causes Ulysses to lose the battle against Odius (George N. Neise) with the added help of a rather unpleasant Hercules (Samson Burke). 

The stooges with the phony Herc
The rather brave stooges manage to free Ulysses from prison but for their efforts are turned into galley slaves. This enables Davis to develop muscles that put him on a par with Hercules. After escaping from the ship, Davis masquerades as the demi-god and gives him the reputation of a decent and honorable fellow. But he still has to face the real Hercules in the arena and get his girlfriend away from the odious King Odius. Odius happens to greatly resemble the stooges' boss, Mr. Dismal, back in the 20th century. 

Two-headed cyclops wants to make a meal of Moe
Well, what can you say about The Three Stooges Meet Hercules? You can say that for a full-length Stooges movie it is rather ambitious and has a more complicated storyline than the usual slapstick outing. Moe (Moe Howard) seems even a  bigger bully than usual in this picture, and although Joe DeRita is more than okay in the film, he is not my favorite Curly. Larry Fine (Larry) is as funny as ever, however. Redecker and Trickett are acceptable without making that much of an impression. 6 ft. 4 Samson Burke was a body builder and professional wrestler who turned to acting; he is fine as an unsympathetic and mean-spirited Hercules. George Neise specialized in sleazy and unlikable characters, but he is not notable in this. The movie is not tedious and it has amusing moments, but it couldn't be considered a "laff riot," either. The stooges have been funnier elsewhere, but this flick is not without interest for fans. 

Verdict: If the stooges are not your cup of java, tune out! **1/2.


Andreyev and Myshkova
THE SWORD AND THE DRAGON/aka Ilya Muromets/1956). Director: Aleksandr Ptushko. 

Ilya Muromet (Boris Andreyev) is a Russian peasant who is dismayed that due to injuries that prevent him from walking, he can not fight against the tyranny of the evil Tsar Kalin (Shukur Burkhanov). This changes when he is healed by a passing stranger and given a sword that used to belong to a great hero of old. Ilya meets his beloved, Vasilisa (Ninel Myshkova) and the two are married. In a misunderstanding with Prince Vanda (Andrei Abrikosov), Ilya winds up put in a dungeon even as his wife is spirited away by the Cossack-like Kalin. As years pass, Vasilia resists Kalin's advances but he does turn her and Ilya's little boy, Falcon, into his "son" and one of his best warriors. Freed from captivity, Ilya not only has to face his own son in combat, but also must face a gigantic, three-headed, fire-breathing dragon unleashed by Kalin.

son against father in mortal combat
While it may not be as much fun as American fantasy flicks of this nature, The Sword and the Dragon is a notable film from Russia with some outstanding widescreen cinematography (Yuli Kun; Fyodor Provorov), which helps provide sweeping vistas and elaborately staged battle scenes. It has an excellent story taken from Russian folklore and a fine score by Igor Morozov. The Sword and the Dragon is not really a kid's film -- there's a scene when four men are impaled on one spear -- although it has some fantastical elements. The dragon is a silly-looking full-scale prop that looks like something out of a funhouse. One amazing scene has Kalin ordering his followers to climb on top of one another in the hundreds to create a "mountain of men." And we mustn't forget the obese envoy who comes to town giving orders from Kalin and ultimately regrets it. 

Verdict: Quite interesting Russian fantasy film is definitely worth a look. ***. 


SIX OF A KIND (1934). Director: Leo McCarey. "

According to you everything I like to do is illegal, immoral, or fattening." -- W. C. Fields. 

 A bank employee, "Pinky" Whinney (Charlie Ruggles), and his wife (Mary Boland) advertise for another couple to share expenses as they go on a second honeymoon and drive all the way from the east coast to California. Who shows up but George (Burns) and Gracie (Allen), an unmarried couple with a humongous, if lovable, dog. The foursome and the beast have assorted, funny misadventures as they travel westward, especially in a small town where John Hoxley (W. C. Fields) is sheriff, Mrs. Rumford (Alison Skipworth) is the hotel proprietress, and "Pinky" is accused of stealing $50,000 from the bank where he works -- and of having a mistress! Fields gets to perform his famous pool routine as he explains how he got the nickname of "Honest" John, and it's a delight to see the formidable Boland squaring off against him. One of the funniest bits has Boland falling off a cliff onto a tree. Everyone in the cast is in top form! 

Verdict: This will put you in a good mood if nothing does! ***.

Thursday, April 15, 2021


Oops. Got behind in my work. Great Old Movies will return in two weeks. 

In the meantime have fun with B Movie Nightmare!

Thursday, April 1, 2021


Susan Hayward
(1947). Director: Stuart Heisler. 

Angie Evans (Susan Hayward) is an aspiring singer who suffers from stage fright (having a drink or two before going on seems to help) and who gives up her career to marry Ken Conway (Lee Bowman), who later makes a tremendous splash as a crooner. Now Angie has no career, her husband is out on the road most of the time, having a child isn't enough to fill her life, and she's afraid Ken is having an affair with his aggressive assistant, Martha (Marsha Hunt). What's a girl to do? She takes a drink and then another, and then has a few more. This not-too-serious study of a dipsomaniac is well-acted -- Hayward is outstanding -- and quite entertaining. There's a particularly amusing scene when Angie has it out with Martha in the ladies room during a party, smacking her around and pulling her hair. (The movie has some interesting vignettes, such as when the old nurse who works for Angie is shown a baby by its mother in the park. "Cute, isn't he?" says the mother. To which the nurse, frowning, says, "hmm. well ...") The movie has a very unrealistic ending, with one character being overly forgiving after a near-tragedy. Eight years later Hayward played another alcoholic -- this time a real-life singer, Lillian Roth -- in I'll Cry Tomorrow

Verdict: Watch Hayward put on a show! ***.


John Archer and Warner Anderson
DESTINATION MOON (1950). Director: Irving Pichel. Produced by George Pal.  In Technicolor.

General Thayer (Tom Powers), recognizing that the government is reluctant to spend on space travel during peacetime and after one of their rockets exploded, appeals to the private sector in the form of industrialist Jim Barnes (John Archer) for help. Barnes and a select committee of businessmen employ Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson of The Star) to build a new rocket that will fly them to the moon. Thayer is afraid that a foreign power will beat them into space and be able to fire missiles from the moon. Learning that the authorities will block them from performing certain tests, causing delays, Thayer, Cargraves and Barnes -- plus technician Joe Sweeney (Dick Wesson of Starlift) -- take off in their rocket, "Spaceship Luna," in a hurry. They encounter some complications in space, and on the moon come to realize that one of them may have to be left behind ... 

pulling away from earth's gravity
Destination Moon
, based on a novel by Robert Heinlein (who co-scripted), was one of the very first big-screen sci fi movies of the fifties. Unlike Rocketship X-M , which debuted the same year, it is generally serious and intelligently told. A scene when one of the men, making repairs, floats away from the ship, is suspenseful, as is the ending, when a fateful decision must be made, and the actors are all satisfactory and credible. The FX, including the fairly elaborate moon set, are quite good for the period, and pretty much hold up well today. The movie is low-key but effective, greatly bolstered by Leith Steven's [Julie] excellent and majestic scoring. A very odd moment occurs when the men argue about who should be left behind and Cargraves never even mentions his wife! Director Irving Pichel also appeared as an actor in many movies. 

Verdict: Absorbing George Pal production that generally avoids melodrama -- and giant spiders. ***.  

THE DEFENDERS (1961): Season One

Robert Reed and E. G. Marshall
THE DEFENDERS (1961 TV series). Season One. 

Lawrence Preston (E. G. Marshall) and his son Kenneth (Robert Reed) are partners in a law firm that represents criminal defendants. The show lasted for four seasons and won numerous awards and accolades. Only the first season has been transferred to DVD and it gives a good taste of the series' good and bad points. Marshall and Reed are both excellent as the highly dignified if personable Lawrence and his comparatively hot-headed son. The interplay between the two, which is often quite argumentative, is one of the best things about the show. 

Marshall with Jack Klugman
The Defenders
 was created by Reginald Rose, who also scripted several of the episodes. The series is unlike Perry Mason because it often deals in social issues and eagerly embraces controversy. One might say it has "depth," although there are times that the show is more pretentious and irritating than anything else and worse, becomes quite preachy and even muddled. The series takes place in Manhattan and was shot at the Filmways Studio in New York, giving it an added veracity and lots of local color with its location filming. The directors who worked on the series include Daniel Petrie, Franklin Schaffner, Buzz Kulik, Paul Bogart, and others. Jack Klugman appeared sporadically as one of the ADAs in the district attorneys office and is quite good in the role. Guest stars on the show included Elizabeth Ashley, Ben Piazza, Frank Gorshin, Pat Hingle, Robert Duvall, Robert Loggia, Sylvia Miles, Ken Kercherval, Gloria De Haven. and Zachary Scott. 

Reed with Salome Jens
Most of the episodes were solid "Bs" with a few that were even better. "The Point Shaver" deals with a college athlete who is accused of taking bribes. "Death Across the Counter" has a vet (Clu Culager) accused of shooting a man during a robbery but Ken is convinced, against all odds, that he is innocent. "The Treadmill" has the Prestons doing their damnedest to save a man from the death penalty for a crime he committed 25 years in the past. "The Search" has a man confessing to a murder that another man was executed for and Larry tries to find out the truth while he and the prosecutor (Jack Klugman) try to figure out what went wrong with the system.  "The Best Defense" is a terrific story in which a mobster is arrested for murder but swears he is innocent -- this has a highly ironic finale. In "The Naked Heiress" a man leaves his money to a stripper (Salome Jens), then falls in front of a train (Glenda Farrell is outstanding as the stripper's mother). "Reunion with Death" has Larry presiding over a mock trial when Korean vets accuse one of their number of selling them out under torture. The very best season one episode is arguably "The Bedside Murder," in which an elderly doctor (Sam Jaffe) is accused of murdering a wealthy old woman because she left him money in her will. 

"The Attack:" Marchand, Barbara Barrie, Kiley
Although not quite as good as the aforementioned episodes, "The Attack" presents an interesting situation when a man (Richard Kiley) goes after the youth who assaulted his little girl, only to learn that he killed the wrong man; Nancy Marchand played the dead man's mother. Hands down, the absolute worst season one episode was "Gideon's Follies," in which a rich man is murdered and all of his many ex-wives are the suspects. Foolish and unfunny, it played like a witless spoof of Burke's Law, a series that did not debut for another two years. It was as if the producers, told that some people found The Defenders too grim, decided to lighten things up for one episode -- but it was a disaster. 

Verdict: Some very good scripts, but not nearly as much fun nor as classy as Perry Mason. **3/4. 


Steve Reeves
HERCULES (aka Le fatiche di Ercole/1958). Director: Pietro Francisci. 

Hercules (Steve Reeves of Athena) has been summoned by King Pelias (Ivo Garrani) to tutor his insufferable son, Iphitus (Mimmo Palmara), but instead Iphitus winds up being slaughtered by a lion when he rushes ahead of the hero to try to show him up. Pelias is furious at Hercules and orders him to kill the Cretan bull, after which the demi-god encounters his old tutor Chironi (Afro Poli). Chironi tells him that his ward, Jason (Fabrizio Mioni of Girl Happy), Pelias' long-lost nephew, is the true heir to the throne, and legend has it that Jason will destroy his uncle. To prove his identity Jason sets sail with Argo, Ulysses, and of course Hercules, to find the golden fleece, which had been spirited away years before. Meanwhile Hercules and Iole (Sylva Koscina of Deadlier Than the Male), Pelias' daughter, have a love-hate thing going on. 

Canale and Mioni
Hercules, which was a big hit in the U.S. thanks to an expensive ad campaign engineered by producer Joseph E. Levine, brought into being the whole Italian sword and sorcery/mythological epic genre that employed not only Hercules but also Samson and other characters as protagonists, giving work to a lot of handsome guys with great big muscles. Hercules, in widescreen and Cinecolor, is no better or worse than most of them, and is at least watchable, with a strikingly charismatic Reeves filling the bill quite nicely. Oddly, when the gang get to an island of Amazons, it is Jason who romances the queen, Antea (beautiful Gianna Maria Canale), while hunky Hercules sits it out. It is even Jason who tackles the rather pitiful dragon that is guarding the fleece and is quickly dispatched. (The story of the search for the fleece was told much better in the far superior Jason and the Argonauts.) There are also a pack of crazed beast-men to briefly bedevil the argonauts. 

Koscina and Reeves
The cinematography and special effects for the film were done by Mario Bava, later the director of gruesome horror films (and at least one Hercules movie), and his work is good -- aside from that terrible dragon -- if not quite outstanding. Enzo Massetti's score is about on the same level, although it briefly incorporates a bit of ersatz opera when the burly rowers on the ship break into a chorus and the galley master joins in -- more than once. Hercules is a hodge podge of mythology with bits taken from one legend or another and thrown into the mix. 

Verdict: A very attractive cast almost offsets one pretty ugly dragon. **1/2. 


MURDER AT THE VANITIES (1934). Director: Mitchell Leisen.

On opening night at Earl Carroll's Broadway revue, the Vanities, a dead body is found far up above the stage dripping blood on chorus girls. Lt. Murdock (Victor McLaglen) investigates while producer Jack Oakie throws a panic. Kitty Carlisle is the star of the show, Ann Ware, who's engaged to the European import -- and her co-star -- Eric Lander (Carl Brisson). Jessie Ralph is the wardrobe mistress-with-a-secret, and Gertrude Michael is the supremely bitchy performer, Rita Ross (she does a lively number on "Marijuana!") Even Charles Middleton -- Ming the Merciless of the Flash Gordon serials -- shows up as another member of the cast. At one point his orchestra playing Liszt is hijacked by a swing/jazz band and he gets even by firing a (prop) machine gun at everyone on stage. Dorothy Stickney, who years later would play the Queen in the Julie Andrews version of Cinderella, steals the show as Norma, Rita's long-suffering maid and punching bag. Danish Brisson was a former boxer who should have stayed with that profession -- his singing voice is grating on the ears (especially in duet with Carlisle's beautiful tones) and he only made a half dozen or so movies. He had a pleasant enough personality and some little acting ability, but major star material he was not.

Verdict: Not exactly murder to sit through but no world-beater, either. **.