1961

The Hustler (1961, Robert Rossen)

It’s an hour into The Hustler before the film offers any real information about protagonist Paul Newman. We’ve seen Newman and mentor slash manager Myron McCormick pool hustle their way across the North American continent, getting Newman to New York City so he can play the best pool player in the world, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). And Newman does play Gleason. In this beautifully shot, acted, and especially edited twenty-five plus hour pool game between the young upstart and the assured master. McCormick pleads with Newman to remember their plan—ten grand and out—but Newman’s just too cocky.

When Gleason beats him, thirty-five minutes into a two hour and fifteen minute picture, we don’t even get to see Newman lose. He just see him lost. Past lost. We’re left to imagine how he reacted to hours of losing, while Gleason—and his bank, George C. Scott—grew bored beating Newman. McCormick sits quietly devastated while Newman drunkenly lashes out and crumbles from exhaustion.

Scene.

But actually prologue. The Hustler doesn’t really start until after Newman’s snuck out on McCormick and is working to get himself lost in the city. At the bus terminal (to dump his belongs in a locker), he meets Piper Laurie and tries to pick her up. It’s complicated and he’s got to wait until she’s quite drunk, but he manages to do it. Only for her to rebuff him at the door to her apartment; “you’re too hungry,” she tells him. So off Newman shuffles into the anonymous city, finding a room, trying to play some pool (but he’s now famous for losing to Gleason and can’t).

The initial pickup scene—with Laurie simultaneously softened and steeled to Newman’s advances and flirtations—is just as phenomenal as the pool game. It’s the first time we’ve gotten to see Newman act outside the hustler bravado. It’s the first time we’ve seen a woman in the film. It’s the first time director Rossen and editor Dede Allen have done a conversation outside the pool hall—and they use a similar but amplified editing rhythm. Now there are jump cuts, exclamation points focusing on Newman or Laurie. Rossen and Allen keep with this editing style going forward, even after Newman gets back to the pool table. After a freely roaming narrative distance in the first forty minutes, once Laurie arrives, Rossen focuses and refocuses it forcibly. Occasionally harshly. Rossen’s evolving methods to handling the narrative distance parallel Newman’s character development, which doesn’t even start when he meets Laurie the first time. We’ve got to wait another twenty or whatever minutes until McCormick tracks him down.

And then, an hour into the film, both Laurie and the audience find out we haven’t got the slightest idea about Newman as a person. Laurie stands silent, frozen, crying, as she listens to Newman berate McCormick and cast him out. The reality of their “romance,” with Newman living with Laurie and them filling their days with liquor then sex, hits her and breaks her. Did Newman hustle her? Laurie’s got a limp from a childhood case of polio and it’s 1961 so she’s seen as broken—honestly, it’s an indictment of 1961 the word “crippled” didn’t fall out of use after this film—but Newman doesn’t make her feel that way.

At least until she’s now got to wonder if he’s entirely full of shit.

But then Newman hustles in the wrong pool hall and all of a sudden he’s entirely dependent on Laurie. She’s even slowing down on the boozing, with Newman initially reluctantly but then more earnestly following suit. It’s this whole second story, with its own rhythm and feel—all about urban isolation and loneliness and desperation and connection—and when it ties into the prologue, it’s like the apple. When Newman runs into George C. Scott while out on a liquor run for he and Laurie, he finds the snake. Scott thinks he’s too cocky to ever amount to anything but is still talented enough to bank roll for certain jobs.

In one of the quieter tragic twists, once Newman’s found some humility (and humanity), Scott’s the only place he can go to get real work. And bringing in Scott, who’s more than willing to break Newman to make him fit the mold, is what sets everyone on the path to destruction.

The last third or so of The Hustler is just watching Scott crush Newman and Laurie’s tentative, desperate hold on their reality. Laurie has to endure Scott’s intentional cruelty as well as Newman’s slow corruption; it’s pretty easy to corrupt Newman it turns out, there just needs to be booze around. The foundation of Newman and Laurie’s relationship is loving not being sober. It’s loving being loose enough to get free from responsibility. What makes it all even worse is Scott’s already given Newman a character evaluation and told him how he’s going to fail and Newman can’t get off that track. The difference is he’s now got Laurie with him, bringing her along on his first job for Scott; they’re going to the Kentucky Derby to play skeazy blue blood Murray Hamilton. Hamilton likes hustling hustlers at pool and Scott thinks Newman’s got a shot.

The film says a whole bunch about masculinity, toxic masculinity, boozing, sex, romance, money. It doesn’t have much to say about pool. Gleason’s only in the bookend pool games and ends up with an exceptionally subtle, appropriately devastating arc about what it means to have talent.

Great performances from everyone; it’s Newman’s show but Laurie’s the essential. So much of the film plays out on she and Newman’s faces, every expression has to be perfect. Scott’s amazing. Gleason and McCormick are excellent. The Hustler is definitely a “uses up all the superlatives” film. Allen’s edited, Eugen Schüfftan’s photography, Kenyon Hopkins’s music—whoever came up with the titles—it’s a technical masterpiece. I mean, it’s a masterpiece overall—Sidney Carroll and Rossen’s script is singular—the film’s constantly wowing; it’s exhilarating.

And, simultaneously, an abject downer.

It’s so good.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Rossen; screenplay by Sidney Carroll and Rossen, based on the novel by Walter Tevis; director of photography, Eugen Schüfftan; edited by Dede Allen; music by Kenyon Hopkins; production designer, Harry Horner; costume designer, Ruth Morley; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Newman (Eddie Felson), Piper Laurie (Sarah Packard), George C. Scott (Bert Gordon), Myron McCormick (Charlie Burns), Murray Hamilton (Findley), and Jackie Gleason (Minnesota Fats).


Une histoire d’eau (1961, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard)

Une histoire d’eau has a sense of humor, which ought to do it some favors, but none of the humor connects. The short, which co-director Truffaut apparently intended to be a romance, is instead this rushed, peculiar… blathering would be the best word for it, I think. D’Eau is about college student Caroline Dim trying to get to Paris for class. Only it’s the seasonal mountain thaw and there’s massive flooding so she can’t take the bus in. After a series of mildly amusing traveling on the flood waters to get to school—there’s a boat, there’s a bicyclist—Dim hitches a ride with Jean-Claude Brialy. Now, Brialy shows up in the narration—opposite Dim—only it’s co-director and editor Godard doing the voice. It doesn’t make much difference, Brialy’s character doesn’t get enough narration it’d be good if someone better than Godard were doing it. Given Godard edited the short and co-wrote it, the narration seems his contribution. So when he doesn’t even give any enthusiasm to his performance of said narration… well, it’s not a good sign.

Of course, worse is how Godard edits d’eau. He cuts in other footage of the flood from a helicopter, which would be fine but then accompanies it with some silly, jazzy music. There’s no rhythm to the cuts and especially none to the sped up film he eventually goes with. At one point Dim and Brialy are walking across a flooded marshy area and Godard sets it to a dance number. Only they’re not dancing. And even if they were doing physical activities reminding of dancing, he cuts it together all wrong. It’s kind of amazing how little Godard seems to care about the short.

Later on they do stop and do an official dance, which is utterly charmless.

The last bit, when Dim reads off the credits in her narration, is all right. Not enough to make d’eau worthwhile, but it’s all right. And the short’s only twelve minutes and the flood footage is compelling. Nothing else about the short is compelling and no doubt a natural documentarian would do a better job, but the flood’s something at least.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard; director of photography, Michel Latouche; edited by Godard; produced by Pierre Braunberger; released by Unidex.

Starring Caroline Dim (The Young Woman) and Jean-Claude Brialy (The Young Man); narrated by Jean-Luc Godard.


A man looks at a woman whose hair is wet

Through a Glass Darkly (1961, Ingmar Bergman)

At eighty-nine minutes, Through a Glass Darkly never has a chance to get tedious, which is part of the problem. Writer-director Bergman has just introduced the characters, just established the ground situation, when he tries a graceful segue into the characters and their relationships being familiar in the second act. They’re not. They’re still being established, which makes the purely expository relationship between Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow something of a time suck. A beautifully acted, beautifully directed time suck.

Glass takes place over twenty-four hours. Popular but intellectually bereft author Björnstrand has returned home to his family after finalizing the draft of his latest novel. There’s twenty-something daughter Harriet Andersson and seventeen year-old son, Lars Passgård. von Sydow is Andersson’s husband. Presumably von Sydow and Andersson have had to take care of Passgård, as Björnstrand seems a rare presence in Passgård’s life.

Andersson is recently out of a mental hospital. It’s unclear, initially, what’s going on, only it’s incurable (or likely incurable). That discussion is von Sydow and Björnstrand’s first scene together alone. Bergman plays it more for character development than exposition, which is far different from the second half of the film, when he eschews character development for exposition. He doesn’t need much character development second half because it turns out to be action packed.

Before Bergman identifies it as schizophrenia–which is made somehow less terrifying by the tranquil isolated island setting (there’s not running water, electricity maybe)–he’s got the rest of the character setup to get done. So a half hour at least because Andersson gets a scene to herself, experiencing her symptoms.

While the film never looks stagy–quite the opposite–Bergman’s script feels not just stagy, but a little too pragmatic. Like he was adjusting around actors schedules. Andersson and Passgård get paired off for scenes whenever von Sydow is busy with Björnstrand. Otherwise it’s von Sydow and Andersson. Björnstrand gets like a scene and a half alone with his kids, the full scenes coming right at the end for the emphasis. He’s a bad dad, who isn’t a particularly good writer. There’s more exposition later, but never time for Björnstrand to do anything with it as far as character development. It’s filler. It’s that time suck.

Because Bergman’s actually got some big time drama in store for the family and he’s got to pace it right.

The problem with the big time drama is it turns out to be a MacGuffin. All the action in the second and third acts turn out to be MacGuffins, since the point of Glass is Andersson and how Bergman presents her character. The film drags a little in the second act, before it’s clear just how well Bergman’s made Andersson seem reliable. The more unreliable Andersson gets–always precisely essayed, in performance and presentation–the more effective Bergman’s initial pacing becomes.

Bergman makes the boring bits essential.

Until he gets to Björnstrand’s big confession scene to von Sydow; it proves as narratively inert as it does for character development. Because then it’s action time, because Andersson’s not just shattering her reliability, she’s going to stomp it into dust.

And it works, no doubt. Bergman sells it. He’s got a great cast. Andersson, Björnstrand, von Sydow, Passgård until the third act. There’s some phenomenal acting in Glass.

Bergman’s not really interested in the characters, he’s interested in the reveals. It’s all kind of melodramatic, actually. As melodramatic as Bergman can get, actually.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman; director of photography, Sven Nykvist; edited by Ulla Ryghe; music by Erik Nordgren; production designer, P.A. Lundgren; produced by Allan Ekelund; released by Svensk Filmindustri.

Starring Harriet Andersson (Karin), Gunnar Björnstrand (David), Max von Sydow (Martin), and Lars Passgård (Minus).


This post is part of the 1961 Blogathon hosted by Steve of Movie Movie Blog Blog.

The Explosive Generation (1961, Buzz Kulik)

The Explosive Generation has expert plotting. Joseph Landon’s script; it’s expertly plotted. Even when it high tails it away from the “hook,” it’s still expertly plotted. The film goes from being about teenagers trying to frankly and openly discuss sex in teacher William Shatner’s classroom to being about student protest. The protagonist goes from being good girl Patty McCormack to her initially a jerk boyfriend, Lee Kinsolving.

McCormack is all right.

Kinsolving is horrific. He tries really, really hard too. The movie’s eighty-nine minutes and at least three of the runtime just has to be Kinsolving’s dynamic thinking expressions. He’s always so perplexed.

Maybe if director Kulik helped with the performances, but he doesn’t have time for the actors. He’s too busy butchering everything else.

Explosive Generation is an ugly, cheap picture. Floyd Crosby’s photography is bad. Hal Borne’s music is bad. Kulik’s composition and sense of timing are a nightmare. When the film does have its moments, it’s a shock; those moments succeed just because Landon’s plotting is so strong and his flat expository dialogue just happens to sync with the actor performing it.

Those actors are usually Shatner (though his performance falls apart as he becomes an unwilling martyr), McCormack, maybe Suzi Carnell–more on her in a bit–and sometimes Edward Platt. Oh, and sometimes single dad Stephen Dunne, who just wants to look cool to son Billy Gray. Gray’s never good but he’s a lot better than Kinsolving.

Again, who knows how it would’ve gone if the direction were a micron better. The film’s got some bad sets for home interiors, but the location exteriors are fine and it does shoot in a high school. Or some kind of school. Composition and lighting can do wonders. Kulik and photographer Crosby exhibit a striking inability to do wonders.

When the movie starts, it’s about teens McCormack, Kinsolving, Carnell, and Gray having a sleepover at Gray’s dad’s beach house. After some terribly cut together and scored opening titles–everyone involved in Explosive’s post-production seems to think having bland boppy “jazz” is going to make the film seem edgy. It leads to opening titles setting a bad tone. But then it’s Carnell talking McCormack into spending the night. Gray bullies and teases McCormack to get her to stay (for Kinsolving’s sake).

Well, then the movie cuts to the next morning and McCormack seems upset but Carnell’s having a full breakdown. Explosive drops Carnell as a character about ten minutes later, though it later blames her for snitching. It’s weird and about the only weak plotting decision Landon makes.

At some point, the movie becomes about Kinsolving trying to save Shatner’s job for him and discovering even though the school’s full of bland, upper middle class Southern California white kids, they have the right to intellectual curiosity.

The film entirely cops out on resolving the issues with the controlling parents. McCormack’s dad, Arch Johnson, gets to do a big meltdown and then disappears. Virginia Field, as mom, does something similar but then returns as a deus ex machina, because it turns out she’s just a person too.

Landon plots well. He doesn’t write well. Explosive Generation shows just how big wide the gap is between the two. The film has a great set piece at the end, which Kulik couldn’t direct even if he had the budget to stage it, but it’s a fantastic idea. The film’s got a few of them. Ideas but no potential because it’s so poorly made.

Crosby’s cinematography is so bad, so flat, one wishes for a computer colorized version just to break up the same shade of school hallway gray. It infests the pallette.

Despite being an audiovisual blight on the medium of film, The Explosive Generation is a heavily qualified “success.” So qualified it needs quotation marks, in fact. But thanks to Landon’s plotting, Shatner and McCormack’s likability, and its earnestess, the film compells.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Buzz Kulik; written by Joseph Landon; director of photography, Floyd Crosby; edited by Melvin Shapiro; music by Hal Borne; produced by Stanley Colbert; released by United Artists.

Starring Patty McCormack (Janet Sommers), Lee Kinsolving (Dan Carlyle), Billy Gray (Bobby Herman Jr.), William Shatner (Peter Gifford), Suzi Carnell (Marge Ryker), Edward Platt (Mr. Morton), Stephen Dunne (Bobby Herman Sr.), Phillip Terry (Mr. Carlyle), Arch Johnson (Mr. George Sommers), Jan Norris (Terry), Beau Bridges (Mark), and Virginia Field (Mrs. Katie Sommers).


The Curse of the Werewolf (1961, Terence Fisher)

The Curse of the Werewolf has an absurd epic structure. Clifford Evans narrates; he eventually comes into the film, which means there’s no way he’d know about events he didn’t witness except everything does apparently take place in the same Spanish town.

First is the story of a beggar, played by Richard Wordsworth, who ends up the forgotten prisoner of Anthony Dawson’s evil Marques. Wordsworth, who has a bunch of dialogue in the beginning, doesn’t speak at all once he’s imprisoned. The jailer has a daughter who can’t speak, so they form a bond.

Unfortunately, when she grows up and becomes a buxom–and still silent–Yvonne Romain, she spurns Dawson’s advances, ends up in the dungeon with Wordsworth, who’s reverted to some kind of man-beast. He attacks her, then dies. She’s released, kills Dawson, escapes. Six months later, after she’s been living in the forest, Evans finds her.

It’s at least twenty minutes into the movie. Curse spends a lot of time on Dawson’s cruelty and Romain’s suffering. The opening scene has Dawson’s wedding party–it figures into Wordsworth’s story–but there aren’t any women. Just a bunch of British guys pretending to be eighteenth century Spaniards. Right off, director Fisher’s composite wastes the frame. He’s always got the camera too far back, like he’s trying to show off the set instead of the actors. And given the first hour is incredibly talky, it’s not a good device.

None of the plot recap above is really a spoiler because none of it is about a werewolf. After Wordsworth hands the film off to Romain, who hands the film off to Evans, Evans quickly gives it over to his servant, Hira Talfrey. She’d be better at caring for pregnant Romain. That’s right, she’s pregnant. And she’s going to have her unwanted baby on Christmas, which–Talfrey tells Evans–is a big no no. Jesus doesn’t want any bastards born on his birthday, so he’s going to curse them.

And what curse does Jesus give on the baby, played by Justin Walters as a boy and Oliver Reed as a sexy man about town? Why, The Curse of the Werewolf.

Sadly, the film doesn’t end with Reed duking it out with Jesus. Instead, it’s an abbreviated werewolf story. Oh, there’s some stuff with Walters as a werewolf cub, but it just drags things out. Curse of the Werewolf drags. It’s never scary and it drags. It doesn’t even have makeup until the last ten minutes or so. Is it good werewolf make-up? Definitely. Is it worth sitting through eighty boring minutes? No.

Reed is basically okay. Talfrey’s pretty good, if you ignore her working class British accent being a tad out of place in eighteenth century Spain. There are a handful of actors whose dialects are part of their schtick. None of them are appropriate for Spain. Reed might try a Spanish accent once or twice, but not excessively.

Many of the people opposite Reed, including Talfrey, are in old age make-up. Some might even go through a couple rounds of it. It doesn’t help any of the performances, but doesn’t really hurt any (except Dawson’s).

Romain’s good at being terrified. Fisher’s directing for her cleavage, not her performance, which never helps. And screenwriter Anthony Hinds’s decision to make her unable to speak might have been convenient budgetary (though, why) but certainly not narratively.

Evans is blah. He’s not bad, but he does nothing with the part. Especially since he’s tasked with providing Reed a good enough home he won’t turn into a werewolf. Catherine Feller plays the middle class girl Reed loves. Only she can keep the werewolf at bay.

Or not, because the movie’s over once the werewolf shows up.

The Curse of the Werewolf is distressingly mundane.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Fisher; screenplay by Anthony Hinds, based on a novel by Guy Endore; director of photography, Arthur Grant; edited by Alfred Cox; music by Benjamin Frankel; production designer, Bernard Robinson; produced by Hinds; released by J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors.

Starring Oliver Reed (Leon), Clifford Evans (Alfredo), Hira Talfrey (Teresa), Justin Walters (Young Leon), Yvonne Romain (Servant Girl), Richard Wordsworth (The Beggar), Catherine Feller (Cristina), John Gabriel (The Priest), and Anthony Dawson (The Marques Siniestro).


Paris Blues (1961, Martin Ritt)

It’d be easily to blame Paris Blues’s lack of success on the screenplay. With three credited screenwriters and another with the adaptation, there’s literally not enough going on the film to keep it going for the ninety-eight minute runtime. There’s filler, whether it’s a jazz number or a scenic Paris walk, but there’s not enough story. There’s not enough character or there’s not enough story. But director Ritt needs to get some of the blame as well. He’s got enthusiasm, but he’s strangely inert when it comes to medium shots.

Here’s the story–Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll are friends vacationing in Paris from the United States. They meet Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman, who are jazz musician ex-patriates. They pair off, Woodward and Newman, Carroll and Poitier, and they all fall in love. Except Poitier and Newman don’t want to leave Paris. Poitier because it sucks to be a black man in the United States while it’s pretty darn cool in Paris; Newman because… he’s a troubled artist. Or he wants to be a troubled artist. He’s a great trombone player, but he’s not a troubled artist. He’s moody because he’s not.

Newman and Woodward’s romance and its problems are mostly just that moodiness. Newman has a bad day, is crappy to Woodward, who’s crazy about him and wants to dote on him. Meanwhile, Poitier and Carroll are having this great philosophical debate, with their romance taking a back burner to their arguments about Poitier’s refusal to participate in the American Civil Rights movement. Sure, the script never goes too far with their arguments and usually just ends a scene–Woodward and Carroll spend most of their time acquiescing to their men’s mood swings–but it’s something. Carroll and Poitier are playing characters. Newman’s a caricature. Woodward’s stuck pretending to be one, just because the script doesn’t give Newman anything more.

Oh, wait. It gives him Serge Reggiani’s cocaine problem. Newman’s trying to keep him clean because deep down he’s a good guy who cares.

There’s occasionally wonderful direction from Ritt–usually just composition, though Carroll’s performance in the third act, basically just watching Woodward and Newman, is fantastic. It’s a slight, because she should have had more to do, but she’s still developing her character. Everyone else has given up by that time. But Ritt loves trying to do the “real” Paris, cutting between sets and location, with the sets often fantastical but grounded thanks to Christian Matras’s black and white photography.

Weak editing from Roger Dwyre–thanks to Ritt’s messy medium shots and general lack of coverage–doesn’t help things. The Duke Ellington score does help things, however. And it’s awesome to see Louis Armstrong cameo as the whole package artist who Newman admires. Shame there’s not enough on their relationship. Or Newman and Poitier’s. Or Newman and Woodward’s. Or Woodward and Carroll’s. Or Carroll and Poitier’s. About the only relationship getting the appropriate attention is Newman and his French lover, played by Barbara Laage. But even she ends up just harboring slightly veiled hostility towards Woodward instead of actual scenes.

Messy, messy script.

Carroll’s great. Poitier’s great. Newman and Woodward are good, not great. Their material’s too thin to be great. Armstrong’s more cute than good. He’s having a blast acting. Reggiani’s good. Laage’s good. The problem’s not the acting. It’s the script, then Ritt, then the editing. Then, I don’t know, the rear screen projection.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Ritt; screenplay by Jack Sher, Irene Kamp, and Walter Bernstein, adaptation by Lulla Rosenfeld, based on the novel by Harold Flender; director of photography, Christian Matras; edited by Roger Dwyre; music by Duke Ellington; produced by Sam Shaw; released by United Artists.

Starring Paul Newman (Ram Bowen), Sidney Poitier (Eddie Cook), Joanne Woodward (Lillian), Diahann Carroll (Connie), Serge Reggiani (Michel Devigne), Barbara Laage (Marie), and Louis Armstrong (Wild Man Moore).



Bloodlust! (1961, Ralph Brooke)

What’s startling about Bloodlust! isn’t how bad it gets–the film opens on a docked ship, with the principal cast pretending it’s moving violently so the bad is obvious straight away–but how many not bad elements there are to the film. None of them are enough to make Bloodlust! worthwhile, unless someone’s a big June Kenney fan or “Brady Bunch” enthusiast.

Kenney gives a good performance as the level-headed girl. She’s dating Robert Reed, who isn’t any good. He’s not as bad as he could be–Eugene Persson is pretty lame as the other guy (Bloodlust! is a little like “Scooby-Doo (without the dog) meets The Most Dangerous Game”). As the other girl, Persson’s girlfriend, Joan Lora is appealing but bad. Out of nowhere, though, Kenney will turn in some fantastic scene and it’s inexplicable why she’s in this picture.

As the manhunting madman, Wilton Graff does an amiable job chewing the construction paper scenery. Director Brooke is not a dynamic director, not one bit; he does like blood and gore effects though, which occasionally gives the film a pulse. He cuts to hide the lack of action. It goes from an arrow firing to an arrow hitting, for example. It’s budget conscious but Brooke and editor Harold V. McKenzie don’t cut the sound right.

Strangely, Brooke has some good ideas in the script. He improves on Dangerous Game standards. Plus, he gives Kenney to do than the boys.

Bloodlust! is short, bad, dumb and mildly amusing.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Ralph Brooke; screenplay by Brooke, based on a story by Richard Connell; director of photography, Richard E. Cunha; edited by Harold V. McKenzie; music by Michael Terr; released by Crown International Pictures.

Starring Wilton Graff (Dr. Albert Balleau), June Kenney (Betty Scott), Robert Reed (Johnny Randall), Eugene Persson (Pete Garwood), Joan Lora (Jeanne Perry), Troy Patterson (Captain Tony), Walter Brooke (Dean Gerrard), Lilyan Chauvin (Sandra Balleau) and Bobby Hall (Jondor).


The Phantom (1961, Harold Daniels)

“The Phantom” is horrific. Between Lon Chaney Jr. trying a Cajun accent and Paulette Goddard’s hilariously bad turn as a Ms. Big, there’s no good acting. But these two guest stars aren’t even the worst–lead Roger Creed is unbearably awful. I’m sure he was hired to put on the purple jumpsuit but still… he doesn’t deliver a single acceptable line.

Daniels’s direction is no help either. He’s a little classier than the rest of the production–which just makes one realize how far Chaney and Goddard had fallen since Hollywood. Another particularly bad element is George W. Merrick’s inept editing. It’s like he tries to cut away from Creed’s deliveries, but just makes it worse.

Thankfully, the pilot never went to series–saving co-star Reginald Denny some amount of embarrassment I’m sure–but it’s terrifying enough on its own.

Unless you love Richard Kiel, avoid at all costs.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Daniels; teleplay by John Carr, based on the character created by Lee Falk; director of photography, Jack Taylor; edited by George W. Merrick; music by Gene Kauer; produced by Robert Gilbert.

Starring Roger Creed (The Phantom), Paulette Goddard (Mrs. Harris), Lon Chaney Jr. (Jed), Reginald Denny (Commissioner Mallory), Chaino (Chaino), Richard Kiel (Big Mike), Morgan Lane (Lt. Hartwell), Robert Curtis (Johnson), Glen Marshall (Deek), Mike De Anda (Jim), Ewing Miles Brown (Barney) and Allan Nixon (Doc Sanders).


Time Is Just a Place (1961, Donald F. Glut)

I’m sure writer-director Glut understands Time Is Just a Place–and I’m sure he explained it to friends and family who watched it when he made it–but there’s no explanation in the short itself.

There are a couple rocket ships traveling through space. They’re apparently time rockets. One ends up in prehistoric times, the other in the modern day. The prehistoric rocket pilot encounters some dinosaurs–Place has a big fight between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a stegosaurus–while the other rocket somehow causes the destruction of the planet Earth.

That final sequence is really effective, though Glut appears to have just broken up a disk.

The opening few shots suggests some kind of lyrical film, with the next few minutes suggesting a lot of riffing on time travel. Sadly, Glut delivers neither. Once the dinosaurs show up, he eschews most abstract ambition.

That dinosaur fight’s bitching though.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written, edited, photographed and directed by Donald F. Glut.


The Saga of Windwagon Smith (1961, Charles A. Nichols)

There’s nothing good about The Saga of Windwagon Smith. The best thing about it is the extended opening titles, which eat up some of the runtime and lessen the cartoon’s awfulness.

The animation happily plays at the nexus of lazy, incompetent and bad. Director Nichols–who cowrote–at least could’ve come up with an interesting visualization for his dumb story.

Instead, he relies on singing narration. It, and the dialogue, all rhymes. Except they’re bad rhymes, which makes one wonder how much time anyone spent on Windwagon. It’s like they wrote the dialogue first and the couplet at some later point.

Rex Allen is equally obnoxious as the protagonist and narrator.

The most striking thing about the cartoon, however, is the rampant racism. There are multiple Native American jokes, a Chinese one, but it also mocks the Kansas townspeople as moronic rednecks.

Windwagon‘s a dreadful way to spend twelve minutes.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Charles A. Nichols; written by Lance Nolley and Nichols; animated by Julius Svendsen and Art Stevens; music by George Bruns; production designer, Ernie Nordli; produced by Walt Disney; released by Buena Vista Releasing Company.

Starring Rex Allen (Windwagon Smith) and J. Pat O’Malley (Mayor Crum); narrated by Allen.


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