Doug McClure

At the Earth’s Core (1976, Kevin Connor), the digest version

Take one bad movie–At the Earth's Core–running eighty-nine minutes and take one inept editor and tell him or her (the editor is uncredited) to cut it down to fourteen minutes. It's a lousy movie anyway, so what are you going to lose….

Well, some bad things. Definitely some bad things. Like most of Peter Cushing's performance. This Super 8mm version (for watching at home before video), must have been intended for the younger male audience. The mystery editor keeps all the bad monster action and cuts away scantily clad Caroline Munro. She doesn't even get to keep any lines.

It sort of plays like a fast forwarded version of the film, with only Doug McClure's action scenes kept in. There are a couple reasonably effective sequences involving Cy Grant as a caveman, but it's a rather unimaginative reduction of an already tedious film.

At fourteen minutes, it's way too long.

1/3Not Recommended

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by Ken Films.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Cy Grant (Ra), Caroline Munro (Dia) and Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry).


Humanoids from the Deep (1980, Barbara Peters)

Maybe it’s James Horner’s score–which is solid, if a little too Jaws inspired–but if you squint your eyes and turn off your brain, Humanoids from the Deep almost seems like a real movie. It’s not, of course, it’s a New World picture.

It’s got to be hard for a film to waste Doug McClure, but this one does. McClure’s phoning it in so much here, the scenes with him and the infant son are funny. Oddly, the scene where he and wife Cindy Weintraub go looking for their dog, holding hands, works rather well.

Vic Morrow’s the bad guy until the monsters show up and he’s fine. Anthony Pena is really good as Morrow’s nemesis (a well-meaning Native American). Ann Turkel’s hilariously bad as the scientist who has all the answers about the monsters.

The monsters themselves are almost well-designed (Rob Bottin designed them). At times, they almost look good, and then Peters gives them a full reveal (or maybe whoever shot all the gore and nudity gives them a full reveal) and it’s silly. The premise–monsters who mate with human females–is trashy, but the film’s pretty mellow.

It’s kind of slow, but not in a bad way–until the last couple scenes, it seems like it’s going to end better than it should. I think I may have seen it before, but maybe not–I would have remembered the carnival, which goes unmentioned until it’s clear the monsters are going to attack it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Barbara Peters; screenplay by William Martin, based on a story by Frank Arnold and Martin B. Cohen; director of photography, Daniel Lacambre; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by James Horner; produced by Cohen and Roger Corman; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (Jim Hill), Ann Turkel (Dr. Susan Drake), Vic Morrow (Hank Slattery), Cindy Weintraub (Carol Hill), Anthony Pena (Johnny Eagle), Denise Galik (Linda Beale), Lynn Theel (Peggy Larson), Meegan King (Jerry Potter), Breck Costin (Tommy Hill), Hoke Howell (Deke Jensen), Don Maxwell (Dickie Moore), David Strassman (Billy), Greg Travis (Mike Michaels, Radio Announcer) and Linda Shayne (Sandy, Miss Salmon).


Shenandoah (1965, Andrew V. McLaglen)

In addition to being the first film of Andrew V. McLaglen’s I’ve seen (which is quite an achievement, considering how much he directed), Shenendoah is the first film I’ve seen where James Stewart plays the patriarch. Unless Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation counts and I don’t think it does, not like Shenendoah. The film sets Stewart as the father of seven sons and one daughter, Virginian farmers sitting out the Civil War. In its approach, initially anyway, the film owes a lot to Friendly Persuasion. There’s a calm friendliness to the family and the first forty minutes is spent listening to Stewart’s fatherly monologues (half of them are excellent, half are mediocre; the one he gives future son-in-law Doug McClure is wonderful). The film establishes its primary characters in these forty minutes–besides Stewart, the youngest son and the married son (played by Patrick Wayne, who’s great) get the spotlight, as does the courting McClure and the daughter–but there’s little distinguishing about the five other sons. They have names, except only one of them even approaches being recognizable, and their purpose in the film is to support.

At the forty-minute mark, or around it, the film changes gears and becomes the most startling anti-war film I’ve seen about the Civil War. Unfortunately, the film’s politics are incredibly safe–these Virginians don’t own slaves because they don’t think its right not to do your own work (my frequent observation about people with lawn crews who have such pride in the foliage they picked from a catalog) and they wouldn’t help a friend fight for his slaves, which doesn’t really matter since the family seems not to have any friends–but there’s never any comment about slavery being wrong. Shenendoah is a Western and Western filmmakers knew their audiences. There’s a little bit of the friendship between the youngest son and a same-aged slave to distinguish it, but it’s hard to believe Stewart’s frequent monologues would never broach the subject. As an anti-war film, though effective, it’s as unbiased as Gone With the Wind. Shenendoah shows the South and the Confederate soldiers as passives, only being acted upon by the aggressive and, at times, evil North. George Kennedy–youngish–shows up for a minute as a kind-hearted Northern officer, but he’s the single humane portrayal of the North in the whole film.

Even more complicated is the film’s morality. Tragedy strikes Stewart’s family in some awful (and unexpected) ways. It’s a bit of a rough film–even though the score maintains the playfulness of the first forty minutes–and those minutes were spent making the audience care for the characters. Even if their names aren’t clear. It’s an intentional move, so the question arises whether the tragedy is Stewart’s just reward for sitting out the Civil War, for abandoning his duty to Virginia. As complicated as those questions could be, Shenendoah doesn’t invite much analysis. It’s entertains and makes the viewer care about what’s going on. The rest isn’t particularly important (its greatest crime is giving Wayne the small part).

As for director McLaglen… if I didn’t know his name from so many other Westerns, I’d never bother to look it up or to have noticed it. He’s fine but wholly unimpressive except for the battle scenes, which are some of the finest I can recall.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen; written by James Lee Barrett; director of photography, William H. Clothier; edited by Otho Lovering; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Robert Arthur; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Charlie Anderson), Doug McClure (Lt. Sam), Glenn Corbett (Jacob Anderson), Patrick Wayne (James Anderson), Rosemary Forsyth (Jennie Anderson), Phillip Alford (Boy Anderson), Katharine Ross (Mrs. Ann Anderson), Charles Robinson (Nathan Anderson), Jim McMullan (John Anderson), Tim McIntire (Henry Anderson), Gene Jackson (Gabriel), Paul Fix (Dr. Tom Witherspoon), Denver Pyle (Pastor Bjoerling) and George Kennedy (Col. Fairchild).


Warlords of Atlantis (1978, Kevin Connor)

If you ever want to see John Ratzenberger fight a giant octopus, Warlords of Atlantis has something to offer you. Actually, it’s hard to completely dislike a film with a giant octopus, especially one attacking a ship. It’s so silly, it can’t help but amuse. I do have to wonder, since there was a giant octopus in the poster for The Land That Time Forgot (Connor’s first film with Doug McClure–Warlords is the last), if the octopus wasn’t a recycled idea. Kind of like Ed Wood’s giant octopus….

Warlords of Atlantis is a bad film, but again, so dumb it’s not particularly offensive. It’s too long–there’s a big difference in a Kevin Connor film between eighty-nine minutes and ninety-six. With Warlords’ ninety-six, he manages to add an additional set piece the film doesn’t need. It’s a mish-mash of a film anyway, borrowing from each of the previous McClure and Connor (and producer John Dark) collaborations. A ship here, a submarine here, a cavernous city here. There’s too many characters for the film to sustain–at least seven the audience is expected to recognize by name–and it’s not interesting. Warlords’ Atlantis, populated by a bunch of soon-to-be-Nazis, isn’t particularly interesting. Discovering a lost world only works if there’s some discovery going on, not a huge population of bad guys to fight.

The special effects–though some of the miniature work is good–are pretty bad. I do like how they have a real monster hand coming up in front of a rear screen projection, an idea I imagine they lifted from John Guillermin’s King Kong. There are a lot of matte paints and cinematographer Alan Hume is BAD at matte paintings. He shot Return of the Jedi, which had a number of awful matte painting shots too, so it’s not a budgetary thing. He just doesn’t do it well. There’s also the bad music… the film just doesn’t work. It’s too clean (on nice film stock) and the story is too silly. While Doug McClure’s in decent leading man form–I realized, watching the film, Doug McClure is the vanilla soft serve of actors–his character is empty. You’re not watching a late nineteenth century American inventor, you’re watching Doug McClure. The film doesn’t even try to convince the viewer otherwise. McClure’s sidekick, Peter Gilmore, is bad. The Atlantians are bad (and have silly hair and outfits). It’s got to be bad if the scantily clad human slave-girl (played by Lea Brodie) gives one of the film’s better performances.

There are also frequent attempts at humor throughout. They fail.

Since Connor’s not a bad director (though he’s got to be the most wildly inconsistent), there are a handful of nice shots. While Warlords is bad, the pacing is what does it in. At the very least, monster movies with bad special effects and bad acting have to move.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; written by Brian Hayles; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Bill Blunden; music by Michael Vickers; produced by John Dark; released by EMI Films.

Starring Doug McClure (Greg Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), Hal Galili (Grogan), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Derry Power (Jacko), Donald Bisset (Professor Aitken), Ashley Knight (Sandy), Robert Brown (Briggs), Cyd Charisse (Atsil) and Daniel Massey (Atraxon).


The People That Time Forgot (1977, Kevin Connor)

Apparently, all Kevin Connor needs–besides a decently concocted screenplay–is location shooting and a good score.

The People That Time Forgot–around the halfway point–became a movie I found myself enjoying too much. I got self-conscious about it, questioning its quality even more than usual, just because it seemed so good. It’s an adventure film, one told almost entirely in the language of film–there’s a cranky mechanic, a blustering scientist (who’s got a taste for the hooch), and an independent-minded woman who clashes with the macho protagonist. It’s somehow a perfect mix of its elements… though the music, by John Scott, helps it a lot initially. There’s also the film stock. The People That Time Forgot has a nice film stock, while Connor’s two previous films (The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth’s Core did not).

The budget for People That Time Forgot allows for decent special effects, not great, but decent. There’s some stop-motion work and then there’s some men-in-suit work, giving the viewer a chance to compare (as usual, the stop-motion is superior). Unless there’s a model of person in them, the miniature shots are all excellent. The film creates an experience of exploration and wonder. Maybe not wonderment, but definitely wonder. You can see it on the actors’ faces. The cast of this film, particularly Sarah Douglas and Patrick Wayne, is good. Even when they’re not particularly good, Dana Gillespie as a scantily clad cave girl, you still like the character. The People That Time Forgot is a smoothly constructed film. There’s action, there’s humor, and there’s (a little) romance. But Wayne and Douglas are giving performances above and beyond the film (well, Douglas’ performance is beyond, Wayne’s is above though). Wayne was thirty-eight in the film, but his lack of shoulders gives him a more youthful appearance. He has an affability his father never did, there’s a pleasure in watching the hero try, not knowing whether or not the hero will succeed. Douglas–and I just looked and Superman II apparently typecast her in genre roles forever–is fantastic. She’s engaging, funny, just great. Her typecasting is unfortunate.

While the script isn’t good, it is well constructed. Connor still has his five minute set pieces, which are an odd way to make a ninety minute movie–he summarizes three days into five minutes, then has a six minute action, then some more summary–but it works well in People That Time Forgot. By the twenty minute mark, the viewer is actively engaging with the film. It’s the characters and the music and the lost world concept in that film language. The filmmakers know what buttons to press, because people have been making lost world films since… what? 1925?

Like I said before, I was very self-conscious about how much I enjoyed The People That Time Forgot, but at the end–even though two people who should kiss do not–I had to embrace the experience. It’s good. It’s not important (though it might be the setting sun of a particular type of genre film), but it’s good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Patrick Tilley, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland and Barry Peters; music by John Scott; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark and Max Rosenberg; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Patrick Wayne (Ben McBride), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Charly), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Thorley Walters (Norfolk), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Tony Britton (Captain Lawton), John Hallam (Chung-Sha) and David Prowse (Executioner).


At the Earth’s Core (1976, Kevin Connor)

Pinewood Studios has housed some rather impressive sets and some great films have been shot there. Reading At the Earth’s Core‘s end credits and seeing it too was shot at Pinewood… well, my respect for the studio has plummeted.

At the Earth’s Core is the second of four films directed by Kevin Connor, produced by John Dark, and starring Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot was the first). Taking the time period of Earth’s Core into account–Victorian England–McClure seems like a bad choice for the role, even if he is playing an American inventor. McClure spends twenty minutes in an ugly suit, then his clothes start to get torn off. He finds a new suit before the end of the film, however. But McClure isn’t the worst–which is a surprise, because he’s pretty bad–no, it’s Peter Cushing, playing the doddering inventor of a giant drill, meant to explore the interior of the planet. Cushing spends the whole film doing a doddering accent too, but it just sounds like he’s been sucking helium. These two don’t start all right and get bad, they’re terrible from the start. Still, since The Land That Time Forgot had a slow start, I stuck with Earth’s Core. Actually, I’ve been planning this festival for a while… but the film never gets bad. It’s terrible to be sure–particularly the effects, but more on those in a minute–but it never offends. It’s a strange kind of dumb.

The effects, however, are something else. At the Earth’s Core features such a collection of giant monsters, realized with such poor special effects, I can’t believe it hasn’t gotten cult status. The effects in this film are worse than those 1970s Godzilla films and those have some cult recognition. Connor, who was an interesting director on The Land That Time Forgot, is not on Earth’s Core. The entire film was shot indoors, so in addition to bad rear screen projection, Connor never opens up his shots. The whole film has a claustrophobia about it, to the point of causing discomfort.

The writing too (by Milton Subotsky) is pretty awful. It’s not just the bad pacing or the subterranean people who speak English, it’s also the lack of characterization. McClure’s character goes from being a rich failure to a heroic revolutionary, but the film doesn’t recognize a change in him is occurring.

The last shot is sort of amusing, however, and manages to leave the viewer feeling amused at him or herself for sitting through the film. So instead of the viewer laughing at the film, it laughs at the viewer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hooja), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief) and Andee Cromarty (Slave Girl).


The Land That Time Forgot (1975, Kevin Connor)

The Land That Time Forgot never achieved any sort of cult notoriety (though I’m not sure any film with dinosaurs ever has), but as a child, any video box cover promising submarines, aquatic dinosaurs, octopuses, and ape-men was golden. The film does not feature any octopuses. While I did see Land That Time Forgot as a child, it was the 1980s and it was hard to get inundated with relatively obscure 1970s British films, dinosaurs or not. The cheapo EP VHS wasn’t released until at least 1990–and around that time, I first learned of a sequel, which proved even harder to see. Even today, The Land That Time Forgot has never had a real DVD release (there was a two pack DVD, with the sequel The People That Time Forgot, available exclusively at Best Buy, but it’s disappeared with the Sony buyout of MGM).

I last watched Land That Time Forgot in late 2000, just after AMC aired it letterboxed for the first time. I remember being less than impressed and somewhat puzzled by my childhood favorite. I wasn’t even going to pursue the film again, even after I read about a German release on DVD, then I woke one morning and couldn’t remember whether or not the disc was actually available or if it had been some odd detail in a dream. I ordered it soon afterwards. And watching it again, I’m not at all sorry I did (I suppose I was much less willing to be an individual at the ripe old age of twenty-one). The film doesn’t even have traditional problems… some aspects work and others don’t, but the failing ones aren’t problems. It’s a movie about a lost world of dinosaurs. That sentence, save the first three words, is a problem.

The bad part of Land That Time Forgot is the logic. The people kill dinosaurs to identify the species. Dinosaurs not bothering them… in a longish, five minute sequence–and the poor dinosaur suffers. It’s awkward. But the film has quite a few awkward aspects–the pacing, for example, is entirely odd. The first half hour (before the titular Land ever appears) is set over two weeks in a World War I U-Boat. It’s fine enough stuff–one particularly nice scene where the U-Boat goes deeper then everyone (except Doug McClure) says it can and the crew–German and British–silently marvel at the machine and their success. They share the moment. The Land That Time Forgot is a very quiet film. Not just that sequence, but at least three others are totally quiet. Two of these scenes are in a wheat field and in a dense fog and the result is a beautiful experience, one totally unexpected in a dinosaur movie (one with bad logic too).

The special effects are pre-Empire Strikes Back (which really started the otherworldly thing) and the dinosaurs are pretty bad. The triceratops are all right. In a way, the effects have a nice simplicity. You want a flying dinosaur, well, you rig something up and coast it through the sky. The dinosaurs are nowhere near as distracting as the rear-screen projection, for example, and the volcanic chaos at the end of the film is well done. It’s excellent.

But, in addition to being genially inoffensive, The Land That Time Forgot does feature some good acting. The female lead, played by Susan Penhaligon, is useless, but it’s not her fault. Doug McClure plays the lead and, while he reminds a little of a young William Shatner, it’s not in a bad way. Some of the Brits are quite good, Keith Barron (as a Brit) and Anthony Ainley (as a German), in particular. I think John McEnery is good, but his voice was dubbed with a German actor, so it’s always hard to tell whose giving the good performance in that situation. The film’s also interesting because it eschews any sense of real history regarding British and German relations during the Great War, but doesn’t replace the Germans with the insidious variety popular since the Second World War. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s odd enough to be interesting.

I think Leonard Maltin’s book might recommend The Land That Time Forgot for a rainy Saturday afternoon. That recommendation seems about right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland; music by Douglas Gamley; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), Keith Barron (Bradley), Anthony Ainley (Dietz), Godfrey James (Borg) and Bobby Parr (Ahm).


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