Tom Keene

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959, Edward D. Wood Jr.)

There’s not a lot to say about Plan 9 from Outer Space. It’s comically inept on almost every level—the uncredited sound editor (unless it’s also director Wood, who wrote, produced, and edited) does all right. The chirping crickets in the graveyard as the cast mugs their way through an alien zombie invasion give it a distinct feel. Even when it’s obvious they’re on the same set, even when Wood goes through the same footage over and over (special guest star Bela Lugosi died during production—or at least the Ed Wood movie says).

And before Ed Wood, there might have been more to say about Plan 9. At the time of its release, maybe one could gin up enough enthusiasm to blather about it. Or maybe just plain gin would help.

But as to Plan 9 being “so bad, it’s good,” I mean… it gets really boring at fifty minutes. It’s been getting more and more boring but once space aliens Dudley Manlove and Joanna Lee get introduced it’s a snooze-fest. Even with Tor Johnson zombieing around, though it turns out he’s a disappointing zombie; almost nothing’s more amusing than Johnson deliver his cop dialogue with a heavy Swedish accent. Well, maybe Duke Moore rubbing his gun barrel all over the place. And Manlove’s temper tantrum at the end. Manlove’s temper tantrum is where Plan 9 could have really done something.

But most of the movie is just bad actors giving bad performances in a poorly written, poorly directed movie. I guess William C. Thompson’s photography is all right. It’s nowhere near as incompetent as the scenes its lighting anyway.

Wood, as writer, has a silly narration—Plan 9 is presented (by vitamin slinger Criswell) as a true story so the narration does a documentary thing—but he occasionally hits just the right amount of absurd in the dialogue for it to be amusing. Momentarily. Again, Plan 9 gets long fast and its inconsistent in the amusing badness. If you gave up early, you’d miss Manlove’s temper tantrum at the finale but you’d also miss whatever else, which probably makes up for it. Leading man Gregory Walcott is really bad in an unlikable fifties alpha male kind of way. Moore’s at least silly bad. Tom Keene is kind of not terrible. You can tell Keene has occasionally not been terrible. No one gives that vibe. They all seem like they’re always as terrible as they are in Plan 9.

Wait, wait—flight attendant Norma McCarty and co-pilot David De Mering; they’re kind of amusing. Wood writes them this strange flirting scene and it doesn’t work but it’s… endearing. Ish.

And leading lady Mona McKinnon is nowhere near as bad as husband Walcott; she gets some sympathy being married to him.

Cops Carl Anthony and Paul Marco are funny bad.

There’s just not enough funny bad to keep Plan 9 going.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, produced, edited, and directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.; director of photography, William C. Thompson; released by Distributors Corporation of America.

Starring Gregory Walcott (Jeff Trent), Mona McKinnon (Paula Trent), Duke Moore (Lt. Harper), Tom Keene (Col. Edwards), Carl Anthony (Patrolman Larry), Paul Marco (Patrolman Kelton), Tor Johnson (Inspector Clay), Dudley Manlove (Eros), Joanna Lee (Tanna), John Breckinridge (Ruler), Lyle Talbot (Gen. Roberts), David De Mering (Danny), Norma McCarty (Edith), Maila Nurmi (Vampire Girl), and Bela Lugosi (Ghoul Man); narrated by Criswell.


Berlin Express (1948, Jacques Tourneur)

Berlin Express is a postwar thriller. In the late forties and early fifties, there were a number of such films—most filmed either partially or totally on location in the ruins of Germany. I was expecting Express to be more of a noir, but it’s not. With its pseudo-documentary approach, down to the narration (an uncredited Paul Stewart occasionally sounds exactly like Burt Lancaster, which is disconcerting), Express carefully presents its audience with a look at what’s going on in Germany and what the Allies are doing there too. For the first twenty minutes, a compelling narrative is besides the point.

Eventually, the mystery and espionage thriller elements take over, but Express still handles them differently. Instead of relying just on leading man Robert Ryan (who’s excellent), the film brings in a multinational cast of characters who team up to solve the mystery.

Merle Oberon is sort of Ryan’s love interest, at least until the film gets so philosophical at the end. The ending is where Express falls apart. It goes so far patting the Americans on the back, it becomes a commercial for the occupation of Germany by the Allies—the Americans in particular—instead of a reasonable conclusion. The film resists most of the propaganda pitfalls throughout only to collapse at the finish.

Of the supporting cast, Roman Toporow is the best. Paul Lukas is solid and Robert Coote isn’t bad.

Tourneur’s direction is outstanding.

Berlin Express is a significant historical document, but it’s also mostly successful.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Harold Medford, based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Sherman Todd; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by Bert Granet; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Merle Oberon (Lucienne), Robert Ryan (Robert Lindley), Charles Korvin (Perrot), Paul Lukas (Dr. Bernhardt), Robert Coote (Sterling), Reinhold Schünzel (Walther), Roman Toporow (Lt. Maxim Kiroshilov), Peter von Zerneck (Hans Schmidt), Otto Waldis (Kessler), Fritz Kortner (Franzen), Michael Harvey (Sgt. Barnes) and Tom Keene (Major).


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