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  1. Coffee Break

    August 13, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Even monsters deserve a break between scenes of horror and mayhem. Vincent Price in 1961 sucked back an iced coffee a la Nancy Botwin during shooting for Tales of Terror. Boris Karloff took numerous coffee breaks as The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster. Bela Lugosi as Igor joins Karloff and Basil Rathbone for coffee on the set of Son of Frankenstein. (If anybody knows of a photograph showing Dracula sipping a cup, send it my way.) Lon Chaney Jr. takes a nap while awaiting his next scene in one of his Wolf Man movies. And finally, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre take time out to roast marshmallows.






  2. The Pit and the Pendulum: Who’s the Hero?

    August 7, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Now, I don’t want to spoil the ending of Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet, so for those who think they’ve had better things to do over the last 50 years, please stop reading now and go watch it. It’s on Netflix streaming. I’ll wait. Go!

    Welcome back! Was it worth 80 minutes of your time? I think so.

    The Pit and the Pendulum has a wonderfully streamlined cast of characters. There’s Vincent Price as the grieving widower and don of an old Spanish castle.  His household is made up of two servants, Maria and Maximillian, and his visiting sister, Catherine. I suppose we should also include the “ghost” of the don’s wife, Elizabeth, as another member of the household. A frequent visitor is Doctor Leon who is the don’s friend and family physician. Lastly, we have the character everyone expects should be the hero, Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard, who has traveled all the way from a renfair in London to investigate his sister’s suspicious death.

    So, let’s put these characters in their respective boxes, shall we?

    THE HEAVY: Vincent Price’s Don Medina is a sympathetic character who, despite Barnard’s suspicions, is wholly innocent in the death of his wife. He only becomes the heavy after a psychotic snap brought on by the treachery of the two true villains.



    THE VILLAINS: Doctor Leon and Elizabeth fake the latter’s death and attempt to drive Don Medina insane. They succeed at this to the point that it costs them their own lives.




    THE INNOCENT BYSTANDERS: Catherine‘s role as the potential love interest of the hero is never really fulfilled and she joins the servants Maria and Maximillian as mere witnesses to the strange goings on at Castle Medina.



    THE HERO THE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS: Elizabeth’s brother, Francis Barnard spends the first half of the film throwing suspicion upon the innocent Don Medina. His role is entirely to throw red herrings at the audience. Once he comes around to the reality that the don had nothing to do with Elizabeth’s “death” he merely becomes the freshly demented Medina’s victim; subjected to the title torture device. Does he devise a clever escape? Does he succeed in bringing Medina back to his senses? No. He cries to Catherine to come to his rescue! He’s not the hero; he’s Nell from Dudley Do-Right.

     THE HERO: Looks like we have to reconsider the roles of a couple of the innocent bystanders. Catherine makes a valiant attempt to claim the honor of heroine, but, alas,  she is a mere woman after all and must call on the assistance of the butler, Maximillian, who is the one who gains entry into the torture chamber, kills the demented don, and turns off the infernal machine about to bisect the entirely helpless Barnard.

    Yes! Our hero is Maximillian! Not only didn’t the butler do it; but he was the man who saved the day! A character so far down in the credits that I can’t even find a picture of him from the movie. (You’ll have to settle for a picture of actor Patrick Westwood playing a taxi driver in an early episode of The Avengers.)

    Maximillian is one of those unsung heroes in film that I find both baffling and charming. Don’t even get me started on the the Merry-Go-Round operator in Strangers on a Train.


  3. El Santo vs the Zombies

    August 2, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, under his silver-masked alias El Santo (The Saint), was and still is the most famous name in the world of Mexican wrestling known as Lucha Libre. Santo was more than a wrestler; he was a comic book hero, pop culture icon, and actor.

    Santo made his first appearance in comic books in 1952. The comic books proved so successful that film makers quickly approached Santo to appear in a movie serial called  The Man in the Silver Mask. Santo didn’t see much future in movies and declined. The role went to fellow luchador, El Medico Asesino, who wore a white mask very similar to Santo’s silver one. On black and white film, the masks were almost indistinguishable. The plot did, however, include a villain called “The Silver-Masked Man” which allowed the producers to keep the original title.

    In 1958, Santo was finally convinced to try his hand at acting by wrestler and actor Fernando Osés. Santo appeared in two films as the sidekick of the star, Osés, who played a hero called El Incognito. Santo’s name didn’t even appear in the opening credits until years later. The films (The Evil Brain and The Infernal Men)  did poorly at the box office and Santo didn’t return to films until 1961 when he was not only offered a starring role but was also to have his name in the film’s title.

    Santo vs The Zombies (1961) opens by quickly establishing that Santo is not only a world wrestling champion but also an unofficial crime fighter (much like Will Eisner’s Spirit) who is called in by the police chief whenever the police can’t get to the bottom of a case. This time a famous scientist has been kidnapped and is apparently being forced to create an army of radio controlled zombies. After three of these zombies attempt to rob a jewelry store, Santo is called in to investigate. Coincidently enough, the scientist’s daughter has also recruited the wrestler’s help in finding her father. After Santo prevents the abduction of some orphans (to be used as zombie experiments), the zombies’ hooded controller conspires to kill Santo during a scheduled wrestling match. Santo’s opponent in the ring has been turned into a zombie. Despite the zombie’s increased strength, Santo defeats it and the hooded villain uses his radio controls to make the zombie self-destruct. Santo searches the zombie-wrestler’s apartment and is jumped by two more zombies. The zombies almost succeed in (of all things) pulling off Santo’s mask but Santo recovers and drives them off. The hooded villain then sends his zombies to kidnap the scientist’s daughter.  Santo discovers the hooded villain’s secret lab and kills him and his henchman, whereupon all of the zombies (including the kidnapped scientist) begin to smoulder, spasm, fall down, and finally disintegrate.

    Although Santo was already 41 when he made Santo vs The Zombies, it was only the first of fifty films in which Santo would play a professional wrestler moonlighting as a superhero. The plots were very similar but his foes would change to whatever type of villain was fashionable at the time. When Hammer Studios had success with a Dracula movie, Santo would be fighting vampires (Santo vs. The Vampire Women). When 007, Our Man Flint, and Matt Helm were doing boffo box office,  Santo could be seen going up against secret agents and mad scientists (Santo in Operation 67). Science fiction was also within the scope of an El Santo movie with titles like Santo vs. the Martian Invasion and Santo vs. the Living Atom.

    At the age of 65, Santo retired from films the same year he retired from wrestling.  A year later on a Mexican TV show devoted to wrestling, Santo removed his mask in public for the first time. El Santo was no more and Rodolfo Guzmán died a year later. Tens of thousands of devoted fans made a pilgrimage to his funeral to bid a final goodbye to their saint.



  4. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (in Concept)

    July 30, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

     I have to admit I am hesitant to post an entry about Irwin Allen’s 1961 film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. There are millions of fans of the movie and the TV show it spawned and I can’t get away with the kind of lazy research that passes muster when writing about the plot of a 50 year old comic book that barely anybody alive remembers reading. So, this weekend, the 50th anniversary of when Voyage to the Bottom of Sea was playing in theaters, I’m merely going to post some great pictures of the concept art used in pre-production, and a few of my modest observations based on nothing more than a couple casual viewing of the film when I was a kid.


    This, apparently, was the original design of the submarine Seaview. It’s missing the iconic “manta” bow of the final design and the windows are enormous! I remember thinking how impractiacal the windows on the movie and TV version were. The windows on the submarine in this picture just scream peril.

    I really like this picture! It’s a lot more expressive of a sky on fire than the roiling red glow seen in the film.

    I’d forgotten there was a giant squid in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. If I’d remembered that, I would have mentioned it in last week’s post about Jules Verne’s banner year in film. Surely, Voyage is only the second most famous story featuring a submarine and a giant cephalopod.

    Here’s a view through the interior of the “bigger windows” Seaview, made even more frightening by a gauntlet of sea mines. Granted, windows in a submarine are worth a few points in the terror department, but I think I’d have a hard time following the story worrying that at any moment a stray mine, or (illogically) sinking chunk of ice, or stray baseball could doom the entire crew of this technological wonder.

  5. A Good Year for Jules Verne

    July 23, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Remember back in the ’80s when Stephen King would have half a dozen new titles on bookstore shelves and 2 or 3 films in movie theaters based on his stories? Now, imagine that he’s been dead for 50 years. Do you think there will be twice that many Stephen King books on the shelves and 4 or 5 current films based on his stories? How about Stephen King comic books in the late 21st Century? Maybe he will, but I write about 1961, not 2061 (No, I’m not implying that  Stephen King is going to die this year!)

    By my reckoning, 1961 saw the release of no less than four motion pictures based on Jules Verne stories!

    Master of the World, starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson was based on two Verne novels, Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World.  At first glance, the production values are pretty impressive for cheapo studio American International Pictures (AIP). This is partly due to the use of superior stock footage  behind the airship, Albatross.

     File:Master of the world poster.jpgFile:Mysterious Island.jpg

    Mysterious Island  was a bit more prestigious; having on board the special effects great Ray Harryhausen (who was also one of the producers).  The cast isn’t as readily recognizable as that in Master of the World - we have to settle for Inspector Clouseau’s boss (Herbert Lom) as Nemo doing his best  James Mason impersonation. But who needs a star when you have a giant crab?

    Valley of the Dragons was based on Verne’s Off on a Comet which was about a group of people swept from the Earth by a comet and having to learn to live together. Valley of the Dragons shaved the comet travelers down to two rivals (a Frenchman and an Irishman). On the comet, they encounter cave people and dinosaurs, which allows the director to splice in substantial chunks of stock footage from One Million B.C (1940). The film ends with the two leads becoming pals and shacking up with some cave-babes until the comet revisits Earth seven years hence. I have no idea what “Monstascope” is. If you do, please let me know.

    Triomphe de Michel Strogoff was a French/Italian production based on one of Jules Verne’s non-fantasy/SF tales so I won’t spend too much time on it except to note that it stars a future 007 villain (Curt Jurgens) and Peter Seller’s costar from The Pink Panther and What’s New Pussycat (Capucine).


    AIP’s Off on a Comet may not have actually been made for all I can tell. The only evidence of its existence (that I know of) is a contest announced on the back of Charlton comic books in 1961. Perhaps the project was canceled when Valley of the Dragons(based on the same story) came out.  I welcome any additional information on this mystery film.

    It’s worth noting that Jules Verne also had a banner year in comic book adaptations; something I may address in a future post.

  6. And the Next Day 147 People were Hit by Buses

    July 22, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Thanks to Google for this wonderful photo archive from LIFE magazine, 1961:

     Hollywood Audition for a Black Cat


    There isn’t any text available in the archive but it’s fairly obvious that this was some sort of publicity stunt staged by the producers of the 1962 Roger Corman Horror trilogy Tales of Terror (one of the tales is Poe’s The Black Cat). You have to admire the gumption of the lady who brought a white cat to the audition. It’s great that they were able to rope the film’s stars Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Joyce Jameson into the event.

  7. Atlantis, The Lost George Pal Film

    July 20, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Not so much lost, but rather, ignored and hidden away like that shirt with a goofy collar that you are too ashamed to keep in the same drawer with your “good” clothes. That’s what Atlantis, the Lost Continent is to George Pal fans. Those fans had every reason to expect Atlantis to be the best science fiction film of 1961; the latest film from the director/producer who gave us Destination Moon (Oscar: Special Effects 1950), When Worlds Collide (Oscar: Special Effects 1951), The War of the Worlds (Oscar: Best Special Effects 1953), and just months earlier, The Time Machine (Oscar: Best Special Effects 1960)

    Not only wasn’t Atlantis the best science fiction film of 1961, it was barely even science fiction. It has more in common with the sword & sandal genre of film than science fiction. No surprise since much of the film is comprised of footage left over from Quo Vadis and three other MGM Roman epics.

    The hero of the story is a Greek fisherman named Demetrios (Anthony Hall) who rescues an Atlantian princess (Joyce Taylor) from a sinking ship.  Demetrios agrees to take the princess to Atlantis, far beyond the Pillars of Hercules. Upon returning her to the technologically advanced kingdom, Demetrios’ reward is enslavement and being forced to fight a giant ogre in a pool of fire and water. Demetrios is also treated to “The House of Fear” where he and other slaves are to be transformed into beast men (basically the reverse of The House of Pain in HG Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau). Meanwhile, Atlantian politics are a mess. The king is being set up by an ambitious usurper and an evil astrologer (Frank DeKova – the Chief from F Troop) who want to use Atlantis’ powerful crystal ray weapon to conquer the world. Only the intervention of Demetrios and a high priest (Edward Platt – The Chief from Get Smart) can stop them. The world is saved, but Atlantis is ultimately obliterated by an out-of-control crystal ray cannon.

    Yeah, it’s about as bad as it sounds. Not only was footage intended for other films used in Atlantis, The Lost Continent, much of the soundtrack score was lifted from The Time Machine. Even leftover make-up from The Time Machine was used (the same blue make-up was used for Morlocks and Poseidon alike). Easily identifiable props from other films were also used. The large statue in the temple is from the biblical epic, The Prodigal (1955), and several scientific devises in the high priest’s chambers were previously seen in Forbidden Planet (1956)

    Perhaps the best comment on this “Frankenstein of a movie” (I don’t mean that in a good way) was made by a viewer on a preview questionnaire that asked which scene he liked best. His answer: “The scene where Robert Taylor saved Deborah Kerr from the fire.” He thought he’d just seen a screening of Quo Vadis.