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Category Archives: Movie Reviews 1950s

From the video case: Scientists at a “Top Secret” Atomic Research Laboratory are taken over by strange fantastic control devices launched from an orbiting space ship inhabited by a hostile super-intelligence from beyond the stars.

Simultaneously, a gigantic flying saucer crashes in the Gulf of Mexico and Kronos, a giant metallic monolith monster emerges. Unstoppable, it it slashes across the countryside, draining the earth of all its electrical energy and beaming it into space. Kronos, a weapon so perfect in design it absorbs a direct hit by a Hydrogen bomb and becomes that much more powerful! (1957, b&w)

Mark says: Kronos is a giant metallic energy vampire (see image above) that drains Earth of its energy supplies to transport it back to its own voltage-starved planet. Though on the cheesy side, Kronos is definitely ahead of its time in terms of its message regarding energy conservation.

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From the video box: When a civilian plane goes down over an Army testing range during a top-secret experiment, Colonel Glenn Manning (Glen Langan) risks his life to rescue the pilot. But Manning is too late, and his heroism earns him a nightmarish future of plutonium-blast proportions as The Amazing Colossal Man. (1957, b&w)

Mark says: You have to feel for Col. Glenn Manning. He risks his neck to save a stranger and finds himself exposed to a plutonium blast that causes him to grow ten feet a day. And if that isn’t bad enough, the explosion occurs on the same day he is to wed his girlfriend, Carol.

This bit of bad luck gives The Amazing Colossal Man a deeper dimension than most Bert I. Gordon movies. After all, who can’t sympathize with a hero who suffers for a good deed? But don’t be fooled, this film features all of the great schlock fun you’ve come to expect from a Bert I. Gordon production.

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From the video box: They’re big. They’re bad. They scuttle along in caverns miles beneath the Earth’s crust – until a devastating earthquake opens up pathways to the surface. Now, inflamed by the smells of human flesh, these monsters of the genus Arachnida are here to stay! (1957, b&w)

Mark says: Hoping to duplicate the success of Them!, Warner Brothers followed the same formula while producing The Black Scorpion. Unfortunately, the film fails on many levels.

Richard Denning (Twice-Told Tales, Target Earth) plays the hero, Dr. Hank Scott. Denning’s portrayal is adequate, but he is much more believable as a bad guy. Watch him in Creature from the Black Lagoon to see him in a more appropriately cast role. Hank is a geologist sent to Mexico to study the effects of an enormous volcanic eruption/earthquake in a remote village.

Hank’s assistant is Dr. Ramos, played by Carlos Rivas (The Beast of Hollow Mountain). Rivas seems uneasy with his part, and his acting comes off as stiff and unconvincing. Dr. Ramos is a geologist on the Mexican side of the border. On their journey, Hank and Dr. Ramos realize they have more to worry about than just an active volcano.

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From the video case: A remote Pacific atoll is besieged by a horde of giant land crabs that devour members of a scientific expedition. A good thriller that seemed better when you were a kid, but still a lot of fun. Roger Corman directed this low-budget movie. (1957, b&w)

Mark says: With a title like Attack of the Crab Monsters, and Roger Corman (The Wasp Woman, It Conquered the World) credited as producer and director, you have a good idea as what to expect from this film: low-budget schlock entertainment.

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Sandra Harrison in Blood of Dracula, 1957.

From the DVD case: A vampire stalks a local university, preying on the student body. Where did this vampire come from? Who is behind the killings? (1957, b&w)

Mark says: If you come to this American International Picture expecting to see Dracula, or even some blood, you’re going to be disappointed.

Blood of Dracula was made to cash in on the success of I Was A Teenage Werewolf. In fact, I’m a little surprised AIP didn’t just stay with the theme and title this movie I Was A Teenage Vampire. Though it probably had something to do with I Was A Teenage Frankenstein being released the same month (November) of that year.

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Incredible Shrinking Man 1957

From the video case: One of the best science fiction films of the 50s offers a fantastic story that ponders man’s tentative place in the universe. When an ordinary businessman encounters a mysterious radioactive mist during a boating trip, his life takes a bizarre and frightening twist. Soon his physical size begins to dwindle and in a couple of weeks he shrinks to a mere two inches. Now the most benign household objects and situations become threats to his life. Filled with wonderful special effects, including Grant Williams battling a “monstrous” house cat, and an intelligent screenplay, The Incredible Shrinking Man is now looked upon by film buffs and critics as a classic of the genre. (1957, b&w)

Mark says: Don’t let the title fool you, The Incredible Shrinking Man is one of the most unique and well done sci-fi/fantasy films of the 1950s. With great direction by Jack Arnold (It Came from Outer Space, Creature from the Black Lagoon) and a screenplay by Richard Matheson (based on his novel) this film could scarcely go wrong (even with a questionable producer like Albert Zugsmith).

The Incredible Shrinking Man is not only an enjoyable science fiction adventure, but it can be appreciated on a philosophical level, too. Various viewers have interpreted the film as a statement on man’s place in the universe, a tale of the ultimate male anxiety, or even an example of existential cinema.

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From the DVD case: On its way home from Venus, A US Army rocket ship crashes into the sea of Sicily leaving Colonel Calder (William Hopper of Rebel Without A Cause) the sole survivor, or so it seems. A sealed container is also recovered from the wreck, and when a zoologist (The Mark of Zorro‘s Frank Puglia) and his granddaughter (Joan Taylor) open it, the gelatinous mass inside escapes. Overnight, it grows into a horrific monster that has doubled in size. In desperation, Calder calls in the Army to help fight the monster, which has taken refuge atop the Coliseum in Rome. But it will take more than man’s weapons to fight the evil forces of the unknown and save the world from destruction. (1957, b&w)

Mark says: As to be expected, the DVD description is not entirely accurate. However, it is close enough to serve as a synopsis.

I’ve always thought 20 Million Miles to Earth an inappropriate title for this film. It leads you to believe that the focus will be on the voyage from Venus to Earth, when in actuality, the entire story unfolds exclusively on Earth. Of course, the voyage to and from Venus is discussed, but it is definitely not the core of the plot.

The focal point of our story is what is brought back from Venus: the Ymir. The term “Ymir” is never used in the film, but that is what stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, It Came from Beneath the Sea) dubbed the beast upon its creation (named after the fabulous giant from Norse mythology). The Ymir, by far, is the most interesting aspect of this film. As is often the case, Harryhausen’s fantastic animation is stuck in a rather mediocre movie (based on a story by Charlotte Knight).

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X the Unknown, 1956.

From the video case: British Commandos on maneuvers near a muddy marsh become ill with mysterious symptoms and horrific burns. Dr. Royston (Dean Jagger), an atomic scientist from a nearby research station suspects lethal radiation but is mystified by the cause. At a nearby hospital, the phenomenon reappears and engulfs more innocent people including a hospital orderly whose skin has melted away from his body.

Dr. Royston speculates that the unknown force is on a quest to absorb radiation and expands in size and range as it claims more and more victims. As time runs short, he becomes desperate to trap the force before its power overcomes mankind. (1956, b&w)

Mark says: Hammer Film Productions had such success with their first Quatermass movie, The Quatermass Xperiment (USA title: The Creeping Unknown) that they were eager to produce a sequel. However, the author/creator of the Quatermass character, Nigel Kneale, denied Hammer any unauthorized use of his creation.

Instead, Hammer employed first-time screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster (who would later become a regular Hammer scriptwriter) to pen a movie in the Quatermass tradition, without actually using Professor Quatermass’s name. The result was X the Unknown, with Dean Jagger (Revolt of the Zombies) playing the role of the Quatermass equivalent, Dr. Royston.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956.From the DVD case: Something evil has taken possession of the small town of Santa Mira, California. Hysterical people accuse their loved ones of being emotionless impostors; of not being themselves. At first, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) tries to convince them they’re wrong, but they’re not.Plant-like extraterrestrials have invaded Earth, replicating the villagers in giant seed “pods” and taking possession of their souls while they sleep. Soon the entire town is overwhelmed by the inhuman horror, but it won’t stop there. In a terrifying race for his life, Dr. Bennell escapes to warn the world of the deadly invasion of the pod people! Remade in both 1978 and 1997, this chilling combination of extraterrestrial terror and anti-conformity paranoia is considered one of the great cult classics of the genre. (1956, b&w)

Mark says: I’d never commit myself to this, but Invasion of the Body Snatchers may be my all-time favorite sci-fi/horror film of the 1950s. I love the idea of society slowly being invaded by unfeeling creatures that look just like you and me. The story is based on a Collier’s Magazine serial by Jack Finney.

A lot has been said about the cold war symbolism in this movie, with the “pod people” representing either communists or McCarthyists. Because I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this aspect, let me quote Director Don Siegel’s take on this interpretation:

I think that the world is populated by pods and I wanted to show them. I think so many people have no feeling about cultural things, no feeling of pain, of sorrow. I wanted to get it over and I didn’t know of a better way to get it over than in this particular film. I thought I shot it very imaginatively. And I was encouraged all the time by [producer] Wanger. The film was nearly ruined by those in charge at Allied Artists who added a preface and ending that I don’t like.

The political reference to Senator McCarthy and totalitarianism was inescapable but I tried not to emphasize it because I feel that motion pictures are primarily to entertain and I did not want to preach.

Alan Lovell: Don Siegel. American Cinema. London 1975, S. 54

So there you go.

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Anne Francis in a promotional still for Forbidden Planet

From the video box: A dutiful robot named Robby speaks 188 languages. An underground lair provides astonishing evidence of a populace a million years more advanced than Earthlings. There are many wonders on Altair-4, but none is greater or more deadly than the human mind.

Forbidden Planet is the granddaddy of tomorrow, a pioneering work whose ideas and style would be reverse-engineered into many cinematic space voyages to come. Leslie Nielsen portrays the commander who brings his space cruiser crew to the green-skied Altair-4 world that’s home to Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), his daughter (Anne Francis), the remarkable Robby, and to a mysterious terror. (1956, color)

Mark says: Not many people would disagree that Forbidden Planet is one of the best sci-fi films that came from the 1950s. Produced by a major studio (MGM) and laden with stunning visuals and effects, Forbidden Planet is a true sci-fi classic.

But it’s not just the production values and special effects that give Forbidden Planet its classic status. The storyline and concepts are equally intriguing, giving this movie much more dimension than similar sci-fi pictures of the time. Here’s a terribly over-simplified synopsis:

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