Film Review: The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958)

Also known as: La momia azteca contra el robot humano (original Mexican title), The Aztec Mummy Against the Humanoid Robot (worldwide English title)
Release Date: July 17th, 1958 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rafael Portillo
Written by: Guillermo Calderon, Alfredo Salazar
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Ramon Gay, Rosa Arenas, Crox Alvarado, Luis Acevedes Castaneda, Jaime Gonzalez Quinones

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 65 Minutes

Review:

Is this a terrible movie? Yes. However, within the context of what it is and how it was made, I can accept it and not just trash it for being total schlock. Besides, it features a friggin’ robot fighting a friggin’ mummy. Okay. maybe the monsters are terrible and move at the speed of a mentally handicapped turtles through a sea of molasses but still, it’s got a robot and a mummy!

This film was featured on the first nationally syndicated season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason: it’s a big stinker. But show me a Mexican science fiction film from the 1950s that isn’t?

The MST3K versions and really, any version available in the U.S., has English dubbing. Sure, the dubbing is also terrible but it sort of adds an extra level of goofiness to the proceedings and makes this film more endearing than it probably should be.

To be honest, you’ve got to love these sort of pictures to have an appreciation for this. A normal person would probably rather claw their eyes out but it’s certainly not the most dreadful thing ever made and definitely not the worst thing featured on MST3K.

The biggest negative isn’t the crappy monsters or the shitty special effects, it’s that the film has some really boring and drawn out moments. This thing could probably be whittled down to a twenty minute picture and you wouldn’t feel like you’ve lost anything important. Hell, it’d probably play better that way.

One of the highlights is the mad scientist. That guy was pure gold and dedicated to that insane role.

The robot was some knee-less hulking thing with a window that displayed a full human face but he was referred to as a “human robot” so I guess that works. The mummy looked more like the zombie version of Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies but I totally bought into it being a former Aztec warrior. Okay, that last sentence was me totally being facetious.

Even though I don’t hate this, it is shitty. I know it is shitty. It is impossible to deny its shittiness. Therefore, it must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Lots of old school Mexican monster movies, especially some of the lucha libre stuff with El Santo and Blue Demon.

Film Review: Suddenly (1954)

Release Date: October 7th, 1954
Directed by: Lewis Allen
Written by: Richard Sale
Based on: Active Duty by Richard Sale
Music by: David Raksin
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Nancy Gates

Libra Productions, United Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not an actor, bustin’ my leg on a stage so I can yell ‘down with the tyrants’. If Booth wasn’t such a ham he might’ve made it.” – John Baron

This film was pretty heavy stuff for 1954. While there had been films about presidential assassinations before this one, never had their been one that took place in modern times. And on top of that, Frank Sinatra plays the man gunning for the President.

The film sees a widowed mother, her young son, her father-in-law and a cop that has the hots for her, held hostage in her home, as a gangster and his men are planning to use the home’s vantage point to stage a presidential assassination.

Sinatra plays a scumbag and there are no bones about it. I feel like it was probably hard to accept him in this role, given the time and for the fact that he was such a lovable icon. Still, his performance is solid and he carries himself well. He brought some gravitas and machismo to the screen and was unrelenting as this sinister killer.

Sterling Hayden plays the cop trapped with the mad man in the house. He is a good foil to Sinatra and their dialogue exchanges are engaging and serve to paint Sinatra’s John Baron as something darker than what you first assume. He’s a man with a screwed up history and a vendetta.

Nancy Gates plays the mother and she really is the heart and soul of the picture, even if she feels overshadowed and outnumbered by the men in the film. She has this likable sweetness and it is easy to understand her concerns, as the mother of a small child who has been threatened to be killed if any of the adults try to play hero.

Suddenly is well shot, well acted and has held up quite nicely.

The film ended up being at the center of some major controversy, however. When JFK was assassinated in 1963, it was said that Lee Harvey Oswald was inspired by this film. While that wasn’t necessarily true, Frank Sinatra was deeply upset about it, as he was close friends to the real-life president. It’s said that Sinatra pleaded with the studio to pull the film from circulation and that he tried to buy up all the prints in an effort to destroy them. This also wasn’t true but Sinatra did have some regrets about playing a part in this movie. And regardless of the true story or not, this film has very strong similarities to that dark day in American history and sort of foreshadowed it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Manchurian Candidate, another Sinatra film with similar themes.

Film Review: No Questions Asked (1951)

Release Date: June 15th, 1951
Directed by: Harold F. Kress
Written by: Sidney Sheldon, Berne Giler
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Arlene Dahl, George Murphy, Jean Hagen

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 80 Minutes

Review:

I caught this film on an episode of TCM’s Noir Alley. While I’m an avid fan of film-noir, this isn’t a film that I knew about until Eddie Muller featured it on his show.

The film follows Steve, a young lawyer for an insurance company. Steve asks his boss for a raise but isn’t able to persuade him. As he’s leaving his boss’ office, he hears that the boss is willing to pay a hefty sum for the return of some stolen property, “no questions asked” on how it’s done, because the large sum is still less than it would cost to pay the claim.

Steve convinces his boss to give him the task but he attracts the attention of gangsters, who think that they can use Steve for similar situations. Being that this is noir, things take a turn for the worse. What we end up getting is a film that examines insurance scams and fraud, told through a noir tale featuring doublecrosses and twists.

Unlike other film-noir pictures, that had a grit to them, No Questions Asked feels like it is more visually refined, which is probably due to it being produced by MGM. However, the more glossy and refined appearance of the film makes it feel less like a noir than it should. Granted, MGM did produce proper looking noir, several in fact.

Barry Sullivan was decent as Steve but it’s hard to care for him, as he pines over Arlene Dahl – a high maintenance gal that doesn’t really care about him, and doesn’t jump all over the chance to be with Jean Hagen, who is smitten with him. Plus, he’s looking to make an easy buck in a dishonest way; not because he needs the money to live but because he wants to wow the woman that rejected him and general greed takes over.

The film is decently acted but not well acted. It seemed as if some people were really into their roles while others dialed it in. Maybe the director was just dialing it in too, as he accepted the unbalanced performances.

This is mostly a forgettable noir. We’ve seen films about insurance fraud before and some that were done much better. Sure, this is a different type of scam than say the one in Double Indemnity but one can’t watch this and not make some comparisons to the narrative of both films. Double Indeminity is also a bonafide classic, though.

No Questions Asked is a decent time killer but if you need to get your noir fix, there are dozens of films superior to this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Loophole, also with Barry Sullivan.

Film Review: The Black Scorpion (1957)

Also known as: El escorpión negro (Spanish title)
Release Date: October 11th, 1957
Directed by: Edward Ludwig
Written by: Robert Blees, David Duncan
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro

Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“[to the peons in the village as he and Ramos pull into the rural town in their jeep] We’re from Mexico City! I say, we’re from Mexico City! We’re scientists! Is the mayor here?” – Hank Scott

There were a lot of these giant creature movies in the 1950s when American culture had succumbed to atomic hysteria. Some of these films are good and some are terrible but then there is a third type, the ones that are so bad that they become an incredibly amusing experience to witness.

The Black Scorpion is that third type. This is also probably why it was riffed on the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But as awful as the effects may seem, they were still created by stop motion maestro Willis O’Brien: the man behind the effects on The Lost WorldKing Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Classic stop motion doesn’t hold up well today but for the time, it was better than the alternative method of forced perspective.

The plot sees this giant black scorpion start tearing up shit in Mexico. It’s a good Hollywood example of refined whitey boffins talking down to a culture that isn’t theirs. But I guess that doesn’t make this any different than any ’50s film that features scientists in an exotic location.

It’s a silly movie but it is exciting if you are into this type of thing. I obviously am because I spend a lot of my time throwing films like this on.

On a side note: it has a really cool poster. The monster is also cool. Plus, it has a lovable face.

I will refrain from running this through the Cinespiria Shitometer because I really like this film and I respect the work of O’Brien.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Other O’Brien stop motion pictures like The Lost WorldKing Kong and Mighty Joe Young.

Film Review: The Giant Claw (1957)

Also known as: The Mark of the Claw (working title)
Release Date: June, 1957
Directed by: Fred F. Sears
Written by: Paul Gangelin, Samuel Newman
Music by: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday

Clover Productions, Columbia Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“It’s hard to come up with answers when you don’t even know what the question is.” – Lt. Gen. Edward Considine

Last year, I made a list of the top 100 films that the revived Mystery Science Theater 3000 show should feature. This was one of the films that was really high up on that list. In fact, it’s really baffling that it never made it on the original show in any of its 11 seasons. This is the perfect film for MST3K riffing and the only real reason why they probably never tackled it was because securing the rights to feature it may have been too difficult or costly, since this is surprisingly owned by Columbia Pictures.

This isn’t just a throwaway giant monster movie, it is so much more. Sure, we’ve all seen big goofy monsters but the creature in this film is, by far, one of the strangest and laughably bad creations in Hollywood history. The creature is theorized to be from outer space and even referred to as a buzzard but it is really just a giant, mutated, cartoony vulture thing.

The creature flies through the skies and rips planes out of the air, eats people trying to escape via parachute and is essentially indestructible because it emits an invisible antimatter bubble around its body. So apparently missiles explode prematurely due to this antimatter bubble but yet, the bubble doesn’t prevent the creature from touching things, which makes no sense at all. This is a film filled with horrible and baffling scientific explanations. It’s like it was written by a six year-old that read about antimatter in a 1950s comic book.

The special effects are terrible and unintentionally hilarious. But that is what gives this film some of its charm. It also boasts atrocious acting and completely defies the laws of physics.

But all negatives aside, something about this film just works. There really isn’t a dull moment once the bird shows up and the action starts. I mean, you have to have some sort of appreciation for films like this, if you are going to watch it, but it excels in areas where similar films fail. It is equal parts better and worse than similar films. And really, it is impossible to hate and to just write off.

The bird is just too bizarre to not be appreciated.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Other giant monster movies of the atomic paranoia era: MantisThe Black ScorpionIt Came From Beneath the Sea, etc.

Film Review: The Breaking Point (1950)

Release Date: September 30th, 1950
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Ranald MacDougall
Based on: To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
Music by: Howard Jackson, Max Steiner
Cast: John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter, Juano Hernandez

Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

“I ain’t got no choice. All I got left to peddle is guts. I’m not sure I got any. I have to find out.” – Harry Morgan

I haven’t seen John Garfield in a lot but I’m working my way through his noir-esque stuff. While this isn’t as good as The Postman Always Rings Twice, it is pretty close and an enjoyable experience, all its own. Plus, he looks pretty damn good in a captain’s hat.

This film was adapted from a Hemingway story, which made for a special kind of film-noir. This one had a nautical twist and much of the film took place on a boat bouncing around the coastline of California and Mexico.

The story sees a family man and boat captain get caught up in some criminal activity, as he’s trying to support his family and prevent losing his business due to the debt he has racked up on his boat. He has a black first mate and a femme fatale that tags along throughout the movie, although the femme fatale isn’t really all that dangerous and although Patricia Neal gives her some sass and a rough edge, she is mostly sweet. Really, she’s just there to create some sexual tension and to challenge Garfield’s wife, played by Phyllis Thaxter.

The contrast between Neal and Thaxter is really good and actually makes both characters look stronger, as both care about Garfield and the mess he’s dealing with.

The big finale, which sees Garfield take on some mobsters on his own boat is pretty exciting and while you don’t see any way that things will conclude smoothly, this is noir and to be true to the style, the shit has to hit the fan in a somewhat tragic way.

Garfield’s partner gets murdered by the mobsters and the final shot of the film is of a young black boy, standing on the dock, looking for his missing father. It’s a gloomy and sad ending, especially since Garfield’s partner was a nice guy just trying to help his friend and paid a price for Garfield’s secrets and criminal activity. All the white people run off with the injured Garfield, leaving behind this young black boy, as the camera fades out. It’s pretty heartbreaking.

One thing I like about the film is that a lot of it takes place in tropical bars with lots of bamboo and a Tiki aesthetic. It really transports you to the era and the location of where this was made and where it was set.

The Breaking Point isn’t noir at its best and it isn’t a strict noir. It does show how the style evolved in a different way and that a noir movie didn’t have to be set in the city or on a country road with a mad man.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The Postman Always Rings Twice and Key Largo.

Film Review: Untamed Youth (1957)

Release Date: May 10th, 1957 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Howard W. Koch
Written by: John C. Higgins, Stephen Longstreet
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Lori Nelson

Warner Bros., 80 Minutes

Review:

It is hard to believe that Warner Bros. made this awful movie. Teen dancing movies were all the rage back in the ’50s and ’60s but they usually took place on the beach, not in some podunk town stuck in a barn. This is like a proto-Footloose but without Jesus ruining the kids’ high school dance.

This was also featured on the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason. It’s a stupid, shitty movie but at least it tries to be fun.

The story is about these juvenile delinquents that look thirty. The local law is sick and tired of all their partying, singing and dancing so they are forced into slavery, working on a cotton farm. For real, this is the plot.

Most of the movie just showcases these nitwits dancing like spastic jackasses to awful tunes. I don’t think that any of these “kids” were professional dancers. I mean, Mamie Van Doren is in the film, showing off her talents but it’s hardly exciting.

This is a really bad movie for a major studio, even for the time. Warner Bros. should still be embarrassed by this film, over six decades later. If this movie was any indication of their track record, this alone should have kept the DC Comics films (not controlled by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton) out of their hands. This film left a blight so deep that even sixty years couldn’t cure it. But I’ll give Warner Bros. a pass, as I like the Police Academy movies.

Anyway, this sucks. Plain and simple.

Of course it must be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Water, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.”

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Dancing beach movies from the era but even then, this will bring that horrible genre down into deeper, shittier depths.