Film Review: Hercules Unchained (1959)

Also known as: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia (English literal title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci
Based on: Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Primo Carnera, Sylvia Lopez

Lux Film, Galatea Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes


“I’m so sleepy, I can’t seem to keep awake!” – Hercules

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has always loved to showcase old sword and sandal movies of the worst quality. Actually, nearly everything in the genre is of poor quality. However, you knew you were getting into something special when one of MST3K‘s sword and sandal selections was a Hercules movie. Okay, maybe not special… more like, slightly better but still not good.

At least this one stars Steve Reeves, the true Hercules of his era and the only one that really mattered in that iconic role.

While this isn’t as good as the first Reeves’ Hercules, it is better than nearly everything that came after it. Still, it’s a fairly crappy motion picture that doesn’t do much to capture the imagination and makes one wonder why these style of movies were so popular. I mean, at least in the ’80s there was ConanRed Sonja and my personal favorite, Beastmaster. But those were actually sword and sorcery movies and not sword and sandal ones. I guess sorcery pairs better with sandals on the big screen. I certainly enjoyed James Earl Jones’ Thulsa Doom, as a villain, much more than the many harlots and weirdos that Hercules got tangled up with.

This film is pretty boring overall. It’s less interesting than the zanier stuff like Hercules Against the Moon Men and it doesn’t have a cool Hydra like The Loves of Hercules. It may be a hair better than both of those due to Reeves giving the film some legitimacy but to be honest, these films all sort of blend together in my mind as a big stew of sand where Steve Reeves’ face occasionally pops up.

Hercules Unchained isn’t a painful experience, it is just a really dull one.

And it is also shitty enough that I must run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.” That’s a bit harsher than I thought but the machine never lies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Steve Reeves’ first Hercules movie.

Film Review: Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Release Date: July 1st, 1959
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Wendell Mayes
Based on: Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
Music by: Duke Ellington
Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Duke Ellington (cameo)

Carlyle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 160 Minutes


“Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind – unanimous. It’s one of the miracles of Man’s disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.” – Parnell Emmett McCarthy

If you ever told me that I’d watch a courtroom drama that’s nearly three hours long and that I’d love it, I’d call you a liar. Nothing is more boring to me than court movies. They’re overly talkie, use an abundance of legal jargon I don’t care to know and they just sit there, in one room, seemingly forever. Hell, I hate when television shows I love go into some multi episode courtroom story. I hate courtrooms, I hate jury duty and I thought Court TV was something that old people watched, hoping it would kill them sooner.

Yet, Anatomy of a Murder is to courtrooms what 12 Angry Men is to jury duty. It took something that I have less interest in than dusting sand and made it compelling, engaging, entertaining and hooked me emotionally. In short, it’s a spectacular film that I was glued to from start to finish.

I have become a fan of Otto Preminger’s work, especially his film-noir stuff. While this isn’t noir, it has that distinct Preminger touch and visual allure. It’s clean, crisp, warm and has a strange magnetism that pulls you in. Preminger really was a master of the silver screen, as his films always looked immaculate yet lived in with a sort of grandiose aura about them.

The absolute highlight of this film is seeing two legendary actors: James Stewart and George C. Scott, go head to head as rival lawyers during the trial that is the focus of the story. And really, I think that it is the incredible performances by these two that lured me in, even more so than this being a Preminger film. James Stewart just owns this role and his mere presence prevented this film from having a dull moment. George C. Scott was a great accent to Stewart, giving him a powerful foil to play off of. Stewart was like a 24 oz. bone-in tomahawk ribeye while Scott was the best Béarnaise sauce you could ever hope to taste.

The film also dealt with very controversial subject matter for the time. The trial involved a murder that was committed in defense of the killer’s wife being raped. This was taboo stuff for the 1950s and there’s even a scene in the film where the judge has to explain to the people in the court that he won’t permit any giggles or snickering at the mention of the word “panties”.

Anatomy of a Murder is a long film but it doesn’t feel like it. The set up and investigative stuff before the trial is probably the slowest part of the movie but that doesn’t take too long and once you are in the courtroom, this picture just takes off and doesn’t come back down until the credits roll.

This is a pretty perfect film for its time and its subject matter. It goes to show what kind of magic Hollywood can produce when you have a premier director and two paragons of pure acting talent.

Film Review: Santa Claus (1959)

Release Date: November 26th, 1959 (Mexico)
Directed by: Rene Cardona, Ken Smith (English language direction)
Written by: Adolfo Torres Portillo, Rene Cardona
Music by: Antonio Diaz Conde
Cast: Jose Elias Moreno, Pulgarcito, Jose Luis Aguirre, Armando Arriola, Lupita Quezadas, Antonio Diaz Conde, Angel Di Stefani, Ken Smith (English language narrator)

Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., 97 Minutes


“Away up in the heavens, far out in space, in a beautiful gold and crystal palace right above the North Pole, lives a kind and jolly old gentleman. Santa Claus.” – Narrator

This could be the worst Christmas themed anything that I have ever seen. Sure, it’s a challenge to top Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny but this may have done just that.

Santa Claus is a Mexican movie but don’t worry, as it is accompanied by some really bad dubbing for gringos in the States.

Basically, this pits Santa Claus against the Devil or some form of a devil because he comes from an underground land of devils. The Devil is evil, Santa is good. The Devil wants to stop Santa, Santa is just like, “Screw this Devil bro, I got presents to get to the little hijos!”

While this film is terrible. It does have some cool visuals. The sets are hokey and cheap but at least they are somewhat imaginative even if they look like they were pieced together from stolen department store holiday displays. But you can’t accuse this film of not at east feeling and looking festive. For 1959, the atmosphere isn’t any worse than any of the bigger budget American holiday specials from the time. It looks like a stage show but that’s fine, all things considered.

However, the plot, the acting and just about everything else is pretty awful. This isn’t a good movie but the visual aesthetic is still interesting and I can’t completely dismiss this. Still, as a total package, it is probably the worst holiday film I’ve seen in a really long time. Although, it probably isn’t as bad as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, which I have yet to see. Maybe next year.

So does Santa Claus deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959)

Also known as: Caltiki, il mostro immortale (Italy)
Release Date: August 8th, 1959 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava, Riccardo Freda
Written by: Filippo Sanjust, Riccardo Freda
Music by: Roberto Nicolosi
Cast: John Merivale, Didi Perego, Gerard Herter, Giacomo Rossi

Galatea Film, Climax Pictures, Lux Film, 76 Minutes


“The garden is filled with monsters!” – Policeman

In a nutshell, this was an Italian ripoff of The Blob. However, it is so much more than that and actually stands on its own with the extra elements it introduces into the story.

This film’s “blob” is some sort of ancient monster that feeds off of radiation. It is all tied into Mayan mythology and the film gives us some cool sets and architecture because of the Mayan spin on The Blob story.

This film gives us wacky science, multiplying blob creatures, cool sets and it carries a 1950s Tiki vibe, even if it set in Mexico. Back in the day, movies didn’t really care about cultural authenticity. I mean, this film has black people playing Mayan descendants and as far as I know, Mayans just look like badass Mexicans and not a Caribbean voodoo tribe.

Caltiki is co-directed by Mario Bava, which I didn’t even realize until I popped the movie on. This was early in his career and just before his big breakout with 1960’s Black Sunday. It is blsack and white and doesn’t have the colorful giallo look that he would become famous for.

This is a cheesy and hokey movie but it is well crafted and better than you think it would be. It’s not a horror classic but it’s a fun ride, flies by and is far from dull.

Film Review: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Also known as: Attack of the Blood Leeches (working title)
Release Date: October, 1959
Directed by: Bernard L. Kowalski
Written by: Leo Gordon
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard

Balboa Productions, American International Pictures, 62 Minutes


“Who do you think your talking too? Don’t touch me? You’re my wife, I’ll touch you anytime I feel like it. Where you going? Where you going?” – Dave Walker

Here we go, another one of those late 50s classics by the Brothers Corman. Roger did not direct this and Gene did not write it but they did produce this for American International. Like a lot of their work from this era, The Giant Leeches was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This film features giant leeches, just as the title implies. However, they are more like dudes wearing rubber octopus suits because Roger Corman doesn’t care much for that logic stuff. Realism… what’s that? Corman is all about making cool cheap creatures that clobber human beings with their might. But at least they always have a hokey charm and in this film, they vampire the crap out of people with their big sucker faces.

Ultimately, this is a poor ripoff of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. This was just one of a few of those Creature ripoffs that Corman attempted. This one feels the closest, however, due to the outdoor locations, the creatures having a cave where they take their victims, most notable the damsel at the end of the film. Also, the two heroes in diving gear are very familiar looking when comparing this film’s climax to the one in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Truthfully, I like these goofy Corman pictures and this one is no different. The creatures work for what this film is and at least they are more fantastical and exciting than what a giant leech would actually look like. However, if these things are supposed to be leeches, couldn’t the heroes just throw salt at them?

Film Review: Battle In Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Uchū Daisensō (Japan)
Release Date: December 26th, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa, Jotaro Okami
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Ryo Ikebe, Kyoko Anzai, Minoru Takada, Koreya Senda, Leonard Stanford, Harold Conway

Toho, 93 Minutes


Battle In Outer Space was part of a trio of films unofficially referred to as the “Toho Outer Space Trilogy”. The other two films are 1957’s The Mysterians and 1962’s Gorath. All three films featured Toho’s triple threat of director Ishirō Honda, special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya and musical maestro Akira Ifukube. This is the only film of the three that does not feature a kaiju of some sort. The Mysterians featured the giant alien robot Moguera, who would go on to become a part of the Godzilla mythos, while Gorath featured the giant walrus kaiju named Maguma.

Battle In Outer Space, while lacking the presence of a kaiju, doesn’t really need one. Besides, in those other two films, the giant creatures were used pretty sparingly and weren’t focal points. This film is no different, as the story and sci-fi action alone, carry this picture.

Frankly, I wish Toho would have made more of these types of films. They are visually alluring and magnificent works of moving art. Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and his miniature work are absolutely top notch in this, more so than most of his other films. They are enhanced by gorgeous cinematography, vivid lighting and the great directing skill of Ishirō Honda. Honestly, this is further ahead from a special effects standpoint than where most American films were at the time, which says a lot about the skill and ingenuity of Tsuburaya and Honda.

In this film, we start with a bunch of strange phenomena happening across the globe. In Japan, a railroad bridge is levitated, causing a train wreck. In the Panama Canal, an ocean liner is lifted and destroyed by a waterspout. In Venice, severe flooding destroys parts of the city. There is also the destruction of a space station. A United Nations meeting is held, where the best minds in the world theorize on the cause of these events. Eventually, other strange things begin to happen and it is discovered that aliens are attacking Earth in an effort to make it easier to invade. Discovering that the aliens are on the Moon, the UN sends two rocket ships there for reconnaissance.

This is one of Toho’s most imaginative films and the execution is phenomenal. While it may come off as cheesy and hokey to modern audiences, it is a pretty pristine piece of work for 1959. And while it played in the United States on a double bill with the American film 12 to the Moon, this was the superior picture. In fact, 12 to the Moon was lampooned on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1994.

Battle In Outer Space is a true space opera epic and ahead of its time, in spite of its limitations.

Film Review: Bucket of Blood (1959)

Release Date: October 1959
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Fred Katz
Cast: Dick Miller, Barboura Morris, Anthony Carbone, Julian Burton, Ed Nelson, John Brinkley

AltaVista, American International Pictures, 66 Minutes 


“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Lou. But if you’d have shot me, you’d be moppin’ up my blood now.” – Walter Paisley

Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood by highbrow critics’ standards is probably really frowned upon, especially back in 1959 if critics even bothered with it. They typically ignored these sort of pictures because not acknowledging them somehow made them nonexistent.

However, as time has passed, this is a film that many have come to love and appreciate. I wouldn’t say that it was ahead of its time, as House of Wax treads very similar territory and it predates this by a few years and it is also a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933, which itself is based on a short story by Charles S. Belden, published a year prior to that.

The main difference between the films’ narratives is that instead of wax our artist here uses clay. And instead of being a great artist that lost the use of his hands, Bucket of Blood features a beatnik busboy with no talent using clay to cover up his accidental killings and eventually, his premeditated murders.

Bucket of Blood is a pretty short film being only 66 minutes. This was typical for the Corman pictures of the time. Little Shop of HorrorsCreature From the Haunted Sea and others had very short running times. Still, a lot happens in the film. It also moves at a good speed.

The cast of characters in this picture are great.

The film stars Dick Miller, who was one of Corman’s (and later Joe Dante’s) favorite actors to use. He plays Walter Paisley, the busboy turned artistic killer. Miller is stupendous as the bumbling and wimpy Walter. He starts out pretty innocent but evolves into a killer due to his accidental killings bringing him some fame within his small beatnik scene.

The rest of the movie is made up with several interesting and bizarre beatnik characters. The guy who plays the really pretentious pseudo-intellectual poet is pretty fantastic.

Bucket of Blood is far from flawless but it is still a movie worth its weight in buckets of blood. It is pretty tame on the horror and is more of a black comedy with very little blood. Most of the killing is artistically implied. It was well thought out and well executed for the time and for the fact that it was made for the price of a pair of shoes.