Film Review: Sanjuro (1962)

Release Date: January 1st, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Ryūzō Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Based on: Hibi Heian by Shugoro Yamamoto
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiju Kobayashi, Yūzō Kayama, Reiko Dan, Takashi Shimura, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takako Irie, Masao Shimizu, Yūnosuke Itō

Kurosawa Production, Toho Co. Ltd., 95 Minutes

Review:

“You tired of being stupid yet?” – Sanjuro Tsubaki

Sanjuro is a sequel to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was such a success for the director and Toho that the script for the novel that this was based on, was rewritten to include the famous Toshiro Mifune character from the previous movie.

Yojimbo would go on to inspire Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” character over his trilogy of films. It would also inspire countless other spaghetti western movies and other samurai films, as well. But this here, is the one and only true sequel to the Yojimbo story.

The best part of this film is that it was a sequel made by the original director, a true auteur, and its original star. Granted, Kurosawa and Mifune were no strangers to one another and worked on several films together.

This isn’t the masterpiece that Yojimbo is but it is still a damn fine motion picture of the highest caliber for its time and for its scant budget when compared to the rest of the motion picture landscape, which was dominated by bigger budget Western films.

In this story, the famous ronin helps a group of young samurai combat a corrupt politician, who is involved with organized crime and who has framed and imprisoned the uncle of one of the samurai. The story has several twists that make it interesting and unpredictable. Most of the time, Sanjuro puts a plan in motion and somehow the young samurai find a way to muck it up. It isn’t until the end, that they follow Sanjuro’s orders and succeed.

While this is a serious drama, it is also comedic at times, which was a great strength in Kurosawa’s storytelling ability. He lets you know that his characters exist in a somewhat harsh world but he keeps things fairly grounded and lighthearted enough to not allow his films to get too dark. I’ve always been a person that has dealt with pain and tragedy by using humor. So, in a way, Kurosawa’s style speaks to that part of me and I think it speaks to others in the same way.

This film’s action and violence come off as mostly PG rated. Then, in the final showdown, there is a moment where it literally feels like the screen goes red with blood, even though it is still presented in black and white. The final blow to the enemy was violent but effective because it eclipsed anything else in the film and is sort of shocking the first time you witness it. But it is an amazing and beautiful sequence, captured by Kurosawa’s magic.

Sanjuro may even feel a bit more polished than Yojimbo. It doesn’t feel as gritty, anyway. Some of that could be due to a lot of the movie taking place at night where I remember Yojimbo being brighter and happening much more during daylight hours. Plus, Yojimbo was dustier and had the look that would become synonymous with all the spaghetti westerns that tried to emulate it’s visual presentation.

Both movies work so well together and they also compliment each other. Sanjuro gives a little more depth and character to the famous Mifune ronin. If anything, this just enriches the world that Kurosawa gave us in his previous film.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Yojimbo (the film before it), as well as any Kurosawa jidaigeki picture.

Film Review: Ring of Terror (1962)

Release Date: February, 1962
Directed by: Clark Paylow
Written by: Lewis Simeon, Jerrold I. Zinnamon
Music by: James Cairncross
Cast: George Mather, Esther Frust, Austin Green

Playstar, 72 Minutes

Review:

What a dreadful movie. I mean, this is truly terrible. But then again, it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a reason, I guess. But shit, every time I think I’ve found the worst film that MST3K could dig up, something else comes along and surprises me with its absolute awfulness.

Ring of Terror features the oldest college students you’ll ever see, anywhere. Even in modern times where people of all ages go back to school. However, these actors are supposed to be hip youngsters and even when they throw down and party, it’s like a lame ass middle aged party that I assume has the type of food your aunts and uncles would bring over for Christmas that no kid would touch.

This thing is a mess and not only that, it’s a friggin’ boring mess. It’s so dull that it couldn’t even slice through melted butter.

The story is about a college guy that has a fear of the dark or the dead or something. Maybe both. Anyway, he is tasked with stealing the ring of a dead person. If he succeeds he can join a fraternity full of boring old people. If he fails, well… he has to live out a boring college existence on his own. The story is narrated by a graveyard keeper looking for his missing cat. When he stumbles upon a specific gravestone, he is reminded of this stupid dumb story. Why he feels the need to share this with anyone, is baffling. I’d rather share anything other than this story: hors d’oeuvres, an old VHS tape of Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, an empty shoe box, sarcastic praise, an STD… anything.

This movie is literal poop on celluloid.

That being said, Ring of Terror is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

 

Film Review: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Also known as: Corridors of Evil (reissue)
Release Date: June 1st, 1962 (San Diego)
Directed by: Herk Harvey
Written by: Herk Harvey, John Clifford
Music by: Gene Moore
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison

Herts-Lion International Corp., 80 Minutes (theatrical), 84 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I don’t belong in the world.” – Mary Henry

Carnival of Souls was a film that I had heard others talk about for a long time but I never got to check it out until it started streaming on The Criterion Channel through FilmStruck. I had heard that it was a great inspiration to George A. Romero and David Lynch and after seeing it, it is hard not to see how it influenced them, as well as other directors.

It is sort of considered a zombie picture, even though it really isn’t. Ghoulish people do haunt Mary, the main character, throughout the film and a big horde of them chases her in the finale but they aren’t traditional zombies or what they would become a few years later with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These undead ghouls, however, certainly made a fine template to what Romero would give us.

Additionally, the look of realism, due to the use of guerrilla filmmaking tactics, would go on to inspire the look of Night of the Living Dead.

Carnival of Souls, despite its surrealism and fantastical elements, has a very real feeling to it. The camera is more fluid, there is a lot of movement and each shot isn’t over produced or the product of meticulous tweaking.

You can also see how the more surreal aspects of the film would inspire Lynch. At one point, in particular, when Mary is driving, a ghostly image is superimposed onto the passenger side window. There are also other surreal moments, many of which would feel at home in Lynch’s work.

The story follows Mary, the sole survivor of a car crash. Strange things happen to Mary as she moves on from the incident and tries to restart her life in a new location. There is a defunct carnival in the distance from her new home that calls to her. As the film moves on, we see strange characters appear to her. It all comes to a head when she can no longer outrun the strange happenings.

The film was shot in Kansas and in Utah, at the SaltAir Resort, which stood in for the carnival pavilion, the center of the story’s supernatural activity. The film was also made for just $33,000, which explains why the director had to go guerrilla to get some of his shots done. The financial limitations, however, are why this film looks so unique and would go on to show future indie filmmakers how to create a quality motion picture without using traditional means.

Carnival of Souls might not be a fully appreciated classic but it is a mother figure to many beloved directors’ early films and for opening the door to new techniques and a visual style that would be adopted by countless filmmakers after this picture’s release.

This is a film that displays an uncanny level of craftsmanship and raw talent on many levels. It is also better acted than a picture like this typically is. And ultimately, it is pretty damn significant when understanding what it paved the way for.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Film Review: Tonight For Sure! (1962)

Also known as: Meet Me Tonight for Sure
Release Date: October 25th, 1962 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Shaffer
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Don Kenney, Karl Schanzer

Searchlight Productions, Premier Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“The Harem Club, home of the most beautiful girls in burlesque presents: The most beautiful girls in burlesque!” – Announcer

Every director has to start somewhere and for legendary auteur Francis Ford Coppola, this was his directorial debut. There is nothing to be ashamed of about this, however. It really just sort of fits in with the nudie cuties of the time – none of which are good movies.

Yes, this is an awful film but it is basically a softcore sex picture without any sex, really. It just follows two guys around doing dumb shit and then is constantly interrupted to show a girl shaking her juggies for no real reason other than people wanted to see bare boobies on the big screen after the motion picture industry wasn’t forced to adhere to outdated government mandated morality codes. Film was now free to be art and sexploitation pictures flourished.

To be honest, Coppola didn’t show any real signs of his talent with this movie. He hadn’t fully been exposed to the tutelage he’d get from B-movie King Roger Corman. Regardless, this still helped him develop the tools and skill set that would lead to his magnum opus The Godfather, just ten years later.

The cinematography on this film was handled by Jack Hill, a man that would go on to direct several pivotal exploitation films. His directorial work includes the Pam Grier movies Coffy and Foxy Brown, as well as a personal favorite of mine, Switchblade Sisters.

Compared to other nudie cuties, this one is pretty standard. Now while I don’t enjoy it as much as Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead, it still fits well within this bizarre and short lived genre. Also, it was a launching pad for one of the best directors of the last half century.

For this being what it is, even with such a low rating, I can’t run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. It works for its genre, which was a genre not known for its quality. Plus, presenting a cornucopia of fabulous titties gets you off the hook.

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

Film Review: Dr. No (1962)

Release Date: October 5th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Monty Norman
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord

Eon Productions, United Artists, 109 Minutes

Review:

“The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be.” – Dr. Julius No

James Bond had to start somewhere and Dr. No is just that, his cinematic debut.

Granted, he appeared in Ian Fleming’s novels and they were the inspiration for pretty much all the Bond films, even to this day. However, the world didn’t have the love for the character until he hit the big screen.

When I did my ranking of the movies in the James Bond film franchise (see here), I ranked this third. Only On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love are ranked higher.

What makes Dr. No so great, is that it exists in a world without any other Bond film before it. It wasn’t as refined and as playful as the pictures that would come after it. It had a genuine grittiness to it, even if it showcased decadence and opulence within the sets and the world it was set in. Dr. No was less gadgety and more balls to the wall. It also featured less location jumping and just told a great story. Plus, the Jamaican scenery was beautiful and added to this picture’s mystique and allure.

Additionally, the film introduced the world to Sean Connery, who is still most people’s favorite James Bond. He was mesmerizing and bad ass in the role and he made it his own. In fact, the character was so uniquely Connery’s that every actor after him, had to put their own spin on the character and not try to replicate Connery’s interpretation.

The picture also introduces us to the evil organization SPECTRE. While many great Bond films have come and gone, there is just something about the weight that a picture featuring SPECTRE has compared to all the other chapters in the franchise.

While Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No is not as much of a threat as later SPECTRE members would be for Bond, he was a great introduction to that organization and what it was all about. I love the Dr. No character but for a film titled after him, he needed some extra meat. Regardless, as a character, he still accomplishes what he was set out to do and opens up the James Bond mythos for the Connery (and Lazenby) run of films.

Dr. No is a hell of a lot of fun and a great start to a mostly great film franchise. The masses must have agreed, as it has spawned two dozen sequels, more sequels to come and now there’s talk of an expanded cinematic universe for this franchise.