A Few Thoughts About Space Opera

After finishing up my review of Galaxy’s Edge – Galactic Outlaws, it occurred to me that there was more to say about the category of Space Opera.  Some might say that I was a little unfair to social justice fiction fans.  After all there must be a significant audience of fans with blue hair and cats who really enjoy girl power super heroes and their adventures in space.  So, to say that these are automatically bad just because I heartily dislike them might seem arbitrary and unfair.  It might seem that way but it isn’t.  And that’s because I am the final arbiter of good and bad in science fiction.  I earned this coveted status by living long enough to see everything in the world.  So, once again, all Star Wars movies after Return of the Jedi (and even some parts of them before that point) are irredeemably bad and should be cast into the outer darkness where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  And that lines us up for me to proclaim what does make a good space opera.  What follows is:

“photog’s RULE FOR WHAT MAKES GOOD SPACE OPERA” (patent pending).

It needs to appeal to the sense of wonder of the twelve-year-old boy in you.  Now mind you, it doesn’t have to only do that.  It can also be a brilliant philosophical treatise on the dualistic nature of the universe or a psychological study of the impact of technology on the human race, or even a deathless love story written across the stars of the galaxy.  But if it fails to inspire the twelve-year-old boy in you it’s not space opera.  It may be science fiction or anything else but it isn’t space opera.  And this isn’t even an exclusive precinct of science fiction.  Any adventure story has to satisfy that same basic requirement.  Take the literature of the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century.  A quintessential example that comes to mind is Treasure Island.  Here is a story that was tailor made for the sense of wonder of a twelve-year-old boy.  It has all the earmarks of the tale of wonder.  The boy who loses his father, the quest for riches, exotic locales, colorful and dangerous opponents, the revelation of secret knowledge, the coming of age experience of the world and the people in it.  An adventure story is a story for a boy that kindles his interest in the world around him.  It leads him to think there is more to life than school and chores.  It inspires him to strike out on his own and find his place in the world.

Now I can just hear the modern women and girly men screeching, “Girls want adventure too!”  To which I reply “Stop screeching, you’re hurting my ears.”  But also, I would say that what girls want is neither here nor there.  Boys need the adventure story because it fits their brains.  Girls have been told that they want adventure stories so they want them in order not to get left out in the modern #metoo world that they live in.  And in fact, I don’t really care if there are adventure stories for girls.  More power to them, I guess.  What I do mind is that for the sake of inclusiveness they are ruining all the adventure stories that are coming out of Hollywood.  And that is why I look for good old (and new) space opera and other adventure stories for my grandsons (and for me).

Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Reviewer’s Note:  I watched this movie almost three weeks ago and put it aside without finishing it because much better things were going on.  Now that I’ve decided to finish it, I find that I’ve forgotten some of the details.  Please forgive any vagueness or inaccuracies.  Merciful forgetfulness has shielded me from a vivid memory of this dreck.  But believe me when I say that this movie is as bad or worse than I represent it.  Enjoy.)

As a worthy successor to a recent review (One Million B.C.) I have another TCM .  Here is a movie that cries out for mockery.  It has a plot so weak that I believe the writer must have been either a heroin addict, a congenital idiot or a democrat.  This was a year after sputnik launched so the UFO is a big silver ball.  The alien is a giant and he more or less fills up the whole ball.  He’s a big bald-headed guy wearing a short dress that looks like it was stolen from the costume closet of the movie Spartacus.  For some reason that probably didn’t even make sense to the writer, the giant is searching for diamonds.  Alright, so much for the science fiction, such as it is.  Now for the human interest.  Harry and Nancy are a married couple with problems.  Nancy is rich and has problems involving drinking and mental instability and Harry has a wandering eye for the ladies.  When first we see him he’s at what looks like a diner with a blonde vixen named Honey wrapped around him complaining about how his rich wife won’t give him more money to spend on booze and trashy women.  Honey is sympathetic.  He has a plan to get Nancy’s money by having her committed to a mental institution.  Honey is sympathetic again.

Switch scenes to Nancy driving along the roads of some southwestern landscape, cactus, sage brush and sand in all directions.  She seems sad and drunk.  And as she sadly, drunkenly drives along she sees giant sputnik flying around in the sky in a completely unconvincing imitation of anything moving through the air.  Eventually it lands on the road in front of her.  Nancy brakes into the shoulder and witnesses a truly unconvincing special effects portrayal of a fifty-foot alien coming out of a forty-foot sputnik.  Most of the scene centers on Nancy screeching uncontrollably and trying to avoid the giant as he tries to paw her with his six-foot-long giant hand.  Later on, we’ll learn that he somehow knew she was wearing a big diamond on a necklace.  So, after a short encounter Nancy runs off leaving her car and stumbles into town.  Telling the sheriff about the giant increases her reputation for being nuts.  The sheriff tells his deputy to find Harry and tell him to bring Nancy home for a rest and a visit to the head shrinker.

Meanwhile Harry is now ensconced with Honey and bribes the deputy to say he couldn’t find him.  Hearing Nancy’s story from the deputy gets Harry and Honey thinking that their big chance to have Nancy permanently locked up in a rubber room is at hand.  They celebrate by going to Honey’s hotel room.

Eventually Harry goes to claim Nancy at the sheriff’s office.  She nags at him until he agrees to go back for her car and see if her story is true.  They find her car but the alien comes back.  Harry fires a few rounds at the alien then bolts in fear.  The alien catches Nancy and Harry drives off without her.  Harry returns home and discovers that the alien has returned Nancy.  She is lying unconscious on the roof of the pool house.  She has scratches around her neck and her diamond is gone.  Later on a doctor tells us that there are obvious signs of radioactivity.  Science!

Now the sheriff decides he must act.  He and the deputy agree to go out to where her car was and prove that there was nothing strange going on.  Unfortunately, when they find her car they also find the space ship.  The sheriff and the deputy go inside the space ship.  Here they walk through a few rooms that seem to be sized for normal humans.  And so, we have to ask ourselves how exactly does this giant fit in this space craft?  In rough dimensions it appears that he would have to be curled into a fetal position just to fit into the diameter of the ship.  And that is supposing that it was completely hollow.  How would that allow these walls and floors to exist?  And thus, my theory that the writer was a congenital idiot.

In one room they find a bunch of diamonds.  Nancy’s diamond is there.  They theorize on the scientific reasons why the giant wants diamonds.  Science!  When the giant returns they battle him with a pistol and a shot gun.  I think I remember they blow either him or his space ship up with the shot gun.  But I’m not sure.  I think I was starting to lose interest at this point.

Doctors are summoned and Nancy is sedated.  Harry plots putting poison in her IV drip but before he has a chance to she becomes a fifty-foot woman.  Of course, all we see is her giant hand inside a room in the house.  Eventually she goes berserk and breaks through the roof of the house and goes on a rampage looking for Harry.  Now she is dressed in an impromptu fifty-foot brassiere and mini-skirt supposedly fashioned out of bed sheets.  And all things considered she looks pretty good!  At this point I reflected on the comparison between pretty and gigantic Nancy and normal sized but skanky looking Honey.  Sure, the disparity in size might lead to marital difficulties but her huge size would guarantee that Harry would be pampered by his huge wife like some kind of rag doll, probably carried in her apron pocket and fed huge crumbs that collected on her clothes as she ate her huge meals.  Well, enough of this random speculation.

Nancy goes on a rampage through town looking for Harry.  Finally she pulls the roof off of the diner and finds Harry and Honey cowering in a corner.  Nancy crushes Honey and grabs Harry in one hand and walks away.  Finally the sheriff fires his shotgun at Nancy and hits an electric substation which explodes and kills Nancy.  And Harry is dead too, although it’s uncertain if he dies from the explosion, the fall or from being crushed by a death spasm in his wife’s hand.

I ask you, is there a more ridiculous movie?  Some will point to “Plan Nine From Outer Space” as a paragon of bad movie making and there is much justice in that.  But compare the budgets of these two movies.  “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” had a budget of $80,000.  Looking at Plan Nine it would surprise me if $500 was expended.  Unless you can claim that Plan Nine is one hundred and sixty times worse than Attack then you must admit that pound for pound, Plan Nine is a better movie.  So, let’s hail Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman as the movie that provided least for the money expended.

 

2001: A Space Odyssey – A Science Fiction Movie Review

(Warning, this whole review is one long spoiler.  In my defense this movie is 49 years old.)

The only good thing about The Academy Awards is that for the whole month before, TCM plays many good (and not so good) old movies.  Last night I watched 2001.  As the exit music was finishing it occurred to me that this was the first time in almost fifty years that I had watched the movie from beginning to end.  Back in 1968 I attended the film in a large theater in Manhattan as part of a class trip.  At the time I was a sci-fi fan but I distinctly remember becoming incredibly bored during the “Infinity” sequence.  And sure enough, last night I found my eyes glazing over as I waited for Keir Dullea to stop making funny faces and show up in Versailles.  And then it also occurred to me that it was actually a very, very good movie.  So, let’s talk about it.  You already know I don’t like the “Infinity” sequence.  But I find the rest of the film is excellent.  Not everybody cares for Kubrick’s style in film-making.  There is a great deal of stylization and idiosyncratic imagery that bothers many people.  And without a doubt it is highly un-naturalistic.  In fact, the ape men were the most realistic as personalities.  The other characters are decidedly wooden.

But without a doubt this movie is an amazing spectacle.  The matching of images to the musical soundtrack is perfect.  The sequences of space ships landing and maneuvering are shown as if they were dancers in a ballet.  The “Dawn of Man” sequence is riveting.  I could believe that the actual event was very much like the portrayal (minus the monolith of course).  It captured the essence of human ingenuity.  The desperate and sordid circumstances of that ingenuity ring true.

And then there’s HAL.  I hate HAL.  I always have.  But he is the perfect Frankenstein Monster.  And the arc of his crime and punishment is, for me, a thing of hideous beauty.  His relations with the astronauts are as creepy and dishonest as some Dickens villain, something like Uriah Heep.  Some people feel sadness when Dave lobotomizes HAL and reduces him to the level of a two-year-old singing “Daisy.”  I never shared that sadness.  I guess I’m more Old-Testament.

So, that brings us back to the “Infinity” sequence which sucks.  But following it we have what I call the “Versailles” scene where I guess Dave lives his life out as a captive of the monolith makers.  This is weird and I guess necessary to set up the conclusion.  Dave dies and is reborn as the next stage of human evolution.  And he is returned to our solar system and the picture ends with him floating above earth to the sequence of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and “The Blue Danube Waltz” playing us out.

In sum we have a fifty year old movie that is still visually stunning, that addresses the inexplicable advance of savage animals to the brink of interplanetary travel and the frightening prospect of facing our masters in artificial intelligence.  What’s not to like?  Well he could have added a few good-looking space babes but nobody’s perfect.

One Million B.C. – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Turner Classic Movies is a mixed bag. They do play a lot of good old movies.  But then you have to endure Alec Baldwin or Tina Fey talking to the insufferable host, Ben Mankiewicz about movies or anything else.  Well anyway, they’ve been playing a lot of old bad sci-fi movies lately.  It’s been great.  I’ll give my thoughts on them.  This is usually a combination of nostalgia and shock.  I’ve seen most of these movies before but in some cases I haven’t seen them in over fifty years.  Neither they nor I have aged well and so the re-acquaintance is sometimes off-putting to say the least.  Both these movies and my younger self have lost a lot of respect in my current eyes.  But today’s movie is a treat because I actually never saw this epic before.  And first off do not mistake this masterpiece for the sound alike “One Million Years BC” re-make with Raquel Welch.

This is the 1940 masterpiece with those two towering thespians Lon Chaney Jr. and Victor Mature. Honestly this movie should get a special award for unbelievably bad special effects.  But special effects is just the tip of the iceberg.  The cheesiness of the sets, the really bad acting and the silliness of the plot combine to create a feast of cinematic awfulness.  I loved it.

One of my favorite scenes has Victor Mature as caveman Tumak poking a seven foot tall miniature Tyrannosaurus rex in the stomach with his poorly made spear.  The monster is so obviously a man in a cloth suit that it’s hard not to burst out laughing, and actually I did.  Only slightly less silly are the real animals like dogs, goats, cows and even elephants covered in fake hair to make them “prehistoric-looking.”  Especially funny is the armadillo with horns glued onto its head.  It has been magnified to be the size of an elephant.  But it doesn’t seem to be doing anything particularly dangerous.  But the cavemen do look really scared of it.  Equally frightening to the cavemen are magnified images of modern day reptiles.  There are tegus and rhinoceros iguanas and even a baby alligator with a fake sailfish sail glued to its back.  One interesting historical circumstance is the fact that several of the reptiles are noticeably harmed by each other in some fight scenes including one tegu that is obviously killed in a fight with the fake sailfish alligator.  Nowadays the Humane Society would have the film-makers drawn and quartered for so much as stressing out a mosquito on set.  Progress!

But where the movie really shines is the portrayal of caveman tribal dynamics. Tumak is the son of the clan leader Akhoba (played by  Lon Chaney Jr).  When Tumak accidentally attacks Akhoba for trying to steal a chunk of dino-burger.  Akhoba throws him off a cliff.  After this he wanders away and ends up being adopted by a more enlightened clan.  They’re probably from Scandinavia because they have blondes, good table manners and neutered males.  After he gets ejected from the new tribe for beating a spear maker who objected to being robbed Tumak ends up back at the old clan cave with his blonde girlfriend in tow.  Apparently she likes the bad boy type and thinks she can fix him.  While Tumak was gone Akhoba has been demoted from chief to crippled loser after being severely injured in a fight with a giant goat.  Breaking with caveman etiquette Blondie institutes women and children and crippled losers first at food distribution time.  Surprisingly, Tumak is supportive of the new arrangement.  Progress!

Well anyway there soon ensues a crisis involving a volcanic eruption and a giant iguana that ends up with both clans coming together with Tumak as the new chief. The End.

Wow. This movie must be seen by all science fiction fans.  Afterwards you’ll have a new found respect for stop action animation or even well-made monster suits.  Only recommended if you really enjoy very bad sci-fi.

American Greatness Post for Today – Feminism Ruined the Last Jedi

The pseudonymous Wayne Isaac has reviewed “The Last Jedi.” Since I brought my grandsons to see “The Force Awakens” I knew I wouldn’t be going to this picture. Suffice it to say that it’s worse than I feared. It turns out the “Force” is actually estrogen and that explains why Jedi Knights are so screwed up. They’re plugged into the wrong power source. Or rather they’re just not equipped to be heroes. Who knew? We’ll have to let Alexander the Great and George Washington know. Boy will they ever feel foolish. Anyway enjoy.

Feminism Ruined “The Last Jedi”

Equilibrium – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I work with this young guy, he’s fresh out of college, maybe twenty-three-years old.  He’s an engineering graduate and is well read and has a good classical grounding in literature and history.  Good kid.  Sometimes we talk about popular culture stuff.  I can remember talking with him about the Matrix and saying there’s good and bad about it.  I think I said it would have been better if Reeves weren’t the lead.  And I think that’s when he recommended “Equilibrium.”  Now I think I know what he was getting at.

So, Equilibrium is set in a dystopian future after World War III has devastated humanity.  Mankind has decided that rather than chance another war, the root cause of war must be abolished.  If I remember the chain of logic is war is caused by hate.  Hate is an emotion.  Therefore, eliminate emotion, eliminate war.  So everyday every man woman and child self-inject with some kind of emotion deadening drug.  And of course, it doesn’t just eliminate hate and anger.  Love and happiness are extinguished too.  Brilliant.  Of course, it’s not explained why exactly they still want to live but whatever.

So just in case this premise isn’t bizarre enough, this society also has some kind of priest-like caste of ninja police whose job it is to hunt down and splatter anyone who doesn’t take his no-feelum medicine.  And of course, the Ubermensch of ninjas and protagonist of the movie is Christian Bale.  He is the most skilled proponent of the gun kata.  This stylized dance-like routine allows him to (somehow) avoid the bullets of apparently any number of gun toting opponents while literally mowing them down like grass.  The other mission of these holy stormtroopers is to root out any remaining pre-war artifacts that have emotional content.  And once located, apply a flamethrower to these emotional touchstones.  So, for instance, during one of Bale’s raids he somehow intuits that under a floor is the actual Mona Lisa.  He gives the order and the barbecue crew incinerates Leonardo’s mischievous lady.  So, what’s the problem?  It turns out there’s a resistance!  And it turns out Bale is not as emotionlessly happy as he could be.  It seems his wife unbeknownst to him was a secret feeler.  When she’s dragged away to be incinerated it seems to have left a mark.  And we’re off.  The rest of the movie is Bale going from emotionless executioner of the innocent to a guy who can’t let a puppy dog get shot.

Now let’s bring it back to my young co-worker who recommended this movie based on a comment about the Matrix.  Well, stylistically this movie is extremely dependent on the Matrix template.  Guns and swords abound and the wire work and fight scenes are very Matrix-esque.  Even Bale’s priestly cassock is like Neo’s garb in the second and third movies.  The emotionless police a level below the ninjas are close to the Matrix agents in appearance and behavior.  The Resistance is equivalent to Zion in the Matrix.  Without a doubt this movie is a reaction to the success of the Matrix.  But interestingly the dystopia is a completely different science fiction catastrophe from the AI revolution and human battery future of the Matrix.  What they share is humans fighting to be allowed to be actual humans.

What’s the verdict?  Well, it’s derivative in a number of ways but it is well done and Christian Bale is a slightly better actor than Keanu Reeves and there is the puppy dog, so there is that.  I don’t know.  I’m not a big Matrix fan.  So maybe I’m biased.  But I can’t say I recommend it unreservedly.  I will say if you really liked the Matrix you should give this a try.  It has all kinds of hyperkinetic gun and sword battles.  So, if that’s a big plus for you it’s definitely something to look at.  That’s where I’ll leave this one.

Since my readers don’t always stop by every day I figured I’d paste this poll on each post for a while to see what folks call themselves.  This is the post the poll came from  Who Are We?

… And that got me thinking. Who are the people who read my blog?  I thought it might be fun to see what the cross-section looked like.  If you feel like saying what you believe in, feel free to leave a comment and/or pick a label from the poll below.  I think it might be interesting.

 

Coming Soon
Total Votes : 54

Make Yourself at Home – What’s Coming Up This Week and Stuff About the Site

I’ve been neglecting the photography side of things and the reviews this week and I’ll be getting back to that soon.  I took some photos in November that I want to post and I have a sci-fi movie review I want to do.  I might do a Trump vs … post on his trip to Asia.  I haven’t thought it all out but there must be comedy gold somewhere in a trip that includes Trump calling the president of a country short and fat.

I’m watching the slow returns on the Who Are We poll.  I wasn’t surprised to see a libertarian and an Ayn Randian among us but it was very interesting to see a Bernie Bro among my readers.  Look at that.  I’m a unifier and I didn’t even know it!  Well anyway welcome to you all, even you hard core Alinskyites and Stalinists.  If ping-pong could bring Mao and Nixon together then maybe photography and science fiction can heal the world’s divisions.  Or at least get more comments on my website.

By putting up polls and installing a forum section I’d like to encourage my readers to engage with each other and me.  I basically started this thing for two reasons:

  1. To have a place to say what I wanted about politics and social stuff without having SJWs tell me I was not allowed to talk.
  2. To find other people who wanted to talk about this stuff in a place where we were free to speak our minds. If I was discussing cameras and the conversation veered into laws on photographing public building I was sick and tired of reading a thousand-word rant about how the government was repressing Arabs and then when I objected having my comment deleted due to left-wing censorship.  Or if a Muslim guy shoots up a gay bar have to endure fifty diatribes against gun ownership but not be allowed to disagree.  I’ll bet there are plenty of photographers, sf&f fans and all kinds other folks who have had similar experiences.

So, be my guest.  Participate in the poll, leave comments and feedback on the posts and leave your own content on the forums, whether it be a political topic that you have an opinion on or some photo that you want to share or some movie or book idea that you want to share.

Since my readers don’t always stop by every day I figured I’d paste this poll on each post for a while to see what folks call themselves.  This is the post the poll came from  Who Are We?

… And that got me thinking. Who are the people who read my blog?  I thought it might be fun to see what the cross-section looked like.  If you feel like saying what you believe in, feel free to leave a comment and/or pick a label from the poll below.  I think it might be interesting.

 

Coming Soon
Total Votes : 54

 

 

 

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 7 – The Lesser Works and A Final Verdict

The follow-on episodes to each of the primary monster movies vary in quality but the one given is that anything with a title that begins with “Abbott and Costello Meet …” isn’t going to be scary.  It could be funny, but definitely not scary.

Sort of in a class by itself is the first sequel to Frankenstein, “The Bride of Frankenstein.”  This movie has a lot of interesting things going on.  The actors who portrayed Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster in the first film reprise their roles here (Colin Clive and Boris Karloff).  The script is leavened with a little humor.  Some scenes add some human interest to the Monster’s otherwise predictable behavior of grabbing people and things and tossing them about.  One of the best known of these is the Blind Man Scene.  The Monster escapes from his enemies.  He’s been shot and is on the run.  He wanders into the cottage of a blind man who welcomes him and treats him with kindness.  The Monster is sheltered and his wounds treated.  The blind man teaches him to speak and introduces him to bread and wine and even the pleasure of a good cigar.  And he learns what music is and he calls the Blind Man friend.  Of course, inevitably, reality strikes back and a couple of hunters show up at the Blind Man’s cottage and tell the blind man he’s living with a monster.  And somehow, they manage to burn down the cottage before fleeing from the Monster.

Standouts performances in the movie are Dr. Praetorius and Minnie, Elizabeth Frankenstein’s Housekeeper.  Dr. Praetorius is a competing mad scientist who has also dabbled in the creation of human life and wants to convince Dr. Frankenstein to create a woman.  Minnie is an almost Shakespearean character who combines the qualities of busybody and wise fool with the ability shriek like an air raid siren.

 

The Monster meets Dr. Praetorius while he is selecting body parts for the Monster’s bride in the catacombs beneath the graveyard.  The Dr. offers him wine and a cigar and they become quite chummy.  So much so that the Monster becomes Praetorius’ henchman in a plan to kidnap Elizabeth to force Dr. Frankenstein to complete the Bride project.

 

Appended to the story is a foreword that portrays Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and the Frankenstein authoress (his wife Mary) discussing the story on a stormy night and segueing to the creation of a mate for the Monster.  Interestingly, they cast the same actress, Elsa Lanchester, to play both Mary and the Monster’s mate.

 

The final scene where we see the meeting between the Monster and his prospective bride the atmosphere is bizarre and overwrought to say the least.  Suffice it to say that Monster love does not conquer all.  The spurned monster decides to blow up the laboratory taking himself, Dr. Praetorius and the Bride “to kingdom come.”  But interestingly, he decides to spare Dr. and Mrs Frankenstein.  So, once again, the producers decided that a non-literary happy ending was the way to go.  Assuming that they realized they would need descendants of Dr. Frankenstein to allow for further sequels I guess you could say this decision was at least monetarily warranted.  Artistically, maybe not.  It is pretty much acknowledged that the quality of the Frankenstein sequels after the “The Bride” falls off almost asymptotically.  The next installment “The Son of Frankenstein” has a few good moments that mostly don’t involve the Monster but otherwise is mediocre.  After that the rest of the series is almost unwatchable.

 

And unwatchable is how I would describe the rest of the sequels and reboots that fill out the Universal Classic Monster movies.  The later installments of the Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman and Mummy series are very poor indeed.  The Mummy series was not continued after the original film but instead rebooted with the new Mummy character identified as Kharis played by our old friend the Wolfman, Lon Chaney Jr.  In these later movies, the Mummy is never given any personality but mutely wanders through each of the movies of this series wrapped in his bandages and chasing ponderously after the protagonists who are murdered one by one for possessing the Scroll of Thoth (or whatever they called it in the later series).  I think in the last of the series I remember he is somehow or other running around the bayous of Louisiana hunting the scroll and its owners.  In the last scene, he is seen plodding into the swamp until he is lost to sight under the muddy water, apparently ending his undead life far from the deserts of Egypt as a soggy meal for alligators and crawfish.  A fitting end.

 

So, what’s the verdict?  Is the Universal Classic Monster series a worthwhile cinematic collection or an embalmed thing that is only noteworthy as a museum piece to be fussed over by academics and fanatics?  I vote worthwhile.  Granted the movies are antique and the audience surely won’t be scared in the same way your great grandparents were.  But the movies still provide the fantasy experience that they originally were designed for.  In the same way, a nursery rhyme can still charm children who have never seen lambs and cows and ducks except on a screen so these movies give an archetypal experience of the dark fantasy world they are meant to represent.  Dracula is the evil seducer of young innocents.  Frankenstein’s Monster is the raging step-child of God.  The Mummy is a Promethean character punished forever for attempting to preempt the prerogatives of the gods.  Each of these movies is an outdated but enjoyable attempt to entertain an audience with a passion play of what happens when humans are juxtaposed with the darker side of the fantastic.  And because of the gap in time since they were made I think that the best audience for enjoying these films are kids.  I’d say 9 to 11 is about the optimal age group for maximum effect.  That age is old enough not to be scared by the images but not old enough to be jaded by modern movie magic.  And come to think of it, I think that’s how old I was when I thought these movies were great fun.

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 6 – The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man, to be pedantically precise, is not a monster movie but a science fiction story.  H.G. Wells’ tale of a scientist who develops a technique to render the human body (his own) invisible is not really monstrous in a physical sense but because the technique drives the inventor insane we are back in the neighborhood of the Mad Scientist.  And since Dr. Frankenstein is then brought to mind we can shoehorn this science fiction story into the genre.  Claude Rains (the Wolfman’s father from an earlier chapter of this review) is the Invisible Man.  Or rather Claude Rains voice is the star of the movie, since until the very last scene we can’t see his face.  But it’s a very good voice.  And since often we can’t exactly tell what he’s doing he spends a fair amount of time telegraphing his actions to help us guess what his actions are that the other characters are pantomiming around.  And he’s an active fellow.  He kills a few people with his bare (invisible) hands.  He bludgeons some others and he goes in for some mass murder via railway sabotage.  He ends up a rather unsavory fellow.  But somehow there remains a somewhat sympathetic core to the character.  Based on the people who still try to help him he must have been a good man before his descent into madness.  Therefore, we can look at him as a victim of his own scientific curiosity.

All that aside, it’s a fun movie.  The scientific intelligence, megalomania and irritable persona of the Invisible Man is juxtaposed against the plodding mediocrity, skeptical common sense and parochial outlook of the English villagers and local constables who are dumbfounded and unbelieving as to the true cause of the strange goings on.  Whenever they declare the inexplicable events a hoax the Invisible Man steps in and gives them a painful (and sometimes fatal) object lesson in his reality.

In the thick of these goings on is my favorite supporting character Una O’Connor as the Innkeeper’s wife.  She is a wonderfully shrewish landlady whose suspicious and unkind treatment of the Invisible Man throws him off the deep end.  She possesses the most remarkable shrieking scream ever recorded on film.  She is a national treasure of sorts.  And as a tie-in she plays Dr. Frankenstein’s housekeeper in “The Bride of Frankenstein,” another movie where she chews up the scenery and shrieks a blue streak.

Of course, by the end of the movie and after murdering so many innocent people, the Invisible Man has lost almost all of the audience’s sympathy so that it seems just that he should pay the price for his crimes.  But he is allowed the touching death scene where he regains his humanity and seemingly his sanity.

So, to reiterate, this is not a monster movie but there is a Mad Scientist and several of our old friends from earlier Universal Monster Movies do show up.  It’s basically a tour de force for Claude Rains (or rather his voice). I give it my seal of approval.  Good stuff.

Universal Classic Monster Movies – An OCF Classic Movie Review – Part 5 – The Mummy

So far in this review, I have gone over the “Big Three” of the Classic Monster class.  Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman coexisted in a European setting even showing up in each other’ movies.  Very cozy.  Maybe almost too much of a good thing.  I mean after you have the Daughter of Dracula and the Bride and the Son of Frankenstein what’s left, the Wolfman’s Gardener’s Chiropractor?  It would almost be a relief to escape from foggy, chilly Central Europe and head for a warmer and dryer climate.

Egypt?

The Mummy presents an intersection of interesting subjects.  At the time, it was made (1932) less than 10 years had elapsed since the real-life discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the golden artifacts it contained.  This discovery along with the supposed “Tutankhamen’s Curse” upon all those who desecrated his tomb re-invigorated the public’s interest in Egyptology.  Add to that the fascination with a strange and exotic world such as the Middle East would have presented to Westerners of a century ago.  And finally mix this together with a mythical love story to produce a strange fantasy to lure the public with.  And the movie was very popular, even in Britain, where the colonial setting was probably of interest.

The story goes like this.  A British archeological dig in Egypt uncovers an unspoiled burial site that contains a mummy that was not embalmed but rather buried alive.  Markings on the tomb warn any grave robbers that the occupant is a cursed individual and anyone who reads the  Scroll of Thoth will perish and unleash an undead horror on the world.  So of course, they read the scroll.  This activates the long dead mummy of Imhotep, the priest who was punished for trying to use the Scroll of Thoth to revivify his lover  Anck-es-en-Amon, the princess whose untimely death brought about this whole tragedy.  After driving one of the expedition mad and sending him to an early grave, Imhotep (played by our old friend Boris Karloff) escapes with the scroll and disappears.  Ten years later Helen Grosvenor, the daughter of one of the surviving expedition members, is discovered by Imhotep to be the reincarnated spirit of Anck-es-en-Amon.  By this time Imhotep has assumed the identity of a modern-day Egyptian named Ardath Bey.  He plans to ritually slay Helen, mummify her and use the Scroll of Thoth to revivify her and make her his bride.  Pretty creepy.

Helen’s friends and family attempting to foil this plot are laughably ineffective.  At the end it takes Helen’s returned memory as Anck-es-en-Amon to appeal to Isis (whose votary she was) to put a stop to the ritual murder.  Imhotep is blasted by divine intervention and everyone (who is still alive at this point) lives happily ever after.

One interesting addition to the cast is our old friend Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Muller.  In this movie his effectiveness is somewhere between the high competency of Van Helsing in Dracula and the incredible incompetence of Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein.  Let’s give him a B- in the Mummy for at least putting up a fight.

I’ve always enjoyed the Mummy.  But I limit myself to one viewing every ten years.  Let’s face it.  A Mummy, even one with a scroll that bestows the power of life and death isn’t that scary.  For all it’s flaws the 1990s reboot with Brendan Fraser has a lot more chills in it with man eating scarab beetles and a Mummy that revivifies himself by stealing organs from the living.  But the 1930s version is solid entertainment well worth seeing, at least once.