When Worlds Collide (1951) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I haven’t seen this movie since I was a kid.  Back then I had read the book and the sequel, “After Worlds Collide.”

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The plot is relatively straightforward.  Astronomers discover a small star and a planet circling it entering the solar system.  It is calculated that within a year the star will collide with and destroy the Earth but the new planet will be captured by the sun and might provide a possible home for some humans to colonize if a rocket can be launched.  At first most scientists discount the crisis.  But a few industrialists believe the danger and begin building a rocket for the journey.  One selfish millionaire, wheel-chair-bound Sydney Stanton, agrees to finish funding the rocket only if he is on the passenger list.  The project team races desperately against time to complete the rocket before the end of the world.

The project is run by Dr. Cole Hendron who along with his daughter Joyce and Dave Randall provide the human interest for the story.  Randall doesn’t want to go along on the trip because he doesn’t believe he is entitled due to a lack of needed skills that the mission requires.  But Joyce (of course) is in love with him so eventually they trick him into going based on his abilities as the only qualified but unnecessary co-pilot.  As the moment of truth comes, we see Earth devastated by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tidal waves that destroy all the coastal cities.  Finally, the fifty passengers are drawn by lots and just as the ship is preparing to launch the unlucky lottery losers attack the ship with guns.  Dr Hendron decides at the last minute to remain on the ground to provide a margin of error for the fuel and while he’s at it he prevents Stanton from getting on the ship too.  As the ship launches Stanton staggers to his feet.  An Armageddon miracle.

We get to see Earth destroyed.  Improbably the Earth blows up in a giant fireball without coming in contact with the star.  The ship reaches the new world and Randall finally has to glide the rocket to a landing after its fuel tanks are completely emptied during the braking maneuver.  The landing is rocky but doesn’t kill them.  And of course, the air is good and there’s green life growing on the ground and it looks like there may be the ruins of cyclopean buildings nearby.  Joyce and Randall embrace, a dog gives birth to puppies and everybody rejoices at the first dawn on their new world.

The only familiar faces were Larry Keating playing Dr. Hendron and John Hoyt as Stanton.  The rest of them were completely unknown to me.  The special effects aren’t very good.  But they weren’t awful.  The acting was sturdy B movie Hollywood acting of the time.  About what you’d expect in a decent western or a melodrama.  I quite enjoyed it.  The plot is simple but quite relatable on both a human-interest level and as a science fiction story.  I’ll say this is recommended for science fiction fans especially for connoisseurs of the 1950s period in the genre.

What Does Science Fiction Want for Our World Today?

Back when my father was a kid science fiction was all about rockets to Mars, flying cars and atomic power.  The world would march forward in the same way that it had after science advanced in the generations before.  It would engineer applications for atomic power in the same way that earlier generations applied knowledge of chemistry and physics to create the internal combustion engine and airplanes.

When I was a kid science fiction had progressed to where relativity and quantum physics were assumed to be susceptible to human genius and no barriers were too tall to prevent humans from colonizing the stars, travelling through time and even traipsing into other dimensions.  Now this made for a lot of interesting stories about universes where humans could meet up with all kinds of amazing creatures and events.  But at some point, you have to wonder if the word “science” in the name science fiction should be changed to fantasy.  And that’s fine.  Having faster than light (FTL) travel opens up so many story lines for an author that it’s hard to resist.  Otherwise, we’re stuck with multi-generational ships depending on relativistic time dilation to reach the nearest stars in one or two hundred years.  Which, by the way, makes for a lot of very interesting sociological phenomena on the ship.  But anyway, you can see how FTL travel would be a very desirable pseudoscientific device.

But here we are something like a hundred years on in the “modern” science fiction timeline and we’re still engulfed in the FTL travel trope.  And we’re still nowhere near any kind of science that would lead us to believe that FTL travel is even remotely possible.  So, in my mind maybe science fiction needs to start looking at science again for inspiration for new themes.

Thinking about this, it’s not like there aren’t all sorts of scientific discoveries and avenues for new technologies that are not only possible but also exciting building blocks for science fiction stories.  In biology we have gene therapy and longevity research.  In computer science there is artificial intelligence and cybernetics.  The reality of atomic power as a replacement for fossil fuels is not really science fiction as much as fact but there are enough questions about how it will change the present world that it could provide plenty of fodder for stories.  And human exploration of the solar system is now much better understood than it was even back during the Apollo program.  Reimagining the directions that something like landing on Mars will take has already been a successful idea for one author who even saw it turned into a successful movie.

Perhaps some of this sounds a little tame for science fiction readers.  On the contrary, sticking to the reality of what it would take to put a small colony on Mars should allow a good author to engineer in plenty of human interest and adventure.  I could see how a story based on capturing and harvesting an asteroid filled with gold and platinum would make a very exciting tale.  A good author would include the part of the story that involves very rich and powerful individuals scheming to hold onto the profits from a mission that might include the most powerful nations on Earth claiming the assets as the “legacy of all mankind.”

So, this is something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Now I like space opera as much as the next guy.  I’m very comfortable with galactic empires and multiverse.  They’re great fun.  But I also think it’s time for some of the most creative writers to start adding some real science back into science fiction.

The Terminal List (2022) – A TV Review

“The Terminal List is Amazon Prime’s action thriller tv series based on Jack Carr’s 2018 novel of the same name.  It stars Chris Pratt as Navy Seal Lieutenant Commander James Reece and centers around Reece’s revenge mission to avenge the deaths of his family and comrades in arms.

I won’t put in my usual spoiler alert because I’d rather not go through the whole plot piece by piece.  I’ll just give you my reaction to the series and recommendations.

So, first off, the author Jack Carr was a Navy Seal so I guess that lends some credibility to the technical details of the show.  As far as the plot, it’s a highly charged story of wrongdoing by the rich and powerful that a few years ago I would have said was too outlandish to be true.  But now that real life government malfeasance (FBI targeting of political opponents, COVID related tyrannical actions) is standard operating procedure who is to say what’s outlandish.

The acting for the most part is very good.  There were maybe one or two scenes that didn’t seem to correspond to how I thought the characters emotional states would make them act.  But since the author probably corresponds more closely than I do to the psychological profile of the characters in the story maybe it’s my ignorance of their mindsets.

One of the plot elements involves the brain trauma that Reece is suffering from.  This leads him sometimes to slip back into old scenes in his life, sometimes at very inconvenient points in the plot.  Occasionally during the story, I thought the memory problems were a little distracting but by the end of the series I was satisfied that the plot device was justified.  It also gives us a chance to see his personal life with his murdered wife and daughter.  Now this is a difficult layer to add to a story like this.  I would say they pulled it off mostly well.  By the end of the story the character seems to have come to closure with his loss.

As far as action, there is plenty of it.  Reece and his allies do an amazing amount of damage to the people on his “terminal list.”  And there is quite a bit of brutality to his campaign.  Some of it is up close and personal.  But I would say the violence isn’t merely gratuitous but follows the plot of avenging the terrible crimes that have been committed against Reece.

I watched the show with Camera Girl.  Now she’s an action novel junkie.  She’s a big fan of Reacher and Bosch so a little violence isn’t a big deal to her.  There was one scene that she thought was a little too vicious but by the end of the series she was a big fan of the story.  So, I would recommend this series to anyone who likes the action thriller genre.  It also lacked any woke nonsense of any kind.  In that sense it was very refreshing.  I give this series a highly recommended rating.

Murder, My Sweet (1944) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Murder My Sweet is based on Raymond Chandler’s book “Farewell My Lovely,” one of his books about the fictional detective Philip Marlowe.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Marlowe (played by Dick Powell) is contracted by an ex-con named Moose Malloy to find an old girlfriend named Velma.  Malloy is a hulking brute who has just spent eight years in prison for some violent crime and several times in the movie he overreacts over some disappointment by strangling or roughing up one of the protagonists.

As Marlowe begins to get a lead on someone who knew Velma, he is sidetracked when he is hired by Lindsay Marriott to assist in an attempt to pay ransom money for the return of an expensive piece of jewelry.  The two men head out to a lonely stretch of road to perform the exchange but when they split up both Marlowe and Marriott are attacked by an assailant using a lead sap.  Marlowe eventually regains consciousness but when he returns to their car, he finds that Marriott has been bludgeoned to death.

The police, in the person of Lt. Randall, grill Marlowe on the details of the murder and after threatening him with indictment over his involvement finally let him go.  They do ask whether Marriott mentioned a Jules Author in regards to the stolen jewelry but they refuse to give him any details about Amthor and warn him to not get involved in the case any further.

The next day a woman pretending to be a reporter questions Marlowe about the jewelry theft.  She refers to it as a necklace.  Marlowe figures out that she isn’t a reporter and finally gets her to admit that she is Ann Grayle, the daughter of the man who lost the necklace.  Or rather she is the stepdaughter of the woman, Helen Grayle, who actually lost it.  She hates her stepmother but is trying to recover the very expensive jade necklace that her father gave to Helen.

Ann and Marlowe drive to the Grayle estate.  The house is a palace and we find out that Mr. Leuwen Grayle is a collector of fine jade and the necklace cost over $100,000.  We then meet Helen who is a beautiful blonde who barely waits for her husband to leave the room before she comes onto Marlowe and hires him to recover the necklace.  At that point Jules Amthor shows up at the Grayle residence and Marlowe finds out that he is a quack doctor who is mixed up with both Helen and the deceased Marriott.  Later Ann tries to persuade Marlowe to give up the case because of the unscrupulous nature of her stepmother.  But Marlowe refuses.

Amthor gets in touch with Moose Malloy and has him bring Marlowe to Amthor’s penthouse.  He questions Marlowe about the whereabouts of the necklace but when Marlowe assures him, he hasn’t got the necklace Amthor convinces Malloy that Marlowe is hiding Velma from him so Malloy chokes Marlowe into unconsciousness and Amthor has Marlowe installed in the private sanitarium of a Dr. Sonderborg where narcotics and truth serum are used to try to pry the necklace’s location from Marlowe’s mind.  After three days of this treatment Marlowe manages to escape his captors and when he meets up with Moose Malloy again, he convinces the dimwitted giant that Amthor was lying to him.

Fearing that the police and Amthor might have his apartment staked out Marlowe shows up at Ann Grayle’s home and tells her about Amthor’s actions.  She decides to help Marlowe and after updating the police on Amthor’s involvement in the necklace theft Marlowe and Ann head to Marriott’s beach house to try and figure out what was actually going on among all the shady characters involved in the case.

And there they find Helen.  She chases off Ann and then provides the real situation with the necklace.  Amthor was blackmailing Helen over things in her past.  The necklace was the price he was demanding.  Marriott was working with Amthor.  Helen admits that she murdered Marriott in order to get back the necklace.  Now she wants to enlist Marlowe to murder Amthor and thus get herself clear of his blackmail.  Marlowe appears to go along with her plan.

When he gets back to his office, he finds Moose there and discovers that Moose has killed Amthor by accident.  Marlowe brings Moose back to the beach house and leaves him outside waiting to bring him in to see Helen whom he has figured out is Moose’s “Velma.”  Helen is in the house and Marlowe brings her up to date on Amthor’s death.  Now Ann and her father show up.  Helen then reveals that she’s had the necklace all along and was only toying with Amthor.  When she finds out that Marlowe is going to turn her over to the police for Marriott’s death, she pulls a gun on him and has her husband take Marlowe’s gun from him.  But when she points the gun at Marlowe to kill him her husband shoots her with Marlowe’s gun and she dies.

The gun shot causes Moose to enter the house and seeing his “Velma dead he goes to attack Mr. Grayle.  When Grayle raises his gun at Malloy, Marlowe tries to stop the gun play but he instead has his face near the gun muzzle as it goes off and his eyes are scorched by the muzzle flash.  The scene shifts to Marlowe with his eyes bandaged telling his story to the police.  Unbeknownst to him Malloy was killed by Mr. Grayle but not before he had a chance to turn the gun on Grayle.  In the final scene we see Ann Grayle drive off with Marlowe in passionate embrace.  Somehow love has triumphed over murder and greed!

As with all Raymond Chandler stories the plot is convoluted, confusing and loaded with bizarre characters.  Moose Malloy is definitely a cartoon character.  And several of the female characters seem unable to resist Marlowe’s debatable charms.  There is a decidedly frantic aspect to the constant action.  Maybe some people would find this off-putting and unreal.  I think of it as the hallmark of the film noir style that this film exemplifies.  Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe a few years later in “The Bid Sleep.”  But I think Powell in Murder My Sweet is the quintessential Marlowe.  I recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys film noir and anyone else who would like to try out the genre.  Highly recommended.

Obsession (1949) – A Movie Review

“The Hidden Room” is a crime drama that was made in England.  It was released in the United States with the title “Obsession.”

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Dr. Clive Riordan’s wife Storm is cheating on him with an American named Bill Kronin.  After catching them together when they thought he was out of town he kidnaps Bill and imprisons him in a bombed out building on the outskirts of London.  He plans to murder him and then liquify the body with a corrosive chemical that he formulates in a lab in his medical office.  But Riordan has decided to wait before killing Bill until he is sure that the authorities don’t suspect him in Bill’s disappearance.  The majority of the movie is made up of Riordan’s visits to provide food and drink to Bill in his improvised prison cell.  Bill is shackled to a wall and Riordan has marked on the floor in chalk the areas of the room that are outside of Bill’s reach.  Riordan is a polite and even accommodating host, providing Bill with his choice of books and even cocktails.  And being a psychiatrist, he explains the psychological reason for his need for revenge.

But finally, after four months Riordan is convinced that it is safe to dispatch his guest.  However, Riordan’s wife has been in touch with Scotland Yard and eventually Superintendent Finsbury pays a visit to Riordan and this buys Bill a reprieve.  When Riordan overhears his wife on the phone with Finsbury, he decides to finish off Bill and he mixes a poison in Bill’s martini for the night.  But thanks to Finsbury’s actions Bill is rescued before the poison can take his life.  Riordan is arrested by Finsbury and Storm says goodbye to Bill in his hospital room before she leaves on a sea voyage to find a new man with which to stave off boredom.

None of the actors will be familiar to an American audience but this movie is interesting because of the scenes between Bill and Riordan.  Their strange companionship in these scenes is amusing and surprisingly compelling.  Since neither has anything to lose by being honest they both portray their thoughts candidly.  Not that murder is an acceptable social action but Riordan does explain openly his decision to punish his wife’s infidelities as a salve for his pride.  And Bill maintains his spirits believing that Riordan will back away from his murderous plan when the authorities maintain their pursuit of his disappearance.  The story is somewhat preposterous but I very much enjoyed it for the scenes with the prospective victim and murderer.  Their pleasant discussions of Bill’s upcoming demise make this a movie I can recommend.

Michael Anton Analyzes “The Godfather” through the Lens of Machiavelli

Michael Anton is a devotee of Leo Strauss who wrote an important paper on Machiavelli.  Naturally Anton will evaluate a movie about power through his understanding of the quintessential champion of immoral power politics Machiavelli.

I thought it was an interesting read.  And I’m not a huge fan of gangster movies in general or the Puzo story in particular.  Your milage may vary.

 

 

 

Room at the Top (1958) _ A Movie Review

This movie was part of the “Angry Young Men” school of post WWII British film.  It reflected the dissatisfaction with reduced economic opportunities in the British post-war era and the anxiety over the breakdown of traditional societal norms and class structure.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Joe Lampton (played by Laurence Harvey) is a working-class young man who has returned from three years in a German POW camp during the war.  He leaves the poverty of his hometown of West Riding to find opportunities in the more upscale town of Warnley.  He becomes a clerk in the Borough Treasurer’s Office where he meets Charlie Soames who becomes his friend and roommate.  And Charlie quickly learns that Joe plans to use his good looks to marry a rich man’s daughter.

Specifically, he finds that Mr. Brown, the local millionaire, has a daughter Susan who would be perfect for the part.  She’s young, pretty and susceptible to his charms.  Throughout the rest of the movie Joe takes every opportunity to charm Susan.  And he’s successful in fascinating her.  But her parents and her whole social circle reject his advances categorically and stand in the way of Joe ever spending any time with the girl.  They go as far as sending her to France on holiday just to keep them apart.

Meanwhile Joe has himself fallen in love with a married woman.  Alice Aisgill (played by Simone Signoret) is a French woman, older than Joe.  Her upper-class husband George is steadily unfaithful to her with women that he visits supposedly “on business.”  Joe’s working-class sympathies lead him to despise George and he easily falls into an affair with Alice that is conducted simultaneously with his campaign to wed Susan.

Eventually Susan finds a way to escape her parents’ protection and she and Joe wind up in bed together.  But Joe finds Susan’s company much less stimulating than Alice’s.  Susan’s prattle seems sophomoric and dull compared to his conversations with Alice.  Joe discovers that Alice is the woman he wants.  He plans to marry her as soon as she can get a divorce from George.  But George confronts him and tells him that he’ll never agree to divorce Alice and if she tries to leave him, he’ll blacken their names so badly in the courts that they’ll become pariahs.

And just after this meeting he is summoned by Mr. Brown to a fancy conservative club where he learns that Susan is going to have a child by him.  And Mr. Brown has decided to accept him as a son-in-law and bring him into the family business.  But the condition is that he must break off his scandalous relationship with Alice.

Joe goes to Alice and tells her of Susan’s pregnancy and the impossibility of Alice and him ever having a life together.  And he tells her that he plans to marry Susan and that Alice would never see him again.  Alice is devastated.  She goes out drinking and we learn afterward that she crashes her car and dies in the wreck.  Next morning as news of the impending nuptials between Joe and Susan circulate through the Treasurer’s office and Charlie and his other friends are congratulating him Joe hears of Alice’s horrible death and he goes into shock.

In the next scene Joe has gone on a bender in some dive bar.  He has taken up with a woman who’s also quite drunk and when her boyfriend shows up Joe threatens him and scares him off.  But later on, this man and his friends find Joe and pummel him into unconsciousness and leave him bleeding in the street.  Eventually the next morning Charlie finds Joe and takes him home.

The last scene is Joe and Susan’s wedding ceremony with the priest reciting the vows and Joe, after a perceptible pause, answering, “I will.”  As they drive off in the wedding limousine Susan talks about the meaning she found in the ceremony.  But she notices that Joe has tears in his eyes so she says, “You really are sentimental, after all.”  But he just smiles brokenly as the movie ends.

I always find English movies of this time period a little depressing.  And this film is certainly no exception but for all that I thought it had its merits.  Despite his mercenary attitude toward Susan, Joe’s working-class sensibilities and the snobbish cruelty of his upper-class persecutors quickly win over the sympathies of the audience.  His guilt and contrition over abandoning Alice and her subsequent death are meant to convince us that he has grown and might become a better man.  I can’t unreservedly recommend this movie for everyone.  But if based on my description it sounds interesting give it a try.

King Richard and the Crusaders (1954) – A Movie Review

Can you imagine a movie with Rex Harrison playing Saladin, George Sanders as Richard the Lionhearted and Virginia Mayo as a Norman princess?  Well don’t try.  It’s just too bizarre to reconstruct without supercomputers and black magic.  But it actually must have occurred in some alternate universe where completely improbable things happen.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

I watched this movie for the first time today and I was flabbergasted.  So, we’re on the Third Crusade and Richard is leading a coalition of scheming nobles.  They attempt to assassinate him with a poisoned Saracen arrow so they can end their war against Saladin and concentrate on plundering the Holy Land.

There’s a great deal of nonsense that involves Saladin showing up in disguise as a doctor to heal Richard of his poisoned arrow.  You see Saladin is so chivalrous that he wants Richard to survive so they can fight a duel to decide the fate of the war.

And there’s another plot line where Richard’s cousin Lady Edith Plantagenet (played improbably by Virginia Mayo) is in love with a Scottish knight named Sir Kenneth.  Kenneth is apparently the only crusader actually loyal to Richard.  But once Edith’s love affair with this non-Norman man becomes known to Richard he turns against Kenneth and challenges him to an ordeal by combat.  And then Saladin saves Kenneth’s life but is also in love with Edith.  Now the Holy War is just hopelessly muddled with love.  What’s a crusader to do?  Luckily the bad guys (the bad Crusaders in this case) kidnap Edith and so Richard, Saladin and Kenneth put aside their differences over religion, civilization and of course good acting and attack the bad guys.

So, the good guys win and then Saladin rides away with his men and Richard comes around to Kenneth being his cousin’s future husband.

The End.

You have to see this movie to know just how laughably bad this thing is.  Rex Harrison with bronze face paint and a scraggly beard talking with some kind of fake middle eastern accent quoting the prophet.  George Sanders playing George Sanders (of course) brow beating the other characters is insufferable.  I found myself hoping the assassination attempt would succeed and end the movie quickly.  And the rest of the cast is even worse.  The strange thing is I kind of enjoyed watching this mess.  I can’t explain why.  Maybe I was just in the right mood for a silly knights-in-armor spectacle.  Who knows maybe it was the belly dancer.  But I’m not going to recommend this movie to anyone.  Watch it at your own peril.

Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) (1966) – A Movie Review

I’ve been looking for a good print of this movie for a few years.  Orson Welles made this in his later years when money for his productions was very hard to find.  So, he allied himself with a Spanish production company.  The movie didn’t make any money and the prints of the film weren’t preserved well.  But at last, I was able to see a good copy.

The story is a pasting together of sections of three of Shakespeare’s plays (Henry IV – Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) that deal with Prince Hal and Falstaff.  Welles was able to assemble a cast that did justice to the work.  Welles plays Falstaff and was born for the part.  John Gielgud is King Henry IV and Jeanne Moreau plays Doll Tearsheet.  Ralph Richardson performs narration.  The rest of the cast I’m not familiar with but I will say they acquit themselves admirably especially Keith Baxter, the actor playing Prince Hal.

This is Shakespeare, not modern cinema so not all audiences will enjoy it.  But for those who have a liking for the Bard this motion picture will reward your time.  It’s a very human tale of a young man (Prince Hal) rebelling against his place in the world.  And at the same time, it is the story of a larger-than-life character, Falstaff.  A man that combines wit, braggadocio, cowardice, humor, lust for life and villainy in almost equal proportions.

Technically there are some aspects of the film that aren’t up to modern standards.  The audio track isn’t perfect.  But for the most part it’s an engaging production.  Even the battle scene which was made on a very small budget is a cinematic success and enhances the film.

I need to buy a good copy of this film.  I can see watching this one about every six months or so.  Recommended for the lover of Shakespeare.