Independent producer Albert Zugsmith specialized in what were regarded as trashy exploitation pictures during the ‘50s and ‘60s, yet he managed to pull off a handful of classics during his association with Universal: Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956) and still widely underseen The Tarnished Angels (1958), and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), controversially taken away from Welles and re-edited.
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Fans of sci-fi and horror will be very pleased by the lavish, loving attention bestowed upon this 1959 Italian production, pustules and all. Inspired largely by The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) without being as smart, this is a movie that probably nobody will place among its decade’s top 10 sci-fi horrors. Nevertheless, it’s well worth a look and historically important for reasons we’ll mention.
The film opens with oodles of atmosphere conjured out of glass matte paintings, roiling volcano effects (actually, ink in water) and sheer shadowplay. We’re allegedly in Mexico, investigating the ruins of a Mayan civilization, when a member of the Ulmer expedition (named slyly for Edgar Ulmer, a master of cheap but effective atmosphere) staggers back to camp gibbering and fainting. The other members quickly discover the cave of Caltiki, a Mayan goddess, where some kind of radioactive blob emerges from the water to melt the flesh from impertinent explorers, especially those greedy for gold and nookie.
Georges Franju is an important French filmmaker who made fewer than ten features and is known to Region 1 audiences, and indeed elsewhere, largely for the quietly intense and ghastly horror film Eyes Without a Face (1959). Several years ago, Criterion finally brought out another of his items, Judex (1963), a celebration of the spirit of silent serials, and since then we’ve remained parched for more output.
Perhaps the dam is breaking, for Arrow Films has bestowed upon us the movie Franju made right after Eyes Without a Face. Spotlight on a Murderer (1961), is scripted by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, the famous team of novelists whose work inspired the films Diabolique (1955) and Vertigo (1958), and we’ll add the vastly underrated Body Parts (1991). In other words, they’re famous for plot twists and a labyrinthine air of mystery in its purest, most uncanny form.
My determination to watch all the films of ace melodramatist Douglas Sirk leads me to track down films he didn’t make but almost did. According to Wikipedia, Sirk worked on the pre-production of Never Say Goodbye (1956), and was responsible for casting the Ingrid Bergman-esque German actress Cornell Borchers, who’s pretty good.
And here it is from Universal Vault’s on-demand series: a lush ‘50s Technicolor melodrama starring Rock Hudson and George Sanders, scored by Frank Skinner and directed by… Jerry Hopper? He’s no Sirk, and the producer isn’t Sirk’s regular collaborator Ross Hunter, so the enervating mix of the far-fetched and ill-advised that constitutes a story doesn’t soar as it might. Still, it’s not entirely without interest. Supposedly based on a Pirandello play, it’s a remake of an earlier Universal item called This Love of Ours (1945) from William Dieterle, which means now I’ve gotta track that down.
Arriving out of the wild blue yonder for silent film buffs is this serial from the tail end of the silent era, running just over three hours in ten chapters.
The setting is a flying company owned by an elderly gentleman (C.H. Allen) who has invented a few handy devices like a radio-controlled Flying Torpedo and something called an aerometer for flying through fog. Alas, a masked Pilot X (the actor continually identified as “?” in the title cards) keeps raiding the joint and causing all their planes to crash, which at a certain point puts a crimp in the business. Ace pilot Jack Baker (Walter Miller) and the owner’s daughter Shirley (Eugenia Gilbert), a crack pilot herself, investigate while carrying on their implicit romance.