BluRay/DVD Reviews

CULT CAMP CLASSICS, VOLUME ONE – SCI FI THRILLERS

By • Jun 26th, 2007 •

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Modern day film fanatics, of course, love the films from 1950’s, the major films that starred Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, etc. etc. There are a great number of current movie buffs that have a weakness for the “poverty-row” films made during the Eisenhower era, films made by such lesser-budgeted studios as American International Pictures or Allied Artists. Allied Artists, named obviously to be confused with the high profile United Artists, was an offshoot of the old Monogram Studios. Allied Artists was also the home base for A-list director William Wyler when he made his classic 1956 film FRIENDLY PERSUASION. Warner Brothers has just released three fun box sets featuring Allied Artists hits. One box set features three of their women in prison films (I always watch women-in-prison films with my Barbie doll jailed in a parrot cage next to me! Only kidding!) Another box set features sword and sandal epics, and a third box set is their most famous genre- over the top Science Fiction films like ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH.


THE GIANT BEHEMOTH

Eugene Lourie did not make socially important film like fellow 1950’s directors Stanley Kramer or Elia Kazan. Instead, Lourie made three exciting films depicting a giant dinosaur attacking a major city. His first was 1953’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, with classic stop motion effects by Ray Harryhausen. The best of Lourie’s trio was 1960’s GORGO, where a really pissed off mommy dinosaur rips London into shreds rescuing its captive baby. Available in this box set is the weakest of Lourie’s monster films, 1959’s THE GIANT BEHEMOTH. It’s still a fun time at the movies, with a dino attack on London that delivers the goods. Before, after, and during making his own films, Lourie was an art director for Clint Eastwood, Sam Fuller, Jean Renoir, and Charles Chaplin.

The behemoth problem with THE GIANT BEHEMOTH is that it is slow-paced. 37 minutes in we get to see the monster’s shoulder. It will take another eleven minutes to get to our first monster scene – where Behemoth rises out of the water and attacks a Thames River ferryboat. One wonders how many animators worked on this film. The stop motion animation varies from inventive (camera movement during stop motion scenes), to being rather stiff/puppet-like. One of the animators was pioneering stop-motion artist Willis O’Brien, who animated life into the silent THE LOST WORLD, the 1933 KING KONG, and many other exciting monster films. Phil Tippett (who located and owns the Behemoth armature) and Dennis Muren, noted Special Effects wizards, contribute an enjoyable commentary track, in which they don’t always get the facts right (dates, etc.), but always communicate their love for films such as this one which inspired them when they were young.


ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN

While Behemoth slowly mopes towards meaty scenes, the Fifty Foot woman is a girl who doesn’t waste time. The film’s not two minutes old, and a ball-shaped UFO lands in front of Nancy Archer, a screaming neurotic rich bee-yotch.

Nancy’s unfaithful louse of a husband, Harry (William Hudson) is constantly fooling around with Honey (Yvette Vickers). He’s pleased as punch his wife rants about seeing a UFO land, and that its pilot, a giant bald guy in a Gladiator outfit, tried to steal her necklace. Behavior like this will land Nancy in the giggle-works, and Harry will be able to grab her massive moo-lah, and live happily with the sexy Honey.

Another visit by the big bald alien (who bears a striking resemblance to then President Eisenhower) causes Nancy to grow to the title height.

Nancy is played by one of film histories most beautiful women, Alison Hayes. This West Virginia native came to Hollywood’s attention, and she was once screen-tested by DeMille. 50 FOOT WOMAN is the lovely Ms. Hayes’ most famous role. Leukemia took her life while she still in her mid-forties. It’s odd that when Allison plays the normal sized Nancy, she is made up to look middle aged. When she’s the big giant lady, wearing bed-sheets like a bikini, she is suddenly super-glamorous, looking twenty years younger.

Nancy’s rampage in search of Harry (who is now the size of a poodle compared to her!) is a true crowd-pleaser.

Jocular film historian Tom Weaver escorts WOMAN co-star Yvette Vickers to the commentary track. Ms. Vickers doesn’t have much to say, but is thankful for her “B” blessings. Weaver, as always, surrounds his partner’s patter with a plethora of facts.


QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE

No package of 1950’s sci-fi fun-fests would be complete without a movie about bachelor astronauts landing on a planet populated by beautiful girls. QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE is the GONE WITH THE WIND of Planet-filled-with-cuties classics. That’s an accurate description because QUEEN was based on an original idea by legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht (who wrote THE FRONT PAGE, TWENTIETH CENTURY, and co-wrote GWTW) Hecht allowed his name to be used in the credits, which helped Producer Ben Schwalb finance the film. While Hecht was Schwalb’s blessing, the film’s star, Zsa Zsa Gabor, reportedly was a nightmare on the OUTER SPACE set. She was unhappy that the other space-cuties were decades younger than her, and she was so difficult she put Schwalb in the hospital with an ulcer. Shot in beautiful Technicolor (Warners obviously had wonderful elements to work from when they mastered this DVD), performed wonderfully tongue-in-cheek, QUEEN rules!

“B-film” historian extraordinaire Tom Weaver is back for a second turn at commentary steerage, this time with title character, evil queen Laurie Mitchell as his date to the sci fi prom. Ms. Mitchell had a decent career, and her memory is good about the past. Weaver picks up the slack with his usual sarcastic-yet-reverential aplomb.

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