(Not So) Random Film of the Week: GOG

gogWhile the three films in Ivan Tors Productions’ “Office of Scientific Investigation” (OSI) trilogy haven’t gotten the name recognition or massive fan bases of certain other more well-known franchises, each stands out as a fine example of Tors’ commitment to bringing a more scientific and human touch to the genre. While not going for camp or cheap thrills, the films make for a look into Tors’ heavy interest in pure science fiction with independent films he got made on his own terms.

Beginning with 1953’s The Magnetic Monster, 1954’s Riders to the Stars, and GOG, also released in 1954, the three films trade in the era’s familiar “B” movie antics for drier, more “realistic” hard science mixed with speculative elements. While some action scenes take place in all three films, outside these sequences things are done with a more sedate, almost documentary-like presentation of their assorted plots.

Additionally, all three films can be watched and enjoyed fully in any order, as they tell stories that are connected by a few threads, but don’t contain the same characters. Chief among these threads is men (and women) of science trying to make advances in the field for the future with dramatic (and sometimes unfortunate) results. Or: you can’t make a science-flavored omelette without breaking a few scientist-shaped eggs…
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Show & Tell: On Ray Harryhausen’s Fairy Tales

Red StareIn regards to every well-worn fairy tale, “It’s not the tale, but how it’s told” is the order of the day. Parents and other creative adults well-versed in story time voices and acting have this mantra branded on their brain cells and know how to make any yarn they spin keep kids at rapt attention. Still, for many of his longtime fans, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop-motion versions of Mother Goose stories and five classic fairy tales are some of the most memorable versions ever created.

Save for The Tortoise and the Hare (which was incomplete until its 2002 premiere), I can recall some of these films along with his earlier Mother Goose shorts being shown during assembly hall sessions or in the occasional class where a regular teacher was out sick and the substitute called in hadn’t time to whip up a proper lesson plan. While most of these 16mm shorts were part of my childhood, I’d imagine plenty of today’s little (and more tech savvy) whippersnappers haven’t a clue who Harryhausen was or what made (and still makes him) him great and such a huge inspiration of countless filmmakers and visual effects artists to this day.

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Oops. One Tiny Mistake There, TCM. Otherwise, Both Thumbs Up!

While it’s wonderful to see William Friedkin’s 1977 film SORCERER getting some much needed love at TCM’s yearly film festival (held this year at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood), I’ll admit to my eyebrow shooting up at the word “The” in that video title.

(thanks again, robatsea2009!) 

Eek. Yeah, it’s a minor mistake that can easily be corrected with a few keystrokes, but I’d never heard of “the City Lights” “The Ben Hur”, “The Frankenstein”, or “The King Kong” in my film studies. So that sort of thing is a bit pesky to me. Anyway, perhaps the person who posted this video was thinking of the film Friedkin’s is based off of, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s brilliant 1953 action/drama The Wages of Fear. Hmmm… now I want to see both films pop up on TCM soon. Or even better, FINALLY see Friedkin’s film make a decent Blu-Ray appearance, as it’s one that’s LONG due.

Random Film of the Week: The Big Heat

(thanks, MJmichand!)

The Big Heat MPSergeant Dave Bannion has absolutely ZERO luck with attractive women in Fritz Lang’s absolute classic 1953 noir The Big Heat. Granted, our initially 100% by-the-book cop (ably portrayed by Glenn Ford) IS a married man with a young daughter, so he doesn’t need to be around the ladies he ends up getting into trouble at all. Unfortunately, in one way or another they’re part of the case he’s working on, so he’s like a black cat in a suit here. Nearly every lady he comes across in this film goes through some sort of hell when and after he’s around that makes him some sort of magnet for bad luck and worse outcomes.

It’s a wonder he makes it through the film in one piece at all despite the efforts of some bad men to keep him off their cases and yes, far away from those doomed dames. For its time, the amount of violence and even some language was probably considered shocking by some viewers, and in at least one respect the film still packs a wallop. That wallop being Gloria Grahame’s portrayal of Debby Marsh, girlfriend of Lee Marvin’s overly brutal gangster-type, Vince Stone. But Stone is the least of Bannion’s problems when he investigates the suicide of a fellow police officer and gets wrapped up in some other things a wee bit over his head… Continue reading

Random Films: Two From France I Can’t Watch…

made in franceOK, some stuff from the vaults with a goofy story behind them. My late dad gave me a box of VHS tapes around 15 or 20 years back and these two were ones that I couldn’t play on my NTSC tape player (they’re both SEACAM format). I recall telling him this later when he called to ask if I liked the movies and he said he’d “get back to me” later on this. I knew what that meant, so I told him he didn’t have to go looking for a player here at all because even if he DID find one, I’d still need a TV that could play it. If you ever knew my dad long enough, you’d know he had a sort of single-minded pursuit of the great deal mindset to him that was fascinating and slightly pesky once in a while when he’d end up with multiples of some items if you’d simply asked for one. I had to stop him from looking for a VCR and TV on that occasion because I knew he’d somehow find both in his travels and I really didn’t want him to spend that money just so I could watch two movies, one of which I’d already seen…

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Clean Thoughts: Ivan Tors’ OSI Trilogy Deserves a Second Chance, I Say…

gogI hadn’t even thought about Ivan Tors until a weird dream a few weeks back and again today when I was in the shower and for some reason, images from “gog” popped into my head. More precisely, one of the two robots spinning around with its arms out, damaged yet still quite dangerous. Yeah, I think of oddball stuff in the shower – don’t you? No, not THAT kind of stuff… this is a family show!  OK, not ALL the time, but you get the point (jab, jab!)…

Anyway, before you ask a second time (and haven’t yet looked to the left at that poster – it helps to read this site while fully awake most of the time), “gog” was the third film in Tors’ really outstanding Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) trilogy of “hard” science fiction films:

(thanks, MrMaxHeadroom!)

1953’s The Magnetic Monster and 1954’s Riders to the Stars made up the first two chapters and all three make up one of the most intelligent set of sci-fi flicks of the 1950’s. Tors himself was dedicated to making “realistic” genre films and all three succeed today despite many dated elements. That said, one does need to give films such as this a bit of a “pass” in terms of complaining about their cheesier or not so accurate aspects as they were predating and predicting many things science was still figuring out. I also give them a special hall pass gold star because audiences of the time got three films in two years that didn’t insult their intelligence and probably ended up as interesting for adults as it was for the kids who probably thought this was another raygun and robot quickie.

While I’ll most likely do a separate Random Film of the Week post on all three in the future, I’m going to go on ahead and recommend these (in order, of course!) if you’ve never seen them before. I think those of you with an eye for detail and an ear for good stories well told will get a kick out of this trilogy. Given that remaking them is probably never going to happen (although, it would be amazing to see these as period pieces rather than updated into today’s world), you may as well take these in as they’re meant to be seen and smile at the things that make you think a little more than you’d usually care to in a “B” movie…

Random Film of the Week: Invaders From Mars (1953)


invaders from marsThanks to the need to quickly get out product to audiences rabid for the fantastic, plenty of 1950’s sci-fi and horror movies look as if they were tossed together on a few weekends or less by people more or less making stuff up as they went along. Granted, this led to some true classics of awesomely wretched in-excess (otherwise known as “Z” movie greatness around here), but there were also some surprisingly well-made gems that still pack a punch in terms of story, design and overall impact.

Despite two out of three unconvincing-looking aliens (the third one’s the charm) and a bit too much military stock footage inserted to show loads of troops on the move, Invaders From Mars in squarely in the latter camp thanks to its director and production designer, William Cameron Menzies. The multiple Oscar winner applied his keen eye to the film’s visual style, which presents an alien invasion primarily from the point of view of the young boy who sees a saucer land in the field behind his house. Of course, no one believes him, but as things start to go strange around him, there are a few that finally see the light and fight back against the aliens… Continue reading

Random Film of the Week: The Twonky

(thanks, Professor Craigles!) 

twonkyI find it absolutely and awesomely hilarious that the word “Twonky” has been swiped by a few people who probably thought it sounded cool but never, ever saw this oddball 1953 flick that now pops up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time. I’m also sure that some of these hipsters with no sense of film history would be shocked (SHOCKED, I say!) to find out that the titular Twonky of this little film is a nasty alien machine that tries and nearly succeeds to take over the life of the poor sap of a professor who inadvertently ends up with a VERY self-aware robot instead of the TV his wife bought to keep him company.

Writer/director Arch Oboler tries a wee bit too hard to generate laughs and despite some interesting special effects (well, for 1953), the film’s seemingly anti-technology/anti-freedom message overwhelms any chance of it being anything more than a curious artifact of a more paranoid age. Then again, that age seems to have circled back around with a much bigger influence on the more information-rotted minds in today’s heads, so perhaps it’s worth a second (or first) look, hmmm?… Continue reading

Random Film of the Day*: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

*For the next week or so, I’m going to add a random film the great Ray Harryhausen worked on. The legendary special effects MASTER passed away on May 7, 2013 at age 92 in London and yes, the film world owes him more than they can ever repay…

B2KFFor some fans of giant monster movies, Godzilla is their gold standard, but I’m a Rhedosaurus man, myself. 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a smaller-scale picture when compared to Toho’s epic genre entry and it’s also not as sprawling and dynamic as King Kong in terms of impact. On the other hand, Ray Harryhausen’s work here is superb and at a mere 80 minutes, this one goes down easy and doesn’t wear out its welcome one bit.

With its giant lizard (OK, fake, but pretty scary and really huge dinosaur) awakened from the Arctic ice by a nuclear bomb, some interesting plot twists and yes, plenty of wonderful stop-motion mayhem (and some great crowd scenes), this one’s yet another memorable classic for genre fans… Continue reading

Random Film Of The Week: The Wages Of Fear

(thanks, TrailersEmpire1!) 

the wages of fear frStill one of the most intense films I’ve seen, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 masterpiece will have you glued to the screen and peeling the fabric off whatever you’re sitting on as the movie puts its characters through sheer hell. Set somewhere in South America, the plot has four desperate men take on the challenge of driving two trucks packed with nitroglycerine through some hellish territory in order to help put out a massive oil well fire.

The film touches on a few political points in its (deservedly) negative portrayal of the American oil company that hires the drivers, some not so safe workplace practices and general employee exploitation. However, none of the major characters in the film are what you’d call “good” in terms of morality and motivation. They’re in it for the money and a way back to a better life they left that pushed them to this wretched corner of the globe. The film builds up so much tension that each perilous section of the long drive is practically the most terrifying as the danger increases thanks to all sorts of environmental and human created trouble. It’s practically guaranteed that you’ll forget to breathe at least three times during the more insane sections of the journey where the slightest mistake could send these men to their doom long before they reach their goal.

What works from start to finish are the oppressive atmosphere and fantastic performances by all the principals. Yves Montand and Charles Vanel absolutely steal the show as two of the drivers chosen to transport the volatile cargo to its destination. The deliberate pacing at the beginning is simply Clouzot slowly winding you up to a tight coiled spring that’s going to snap once things get rolling. There’s not a dull moment to be had here, although I’ll admit that Clouzot’s only error was the casting of his too-gorgeous wife, Vera as the local gal that falls for Montand’s character. Granted, she’s the best-looking person in the film, but she’s not portrayed all that well if you’re looking for a likable female character in a flick full of brutes. William Friedkin’s excellent (but not quite as spectacular) 1977 remake, Sorcerer, takes care of this with some more realistic casting for her part, but Clouzot’s cinematographer, Armand Thirard does some truly incredible work that’s still impressive in terms of lending a natural (and very deadly) feel to the environments.

There are some white-knuckle, nail-biting moments (if you can grip an armrest and bite your nails simultaneously, that is) that include a trip across a rotting wooden bridge, the truckers dealing with a huge boulder in their path and the sudden loss of part of their cargo and the aftermath. Oh yeah, that ending? It’s a total corker that may catch you off guard. OK, I’ll stop here as I don’t want to spoil anything more and heck, you need to go watch this as soon as you can. Don’t forget to grab a friend who hasn’t seen this and prepare for a wild ride you’ll want to recommend to as many people as possible. Back next week with another recommendation – watch this space (well, after you go watch the film)…