The Land Unknown - 1957
The Land Unknown - Released August 1957. Directed by Virgil W. Vogel
Long before Jurassic Park and the various versions of Journey to the Center of the Earth, this 1957 black and white mini-epic of trapped explorers in a warm water oasis in Antarctica was released in Cinemascope widescreen with a scenario stocked with dinosaurs, a dangerous and hostile jungle, and trapped explorers.
Director Vogel's camera has careful composition throughout, and the effects (from Orien Ernest, Jack Kevan, Fred Knoth, Roswell A. Hoffmann) are usually well done (for 1957) though there are instances where an effect is marred by obvious things that don't belong: a Tyrannosaurus Rex looks great from the waist up, but from waist-down it is obviously a man in rubber trousers marching through a miniaturized set; a small monkey on a plant leaf is guided by an obvious wire sending the jiggling (fake) monkey into the mouth of a carnivorous plant.
Such things aside, the steaming landscape looks like a Louisiana bayou that's become overheated and predatory, and the interactions with the unpredictable prehistoric creatures adds to the dilemma of survival and sense of danger.
The Story in The Land Unknown
The plot of The Land Unknown at first moves along more or less like the 1933 King Kong: a woman (Shirley Patterson) is embedded into an all-male exploration team, and she must put up with remarks from the handsome team leader that this is no place for a woman, and the dialogue about what they're doing adds to the mystery of where they're going and what they'll find (Patterson plays a stern-jawed reporter named Maggie Hathaway).
When the helicopter they are flying malfunctions (it is apparently side-swiped by a pterodactyl), they are soon stuck down below the surface of the earth, and Maggie Hathaway seems to have no particular role except to pay attention to her hygiene which allows for a male team member to come across her while she's bathing and dressing. He apologizes and moves on, but that scene helps to establish her vulnerability in a hostile environment, and shortly after she ends up with the local native (Henry Brandon) who captures her (she passes out) and he brings her back to his cave. After she revives he begins talking crazily about his supremacy over the creatures, and then immediately attacks her. She is rescued by her team, but 'the native' turns out to be Dr. Carl Hunter, the only surviving member of an earlier expedition that also crashed into the underground crater. He offers a bargain: leave the woman with me, and I'll give you a map to where the wreckage from the earlier expedition is, and you can get replacement parts for your helicopter and get out of here.
Part of the team of men, desperate and unnerved by the new environment, seem interested in the deal, but Jock Mahoney (as Commander Hal Roberts) isn't having it, and after an argument all around they leave with Maggie to return to the helicopter camp-site.
Back at the camp, Maggie begins insisting that she ought to return to the cave man so that the other three male crew members can get the part they need and leave, but Commander Roberts reveals that he needs her more, and his budding infatuation guarantees that he will never contemplate the crazed swap offered by the dinosaur king.
Dr. Hunter is supposed to appear, I think, as if he has reverted to being a savage Hollywood cave man, but he looks more like a beatnik musician: he even plays an instrument, a conch shell that seems to terrify the local dinosaurs. His primitive atonal jazz playing gives him and edge over the "land unknown" which comes in handy, especially for dealing with a large Loch-Ness monster sea creature that haunts the lagoon where Hunter's cave is. Soon he will have Maggie Hathaway again under his power, and then the conflict becomes not only man against dinosaur, but Dr. Hunter vs the savage identity within his heart that he created in order to survive...
The direction by Virgil Vogel is very careful, and probably had to be in order to get all of the special effects to work in proper sequence with his actors. Unfortunately, there is woodenness to many of the scenes, as if the cast was playing it too safely (or unrehearsed) such that dialogue becomes flat and without expression. However, Shirley Patterson and Henry Brandon use their facial expressions to good effect to communicate things that are simply not in the dialogue, and you end up wishing the girl reporter and the cave man had more time together.
The usual dinosaur effects are interrupted by one long sequence in which live action lizard monsters fight each other (blown up with lens effects to appear larger than they really are), and that section of The Land Unknown is hyper-realistic (these are monitor lizards which are actually fighting) and when one lizard has killed the other, holding the neck of the lifeless body of the other lizard in its jaw, you realize that The Land Unknown was made before animal safe treatment regulations were in effect.
Notorius - 1946
Notorious - Released September 6, 1946, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Sophia Loren 1970
More Sophia Loren
Dr Strangelove - Released January 29, 1964. Directed by Stanley Kubrick
The Good Earth - 1937
The Good Earth - Released August 6, 1937. Directed by Sidney Franklin (also Victor Fleming, Gustav Machaty, and Sam Wood)
Watership Down - Released Nov 1, 1978. Directed by Martin Rosen
It looks like a children's animated movie, but the harrowing experience of a desperate group of rabbits trying to make it through a hostile countryside is told with frequent episodes of violence and terror, and not the kind of violence of a Looney Tunes cartoon, but a more grim and dark brutality probably not suitable for young children.
A small group of rabbits at an oppressive underground warren realize their location is about to be destroyed by human development, but the leadership of the warren will not listen and instead seeks to imprison them. They escape, with rabbit-guards in hot pursuit. That's just the beginning of an epic exodus to a far hillside where the group (which grows and decreases as they come into contact with other rabbits along the way) believe there will be ample food and freedom. Strategic thinking, visions, and sheer speed are the tools they use to get from one harsh place to another as some from their group are killed. There is humor provided in the tale, and the animation is often inventive and usually colorful (the underground world of the rabbit warrens is however a muted and dark place). Occasional songs assist the storytelling.
Somewhat like the 1951 animated film Animal Farm, there is a level of political awareness among the creatures (more shown than stated in Watership Down) about how their rabbit world is run by strong-arm leaders and force. Also, there is a regular narration about a rabbit god referred to as Lord Frith, and how this being - - usually represented by a glowing sun - - gave the rabbits a 1,000 enemies but also extreme speed and powerful legs.
Paul Gautier - 1932 – 2017
Born October 30, 1931 in Culver City, CA. Died January 13, 2017 in Arcadia, California,
Get Smart 1966
Anatomy of a Lover - broadcast September 19, 1966. Directed by Bruce Bilson
Hymie the robot (played by Richard Gautier) is hacked by the criminal organization KAOS and is programmed to start killing CONTROL agents. He is prevented from strangling the CONTROL chief (Edward Platt) and Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) sneaks Hymie from CONTROL headquarters after he is ordered to disassemble his robot friend to prevent any further attacks. Unfortunately, fixing Hymie proves elusive, meanwhile Hymie starts cleaning Max's apartment and acting as a scold over the lack of hygiene and orderliness in the place.
Back at CONTROL, Max has to cover for his ruse of hiding Hymie by pretending to rebuild the robot from an old laundry machine that never quite looks right however much he rearranges the parts (even putting a hat on top to try and convince the Chief he is looking at Hymie.... it actually looks nothing like Hymie).
Barbara Feldon is on hand as Agent 99 and Laurel Goodwin appears as the Chief's daughter Phoebe (who is starting to fall in love with Hymie). Script for this Get Smart episode is by Gary Clarke with Buck Henry editing.
The Terror of Rome
The Terror of Rome Vs. the Son of Hercules (Aka Maciste, gladiator di Sparta). Released March 26, 1964. Directed by Mario Caiano
In Mario Caiano's The Terror of Rome Vs. the Son of Hercules, it's tough in Rome for the Christians. Caesar thinks they're only good for feeding the lions in the arena, and speaking of feeding, Caesar is always complaining that he's hungry again, and loses track of what he was originally intending to do (round up the Christians).
But the Christians have a secret friend in Rome, and that's Caesar's favorite strong-man and gladiator, Maciste of Sparta, undefeated champion fighter from the Coliseum (in this film, it is not a very large Coliseum, and the cheering throng is rather small, so director Caiano keeps the camera primarily on Caesar, who is usually asking for more food from his entourage).
Maciste is not a Christian, but when he came across the beautiful Livia (Elisabetta Fanti) fleeing from a pair of Roman soldiers in the countryside, he immediately comes to her defense, and when she turns out to be an outlaw Christian, he couldn't care less (she's gentle, outnumbered, and Maciste cannot resist unequal odds in a fight. Also, did we mention, she's beautiful?) Soon Maciste is smitten with her, and before long he's maneuvering events so that a whole group of Christians can get out of the pagan city before they get sacrificed in the arena.
Marilu Tolo is court courtesan Olympia, and too bad for her, she's smitten with the uninterested Maciste, and even when she learns he's in love with a detested Christian girl, Olympia still does her best to protect her muscle headed would-be boyfriend. However, this is getting tricky because Caesar's chief advisor Zefatius (as Robert Hundar) is dead set on making Maciste dead as soon as possible because the bronzed gladiator is his main competitor for Olympia's affection and Caesar's attention.
Director Mario Caiano doesn't have a lot of budget to work with, but the stunt work for the gladiatory fights are pretty well done, and since the film is lifting large pieces from DeMille's 1951 Quo Vadis, Caiano and his writers instead spend time on sneaking humor into the script. This allows the actors to carry it along and add small touches of goofiness between themesleves, that is, when there's not too much dialogue being jammed into a scene (in the dubbed English version, this is often the case, with breathless reams of text being fitted into the moving lips of the Italian actors).
The Terror of Rome Vs. the Son of Hercules isn't going to win any awards for dramatic excellence, but it's a charming piece of Italian "peblum," the genre of muscle bound heroes and their exploits. What starts off as cardboard imitation of better films (Quo Vadis, Spartacus, etc.) develops it's own strange rythmn, and even Caesar becomes sort of a friendly and genial fellow. Mark Forest as Maciste is so earnest and resolute to do the right thing that the whole Roman army simply doesn't stand a chance.
Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck [Illustrated with 310 Photographs] - amazon.com
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