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Island in the Sky

Tightly constructed gem of a film - very surprising
I'll admit I wasn't expecting much here - I'd seen the tail-end of the movie a while back, and it didn't look too hot, but I'm a wannabe John Wayne completest, so I took it upon myself to watch this 1953 effort as an outward and visible sign of my devotion.

It's a stunning film, for those who appreciate such things. The Duke plays against type to a degree here. He's a WWII-era transport pilot in this one whose plane goes off-course and crashes in an uncharted region of Labrador in -70F (-56C) temperatures. He's not exactly a hopeless neurotic - this is John Wayne, after all - but you can see his confidence falter as it becomes increasingly likely that he and his men aren't going to make it out alive. This is paralleled by the story of the search pilots, whose confidence also wanes as they poke around the confusing landscape trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Great performances on that side of the story, too, most notably by Andy Devine of all people - the veteran John Wayne fan keeps waiting for the comic relief from this fine character actor, and its absence adds to the overall tension. The juxtaposition of the two stories underscores the importance of friendship, devotion, courage, cooperation, and creativity. For the history-minded among you, it is also piques one's interest in radio and aviation technology of the WWII period - in ways the Duke's "fighter jock" movies like "The Flying Tigers" and "Flying Leathernecks" really do not. This is a remarkable film, well written in Hemmingwayesque sparse, masculine prose and effectively photographed in stark black and white. Highly recommended, especially for the odd duck who still believes that John Wayne couldn't act. 8/10

Paragraph 175

Interesting but disappointing
This film gives us a touching look at several unique, vibrant people who survived the Holocaust-era persecution of homosexuals, but it lacks the substance and historical detail that a good treatment of this subject requires. The stories of the pro-gay Wiemar culture are the best thing about the picture. From them, we get a real sense of what that era was like and what a loss the Nazi ascension represented. When the film considers the Holocaust itself, however, the interviewees' reticence on the topic fails to provide nearly so rich a description of either the camps or the legal mechanisms of Nazi persecution of homosexuals. It is not a bad film by any means, but it does little to educate the viewer, and education on this topic is sorely needed.

James Joyce's Women

Courageous performance by Flannigan
This is a fantastic effort, a virtual one-woman show. Flannigan takes daunting, challenging material and makes it poetically lucid. The highlight comes in a long, sexually explicit monologue where she shows wonderful comfort with her body and expresses aspects of the feminine psyche not often seen in films. Highly recommended

London After Midnight

The Famous Lost Film
_London After Midnight_ was Lon Chaney's first and only foray into the vampire subgenre. Directed by longtime collaborator Tod Browning (of _Dracula_ and _Freaks_ fame), _London_ featured a twist ending which many contemporary viewers found unsatisfying.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for modern-day viewers to effectively judge the film as there is not a print known to exist. What we do know about the film comes from its plethora of publicity stills (which have been reconstructed into a filmbook by Philip J. Riley), Browning's remake, _Mark of the Vampire_ (which is allegedly a shot-by-shot imitation), and the recollections of those who saw the film decades ago, like the legendary Forrest J. Ackerman.

The general consensus is that, though Chaney's makeup is typically excellent, the film was only mediocre and its lost status is no great blow to film history. That being said, it is certain that the rediscovery of this film would send hundred of movie buffs into an absolute frenzy. As the IMDB says, "Check your attic!"


Not really that bad
I am somewhat embarrassed to say this, but _Maniac_ is simply not that bad of a film. The acting is hammy, but its ineptitude doesn't even approach the Ed Wood level. This is an exploitation film, pure and simple. It was created to show insanity and scantily clad women when such things were prohibited from the mainstream. It is actually quite entertaining, especially when compared to other 1930s B-movies. The plot is certainly loopy, but not beyond following.

_Maniac_ is not a "good" film, but I would not put it anywhere near the running for worst movie of all time. That honor should be reserved for complete disasters like _Manos, The Hands of Fate_, _Robot Monster_ (which is probably the ultimate "so bad it's good" film), _Glen or Glenda_, _Big Jim McLain_, _Ninja Wars_, _The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant_, or _Dracula vs. Frankenstein_. These films were trying to be snappy entertainment and came out horribly wrong. _Maniac_ was trying to be exactly what it is.

Sex and Buttered Popcorn

Entertaining description of the exploitation film business
This film chronicles the exploitation film business of the '30s and '40s. Though this documentary does provide ample footage of legendary films like 'Mom and Dad', 'Maniac', and 'Reefer Madness', its aim is not to provide artistic criticism (which, given the quality of these movies, is a wise choice). Rather, 'Sex and Buttered Popcorn' highlights the promoters of these films, complete with reminiscences from many of the top exploitation producers.

Most of the films under consideration dealt with some taboo issue that excited the public's interest and (often morbid) curiosity. 'Maniac', for example, ostensibly deals with mental illness, 'Mom and Dad' with teen pregnancy, 'Reefer Madness' with drug use. The promoters would use the films to excite, titillate, and often panic their crowds, then sell books and other materials dealing with the topic. In almost all instances, the movies were there to help sell other products, not to stand on their own. This subtlety is usually lost on modern viewers of these movies, especially "bad movie" fans who often cry, "What were they thinking?" This film goes a long way toward answering that question.

Granted, most of the films were laughably bad by modern standards, and one can only speculate on the quality of the materials these hucksters were dealing, but the surviving promoters certainly show no shame. The men in this movie, rather, are proud of what they did and speak with great joy of their days on the circuit.

If you're a fan of exploitation movies, this is indispensable viewing. If not, it's still a fascinating look at a misunderstood sector of the industry. 7/10.

In Old California

How did the Duke let himself get talked into this one?
This film is a disappointment from top to bottom. While I could have understood a film of this nature from the Duke's poverty row days, by 1942 he was making quality pictures like _The Spoilers_ and _The Long Voyage Home_. Even flicks like _Pittsburgh_ and _In Old Oklahoma_, while formulaic, at least followed a _good_ formula. This film isn't offensive enough to make me hate it like _Big Jim McLain_ or _Donovan's Reef_, but it's plenty bad. No action, no character, no story, no reason to watch.

Overland Stage Raiders

The story behind the film alone is worth the viewing
_Overland Stage Raiders_ marks the convergence of two great performers, one on her way out of film, the other about to begin the most successful run in film history. Louise Brooks, star of G.W. Papst's erotic masterpiece _Pandora's Box_, makes her last appearance in this run-of-the-mill, twentieth-century entry in the "Three Mesqueeters" series. Though the plot is a preposterous hodgepodge involving the opening of air freight service to an isolated cattle town, Brooks is ever the stunner next to John Wayne, who was still a year away from A-line box office success in _Stagecoach_.

I recommend this film for three reasons:

1. The sheer curiousity value. The greatest western actor opposite the greatest actress in the history of German Expressionism while he was on his way up and she was on her way out. They met in obscurity and went on to immortality.

2. The chance to see the raw potential of John Wayne before his work with John Ford. The presence, the charisma, and the physicality that would make him a colossus are all here. Under a competent directior, these would bloom from reliable entertainment into art.

3. Everyone should see a "Three Mesqueeters" movie. This is probably the best series of the 1930s "poverty row" films, and it is a pure joy to see the workmanlike love put into these programmers. They aren't auteur classics, but for many viewers in the period, they were what movies were all about.

The Vampire Lovers

One of the Best Vampire films--Excellent Telling of the Carmilla Tale
_The Vampire Lovers_ is one of the most faithful adaptations of a story I have ever seen in a major production. Based on J. Sheridan LeFanu's _Carmilla_, Baker's film captures the essence of evil wrapped in feminine beauty. Ingrid Pitt plays Mircalla with great restraint; her character comes off cold and deceptive, but still driven by a need for love. The action is well timed and choreographed, and the nudity, though a bit gratutious at times, is photographed sensitively and with great appreciation for the actresses.

Yes, this is something of a guilty pleasure because of the leads' beauty, but if one looks beyond the titilation, the story, photography, and performances in _The Vampire Lovers_ hold up very well indeed! 8 out of 10.

King Kong

King Kong as Racist Parable
I see this film as Cooper's version of _Birth of a Nation_. Think about it. Kong lives peacefully in the jungle where he is king of his savage domain. Then he is brought to America in chains to serve the white man, only to break free, kidnap a white woman, and be killed by the military industrial complex.

Incidentally, if you look at comic strips of the 30s, Blacks are often drawn as apes or monkeys. I feel that Cooper used this analogy to create a sublimated parable for racial separation. Were the same film to come out today, we'd be all over it, but the character has become such a part of our consciousness that we can no longer see the original racist intent.


THE masterpiece of the Horror genre.
_Frankenstein_ represents a synthesis of great work. Whale and Webling wisely decided to avoid the epic stature of Shelley's book. Instead, they created a tight story with some of the most memorable scenes in film history. Cinematographer Karl Freund borrows from his German Expressionist roots in using shadow to create a foreboding atmosphere. Special effects artist Kenneth Strickfaden and makeup genius Jack Pierce became legends for their work on Frankenstein's laboratory and the creature's appearance, both of which have ascended to archetypal stature in the human consciousness. Perhaps the greatest credit, however, belongs to Boris Karloff, whose pantomime of the monster evokes tremendous sympathy even as it scares us. _Frankenstein_ is a true classic in a field of pale imitators.

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