Category: 1953


tumblr_le9du4WUNz1qb8ugro1_1280This fetching young woman is the late Hungarian actress, Eva Bartok (1927-98), who had a 16-year career in front of the camera between 1950-66. We saw her last in Spaceways (1953). Bartok may have had a child by way of Frank Sinatra from an affair in 1956, but other than that bit of gossip, she’s more-or-less forgotten about these days. Her films tended to be B-list melodrama thrillers, often with a World War II or early Cold War espionage angle.

1952. Also starring Christopher Lee.

1952. Also starring Christopher Lee.

1953. With Nazis!

1953. With Nazis!

1955. Hammer film about trying to exfiltrate a Polish scientist to the West.

1955. Hammer film about trying to exfiltrate a Polish scientist to the West.

1956. Commies using gamma rays to turn children into mutants!

1956. Commies using gamma rays to turn children into mutants!

1958. Teutonic white slavery racket exposed!

1958. Teutonic white slavery racket exposed!

1959. Keeping Nazis from the diamond fortune.

1959. Keeping Nazis from the diamond fortune.

1959. Double-billed with Dinosaurus! (1960)

1959. Double-billed with Dinosaurus! (1960)

1960. Possibly Bartok at her best.

1960. Possibly Bartok at her best.

1964. Mario Bava classic.

1964. Mario Bava classic.

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Soundtrack was recycled for Ed Wood’s Jail Bait (1954).

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“SUSPENSE is airborne in a new British spy thriller!”

An alien being with the power of invisibility lands in . . . Santa Monica?

An alien being with the power of invisibility lands in . . . Santa Monica?

Hammer sci-fi, helmed by veteran director Terence Fisher.

Hammer sci-fi, helmed by veteran director Terence Fisher.

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Misogynistic Quote of the Film: "Ah, the female scientist. How am I going to handle her?"

Misogynistic Quote of the Film: “Ah, the female scientist. How am I going to handle her?”

Originally a pre-feature serial, AKA: "Missile Base at Taniak," in which the serial chapters were combined into a TV movie in 1966.

Originally a pre-feature serial, AKA: “Missile Base at Taniak,” in which the serial chapters were combined into a TV movie in 1966.

Feature version of a 1939 Buck Rogers serial.

Feature version of a 1939 Buck Rogers serial.

"You'll Actually LIVE IT... Because It's in 3-DIMENSION!"

“You’ll Actually LIVE IT… Because It’s in 3-DIMENSION!”

Never a good sign when your lead actor gets on set of your sci-fi epic, and thinks he's on the Soupy Sales Show.

Never a good sign when your lead actor gets on set of your sci-fi epic, and thinks he’s on the Soupy Sales Show…

The radio version in 1944 starred Orson Welles.

The radio version in 1944 starred Orson Welles.

Made with "Cat-Women of the Moon" and the two films were released a few days apart.

Made with “Cat-Women of the Moon” and the two films were released a few days apart.

0023I recently had the pleasure of listening to the original 1938 radio play of War of the Worlds, and watching the classic 1953 film, and I was thinking wouldn’t it be cool to pull together all the film adaptations in one place? I found seven feature-length films and a short-lived TV series. Here you go:

1953

Starting off with a bang, the original film adaptation is still the best outing.  It was a smash success, and won an Oscar for special effects. Way ahead of its peers in the “monster from out space coming to eat you” genre–this one was actually quite a believable flick. The Martian spaceship effects were recycled about a decade later for Robinson Crusoe on Mars, which is another classic definitely worth your time.

While we’re at it, check out this quick interview about the visual effects for this first outing:

 1988-90

After a 35-year hiatus, as far as I can tell, the next iteration was a two-season (42 episode) series that was more or less a direct sequel to the 1953 film. The opener included a couple shots of, or re-created to look like, the original film. In this iteration, we get War of the Worlds mashed up with The Thing in which the Martians are taking over the bodies of people from Earth. Two re-treaded Red Scare/Cold War allegories for the price of one!

2005

Fifteen more years of hiatus and we get not one, not two, but three variations on the theme! Of course there was the blockbuster directed by Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. The Spielberg version is certainly a serviceable B-movie flick, though somewhat forgettable, even if nominated for a couple sound and effects Oscars.

The rip-off version, properly known as H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, is a C. Thomas Howell straight to video monstrosity with god awful visual effects–it is perhaps unfair to compare a film with a million dollar budget to one with a $132 million budget. This video was clearly aimed at exploiting the notoriety the Spielberg version was sure to get. It was shot quickly in February 2005, made it through post quickly to be released within days of Spielberg’s version. And it got a sequel in 2008.

More interesting than either of the above is the Thomas Hines version of the story, set earlier in history in the late 19th century, which is truer to Wells’ original story. This one was shot earlier than the other two–in August 2004–and represents a more imaginative, if badly executed, take on the source material (on film). Most interestingly, Hines & Co. comes back with another version of the story in 2012.

2008

As threatened, we get to the sequel of the C. Thomas Howell version called War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave. It’s two years after the initial invasion, and “the next wave” of the invasion arrives. Meanwhile, we send a space fleet to take the battle to Mars. This sequel was made on half the budget of its predecessor, for half a million dollars. It shows all over the place–I don’t think there’s even 30 seconds of new material in the trailer, for instance.

2012

This is easily the best year for WotW flicks, mainly due to how the two films released in this year re-imagined the original material. War of the Worlds: The True Story marks the return of Thomas Hines to this material. This time around, the story is given a docu-drama treatment: the attack happened around 1900, and the last living veteran of the invasion/war conducts an on-camera interview before his death in 1965. I love this premise, though its execution may leave something to be desired.

The other one for this year, and the latest iteration of the story as far as I am aware, is an animated version, War of the Worlds: Goliath, set in 1914 and 15 years after the original invasion. This is WotW: Steampunk Edition. Heat rays, armored blimps, steam-powered tripod walkers to fight the Martians, and flying biplane carriers abound. As does Adam Baldwin.

It is a great testimony to H.G. Wells’ original material–first penned 120 years ago–that War of the Worlds continues to fascinate and inspire new interpretations as the years go by. Countless stories of humans vs. aliens have been told over the years, especially on film, but this story more or less introduced the concept, and did it best.

 

Only live action adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book that he ever agreed to. It flopped, but has all the post-war tropes: atom bombs, militarization, corporate greed, the Korean War, and brainwashing. Also, pedophilia.

The Maze (Full Movie, 1953)

Hitch-Hiking Into History

Hitch-Hiker_poster This film is an interesting piece of film noir directed by Ida Lupino in an era where there were very few women directors and is based on an all-but-forgotten true crime story of the day.  What makes this film special is that it helped establish the “noir roadshow” sub-category of noir, in which the darkness and tropes of the genre play out on a broader backdrop of a travel story.  It is in the process of being remade by Hannah Fidell as we speak.

So this post is not a movie review.  If you are looking for some perspective on whether you should see this film, I’ll direct you to Lost Highway’s recent review, which is how I came to know about this movie.  For the history geeks, I’ll direct you to the original review in the New York Times, 60 years and a few months ago, which apparently did not have much appreciation of B movies back in the day:

An unrelenting but superficial study of abnormal psychology coupled with standard chase melodrama, it moves swiftly to the obvious conclusion.

That’s true enough.  The review, interestingly, makes no mention of the real-life inspiration for the film, nor the fact that at one point, one of the kidnapped men’s stress at the situation finally boils over, and he lashes out in a fit of unadulterated rage screaming at the villain: “You Stink!”  Taken against his will and made to drive hundreds of miles out of his way by a psychopath who has promised to kill him at the end of the drive, and he can’t even bring yourself to even use harsh language.  Ah, for the days of PG-rated rage! 

In this post, I’m more interested in what happened off-screen to inspire this film, the making of the film, and its legacy more than recounting the events portrayed between opening credits and when the lights come back up.  That said, you should check out the film:

 Ripped from the Headlines: The Billy Cook Murders

CookThe meat of the story in The Hitch-Hiker came from the real life case against Billy Cook, a spree-killer who killed half a dozen people while hitchhiking; his most tragic victims were the Mosser family–Carl, 33, his wife, Thelma, 29, and their three children: Pamela, 3, Gary, 5, and Ronald, 7.  Cook then killed a man in California.  He was sentenced to 300 years in an Oklahoma prison for killing the Mossers, and then later was sentenced to death for subsequent murder in California.  He was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin on December 12, 1952.  His story was recounted about a decade later in cowboy author Glenn Shirley‘s 1963 true-crime thriller, Born to Kill.  You can find a just-the-facts-ma’am rundown of Cook and his spree here.

At any rate, according to Lupino’s biographer, she based the script for The Hitch-Hiker on the Cook case–she often got ideas for her films from reading newspaper stories, according to another account.  She included in her film a killer with a slight deformity to his eyelid–just as Billy Cook had. Part of the claustrophobic feeling one gets from The Hitch-Hiker is that you can’t tell if the killer in the backseat is asleep or not, because his right eye is permanently open.  Lupino interviewed two of Cook’s surviving victims, and obtained releases from them and from William Cook–the killer’s father–to incorporate elements of this real life tragedy into her film, according to Lisa Livingston-Martin’s new book on the darker side of Route 66 in Missouri.

The Hitch-Hiker’s Legacy

This movie is remembered today as one of the first films of the “noir-road” films, in which noir-esque events and dark mood are taken on the road and we see the noir elements playing out on the trip.  According to the essential Historical Dictionary of Film Noir, this sub-category of films developed much after the initial noir films had been and gone–indeed, noir by 1953 was already in steep decline, and most by this time were relegated, like Hitch-Hiker was, to the B movie circuit.  Thus, The Hitch-Hiker is more or less the direct ancestor to much more recent films such as The Hitcher (1986, and poorly remade in 2007), Bright Angel (1991), Kalifornia (1993), Cold Around the Heart (1998), and Joy Ride (2001).

One footnote to this movie, gets to other influences of the original source material, the Billy Cook murders.  Most notably that The Doors’ classic song “Riders on the Storm” (1971) as being written about the Cook case.  This is likely an urban legend, despite an eerily familiar scene as the Cook case:

There’s a killer on the road/his brain is squirmin’ like a toad

Take a long holiday/let your children play

If you give this man a ride/sweet family: they will die/killer on the road . . .

According to Doors’ guitarist Robbie Krieger, “Riders” was based on the old song “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and since other potential inspirations are imposed on this song by wishful fans, one might think one of its creators would should probably get the definitive last word and put this myth to bed.

Bibliography

Here are some of the sources used in this post, if you want to explore any of this further:

  • Lisa Livingston-Martin, Missouri’s Wicked Route 66: Gangsters and Outlaws on the Mother Road. The History Press, 2013.
  • Andrew Spicer, The Historical Dictionary of Film Noir. Scarecrow Books, 2010.
  • Daniel Bubbeo, The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies. MacFarland & Co., 2002.
  • William Donati, Ida Lupino: A Biography. University Press of Kentucky, 1996.
  • Glenn Shirley, Born to Kill. Monarch Books, 1963.
  • A.W., “At the Holiday: The Hitch-Hiker,” New York Times, 30 April 1953, p. 39.
  • “6th Murder Attributed to Killer,” New York Times, 21 September 1951, p. 34.

Here’s a bit on what I’ve been reading as of late–mainly from those with the sufficiently poor judgment as to follow me on Twitter. Seriously, you folks are awesome, and I wanted to highlight your stuff to the 8 or so people who read this blog 😉  Mainly I read your movie reviews, I’ve seen many of these, but a few I have not, and I’ll be getting to those soon.  I don’t like to review individual films so much–I know my limitations–but enjoy reading yours very much. Here, I thought I would match the reviews to where we can find online viewing of trailers and full movies,just for convenience.  There’s a few non-movie reviews tucked in here, too.

These links are no real order, but do check out these fine purveyors of horror and B-movies!

George Wendt!

  • Horrorpedia and Stigmatophilia both take on Hack-O-Lantern (aka: Halloween Night) from 1988.  I hate it when Grandpa ends up a satanic cult leader!
  • Daily Grindhouse offers a list of “50 Cult Movie Books Every Film Fan Should Own.”  I am a book lover too, so I loved this set of posts: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  I think the essentials here are numbers 36, 31, 28, 20, 19, 13 (these last three are my all time favorites) 10 and 2.  Some of the works included seemed like filler to get to 50, while some good ones seemed to go missing.  Maybe we just have different tastes, and I should do up my own list.

Also starring Alan Ormsby of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1973), fwiw.

Yes, Paul Sorvino!

  • Isaac’s Picture Conclusions on Scar (2007).  Not familiar with this movie, but throwing it on the “to watch” list, despite its apparent lack of coherence.
  • Lastly, have a look at the Do-It-Yourself Giallo Kit to get your very own (fake) movie title, director, and plot in the Italian crime/thriller spirit. Such as: A Golden Armadillo on the Cold Metal Table (dir. Sergio and Martino de Alberto) in which: “An American model is killing off the members of a certain business.  A female journalist accidentally destroys some crucial evidence about the the killing. When another person is found murdered, she is on the verge of solving the mystery when she is killed by the real culprits: a secret society made up of the people she most trusted.”  Loads of fun . . . for five minutes.

angelsashardastheycomeThis month is the 42nd anniversary of the release of this little gem of an outlaw biker flick, notable for being written by Jonathan Demme, and starring Scott Glenn and Gary Busey before they were stars.  In fact, this was Busey’s first film role.

As is my general rule, I’ll not review this film as such–you can find an excellent review herebut I did want to try bring out some other maybe lesser known things about this film that might shed some different light on it.  First, Demme, who was in the 1970s a protege of Roger Corman, describes this film as being done for Corman (p. 18-19) as very loosely based on Rashomon–the 1950 Kurosawa classic about the nature of guilt and how witnesses to the same events can have very different and conflicting interpretations of those events.  The opportunity Corman gave Demme changed the 26-year-old Demme’s life by giving him a huge break, and he’s very grateful to Corman for having had the faith in him to take on this project.

Charles Dierkop as "The General," leader of the rival MC.

Charles Dierkop as “The General,” leader of the rival MC.

Angels came out in 1971, near the end of the fad of “outlaw biker cinema” that moreorless started with The Wild One in 1953.  According to Bill Ogersby‘s chapter in Underground USA: Filmmaking Beyond the Hollywood Canon some movies in this sub-genre before Angels tended to romanticize the counter-culture aspects of the real life Hell’s Angels as a kind of anti-establishment icon.  After the violence at the Altamont Free Concert where the brutality of Hell’s Angels members was on full display; this sad affair ended the naive fascination with the motorcycle club.  Angels and a handful of other of the remaining post-Altamount biker films (such as: Satan’s Sadists [1970]; Angels Die Hard [1970]; Hell’s Bloody Devils [1970]; The Hard Ride [1971]; and The Jesus Trip [1971]) exploited the violence of the Altamont tragedy by showing more violent depictions of bikers. None of these depictions was less violent than Angels as it portrayed a gang rape gone wrong, resulting in a woman’s death, and a rival MC leader (Charles Dierkop, who as it turns out also celebrates his birthday this month) sadistically punishing Scott Glenn and his  band for the crime.    

Gary Busey is a Hippie!

Gary Busey is a Hippie!

Turning to onset antics, Gary Littlejohn, who did the stunts for this film (and played “Piston”) gave an interview a few years back (for Brian Albright’s Wild Beyond Belief: Interviews with Exploitation Fimmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, p. 165) on working with Gary Busey on the latter’s first film.  Apparently, the young 27-year-old Busey’s famous temper was already in place back then, and when he wasn’t turning in the performance (as a hippie leader) Demme wanted, Littlejohn bodyblocked Busey as he was carrying a bucket of water down a flight of stairs (off camera, presumably).  Busey went off on Littlejohn (ahem) and his performances were markedly improved afterwards, and Busey and Littlejohn became friends after that.

Go find this film (at the above YouTube link, if nothing else), and love yourself some good later-period outlaw bikers.  Then go back and watch the whole cannon, between episodes of the new season of Sons of Anarchy, which owes much to this film and this era of genre films.