Archive for George Pal

Ants in Your Plants of 1954

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by dcairns

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Having enjoyed a re-viewing of George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE and found some things to enjoy in THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, we wanted to check out more Pal productions. TOM THUMB wasn’t handy so we tried THE NAKED JUNGLE but couldn’t get through the damn thing.

This is the kind of film that used to be always on. Saturday night, alone and bored, I turn on the TV and there’s Chuckles Heston battling army ants with his fists and chin. The ant invasion is described as “forty square miles of agonizing death” but that’s a description better suited to the film itself.

Pal’s production, directed by former photographer and effects expert Byron Haskin, is matte paintings from the waist up. Various “natives” in shoe polish display various colonial stereotypes. The big threat, other than Heston’s obnoxious he-man characterisation, is the ant attack, only introduced halfway through but swiftly dominating everything and leaving the Eleanor Parker romance angle to bosom-heaving sighs on the sideline.

The screenwriters’ conceit is that marauding ants lay waste to everything in their path and can even skeletonize a man, in exactly the same way that piranhas can’t. As advance lookout, Chuckles selects a particularly fat native on the grounds that it will take the insects longer to devour him, but alas, being fat, dozy, and covered in shoe polish, he falls asleep on watch and gets eaten. Here I was looking forward to something equivalent to the faux time-lapse decaying Morlock in THE TIME MACHINE, but the movie gets all coy, not to mention cheap, on us, so all we get is the actor screaming “My eyes!” and then a shot of an empty suit on the floor. I was also hoping for puppetoon ants courtesy of Pal’s animator associates, even though that would be an INSANE amount of work.

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Fellow Shadowplayers, I was not disappointed — and yet I was. The puppetoon insects duly appear, stripping the leaves from a tree, but only for two shots. That’s not enough puppetoonery for a feature film. I would even have accepted those annoying elves from BROS. GRIMM, as long as Chuck could have punched their stupid lopsided faces in.

What a Wonderful World

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2014 by dcairns

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Lost and gone, lost and gone, as the spectral “jury of the damned” intone in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. And so it is with THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, directed by George Pal and Henry Levin. While the other Cinerama feature, AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS and HOW THE WEST WAS WON have enjoyed restorations and blu ray releases, this one may never be seen in the form intended or any digital approximation thereof, since the elements have not shown up anywhere. Collectors gathered bits and pieces from around the world and were able to screen a patched-together, Frankenstein’s monster print, with the three different panels of the giant Cinerama frame consisting of different bits in different conditions, varying from near-pristine to lamentable — and a couple of seconds of the thing got destroyed in that screening.

It’s not the tragedy it would be if the film was as good as Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, which still holds up beautifully. Pal’s weakness for flat, TV lighting, and his uncertainty with script and gags, hold this one back considerably. The plot in the framing structure consists of a wearisome romance between one Grimm Brother and Barbara Eden, and the financial woes and employment troubles of the pair of them. This is a startlingly dull premise for a roadshow family picture, and the last half hour, when a happy ending has been all but guaranteed, is a life-sapping ordeal.

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Also, the elves are horrible, charmless things. Worse than Oompa-loompas.

But here are some flaws that don’t matter: one brother is German (Karlheinz Boehm from PEEPING TOM, prompting me to cry “Tell us the one about your magic camera!”) and the other is Lithuanian with an English accent (Laurence Harvey, very good in a role which requires warmth and a childlike quality, both of which you might think are entirely outside his range but NO); two directors, but in fact Levin, brought in to handle the serious parts, is no better at drama or extreme-wide-screen decoupage than Pal, so their virtues and inadequacies blend seamlessly; European and American actors generally mingled randomly — it’s a melting pot, so what?; the stop start of a framing narrative continually interrupted by fantasy fairy tale sequences – since the framework is mainly a drag, the interruptions are ALWAYS WELCOME.

And here are the virtues ~

A great stop-motion dragon, more cartoony than anything Harryhausen would dream of presenting, but perfect for the tone of this show. He breathes cartoon flames, too.

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The whole Russ Tamblyn section, which makes exhilarating use of the star’s athleticism and only makes you wish somebody had cast him in a Keatonesque thrill comedy at feature length. Fun perf from Jim Backus as a kind of King Magoo (“You’re just a princess, whereas I’m a king, which is better.”) And we finally discover a reason for Yvette Mimieux: she dances beautifully.

The singing bone. It has a spooky, vocoder voice and it sings about being dead. And it once belonged to Buddy Hacket’s shin.

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Some effective use of the wide frame, for rushing movements, and dance, and spectacle. And some very weird uses, like fast pans which make the screen ripple as if it were being projected on Miles Mander’s ribcage. Peculiar shots where each character is in a different part of the cine-triptych, acting in his own little world, and doesn’t seem to be looking at the others, due to the fisheye type distortion of the three lenses looking at the action from different directions. See here for delirious examples from other films.

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Fever dream with fantasy characters, genuinely trippy. Best fever hallucination feeling outside of THE TENANT. Although see also the Mirkwood scenes in HOBBIT II.

The sad thing is that people demand perfection from their restorations. I have no doubt that a version of TWWOTBG could be assembled with much tidier joins between the panels, but there would still be visible flaws, some of them glaring, and so there’s no will to embark on such a project.

The Man of Tomorrow

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2012 by dcairns

I had no fond memories whatsoever of George Pal and Byron Haskin’s THE POWER, but having enjoyed THE SEVEN FACES OF DR LAO so much on revisiting it, I thought I’d give it a try. Pal’s cinema seems to swing from the rather dry spectacle of WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE or DESTINATION MOON to something mixing the poetic and strange in with its pulpier elements, as in THE TIME MACHINE.

In fact, THE POWER is a good bit more interesting than I remembered — I’d probably never watched the whole thing, and had probably been put off by a certain surface blandness: late sixties studio espionage thriller + George Hamilton… it’s the kind of film where computers are all whirring tapes and blinking lights and everything is clean and colourful. But in fact I enjoyed it so much I might give DOC SAVAGE, MAN OF BRONZE a try next — now that was a film I couldn’t get along with as a kid at all.

So, there’s this top secret agency devoted to torturing people in order to test human endurance for NASA, but one day some intelligence tests reveal that one member of the team there has an abnormally advanced brain — so intellectually powerful that s/he can be assumed to have weird telekinetic abilities. This makes no sense, but everybody accepts the dubious logic even as they doubt the premise. And soon, somebody is causing the scientists to die, starting with LAO’s Arthur O’Connell, who falls into a trance and accelerates himself to death in a human centrifuge — cue a grisly makeup effect by William Tuttle –

George Hamilton goes on the run with Suzanne Pleshette (I’d like to team her with Diane Baker in something I’d call Hitchcock’s More Interesting Brunettes) and tries to trace a single name that could explain what’s going on. Along the way he meets — guest stars! Lots of guest stars! Yvonne De Carlo, Aldo Ray, Michael Rennie, Nehemiah Persoff and “Miss Beverly Hills.” It all ends in a spectacularly weird psychic face-off which should remind us of SCANNERS but actually gets into peculiar ALTERED STATES imagery — even including a shot of the hammer dulcimer that’s playing Miklos Rosza’s theme music, a shot that’s as non-diegetic as the music itself. That vaguely Eastern European sound always has the effect of making you see Reds under the beds in a film like this, which is ironic as this is one Cold War thriller in which neither the Russians not the Chinese play any role at all. Probably, when Homo Superior gets through with us, there will be no nations at all…

Miss Beverly Hills actually has some pretty interesting credits, but screenwriter John Gay (adapting a sci-fi thriller by Frank M. Robinson, who was Harvey Milk’s speechwriter and plays himself in MILK) takes the cake — Minnelli’s FOUR HORSEMEN, NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, SOLDIER BLUE, A MATTER OF TIME… crazy stuff.

When I first saw this big old bag of mismatched elements, which feels like what you might get if you blended Gay’s entire CV in a human centrifuge, I wondered who the hell it was for, and I suspect 1968 audiences did too. But now I have the answer — it’s for me.

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