Archive for Godzilla

The Undersea Adventures of Craig McKenzie

Posted in Fashion, FILM, Radio with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2020 by dcairns

As a kid I saw various undersea scifi movies, all terrible I think, but I never saw LATITUDE ZERO, alas. I think I would have dug it. It’s a lot more than terrible. There was one really boring one with lots of enlarged fish which we walked out of at the Odeon, Clerk Street — I’m idly curious as to what it was, but all I remember is the fish.

Then there’s one I saw the end of on TV that has a collapsing belltower underwater, and a long shot of a spoon, I think, dropped into the water and going down, down, down… I’d be grateful for any info you can give me about the title. (OK, YouTube to the rescue — the belltower seems to be from CITY BENEATH THE SEA of 1953, which has Robert Ryan but no spoon, so that’s a different movie. The spoon was a ladle on a wire, and it appears in CAPTAIN NEMO AND THE UNDERWATER CITY, also with Robert Ryan.)

Also on the big screen we saw THE AMAZING CAPTAIN NEMO, a jumped-up TV movie, which as kids we found entertaining enough (Nemo is José Ferrer this time. He issues his 20th-century guests with puffy pirate shirts which they pronounce to be INCREDIBLY COMFORTABLE and that’s all I remember. I was thrilled by the idea of the amazing Nemo chemise. I mean, these guys were on a Victorian submarine with laser cannons and everything, but the shirts were so comfortable that’s what amazed them.)

Joseph Cotten in LATITUDE ZERO is Nemo too, in a slashed-to-the-waist shirt, but they don’t call him that, they call him Craig McKenzie (which they pronounce “Cregg” because they’re Americans and Japanese). He’s a Scottish submariner from the nineteenth century who pilots a Nautilus-type sub with laser cannons and lives in an undersea kingdom or domed city if you will. With constant harpsichord muzak, or is it the score?

This is probably Cotten’s only Japanese fantasy film based on a radio series. He’s allowed one.

It’s not that Cotten, and Cesar “Butch” Romero and Patricia Medina have forgotten how to act, I think, more that Godzilla man Ishirô Honda, the director, isn’t able to give them much sense of what he wants. So the prevailing dramatic note is “Will this do?” Richard Jaeckel is enthusiastic, though.

Linda Haynes hasn’t learned yet how to act yet — she’d become an interesting naturalistic low-key player by the time of THE NICKEL RIDE, but at this point she just seems profoundly depressed in her skimpy plastic clothes. She’s meant to be the medical officer but dresses like a dystopian showgirl. She talks carefully, like a drunkard. She has a way of exiting frame, when tasked with an important mission, that signals unambiguously her intent to walk two paces until out of shot and then pause like a mannequin until “Cut!” is called. It’s a very textured performance, is what I’m saying.

Romero and Medina slosh back cocktails for the whole movie. “They must just be permanently pissed,” mused Fiona. I do like the idea of supervillains whose sole motivation is inebriation. There might be a show in that. How else to explain Butch grafting condor wings onto a slumbering lion? It’s the sort of thing we’ve all done, of course, and regretted in the morning.

Godzilla effects guru Eiji Tsuburaya handles the dinky model work, and lays on a super underwater volcano that bursts to the surface in varihued splendour.

Now, look here. Akira Kurosawa considered Ishirô Honda a trusted colleague. The man helmed numerous entertaining fantasies. So we can’t dismiss him. But neither can we consider him to be any damn good. He can cut together various unconvincing special effects to make a coherent, if ludicrous sequence. But he can’t film people getting out of chairs. Not without discombobulating angle shifts. And I know he didn’t design the sets and costumes here but he apparently was content to film them, which does not redound to his credit.

Favourite exchange: when Romero threatens to dissect a scientist’s brain in order to extract his memories, the prof gasps, “That’s impossible!”

Not for me,” says Romero, with some grandeur. Romero, it must be admitted, knows how to do this shit.

Later, having transplanted his sub captain’s brain into the winged lion, he will ask: “Kuroiga was a fool as a woman, is she also a fool as a griffin?” As damning an inquiry as any I can recall.

Cotten and Butch, left to their own devices by a director focussed on — what, exactly? No man can say! — take diametrically opposed approaches. Cotten takes it all VERY seriously, allowing no trace of camp — looks as if he’s reviewing Salaambo — whereas Cesar R. is high camp throughout, and even gives it a kind of wit. Well, BATMAN is very much relevant experience here, and CITIZEN KANE isn’t.

LATITUDE ZERO contains jetpacks, gold lamé swimwear, a flying lion, bat people, holograms, finger-lasers, brain surgery, tiny flame throwers, a bathysphere, a bath of invulnerability, unwearable costumes, a rockslide, gratuitous trampolining, rodents of unusual size, sliding doors, balconies, a submersible model car; crumbling to dust, skeletons, glass paintings, deadly glitter, explosions, corridors, blinking lights…

The phony lion/flying flunky creates an OZ vibe — Butch’s CCTV screens the equivalent of Margaret Hamilton’s crustal-gazing — confirmed at the end when everyone tries to convince Richard Jaeckel that it was all a dream. “But you were there, and you, and YOU!”

Jaeckel inspects the dailies with dismay.

LATITUDE ZERO stars Hideto Ogata; Jed Leland; Duke Santos; Sheriff Kip McKinney; Betty Thaxter; Golf caddie (uncredited); and Godzilla.

Cold Day in the Park

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 26, 2019 by dcairns

Lovely images from the end of THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, directed by Mikio Naruse, written by top screenwriter Yôko Mizuki, photographed by Masao Tamai — who had just come off GODZILLA.

Since the film is mostly interiors and streets, this sudden expansiveness imparts a refreshing liberation — which the characters feel along with the audience. They don’t run around to the tune of Can’t Buy Me Love or anything like that, but they get the benefit.

The actors are Setsuko Hara of TOKYO STORY fame, Japanese cinema’s good daughter, and Sô Yamamura, who also worked for Ozu as well as appearing in a dizzying array of more commercial stuff, from LONE WOLF AND CUB: BABY CART IN PERIL to TORA TORA TORA to GUNG HO.

My first Naruse! I shall see more.

Typically by now I would have announced The Late Show: The Late Movies Blogathon, but I have left it… rather late. I shall let you guide me: if anyone comments below with an idea for a piece they could write about any filmmaker’s late work, then we shall declare ALL SYSTEMS GO.

Tomorrowsday #6: Ants Aren’t Gentlemen

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2018 by dcairns

a) CLUES

  1. Sugar
  2. No sign of theft.
  3. An abandoned pistol
  4.  Fragments of a doll’s forehead and dress.
  5. An unusual footprint.

Yes, since you ask, I have been watching Mark Kermode and Kim Newman’s TV series, Secrets of Cinema. It doesn’t have many actual secrets of the cinema, though, does it? It’s more about checklists of movie conventions, genre staples and narrative strategies. The only trouble with that is, genres live by their departure from the norm rather than merely their following of set conventions. So, in the episode on heists, so much emphasis was put on putting the team together that one-man jobs like THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR go unmentioned.

But the monster movie COULD profitably be analysed in terms of its conventions and their development, bearing in mind always that the more established these routines get, the greater the pressure becomes to break loose of them.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) uses the atom bomb as starting point for the first time. GODZILLA follows with almost indecent haste the following year.

And, the same year — THEM!

Though as a kid, monsters were my obsession — starting, maybe, with the prehistoric kind, but encompassing the Universal horror movies kind too, and with Dr. Who on TV as a reliable source also. Nearly all the films in the 1974 BBC sci-fi season had monsters (or robots) to enjoy, but THEM! was the only actual monster movie. It’s a good one to start with: I think it would still compel any seven-year-olds not prejudiced against black and white movies — and even then, it starts with a blast or lurid Eastman Color, which my family’s b&w TV wouldn’t have offered at the time ~

In the tradition of most subsequent monster movies, and indeed GODZILLA, the menace is introduced slowly with a series of clues. The traumatised kid is a particularly strong one, and I recall being fascinated by her. I don’t think I’d seen a character in shock before in a movie. (In real life, as a pupil of Parsons Green Primary School, I’d probably seen hundreds.) The ant footprint doesn’t look like anything much, and it’s a bit unlikely that its discovery would lead to the Doctors Medford being called in from the Department of Agriculture, when you think about it, but anything that brings Edmund Gwenn into a movie is not to be sneezed at, even if it’s a giant ant footprint deep enough to contain any amount of mucus,

b) THINGS I READ OFF THE SCREEN IN “THEM!”

  1. STATE POLICE
  2. CUBELETS
  3. TWIN PEAKS
  4. LOOK, JUST READ IT, OK?
  5. DITTO
  6. DITTO

The Twin Peaks one is striking. Though the image really recalls THE BIRDS, which is a similar, if more low-key monster movie, with a low-quality screwball comedy grafted on at the start to throw us off-balance (because genre films thrive on NOVELTY as well as repetition, dig?) I would bet Hitchcock saw this, since he seemed to see everything, and Edmund Gwenn was one of his favourite actors.

THEM!, with its storm drain climax, is very much HE WALKED BY NIGHT only with big ants, and HWBN is the movie that inspired TV’s Dragnet. What a different world it would be if Jack Webb had instead taken inspiration from this movie. The X-Files, thirty years early?

Monster movies tend to be detective stories/police procedurals, in a way, don’t they? Only we find out whodunnit way early, and the who is a what. And then the subduing of the perp is a lot more complicated.

ALIENS owes a lot to this one too.

The movie stars Brooks Hatlen, Santa Claus, Dr. Franz Edelmann, Davy Crockett and the Thing from Another World.

C) DEPARTURES FROM THE NORM

Though James Arness is a hulking he-man G-man, rumpled James Whitmore has a lot more screen time, and gets pincered to death saving little kids at the end (cue Wilhelm scream).

Though the dreaded “close-up of a bee” end (…OR IS IT) hasn’t been invented yet, at the moment of victory — before Romero, the authorities were generally competent and could be relied on to contain giant insect outbreaks — Joan Weldon asks the fatal question, “What about all the OTHER atomic bomvs we’ve set off? And Gwenn lets us have it — we don’t know what will happen, but we’ve OPENED A DOOR. A door into a new world… we’re now living in the Atomic Age, which is to say, science fiction, so we don’t know what will happen.

Though the authorities are generally competent and benign, when a man called Crotty (Fess Parker — as a kid I admired Disney’s Davey Crockett TV show, but I don’t know that I recognized its star here) is committed to a psych ward after reporting Unidentified Flying Giant Ants (the movie wisely never shows the big guys in flight), the heroes leave him in the loony bin so he doesn’t start a panic. He’s still there today.

Not a character arc in a car-full. Though Weldon, the notably tough lady scientist, who doesn’t take any crap from Arness about no girls being allowed in the giant ant nest, does put her hand tenderly on the wounded man in act 3, the movie is refreshingly free of romance, and the only other character development in sight is when people get mandibled to death.

Warner monster films quickly got stupid — I’m in awe of the sheer goofiness of THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE and RETURN OF THE FLY (aka ROTF, aka ROTFLMAO). But THEM! is surprisingly earnest, and manages to communicate that to the audience. Screenwriter Ted Sherdeman had been a staff officer for General MacArthur during the war. When he heard about the bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and threw up.” (As recounted in It Came From the Fifites! Popular Culture, Popular Anxieties.) He adapted the treatment by George Worthing Yates and poured his anxieties about the nuclear age into it.I never knew that extra-large marigolds were grown from irradiated seeds. I guess that’s maybe where the idea of nukes making things bigger came from. First ants, then spiders, then Glenn Langan.

From Wikipedia: “The sounds the giant ants emit in the film were the calls of Bird-voiced tree frogs mixed in with the calls of a wood thrush, hooded warbler and red-bellied woodpecker. It was recorded at Indian Island, Georgia, on April 11, 1947 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.” I love this. What should giant ants sound like? One does have to think outside the box. Crickets are the noisiest insects I can think off. Flies and bees, I guess. But everybody knows that ants don’t sound like crickets, flies, or bees. But you want to look for a sound that’s somehow in the same… genre.

(Kong was a lion, slowed down and played backwards. Dinosaurs have been voiced by elephants and cats, also in slow motion. Speed up the sound on ONE MILLION YEARS BC and its pretty funny. OK, it’s already pretty funny. But when the T-rex becomes an annoyed housecat, it’s something else. The sound is PERFECT at the right speed, mind you — but it’s hard to unhear the speeded-up version.)

Finally, credits: Gordon Douglas directed. He was disappointed that budgetary limitations prevented the film being shot in colour. The ants were a disgusting greenish-purple and “They scared the bejeezus out of you.” I think the b&w makes it — that and the location shooting, and that the ants are life-sized, physically present for the actors to react to, or blast with flame-throwers. Douglas wasn’t an FX specialist like Byron Haskin or someone, so it helped that he could approach the ants with the same blunt force professionalism he applied to everything.

The locations — featuring lots of big props like planes and trains — work with Sid Hickox’s monochrome photography to give it that hard-edged, realist, torn-from-the-headlines quality that was dominating the crime movie at this time. That’s worth any number of lurid ant hues. Douglas would be allowed colour for his next movie — YOUNG AT HEART. There’s one guy who wasn’t typecast.