Archive for Ib Melchior

Zero Displacement

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2017 by dcairns

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Two more Esther Williams movies, but they don’t make much of a splash.

ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU is supposed to be about a besotted air force pilot abducting a movie star to a tropical island so he can have a dance with her. The pilot is played by Peter Lawford, who I don’t think is a terrible actor, but he lacks chemistry — with anyone. Chemically, he is inert. Most straight guys, placed in a scene with Es, would be able to muster some excitement, but Lawford remains flat and petulant.

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To overcome this considerable problem, the movie tries deferring its plot indefinitely, spending a full 45 minutes mooning around a hotel before the romantic kidnapping gets started. Fortunately, Xavier Cugat is on hand. If you want to stop a storyline from ever getting underway, Xavier Cugat is just the man you need. He assails us with Latin swing music, and keeps pressing chihuahuas onto Jimmy Durante. This business was apparently judged to be a suitable delaying tactic by the suits at MGM, and it does pass the time in a desultory sort of way that is yet not as desultory as watching Peter Lawford drily articulate his yearning.

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The main entertainment is actually provided by little Kathryn Beaumont as an English child actor. She was the voice of Alice and Wendy for Disney. She’s supposed to play the young Esther in a movie, but Durante declares she’s too English. “But mother,” asks Kathryn, “How is it possible to be too English?”

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If ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU never gets started, the clumsily titled THRILL OF A ROMANCE gets started immediately, then smashes to a halt and expires in Yosemite Park. Esther is wooed and wed by the oddly creepy Carleton G. Young, who is not the same guy who says “Print the legend” in LIBERTY VALANCE. Something has been added — the letter G. Admittedly, this character is a sort of schnook set up to make Van Johnson look more marriagable (the plot ends in bigamy, a surprising recurring feature of Esther vehicles). And admittedly this is wartime, so all the proper leading men are in the army. Some casting director must have cried, “Get me a young Carleton Young!”

This 4F weirdball picks Esther up after seeing her dive, and gets her address from a naked Mexican boy he romances. But when the boy, still undressed, turns up at the wedding, Carleton is displeased. I was seriously expecting this to go in some kind of weird NAKED KISS direction.

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Without any narrative momentum among the redwoods, the film reaches not for Xavier Cugat but for opera singer Lauritz Melchior, who satisfies Louis B. Mayer’s demand for classical music to lend class to his pictures, while also allowing a lot of fat guy jokes. I wondered allowed if the Danish tenor was related to Ib Melchior of REPTILICUS! and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES fame. “Not everyone in Denmark is related,” admonished Fiona. “Everyone called Melchior is related,” I admonished back.

And it turns out the ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS guys is indeed the son of the fat singer.

“This opera singer has some comedy chops,” says Fiona, part way through. And then, “Ib Melchior’s dad was really the whole show in that film.”

Yes, I agree, it was all Melchior all the time. It couldn’t BE any Melchior.

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Mars Needs SOMETHING

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 10, 2016 by dcairns

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“One is starved of Technicolor™ up there.”

I’d been interested in ANGRY RED PLANET ever since I saw pics of the rat-bat-spider-thing in Famous Monsters magazine, probably. Though I came to know it would be disappointing in many ways.

It IS a cool monster. Better joints and better puppeteers could have lifted it a little (when the left leg goes up, the right leg goes down, hinting at an unlikely skeletal structure: the leg bone’s connected to the… leg bone?), but it’s superior to the predictable man-in-suit approach. With that rather nifty design, it could have made an ace stop-motion effect, if the movie had a budget.

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I confess to mixed emotions about the giant amoeba. The idea is sound, and being able to see the most annoying character (Brooklynesque comedy relief astronaut) dissolved in its transparent stomach is a big plus, but the rotating eyeball is goofy. Its endless gyrations, as if the amoeba had gotten clonked on its “head” and was dizzy. made me wonder if this creature were in fact biomechanical, which might have been cool, but it’s still a silly way of suggesting it.

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“There are two kinds of oxygen consumption in this world, my friend.” The prototype for Ben Grimm’s Thing waits patiently to be dissolved in a giant amoeba. This audience member was less patient.

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What are the chances of me seeing two films in two days with two entirely gratuitous flesh-eating plants? The frog-eating bloom in WEREWOLF OF LONDON is just as ickily orificular as this Martian womaneater, but the designers have chosen different organs to base their plant-puppets on…

The film’s best feature is its novel use of tinting and solarisation to make its Mars-scapes truly alien. A cheap trick, but a stylish one — and it blurs the difference between the cramped studio environments and the crude painting — I won’t even call them matte shots because they aren’t usually composited in with anything live action. Having established what Mars is like, the movie feels the need to keep its astronauts returning to their rocket, because somebody has realised that heavily processed colour has an airless, claustrophobic quality to it, and we’ll need short breathers before we start getting restless. But these breathers serve no other purpose — there is no interpersonal conflict between the astronauts (though if I were cooped up with any of them for weeks, I would get at least a BIT snarky. In fact I’d probably take to booby trapping the airlock) and no driving external tension for most of the story. The film moves along in a series of separate blocks — solarised suspense alternating with sitting about chatting.

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Actors are generally repulsive. The “best” is Naura/Nora Hayden, who overplays every moment and grins a lot. The actor, as opposed to the character, comes across as naively likeable. Space is fun!

Film is by Ib Melchior, associated in various writerly ways with PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and REPTILICUS! He has the true pulp writers gift for wacky ideas and total inability to do characterisation or human drama. But most of his work is enjoyably DIFFERENT…

 

Robinson in Space

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2015 by dcairns

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ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, directed by sci-fi old hand Byron Haskin, is a movie I should really have seen as a kid, but I only just saw it now. Fiona kept insisting that we had watched it already, but that she wanted to see it again, only the second of which was true, apart from the “again” part. I may sometimes entirely forget the details of a film I’ve seen, but I’m generally right about what I’ve seen and what I haven’t.

Fiona likes monkeys. I like them too. Maybe I should say Fiona loves monkeys. So as far as we were concerned, Mona the monkey, billed only as “the woolly monkey” — to protest sensitive young minds to the fact that Mona was played by Barney — a monkey in drag, the obscenity! — was the star of the show.

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Fiona read up on the movie beforehand and was able to point out that when Man Friday is being agonized by his electric slave bangle, Barney/Mona started spontaneously copying actor Victor Lundin’s writhings.

Barney being so charismatic and so adorable in his spacesuit is kind of unfair to Paul Mantee, who holds the film together with a really committed and credible performance. I don’t really believe Mantee knew what oxygen starvation is like, necessarily, but I certainly believe he chose a way to play it which is compelling and disturbing. I do wish Haskin hadn’t introduced him hanging upside down, pretending it’s zero gravity: Mantee’s forehead veins look fit to burst. Mantee being main character, he ought to have been right-side-up, with co-star Adam West inverted. After all, West was good at defying gravity, look at all those wall-climbing scenes in Batman.

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Some really attractive Mars-scapes seal the deal. This is probably Ib Melchior’s finest hour, certainly finer than REPTILICUS! or JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES looks gorgeous and has some interesting sci-fi ideas to boot, but I always struggled with the boring characters and lack of humanity. The leads are so bland Mario Bava was able to replace one of them halfway through filming and hardly anyone notices (thanks in part to the dubbing, I guess). But I must confess I have yet to watch ANGRY RED PLANET, which always fascinated me when I saw stills of it. Old Ib, who passed away this March, had what you would call an interesting career — no masterpieces, but working in a genre if not despised then at least loftily patronised, he contributed to a bunch of amusing or fun movies and made them better than they might have been.

Fiona would also like you to know that co-star Lundin’s bizarre song, which he would perform at conventions, is available to enjoy on YouTube here. Few songs can be said to evoke so many emotions at once, none of which really belong together.

Movie is available with a really nice package of extras (including the song) from Criterion.