Archive for Ishiro Honda

Out of the Blu

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2020 by dcairns

Slow news day today as I’m frantically trying to finish my first ever commentary track. Perhaps foolishly, I’m trying to reinvent the form, because, let’s face it, commentaries are not usually very interesting. I may have found a way to make them dazzling, or else irritating, we’ll see.

But, out of the blue, a care package from Masters of Cinema. Very excited about the Honda films, which I’ve never seen. Nervous about THE PAINTED BIRD (having read the book). And thrilled of course about WAXWORKS. Will try to write more about these next week, when I’ve finished commentarying.

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.

Win One for the Gifford

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by dcairns

Watched HOUSE, or HAUSU, as the Japanese call it — our friend Kiyo had recommended we obtain it, and then we read a glowing FaceBook recital of its many virtues from regular Shadowplayer and critic Anne Billson. Eaten by a piano? Drowned in cat’s blood? This sounded like a film to give Ozu a run for his money.

What concerns us for the moment, however, is a moment relatively early in the film, which has an unusually long preambular sequence setting up the arrival of seven cheeky Japanese schoolgirls (soon to be dead and possibly naked) at the titular haunted hausu. We’re on a coach, heading into the country. But what’s this extra on the left reading?

“The Gifford!” cried Fiona, startling me worse than anything in the movie would.

What a nice tribute from director Obayashi-san: Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (far left of frame), suggesting a possible clue to his movie’s patchwork style — he’s been inspired by the random collection of images approach taken by Gifford in illustrating his Big Green Tome.

As I’m working my way through all the films illustrated in this book, it was a pleasure indeed to find a fellow fan.

So how am I doing?

Candace Hilligoss, so effective in her goose-like beauty in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, makes her only other appearance in CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (that’s not her above, though), a movie that actually does try hard to be good, and even seems to have a partial, coffee-stained map guiding it in the right general direction. Period flavour has been aimed for, unusual dialogue attempted (“The body is a long insatiable tube!”), and suitable actors engaged (a nubile Roy Scheider, not yet tanned to alligator-hide perfection, is particularly effective). Plus a decent nasty plot premise, in which some insufferable rich folks in period New England are wiped out (perhaps by a departed relative) in the manner of their worst fears. Lest the gimmick and the talking stuff don’t quite carry the day, some gore and some decorous semi-nudity are laid on. It doesn’t quite make it to being memorable or actually, y’know, good, but one can’t fault the intent.

Attempts to obtain THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE have so far defeated me — anyone out there can help?

I have, however, got my sweaty mitts on FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, a Japanese kaijin flick using the man-made man, grown to giganticular proportions, as protag. Can’t wait to sample this Ishiro Honda weirdfest.

Also obtained but not yet watched: the 1957 THE VAMPIRE, which for some reason Gifford illustrates twice; THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, in two distinct versions;

Enjoyed two surviving Melies masterworks, THE VANISHING LADY, from which Melies produces three frame enlargements for a before-during-and-after account of M. Melies magic trick, and THE GIGANTIC DEVIL, whose oddly simpering Satan I had long admired in still form. This year I intend to recreate, in my own fashion, the lost movie LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, so I can tick that one off my list also.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by I LOVE A MYSTERY’s Henry Levin, but disappointed on most levels: there IS a werewolf, but it’s played by a large-ish dog, and the transformations are just crummy dissolves. Nina Foch lends low-budget class, but it’s all uphill.

VOODOO MAN amuses pretty thoroughly (especially George Zucco runnign a gas station) and DR RENAULT’S SECRET is genuinely, like, good, with an affecting monster act by J. Carrol Naish. Appallingly, I mainly knew this fine thesp for his swan song, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, a truly tragic affair in which his struggle to keep his false teeth inside his head while mouthing idiotic lines is the sole memorable feature, unless you count a mute Lon Chaney Jnr, who, like his great father, had been robbed of the power of speech in the last months of his life, and thus appears here as a wordless monster.

THE MAGIC SWORD, known to Gifford as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES, making it slightly trickier to track down, is a full-to-bursting confection of sub-Harryhausen fantasy FX. Not half bad by Bert I Gordon’s standards (and he does have standard — though if challenged I’m not sure I could quite explain what they are). The prosthetic hag in Gifford’s still turns out to be Maila Nurmi, AKA Vampira, and the hero turns out to be Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame. Basil Rathbone and Estelle Winwood heap on the ham, but the film’s finest thespian delight turns out to be busty nonentity Anne Helm, playing “Princess Helene” in the manner of a concussed cosmetologist. It’s so wrong it’s exactly right.

THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES seems to exist not to honour MGM’s 25th anniversary, as suggested, but merely to prove that even James Cagney’s talents have their limits. The real casting coup is Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg, before Evans made the transition from tanned-yet-pallid toyboy leading man to high-powered, wide collared exec. It’s perfect casting, with what one might politely call Evans’ limitations as an actor (Peter Sellers, on hearing of Evans’ appointment as head of Paramount: “Why, you silly cunt, you couldn’t even act the part!”) serving him well in the role of the ultimate empty suit.

In fact, it’s a pity Chaney never played The Invisible Man, robbing us of the sight of two shirt collars, encircling vacuum, nodding in cheerful agreement.