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Lots of Bubble, Lots of Trouble
10 July 2019
Many actors who never achieved major star status in movies eventually found fame (if not status) via television in the 1950s and beyond. Among the more genuinely talented performers was Richard Basehart, who finally achieved national fame as Admiral Nelson in the series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, a TV spin-off of the 1961 20th Century Fox/Irwin Allen CinemaScope film of the same name,

Basehart began his acting career on stage and moved into film in the late 1940s. Though he was never in a major blockbuster his film work was varied. He started in a number of film noir features, including a leading role in a lesser-known MGM noir, Tension, in 1949. Ironically this was the closest Basehart was to come to achieving leading man status, and his shift from a nerdy, nervous, glasses-wearing drug store clerk who transforms himself into a sharp tough guy to trail his cheating wife is a varied and fully developed performance.

In the 1950s Basehart appeared in a variety of films, including the tense WW II Decision Before Dawn, and John Huston's Moby Dick (in the key supporting role of Ishmael, the narrator of the novel.) He even appeared in two Fellini films, Il Bidone, and the celebrated La Strada. But by1962 he was starring in the title role of The Private Life of Hitler, from the poverty row studio, Allied Artists.

Basehart finally achieved national fame in the TV Voyage which ran from 1964 to 1968, in the lead role of Admiral Nelson, (Walter Pidgeon in the film.) Captain Crane is played by David Hedison. The TV crew bypasses the movie's women (Barbara Eden, Joan Fontaine) but includes a few guys from the film, mainly Del Monroe as Kowalski, and a few new (male) characters, among them the amusing Terry Becker as Chief Sharkey. Essentially the series is an all-male cast, though a few women do show up as guest stars.

The scripts themselves are a mixed bag. As the show ran in an hour slot they often resort to padding and predictable endings, especially after season one. There's little of the film's tension between Nelson and Crane and the TV crew are a mutually supportive lot who run a pretty tight ship. The first season also credits a "guest star" for some episodes. Many are now in the "who?" category, and this practice was abandoned as the series ran on.

On DVD the show certainly looks great, as it should having been shot at 20th Century-Fox. The production values are obviously not as varied as in the film but what's there looks (and sounds) like a movie, even the first season which was shot in luminous black x white. The music, mainly by the film's composer, Paul Sawtell, and an amazing assortment of Hollywood "guest" composers, is profuse, atmospheric, and fully orchestrated. Music supervision is by Lionel Newman, the celebrated Alfred's brother.

Special efx are mainly limited to the models apparently used in the film but they work adequately, though the same cannot be said of the somewhat tacky monsters and aliens. The giant squid and octopus from the movie also make encore appearances. In Turn Back the Clock the rather repulsive live reptiles and a good deal of actual footage from Allen's 1960 The Lost World are recycled.

One of the all-round best episodes is also from season one, The Sky Is Falling, which uses the flying saucer and some opening footage from Fox's classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. The shots of the sunken saucer though the huge underwater windows of the Seaview are among the most impressive in the series.

But as a whole, as critic Stuart Galbraith IV notes ".... Allen just couldn't tell a good script from a bad one, and had no talent at all to nurture promising material into something good," but IMHO the series remains one of the better and still mostly entertaining examples of semi-high end '60s genre TV.

The prolific (and persistent) Allen went on produce two blockbusters in the '70s, The Poseidon Adventure ('71) and The Towering Inferno ('74). Two other 60s' series, The Time Tunnel, and Lost In Space, had preceded Voyage.

Ross Care
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Ulysses (1954)
1954 Ulysses on DVD
26 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Like many here I remember seeing Ulysses when I was a kid, probably at the Colonial Theatre in Harrisburg, Pa. My memories are not as vivid as those of 7th Voyage of Sinbad, which I saw at the same downtown theater, but what kid could forget Ulysses' cannibalistic cyclops which was much more human and nightmarish than the one in 7th Voyage.

The current Lionsgate DVD is welcome but something of a disappointment visually. I was somewhat put off by the dark opening scenes but when Ulysses' adventures kicked in I became quite involved.

The story, based on a condensation of the Odyssey, moves along, cutting between episodes from the hero's adventures returning from the Trojan war, and his wife, Penelope, fending off greedy suitors on the home front.

Clocking in at nearly 2 hours the film manages to evoke an epic feel on a modest budget. The special efx, credited to the German/American Eugen Schüfftan, a pioneer in the field of optical effects, are modest but effective, especially the cyclops and ship wreck scenes.

The screenplay credits eight writers, including Americans Ben Hecht and novelist, Irwin (The Young Lions) Shaw. There are some effective dramatic scenes, particularly between Ulysses and the beautiful witch, Circe, when during their final confrontation they discuss the nature of life and death. (The DVD is dubbed into English with apparently only Douglas and Anthony Quinn speaking for themselves).

Before the flashbacks of Ulysses' long journey home a prologue in Ithaca includes a brief scene from the Trojan war as background, though the famous wooden horse is not as spectacular as in another international production, Helen of Troy (1956). Interestingly, Rossana Podesta, who here plays Nausicaa, has the lead as Helen in that Robert Wise film. Silvana Mangano, who plays both Penelope and Circe, went on to become a major star in Italian cinema.

Ulysses was among the early films to utilize American stars, usually males on the way up or down, from Clint Eastwood to Rory Calhoun, mostly in Italian films of the spaghetti western and sword-and-sandal variety.

Ulysses, produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti, is several steps above the typical s&s production. Kirk Douglas is an Americanized but quite the dashing Ulysses. I was never a big fan but he was certainly versatile, and here his cool beard and longer hair make him a much more attractive, even sexy hero than does the austere buzz cut look he sports in the later epic, Spartacus (1960).

Cinematography is by Hollywood veteran, Harold Rosson, which raises hopes that a higher quality DVD (with a few extras) might appear sometime in the future.
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Brit Bickersons
16 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
What We Did On Our Holiday is one of those "dysfunctional" family films, the positive ending of which can be spotted in the first half hour. The film, by a pair of Brit sitcom writer/directors, has garnered some positive reviews and I'm a fan of David Tennant - I just saw him in Don Juan in Soho when I was in London - but I found most of the characters here just irritating, especially the trio of precocious and potentially neurotic kids who never seem to have heard the word "no."

The plot does indeed chronicle the London family's Scotland holiday to visit the husband's brother and father. A running gag is the attempt to keep the couple's upcoming divorce hush-hush. But of course the kids are not good at keeping secrets of any kind, or at keeping their mouths shut at all.

Additional complications involve the feisty, free spirited grandfather who is in the last stages of cancer. Then, as one of the reviews noted, "it gets weird." Part of the weirdness arises from the son's obsession with Vikings and from his watching the historical epic, The Vikings, on TV. (It might be noted that this film raised the bar for graphic violence in mainstream films in 1958. There is even an in-joke when a bit from the musical score, the Viking horn call, is quoted).

Finally the kids come up with an unusual way to deal with the grandfather's death, a solution which one would think might have serious legal consequences (which are briefly raised but finally just dismissed). But certainly the groundwork for years of therapy and analysis has been laid, issues which are blithely ignored in the final cheery conclusion set to feel-good blue grass music.

A sequel dealing with the characters years down the line might prove more interesting than this weird-ed-out Holiday.
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Bon Voyage! (1962)
Moochie Dans Le Metro
24 February 2013
BON VOYAGE (1962) is a curious, mildly entertaining live-action Disney artifact about a typical American family's long awaited trip to France, and an odd attempt at semi-sophisticated comedy from a studio not exactly known for the genre.

In the mom-and-pop leads are the Disney period Fred MacMurray, a long way from DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and the ex-Mrs. Reagan, Jane Wyman, whose dignity manages to hold up better than Fred's. As the two sons we have Disney protégés Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran in a relatively tolerable appearance, and Disney maverick, Tommy Kirk, in a buzz cut that does nothing for him.

For the young love interest daughter Deborah Walley and cynical playboy Michael Callen (Riff in the original stage cast of WEST SIDE STORY) are re-teamed after 1961's GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN. As Callen's expatriate mother Jessie Royce Landis does her best to bring a touch of giddy sophistication to her Paris soirée sequence.

Around this time they used to say Disney got their live-action performers on the way up (Julie Andrews) or the way down (most of the cast here). It's also somewhat difficult to gage the target audience - adults, teens, family? - because there's not much here to hold a child's interest.

Certainly interesting is the authentic (if brief) footage of vintage ocean liners and their NYC piers (including a comically confused boarding and departure sequence), and location shots of an early '60s Paris.

Most curious sequence: MacMurray meeting what is subtly coded as a Paris street walker, played by the authentically French and rather grave Françoise Prévost, who seems to have inexplicably wandered in from a Godard film. Later she also picks up Kirk, an encounter dad is quick to defuse.

So it's no spoiler to mention that American Family Values triumph at the end in spite of a climactic trip to the decadent French Riviera. On the plus side the film presents a generally positive, even admiring view of French life and culture.

And Bunuel and Dali would surely love the extended sequence in which Fred MacMurray's wiggling finger protrudes from a street level Paris sewer lid.
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Fab Musical Score
2 December 2012
I was probably one of the few people to see this film on its original release, in New York, in some smart cinema on the east side as I recall.

I rather liked it (for a variety of reasons all of which I won't go into here), then it virtually disappeared for years.

Once I did manage to catch it on a late night movie channel out of Baltimore, 45 if I remember correctly. The reception and (disappointingly) the color were atrocious. But I still liked it and for all of the same reasons.

One of the main ones is the unique musical score by Mikis Theodorakis. It's a kind of eclectic, almost post-modern fusion of Greek ethnic and avant garde sounds, jaunty, lyrical melodies, and a dynamic end-of-the-world dance track called "The Jet". All very appealing.

It's still one of my favorite vinyl STs. Play it once and the tunes are in your head for days.

Would love to have a good restored and annotated copy of this film on DVD and BluRay.
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A Lost World Revisited
30 January 2012
Almost all of the 50 or more reviews here have cited and re-cited the repulsively live lizards and overall B-movie ambiance of this controversial remake of the Conan Doyle novel and 1925 silent classic. Does anyone read anyone else's reviews before submitting?????

Anyway, I'll try to say something new (or at least unsaid) about this slightly tarnished Golden Oldie. I think one person did note the excellent score. One of the best things in the film is the Main Title sequence with the tempestuous music of Paul Sawtell and Bert Sheftner playing against FANTASIA-like shots of swirling molten lava. (These are certainly more vividly fantastic than the disgusting looking goo that passes for lava at the climax of the film).

One might say the film goes downhill from there, but the DVD's stereo version of the original 4-track CinemaScope soundtrack makes the entire score (and film) sound even better. The impressive aerial shots of the Amazonian jungles during the flight to the plateau are an especially effective fusion of wide-screen cinematography and music.

I personally was drawn back into this LOST WORLD after revisiting the great Circus-Circus episode in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, one of the best sequences in the middle-period Bond cycle.

Her role as Bond girl, Tiffany Case, is certainly a high point of Jill St. John's film career. Her smart pants suits and stylish look in DIAMONDS are possibly modeled on singer Elly Stone in the long-running Off Broadway show, Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. At any rate, she looks great and the DIAMONDS wardrobe is certainly an improvement on the hot pink Capri pants she impeccably sports throughout the jungle madness and slobbering lizard attacks in LW. (The versatile Ms. St. John also wrote a cookbook, which is still apparently in print).

Claude Rains and Richard Hayden, the voice of the caterpillar in Disney's ALICE IN WONDERLAND, do the best they can with the material. Rains even looks something like the original Challenger in the classic silent version.

Ray Stricklyn as David Holmes was nominated for a 1961 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in THE PLUNDERERS, and also for Most Promising Newcomer in 1959. But for better or worse LOST WORLD (and THE RETURN OF Dracula) remain the films for which he is most remembered. Scarlet Street, the cult genre magazine (for which I used to write about film music) published an interview with the then out-of-the-closet (and since deceased) Stricklyn in issue #35.

The 2-disc LOST WORLD DVD set includes an excellent restoration of the original silent version. The dream-like, sometimes surreal imagery is made even more so by the restored multi-colored tinting.

For viewers who fondly remember the era of the original 1960 release a complete version of the Dell movie tie-in comic will be an especially welcome and nostalgic addition among the bonus features.
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