Thursday, January 18, 2018
Don't get excited by the promising image of a flying saucer, it's barely seen in Bill Rebane's INVASION FROM INNER EARTH (sometimes seen on video as THEY). I liken this movie to a child's soap box derby car. It's rough around the edges, but it holds together and carries you along. Then it starts to swerve and rattle before going off a cliff and flying apart into a million shards. The story is interesting, following a group of people isolated in a woodland cabin and therefore safe from a mass invasion which is exterminating all humanity. It's only a matter of time, though, until the invaders find them. You can do a lot with that plot, and the first half is actually quite intriguing, but the film features the most stupefying and unexplained ending you've ever seen. I doubt the most dedicated student of metaphysics could unravel it to a point where it made a lick of sense. Rebane was often earlier than others in exploiting the latest scientific theory or craze (THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION is one of the first -maybe the first- movies to involve black hole theory, for example). Here, he capitalizes on the revived inner earth theory, though it has absolutely no bearing on the film itself. The invaders could've come from anywhere. Some rustic natural locations add some production value to what looks and plays like a student film. The most starling aspect of INVASION FROM INNER EARTH is that it was recently (unofficially) remade as one of those shot-on-video movies you find buried in discount multi-packs! I can't even remember the title of it, but it had many of the same problems as Rebane's film. The movie was so similar, I have to wonder if any legal action was taken against it.
(By the way, I don't recall the saucers in the movie looking that good. I had to screen it again to confirm that this is, in fact, an image from the film. It is, but I can see now why I wasn't sure. There are no less than three distinctly different flying saucers spread through out the movie!)
Monday, January 15, 2018
The late Martin Landau was noted for a number of works, though I'm sure many kids came to him through his Gerry Anderson science fiction adventure series SPACE: 1999. Originally conceived as a follow-up to the futuristic espionage series UFO, SPACE:1999 instead became the saga of the men and women of Moonbase Alpha and their adventures after an explosion in a lunar nuclear waste disposal area pushes the moon out of orbit and into deep space. As the moon hurtles through unexplored systems, the Alphans must contend with strange and often hostile forces and mysterious phenomenon. The show lasted two seasons, and the two seasons are night and day. Season one strained for grandeur and often couldn't decide if it was trying to be cerebral or just surreal. It was a somber affair, to say the least. The second season, aided by some doctoring by Star Trek veterans, was much more exciting. Based more in adventure and character-based drama, the show took on a feel very similar to Star Trek. Though this was a vast improvement with viewers, the show was cancelled and syndicated for the remainder of the 70's (State-side, it was probably Anderson's most visible series). As was so often the case during this period, Landau was supported by his bride Barbara Bain. Landau played Alpha's CO, John Koenig, while Bain was chief medical officer Dr. Helena Russell. In the first season, pseudo-scientific musing was offered by Barry Morse as the enigmatic Professor Bergman. The second season brought in the lovely Catherine Schell as Maya, a shape-shifting alien woman who joined the Alphans after becoming the last of her kind. The differences between the two seasons can best be summed up by their openings. Season one shows it's cast looking stoically upon blank backgrounds as 'important' music plays, while the second season shows them running down hallways and spinning around to fire ray guns while aggressively action-oriented music blares away. The second season was certainly a better show, but the first is favored by "intellectuals" because it was so much more 'British' and the second season just too 'American' in flavor. While not the best space adventure show on television, SPACE: 1999 delivered the goods. Special effects fans will also notice some of the greatest in-camera effects in all of television history. And of course, the show had a dynamic leading man. Rest In Peace, Martin, and thanks for all the great memories.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Although a star in her own right, Jayne Mansfield was always considered a second-string Marilyn Monroe (of course, Mansfield had her own second-string challenger in the form of Mamie Van Doren). Somewhat showier than Marilyn, Jayne burst onto the scene as a full-fledged star in THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT, an early rock and roll big-budget musical. In the film, Jayne plays the moll of gangster Edmond O'Brien, who delivers to Tom Ewell the ultimatum to make Mansfield a singing star -despite her lack of musical ability. Some major musical acts contribute, including Little Richard, who provides the title tune. Directed by Frank Tashlin, the film is an absolute scream, a live-action cartoon. This was followed up by the even more berserk WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? the very next year. This time around, Mansfield was teamed with Tony Randall -who, in my favorite bit, interrupts the movie to provide a commercial break for fans of television! Jayne even got to bring along Mickey Hargitay to play a TV Tarzan. Although Mansfield was a star until her tragic end in a car crash, she never quite topped this early period of her career.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Hanna-Barbera in the 60's employed a double-feature technique for it's animated adventure programs, combining two more or less unrelated cartoons into a joint program. This resulted in such favorites as Space Ghost And Dino Boy, Birdman And The Galaxy Trio, and Moby Dick And Mighty Mightor. HB offered a bit of self-parody with Frankenstein Jr. And The Impossibles, as both cartoons made use of the same sense of over-the-top pop camp humor of the Adam West Batman series. Frankenstein Jr. was in essence America's answer to Gigantor, as boy genius Buzz Conroy was frequently sought by the authorities to handle monstrous emergencies with his giant living robot Frankenstein Jr. The design sense for this feature was very comic booky, presenting exaggerated science fiction episodes in a relatively straight-forward manner that wouldn't strike kids as comedy until several viewings later. The Impossibles, which was more blatantly humorous, was a bit of a spoof on Beatle-mania and the spy/superhero scene. The Impossibles was a rock group which regularly entertained screaming young girls. But, when danger struck and their boss Big D gave them a call, the group transformed into The Impossibles: super-powered agents who fought for law and order. This usually meant going after some colorfully costumed mad man with an outlandish scheme to take over the world -or who just wanted to steal art treasures. The crime-fighting trio included Fluid Man, Multi-man, and Coil Man. This was a cartoon I would watch just because I enjoyed the background music so much, being a sort of spy/surf/adventure/jazz sound with lots of blaring horns and electric guitars. As was so often the case with these things, despite HB recording song numbers for the civilian Impossibles to sing, we rarely heard more than a few seconds of them. Too bad, as they were usually kinda catchy.