Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen


The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Poster

(1962) Directed by Karel Zeman; Written by: Karel Zeman, Jirí Brdecka and Josef Kainar; Adapted from works by Gottfried August Bürger, Rudolph Erich Raspe and Gustave Doré; Starring: Milos Kopecký, Rudolf Jelínek, Jana Brejchová, Karel Höger, Rudolf Hrusínský, Jan Werich, Eduard Kohout and Bohus Záhorský; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: ****


Baron Munchausen

“My one wish was to get the right idiom for my plan: to capture the surreal world of Baron Munchausen. I wanted this romantic fantasy to be unleashed from mundane reality, so I used imagery resembling prints from the period. At the same time, I decided to treat color like a painter on a canvas. I put it only where it was necessary.” – Karel Zeman (from Blu-ray featurette, “Why Zeman Made the Film”)

A hearty thanks to Rebecca from Taking Up Room and Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews  for hosting the It’s in the Name of the Title Blogathon, spotlighting movie titles that feature their respective characters’ names. I’m proud to discuss, for your consideration, Karel Zeman’s aptly named The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962).

Baron Munchausen on a Seahorse

Since Rudolf Erich Raspe anonymously published his fictionalized account of Baron Munchausen’s* adventures in 1785, the exploits of the famous spinner of tall tales have enchanted and captivated readers. Raspe’s original work spawned a number of spinoff books, plays, radio shows, and of course, motion pictures. Munchausen became the subject of several silent-era films (including Georges Méliès 1911 short, “The Hallucinations of Baron Munchausen”). Sadly, many of the early short films are presumed lost, but arguably the most noteworthy cinematic examples are three feature-length films, released in 1943, 1962, and 1989, respectively. The infamous 1943 German version, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, was made under the watchful eye of Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (intended as a morale booster). While not overtly pushing a Nazi agenda, for many (including this reviewer) it’s impossible to separate the movie from its notorious origins and the monstrous regime that launched it. Terry Gilliam’s lavish, big-budget 1989 version, also titled The Adventures of Baron Munchausen gained its reputation as a troubled production, riddled with cost-overruns. Bookended between these versions was Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen, his third feature (after 1955’s Journey to the Beginning of Time and 1958’s The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (aka: Invention for Destruction). As with his previous movies, Baron Munchausen employed his knack for combining live action with animation. 

* Fun Fact #1: Yes, Baron Munchausen was a real person. Munchausen, the character, was based on the real-life Hieronymus Karl Friedrich von Münchhausen, a retired German military officer, who was known for regaling anyone who’d listen with wild stories of his exaggerated and imaginary exploits.

Baron Munchausen, Princess Bianca, and Tonik

The opening scene finds the eponymous Baron (Milos Kopecký) traveling to the moon, where he encounters characters from Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, as well as (for some reason) Cyrano de Bergerac. He meets an astronaut named Tonik (Rudolf Jelínek), and believing him to be a resident of the Moon, decides to take him on a tour of Earth. Their first stop is Turkey, where they meet the despotic Sultan (Rudolf Hrusínský).  Much to the Sultan’s chagrin, Munchausen and Tonik are smitten by Princess Bianca (Jana Brejchová),* who’s being held against her will. Thus begins a nominal love triangle, but it’s clear that Bianca only has eyes for Tonik. Although initially peeved at the princess’ preference for Tonik, the Baron’s jealousy doesn’t last long – after all, he only has one true love, himself. They hastily make their escape, with the Sultan’s army nipping at their heels. They’re rescued by a Dutch trading ship, but after they face the wrath of the vengeful Sultan’s navy, they’re cast adrift in the open ocean, where they’re subsequently swallowed by a giant fish. Their quixotic journey continues across the globe guided by the Baron’s indomitable wit and boundless imagination. 

* Fun Fact #2: According to film writer Michael Brooke, at the time the film was released, Brejchová was more popular in her native Czech Republic than her husband, renowned director Milos Forman.

Giant Fish and Pyramids

As a self-taught animator,*/** Karel Zeman honed his techniques with each project, working through the myriad challenges of his films like mathematical equations. Using Gustave Doré’s artwork as a template, his paper cutout animation resembles book illustrations that leapt off the pages. His signature blending of live action and animation creates a fairy tale look. Particularly impressive is a tracking shot through the Sultan’s palace, arranging multiple cardboard planes to create a three-dimensional space. He also frequently used split-screen techniques, combining live actors with paper cutouts in the background or foreground. The effects are delightfully old-fashioned, giving Zeman’s film a charm that can’t be compared to modern efforts. It's not about seamless integration of the imagery, but indicative of a different filmmaking tradition that favors creating fanciful visuals over hyper-realism. While I’m not going to initiate a debate about which approach is “better,” the analog, mostly in-camera effects never fail to entrance. Created by a small team of dedicated craftspeople, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen possesses a handmade quality that can’t be duplicated by a bunch of people clicking away on computers. 

* Fun Fact #3: Zeman learned about the mechanics of animation by studying a “Felix the Cat” cartoon frame by frame. 

** Fun Fact #4: Despite his early artistic predilections, Zeman’s father forced him to attend business school.


The Baron Rides a Cannonball

Amidst the high fantasy, Karel Zeman reveals a sense of humor worthy of a Warner Brothers cartoon. In one terrific gag, the Baron and Tonik attempt in vain to break down some double doors in the Sultan’s palace, only to watch Princess Bianca effortlessly open them. When Tonik innocently steps on a rug in the Sultan’s throne room, he unwittingly triggers a swarm of spears. And on the Dutch trading ship even the ship’s figurehead enjoys taking a brief smoke break. Along with these playful flourishes, the film presents a satire on the human condition. While in the presence of the mercurial Sultan, Baron Munchausen speaks the “language of high diplomacy” (consisting of musical harmonica sounds) as a means of communication.

Inside the Belly of the Fish

In The Fabulous Baron Munchausen, Karel Zeman takes you to imaginary places that never existed, but you somehow wish they did. His approach to visuals is distinctly different compared to his contemporary Ray Harryhausen, but the end results are just as mesmerizing. Zeman’s version of Baron Munchausen argues that imagination and fantasy are more powerful than knowledge – and in the context of the distinctly engaging visuals, who could disagree? While Zeman left an indelible impression with his film, there’s something about Munchausen that transcends generations and bears repeating. Who knows when or where the next iteration of the indomitable Baron will take us, but one thing’s for certain: you can’t keep a good fibber down.


Sources for this article: “Why Zeman Made the Film” Blu-ray featurette; “Baron Munchausen; Facts and Fibs,” by Michael Brooke; Film Adventurer Karel Zeman (2015 documentary)



Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Strange Invaders


Strange Invaders Poster

(1983) Directed by: Michael Laughlin; Written by Michael Laughlin and Bill Condon; Story by Michael Laughlin, Bill Condon and Walter Halsey Davis; Starring: Paul Le Mat, Nancy Allen, Diana Scarwid, Louise Fletcher, Michael Lerner, Kenneth Tobey, and June Lockhart; Available on Blu ray and DVD 

Rating: ***½

Suspicious Townspeople

“I think my teachers and my friends always struck me as being alien, and of course growing up in the Midwest, I felt that the towns I knew and grew up in were inhabited by aliens.” – Michael Laughlin

“All right, I will tell you one thing. We have an agreement with them. We’ve known about them for a long time. They provide us with certain advantages, and we provide them a place to live. But it hasn’t been easy. We haven’t had much choice at all…” – Mrs. Benjamin (Louise Fletcher)

One of the great mysteries is whether or not we’re alone in the cosmos. Is Earth truly “a grand oasis to the big vastness of space,” as astronaut Jim Lovell once stated, or is it nothing special – just one of many planets in the universe where intelligent life has flourished? Depending on which side of the coin you favor, Drake’s Equation estimates there’s anywhere between one (the Earth) and one million planets capable of supporting intelligent life (quite a substantial range), whereas Fermi’s paradox takes a less optimistic stance about why we haven’t heard from intelligent life. Of course, there could be a third option: maybe they’re really good at hiding. Depending on whom you ask, however, they may already be here. Strange Invaders* was director/co-writer Michael Laughlin’s second collaboration with screenwriter Bill Condon, after Strange Behavior (1981).** Filmed mostly around Toronto and the surrounding suburbs (standing in for Midwestern America), Strange Invaders presents a post-modern spin on the ‘50s alien invasion template. 

* Fun Fact #1: Strange Invaders started off as Cat People (not to be confused with the 1942 original with the same name or the 1982 remake) featuring catlike creatures disguised as humans. By the time the film reached production, the filmmakers replaced cats with aliens. 

** Fun Fact #2: Laughlin and screenwriter Bill Condon planned a series of movies with “Strange” in the title. Sadly, the third film, The Adventures of Phillip Strange (also penned by Condon), never reached production.

Mothership and Flying Saucer

In the prologue, set in 1958, extraterrestrials descend upon the ordinary small town of Centerville, Illinois, replacing the residents with their own. Paul Le Mat plays entomologist Charles Bigelow,* who teaches at Columbia University in New York City.** Things get weird in a hurry after his ex-wife Margaret (Diana Scarwid) drops in unexpectedly with their daughter, Elizabeth,*** leaving him in charge of her care. Margaret declares she must make a trek to her home town of (you guessed it) Centerville, but her solemn demeanor implies it’s more than a short trip. When she seemingly vanishes without a trace, Bigelow decides to investigate for himself. Centerville appears to be isolated in time, with its vintage cars and townspeople who dress as if the ‘50s never ended. If the suspicious town folk weren’t enough, it becomes painfully clear that he’s unwelcome when his dog goes missing and his car suddenly explodes. Upon his return to New York, he tries to convince a skeptical government official Mrs. Benjamin (Louise Fletcher) that aliens have arrived. He teams up with tabloid reporter Betty Walker (Nancy Allen) and an institutionalized former Centerville resident, Willie Collins (Michael Lerner), to uncover the truth about Centerville.   

* Fun Fact #3: The role was originally created for Strange Behavior’s star, Michael Murphy, but when the producers at Orion came onboard, they considered Michael Keaton before finally hiring Le Mat. 

** Fun Fact #4: The campus exteriors were shot at the real Columbia University, which was Condon’s alma mater. 

*** Fun Fact #5: Elizabeth was played by Laughlin’s real-life stepdaughter, Lulu Sylbert.

Betty and Bigelow

Paul Le Mat* is a good choice to play the film’s everyman protagonist. His natural acting style sets the right tone, not showy, but entirely believable – the audience can relate to his growing bafflement over the increasingly odd occurrences. As a scientist, he’s searching for a rational explanation, but as a person, he can’t ignore what he’s witnessed. There’s a nice little endearing moment between father and daughter (with both occupying opposite sides of the frame) in which Elizabeth calls out the scientific names of her father’s specimens, and he identifies them with their common names. It’s a short scene that at once establishes their unique relationship and Bigelow’s passion for his chosen profession. Speaking of relationships, Nancy Allen hits the right notes as much more than the requisite love interest. Smart, charming and cynical, Betty confesses she made up the story for entertainment value, although there’s a figment of intrigue surrounding the photo that accompanied her story. She humors Bigelow, but in the same breath, she’s attracted to him and his sincerity. She’s forced to re-evaluate her grip on reality when she faces the prospect of experiencing first-hand a situation that sprung from one of her headlines. 


It's fun to play “spot the character actor” in a cast full of character actors, many from genre favorites. In a direct nod to the film’s ‘50s B-movie heritage Kenneth Tobey co-stars as a boarding house proprietor with a sinister aura. Bobby “Boris” Pickett (of “Monster Mash” fame) appears briefly as Betty’s editor. And Lost in Space fans, rejoice: Strange Invaders features two alumni from Irwin Allen’s landmark, albeit goofy sci-fi series – June Lockhart, as Bigelow’s mother, and Mark Goddard as a police detective. Also watch for actor/playwright/New York fixture Wallace Shawn as Betty’s landlord, an unfortunate victim of the aliens.

Alien Orbs

From her first appearance, it’s apparent that something’s a bit awry with Biglow’s ex-wife, Margaret. Things are made abundantly clear (Minor Spoiler) when we learn that Centerville might be her home town, but her birthplace is somewhere among the stars. Naturally, this begs the question: she must have had a really convincing disguise, considering she and her human husband conceived a child together. Or was this part of their experiment, to determine if humans and the alien species were biologically compatible? Biological suitability issues aside, their dissolved marriage is a fitting metaphor for couples that fail to communicate properly. It sometimes seems that many couples are from different planets (the whole Venus and Mars thing), but in this case it’s quite literal.

Alien Removes Disguise

Despite a budget of only $5 million the filmmakers made the most of it, with practical makeup effects that continue to impress, 40 years later. The aliens’ disguises appear to be an organic extension of their faces, instead of a lifeless mask that falls away. Their stretchy, goopy ersatz visages add an uncanny element to the film. Likewise, the sparingly employed optical effects enhance the story. In the opening scene, a shot of a cigar-shaped alien mothership emerging from the clouds is suitably dreamlike and almost painterly. Some of the budgetary concessions are less effective, requiring an elevated suspension of disbelief. Similar to Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), the labyrinthine assortment of pipes and other industrial equipment in Toronto’s underground waterworks stand in for the aliens’ laboratory complex, and an ordinary observatory serves as the interior of the alien spacecraft.

Newspaper Headline

The aliens’ 25-year mission to evaluate Earth (presumably as a as a base for colonization or worthiness as a fledgling member of some galactic alliance) is decidedly murky. Your guess about their ultimate purpose is as good as mine. (More Spoilers) Their true intentions are never ascertained, since no sequel ever surfaced, leaving us with an open-ended conclusion in which they return to whatever planet they came from (Perhaps Earth wasn’t worth the trouble?). There are so many unanswered questions we’ll never resolve, but a little mystery isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Strange Invaders is a clever film that successfully walks the line between loving tribute to the B-genre films of the ‘50s and a post-modern response to Cold War paranoia. While critical response was generally positive, it didn’t make any waves at the box office, and despite being a staple on cable in the ‘80s, seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years. What better time then, to rediscover and enjoy another hidden little treasure that takes a novel spin on an old formula?


Sources for this article: DVD commentary by Michael Laughlin and Bill Condon; “All of You On the Good Earth,” by Michael Carlowicz, NASA Earth Observatory, “Are We Alone? The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,” by Laurence Tognetti, Astronomy 



Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Alien Invasion April Quick Picks and Pans

I Come in Peace Poster

I Come in Peace (aka: Dark Angel) (1990) Detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a cop who plays by his own rules (Sound familiar?). When his old partner is killed in a drug bust gone bad, he’s forced to work with a young hotshot FBI agent (Brian Benben) to investigate a mysterious series of murders. The culprit is a seven-foot-tall alien (Matthias Hues) who tells his victims “I come in peace.” He shoots up his victims with heroin and extracts the resulting endorphins from their brains (as a kind of designer drug for the intergalactic set). In addition to the human cops, he’s also being pursued by one of his own (Jay Bilas). There’s nothing new plot-wise or with the characters (simply transplant the usual buddy cop formula), but it’s a nicely paced cinematic equivalent of fast food, chock-full of cheesy synth music and more mullets than you can throw a case of Aqua Net at. 

Rating: *** stars. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi 

The Golden Bat 

The Golden Bat (aka: Golden Ninja) (1966) When evil aliens divert a planet’s trajectory so it will collide with Earth, it’s up to a top-secret UN-led organization to thwart their plans. All seems lost until the team members revive a 10,000-year-old mummy from Atlantis (Osamu Kobayashi). With his eyeless skull and mouth frozen in a permanent rictus, he looks more like the product of someone’s nightmares than a superhero. On the other hand, the villain resembles a cuddly plush toy, which only goes to show that looks aren’t everything. Good dumb fun. 

Rating: ***. Available on DVD, Plex and Tubi 



Seedpeople (1992) One of the many direct-to-video offerings from Full Moon Pictures (a name not typically associated with quality), Seedpeople is a blatant rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but a fairly enjoyable one. In the sleepy town of Comet Valley ancient excavated meteorites turn out to be giant seed pods. Malevolent alien creatures emerge, enslaving the town’s residents. A visiting geologist (Sam Hennings) teams up with the local crackpot (Bernard Kates) to battle the alien scourge. The story is relayed in flashback (like Body Snatchers) by the geologist, including the events he wasn’t in (!). In a nice nod to the source material, there’s a scene that features what looks suspiciously like Bronson Cave. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Prime Video, and Tubi 


Invasion Poster

Invasion (1965) Edward Judd stars as Dr. Mike Vernon, a burnt-out emergency room physician, whose humdrum routine is thrown into disarray when an unusual patient (Ric Young) arrives in his hospital. The strange man is being pursued by two others of his kind, enroute to a prison planet (they were diverted to Earth when their spaceship suffered a malfunction). The alien leader, played by Yôko Tani (from First Spaceship on Venus), leads a search for the missing prisoner, although she doesn’t seem to be very good at her job. Things get tense when the hospital is surrounded by a magnetic shield, raising the temperature and preventing anyone from entering or exiting the area. Invasion’s meager budget belies its title (three extraterrestrials and a puny spacecraft hardly makes for a convincing threat), and it’s more talky than action-packed, but its biggest flaw is the extremely dubious choice of casting Asians as “aliens” among a predominately Caucasian cast. Skip it. 

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD  

Zontar - The Thing from Venus Poster

Zontar: The Thing from Venus (1967) Director/co-writer Larry Buchanan’s cheapo remake of the cut-rate It Conquered the World (1956) somehow manages to make the original film look like a classic in comparison. Dr. Curt Taylor (John Agar) tries to dissuade his friend Keith Ritchie (Tony Huston) from collaborating with an alien creature with murky intentions. Agar tries his best with what he has to work with, but it’s a lost cause, considering the lackluster performances from everyone else involved (just try enduring the terrible “comic” relief with two soldiers). The briefly seen extraterrestrial Zontar, and its flying creatures, which wouldn’t pass muster for the clearance bin of a Spirit Halloween store, look like they were slapped together from whatever scraps the filmmakers had lying around. Although I can’t recommend this flick in good conscience, it’s good for some unintentional laughs, depending on your level of inebriation. 

Rating: *½. Available on DVD and Tubi 

Invasion of the Girl Snatchers_Poster1a

Invasion of The Girl Snatchers (aka: The Hidan of Maukbeiangjow) (1973) In this alleged sci-fi/ horror/comedy from director Lee S. Jones Jr., a private investigator works with the feds to ascertain the mysterious disappearances of several women. It turns out they’re being abducted by a religious cult, where their minds are taken over by alien beings (which are never shown). Watch and wince as the characters incessantly run around, getting tied up and untied, accompanied by a bunch of irritating folk songs that have nothing to do with the story. According to the Psychotronic Video Guide, this was released only because the producer made a bet that it wouldn’t gross any money. I feel sorry for anyone who might have paid to see this. 

Rating: *½. Available on DVD and Tubi

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Without Warning


Without Warning Poster

(1980) Directed by Greydon Clark; Written by Lyn Freeman, Daniel Grodnik, Bennett Tramer and Steve Mathis; Starring: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Tarah Nutter, Christopher S. Nelson, Cameron Mitchell, Neville Brand, Sue Ane Langdon, Ralph Meeker and Larry Storch; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: ***

I’m elated to participate, once again, in Brian Schuck’s (from Films Beyond the Time Barrier) “Favorite Stars in B Movies” blogathon. Be sure to check out all of the great entries! Today’s offering for Alien Invasion April is the little B-movie that could, Without Warning, featuring two Oscar winners and one nominee.

Showdown with the Alien

“…Makes perfect sense to me. They start out here in the country, they establish a foothold, and after they get us, they move in on the cities. That way they got a base to fight from. I’ll be damned if they get me without a fight. They’re not gonna get Sergeant Fred Dobbs easy. Not this time.” – Fred Dobbs (Martin Landau) 

With a handful of notable exceptions (Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey), science fiction movies were once considered strictly B-movie fare before Lucas and Spielberg changed the landscape forever with their mega-budget spectacles. Amidst this paradigm shift, however, there was still a place for cheaper drive-in pictures. Director Greydon Clark’s ultra-low-budget sci-fi thriller Without Warning* was produced in December 1979 and released in Spring 1980. Shooting took place over a three-week period, in and around the Paramount Ranch area in Agoura Hills, California. Clark and crew adopted Halloween’s (1978) formula, with a sci-fi twist: a silent killer from outer space stalks and kills a group of unsuspecting teenagers. The film also appeared under the alternate title, It Came Without Warning, which especially sounds like the ‘50s B-movies that provided its inspiration.   

* Fun Fact #1: The budget was reportedly $150,000, half of which went to Palance and Landau’s salaries.

Four Friends on a Camping Trip

The opening scene sets the tone, when an awkward father/son hunting trip goes horribly wrong. The action shifts to four “teens” (played by actors well into their 20s) heading for a weekend of camping and frivolity. While refueling their van at a remote gas station, they encounter the creepy proprietor, Joe Taylor (Jack Palance). As is always the case, they ignore his warning to stay away from the local lake. It soon becomes apparent (surprise, surprise) that they’re being stalked by someone or something – a realization that becomes painfully clear when two of the teens, Sandy and Greg (Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson) stumble upon a shack where their dead companions are hanging on hooks. After a hasty retreat, they make their way to a nearby bar, where Greg’s story is met with skepticism by the patrons – except for Fred Dobbs (Martin Landau)*, a paranoid Vietnam veteran with an axe to grind. The situation takes a turn for the worse when Dobbs attempts to take matters into his own hands. Meanwhile, an unseen assailant is lurking about in the woods, searching for its next victim. 

* Fun Fact #2: According to Nutter, she screamed so loudly during the shack scene that the walls, which were made of flimsy cardboard-like material, collapsed, necessitating a quick rebuild. 

** Fun Fact #3: Landau’s character was named after Humphrey Bogart’s character from Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Like his namesake, he becomes more unhinged as the movie progresses.


Despite the miniscule budget, Greydon Clark took steps to make his movie look like a more expensive production. His ace-in-the-hole was renowned cinematographer Dean Cundey (in his fifth and final collaboration with Clark), who was fresh off his work with Halloween (1978). Cundey utilized hand-held Steadicam shots to simulate the alien’s point of view, and employed a fog machine to provide a reflective surface for the night shots. Keeping in mind the production’s limitations, Clark wisely chose not to reveal the alien until much later in the film. Instead, its presence is implied through shadows and its signature weapon,* floppy flying creatures (resembling something like a cross between a pancake and a sand dollar)** that immobilize its victims. Only Taylor, a seasoned hunter, has the presence of mind to do something about the pesky flying parasites, while everyone else in the movie just passively allows them to suck their blood. The alien***/**** was played by 7-foot-2-1/2-inch performer Kevin Peter Hall, who would go on to play Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, as well as the titular creature from Predator (which is frequently compared to this film for its many similarities). 

* Fun Fact #4: In the original script, the alien used a bow and arrows. 

** Fun Fact #5: Closeups of the flying creatures were shot during post-production, in Clark’s garage, with a three-person crew. 

*** Fun Fact #6: The alien head was created by Rick Baker. 

**** Fun Fact #7: The trumpet of an elephant was used for the alien’s final screech.

Greg, Sandy and Taylor

There’s some nice chemistry between Nutter and Nelson, who hold their own against veterans Palance and Landau. Although Sandy starts out as the typical screaming damsel in distress, she shows some backbone by the end of the film, during the final confrontation. While obviously attracted to her, Greg manages to keep his hormones in check long enough to do the right thing and provide emotional support to the visibly traumatized Sandy.

Taylor with Pickled Flying Creature

Jack Palance and Martin Landau seem to be enjoying themselves, playing characters that are, respectively, crazy and crazier. The more we learn about Taylor, the saner he becomes. He believes Sandy and Greg, but with a healthy dose of skepticism. It becomes clear that he knows about the alien and its habits, but he’s a loner, used to doing things his way, without the input or interference of other people. In typical Palance fashion, he hisses his lines with conviction with a self-aware gleam in his eyes. Dobbs, on the other hand, wants an audience, no matter how deranged his ramblings might sound. His paranoia reaches a zenith when he suspects Greg and Sandy are aliens that have assumed the shape of humans. Landau nearly crosses the line into self-parody with his over-the-top performance, yet he somehow reins his role in just enough to remain credible.

Bar Regulars with Bartender

Besides the headliners, the cast of Without Warning is a who’s who of veteran character actors. Cameron Mitchell (who becomes the film’s first victim) appears as a macho, alpha male father on a hunting trip with his reluctant 20-something son. Ralph Meeker (in his final film role) and Neville Brand add some color as a pair of bar patrons, and Sue Ane Langdon enjoys some brief time in the spotlight as Aggy, the spunky bartender. Larry Storch (F-Troop) provides a little comic relief as a befuddled scout master.* Besides the old pros, there’s veteran-actor-to-be David Caruso, in one of his first film roles, as a horny teenager (guess how he ends up).   

* Fun Fact #8: According to Clark, one of the crew members volunteered her son’s scout troop for the movie.

Frank Dobbs

Without Warning wouldn’t be a proper B-movie without the requisite genre clichés, including a cat appearing from nowhere to provide a jump scare, someone saying “This place gives me the creeps,” a vehicle that inexplicably fails to start, and a virginal final girl. In the unintentionally hilarious final confrontation, try not to facepalm as the alien gives the surviving protagonists every opportunity to destroy it, conveniently standing motionless while Sandy fiddles with a detonator. For his part, Taylor forgets everything he’s learned about hunting, running out in the open, yelling “Alien! Alien!” As silly as it can be at times, it’s fair to acknowledge that Without Warning walked so Predator could run. Sure, it’s as rough around the edges as origami made by kindergarteners, but that’s part of its charm. This was made quickly and on the cheap. The fact that it’s entertaining as well is only icing on the bloody cake.


Sources for this article: Blu-ray commentary by Greydon Clark; Featurette: “Greg and Sandy’s Alien Adventures: interviews with Actors Tarah Nutter and Christopher S. Nelson”; Featurette: “Independents Day with Dean Cundey”; Featurette: “Producers vs. Aliens: Interview with Co-writer/Co-Producer Daniel Grodnik”

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

Earth vs the Flying Saucers Poster

(1956) Directed by Fred F. Sears; Written by Bernard Gordon and George Worthing Yates; Screen Story by Curt Siodmak; Suggested by “Flying Saucers from Outer Space,” by Major Donald E. Keyhoe; Starring: Hugh Marlowe, Joan Taylor, Donald Curtis, Morris Ankrum and Grandon Rhodes; Available on Blu-ray and DVD 

Rating: ***½ 

“Saucers were very prominent at that time, and Charles (Schneer) cut out a thing in the paper and said, ‘Let’s make a picture about flying saucers.’ I hesitated… but I thought it was a challenge to get… some sort of personality in the saucers, that there was some intelligence guiding them.” –  Ray Harryhausen (from DVD commentary)

Flying Saucers

If Earth was ever visited by extraterrestrial beings, what would that encounter look like? Would they attempt to hide their presence from us, or would they make some sort of grand gesture, purposely arriving at a prominent location or center of government? Not long after the alleged incident in Roswell, New Mexico, along with many other sightings, UFOs became a hot topic for Hollywood, with genre classics The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Thing from Another World (1951), and The War of the Worlds (1953). A few years after the initial wave, producer Charles H. Schneer approached effects maestro Ray Harryhausen to make their own movie about the subject. The resulting film, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,* his second collaboration with Schneer after The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) plays like a story ripped from the headlines, taken to its logical, horrible conclusion. 

* Not-So-Fun-Fact: Due to the blacklist of the 1950s, screenwriter Bernard Gordon’s name was left off the credits. His name was only recently restored to the credits, when the film arrived on DVD.

Dr. Marvin and Carol

In the opening scene, we’re introduced to newlyweds Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) and Carol (Joan Taylor), driving along a deserted road, enroute to a rocket test base. As he begins to dictate through a tape recorder, he picks up strange sounds emanating from a huge disclike flying craft* that buzzes their car. Dr. Marvin and his wife arrive at the base, just in time to witness the impending launch of another rocket (the previous 10 went missing), but they soon discover an unauthorized visitor at the site – (you guessed it) a flying saucer. In typical Hollywood military fashion, our first direct encounter with an extraterrestrial being is marred by shooting first and asking questions later (a decision that doesn’t bode well for the soldiers on base or humanity in general). Meanwhile, in the ensuing commotion and destruction, they abduct Carol’s father, General John Hanley (Morris Ankrum), extracting his knowledge with an “infinitely indexed memory bank.” Dr. Marvin learns, belatedly, that the sounds he recorded were an initial attempt by the aliens to communicate with him.** Defying orders from his superiors, he decides to take matters into his own hands, arranging a second meeting with the extraterrestrials, *** in which he learns their malicious intent. Now, it’s us against them, as Dr. Marvin and his colleagues race against the clock to find a weakness in the invaders they can exploit. 

* Fun Fact #1: The telltale sound of the saucers came from an unlikely source – a recording of sewage moving through the pipes of the Redondo Beach wastewater facility in Southern California. The sewage plant, with its myriad twisting pipes, also served as the “high tech” rocket research lab. 

** Fun Fact #2: If the alien leader’s voice sounds familiar (despite the intentional distortion), it belongs to announcer Paul Frees who lent his ubiquitous vocal talents to many projects (including the “Ghost Host” in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion). 

*** Fun Fact #3: The meeting spot where Dr. Marvin makes his rendezvous with the aliens is Zuma Beach, in Malibu, California.

Attacking the Washington Monument

Since the movie is called Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and not Dr. Marvin and His Delayed Honeymoon, we’re not here for the romantic subplot but to see the aliens blow stuff up. Ray Harryhausen delivers on the promise with his usual aplomb, depicting the obliteration of various Washington, DC architectural landmarks, including the Washington Monument (a scene later parodied in Tim Burton’s 1996 comedy, Mars Attacks). A hallmark of Harryhausen’s formidable skill is imbuing his creations with personality (personality that often eclipses the human characters), which extends to inorganic objects. The flying saucers* are far more than blank, featureless discs, displaying counter-rotating sections on the top and bottom, suggesting a mechanism that provides lift. The nodules on the bottom of the spacecraft served a dual purpose: imparting additional detail to the saucers, as well as enabling a practical location for Harryhausen to anchor the supporting wires. Other than the suits,** we almost never see the aliens, themselves (one is briefly revealed without their helmet). 

* Fun Fact #4: According to Harryhausen, he created eight saucers for the film: four little ones for medium shots, three larger ones for the long shots, and the biggest one (approximately 12” in diameter) for close-ups. The largest model included a telescoping cylinder for entry and exit into the saucer. 

** Fun Fact #5: Besides his animated sequences, Harryhausen made another important contribution to the film, suggesting to the filmmakers that the aliens’ suits were comprised of “solidified electricity.” As someone with a liberal arts background, I’m not sure how plausible that would be, but it sure sounds cool.

Dr. Marvin Tries on Alien Helmet

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is not without its minor nitpicks, starting with the interior design of the spacecraft. There’s too much empty space in the saucers, leaving a large, cavernous area containing nothing (when space would likely be at a premium for an interstellar craft). And where would the telescoping cylinder (providing egress to the craft) fit? Space efficiency questions aside, probably the most problematic element is the overzealous use of stock footage* throughout. While obviously a cost-saving measure (with most sci-films of the era relegated to low-budget B-pictures), the over-abundance of stock footage causes credibility to strain at the seams at times. In one scene, a shot of jet fighters scrambling against the extraterrestrial threat is intercut with footage of propeller planes crashing. Thankfully, most of the footage used integrates more convincingly, but these momentary lapses demand our suspension of disbelief.   

* Fun Fact #6: In the sequence where a cathedral is blown up, the filmmakers repurposed an effects shot from The War of the Worlds, depicting the destruction of Los Angeles City Hall.

Aliens Use Ray Gun

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is that it glosses over one of the most intriguing themes it raises: conflict started over miscommunication. Arguably, the war between an alien race is at least partially due to our negligence. I can’t help but speculate what could have been if humans had found a common ground with the aliens, but amidst the milieu of paranoia and distrust of the mid-50s, a peaceful solution wasn’t in the cards. There’s much ado about the colorized version in the DVD’s supplemental materials (endorsed by Harryhausen himself), but despite the advances of the process, it looks unnatural and uncanny (and not in a good way). I much prefer the original black-and-white version, with its moody contrast and newsreel footage quality. Whichever version you choose, however, you’re guaranteed to see a film that lives up to its title.

Monday, April 1, 2024

The Mismatched Couples Blogathon – Bonus Day Recap

Mismatched Couples Blogathon Banner

Well folks, this is the end of the line for the Mismatched Couples Blogathon, hosted by Yours Truly and Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews. It’s been a fun ride, but it’s time to say goodbye for now. We’ve had a marvelous turnout, with 31 posts, including today’s late additions. Please let us know if you’re running late, as we’re more than happy to add links throughout the remainder of the week.

Harold and Maude

Once again, thanks to Gill for being such a terrific co-host, and a hearty to thanks to all who participated! We’re excited about our second blogathon, covering the films of [REDACTED], and can’t wait to tell you about it. Until then, we’ll just have to leave you in suspense.   

Glen or Glenda

In addition to today’s links, be sure to visit the previous days’ recaps: 

Day 1  

Day 2

Day 3

Here are the final posts (watch this space for any late additions): 

Fatso Poster

Black Cats and Poppies hangs out with Dom and Lydia in Fatso (1980). 


Road to Zanzibar Poster

Eric Binford from Diary of a Movie Maniac is back for another round with Hope and Crosby in Road to Zanzibar (1941). 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Mismatched Couples Blogathon – Day 3 Recap


Mismatched Couples Blogathon Banner

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve already reached Day Three of the Mismatched Couples Blogathon, hosted by Yours Truly and Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my excellent co-host Gill for organizing another blogathon with me, and for her tireless efforts to spread the word out about this event. And of course, thanks to all the participants, old and new, for their awesome contributions to this blogathon. We couldn’t have done it without you. Watch for an announcement this fall about our next blogathon. Believe me, you won’t want to miss it!

Ginger Snaps

Gill and I have reserved a bonus day for any last-minute posts, so we will post any late entries tomorrow. We don’t want to miss anything, so please be sure to send your link(s) to both of us. Post a comment below, email me at, or DM me on Twitter (@barry_cinematic). You may also contact Gill by commenting on her post, or through her blog’s Contact Me page.

Lost in Spac

In addition to today’s links, be sure to visit the previous days’ recaps: 

Day 1  

Day 2


…And away we go with today’s posts:

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing

Daffny from A Vintage Nerd looks at Love and Pain and theWhole Damn Thing (1973). 

Re-Animator Poster

TigerheartsTales shines the spotlight on reluctant colleagues Herbert West and Dan Cain in Re-Animator (1985).  

In the Heat of the Night

Lê at Critica Retro introduces us to the classic duo Virgil Tibbs and Bill Gillespie from In the Heat of the Night (1967). 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

On the Town Poster

Kristen from Hoofers & Honeys brings us two reviews: TakeMe Out to the Ball Game (1949) and On the Town (1949).  

Road to Singapore

Eric Binford from Diary of Movie Maniac tags along with Crosby and Hope as they traverse the Road to Singapore (1940).  

The Enforcer

Eddie at Film Authority examines the unlikely pairing of Clint Eastwood and Tyne Daly in The Enforcer (1976). 


Be one of the cool kids, and join John at Tales from the Freakboy Zone as he meets Brooke McQueen and Sam McPherson in the TV series Popular (1999-2001). 

Easter Parade 

Just in time for the holiday, Sally Silverscreen from18 Cinema Lane shares her take on Easter Parade (1948). 


Debbie V. at Moon in Gemini sings the praises of Chandler Bing and Janice Litman Goralnik from the TV series Friends (1994-2004).