Tag Archives: 1967

CAPSULE: THE UNKNOWN MAN OF SHANDIGOR (1967)

L’inconnu de Shandigor

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DIRECTED BY: Jean-Louis Roy

FEATURING: Daniel Emilfork, Marie-France Boyer, Marcel Imhoff,

PLOT: After Swiss scientist Herbert Von Krantz develops a method for nullifying nuclear explosions, various world powers plot to steal his secret.

Still from The Unknown Man of Shandigor (1967)

COMMENTS: I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that this film is quite an oddity. It features Daniel Emilfork, the eccentric performer who portrayed the memorable villain Krank in The City of Lost Children, and perhaps the strangest character actor to come from France. The film looks like Godard‘s take on film noir channeled through a smirking Cold War nihilism. There’s death by “carbonic foam from Siberia”, which unfolds in a boogie-woogie-blasted rave-cave. Russian and American agents feud in the natural history section of a grand museum replete with stone busts and huge prehistoric skeletons. And the movie features one of the oddest ’60s set-pieces I’ve ever seen: a gang of shorn-headed goons prepare the corpse of their chief spy while their boss croons “Bye-bye, Mr. Spy” over a cabaret-ragtime tune he plays on a pipe organ in the embalming room.

The bad news is the narrative is ill-executed, making The Unknown Man of Shandigor a heaving stew of intermingling lumps that, on inspection, feels empty. Herbert von Krantz (the unceasingly overblown Daniel Emilfork) has invented a method of negating the effects of nuclear explosions, haughtily declaring that future wars will now unfold “however I want them to.” As so often occurs when a genius tilts the balance of power, greater forces come out of the woodwork to “rectify” things. Enter four different spy troupes, each introduced by an incongruous subtitle. The Russians want professor von Krantz’s “Canceler” device as a gift for the proletariat: what better way to reward the working masses than with the gift of military dominance? They have set up shop in a chateau teaming with gilt and mirrors, and focus their efforts on abducting the professor’s albino assistant. The Americans, led by ex-Wehrmacht scientist “Bobby Gun”, hang out in a nearby bowling alley while they undertake a similar plot to steal the formula.

The other two agencies are beefier in their weirdness: a shadowy outfit of bald-headed, spectacle-wearing operatives led by the aforementioned organist; and coming out of left field (or, more precisely, East Asian field) in the final act, the “Black Sun Orient,” who seem to be commanded by some manner of artificial intelligence. This all sounds very exciting on paper, and while the strangeness is served up by ladleful, the effect somehow is no more than occasional wide-eyed smiling to interrupt a coursing streak of tedium. I should not have felt bored much of the time, but this film felt half again as long as it actually was. The inconsistency of tone—messianically grand at times, slinking at others; unnervingly bizarre for stretches, ho-hum-drum elsewise—prevents this from attaining either standard greatness or so-bad-it’s-greatness. Though The Unknown Man of Shandigor largely fails as a movie, it is still worth a look for its succulent morsels of peculiarity. Just bear in mind there’s a lot of bitter broth in the bowl.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

A wild mix of Euro-spy trappings, French New Wave-styled visual flourishes and quirky, black comedy… The Unknown Man Of Shandigor is really a bit of a pop art masterpiece.” -Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop!

CAPSULE: THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1967)

AKA Castle of the Walking Dead

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DIRECTED BY: Harald Reinl

FEATURING: Christopher Lee, Lex Barker, Karin Dor

PLOT: Count Frederick Regula sought eternal life by sacrificing thirteen virgins, but he only made it up to twelve before the authorities nabbed and executed him; years later, descendants are haunted by his spirit, contrived by a sinister inheritance.

Still from The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadism (1967)

COMMENTS: First, let’s get Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” out of the way. It’s a very short story serving as an exercise in building suspense through dread. There’s no plot to it; it is literally a stranger in a cell menaced by various torments until he’s rescued by a deux-ex-army at the end. Take note, lest you think I disrespect the Master of the Macabre, that Poe himself would go on to mock his own story with the satirical A Predicament, about a curious woman getting slowly decapitated by the sharp minute hand of a clock. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is about a man getting slowly sliced up by a descending blade. If you want to blow this up into a whole movie, you’re going to have to pad it out. Well, Poe does mention (“Nobody expects… !”) the Spanish Inquisition, so there’s our padding right there.

So now that we’ve dialed our expectations back from Eurotrash to Euroschlock, we can start with the pleasant surprises. The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism is actually a stylish (but very outdated) Gothic-period horror flick of the kind that Hammer Films, Amicus Productions, and Tigon were cranking out at the time. In fact, it is exhaustively derivative of the European 1960s horror genre, to the point where you could assemble this movie out of pieces of other movies and get the same result. There’s a mad scientist’s alchemist workbench with bubbling beakers of vegetable glycerin, there’s a carriage ride through the woods with wolves howling in the background, there’s a castle full of deadly booby traps and no OSHA compliance, yada yada. And boy howdy, do they ever love skulls as a decorative element! This movie could serve as a shopping list for a trip to a Spirit Halloween store.

Christopher Lee is Count Frederick Regula, the gluten-free equivalent to Count Chocula. The evil Count is executed for murdering twelve virgins—but this was decades ago, and we switch to the movie time frame proper where Roger Elise (Lex Barker) and Baroness Brabant (Karin Dor) receive mysterious letters inviting them to a castle. One is to receive an inheritance, and the other is just a “find out the secrets of your past” deal. Turns out they each have a connection to the castle’s former owner; Roger is a son of one of the executioners, while the Baroness is the descendant of Regula’s intended 13th victim. You see, the whole murdering-virgins bit was so the Count could achieve immortality by brewing blood into an elixir. Not that Count Drac-oops Regula is a vampire (Christopher Lee playing a vampire? Preposterous!), but because he just dabbles in the black arts that way. Well, he did before he got executed, but never mind all that, because a member of the Count’s loyal staff has sworn to finalize his resurrection plans, and has a whole castle dungeon full of diabolical weapons at their disposal.

Before we get to the castle, there’s a whole half-movie worth of set-up to plow through. First, they have to ask directions, because the letters didn’t include a Google Maps link. All the townspeople have to scowl about the sinister rumors around the castle. Then they have to have a not-quite-trusted monk along for the ride to act as a guide. Then they get waylaid by a gang of bandits on the road, since locking doors for horse-drawn carriages hadn’t been invented yet. We also tour the most haunted woods ever, populated by trees that sprout corpses and skeletons willy-nilly. After all this, the castle turns out to be subterranean, entered via a spiked iron door. Minutes later, we hear the line “I knew it! We’ve fallen into some sort of trap!” Darn it, if only there had been any ominous events and signs along the way to warn us.

On the plus side, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism is filled with gorgeous sets and atmospheric practical effects. The performances are capable and even though the whole story is one big Gothic formula, they do the genre proud. One downside is the music, which is way too whimsically “spooky” and lighthearted for the intended tone. The soundtrack becomes a sarcastic commentary punctuating every major scene, like if you had Frank Zappa score a Batman episode. You will also need to rub some liniment oil on your jawbone so you don’t hurt yourself yawning at the dragging pace, despite its 79 minute run-time. This is the part where we’d normally call it a vintage Euro-horror treasure, but let’s be honest: there are so many movies exactly like it that we’d like to sign some kind of Pittman Act where we opt to melt a bunch of them down to reclaim the celluloid. The weirdest thing about The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism is its ridiculously misleading title. The promotional art for this film hypes this image, setting you up for an Ilsa She Wolf of the SS exploitation boob-bath. What you get is a hum-drum, if stylish, West German Edgar Allan Poe “adaptation.” We already have so much Poe around here that we have to scrape the raven crap off the index periodically.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… an odd one; the basic plot is very familiar indeed, but it has bizarre and decidedly eccentric touches to it.”–Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

15*. CASINO ROYALE (1967)

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DIRECTED BY: , , , , , (uncredited)

FEATURING: , David Niven, Ursula Andress, , , , Joanna Pettet, Deborah Kerr

PLOT: The “real” James Bond is recalled from retirement to fight agents of SMERSH. To help his cover, MI6 decides to re-name all their agents “James Bond.” The story loosely follows the maneuvers and misadventures of these various Bonds.

Still from Casino Royale (1967)

BACKGROUND:

  • This movie is based on author Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel of the same title. The rights were originally sold to producer Gregory Ratoff, then resold to agent/producer Charles K. Feldman upon Ratoff’s passing.
  • Eon Productions was the chief source of the James Bond franchise, but deals between Eon and Feldman to adapt Casino Royale fell through. After several false starts at producing a straight version of the Bond story (with both Cary Grant and Sean Connery considered for the starring role), Feldman struck a deal with Columbia Pictures, opting to make his Bond movie a spoof of the genre instead.
  • Amid an already-troubled production, Peter Sellers and Orson Welles famously quarreled, resulting in the former storming off the set, which required some re-shoots using body doubles.
  • It is alleged that Peter Sellers was eager to play James Bond for real and was disappointed to find out this was a spoof.
  • Dusty Springfield’s rendition of “The Look of Love” got an Oscar nomination. Later versions of the song made the Billboard Hot 100 at #22 in November of 1967, and cover versions have since appeared in everything from Catch Me If You Can (2002) to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) (which was partly inspired by Casino Royale).
  • Despite this movie’s reputation as a flop, it still made $41.7 million back on a $12 million budget.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Eenie meenie miney moe: we’ll pick the scene where Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) has taken Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) hostage, Bond-villain style. As Andress is restrained naked under barely-concealing metal bands, Allen menaces her in his groovy ’60s dungeon by playing a piano, socking a punching bag with the “real” James Bond’s face on it, and riding on a mechanical bull.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Duck decoy missiles; bagpipe machine gun

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In the same vein as Skidoo (1968) and North (1994), Casino Royale is a star-studded parable teaching us that shoveling big-name talent and money into a movie won’t necessarily make it any better. Before you even approach the jaw-dropping cast, you already have too many cooks (six directors and a veritable army of writers) spoiling the stew. The 131 minute run-time is overstuffed with everything the producers could cram in, whether it works or not. Saturated with weirdness, viewers will be burned out from the endless blathering nonsense long before this silly excess ends.

Original trailer for Casino Royale (1967)

COMMENTS: “What were they thinking?” That’s a query repeated Continue reading 15*. CASINO ROYALE (1967)

CAPSULE: THE BIG SHAVE (1967) (FROM “SCORSESE SHORTS”)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Peter Bernuth

PLOT: What starts out as a pleasant morning shave soon goes horribly wrong, turning into a bloody spectacle of self-mutilation as a man finds himself unable to stop shaving.

COMMENTS: I first saw The Big Shave on YouTube a few years ago, after hearing about American Boy (another film included on Criterion’s new “Scorsese Shorts” collection) via , who used a story from that film as inspiration for the adrenaline injection scene in Pulp Fiction. American Boy, a monologue film featuring Stephen Prince (a friend of Scorsese’s who had played a bit part in his feature film Taxi Driver), showed me that there was a side to Martin Scorsese that I never seen before, and encouraged me to dig deeper into Marty’s back catalog. The Big Shave, a gory allegory about the Vietnam War, is unlike anything else in Scorsese’s filmography, and left a mark on my memory that I’ve never been able to shake. Thanks to the Criterion Collection, The Big Shave, along with American Boy and three other early Scorsese short films, is now available to revisit in gloriously bloody HD.

To most cinephiles these days, Scorsese might seem like an untouchable symbol of classic Hollywood, one of the last quintessential “great” filmmakers, whose new films are treated with solemn reverence and his old films spoken of in hushed tones as some of the greatest of all times. But Mean Streets wasn’t his first foray into filmmaking, not by a long shot. The real story started 10 years earlier, when Scorsese was a film student at NYU. There he made two award-winning student films: What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? and It’s Not Just You, Murray. In a way, these two films reflect a spirit similar to what a lot of young film students were doing at the time. They’re blatantly irreverent and intentionally bizarre, with a gleeful determination to create a new way of making films inspired by the French New Wave.

However, unlike these fairly innocent student short films, The Big Shave doesn’t just set out to toy with the viewer’s mind, it aims to get under their skin, peeling it back to reveal what lies beneath. Had it been made in a different era, any number of meanings might be extracted from it, but seeing that it was a product of the late 1960s, it’s difficult to see it as anything other than a commentary on the self-destructive nature of the US military’s involvement in Vietnam. It even has an alternate title, Viet ‘67—but that might have made it too obvious.

It starts by establishing its setting: a sparkling white bathroom filled with sparkling silver fixtures. The bath faucets, the toilet paper holder, the sink—all are shown in pristine close-ups that establish Continue reading CAPSULE: THE BIG SHAVE (1967) (FROM “SCORSESE SHORTS”)

DRACULA IN PAKISTAN (1967)

Dracula in Pakistan (AKA The Living Corpse, 1967, directed by Khwaja Sarfraz ) is about… Dracula, in Pakistan. Well, primarily. It’s a slightly weird retelling; not quite weird enough, and not quite good enough, but it’s a worthwhile curio.

It begins with Doc Tabini (Rehan; the actors are all credited under one name only) as a kind of Dr. Jekyll, deep in experimentation, trying to unlock the secret of death. Unfortunately, the poor fellow dies during his own experiment, wakes up as a vampire, and bites his buxom babe assistant. She becomes the bride of… Dracula (although he’s only called Dracula in the title).

Then, Dracula in Pakistan veers into a practical remake of ‘s Dracula mixed with Horror of Dracula (Sarfraz virtually lifts ‘s red-blooded entrances). It occasional veers from the source materials: Dracula gets into a fist fight; and, rather than turning into a bat, he takes off in a sport car. Oh, and there’s several (too many) bizarrely placed extended dance sequences and a crappy Pakistani jazz score, along with a beach scene of Pakistani teens (?), before it ventures back into the narrative and the finale—an effectively filmed ripoff of Fisher’s Horror.

Still from Dracula in Pakistan (1967)The Van Helsing character is bland, but Rehan is a spirited bloodsucker—which is odd, because according to the cast interviews on the DVD extras, he had never seen a horror film before shooting. Indeed, it’s the extras from the Mondo Macabro  release that really elevate the film. They almost convinced me Pakistan was better than the film I just saw. According to Pete Tombs and Omar Khan, the film was originally rated X in Pakistan, due to the cleavage and neck-biting, which was tame even then. There’s also a documentary on South Asia horror films, and the restoration, although hardly perfect, is impressive. Mondo treats it like it’s a long lost treasure; and who are we to argue with such a hip distributor?

CAPSULE: THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM OF CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE MARQUIS DE SADE (1967)

Recommended

AKA Marat/Sade

DIRECTED BY: Peter Brook

FEATURING: , , Glenda Jackson, Michael Williams

PLOT: The director of the Charenton asylum permits the prisoners to put on a play about the murder of one of the architects of the French Revolution; the machinations of the play’s notorious author, combined with the unique insanities of the cast, consistently threaten to derail the production.

Still from Marat/Sade (1967)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Marat/Sade is easy to admire but difficult to love, purposely distancing itself from its audience with a presentational style, a remote historical setting, and characters who are all but impossible to empathize with. By putting the great debates over the efficacy and morality of revolutionary fervor into the mouths of the sick and deranged, the movie declares its allegiance to a stranger flag. But while it is confrontational and occasionally repellent, Marat/Sade is still a thoughtful, methodical, and ultimately a sober work.

COMMENTS: Every once in a while, a play shows up on Broadway that is so alive with the enthusiasm and commitment of its cast, so daring in its subject matter, so determined to break away from the complacency and redundancy of its contemporaries, that it becomes a smash on the scale of the more attention-getting musicals. Recent years have seen plays such as “Angels in America,” “August: Osage County,” and “Take Me Out” demand the spotlight; in 1966, it was “Marat/Sade” that was all the buzz in the theater world. After the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Peter Weiss’ original German-language play essentially launched the British fringe, it traveled across the Atlantic to dazzle America, becoming not only a hit but also shorthand for subversive, challenging theater.

So a movie version has a lot to live up to, and it’s a tribute to director Peter Brook’s vision that he manages to find the cinematic elements in the staging of a play. For Marat/Sade is working at multiple levels: a film of a play screening before an audience in which a play is being performed for an audience. It’s easy to lose track of which one you should be following. Consider the choices de Sade makes in casting his production. His Marat is portrayed by a paranoiac, Corday is a narcoleptic, Duperret a sex criminal. How much importance we should ascribe to these choices? Is this de Sade jesting with the historical figures? Is it Weiss assigning another layer of meaning to characters already laden with subtext? Is the whole thing a joke, designed to set up situations like Corday’s frequent mid-play naps? If theater is an author’s medium and film is a director’s medium, but one of the protagonists is a writer and director of the very work we’re watching, just who the hell is responsible?

Brook takes great pains to remind us that we are watching a play. The character of the Herald is constantly there to remind the actors of their lines. A chorus frequently chimes in with musical numbers that sound like lesser Newley/Bricusse tunes. And we get shots of the audience watching from the other side of the prison bars. But we get just as many hints that this is an impossible play. The script seems all too prepared to address the objections of the asylum director in dialogue. Our Marat seems not an actor at all, but the very man back from the dead, and de Sade engages him in debate as if he were the genuine article. And how the heck did this collection of crazies learn all these elaborate speeches, anyway? Whenever you think you’ve got your footing, Marat/Sade is there to give you a good shove.

Possibly the finest compliment you can give Marat/Sade is that you finish it thrilled and exhausted, but also unsure if you understood any of it. In trying to figure it out, I find it helpful to go back to that monstrously long (possibly even Guinness record-worthy) title, which is usually trimmed down to highlight the ostensible antagonists of the piece. In doing so, possibly the most important word to understanding the work as a whole is lost: “asylum.” In assessing the French Revolution, a particularly bloody uprising that overthrew a monarchy and then blundered through violence until another dictator arrived to grab control, it seems as though no one involved had the wisdom or foresight to anticipate the bloodshed that would result. By putting the subject in the hands of the insane, it specifically labels the enlightened masters of the uprising as insane themselves, and by placing the play under the auspices of a politician who represents the new dictatorship, it goes for broke and says everyone is crazy. Revolution is bloody, violent, destructive. To think otherwise, or to think that it won’t reach you, is dangerous folly, and Marat/Sade wants you to know that even if—especially if—you think you’re in control, then you’re next.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The typical dish or cable viewer, then, might utter ‘What the hell is this?’ and gaze upon the weirdness only momentarily, without even having put down the remote… Strange scenes can be felt but not always understood, and perhaps its impossible to do so.” – Brian Koller, Films Graded (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Caleb Moss, who called it “pretty strange, to say the least.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

A JAW-DROPPING ELVIS DOUBLE FEATURE: LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE (1968) & EASY COME, EASY GO (1967)

As a pop music star, had an unparalleled career (although it is questionable whether his music is much listened to today outside of Memphis). His film career, although financially successful, was a different story altogether—remarkable only in the thirty-plus (mostly wretched) films produced in a scant dozen years. Among the worst, which is saying a lot, are two near the end of his film run. Itching to get back into live performance, Presley was merely fulfilling his MGM contract at this point and, barely mastering any enthusiasm, took whatever script was handed him.

Live a Little, Love a Little (1968, directed by frequent Presley collaborator Norman Taurog and scripted by Dan Greenburg from his novel “Kiss My Firm but Pliant Lips”) is a like the Rankin and Bass cartoon “Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974) in that it contains a single scene of at its most jaw-dropping, “WTF were they thinking?” level, which almost makes the whole enterprise worthwhile.

The Pelvis is a photojournalist here named Greg, working at a “Playboy”-like outfit. Of course, that means he’s going to be taking lots of pinup pics. The blatant sexism would seem woefully dated, except we’ve elected a lot of Neanderthal politicos lately (from both sides), and that unfortunately renders the film more contemporary than it was a few years ago. Greg’s practically stalked by a wacky, bikini-clad gal who might be named Bernice… or Alice… or Suzy…don’t ask. I’m still not sure, but whoever she is, she’s played by Michele Carey, one of those anonymous eye-candy actresses you may recall seeing a lot. (Carey is primarily known for this and the 1967 /Howard Hawks oater El Dorado). Bernice also has a Great Dane named Albert who will become for this film what Mr. Heat Miser was for “Year Without A Santa Claus.” Rounding off a weird cast is prolific character actor  (whom we recently saw as Professor Twiddle/Professor Quinn in “The Adventures of Superman”) as a milkman (don’t ask—I still don’t know why), Rudy Valle as a Hugh Heffner type (?), and Dick Sargent (best known as Darren #2 from “Bewitched”), who might be Bernice’s husband (just don’t ask).

Still from Live a Little, Love a Little (1968)Bernice and Albert run a close second to Glenn Close in the obsession department (although we’re never sure why Bernice is bonkers about Greg), which opens the door for a scene that…. forget “Magical Mystery Tour,” or even Presley’s “Little Egypt” and “Big Boss Man” numbers from his 1968 comeback special for a moment and embrace one of the most awkward moments of surrealism ever committed to celluloid. With Albert crashed in the baby playpen next to him, Greg, in baby blue silk PJs, has a dream about his furry companion, who is now a guy in a wrinkled dog  suit with a disturbingly long, wagging tongue. Albert, standing on two legs, pushes Greg through a red door (Hell?), leading to the musical number “The Edge Of Reality,” in which the Pelvis, after falling through something, lands somewhere (a psychedelic wonderland?) and barely shakes while dancing with shirt-skirted gals (each one an avatar for Bernice and her split personalities)—and Albert, of course. The 60s color palette is choreographed to lyrics that couldn’t be more apt: “On the edge of reality she sits there tormenting me, the girl with the nameless face, where she overpowers me with fears that I can’t explain. She drove me to the point of madness, the brink of misery.”

After this all-too-brief and senseless vignette, Greg bonds with Albert and the two become “dune buggy riding pals!,” and it’s as dull as it sounds. Greg even falls for his fatal attraction, who might indeed be named Bernice. It’s all downhill after “The Edge of Reality,” possibly because reality is like that. The only other possible point of interest in the film (for those into that sort of thing) would be Presley’s spirited kung fu fight in the first quarter. What’s the motive for the fight? I have no idea, but Elvis gets to kick some ninja-clothed baddies—including bodyguard Red West, who eventually got the last laugh when he outed Elvis as a druggie in his 1977 tell-all book “Elvis: What Happened?” After experiencing “The Edge of Reality,” one might wish Elvis had done more drugs.

The surrealism of Easy Come, Easy Go (1967, directed by John Rich) isn’t as blatant, but how about this? Elvis plays a frogman (?!?) who sings a duet called “Yoga Is as Yoga Does” with Bride of Frankenstein (!?!) He sings the gospel standard (the music he was best at) “Sing, You Children Sing” with hippies and beatniks. Those two numbers aside (along with scenes of scuba diving, if that’s your idea of entertainment), the remainder of Easy Come, Easy Go draws a blank.