Category Archives: 1960s

Batman (1966)

Director: Leslie H. Martinson

SBS recently announced that they’ve purchased the 1960s Batman TV series, which announcement comes… unfortunately timed to coincide with the death a few days earlier of series star Adam West. Not SBS’ fault, I’m sure, cos I’ve no doubt the negotiations to buy the series would’ve begun some time before West’s passing (I don’t think you just casually do that sort of thing even these days), but still. Anyway, to warm us up for the series ahead of it starting next month, they gave us the movie tonight, which I may not have seen since, well, the 1980s, which was probably also the last time I saw the series (I have the latter on DVD but haven’t watched it yet)… Basically the film was produced as a sort of introduction to the series (filmed after the first series had completed shooting), but then the series launch date got moved way ahead of its original schedule so the film had to be held back, rendering it a bit useless for its intended purpose. Still, on its own terms it’s a huge lot of fun… I know the series copped flak for years for being an exercise in camp rather than evincing the pulp grittiness of the original comics, but let’s face it: the comics by that time were hardly masterpieces of noir, even before the CCA neutered comics generally in the 50s, DC were taking their own initiatives to tone Batman down within months of his first appearance and wouldn’t toughen him up again until the 70s. So the film is really just of its time in that respect, and it knows the basic strangeness of the whole superhero/supervillian narrative and it runs joyously with its own ridiculousness; everyone involved hits the right comedic pitch (the bomb scene is an outstanding setpiece), and West’s ability to keep a straight face is genuinely admirable at times. Much fun, and though I’ve got the series on DVD like I said, I’ll probably watch it on TV anyway…

Dry Summer (1963)

Director: Metin Erksan

Dry film, too. This film is known for having been an international success (Berlin Film Festival winner, actual US release—overseen by none other than David Durston, of all people—and Oscar nominee), and for having been buried at home almost immediately for the best part of half a century, on the grounds that, well, it was kind of sexy (there’s one scene of our villain perving on the female lead which is kind of eye-popping) and maybe a bit politically progressive (although the Masters of Cinema booklet essay by Phil Coldiron frets about it not being Marxist enough). What we have, basically, is a western of sorts set in what I presume was contemporary Turkey; the previously mentioned villain is the landowner, Osman, whose property contains a spring that irrigates his land and that of the surrounding village. When a particularly hot summer sets in and water is at a premium, he decides to dam up the spring so it only services him and not the neighbours. Needless to say, this goes badly with the latter, and things end in Osman shooting one of them, convincing his younger brother to be the fall guy for him while he stays free to tend the property… and the brother’s wife. This is all quite tedious, rendered with some admittedly striking visuals plus some irritatingly choppy story-telling and some really bad technical issues (bad dubbing and what looks like some very ill-advised sped-up motion at some points), plus some pointless animal cruelty, but the dullness of the characters is what sank it for me. The wife is quite nice, but the villagers are fucking hopeless, Osman is just a dreadful person without any evident charisma to make his sheer awfulness watchable, and the brother, Hasan, is not much better; he disagrees with Osman’s scheme but doesn’t really do much to oppose him cos he’s, frankly, kind of spineless. And that’s kind of the point, cos the end of the film is about him finally discovering that backbone, but it’s a bit late by then. Not feeling the love for this one at all.

The Living Corpse (1967)

Director: Khwaja Sarfraz

“Dracula in Pakistan!” the DVD cover art shrieks, and by God/dess that is precisely what we’re dealing with here. More precisely, although the opening credits cite the Bram Stoker novel (and the film does famously include a certain detail no previous Dracula film had done before), it’s more Hammer’s Horror of Dracula that this film leans upon… indeed, I think it’s not exaggerating too much to say that, basically, if you took that film, updated it to 1960s Pakistan (that’s a funky car Dracula drives), shot it in Urdu and in black and white with much reduced general production values, and added a few song and dance sequences, and then threw in some of James Bernard’s score for good measure (the hamfistedness of the soundtrack is a wonder), The Living Corpse is precisely the film that would result. Which is not to say that’s a bad thing, mind you; as avowed knockoffs of this sort go, it’s pretty entertaining (if mainly as a piece of exotica), and as comparatively crude as it might be, director Sarfraz actually summons up some nice atmospherics (particularly the vampire’s mansion). And, of course, there’s a certain twist, in that Pakistan apparently has no real tradition of the vampire in the way European countries do, so Pakula (sorry) is actually a scientist who’s created an elixir of immortality, which goes wrong for him in the way that these things are wont to do so he becomes the Christopher Lee of Lahore instead. This is why I love films like this, cos you get little cultural factoids like that… and I know next to nothing about Pakistan generally, never mind its cinema history (which seems to have been vexed), so a film like this presents me with various questions… you know, like just how does a Muslim country make a film with a traditionally Christian monster, how did the Hammer influence actually make its way there (cos Pakistan had no horror film tradition either; Rehan, the actor playing the vampire, had never even seen one before), even little things like, you know, people speaking in English every now and then (the Van Helsing guy always being called “Doctor” in English, not whatever the Urdu title would be, stuff like that—hangover from British rule?)… Anyway, hadn’t seen this for a few years, and a pleasing revisit tonight (and let’s have one last parenthesis for the hell of it).

Dark Intruder (1965)

Director: Harvey Hart

And so, to officially end this year’s month of horror, we turn to the small screen. Kind of. This was actually the pilot for a proposed TV series called The Black Cloak, which none of the American TV networks wanted to touch cos they considered it a bit… heavy or something. An occult detective chasing a sort of Jack the Ripper but with more demonic tendencies in fin-de-siècle San Francisco? That was too much for TV audiences to deal with. So Universal, somewhat grudgingly, put it out in cinemas as a supporting feature since they couldn’t do much else with it, and the networks were smug until, a few years later, The Night Stalker demonstrated TV audiences were actually perfectly fine watching that sort of thing… Anyway, I first heard about this years ago, read about it in a book about film adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft; this isn’t actually one, but the passing reference to Azathoth (and, more obscurely, Nyogtha) demonstrates that author Barré Lyndon had at least a passing acquaintance with the Cthulhu Mythos, and the Sumerian business is kind of fascinating in light of the infamous “Simonomicon” over a decade later. (Wonder if this was an influence at all?) Basically, the plot is as I briefly described above, Leslie Nielsen plays Brett Kingsland, a bon vivant playboy in 1890 San Fran where a series of strange murders is taking place, which he finds have something to do with Sumerian demonology in some way; while the “film” is kind of evidently an episode of a TV show in its execution, the story’s actually pretty good and there are some decent things here. It’s hard to entirely disagree with this piece that calls Nielsen the weak link in the chain, though, even if only because of hindsight; this predates his “official” comedic coming-out in Flying High, but he rather notably plays Brett in a flippant, foppish style that kind of looks a bit weird. “Frank Drebin without the jokes” isn’t actually that far off. Still, this was just the pilot for the show, and I imagine certain things would’ve been fiddled with had a series been commissioned (remember how different Star Trek was in pilot form?). That one wasn’t is, I think, a great disappointment; Dark Intruder certainly looks like the potential was there.

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

Director: Teruo Ishii

No, this wasn’t fucked up AT ALL. I’m a bit wary of “controversial” films, cos they rarely seem to be worth the fuss that they raise. In this case, the controversy seems to have been a matter of political correctness at the level of language; after the film came out there was evidently some sort of reform of the Japanese language in the early 70s, and describing a person as “malformed”—which in Japanese carries connotations that the person is not fully human and you should be mightily afraid of them—became one of the worst things you could say in Japanese. That seems to be a large part of why the film spent decades circulating only in a sort of underground fashion, quite apart from the stories of people being appalled by it enough as it was upon its cinema release… The material mostly comes via Edogawa Rampo (source for Blind Beast that same year, which was also not remotely strange, as you may recall) and fits within the ero-guro tendency, albeit leaning more towards the grotesque than anything else. It’s really hard to properly summarise; a man escapes from a mental institution, goes on the run after being implicated in a murder, and finds himself impersonating a dead man who looks uncannily like him. His “father”, a man said to have webbed fingers, has basically isolated himself on a nearby island. When our hero goes to check the latter, that’s when things REALLY get fucked. Up to that point the film has a kind of general atmosphere of strangeness, but in the second half of the film this just gets exponential; I spent much of the first half of the film wondering what the fuss was about, but I got it in the second. Ishii’s real genius was hiring Tatsumi Hijikata, the inventor of Butoh, as the Dr Moreau figure; his amazingly angular physicality (along with that of his dance troupe, who play his creations; unlike Freaks, there are no actual “freaks” here) adds something totally different to the mix. It’s convoluted (perhaps more so than necessary) and I’m not sure all the details add up, but it’s nothing if not memorable.

She-Devils on Wheels (1968)

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

RIP HG! The passing of the gorefather at the ripe old age of 87 would never have made Big News anyway, I’m sure, but he was even further obscured today by the presidential “debate” in the US. I noticed, though, and to mark the occasion I pulled this off the shelf… I saw a quote by Lewis earlier today about how he always viewed filmmaking as business and pitied anyone who called it an art, and, well, no one will ever call his films “art” (at least not with a straight face), especially not this. And yet, while watching it, I kind of felt like you could actually read an aesthetic of sorts into this and, indeed, other films of his. It really just isn’t a matter of Lewis not knowing how to make films, and really is about, you know, breathtaking contempt for how “normal” films are made. This film screams “FUCK YOU!” at conventional niceties of filmmaking like style, cutting, etc, even more than Lewis’ films usually do. It’s like Lewis knew what most filmmakers would do, and he could’ve done so himself, but he actively refused to do it.

Anyway, apparently this was his biggest box office hit, cashing in on the biker movie trend. Lewis’ particular twist is that his gang is all-female, and they basically race to see who’s going to have first pick at, well, which of their male hangers-on they’re going to fuck that night. So it’s really about female sexuality and female strength (they wallop a male gang in a fight that ends with the girls literally pissing on them), albeit scuppered, as Lewis notes in the DVD commentary, by such considerations as, you know, censorship regulations that still prevailed before the MPAA ratings system was imposed six months after this came out, cos he wanted to release it as widely as possible, which meant, well, not actually directly showing the pee-fest, and indeed no nudity, none of the overt lesbianism you might’ve expected, things like that. This is ripe for remaking free of those constraints, with more violence, actual nudity, girls on girls, etc, and things like, well, adequate budget, technical skill (the sound is particularly terrible here), and acting (cos the girls were hired mainly for their bike riding abilities)… you know, like an actually good film, which, let’s face it, this isn’t really. But it’s still kind of fascinating as an artifact of the period, perhaps more so in its curious way than some of its contemporaries…

The Warped Ones (1960)

Director: Kureyoshi Kurahara

Not much to say about this other than that I really disliked it. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a film with such frankly shitty characters (and I don’t relish meeting them again in another film in this Kurahara box set from Eclipse). Kurahara films proceedings with undeniable vigour, and the comparisons with the energy of the burgeoning Nouvelle Vague (and Nuberu Bagu for that matter) are apt, but god/dess these people are such scum that I don’t give a shit. The pointless viciousness is kind of impressive considering the period, but, yeah, I don’t care.

Intimidation (1960)

Director: Koreyoshi Kurahara

This film only runs an hour and a bit, but damn it felt like it was a lot longer somehow, and I can’t work out why. I’ve only seen one Kurahara film previously (I am Waiting, from the Eclipse “Nikkatsu Noir” set); this finds him rather more solidly established at Nikkatsu a few years later, and evidently somewhat more confident with his story… Here we have a tale of two men working at a bank, one, Takita, who’s basically got where he is by marrying the boss’ daughter, and is now a manager about to move from his little regional branch to the big city home office; and the other, Nakaike, his underling who he’s always stepped on, and who’s apparently never had much spine or ambition to advance himself like his boss and former friend. But Takita hasn’t exactly behaved spotlessly, and when a small-time hoodlum shows up with evidence of his wrongdoings, well, complications ensue.

And they keep ensuing in somewhat unexpected fashion, too, which is quite nice; Kurahara’s got solid control of his material, it’s interestingly filmed in lovely monochrome ‘Scope, the noir atmosphere is all over it, acting is really good (Ko Nishimura is particularly fine as Nakaike, who turns out to be rather more than he initially appears)… I just can’t explain that feeling of it being a lot longer than its 65-minute duration, cos I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the pacing; it doesn’t try to cram too much business in, it doesn’t spread too little material too thinly… I never really felt that it was dragging or anything. Whatever. I still liked it well enough, it’s a good B-picture. Certainly not complaining about it.

Happy End (1967)

Director: Oldrich Lipsky

Way back in the 1890s, the Lumiere brothers had already discovered the entertainment potential of reverse motion when they exhibited their Demolition of a Wall backwards so that it showed the titular wall rebuilding itself. I know nothing about Czech director Oldrich Lipsky beyond the fact that another of his films is called Four Murders are Enough, Darling (which I clearly have to see now, based purely on that title) and he evidently felt during the mid-60s that the Lumieres’ discovery needed to be applied to a feature-length film. The end result was… wow. Amazing what some filmmakers in at least some Communist countries could get away with, cos this is exactly the sort of thing that probably would’ve been denounced as formalism if it had been made under Stalin. Basically, Lipsky takes the idea of reverse motion and pushes it towards what may or may not be its logical conclusion, but is one of its funniest; the entire thing happens in reverse, the bits of action on the screen, the narrative in general, even individual lines of dialogue are given in reverse order. In other words, we begin with our hero, Bedrich, being executed for murdering his wife Julia and her lover Mr Birdie, and with, well, his head being reattached to his body after (before?) being guillotined, and it all goes backwards from there… The net result is, as I said, extremely funny (especially in the dialogue department, where it leads to some howling line juxtapositions), but also remarkably grotesque at times, as witness the kind of astounding un-murder scene where Mr Birdie not only flies into their third-floor apartment from the street but Bedrich puts the bits of Julia’s corpse back together in the bath. (Plus there’s an abattoir scene which I imagine many would find distressing enough if it were run forwards, but backwards it seems remarkably more ecch somehow.) It’s a bizarre film that your perhaps need a particular sense of dark humour for, but I thought it was a lot of fun (and I really do need to see more Czech New Wave stuff)…

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Director: Sergio Leone

Goddamn, no wonder I wasn’t enamoured of Leone’s films back in the days of VHS when I last saw them, they just don’t work that way. I don’t regret the investment in HD editions of them at all, especially after seeing this again (and it’s not like they were hugely expensive anyway). If For a Few Dollars More saw Leone leaping ahead from his first western, GB&U represents a further jump, and probably a more successful one in that some of the things I think he was trying to do in the earlier film, he actually succeeds at pulling off here. Such as the feeling of epic; the considerably greater length (178 minutes) doesn’t feel as long as the 130 minutes of FFDM sometimes did. In some ways, this is actually a kind of small story: basically, it’s three men on a quest for hidden riches. It’s just that, well, there are a couple of complications: the exact knowledge of where said riches are hidden are split between them (two know the money’s in a cemetery but not in which grave; one knows the grave but not which cemetery), and it’s also the middle of the American civil war. Indeed’s Leone’s introduction of the period setting and his gradual building on it as our “heroes” become mixed up in it in varying ways is one of the most fascinating things about the film. It’s a big backdrop, but Leone is totally in charge of it. Clint Eastwood is more “Clint” than ever, and Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef are able co-leads; all three bring just the right degree of black humour to the proceedings. And, of course, the whole thing is topped off by one of Ennio Morricone’s most iconic scores; “Ecstasy of Gold” in particular has always been a favourite piece of music, but seeing the visuals that accompany it as Tuco races around the cemetery makes it even more thrilling and moving. Hugely enjoyable stuff, and one of the most successful revisits I’ve had to a film I hadn’t seen in years for a very long time.

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