Jul 31, 2011

Quote of the Week

To get it right, be born with luck or else make it. Never give up. Get the knack of getting people to help you and also pitch in yourself. A little money helps, but what really gets it right is to never--I repeat--never under any conditions face the facts.

-Ruth Gordon

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Jul 28, 2011

Movie Monster Blogathon: Robot Monster (1953)

I first heard about Robot Monster from an ad for a local theater. They had this series called “Movies You Have to Be Drunk to Enjoy”, or something similar. At the time, I was disappointed that I was not going to be able to make the one night showing. When I saw the photo of the alien in the ad (see above), I knew that I would probably enjoy this flick.

That is because this has to be one of the most ridiculous movie aliens ever created. The body is that of a hairy, obese gorilla. The head is swathed in a nylon stocking, and then covered with a diving helmet with perky antennae jutting out of the top. That’s right, this is a mostly organic being that apparently has a robotic head. I think. The real story is that the director Phil Tucker knew a guy with a gorilla suit who would work for nothing, but that doesn’t help with the fictional side of things.

Robot Monster packs a lot more silliness into a mere 76 minutes. It is a compact piece of bad movie bliss, though you may understandably feel like you’ve been watching it for much longer.

The movie starts with little Johnny and his sister Carla. After he blasts her with his space gun and a few bubbles, she asks him for the first of many times if he’ll play house. They are interrupted by sharp banging sounds. When they investigate, they find a pair of archeologists chipping around ancient cave drawings which have miraculously survived the passage of time in the outer walls of the cave. The boy’s widowed mother and his grown sister Alice join them and scold the kids for running off.

Reunited, the family returns to their picnic spot, which sits near a pile of rocks in the direct sun. Somehow, they all manage to settle down for a nap in this hideously uncomfortable place. Johnny wakes up, and runs back to the cave. A bolt of lightning strikes him to the ground.

What follows is Johnny’s crazy end-of-the-world dream. In this nutty nightmare, his mother and old sister wear identical white dresses, his father has been replaced by the eldest of the archeologists, who is now a professor and the whole family lives in the basement of a bombed-out house that is ringed with layers of live electrical wire. Apparently this prevents the alien Ro-Man from hearing and tracking the family, who are among the last few humans (or as Ro-Man would say, Hu-Mans) on earth.

Somehow, furry, bumbling Ro-Man has destroyed the rest of the planet with his death calcinator ray, an invasion of stop-motion dinosaurs and a baby alligator with a fin taped to its back who wrestles with a lizard (or Gila Monster? I wasn’t sure). Much to the gorilla robot’s chagrin, the professor has tested a germ-fighting serum on his whole family and it seems to also make them death ray-proof.

The rest of the movie is a battle of wills, not only between Ro-Man and the pesky remaining Hu-mans, but also Alice and the hunky younger archeologist who is the professor’s assistant in Johnny’s dream world. Of course the latter pair end up in love, though Ro-Man makes a play for Alice and tries to convince his intergalactic supervisor, the Great One that she should be spared “for reference”.

Convinced that Ro-Man has bungled his earth assignment, his boss blasts him and what remains of the planet. Then Johnny wakes up and realizes it was all a dream. Or was it? You’ll get the answer to that question a whopping three times in a row.

The only way to do true justice to this astonishing movie is to go through it minute-by-minute. There are so many articles online that do this better. I’ve put the links to my favorites at the bottom of the post.

What I’ve decided to do instead is to share some of the more bizarre moments from the flick:

1. This is the only movie I’ve seen where a bubble machine gets prominent screen credit. As far as I know, this is the sole movie role for the Automatic Billion Bubbles Machine, which is a part of Ro-Man’s equipment, though I was never sure why. We all know there’s nothing more menacing than bubbles, as evidenced by that master of horror Lawrence Welk. Maybe that is why the Robot Monster is always surrounded by a swath of the floating orbs whenever he is standing at the mouth of his cave lair.

2. No one ever needs to die at the hands of the Robot Monster. All anyone ever has to do is slowly walk away and he could never catch up. There are several long shots in the movie of Ro-Man awkwardly wandering the canyon, looking like a hirsute Teletubby. He’s about as agile as the Cowardly Lion and equally scary. Instead of simply walking away, the child actors stop and wait for the monster to approach them, because if they ambled away, we wouldn’t have a story. Sister Alice makes the mistake of trying to run away, which of course means that she trips over a rock. Hasn’t that dame ever seen a movie?

3. The soundtrack is an early score by Elmer Bernstein, who is understandably better known for the classic themes in adventure flicks such as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. It’s pretty good, though it can get a bit too cutesy during the scenes with the children. There are some effective themes and an overall feeling of dark grandeur. Unfortunately, all this pomp sounds a bit goofy when paired with a gorilla in a diving helmet waddling up and down the sides of a canyon.

4. As you can’t see Ro-Man’s face, the actor in the suit is forced to emote solely with body language. Since his body is less than flexible, the bulk of Ro-Man’s motions are angry arm thrusts, which often do not correspond with his dubbed lines. The gorilla-bot’s most menacing move is to shake his paw in the air as if he is trying to chase a group of pesky kids off his rock pile.

5. Some of the things Johnny dreams seem a bit strange coming from the mind of a young boy. Why would he imagine one sister getting busy with a scientist and nearly molested by an ape, while the other is strangled to death? Not to mention completely writing his father out of his life so that a German science professor can be his dad instead. I’m a bit concerned about Johnny.


The Professor: He is impervious!
Alice: Unless. . .we can find his weak spot!
Roy: I'm bossy? You're so bossy you ought to be milked before you come home at night.
Johnny: [to Ro-Man] You look like a pooped out pinwheel!
Great One: Have you made the correction?
Ro-Man: I need guidance, Great One. For the first time in my life, I am not sure.
Great One: You sound like a Hu-Man, not a Ro-Man. Can you not verify a fact?
Ro-Man: I meshed my LIP with the view-screen auditor, and picked up a count of five.
Great One: Error! Error! There are eight!
Ro-Man: Then the other three still elude me. Is it possible they have a counterpower?
Ro-Man: I cannot - yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do "must" and "cannot" meet? Yet I must - but I cannot!


Robot Monster on Mystery Science Theater 3000

MST3K: The actual start of the film is here at 3:45

Robot Monster in 3D


Robot Monster reviews:

Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension
Bad Movies

Jul 24, 2011

Quote of the Week

The only way to succeed is to make people hate you.

-Josef von Sternberg

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Jul 21, 2011

A Tribute in Song: Ida Lupino by Carla Bley

In 1964, jazz pianist, composer and bandleader Carla Bley composed an homage to Ida Lupino. It is a wistful, ambling tune, though not insubstantial. Over the years it has become a minor classic, performed by many artists and with a wide array of instrumentations, though I feel most effectively with a trio of piano, bass and drums.

I first learned of the song several years ago, while listening to an episode of the American radio program Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland on National Public Radio (NPR). McPartland’s guests were Carla Bley and her longtime partner, bassist Steve Swallow. In the interview portion of the show Bley explained that she had written her tribute because she had been struck by what she felt was Lupino’s melancholy, dreamy persona. I wish I could remember exactly how she put it, because it was such a beautiful description. At the time, I’d only seen Lupino in High Sierra (1940), but I understood what Bley meant and I agreed with her.

Then they played a gentle, meandering duet version of the song. I adored it. Though I think I would have eventually gotten into Ida Lupino’s films on my own, hearing that song for the first time definitely sped up the process. I used to have a tape of that interview; I wish I knew what happened to it. In any case, I’ll never forget that moment and how that song opened up a fascinating chapter in my love of the movies.

My favorite version of Ida Lupino is the piano solo by Bley’s first husband Paul Bley, which I have on his Turning Point LP from 1964. The Steve Swallow trio also does a nice version. 

 Now I'd like to know, what would Cary Grant, Jean Harlow or Carole Lombard sound like?

Jul 17, 2011

Quote of the Week

Money is of value for what it buys, and in love it buys time, place, intimacy, comfort and a private corner alone.

-Mae West

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Jul 14, 2011

Pub-d-Hub on Roku

Since the Netflix price plan change has gotten a lot of movie fans thinking about other options for movies, I thought it would be a good time to share a great free classic movie resource for those of you who have the Roku player.

It’s a movie channel called Pub-d-Hub which, as the name so cleverly indicates, shows a variety of materials in the public domain. It is set up a like a simpler version of Netflix, with several categories from which to select titles. The channel has a lot of subpar material, but I’ve also seen several great titles that I haven’t found by any other means. It has a lot of titles from Netflix streaming as well.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with all the options on this spunky little channel. In addition to movies, they offer cartoons, old television shows and radio shows. There are also lots of interesting novelties such as cautionary films of the sort you used to see in school classrooms and old television commercials. It’s nice to have those options with a shorter running time when I don’t plan to watch T.V. for long, or when I don’t have the patience to commit to a movie.

While Pub-d-Hub is free, they strongly encourage donations. Given the amount of titles and the fact that they add new material every week, I think they are well worth a contribution. There is also a paid plan, which I haven’t explored, but at a screamingly reasonable $2 a year, I certainly intend to try it out. There’s a search option on the paid plan which would help a great deal with navigation and an amusing music option, which plays snappy tunes while you browse for something to watch (this feature started with the free version, but will eventually be moved to subscription only).

There are a few drawbacks to the service. Many of the offerings are in terrible condition, with bad video and sound. This is not the place for an optimal viewing experience. It can also be a pain to page through all the titles as there is no option for creating your own playlist, though the search option in the paid version may help to alleviate that headache. These problems have not prevented me from visiting the channel regularly.

Though I haven’t been totally put off Netflix by the new price plans, the change has made me think more about my movie consumption. I don’t think the new prices are unreasonable, but the way in which they were implemented has bothered me enough that I’ve decided to scale back to streaming only for now. I’m hooked on the oddball titles in Instant Play, but a 100% price increase over the course of only a year is absurd and I don’t want to support that with my money. It has occurred to me that I may be doing exactly what Netflix wants by dropping DVDs, but I’ve tried not to over think this issue!

By using other options, I’m hoping to enrich my movie-watching experience. This means exploring Hulu, Amazon, iTunes and ClassicFlix more often. I think that while sites like Pub-d-hub (and the newer Crackle) are never going to be the end-all destination for me, they do fit in nicely with the other options out there.

Are you already using Pub-d-Hub? If so, I’d love to know what you think of the channel. If you haven’t tried it, why not check it out

Jul 12, 2011

Five Things I Learned From Farley Granger’s Autobiography

I have liked Farley Granger since I first saw him freaking out in his role as a young killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). When he died earlier this year, I was surprised to realize how little I knew about him. In order to remedy this, I picked up a copy of his 2007 autobiography, Include Me Out: My Life From Goldwyn to Broadway, which he wrote with his long-time partner Robert Calhoun. Granger’s story was a lot richer than I’d expected. The book was so fascinating that I felt like I was reading a novel.

Granger’s Hollywood movies were a significant, but small part of his life. Stardom simply gave him the money and prestige to pursue his dreams of stage success and world travel. Farley Granger lived his life with honesty and vigor and never hesitated to indulge in all the opportunities his success gave him.

Here are some of the bits from his story that grabbed me:

1. James Mason was the original choice for James Stewart’s role in Rope

I almost wish I didn’t know this one. Stewart did a fine job, but he was terribly miscast. Mason had the smooth, sinister allure needed for the role of the professor who unknowingly inspires his students to kill. I’m convinced that Rope would have been a classic with Mason, rather than the solid, but uneven effort it is. This bit of information will probably gnaw at me forever.

2. He had an enduring and very flexible relationship with Shelley Winters

Winters and Granger met early in their careers and embarked upon a chaotic relationship that lasted until the end of her life. It seems to have been whatever they felt was needed at the time. For a brief while it was a romance, then a sex buddy thing, then a friendship. They were even engaged briefly, sort of, but Granger didn’t seem to mind when Winters married Vittorrio Gasman soon after they discussed the possibility.

Some of the best stories in the book are about the crazy adventures he had with Winters. He seemed to feel equal parts exasperation and love for her, which I could appreciate, because that’s how I feel about her as an actress.

3. He had his first female and male sexual encounters on the same night

I think this is the most thorough loss of virginity story I have ever heard. While Granger was in the service during World War II, he went to a private club where he had his first sexual experience with a hostess who worked there. Then he met a soldier by the pool and ended up in bed with him shortly after.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this story is how wholesome he makes it all sound. He just seems like a playful young man having a very active night. By the end of it, he decided he would be happy to go with either team. One of the most admirable things about Granger is that he never allowed his sexuality to be an issue, even though it was certainly an issue in the society surrounding him.

4. He slept with a lot of famous people

Granger got around. In addition to Winters, his bed partners included Leonard Bernstein, Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner and the screenwriter of Rope, Arthur Laurents, with whom he had a live-in relationship early in his career. Though Granger did do a lot of romping in the sack, he was still selective and most notably turned down Noël Coward, though he clearly admired him. Once Granger settled down with Calhoun, their relationship lasted from 1963 until the latter’s death in 2008.

5. He was passionate about the arts

Music, art, opera, the stage, Granger adored them all, and his fame gave him the opportunity to absorb culture all over the world. He seems to have attended every cultural event he could over the course of his travels and he describes these lovingly in several passages of the book. His friendship with Aaron Copeland in particular gave him enviable education in and exposure to music.

Jul 10, 2011

Comment Problem Fixed! Here's How Blogger Users

I finally found a solution to my commenting problem. It was shared here by Wendi of My Heart is Always Home. I love her! Hopefully this easy fix will work for all of you who have been having problems as well.

Now I'm off to do a happy dance!

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Quote of the Week

A painter paints, a musician plays, a writer writes--but a movie actor waits.

-Mary Astor

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Jul 3, 2011

Quote of the Week

There's a time when you have to explain to your children why they're born, and it's a marvelous thing if you know the reason by then.

-Hazel Scott

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