Saturday, February 18, 2017

BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960)


Admittedly, this American International film might be on many must-see lists. Unintentionally for reasons the production company would not understand. Directed by Edgar Ulmer, of “Detour” movie fame, every penny of its $125,000 budget can be accounted for. And much of the expense went into hiring actors. Handsome Robert Clarke, with his commanding voice, is well known for his low budget science fiction movies of the Fifties. He was a busy actor on television who seemed to love acting no matter what the project. Clarke probably found it a fun way to make a living.


On a test flight, Clarke pilots his X-80 (Convair F-102 fighter) through a time barrier then returns to the airbase finding it deserted with buildings showing decades of neglect. He wanders alone from one building to another. What the...hey! Check out his expression above. He looks off in a distant forest to see a dark projected painting...uh...futuristic city. Clarke is soon captured and taken to an underground city called the Citadel. Triangles are the dominant architectural design theme in this dystopian society. A fantastic city right off a 1938 Popular Science magazine cover. Tall beacons use the pulsating sound effect of the martian laser ray appendage from the original “The War of The Worlds.” The not-so-special effect of what sounds like a sophisticated party favor slide whistle is used for an elevator’s ascent and descent. This was probably not included in the budget.


Vladimir Sokoloff, in one of his last movie roles, plays the Supreme of the Citadel who is suspicious of any outsiders. His muted granddaughter, played by Darlene Tompkins, has the singular ability to read minds and affirms Clarke is quite a catch. The Supreme trusts her telepathy. Planning to stay at least overnight, Clarke is provided sleeping arrangements in an open concept area the size of a small airport terminal. The bed is an enormous, double queen-sized mattress placed on the floor. A servant brings him dinner, of which he is grateful because he has not eaten since who knows when. He takes a bite out of a “donut hole” and proceeds to explore his surroundings. He is stuffed and never eats again. Clarke and Tompkins get along triangularly. So well, she slaps him for what he is thinking after their first kiss. At least she is not sterile like all the other peop...uh....

Apparently, America’s nuclear bomb testing in the Seventies damaged the Earth's atmosphere, letting dangerous cosmic rays fall back to earth causing a plague of massive mutants and stupendous sterility. Tompkins somehow escapes the latter part and the Supreme hopes Clarke can regenerate their society. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Speaking of sterile—unfortunately not mute—Boyd “Red” Morgan’s performance as the Captain is just that. A former NFL player and Hollywood stuntman, his delivery lacks any professionalism. What better film to showcase his talent.


To help him understand the year 2024―no wonder he was starved―the Citadel’s complete history is stored in a Zenith record player console cabinet painted in sterile white. A chronicle only a few geniuses could ever possibly interpret. Tompkins pulls out shoulder-width portrait images which Clarke, without hesitation, guesses the detailed story behind each. She nods excessively in approval. He is so dreamy! Oh, he has more questions. She brings out another portrait to remedy his curiosity. She nods excessively. I was getting a headache watching her shake her head so enthusiastically.

Other time travelers are revealed to be living in the Citadel which conflicts with Clarke’s plan. Each wants to return to their time and will stoop low enough to make it happen. One traveler releases underground mutants who look hilariously harmless with choreographed attacks resembling a Kung Fu gymnastics event. The bare-footed bald mutants, with pant legs slit from ankle to knee, laugh maniacally. Truly frightening.

The Supreme helps Clarke escape, albeit alone, via the X-80 and return to his air base with a hard-to-fathom story to log. Time travel is risky business. In a common “Twilight Zone” twist, Clarke ages, mysteriously, only on his return trip. He warns them about the dangers of nuclear testing and of course, man-made global warming.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

THE VIOLENT ONES (1967)


The first thing of note about this Madison Productions, Inc. production, aside from the production company name itself and a misplaced detail of a steam locomotive whistle in 1967, is a driving score by Marlin Skiles befitting a major military operation with tanks rumbling through the North African desert. Yet what we see is a sheriff’s 2-door Impala Sport Coupe [first-class all the way] being driven within the speed limit through town and country. A lengthy segment which eats up enough film to include all the credits and then some. The film was not expected to be a Golden Globe nominee but the star and director, Fernando Lamas, manages this drama fairly well despite some unlikely sequences, a clich├ęd script and overlooked editing. Perhaps to ease some directing complications, there is plenty of driving in this film. A strange vignette is used once during a road sequence to break the apparent monotony. An ineffective experiment that hopefully was an editing oversight. This ninety-five minute film would have benefited by trimming it twenty minutes.

The low-budget melodrama, set in a New Mexico border town, concerns three apprehended white men, Aldo Ray, Tommy Sands and David Carradine. A casting director’s dream. One is guilty in the rape and death of a local girl. Lamas, no fan of gringos, is the deputy sheriff who interrogates each individually, starting with a big smile and cordial questions as if he intends to release them once he hears their story. In reality, he is waiting for each one to say something to set him off so he can verbally assault or slap each around. Also on his conscious is the possible lynching of the three prisoners by the townspeople. The “mob” seems particularly uncommitted to string up anything as they sheepishly gather in small groups around the jail quietly discussing what to do next.


With a lynching eminent, a townsperson punctures Lamas’ car tire so they cannot escape. But Lamas has a agricultural truck backup. He and his chained-together prisoners escape out the back as no one covered that exit. I mentioned the mob was not very committed. However, very committed is a car load of locals trying to bump Lamas’ two-ton truck off the road. Traveling around twenty-five miles per hour they are not very believable nor is it plausible. They constantly lay on their horn as if taunting them like high school rivals. The truck makes a move off-road and their slow synchronized chase in the desert is pretty silly. Not being a fair fight, the truck maneuvers to ram the car, flipping it over. The truck soon runs dry with their subsequent escape through the desert on foot being tedious and time consuming for them and viewer alike. They spot coffee-brown water and immediately ingest some. Seizing an opportunity to overwhelm Lamas, the four-man choreographed fight scene is supported by solo piano and percussion sounding a bit like a halfhearted Keystone Cops routine only in slow motion.


All three prisoners eventually feel their life slipping away from dehydration and each one's story begins to reveal the murderer through a process of elimination. Another scuffle and Lamas' gun ends up at the back of the bad gringo. An injured Lamas gets flanking leg support from the remaining gringos as he proudly hobbles toward a nearby town. The three now appear to be buddies as if they were successful in their defeat of Rommel.