Seven more movies

There are so many good movies out there — a hundred years of old movies, plus thousands of odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten or DIY movies made just for the joy of making 'em — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out. 

All these films are streaming for free and without commercials, if you have a good adblocker. Sites like Putlocker are torrent indexes, and thus legally questionable, so experts recommend using a VPN.

Assassin of Youth (1938) — NO — Marijuana is bad, m’kay? So’s the movie. This is a famous anti-marijuana propaganda drama, and from its reputation and ridiculous poster, I was hoping for camp and laughs, but I didn’t do any chuckling. Maybe it's just me, but I found it all profoundly sad. The moral panic here is obvious bullshit, but people believed it, people still do, lives were ruined, and it’s still happening.

You want camp? Watch Ru Paul's Drag Race.


Blonde Ice (1948) — NO — Usually in noir, the femme fatale is discreet about her femme fataleness, but not this dame. Mere minutes after her wedding in the opening scene, she’s making out with an ex on the balcony. Soon she’s cheating, her husband says he’s divorcing her — and then he’s dead. Did she do the deed, or was it one of the several men who’d been sniffing around her?

Leslie Brooks (never heard of her before) is terrific in the lead, as a woman who doesn’t seem to know what she wants but is willing to do anything to get it. “You’re not a normal woman. You’re cold, like ice. Blonde ice.” Thought I’d stumbled across something special with this movie, and it certainly starts strong, but it soon becomes tedious, and then gets dumber and dumber toward the end. 


Borrowed Hero (1941) — BIG NO — This starts as a comedy, spirited but not particularly funny, about a dim attorney and his newspaper-woman girlfriend. They're the kind of movie-couple who are always peeved at each other, but it’s never clear why. Is that funny?

When the plot finally gets underway, the movie becomes a drama. There's a big political scandal, the dim attorney is appointed special prosecutor, and he proves himself to have a primitive sense of justice, threatening to kill a man who’s hesitant to talk.

I liked the bad guys better. At least they know they’re the bad guys.


The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) — BIG YES — There’s a flying saucer approaching Earth, and it touches down on a softball field outside Washington DC. A lanky man in a spacesuit emerges from the craft, bearing a gift for the American President, but — oops — he makes a sudden move, so of course the strange visitor is shot. Welcome to America!

The movie is an hour and a half of delightful little moments, as the outer-space newcomer, Klaatu (Michael Rennie), gets to know our puny planet. Meanwhile, Gort, his giant robot companion, stands guard outside the spaceship, unmoving and unmovable, and ready to raise his visor and obliterate the earth if things go wrong. Special effects are minimal, but in any good story it’s the writing that matters, and it's excellent. “Get that message to Gort, right away.”

My wife and I agreed on almost everything, including our taste in movies, but this was one of our rare disagreements. Both times I tried to share TDTESS with her, she was bored silly.

I will therefore issue a warning: Stylistically the movie is dated, and since it’s set and was made in the 1950s, the acting and assumptions are of that rather quaint era. Most of the humans here would be at home on The Andy Griffith Show, and indeed, Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) has a featured role. Several famous news personalities of the time make cameo appearances, which will mean little or nothing to anyone born in the past 50 years.

To me, it’s an intriguing think piece, straightforwardly told, with some funny dialogue and goosebump-raising moments — a fine piece of science fiction, which I've seen perhaps twenty times. If it puts you to sleep, well, that would make my wife happy. She dearly loved being right about things, and she usually was.

Also, please don’t mistake this for an unnecessary and inferior movie with the same title, starring Keanu Reeves. 

Memorable moments:
    • Gort’s first appearance
    • Klaatu’s meetings with a White House political emissary
    • Arlington National Cemetery
    • Visit with Professor Barnhart
    • The day the Earth stood still
    • "Klaatu barada nikto."


The Devil Bat (1940) — MAYBE — This is about a small-town doctor who has an interesting hobby involving bats and shaving cream. Starring Bela Lugosi and nobody else you’ve ever heard of, it’s typical mad scientist fare, with a story that’s enjoyably ludicrous, though it becomes bland whenever Belosi is off-screen. 

It could be fun if you like this sort of thing. I like this sort of thing, but it’s minor league Lugosi, and nothing special. The most imaginative element is that when they’re flashing the inevitable montage of “Devil Bat” newspaper headlines, the shadow of a bat is superimposed on-screen.

I’ve seen so many Lugosi films, though, I was creeped out from the start, just hearing him give routine doctor's advice in that infamous Transylvanian accent.


The Lady Vanishes (1938) — MAYBE — It’s by Hitchcock, and I usually like Hitchcock, but I abhorred the first half hour of this — set at a crowded hotel filled with endless hubbub and colorful (read: aggravating) characters. A debonair but boorish man (Michael Redgrave) makes a ruckus in the hotel and then intrudes on a lady’s room, it’s all played for laughs, and I very nearly clicked it off.

Then the movie turns around and becomes a worthwhile mystery, when a few of the characters take a train trip, and a woman on the train disappears. Margaret Lockwood is good in the lead, and May Whitty is a hoot and a half as the vanishing lady. Unfortunately, the boorish Redgrave is on the train, too, cracking unfunny jokes, being movie-debonair, and annoying the fresh hot shit out of me. Hitchcock is Hitchcock so everything else is marvelous, but I wanted to climb into the movie and kick Redgrave off the train.


The Wicker Man (1973) — BIG YES — I saw this movie when I was young, and I’d remembered it as an effective thriller, but not as anything particularly special. Perhaps the point of it all flew right over my head at 19, or perhaps I “got it,” but thought there were other movies like it. There are none. The Wicker Man stands alone. It's an unusual movie with an unusual point. It's also terrifying.

Edward Woodward (young here, but best known to Americans as TV’s The Equalizer when he was much older) stars as police Sgt Ed Howie. He’s a detective from the mainland, sent to investigate reports of a missing girl on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle.

There are odd but not unpleasant folk songs from the start of the movie, bland enough to become background music, until they’re not. All the townsfolk seem ordinary, until they’re not, and nobody recognizes the detective’s photo of the missing girl, until they do. When there’s a complaint about an inedible meal at a restaurant, the waitress answers, “Food isn’t everything in life, you know,” and you realize something is odd in Summerisle.

One oddity is that it’s an island without cars, apparently, or at least none are seen in the film. More pertinent, though, is that it’s an island without Christ. There's culture shock for Sgt Howie, and for the audience, in going from the movie’s opening scene — the familiar communion rites, in a Christian church — to a place where Jesus never quite caught on. Sgt Howie is a devout Christian, and the film treats his religion respectfully. The islanders’ beliefs are also treated respectfully.

Christopher Lee has a supporting role as Lord Summerisle, a title akin to being the town’s mayor. I’ve seen Lee in at least fifty films, but never seen him having such a good time! He smiles hugely and happily, and it’s not only the character smiling. Lee said he was paid nothing for the role, because he loved the script and his ordinary fee would’ve devoured much of the movie’s budget. He also said that he considered this the best film of his career, and he’s right.

Two thoughts before lowering the curtain: ① For best effect, don’t watch this on your cellphone, mini-tablet, or wristwatch TV. The Wicker Man should be seen on your largest screen, with the lights out and the phone switched off. And ② please don’t mistake this for an unnecessary and inferior movie with the same title, starring Nicolas Cage. 

Memorable moments:
    • “The Landlord’s Daughter”
    • Lord Summerisle’s commentary on slugs
    • Just like when I was a kid, the boys and girls have separate sex ed classes
    • Medicinal frog
    • Lord Summerisle and Sgt Howie discussing religion
    • Protected by the ejaculation of serpents
    • Britt Ekland knocking on the wall
    • Sgt Howie at the library, unraveling the faith and facts of the matter
    • “Think what you’re doing! Think!”
    • and other things best not mentioned.


Movies, movies, more movies

← PREVIOUS          NEXT → 


← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. I like most of what you write but its the movie reviews I like best. You've turned me on to several movies I had never seen, and now The Wicker Man. Jesus H christ. Blew me away is putting it mildly. Thank you Mister Holland.

    Also, sorry, I agree with your wife about Earth Stood Still.


The site's software sometimes swallows comments. For less frustration, send an email and I'll post it as a comment.