Omicron, and six more movies

The Neverending
Film Festival

I'm feeling better, manufacturing a little less mucus, and hope to actually write something worth reading within the next few days.

Meanwhile, more movie reviews...

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A Cuckoo in the Nest (1933)

This is a comedy about a missed train, a judgmental mother-in-law, and an endless series of coincidences and misunderstandings.

At least, it's built like a comedy, with silly music and a guy who's always drunk and a bum with a silly walk — yeah, I'm pretty sure it's a comedy.

What I'm not sure about is whether it's severely dated, or wasn't funny even in 1933, but here in 2022 I couldn't take it for more than twenty minutes, and during that time I smiled only once, and only slightly.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Killers (1946)

Hit men are gunning for Burt Lancaster. He's just a grease monkey at a fillin' station, but he knows they're coming, and knows why. "I did something wrong, once."

Lancaster is very good, for Lancaster. He's usually wooden and he's wooden here, but he's dead early in the story, and mostly present via flashbacks, so his rigor mortis is irrelevant.

The big names are Lancaster and Ava Gardner, but the star is Edmond O'Brien, as an insurance investigator who smells something odd when Lancaster's corpse is found with eight bullet holes.

This is an always-simmering mystery noir adventure, with clues that add up to a story worth telling. It's based on something Ernest Hemingway wrote, and directed by the always-reliable Richard Siodmak. Endless style, shadows, atmosphere, and wisecracks. Also, there's a bad guy unironically called "Dumb-Dumb."

William Conrad makes a brief appearance, marvelously. I think of him as the hero on radio's Gunsmoke and TV's Cannon, but he's one of The Killers here, and definitely not a customer you'd want to see at the diner.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Man with Bogart's Face (1980)

I was ever-so-slightly intrigued when this oddity came out in 1980, but it was gone from theaters in a week and I never saw it until today. It's about a modern-day private eye who undergoes surgery to look like Humphrey Bogart.

The impersonation is pretty good. From some angles, you could mistake Robert Sacchi for Bogart. He almost has the face, but not quite the voice, and he doesn't understand the twitch. Bogey had a slight facial twitch, but only rarely, when his character was nervous. This movie's Bogey does the twitch all the time, and makes it monotonous.

Sacchi's Bogart is named Marlow, which should be Marlowe. He talks about old movies a lot, and wears a trenchcoat even on summer days, but he also makes 8th-grade style dirty wisecracks, and punches people for no reason. Supporting characters are impersonating supporting characters from famous Bogey movies.

After a few reels of exasperatingly lowbrow jokes, the unfunny comedy fades to the background, and something resembling a plot emerges. Story and script are relentlessly stupid, though, never failing to make the most obvious gags, and there are no elements you can't see coming like a bus from two blocks away.

Almost unbelievably, this movie is based on a novel, with the screenplay written by the novelist, Andrew J Fenady. It's painful watching this; I'd have to be paid to try reading it. IMDB tells me that Fenady created some TV shows I never watched and wrote some movies I've never heard of. What he was doing here is difficult to say, but it's clear that he never liked Bogart in the first place, nor understood his appeal. It's a long piss on Bogey's tombstone.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Moontide (1942)

This stars Jean Gabin as a lovable hard-drinking Frenchman everyone calls Bo-Bo, or perhaps Beau-Beau. Ida Lupino falls for Beau-Beau, which is understandable — he's an easygoing rascal, usually a joker, but when it's needed he can also throw a punch or be an ass.

He's a former dockworker reduced to selling bait, and you get the feeling Beau-Beau's been a few places and done a few things, maybe not the best places and things.

Claude Rains has a frustratingly small role as "Nutsy," the friend looking out for Beau-Beau, but when Nutsy's name is spoken in a rush or with an accent, it often sounds like people are saying, "Hello, Nazi." That's a bit distracting.

Thomas Mitchell plays another friend, a hanger-on with motives of his own. "A pilot fish is a little fish that attaches itself to a shark. The shark does the work. The pilot fish just hangs on, and enjoys a nice living hanging on. See what I mean?"

I like Beau-Beau, better than the movie they've put him into. It feels like a comedy when it starts, full of amusing characters, and there's a Dali-esque one-minute montage, intended to show us that it's whiskey o'clock whenever Beau-Beau is at the bar. I went back and watched that montage again after the movie finished — it's remarkable, especially considering it's 1942. IMDB says Dali did create it, but it's uncredited on-screen so I'm skeptical.

After a comedic start, Moontide pulls in different directions, becoming something serious, and by the end it's damned dark indeed, with all the laughs and most of the charm forgotten. 

If you're sharp of eye and long of memory, you might recognize Victor Sen-Young as Beau-Beau's employer, a fishmonger. He later played the Cartwright family's cook, Hop Sing, on Bonanza for years and years.

Verdict: YES, but barely.

♦ ♦ ♦

Omicron (1963)

Science fiction and comedy don't usually mix well, but this oddity from Italy in the 1960s is successful on both counts, for the most part.

As advance man for an alien invasion of Earth, an unseen entity named Omicron takes control of the body of a human. Problem is, Omicron doesn't know the first thing about humans, so he needs to collect all his intel from scratch. At first, he doesn't even understand the purpose of eyes and ears, so he has a lot to learn, including the language.

He's a good student, and eventually knows enough to get himself in trouble, which lets the movie make some observations on capitalism, workers' rights, and human rights. Also, there's a memorable scene when he learns to blow raspberries.

Before Omicron figures out the purpose of a conscience, there's a painfully unfunny five-minute sequence where he decides to rape a woman. I'm going to sigh loudly but recommend the movie anyway, because there isn't actually a rape, and because everything before and after those five minutes is either thoughtful, funny, or just plain weird enough to recommend.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Rasputin the Mad Monk (1965)

Christopher Lee stars in Hammer Film's telling of Rasputin, a legend known to me only through a peculiar pop song I've always liked.

Lee steps into the film looking like a scruffy homeless guy, and saves a fatally ill woman's life by drawing her fever into his hands, then washes his hands and seduces the woman's daughter. Where he gets his powers is never explained, but that's OK. Nobody much explained Dracula either. It's a myth, is all.

So Rasputin dances Russian-style, behaves rudely, treats women quite poorly, seems not a person to be trusted, orchestrates events through hypnosis, and insinuates himself to a position of controlling the Russian royal family. He's never a good role model, but he's fun to watch in action, and Lee plays him so bombastically and gleefully, a fine time is had by all except his victims.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Time Bandits (1981)

I saw this movie when it first came out, and it bored me. I kinda hated it.

Well, it's time to give it a second chance, because (1) I was just a kid, not even 25 years old when I saw it, (b) time travel is my favorite form of sci-fi, and (III) I hated another Terry Gilliam film, Brazil, when I first saw it, but on second and subsequent viewings it became one of my very favorites.

Several little people shimmy through time holes all across history, stealing valuables and making trouble. One of their time holes is in a little boy's bedroom, so he gets stolen too.

It's a pleasant enough adventure, and it looks delightful, and I didn't hate it on this second viewing like I did on the first. It's visually appealing and odd all the way through, occasionally remarkable to look at.

It might as well have been a silent movie, though. All the bright ideas and creativity went into making Time Bandits look spectacular, with the story and script serving only as a frame for the visual effects. I saw the movie just yesterday, and already can't remember much of anything about the story, nor even a word of the dialogue, but it was fun. It's no Brazil, though.

Verdict: YES. 

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Oh, man my review of The Killers is BIG YES. It's been a while since I last watched it, but it's fantastic!

    Time Bandits is odd. I never liked it as much as I thought I should. It's second-tier Gilliam. It's no 12 Monkeys.

    1. I do love me some Gilliam, though. Even when he crashes and burns, it's fascinating.

  2. Yup, Victor Sen-Yung (his preferred spelling) played Hop Sing, but just as importantly, played Number 2 Son Jimmy Chan in the Charlie Chan movie series. He replaced Keye Luke who played Number 1 Son in the series. Keye Luke's cousin, Wing Luke, was a prominent figure in Washington and Seattle politics, serving as Assistant Attorney General and getting elected (by a landslide) to the Seattle City Council. Nobody in Washington State politics doubts that he would have gone on to be Washington's first Chinese-American Governor, and, likely, our first Chinese-American Senator had he not lost his life in an airplane crash in 1965. He was a Democrat. Of course he was a Democrat; I wouldn't waste perfectly good virtual ink on a Republican.


    1. Addendum: Keye Luke also played Master Po in Kung Fu, a show about a Chinese-American played by a European-American actor for reasons that escape me but are suspect.


    2. I remember Wing Luke, but didn't know he was related. Faskinating.

      I probably watched Charlie Chan movies on channel 13 when I was a kid, but I don't remember any. The verdict in our era is that they're terribly racist, but maybe I'll decide for myself. Have you seen some of them, and if so, any recommendations, or should I just start with the first and stick with them until I get offended?

      I definitely remember and loved the TV show Kung Fu, stolen from Bruce Lee for David Carradine. It was by far the top-rated show in my elementary school.

      I never understood the Carradine thing, though. Why did people on the show keep telling him they hated "his kind"? It made no sense.

    3. I always assumed that when people said they hated "his kind" they were talking about the extended Carradine family. They can get on your nerves, but we should reserve hatred for mutant senators.


    4. I'm chuckling.

      What a commentary on America, though. Let's make a show that's basically about racism, but have a white guy play the Asian guy.

    5. As you know, I'm a detective fiction fan. Oddly, I've never read any Earl Derr Biggers. He wrote six Charlie Chan mysteries and was just getting warmed up when he died of a heart attack at age 48 in 1933, just about the time Dashiell Hammett was finishing his last novel. My mom and my uncle both read Biggers when they were young and liked him. In any case, Charlie Chan movies aren't really based on the books.

      As you will also know. Charlie Chan movies are generally considered B or C movies. I've seen a couple, although I don't think any particularly stand out. Interestingly enough, the books are based on an actual Honolulu detective who Biggers knew slightly. In retrospect, it would have helped to have cast an actual Asian in the role instead of a Swedish guy and an American, both of whom died mid-series.

      I know you're on a movie kick. I'm a sucker for Robert Mitchum. In the 70s Mitchum played Philip Marlowe in two slightly low budget movies, both of which I like very much: Farewell My Lovely and The Big Sleep. I think Mitchum plays the tired detective, just past his prime, better than Bogart, but I recognize that this is a minority opinion.

      And while we're here, believe it or not there's a John Wayne movie on my top 30 list. Actually, it's a Robert Mitchum/James Caan movie featuring John Wayne. El Dorado, a much improved remake of Rio Bravo.

      I'm a serious music guy and a serious book guy, but I'm not a serious movie guy like the rest of the erudite folks on the site, so just assume my comments on movies are naive but strongly held.

      Oh, and I don't write structured comments on Saturdays. Hey, it's the fuckin' sabbath.


    6. Excitement -- I've also always liked Mitchum, mostly because he got so ugly as he got older but remained a big star. A role model for ugly old folks like me. And I'm not sure I knew he'd made a Big Sleep. Bogey's version is a classic, seen it many times, but it's also a mess and makes little sense, so I hope Mitchum better tended to the facts of the matter.

      I tried watching some John Wayne during my last big movie kick, but I fear I've grown immune to latter Duke's charm.

      Let's all agree to fuck the fuckin' Sabbath, unless it's Black Sabbath.

      I've snagged Charlie Chan at the Circus, which Google tells me is "the best" Chan movie...

  3. If you can get close to a cable box this Sunday night, the first two of four episodes of John Dean's recollections of Watergate are airing on CNN. My rabbit ears are good, but not good enough to find CNN.

    If the Nixon/Agnew shitshow is unfamiliar to you, you probably don't take blood pressure meds and I congratulate you. Nixon successfully won re-election using illicit, illegal means. I wish people would stop doing that.


    1. The Nixon shitshow is sadly familiar to me, though it's been superseded by far shittier shows.

      Hey, I saw John Dean speak some years back. At least, that's my recollection. Pretty sure it was him. One of the Watergate bad guys. He was funny and only about half-repentant.

    2. Hmmm, if Dean was a bad guy, what the heck were Haldickman and Nixon? Turns out there aren't all that many genuine good guys or bad guys. Mostly it's just a bunch of guys.


    3. Hey, I recognize that quip. :)

      Eons ago I was something of a Watergate fanatic. I read several books on the topic, knew most of the players by name, some by face, and I even joined the local branch of the Margaret Mitchell Fan Club. All that expertise has faded with time, and now I can hardly tell a Dean from a Liddy.

      And other than the repercussions, including the resignation of a frickin' President, the actual crimes themselves were so petty. All of it doesn't add up to even an ordinary Tuesday at the office for the Trump gang, who seem to face no repercussions at all.

    4. I'm just a little bit older, so I was at college watching as much as I could of the Senator Sam hearings live and rewatching PBS at night. I had worked a little on campaigns, including for Senator McGovern in 1972, and I felt invested. Now this bastard was trying to steal our democracy. Turned out Nixon was an amateur, although he'll be remembered, if only for Hunter Thompson's obit of him. I think it's the last good piece Doc wrote, and it was a gem. Then the asshole shot himself on my 55th birthday. Uh, Thompson, not Nixon. Nixon woulda missed.


    5. >now I can hardly tell a Dean from a Liddy

      . . . or a Margaret from a Martha, but it's been a long time. At this point it's pretty much gone with the wind.


    6. > Nixon woulda missed.

      Certainly, nobody'd miss Nixon more than Nixon.

      The saddest aspect is, as awful as he was, and he was *clearly* pretty damned awful as a man, he was better, I believe, than any of the Republicans who've followed him to that office.

      Yeah, Martha. How could I get that wrong, ha! She was unforgettable and yet I forgot her, or at least remembered her wrong.

      Better than not being remembered at all, though. When I'm dead, go ahead and remember me wrong. It'll probably be an improvement.

  4. I am less anonymous commenting as Anonymous than I am commenting as johnthebasket. This must be Lewis Carroll's blog.


  5. I *loved* Time Bandits. Also saw it in the theater when it first came out. The followup/sequel "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" while entertaining was the disappointment for me.


    1. Different strokes for different folks. Me, I just keep stroking til I'm finished.

      I remember liking Baron Munchausen quite a lot, and now I must give it a second viewing.

  6. RE: *The Killers* - You know Tarkovsky made/was in a short version of *The Killers* as a student.

    RE: *Moontide* - Archie Mayo also directed a superb film called *Petrified Forest*, you've probably seen it.

    RE: Jean Gabin - I really liked him in *La Bête Humaine *and *Port Of Shadows*.

    RE: William Conrad - he directed three very strange, not necessarily good, but curious films in the late 60s.

    1. Oh my goodness golly, William Conrad directed TWO ON A GUILLITINE? Mom and Dad took the family to see it when I was a kid, and I remember almost nothing about it except that it scared me into screaming so loud, so terrified, that my grandma took me out to the car to try calming me down. Nightmares, literally, for weeks. I am downloading that one right now!!!

      Yeah, Petrified Forest is great.

      I don't think I'd ever heard of Jean Gabin before Moontide, but maybe. The title Port of Shadows sounds familiar.

      Thin Red Line was Malick's big comeback, right? I saw that one, liked it fine, but it didn't make me sing at the sunset like Badlands or Days of Heaven...

  7. You've heard of and seen Gabin before, certainly -- he was in Renoir's *Grand Illusion*, among many others. He reminds me of a French Spencer Tracy, though I can't stand Spencer Tracy. Gabin is also great in *Pepe le Moko*.

    Renoir was a great director. *La Chienne* (remade as the equally great *Scarlet Street*), *Boudu Saved from Drowning*, on and on. The latter makes me think of Rene Clair's *À Nous la Liberté*, also good.

    The title *Moontide *brings to mind *Moonrise*, by Borzage, which is a fine film. And the subject matter and themes of that film bring to mind the Thomas Vinterberg film *The Hunt* (2012) which is also good. I'm wandering, sorry.

    You know Jean-Pierre Melville's films?

    Back to Gabin - he was in a fine Jacques Becker film called *Touchez pas au grisbi*. Becker also directed* Le Trou*, one of the best prison escape films. I bet you've seen that.

    Yeah, those films Conrad directed are odd, like a lot of films directed by actors. Eccentric and dull at the same time. Worth watching. Can't imagine seeing them as a child, though.

    Nothing Malick has done since his comeback after twenty years absence is as perfect as his first two, no, but I think everything he did up to and including *Knight of Cups* is wonderful. *Tree of Life* is the big one, always curious what anyone would think of that.

    1. I am having way too much fun watching movies, since I figured out online piracy a while back. My version of morality isn't much, but I try to avoid the current and very recent releases because (a) they're almost all shit and (b) if they're not they deserve some income. But movies more than a few years old, I have no qualms about seeking and downloading. It's awesome. I download everything that interests me, and pick titles at random from the pile. Wheeeee!

      Pepe le Moko was the original remade as Algiers, right? I frickin' loved Algiers, and ought to see the original. Grabbing it now, hoping the subtitties come through. (five mins later) nope, no subtitles, so I'm ordering the DVD from the library. Everything else about 2022 sucks but it's a great time to be a movie freak.

      I have never even heard of Knight of Cups, but it's downloading now...

    2. It took a while for *Knight of Cups* to grow on me. Never thought we'd live in a world where Malick made three semi-autobiographical films in a row (*Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups*) but there they are. It's the least of the three, just a warning. Call it a boomer Hollywood fantasia, I guess. Think Fellini's *8 & 1/2*. I Like it, but *Tree *and *Wonder *are where it's at.

    3. I remember allllllll those many years when Malick had disappeared from moviemaking, become a recluse. Thought he was done and we'd never see "directed by Terrence Malick" again. Sometimes the universe is kind.

      8 1/2 man, and all the other great foreign-language movies... This will sound so very white trash, but I wish I could get them all in English-dubbed versions. It would be nice to be able to pet the cat or scratch my balls or get a drink of soda without having to pause and rewind.

    4. After Knight of Cups Malick made Song to Song, which is not only his worst movie, but possibly the worst film of the 21st Century, just atrocious. Then A Hidden Life, which is OK - very moving - but unremarkable by his standards. He's working on a pic about Baby Jesus now, no kidding.

      Every Italian film made until late 70s/early 80s utilized post-dubbing, even if the actors were all speaking Italian, and even if there were American actors involved (Leone/Good Bad Ugly/Eastwood, Bava/Girl Who Knew Too Much/John Saxon, etc)

      Speaking of Eastwood, have you seen Gran Torino? It's fucking great, despite tremendous problems (racist? not racist? ageist? not ageist? white savior? white devil?) And so hilarious. Of course, insult humor is my favorite kind of humor, so your tolerance for that sort of thing might be less than mine. It's basically a role Don Rickles could have played with a straight face.



      Other films like Herzog's Nosferatu and Aguirre have a history of odd language dubbing for various reasons.

      I guess it depends on the film if I'd watch a dub. A lot of Argento's horror films have mixed casts, so English seems to work more often than not (depending on the cut - some cuts only have one language). Someone like Bergman or Tarkovsky, original language, no question.

      I definitely have moods where I can't watch/read subs... so I just watch dumb American shit instead.

    5. And there's so much dumb American shit to choose from.

      Terrance Malick is wasting his talent on a Baby Jesus movie, eh? I do hope it's a *dancing* baby Jesus.

      I'm finished with Clint Eastwood after Million Dollar Baby. What a piece of crap that was. Uh, spoiler warning, but: Let's invest all your emotional interest in a completely kickass strong female character -- something rare in American cinema -- and have her overcome everything to become a successful fighter, and then let's have her become disabled and give up on everything and kill herself. That's the movie. I saw it with my disabled and very feminist wife, and we were both furious by the end. Eastwood is talented and has made some fine flicks but he can suck a hot tailpipe for all I care. :)

    6. I'm trying to think of a movie directed by late-career-Eastwood that I actually liked. IMDB says holy crap he's made a lot, but the only one I remember with a smile (and it's slight) was Space Cowboys.


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