Saturday, August 1, 2020


As you get older, the further back in your childhood that you go, the more your memories become a bit cloudy. Let's take today's movie, 13 Frightened Girls as an example.

I believe that the first time I saw William Castle’s 13 Frightened Girls was at a drive-in movie with the family. When we were told that we were going to the drive-in to see 13 Frightened Girls, the title must have conjured up pictures of ghosts, horrors, and young ladies in peril. All of the things an eleven year old boy could possibly want in a movie.

I had no clue who William Castle was. Things like producers, directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, didn't exactly weigh heavily on my mind. I’m sure I didn’t know what a director was until Lucy assigned Charlie Brown to be the director of their School Christmas play.

Except for The Old Dark House which I saw as part of a double feature at the Columbia Theater in Portsmouth Ohio, I saw most of Castle's other films on the late show on Friday or Saturday night.

This included films such as The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, Macabre, Straight Jacket (with Joan Crawford), and I Saw What You Did, a film which not only enticed kids to play on the phone just for fun, but to warn them of the consequences at the same time. There was no such thing as caller ID or cell phones so playing on the phone was a favorite pastime for many.

I never had the chance to experience firsthand all the gimmicks Castle used in his films to get people out of their living rooms and to gather at the local cinema. William Castle went way beyond producing and directing. He was the PT Barnum of low budget films. He was the ultimate movie showman, selling and promoting his films with whatever gimmicks he could come up with. And he had a Santa Claus bag full of them.

Macabre (1958)
A certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London was given to each customer in case he/she should die of fright during the film. Showings also had fake nurses stationed in the lobbies and hearses parked outside the theater.

House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Filmed in "Emergo"
An inflatable glow in the dark skeleton attached to a wire floated over the audience during the final moments of some showings of the film to parallel the action on the screen when a skeleton arose from a vat of acid and pursued the villainous wife of Vincent Price.

The Tingler (1959)
Filmed in "Percepto"
In the film a docile creature that lives in the spinal cord is activated by fright, and can only be destroyed by screaming. In the film's finale one of the creatures removed from the spine of a mute woman killed by it when she was unable to scream is let loose in a movie theater. Some seats in theaters showing The Tingler were equipped with larger versions of the hand-held joy buzzers attached to the underside of the seats. When The Tingler in the film attacked the audience the buzzers were activated as a voice encouraged the real audience to "Scream - scream for your lives."

13 Ghosts (1960)
Filmed in "Illusion-O"
A hand held ghost viewer/remover with strips of red and blue cellophane was given out to use during certain segments of the film. By looking through either the red or blue cellophane the audience was able to either see or remove the ghosts if they were too frightening.

Homicidal (1961)
This film contained a "Fright break" with a 45 second timer overlaid over the film's climax as the heroine approached a house harboring a sadistic killer. A voiceover advised the audience of the time remaining in which they could leave the theatre and receive a full refund if they were too frightened to see the remainder of the film.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
In this Gothic tale set in 1880 London a baron's face is frozen into a permanent grotesque hideous smile after digging up his father's grave to retrieve a lottery ticket left in the pocket of his father's jacket. The audiences were allowed to vote in a "punishment poll" during the climax of the film; Castle himself appears on screen to explain to the audience their options. Each member of the audience was given a card with a glow in the dark thumb they could hold either up or down to decide if Mr. Sardonicus would be cured or die during the end of the film. Supposedly, no audience ever offered mercy so the alternate ending was never screened.

Zotz! (1962)
Each patron was given a "Magic" (gold colored plastic) coin which, of course, did absolutely nothing.

Strait-Jacket (1964)
Joan Crawford. Advised by his financial backers to eliminate gimmicks, Castle hired Crawford to star and sent her on a promotional tour to theatres. At the last minute, Castle had cardboard axes made and handed out to patrons.

I Saw What You Did (1965)
The film was initially promoted using giant plastic telephones but after a rash of prank phone calls and complaints, the telephone company refused Castle permission to use them or mention telephones. So he turned the back rows of theatres into "Shock Sections". Seat belts were installed to keep patrons from being jolted from their chairs in fright.

Bug (1975)
Castle advertised a million-dollar life insurance policy taken out on the film's star, "Hercules" the cockroach.

Despite the fact that most of these so called enhancements were more Castle bravado than anything else, of the Castle films I have seen most acquit themselves quite well just as horror films.

As for 13 Frightened Girls, Castle wanted to search the world over until he found true love......well at least until he found what he thought were the 13 most beautiful girls in the world. Did he succeed in this admirable endeavor? Do you know the old saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder? In other words, they're not Frankenstein's Bride by any stretch of the imagination but no more mesmerizing than the girls in your nearest county fair beauty pageant. But you be the judge.

The first trailer showcases the girls so I'll let you decide as to whether they are the most beautiful girls on the planet. The second trailer hardly mentions the 13 Diplomats and it's actually all the better for it. The first trailer is under the 13 Frightened Girls moniker and the second one is labeled The Candy Web. I guess it depended on what theater in what country as to which one you saw.

I don't know how Castle went about the selection process. That remains a mystery. I don’t think he put any real effort into it. At least a few of the girls are not from the countries represented. Gina Trikonis was not from Russia and she's not mentioned in the trailer. Judy Pace was not from Liberia.

In fact, Trikonis who plays Natasha was born in New York City and Pace who is never given a name in the film (although most of the rest of the 13 girls used their real first names) hails from Los Angeles and was cast after Castle saw her picture in Ebony Magazine.

Ms. Trikonis had other previous film experience as well, having played Graziella, Riff’s girlfriend in West Side Story in 1961. Looking at it another way, she went from playing a street gang member’s main squeeze in an Academy Award Best Picture film, to playing a Russian Ambassador’s daughter for William Castle. I guess that’s either a demotion or promotion, depending on how you look at it. No, she doesn’t get to sing or dance this time around although it probably wouldn’t have hurt having this group of young female rowdies break out into a chorus of “Cool” along with some fancy dancing. I will say this, she does an impressive impersonation of a Soviet.

Here is the list of girls and the countries they "supposedly" hailed from. Placed here for your educational enjoyment and enlightenment.

These actresses were all signed up to be the daughters of ambassadors from all over the world. Coincidentally, they are also students at the same private school, Miss Pittford’s Academy for Young Ladies. You may recognize Miss Pittford as Norma Vardan who played the Von Trapp Housekeeper in The Sound of Music so she has experience dealing with young Hellions of any age or sex. I guess she started her school after the Von Trapp Family headed for the hills.

If you count the girls early on, you'll see that they add up to fifteen, not thirteen. That's because two of the girls are just regular ordinary actors and not part of Castle's beauty queen search. One of them is Lynne Sue Moon as Red Chinese Student Mai Ling, and the other girl is Kathy Dunn as American Student Candace "Candy" "Kitten" Hull. Moon of course, is not from Red China, but was born in Islington, London. Dunn is an American and bleeds red, white, blue, stars and bars.

As for the actual names or their characters, that's a horse of a different color. Most of the 13 girls used their real first names in the film. I suppose that made things a bit easier for Castle to keep track of who was whom when filming but it's not like you really need to know.

Candy, who is all of 16 years young, has won first place in Latin. The prize? She gets to drive the girls to the airport on the school's bus. Now one can look at this from several different angles:

1. You might decide that getting to drive a bus to the airport isn't much of a prize for having mastered a very difficult and a very dead language.

2. You could remember that it was much easier for a sixteen year old to get a driver's license in those days. Basically all one had to do was show up at the license bureau, ace the test, and they would punch your ticket. Heck, they didn't even put your picture on it, or worry about such mundane matters as to whether or not you had auto insurance.

3. If you were a diplomat, you might decide that it's time to start thinking about sending your teenager to public school instead of Crazy Old Miss Pittford's. Or...

4. While you munch down on your popcorn you could just shrug your shoulders and understand that Castle, being the showman that he is, needed a slam bang opening to grab your attention.

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And that of course is exactly what it is. As they head down the same quarter mile stretch of road three or four times (you have to see the movie to understand) a spider comes dangling down the windshield causing Candy's driving to suddenly advance from just being somewhat erratic to being scarier than hell crazy put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye kind of erratic. Well, you know teenage girls and spiders.

They didn't get along in 1963, just like they don’t in 2020. Just put one in a girls shoe and see what it gets you. And of course, since Castle's 13 girls are now scared shitless, Castle's title literally makes sense because there are now thirteen frightened girls for real.

The spider appearance may also have been Castle’s goofy way of foreshadowing later events that have to do with another spider, this one being of the human species.

Turns out, the film has more in common with James Bond than it does with Vincent Price throwing a get together in a Haunted House on a Haunted Hill. In fact, change Candy's name to Nancy Drew and you could just as easily call this movie Nancy Drew and the Clue of the Kitten's Paw.

When she finally arrives at the embassy building where her father works, Candy wastes no time in letting us know that the love of her life is Wally Cleaver. Scratch that, I mean Miss Candace Hull is madly, definitively, and permanently, in love with Wally Sanders (Murray Hamilton), a CIA agent friend/employee of her father, John Hull (Hugh Marlowe) and future mayor of Amity Island aka Shark City. Okay, so there are a few small obstacles keeping Candy from eternal bliss.

First, Wally is in fact engaged to another agent that goes by the name of Soldier (Joyce Taylor) who sits around in a room nearby all day trying to break the Soviet secret code.

But let's not forget that other tiny detail standing in Candy's way of luring Wally away from Soldier. He's 40 and she's 16. But it could still work out with Daddy's approval.

Later when Pa comes into the room unexpectedly at the same time that Candy has her arms wrapped around Wally in a loving embrace, dear old dad doesn't really seem to mind one bit. In 1963, I didn't see a problem with all this. I was all of eleven years old though. In 2020 it may come off as kind of creepy and what the hell were they thinking? Yeah, it’s supposed to be her love of Wally that motivates her to save his job, but couldn’t that business be taken care of just as easily if she wanted to be his BFF? On the other hand....(Why is there always another hand?)

Okay, so maybe John does know his daughter has always had crush on Wally, or maybe he figures Wally is man enough to handle the situation on his own. Hmmm....that doesn't sound exactly right either, and I'm not sure I would be that trusting. But there it is on the screen and you be judge and jury as to the motivations of the participants. I’m clueless as to how Kathy Dunn felt about it and I don’t think anybody bothered to ask her before she high tailed it out of Hollywood for the tobacco plantations of Virginia. Just remember, that when Candy was young, Wally was somewhat of a babysitter and regaled her with stories of his spy adventures. Ergo, the lifelong crush.

Having failed to seduce Wally, when John invites Wally to have a private chat in his limo, Candy decides to go along for the ride although she is relegated to sitting in the front seat with the chauffeur, Mike (Charley Briggs) while the two men converse in the back with the partition closed. No problem for Candy though as she simply turns the front seat intercom on so that she can eavesdrop. And no, I don't know why they have a partition separating the front seat, since all one needs to do is flip a switch to hear what they couldn't hear otherwise. But don't muddy up the waters with simple logic or you'll never have any fun at all and neither will Candy.

What we find out is that Candy's father is kind of a prick. Okay, so that's a bit blunt even if it is true. It turns out that a fellow named Kagenescu, who is apparently the leader of a small unnamed country somewhere on Planet Earth, has shown up in town a week before he was supposed to be in London. Worse, Kagenescu has been seen at the friendly confines of the Russian Embassy who want to acquire his services in exchange for two minor leaguers, a draft choice, and a player to be named later. And when Candy overhears that Wally let Kagenescu slip through his fingers and dear old Daddy Dearest may send his future son-in-law back to a Class Double A minor league spy school, she is none too pleased.

Back at the Embassy Wally and his legal aged fiancée Soldier (Joyce Taylor) put their heads together to try to solve the Kagenescu affair before Wally ends up in the unemployment line. That is, they get busy after a few hugs and smooches and a little reminiscing about the good old days of spying when they used to really have fun or as Soldier puts it, "as two frightened secret agents huddling together in a steaming cow barn."

Maybe Castle should have made that movie instead of this one.

Before the movie can get on with its story though, we are required to plod through a scene where Candy interacts with some of the not so frightened girls, in order that they can get some much needed screen time since Castle went through all that trouble of rounding them up to be here.

Soon, Candy gets a call from her best friend Mai Ling (Lynne Sue Moon).

She invites Candy over for cocktails at the Red China pavilion she calls home. Since Daddy wouldn't approve of Candy cavorting with the Reds or chomping down on some Chop Suey, she has to do a bit of conniving to get his approval. And as we find out later, this is just a tip of the conniving iceberg for Candy.

Over in Red China Land, they are celebrating the Holiday of a Thousand Tractors (don't ask, it's just an excuse for us to see some fireworks and learn about Chinese Culture) and it isn't long before Candy arrives and begins putting down some Chubby Checker type dance moves with her friend Mai Ling. They are right in the middle of reminding us how foolish we all looked doing The Twist when Mai Ling's Uncle Kang (Khigh Deigh) and two other friends arrive.

As the girls are leaving, Candy overhears Kang address one of the men that is with him as Kagenescu. And of course, knowing that Kagenescu is the key to keeping Wally from being sent off to Amity Island, Candy decides to find out what's going on. And later, when she sees Kang and his aide leave the room without Kagenescu, Candy sends Mai Ling after some grub so that she can slip into full blown Nancy Drew mode to have her own private chat with the all-important Kagenescu. But Kagenescu is nowhere to be found, and worse yet, there's a nice pool of fresh blood hanging out on the dumbwaiter. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the blood didn't come from a pound of under-cooked Sirloin.

Young Miss Drew, I mean Candy, isn't going to let a little thing like some spilled blood stop her from climbing into the dumbwaiter and heading down to investigate.

Candy realizes that she has the perfect setup and can use it to feed information to heartthrob Wally, thus saving her love life, Wally's job, and the world, all at the same time. This task is made easier by the fact that all she has to do is to hang out with her friends from Miss Pittman's, keeping her eyes and ears open, and report on everything. So in effect, she has traded in her Nancy Drew merit badge for a couple of zero's and a number as the first female James Bond counterpart.

She sends her information to Wally in the form of letters using cryptic cut-out alphabet symbols from newspapers and magazines. She signs them by placing her cat's paw on an ink pad and stamping the paw print onto the paper. Thus, her code name, Kitten.

13 Frightened Girls is as far from being perfect as a film can be and still manage to remain entertaining. Castle had a good idea here as far as the story goes, but this is one time when one of his gimmicks actually hampers the film more than enhances it. While the idea of a private school for the daughters of diplomats is one way to show the contest winners, and to tie them into the "13 Frightened Girls" title, in relation to everything else in the movie the title makes no sense at all.

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The 83 minute running time hurts the film in other ways. While Candy's few adventures are suspenseful enough, they also seemed terribly rushed. In fact, much of what we find out about Candy's work as a spy comes while she is reading a book, Methods and Training for Counter Espionage (hey, doesn't every household library have one of these?), which acts as a voice over for a quick montage of scenes illustrating what she is learning. Better to have added about 20 minutes, drop the book, and actually show Candy doing her thing as a double-not spy because those are the scenes that actually are the meat, potatoes, and gravy of this film. Like this suspenseful moment.

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I don't really know what to tell you about Kathy Dunn's acting, because to this day I'm not sure exactly what to make of it. But her performance is fascinating to watch. She started her career as one of the Von Trapp children in the Broadway production of The Sound of Music. She ended it about four years later after a short stint in the daytime soap, Days of Our Lives, playing Julie Olsen, a role that would be made famous later on when Susan Seaforth Hayes made it her own. Afterwards she seemingly dropped off of the face of the earth. 

But doing my own Nancy Drew research I found out she married some guy by the name of Roger Roper Jr. who made his living working for a tobacco company and that she was born in 1947. When she was on Days of Our Lives playing one of the early editions of Julie Olsen for a brief six months in 1967, this article lists her age as 61 when it was written. It also says she was a 20 year old veteran when she did that show. So using math that Einstein would have been proud of, Ms. Dunn-Roper would now be 73 or 16 when she starred in 13 Frightened Girls, coincidentally the same age as her character. Whether she or her husband is still alive, I don’t have a clue.

I guess the best way to describe her performance here is that she's got spunk, and unlike Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I actually like spunk. Dunn keeps the plot moving along even when Castle tries to bog it down with his co-called discoveries.

Her seduction scenes are about what you’d expect: an inexperienced 16 year old trying to act like a seductress instead of actually being one. When she is in an apartment with a Russian Spy, she tries on the role of Mata Hari once again and it manages to almost get her killed although she makes it through with her virginity intact.

Dunn’s work in the action/suspense sequences is good enough to make you wistfully wish once again that Castle had done more not only with the scenes, but Ms. Dunn as well.

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For most fans, character actor Murray Hamilton will always be known as Mayor Vaughn from the first two Jaws movies and never the object of a 16 year old girl’s affection. Always a dependable character actor or heavy, depending on the role, here he is more or less the male lead as Candy's friend, father figure, and companion. Once he wards off her advances that is.

It is easy to see why she has a huge crush on him, especially when he mentions the stories from his early years as a spy. Call it hero worship or whatever, which has a lot to do with the way Candy sees him. Wally sees himself as just a friend, figuring Candy will get over her infatuation in good time.

Which brings us to Hugh Marlowe. Marlowe, as you may or may not recall, played Patricia Neal's suitor in the original The Day the Earth Stood Still. In that film he wooed O'Neal to further his career, then chose being a wealthy bastard over cohabitating with O'Neal by turning in Klaatu and cashing in some diamonds.

And although he obviously isn't meant to be seen that way in Girls, he does come off as a bit of an ass. He has little time for Candy, doesn’t check on her whereabouts, and pretty much let’s her do her own thing from beginning to end.

It's obvious that when things aren't going exactly as planned he uses Wally as his scapegoat. Then, in a move that makes no sense at all towards the end of the film, he insists that Wally blow the cover of his best agent, who just happens to be Kitten. Why in the hell would you want to blow the cover of your best agent, even if you think "your allies want to use him and your enemies want to kill him?" This incompetent jackass must have been appointed by Trump Monster.

For one thing, your allies can't use him if his cover is revealed, and second, why would you reward him by exposing him to your enemies? In other words, compared to spunky daughter Candy, Hull is a rather clueless dolt. He got on my nerves with his uppity grandstanding holier than thou bullshit.

Khigh Dheigh as Kang warms up for his role as Wo-Fat in the TV series Hawaii Five-O some six years later, and those were always the best episodes of that show. He is menacing. He can be as sweet as apple pie to his niece Mai-Ling one minute and then slapping her across the kisser the next. With friends like him, who needs enemies? Oh wait, the Reds weren't exactly our friends in those days, were they?

Joyce Taylor as Soldier is as good looking as any of the 13 girls, but she really has little to do beyond conversing with and smooching on Wally, and being thrown in for plot convenience near the end of the film. She certainly had the looks and the personality to make it big in Hollywood but made the mistake of signing on with Howard Hughe's RKO in the fifties and he wouldn’t let her be used for anything. Why? Because he was off his nut, that’s why.

There’s not much to be said about Lynne Sue Moon as Mai Ling and most of the 13 Girls. After this film, Moon had one more role in To Sir With Love, and then like Dunn, dropped out of sight. Considering her terrible dialog she is given here and her stiff as a board acting to go along with it, it doesn't surprise me that she figured out that the big screen just wasn't her thing.

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There are girls who obviously had talent but lose what little screen time they have to those that don't. Three of those that do, Alexandra Bastedo (England), Judy Pace, and Gina Trikonis went on to fairly decent careers in film and in television. Bastedo starred in the short-lived (one season) but memorable show The Champions which was an excellent series that deserved a much better fate than a one season run.

Among Judy Pace's many roles were playing the wife of Gayle Sayers in the original Brian's Song, and starring in another short lived series I adored, The Young Lawyers, which ran on ABC for one year, and has miraculously appeared on DVD. And if you want to see all of her in action, she also appeared in the film Cotton Comes to Harlem.

Gina Trikonis continued working in Hollywood as well. After West Side Story and this film she did a one shot guest role on the TV show The Farmer’s Daughter and afterwards made herself a career working in the costume department and later as a wardrobe supervisor in several TV series.

There are those who think 13 Frightened Girls is a much better film than it is given credit for. You can include me among that group. And while everybody remembers William Castle films like The Tingler and I Saw What You Did, this particular film gets scant attention.

There's a very clever idea here, and the basic premise is good enough that if properly made, it should be a candidate for a remake with one of the younger up and coming teen actresses of the day. Or maybe several of them. Castle was so wrapped up in promoting his 13 beauties, he couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Anyway, I find this film despite its many flaws to be quite a bit more entertaining than 2007's Nancy Drew, and since I gave that film a C, I have absolutely no choice but to give 13 Frightened Girls a B.


War of the Worlds (1953) has been one of my favorite Science Fiction films for as long as I can remember.  I'm not sure when was the last time that I watched it.  But what can one expect when you have literally a few thousand movies at your disposal on DVD/Blu-ray? Sometimes it takes a while to get to all of them.  Decisions, decisions.

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When Criterion decided to release their Blu-ray Special edition, and after reading some good reviews, I went ahead and made the purchase on Amazon.  I made it a point to watch it the day that the disc arrived.  Would it hold up after all these years?

I ask that question because I consider Stephen Spielberg’s 2005 rehash one of the great science fiction films of this decade.  I don’t think it has gotten the credit it deserved since the scribes were too busy writing about how Tom Cruise jumped over a couch on Oprah upon its release.

So I guess the trick here is remembering that the 1953 version was made in a different era and didn’t have the advantage of the high end digital effects that Spielberg had at his disposal. 

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War of the Worlds opens with a quick history lesson on World War I and World War II.  I guess as a way of letting us know that the worst was yet to come and instead of fighting the Japanese or the Germans, the whole planet was going to be doing battle with slimy green men from Outer Space.  Or something like that.

After the credits are dispensed with rather quickly, we then get our 1953 Science Lesson from the narrator (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). 

We will give the movie a pass on their very faulty science because 67 years have come and gone, and I don’t think audiences in 1953 really gave a crap if they got it right. 

These days, the ignorance is not because the information isn’t there, it’s because we have a whole corral full of right-wing cattle choosing to disbelieve science, or that it doesn’t exist at all and only Jeebus can show us the light.  I guess they figure anybody who can manufacture the Universe in 6 days before pooping out on the 7th has all the scientific knowledge they need in their life. 

Fight an alien invasion?  As Perry Mason used to say, “Hell’s Bells!”  You cannot even get many of the people in the United States of Idiots to wear a mask or get vaccinated.  I am sure that if they were to see actual flying spaceships, they would pass it off as just another libtard hoax out to get them.  Crap, get me a DeLorean and fly me back to 1953 where they weren’t so willfully stupid as people are now.

When War of the Worlds finally finishes our education, we cut to a big fireball cannon-balling down through the sky, gleam in its eye, bright as a rose. 

This Fireball looks suspiciously like the one in the movie It Came from Outer Space that I reviewed recently.  And just like in that movie, it crashes into the earth with a lot of sparks, fire, and noise. 

Apparently about 90 percent of the towns people happen to be gathered at the movie theater at night.  Where else do you have to be in the evening in Hooterville?  Taking a ride on the Hooterville Cannonball to visit Kate Bradley and the girls?  Speaking of Hooterville, I’m pretty sure that’s Hank Kimball (Alvy Moore) of Green Acres leading the crowd and offering his expertise on flaming spheres of sparklies flying through the atmosphere.

The consensus of opinion is that it’s nothing more than a large meteor and the biggest danger is that it might start a forest fire.  After all, this is California where we don’t rake the dirt to Donald Trump Monster’s specifications.

Having put out the fire, a forest ranger decides it might be a good idea to have someone who actually knows the difference between a test tube and a Bunsen burner to investigate the glowing phenomenon because it’s hotter than a pepper sprout.

As major coincidence would have it, three scientists from Pacific Tech are out in the woods being one with nature as they studied the scientific art of fishing. 

As Ranger Smith tells them all about the meteor, Dr. Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) has his doubts.

“Are they sure it’s a meteor?  It didn’t come down like one.”

These scientists are so revved up about this possible new discovery that they do the only thing scientists should do.  They sleep on it until the next day.

When Forrester finally does arrive on the scene the next morning, it’s hard to decide if he’s more interested in the meteor or in the Preacher’s Niece aka Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson).  My money’s on Sylvia. 

Ever since Forrester found out about the meteor, he seems to be totally blasé about the whole damn thing.  Even when one of the local cluck clucks attacks it with a shovel and a metallic section falls to the ground, he does not seem too excited.  They should change his name to Professor Mello Yellow PHD.  Who knows?  Maybe he has viewed so many meteors do a slide and hide landing that it no longer interests him. 

During all this, someone notices that there is a thing in the professor’s car that is ticking like a Timex watch out of control.  When Forrester investigates, it turns out that the big whatchamacallit glowing like a charcoal on the backyard barbecue grill, is radioactive.  What do you do about that discovery?

You leave the three biggest bozos you can find to look after the rock spewing radioactivity while you run off with the preacher and his niece to a big square dance at the social hall where you can swing the preachers daughter ‘round and ‘round then go Dosey the Doe.  Yep, it is gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight.

Meanwhile, way out yonder on Haunted Hill, the three stooges are trying to keep warm because the big old rock in the ground isn’t glowing quite as hot as it was and isn’t going to start any more fires.  This is the cue for the meteor to pop its top like a bottle of Budweiser at a rodeo. 

If you guessed that these three were dead meat as soon as they were assigned to be the keepers of the flame, you win the rubber duckie.  They stare in silent awe, mesmerized, and from the looks on their faces simultaneously crapping their britches, while the spaceship slowly opens.  No point in pretending it is a meteorite any longer. 

As we wait for the spaceship to finish screwing around, we cut briefly back to the big hoe down taking place in town so Dr. Forrester can tell his one War of the Worlds Science Joke then we quickly cut back to Larry, Curly, and Moe using their knowledge of third grade science, deduce that the space ship came from Mars.   And sure enough, out pops a bobbing and weaving Martian thing-a-ma-bob like a giant telescope surveying its surroundings. 

Larry, Curly and Moe are about to run back to town when they put their 1/10 of a brain each of them have and come to the conclusion that if they can communicate with the Martian Anal Probe, they’ll become famous.  Maybe get their pictures on the National Geographic.  They make a white flag and walk hesitantly towards the space craft where they earn their just rewards for being so brave and so bold.

At the same time that the thing from Mars is turning the three friendly white flag waving conquering heroes into Pixie Dust, the power at the Western Hoedown Social Hall goes dark putting a quick end to us having to watch a bunch of hayseeds trotting around in circles as if they’re dressage show horses.

Not only is the power out but the phones are dead as a doornail.  Dr. Forrester, finally getting a chance to use his scientific expertise, tells us that the phones are not on the same power circuit as the lights.  Good going there, Professor.  Don’t get stuck on Gilligan’s Island, Rah rah rah.

Some old fart lets us know that his hearing aid is on the fritz.  Should have bought Energizer batteries you old buzzard.  And worst news of all, Sylvia’s Uncle Preacher Collins (Lewis Martin) discovers his watch has took a dump on him.  This leads to everyone in the room discovering their watches are in the crapper as well.  Thus, we now know one important thing:  Nobody is wearing a Timex because those watches take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

Using a handy pin provided by Sylvia, Doc Forrester once again waves his scientific magic wand, figures out that all the watches have been magnetized and that is why the phones quit working as well. 

A Compass, that just happens to be handy and provided by the local law enforcement guy, Alonzo Hogue (Paul Birch), tells Professor Dr. Clayton that the magnetic field is coming from where the meteor/spaceship came down.  There is also a new raging forest fire in the same location. 

Everybody is suddenly anxious and interested, and not a bit compelled to do anymore square-dancing.  All it took to start a panic was not being able to tell time.

Rushing out to the crash site, Forrester and the police discover that not only have the power lines been torn down, but also the Stooge Mobile Vehicle has been blown all to shit.  Seeing that the three men they left behind are now nothing more than three piles of ashes and soot, Forrester and Company decide now is the time to take decisive action.

When they are accosted by Marvin the Martian and his psychotic death rays, Forrester and Hogue jump for cover while Policeman guy tries to drive off in the squad car and gets blasted to kingdom come for his efforts.  Jesus take the wheel.

They finally decide to call in the military and apparently the press as well where they all stand around on the hillside with no clue and no plan.  When the beings from outer space let loose with some more rays destroying a reporter’s broadcast vehicle, along with an aircraft dropping flares, the decision is made to call in reinforcements which they should have done from the start.  Not that it will make a difference but why not have a party?  Plus, it will give Sylvia something to do as she goes about serving donuts and coffee as sort of a last meal in the hopes that the caffeine and sugar rush will give them a burst of energy when they have to run for the hills with their tail between their legs.

With that many soldiers at his disposal, Colonel Hefner (Vernon Rich) sets up his plan of attack.

While he’s busy doing that, the Padre decides that if these creatures are from Mars, then they have to be even closer to Jeebus than we are here on lowly planet earth. Yeah, that kind of thinking.

He decides to communicate and demonstrate how friendly we are by taking matters into his own hands.  Bye, bye Reverend American Pie.

When the real battle begins, we find out too late that they have protective shields surrounding their roving spacecraft just like the Enterprise.  They must have been watching Star Trek.

Colonel Hefner orders all to retreat after having lost a few hundred men and tons of equipment.  But even that order comes too late to save his own ass.  Bye, bye Colonel American Pie.

Sylvia and love interest Doc Clayton escape in the Doc’s plane which miraculously was not taken out by the Space Jockeys.  Unfortunately, their flight path takes them right into an area swarming with aliens causing Doc to crash land.  Apparently, he is a better scientist than he is a pilot.

They manage to make it to a nearby gully where they can hide from the invaders once again.  This is about the third or fourth time some earthlings save themselves by jumping into a ditch.  So the moral here is: When Under attack by alien beings, just ditch it.

Sylvia and Doc find their way to a farm house which has miraculously been left untouched by the aliens so she fires up some eggs then tells the Doc her story which will come in handy for him near the end of the movie.  It seems she got lost once as a child so she found a church, holed up in it, then began to pray someone would find her.  Apparently, they did or she wouldn’t be here to make whoopee with the Doc.  But then she remembers it was Uncle Preacher who found her so Sylvia is sad again.  A real Debbie Downer. 

Having dispensed with that, one of the space craft comes sliding in like a bat out of hell taking half of the farm cottage with it and injuring Doc Clayton.  Doc wakes up in time to save Sylvia from another alien vaginal probe and this is when we also get our first glimpse of the Martian, who looks nothing like the guy that harassed Bugs Bunny for years. 

When they are found by another probe, Clayton manages to cut the head off the snake.  They are then accosted by another alien (Ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille) wandering around without any protection for no reason in particular other than the fact that Clayton throws a piece of wood at it whereas it squeals like Donald Trump having his balls squeezed too tight by Stormy Daniel’s fingernails.  Our heroes manage to head for the hills once again, and only then do the aliens destroy the farmhouse.  Go figure.

At least in Spielberg’s remake and in H.G. Wells novel there was a reason for the aliens to go sneaking around the farmhouse looking for humans.  They needed them to make fertilizer.  But here?  The goal of the aliens from the start is to blow us all to Kingdom Come so this was just a long roundabout excuse for Clayton to get a piece of alien technology to find a way to defeat them.  In the end, the effort is wasted and inconsequential to the ending.

As the future Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Forrester make their way back to civilization, we get another long montage where the alien vehicles are shown blasting away interposed over top of stock footage so that we know we’re getting our asses kicked without blowing up the movie’s budget ($2 Million in case you’re wondering) any further than it has to.  Originally, Producer George Pal wanted to do the final third of the film in 3d but that idea was nixed before the cameras rolled.

After studying all the data, such as it is, the joint armed services decide there is only one option left.  It is time to break out the atomic weapons and as one General puts it, “Blast them all over the world.”  Uh huh.  

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With his Martian optical telescope and his Martian sample of blood, Forrester finally makes it back to his lab.  What they find out is that physically, spacemen suck.  They are inferior to us in every way.  Their blood shows them to be very anemic.  Does this new bit of information help us to defeat the Martians?  No, it does not, but it goes a long way to help understand the ending.  And as one scientist says, “After they drop the A-Bomb, we’ll have all the alien blood we’ll need to study.”  Now there's a man with a lot of confidence.

Another scientist predicts that if the Atomic Drop does not work the Martians will conquer the world in six days.  Bye, bye Earth Pie.

Sylvia throws her two cents in, “Six days?  The same time that it took to create the planet.”  At which point she everyone looks at her wisdom in either awe or thinking, “Is she kidding with that shit?”

The bomb is dropped and I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but it’s time to put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

The only hope is if the scientists can come up with something pretty damn quick.  They decide to take their equipment and head for the hills since Los Angeles is about to become Alien doo-doo. 

It's at this point that the movie gets something right by showing that even in 1953, we were the United States of Stupid as people riot and go berserk, stealing the trucks with the scientific equipment, smashing it all to hell and that is how the world ends.  Not with a bang but a riot of jackasses.  It’s the same type of jackasses who in 2020 refuse to wear a mask to stop our own Corona Calamity. They really should take a hint from this movie.

I don’t think I’m giving much away here since the story has been around since H.G. Well’s penned it in the 1800’s.  After his truck is looted, Forrester goes looking for Sylvia inside every church he can find thanks to the story she told earlier in the movie.  He does eventually catch up with her right about the time the alien vehicles start crashing to the ground.

These supposedly superior intellectual creatures hadn’t thought about the fact that they would not have the immunity to earth viruses, germs, and microbes that humans have built up over millions of years of evolution.  I mean as we find out from time to time, there are always new viruses out there that seem ready to do us in.  Yet, for all our own scientific knowledge, there are still millions of people out there that go for the hocus pocus type nonsense found in this movie.  And while I may have overlooked it or not understood it as a kid, I really take exception the closing narration that “After all that men could do had failed, the Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth.”  Give me a break. 

In HG Well’s novel, there is no mention of this silliness.  Wells was a well-known agnostic and would be rolling over in his grave if he knew of this tacked on mumbo jumbo. 

The Martians were done in by an evolutionary process that had not taken place on their planet.  As Well’s novel stated, “But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them, they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth”.

Let us look at this God in all his wisdom stuff if you really insist.  In all his wisdom, God made the same aliens that created us.  In all his wisdom, God had Mars dying out, so the Martians felt it necessary to invade another planet to survive.  In all his wisdom, God let literally millions of innocents die in the attack before saving just a few.  In all his wisdom, I guess God was bored and decided to play around for a few days because it had been a gazillion years since he wiped out every man, woman, child, and infant in a genocidal flood. You can now head to Kentucky to buy a ticket to a commemoration of that biblical event, courtesy of the taxpayers.

Since it is 1953, I will give the movie a pass.  But in 2005 Stephen Spielberg, who should have known better, used the same bullshit narration at the end of his film.  Give me a break.

Other than that, the movie is well done for the time it was made although the special effects seem quaint by today’s standards.  And despite the continuous religious hammering, it is still a terrifying scenario and one that has been done quite a few times since this version was made.

There are only two cast members that are of any consequence. Everybody else here are the usual stock characters you would find in any science fiction film. 

Gene Barry shines in several brief moments.  But most of the time I felt like I was watching Gene Barry the Scientist.  It is the same feeling I had when I was watching Gene Barry as Bat Masterson, Gene Barry as Amos Burke or Gene Barry as Glenn Howard in The Name of the Game.  Gene Barry had his own shtick going on and there was really no escaping it no matter how many pairs of glasses he put on.

When I was a teenager or adolescent as the case may be, I found Ann Robinson as the Sylvia character to be annoying and whining.  As a long-ago grown-up adult, I find her not so much annoying but a bit clueless.   She is mostly here to scream on cue and be a love interest for Dr. Forrester.  When he is not looking at her, Sylvia has this dreamy eyed look.  It clearly is saying, “I don’t give a damn if my uncle was a preacher.  Take me to a motel and rip my clothes off". 

There are times when Gene Barry has the same look when she is not looking.  And sometimes they manage for their eyes to meet with the look of lust.  Or maybe they were constipated.  Hard to say.  But before I forget, keep in mind that Sylvia serves a damn fine cup of coffee from what I can see. 

Actress Ann Robinson says there was really not intended to be a love interest between Sylvia and Clayton. Uh huh. I give you exhibit A.

In answer to my question posed at the beginning of this retrospective, “Does it hold up after all these years?”  I would have to say yes, no, and maybe.  It is still entertaining to watch.  The science is garbled. You still get the sense of gloom and doom but not nearly as much as Spielberg’s 2005 film. At less than an hour and a half, the film moves along quickly. 

50 years ago I was not nearly as cynical as I am now.  It is probably decades of built up cynicism that comes through when I am writing.  Taking that into account and everything else, I’ll still give War of the Worlds a B+ because I had fun watching it and just as much fun writing this.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Things I Watch: Classic Television-Room 222 (1969-1974)

Room 222

Season 1 Episode 1
Richie’s Story

It was back in 2009 when Shout Factory announced the release of Room 222: Season One on DVD.  If you know anything at all about 70’s television and are into classic tv series collecting, then this show was a must have to add to your library. I wasted no time in ordering Season 1 Through Amazon.  But things went south quickly.

Shout Factory, that was manufacturing the set on DVD, issued a warning that the quality was less than stellar but it was the best they could offer as it was the only prints made available by 20th Century Fox who basically didn’t give a shit. 

There were a few good prints, but most of the episodes had faded color, dirt throughout the prints, and poor visual quality.  It was a sad state of affairs and disappointing to say the least.  But if this was the only way to get the series, the episodes were at least watchable. 

Then came the announcement that Season Two would only be available direct from Shout Factory as DOD’s (Discs on Demand meaning burned disc).  More expensive of course, but it wouldn’t be the first time I over paid.  So I ordered it as well.

Often times on these discs, the opening credits would be a mess, but the picture would straighten up afterwards.  Some episodes, but not many, were actually in pretty good shape.  But since quality wise Fox couldn’t or wouldn’t release better prints, Shout announced Season 2 would be The Last of the Mohicans so to speak. 

There’s absolutely no hope for the rest of the series to be released.  Nor does any of the Classic Networks like Antenna TV or MTV seem to want to salvage it out of the Fox vaults which are now owned by Disney.  Unless they did and I missed it.  So the quality isn’t pristine.  Many shows from the 50’s and 60’s are less than stellar.  But Room 222 is a time capsule series that took on many events relative to the time it aired and for these shows to never see the light of day again is shameful.  And take my word for it, 222 was an
Award winning quality show that deserved to be preserved as much as many of the theatrical films we’re told to donate to for film preservation.  It’s frustrating.

Now that I’ve spent way too much time on that bitch session, I guess I should tell you something about the show itself.  Here’s the episode summary courtesy of the IMDB:

In the pilot episode (which opens as essentially a continuation of the scenes in the opening credits), Pete Dixon teaches history in Room 222 at Walt Whitman High School. Principal Seymour Kaufman introduces Pete to Alice Johnson, a perky but painfully insecure student teacher. Pete's most enthusiastic student is Richie Lane, who goes so far as to dress a lot like Pete and even takes roll in his absence. But Guidance Counselor Liz McIntire has discovered some disturbing news about Richie -- the home address he submitted is fake, suggesting that he may not live in the school district, and therefore might be ineligible to keep attending Whitman.

We know for sure Richie won’t get the boot because he’s pretty much a regular student from week to week as the plot call for his appearance.  There are some other regular students or semi-regular students who pop up now and then, some more than others.

The ones who found pretty steady work besides Howard Rice as Richie Lane were Heshimu as Jason Allen and Judy Strangis as shy Helen Loomis.  I think I had a crush on her but in those days I had a crush on a lot of TV female characters.  Besides being in this episode with the billing of “Student in Pete’s Class”, Brad Davis would also reappear later on at which time this mysterious student would actually have a name: Charlie Morano.

Of course you could count on the rest of the cast to be around week to week without fail solving the myriad problems of their students.  Sometimes teachers and guidance counselors and the Principal Kaufman would have their own life crises to be hashed out.  If there was drama like this going on at my own high school, I never noticed.

And we find out in episode one that Teacher Pete Dixon and Guidance Counselor Liz McIntyre have their own secretive affair going on except I’m sure the whole school knows about it so they aren’t fooling anyone.  The pair arrive at school in different vehicles but often depart in Pete’s spiffy convertible together to parts unknown.  Best not to advertise any hanky panky that might have been going on.

Alice Johnson, who is the most bubbly student teacher you’d ever want to meet in the hallways of any high school, is supposed to be comic relief of sorts when she isn’t butting in.  She just wants to be the greatest teacher ever just like Pete whose classroom she has been assigned to so that she could learn the ropes.  Just don’t ever call her cute.  Karen Valentine hates that word.

Kaufman seems to be the nicest principal ever to sit in an office making up the rules for each week’s episode.  When I was in school around the same time, my principal and vice-principal were big 10 foot tall balding hulking brutes that could make you shit your pants with just one word.  We weren’t lucky enough to have a Philip Kaufman puttering around being sullen.  And let’s face it, very few of us had too many teachers like Pete Dixon able to motivate you into doing something besides wounding flies and playing with them on your desktop.

Lloyd Hanes was born to play Pete Dixon but sadly he would pass away in 1986 from Cancer at the age of 52.  The rest of the main cast are still alive.  Even Michael Constantine who some of you probably recognize as the Windex spraying father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding and its sequel.

But the show was entertaining and very timely.  222 was a capsulated version of all kinds of things happening to the youth of the 70’s and a often realistic and relevant.

I feel lucky to have Seasons One and Two.  Would like to have the other seasons but it’s been twenty years since the DVD’s were released.  So get it while you can because eventually, the whole thing will be just a memory.  You can buy Season One at either Shout Factory or Amazon, or Season Two at Shout Factory.  Until next time.