Friday, 16 June 2017

THE LOST WORLD









d. Irwin Allen (1960)


Arthur Conan Doyle's tale of an unknown Amazonian plateau populated by dinosaurs and savage primitives was first filmed in 1925, and has been adapted umpteen times since. This version is from Irwin Allen, the parsimonious producer and director of such television classics as Land of the Giants, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. Allen spent a fair amount of money on this production, so made sure he got the most out of it by recycling clips from it for years to come. 

Unable to justify the expense of stop motion models, Allen simply glued horns and shit to some standard lizards and let them loose on miniature sets. The results are unconvincing, especially when a gecko blunders into shot and someone shouts 'My God, a Tyrannosaurus Rex!'. When a giant spider is needed (there's always a need for a giant spider in films like these) he simply blows up film of a normal spider to enormous proportions and uses an optical effect to colour it day-glo green.

The two best things about the film are ginger: Jill St John as a spoiled and slightly mercenary heroine, the sort of pretty thing on the make who comes on a dangerous expedition wearing red go go boots and carrying a poodle, and the great Claude Rains as the indomitable Professor Challenger, a man with hair and a beard as fiery as his irascible temper. 

Rains was born in Camberwell in abject poverty (nine of his brothers and sisters died in childhood), and grew up with a thick London accent that he never completely eradicated. A very dignified actor, his professional speaking voice is careful and cultured, a sort of dry purr but, when he gets excited and speaks quickly, every now and again you can quite plainly hear the twang of his native Cockney. It's a very endearing trait, and one that you'll listen out for from now on, I hope.    

Friday, 9 June 2017

CURUCU, BEAST OF THE AMAZON


d. Curt Siodmark (1956)


Routine technicolor exotic adventure potboiler with a variety of vicious animals and some shrunken heads. The titular beast is an extraordinary thing, a sort of malevolent parrot with piercing blue eyes, fearsome tusks and slashing talons: it's also fake, a ruse by a native witch doctor to keep the white man and his disease ridden civilization away. 

The fakeness of the monster doesn't really matter, however, as elsewhere real nature is working overtime to demonstrate it's redness in tooth and claw. The protagonists are attacked by crocodiles, several big snakes, a spider the size of a dinner plate, a jaguar and a load of piranhas, represented several times with mismatched, washed out stock footage. 

Shot on location in Brazil, the film never really takes off, despite being punctuated by somewhat manic dance routines and having a beefy male star who never stops smoking, regardless of whether he's eating, kissing or having a medical examination.

I was particularly impressed by the no nonsense heroine, played by Beverley Garland. She is beautiful, yes, but she's also a doctor, a scientist and an explorer, a person of great intelligence and nerve who is determined to make the world a better place. These qualities are even noticed by our carcinogen addicted hero who admiringly says: 'You're not frightened of anything, are you?' Disappointingly, she responds 'Of course I'm frightened, I'm a woman'. Bah.   

Friday, 2 June 2017

JUNGLE WOMAN











d. Reginald Le Borg (1944)

It's worth remembering that half the films made during the golden age of Hollywood were b-movies, and never intended to be anything other than a time filling support to something more important, more expensive, more valued, the thing that people wanted to see. There are great b movies, made with love and care, and these tend to be the ones that are remembered today. Then there are films like Jungle Woman, incomprehensible potboilers thrown together from old footage and cliche and padded out with voice overs, flash backs and long scenes of people walking corridors and going up and down stairs until sixty or so minutes pass.

Ostensibly a sequel to, but more like a rehash of Captive Wild Woman with all its teeth pulled out, the production misses any number of chances to be as silly or interesting as only a film about a beautiful woman who used to be a gorilla can be and really only merits notice because of the sulky presence of its female star, the mysterious and exotic Acquanetta, here slap bang in the middle of her five film credit career. The so called 'Venezuelan Volcano' is her usual somnolent self, drifting around in a self-absorbed daze, occasionally scowling and staring. She's not much of an actress, but she's a hell of a presence, the sort of person who enters a room glowering and makes everyone wish she'd either say something or just go away.   

As a final note, it is now believed that Acquanetta was neither Venezuelan or a gypsy or an Arapaho Indian but instead that rarest of all onscreen Hollywood persons: an African American.