The Monolith Monsters (1957, John Sherwood)

Against the odds, The Monolith Monsters almost comes together in the finale. The special effects are good, there’s a lot of tension, none of the acting is too bad. And then the end flops. I want to blame director Sherwood, maybe screenwriters Norman Jolley and Robert M. Fresco, maybe editor Patrick McCormack, maybe producer Howard Christie; I can’t blame any of them in particular because The Monolith Monsters sputtering out is all their faults. Technically speaking, only Ellis W. Carter’s photography is adequate throughout. Even the special effects take a while to come together because they’re poorly paced. The movie’s actually not though. The movie moves at a good pace, though it does lose “lead” Grant Williams too often.

Williams is fine. He doesn’t save the movie but he doesn’t do anything bad in his part, which is an achievement in this picture. Lola Albright’s bad as his girlfriend. Les Tremayne is likable but not good as the town reporter. Oh, Albright’s a school teacher. She’s better as the school teacher than as Williams’s squeeze and she’s terrible as the school teacher. Trevor Bardette is likable but not good as Williams’s college professor. Harry Jackson probably gives the best performance in the film, though an uncredited William Schallert has a ball as a fastidious weatherman.

The writing is fairly lame. Lots of expository dialogue, which director Sherwood can’t get his actors to convey naturally. Some of the problem is the script, some Sherwood, some the actors. Phil Harvey’s Williams’s sidekick and he’s bad whenever he has to talk, but endearing when he’s just moving around the set. It’s weird, but then the film keeps going and other performances are weak and unsupported by the direction and it makes sense. Everything wrong with The Monolith Monsters makes perfect sense.

Except the screw-up at the end. Everything building to it–and some of the scenery gets set up at the film’s open and then more in that weak expository dialogue–it goes seamlessly for almost all of it and then stalls. It’s a problematic but winning special effects sequence. It needs support from the rest of the film and it doesn’t get it. It’s silly. The Monolith Monsters is silly and it shouldn’t be and it ruins a lot of the movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Sherwood; screenplay by Norman Jolley and Robert M. Fresco, based on a story by Jack Arnold and Fresco; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Patrick McCormack; produced by Howard Christie; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Grant Williams (Dave Miller), Lola Albright (Cathy Barrett), Les Tremayne (Martin Cochrane), Trevor Bardette (Prof. Arthur Flanders), Phil Harvey (Ben Gilbert), William Flaherty (Police Chief Dan Corey), Harry Jackson (Dr. Steve Hendricks), Richard H. Cutting (Dr. E.J. Reynolds) and Linda Scheley (Ginny Simpson).


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Ladyhawke (1985, Richard Donner)

Two things about Ladyhawke without getting to the script or some of the acting. First, Andrew Powell’s music. It’s godawful; it’s stunning to see a director as competent as Richard Donner put something so godawful in a film. Intentionally put it in a film. It’s silly. It sounds like a disco cover of the “Dallas” theme song at its best and it tends to get much, much worse from that low peak.

Second, Vittorio Storaro’s photography. Not all of it, but the day for night stuff is terrible. Again, it seems like Donner and Storaro should know better, especially since there’s actual fine nighttime photography in other parts. Just not when the film needs it to visually make sense.

Now for the script. The film’s about Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. They were carefree young lovers in Northern Italy after the Crusades, even though lots of people have French names, which gets confusing. I don’t think the location really matters. The evil bishop of this castle and settlement–John Wood in a really lame performance–curses them because he’s a Catholic bishop in the Middle Ages so he’s perving after Pfeiffer. By day, she lives as hawk. By night, he lives as a wolf. Both animals mate for life, something it seems unlikely anyone would know about in the Middle Ages, but the occasionally lamer than it needs to be script feels the need to point out.

But, Hauer’s not the lead and neither is Pfeiffer. Instead, it’s Matthew Broderick. He plays a young thief who escapes Wood’s prison and finds himself basically squiring for Hauer’s knight. He meets Pfeiffer and soon learns their tragic fate. The script doesn’t give anyone enough to do–except Wood and he’s got too much to do given his performance–but there’s a lot of trying. Broderick tries, Hauer tries, Pfeiffer tries. Pfeiffer’s the most successful, not because the writing is better for her, but because the plotting isn’t as bad for her scenes. Just the day for night photography. Hauer has it the worst. Any time he starts to show personality, it’s nightfall and he disappears for a bit.

The music and photography mess up quite a bit of what otherwise seems like a good production. There’s some wonky editing from Stuart Baird, like Donner didn’t get enough coverage, which isn’t a surprise, but it’s mostly fine. It’s not great, but it’s fine.

Leo McKern is all right as the disgraced priest who has the plan to reunite the lovers. Ken Hutchison’s kind of okay as Wood’s henchman. Better than Wood anyway, even if his part’s lame.

Even without the terrible music and the problematic photography, Ladyhawke would still have that script. All it’s got going for it is likability, which Broderick, Hauer and Pfeiffer all have; Donner just doesn’t utilize it. Instead, he relies on the script, the music, the photography and Ladyhawke’s… well, it’s too lukewarm to be a disaster. It should be a disappointment, but there’s not enough wasted potential to be one.

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Donner; screenplay by Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas and Tom Mankiewicz, based on a story by Khmara; director of photography, Vittorio Storaro; edited by Stuart Baird; music by Andrew Powell; production designer, Wolf Kroeger; produced by Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matthew Broderick (Gaston), Rutger Hauer (Navarre), Michelle Pfeiffer (Isabeau), Leo McKern (Imperius), Ken Hutchison (Marquet), Alfred Molina (Cezar) and John Wood (The Bishop).


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Alligator (1980, Lewis Teague)

Alligator has quite a few things going for it. Lead Robert Forster is great, Robin Riker’s solid as his love interest and sidekick, John Sayles’s script has some excellent moments in it (some of them just being the attention he pays to Forster and Riker’s relationship), the giant alligator effects are solid, Larry Bock and Ron Medico’s editing is outstanding. Unfortunately, director Teague is a bit of a liability. He doesn’t direct actors well, he doesn’t set up shots well, he doesn’t understand scale when it comes to the giant alligator. The film is also shooting Los Angeles for Chicago, which comes off as pointless since there’s nothing Chicago about the film except the casting. They don’t even have second unit shots of Chicago. They shoot second unit against the mountains. Teague’s lack of ability and imagination with the budget hurt immensely.

Other problems–let’s just get them out of the way now–include the score and the plotting. Craig Huxley’s score rip-offs the Jaws theme way too obviously, but then the rest of the music is bad too so it’s not like it should be a surprise. Joseph Mangine’s photography is generally competent–especially given the amount of sewer shots–but lacks personality. Even though Forster and Riker have personality, Alligator doesn’t.

There’s some nice supporting work from Henry Silva as the absurd great white hunter. He comes off the best besides the leads. Dean Jagger is pretty lame as the evil industrialist who unintentionally creates the giant alligator because he’s an evil industrialist. I’m assuming Jagger’s part was supposed to be humorous, but Teague doesn’t have an ear for comedy. At all.

Michael V. Gazzo should be better as Forster’s boss. The only thing Teague does reliably is direct Gazzo’s scenes worse than anything else in the film. Perry Lang’s okay as a young beat cop, Bart Braverman’s okay as the noisy reporter. If the film just had more perfectly okay performances… well, it would still have all the problems Teague brings to it.

It’s hard to dislike Alligator, but only because of Forster, Riker and the film’s somewhat reluctant concentration on their relationship. Oh, and Silva. Silva’s really amusing. And you want to like Gazzo’s performance. It’s just not well-directed enough to get over the budget issues and it’s not well-written enough to get over the directing issues and it’s not well-produced enough to get over any of it. It’s all right. For a giant alligator movie set in Chicago but filmed in Los Angeles without enough good supporting performances, tepid direction and a too wonky script, Alligator is all right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Teague; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Sayles and Frank Ray Perilli; director of photography, Joseph Mangine; edited by Larry Bock and Ron Medico; music by Craig Huxley; produced by Brandon Chase and Mark L. Rosen; released by Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.

Starring Robert Forster (David Madison), Robin Riker (Dr. Marisa Kendall), Michael V. Gazzo (Chief Clark), Dean Jagger (Slade), Jack Carter (Mayor), Sydney Lassick (Gutchel), James Ingersoll (Helms), Bart Braverman (Kemp), Perry Lang (Kelly) and Henry Silva (Brock).


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Patterns (1956, Fielder Cook)

Patterns is a short and simple picture. Van Heflin is the new man at a corporation; he suspects he’s there to replace his assigned mentor, Ed Begley. He has a ruthless boss (Everett Sloane) and a similarly ruthless wife (Beatrice Straight). Will Heflin, called a rising young man (Heflin was forty-eight on release), give in to the temptations of money or will he remain true to his ideals, the ones he got playing football? He was All-American, after all.

The first half hour of the film is spent setting up the rest–there’s no detail to the business, presumably because screenwriter Rod Serling wants Patterns to encompass almost any business. There’s also very little detail to anything else. The one scene Begley gets to himself has his teenage son (Ronnie Welsh) chastising him for not being a better father. The lack of detail gets to be a problem because it helps turn Sloane into a shallow villain, something Serling’s lack of characterization is already enabling.

Heflin’s phenomenal. Regardless of being suspiciously old for the part as written, he glides through it. There’s a lot of talking (Serling adapted the screenplay from a teleplay) and a lot of listening for Heflin, a lot of acting and reacting. He excels at both. Unfortunately, the only person who really holds up against him is Elizabeth Wilson, who plays Begley’s former secretary. She also gets a lot of implied characterization; Straight, unfortunately, gets none.

Outstanding photography from Boris Kaufman. Director Cook doesn’t get in the way of the actors or the screenplay; both are kind of a problem. The lack of personality from Sloane is a real issue. Begley’s pretty good, but his part’s thin. He’s the supporting player in his own story.

Maybe if Patterns offered a single surprise, a single moment not telegraphed in those first thirty minutes (or even if the subsequent sixty minutes followed a similar–no pun intended–pattern of pacing), there might be something to it. But Serling wants to do a particular kind of thing and the film does and it’s thin. Great performances from Heflin and Wilson aside–and Kaufman’s photography–it’s just too slight.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Fielder Cook; written by Rod Serling; director of photography, Boris Kaufman; edited by Dave Kummins and Carl Lerner; production designer, Duane McKinney; produced by Michael Myerberg; released by United Artists.

Starring Van Heflin (Fred), Ed Begley (Bill), Everett Sloane (Mr. Ramsey), Elizabeth Wilson (Miss Fleming), Beatrice Straight (Nancy), Ronnie Welsh (Paul) and Joanna Roos (Miss Lanier).


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