Category Archives: 1967

King Kong Escapes (1967, Honda Ishirô)

Despite lacking special effects and a phoned in score from Ifukube Akira (reusing his previous Godzilla themes to various effect), King Kong Escapes has quite a bit of charm to it. The film opens with Kong enthusiasts–really, they’re sitting around drawing pictures of him–Rhodes Reason and Takarada Akira. They’re U.N. submarine guys; U.N. submarines, patrolling the globe, is a thing in Escapes’s reality. Along with a female ship’s doctor, played by Linda Miller, who later in the film screams at the sight of blood. It’s like they forgot she was supposed to be a doctor.

Anyway, the film opens with them and isn’t particularly great. Those lacking effects are imaginative–they have a hovercraft–but there’s just something off about the trio. All the chemistry is between Takarada and Miller, which is great, only for some reason Miller’s always hugging Reason. It’s even established later on Takarada and Miller are a couple. So clearly Toho (and co-producers Rankin/Bass) didn’t think the world was ready for a Japanese guy and a white girl. Sorry, getting ahead once again.

Once the U.N. submarine is established, the action goes to the bad guys and the bad guys are awesome. One of the bad guys is evil scientist, Dr. Who (Amamoto Hideyo), who wears a cape and all of his henchmen have, if not capes, something approximately capes. It’s very, very weird and Amamoto plays it for all its worth. He’s working for beautiful foreign agent, Hama Mie–she’s not Japanese, not Chinese, but from some unidentified Asian nation with enough money to fund Amamoto building a giant King Kong robot. Mechani-Kong. They need a giant robot Kong for mining radioactive materials. The movie spends like fifteen minutes on it, the need for Kong (or Kong facsimiles) to mine. Hama plays it all straight, Amamoto chews through every bit of scenery he can. Somehow, it’s a magic combination. They’re both fantastic throughout the film.

When the action gets back to the U.N. submarine, it’s when they just happen to have to stop at Kong’s island. Escapes’s Kong suit conveys this sad and lonely giant ape. He’s got big, soulful, sad eyes and dejected body language. Some of that dejected body language is because the suit’s terrible, disproportionate and haphazardly detailed enough editor Fujii Ryôhei spends most of his time just trying to cover for the suit looking bad. Lots of questionable cuts, just because the head on the suit often doesn’t match the suit.

Once they’re on the island, director Honda does a bunch of homage to the 1933 King Kong, which is pretty cool. The effects are bad, seeing an adorable King Kong violently defend Miller against the Tyrannosaurus Rex stand-in is jarring, but the location shooting is excellent (and too short) and Honda’s homage is neat.

After the island, there’s a significant lull as Reason makes an address to the U.N. only to be sent right back to the island. Before they get there, Amamoto and his goons go to capture Kong in an amazing action sequence with helicopters and gas bombs and so on. The miniatures are okay, the suit is weak, Honda’s direction is phenomenal.

Eventually the bad guys capture the good guys–and Hama starts having a change of heart because Reason is so hot, but he doesn’t make the goo-goo eyes at her. While it is a bit of a plot hole, Kimura Takeshi’s script has a lot of nonsense going on. It does ruin the one chance to humanize Reason, who’s otherwise a stiff. Amamoto can’t even give his scenes with Reason much of a pulse.

Of course there’s a fight between the two Kongs–in Tokyo, on the Tokyo Tower, amid another Kong ’33 homage from Honda with Takarada as Bruce Cabot and Miller as Fay Wray. It’s all rather well-executed, regardless of the suits. The city and military miniatures are fine. In fact, the big fight scene could’ve easily gone on a bit longer. Escapes just needed a better budget. Honda was ready to do this one.

And Reason needs to go. Or at least be less of a stiff.

Takarada and Miller are both more appealing than good. Outside their chaste romance, they’re just around to make Reason seem important.

King Kong Escapes is goofy, the suits are silly, and Ifukube’s score disappoints (though the revised Godzilla 1954 music for Kong and Miller’s love theme is great). It’s still all right, thanks to Honda taking it so seriously. And Hama and Amamoto. Especially Hama and Amamoto.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Honda Ishirô; written by Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Koizumi Hajime; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Rhodes Reason (Commander Carl Nelson), Linda Miller (Lieutenant Susan Watson), Takarada Akira (Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura), Hama Mie (Madame Piranha), and Amamoto Hideyo (Dr. Who).


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The Tiger and the Pussycat (1967, Dino Risi)

The Tiger and the Pussycat tells the sad tale of forty-five year-old businessman, Vittorio Gassman. He’s just become a grandfather. His college-age son wants to have long hair. All of his wife’s friends are abandoned women; their husbands have run off with younger women. Gassman is dissatisfied. Upon finding his son attempting suicide over a girl (Ann-Margret), Gassman lets the girl seduce him. Him Gassman, not the son.

Hilarity ensues.

Or not.

Mostly it’s just Gassman being a different kind of jerk to people. Initially, he’s a successful jerk–The Tiger–but once Ann-Margret shows up, he’s putty.

The Tiger and the Pussycat runs just over one hundred minutes. It’s never particularly good, never promising. Even though Alessandro D’Eva’s photography is fine, spectacular on occasion, and Marcello Malvestito’s editing is nice, director Risi is so boring there’s never anything to get excited about. Except maybe in comparing how Risi’s male gaze on either tightly or scantily clad Ann-Margret has less enthusiasm than his male gaze on Eleanor Parker (as Gassman’s suffering wife) and her similarly aged friends. At one point, Ann-Margret’s mother has to console Gassman and the film had the closest flirtation with chemistry ever.

But no. Because while Gassman is a caricature, he’s at least an active one. He has some unfortunate slapstick attempts, but otherwise it’s a perfectly fine performance. He’s trapped by the lame script and lame composition, just like the viewer.

Ann-Margret’s bad. Parker’s okay; her part’s terrible, but she’s okay. Fiorenzo Fiorentini is cute as Gassman’s sidekick (the film barely has a supporting cast–Gassman’s the whole show). He carried on with a young woman and ruined his life. The script’s constantly setting up comical examples of why Gassman ought to get serious. That aforementioned “hilarity” ensues after he doesn’t acknowledge any of them.

The film gets a little bit worse at the end, which is sort of too bad because if it had just not gone on and on and on and on in the second half, it might have at least been tolerable. Instead, it’s Risi wasting his cast, Gassman giving a decent enough performance will suffocated by a bad script and a disinterested director, Parker not even having enough material to turn her part into a role, and Ann-Margret being annoying. Yes, the script fails her too–and Risi’s direction of her–but she’s still not good in Tiger and the Pussycat. She’s just not.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dino Risi; screenplay by John O. Douglas, Agnore Incrocci, and Furio Scarpelli, based on a story by Risi, Incrocci, and Scarpelli; director of photography, Alessandro D’Eva; edited by Marcello Malvestito; music by Fred Bongusto; production designer, Luciano Ricceri; produced by Mario Cecchi Gori; released by Titanus.

Starring Vittorio Gassman (Francesco Vincenzini), Ann-Margret (Carolina), Eleanor Parker (Esperia Vincenzini), Fiorenzo Fiorentini (Tazio), Antonella Steni (Pinella), and Luigi Vannucchi (Company president).


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Warning Shot (1967, Buzz Kulik)

Warning Shot is almost successful. For most of the film, director Kulik and screenwriter Mann Rubin craft an engaging mystery. Then the third act happens and they both employ cheap tricks and it knocks the film off course. It’s a rather short third act too–the film’s got a peculiar structure, probably to allow for all the cameos–and it just falls apart. What’s worse is the plot was already meandering (and promised more meandering) by that point.

David Janssen is a cop about to go to trial for killing an upstanding doctor. He’s got to prove himself innocent–or the doctor dirty–which means he visits various people. The first act–with Ed Begley as his boss, Keenan Wynn as his partner, Sam Wanamaker as the DA out to get him and Carroll O’Connor as the hispanic coroner–is completely different than the rest of the film. Kulik uses cockeyed angles, which Joseph F. Biroc shoots beautifully (though he doesn’t do as well with the hand-held look Kulik goes for in other early scenes). It makes all the exposition sail. The angles and the actors. The actors are very important.

There’s only one weak performance in Warning Shot–Joan Collins as Janssen’s estranged wife–all the rest are good or better. Even when it’s a single scene like Eleanor Parker or George Sanders. Parker’s better, she’s got a lot more to do than sit behind a desk and be a snot, which Sanders accomplishes admirably. George Grizzard is solid as Janssen’s newfound ally and Stefanie Powers is great as the dead doctor’s nurse. Lillian Gish has a small part as a witness and she’s a lot of fun. Begley, Wynn and especially Wanamaker are all strong. Carroll O’Connor as the–wait for it–Hispanic coroner is a little weird, but he’s not bad, just Carroll O’Connor playing a Mexican.

There’s a lot going on in the story for the first half of the film; the second half doesn’t have much material as far as the mystery, but it does have material for the supporting cast. They work at it and Janssen’s a phenomenally sturdy lead. He’s able to sell everything, from drinking buttermilk as a vice to fending off a seductive Collins. Bad performance or not, the latter seems unlikely.

I suppose the somewhat lengthy slide into troubled mystery waters is a bonus. It makes Warning Shot less disappointing. Even the finale, with its problems, should be better just because of location and Jerry Goldsmith’s competent score, but Kulik fumbles it. He also has some really bad blacking out sequences, one near the end, which might help to forecast the problem finish.

Still, some good acting, some great acting, a fine lead from Janssen; Warning Shot diverts for its entire runtime and intrigues for more than half of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Buzz Kulik; screenplay by Mann Rubin, based on a novel by Whit Masterson; director of photography, Joseph F. Biroc; edited by Archie Marshek; music by Jerry Goldsmith; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring David Janssen (Sgt. Tom Valens), Ed Begley (Capt. Roy Klodin), Keenan Wynn (Sgt. Ed Musso), Sam Wanamaker (Frank Sanderman), Lillian Gish (Alice Willows), Stefanie Powers (Liz Thayer), Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Doris Ruston), George Grizzard (Walt Cody), George Sanders (Calvin York), Steve Allen (Perry Knowland), Carroll O’Connor (Paul Jerez), Joan Collins (Joanie Valens) and Walter Pidgeon (Orville Ames).


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Son of Godzilla (1967, Fukuda Jun)

Strangely enough, Son of Godzilla ends well. It’s a surprise because the film loses a lot of steam throughout. Whether it’s the human plot or the Godzilla plot, the scene inevitably fails because of director Fukuda. Unless it’s one of the multiple times writers Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue completely fail. Son of Godzilla constantly starts and stops. There’s no unifying style.

Directing the actors, Fukuda often shows ambition. It’s just there’s no way for that ambition to be realized. While he can intuit how a scene should play, he can’t make the scene play. Fukuda is just a bad director–and, of course, Fujii Ryôhei’s tone-deaf editing doesn’t help anything.

The film has an appealing male lead, a too enthusiastic newspaper reporter (Kubo Akira) who ends up as short order cook for a group of scientists. They’re studying weather conditions on an island where Godzilla and other giant monsters coincidentally are hanging out. The film often plays the giant monsters for laughs. Not well, but still successfully. The interactions between Godzilla and his not quite as giant son, Minilla, are endearing and fun. If incompetently visualized.

Now for a few things deserving standout attention.

First, Beverly Maeda as an island “savage” who’s always saving Kubo. She’s this great character; then, all of a sudden, Kubo’s the boss. But nothing about the characters’ personalities change, just Maeda’s place in the film. Logically, she should still be the hero but she isn’t. It hurts the film a lot. Maeda’s performance isn’t quite good, but she’s definitely appealing. At least until she’s the damsel.

Second, the music. Satô Masaru does this crazy, campy, playful score for the film. For ten minute stretches, Satô’s score makes Son of Godzilla feel like an absurdist comedy. It seems like Fukuda gets that disconnect, but then he doesn’t properly utilize it, which again makes the filmmaking appear inept. It’s as though everything good about the film–except the acting–is accidentally okay.

Finally, the giant mantises who terrorize the humans (who are more interested in the weather than these giant monsters) and Minilla. While the special effects are problematic in the film, the mantises are great. As are the backdrop paintings. Fukuda can’t direct the jungle sets, however. They’re always stagy.

But then comes Son of Godzilla’s last sequence and it’s amazing. Fukuda doesn’t screw up the direction and Satô’s score changes tone and the humans finally say something interesting. The successful ending closes the film on its highest note.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue; director of photography, Yamada Kazuo; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Satô Maseru; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kubo Akira (Goro), Beverly Maeda (Saeko), Hirata Akihiko (Fujisaki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Furukawa), Sahara Kenji (Morio), Maruyama Ken’ichirô (Ozawa), Kuno Seishirô (Tashiro), Saijô Yasuhiko (Suzuki) and Takashima Tadao (Dr. Kusumi).


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