Tag Archives: Jack Arnold

Hello Down There (1969, Jack Arnold)

Hello Down There is a family comedy. Its target audience is families who want to see a sexy mom Janet Leigh and sexless teenagers. I think it’s for dads who somehow got stuck taking their tweens to the movies in the late sixties? When the movie starts, it almost seems like Leigh’s going to play a big part. She's scared of the water, the movie’s about her husband Tony Randall dragging her into an undersea house to see if a regular American family can inhabit it. Of course, they’re not a regular American family because Randall’s a genius underwater engineer, Leigh’s a burgeoning romance novelist (because she’s a sexy mom), their kids (Kay Cole and Gary Tigerman) are in close-to-signing terrible mainstream hippie rock band, and… actually, no, they don’t have any pets.

Eventually they get a pet for two scenes when they’re living in the underwater house and a seal gets down there and becomes Leigh’s sidekick. It’s kind of a good scene. There’s potential. It never pays off, but potential’s rare in Hello Down There so you take what you can get.

The movie opens with millionaire underwater construction industrialist Jim Backus (in a godawful performance) going down in a submarine to see what his chief designer engineer Randall has been working on. The underwater house. It’ll solve overpopulation problems. Except Backus, being a millionaire industrialist, had no idea what Randall was working on and Backus thinks it’s stupid. Backus likes smarter projects; he loves Ken Berry’s idea to vacuum up the ocean floor and collect all the gold. Because there’s lots of gold there.

Oh, yeah, Hello Down There is for families all right… dumb ones.

Or maybe it’s just for dads who really liked Janet Leigh and needed an excuse to see her in something family-friendly?

Anyway, Randall has to promise Backus he and his family will live down there for thirty days, which Backus assumes is impossible because Leigh’s afraid of water and Backus is a little too interested in Leigh. Because he’s a creep in addition to being an idiot.

Leigh freaks out then goes off for some alone time and comes back in lingerie—chaste lingerie but lingerie—to seduce Randall as her way of apologizing for not getting over the aqua phobia immediately upon his request. They get interrupted by the kids, who don’t want to go because their band is about to hit it big with record producer Roddy McDowell (also godawful but not as embarrassingly as Backus). So they bring the band along. The rest of the band is Richard Dreyfuss, who’s better at lip synching than acting here, and Lou Wagner, who dresses like a court jester hippie and does nothing else.

Will the family make it? Will the band make it? Will there be a disappearing hurricane, dolphins, a shark attack, Tony Randall fighting a shark, Charlotte Rae playing one of her first housekeepers, an underwater rescue sequence, lots of crappy music montages, lots of mansplaining, shirtless Tony Randall separate from shark fight, and Merv Griffin? No spoilers but it’s not like you can just make up such a strange list.

Oh, yeah, there’s also Arnold Stang, who apparently drowns because the movie forgets about him. And a whole subplot about the U.S. Navy being too stupid to figure out there’s the underwater house, even though it presumably took a while to build and you’d think they’d notice because it could be the Soviets or whatever.

On the other hand, why blame screenwriters John McGreevey and Frank Telford… there’s no way to make this one good. It’s a bad production, with lousy music (courtesy Jeff Barry), lousy photography (Clifford H. Poland Jr.), questionable special effects, and occasionally bad, barely mediocre direction from Arnold. Ricou Browning directs the underwater sequences, which are bad when they’re a nature film and boring with establishing shots… but awesome when it’s action. There’s that Tony Randall vs. shark sequence (fingers crossed it was former Creature from the Black Lagoon Browning doing the uncredited underwater stunt work).

Everyone except the kids, who range from bad to worse, and Leigh just mug their way through the film. Randall included. Leigh doesn’t have much to work with, but at least she doesn’t just give up like everyone else. It’s an embarrassing movie, but she’s got nothing to be embarrassed about with it.

As opposed to literally everyone else involved. It tries to be a ninety-minute sitcom and fails. Not even shark fighting and a drunk Rae can save it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by John McGreevey and Frank Telford, based on a story by Art Arthur and Ivan Tors; director of photography, Clifford H. Poland Jr.; edited by Erwin Dumbrille; music by Jeff Barry; produced by George Sherman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Tony Randall (Fred Miller), Janet Leigh (Vivian Miller), Roddy McDowall (Nate Ashbury), Jim Backus (T.R. Hollister), Ken Berry (Mel Cheever), Charlotte Rae (Myrtle Ruth), Kay Cole (Lorrie Miller), Richard Dreyfuss (Harold Webster), Lou Wagner (Marvin Webster), Gary Tigerman (Tommie Miller), Arnold Stang (Jonah), Harvey Lembeck (Sonarman), and Merv Griffin (Himself).



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The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957, Jack Arnold)

The Incredible Shrinking Man is an enormous feat. It succeeds thanks to director Arnold, writer Richard Matheson, and star Grant Williams. Arnold’s arguably got the greatest successes; he carefully lays the groundwork for the film’s eventual startling visuals. To get to the startling ones, Arnold’s got to get through some absurd ones. Only the first act visuals aren’t startling or absurd, they’re just mundanely peculiar. Even when Williams finally gets it confirmed—his suspicions are correct, he is somehow shrinking—the film gets some energy out of William Schallert giving the news in a very William Schallert way, but otherwise tension doesn’t rise. It’s still early in the film, which only runs eighty minutes and more than half of it is a survival picture; Arnold and Matheson pace things out gradually in the first section. Even though every scene perturbs the plot, Matheson is really just moving Williams into position for the real story to come.

The story of man against his environment, an environment of his own unintentional making. All the smart moves Arnold makes in the beginning as Williams shrinks from six feet tall to three feet tall, all the elaborate set decorating, the outstanding matte shots… the second half survival picture is where Arnold and the crew up the effects work. As Williams shrinks to the height of a doll, then to a matchstick, the effects requirements grow exponentially. It’s a lot easier to have Williams sit shrunk on a couch across the room from regular-size wife Randy Stuart, but getting him into a dollhouse so she can lean down and talk to him like he’s Fay Wray? Arnold doesn’t just up the effects ante, he also takes into account how much more fantastical his visuals are getting. He’s got to sell it all to the audience.

And he does. Shrinking Man is always inventive in how the effects get integrated, because eventually the effects become the visual plane. Reality is long gone.

Matheson does just as well changing gears from the opening medical thriller picture to the survival one. Williams—who narrates the whole picture, usually to solid effect—has entirely different expectations in the second half of the film than the audience. The first half, they’re pretty much inline as far as predicting the plot. Especially if an audience member has seen the posters advertising film as the “Dollman vs. House cat”. Williams doesn’t have the exact same expectations, but he operates with a lot of fear, which comes out in his performance but not the narration. The narration—which ends up being Matheson’s only problem area for specific, somewhat unrelated reasons—is all past tense. Even though Williams spends the first half of the film writing his life story, the narration isn’t that written account. It’s something else, which Matheson never identifies. It’s a soft spot, but given some of the other soft spots in the script, it might be better he doesn’t place it in time and place.

Just to get them out of the way now—the other two soft spots in Matheson’s script? The gentle attempts to comment on Williams’s changing masculine self-image. It all has to do with Stuart, who establishes herself in the first scene as this strong partner. And Williams appreciates her as such. Loads of chemistry in the first scene. Just because the script doesn’t give Stuart anything to do after her second scene, which mostly has her making breakfast, she never gets downgraded either. I guess it’s kind of a larger soft spot overall—the way Matheson abandons Stuart to get to the sci-fi medical thriller. As Williams gets smaller, he gets meaner to Stuart, but he’s really aware of it, both in narration and scene. Stuart’s going to assume he’s really apologetic in a scene because they’re both going through a fantastic trauma. The audience knows from the narration he means it. So it’s all a dramatic wash, which wastes not just Stuart, but Williams as well. They’ve only got so much time together.

Third soft spot is Matheson’s attempt to tie it all into God and the cosmos. The film doesn’t really need it—like, even for 1957, Shrinking Man never gets too sacrilegious in its Nuclear Age sci-fi—but Matheson uses it when he runs out of plot ideas. It’s a really strange move, which might have worked in the source novel (also by Matheson), but doesn’t come off visualized. And given how well Arnold visualizes everything else in the picture, he’s got to know, right?

Besides Williams and Stuart, only April Kent and Paul Langton make much impression in the cast. Kent’s the nice little person who Williams bonds with. It’s an undercooked plot point, but effective. Kent’s good. Langton’s Williams’s older brother, who ends up caring for Stuart after Williams… shrinks too much. It’s a throwaway character, who just sits around taking agency from Stuart, usually in exposition dumps, and Langton’s really bland in the part.

So they stand out for very different reasons.

Excellent photography from Ellis W. Carter, good editing from Albrecht Joseph; great special effects, great sets. The Incredible Shrinking Man is a big success, it just should’ve been an even bigger one.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his novel; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Albrecht Joseph; produced by Albert Zugsmith; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Grant Williams (Scott Carey), Randy Stuart (Louise Carey), Paul Langton (Charlie Carey), April Kent (Clarice Bruce), Raymond Bailey (Doctor Silver), and William Schallert (Doctor Bramson).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE RICHARD MATHESON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY RICH OF WIDE SCREEN WORLD AND DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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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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Revenge of the Creature (1955, Jack Arnold)

Revenge of the Creature has three parts. The first part involves Nestor Paiva (the only cast member from the original to return) and John Bromfield as the guy who’s going to capture the Creature, the second part involves Bromfield, John Agar and Lori Nelson all studying the Creature in captivity, the third part has Agar and Nelson hunting the escaped Creature.

Oh, wait, no. The third part has Agar and Nelson completely ignoring the escaped Creature. And it makes sense. They were visiting scientists, they had no real investment in the Creature being a tourist attraction. Revenge of the Creature is a totally fine idea terribly executed. Maybe if Agar and Nelson had any chemistry whatsoever. Instead, their scenes are more interesting for the bland 1950s sexism. Nelson’s a scientist too, but she’s got to make a choice, one Agar wouldn’t be able to make. It’s not fair.

Maybe they’d have more chemistry with better small talk. But Martin Berkeley’s script wants to be taken seriously as science-y, which is a big mistake. The middle section of the film, which has the Creature in captivity, is nothing but Agar and Nelson bothering it. The underwater sequences are technically great–and Ricou Browning does a fabulous, uncredited job as the Creature in Revenge–but they’re boring. They’re boring from the start of the movie; Arnold immediately establishes there’s not going to be much artistry in the underwater thrills. There will be monster action, but not artistic monster action.

Strangely, the film coasts through pretty steadily until the Creature’s escape. Arnold never impresses too much–Revenge seems very hurried–but he does fine. Paiva’s awesome in the opening, Agar’s sturdy enough except when he’s got to romance Nelson, who’s likable without being particularly good (or bad). The middle section of the film promises something exciting. There’s nothing exciting in the third part. It feels like a different film, actually. Agar isn’t sturdy in this part, regardless of who he’s acting with. He’s barely conscious.

Revenge of the Creature should be better. But it’s got some solid fifties monster sequences thanks to Browning, Arnold and photographer Scotty Welbourne.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Martin Berkeley, based on a story by William Alland; director of photography, Scotty Melbourne; edited by Paul Weatherwax; produced by Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Agar (Prof. Clete Ferguson), Lori Nelson (Helen Dobson), John Bromfield (Joe Hayes), Grandon Rhodes (Jackson Foster), Dave Willock (Lou Gibson) and Nestor Paiva (Lucas).


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