Tag Archives: John Agar

The Mole People (1956, Virgil W. Vogel)

I have a long nostalgic history with The Mole People, which I won’t get into, but there will be tangents. Because The Mole People’s one of the reasons I got into classic film. It’s one of the reasons I prefer watching black and white films for concise intellectual pleasure, usually in run time but sometimes in scope. Mole People is fifties Universal sci-fi, phase two of the Universal Genre Universe. Only Universal didn’t win this era like they did the first one. I’m not saying critically (which they wouldn’t have with the sci-fi output either), I mean in popular memory. It has all the elements to be a perfect relic of that era.

And it isn’t. Instead, it’s two very different but very interesting films. They’re joined by John Agar and Hugh Beaumont. Agar’s the obnoxious young archeologist, Beaumont is the wise, slightly older one. It’s actually very, very close to Star Wars in terms of their relationship–Agar’s a mix of Han and Luke, Beaumont’s a mix of Han and Ben. Some of the joy of Mole People is just watching Beaumont act opposite Agar. Beaumont just steps back, lets Agar perform, gets back to work. It’s an amazing way to handle ego.

Nestor Paiva is another archeologist. He’s great. While Beaumont sort of relaxes in the background, Paiva tries to consume it. László Görög’s script is talky (usually from Agar) and Vogel’s not a fan of close-ups (the backdrops don’t look as good), so there’s a lot for everyone to do. It’s cool.

Then Mole People becomes this subterranean thriller, expertly edited by Irving Birnbaum, expertly photographed by Ellis W. Carter. In a dark theater, in a dark room, there’s nothing but the three archeologists climbing down into the world of The Mole People. It goes on forever. It’s awesome.

At that point, it’s unclear where Mole People is going because there haven’t been any mole people yet. And it could go various ways. There are a lot of gorgeous backdrops and projections and mattes in The Mole People, especially once the underground world is discovered. But then it’s like the budget goes and the film entirely changes.

Agar and Beaumont are pretending to be surface gods to fool a really unfortunately cast Alan Napier. His Cardinal Richelieu stand-in ought to be one of those things to elevate Mole People to a higher plan. Instead, Napier’s neither strong nor weak enough to make an impression. The king, who may or may not have been played by Robin Hughes, makes more of an impression because of his make-up. He looks like a silent film star and then it’s like Mole People all of a sudden becomes a black and white movie where the audience is given permission not to imagine. You don’t have to imagine color, there isn’t any. If it were a full homage to thirties sci-fi in its second half, Mole People would really be something.

Only it doesn’t. And so it isn’t really something, again. Over and over, the film has the chance to go further and it doesn’t. It even opens with some English professor introducing the movie. Not a scientist, no, but an English professor. And he’s bad at it. And he has lots of dialogue. But it still doesn’t make an impact.

There’s a definite charm to The Mole People. Often great music (awesome opening titles). When Paiva’s around Agar, Agar is tolerable. Once Napier shows up, Görög’s script opens up a bit and Agar doesn’t have as much opportunity to annoy. Or maybe it’s just Beaumont getting more stuff to do. Cynthia Patrick is fine as Agar’s love interest. It’s a crappy role, but Patrick’s enthusiastic and she appears comfortable in the very weird setting.

I do wish it were better. But Görög’s script confuses enthusiasm with ability. Patrick can get away with it–so can Agar–but the script can’t. Some very nice technical work; Vogel remains stoic amid a questionably produced production.

Wait a second, I forgot about the crazy dance sequence. There’s this crazy dance sequence before the human sacrifice. It should be amazing, but it somehow isn’t. It’s an interesting crazy, not an amazing one. Vogel just some great ideas he just didn’t know what to do with them.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Virgil W. Vogel; written by László Görög; director of photography, Ellis W. Carter; edited by Irving Birnbaum; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Agar (Dr. Roger Bentley), Hugh Beaumont (Dr. Jud Bellamin), Nestor Paiva (Prof. Etienne Lafarge), Phil Chambers (Dr. Paul Stuart), Alan Napier (Elinu, the High Priest), Cynthia Patrick (Adad), Robin Hughes (First Officer) and Rodd Redwing (Nazar).


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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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Tarantula (1955, Jack Arnold)

Science may make monsters, but the morale of the story–according to Tarantula anyway–is the Air Force will always be there to bomb such monsters back to the Stone Age.

The problem with Tarantula is fairly simple… it’s not a movie about a giant tarantula. Oh, it might have room for one, but to make the finale all about this giant tarantula is a mistake. While the special effects are good, this ending distracts from all the better things about the film.

As for the better things–first and foremost is the relationship between small town doctor John Agar and sheriff Nestor Paiva. It’s implied the characters are friendly, but their scenes together reveal a very complicated relationship.

But there’s also the romance between Agar and Mara Corday. It’s quiet and gradual and it’s too bad Arnold didn’t have more courting scenes.

The acting in the film is all strong. Agar’s more a likable actor than a good one, but he’s still got some great deliveries. Corday’s surprisingly strong, Paiva is outstanding. Ross Elliot and Hank Patterson do well in small roles.

The acting can almost carry the film. Until the half way mark, there’s no giant tarantula, just Agar and Corday courting. But all of the action happens in the last twenty minutes. The film’s rushed, skipping over important details to finish in a timely manner.

Tarantula is good fifties science fiction. Arnold’s confident direction and the fine performances make up for the misfired ending (and bad music).

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley, based on a story by Arnold and Fresco; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by William Morgan; music by Herman Stein; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring John Agar (Dr. Matt Hastings), Mara Corday (Stephanie ‘Steve’ Clayton), Leo G. Carroll (Prof. Gerald Deemer), Nestor Paiva (Sheriff Jack Andrews), Ross Elliott (Joe Burch), Edwin Rand (Lt. John Nolan), Raymond Bailey (Townsend), Hank Patterson (Josh), Bert Holland (Barney Russell) and Steve Darrell (Andy Andersen).


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The Woman on Pier 13 (1949, Robert Stevenson)

The politics of The Woman on Pier 13 are more interesting than the film itself. While it’s rabidly anti-Communist, the film is pro-Union. It sets up the Communist Party (the USA branch—there’s no mention of Soviet ties) as an unimaginably devious and effective organization. There’s no motive for their activities—except to mess with honest, working Americans… in the Union—but villain Thomas Gomez is still fantastic. He doesn’t fret about motivation.

Also more interesting than the film are its credits. Laraine Day gets top billing, but she doesn’t even need to be present until the last twenty minutes. The film’s pacing is awkward, with most of it following either Day’s new husband, played by Robert Ryan, or his old flame, played by Janis Carter. The billing probably should’ve had Day third after Ryan and Carter.

The only thing motivating Ryan’s character throughout is his desire to hide his old Communist Party membership. Even when it becomes clear Day may be in danger, Ryan hesitates. Worse, Ryan doesn’t show any understanding of the character’s selfishness. Instead of being the complicated story of a coward who looks like Robert Ryan, it’s Ryan behaving nonsensically.

Carter’s got some great moments, but her hysterics are fairly awful. John Agar’s good as Day’s impressionable younger brother.

The film’s best performance is from William Talman as a sociopathic hit man. He’s amazing.

Stevenson’s composition’s okay but Roland Gross’s editing is bad. Leigh Harline’s score is terrible.

The film’s peculiar, but not worthwhile.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Stevenson; screenplay by Charles Grayson and Robert Hardy Andrews, based on a story by George W. George and George F. Slavin; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Roland Gross; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Jack J. Gross; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Laraine Day (Nan Lowry Collins), Robert Ryan (Bradley Collins), John Agar (Don Lowry), Thomas Gomez (Vanning), Janis Carter (Christine Norman), Richard Rober (Jim Travers), William Talman (Bailey), Paul E. Burns (J.T. Arnold), Paul Guilfoyle (Ralston), G. Pat Collins (Charlie Dover), Fred Graham (Grip Wilson), Harry Cheshire (J. Francis Cornwall) and Jack Stoney (Garth).


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