Tag Archives: Nestor Paiva

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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A Millionaire for Christy (1951, George Marshall)

A Millionaire for Christy exemplifies why the screwball comedy doesn’t work outside it’s era without a lot of tinkering. I can’t even think of a good example of one working outside the 1930s right now, but I’m pretty sure there have been some. Maybe even recently. But Christy adapts a regular screwball comedy script for the filmmaking techniques of 1950. It shoots on location, which gives the scenes a sense of reality, which doesn’t belong. These scenes give the characters a whole lot of weight–their problems become very real, instead of celluloid. The other problem with the film in terms of attempting to remake Bringing Up Baby, only without the budget or the script, is the first act. For a ninety minute movie, Christy has a thirty minute first act. For those thirty minutes, it pretends its it’s directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and it is not. At the thirty-minute mark, Eleanor Parker and Fred MacMurray finally get to start acting and the film takes a visible turn for the better (much better).

A screwball comedy requires the audience to acknowledge the artifice, so even after Christy stops pretending to be Bringing Up Baby, it still has those genuine shooting locations working against it. The film recovers for a couple reasons–three, actually. Parker, MacMurray, and Richard Carlson. Parker and MacMurray have real chemistry and Parker’s excellent once her character has more depth than reluctant gold-digger. MacMurray’s performance is pretty superficial, except in the romantic scenes with Parker, which pull the whole film together. Carlson, as MacMurray’s fiancee’s jilted boyfriend, is fantastic throughout, even during that lame first thirty. When he and Parker team up to break up MacMurray’s engagement, there’s plenty for him to do. There’s a standout scene with he and Parker getting drunk. Carlson not having done more comedies is unfortunate for the genre.

George Marshall, who did lots of films and lots of good ones (he directed Destry Rides Again), suffocates under the location shooting. There’s a lot of standard screwball comedy moments-and Marshall turns them into material for a dark film noir about a man kidnapping a woman in broad daylight, assaulting photographers–the scenes aren’t funny, they’re disturbing. Certain scenes are meant to be done with that aforementioned artifice. Without it, the scenes play wrong.

Given that long first act, the resolution is really hurried, but it is where some of Christy‘s more original moments play out, if only because there’s only three minutes to finish the picture. Another affecting part of the film is Carlson’s psychiatrist’s real concern for poor people with mental illnesses. It’s a serious subject and when it comes up during Carlson’s fantastic drunk sense, it fosters a resentment of the film for being superfluous, not just this one, but the medium in general. It’s off-putting and it’s hard for the scene to recover after it… and when it does, it’s only because of Carlson and Parker’s acting.

Also, the title is a bit of a misdirection. Parker’s Christabel is only called Christy once in the whole film, but it also suggests it’s a search for a millionaire, the other side of Seven Chances perhaps. But still, it’s worthwhile for Parker, Carlson, and MacMurray when he’s with Parker–not to mention as an example of location shooting’s effect on filmic storytelling.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Marshall; screenplay by Ken Englund, based on a story by Robert Harari; director of photography, Harry Stradling Sr.; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by David Chudnow and Victor Young; produced by Bert E. Friedlob; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Fred MacMurray (Peter Ulysses Lockwood), Eleanor Parker (Christabel ‘Christy’ Sloane), Richard Carlson (Dr. Roland Cook), Kay Buckley (June Chandler), Una Merkel (Patsy Clifford), Douglass Dumbrille (A.K. Thompson), Raymond Greenleaf (Benjamin Chandler) and Nestor Paiva (Mr. Rapello).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.