The Psychopath (1966)

The Psychopath (1966)‘Personally, I wouldn’t want to sell anything that I couldn’t cuddle.’

A violinist is brutally murdered and a lookalike doll left at the crime scene. More killings follow, and it seems that the murderer is targeting a small group of respectable, middle-aged friends. A dogged police inspector investigates…

After their script for Hammer Studio’s breakthrough movie ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1957) was rejected, Americans Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg took their revenge by forming Amicus Pictures and competing for the same audience over the next decade and a half. Without access to franchise icons such as ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’, they never reached the same level of recognition as the Bray Studio outfit but did find their own niche with multi-story ‘compendium’ scarefests, most notably ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’ (1965), ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ (1970) and the highly effective ‘Asylum’ (1972). Like Hammer, they also delivered a number of psychological thrillers that flirted with the horror genre, and this project was taken from a script by Robert Bloch, author of ‘Psycho’ (1960).

The story follows cynical, jaded police detective Patrick Wymark as he attempts to track down this mysterious killer in a 1960’s London which doesn’t swing so much as potter around a bit in respectable old town houses, dark alleyways and dank factory sites. Wymark was a reliable character player who had featured roles in Roman Polanski’s ‘Repulsion’ (1965), balls to the wall classic ‘Witchfinder General’ (1968) and boys-own adventure ‘Where Eagles Dare’ (1969). This role is hardly a stretch for his talents, but he does provide a solid foundation to anchor the story. And it needs that. It really does.

For a start, our roll call of potential victims are a group of businessmen led by Alexander Knox, who meet one night a week to play chamber music. What’s wrong with that? Well, they were all members of a government commission that reallocated Nazi-held real estate after the war. So, were they appointed to that commission because they all played in an orchestra together? Or did some of them learn to play instruments over the subsequent couple of decades so they could all stay in touch? It’s a small point, to be sure, but somewhat indicative of the kind of slapdash approach of logic that the film exhibits.

Wymark’s main suspect is Margaret Johnson, an elderly German noble living in London after her husband’s estates were confiscated by the commission in question. Her main preoccupation seems to be with her considerable collection of dolls and director Freddie Francis exploits their creepy presence to the full. She also has an arrogant young nephew (John Standing) who seems more than a little too big for his boots. Rounding out the pool of potential killers is brash American Don Borisenko, the pushy boyfriend of Knox’s daughter, played by Judy Huxtable. Unfortunately, that’s about as complex as it gets; a handful of suspects, only one clear and apparent motive, and little else for an audience to chew on.

On the plus side, it is a decent cast, with theatre actress Johnson particularly catching the eye. Lead damsel in distress Huxtable gets an ‘introducing’ credit, although she did have a handful of previous bits on T\/ and in a couple of films. A few significant roles followed; in the impenetrable Price-Lee-Cushing cold war mish-mash ‘Scream and Scream Again’ (1969), and second lead behind Susan George in Pete Walker’s ‘Die Screaming Marianne’ (1971). She retired after marrying British satirical comedian Peter Cook, which was probably a full-time job in itself.

The Psychopath (1966)

‘Ello, ello, ello! Wots’ goin’ on ‘ere then?’

Knox isn’t given nearly enough to do considering his pedigree from films like Hollywood classic ‘The Sea Wolf’ (1941), the title role in Presidential drama ‘Wilson’ (1944) and memorable turns in later pictures such as ‘The Damned’ (1962) and ‘Woman of Straw’ (1964). There is a small role for Colin Gordon though, who was excellent as one of Patrick McGoohan’s adversaries on ‘The Prisoner.’

In the end, the film is frustrating experience; the plot has insufficient twists and the climax asks for a level of suspension of disbelief which is so unreasonable that proceedings almost lurch into comedy. lts main virtue lies in a decent level of atmosphere, courtesy of director Francis. He began his career as a cinematographer and it remained his principal job, winning Oscars for ‘Sons and Lovers’ (1960) and ‘Glory’ (1990), as well as many other award nominations for his work on ‘The Elephant Man’ (1980), ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ (1981) and Martin Scorsese’s ‘Cape Fear’ (1991). His output as a director was far more variable, though; everything from dreadfully cheesy science fiction such as ‘They Came From Beyond Space’ (1967) and ‘Trog’ (1970), to unremarkable projects such as ‘The Deadly Bees’ (1966), to the surprisingly good Cushing-Lee double header ‘The Creeping Flesh’ (1972).

This is a disappointing effort, hamstrung by a underdeveloped story, the elements of which often seem contrived and more than a little implausible.

Advertisements

Oliver Twist (1922)

Oliver Twist (1922)‘Hullo, my Covey, what’s the row?’

Born to a dying mother in the workhouse, young Oliver Twist grows up in poverty. Running away from ill-treatment, he falls in with a gang of pickpockets in London and finds himself forced into a life of petty crime. But his salvation lies in the establishment of his true identity…

There had been three other silent film versions of the Charles Dickens classic before it was tailored to the strengths of Hollywood latest star, eight-year old Jackie Coogan. His breakout role in Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’ (1921) had catapulted him to fame and fortune and into a prestige picture that was budgeted at $400,000, which was approximately twice as expensive as a usual studio production. Directing duties were in the capable hands of Frank Lloyd, who had already delivered well received versions of ‘Les Misearbles’ (1917) and, more significantly, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (1917) for 20th Century Fox before jumping ship for First National-Warner Brothers.

Coogan is Twist; a greedy, ill-disciplined little lawbreaker, an inked-up violent gang member who walks his London ‘hood with a knuckle-duster in one hand and a motorbike chain in the other! Ok, ok, he’s really just a floppy-haired trusting little moppet who’s far too innocent to understand the mendacity and vice that surrounds him. His innocence is a little hard to swallow for modern audiences, especially given his hard knock upbringing under the watchful eye of slimy beadle Mr Bumble (James A Marcus), but Coogan pulls it off effortlessly with just a cheeky grin and a wide-eyed stare.

Oliver Twist (1922)

‘Do what I say or I’ll show you one of my other faces!’

This is a very economical adaptation of the source material indeed, the story never feeling rushed but all the main events covered in the scant 75 minute running time. Despite the healthy budget, there’s little evidence of a teeming metropolis as a backdrop to events, save a couple of street scenes, but that does allow the audience to focus on the performances, and that’s where the strengths of the project lie. As well as Coogan, we get a truly brutal Bill Sikes, courtesy of George Siegmann.

And best of all, we get film legend Lon Chaney as Fagin, sporting a makeup that makes him completely unrecognisable; and while he’s ugly, he’s never grotesque. It’s another triumph of the great man’s art. And there’s evidence of his skill as an actor too. His early interactions with Coogan are a model of restraint, especially given the era when the film was made, and his kindest gestures subtly hint at the base motives behind them. The film was thought lost for many years until a print turned up in the 1970’s in Yugoslavia. It lacked the intertitles but Coogan and producer Sol Lesser were happy to help out with their restoration.

Coogan certainly had an eventful life. He was so popular after ‘The Kid’ (1921) that a whole range of licensed merchandise hit the shelves; everything from Jackie Coogan Peanut Butter to dolls, records and whistles! Before he was out of his teens, he was a millionaire four times over and, with his father managing his affairs, he seemed set for life. Unfortunately, everything changed in 1935, when the family car went off the road near the Mexican border. Coogan survived, but the smash claimed the lives of his father, and three other passengers. A year later, Coogan’s mother married the family’s financial adviser, Arthur Bernstein and, by 1938, the two of them had managed to go through all but $250,000 of Coogan’s fortune. He sued them and won, but, after legal expenses, ended up with just $126,000. The case did provoke a change in the law to protect a percentage of the earnings of child performers, but it was too late for Coogan.

Oliver Twist (1922)

‘It says here that life is like a box of chocolates…’

At the age of 24, the work was drying up, his marriage with Betty Grable was in trouble, and there were another two short-lived marriages to come. But Coogan kept plugging away and eventually achieved a respectable, grown-up acting career in the lower-budgeted arena, with the occasional supporting role in more high profile projects. Along the way he did breed human-spider hybrid women on the notorious ‘Mesa of Lost Women’ (1953), but a long stint as Uncle Fester on ‘The Addams Family’ TV show helped to bury that firmly in the past.

This is a good, solid, literary adaptation which has dated remarkably well, given its vintage. Not perhaps the best version of the tale you’ll ever see but certainly worth a look. And Lon Chaney fans should get a kick out of seeing him play one of the classics!

A Scream In The Night (1935)

A Scream In The Night (1935)‘Tell me, have you ever been shot in the head?’

An American businessman buys a fabulous ruby when on a trip to the Orient. Soon afterwards he is attacked by a criminal gang intent on stealing the gem. A local police detective adopts a disguise to go undercover and thwart their plans…

Growing up in the shadow of a world-famous father can be quite a challenge, more so if you decide to follow in his footsteps. For Creighton Tull Chaney, life had already been difficult, growing up apart from his parents while they trod the boards of the vaudeville circuit. After his mother died, his father went into films, remarried and the teenage Creighton finally got a stable home. Financial security followed when Lon Chaney became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. However, Creighton’s own acting ambitions were not encouraged; he was packed off to be an appliance salesman instead! It was only after his father’s death that Junior was able to pursue his showbiz dream. And find out that his mother was still very much alive, just divorced and forbidden to see him.

Although the family name undoubtedly opened a few doors for him, in the early 1930s Creighton slogged his way through many unbilled roles and even did stunt work on cowboy pictures. He did snag the lead in serial ‘The Last Frontier’ (1932) and worked with John Wayne, but these were low-budget, independent projects, a far cry from the big studios. Junior stubbornly refused to cash in on his father’s famous name for several years but finally relented when Ascot Pictures offered the lead in this production. On the apparent condition that he was billed as Lon Chaney, Jr.

It does seem that the project was at least partially tailored as a vehicle for the young Chaney. For a start, he portrays a dual role (something his father often did). On the one hand, he’s a handsome police detective romancing blonde heroine Sheila Terry; on the other, he’s a lookalike ruffian; a one-eyed, twisted sewer rat who owns a waterfront bar and moonlights as an enforcer for crooked mastermind Manuel Lopez. Of course, bad Chaney ends up in custody, allowing good Chaney to apply the necessary makeup and disguise (a nice touch) and take the killer’s place.

Unfortunately, that’s about your lot. The budget is low, the drama is almost non-existent and the story is pretty feeble. Director Frank Neymeyer can generate little tension from the flat, predictable script, and the climactic fight scene is speeded-up so it looks like it belongs in a slapstick comedy. On a positive note, Terry does get in on this final action a little, rather than just standing there against the wall with her fist in her mouth, looking horrified. Some of the editing in the build-up is very clumsy though, at one point it appears that the villain is about to pounce on Chaney and Terry as they attempt to escape. Actually, he’s in another room entirely.

Chaney is perfectly acceptable as a romantic leading man, but his performance as the disfigured ex-pirate leaves a little to be desired. It’s quite probable that he was simply trying too hard. Elsewhere Terry is a surprisingly natural presence, but her acting career never progressed beyond starring opposite John Wayne in some of the Duke’s pre-stardom Western programmers. She also had small roles in big hits like ‘I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang’ (1932) and ‘20,000 Years in Sing Sing’ (1932) and a more featured role in Lionel Atwill mystery ‘The Sphinx’ (1933). She quit performing to become a Hollywood press agent, but ended up penniless in New York City, where she took her own life in the first few weeks of January, 1957.

A Scream In The Night (1935)

‘It’s fine. We can melt down those earrings into silver bullets…’

Lopez is stilted here, his career never rising above unbilled bits in major pictures such as ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ (1943) and ‘Action In The North Atlantic’ (1943), although he did play a policeman in Bert I Gordon’s ‘The Cyclops’ (1957), which also featured Chaney. There’s also a very early role for Philip Ahn (misspelled ‘Ann’ in the credits), a Korean-American actor who became a Hollywood staple, providing support wherever his ethnicity (or others) was required; in Charlie Chan films, Mr. Moto pictures and later as David Carradine’s Master on the 1970s ’Kung Fu’ TV show.

If you want to see a bearded, drunken Chaney Jr playing darts with his hunting knife in a bar while being egged-on by a noisy parrot, then perhaps this is the film for you. Otherwise it’s a dull 57 minutes indeed.

The Forbidden Moon (1954)

The Forbidden Moon (1956)‘That ship’s radioactive! l’m going inside!’

When a space station sends out a mysterious distress signal, Rocky Jones and his loyal crew are dispatched to investigate. An alien ship from the planet Medina is already docked when they arrive and it’s contaminated with cosmic radiation. ls it an accident or are the United Worlds of the Solar System facing a new intergalactic threat?

Square jawed tough guy Richard Crane starred as ‘Rocky Jones, Space Ranger’ on 39 episodes of Roland Reed’s syndicated TV show, initially broadcast throughout 1954. Most of the stories took place over three 25-minute shows and some were combined and issued to theatres as features. There were 10 ‘movies’ in all, which shows that Reed was a smart cookie, presuming this was all part of a planned strategy.

Not surprisingly all the ‘films’ follow a familiar pattern. There’s some kind of emergency in space. Secretary Drake (Charles Meredith) decides that only Rocky can deal with it (the Space Rangers seem to be woefully understaffed). Our clean-cut hero takes off in his Orbit Jet X-V2 accompanied by ‘comedy’ sidekick Winky (Scotty Beckett), hopeless blonde navigator Vena (you have to make allowances, she’s only a woman, after all!), egghead Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) and Newton’s annoying pre-teen ward Bobby (Robert Lyden). On this occasion, they tangle with Agar (Vic Perrin), an alien ruler with a severe ‘Napoleon’ complex due to his lack of height!

The story begins with Ranger Clark (William Hudson) in trouble on the space station. Not only is he apparently running the place entirely by himself (see what l mean about understaffing?!), he’s been poisoned by the Cosmic Radiation brought on board by Agar and his goons. He blocks the door to the communications room with his desk, but passes out in the midst of sending an S.O.S. to Earth. Secretary Drake calls in our heroes and briefs them on their mission, using some charts laid out on his desk. Rocky won’t let Bobby come along for the ride, because it’s too dangerous. Of course, that doesn’t go down well with the trainee Ranger. After take-off, there’s an immediate problem. All their instruments start running backwards! But, no worries, it’s only happening because of a lump of quartz from Bobby’s rock collection. He’s brought it along (for some reason) as part of his completely unpredictable plan to stowaway (bet you never saw that one coming, Ladies and Gentlemen!)

The Forbidden Moon (1956)

‘Is it true you’re going to turn into Patrick Troughton at the end of this episode?’

Once they’ve arrived at the station, Rocky goes aboard the alien ship without a protective suit, even though it’s hot with radiation. There’s nothing to worry about because the Professor has brought along plenty of his anti- radiation serum! Rocky identifies the ship as from the planet Medina after reading some papers he finds on a clipboard (stop laughing at the back!) but soon everyone is captured by Agar and whisked off to his home world anyway.

This empty sound stage is actually run by Agar’s sensible sister Yarra (Dian Fauntelle). She does have nice dangly earrings like the series’ usual villainess Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons), but her evening gown isn’t nearly so classy and she’s not even wearing a tiara! Worse than that, she doesn’t even have a desk! I can’t emphasise enough how important desks are in our shiny, space going future.

Events culminate in a trip to ‘The Forbidden Moon’ of the title where Agar has discovered the deadly Cosmic Radiation lying about, and a plant which is a far better cure for it than the Prof’s rubbish serum. Eventually, Rocky overcomes Agar and his men by turning off the artificial gravity in the Orbit Jet, which makes everyone throw themselves dramatically to the floor rather than float, because…Science, I guess!

This is one of the weakest of the ‘Rocky Jones’ features. There’s hardly any action, and without Parsons and her wonderful hissy fits, there’s little entertainment to be had elsewhere. The only enjoyment a modern audience can really get is from the script’s somewhat ‘interesting’ attitude to radiation. It makes a moon glow in space. It can be collected and stored in a box. It can throw spaceships off-course. Special goggles can prevent it from entering through the pupils of your eyes and paralysing your brain. Enough of it can make a radiation mountain, which you can detonate like an A-Bomb! And so on…

Cardboard science fiction space opera at its finest!

Spies Kill Silently/Le Spie Uccidono In Silenzio (1966)

Spies Kill Silently (1966)‘Then you become an automaton, bending all of your willpower and intelligence to my will alone.’

When a top professor’s daughter is murdered, it provides confirmation that a mysterious villain is targeting the scientific community. His assassins are individuals in positions of utmost trust, programmed to obey him via a new hypnotic drug. The authorities send their best agent to bring the madman to justice…

Although it was not obvious at the time, it now seems clear that the Italian and Spanish governments signed an international treaty in the mid-1960s. Their intention was to take over the world by flooding the marketplace with endless cheap Eurospy films, thus bankrupting Hollywood and the western Military-Industrial Complex. It’s the only thing that makes any reasonable sense.

This week’s ‘Bond On A Budget’ is Canadian actor Lang Jeffries as Michael Drum, an agent so brilliant that he only thinks to check his hotel room for electronic bugs after he’s explained his plans to local police inspector Craig (Jose Bodalo). He’s also happy to accept a colleague’s prompt identification of a cyanide pill, which he makes just by looking at it. Yes, we’re back in the fairly predictable territory of low-budget spy shenanigans, with a complete absence of big set pieces, stunts, gadgets and even car chases. Most of the action here is confined to the usual fisticuffs and a couple of gun battles. After one of those, Jeffries strolls down the street and fixes a beautiful woman’s car. When she asks for the keys back, he keeps them. ‘I’ll drive’ he smirks, taking her right back to his hotel room. Why does she just smile and go along with it? Because it’s the sixties, baby! Oh, and because she’s an enemy agent, which no-one could possibly have guessed.

In its defence, at least director Mario Caiario keeps things going at a decent pace and, although Jeffries is not over-blessed with screen presence, he’s a capable enough leading man. He enjoyed a very brief career on US TV in the late-1950s before being cast opposite Rhonda Fleming in Italian muscleman picture ‘Revolt of the Slaves’ (1960). He rarely worked outside of Europe after that, playing mostly in costume pictures and more Eurospy films. He even tried his hand at science fiction; appearing as literary hero Perry Rhodan in the hopelessly tatty but rather fun, ‘Mission: Stardust’ (1967).

Spies Kill Silently (1966)

The Three Stooges were trying out some edgier new material…

Elsewhere in the cast we find the lovely Erika Blanc, who brought beauty to a number of notable cult pictures in the 1960s, including Mario Bava’s ‘Kill, Baby…Kill’ (1966), and several Eurospy films like ‘Espionage in Lisbon’ (1965). She also steamed up the screen in horror ‘The Devil’s Nightmare’ (1971). She’s still working as of 2017 at the age of 75.

What lets this film down in the final analysis is the fragmentary script, which is little more than a hodgepodge of half realised ideas that were already becoming a little too familiar by the mid-1960s. Character motivation is never a major concern; the most obvious example being that of our supervillain Andrea Bosic. Why is he killing off all the scientists who are working on projects to help the human race? Well…umm…we don’t really know. He never really explains himself, beyond some vague declarations about taking over the world. He even unveils a super weapon toward the end of the film that he’s had all along but never mentioned!

Cookie-cutter Eurospy which benefits from good pacing and professionalism all round, but the only thing likely to live in the memory is the shortcomings of the script.

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The Wizard of Oz (1925)‘That’s a lot of applesauce!’

On her 18th birthday, farm girl Dorothy discovers that she is the lost princess of Oz, abandoned as a baby. Unfortunately, her kingdom is in the hands of an unscrupulous Prime Minister and his lackeys, who will stop at nothing to hang on to power.

If this silent version of L. Frank Baum’s classic fantasy were released today, it would no doubt be described as a ’reimagining’ of the tale, as, despite Baum’s co-writing credit, it has almost nothing to do with him and almost everything to do with Larry Semon. He was a movie comedian, whose clowning in a series of short films was so popular that, in the early 1920s, he was a serious rival to Charlie Chaplin. By 1925, the star was confident enough to branch out into features, and to take on the role of writer, director and star for his first attempt.

While it’s no surprise that Semon tailored the material to his own slapstick persona, it is remarkable that he throws out almost everything from the popular stories. To begin with Oz doesn’t appear to be a magical land at all, appearing more like a neighbouring foreign kingdom of some sort, just a short bi-plane ride from the Kansas farm where Dorothy (Dorothy Dwan) lives with her aunt and uncle. She’s being favoured with romantic attentions from both farmhand Oliver Hardy (yes, that Oliver Hardy!) and a wacky itinerant drifter played by Semon. Also home on the range is Spencer Bell, who is introduced sitting in a watermelon patch eating a slice of the fruit, because he’s a black man, right? Through various awkward plot machinations, the trio are obliged to disguise themselves as the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, and there’s no prizes for guessing who gets to play the king of beasts.

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

Duran Duran’s new album cover was a bold choice…

Apparently, this is little more than a compilation of Semon’s most popular gags from his short films. There’s no real effort at establishing characters and the humour is of the basic ‘banana skin’ variety that inexperienced audiences tend to associate with silent cinema. Even the Wizard is reduced to a peripheral character, who is exposed as a cheap confidence trickster anyway. Predictably fans of the books weren’t keen on Semon’s take, and even his fanbase wasn’t impressed. The film bombed and killed his career.

Just before the movie hit theatres, Semon married co-star Dwan (born Dorothy lllgenfritz), despite a 17-year age difference. Happiness did not follow. The flop left Semon almost penniless, and his life spiralled out of control, taking in a severe nervous breakdown before his death at the age of only 39 in 1928. However, the circumstances of his demise were somewhat mysterious, and some believed he faked his own death to escape his creditors.

Considering the failure of Baum’s own trio of film adaptations less than a decade before, it’s interesting to speculate what drew Semon to the material in the first place. True, he had some common ground with Baum, both of them were reckless spendthrifts who blew fortunes, but Baum always bounced back from his various bankruptcies while Semon was not so capable. It took until MGM’s Judy Garland version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) for someone to successfully adapt Baum’s work and get a return on their investment. Yes, despite what you may have heard to the contrary, it did not bellyflop on its initial release at all. On the contrary, it did decent, if unspectacular, box office and won 2 Oscars. Of course, it was subsequent re-runs on TV that elevated it to the classic status it enjoys today, but it was not originally the financial disaster that many commonly believe.

Baum’s own ‘Oz’ films may have been a little crude and unsuccessful but they exhibited a level of creativity and imagination that is sorely lacking from this adaptation. One for the curious only.

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)‘Cosmonauts and dreamers say that apple trees will be in flower on Mars.’

The first manned mission to Mars is just weeks away when strange signals are received from the planet Centuria, promising first contact with an alien civilisation. A space craft is detected entering the galaxy, but then crashes on Mars. The scheduled exploration flight becomes a rescue mission…

Serious Science Fiction speculation from the Eastern Bloc is always welcome, although this intergalactic effort from directors Mikhail Karzhukov and Otar Koberidze (who also appears as Cosmonaut Batallo) is rather more undistinguished than most. The film opens with our old friend VoiceOver Man, who gives us the usual song and dance about the immensity of the universe over the usual models of planets and stars. Then we switch abruptly to footage of chiselled young men water-skiing, diving and yachting. It’s a strange and sudden shift, but VoiceOver Man is quick to explain. These are the pioneers of the new frontier; cosmonauts in training, who inhabit the special scientific community behind the Mars expedition.

We focus on dreamer Andrei (Boris Borisenko) and his true love Tanya (Larisa Gordeichik), who is impatient for him to show her his new invention; a tiny ‘crystalphone’ which he uses to broadcast a song to the universe. Never mind that it’s a terrible dirge, it catches the ear of alien woman Etanyia (T. Pochepa) on Centuria and prompts her to come visit (maybe she’s a fan of heroic Soviet vocalising!?) But her jaunt ends in disaster and, back on Earth, there’s a difference of opinion in how to deal with the situation. Crusty old Dr Laungton (Nitolay Volkov) is suspicious of the alien’s motives, and advocates a ‘hands off’ approach, but the younger Cosmonauts shout him down and Gordeichik and Borisenko become part of a rescue team, along with Koberidze and the humourless Commander (Petter Kard).

So we’re Mars-bound on spacecraft the ‘Ocean’ for a mission of mercy. And here’s where we encounter one of the film’s major flaws. We are given no backstory on any of our main characters and no effort is made to get us invested in them. Even the love story between Gordeichik and Borisenko is placed so completely in the background as to be invisible, although it does surface again in the film’s final minutes. As a result, the film lacks any dramatic tension, and becomes admirable only for its technical achievements. These include some interesting, if dated, production design and spacecraft miniatures and SFX which are very good for the era when the film was made.

Mechte Nevstrechu/A Dream Come True (1963)

The ‘Drive-In’ had made a triumphant comeback…

The film’s ending is also unfortunate. It uses footage we’ve seen earlier and could justifiably be described as rather a large cop-out. It’s a pity too, as Gordeichik begins to shine in the final act, providing some of the genuine human drama that has been lacking throughout. There’s also an awful lot of VoiceOver Man throughout the proceedings, and his role is part of the original release, rather than being added on with an English dub track by an interfering US distributor.

Given the expository commentary, the abrupt non-climax and a brief running time of 64 minutes, it’s tempting to classify this as an unfinished project, perhaps plagued by financial problems and stitched together as best as could be managed. If it were an American film, I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest that, but I have no idea how films were funded in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Although, even if the project were state supported, it’s unlikely that the filmmakers were given endless resources.

The SFX did make it to Western screens, being bought up by producer Roger Corman to feature heavily in ‘Queen of Blood’ (1966). This vampire/alien mash-up starred an elderly Basil Rathbone in one of his last roles, along with young guns John Saxon and Dennis Hopper! Karzhukov and Koberidze received a writing credit for the film, even though beyond the central concept of rescuing an alien woman from her disabled spaceship, the two stories have almost nothing in common. It wasn’t the first time that Corman had cannibalised Karzhukov’s work either, he’d put the SFX from ‘The Sky Calls’ (1958) front and centre in patchwork job ‘Battle Beyond The Sun’ (1960), an early directorial credit for Francis Ford Coppola.

A disappointing effort. It has decent SFX, but little else to engage an audience.