Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)‘The dark side of the moon has been photographed. Natural laws no longer apply.’

An escaping criminal is caught up in an experimental nuclear test in the desert. Somehow he survives and the effect of the explosion endows him with superhuman strength and invulnerability. Afterwards, he sets out to take revenge on the gangsters who framed him for murder…

Preposterous low-budget crime and science fiction mash up from veteran director Allan Dwan, delivering his final movie in a career that began with hundreds of short subjects back in 1913. It’s a curious choice as a project for him. For a start, he’d never tackled fantastical subject matter in his long career, and his previous few films had starred players such as Dana Andrews, Anne Bancroft and Ray Milland. Not huge stars by this point in their careers, but still significant Hollywood names. Compare them with the cast we have here; mostly television actors with just a smattering of big screen experience in supporting roles.

On the run from the big house, convicted killer Eddie Candell (Ron Randell) wanders into the wrong part of the desert right at the moment that Dr Meeker (Tudor Owens) is testing his latest invention; a bomb containing something called Element X. Randell is caught in the blast, but manages to quit the scene with apparently nothing more than a ruined suit. Unfortunately, he was too close to the tower that held the device and its metal is slowly fusing with his body. Yes, he’s literally becoming a ‘Man of Steel’ folks!

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Even the Most Dangerous Man Alive knew you had to respect the dress code.

From there, we get to the real meat and potatoes of the film’s plot. Randell was a leading mobster whose playboy lifestyle attracted far too much media attention for the liking of his colleagues in the syndicate. They framed him for murder by perjuring themselves in court and now he’s out for revenge. The only person he can trust is ex-girlfriend Elaine Stewart, but she’s already been targeted by cops Morris Ankrum and Gregg Palmer who are leading the manhunt to run him down.

The authorities’ task becomes especially urgent after the cops brace Owens in his curiously ‘open plan’ laboratory and he shows them some unconvincing examples of how the local flora and fauna has reacted to the blast. ‘The melon has absorbed the steel into its cell structure’, he informs them with a completely straight face. Apparently, all this makes Randell the ‘Most Dangerous Man Alive’. For some reason or other. But I’m more concerned as to how one crackpot scientist and a couple of faceless lab-coat assistants seem to have been allowed to stage an atomic bomb test on their own. Isn’t there some kind of Health & Safety law against that sort of thing?

All this is pretty standard b-movie stuff and actually bares a strange resemblance to Coleman Francis’ bad movie classic ‘The Beast of Yucca Flats’ (1961) but without the bizarre voiceover of that particular oddity. However, there are some factors here that elevate proceedings considerably. Firstly, there’s the cast. Performances are professional and well-delivered. Chief hoodlum Anthony Caruso (later to be a very familiar face due to many appearances on US network TV in the 1970s) is rather good as the villain of the piece and Debra Paget also scores as the good-time girl who betrayed Randell in court. In fact, there’s a pleasing level of professionalism all round.

Unfortunately, there are some significant problems. The most obvious is the story’s ridiculous premise. Slowly turning into a metal man seems to have very little effect on Randell at all, other than rendering him bulletproof and giving him the strength to crush small props. There are no physical signs of this supposed transformation, which gives the audience no reason to either empathise or be horrified by him. Also the action (such as it is) seems strangely disjointed at times, and significant events are spoken of but not shown. In one example Caruso tells his boys to grab Stewart once she’s shaken the cops, only to cut cold to the two of them in the back of his car in the very next scene.

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

The Most Dangerous Man Alive’s weapon of choice was a papier mache rock.

But, as often in the world of low-budget filmmaking, there is a practical reason for the movie’s shortcomings and a story to be told that’s probably far more interesting than the picture itself. The film was shot on location and in studios in Mexico and producer Benedict Bogeaus hired everyone involved on the understanding that they were making a 2-part pilot for a proposed television series. Why? So he could pay them all lower wages than if it was going to be a theatrical release.

But Bogeaus was rumbled when the unions realised they were making a feature film and he had to cough up the difference. Quite right too, of course. Except that meant that he had no money left to build the extra sets that the production required and that the shooting schedule had to be cut from five weeks to one! The fact that Dwan and his team delivered a finished article that was anything other than an absolute train wreck is a serious testament to their abilities and professionalism.

Yes, this is a fairly dull, unappealing and very minor science fiction picture that has mostly slipped through the cracks and been forgotten. However, given both the central premise and the circumstances surrounding its production, that very anonymity is an acknowledgement of movie making success in the presence of serious adversity.

Dwan and his production team neatly avoid a permanent place on bad movie lists everywhere. It might not be much of a movie, but you have to give them that!

Captive Women/3000 A.D. (1952)

Captive Women (1952)‘You are the first of all Norm women to come to a Mutate husband of her own free will.’

More than a thousand years in the future, the atomic war has left the world in ruins. What remains of the population is divided into warring factions of Norms and Mutates; those who escaped the disfiguring effects of radioactivity, and those who have not.

Unusual, low-budget science-fiction from producer Albert Zugsmith (with a title by Howard Hughes!), which was the first film ever to depict a post-nuclear holocaust society. We’re over a thousand years into the future here, and all that remains after the bomb is a twisted New York skyline and scattered scraps of humanity living in the wreckage. Our virtuous heroes are the cave-dwelling ‘Norms’, untouched by the nuclear scourge and busy preparing for the wedding of the chief’s son, played by cult movie legend Robert Clarke.

Our hero’s bride-to-be is dark-eyed Gloria Saunders, who proves to be less than an ideal romantic choice. For a start, she happens to be the daughter of the high priest (not usually a good sign) and she’s carrying on behind the scenes with the ambitious Jason (Douglas Evans), who’s hungry to sit in the big chair currently occupied by Clarke’s father. Across the river (via a hidden tunnel) are the Mutates, led by Riddon (Ron Randell). They’re ugly and scarred and their main preoccupation seems to be kidnapping ‘Norm’ women in the hopes of birthing ‘clean’ children. On the bright side, they’ve kept their faith in God, while the Norms worship the devil! Also mixing things up are the nasty ‘Up River Men’ led by Stuart Randall.

The film opens with more than five minutes of ‘flashback’ stock footage, including planes, trains, the UN building and the inevitable mushroom cloud. Wonderfully self-important VoiceOver Man informs us that what we are about to see might really happen and he seems to be enjoying the possibility far too much. Given that the film only runs 64 minutes, it’s quite a chunk of the film’s total length. When the future finally arrives, it turns out to be a small, poorly-lit sound stage peopled by extras dressed in what appears to be left over costumes from a low budget production of Robin Hood! The dialogue is similarly old-fashioned and formal and most of the women have been relegated to cooking the grub and serving the ale. Weapons of choice are bows and arrows and quarterstaffs, and Clarke tops it all off with a nifty Errol Flynn moustache. His character is even called Rob!

Captive Women (1952)

‘Get Thee to Nottingham Castle, Robin!’

Up-River Randall and his goons conquer the Norm’s stronghold with the aid of the treacherous Evans and bad girl Saunders. Evans gets his predictable comeuppance, of course, while Saunders becomes Randall’s new woman and lords it over everyone including feisty heroine Margaret Field. But, not to worry! Robin and Little John (sorry, Clarke and his anonymous sidekick) team up with the Mutates to restore the balance of power. Because they might be ugly but their quite a nice bunch, despite forcing themselves on kidnapped women for the past few decades. It helps that their leader is the handsome Randell, who’s hardly scarred at all really. So he’s ok.

The script here is by Jack Pollexfen and Aubrey Wisberg and includes a surprising amount of Biblical references. We never see any evidence that the Norms are practising Satanists (no surprise, there!), and a less generous commentator than myself might think that’s just an excuse to give Randell the opportunity to pontificate about his faith in the Lord, although he is quickly interrupted by rabble-rouser William Schallert. However, later on, we get a direct parallel to Moses parting the Red Sea, which Clarke is happy to appropriate as a plan (thought he was supposed to be a Satanist?!) All this action moves along at quite a fair clip, but nothing that happens is remotely surprising.

Writer Pollexfen was used to plundering the classics, given his scripts for ‘The Son of Dr Jekyll’ (1951) and ‘The Daughter of Dr Jekyll’ (1957) and it’s pretty clear this one owes more than a slight debt to H G Wells’ ‘The Time Machine.’ Clarke went on to cult movie godhood with a CV that includes ‘The Man From Planet X’ (1951) (which also featured Field and Schallert), ‘The Astounding She Creature’ (1957), ‘Beyond The Time Barrier’ (1960), the title role of ‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ (1958) (which he also directed!) and a few projects with bad movie legend Jerry Warren, including ‘The Incredible Petrified World’ (1959) and the bat-shit crazy ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981). Randell appeared in slightly more legitimate productions such as musical ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (1953) (playing Cole Porter!), ‘The Story of Esther Costello’ (1957) and Christ biopic ‘King of Kings’ (1961).

Captive Women (1952)

‘You can get married so long as you don’t play that Bryan Adams song.’

But the real success stories lie elsewhere. Supporting actor Schallert went onto a screen career that lasted over 65 years, only ending with his death in 2016 at the age of 93. His credits include featured roles in ‘Gremlins’ (1984), ‘In The Heat of the Night’ (1967), ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ (1969), ‘Charley Varrick’ (1973), ‘Innerspace’ (1987), and TV appearances on ‘Roseanne’, ‘True Blood’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘ER’, ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and dozens of other hit shows. You may not know the name, but you’d certainly recognise the face.

Director Stuart Gilmore was three times Oscar nominated as an Editor, for his work on ‘The Alamo’ (1960), ‘Airport’ (1970) and ‘The Andromeda Strain’ (1970). He also fulfilled the role on ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ (1941), ‘Journey To The Centre of the Earth’ (1959) and ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ (1967), among others.

This is a production with some points of interest, but not a great level of entertainment value. There are also some very mixed messages about the importance of physical appearance, although the film’s heart does seem to be in the right place. Unfortunately, its moral and physical conflicts result in highly predictable outcomes and the cheesier aspects rob the drama of any real punch.

Watch for curiosity value.