This list will be updated with many SF titles I have stacked up in film cans but have not yet cataloged.
CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
A nightmare atmosphere is created by director Robert Wiene, using crooked set and background design, deep shadows and tilted camera angles, in this this silent classic of German Expressionism. Conrad Veidt is the sleepwalker stalking the night seeking murder victims. Werner Krauss is the mad professor who controls him. Lil Dagover is the object of pursuit that ranges though twisted streets and over lopsided rooftops.
DESTINATION SATURN: THE CONDENSED FEATURE CUT
OF THE 12-CHAPTER BUCK ROGERS SERIAL (1940)
The Buck Rogers mythos began as two short stories in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories and in 1929 became the first science-fiction comic strip to appear in the newspapers. The original story was a yellow-peril future wars tale of a Mongol world conquest resisted by a handful of rebels. In the serial, Killer Kane has been transformed from the traitorous regent of the Mongols to a mere gangster turned dictator. He uses a fiendish amnesia helmet resembling a percolator to turn men into mindless slave laborers. To overthrow this tyrant and his “outlaw army,” the free men of the hidden city must make an alliance with Saturn!
The feature cut moves the storyline along rather well, trimming out the slack and padding while preserving the best of the action. But the real strength of this film is design! Made in 1939, same year as the famous New York World’s Fair, we are treated to a retro concept of the future. The world of 2440 is deco-styled, with curved gramophone horns and rocket ships with geometric cut-outs. Keep an eye out for costumes, props and sets, notice the shapes of windows and doorways in Killer Kane’s city and on Saturn. It’s a future world of degravity belts, transporter booths and disintegrator rays that WWI veteran Buck awakens to after sleeping for five hundred years!
DOC SAVAGE, THE MAN OF BRONZE (1975)
The animator and director George Pal, who produced and scripted this film, was a fan of the Doc Savage pulp novels of the 1930s. His last film was this jolly action-fest. It is well-designed, with first-rate effects. Despite this, it is an absurdly silly 70s-style stinkeroo!
The plot deals with Doc Savage (Ron Ely) and his heroic team, The Fabulous Five, going to South America to investigate the death of Doc’s father. He supposedly died of a rare tropical disease. But he was actually murdered by the villain, Captain Seas (Paul Wexler).
This movie is fast-paced, funny, adventurous, and action-packed. Ron Ely is perfectly cast as Doc, with his thatch of blond hair and muscular build. You may remember this actor as the TV Tarzan, and as the one who always insists on doing his own stunts.
The atmosphere, both in New York at the beginning and later on in the South American jungles, is thick with intrigue, and the “Green Death,” a hideous weapon, is one of Pal’s better special effects.
DOCTOR CYCLOPS (1940)
Deep in the Brazilian jungle is nearsighted Dr. Thorkel’s secret radium mine, in the naïve form of a wellshaft with a bucket on a rope. The radium fuels a ray that can shrink people down to tiny size. Big Albert Dekker is made mostrous and scary by a shaved head, thick glasses and a baggy suit. Janice Logan, Victor Killian, Thomas Colby and Charles Halton are the shrinkees who must struggle for survival. Special effects work surprisingly well. By King Kong director Ernest Shoedsack. Compares well with the Incredible Shrinking Man made in 1957, which we will also see in condensed form.
EARTH TWO (1971)
Set on an orbiting wheel resembling Clarke’s 2001 Space Hotel. Good interiors, good predictions of space shuttle and EVA operations. A bit of coldwar conflict and hippie goodvibes provide a wee whiff of fromage. The Chinese put a nuke in orbit, can our guys defuse it? With Gary Lockwood, Mariette Hartley, Scott Hylands, Hari Rhodes, Anthony Franciosa.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: A SURVEY OF THE SERIALS!
An assortment of first-chapters of a variety of serials. Chapter One is designed to pull you in with foretaste of the best bits, establishes all the story elements, introduces the hero, the villain, supporting characters, and ends in a classic cliffhanger. Always the most coherent and entertaining chapter.
Here’s your chance to see a cross-section of this rich, exciting genre of the 30s and 40s. We’ll include the opening chapters of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, The Purple Monster Strikes, Captain Marvel, The Phantom Creeps, Undersea Kingdom and King of the Rocket Men! And a second installment using different serial first-chapters is also available including SOS Coast Guard, Zorro’s Fighting Legion and Phantom Empire.
FLASH GORDON (1936) AKA ROCKET SHIP
Jump on Dr. Zarkov’s rocket and we’re off to Mongo, the planet of adventure, to battle Ming The Merciless! Meet winged Hawkmen and visit their floating sky city. Become a slave shoveling radium into the atom furnaces. Enjoy invisibility, swordplay and ray guns. Rescue Dale from a dire fate! See dinosaurs and monsters, classic heroism and villainy, plus laughably crude special effects. With wonderful music, costumes and props, lots of thrills and action, a silly script, and bad acting. This was truly the king of serials!
We can also offer Planet Of Adventure, an expanded feature cut running about three hours which shows almost the entire serial as continuous action with the chapter breaks removed. A similar treatment of Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is also available under the title Mission To Mongo, see entry for that title below.
FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO MARS AKA MARS ATTACKS THE WORLD (1939)
Ming The Merciless has come to Mars and cut a deal with Queen Azura. He’s destroying our atmosphere with the Nitron Lamp, only Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov can save us. Meet the Clay Men who come out of the cave walls, are they friend or foe? Cross a chasm on a bridge made of light! Fly a chunky, art-deco Strato-Sled! Learn the secret of the mystic gems, the Black and White Sapphires. Endure the torment of Ming’s deadly Disintegration Chamber! With lots of thrills and action, a silly script, bad acting and crude special effects!
GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1974)
Excellent stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen is almost eclipsed by Tom Baker (later, Dr. Who) googling his eyes and curling his lip as the evil magician Koura. The little homunculus he brings to life with a drop of hisown blood and sends to spy on Sinbad is one of the screen’s best creatures. The ship’s figurehead coming to life and stalking the deck is a good one, too. Every spell Koura casts drains his life-energy and he ages visibly every time he works his evil magic. With absurdly handsome John Philip Law and big-eyed, bulbous Caroline Munroe.
GORILLA SUIT FILM FESTIVAL
You asked for it, Movie Mike slices the ham n’ cheez extra thick! Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) wrestles with a guy in a gorilla suit. The first chapter of the Clyde Beatty serial, Darkest Africa, with Crash Corrrigan twice, in a gorilla suit and as a flying batman. A mercifully-condensed bad jungle film, White Gorilla, with Crash Corrigan in the gorilla suit. Robot Monster, a great SF Golden Turkey feature, with George Barrows in the gorilla suit. The classic Ernie Kovacs clip, Nairobi Trio, with Ernie, Edie Adams and Louis Nye as musical apes. And a dreadful TV comedy in which we get to see George Barrows both in and out of his Gorilla Suit! Too much gorilla suitery for one sitting, we can shorten this or break it into two shows. To host it, Mike will wear his gorilla suit!
INVADERS FROM MARS (1953)
Only the kid knows that they have landed and burrowed in behind the house. They’ve taken over his mommy and daddy and the police with brain control radio. It’s a paranoid child’s nightmare of alienation, directed by William Cameron Menzies, with Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke and little Jimmy Hunt. Milburne Stone (Doc from Gunsmoke) is the tough old colonel who saves the day.
Note the lovely stark effectiveness of the police station scene and the brilliant use of stock military footage for epic effect. Don’t miss the zippers on the backs of the huge Martian mutants as they shuffle through the underground tunnels of their secret base. And those “raygun-melted” tunnel walls are clusters of balloons, notice that they stir lightly in the breeze. A good b/w TV print.
ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1933)
Charles Laughton is the giggling, nutty Dr. Moreau, who is turning animals into manlike creatures through vivisection in his House Of Pain. The beast-men worship him as god. They recite his laws in an eerie, pathetic ritual voiced by furry-faced Bela Lugosi — not to shed blood, eat meat, or go on all fours. Richard Arlen is the shipwrecked sailor the madman tries to mate with his creation, the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke). This film has a moody, atmospheric quality that we rarely see today and an interesting Freudian subtext.
From the H.G. Wells story.
KING KONG 1933
Stop- motion animator Willis O’Brien is the man primarily credited with bringing King Kong to the screen, but in truth, Kong was the brainchild of Merian Cooper, a truly larger-than-life film producer, on whom the character of Carl Denham was modeled.
Cooper had been a fighter pilot in World War I, a POW after he was shot down behind enemy lines, and — with his partner Ernest Schoedsack — had traveled to the wilds of Asia and Africa to film documentaries. Cooper imagined King Kong as the logical extension of his true life exploits; exaggerated but a recognizable caricature of his experiences.
Originally he had wanted a real gorilla to portray Kong, and even wanted to have it fight a Komodo dragon! (Call the Humane Society!) We can all be grateful he encountered Willis O’Brien (who was working on his own dinosaur film: Creation) and decided to produce Kong and the monsters of Skull Island using stop-motion. We can add O’Brien’s silent Creation reel to this screening.
I doubt anyone in 1933 could have tolerated the spectacle of a live gorilla in real combat with a Komodo dragon. I suspect the film would have either been banned outright or been little more than a grisly footnote in motion picture history.
THE LOST WORLD (silent, 1926)
This rarely-seen treasure will be run at true silent speed for correct movement! The first film to match stop-motion (tabletop miniature) animation with live action, the public was amazed to see dinosaurs come to life. Wallace Beery is half-mad Professor Challenger, leading an expedition to a Jurassic plateau in Brazil. Based on Conan Doyle’s thrilling story, with special effects by Willis O’Brien. We’ll also see Creation, O’Brien’s test reel for his next feature, King Kong! And more thrilling dinosaur animation can be added to this show!
MAD SCIENTISTS AND THEIR SILLY-LOOKING ROBOTS!
Here’s Bela Lugosi as Dr. Zorka with his scowly Zorkaton and Eduardo Cianelli as Dr. Satan with his Walking Tin Can. Both of ‘em plan to rule the world with an army of sily-looking robots as Movie Mike serves up the crustiest of cheez. We’ll see the feature cut of the serial Dr. Satan’s Robot, with Cianelli playing a dapper, gangsterish meanie. You may remember him as the mad Thuggee priest in Gunga Din, howling “Kill for Kali!” We’ll add in some serial chapters featuring robots: Lugosi’s Phantom Creeps, Crash Corrigan’s Undersea Kingdom, plus a few extra items au gratin.
MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961)
A good cast, a good story, excellent design in sets, props and costumes, a solid script and good special effects! Not quite what you expect from a Roger Corman film starring Vincent Price, but this thrilling movie, based on a Jules Verne tale, really delivers the goods. Usually a ham, Price gives a credible and restrained performance as Robur, the pacifist madman who seeks to end all war by threatening aerial bombardment in the mid-19th Century. Charles Bronson, so young he’s almost cute, is the US agent onboard the amazing airship Albatross. The model, designed by Jim Danforth , is a lovely confection. Its interior design is Victorian eye candy and the crew are togged out in jolly striped uniforms. With Henry Hull, Mary Webster and Philip Evans.
MEET RAY BRADBURY! We’ll see a 1963 documentary in which the author explains himself, followed by some short films based on his stories. Ray Bradbury discusses his work and his working methods at length. The camera trails him as he goes about LA on a bike, since he does not drive. We see him mentoring young writers and meeting with other writers for discussion and criticism of ongoing work.
Several short film dramas were produced for classroom use from Bradbury’s short stories: In Zero Hour, the kids aren’t kidding about alien invaders. The Flying Machine takes us back to ancient China to see how a wonderful invention is suppressed. The Electric Grandmother shows how a family learns to love a humanoid robot. The Veldt predicts today’s obsession with virtual-reality games and The Murderer gives us a man driven mad by the endless clamor of his multimedia pocket telephone device. Interesting how in the 1950’s he accurately predicted the sense and feeling of the world we live in today. And to answer the question “compared to what,” we can extend this program with short films of two Asimov stories, All the Troubles In The World and The Ugly Little Boy.
Fritz Lang’s ground-breaking science-fiction masterpiece, inspired by his visit to New York and vision of its skyline. His vision of the great city of the future has massive skyscrapers pierced by highways and topped by landing pads! Aircraft buzz between the buildings! But in the horrid underground levels, the workers dwell and toil! Here is cinema’s first robot, created by a mad scientist! Class war breaks out between the workers and the thinkers! One of the greatest silent films, it is wonderfully designed and still exciting.
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)
A different giant-ape tale by the King Kong crew–producer Cooper, director Schoedsack and animator O’Brien, with a young Ray Harryhausen as asistant animator. Unlike monster Kong, Joe is a sweet guy. Lovely Terry Moore, who raised him from infancy, protects him. The African-decor nightclub scenes, with its caged lions behind glass, is most amazing. Note that the lions are not real; Harryhausen animated them and when they break out and bite people, those people are animated, too. Look for the tug-of-war scene pitting Joe against a grotesque crew of famous boxers, wrestlers and body-builders. Unjustly jailed, Joe escapes, rescues children from a burning orphanage, and wins his ticket back to Africa. With Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, B/W, 94 minutes.
MISSION TO MONGO: A NEW EXPANDED FEATURE CUT OF FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (1940)
This is Movie Mikes’s new, expanded feature cut of the 1940 “Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe” serial, retitled “Mission to Mongo.” It runs a bit over three hours of continuous action, with no chapter breaks.
This 16mm film print is seamlessly edited to tell the most complete version of this classic story ever produced. It restores all the best scenes, character backgrounds and plot setups that are missing in the short, choppy TV versions.
We’ll visit the frozen land of Frigea, resembling Star Wars’ ice planet, and see Queen Fria’s hairdo, which later appeared on Princess Leia. We’ll get to see the women warriors riding unicorns among the giant trees of Aboria. And we’ll witness the full diabolical dimension of Ming’s evil mind and Lady Sonia’s betrayal.
This was the third serial in the series, and the one which most closely resembles the original Alex Raymond comic strip in plot elements, casting, characters, costumes and designs.
Made in 1940, with WWII already started, Ming The Merciless has been transformed from a decadent oriental emperor to a European-style dictator. He now wears military regalia in place of sweeping robes. He’s running concentration camps, persecuting minorities, and using the weapons most feared at the time:
fire bombs, poison gas and a hideous synthetic plague.
THE PHANTOM CREEPS (1939)
The Phantom Creeps serves up a turkey club with lots of ham and cheez—yum! Bela Lugosi is Doctor Zorka, who plans to rule the world or something. It’s never quite clear what he wants, but who cares when you have an invisiblity belt and a silly-looking robot. A feature mercifully condensed from a padded, meandering serial, this version plays well and includes all the best bits. The scuttling little robot spider carrying its capsule of sleeping gas defies explanation!
PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935)
Singing cowboy Gene Autry became a star with his first appearance in Radio Ranch, a wonderfully silly serial. This feature cut, titled Phantom Empire, is a mix of western action, bad music and science-fiction! Miles beneath Gene’s ranch lies the super-scientific city of Murania, ruled by blonde Queen Tika. Mystery horsemen in Hungarian cavalry capes come up a five-mile elevator to invade. Gene chases them down to their realm and has to deal with clumsy robots, death rays and revolutionaries in funny hats. Will he return to his ranch in time to sing on the radio or will the bad guys take title to the ranch if he fails? High point of this story is the destruction of Murania, created by melting the film to make the image run!
ROBOT MONSTER (1951)
Shot in four days in a state park on a $20,000 budget by Phil Tucker, this incoherent stinker was originally seen in 3-D (but our print is flat). Ro-Man wears a gorilla suit topped by a diving helmet with a TV antenna. He has exterminated all life on earth except for eight survivors. His lair is a cave filled with bubbles and he calls up his home planet with a war-surplus shortwave on an old kitchen table. The world is saved when the monster is paralyzed by the sight of the heroine’s cleavage! There’s a Freudean subtext here if you want to find it. Starring muscular George Nader, who was outed by Confidential Magazine as Rock Hudson’s weightlifter pal and was blackballed by Hollywood. Dreadful script, bad acting, compares to the works of Ed Wood.
SATAN’S SATELLLITES (1952)
Evil Martians in hooded catsuits have landed on Earth to work fiendish plan. With the aid of a renegade scientist and hired henchmen in fedoras, they’re building a huge H-bomb to blow the Earth out of its orbit. Then Mars can take its place and enjoy an improved climate.
Only Larry Martin, the flying Rocketman, with his jet pack and bullet helmet, can foil this horrid plot. He’s a cross between Howard Hughes and Batman, a super-scientific defense contractor action hero. When he flies, he’s a dummy on a wire. When he’s not flying, he’s still stiff as a dummy: a weak actor struggling with a bad script.
A very young Leonard Nimoy appears as one of the Martians. You’ll recognize his voice as he delivers a dying speech to help save the Earth. Feature cut of the serial Zombies of the Stratosphere.
SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977)
The third in Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant series of special-effects fantasy adventures, this one stars Patrick Wayne (son of Duke) as the legendary sailor and Jane Seymour as his troubled sweetie. Her brother has been turned into a baboon by an An evil witch. She can turn herself into a bird to spy on Sinbad, and her servant is a giant brass minotaur. Can Sinbad break the spell in time to save the young prince from his animal form? Only the legendary wizard who dwells in a far-off land knows how this can be done. There’s a monster fight, of course, plus a flaming skeleton duel. The chess-playing human baboon is just great!
SQUADRON OF DOOM (1937)
A ripping yarn condensed from a classic action serial about bringing civil aviation to exotic Mongolia. The Dragon doesn’t agree and he’s shooting down planes with his death ray. Spinning prayer wheels deliver his radio messages to his henchmen! Only Ace Drummond can defeat him. Respectful but inaccurate treatment of Lamaist Buddhism. Hero John (Dusty) King, is dull, but supporting cast shines, including heroine Jean Rogers, sidekick Noah Beery, Jr. and villain Lon Chaney, Jr
THE CORPSE VANISHES (1942)
It’s a mystery, all those brides dropping dead at their weddings, and their corpses vanishing from the morgue wagon! Who’s behind it? Mad scientist Bela Lugosi, aided by dwarf Angelo Rossito. Bela’s keeping them alive in suspended animation. Why? To extract their youth juice, to keep his aging wife cute. She’s a countess and an unbearable shrew, what he sees in her beats me. Lovely Luana Walters is the Lois Lane knockoff looking for clues, aided by scientist Tris Coffin, with his trademark pencil-thin moustache and big shoulders. It’s a solid Lugosi thriller from Monogram.
THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940)
Sabu, the boy from India, in a top-notch color adventure with excellent special effects. He gets turned into a dog by evil magician Conrad Veidt, uncorks the genie bottle, flies to the end of the earth to battle the giant spider, steals the idol’s ruby eye, rides the flying carpet. Rex Ingram is the genie, John Justin and June Duprez are the lovers. A delicious Art-Deco vision of Old Bagdad designed by William Cameron Menzies and Vincent Korda. An all-time family favorite, good entertainment for young and old.
THINGS TO COME (1936)
H.G. Wells’ futurology predicts a world war lasting 20 years, the destruction of civilization and its technocratic rebirth through science and reason. Beautiful design by director William Cameron Menzies, first-rate performances by Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Cedrick Hardwicke. Oh, those lovely planes and tanks! A Jumbotron screen! And that moon-shot cannon!
THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955)
Scientists Rex Reason and Faith Domergue are lured to a secret research center managed by Jeff Morrow, who doesn’t quite look like an earthman. His forehead is built up so high that he must belong to a more intelligent alien race, and he’s up to something: recruiting help for his desperate planet. The couple tries to escape in a plane but it’s drawn up into a flying saucer, and we’re off to Metaluna! Scenes inside the saucer and on the alien planet are just lovely, and the threatening mutant slave is a huge, hideous insect-man! Excellent design, costuming and special effects, snappy well-paced direction by Joseph Newman, this film holds up as a good adventure story. A good B/W TV print.
TORPEDO OF DOOM (1938)
This feature cut of the Fighting Devil Dogs serial is packed with nonstop action. The Lightning, a hooded, caped villain resembling Darth Vader, plans to rule the world with his mastery of electricity, throwing deadly lightning-charged torpedoes from his flying-wing aircraft. Olympic champ turned actor-stuntman Herman Brix (later known as Bruce Bennett) is the heroic Marine Officer who must stop him. With chases by car, motorcycle, and speedboat, plus submarine, flying-boat and dirigible action, plus endless well-staged fights, you’ll fight to catch your breath
WHISPERING SHADOW (1933)
This feature cut of Bela Lugosi’s first serial is a little choppy, but it has such good bits that you won’t care if the story makes sense. Bela is Dr. Strang, mysterious owner of a gruesome wax museum. Is he the villainous Whispering Shadow, who uses television to spy and a death ray to kill? Is his beautiful daughter an accomplice or a victim? Why are truckers dropping dead behind the wheel? What secret treasure is hidden in the big dark warehouse? Bela looks great lurking and slinking around corners with his big hat pulled down, but what is he up to? Why is an autogiro landing on the roof? Will the hero avenge his brother’s mysterious death? Will all the false leads and dopey clues come together at the end? It’s a mystery and you’ll enjoy it even if you can’t figure it out. With Viva Tattersall, Malcolm McGregor, Henry Walthall, Robert Warwick.