Have movies ever been as good before or since this one?
Nope. They haven’t.
The first of three Columbia Sinbad films, all boast the genius of Ray Harryhausen and his Dynamation stop-motion magic.
As we meet Sinbad and his crew, they’re helping a magician escape a towering cyclops. Things don’t get any easier — or less exciting — for them for the next 88 minutes.
Our hero (Kerwin Matthews) has the goal of marrying Princess Parisa (Kathryn Crosby) to bring peace between her father’s kingdom of Chandra and his homeland of Baghdad. But during the festivities, the sorcerer Sinbad saved portends of dark times to come and a war between Baghdad and Chandra. Unless he returns to Colossa, all is doomed. No one listens, so he shrinks Parisa, which means that Sinbad must go to Colossa to find the egg of a Roc, the only thing that can restore her.
What follows is an adventure packed with a dragon, a mutinous crew of criminals, a sword battle with a skeleton and a second and even more vicious cyclops.
Director Nathan Juran had already worked with Harryhausen on 20 Million Miles to Earth. The creature in that movie, the Ymir, had its model reused to create the cyclops in this film.
This is the kind of movie that’s ideal for a lazy and rainy Saturday. It’s filled with imagination and moves so quickly that you nearly want to watch it again the moment it wraps up.
Joseph E. Levine was a genius. At the time of his death, he’s produced nearly 500 films. He did some pretty amazing things, like introduce the U.S. to Sophia Loren and Godzilla, while bringing foreign movies like Jack the Ripper and Attila: Scourge of God to America, renaming The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World to Licensed to Kill and producing and executive producing everything from Santa Claus Conquers the Martiansand The Graduate to Mad Monster Party, They Call Me Trinity, Magic, The Carpetbaggers and The Producers. He started the Embassy in AVCO Embassy.
But for the purposes of this story, he was the man who spent $1 million dollars* to make Steve Reeves a star all over the world with this movie. And by the time he did it, Reeves had already made four more movies ready to follow this one.
Unlike many actors who go to Italy to make a film, the former chiropractor and Mr. America of 1947, Mr. World of 1948 and Mr. Universe of 1950 became a huge deal over in Italy, ending his career on his own terms in 1968 after the western A Long Ride from Hell, which has the incredible alternate title I Live For Your Death!**
Funny enough, this is more the story of Jason and the Argonauts, yet with Hercules taking center stage. And from this movie, an entire industry of peblum movies was born.
Hercules joins the crew of Jason, along with Ulysses and his father Laertes, Argos, the twins Castor and Pollux, Orpheus and Aesculapius when Pelias, the King of Iolcus, sends Jason on a fool’s errand to take the Golden Fleece. That’s because Pelias has been warned that someday, Jason would take his throne. Meanwhile, Hercules is in love with the king’s daughter Princess Iole. Who can blame him? She’s played by Sylvia Koscina, who is also in Deadlier Than the Male and So Sweet, So Dead***.
Hercules battles ape men and Amazons when he isn’t fulfilling his labors, like fighting the Nemean Lion and the Cretan Bull. There’s even a dragon with the voice of Godzilla, which makes sense, as Levine owned the rights to that sound effect.
By the mid-60’s, 10% of all Italian films were sword and sandal movies. That’s how influential this one is. And speaking of importance to Italian film, the cinematographer for this movie suggested that Reeves grow a beard. His name? Mario Bava.
*Levine spent more money promoting this movie than it cost to make. He was ahead of his time, if today’s movies are any indication. He also introduced the concept of saturation booking by using over 600 prints of this film, which at the time was a huge number of prints to be struck, as most theaters only had one screen.
**Reeves had turned down A Fistful of Dollars because he felt that Italians couldn’t make a western out of a Japanese samurai film. He also turned down Dr. No — this could be apocryphal — because they could not afford his salary demands.
***Her maid is played by Luciana Paluzzi, who was Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, as well as appearing in The Green Slime, Jess Franco’s 99 Women and A Black Veil for Lisa.
It’s hard to believe this forgotten—and to be honest, not very good—62-minute Roger Corman quickie shot in 1958 for a mere $68,000 over the course of seven days wound up in WGA arbitration, but it did: Writer Martin Varno disputed the writing credit given to Roger’s brother, Gene. Even harder to believe: Harold Jacob Smith, who worked on the film’s rewrites/dialogue doctoring, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Defiant Ones (1958). But, hey, look at what happened to James Cameron (Galaxy of Terror) and Ron Howard (Grand Theft Auto). (By the way: Don’t forget to read my “October 2019 Scarecrow Challenge” review of Ice Cream Man starring Ron’s brother, Clint.)
Starting out as a screenplay “Creature from Galaxy 27” and influenced
by the Howard Hawks box-office smash, The Thing from Another World
(1951), Night of the Blood Beast tells the story of the return of the
first deep space astronaut—implanted with an alien embryo. Although astronaut
John Corcoran’s body seems “dead,” it maintains a blood pressure and harbors
strange, alien seahorse-like cells his blood stream that grow into a
lizard-like fetus. Then the film goes off into a weird, homosexual subtext with
the alien and Corcoran “protecting” each other.
Ah, a human male as a walking alien-baby incubator? I’ve seen this
before. Well, besides the homosexual subtext, it does sound familiar, doesn’t
it? Well, doesn’t it Dan O’Bannon?
Sadly, while Night of the Blood Beast is clearly an Alien antecedent, the film—because of its low-budget quality further stymied by the amateurish acting of TV series bit-players—goes unmentioned alongside the more formidable Alien precursors of Forbidden Planet, It! The Terror of Beyond Space, Queen of Blood, and, especially, Mario Bava’s Planet of Vampires. Well, doesn’t it, Dan O’ Bannon?
During its initial success, literary critics noted Alien’s
similarities to the Agatha Christie tale, And Then There Were None (1939),
and the short stories “Discord in Scarlet” and “The Black Destroyer” in A.E van
Vogt’s collection, The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950), which could
have possibly influenced Martin Varno’s storytelling. It certainly did
influence—although he flat out denied it—O’ Bannon’s storytelling: so much so
that 20th Century Fox settled with van Vogt out of court.
Speaking of familiar: B&S readers are familiar with Corman’s house of recycling: Stunt footage from Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto turned up in several of his ‘70s hicksploitation films . . . and how many times did we see Battle Beyond the Stars SFX shots reused? Thus, you’ve seen Night of the Blood Beast’s alien costume before: In Teenage Caveman (1958), which wrapped two weeks before Blood Beast began shooting. Some film reviewers describe it as “a bear crossed with a moldy parrot”—and they’re right! Is the costume as bad as Richard “Jaws” Kiel’s The Solarite—with the light bulb eyes—in Phantom Planet (1961)? Yep. And since when does an alien, only by monitoring Earth’s radio broadcasts, develop a dialect worthy of a Royal Shakespearean Company actor? Book this parrot for the CBS Evening News. He should be holding a skull and crying out for Desdemona. “The parrot is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille!”
If you need more fun-filled, Roger Corman sci-fi tomfoolery, check out Night
of the Blood Beast’s John Baer in Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) and Ed Nelson in Attack of the Crab Monster (1957).
Raoul Walsh had an interesting career, going from acting as John Wilkes Booth in D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation to directing High Sierra, They Died With Their Boots On and The Naked and the Dead. Here, he travels to Spain — and Pinewood Studios — to shoot a comedy western with Kenneth More and Jayne Mansfield.
Originally intended to be a movie with Clifton Webb and Marilyn Monroe, this ended up being part of a three-movie deal 20th Century Fox made to film three movies in England. The studio was pushing Mansfield to take over for the temperamental Marilyn Monroe, but she upset execs by getting pregnant with her second child and missed days of work.
There’s a decent supporting cast — Willaim Campbell (Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte), Robert Morley (Theater of Blood) and Bruce Cabot (King Kong) — and some great CinemaScope visuals. It’s a trifle about More playing a British man who ends up becoming a sheriff and Mansfield as a tough saloon owner.
Mansfield sings a few songs here, but that’s really the voice of Connie Francis.
Thank the celluloid gods of the analog netherworlds for giving Sam the idea to commemorate the Fast & Furious franchise, thus granting the opportunity to go ’50s hot roddin’ rock n’ roll crazy with this week’s Drive-In Friday tribute.
Tonight’s show takes me back to the days when AMC was still known as “American Movie Classics” and aired actual “classic movies,” most importantly, their American Pop! programming block that ran Saturday Nights from 10:00 p.m to midnight from 1998 to 2003.
To say American Pop! carried a USA Network’s Night Flight* aroma is an understatement, courtesy of its programming roster that featured 1950s and 1960s rock n’ roll-oriented films augmented with classic trailers, music videos cut form period musicals, drive-in movie ads, and old drive-in snipes urging you to “visit the snack bar.” The purpose of the programming block was to ramp an AMC-affiliated 24-hour cable channel . . . that never came to fruition.
Ugh. Heart broken by progress, once again.
Oh, and you can thank — or blame — screenwriter Stewart Stern and director Nicolas Ray for these F&F precursors, for each aspire to emulate the film that started it all: the 1955 juvenile delinquency classic, Rebel Without a Cause. But if you’re looking for social commentaries about clueless parents battling the moral decay of American youth, you best go watch a copy of Richard Brooks’s Blackboard Jungle (1955), instead. And if you’re having Marlon Brando flashbacks ala The Wild One (1953) . . . and if all the “teens” look like 30 year olds, they probably are.
So, alright, gang! Let’s get fast n’ furious, crazy baby! Let’s rock to that hot rockin’ beat, daddy-o!
Movie 1: Hot Rod Girl (1956)
“CHICKEN-RACE . . . ROCK ‘N ROLL . . . YOUTH ON THE LOOSE! . . . ARE THESE OUR CHILDREN? . . . Teen-age terrorists tearing up the streets!”
Now if that fine slice-o-copywritin’ doesn’t inspire you to pony up to the cracklin’ speaker and firin’ up that ol’ bug coil, then nothing will.
As with the plot of most of the Fast & Furious knockoffs of century 21: After his kid brother dies in an illegal street race, a champion drag-racer quits racing. When a new hotshot racer comes to town, he’s forced back into racing to retain his title.
Way to splash that testosterone, guys.
The “Natalie Wood” bad-girl, aka the Hot Rod Girl, who plays the two drag racin’ dopes against each other, is Lori Nelson (co-star of the 1957 rock n’ delinquency flick Untamed Youth with Mamie Van Doren), and the cop on the case is . . . Chuck Connors from Tourist Trap? And one of the “teen” thugs is a 23-year-old Frank Gorshin, aka The Joker of TV’s Batman fame, in his acting debut.
“DRAG STRIP SHOCKS! PISTON-HARD DRAMA! ROCK ‘N ROLL LOVE! . . . A scorching story of the slick chicks who fire up the Big Wheels!”
Hey, dad! It’s more rival car clubs and vehicular homicide via illegal street racing with a poor, misunderstood youth being set up for murder. Oh, and there’s always a heart-toying bad-girl adding to the hot rod drama, in this case, (hubba-hubba) actress Leigh Snowden who — by name alone — makes me feel funny, you know like when you take a Garth Algar-climb up the rope in gym class. Leigh’s other claim to fame: the third Gill-man/Black Lagoon movie that no one cares about: 1956’s The Creature Walks Among Us.
“Young love and teenage kiss . . . hot rods and hot tempers.”
As you can see, the copywriters were having a bad day marketing this James Dean-light knockoff. And you’d think cloning the epitome of teen juvies would lead to bigger roles . . . but not for Chuck Courtney: by the turn of the ’60s he was down to background work as a soldier on Spartacusand as a crewmember on TV’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
He stars as the misunderstood and motherless (typical 27 year old playing an 18-year-old) Johnnie Simpson who lives with his every-criticizing father (see Jim Backus’s in his role as Jim Stark) and Aunt Martha (because aunts are always named “Martha” in the movies). Of course, Johnnie’s family is poor and he can’t afford a fancy hot rod . . . or even a rat rod. But Maurie Weston (hey, that’s Robert Fuller from TV’s Emergency! and Walker, Texas Ranger!), the local town bully-cum-rich kid, has as a set of smokin’ wheels . . . and Jim’s waitress-girlfriend (Melinda Bryon; appeared in 1948’s Kiss the Blood Off My Hands with Burt Lancaster) notices. Yep, Jim’s gotta race for the girl.
Johnnie, my advice: there’s other babes to score at the sock hop. You’ll never win with girls who like the bad-boy. Never. Even when they look like Leigh Snowden.
Now you’re talkin’ Mr. Copywriter. And yes, Mr. Art Director: illegal street racing jousts between Corvettes and Triumph motorcycles is exactly what we want on a poster!
This one has it all: In addition to bike vs. car battles, we have a climatic fishing spear fight scene on the beach, we have (hubba-hubba alert) an on-the-way-up Connie Stevens (of the rockin’ juvie potboilers Young and Dangerous, Eighteen and Anxious, and The Party Crashers issued in ’57 and ’58), and an on-the-way down Fay Wray (do we have to mention her iconic role; she was also in ’56s Rock, Pretty Baby!).
The teen tempers boil when the cleancut members of a sportscar club (complete with sweaters and slacks, natch) runs afoul of a motorcycle gang and it results in the death of one of the instigating bikers. And now they’re out for revenge.
The double hubba-hubba alert comes courtesy of the resident bad-boy chasing femme fatale played by Yvonne Lime, who’s traveled the rockin’ asphalt before in High School Hellcats, Speed Crazy (also a hot rod flick), and Untamed Youth.
“She’s hell on wheels . . . and up for any thrill!”
Seems Mr. Screenwriter dipped the pen into the Shakespearian ink; for this is Othello with hot rods.
Duke (Richard Bakalyan; you’ve seen him across his 150 TV credits into the early ’90s) and Freddie (John Brinkley, who’s traveled this rockin’ road before in Hot Rod Rumble, Teenage Doll, and T-Bird Gang) finance their hot roddin’ lifestyle by stealin’ cars n’ strippin’ auto parts for a fence. When they, along with Duke’s girl, Peg (June Kenney, also of Teenage Doll, but also of 1959’sAttack of the Puppet People and Roger Corman’s Sorority Girl), are goaded into a road race by the resident bad-girl, Janice (Jana Lund, also of High School Hellcats with Yvonne Lime, Elvis Presley’s Loving You, and the rock flick classic, Don’t Knock the Rock . . . but since this B&S About Movies: it’s all about Frankenstein 1970 for our Lundness), a motorcycle cop dies. Let the frames and double crosses, blackmailing and betrayals begin, Desdemona.
Oh, almost forgot: Bruno VeSota is in this as Joe Dobbie (seriously). What ’50s and ’60s film wasn’t the Big V in? Yep, there he is in Attack of the Giant Leeches, A Bucket of Blood, and The Wasp Woman . . . but also of the early rock flicks Daddy-O, Rock All Night, and Carnival Rock. It is actors like you that gives our lives at B&S meaning, Mr. VeSota. We bow to you, sir.
“Crazy kids . . . living to a wild rock n’ roll beat!”
But the “beat” is sung by John Ashley and Gene Vincent???
The ’32 Ford Roadsters as speedin’ fast n’ furious in this tale regarding the trials and tribulations of John Abernathy III, a poor little rich kid who jeopardizes inheriting his father’s wealth with his on-the-down-low, second-rate Elvis crooning with his buddy, Gene Vincent, and his illegal hot roddin’ career. The bad-girl who screws it all up for John is the devilish Lois Cavendish (Jody Fair, best remembered for 1958’s The Brain Eaters, but did the juvie-rock flicks Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow, Girls Town, High School Confidential, and The Young Savages with Burt Lancaster).
And those breasts! Yikes. They’d impale a frail lad like me. No, really.
Hey, those foil hot dog and burger wrappers don’t pick up themselves. And we’ll see you Sunday under the tent for the sock hop! It’ll be a crazy time, dad! (And Leigh Snowden will break my heart, as she goes off with the leather-jacketed and pot smoking Johnny . . . who subsequently abandons her on a bus bench in the middle of nowhere. Guess who comes to her rescue? The heart wants what the heart wants . . . and it’s always bad.)
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
* We previously paid tribute to the USA Network’s Night Flight with a recent, four-movie Drive-In Friday featurette.
Things were really swining in 1958, if Daddy-O has anything to say about things. And John Williams. Yes, the same man who scored Star Wars got his humble beginnings right here in a movie about street racing and singing under the assumed name Daddy-O.
It starts Dick Contino, who at one time was known as the world’s greatest accordion player and ended up becoming a fictional character in the books of James Elroy. No, really.
I can get why my parents worried about my music, because Venom outright told their fans that when they meant “At War with Satan,” the with meant alongside. “Rock Candy Baby,” featured in this film, seems a song that no parent should ever worry about. Ever.
Anyways, back to Dick the accordion player, who is a singing and car racing man who gets beaten easily by a tough girl played by Sandra Giles, who was discovered at Canter’s Deli and went the whole way from Hooker (as in Hooker, Oklahoma) to movie star, to quote an article about her in Life Magazine.
Bruno VeSota, who went on to direct The Brain Eaters, is also in this.
The verdict? Not enough rock. Too much crime. But hey, Sandra Giles should have been in every movie ever and been allowed to beat any man she wanted to in any car race.
Released on a double bill with Roadracers, you can spot a poster for this movie at Jack Rabbit Slims. And the aformentioned Elroy wrote a fictionalized narrative of the making of this movie, Dick Contino’s Blues.
You may worry that you haven’t seen the first two Aztec Mummy films, but trust me, there are so many recaps here that you’ll get caught up really soon.
Somehow, Dr. Krupp has come back from a snakepit to become The Bat and lead a whole new gang. To get what he wants — that gold breastplate that has led him to battle Popoca, Dr. Eduardo Almada, Flor and Pinacate across this film series — he’s made a robot with a human brain that can deliver electronic shocks through its clawed hands.
If you learn anything from this film, maybe you shouldn’t. Aztecs never practiced mummification and used hieroglyphic writing, instead using cremation or simple burial, as well as pictographs. Maybe the filmmakers meant the Incans and the Mayans? Well, they buried Popoca as if he were an Egyptian style mummy, but one thinks that they based that knowledge on Universal horror movies and not any textbook.
Gerd Oswald made the noir films A Kiss Before Dying and Crime of Passion, making him the perfect director for this film. Of course, he’d also direct Agent for H.A.R.M., but let’s stick with his mysery work for now.
Virginia Wilson (Anita Ekberg, two years before La Dolce Vita and as stunning as perhaps any human being has ever or will ever be) is just trying to take a shower at the beach when an escaped mental patient stabs her dog and attacks her. Luckily, her stepbrother Charlie blows him away.
Now she’s the one inside the sanitarium, but not for long, as Dr. Greenwood convinces her to fall in love with him, fake her death and become an exotic dancer at Gypsy Rose Lee’s El Madhouse nightclub. It’d be paradise if it wasn’t for that serial killer following her.
Most of the music in this movie is recyled from On the Waterfront. The book that inspired it, written by Fredric Brown (who also wrote the original Star Trek episode “Arena”), was the inspiration for one of the best known giallo films of all time, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. The script was written by Rober Blees, who also was the scribe for Frogs, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and High School Confidential!
Red Norvo and his Red Norvo Trio, which is actually a quartet and Charlie Mingus played bass in the group before he became a composer, shows up as well. You can also see Red back up Dean Martin for “Ain’t That a Kick In the Head?” in the original Ocean’s 11. The jazz vibraphonist — along with his wife Mildred Bailey — were known as Mr. and Mrs. Swing.
This movie was exactly what I needed to watch. It’s quick, has some great musical numbers and Eckberg was already carrying herself like a star.
Missile to the Moon is an even lower-budget remake — is that possible? — of the low-budget film 1953 film Cat-Women of the Moon.
That movie had 3D going for it, but this one has much younger men in the heroic roles and an army of international beauty contest winners playing the moon maidens. But the dreaded moon spider? Yep. That’s the very same prop from the original film. It was originally built for the movie Tarantula, so here’s to Hollywood for being green years before anyone knew what recycling was.
This film was shot in the Vasquez Rocks, where all cheap films decide to show what the moon or an alien planet looks like. A red gel over the lens of the camera was the attempt to make the sky look different, yet no science was given to the script. How do people explode into flames when there’s no oxygen, after all?
Anyways, two escaped convicts named Gary (Tommy Cook, who is also in HIgh School Hellcats and would go on to write and produce Rollercoaster) and Lon (Gary Clarke, TV’s The Virginian) stowaway on a rocketship that Dirk Green is piloting back to his home satellite, the moon. He’s soon killed by a meteor storm, of course.
Also on board are hunky Steve Dayton and his fiancee June (Cathy Downs, The Amazing Colossal Man), who obviously had no idea what they were getting into. They all soon find themselves up against an underground empire of gorgeous moon women and their evil ruler, Lido (K. T. Stevens, who also shows up in They’re Playing With Fire).
Rock men. Giant spiders. Nina Bara, who was on TV’s Space Patrol. Leslie Parrish, who would go on to pretty much invent C-SPAN and remains an environmental activist. Laurie Mitchell, who plays a very similar role in Queen of Outer Space opposite Zsa Zsa Gabor. Marianne Gaba, the Playboy Playmate of the Month for September 1959, who also plays a robot in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine. These are the menaces and maidens that our convicts must face on…the moon!
This was directed by Richard E. Cunha, whose Frankenstein’s Daughter made the other half of the double bill that this movie appeared on. It was written by H.E. Barrie, who was also behind She Demons and Girl in Room 13 (two other Cunha films), and Vincent Fotre, who wrote Baron Blood.
I have a weakness for movies where female societies have taken over the moon. I blame, of course, Amazon Women on the Moon.
You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. There’s also two different Rifftrax versions: One has Mike Nelson and Fred Willard (Amazon Prime and Tubi) and the other has the original crew (Tubi).
Written, directed and produced by Robert Clarke — the only movie he’d write and direct, sadly, after a career of acting in movies like The Astounding She-Monster — this movie was inspired by the success of that film. After all, Clarke got five percent of She-Monster’s profits in addition to his salary. Although Clarke later admitted that the film was awful, it was a financial success for him and enabled this movie to happen.
With a crew that was made up of University of Southern California film students and a cast of friends and unknowns, this movie was made over twelve weekends with three cinematographers.
An unauthorized sequel, Don Glut’s Wrath of the Sun Demon (which features the real Sun Demon mask from Bob Burns’ collection) was produced in 1965. Two redubbed versions of the original film havealso been released: Hideous Sun Demon: Special Edition and What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon (AKA Revenge of the Sun Demon), the latter of which had Clarke’s blessing. Both Susan Tyrel and Jay Leno were involved with that movie.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this film is the claim that its amongst the first movies to use practical locations, which is common practice today.
Dr. Gilbert “Gil” McKenna (Clarke) falls unconscious after accidentally being exposed to radiation yet he has no burns nor damage to his body. However, when he’s in the sun, he transforms into a prehistoric reptile man, destroying all notions of both scientific evolution and religious Creationism.
Once he realizes that he can never go into the sun again, he does what you or I would do. He drinks himself blind drunk and gets involved with a girl at a bar and battles some toughs over her.
In the scene where the radio announcer is warning the public that the Sun Demon is loose, he then says, “I return to music by the King Sister.” Clarke was married to Alyce King of the singing King Sisters and Marilyn King wrote and performed “Strange Pursuit”, the song in the bar scene.
A $50,000 budget, helped by weekend camera rentals which were more affordable, and a $500 rubber suit has never gone so far as it does in this film.
You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. You can also enjoy Rifftrax commentary over the film on Tubi.