Mary Poppins (1964)

Starting with Johnny Tremain, Robert Stevenson made a career of directing some of the best movies that DIsney made, such as Darby O’Gill and the Little PeopleThe Absent-Minded ProfessorThat Darn Cat!Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many more. Of all these movies, Mary Poppins is the best considered.

Beyond being a commercial success — It was the highest-grossing film of 1964 — Mary Poppins received a total of 13 Academy Awards nominations and won five: Best Actress for Julie Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” This would be the only time in Walt Disney’s lifetime that he’d see that kind of recognition for one of his studio’s films.

Disney first attempted to purchase the film rights to Mary Poppins from P. L. Travers in 1938. Travers refused, as she didn’t think that a film version would work. For two decades, Disney tried to make the movie until Travers agreed in 1961 with the condition that she receive script approval, finally being listed as the consultant to the film.

She wasn’t a fan of the film, feeling that it cut down too many of the rougher aspects of Poppins, didn’t like the music and truly disliked the animation. The result? She ruled out any further adaptations of the later Mary Poppins novels.

Travers was not invited to the premiere but managed to get an invitation from a Disney executive. At  the after-party, she walked up to Disney and loudly informed him that the animated sequence had to be removed. Disney responded, “Pamela, the ship has sailed” and walked away.

While the film is really about the redemption of George Banks as Poppins brings his family together, as I saw this as a kid at the Super 51 drive-in, it was really a chance to get a longer episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, one of my childhood favorites.

It also had to be some kind of victory for Julie Andrews, who made her feature film acting debut after a successful stage career. She had just dealt with Jack L. Warner, who had replaced her with Audrey Hepburn for the role of Eliza Doolittle in his screen adaptation of My Fair Lady, despite her originated the role on Broadway. It’s pretty amazing to do that — Disney even held up production so she could have her first child — and win the Best Actress Oscar.

If you ever want to see the lasting legacy of this film today, take a ride on the Walt Disney World Monorail System, which this movie paid for. The safety system on all of the train cars is called the MAPO (MAry POppins) safety system and all Walt Disney World Railroad steam locomotives are fitted with a boiler safety device marked MAPO.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators (1964)

I have no idea who the John Heston this movie’s poster promises, but I do know that this peplum film was obviously made in the wake of another movie with a very similar title. It’s also the third film in the series of Dieci Gladiatori films that began with Gianfranco Parolini’s 1963 effort The Ten Gladiators and continued with Nick Nostro’s Triumph of the Ten Gladiators.

Nostro would direct this as well, working from a script that he co-wrote with Alfonso Balcázar (A Pistol for Ringo) and Sergio Sollima (The Big Gundown).

The film begins with Rocca (Dan Vadis, who was a member of Mae West’s Muscleman Revue before acting in sword and sandal films) and his nine gladiators performing for the emperor. However, they are followed by the gladiators of Thrace, who are forced to kill one another, leaving only one man standing. The last two are a father and a son, which Spartacus (Giovanni Di Benedetto, using the John Heston name like a little sneak!) stops the madness and lobs a sword at the emperor’s balcony box.

Rocca’s gladiators defend Spartacus against all odds and also wildly shifting narrative tones. At some moments, wacky music plays as the men battle soldiers and at other moments, there is a discussion of dogs shredding people apart. Sometimes wacky, sometimes horrifying, that’s Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators, which totally features its own “I am Spartacus” scene.

Also, Helga Liné shows up as Daliah. You may — you totally should — remember her from Horror ExpressSpecial Mission Lady Chaplin, The Vampires’ Night OrgySo Sweet…So PeverseHorror Rises from the TombNightmare Castle and so many more films.

Who put all this together, throwing the right edit together so that this film made some semblance of narrative sense? Bruno Mattei, in one of his first jobs as an editor. He’d continue in that role for the early part of his career, as well as doing a similar job on nearly all of his own films.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Attack from Space (1964)

There are nine Super Giant films and all of them were brought to the U.S. by Medallion Films, who turned them into four movies. This story would be The Artificial Satellite and the Destruction of Humanity and The Spaceship and the Clash of the Artificial Satellite combined to make one longer film. So basically, this would be the fifth and sixth parts of the story. If you want to get caught up, you’ll need to check out Atomic Rulers of the World and Invaders from Space. When you finish this one, you can get the rest of the story in Evil Brain from Outer Space.

Starman is a human-like being created from the strongest steel by the Peace Council of the Emerald Planet. He’s been sent to our planet to protect us from the Sapphire Galaxy, who are blowing up the Himalayans. To make their plan move quicker, they kidnap Dr. Yamanaka and his family and force him to use his spaceship — yes, he just so happens to have a spaceship — to decimate the Earth.

Strangely enough, this movie has a death star and a weapon that destroys planets. I mean, Star Wars would never steal anything from a Japanese movie, right?

You can download this from the Internet Archive.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

What a goofy movie.

Yet, what fun! Byron Haskins, who also made The War of the Worlds, was obviously having the time of his life and had a budget and crew talented enough to take the Daniel Defoe’s classic novel and transport it to space.

Commander Christopher “Kit” Draper, USN (Paul Mantee, The Manitou) and Colonel Dan McReady, USAF (Adam West!) reach the Marsin their spaceship and within moments, the future Batman is dead and Kit is lost on the Red Planet.

Speaking of Batman, Victor Lundin, who plays the alien slave that Kit names Friday, was the Octopus on that show. He also played the first Klingon the crew of the Enterprise ever met on Star Trek. When Lundin did science fiction conventions, he would often sing, and he even wrote a song about this movie called “Robinson Crusoe on Mars.”  Thanks to Yeah, Flik! for posting this.

There’s also a monkey named Mona along for the trip.

A sequel Robinson Crusoe in the Invisible Galaxy was planned and the actors thought that this movie would make their careers. It did not, as Paramount barely distributed the movie and the reviews were not kind.

Even stranger, screenwriter Ib Melchior and Victor Lundin collaborated on a script called Columbus of the Stars after this movie. They showed it to Paramount and soon enough, Star Trek came out. That said, this story feels very urban legend, as Desilu produced the original series.

There’s also a scene where the monkey is clearly taking a dump, so keep your eyes open for that!

Lee Majors Week: Strait-Jacket (1964)

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran on January 21, 2019. We are rerunning it for our “Lee Majors Week” of film reviews.

After the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hollywood suddenly had roles for older actresses, as part of psycho-biddy films. And no one was more in demand than Joan Crawford, who agreed to be in this William Castle film with the following demands: script and cast approval, a $50,000 salary and 15 percent of the profits.

Lucy Harbin (Joan!) has spent two decades in a mental hospital after the axe murders of her philandering husband (Lee Majors!) and his mistress. After she gets out, she moves in with his brother Bill (Leif Ericson, who is also in I Saw What You Did with Crawford, along with his wife Emily and her daughter, Carol (Diane Baker, who Crawford hired to replace Anne Helm).

Ironically, Crawford herself was a replacement for Joan Blondell, who was injured before filming and couldn’t make the movie.

Carol seems happy and unharmed by the fact that she watched her mother sliced up her father and his lover with an axe. In fact, she does everything she can to keep her mother from being depressed, changing her look back to how she appeared when she was young.

Soon enough, Joan is acting the hell out of this movie, a new series of axe murders are happening and George Kennedy shows up looking young and perverted. Oh yeah — you can also totally play a drinking game by looking for every appearance of Pepsi in this movie. Even crazier, the character of Dr. Anderson was played by Mitchell Cox, who was not an actor, but rather the Vice President of the Pepsi-Cola Company. Joan did this one all on her own, without even asking Castle. Oh Joan!

Even though William Castle had the best gimmick of all — an A-list star in a B-movie horror flick — he still gave audience members little cardboard axes for coming to see the movie. And at several theaters, he brought Joan along, coming out to greet her public.

My favorite thing in this entire movie is that the Columbia logo’s torch-bearing woman is decapitated at the end of the movie!

Look — I’m not going to be unbiased when it comes to Joan Crawford movies. This one is ridiculous — a near giallo with Joan acting decades younger than she should — but that makes it so much greater than it should be.

And as for Mr. Majors: He booked this first role as Joan’s philandering husband — although uncredited — at the age 25. Soon after, he booked a 1965 episode of Gunsmoke and an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, “The Monkey’s Paw.” Then he beat out 400 other actors — including a young Burt Reynolds on the shortlist — as Heath Barkley in a new ABC western series known as the The Big Valley.

You can get Strait-Jacket from Shout! Factory or as part of the Psycho-Biddy Double Feature with Berserk! from Mill Creek Entertainment.

SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

With the box office success of King Kong vs. Godzilla and Mothra, Toho chose to send Godzilla against the butterfly in a movie that was meant for children instead of adults. It’s also the last movie — until the Heisei era — that Godzilla would be against humanity.

As a typhoon leaves behind great damage, a bluish-gray object has been left behind as well as a giant egg which is taken by Kumayama, the owner entrepreneur of Happy Enterprises. He decides that science will have nothing to do with the egg. It’s time to make money off it.

That’s when the twin Shobijin arrive and explain that the egg belongs to Mothra and if it hatches, Mothra’s larva child will destroy Tokyo as it looks for food. The Japanese government begs them to send Mothra to stop Godzilla, who has come back for the strange object left behind, one that is emitting radiation. Despite all the outside world has done to their island and even though Mothra is in great pain and dying of old age, they decide that they must help.

While Godzilla does destroy Mothra with his atomic breath, her twin children arise in their larva form and spray the King of the Monsters repeatedly with their silk and allow Godzilla to be captured.

Henry G. Saperstein acquired the American theatrical and TV rights. He planned on the name Godzilla vs the Giant Moth, but American-International Pictures bought the movie and released it as Godzilla vs. The Thing, censoring Mothra from the poster to build audience excitement for who the big green lizard would fight. After so many of their films being released in America, Toho shot footage specifically for export, such as a scene where U.S. troops help the Japanese fight the monsters.

When everyone arrives on Infant Island, the skeleton of a turtle can be seen in the background. This character, known as the Mystery Bones of Infant Island, is a living kaiju that was inspired by Mondo Cane.

SON OF KAIJU DAY MARATHON: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Godzilla used to be the biggest and baddest there is, but with this movie, Toho introduced King Ghidorah, who was based on the legend of Orochi. By adding this villain to the Godzilla universe, the big green guy completed his journey from heel to babyface.

While I usually don’t enjoy the human parts of these movies, this one has a pretty good story. A princess pursued by assassins has been possessed by an alien who can predict the future, such as Rodan’s return and Godzilla attacking.

That alien princess has come to Earth to warn us of Ghidorah, the creature that wiped out her home planet of Venus. Only the combined powers of Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra  — in larvae form as having two flying kaiju would have been too complicated — can stop this three-headed demonic force.

This film follows Mothra vs. Godzilla and continues the trend of bringing the Toho monsters together to create a shared universe. Every monster in this movie would return  for 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster

As always. Germany had the best title for this movie: Frankenstein’s Monsters in Battle against Ghidorah.

Teen-Age Strangler (1964)

This regional film was made well outside the Hollywood system, being shot in the wild and wonderful world of Huntingdon, West Virginia. Most of the cast and crew of this film were friends or relatives of director Ben Parker, who had made plenty of shorts and the film Invisible Avenger.

The writer, Clark Davis, was the general manager of WHTN-TV, and called in plenty of favors to get locations, like Martin’s Restaurant which was right down the street from the station.

It’s all about a trouble youth who is continually in trouble with the law, which makes things bad when young ladies start showing up dead and covered with lipstick. This is a movie that can’t decide if it wants to be a cop movie, a horror shocker or a bad kids in trouble film. I guess it can be all of these things, but it’s mostly about people dancing and driving. Lots of driving.

John Humphries, who plays Mikey, had never acted before, so he followed the lead of Jo Canterbury, who plays Betty. The more over the top she got, the more he tried to top her. Because that’s what acting is all about, right? As Moe Phelps once told me, “All acting is is jumping up and down and yelling and screaming a lot.”

Kitten with a Whip (1964)

Ann-Margret was supposed to be the next Marilyn Monroe, but to fully live up to that idea, she’d have to make something other than musicals like Viva Las Vegas and Bye Bye Birdie. So what she ended up making was a movie that Brigitte Bardot turned down.

Politician David Stratton (John Forsythe) has his wife leave home for the weekend and wakes up to an escapee from a juvenile detention center named Jody (Ann-Margret) asleep in his daughter’s bed. How’d she get out? Oh, you know, she just stabbed someone and set it all on fire.

There ends up being a trip to Tijuana and no small amount of violence at the end of this movie. That makes sense, because the hotel that these scenes was shot at is the same one that Psycho was filmed at. Speaking of recycling, it also uses the music cues from Touch of Evil.

Crazy Wild and Crazy (1964)

Man, there’s just something insane to me about camera clubs. Yes, in post World War 2 craziness, there used to be these things where men would buy cameras and would all pitch in to hire women to come pose for them. Bettie Page did it and that’s how I learned about it and I still can’t imagine how weird it was to have a bunch of leering guys barely able to focus a camera filming women who just wanted to make enough money for the rent.

Crazy Wild and Crazy is the Barry Mahon story of a photographer narrating to us all about what it’s like to shoot pictures and movies. He even goes to a nudist camp where a slide whistle appears on the soundtrack so often that you’ll start hearing it throughout your normal day. Listen — there it is.

Barry’s cast this time includes Darlene Bennett (Bad Girls Go to Hell) and her twin Dawn (Confessions of a Bad Girl), Rita Bennett (who is also in Raging Bull as well as movies by Joe Sarno), Dolores Carlos (Pagan Island), Gigi Darlene (The Love Statue), Marlene Eck (White Slaves of Chinatown), Sandra Sinclair (Blood Feast) and Maria Stinger (Goldilocks and the Three Bares).

Mahon worked with Harry Novak on this, which is really like Superman getting to meet Spider-Man in my universe.

You can download this on the Internet Archive.