Tuesday, August 1, 2017

July Quick Picks and Pans – Hammer Month II

The Snorkel (1958) After her mother’s supposed suicide, Candy (Mandy Miller) suspects her stepfather is the real cause for the unexpected death. Candy also accuses him of killing her father, years earlier. Unfortunately, no one believes Candy, writing it off as mere flights of fancy. The suspense mounts as Candy attempts to gather evidence, fearing she’ll be next on his hit list. Peter van Eyck is chilling as Paul Decker, Candy’s sociopathic stepfather, who wants his hands on a lucrative inheritance, and wears everyone’s doubt like a protective shroud. As the audience we’re a mute witness to Candy’s plight, as she tries in vain to reveal Paul’s scheme. Thanks to Kerry from Prowler Needs a Jump for suggesting this little overlooked gem.

Rating: ****. Available on DVD

Cash on Demand (1961) Peter Cushing and André Morrell star as a banker and extortionist, respectively, in this taut thriller from director Quentin Lawrence. Cushing displays great range in his role as Harry Fordyce, a fastidious man, forced into a situation that will test his values to the limit. Morrell is also excellent as the ruthless but charming criminal master mind Colonel Gore Hepburn, who holds Fordyce’s wife and son as collateral for the 93,000 pounds resting in the bank safe. You can practically see the wheels turning inside Cushing’s head as his character looks for a way to save his family and his reputation. The tension is palpable as the two match wits. Most of the film works so well that it’s easy to forgive Cash on Demand’s hasty ending, which wraps things up too neatly. Otherwise, it’s a solid effort by all involved.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Paranoiac (1963) Director Freddie Francis and writer Jimmy Sangster’s Hitchcock-flavored suspense film is a disturbing portrait of a family caught in the grip of mental illness. Alcoholic playboy Simon (Oliver Reed) lives with his mentally unstable sister Eleanor (Janette Scott) in their deceased parents’ mansion. Meanwhile, their domineering aunt (Sheila Burrell) keeps a watchful eye on the family fortune. Things take an odd turn when their long-dead (or is he?) brother Tony (Alexander Davion) returns, laying claim to their sizable inheritance. It’s not about the myriad plot twists and turns, but the performances by Reed and Scott which make this film particularly memorable, along with one of the creepiest masks in Hammer history.
Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) This classy adaptation of the venerable Gaston Leroux story by director Terence Fisher and writer Anthony Hinds (under the pseudonym John Elder) is watchable, but takes an otherwise by-the-numbers approach to the material. Herbert Lom is fine as the brooding title character, but the real standout is Michael Gough as the duplicitous and lecherous composer Lord Ambrose d'Arcy.  The atmosphere is suitably effective, and the sets reflect Hammer’s knack for doing a lot with relatively little, but the romance between Christine (Heather Sears) and Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) fails to ignite many sparks.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD

 Stolen Face (1952) Paul Henreid stars in this well-acted and capably directed (by Terence Fisher) Hammer noir. Gifted plastic surgeon (Is there any other kind in this type of film?) Dr. Philip Ritter goes on holiday and falls in love with a beautiful concert pianist (Lizabeth Scott). Trouble is, she’s already engaged to another man. He returns to his work, a broken man, and concocts a plan to reconstruct the face of a scarred felon. He reshapes her visage to match his unrequited love, and marries the ex-con, in a misguided effort to mend her wayward lifestyle. Things go about as well as you would expect, as she reverts to her old ways of petty thievery and hanging with an unsavory crowd. But it gets weirder, when Dr. Ritter’s old flame enters the picture again, and wants to pick up where they left off. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with her doppelganger. It’s an interesting, albeit off-putting premise, with an ending that’s a bit too convenient, and better than Dr. Ritter deserves.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

One Million Years B.C. (1966) The film’s trailer touted, “Not since time began, has the primitive scene been captured for the screen with such imaginative realism.” Uh… right. Anyone seeking scientific accuracy should probably look elsewhere, but One Million Years B.C. deserves credit where it’s due. There are some nice stop-motion effects by Ray Harryhausen, along with some not-so-special effects featuring a giant projected iguana and tarantula. Of course, the film’s raison d'être, Raquel Welch (But why is Martine Beswick always overlooked?) supplies some special effects of her own, which should be reason enough for some folks to check this out. Sure, it’s silly and inconsequential, but not bad as brainless fun for a lazy Saturday morning.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

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