Movie Renter's Guide
Classic Movies - Part 1 - September, 1995

By John E. Johnson, Jr.


An Alternative to Pot Luck When Your First Choice is Checked Out

"The Invisible Ray", Universal Pictures, 1936, Black and White, Monophonic Sound; Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi; These two actors traded off playing doctors and monsters in their careers, and in this film, they both portrayed doctors. Dr. Janos Rukh (Karloff) invites scientists, including Dr. Benet (Lugosi) to his laboratory to show them, through a star gazing instrument which can trace back in time, that a meteorite landed on earth. This meteorite contained an element more powerful than radium. Rukh sets out on an expedition to find the meteorite, but upon locating it, is contaminated (I am still trying to figure out how the studio special effects department got Karloff to glow in the dark). He slowly goes insane, while the element is now being used to cure diseases in Dr. Benet's hospital. Rukh vows revenge against those who took the glory for his discovery. In the climax, Rukh's mother must decide whether her brilliant son is to live or die. Great photography, dark and mysterious. Low level of violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Laserdisc.

"The Sea Hawk", Warner Brothers, 1940, Black and White, Monophonic Sound; Errol Flynn, Claude Raines, Brenda Marshall; The combination of athletic and dashing Flynn, action director Michael Curtiz, and a wonderful musical score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold make this one of the great swashbuckler movies of all time. Flynn plays Geoffrey Thorpe, a British privateer who has a fondness for pirating Spanish ships. This does not sit very well with Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) as she concerns herself over building a fleet to ward off the Armada. The love interest here, for Thorpe, is the niece Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall) of the Spanish Ambassador Don Jose de Cordoba (Claude Raines). English traitor Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell) and de Cordoba conspire to trap Thorpe in Panama using a gold shipment, which Thorpe hopes to plunder for himself with a share for the Queen to build the English fleet. Unfortunately, Thorpe is captured and is sent to the Spanish galley as a slave. The slaves escape, and Thorpe intercepts a letter from Spain to Wolfingham which confirms that the Armada will attack England. The duel at the palace between Thorpe and Wolfingham is marvelous, with much use of shadows. The Queen bestows knighthood on Thorpe and then makes a concluding speech on deck of one of the ships. At the time this film was made, England was about to be attacked by Germany, and the entire story, including the Queen's last statement, was aimed at arousing the public. However, now decades later, the movie survives simply as a thrilling adventure of the high seas. Moderate violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Laserdisc.

"Red River", Monterey Productions, 1948, Black and White, Monophonic Sound; John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan; Howard Hawks directed this, his first western, and Clift made his screen debut. Wayne portrays Thomas Dunson, a cowboy intent on building his own cattle ranch in Texas. He and his friend "Groot" (Walter Brennan) find a young boy, Matthew Garth, abandoned on the plains and adopt him. A few years pass, the boy has grown to manhood (played by Clift at this point), and the ranch is completed, but the end of the Civil War has left the South bankrupt, and Dunson decides to drive the cattle to Missouri over the Chisholm Trail. During the journey, Dunson's hardened character causes a revolt by the men, and Garth takes over as the boss, leaving Dunson behind, wounded, and pledging to kill Matthew when he catches up with him (when John Wayne says,"I'm gonna kill ya", it gets your attention). The drive moves ahead, and when they come upon a wagon train under siege by Indians, Matthew meets and falls for Tess Milay (Joanne Dru). The cattle drive continues, and finally reaches Abilene, Kansas, where Matt sells the stock, and then lies in wait for Tom who now has some hired guns with him. The showdown between Wayne and Clift is quite entertaining, with Dru firing some shots of her own. Brennan played "old geezers" for much of his career, but he was only 42 in this film, one year older than Wayne, who thought this might be his last big role because of his age (fat chance). Moderate violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Laserdisc.

"Peyton Place", Twentieth Century Fox, 1957, Color, Stereophonic Sound; Lana Turner, Lloyd Nolan, Arthur Kennedy; Although this film shocked viewers in 1957, it is mild by the standards of today, and we can now concentrate on the fine melodrama which was nominated for nine academy awards. The story concerns a small New England town (filmed in Maine) just before the outbreak of WW II. A high school senior, Allison MacKenzie, narrates the opening sequence, presenting the town and countryside in breathtaking photography. We are then introduced to Peyton Place townspeople and their various problems. The film touches on drug, alcohol, and child abuse, adultery, and rape - difficult subjects for 1957. However, it is done in such a way as to teach us a lesson rather than to arouse sensuality. The underlying theme is one of learning to communicate in ways other than gossip, and discovering the connection between love and sex at a time when Victorian attitudes were still deeply embedded in our culture. Moderate level of violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Wide Screen Laserdisc.

"The Young Lions", Twentieth Century Fox, 1958, Black and White, Stereophonic Sound; Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Dean Martin; The opening scene is the Bavarian Alps, and it is 1938; the storm clouds of war have cast their shadows over Europe. Christian Diestl (Brando) is romancing a young American woman (Barbara Rush) who is on vacation. She questions him at a party about his political stance. He feels Hitler is a hope for Germany but says he is non-partisan. We are suddenly thrust into the early part of the War, and Christian is now a Lieutenant in the German Army. An incident along a road in German-occupied France shows him to be quite humane and sensitive. The scene switches to the Draft Board in New York City, where Michael Whiteacre (Dean Martin) and Noah Ackerman (Montgomery Clift) are being classified for the draft. They both get 1A status and are told to be ready to report for duty. This is the beginning of a friendship that develops throughout the film. Michael, who is a professional singer, invites Noah, a meek sales clerk at a department store, to a party. Noah meets a young woman with whom he falls in love. Michael's fiancee, who is also present at the party, is the same woman that Christian was romancing in Bavaria at the beginning of the film, and thus, we have the link which binds the three main characters (Michael, Noah, and Christian) together. The story moves to North Africa, and Christian is witness to an attack on a British camp at dawn. The survivors are shot, and Christian is appalled, refusing to shoot any of the wounded British. He now despises what he once admired, and he watches the blood of fellow human beings drain into the sand, along with his former ideals of German honor. After Michael and Noah go through boot camp, they are sent into duty, and the war moves rapidly forward. Christian visits Berlin to find it in ruins, and then, on a lonely hillside, he meets Michael and Noah who are part of the team sent to liberate the concentration camps. The three men find their destiny in the conclusion to the story. Brando is astounding in this film; his makeup and German accent transform him. I never thought anyone could compare with Olivier, but Brando truly does. Moderate violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Wide Screen Laserdisc.

"Journey to the Center of the Earth", Twentieth Century Fox, 1959, Color, Stereophonic Sound; James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl; This Jules Verne classic tells the story of Scottish Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (Mason) who, with a young student named Alec McKuen (Boone), heads for Iceland in search of a legendary path which leads from a volcano to the earth's core. Their trip is sabotaged by a competitor who is then found murdered by a mysterious descendant of the man who blazed the original trail into the volcano. A beam of sunlight at dawn, shining through a crevice in a mountain, points to the correct opening in the volcano (turn the sound up during this scene and watch your cat fly off the couch). Professor Lindenbrook and McKuen are forced to take the wife (Dahl) of the murdered scientist along on the trip in exchange for the supplies which the scientist had purchased. A tall Icelander and his duck round out the crew, and they begin. Earthquakes, phosphorescent pools, crystalline caves, and giant lizards, not to mention the murderer, who is also trying to reach the center of the earth, provide high action and intense moments in this fine science fiction film. Negligible violence, no sexually explicit scenes, or foul language. VHS and Wide Screen Laserdisc.

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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