Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

superman mole menSuperman and the Mole Men (1951)
AKA Superman and the Strange People, The Unknown People (Episode title when re-broadcast as a two-parter for Adventures of Superman)

Starring George Reeves, Phyllis Coates, Jeff Corey, Walter Reed, J. Farrell MacDonald, Stanley Andrews, Ray Walker, Hal K. Dawson

Directed by Lee Sholem

Expectations: Low.

twohalfstar


Alright, who’s ready for some Superman? In anticipation of Zack Snyder’s take on Supes, Man of Steel, I’ll be running through 11 films that have previously taken a crack at the last survivor of the planet Krypton. Now what exactly those 11 films are is for me to know and you to find out, but expect things that line up with the grand Silver Emulsion tradition of balancing the mainstream with the not-so mainstream. So once again, who’s ready for some Superman? I can’t hear you! Are you ready?

Oh, so you are ready for some Superman? Well… hmm… this is awkward… in that case, you’ll have to wait. Mostly. Because Superman and the Mole Men isn’t all that much of a Superman movie. He’s in it, and he a few heroic and super things, but mostly it’s about Clark Kent, some intolerant townspeople and a few balding mole men. I had incorrectly assumed that the title referred to some struggle that would occur between Superman and the mole men, and I imagined Superman punching short, squinty-eyed guys in the face, but instead he’s actually protecting the li’l guys! This makes Superman and the Mole Men something of an interesting allegory for the Communist scare in America, and even if it didn’t deliver the super thrills I wanted, it was nice to see Superman protecting the weak and misunderstood mole men. Of course, I would have also accepted him punching them in the face, but when I first envisioned that alternate path I had no way of knowing just how harmless they’d end up being.

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Ace in the Hole (1951)

Ace in the Hole_01Ace in the Hole (1951)
AKA The Big Carnival

Starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Frank Cady, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal, Lewis Martin, John Berkes, Frances Dominguez, Gene Evans

Directed by Billy Wilder

Expectations: Very high. This has been on the watchlist for years.

fourstar


Many years ago, my good friend Uncle Jasper told me about this movie Ace in the Hole. He said something like, “You gotta see it, Will. You’ll love it.” At the time we were both heavily into Billy Wilder’s films, so I made a mental note to see it when I could. The film proved rather hard to track down, though, as it had never been released to DVD and its VHS release had long since gone out of print. But the real reason is most likely my penchant for procrastination, because even when Criterion put out a stunning edition of the film in 2007, I decided to watch it later. This time it was because sometime in the mid-2000s I had tired of watching classic films, so I thought I’d wait until a better time presented itself. But as those who also procrastinate will know, there never is a better time and before you know it another five years have passed. So that’s why Ace in the Hole was the first film I locked in for my Blind Spot list, and honestly, I think the experience was even better for waiting.

Ace in the Hole starts with a pompous journalist riding in his car into Albuquerque, NM… behind a tow truck. Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a big-time journalist from New York, but he’s a little down on his luck. He lost his job so he’s come to Albuquerque in hopes of landing something quick and repairing his reputation through a dynamite story that makes headlines nationwide. Even though the paper in Albuquerque mostly covers local interest stories like fairs and rattlesnake events, he’s confident he can drum up something. Tatum’s confidence is his overwhelming trait, but his entrance via tow truck shows us that he’s also something of an unreliable force and not as self-sufficient as he’d like us to believe.

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Fixed Bayonets! (1951)

Fixed Bayonets! (1951)

Starring Richard Basehart, Gene Evans, Michael O’Shea, Richard Hylton, Skip Homeier, David Wolfson, Henry Kulky, Craig Hill

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Another Sam Fuller, I’m fairly positive I’ll enjoy this, but as it’s his first studio picture I’m worried it may be watered down.


It’s no secret to frequent visitors that Samuel Fuller is one of my most favorite filmmakers. The man was years ahead of his time and his films continue to resonate just as well, if not better, than they did upon release. I approached my viewing of Fixed Bayonets! with slight apprehension though, as I feared that Fuller’s transition to the studio system (his previous three films were all independently produced) would cramp his style a bit. While Fixed Bayonets! does not have the hard-hitting social commentary and racial tension of Fuller’s other 1951 film, The Steel Helmet, it makes up for that with hard-hitting war action and survival drama. This is essentially a smaller, more localized version of Fuller’s epic The Big Red One.

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The Steel Helmet (1951)

The Steel Helmet (1951)

Starring Gene Evans, William Chun, Robert Hutton, Steve Brodie, James Edwards, Richard Loo, Sid Melton, Richard Monahan, Harold Fong, Neyle Morrow, Lynn Stalmaster

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Love it, and hoping to get some more out of it the second go-round.


After a long hiatus, I finally return to my Samuel Fuller series. I have seen this film once before, about ten or so years back, and I was simply blown away. It was the second Sam Fuller movie I had seen, but the first that I truly loved. Shock Corridor was the first for those that care, and that one is so out there that I had a hard time wrapping my head around it in any meaningful way the first time around. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t necessarily like it either. The Steel Helmet however, took me by the scruff of my neck and threw me directly into the fire and the passion of Sam Fuller’s best work.

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The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

Starring Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin, Andy Devine, Robert Easton, Douglas Dick, Tim Durant

Directed by John Huston

Expectations: Moderate. It will be interesting to see how the Civil War is portrayed in a 1950s film.


[Note: This is another review I did for my History class, in slightly edited form.]

John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage is not your typical war film. It’s more detached from the battles than standard entries into the genre, choosing to focus on the emotional makeup of one company of soldiers, and specifically the youth Henry Fleming (Audie Murphy). Murphy was a highly decorated soldier during World War II so he was no stranger to the nature of war. He plays the role of the scared, worried Army private very well, communicating the fear that any young man must face in the heat of battle.

The film’s tone is very contemplative and features readings from the source novel as narration to drive the story forward and connect the viewers with the struggles of this young man. Huston chooses to shoot many dialogue scenes using low angles which might show how the character is powerful in another film, but here it shows how Fleming wrestles furiously with his feelings. In one particular scene, Fleming meets up with a wounded squad mate who inexplicably runs to the top of a hill. Fleming chases after and when he catches him, the wounded man speaks incoherently while they are both framed from a low angle. The nobility of the wounded man confronts Fleming in these low angle shots. He cannot turn away from the imminent death of the comrade he deserted, his mind filled with the crushing regret and shame of his actions. He longs for “the red badge of courage,” a wound that would prove he was the man he wanted to be.

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