Tuesday, August 30, 2011

'Never Take Sweets from a Stranger'
is an undervalued gem from Hammer Films

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka "Never Take Candy from a Stranger") (1960)
Starring: Janina Faye, Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Allison Leggatt, Frances Green, Bill Nagy, and Patrick Aylmer
Director: Cyril Frankel
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

After his daughter (Faye) is victimized by a pedophile, a school principal (Allen) finds himself faced with indifferent law enforcement and fearful citizens of the small town he lives in... because the man who abused his daughter is the patriarch of the rich family who unofficially runs the community.

If you're prone to write off Hammer Films as merely the creators of old horror movies and cheap thrillers, you need to see this movie. It's the one of the most realistic treatments of a child molestation case to ever be put on film, with its portrayal of people willing to allow a known pedophile prey on their children in order to preserve their jobs and reputations, and with its portrayal of the difficulty the justice system can face when attempting to address criminals like this--especially when they hire ruthless attorneys with morals not much different than their own.

Painfully and frighteningly realistic--and perhaps even depressingly so, as not much seems to have changed when it comes to the world turning a blind eye toward and making excuses for rich and powerful pedophiles--this is a film that builds steadily and relentlessly toward a shocking finale... which must have seemed even more-so to audiences in 1960 when this film was first released. Great performances from child actress Janina Faye and Patrick Aylmer go a long way to making this movie as great as it is--Faye is perfect as girl around which the story swirls, coming across as believable and realistic throughout; while Aylmer manages to portray menace and outright evil in his scenes without uttering a word. The talent of these two performers is what makes the climax of the film as harrowing as it is... especially once it becomes clear that the filmmakers are going to break one of the biggest film taboos of all and that a little child will be dead by the hands of a human monster before the end credits roll.

Although this is probably not one of Roman Polanski's favorite films--not only does it deal with the damage pedophiles can do to victims (even when they don't rape them, like he does) the pedophile here is ultimately brought to justice--it is worth seeing by anyone who can appreciate a well-made drama.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sgt. Pepper's Stairway to Heaven

Here's something odd but very fun: A Beatles tribute band performing "Stairway to Heaven".

Friday, August 26, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday:
Beating the bad economy...

If you can't find work, one option might be to create a service and find a market for it.

One possibility is to join work and pleasure and start a Bathing Beauty Custom Painting business. It sure beats moronic rioting and trashing your own neighborhoods.

(This photo was originally spotted at Pretty Pictures.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A better movie than I had expected

Anatomy of a Psycho (1961)
Starring Darrell Howe, Ronnie Burns, Pamela Lincoln, Michael Granger, Frank Killmond, Judy Howard, and Don Devlin
Director: Boris Petrof
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

An emotionally unstable young man (Howe) is driven over the edge when the brother he hero-worships is executed for murder. He embarks on a campaign of revenge against those he blames for his brother's death, starting with assault, moving onto arson, and ultimately murder.

"Anatomy of a Pyscho" is one of those juvenile delinquent dramas that seemed to be very popular fare during the 1950s and into the 1960s, but which I have only seen a precious few that weren't either so deadly dull and/or bone-achingly preachy that I wanted to start hitting myself over the head with a hammer just to make watching less painful. Either I have been unlucky in my picks, or this film genre saw a higher quotient of crap than most others because the fact that I have to count "The Violent Years", which was written by Edward D. Wood Jr. and directed by a fellow not much more competent than he was, as one of the best examples of the juvenile delinquent drama. (Even if most of the juveniles seem to be in their early 20s, as is usually the case with these movies.)

So, given my past experience, it was a pleasant surprise to find this film to be quickly paced, decently acted, and refreshingly free of heavy-handed messaging. The dialogue is awful--vacillating from over-the-top 1950s hep-catness to old-school over-the-top melodrama, but the effort put in by the cast of the film goes a long way to proving the adage that a good actor can save a lousy script as everyone featured elevates the material to a level beyond its natural worth. Heck, Pamela Lincoln and Michael Granger must have been downright acting geniuses, because they manage to make their cheesy, stilted lines sound completely natural.

Still, not even the greatest actors of them all can overcome the shortcomings of indifferent cinematography and lighting, and a weak director who seems to lose his grip on the movie in the final few minutes. After building to what promises to be an explosive finale with the titular psycho going on a rampage that will at the very least destroy himself, the filmmakers chicken out at the last moment and we're left with a badly edited, boring and repetitive closing scene.

It's a shame the film's director and/or screen-writers (which some sources claim include Edward D. Wood Jr. working under the pen-name Larry Lee) couldn't keep it together for the 70-minute run-time, because the weak ending drags this one to the very low end of average.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Space Girl Adventures, Part Three

Every Friday, lovely Space Girls drop by at Shades of Gray, bringing with them another installment of Travis Charest's Spacegirl strip.

By Travis Charest
Part Three

To Be Continued....

By Bob McLeod

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Conan the Pin-up!

Here's something to get you ready for the "Conan the Barbarian" movie that's coming to theaters this Friday, August 19: Great drawings of Conan from when Marvel Comics held the comics rights to the character during the 1970s into the 1990s.

By Alfredo Alcala
By John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
By Gil Kane
By John Busema and Ernie Chan

By Alex Toth

Monday, August 15, 2011

'Women's Prison' isn't very arresting,
but still worth watching

Women's Prison (1955)
Starring: Ida Lupino, Jan Sterling, Audrey Totter, Phyllis Thaxter, Howard Duff, Barry Kelley, Warren Stevens, Mae Clarke, Gertrude Michael, and Cleo Moore
Director: Lewis Seiler
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Amelia Van Zandt (Lupino) is the warden of a women's prison who runs her institution with an iron fist, dominating the lives of both prisoners and prison matrons. Her fiercely controlled world starts coming unraveled when her abuses of a delicate housewife incarcerated for involuntary manslaughter (Thaxter) and a prisoner who becomes pregnant (Totter) when her husband (Stevens)--who is incarcerated in the male side of the prison--breaks into the women's prison to an illicit rendezvous provokes both the anger of the prison doctor (Duff) and the prisoners.

Compared to the "women in prison" movies that followed in the 1970s, this is very, very tame stuff, even if the publicity campaign at the time if its release tried to position the film as if it wasn't. The still I chose to illustrate the film implies atmosphere and situations that are nowhere to be found in the film (while demonstrating that Cleo Moore was literally the poster-girl for Columbia Picture's marketing department when it came to "sexing things up"--her part in the film is very small, yet she is the subject of a publicity still). The prisoners here seem more like members of a professional association on a retreat than hardened criminals worthy of being locked away, the guards are all professional and appropriately concerned with the well-being of prisoners, the prison is neat and clean and well-lit. If not for the hell-beast of a warden, the prison in this film and the people in it are nicer than some places I've been on vacation at.

In fact, the prisoners are so nice that the over-the-top hysterics of the poor housewife who is sent up for killing a child with her car become very irritating after a while. While she doesn't deserve to be straight-jacketed or thrown in solitary for being frightened, it's a mystery where her over-reaction to normal prison procedures came from, since every prisoner she meets is nice and chatty and no different than the girls at the hair salon or in the grocery store checkout line. Hell, one prisoner could even find work as a tour guide, I'm certain, given how quickly she steps up to show the "new kid" ropes.

Although the strangely gentile nature of the inmates seemed a bit odd to me, I did appreciate the fact that the film didn't try to paint them as victims of the justice system like some other prison movies I've watched. Most of the inmates are exactly where they belong, and they make no bones about it. I also liked the fact that the matrons and guards were shown as decent human beings who were just doing their jobs.

I also liked the fact that the decency and professionalism of the prison's staff was contrasted with the indifference of the men's prison warden (Barry Kelley)--who may have worked his way up through the system, but who somewhere along the way forgot that the inmates and those working under him are human beings--and the calculated cruelty of women's prison warden, the aforementioned Ida Lupino. In fact, Lupino does such a great job at portraying a sociopathic cast-iron bitch that I almost wished her end had been a little less predictable and pathetic... I wanted her to get a "top o' the world, ma!" sort-of memorable exit, even if the way the film does dispatch her is adequate and dramatically fitting.

Well-acted, well-scripted, and effectively paced, "Women's Prison" is worth a look if you're a fan of Ida Lupino and have a high tolerance for melodrama. But this is not the place to look if you have a hankering for a Roger Corman or Jess Franco "birds in cages"-type sleaze.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

Picture Perfect Special:
Princesses of Mars, Part Twelve

Welcome to another trip to Mars, where beautiful alien princesses prove every day they don't take crap from anyone, no matter how many arms they have.

Kicking things off, we've got another retro-portrait of John Carter and his love-of-the-ages Dejah Thoris from Michael Kaluta.

By Greg Motafis
By Aaron Lopresti
By Tom Hodges
By Gene Colan

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Who knew the ocean was that deep?

The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1956)
Starring: Kent Taylor, Kathy Downs, and Michael Whale
Director: Dan Milner
Rating: One of Ten Stars

When dead fishermen and skin-divers start washing up on the beach near a small university, with radiation burns on their bodies, marine researcher and scientific genius crack-pot Dr. Ted Stevens (Taylor) senses that maybe it is his theories that have been put to nefarious use. He hooks up with the beautiful Lois (Downs), the daughter of a marine researcher who is at the very least Stevens' equal in the scientific genius crack-pot department, Prof. King (Whale). Can it be that King has accidentally (or purposefully) created a super-weapon using oceanography and atomic radiation? The agents of sinister foreign powers and the square-jawed Defense Department investigators think so... and the bizarre sea creature lurking in the waters off the coast tends to agree with the theory as well.

"The Beast from 10,000 Leagues" is a Z-grade example of the 1950s-style sci-fi/monster flick where a scientist successful proves that we won't have better living through science, and that there really are Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know.

Unfortunately, the extreme low budget (much of which was probably spent on a rather nicely done special effect toward the end of the movie--assuming that wasn't footage borrowed from some other movie), tragically bad and dull camera work, the same rowboat used in every shot that requires a boat, a goofy-looking sea monster whose preferred method of attack seems to be hugging his victims to death, and a script that's even more illiterate than the film's title might imply add up to a disaster of a movie. Its only saving grace is that it moves along fast enough, and offers enough moments of unintentional comedy, to not send the viewer completely into a boredom coma.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The coming of the Space Girls!

The "Princesses of Mars" post series is starting to wind down--I think I've just about mined that vein for the best it has to offer--but we're moving on from sci-fi flavored fantasy to pulp fiction-tinged space fantasy! Please welcome the Spacegirls to Shades of Gray!

If current plans hold, each post in this series will present a couple pin-up style Spacegirl drawings and a batch of Travis Charest's "Spacegirl" comic strip. There will be a new installment every Friday until I run out of stuff (or until someone asks me to stop tromping all over their copyrights).

By Mark Brooks

by Travis Charest
Part One

To Be Continued....

By Josh Howard

(Much of what will be appearing in this series comes from the art collections of Jeff Amason and Eric Thrower, and the imagination and amazing talent of Travis Charest.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Proof Smoking Will Stunt Your Growth

Gadzoopie, the delinquent son that the very mention of causes Godzilla to level not only Tokyo but also Osaka, took up smoking shortly after he hatched. Now 35, he's barely taller than Tom Cruise.

(Gadzoopie is seen here with his wife Flo, arriving at my house last month for the July 4 BBQ. He may not be big enough to trash cities, but he sure did a number on my downstairs bathroom. The plumbing still isn't working right.)