Attack of the Molecular Men

The Japanese film poster for THE H-MAN (1958).

The atom bomb and its devastating after effects have served as the basis for some of the science fiction genre’s most popular and successful films and it’s no surprise that many of them hail from Japan where Gojira (1954, U.S. title: Godzilla) became the first in a long line of radioactive monsters bent on stomping Tokyo. Whether intended as metaphorical retribution for the A-bomb destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 or cautionary tales about the dangers of nuclear power, these sci-fi fantasies became Toho’s studios’ most profitable exports during the late fifties and early sixties and eventually spawned subgenres of their own, one of which was the “mutant” series. The masterminds behind Gojira and most of the Toho sci-fi releases were director Ishiro Honda and special effects technician Eiji Tsuburaya and their first effort in the “mutant” series – Bijo to Ekitainingen (1958) – still stands as one of their most unusual and distinctive films.

Continue reading

The Crime Astrologer

Every amateur detective has his own approach to crime solving but Mary Lee Ling consults the stars and birth dates to narrow down the list of suspects. When Were You Born? (1938) has a terrific premise for a detective thriller and was quite unusual in its day. Its offbeat approach to the genre is further enhanced by the casting of Anna May Wong in the central role of an astrologist whose connection to a murder victim implicates her in the police investigation.      Continue reading

The Radioactive Mud Monster

In many ways a precursor to The Blob (1958) and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959), X the Unknown (1956) is a much more thought-provoking and serious attempt to demonstrate the consequences of science run amok than your standard monster-on-the-rampage chiller. The film, directed by Leslie Norman, was actually inspired by the success of The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, aka The Creeping Unknown), which was released the previous year and was a huge box office hit for Hammer Studios.    Continue reading

Disconnected and Lost in Capri

When did alienation in modern society become a favorite thematic concern in the culture and the arts, particularly in the cinema? Certainly the films of Michelangelo Antonioni addressed the inability of people to connect, feel or relate to each other in a post-industrial age world as early as 1957 in Il Grido. But by the early sixties, it seemed as if every major film director in the world was addressing the topic on some level. A general sense of malaise was in the air as if the modern world was having a counterproductive effect on humanity, creating a sense of futility, amorality or complete apathy. You could see aspects of this reflected in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1961) and Jean-Luc Godard’s My Life to Live (1962). All of these are considered cinematic masterworks of the 20th century but there are also many worthy and lesser-known contributions to the pantheon of alienation cinema and one of the most strikingly is Il Mare (The Sea), the 1963 directorial debut of Giuseppe Patroni Griffi.    Continue reading