The Longest Day (1962) Review

Directors: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswalt (uncredited), and Darryl F. Zanuck (uncredited)

Genre(s): Action, War

Runtime: 178 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Featuring innumerable big-name stars in its cast, The Longest Day is a true cinematic epic. In this three-hour colossus, the story of the D-Day landings at Normandy during World War II are told from the American, British, French, and Nazi German points-of-view. According to IMDb, this film had five directors (two of whom were apparently uncredited), which shows what a logistical nightmare making the movie must’ve been.

The Longest Day is a reverent motion picture (frequently reminding the audience of the importance of the invasion, often through speechy dialogue), but it has a fair amount of humor, too. Fleshing out the film’s countless characters is not this flick’s strong point. One doesn’t really get to know these guys (and gals) too well. Characters just come and go (how long does it take for Henry Fonda’s character, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., to be introduced anyway?). For this reason, I can’t really describe this movie as a drama, though it still delivers a satisfactory emotional payoff.

The real focus of The Longest Day is on its exquisite battle and combat scenes, and, boy, are there a lot of them. They’re all so well-choreographed that it’s difficult to choose one that works best. It should be noted that one of the action sequences features a highly spectacular long take that really shows off the picture’s budget. The battles are pretty bloodless, though, not being nearly as gruesome as those shown in Saving Private Ryan (1998), which covers some similar ground. There are some anti-war touches, but the tone is generally more heroic.

Bolstered by grand cinematography and a good musical score from Maurice Jarre, The Longest Day is a more-than-worthy depiction of the events that went down on the Western Front of World War II on June 6, 1944. For a three-hour movie, it’s very well-paced (and certainly never boring) and features a ton of action. In fact, the first time I watched this flick, I thought it had too much combat at the expense of character growth. I’ve changed my mind a bit since then, considering it’s really not that kind of movie. It’s all about spectacle.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Mighty Joe Young (1949) Review

Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

A spiritual sequel to King Kong (1933) and The Son of Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young is also about a stop-motion primate on the loose. Jill Young (Terry Moore) is a young woman living in Africa with a pet gorilla (Joe Young, of course) who is convinced to move to the United States and participate in a new nightclub project schemed up by showman Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong). This one’s more kid-friendly than the other two monster monkey movies that I mentioned earlier, although it still has plenty of action, suspense, and life-threatening peril.

This spare-no-expense action-adventure film features an able cast that includes a young Ben Johnson (playing Gregg) as an Oklahoman cowboy who tries to wrangle Joe Young while in Africa. The numerous special effects here feel smoother than the ones in King Kong and The Son of Kong. The elaborate action scenes are probably some of the best of the 1940s. The decision to credit Joe as “Mr. Joseph Young” in the opening credits is a cute touch.

Mighty Joe Young sure knows how to successfully push an audience’s buttons, thanks to a winning combination of action and drama. Some scenes may be a bit too talky for children, and some of the animal fighting isn’t the easiest to watch (Joe beats up some lions during one of the big set pieces, but they’re mostly fake). Most viewers will find something to enjoy about this flick.

The original Mighty Joe Young forms an unofficial adventure movie trilogy along with the original King Kong and The Son of Kong. All three were directed (or co-directed) by Ernest B. Schoedsack and show off special effects that were groundbreaking at the time of release. If you’ve enjoyed the other two films, you have got to watch Mighty Joe Young.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Son of Kong (1933) Review

Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack

Genre(s): Adventure, Fantasy

Runtime: 70 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Released the same year as the original King Kong (1933), this direct sequel is smaller in scale, but is still an enjoyable experience. The plot follows filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), who returns to Skull Island to meet Kong’s young son. He’s a cuter and cuddlier Kong, which goes along with the film’s more comedic and less action-heavy tone. He actually reminds me of the Abominable Snowman from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).

The Son of Kong, like its predecessor, takes a while to get to Skull Island, but that’s alright. The scenes in the East Indies port of Dakang evoke a strong atmosphere of a small-time, rarely-visited outpost of humanity. Of course, the primary reason to view this flick is for the special effects. They were state-of-the-art for the time, and are still a pleasure to watch. Max Steiner returns to do the musical score, which “quotes” the score from the original on at least one occasion. Overall, this movie seems a bit more intimate with the characters than the first one.

This picture was released during Hollywood’s Pre-Code period (prior to the enforcement of the Production Code), but it lacks any content that could be considered “Pre-Code” in nature…unless you count Baby Kong unintentionally giving the heroes the middle finger for an extended period of time after he injures his hand. The Son of Kong is generally a more kid-friendly movie than its predecessor, although its unexpectedly dark ending sort of negates its value as a family film. If you want to watch a retro gorilla adventure picture with your child, you’re better off with Mighty Joe Young (1949).

The character played by Victor Wong is merely named “Chinese Cook” here in the opening credits, although he’s called “Charlie” approximately five thousand times during the course of the movie. Anyway, The Son of Kong isn’t as good as the original, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth watching. It’s actually quite good. The monster brawls are fun to watch, and it’s a delight to see some of the characters from King Kong return.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

King Kong (1933) Review

Directors: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Runtime: 100 minutes (standard version), 104 minutes (restored version)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the best monster movies ever made, King Kong is a highly ambitious film that, once it gets going, piles on the special effects and action. A film crew led by famed director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is out shooting a new picture on an uncharted, tropical island when they discover a massive gorilla named Kong that’s worshiped by the local natives. Made during Hollywood’s Pre-Code era (prior to the Production Code being enforced), this is one sweet ride.

King Kong is very reliant on special effects, and, in all fairness, they probably won’t be mistaken for realistic by modern audiences. Still, they’re spectacular and imaginative, being far more fun to watch than computer-generated imagery (CGI). There’s something exciting about watching an effect that exists in the real world, as opposed to one that only exists in a computer screen. After a somewhat slow opening, the flick really takes off once Kong arrives. From then on, it’s almost non-stop action. This has to be one of the first of the throw-everything-at-the-audience-except-the-kitchen-sink action pictures.

Max Steiner’s musical score is awesome and vigorous. The film’s emotional component is often overstated, although Kong still manages to elicit sympathy from the viewers. For the most part, though, he’s a vicious killing machine. Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) is screaming almost constantly throughout the movie. It’s not a bad thing, and the howls of other characters amplify the film’s considerable violence. The depiction of Skull Island’s natives may be problematic for some. I wouldn’t call it outright racist, but it is stereotypical and patronizing.

Impressively massive in scale, King Kong serves as an early special effects extravaganza. Be patient with the picture’s introductory scenes and you’ll be rewarded with a one-of-a-kind action-adventure treat. It’s still a remarkably worthwhile movie, even if the effects aren’t exactly life-like.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) Review

Directors: Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 63 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the gems of the Pre-Code era of Hollywood of the early 1930s (before the Production Code was enforced), The Most Dangerous Game tells the story of a shipwreck survivor named Bob (Joel McCrea) who finds himself stranded on a South Seas island ruled by the mad Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who’s taken game-hunting to a whole new level. Putting action-adventure, horror, and thriller elements in a blender, it’s a wonderful piece of pulp.

The whole motion picture is short as Hell, clocking in at a little over an hour. There’s a very, very good musical score from Max Steiner – one of the first to play frequently over the course of a talkie film (prior to this, most sound movies only had scores over the main and end titles). The performance from Leslie Banks as the villain is appropriately lively and crazed. Banks even tries to convince the hero to join him, since apparently they aren’t so different deep down, which is now a classic action-adventure film trope. The Most Dangerous Game, while being primarily focused on violence and horror, does have a fair amount of comic relief, and, yes, there is the obligatory romantic subplot, but it doesn’t distract too much from the cool stuff.

While short, this isn’t exactly a fast-paced movie. It contains some talky sections that slow down the mayhem somewhat. Some of the fighting looks a bit dated, and a viewer should be prepared for a little bit of cheesiness (like the “He got me!” shark attack).

The Most Dangerous Game isn’t a perfect flick, but it’s got it where it counts. There’s a bit too much yapping, but it’s on a solid footing when it lets the action do the talking. Its short runtime means it should make an exceptional companion piece to either Island of Lost Souls (1932) or King Kong (1933), if you need a Pre-Code adventure double-feature.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Island of Lost Souls (1932) Review

Director: Erle C. Kenton

Genre(s): Adventure, Horror, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 70 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

My all-time favorite horror movie, Island of Lost Souls is a supremely depraved flick about a shipwrecked sailor, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen), trapped on a remote tropical island ruled by mad scientist Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton). While the film’s atrocities are mostly kept offscreen, this movie is still as potent as they come. Pulpy and lurid, the Rotten Tomatoes blurb for Dave Kehr’s review of the picture describes it as “dripping with sex and sadism.” I couldn’t have put it better myself (although I would’ve also added “sweat”).

Combining South Seas adventure with gripping sci-fi horror, Island of Lost Souls has a thick atmosphere of cruelty. The costumes and make-up are excellent, and the lighting is awe-inspiring. It’s quick and fast-paced, featuring some well-drawn characters. Of course, it’s Charles Laughton as Dr. Moreau who steals the show. He’s deliciously evil here, making for a truly vile and repulsive villain. The grand finale builds up to a fury that could be described as unintentionally antinatalistic, and the whole thing has some fascinating philosophical and even religious implications.

Made during the “Pre-Code” era of Hollywood in the early 1930s, before the Production Code was being enforced, this film is full of the unnatural and perverse. It was even banned in Great Britain until 1958, according to its IMDb Trivia page. Island of Lost Souls would also prove to be a major inspiration for the prominent New Wave band Devo, among others (even rock titans Van Halen wrote a song, “House of Pain,” allegedly based on the picture).

To sum things up, this one is extremely underrated, and deserves to be remembered with the very best of the horror genre. Sick and slick, it never overstays its welcome and packs quite a punch. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it can’t be twisted.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) Review

Director: Edward D. Wood Jr.

Genre(s): Horror, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 79 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Plan 9 from Outer Space is rightfully one of the most famous of the so-bad-it’s-good classics. I won’t spoil any of the specifics (it’s best to discover the film’s mistakes and oddities for one’s self), but the plot is about a flying saucer of extraterrestrials sent to Earth to resurrect the dead in a small California town for reasons I won’t give away here. The acting is laugh-out-loud funny and the dialogue and narration are often downright bizarre. The special effects are notably inept.

Despite all the problems with the picture, it actually has some decent imagination behind it…just no talent. Its ideas are surprisingly ambitious given the low quality of the filmmaking. The pacing’s generally solid, with a slow spot or two, and it’s quite short. The musical score’s competent, probably because it largely consists of stock music. Plan 9 from Outer Space is actually pretty effective at generating the atmosphere of a small town under siege by ghouls. The scenes of the movie’s three heroes – airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott), police officer Lieutenant Harper (Duke Moore), and military officer Colonel Edwards (Tom Keene) – joining forces to investigate the flying saucer are just about as exciting as watching the Avengers assemble.

One of the cast members, Bela Lugosi, actually died before the proper filming of the movie began. Nonetheless, footage of him shot prior to the script being finished is awkwardly incorporated into the flick. It’s quite a riot. There are several other interesting behind-the-scenes stories about this film that can be found on its IMDb Trivia page if you’re curious.

Although it’s a horror movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space is probably only scary if you’re three. Is it one of the worst films of all time? Certainly not! It’s far too entertaining for that. If you’re looking for some 1950s sci-fi kitsch that’s downright fun, this picture comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 outta 10.