One More Game

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? changed the very course of Hollywood itself. The film is based on the 1962 play from Edward Albee that caused quite a stir with its lewd and vulgar content. The dialogue being kept intact meant the original Production Code left Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? unrated. Although PG-13 by today’s standards, audiences weren’t used to hearing profanity in pictures. Even I was a little shocked, but I knew to expect 2 hours of non-stop fighting. It feels all the more authentic with the often turbulent Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the leads. Despite its controversy, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of only 2 movies nominated in every eligible category.

Best Picture for producer Ernest Lehman’s persistence and first time director Mike Nichols for his ability to translate the stage to the screen. Having only 4 actors meant the entire cast was nominated for acting. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? follows the failing marriage of George and Martha. Burton plays the passive history professor of a university and Taylor plays the aggressive daughter of the university’s president. The title refers to an in-joke that they sing to each other. They unwillingly entertain the young, good looking, and well built biology professor Nick and his hip wife Honey. George Segal and Sandy Dennis fill the remaining roles. Over the course of only one night of heavy drinking, arguments begin to escalate very quickly. It’s a unique character study that’ll make you laugh as well as wince.

George goes from timid to ruthless with his casual insults and “games” that he plays with his guests. Nick goes from non-confrontational to pushed around by almost everybody. Despite the men receiving a bit more attention, it’s the women who both won an Academy Award. Honey wants to leave at first, but Dennis becomes a very convincing silly drunk who can’t hold her liquor. Really most of the attention understandably went to Taylor playing against type. Martha is very overbearing as she puts down her husband, but she can also be flirtatious towards Nick and vulnerable when certain topics are brought up. Just about everything is discussed, but it’s George and Martha’s son that feels the most poignant. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a black & white classic with a modern sense of storytelling.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

George prepares to shoot Martha

Buzz Off

Curse of the Fly has practically nothing to do with The Fly. Despite a 1965 release, its black & white picture is even more primitive. No one returns, so the entire cast are mostly British unknown B movie actors. Maybe that’s why it was so hard to find. Curse of the Fly wasn’t available anywhere until it was part of a Fly box set. I was only able to watch it on YouTube. Not that this supposed third installment was worth watching.

Return of the Fly at least felt like a sequel with another half-human half-fly hybrid. Curse of the Fly has no flies whatsoever. It opens with an attractive woman running around in her underwear. I would’ve thought I was watching the wrong movie if not for the title card. The Delambre name is used, but there’s serious confusion as to the relation. Martin is the grandson of the original fly, but it’s unclear if they mean Andrรฉ or Philippe.

Martin’s father is named Henri, yet the original Inspector has a picture of Philippe as a fly when discussing their cursed family. Teleportation has a lot more focus since the closest thing to animal mutations are people with distorted faces. Even that’s not given as much attention as a plot that feels just like Rebecca. Martin hastily marries the scantily clad Patricia, she becomes the new Mrs. Delambre, and a shady housekeeper doesn’t like it. Wasn’t this supposed to be a Fly movie? Curse of the Fly is lost for good reason.

3. Curse of the Fly

Martin is attacked

Preceded by: Return of the Fly

The Cave Model

One Million Years B.C. made the cretaceous era way hotter than it already was. The 1940 original isn’t remembered nearly as much as this 1966 Hammer Film remake. Despite being primarily known for horror, this was actually my first time seeing one of their British productions. Although One Million Years B.C. has cultural significance, the movie was strangely hard to find. Unlike the original, the campy element is fully embraced with cavegirl Loana front and centerfold. Raquel Welch is easily one of the sexiest women alive, and the biggest reason for the movie’s success.

Loana is practically a prehistoric supermodel with flawless blonde hair, a curvaceous figure, and a stunning fur bikini. The look was so iconic that I completely understand why Andy Dufresne hung it up in The Shawshank Redemption. Welch isn’t the only beautiful cavegirl in the movie. Loana at one point engages in a catfight with another attractive cavegirl played by Bond girl Martine Beswick. The rest of the remake plays out about the same as the original. Narration is the only dialogue before non-stop cave talk.

Tumak is still handsome with John Richardson in the part, but he’s hairy like the rest of the cavemen. The Rock tribe is even more savage with personal feuds that get resolved near the end. The Shell tribe live closer to the beach and are far more civilized. Oversized lizards pay tribute to the original, but most of the dinosaurs were achieved with Ray Harryhausen’s always impressive stop-motion magic. There’s a giant turtle, a T-Rex fighting a triceratops, and a pterodactyl picking up Loana. Now I know the context of those scenes in the Malcolm in the Middle opening. A volcano ends the cave romance on an ambiguous note. One Million Years B.C. marked a new age for modern sex symbols.

One Million Years B.C.

Loana smile on beach

Remake of: One Million B.C.

Flying Football

Son of Flubber is the very first Disney sequel. Which is just as rare as using black & white, because Walt Disney wasn’t a fan of sequels. It’s so forgotten that I actually had to seek out Son of Flubber. I have no idea what the title is supposed to be referring to. Since Professor Brainard and his wife Betsy don’t have a son. It might be referring to the Flubber gas that Brainard invents, but the title still doesn’t make sense.

Son of Flubber wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as The Absent-Minded Professor. I think they took it a little too seriously. The bouncy fun of the first movie is instead replaced by financial problems, marital problems, and legal problems. The Government doesn’t pay Brainard what he deserves, there’s a love rectangle that goes on forever, and a court battle replaces the exciting flight over Washington from the first movie. The only thing I found funny was a commercial for Flubber products.

The entire original cast returns to rehash a lot of what came before. Mr. Hawk is once again after Brainard’s breakthrough invention and Shelby is once again terrorized by it. The Flubber based invention is a practically magic weather gun that creates rain clouds. Hawk’s son Biff is now working with the Professor in a subplot that changes the Medfield College sporting event from basketball to football. The Flubbery inflatable football scene is more goofy than inspired. Son of Flubber retains its mostly impressive special effects, but forgets to have fun with it.

Son of Flubber

Professor Brainard aims his weather gun

Preceded by: The Absent-Minded Professor

Flying Car

The Absent-Minded Professor is the original Flubber extravaganza. The original movie is good clean fun with a lot of bounce and pep for a live-action Disney movie. As a 90’s kid, I of course grew up with flying rubber. I wasn’t aware of The Absent-Minded Professor since the title is different from the remake. It’s notable for being an extremely rare Disney movie filmed in black & white. Rare, because Walt Disney always prefered technicolor. I think the impressive 1961 special effects are the reason for the colorless choice.

Ned Brainard is an absent-minded professor who teaches at Medfield College. It’s a simple story, so Brainard only has his dog Charlie and housekeeper to keep his head straight. Brainard strives to unlock the mysteries of science, but what he can’t figure out are the mysteries of women. Which is why he’s missed his own wedding three times. Betsy is Brainard’s mostly patient sweetheart. Fred MacMurray and Nancy Olson’s chemistry adds a nice romantic element to the wacky events.

Flubber is a simple perpetually moving super ball that can make people bounce and even power a flying car. The bouncing is used in a funny basketball sequence. While the flying car is really the main focus as Brainard flies around in his Model T. He just faces romantic competition from Shelby. As well as the conniving businessman Mr. Hawk and his son Biff attempting to steal the Flubber powered car. Only the people of Washington can appreciate his breakthrough. The bouncing and flying aren’t always flawless, but that doesn’t take away my enjoyment. The Absent-Minded Professor won’t soon be forgotten.

The Absent-Minded Professor

Professor Brainard flies his Model T with Charlie

Followed by: Son of Flubber

The Price of Solitude

The Last Man on Earth is the first adaptation of I Am Legend. It has direct influence from author Richard Matheson, but he wasn’t overly fond of the final result. Matheson’s story was one of the earliest uses of the post-apocalyptic formula we all know today. Like most early 60’s era black & white pictures, The Last Man on Earth has a very literal title. The last man on Earth is scientist Robert Morgan.

This was the first heroic role I’ve seen of classic horror icon Vincent Price. Price tragically narrates the thoughts of a lonely man who tries desperately to survive an empty world plagued by vampires. Although they only come out at night, fear mirrors, hate garlic, and are killed by wooden stakes, the vampires are more like zombies. Similar to the also public domain Night of the Living Dead. The origins of the global pandemic are recounted in an extended flashback. Robert once had a loving wife and daughter that he lost to the virus.

All he can do now is burn the leftover bodies, hunt for vampires, and lock himself in at night. He finds a dog, but most importantly, he finds another human. Since this is an American co-production, Ruth is played by an Italian actress. The original I Am Legend title refers to how Ruth and the rest of her new infected society view Robert. The last healthy man who’s ultimately unable to cure them. The Last Man on Earth benefits from the old fashioned atmospheric horror that Vincent Price excels at.

the Last Man on Earth

Robert Morgan wanders the Earth

P.S. Being public domain, I’ve supplied the full movie underneath.

March of the Toys

Babes in Toyland is the first Disney Christmas movie. I have zero attachment to it, or any other adaptation of the 1903 operetta. Sure there are TV movies and a Laurel & Hardy film, but the 1961 Disney version is the most well known. Babes in Toyland brings together various figures from nursery rhymes. There’s Mary Contrary, Tom Piper, Bo Peep, Jack & Jill, and Mother Goose herself. Although it very much feels like a cartoon, Walt Disney went with live-action instead. Making this the first fully live-action Disney musical.

I’m so glad Disney didn’t make Wizard of Oz, because I get a sneaky feeling this is how it would’ve ended up. Babes in Toyland is just a little too sickeningly sweet for my taste. With bright colors throughout, cartoonishly cheerful characters, and song after song after song. The set is fine for the time, but I’m not a big fan of stage sets in movies. The story is simply Tom and Mary wanting to get married until the dastardly Barnaby comes between them. The Scarecrow himself Ray Bolger as the delightfully over-the-top villain and his henchmen are one of the movie’s few high points.

It’s mostly just a bunch of over extended dance numbers and unnecessary songs. Only at the halfway mark do the babes go to Toyland. Where hilariously screwy Ed Wynn shines as the Toy Maker. Only then is Christmas finally mentioned. I really got interested near the end when Tom gets really small and unleashes an army of stop motion toy soldiers. It only sort of makes senses with context. It may be nonsensically colorful for kids, but Babes in Toyland is just too hokey for me.

Babes in Toyland

Mary and Tom hug

Somebody’s Watching Me

Peeping Tom is the other groundbreaking slasher movie released in 1960. While Psycho was a major success from the start, Peeping Tom was initially torn apart by critics. Effectively ruining director Michael Powell’s career in Britain. It seems harsh, but standards were very different in the early 60s. Audiences weren’t used to dark psychological themes, implied murder, or lewd sexual content. Psycho at least benefited from the name recognition of Alfred Hitchcock.

Peeping Tom deals with a peeping tom named Mark. He’s a sick voyeur who works for a film studio, takes provocative professional photos, and always carries a camera. Mark is a murderer who kills unsuspecting women just to film their fear. Using a bladed camera leg and adding the footage to his documentary. There are many similarities to Psycho. Namely the killer being an innocent looking everyman who has trouble around women. Not to mention an unsettling connection to a parent. The primary difference is how much more Peeping Tom gets into the disturbed mind of Mark.

His neighbor Helen gets dangerously close to Mark and nearly becomes a victim herself, but a lot of slasher traditions are unknowingly established. Since Peeping Tom isn’t black & white, atmospheric color is used to great effect. Despite its reputation, Peeping Tom doesn’t show any on screen murder. Women wear lingerie, but only one is seen topless for a few seconds. What sticks with you is the fear of being watched. The idea that someone could be filming you at any moment will always be effective no matter the decade. Making Peeping Tom more relevant than ever.

Peeping Tom

Mark shows Helen his film

If I Could Talk to the Animals

Doctor Dolittle might be one of the worst movies ever nominated for Best Picture. It was both a box-office bomb and not very well received. It goes to show how little the Academy cares sometimes. As long as a film is lobbied hard enough by its studio. Doctor Dolittle is a character who’s existed since 1920. He’s a children’s book character known for speaking to animals of all sorts. I never read the books, but I was familiar with the character due to the remakes. To watch the 1967 original, I had to adjust to a grander musical adventure. The main problem with Doctor Dolittle is just how long it ends up being. An unbearably slow 2 hours & 32 minutes. Which wouldn’t be as bad if the songs were less frequent and more inspired.

The great talk singer himself Rex Harrison plays Doctor John Dolittle. A vet who doesn’t understand humans and has a large collection of animal friends. Since it’s the 60s, none of the animals talk except for parrot Polynesia. She teaches Dolittle to speak thousands of animal languages. Dolittle’s main goal is finding a Great Pink Sea Snail. Time is filled with Dolittle treating animals, entering a two-headed llama in a circus, going on trial for an animal related misunderstanding, and being declared insane. With such riveting songs about the Irish, being a vegetarian, wishing people were like animals, and the signature song.

Best Visual Effects made sense since fictitious animals were achieved with impressive creature effects, but “Talk to the Animals” didn’t deserve Best Original Song. It’s catchy and upbeat, but Harrison talk sings the whole thing. Plus it won over “The Bare Necessities.” The second half is dedicated to a sea voyage with Dolittle, his Irish friend, a child, his former high class love interest, a chimp, a dog, and the parrot. The giant snail is found on an island of academic natives and Dolittle flies off at the end on a giant moth. Doctor Dolittle is reminiscent of other kid friendly musicals of the time, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite.

1. Doctor Dolittle

Dr. Dolittle talks to Polynesia

Shut Up and Deal

The Apartment is the final black & white film to win Best Picture in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Fitting since it’s a good transitional film. The Apartment may have a classic look, but its themes are distinctly modern and a bit controversial for the time. But that didn’t stop it from winning Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay in a landmark series of wins for Billy Wilder. The first person to win all three awards for the same movie. Like most great Wilder pictures, The Apartment is about an unconventional romance and boundary pushing subject matter.

Jack Lemmon shines as C.C. “Bud” Baxter. An insurance agent who climbs to the top by loaning his apartment to his sleazy adulterous bosses. Bud (or Buddy Boy) can’t catch a break however. Although his doctor neighbor thinks he’s this big lady’s man, the one woman he does fall for is tangled up in an apartment affair of her own. Shirley MaClaine also shines as Fran Kubelik. An elevator operator who’s pulled back into an affair with Bud’s boss Sheldrake. Fred MacMurray could’ve just been a standard villain, but he turns the ensemble into a believable character study. One that feels like a play since everything revolves around the titular apartment.

As if the affairs weren’t edgy enough, Fran attempts suicide in Bud’s apartment after leaving Sheldrake. The unconventional romance comes when Bud looks after her and she opens up to him over a game of gin rummy. Fortunately Bud manages to stand up for himself and Fran does the same. Ending on another ambiguously hopeful Wilder line, “Shut up and deal.” The Apartment is a funny, honest depiction of old & new ideas.

The Apartment

“Shut up and deal”