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1. This Island Earth – Yes, it’s the same film that was mercilessly lambasted by the Satellite of Love crew in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, but with all due respect to Mike and the Bots, it deserves recognition as one of the most spectacular sci-fi spectacles of the ‘50s. Earth scientists Cal Meacham and Ruth Adams (played by Rex Reason and Faith Domergue, respectively) are recruited by big-headed aliens from the planet Metaluna, in an effort to find a new source of power. They soon become unwitting pawns in a hopeless interplanetary war between the Metalunans and the planet Zagon. This Island Earth features some imaginative visuals, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the insect-like Metaluna Mutant. Sure, the story is inherently silly, and I wish the filmmakers got some proper legs for the creature instead of slacks, but hey, these are minor quibbles about an otherwise enjoyable piece of space opera. It takes me back to a simpler time, recalling a bygone era of dime-store pulp novels and comic books. Great fun.
2. Tarantula – One of the most impressive things about Tarantula, is that it takes the time to introduce its characters and set up relationships before jumping into the exploits of the title creature. A professor (Leo G. Carroll) experiments with a serum that enlarges animals, but things get out of hand when one of the giant critters escapes from his lab, and terrorizes a small Arizona town. Director Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon) allows the suspense to build gradually, as Matt Hastings, a self-professed “country doctor,” (played by B-movie legend Jon Agar) tries to discover the true cause of the lab assistant’s death. Mara Corday co-stars as the professor’s replacement lab assistant. Look for a small, unbilled role by Clint Eastwood as a fighter pilot in the climactic battle between humans and enlarged arachnid.
3. Cult of the Cobra – This entertaining quickie was originally part of a double bill with Revenge of the Creature, but it deserves recognition on its own merits. Directed by Francis D. Lyon, the film opens in India (presumably), where American GIs observe a secret snake-worshipping ritual. When one of the soldiers unwisely tries to photograph the proceedings, he evokes a curse on himself and his fellow compatriots. Faith Domergue is suitably alluring as the brooding, mysterious Lisa Moya, a lamia (half snake/half woman shape-shifter), who follows the now ex-soldiers when they return to the States. One by one, they fall victim to the snake woman, but she falls in love with one of her intended victims, Tom Markel (Marshall Thompson). The filmmakers wisely conceal the budgetary constraints by hiding most of the attacks in the shadows, or off screen, allowing our minds to fill in the blanks. Be sure to watch for a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo by Edward Platt as the cult leader.
4. The Trouble with Harry – Alfred Hitchcock’s unassuming little dark comedy may not be one of his best, but even one of his lesser efforts is worth noting. When outsider Harry turns up dead in a small New England town, the residents alternately attempt to conceal the body and take credit for his untimely demise. John Forsythe stars as a starving artist who stands in the eye of the ensuing storm. Edmund Gwenn is amusing as the capricious retired sea captain Albert Wiles, and Shirley MacLaine appears in her first feature film role as Harry’s young widow. Hitchcock and writer John Michael Hayes (working from a novel by Jack Trevor Story) take a cynical view of human nature as they place the town under the microscope, observing how no one, save for a virtuous deputy sheriff (Royal Dano) seem particularly fazed by Harry’s passing. This unflinching portrait of apathy and provincial attitudes contribute up to a film that seems quite contemporary, even by today’s standards.