Vinnie: The Power (1968)
George Pal is certainly a name you associate with science fiction, but not with paranoia thrillers. But he served as producer of this smart and tight little thriller from the late sixties about a man with amazing power, and the horrors he inflicts on a group of rocket scientists.
Based on a novel by Frank M. Robinson, it stars George Hamilton as Jim Tanner, a scientist at a think tank experimenting on the limits of human endurance, in preparation for the rigors of space travel. At a meeting, Professor Hallson (Arthur O'Connell) is in a near-frenzy, insisting that the lab's recent aptitude tests revealed that one of the team has, well, you should forgive the lift, but powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. The tests, alas, were anonymous, so there's no way to know WHO the amazing genetic freak is, just that they exist. When it's suggested they all try to use their mental faculties to spin a piece of paper skewered on a pencil, they are all surprised to see the paper begin to budge, then spin, and eventually burst into flame.
|Arthur O'Connell throws the world's most horrific Gookie.|
(Click to see un-happified image)
Returning to California, Jim finds out the rest of the science team have been quite nervous indeed. And oddly, almost every one of them seem to think he's the mysterious man with the Power. Professor Scott (Earl Holliman (EARL HOLLIMAN!)) offers to become his toady if he'll just let him be near him, and Professor Melincker (Nehemiah Persoff) comes at him with a knife when Jim comes to visit him. They're half right - he's not the film's bad guy, but in a confrontation with the film's villain (whose name shall be left unmentioned in an attempt to leave some modicum of suspense about the film), it's revealed that Tanner is as genetically advanced as Mr. Hart.
|"You'll have to excuse my friend, he's just dead."|
Miss Beverly Hills cannot help Nehemiah Persoff;
he's fallen to THE POWER!
The film is tense, and keeps the pressure up. From the opening shot, where the time of the film is given as "tomorrow," the film stays grounded in at least plausibility, if not true reality. The score by Miklos Rosza is a classic, featuring what may be the only use of a hammered dulcimer in a thriller soundtrack. The makeup by William Tuttle is impressive for the time, including quite a grisly look for O'Connell after an 8G ride in the centrifuge.
|Get out of the tank, George; your tan will fade and your suit will wrinkle.|
Dorian: THEM! (1954) Uncle Milton Doesn’t Sell an Ant Farm That Big!
In the deliciously sneaky tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), THEM! begins as a suspenseful police procedural, starting with a little girl of maybe 5 or 6 years old, wandering alone on a lonely New Mexico road. She’s in a wide-eyed state of shock, not saying a word. As a mom myself, I was already hooked, as anxious as if the poor dazed kid were my own child, especially when it becomes clear that this child is the sole survivor of some kind of truly bloody, horrific attack — but what kind?
THEM! pulls the rug out from under you as it morphs into an eye-popping, edge-of-your-seat Big Bug monster movie, one of the best ever made! You see a body or two…you hear yelling and screaming (the Wilhelm Scream, to be specific… You don’t see the monster just yet, but when you do…
In Like Flint (1967), as well as my dad’s favorite Frank Sinatra movies, Tony Rome (1967); The Detective and Lady in Cement (both in 1968). Ironically, Douglas actually got his start as a child actor in Hal Roach’s comedies, and grew up to be a gag writer for Our Gang before he became a movie director! Anyway, back in the Bronx, Mom and Dad always steered little me back to the G-rated films and TV shows in the next room, leaving me to wait to learn about Sinatra’s tough-guy roles in my early teens instead.
Director of Photography Sid Hickox (The Big Sleep; White Heat; Dark Passage; and a great many TV series) gives THEM! a feeling of both film noir and docudrama, with suspense to spare! Douglas and Company take just enough time to whet your appetite for the inevitable Big Reveal, with weird piercing noises here…and mangled bodies there….
You couldn’t beat this superb cast of great character actors with ant swatters! Many of the stars eventually became award winners and nominees over time:
· * As Sgt. Ben Peterson, who first finds the child known only as “The Ellinson Girl” (Sandy Drescher, also in Space Children): James Whitmore from The Asphalt Jungle; Oklahoma!; Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!, for which he earned an Best Actor Oscar nomination. Also, that’s William Schallert of The Patty Duke Show playing the ambulance driver.
- As FBI Agent Robert Graham: James Arness, who went from playing The Thing from Another World, to the classic war film Battleground, to Marshal Matt Dillon in TV’s long-running Western Gunsmoke.
- As Dr. Harold Medford: Edmund Gwenn, Oscar-winner for Miracle on 34th Street; and super supporting actor in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent and The Trouble with Harry.
- As Dr. Patricia “Pat” Medford: Joan Weldon, actress/singer in So This is Love; Deep in My Heart; Home Before Dark.
- As Brigadier General Robert O'Brien, Onslow Stevens of Night Has a Thousand Eyes; House of Dracula; Angel on My Shoulder.
- As Major Kibbee: Sean McClory from The Quiet Man; Storm Warning; Niagara (albeit uncredited for some reason); as well as many TV appearances.
|If Marshal Diilon, Harry Truman, and Kris Kringle|
can't destroy those giant ants, nobody can!
|Those crazy kids & their hippie LSD sugar cube parties! |
Hey, wait, it's 1954 and LSD hasn't been invented yet!
Vinnie stirs the anthill: The "Wilhelm" scream first appeared in the 1951 film Distant Drums, and was used as a simple stock effect for decades. It's named after a character from a later film, The Charge at Feather River. It's appeared in over 200 films, but it wasn't until sound engineer Ben Burtt found them and started using them as a running gag in the Star Wars films, and then the Indiana Jones films, etc., that it became a pop culture thing.
I say "it" but it's actually "they" - there are several screams that are part of the Wilhelm 'library", and THEM! uses them liberally. The one universally known as "the" Wilhelm scream is seen in clip three below.
The scream(s) are generally credited to pop singer Sheb Wooley, he of "Purple People Eater" fame. But regardless of who made them, they're as important a part of recyclable entertainment history as those three rocks on Star Trek.