Tuesday 28 May 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)

Although Buck Rogers in the 25th Century served as the pilot episode of the TV series of the same name it was in fact released theatrically some time before the series started to air. Producer Glen A. Larson had been responsible for the 1970s Battlestar Galactica series which had also been kicked off by a theatrical release of the pilot episode.

The Buck Rogers character had originally surfaced in the 1920s in Philip Francis Nolan’s novel Armageddon 2419 AD. The novel spawned both a comic strip and a 1939 movie serial as well as an early 50s TV series. In the 1970s George Lucas hoped to make a movie based on either the Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon serials but was unable to secure the rights for either. So he went away and wrote his very own space opera, Star Wars (which you may have heard of). Which is rather ironic, given that the Buck Rogers movie that did eventually get made, this one I’m reviewing at the moment, ended up being an awesomely shameless Star Wars rip-off.

This movie has little in common with any of the earlier incarnations of Buck Rogers apart from the basic idea of a 20th century American who gets accidently deep-frozen and wakes up 500 years later. In this case Buck (played by Gil Gerard) is a 1980s US astronaut. How he became deep-frozen is never properly explained but when he does awake he finds himself on board a gigantic starship. This is puzzling but he starts to get really worried when he discovers that this starship does not come from Earth. He gets really really worried when he realises he isn’t dreaming and this is actually happening.

The ship is from the Draconian Empire and is under the command of the Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley). Whether the princess is really the effective commander or whether Kane (Henry Silva) is the actual commander is somewhat uncertain. The princess is on her way to Earth where she is to sign a trade agreement with the Earth government. The intentions of the princess and of Kane are however not as peaceful as they seem.

The Draconians release Buck but they hope to use him as an unwitting spy. When he gets to Earth he finds that the 25th century is very different from the world Buck remembers. A nuclear war in the 1990s almost destroyed the planet and the survivors now take their orders from a council of all-wise and benevolent computers.

The Earth is protected by a mysterious shield that is never explained, and by fighter spaceships under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Lt-Col Deering is not sure whether Buck is on the level or whether he is a Draconian spy.  After being convicted of espionage he is offered the chance to prove that his story is true. He needs to do more than that though - he needs to convince the Earth leaders that they are about to be invaded, and of course he has to single-handedly try to save the Earth. And on top of that he naturally needs to win the heart of Lt-Col Deering.

Gil Gerard is passable in the lead role. Erin Gray is similarly adequate as Wilma Deering (oddly enough Buck’s love interest in the 1939 serial was also named Wilma Deering). Henry Silva fails to generate much excitement as the conniving Kane (a name also re-used from the serial). The only member of the cast who really impresses is Pamela Hensley who vamps it up as the dangerous but beautiful Princess Ardala.

The special effects are quite good for the era bearing in mind that this movie was originally intended for television so it doesn’t have the kind of budget that a Hollywood blockbuster would have had. Director Daniel Haller learnt his stuff working for Roger Corman and does a competent job although the movie does feel slightly padded out. The debt to Star Wars is painfully apparent, with a mother ship that tries to look like Darth Vader’s Deathstar and spaceship fighter sequences that are pure Star Wars rip-offs.

The real problem is the script by Glen A. Larson and Leslie Stevens which makes use of some of the most irritating clichés of 1970s sci-fi. Especially irritating is the whole OMG A Nuclear War Is Going To Kill Us All nonsense, which also has the effect of dating the movie rather badly. It even has the tiresome post-nuclear apocalypse mutants running about stuff. There’s too much dreary sermonising. At one point Buck assures one of the 25th century people, “Don’t worry, my generation didn’t know what it was doing either.” In fact of course Buck’s generation was about to bring the Cold War to a successful conclusion and eliminate the threat of nuclear Armageddon.

Once the action starts about midway through the preaching mercifully stops and things get moderately entertaining.

The script does include a few amusing one-liners but unfortunately the comic relief, provided by a loveable robot you will learn to loathe, falls very flat. There’s also a cringe-inducing scene where Buck introduces the 25th century to disco dancing. The 25th century people could console themselves that even if they had to live in a devastated world they had at least been spared disco dancing up to that point.

The Region 4 DVD is included in the TV series boxed set. It is in the correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio (since it was originally intended for television). Picture quality is acceptable if not startling.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century isn’t quite camp enough to be as enjoyable as the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, but as blatant Star Wars clones go it’s mildly enjoyable. Possibly worth a rental if you’re in the mood.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Evil in the Deep (1975)

Evil in the Deep (The Treasure of Jamaica Reef) is a 1974 underwater adventure movie involving the search for sunken treasure. Which sounds promising enough, but this movie fails abysmally to live up to this promise.

Hugo Graham (Stephen Boyd) is an LA cop who discovers a treasure map apparently dating to 1787 in the course of a homicide investigation. You might think that a hardboiled city cop would be the last person in the world to fall for the old treasure map routine, but Hugo falls for it hook, line and sinker.

Hugo’s hobby is scuba diving so he has the qualifications to go hunting for sunken treasure. With some diving buddies and the obligatory glamorous blonde, in this case a blonde rejoicing in the name of Zappy (played by Cheryl Ladd), he sets off for Jamaica to find the treasure.

Of course there are bad guys hunting the treasure as well.

There’s not really a whole lot more to the plot than that. We don’t find out anything very interesting about the history of the map or of the treasure itself.

This is clearly a fairly low-budget movie despite some fairly impressive underwater photography. It’s a pity that a bit more money wasn’t spent on hiring a better writer and a better director, and better actors. The movie looks even cheaper that it undoubtedly was.

The movie certainly has some typically 1970s features. There’s some gore, which is unnecessary in a movie that should be relying on excitement and suspense rather than gore. There’s also that rather nasty edge that was unfortunately a feature of so many 1970s movies, of all genres.

Stephen Boyd’s performance is pretty bad but he’s streets ahead of the rest of the cast. Cheryl Ladd was at this time still named Cheryl Stoppelmoor. She married David Ladd during the filming of the movie. She looks good, and she was quite fun in the Charlie’s Angels TV series a few years later, but her acting in this movie fails to excite.

This movie is notable for being one of the comparatively small number of 1970s movies to be directed by a woman, in this case Virginia Stone. Stone’s career amounted to very little, and after seeing this movie I’m not surprised. Her directing is less than inspired.

The only plus for this movie is that the underwater sequences are reasonably good. In fact they’re very good. When they’re underwater the movie almost becomes exciting. Sadly, as soon as we’re out of the water the excitement level drops calamitously. The script is stodgy and unimaginative.

This movie has been described as a precursor to Jaws, which probably overstates its importance quite a bit. The 1970s did give birth to several underwater adventure movies, with Jaws being followed by the less than rivetting The Deep.

I came across this movie in the Hollywood Beauties boxed set from St Clair Vision. The transfer is truly horrible, with severe print damage all the way through and rather washed out colours. It’s letterboxed so at least it’s in the correct aspect ratio but aside from that this is a seriously lousy DVD. It also appears to be a print that has been cut. I was going to say that no movie, no matter how bad, deserved treatment as shoddy as this. But after further consideration of the matter I’ve decided that this movie really does deserve such shoddy treatment.

Evil in the Deep is a seriously dull movie with very little at all to recommend. I’d steer clear of this one.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

The Mad Magician (1954)

The Mad Magician, made in 1954, was an attempt by Columbia to cash in on the success of The House of Wax, which in 1953 had established Vincent Price as the new king of horror. It follows a very similar formula, and like The House of Wax it was shot in 3-D.

Don Gallico (Vincent Price) is about to make his debut as a magician, as Gallico the Great. Gallico has spent years inventing magic tricks for other magicians. He is a partner in a form that specialises in this business. Gallico the Great’s first performance is going well but just before he does his greatest trick, The Lady and Buzzsaw illusion, his business partner Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph) arrives at the theatre with an injunction. Gallico now discovers that the contract he had signed with Ormond gives Ormond ownership of every illusion he creates. Gallico the Great had been scheduled to make his Broadway debut at the 44th Street Theatre but now The Lady and Buzzsaw illusion will be performed at that theatre by The Great Rinaldi (John Emery).

Something inside of Gallico snaps and he murders Ormond.

Part of Gallico the Great’s act involved impersonations of other magicians. Gallico had devised extraordinarily life-like masks to aid him in his impersonations and now he will use those masks to get away with murder. Or so he hopes.

He has one big problem to deal with - his wife Claire (Eva Gabor) had divorced him to marry Ormond (the resentment engendered by this provided part of the motivation for his murder of Ormond). Claire know him too well to be fooled by a mask. And he has yet another problem - a landlady who is a writer of detective stories. Alice Prentice (Lenita Lane) not only writes about murder - she considers herself to be an expert on the subject and her snooping will cause Gallico a great deal of discomfort.

Gallico’s assistant in his act was to have been Karen Lee (Mary Murphy). Karen’s boyfriend is a New York cop, a Detective-Lieutenant, Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal). Bruce finds himself investigating a murder, but not the murder of Ross Ormond. Ross Ormond is dead, but the police don’t know that and they consider him to be the chief suspect in another murder case.

This is a perfect role for Price and he makes the most of it. Don Gallico is a classic Vincent Price villain, an essentially good man whose mind is twisted by disappointment and who becomes a monster. The other actors are all quite adequate but this movie belongs to Vincent Price.

The illusions are a major highlight of the movie. They’re deliciously twisted and macabre. A magic act based on a small-scale replica of a crematorium might be in very bad taste but it works wonderfully well in a horror movie. The Lady and the Buzzsaw illusion makes use of delightfully macabre props as well.

After getting off to a very impressive start with 20th Century-Fox in the 40s German-born director John Brahm’s career had its ups and downs, mostly downs, but he did have a genuine flair for horror.

This movie has been released in Sony’s made-on-demand DVD range. The transfer is strictly 2-D but it looks pretty good even if the price is absurdly excessive.

The Mad Magician is not one of Vincent Price’s great movies but it’s entertaining and it’s worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of horror involving stage magic. Recommended.

Sunday 19 May 2013

Three Cases of Murder (1955)

Three Cases of Murder is a decidedly odd little concoction. This 1955 British production, made by Wessex Productions and distributed by British Lion Films, is an omnibus movie comprising three segments, with very little to connect them.

The three segments all have different writers and different directors and since the only possible link between them is a shared oddness it’s probably best to consider them as three quite separate short films. The title would lead you to expect three murder mysteries but what you actually get is one murder mystery and two horror stories.

The first story is In the Picture, with a screenplay by Donald B. Wilson based on a story by Roderick Wilkinson and directed by Wendy Toye. The prize exhibit in a private museum is a slightly spooky painting of an old house. The painting is housed behind glass and for some unexplained reason the glass keeps breaking. In fact the reason for this is that the artist who painted the picture lives inside it and keeps leaving it to wander about the museum. On one of his little expeditions he strikes up a conversation with the museum guide. It seems that the painter (who has been dead for many years) has never been quite happy with the picture and keeps wanting to make minor alterations to it. He draws the museum guide into the painting in order to make use of him to complete the composition to his satisfaction.

In the Picture can be regarded as a quirky horror movie. The central idea is certainly intriguing and it does have a definite sense of the macabre. It’s perhaps too whimsical to be really terrifying but it’s certainly interestingly unusual.

The second segment, You Killed Elizabeth, is more a straight murder mystery. Sidney Carroll wrote the screenplay, based on a story by the American hardboiled crime writer Brett Halliday. David Eady directed.

George (Emrys Jones) and Edgar (John Gregson) have been friends since childhood. Edgar has always been the dominant one, the leader. He’s also the one who always gets the girl. Even when George meets the girl first, Edgar always gets here. George and Edgar now have their own advertising agency. While Edgar is out of London for an extended period on a business trip George meets Elizabeth (Elizabeth Sellars) at a concert. They fall in love and it looks like George will finally get the girl. But of course as soon as Edgar gets back to town history repeats itself. This time it leads to murder.

The plot is just a little on the thin side but it’s competently made and competently acted.

The third story, Lord Mountdrago, is the oddest of them all. Based on a Somerset Maugham story it was scripted by Ian Dalrymple and directed by George More O’Farrell (although it has been suggested that Orson Welles had a hand in the directing).

Lord Mountdrago (Orson Welles) is the British Foreign Secretary. During a debate in the House of Commons he demolishes an Opposition member named Owen so completely as to more or less end Owen’s career. Then Lord Mountdrago starts to have disturbing dreams, dreams in which he is always making a fool of himself. Owen is always in these dreams. What really disturbs Lord Mountdrago is that Owen seems to be aware of his dreams. He keeps making remarks that suggest that he knows exactly what has transpired  in Mountdrago’s dreams and seems to be mocking him.

Mountdrago slowly but surely starts to lose his grip.

This story relies entirely on Orson Welles to carry it. I’ve always maintained that you can’t make a bad movie from a Somerset Maugham story but it appears I was wrong. This really is a remarkably silly story. Fortunately Welles gives it everything he’s got and almost succeeds in making it work. His deliciously over-ripe performance is the only way this part could possibly be played successfully.

Lord Mountdrago qualifies as a horror film, albeit an odd one.

Omnibus movies always suffer from unevenness and when the individual stories have different writers and directors the problems are always even greater.

One major problem with this movie is that although no political parties are actually named the political allegiances of the two principals are fairly obvious. In today’s poisonous and polarised political atmosphere that might affect the viewer’s response to the characters.

Odeon’s all-region British DVD release boasts a very satisfactory transfer. There are no extras.

Three Cases of Murder is not an entirely satisfying movie but it is original enough and odd enough to be of some interest.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

The Mask (1961)

The Mask is a very obscure 1961 movie that has the distinction of being probably Canada’s first home-grown horror movie. It’s also notable for being at the tail end of the original 3-D fad.

A young man named Michael Radin working at the Museum of Ancient History takes a 3,000-year-old American Indian ritual mask home with him. He dons the mask and instantly starts to experience a kind of bad acid trip. In his dream, or hallucination, he stalks and kills a young woman. When he wakes up he has claw marks on his face. Is this really a dream? And even if it is a dream, is the dream coming from his own subconscious or from the mask itself?

Radin consults a psychiatrist. Dr Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) thinks that Radin is just a routine neurotic acting out his subconscious fantasies. Radin is so upset, and so angry at Dr Barnes, that he promptly goes home and blows his brains out. But before doing that he packs the mask in a cardboard box and mails it to Dr Barnes. Dr Barnes just can’t help himself - he has to try the mask himself. And he’s immediately zapped into acid trip/Indian tribal ritual territory.

Dr Barnes isn’t really sure if his visions are the product of his own mind or if they’re coming from the mask but what he is convinced of is that this represents a major break-through in psychiatry. He is determined to continue experimenting with the mask. But the mask is habit-forming and it causes problems with his girlfriend Pam (Claudette Nevins). Pam persuades him to consult another psychiatrist, a man who was his mentor in his student days. The professor reluctantly agrees to help Dr Barnes with his research on the mask, but only under controlled conditions.

As you might expect those controlled conditions very quickly get out of control. A further problem for Allan Barnes is the police investigation of Michael Radin’s suicide. Lieutenant Martin (Bull Walker) is not sure this was a straightforward suicide.

After experiencing a few forays into dream territory with the mask Dr Barnes starts to take an unhealthy interest in his secretary. It’s an interest that is unhealthy for him but may be considerably more than unhealthy for her.

The Mask was directed by Julian Roffman. It was his second movie as director, and his last. The dream sequences were filmed in 3-D and were done by Serbian-born veteran Hollywood montage editor Slavko Vorkapich. These dream sequences are the movie’s highlight and they’re pretty impressive. The decision to do them in 3-D was perhaps unfortunate as it gave the impression that they were as gimmicky and trivial as 3-D itself. By this time the 3-D fad had well and truly run its course.

The acting is uniformly bad. Since this is a horror movie that doesn’t matter too much. And the bulk of the movie consists of a fairly routine horror movie plot that is really just a framing device for the dream sequences that are the movie’s real raison d'être.

This movie got a theatrical release in the US courtesy of Warner Brothers but sadly it didn’t do well enough to provide a launching pad for director Julian Roffman or for Canadian horror movies.

The DVD release from Cheezy Flicks is quite awful. It’s fullframe and the picture quality is mediocre, and most importantly the transfer very badly fails to do justice to the dream sequences (even if you do wear the 3-D glasses included with the DVD). The movie has also been cut which may be the explanation for the very abrupt ending.

Despite the dreadfulness of the DVD The Mask is still worth seeing and this DVD is probably going to be your only chance to do so. It’s an intriguing precursor to the wave of psychedelic movies that hit movie screens in the mid-60s.

Friday 10 May 2013

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

For Your Eyes Only, released in 1981, was the fifth of the Roger Moore Bond movies and marked something of a change in direction.

There are two schools of thought on the correct approach to making a Bond movie. One school holds that it is desirable to keep as close as possible to the spirit of Ian Fleming’s novels. This requires a fairly realistic approach and it requires Bond to be a fairly hard-edged character.

The second school holds that Bond movies are pure escapist fun and the sillier and campier they are the better.

I’ve always preferred the second approach, although it has to be said that the first approach has something to be said for it.

The Roger Moore Bond films tended to stick to the second approach  which reached a climax with the gleefully outrageous Moonraker in 1979. When it came to the next movie in the series for some reason it seemed to have been decided to go for the first option. For Your Eyes Only is the most serious of the Roger Moore films. There are spectacular stunts but there aren’t the outrageous gadgets and most of the action sequences are reasonably plausible.

To my way of thinking it suffers a little from the lack of a larger-than-life villain. Bond is not up against a diabolical criminal mastermind. He’s up against criminals and KGB agents. I feel that a hero of Bond’s stature really needs to be measured against a villain on an epic scale.

A British spy ship is sunk, and to the embarrassment and consternation of Her Majesty’s government a piece of very vital equipment was not destroyed before the ship sank. If it falls into the hands of the Russians it will render Britain’s main line of defence, her Polaris missile submarines, powerless. An attempt by a British archaeologist to retrieve the device fails and the archaeologist is killed. His daughter, Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) survives and vows vengeance. Melina is half-Greek and vengeance is something she takes very seriously. She will be a useful ally for 007.

Rival bands of smugglers are also interested in finding the device and one of these smugglers intends to sell it to the KGB.

The plot allows for the sorts of underwater sequences that were always a highlight of Bond films. The duel between the two midget submarines is particularly impressive. There are also some exciting action sequences set in a Greek monastery high on a rocky summit. These scenes require some rather energetic for Bond. At 53 Roger Moore was getting a bit old for this sort of thing but he does better than you might expect.

Moore accepts the challenge of playing a more serious Bond and is surprisingly convincing. He restrains his more camp impulses and plays things very straight. That’s not the way I like to see Bond played but Moore is much more successful at this than anyone would have suspected.

Carole Bouquet is a slightly bland Bond girl. Fortunately Lynn-Holly Johnson is on hand to add some spice as Bibi Dahl. She was a former champion figure skater and she plays a young skater in training for the Winter Olympics. Bibi think the best place to train is in the bedroom and she thinks Bond would make an excellent training partner. She’s funny and sexy and likeable and adds some much-needed lightness to an otherwise rather gritty movie.

Topol and Julian Glover are solid enough as the rival Greek smuggling chiefs. Bernard Lee  had passed away in early 1981 so M doesn’t make an appearance this time, his place being taken (very capably) by Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defence. Q is still there however, as is Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny.

Director John Glen was making his first Bond movie and he handles the job extremely well. The rather long running time never drags. The action sequences are very good. A car chase in a Bond movie has to be witty as well as exciting and the one in this movie, with Bond fleeing from the bad guys in a little 2CV Citroen, qualifies on both counts.

I you like your Bond movies to be realistic spy thrillers you should love For Your Eyes Only. If like me you prefer them to be more in the mould of outrageous campy fun then you might find that one a bit of a disappointment after the glorious excessiveness of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker but it’s still fine entertainment.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Master of the World (1961)

Movies based on the works of Jules Verne had been very successful at the box office in the 50s so in 1961 AIP decided to get in on the act with an adaptation of Verne’s Master of the World. This was to be a spectacular action movie, but done on a very low AIP budget.

Therein of course lies the problem. Had a studio like Disney done this film it might have been every bit as good as their superb 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. AIP just didn’t have the money or the resources, or the expertise, of Disney. Despite this Master of the World is still a good deal of fun.

We start in a small town in Pennsylvania, a town sheltering under the slopes of a huge mountain known as the Great Eyrie. Loud rumbling noises are heard and the earth begins to shake. It looks like the Great Eyrie is about to erupt. Which is strange, since the mountain range of which it forms a part is not volcanic. How can a mountain that is not a volcano erupt? And what is the explanation of the booming voice heard at the time?

The US government, not unnaturally, wants to find out. They send out a man from the Department of the Interior to investigate. The man is John Strock (Charles Bronson). Strock decides that the best way to find out what is going on inside the Great Eyrie is to go have a look-see. That’s a sound idea, but the Great Eyrie is unclimbable. That’s awkward, but Strock is undaunted. If he can’t climb the mountain he’ll fly over it. Since this is 1868 the only way to do that is in a balloon.

He calls on the services of a ballooning society. The president of this society, an arms manufacturer named Prudent (Henry Hull), has designed a modern motor-driven balloon in conjunction with Phillip Evans (David Frankham). Evans is engaged to be married to Prudent’s daughter Dorothy (Mary Webster). Dorothy insists on coming along and soon she, her father, Evans and John Strock are flying over the mountain peak. At which time they are shot down by missile fire.

The four intrepid balloonists survive the crash of their balloon and wake up in what appears to be a ship. But this is no ordinary ship. It is an airship, the Albatross, and they are now the guests (or in practical terms the prisoners) of the airship’s captain, Robur (Vincent Price). The Albatross is many years ahead of its time. It is powered by electricity generated by some kind of magnetic engine.

Robur is not just a brilliant eccentric inventor and explorer. He is a man with a mission. His mission is to stamp out war, and he intends to do this no matter how many people he has to kill in the process. Robur intends to blackmail the governments of the world into disarming by threatening them with destruction from the skies. Like most people who want to save the world Robur doesn’t bother to ask if the world if the world wants or indeed needs to be saved.

It is apparent to our four adventurous balloonists that somebody has to stop Robur, and it’s going to have to be them. This is made more difficult by the fact that Evans and Strock dislike and distrust each other.

While Vincent Price will always be best remembered for his horror roles he was also superb in adventure movies as a tragic, flawed hero (as in War Gods of the Deep). Robur is dangerous and deluded but he is also charismatic and charming. He can be capriciously cruel but he is also capable of kindness, and even on rare occasions remorse. It’s a fine performance.

Charles Bronson might seem to a modern viewer to be miscast, but it has to be remembered that when this movie was made he hadn’t yet been stereotyped as the dark brooding killer type. He actually makes a decent adventure story hero. Mary Webster is quite adequate, Henry Hull is fun as Mr Prudent, but sadly David Frankham is rather bland as Evans.

The special effects were always going to be potentially the weak link. They are in fact variable but better than you might expect in a movie made under the budgetary constraints imposed by AIP’s lack of resources. There are some very obvious matte paintings, especially in the opening scene, but on the whole they’re reasonable enough. Most importantly the miniatures work is excellent. The Albatross looks very impressive and very convincing, in fact more convincing that it would probably look if done with modern CGI. Director William Witney does a competent job. With a script by the always interesting Richard Matheson Master of the World is really a surprisingly good movie. Great entertainment ad highly recommended.

MGM’s made-on-demand DVD offers an excellent anamorphic transfer.

Thursday 2 May 2013

The Man from Beyond (1922)

Everyone knows about Harry Houdini the magician. The most famous escape artist in history, Houdini was a legend in his own lifetime and remains one of the most recognised names in history. But there was more to Houdini that just magic. He was also a pioneer aviator, being the first man to fly in Australia. And he was a movie producer and movie star. His best-known movie is The Man from Beyond.

Two survivors of an Arctic exploration mission find an old sailing ship trapped in the ice. The ship has been there for a century. That’s extraordinary enough, but they also find one of the crew members frozen in the ice. When they thaw him out they discover that he is alive!

The man, Howard Hillary (Harry Houdini), had been the first mate of the ship on its last voyage in 1820. One of the men who found him is scientist Dr Gregory Sinclair. Sinclair decides not to tell Hillary the truth right away, as he fears that the shock of finding himself effectively transported in time for a century might be too much for him.

Hillary keeps asking what has happened to Felice. She was the woman he was in love with. She was a fellow passenger on that last fateful cruise in 1820.

Sinclair takes Hillary to the home of Dr Crawford Strange. When they arrive a wedding is about to take place between Dt Strange’s daughter Felice and a certain Dr Trent. Hillary is convinced that Felice is his own Felice, not realising that his Felice has been dead for a century. Hillary disrupts the wedding, which turns out not to be a bad thing. Felice Strange had been pressured into agreeing to a marriage she did not want.

Hillary has now made an enemy of Dr Trent. Dr Trent is the villain of the piece, the man responsible for the mysterious disappearance of Felice’s father, Dr Crawford Strange.

Dr Trent manages to get Hillary committed to an insane asylum but Hillary escapes (the movie thereby making use of Houdini’s skill as an escapologist). Hillary becomes more and more convinced that somehow Felice Strange really is his long-lost love Felice Norcross. Could it be that Felice Norcross has been reincarnated as Felice Strange?

The plot is pure melodrama but it’s fun. Houdini wrote the original story himself, as well as producing the movie and starring in it. The one major criticism that can be made against this movie is that it doesn’t really do enough with its central idea of a man who finds himself living a century ahead of his own time.

As an actor Houdini was rather limited but he’s capable enough for this sort of melodrama and he does have a certain presence.

Burton L. King was a prolific director in the silent era with a career going back as far as 1913. Modern audiences may find this movie to be a little stilted and perhaps too melodramatic but if you can accept it as melodrama

Imagine the worst DVD transfer you’ve ever seen and then multiply its flaws four-fold and you’ll have some idea of the sheer awfulness of Alpha Video’s presentation. Even by the very low standards of this company this disc is a shocker.

Houdini as the star makes The Man from Beyond an interesting historical curiosity, but fortunately it’s fairly entertaining as well. Worth a look.