December 31st, 2010

Does that sound like the Red Chinese army burrowing right below us?

BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH (1968)



This is way ridiculous and over-the-top, but in the best way. It's got a plot right out of pulps like THE SPIDER or OPERATOR# 5, the acting is flat and the special effects cheesy. There are white actors with a little eyelid make-up playing Chinese, a female geologist who has to be restrained from walking right onto lava ("watch it, that stuff is hot!"), a Dragon Lady who hypnotizes people by waving a little hand-held fan in circles at them, just one goofy thing after another. But at least it's not boring. BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH is at least entertaining and fun to sit through. I wonder if it was meant to be shown as a made-for-TV movie. Scene transitions have that blurring of lights from THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and sometimes a scene fades out as if intended for a commercial break. And, frankly, the whole thing has very much the look and sound of 1960s TV. Adding to the surreal feeling is that the cast is British putting on American accents which don't sound quite right.

Okay, here's the premise. A renegade Chinese general has organized his own private army and has gained control of a stockpile of nuclear bombs. Using laser-beam boring machines, he has been drilling tunnels (wait for it) under the Pacific ocean to form a network beneath the United States. His idea is to fire off nuclear warheads under major American cities, kill a hundred million people or so and take over the ruined country. Opposing him is a mere handful of US Marines led by Kerwin Matthews (from SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) and helpful geologist Viviane Ventura (who has just the oddest voice and accent, in a good way). Let the sneaking around and shooting and disarming bombs in sweaty close-ups begin. I am impressed by the way Washington can order every single airline flight and train stopped cold at a specific time so they can listen for the enemy burrowers. I like the way the rogue general has a pet falcon on a stand (none of those white cats for him) and that he's played by the gangster that Oddjob put in the car crusher in GOLDFINGER. And I like that even though the geologist spelunker Tila Yung starts off rather wishy washy and flighty, she soon gets into it.. before it's over, she's stabbing Chinese soldiers dead and putting on their uniforms to impersonate them. I think at the end, they show Hawaii being obliterated by a mushroom cloud but I had sort of lost track of things by then.

BRAND OF THE WEREWOLF



First, a friendly warning. Not so much a SPOILER as an ANTI-SPOILER, so you don`t get your hopes up, only to be let down.

The cover to the Bantam paperback is a dramatic scene (by Mort Kunstler, not James Bama). Doc Savage is down on one knee, being throttled by what sure looks like Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolf Man. Bare from the waist up and covered in short bristly brown fur, sporting pointed ears and a pug nose and two short fangs jutting up from the lower jaw, this brute is a dead ringer for the monster model then popular from Aurora toys. I am certain that thousands of monster-crazed young boys (myself included) snatched this book up and ran home with it in a feverish frenzy.

Well, sad to say, there is no werewolf in this story. Not even a crook in a rubber mask or a big German Shepherd covered with phosphorescent paint. Nope, just a gang of crooks who mark their attacks with a black smudge on the wall (made with a rubber stamp) of a wolf head with humanlike features. (Boo! Hiss! Hey mister, I want my forty-five cents back!)

But please forgive Bantam for the misleading cover, because after all it did introduce all those kids to the amazing world of Doc Savage, and many of them got hooked, started looking for more adventures of the Man of Bronze and even today they have a warm spot in their nostalgia for him. So it was all for the good.

From January 1934, BRAND OF THE WEREWOLF introduces Patricia Savage, Doc's lovely and rambunctious young cousin.Collapse )