Movie Diary 7/29/2018

giantgilamonsterThe Giant Gila Monster (Ray Kellogg, 1959). Some hot-rodding teens find their lives disrupted by the arrival of a giant Gila monster, which is in fact played by a Mexican beaded lizard, photographed slithering its way through miniature sets. The movie is packed: stupefied line delivery from most of the actors, rock and roll as tangy as Bisquick, slices of hot-rod culture that feel more authentic than the subject as seen in Hollywood films, a local deejay schlepping his patter, and a relentless attempt to make dreamboat leading man Ken Sullivan a star. Check out Sullivan’s annus mirabilis, 1959: not just this movie but also The Monster of Piedras Blancas, The Rebel Set, and Jerry Warren’s Teenage Zombies. For some reason, he then got out of the movie business, settling on becoming (per IMDb) “one of the top cosmetic chemists in the hair industry.” It kinda makes you love the world. Sullivan died in January 2018. The film was shot around Dallas, in tandem with The Killer Shrews; both were produced by Ken Curtis, of Sons of the Pioneers/John Ford stock company (also the man’s son-in-law)/”Festus” on Gunsmoke fame.

Half-Human (Ishirô Honda/Kenneth G. Crane, 1958). The English-language release of a Honda yeti film, with John Carradine in the new scenes, narrating the Japanese footage. It’s pretty awful, although some of the Japanese material is scenic. Carradine is amazingly professional about the whole thing, really leaning into his nothing-but-exposition scenes.

Generation Wealth (Lauren Greenfield, 2018). New documentary from the Queen of Versailles director; this one casts a wider net around the subject of conspicuous consumption, although the net widens to include the filmmaker herself.

The Axe of Wandsbek (Falk Harnack, 1951). Potent East German title about a struggling Hamburg butcher (GDR everyman Erwin Geschonneck) who takes a one-time gig as an executioner for a group of imprisoned communists – the year is 1933. The regular executioner is unavailable, and Hitler won’t visit Hamburg until after the prisoners are dead. After a successful release, the film was banned by East German authorities because audiences clearly felt some sympathy for the butcher, an ideologically impure, but nevertheless human, reaction.

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