#140 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Watched: October 5 2017

Director: Don Siegel

Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates

Year: 1956

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) has had a rough few days, and is trying to convince a psychiatrist that he is not crazy but that his home town really is at the centre of a large scale alien invasion. His story is then told in flashbacks and we see the invasion unfold.

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He has really cultivated that so-not-crazy-right-now-look

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Bennell, a small town doctor, has been out of town and very popular in his absence; half the town has been in to see him, but when he returns they are no longer as keen. He gradually finds that many of his patients seem to suffer from Capgras delusion – they think their loved ones are not themselves or have been replaced by impostors. They also suddenly snap out of their delusions without any treatment…

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The thick plottens when the protagonists find an unconscious man with no distinguishing features hidden in a friend’s basement

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Bennell, together with childhood crush Becky Driscoll (Wynter), starts to investigate and what they find is literally out of this world – a race of alien “pod people” who are taking over the entire town of Santa Mira by replacing its people with unemotional but otherwise perfect replicas.

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“Tired of your neighbour? Grow a new one in a greenhouse! Pod People – Replacing Non-Conformist Folks Everywhere”

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers shows a quiet invasion – alien beings who fell from the sky gradually take over friends, relatives and neighbours in their sleep. Those not yet taken grow increasingly paranoid and hysterical, especially since the change is hard to prove – it’s mostly just a feeling and an instinct that something is wrong.

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Until they start chasing you, of course. Then you know.

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This film is remade (or, the novel by Jack Finney is filmed) every other decade or so, sometimes under different titles (such as Body Snatchers or The Invasion), and each time the plot changes slightly based on the general zeitgeist. The original, from the fifties, naturally has clear undertones of McCarthyism and the communist scare.

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Though things have changed a lot since 1956, the tried and tested investigative method of poking stuff with a stick has fortunately survived.

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We’ve mentioned how we love old-timey sci-fi before, and this film is an old favourite which still holds up. We’re really looking forward to Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version now, to see the differences (we haven’t seen it in ages). Also, although the quality of the different productions vary a bit, we think they should just keep remaking the plot every twenty years or so. It’s a good indication of what people’s fears are at any given time, and important documentation for the ages.

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And it gives us shots like this.

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What we learned: If people around you start acting weird, they’re probably pod people and are out to get you.

Next time: The Bad Seed (1956)

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#137 The Quatermass Xperiment

Watched: September 24 2017

Director: Val Guest

Starring: Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner, Margia Dean, David King-Wood, Thora Hird, Richard Wordsworth

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 18min

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As a young couple laugh randomly in a field, a rocket comes crashing down from the sky. Emergency services arrive shortly after but are unable to do anything with the space craft other than wait for it to cool down.

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Not a scenario covered in basic training for most British emergency services. Only a few.

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Enter Professor Quatermass (Donlevy) – a scientist with little patience, no respect for so-called authorities, and no time for nonsense. He is the brains behind the semi-successful space launch, and he is worried about the crew after they lost radio contact for 57 hours. And rightly so – when they finally open up the ship, two of the three astronauts have vanished, and the only remaining crew member is in a state of shock.

 

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“Not to worry, my dear. I suspect, if we put him in this dental chair and stick tubes in him, he’ll probably snap right out of it. Yes, that’ll do the trick!”

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The survivor, Victor Carroon (Wordsworth) is transferred to a hospital after he fails to make any progress, but his wife Judith (Dean) has the brilliant idea to kidnap her non-responsive, traumatized and possibly infectious husband and get him out of there.

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“We still don’t know what’s wrong with you or what happened to the rest of the crew, but what could possibly go wrong?”

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With their subject missing, Quatermass and Dr Gordon Briscoe (King-Wood) find out some ugly truths about his condition, and they must hunt Carroon down before he manages to kill and/or infect too many others. The future of the planet is at stake!

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He retains some of his humanity. Little girls with dolls are scary and must be avoided!

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We’ve never seen this one before, although we have seen the two surviving episodes of the 1953 BBC show on which is was based. It was good to finally get some closure and find out how this all developed.

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Answer: not that well…

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This is a great sci-fi horror, which obviously inspired shows like Doctor Who, although the effects are now a little bit dated (not that we care about that stuff – we are masters at suspending our disbelief!). The stages of Carroon’s transformation are still very good, and also very sad.

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Donlevy’s Quatermass is a bit more aggressive than Reginald Tate’s TV version, but we enjoyed him a lot.

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We can’t wait for the other two Quatermass films – we loved the shows they’re based on and can’t imagine the films being anything less than amazing.

What we learned: Outer space is scary.

Next time: Bigger Than Life (1956)

#136 The Night of the Hunter

Watched: September 17 2017

Director: Charles Laughton

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Evelyn Varden, Peter Graves, Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 32min

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Harry Powell (Mitchum) is a preacher on a killing spree – a self-appointed Soldier of God on a mission to rid the world of attractive widows.

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“The Lord said not to have sex before marriage. I don’t remember reading anything about sex being mandatory once you’re married, so… You’re on your own, wifey!”

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He serves a stint in prison for driving a stolen car (very Christian of him) and shares a cell with robber Ben Harper (Graves). Harper tells his cell mate about his family and Powell figures out Ben’s children know the whereabouts of the money from the robbery.

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The best way to earn the trust of children is to take their father’s place

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Powell tracks down Harper’s bereaved widow and successfully woos her (with help from the very busy Icey Spoon [Varden]), set on learning her children’s secret. However, son John (Chapin) is not a fool, and he never trusts his new step-father.

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“SHOW ME THE MONEY!”

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When Powell’s misogyny, frustration and general disposition drives him to kill his new wife, the children grab the money and go on the run, drifting down the river in their boat in search of a safe haven, which they find in the form of Rachel Cooper (Gish). But Powell is not about to give up on “his” fortune…

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This is what you get for wanting to have sex with your husband

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We have no words to express how much we loved The Night of the Hunter. A serial killer (who may have been the inspiration for characters in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Carnivale), resourceful children, absolutely beautiful imagery (even the above picture of dead Willa Harper (Winters) is eerily gorgeous in its grotesqueness), and the exquisite Lillian Gish are the main ingredients which made us fall, but there was nothing about it we didn’t love.

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A badass lady with a shotgun. Need we say more?

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It’s scary and stunning, creepy, sad and hopeful. We loved the shadows, the music, the knuckle tattoos and the performances. Will definitely watch again.

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Lillian f**king Gish. Just amazing.

What we learned: It’s a hard world for little things.

Next time: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

#132 Rififi/Du rififi chez les hommes

Watched: September 3 2017

Director: Jules Dassin

Starring: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Jules Dassin, Marie Sabouret, Marcel Lupovici, Magali Noël

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Tony le Stéphanois (Servais) is a retired crook with health problems who just spent five years in prison after taking the fall for friend Jo (Möhner). The two meet mutual friend Mario (Manuel) for coffee and crime planning, although Tony is getting too old for this shit.

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Guess which one has expressed some doubt about the scheme

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Tony respectfully declines, but when he learns ex-girlfriend Mado (Sabouret) is back in town and smooching it up with gangster Grutter (Lupovici) he signs up, after giving her a savage beating.

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The first look at Tony’s dark side. And trust us – it’s dark!

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The trio bring in Italian safe cracker César (Dassin) and start planning the perfect heist – the nighttime robbery of a jewellery shop. The crime itself goes off (almost) without a hitch, until César can’t help himself but steal an extra piece of jewellery for his lover Viviane (Noël).

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After all that planning and suspense, a guy thinking with his dick screws it up. Men just aren’t cut out for this kind of work.

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Grutter figures out who’s behind the incredible heist and comes after them. As he threatens Jo’s family, Tony utilizes his dark side for good and goes after the ruthless gangster.

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Pictured: not a guy you want to mess with

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Rififi is basically the ultimate heist movie; it is stylish and cool with a great cast of characters and an extremely exciting robbery. We absolutely loved the song and dance routine with the silhouettes, as well as the planning phase. However, the long silent scene during the robbery, which is probably the longest silent part of a film that’s not a pre-talkie we’ve ever seen, was by far our favourite. So suspenseful!

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There’s just so much style in this film!

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Also, we were giddily happy to see that the decorative lampshade finally served a purpose. It’s like all the Noirs we’ve watched so far have been leading up to this moment. What a payoff.

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To the right: multi-purpose decorative lamp. Finally!

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What we learned: How much work actually goes into a perfect crime. Also, don’t stray from the plan and get greedy. Or think with your dick.

Next time: The Big Combo (1955)

#128 Diabolique/Les diaboliques

Watched: August 7 2017

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 57min

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Christina Delassalle (Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (Signoret) are colleagues at a boarding school for boys somewhere in France, but that’s not all they have in common. They are also involved with the same man – Christina’s tyrannical bastard of a husband Michel (Meurisse).

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“It’s always more fun to share with everyone”

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Michel does not only mistreat his poorly (but wealthy) wife – he is also abusive to his mistress and the children in the school. Fed up with him, Nicole concocts a murderous plan to rid the two women of their shared lover. Christina is hesitant at first, but after her husband humiliates her and rapes her, she has finally been pushed too far.

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Not what most men have in mind when they picture being bathed by two women

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They go through with their plan, but the already mentally and physically fragile wife is quickly deteriorating from the stress and the guilt. Then, the body disappears, freaky stuff starts happening and things turn creepy.

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Artist’s representation of us watching this film

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Diabolique is very, very creepy and suspenseful. Michel is extremely unlikable and we’ve never wanted two people to get away with murder more than in this case. This film kept us guessing to the end (although we had a theory which turned out to be spot on) and there are a lot of exciting twists and turns in the plot.

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The look of a woman mentally preparing for murder

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We won’t say much more as we do not want to spoil this gem for anyone, but if you haven’t seen it, it should go to the top of your to-watch list. So good.

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What we learned: If you’re going to murder someone, make sure you know how to play it cool.

Next time: It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

#127 Blackboard Jungle

Watched: August 20 2017

Director: Richard Brooks

Starring: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Sidney Poitier, Vic Morrow, Margaret Hayes, Louis Calhern, Jamie Farr

Year: 1955

Runtime: 1h 41min

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Soft-spoken navy veteran Richard Dadier (Ford) gets his first teaching position in an inner-city school in a big city (New York?). While the school has a bad reputation, the principal denies any discipline problems.

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We’re slightly inclined to agree as all students are shown actually sitting at their desks. Dream scenario!

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Despite the principal’s assurances, the kids are disruptive, disrespectful and generally difficult, and Dadier’s commitment to his job is quickly dwindling. After stopping an attempted rape on a colleague, the students turn on him and attack him and another teacher in an alley. In addition, Dadier’s pregnant (and victim-blaming) wife Anne (Francis) starts to receive anonymous phone calls and letters claiming her husband is having an affair.

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“How do I reach these kiiiids?”

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Dadier notices that Gregory Miller (Poitier) is a natural leader and that the other students tend to follow his lead, so he proposes that they work together to get the class on the right track. Will they manage to build a relationship and turn this class around? Or is Miller the one sabotaging Dadier’s job and marriage?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiids?”

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From the opening credits set to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & his Comets to the integrated classroom, it is clear that this was a progressive film upon its release only one year after segregated education was deemed unconstitutional in the USA.

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Bringing weapons to school is a long-standing American tradition (somewhat) backed up by the same constitution by the way. Just to put things in perspective.

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We loved Blackboard Jungle, which we fittingly watched the day before the new school year started (and Sister the Oldest went back to teaching). Glenn Ford’s Dadier is a flawed hero who comes face to face with a lot of his own prejudices, and Sidney Poitier really stands out as Miller and saves him from becoming a cliché “angry black man.”

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Also, there’s young Klinger!

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It’s historically very interesting, and films like it are still being made (idealistic teacher in inner-city school), including an (awesome) episode of South Park. What’s not to love?

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“How do I reach these kiiiiiiiiiiids???”

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What we learned: Don’t ever give up on the kids. Unless they pull a knife on you. Also, Sister the Oldest is very grateful she has the students she has…

Next time: Diabolique/Les diaboliques (1955)

#124 Them!

Watched: June 29 2017

Director: Gordon Douglas

Starring: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 34min

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Police pick up a shell-shocked little girl in the New Mexico desert. They also spot an abandoned car and trailer, and when they check them out they find a war zone sprinkled with sugar. What on earth could have happened?

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Nothing good, that’s what!

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As more similar crime scenes appear, Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) investigates with the help of his trooper, who quickly becomes another victim of the unseen threat. FBI Agent Robert Graham (Arness) replaces the dead trooper, and with their only clues being strange tracks, sugar, and huge amounts of formic acid in the victims’ bodies, the investigators call in some experts. Dr Harold Medford (Gwenn) arrives, accompanied by his daughter, Dr Patricia Medford (Weldon). The two of them have some crazy theories.

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Surprise! The crazy theories were spot on and there really are enormous killer ants running around in the desert!

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The culprits are giant ants, mutations made by radiation from nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico (see “Godzilla: Bombs are Bad“). The team manage to destroy the nest, but realise that three queens have managed to escape. Now they must track them down and destroy them before they destroy all of humanity.

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Pretty much the most fun you can have with nuclear mutation mistakes

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As mentioned, we watched this as a double feature with Godzilla, and they really are a perfect match. Atomic monsters threatening major cities who must be destroyed by scientists and the military working together, with a sprinkle of romance and humour. We loved them both, although Them! seems the slightly sillier version of the same general idea.

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Giant dinosaury sea monsters beat giant animatronic insects in terms of fright factor, in our opinion. The insects win for fun factor, though.

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A cult classic which is surprisingly tense given the premise, Them! is a great film if you’re a fan of creepy creature features with slightly dated effects but otherwise great performances and lots of eerie sounds. We loved both Doctors Medford, and had a great time watching this.

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Who you gonna call? Antbusters!

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What we learned: Get the antennae! Also, not all nuclear explosions lead to superheroes.

Next time: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

#123 Seven Samurai

Watched: July 26 2017

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Isao Kimura, Daisuke Katô, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Keiko Tsushima, Kamatari Fujiwara

Year: 1954

Runtime: 3h 27min

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Arguably Kurosawa’s most famous film, Seven Samurai, tells the story of a 16th century Japanese village on a deadline to be attacked by bandits. In order to save themselves and their crops, the villagers decide to hire samurai to protect them, and three of them go to a nearby town to find rōnin/samurai hungry enough to work for food.

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“Free rice, you say? Count me in!”

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While no easy task, the villagers eventually recruit old rōnin Kambei (Shimura) and he, with the help of his eager new apprentice Katsushirō (Kimura), manage to gather another four samurai. Their party of six now includes stoic but brutal warrior Kyūzō (Miyaguchi) as well as three (slightly more interchangeable) friendly samurai Shichirōji, Gorobei and Heihatchi (Katô, Inaba and Chiaki, respectively).

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“Come rain, come shine, we’ll fight all you bitches!”

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But wait, you say! Isn’t the title Seven Samurai? Not six? It is indeed, gentle reader. As they make their way towards the village, the samurai are followed by crazy drunk Kikuchiyo (Mifune), who also claims samurai credentials. After pulling a stunt in the village, the others include him in their numbers, and then there were seven. Together, they will train the villagers, fight the bandits, and some will fall in love in the process. Though, sadly, not with each other.

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About to drop the hottest record of 1586!

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If the plot sounds familiar but you’re sure you’ve never seen this film, it may be because of John Sturges’ 1960 Western remake The Magnificent Seven, which takes the premise and sets it in a Mexican village with gunslingers instead of samurai. If you’re a fan of that one, we recommend you watch this original – it has drama, action, romance, comedy, and a host of colourful characters.

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There’s also incredibly cool shots like this one.

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We have a weakness for samurai, so this was perfect for us. Even with a running time of well over 3 hours, it’s engaging and interesting and never feels too long. It’s a popular film to screen in film clubs and cinematheques, so if you get the chance, you should watch it on the big screen. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you’re a grumpy bastard who doesn’t like fun.

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In which case, this guy is coming for you!

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What we learned: A lot about old Japanese hair customs. Also, given the right circumstances, floral prints can be manly as fuck.

Next time: Them! (1954)

#120 Godzilla/Gojira

Watched: June 29 2017

Director: Ishirô Honda

Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata

Year: 1954

Runtime: 1h 36min

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Godzilla – King of the Monsters! Hydrogen bombs off the coast of Japan have awoken the mighty beast from its oceanic slumber and it is coming for Tokyo. Send in the army, sacrifice your daughters, and RUN!

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Not sure how a girl is supposed to placate this beast, but for a while that was the only viable plan

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As Godzilla, a dinosaury creature of local legend, wreaks havoc on the shores of Japan, scientists and military personnel work to pacify and/or kill the monster. Some, such as Dr. Yamane (Shimura), are convinced they should let the rare specimen live.

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It just wants to play! And it’s so cuuuuute!

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Others, particularly the military, but later also Yamane’s daughter Emiko (Kôchi) and her two boyfriends (it’s complicated) Hideto and Serizawa (Takarada and Hirata, respectively), begin to realise that their only course of action is to destroy it before it destroys all of Japan and possibly the world.

Emiko (Momoko Kochi) witnesses the horrifying effects of the "At
“Kill it! Kill it with……oxygen..?”

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Godzilla is a legendary creature feature which has spawned countless sequels, remakes, and reboots. However, none of them have quite managed to capture the magic of the original. Sure, there have been more advanced special effects in some other Godzilla-films, but the original man (technically men; Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka) in the monster suit is strangely effective.

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It might be an advantage to the overall effect that the movie is quite dark and a lot of details are slightly obscured

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It’s atmospheric and intense, with a dramatic score, great performances and real threats. We watched this as a part of 1000filmblog’s Atomic Double Creature Feature Night™ together with Gordon Douglas’ Them! (#124) from the same year, and it was a fantastic combination. As we’re going through the fifties and sixties, we’re looking forward to more atomic/space-agey horror and sci-fi – we love us a good monster movie and a good atomic scare!

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We’ll leave you with the poster for the American edition of this Japanese classic – now with added Americans!

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What we learned: Hydrogen bombs are bad. Also, when Godzilla emerges, we might have to give up a girl as sacrifice.

Next time: Magnificent Obsession (1954)

#119 The Wages of Fear/Le salaire de la peur

Watched: July 8 2017

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli, Peter van Eyck, Véra Clouzot

Year: 1953

Runtime: 2h 27min

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In a small village somewhere in South America, men of various nationalities are looking for work and a ticket out of extreme poverty and to more civilized places. After a horrible accident at a nearby oil field, the American owned “Southern Oil Company” needs to transport huge quantities of nitroglycerin to the field, but have no inclination to spend time and money putting security measures in place.

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“We made a sign. What more could we possibly do?”

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Not prepared to sacrifice proper American lives on this suicide mission, the company recruits drivers among the unemployed village vagabonds – desperate men ready to do anything for the $2000 offered as payment.

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“Just, you know, don’t shake the cargo. Or make loud noises. Or crash. Or have a nervous breakdown. Yeah, you’ll be fine.”

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The lucky(?) selected drivers (after some light corruption and implied violence) are Mario (Montand) and Señor Jo (Vanel) in one truck, and Luigi (Lulli) and Bimba (van Eyck) in the other. They are informed of what they are transporting as well as warned by another potential driver that even if they survive the impossible task, they will be mentally scarred for life. However, desperate people are willing to do desperate things, and the chosen men go on their way.

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What could possibly go wrong on these well-maintained roads?

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The ensuing road trip is one of the tensest we’ve ever seen. Every tiny obstacle, of which there are many, is potentially fatal, and the relationships between the characters grow very strained. It is a good film that can get us to care about characters who are intrinsically unlikable, and Clouzot manages that difficult task.

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Despite their (many) flaws and their treatment of each other and others in their lives (such as Mario’s girl Linda [Clouzot]), we really don’t want them to suffer a fiery death

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This is another film which we did not expect to enjoy as much as we did. It is excruciating to watch the four men attempt to get their deadly cargo to their destination, and the tension manages to stay high all the way to the final scene. Despite a slightly slow start, the 147 minutes fly by and leaves you a nervous wreck. We’d really love to see this on the big screen one day, so if the local film club ever does a screening, we’re first in line.

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Not what we had in mind when we saw there would be men covered in oil. The only slight disappointment in this film.

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What we learned: Oil companies are ruthless and evil. Also, money is not worth risking everything for.

Next time: Godzilla (1954)