EASTER PARADE (1948) stars Fred Astaire (replacing Gene Kelly, sidelined with a broken ankle) as a hoofer whose response to losing partner Ann Miller is to train singing waitress Judy Garland in her image, until he realizes that letting Garland be herself will lead to greater success. As American Film Musical points out, the switch in leading men gives this added overtones, from the opening seduction dance (a staple of Astaire’s films with Ginger Rogers) with Miller failing to seduce to Astaire realizing Garland is more than just a stage prop he can manipulate With Peter Lawford as the third point of two triangles and Jules Munshin as a perpetually frustrated maitre’d (“Of course, you won’t be staying.”), this is a good one, with the stars and the dancing putting it over even when the Irving Berlin score doesn’t. “He sweeps me off my feet—but only in front of 700 people.”
CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955) reminds me a lot of Boris Karloff’s The Man They Could Not Hang in having a gangster use mad science to strike back at the men who broke up his crime empire. Far from great (the acting is flat across the board) but entertaining as the villain’s atomic-powered zombies wreak havoc across Los Angeles. My main reason for seeing it was to judge what impact it would have in the world of Brain From Outer Space, and my conclusion is, quite a bit, given the reign of terror the gangster unleashes at one point. “You want the truth? Hennessy was murdered by a creature with atomic rays and super-human strength.”
AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor is the author’s most recent Y/A in which a Nigerian-American girl relocated with her parents to the motherland discovers she’s a natural born sorcerer. Which would be cool except she’s then recruited into a teenage strike force set to stop a black-magician serial killer out to unleash a terrifying spirit. Well done, but the archfoe gets beaten too easily, which undercuts the finish.
THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts does an excellent job chronicling the eruption on St. Martinique in 1902 that wiped out the town of St. Pierre by engulfing it for two minutes in fiery volcanic gas, after already bombarding the island with tsunamis, quakes, mudslides and rock showers. I could have used more detail on the vulcanology (just why did Pelee explode in such an unprecedented way?) but very good on the human equation. Rather depressingly familiar, in fact, in showing how everyone either fell asleep at the switch or let other concerns blind them to imminent doom, including local politicians, business leaders, landowners and churchmen. A good job.
PLAIN MAN by Steve Englehart is a considerable improvement on Long Man as magus Max and his alchemist sidekick Pam go on the offensive against the FRC conspiracy (which we learn is responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in Washington) by trying to trap two of their ringleaders (with the help of Englehart’s creator-owned comics characters, Scorpio Rose and Coyote); meanwhile, the group’s new wizard goes rogue (“My name is Belial.”) and Max’s reincarnated wife fights to regain her memory. Although Englehart’s Deep Thoughts still fall flat (Pi explains the universe!), they’re broken up into small bits that don’t distract from the core story. Quite satisfactory, so I’m looking forward to Arena Man.