A saboteur, a superman and assorted aliens: movies viewed

Some years back I caught SABOTEUR (1942) for my film book Screen Enemies of the American Way (you’ll notice the paranoid warning in the poster about “the man behind your back!”). Rewatching now, I can see how much it fits the old of 39 Steps and Young and Innocent, with Robert Cummings framed as an Axis saboteur, going on the run to find the real criminal and falling in love with Priscilla Lane in the process; it also foreshadows North by Northwest in having the final showdown on top of an American monument (the Statue of Liberty here). This has some great little details like the way the Nazis talk about their families, but overall it’s merely competent, not stellar. “Don’t tell me my duty — it makes me sound so stuffy.”

SUPERMAN (1978) was an immense landmark in its day, a serious superhero film in a time when superheroes on screen were defined by the Adam West Batman rather than Tim Burton’s Batman or the MCU. My big complaint when I first saw it was that despite it’s many merits, the comic relief bits (Luthor’s lackeys Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty) detracted from the whole; now I find them forgivable.  The film starts in the icy, crystalline world of Krypton, with Marlon Brando as Jor-El, then shifts to small-town America for the Kents (Glenn Ford plays Pa Kent) to find a crashed spaceship and realize the toddler inside it is no ordinary boy; finally we get Metropolis, where we go pure comic book.

After reading about and writing about INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1958) for Screen Enemies, I honestly don’t think I have any new insights, other than how darn good it is (despite a couple of howling errors in logic). Well-acted but also creepy as hell in a way earlier stories on this theme, such as Heinlein’s Puppet Masters, weren’t; where Heinlein’s a flat out warning against tyranny, the pod people replacing us with emotionless doubles is creepier and much more flexible as a metaphor (a point I’ll come back to in its own post). “Love. Desire. Ambition. Faith. Without them life’s so simple.”

FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986) was an excellent Disney movie that Disney unfortunately marketed as an E.T. knockoff (it isn’t). A boy walks home through the woods in 1978 only to arrive home eight years later; what the heck happened? And what’s his connection to a UFO government scientist Howard Hesseman is investigating? Sarah Jessica Parker has a small bit as a helpful intern. Well worth watching. “Oh my god, you’ve seriously never seen a music video?”

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957) follows the standard tropes of 1950s monster movies — strange things happen, monster is identified, science finds counter-weapon — but the creature is unique: meteor fragments that grow when exposed to water, forming monoliths and then shattering under their own weight. The fragments then grow and break, scattering the pieces across the landscape — and guess what, a typical small town is sitting right in their path! With a creature that can’t be reasoned with or intimidated any more than a Terminator, what can the town do? An effective low-budget film. “It’s the commonest material you can find — but everywhere it turns up, somebody dies!”

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