Deceptively Titled Movies
Go Tell the Spartans
This 1978 movie’s title could give someone the impression it ‘s about the battle of Thermopylae or a sports movie about the Michigan State football team. The setting is South Vietnam in the early 1960s. A small group of American advisors are leading a small South Vietnamese unit. Major Asa Barker (Burt Lancaster) is the American commander. Corporal Stephen Courcey (Craig Wasson), a draftee, is among the new unit members. Corporal Courcey volunteered to go to Vietnam apparently out of curiosity. Major Barker is confused by Corporal Courcey’s presence. They aren’t sending draftees to Vietnam, “at least not yet”, and in his army experience draftees don’t get to volunteer for anything. There is Sgt. Oleonowski (Jonathan Goldsmith), a burned out veteran. There is a new gung ho Lieutenant. There is an intelligence officer that Major Barker finds annoying. The reason for the movie’s title is revealed when Courcey finds the Epitaph on the Cenotaph of Thermopylae on a sign in a nearby cemetery for French soldiers. There were just over 300 French soldiers buried in the cemetery. The French lost in Vietnam and the movie’s theme is even at this early stage of America involvement it was obvious the U.S. would also lose.
Heartbreak Ridge was the name U.S. Forces gave to a mountain in Korea. The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge took place in the fall of 1951. The title of this movie and the title sequence which showed Korean War footage accompanied but the 1961 song “Sea of Heartbreak” could give the viewer the impression it was about the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. This 1986 move is set in 1983. The back story is Gunnery Sergeant Highway (Clint Eastwood) is a decorated war hero and a veteran of the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. This upset the U.S. Army when the movie was about to be released. Heartbreak Ridge was an Army battle and few Marines took part in it. The movie begins with Sergeant Highway in a civilian jail for being drunk and disorderly and related charges. The Marine Corps tolerates his off duty antics because of his war record. On duty he goes by the book. He turns down an implicit bribe with a warning the other sergeant shouldn’t try that again. Sergeant Highway is transferred to a Marine Reconnaissance unit. His predecessor went ROAD[i] and the unit’s performance and discipline was at rock bottom. The Marines would seem to have had more reason to be upset with the movie than the Army. Marine Reconnaissance troops were elite Marines. It is difficult to picture even a Marine administrative unit to have so little military bearing as the troops Sergeant Highway found in this unit.
Sergeant Highway whips the unit into shape just in time for the invasion of Grenada. Grenada would be Sergeant Highway’s third conflict and he will get his first victory parade on his return home.
[i] ROAD (Retired on Active Duty), military slang at the time for a military member who lost all interest in their job and was simply putting in time until they retired.
Take the High Ground!
This 1953 movie starts out with a battle scene of soldiers taking the high ground. Then the setting moves to U.S. Army basic training where Korean War Veteran, Sergeant First Class Thorne Ryan (Richard Widmark) is a Drill Instructor. He trains a company of recruits. He trains them not to make mistakes that have gotten soldiers killed in the past. The movie shows the training of the recruits from their arrival to their graduation from basic training. Unlike most other movies that involve a tough sergeant training soldiers the movie doesn’t show these soldiers in combat.
The Man Who Reclaimed His Head
This 1934 move starts out with a World War I French Soldier (Claude Rains) and a little girl (Juanita Quigley) walking down a Paris street at night. The soldier, Paul Verin, is distraught. He is carrying a bag that is just the right size for a human head. He and the girl go to a man’s house. Paul hands the bag over to the man. The man looks inside the bag and from his expression his face it’s obvious the bag holds a human head. Then the movie goes to flashback as Paul tells his story. Paul is poor. Henry Dumont (Lionel Atwill), the owner of a newspaper, gives him a job. Paul becomes a successful editorial writer. He writes about the futility of war and preparing for war. Paul’s wife Adele (Joan Bennett), enjoys the high life of turn of the century Paris. Henry Dumont finds out there is much more money to be made from arms merchants by editorializing about the need to keep prepared for war. The question throughout the movie is whose head is in the bag? Is it the double dealing Henry Dumont or the flirty Adele Verin? The title has sometimes caused this movie to end up as the movie on “Creature Feature” type shows. There is nothing about this movie that puts it in the Science Fiction/Horror/Fantasy genre.
Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror
This 1968 movie’s original title was The Mark of the Wolfman. This Spanish /West German movie fits well into the Science Fiction/Horror/Fantasy genre. A werewolf bites Waldemar Daninsky (Paul Naschy) and he turns into one himself. His friends try to find a cure for the werewolf curse. They write to a Dr. Janos Mikhelov (Julian Ugarte) who did some research on breaking the Wolfstein Curse. Dr. Janos and his wife (Aurora de Alba) arrive. Dr. Janos claims he is the son of the original Dr. Janos. He and his wife, Wandessa, are vampires. The movie has a werewolf and vampires but there is no Frankenstein.
In this 1971 movie Countess Elisabeth Nádasdy (Ingrid Pitt) can rejuvenate her body by bathing in the blood of young virgins. The rejuvenation only lasts a short time and it requires the death of the virgins. When Countess Nádasdy’s activities are discovered an elderly woman cries out “Countess Dracula.” The movie deals with the occult but Countess Nádasdy isn’t a vampire in the classical sense.
The Curse of the Cat People
This capsule contains spoilers for Cat People, its 1982 remake, and The Curse of the Cat People. The original Cat People was about a woman, Irena Dubrovna Reed (Simone Simon), who turns into a panther. Like a classic werewolf she had no control over what she was or did. Unlike the 1982 remake Irena dies at the end of Cat People. The ending of the original was such that the surviving characters could believe Irena was criminally insane rather than a woman who morphed into a panther.
In The Curse of the Cat People Amy Reed (Ann Carter) is a lonely little girl. She is the daughter of Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice Reed (Jane Randolph). Irena was Oliver’s first wife. Irena’s ghost is Ann’s companion and protector throughout the movie. Nobody believes Ann when she insists she has met Irena’s ghost. While the movie is interesting no one morphs into a panther.
She-Wolf of London
The movie’s release was 1946. Psychological dramas were a popular genre at the time. Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) believes she is under the family curse which turns people into werewolves. In the movie most people don’t believe in werewolves but some rational people believe there is something to stories of werewolves. Phyllis’s housekeeper is Martha Winthrop (Sara Haden) who lives in the Allenby house with her daughter Carol (Jan Wiley). Martha is one of those characters that make audience members think, “I hope the she-wolf gets her.” She is the housekeeper but acts as if she is the mistress of the house. There are a couple of murders, some off screen, that seem to be caused by a wild animal. There is evidence that points to Phyllis being a werewolf. The climax reveals the murders and werewolf evidence is a plot to have Phyllis committed to an insane asylum. The culprit dies a stupid death by modern standards. The movie is good for what it is but the plot is dated. Anyone who wants to see a she-wolf will be sorely disappointed.
The Bikini Beach Girls and the Monster
This 1965 movie begins with a tacky looking monster killing a bikini clad woman (Gloria Neil) on the beach. This is a typical beginning for sea monster movies of the era. The monster left some footprints. Marine biologist Dr. Otto Lindsay (Jon Hall) floated the theory to the sheriff (Read Morgan) a sea monster killed her. Dr. Lindsay’s son Richard (Arnold Lessing) preferred to hang around with the surfers than to carry out biological research with his father. Dr. Lindsay’s spouse (Sue Casey) enjoyed drinking, marital infidelity, and being obnoxious. The family has a house guest, Mark (Walker Edmiston), who was a sculptor. The back story is Dr. Lindsay’s first wife died and a car accident caused Mark to walk with a limp. There is evidence since Richard was driving Mark was using the limp so he could freeload. The murder on the beach didn’t stop the beach parties. They even made a bubble gum song, “Monster in the surf”. Mixing the beach party genre with the monster genre was done in a number of movies.
The killer isn’t a monster but a man in a monster suit. Having a man wearing a cheap monster suit is standard. Having the killer pretending to be a tacky looking monster is crossing the line. The killer meets a spectacular end in the ridiculous costume. On the plus side the movie does have a good body count for the time. Without the beach monster angle the movie could have been a credible albeit unremarkable murder mystery. This movie comfortably fits into the so bad it’s good category.