Friday, June 29, 2012

Star Trek TOS S1 Ep10: The Corbomite Maneuver

"Space opera ... never lost that element of risk. Anything that takes itself ... seriously is always just a whisker away from camp. When you aim for the sublime and miss, you miss big, and even Star Wars, in the end, couldn't hit it reliably. If you get it just right, you get Star Trek. If you're off by even a hair, you get Barbarella." -Lev Grossman, in his review of Prometheus for Into The Void: Prometheus Dives Into A Dangerous Genre - The Space Opera, Time Magazine [p.58]-

Whenever I sit back to take a closer look at a series like Star Trek: The Original Series, a series that helped define who I am, I get an almost fuzzy feeling. I'm probably the wrong person to look at this series objectively. It can rarely do wrong and when it does, like your child, you are forgiving and still love it unconditionally. But more often than not it succeeds as it does here.

With Spock clearly at the helm we plunge head long into the "evasive maneuvers" of Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One, Episode 10, The Corbomite Maneuver.

Captain's Log Stardate 1513.8. With the digitally mastered and enhanced visual effects in full, a sharply defined cube in full technicolor approaches the U.S.S. Enterprise. Anthony Call guests as Lt. Dave Bailey in a supporting role opposite Lt. Hikaru Sulu. Captain James T. Kirk, a role owned by William Shatner, is summoned to assist in determining the nature of this odd, geometric entity.

Initially, Kirk is in sick bay with Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, purely embodied by the late, great DeForest Kelley, for his quarterly physical. The svelte, then physical specimen that was William Shatner sweats profusely sans uniform for all the ladies to swoon. The Enterprise is placed on general alert by Lt. Commander Spock, as brought to life by the one and only Leonard Nimoy, because the object blocks the ship's forward progress. Seemingly, Kirk and Bones, or Shatner and Kelley, by this point, have developed a genuine chemistry and mutual respect for one another in character. Fans of the series are treated early on to this connection as they develop their own adoration for this perfectly selected cast. This natural interaction between the cast wouldn't normally be surprising at this point, except for the fact The Corbomite Maneuver was the first episode to be produced following the two pilots. Given this consideration, the casting and chemistry is all the more impressive.

Kirk jokes that Bones is killing him during the physical and Bones inquires if he is "winded." "You'd be the last one I'd tell," jokes Kirk.

This is a great moment that speaks to Bones confidence in Spock and the crew by not alerting Kirk to the ship's alert status. It may also be Bones' first "I'm a doctor, not a ..." moment, while not worded quite to the formula fans have grown accustomed. It clearly happens here in Episode 10, which was actually the first episode produced.

video


When Kirk does report to the bridge, the camera work is notable, almost documentary-like in style. There are also some terrific low angle shots to suggest genuine leadership from Kirk. This is a great approach for an establishing episode.

Bailey attempts to reason his feelings concerning the the crew's conundrum, but Spock recommends he remove such human emotion. Sulu laughs and quietly urges Bailey not to cross Spock. When it comes to intellect Bailey would surely be cut to pieces everytime.

Bailey advises blasting the cube with firepower. Kirk indicates it's not a "democracy." Bailey continues to provide unsolicited opinions and assessments unbecoming of a man screened for bridge duty. Red shirt or not, Bailey's role on ST:TOS will be ephemeral.

Even Bones is kind of impressed by the Shat. Kirk provides directives to break free of the cube, but to no avail. Even warp speed won't do it with radiation levels within the ship at a lethal level. Kirk fires phasers and the cube appears to be destroyed. The Enterprise incurs some damage. Kirk wonders whether to press forward or go back.

Kirk demonstrates yet again why he is the Captain. He calls Bailey and the engineering crew on the carpet for their less than expeditious response during the crisis. Kirk requested phasers be fired, but Bailey hesitated. That kind of indecision costs lives and the Captain knows this. He calls Bailey out, but does so firmly and professionally without attempting to embarass him. Kirk orders a series of simulated drills for Bailey and others to undergo until all are proficient with their respective duties. That is indeed a fair option considering helmsman Bailey exhibited conduct unbecoming and the potential to be removed from the helm is clear and present.

Upon exiting the bridge, Bones and Kirk have a conversation in confidence about Bailey and his suitability for the position. Bones wonders if Kirk doesn't see a little of himself in Bailey. Bones wonders if Bailey wasn't promoted a little too soon. Unseasoned or not, Kirk has faith in him and believes in him even after testing his mettle under the Captain's own scrutiny on the bridge. Is Bailey cut out for his assignment?

Spock reports a 94% success rate during drilling simulations for Bailey and crew. Kirk wants 100% and requests the crew strive for perfection. Second-in-command Spock agrees. I love the captain's pursuit of excellence. He's not pursuing mediocrity. He's not accepting average. He wants the best. It's a drive sorely lacking today in a society constantly striving for a middle-of-the-road acceptability.

Bones and Kirk continue to unwind and are interrupted, not by a general alert or a red alert, but rather a red hot smoking babe alert in the form of one Yeoman Janice Rand who delivers a dietary meal to Kirk compliments of Bones. Kirk admits he's none too pleased about having a female Yeoman. Bones asks him if he trusts himself. "I've already got a female to worry about. Her name's the Enterprise." There's nothing like a little male chauvanism to date ST:TOS, but you have to love that this classic science fiction series has documented such norms. Who knows maybe the future is much like the 1960s. There's more than enough unacceptable behavior coming back into fashion today so why not.

The cube returns, now more accurately a sphere, for round two. Phasers are on standby. The space encounter certainly reminds us of later encounters like the one at far point in Encounter At Far Point in Season One of Star Trek: The Next Generation compliments of the Q Continuum.

The view screen on the bridge is filled and overwhelmed with the image. The Captain requests the image be reduced, but Bailey is mesmerized almost hypnotized and Sulu intervenes to carry out the order. This can't bode well for Bailey's future. One really has to wonder how Bailey got through a psychological evaluation. Nevertheless, while Roddenberry created a sophisticated show it was still 1966.

Hailing frequencies are opened by Lt. Uhura. in an attempt at communications. The voice of Balock acknowledges the Enterprise as hostile and of a savage, primitive race responsible for an assault on the First Federation ship Fesarius.

Kirk spends a moment of contemplation assessing the dilemma. Kirk issues a directive and once again Bailey stalls. Kirk activates a recorder marker, but Balock destroys the device granting the crew just ten minutes to make reparations with thir respective and chosen deities.

Kirk submits a message to the crew of the Enterprise over intercom assuring the crew that "the greatest danger facing us is - ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. There's no such thing as the unknown only things temporarily hidden are temporarily not understood." Damn! With all of the unknown surrouning the crew in The Corbomite Maneuver, Kirk is a center of calm and cool and steady sagacity and wisdom, a true leader of men.

Kirk opens frequencies and offers, as an act of good will, to return away from their present location. Bailey is the direct opposite of Kirk, the epitome of indecision seemingly affected by the pressure of external forces.

An alien figure appears on the view screen, a strange creature that is nearly robotic in nature, as it turns out later entirely by design. The creature's appearance is obscured by an impacted, distorted signal also by design. Balock warns the crew it is not permitted to leave with just eight minutes remaining.

Bailey loses it and goes on a mental bender delivering a classic, delicious piece of Star Trek overacting - the kind we've all come to know and love. This was science fiction drama at its very best. There is something innately Star Trek in the moment too. Dramatics aside, these highlights always anchored the series establishing the dizzying unease of space despite the near antiseptic surroundings of the ship. Things may have been clean and orderly aboard the Enterprise, but how people behaved or responded emotionally to deep space travel and the life forms encountered was always an unpredicatable event on Star Tek.

video


Once again, Kirk reaches out to Balock in an effort at diplomatic understanding explaining the acts of the Enterprise as acts of "self-preservation."

Spock offers the analogy of chess and "checkmate" as a comparison to their predicament and as a way of ending the stalemate. A frustrated Kirk quips angrily, "Is that your best recommendation?" Spock responds cooly, "I regret that I can find no other logical alternative."

Considering this is an early outing for the regular cadre of Star Trek regulars, once again, Kirk and Bones demonstrate a surprising ability to open up as colleagues and friends in this scene. Kirk would later apologize.

video


Poker. Kirk offers Spock and his team the game of poker inspired by Spock's submission of chess. Hailing Balock Kirk explains Corbomite was a substance designed for Earth vessels. Kirk bluffs the fictional material allows protection of their vessel from any attacker. Thus, if attacked, a reverse force of equal strength is created upon the attacker. Corbomite has been in play for two centuries and no attacker has ever survived. Kirk's gambit continues as he informs Balock that he is annoyed at the "foolishness" of the game and orders that he stop waiting and simply attack the Enterprise now with just two minutes remaining.

With no response from Balock Spock concedes somewhat impressed, "however it was well played." Note this very early insight into Spock and, again, the almost natural camraderie between players in the entry including the follow-up to the relationship between Kirk and Bones noted earlier.

video


It's equally fascinating to note the moments of sheer silence between scenes as the bridge plays a waiting game opposite Balock. The only sound to break the unsettling peace is the sound of the ship's computers, a thing of real poetry to fans of the series. The stillness is made both eerie and comforting by those sounds as the team sweats out the maneuver.

With just 30 seconds remaining until Balock's deadline, Lt. Bailey returns requesting permission to report to his post. The potential end to their lives does put things in perspective and Bailey is granted his request by the Captain. The Captain demonstrates an unsurprising faith in his crew and belief that they can and will rise to the ocassion.

When the countdown is over, the bridge crew, James T. Kirk, Spock, Lt. Nyota Uhura, Sulu, Lt. Commander Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, a shaken and stuned Lt. Bailey and Bones sit in stunned silence awaiting what's next following the Corbomite bluff or maneuver. Spock breaks the silence, "A very interesting game this poker." This is classic Kirk implementing cat and mouse tactics to the delight of fans.

video


The Fesarius departs, but a small ship is dispatched from the Fesarius locking the Enterprise within its control to be escorted to a nearby planet. There, the Enterprise will be destroyed.

Kirk relents to the ship as part of a plan to exhibit "a show of resignation." Kirk hopes the drain of towing the Enterprise is too heavy a toll for the alien craft. He wonders if Balock will "grow careless" and make a mistake.

Kirk engages all engines to work against the craft putting the Enterprise at risk in an effort to escape its tractor beam or drain the alien vessel of power. The protracted effort places the Enterprise in critical danger and Spock warns their ship will blow. Kirk orders impulse power just the same and by some small miracle the effort proves to be fruitful, not futile, as the Enterprise breaks free and departs its constraints. All engines are cut. Scotty requests time to repair engines as the small Fesarius mini-craft sits dormant almost lifeless in space. Uhura intercepts a distress signal from the small craft to the Fesarius mothership. Though the Enterprise is not out of the woods herself, Balock indicates his engines and life support systems are inoperable.

Despite being the victor in the life and death struggle Kirk orders the Enterprise to go to the aid of Balock and potentially save the alien life form. Preservation of life informs his decision as they prepare to board the craft.

Bones intercedes, ironically, a doctor sworn to preserve life, skeptical of the decision to aid the downed vessel. Kirk is adamant that part of ther mission is to "seek out and contact alien life." This is followed by the rather cheesy refrain, "and an opportunity to demonstrate what are high-sounding words mean. Any questions?" Okay, we could have used an alternative to "high-sounding." Still, Shatner can deliver a line.

The boarding party will be Kirk, Bones ad Bailey. Bailey is surprised given his handling of the Corbomite events. Once again, those who would have issue with the rationale behind sending a ship Captain actualy begins here, despite having seen his departure planetside to date in Dagger Of The Mind, Miri, What Are Little Girls Made Of?, Where No Man Has Gone Before and The Man Trap. This has always been a considerable sticking point for some, but as Kirk would have it, Spock, a rather solid second-in-command, is on standby here. Spock's request to join the boarding party is denied for that reason.

Before boarding Scotty provides a full scan of the air sample aboard the craft. Scotty urges the trio to lean forward and bend a bit as the alien craft is replete with a low lying ceiling. We can't have the men re-materializing inside a wall. Upon their arrival the trio discover the alien form of Balock, a dummy, before meeting the true form of Balock as depicted by a pint-sized Clint Howard. The choice of Howard is certainly inspired. He's clearly a strange-looking child as much as he was always an odd, quirky sort of character actor. He fits the role perfectly. Howard lip syncs marvelously considering his young age and a child is the last thing we expect.

As it turns out Balock has tested Kirk and his crew to determine if their intentions were hostile. In turn, Balock is alone, the sole operator of his craft and obviously often lonely. He requests the presence of a visitor for conversation and discovery. Enter Lt. Bailey who clearly doesn't seem fit for the bridge anyway. Kirk's hope is to have Lt. Bailey return as a better Lt. following his stay with Balock. His mission of personal discovery and intel gathering should benefit both. Seek out new life and new civilizations as they say. Of course, this is a one-way ticket as Bailey would never return.

In the end, Star Trek really does surprise in its approach to discovering new life, new civilizations and its observations on the human condition within the context of a science fiction landscape. It's easy to see why this series had to feel so refreshing and stunning in 1967. The Corbomite Maneuver begins with menace and suggests something truly frightening, but then ends in the arms of a child. The interplay between the Enterprise and the alien entity is filled with genuine tension and some fine character moments. The use of a small child truly spins convention and defies our expectations following the events that preceded those final moments.

It's also ironic that this alien life form should appear human, but like humans create a fabrication and illusion using an alien figure or construct that might resemble something straight from the nightmares of an Earth human. How funny Balock should think and visualize a creature as terrifying as we might.

SciFiNow noted The Corbomite Maneuver as one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series period. This is clearly a solid piece of entertainment and remains committed to memory from my childhood, but I'd like to think there are still at least ten episodes that I would prefer to see before The Corbomite Maneuver. Having said that, this is still a solid entry in Season One and continues a strong run out of the gate for Gene Roddenberry and his crew of science fiction engineers that laid down a classic for the ages. Spirit, mettle, courage, leadership. When faced with adversity and challenges are any of us ready for it and how will we respond? The Corbomite Maneuver plays with those questions through Kirk and tests the mettle of this man, while focusing on facing fear of the unknown through Bailey. If this were the first true episode of the series it would have succeeded in revealing a strong portrait of a true Captain leading his crew. This is a corker and easily as good as The Man Trap. Captain Jean Luc Picard of ST:TNG Season One please take note. The Corbomite Maneuver: B. Writer: Jerry Sohl. Director: Joseph Sargent.

Dead Crewman: 0 [No one dies in the Captain's true introduction]./ Dead Crewman To Date: 10./ Babe Alert: 0./ Babe Alert To Date: 10.

Actor footnote: Clint Howard [1959-present]. The brother of actor/ director Ron Howard has appeared in a ton of television. His credits include: The Courtship Of Eddie's Father [1963], Star Trek: The Original Series [The Corbomite Maneuver], Gentle Ben [1967], Star Trek: Deep Space Nine [Past Tense] [1995], and Star Trek: Enterprise [Acquisition] [2002]. He also guested on Arrested Development, Fringe, The Fugitive, The Andy Griffith Show, Seinfeld, Heroes, My Name Is Earl and Married With Children to name a few.

Additional commentary: If the episode's make-up seems a little out of sync with the previous entry, Dagger Of The Mind, it is,a gain, because The Corbomite Maneuver was the first episode produced following the two pilots. Surprisingly it still manages to work well within the placement order. It also makes The Corbomite Maneuver, though shown chronologically here as the tenth episode, an episode of firsts. It was actually the first episode produced to star Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Janice Rand, Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura and DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard Bones McCoy. It is also impressive just how natural the chemistry works particularly between Kirk, Bones and McCoy very early. That natural respect, trust and faith in one another is evident as the trio is unafraid to smile with each other or challenge one another under the microscope of pressure and adversity.

The Corbomite Maneuver while known for starring actor/ director Ron Howard's brother, Clint Howard, in the role of Balock. The voice of Balock was performed by Walker Edmiston [1925-2007]. Actor Ted Cassidy would handle the voice of the Balock puppet. Are you getting all this? Star Trek is unabashed in its use of lip syncing along the way too. Remember What Are Little Girls Made Of? also employing Ted Cassidy.

Jerry Sohl wrote the story. Sohl was also well accomplished for writing The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Outer Limits. Sohl would return for ST:TOS Season Three, Whom Gods Destroy.

The episode was directed by Joseph Sargent [1925-present]. Sargent notoriously directed Jaws The Revenge [1987], but also directed The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three [1974].

Really Red Red Shirts

"Scotty, beam us ...." Ah, well, too late.

Thunderbirds At The Egyptian Theatre

That's right people. It's FAB FRIDAY! In fact, FAB FRIDAY is so explosive this week they simply couldn't contain it in just one day. It's a weekend full of FAB and all things wondrous in the world of Thunderbirds as envisioned by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

This post comes compliments of one Leopard 13 and his love of all things cinema-related over at It Rains... You Get Wet.

If you have the stroke of good fortune to live close enough to the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, CA you can enjoy all things Thunderbirds beginning today. On June 29,30 and July 1 all things FAB explode from the big screen like it was the 1960s all over.

Thunderbirds Are Go [1966] and Thunderbird 6 [1968] are both playing June 29 [today] at 7:30 PM at the Egyptian Theatre.

On Saturday, June 30, roll back the clock for three episodes of Thunderbirds in the Spielberg Theatre at the Egyptian. The classic Trapped In The Sky, Sun Probe and The Uninvited all begin at 7:30 PM. Click on the episodes for full retrospectives by yours truly, The Sci-Fi Fanatic.

Now, if that's not enough, Sunday, July 1, brings three more entries from the world of all things GO with three more at the Egyptian. The Perils Of Penelope, Terror In New York City and Attack of The Alligators will be brought to you in Full FAB color.

So folks, gas up the old Thunderbird 2 [especially if you have a posse], invest in some Raisinets and popcorn and head on over to the Egyptian. Weekends like this are few and far between for fans of all things Anderson. Unfortunately, if you're like me you can only dream of seeing something like this on the big screen. In the meantime, I'm stuck here on my little old island. Oh well. Tin Tin, care for a swim?

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Women Of FAB FRIDAY

It's FAB FRIDAY and who better to pack the heat on a hot friday than the women of FAB FRIDAY.
Welcome to all things gorgeous and lethal in the world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.

As if it wasn't hot enough, the ladies of Space:1999, Thunderbirds and UFO bring it. There's no such thing as sex as a weapon when it comes to the women of FAB FRIDAY packin' heat. Some like it hot and these girls are no exception.












Thursday, June 21, 2012

The H-Man

"Honda and Tsuburaya's monster films address the ghosts of the Japanese past playfully yet seriously, in a way calculated to exorcise those ghosts. They celebrate the nation, but theirs is a pacifist nationalism." -Thomas Schnellbacher, Has The Empire Sunk Yet? The Pacific in Japanese Science Fiction, Robot Ghosts And Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction From Origins To Anime [2007] [p.33]-

The H-Man [1958], as in the Hydrogen man, is director Ishiro Honda's seamless blend of film noir, horror ghost story and science fiction that preceded his similar human-sized film The Human Vapour [1960]. Like Gojira [1954], and later Matango [1963], The H-Man [US title; H-Man is the recognized International title according to Toho Kingdom] delves deeply into the psychology of a director's ghosts and the subtext he continues to weave into film as informed by the horrific and haunting events visited upon a people. It marries his love for science fiction and fantasy with his deep concerns over the proliferation of nuclear weapons on a global scale. Honda, while delivering a uniquely Japanese picture of fantasy somehow manages to speak to people about these events on an international scale while entertaining and if that's "pacifist nationalism" it's also splendid cinematic spectacle.

The opening images of the film are suggestive and illustrate in image this understandably dark fascination with what was arguably a bold, horrifying new world of science in the 1950s.

A mushroom cloud, a floating boat in the dark waters symbolizing the fateful events of the Daigo Fukuryu-maru or Lucky Dragon No. 5 and its crew's exposure to radiation and nuclear fallout during American atomic testing of the Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, in March 1954, roughly four thousand kilometers from Japan under code name Castle Bravo. The images tell the story. The tale is undeniable truth. The nightmare and ghosts are real. From here, Honda takes us into his world where the imagination runs influenced by the affect of nuclear radiation drawn from stark reality and the fate of a fishing vessel's crew including the death of its radioman, Aikichi Kuboyama, six months later from radiation sickness.

Once again, the events of World War II and the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the events surrounding that tuna vessel during the tests on the Bikini Atoll continue to inform Honda's work. It was the spark for the subtext of Gojira and the birth of Godzilla, the mutations of shipwrecked survivors from radiated contamination in the food supply in Matango, as well as the fate that drove The Mysterians to Earth in The Mysterians [1957]. There is an undeniable continuity thematically to Honda's films. Those that would denounce the populist works of the director simply weren't paying attention.

The "Pacific setting is an important plot element" thematically as much as Honda's deep-rooted concerns with nuclear power as noted by Thomas Schnellbacher in Has The Empire Sunk Yet? The Pacific In Japanese Science Fiction from the book Robot Ghosts And Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction From Origins To Anime [2007] [p.32].

In The H-Man, the ghost ship steers through the night. Something captain's the wheel of the ship, but, while death's hand is symbolized by images of atomic mushrooms, Honda alludes to something much more horrific awaiting us as we head into uncharted waters of science and technology unleashing weapons we cannot fully comprehend. It's a well-constructed rendering of reality and fiction and Honda, through Toho, was simply one of the best at building these genre tales.

Honda, combined with the scripted word of dark imaginarian Takeshi Kimura, who orchestrates one of his finest from the 1950s. With music composed by Masaro Sato [Akira Ifukube stepping aside for this one] and visual effects by the always stunning [ok, well, there was Varan The Unbelievable, but the effects were good] Eiji Tsuburaya, Honda really delivers again. The H-Man follows a string of solid pictures behind Gojira, the kaiju eiga classic Rodan [1956] and The Mysterians [the first in a classic science fiction trilogy], and now The H-Man.

The thespian triumvirate from Rodan and The Mysterians, actress Yumi Shirakawa and principals Kenji Sahara and Akihiko Hirata, return in what continues to be a clearly fruitful period in Honda history for the three actors. These three films would mark a genuine Shirakawa, Sahara and Hirata triangle before Honda shook things up a bit within the science fiction and fantasy genre. In fact, Shirakawa and Sahara were married for a period according to Stuart Galbraith IV in his book Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films [p.26].

video


The story begins with the death of a man on a rainy evening in the city. The man vanishes leaving only his clothes behind on the rain-soaked streets.

Enter Inspector Tominaga, played with ever smooth cool by Hirata [a far different turn from his troubled doctor in Gojira]. He plunges headlong into the criminal gangster underworld to discover something far more inexplicable is in play.

The location shots and vintage era cars and uniforms make for a pleasing viewing experience. It's so refreshing to watch films untainted by the arrival of CGI. It's a marvel to look back at these classic films.

The search for a drug distributor leads them to a missing man named Misaki, but first we meet Misaki's girlfriend, Chikako Arai, played by a more ravishing-than-in-Rodan Shirakawa. She radiates, to use a word, and oozes sex appeal as a singer in The H-Man.

A nightclub scene is captured beautifully on film by Honda who would handle a similar scene on a smaller scale for Matango. While this scene rivals the aforementioned Matango, Matango is the significantly better film. Shirakawa glamorously lip syncs and genuinely shines as a kind of old-fashioned fifties starlet. Why she never embraced looking back at her time in these science fiction fantasies while under Toho's contracts and working for Honda I'll never know or understand, because they are genuinely solid pictures [see Stuart Galbraith IV, Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo]. Shirakawa beams on screen, but I've yet to see anyone out-Mizuno Kimi Mizuno, a personal favorite like many fans of the genre and an absolutely stunning beauty.

Arai is visited at the club by one Doctor Masada played with real credibility by Sahara following two very different performances in Rodan and The Mysterians. Arai gives Masada something for Misaki, but he is arrested by police. Masada explains he is a scientist studying radioactive emissions from nuclear bombs - the effect of radioactive fallout on human beings. Masada believes a phenomenon is responsible for "melting" people through radiation. Inspector Tominaga scoffs at the notion finding the scientific theory implausible. Masada explains he was seeking out Arai to determine if Misaki had ever been to the Bikini Atoll or Christmas Island. Masada is warned to steer clear of the case and released.

Arai is visited by a member of the Yakuza [Japanese mafia] at night. Her window is open. He warns her not to turn Misaki over to authorities. Upon his escape into the rain, shots are fired and all that is left behind is a gun and the man's clothing. Like the man earlier, he has melted into the rain.

Arai can't explain it to police, but she saw a "dark shadow." Nevertheless, there is little faith in her story as much as there was in Masada's hypothesis. Masada returns and the police grant the professor of Kyoto University access to Arai. Masada asks if the missing Misaki was ever on a fishing boat?

Masada takes Tominaga and detective Sakata to visit a man in a hospital who witnessed a melting. Through flashback Honda revisits the man's experience one eerie evening out on the water. A boat pulls up alongside a drifting ghost ship. Men board the ship. The sequence is handled with lamps and is positively haunting in its effective creepiness. These flashbacks, like the one in Rodan, are Honda trademarks. They are indeed bread and butter in his films. He's just terrific with them. In fact, Matango may be that good because that film is populated with these kinds of sequences and you're simply mesmerized.

While on the vessel the men are attacked by amorphous ghost-like figures who utilize a kind of radioactive primordial soup to dissolve their victims. A handful of men are killed while just a few escape. The terrific mood and vibe is capped off by the men escaping and the sight of ghosts or H-Men topside on the disappearing ship. The H-Man is limited or hamstrung to a degree by its effects, but, a few years later, Matango, on the other hand, would nail the boat and ghost ship sequences to cinematic perfection using make-up and prosthetics. The H-Man is effective but limited. Still, the ghostly figures on the deck of that ship delivers a spine-tingling moment that pre-dates, but recalls the atmospheric best of director John Carpenter's ghost story The Fog [1980].

Upon leaving the hospital Tominaga is still a skeptic chalking up the man's tales as nothing more than a sailor's story. Masada implores them not to discount the power of radiation sickness or fallout. And when Masada asks for the Ryujinmaru's logbook you know what Honda and Kimura are shooting for here. Honda is directly inciting the historical incidents of the atomic tests in the Pacific. The men on the ship disappeared the day of the test. Six men vanished and Honda's horror tale is symbolic of the fate of the radiation poisoning that befell men on that fateful day in the Pacific following World War II.

Masada attempts to prove his thesis of radiation damage on tissue to Tominaga using a frog and turning it too into a pile of mush goo. Actually the frog is liquefied and the liquid is alive. Houston we have a problem - make that Tokyo. The monstrous radiated children of the atomic tests have landed in Tokyo via the Ryujinmaru, a clear symbol of the Daigo Fukuryu-maru and the men that returned to Japan following the incident affected by nuclear fallout. The monsters are on the loose and thus the confusing title of The H-Man when it is clearly H-Men. Masada informs Tominaga that part of the Ryujinmaru has been discovered in Tokyo Bay covered in radioactive fallout.

This is a typically nice character exchange moment between Sahara and Shirakawa. We begin to understand that the H-Men are identified by a stange sound effect on screen. When the sound appears the ghostly creatures are not far away. The sound appears at the end of the scene between Sahara and Shirakawa suggesting Misaki may be close.

video


Masada hides Shakawa from the police and the Hanada gang.

Arai wishes the scientists to release the information they have because people have "dissolved." It does have a certain campy humor to it, though it's never played that way. One of the scientists, Doctor Maki, played by Koreya Senda, is a hold over from Varan The Unbelievable [the same year] where he played Doctor Sugimoto. I bet he never realized he'd be part of another unbelievable case. Bad joke? And so Maki wants to make the findings public as Honda's horror tale is tied directly to Tominaga's crime procedural and missing persons investigation. This is a nice scene between Hirata, Sahara and Shirakawa.

video


The thing about these early Honda pictures is that they breathe. They take their time. His camera reveals details, characters, style, mood, atmosphere. They are filled with the kind of old picture charms that today's cinema has simply lost more often than not. Today, we have all the subtlety of a striking hammer, maybe even the strike of Thor's hammer in The Avengers [2012]. It's all spectacle and very little time is taken to simply absorb a frame like a work of art. Honda's art here in The H-Man gives viewers a chance to enjoy the moment and take it all in like fine pop art. Honda spends a good deal of time converging the police, the gangs and ultimately the H-Men together in a big, bold musical number inside of a truly fantastic night club sequence. It really kicks and song and dance numbers are truly magnificent and big in their presentation given striking detail and complexity.

Ultimately the H-Men attack Blob-style absorbing humans quicker than you can count and appearing, where required, as ghostly apparitions and the harbingers of death. Their form alternates somewhat inexplicably.

The hypothesis that is proven is that a heavy dosage of radiation can liquify its victims and thus create a liquid life form. The H-Man, like Matango, is body transformation horror, albeit, again, not nearly as successful as the execeptional Matango.

The H-Man posits that the mind of man could be transplanted into an altogether different form as a result of technology run amok. The headlines read: H-BOMB CREATES ANOTHER TYPE OF HUMAN. The frightening horror established within Honda's sci-fi horror is that a new life form capable of living with radiation has been born.

Arai is abducted and Masada gives chase in the film's climactic action sequence, which is a tame stroll in the park by today's standards, but the score is appropriately stirring lending the sequence its most thrilling component culminating in a crash.

There are moments in the final minutes where The H-Man feels as though it devolves into the slightly formulaic as kaiji genre standards are applied accordingly. 1. People scurry and run fron the invasive menace. 2. Areas are evacuated. 3. The Japanese groupthink a plan to destroy the creature. In this case, it's the H-Men, or the H-Man, though it's really the H-Men and the film does seem a tad confused on this basic plot point. Though, giving it some thought, more in a moment on that point.

Arai is taken into the sewers. The gangster believes Arai was always too good for the missing Misaki. With the H-Man close and flitting about the sewers, the man offers her the choice of going with him or being "eaten by the H-Man." It does have a certain unsavory ring to it.

The flame ignition group tasked with destroying the H-Man gives the orders to burn the sewer system down despite the fact Masada heads into the sewers to find Arai.

As Arai and the gangster make their way through the sewers the end arrives swift as the H-Man always gets his carbon-based man. Meanwhile, an exhausted Arai is about as helpless as damsels in distress go. Masada saves her from the encroaching H-Man. Ultimately the flamethrowers finally finish off what is clearly several H-Men.

All confusing titular humor aside, I offer my defense of Honda and Kimura here. The H-Man, as a title, does capture the essence of Honda's nightmare living in a new world of radioactive and nuclear technologies. The H-Man conjures an idea of haunting and nightmarish consequences and the impact of technology unchecked affecting man. So, The H-Man is less a title referring to a specific physical entity or entities that physically inhabit the film, and more an idea born of madness.

In The H-Man, the challenge was to simulate the effects of monster slime dissolving and liquefying a human host. Tsuburaya used life-sized latex dolls, dressed them, then let the air out while filming at a slightly increased speed. It just so happens the idea of men mutating and undergoing body transformation into deadly gelatinous masses is a good one. The concept is one that has surfaced in films for decades. Think films like more recent horror outings such as Splinter [2008]. Thus The H-Man brings us the latest monster from the mind of Ishiro Honda in keeping with his examination of human foible within the nuclear age - ourselves. A scientist professes, "We cannot guarantee there will never be another H-Man again." And of course that's the message of Honda in his war on the possibility of human extinction within this new age of nuclear power and atomic weapons. Our existence faces the potential to be replaced by the likes of the H-Man if humankind continues its stumble into the technological darkness. This is Honda's fear and this is his warning and it's brought to fantastical life through limited effects crossed with a film noir style in The H-Man. What form will man take in the future of humanity? That is the question. The H-Man: C+. Director: Ishiro Honda. Writer: Takeshi Kimura/ Hideo Kaijo.

Additional Commentary: For additional analysis and inspired reflection I turned to fellow bloginator Mykal Banta and his always wonderful reflections on cinema inspired by the birth of the atom bomb. Following the first atomic bomb test, Trinity, in July 1945, detonated at the White Sands Missile Range in south central New Mexico, an abundant world of cinema was born and Mykal over at Radiation Cinema! Sci-Fi B-Movies And Television From The Atomic Age! continues to explore that particular world ever so articulately and with a literary flourish.

His article, Ishiro Honda Irradiates Film Noir: The H-Man, is a popular post at his site and caught my eye too. It was my first real exposure [pun not intended actually] to The H-Man. I revisited Mykal's piece after seeing the film and writing about it so as not to influence my own viewing experience.

So many have often underappreciated director Honda, even actors who worked for him like Rhodes Reason [King Kong Escapes] who unfairly dubbed him a "hack" director noted in an interview with Stuart Galbraith IV for Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was much more in play in each film than the fantastical he created to meet the human eye. Note this wonderful opening by Mykal which really captures the essence of Ishiro Honda as a director.

"The great Japanese director, Ishirô Honda, made films constructed like Russian nesting dolls: The surface layer is always something grand and commercial, certainly, but once opened, layers of treasures come into the light. Honda never saw things simply, or easily. Like the artist he was, he would see the core of any film he was assigned (he worked for Japan’s Toho Studios) through his own crystal prism. Thus, his 1956 masterpiece, Gojira (Godzilla), a film about a giant lizard destroying Tokyo (and magnificent on those simple terms), becomes a film about the horrors of nuclear war and the essential goodness of mankind. And no assigned project was given anything less than the full Honda vision. Thus, his 1969 Gojira Minira Gabara Ōru Kaijū Daishingeki (All Monsters Attack), while often thought of as the worst film in the Godzilla franchise, is actually a delicate and moving film about a child’s alienation in a harsh, urban world of crushing poverty."

These thoughts could not capture the man's work more eloquently.

The goo-like impact of The H-Man arrived in 1958 alongside The Blob [1958]. As Mykal notes this fact is mostly "purely and wonderfully coincidental," including their respective running times almost to the minute upon further inspection. While the reddish, jelly-like Blob was pure outerspace science fiction, Honda's gelatinous green ooze was the work of Honda's mind affected by the arrival of real concerns in the form of atomic mushroom clouds.

Unlike the pure science fiction of The Blob, The H-Man had higher aspirations. As Mykal notes, this was a "gangster film" with a "crack team of untouchables" hoping to "crush the Tokyo underworld." Yes, "Honda has envisioned a direct and linear crime film with an undertone of effective, very creepy sci-fi – not the other way around. And Honda will have his way!"

It's true that The H-Man is populated by a variety of character archtypes that are complemented by "glowing liquid – driven to slither and ooze from Tokyo’s sewer system" or "blue radiated... monster ooze" or "radioactive slush killer" or "blue glowing mutants."

As we've noted earlier, as many sources have noted and as Mykal notes, the implication of many H-Men as a specific number is never made clear, but it is more than one H-Man, which is why I would generally accept the title of Honda's film as a conceptual device as I've offered earlier.

Mykal breaks down his analysis of each picture he reviews, in many instances, via segments dubbed The Good Stuff, which is also good fun.

Mykal discusses in some detail the work of Hirata and offers a delightful assessment of the character actor. "I watched his mad doctor save Tokyo in Honda’s 1954 Gojira. His tortured, moving performance was just so perfectly controlled, so reserved and – yes – just plain cool. There is something about a Hirata character that always seems unhurried and slightly remote from the frantic thrashings of his fellow humans, particularly when others are devoured by chaos and panic. He dwells always in the perfect eye of the hurricane." This is a terrific tribute and speaks volumes about the actor's abilities. Hirata's hard-nosed gumshoe role in The H-Man is the anti-thesis of his quirkier, disturbed scientist role in Gojira and the stark contrast genuinely demonstrates his range, a range American critics often discounted in Japanese/ Toho science fiction films regarding Hirata and a host of other Japanese actors. American writers demonstrated real ignorance of the acting breadth of Japan's top actors and Hirata's work in The H-Man and Gojira offers a substantive example of genuine versatility.

In another segment Mykal notes Honda And The Hottest Club In Tokyo. "Club Homura swings! From the hot band all dressed in cream-colored suits to the gorgeous dancers, it looks like one fine time. The service looks absolutely top flight, and the singer (Chikako) can really give purr the sultry (on this evening, she sings in English – a little number called “How Deep is My Love”). I can’t think of another film where a club scene so perfectly captures the Atomic Age in all its splendor." As I discussed earlier, the sequence manages to juxtapose criminals, law enforcement and sex kittens within a spectacular and splendid framing of action. As Mykal notes, very little dialogue is exchanged and it is mostly a visual sequence told through picture and action highlighting the magic of Honda.

Mykal's final thought: "All worlds meet in the bowels of Tokyo or Fire Solves Everything!," is just terrific. Consider Gojira, Rodan, The Mysterians and now The H-Man and fire figures prominently somewhere along the way. Amusing, but not far from the truth. Here he makes a good degree of humor about Honda's scriptwriters fighting the proverbial nuclear fire with fire. "Yes, Tominaga’s plan of attack is to dump thousands upon thousands of gallons of gasoline into the sewer system and light it. The push pins indicate the “fire ignition groups” that will set off this giant gas bomb “simultaneously.” Well, yep, that should do ‘er. The dozens of officials listening all nod their heads in approval once Tominaga has finished. Yes, yes. Fine plan. You guys sure you don’t see a potential problem with Tominaga’s tactical masterpiece? Anyone? No? Well, OK, then, light it up." It's fairly illogical, but we do have these lapeses in good sense within the fantastical world of Honda and that's okay.

Without hesitation, do check out Radiation Cinema! and the work of Mykal Banta. Based on the content of his wonderful site, Banta will never be accused of being prolific, but his rare entry is always a work of quality on vintage films. Mykal dispatches on average one to two posts per month with just one post in 2012. He has achieved a grand total of 49 quality posts. He has a whopping 286 "Irradiated" followers and climbing as of this writing since his site's inception in 2008. That's incredible really when you consider folks like myself have been toiling away at it since 2007. Impressive and deserved. His efforts are always solid. All the (nuclear) power to him.

In the end, Mykal makes some great observations and gives The H-Man a discerning look even if I didn't quite appreciate it the film to the same degree. Here are his final remarks. "Honda draws both worlds - the one of sci-fi horror and the one of gritty urban crime – patiently together, pulling all concerned toward the twilight world of Tokyo’s sewers with a watchmaker’s precision. He winds the tension in his watch, too, with a master’s stroke."

Meanwhile, writer Stuart Galbraith IV certainly noted the strengths of The H-Man including the then compelling effects scenes that truly propel the ghostly tale in his book Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy And Horror Films. But Galbraith IV does make some excellent points regarding the film's shortcomings. As Galbraith notes, The H-Man can seem a tad confused by alternating between "moving blobs" and "blue-green ghosts" [p.38]. Like the title, what exactly are we shooting for here? As Galbraith notes, "neither form is adequately explained." Additionally, the transformation of the human form to the anti-matter of an H-man is "never really explained." It's a fair point, and one that is forgivable for fans of the genre. Galbraith does note the "hauntingly gruesome effects" implemented as geuinely effective particularly given the film's copyright date dubbing them "creepy" and "unnerving." Given the still fairly steamy dance number, which still looks relatively provocative, Galbraith notes The H-Man was hardly a "family picture" though "marketed for general audiences." Planet Of The Apes [1968] was also rated G remarkably.

video


One thing is certain, Honda oversaw some profoundly detailed work in his films. Still, as a film, The H-Man is not quite as successful as Rodan or Gojira, but then again The H-Man is a different kind of film melting and fusing together a number of disparate genre elements. Fans of kaiju eiga may not take a fancy to this genre approach, but like its crime noir, it's an intriguing exercise from a master director, one he would use to good effect by cross-breeding the genres with kaiju eiga for Dogora [1964]. The H-Man is one of three human-sized science fiction affairs followed by Ishiro Honda's The Human Vapour [1960] about a man transformed to gas and the directorial debut of none other than Godzilla fixture Jun Fukuda for The Secret Of Telegian [1960], also starring Shirakawa and Hirata, about a man transformed into a television signal. The H-Man is considered the strongest of the three.