SCIENCE FICTION DOUBLE FEATURE
The most unbelievable aspect of MADMEN OF MANDORAS is not that it got made on such a low budget. That happens all the time.
The most unbelievable idea of MADMEN OF MANDORAS is that seemingly nobody involved with it, had any idea of what a catchy, "hook", of a concept they had, and how such a movie could have been a legendary classic, had they only known.
That happens an awful lot in cinema, and not just Hollywood: Brilliant concepts that are influential forever, are initially created without fanfare, do poorly, and wind up in the dustbin of history (or bargain bin if you prefer). Then later (years, sometimes decades) they are resurrected and revered either for the brilliance they had, or the brilliance they came so close to achieving, but ultimately failed to grasp. A great concept without so much as a mediocre follow through. File MADMEN OF MANDORAS into this latter category.
For a movie that starts with narrative exposition, MADMEN OF MANDORAS does it exceptionally well.
We hear the rattling clatter of a latham loop (what old film cameras and projectors required) and we see what appears to be an elephant in the wild, going to sleep.
But the narration tells us that the animal is dying.
"The next minute will illustrate the effects of G or nerve gas more effectively than any words.
The spray has wrecked its nervous system. G-Gas kills humans in the same manner as DDT kills flies. They die by suffocation. A slight spray is sufficient to paralyze the brain."
The image of a dead elephant goes black, lights come up, a shadow crosses the screen, and we see the man who creates the shadow. He is speaking to a small handful of men in suits and uniforms. One of them sits in shadow. The speaking man, Professor John Coleman (John Holland: MY BLOOD RUNS COLD, CHINATOWN), continues.
"It can make its way through the most minute openings and is virtually undetectable.
One cannot see it, taste it, or smell it. Doesn't burn or irritate the skin. You die without ever knowing what hit you.
Ordinary clothes and masks are not sufficient. Concrete buildings, tunnels, subways, air raid shelters offer no immunity.
A small cylinder of gas when released, will travel approximately 750 to 800 square miles. Depending on the wind.
Many nations have it, but only we've recently completed the antidote.
It's top secret, very few people outside of myself know of it.
The loss or destruction of this antidote, could mean complete annihilation of the world."
At this moment we have no idea who the good or bad guys are, but the scientist's audience is clearly uncomfortable.
While the professor is giving his briefing, a military policeman is posted outside the closed door. A twitchy man with a Spanish accent comes up, requesting an audience with the professor. This place is top secret! How did he even get this far? The guard refuses and the twitchy man starts to beg. But then a man in a suit approaches and twitchy gets spooked and leaves.
The meeting concluded, the audience files out save for one. Suit enters. His name is Frank Dvorak (Marshall Reed: TILL DEATH) and is Professor Coleman's assistant. Coleman introduces the sole audience member, as CID agent Phil Day (Walter Stocker: MISSILE X: THE NEUTRON BOMB INCIDENT): his son-in-law married to his daughter Kathy (sometimes called K.C.).
All is congenial and it appears that all three men support the open release of the antidote for G-Gas: to thwart the holocaust that will come should any nation attempt to use it.
Okay, so these are the good guys. I think. I'm not so sure about Frank. What was it about this seemingly innocuous man that frightened twitchy? Possibly his eyes, for one. He has that suspicious, thousand-yard stare like me. You shouldn't trust people with eyes like mine.
But I'm getting off track.
Phil leaves and Coleman gets a phone call. A man with a Spanish accent tells the professor that they have his daughter, Suzanne (Dani Lynn). The voice on the phone tells Coleman to go his kidnapped daughter's apartment. There Coleman finds Suzanne's fiance, David Garrick (Scott Peters: INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE, THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS, PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO), out cold on the floor. David doesn't know much. There was a knock at the door, Suzanne opened it, two men came in and beat him up.
Well the shit has hit the fan all right. Obviously some nation that possesses G-Gas got wind of that Top Secret antidote getting out.
David and Coleman go outside, get kidnapped themselves, and the movie turns to Phil and Kathy (Audrey Caire) to save the day. Phil and Kathy don't know what's going on yet, so they have a drink at home and go to the bedroom in a fade to black. In the early 1960s that means they had sex.
Later, dressed for a night on the town, they leave their house, dressed to the nines, and are kidnapped at gunpoint by Twitchy guy with the Spanish accent.
As they drive, Twitchy guy apologizes for his heavy-handed demeanor. He is actually on their side, telling his hostages that Coleman has been kidnapped and spirited away to his country, Mandoras. He's about to continue, but at the traffic light, a black car pulls up alongside (this is a black and white movie, it could have been a Navy blue car for all I know) and fires a very noisy gun (yep, no silencer) at Twitchy. Twitchy slumps forward, bleeding, and Kathy and Phil, who are cramped up in the front seat with him, have no idea what happened. They don't suspect a gunshot.
They didn't hear that freaking gun go off, point blank, right next to their heads (I mentioned 'No silencer', right? I'm sure I did!)?
As he dies, Twitchy tells them that his name is Teo (Carlos Rivas: THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN, THE BLACK SCORPION, TOPAZ, DOC SAVAGE) and teaches them how to hold a book of matches should they ever get in trouble. Phil frisks Teo's corpse for clues and stuffs his dead body in a phone booth (back in the 1960s, public phone booths were glass closet affairs that you could find on most street corners in major cities. you really could stuff a couple of dead bodies in one, and in this movie, that will be a giggle later).
Phil and Kathy decide to go to the strange country of Mandoras, alone and without backup or weapons, to free her father.
Soon after they land in Mandoras, they are kidnapped by the local police and put up in a crappy hotel. When questioned, the police chief assures them that he's just following orders.
Truthfully, that wouldn't put me at ease even in my own country.
When Phil and Kathy are finally told of the true horror of everything going on, and with Kathy's father and and sister still missing, Kathy decides to enjoy herself and the couple goes shopping for souvenirs and night clubbing.
Up to this point, though the movie is cheapnis personified, nothing really terrible happens. The acting and direction by David Bradley (TALK ABOUT A STRANGER, 12 TO THE MOON. This movie was also his swan song) is adequate - which is far more than will ever be said for an Asylum Pictures movie. Mandoras is supposed to be a small nation with only one hotel (Rhode Island could beat the crap out of it in a war), so the low budget look and feel makes sense.
Yet this movie had a great concept, and I'm not going any farther in this review to tell you what that is. But it was so whacked out that what comes next takes it from action drama to crazytown scifi.
On the other hand, most of the "Night shots" are clearly shot in the day, but not all of them. So the juxtaposition between real night shots and daytime night shots, edited within the same scene, is jarring.
All of the extras who weren't among the speaking roles, silent guards, doctors, etc., were awful. Extras are background and, unless they can actually act, shouldn't. Actions sequences involving henchmen, fights, and sometimes just walking, drags the movie down.
Also, the worse things get for our heroes, the worse their dialog gets. As if halfway through the script, screenwriter Peter Miles (working off a story by Steve Bennett) saw a James Bond movie and got it into his head that Phil needed more quips!
The boom microphone also makes a few cameos as well.
Still, the insane concept that marks the halfway turning point of the movie! As soon as you see it, your imagination will fly farther with the concept than MADMEN OF MANDORAS ever did.
Also, because this is a cheap, early 1960s movie, it falls in line with the meme of that time. That means a woman totally losing her shit at the wrong moment and needing a helpful Bitchslap to get her head on right. Suffering a mental breakdown? Have you been traumatized? Have a nice Bitchslap!
Despite its many minuses, the movie never drags, making it so-bad-it's-good MSTK3 fun. That's why I give MADMEN OF MANDORAS four Negative Shriek Girls.
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