Cast & Crew
Joel M. Rapp
Stanley R. Bickman
During Word War II, twenty American soldiers are assigned to reclaim a small, strategic Pacific island from the Japanese. Their landing craft comes under heavy fire, however, and consequently, most of the soldiers are killed. When a Japanese patrol checks the bodies, one uninjured soldier, Moe Malamuth, feigns death and, after the patrol moves on, Moe makes his way along the beach. Upon coming across another soldier, wounded in the back but still alive, Moe carries the soldier inland and finds a cave for them to hide in. The other soldier, Ken, tells Moe that he was a Class C baseball pitcher before the war. While Ken sleeps, Moe explores the island and locates the Japanese camp half a mile away. As Ken is in great pain from his wound, Moe returns to the camp that night, breaks into a hut and takes food, medicinal supplies and a rifle. Using only a bayonet, Moe manages to remove mortar fragments from Ken's back. Ken is impressed by Moe's ingenuity and grit, but Moe makes light of it by saying that he does not want Ken to die because then he would be alone. After Moe discovers a lagoon on the deserted side of the island, he carries the still-immobile Ken there, but they are discovered by a lone Japanese soldier whom Moe is forced to stab to death and bury. Back at the cave, Moe, affected by the fact that this was the first man he has killed, gets drunk on sake. He is filled with remorse that he, a thirty-five-year-old accountant with a wife and child, has become a killer. Two days later, on his way back to the cave from catching some fish, Moe is followed by a Japanese soldier. The soldier is about to shoot Moe when Ken sees him and throws a knife, killing him. Later, as Moe is burying the soldier, two others spot him and shoot at him, but Moe manages to kill them. When Moe becomes even more disturbed by the killings, Ken discusses a play, William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life , in which he appeared while in school and quotes the line, "Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret." Having calmed Moe, Ken asks him about the "whistle" he wears around his neck and Moe explains that it is a mezuzah, a Jewish good luck charm. Ken then suggests that they destroy the Japanese camp with the few grenades they have left and pick off any survivors with the rifle. Early the next morning, Moe carries Ken on his back to the ridge above the Japanese compound, but before they can attack, they witness the Japanese committing mass hara-kiri, causing Ken to wonder if, perhaps, the war may be over and they will be rescued. After Moe buries the soldiers, they move into the camp and check the radio, but find that it is not functioning. Ken begins to worry that, seven months after the invasion, the army considers them dead and tells Moe that his wife has probably already been notified that he has been killed. Because Ken is still unable to walk, Moe begins to resent his dependency on him, causing tension between them. Doubting that they will ever get back to the U.S. and realizing that he may be permanently crippled, Ken asks Moe to kill him. Moe refuses and, dismayed that Ken appears to have given up, tells him he is going to move to the other side of the island and leave him to "rot." Ken responds by calling Moe "a lousy Jew," but then regrets it and apologizes profusely. Moe runs toward the beach but, upon hearing a gunshot, returns to find that Ken has shot himself. Realizing that Ken has actually chosen not to place the gun to his head, but to his pitching arm instead, Moe sees this as a sign that he regrets his previous behavior. Moe treats the wound and they become friends again. Later, Moe sees American battleships in the distance but is unable to contact them. That night, Moe hears an unfamiliar noise, investigates and finds a goat. Moe then carries Ken to the beach where they encounter a herd of goats, then fall asleep. They are awakened by the voices of U.S. sailors herding goats and pigs. Moe runs over to one of the sailors, who is astonished to see him, as all of the original invasion party was believed dead. The sailor explains that, in a couple of hours, the island, as part of Operation Barnyard, will be subjected to a test of the atomic bomb. Moe returns to Ken, and after telling him that they are going home, carries him to the beach.
Joel M. Rapp
Stanley R. Bickman
Joel M. Rapp
The Roger Corman Puerto Rican Trilogy on DVD
Roger Corman himself is on hand to introduce each film and to set up the broader story: in 1960, Corman and his Filmgroup company wanted to take advantage of tax incentives and shoot two films back-to-back in sunny Puerto Rico. The films were The Last Woman on Earth, to be directed by Corman in color and in CinemaScope, and a war movie, Battle on Blood Island, directed by Joel Rapp. Corman took only a skeleton crew and his lead actors to Puerto Rico. The Last Woman on Earth was written by Robert Towne, who would later pen such essential 1970s screenplays as The Last Detail (1973) and Chinatown (1974) (as well as serving as a "script doctor" for many important movies of the decade). Upon their departure time, Towne had not finished the script. The obvious Corman solution to that problem was to bring Towne along to finish the writing chore on location, and as long as he had to be there, Corman recruited him to act in the film as well - in one of the lead roles. To add to the fun, Corman decided at the last moment to film a third movie during the trip! He asked frequent collaborator Charles B. Griffith to rework the script from an earlier film, Beast from Haunted Cave (1959), into a light-hearted romp to be filmed almost entirely on a boat. The result, The Creature from the Haunted Sea, is the third part of the trilogy.
The behind-the-scenes story does not end there. As was the custom for drive-in quickies of the day, the running time for each of these films was barely over an hour. When the time came a few years later to sell the movies for television broadcast, they were too short. Filmgroup had Beast from Haunted Cave director Monte Hellman reunite the cast members of all three pictures and shoot extra footage (in California this time) to bring the films up to a saleable running time. The DVD presents the theatrical versions of each movie, and the extended TV scenes as separate bonus features.
The main film in this collection is The Last Woman on Earth, which is presented on the A side of the disc. Featuring an ideal scenario for a low-budget drama with a small cast, the movie introduces small-time mobster Harold Gern (Antony Carbone), his wife Evelyn (Betsy Jones-Moreland), and his lawyer Martin Joyce (Robert Towne, acting under the name Edward Wain). Following a well-populated scene in which the trio watch a cockfight (and a rather graphic one, too), the party goes off on a scuba-diving excursion. When they come up from the ocean depths, they see that something terrible has happened while they were submerged - due to some unexplained occurrence, oxygen has disappeared, killing their boat driver and every other living creature. Determining that the oxygen has returned, the trio take off their air tanks and investigate the city. Seeing no sign of life, they take over a large house in the countryside and start to go on with their lives. They discover fairly soon that "three's a crowd," even under these conditions! Martin begins to pay excess attention to Evelyn, which she gladly returns, causing quite a rift between the two men. Although the film has a deadly slow pace, the dialogue is good, the actors are game, and the situations are tense enough to hold interest. The sci-fi elements are slight, so the movie disappoints as a genre film. The print quality is not ideal, and yet this is by far the best looking copy of this movie ever released on home video. Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the print is fairly free of dirt, and has good color and contrast - Corman fans can toss out their old, washed-out VHS and DVD copies of the film. The mono audio is fine, and clearly points out that almost all of the dialogue was dubbed in after the fact - there seems to be little or no sync sound recorded during principal photography. The audio commentary includes a lively discussion of the Puerto Rico trip with co-stars Carbone and Jones-Moreland. Robert Towne did not participate, unfortunately.
Next up is Corman and Griffith's monster quickie The Creature from the Haunted Sea. This film does not match the standards of the duo's earlier tongue-in-cheek efforts A Bucket of Blood (1959) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960). The comedy is very strained, and the lack of budget really shows. The film opens in Cuba, as shady mobster and boat owner Renzo Capetto (Carbone) helps some exiles out of the country. They are weighed down by stolen money, which Renzo plans to relieve them of during the trip. Also on the boat are Renzo's moll Mary-Belle (Jones-Moreland), inept government agent Sparks Moran (Towne, again billed as Edward Wain), and Renzo's henchman (Beach Dickerson). Renzo cooks up a story about a sea monster to cover the theft, but things go from strange to bizarre when a real monster shows up. While The Creature from the Haunted Sea has a bigger cast and more activity than The Last Woman on Earth, it is much more tedious. Carbone does an entertaining imitation of Bogart's Harry Morgan character from To Have and Have Not (1944), and Jones-Moreland is clearly having a lot of fun in the moll role, but the movie has little else to recommend it. The slapdash atmosphere is annoying rather than fun, and the monster of the title is of the pathetic steel-wool-and-ping-pong-ball variety. Listening to the DVD's commentary is actually more interesting than listening to the film's soundtrack. Carbone and Jones-Moreland appear again, saying that this film offered more fun and improvisation than their other Puerto Rico shoot. While they praise the antics of Beach Dickerson, his idiotic moves and animal noises in the film are grating at best. The print located for the Retromedia disc is not much better than the public domain copies that have floated around for years - it still has poor contrast and a lot of splices and scratches. The soundtrack is fair, and at least the dialogue seems to have actually been recorded on the set rather than dubbed-in after the fact.
The final film on the set is Battle of Blood Island, distributed by Corman's Filmgroup but directed by Joel Rapp, who also wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Philip Roth. Not sci-fi or horror, the story is a straight drama set during World War II. Two American GIs find themselves to be the only survivors of a beachfront attack on an island occupied by Japanese troops. They find refuge in a cave, unnoticed by the enemy. Ken (Ron Kennedy) is wounded, so Moe (Richard Devon) must go outside the cave in search of food and medicine. While planning a desperation attack on the small squad of Japanese soldiers, they watch in amazement as the soldiers commit suicide upon the news of Japan's surrender to the Allies! Then the drama becomes more psychological as the two men wear on each other while awaiting rescue. Rapp actually handles the two-man drama quite nicely; the tensions between the soldiers become very convincing. Unfortunately, anything approaching an action scene is badly handled; the movie features probably the lamest hand-to-hand combat ever staged for film. The acting by the leads is fine, however, and the total effect is as absorbing as an average episode of the 60s TV series Combat. Corman appears onscreen briefly as a GI, his only acting role during the Puerto Rican outing. The print quality in this transfer is satisfactory, certainly much better than the poor print of The Creature from the Haunted Sea. The contrast and detail of the black-and-white film is quite nice, with a minimum of grain or scratches.
Retromedia wisely keeps the added TV footage for the three movies separate from the theatrical prints. For the most part, this footage is padding and the scenes add no needed information. The most useful bit is a new opening for Battle of Blood Island, showing the actual beach combat rather than just the aftermath. The added footage for The Last Woman on Earth is particularly nonsensical, and would've no doubt just confused the plot, particularly since the actors' appearances had changed a bit in the intervening years. The best added bit for The Creature from the Haunted Sea is a deck-top song by the swimsuit-clad Jones-Moreland.
There are even more extras on the disc - a stills gallery features poster art and lobby cards for all three films, and there is also a generous helping of trailers from various early Roger Corman movies. Added to three movies, three commentaries, three Corman introductions and all of the bonus scenes, there is plenty here for the fan of low-budget 1960s filmmaking to drink in.
For more information about The Roger Corman Puerto Rico Trilogy, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Roger Corman Puerto Rican Trilogy, go to TCM Shopping.
by John M. Miller
The Roger Corman Puerto Rican Trilogy on DVD
Shell Shock/Battle of Blood Island
Shell Shock tries to transport us to Italy, 1943, where a foot soldier suffers a mental breakdown and his situation is made worse by a sadistic sergeant. The main ingredients in this particular production involve various uniformed grunts shuffling about between tents in the Hollywood Hills, not to mention a long scene involving two soldiers and one goat. Director Hayes (1930 - 2000) is a veteran of the low budget fare, having cranked out such titles as Grave of the Vampire (1972) and Jailbait Babysitter (1978).
Battle of Blood Island really should have been the first film on the double-feature bill. Not only because it would have made more chronological sense to do so, but also because its central performances are far more compelling. Rapp did one other feature, High School Big Shot (1959), and otherwise has credits as a writer for the television shows of McHale's Navy and Gilligan's Island, among others. Battle of Blood Island is credited as being based on a short story by Philip Roth and begins on a beach full of dead American soldiers, two of which happen to be playing possum. Moe (Richard Devon) and Ken (Ron Kennedy) wait for the Japanese soldiers to return to their outpost before dragging themselves off into a cave. Moe has a rugged, no-nonsense approach to things. Ken has two useless legs and constant pain from a mortar wound. It's Survivor meets The Odd Couple, but with much deadlier consequences. Stick around for the "twist" ending and you'll also be privy to a cameo glimpse of executive producer Roger Corman, who also filmed Last Woman on Earth and Creature from the Haunted Sea around the same time and on the same Cuban beach.
Onto the bonus features. Not quite as much fun as the regular batch of Something Weird trailers that precede the double-feature, but still packing punch, are the "Battle-Scarred WWII Trailers" - bundled here to deliver lots of explosive scenarios. A 32-minute-long War Department Training Film titled Information Please! is meant as an educational bit to show how enemy combatants will try to eke out information from prisoners of war. If you were ever a bit foggy on how the whole "good cop, bad cop" routine works, now's your chance to get a step-by-step explanation. The 17-minute-long War Department Orientation Film titled Our Job in Japan is billed on the backflap as "outrageously racist" attempt by the Pentagon to psychoanalyze the Japanese, and is a fascinating piece of war propaganda. A short sing-along ditty by Bing Crosby extolling the virtues of buying war-bonds caps things off.
For more information about Shell Shock/Battle of Blood Island, visit Image Entertainment. To order Shell Shock/Battle of Blood Island, go to TCM Shopping.
by Pablo Kjolseth
Shell Shock/Battle of Blood Island
Although trade reviews list the running time of Battle of Blood Island as 64 minutes, the print viewed ran 71 minutes. The print also included a 1959 copyright notice to San Juan Productions, Inc., but the film was not registered at the time of its release. According to the Motion Picture Herald review, the film was shot on location in Puerto Rico. The Philip Roth short story on which the film was based, "Expect the Vandals," was the first of the author's works to be adapted for a feature film.
The Variety review termed "Ken's" sudden anti-Semitic outburst "unaccountable." The Hollywood Reporter review stated, "Some of the philosophies are pretentious, and the attitudes the principals strike often seem mere posturing. Still, Rapp has attempted on a very modest budget a film that tries to think and to say something."