(director: William Castle; screenwriters: from the novel by Walter Karig/Ray Russell; cinematographer: Gordon Avil; editor: Edwin Bryant; music: Bernard Green; cast: Tom Poston (Prof. John Jones), Julia Meade (Prof. Virginia Fenster), Jim Backus (Prof. Horatio Kellgore), Fred Clark (Gen. Bullivar), Cecil Kellaway (Dean Joshua Updike), Zeme North (Cynthia Jones), Margaret Dumont (Persephone Updike), Carl Don (Josh Bates), Mike Mazurki (Igor), Albert Glasser (Russian Pilot), James Millhollin (Dr. Kroner), Jimmy Hawkins (Jimmy Kellgore); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Castle; Columbia; 1962)
“Just a dreadful film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Gimmicky producer and B-movie mogul director William Castle (“Strait-Jacket”/The Americano”/The Tingler”) falls on his kisser with this whimsical comedy-fantasy. It’s a silly chiller that’s neither funny nor scary—just a dreadful film. It’s from the 1947 novel by Walter Karig and is written by Ray Russell.
The setting is in the imagery Saracen Valley College in California. The mild-mannered and strait-laced Jonathan Jones (Tom Poston) is professor of Ancient Eastern Language and is being considered by Dean Joshua Updike (Cecil Kellaway) as the new Dean of the Language Department upon his soon-to-be retirement at the end of the semester along with his pushy rival, a professor of Moderm Languages, Horatio Kellgore (Jim Backus).
Things get a bit strange when the bachelor health-food nut Jones’s teenager niece Cynthia (Zeme North), who lives with him, receives a charm bracelet from her boyfriend that he uncovers during an archeological dig and her guardian uncle notices a mystery ancient coin attached. The prof soon discovers that when he’s in possession of the coin by just saying Zotz! and pointing his finger he can cause others temporary pain and by just saying Zotz! he can slow down the movement in people, planes, cars, and animals.
Put on a furlough by the dean over his strange actions recently, Jones arrives in Washington to report to the Pentagon his new weapon that can immobilize the enemy. But blustery Gen. Bullivar (Fred Clark) gives him the brush off. Soviet agents Bates (Carl Don) and Igor (Mike Mazurki) do not, as they find out about this weapon through their country’s spoofing and try to take Jones and his magic coin to Russia, while holding his niece and romantic interest colleague Professor Virginia Fenster (Julia Meade) hostage.
It’s hard to believe how pathetic is the comedy, as its parody of espionage thrillers never comes off as funny. Maybe the concept sounded OK when pitched to the studio heads, but it’s a disaster when executed.
REVIEWED ON 3/16/2009 GRADE: C-