Leslie Halliwell.com
biography bibliography the four star films Four-Star History brief history of the guide the original halliwell editions favourite reviews the boltonian cambridge  
tv & film obituaries modern times the top tens decline & fall of the movie universal monster movies a word on shape old versus new my guide
LH’s favourite movies are celebrated elsewhere on this website but to the casual observer it would seem he was never happier than when having a good old gripe about how rubbish movies were, and boy did he see some serious turkeys in his time.  Whether it was the totally routine programmers* of the early days, which would warrant no more than a three or four word dismissal, or the spectacularly bad which demanded a more rigorous going over, it’s these assessments which gave the Guide its distinctive charm. For more ‘bad’ reviews of films from the seventies and eighties, see the section Modern Times.

For the most routine of productions one generally finds the briefest assessments:

  Back Street (1941)
‘Competent remake.’
The Big Shot (1942)
            ‘Dullish star vehicle.'
  The Adventures of Martin Eden (1942)
‘Low-budget hokum.’
Behind the High Wall (1956)
            ‘Glum melodrama, capably presented.’


  Bail Out at 43,000 (1957)
‘Humdrum flagwaver.’
The Alligator People (1959)
            ‘Moderately inventive 'B' chiller.’’
  ‘Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)
‘Competent screamie.’

The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)
            ‘Smoothish mystery.’



Occasionally, though, bad movies are also concisely dealt with:

  Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)
‘Dismal knockabout, badly made.’

The Big Cube (1969)
            ‘Stultifyingly boring melodrama.’


  Oliver’s Story (1978)
‘Love means never having to
watch this trendy rubbish.’

The Brood (1979)
            ‘Idiotic and repellent shocker.’



Damien: Omen II

‘Once was enough.’

But for the truly insulting a more sophisticated put-down was required:

He Found a Star (1941)
‘A strong contender for the Golden Turkey Award (British Division); the ineptitude has to be sampled to be believed.’
Bedevilled (1955)
‘Absurd high-flown bosh, unsuitably cinemascoped in ugly colour, and surprisingly badly handled by old professionals.’
Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956)
‘Strong contender for the title of worst movie ever made, with diaphanously clad English gals striking embarrassed poses against cardboard sets.  Must be seen to be believed.’
An American Dream (1966)
‘Ludicrously heavy-handed version of a semi-surrealist book which presumably had something to say about modern America, at least in its author's [Norman Mailer] mind.  Nothing comes through but relentless boredom at watching sordid and unlikely events, and sympathy for those involved.’
Casino Royale (1967)
‘Woeful all-star kaleidoscope, a way-out spoof which generates far fewer laughs than the original.  One of the most shameless wastes of time and talent in screen history.’
A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)
‘Flatulent comedy with neither the sparkle of champagne nor even the fizz of lemonade: Chaplin’s writing, direction and music are alike soporific, and commiserations are due to the cast.’
Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)
‘An incredibly plotless and ill-conceived piece of sub-porn claptrap, existing only as a long series of colour supplement photographs.’
Candy (1968)
‘Witless and charmless perversion of a sex satire in which the point (if any) was that the nymphet gladly surrendered herself to all the gentlemen for their own good.  A star cast flounders helplessly in a morass of bad taste, bad film-making, and boredom.’
Cross of Iron (1977)
‘Painful to follow, occasionally beautiful to watch, this quite horrid film offers too much opportunity for its director [Sam Peckinpah] to wallow in unpleasant physical details, and its main plot of bitter rivalry offers no relief.’
Sorcerer (1977)
‘Why anyone should have wanted to spend twenty million dollars on a remake of The Wages of Fear, do it badly, and give it a misleading title is anybody’s guess.  The result is dire.’
Convoy (1978)
‘A virtually plotless anthology of wanton destruction.  Too noisy to sleep through.’
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
‘Dreary alternative ending to The Poseidon Adventure, with cardboard character studies, cut-price action, and tenth-rate technicalities.’
Annie (1980)
‘Misguided opening-out of a charming stage musical based on the comic strip which is basically a reversal of Oliver Twist.  Some of the best numbers have been discarded, the dancing is ponderous, the acting distinctly uneasy, and the choice of director [John Huston] stupefying.  None of it works at all.’
Caveman (1981)
‘Witless farrago of puns and farts on a lower level than Mel Brooks, if such a thing were possible.’
Sid and Nancy (1986)
‘Some have said stimulating, most have preferred revolting.  Consensus, an example of the dregs to which cinema has been reduced.’

Ken Russell's unique style never impressed (The Devils is dealt with on the Modern Times page):

Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
‘Incomprehensible spy story smothered in the kind of top dressing now expected from this director, but which almost killed his career at the time. Occasional pictorial pleasures, but the total kaleidoscopic effect is enough to drive most audiences to the exit.’
The Music Lovers (1970)
‘Absurd fantasia on the life of a great composer [Tchaikovsky], produced in a manner reminiscent of MGM’s sillier musicals; up to a point hysterically (and unintentionally) funny, then rather sickening.’
The Boy Friend (1971)
‘Russell the mastermind effectively destroys Sandy Wilson’s charming period pastiche, sending up all the numbers (via badly staged dream sequences on the wrong shape screen) in a Busby Berkeley manner which had not yet been invented. Moments do work, but a non-star [Twiggy] doesn’t help, and the whole thing is an artistic disaster of some significance both to Russell’s career and to the cinema of the early seventies.’
Lisztomania (1975)
‘The most excessive and obscene of all this director’s controversial works, incapable of criticism on normal terms except that it seems unusually poor in production values.'
Crimes of Passion (1984)
‘Predictably from this director, an hysterically overheated stew of sex and murder; one to walk away from.’

Elsewhere, Halliwell said of Russell that he…

  ‘…totally threw away a brilliant talent when he became obsessive about what someone called digging up dead composers and throwing rocks at them. The physical repulsion of The Devils was certainly no more objectionable than the crass taste of The Music Lovers, Mahler, Valentino and Lisztomania. In the last of these Liszt was given the line, ‘Piss off, Brahms’, which seems, together with a scene in which the composer is threatened by a giant phallus, to have finally frozen the loans from Russell’s misguided benefactors.’


Some films did, however, manage to retain a certain charm in their awfulness:

click for more info
The Story of Mankind (1957)
‘Hilarious charade, one of the worst films ever made, but full of surprises, bad performances, and a wide range of stock shots.’
click for more info
The Black Cat (1934)
‘Absurd and dense farrago set in a modernistic but crumbling castle which is eventually blown to bits just as its owner is skinned alive.  Mostly rather dull despite the extraordinary plot, but the thing has moments of style, a delightful cod devil worship sequence (especially for audiences with a rudimentary knowledge of Latin) and nothing at all to do with the title or Edgar Allan Poe.’
click for more info
House of Dracula (1945)
‘Mind-boggling finale to the first Universal monster cycle, with a happy ending for the Wolf Man.  Cheaply made and not really inventive, but has to be seen to be believed.’
This film was also summed up in Halliwell’s Hundred as a ‘cornucopia of comic-strip corn’ with ‘a certain whimsical charm’.
Another Universal movie is similarly dealt with in that book :
click for more info
Night Monster (1942)
‘This gem of incompetence was written by one Clarence Upson Young, whom I strongly suspect to have been a pimply schoolboy whose derivative and pusillanimous farrago was accepted by Universal on a desperate afternoon when they had several actors sitting around wating for a script.  Any script.’

Other notable Guide assessments, from not necessarily bad films:

click for more info
The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936)
‘Moderate light-hearted mystery, but they should have awarded prizes to anyone who could explain the title.’
click for more info
House on Haunted Hill (1958)
‘Gimmick ghost story with some (unexplained) gruesome moments; the most outlandish of its producer’s [William Castle] cheapjack trick films… it was originally billed as being in Emergo, which meant that at an appropriately horrific moment an illuminated skeleton on wires was suddenly trundled over the heads of the audience.’
click for more info
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)
‘Would-be distinguished epic with an intellectual first hour; unfortunately the hero is a priggish bore, the villain a crashing bore, the heroine a saintly bore, and the only interesting character is killed off early…’
click for more info
The Blue Max (1966)
‘For once, an action spectacular not too badly let down by its connecting threads of plot, apart from some hilarious and unnecessary bedroom scenes in which the female star's bath towel seems to become conveniently adhesive.’
click for more info

Alex in Wonderland (1970)
‘A Hollywood director finds life tedious.
So did the small paying audiences who saw this pale imitation of Fellini.  (Some wags called it
One and a Half.)’


As you might imagine, in a book eventually incorporating 16,000 films, there are many, many more where this lot came from…


* These were routine features of moderate appeal, likely to form part of a double bill in the days when cinemas used to show such things.  Similar to co-features but distinct from ‘B’ pictures, which tended to be much lower in budget and paired with more important main features.

Biography | Bibliography | The Four Star Films | A Four-Star History | Brief History of the Guide
The Editions | Favourite Reviews | The Boltonian | Cambridge | TV & Film Buyer | Obituaries | Modern Times | Top Tens | Decline & Fall of the Movie | Universal Monster Movies | A Word on Shape | Old vs New | My Guide