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TWO BEFORE ZERO (1962; Alpha Video).

Hurried into theatres only days after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when fears of Russia were at an all-time high in the US, this gloriously wrongheaded 1962 anti-Communist diatribe mixes a surreal framework, a ponderous history lesson and inflammatory documentary footage from private overseas collections. Chicago-area producer Fred A. Niles (who'd hoped to break into features, after a successful career in TV commercials and industrial shorts) even flew in two honest-to-goodness actors for this Red Scare rotgut -- Basil Rathbone (taking a respite from A.I.P. horror gigs like TALES OF TERROR) and Mary Murphy (who briefly shot to stardom nine years earlier opposite Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONE)... In an ominously-lit room, Rathbone stands behind a podium with a huge open book before him; Murphy wears a flowing white gown; and an off-screen narrator announces, "The time is now. The place is nowhere." Basil then gives his socio-politically clueless companion a Far-Right overview of Russia's horrific past -- from the bloody end of the Romanoffs, through megalomaniacal leaders like Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, plus the "lies" and "double-talk" that made their revolution possible. And boy, does Basil lay it on thick! We get Cossack massacres, Stalin starving and slaughtering 15 million people, and the mistreatment of post-WWII Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine. As Basil drones on and on about "monstrous, dangerous" people who want to "murder liberty," we witness grim footage of sick and malnourished children covered in flies, rampant poverty, families weeping over the corpses of their loved ones, and public hangings. Murphy occasionally interjects, reacting emotionally to these film clips (no surprise, since she's just a "naive and ignorant" woman, clinging to her belief in goodness and God), while fear-mongering Rathbone warns us about the spread of Marx's theory of "dialectical materialism" and Communism's ultimate goal of world conquest, while also chastising Americans for their apathetic mindset. Director William D. Faralla started out producing films for the US State Department in 1950s Germany, helmed early episodic TV like ZANE GREY THEATRE, and later worked as production manager on Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH, but you won't find much talent on display here. There's plenty of risible dialogue and leaden propaganda though. Detailing the evil face of Communism, while embracing the format of a John Birch sponsored episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Rathbone valiantly tries to keep us from drifting off throughout this snoozefest, but his commanding voice can only go so far. Edited by Robert L. Sinise (yep, Gary's dad), before he went onto cut H.G. Lewis' BLOOD FEAST and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS.

© 2019 by Steven Puchalski.