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  Zotz! To Phrase A CoinBuy this film here.
Year: 1962
Director: William Castle
Stars: Tom Poston, Julia Meade, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Cecil Kellaway, Zeme North, Margaret Dumont, James Millhollin, Carl Don, Mike Mazurki, Jimmy Hawkins, Louis Nye
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jonathan Jones (Tom Poston) is a university professor whose field is Ancient Languages; he's also a health nut who leaps out of bed every morning to do his exercise regime, then rushes downstairs to feast on his breakfast of sauerkraut juice and wheatgerm. Currently he is living with his niece, Cynthia (Zeme North), who he is looking after while her parents are away, and it is she who introduces him to a very strange coin. Her archeology student boyfriend has been on a dig in the Middle East and sends her back this trinket as a gift, not knowing of its unusual properties. Trust Jonathan to get to the heart of the matter...

Have you ever wondered what one of those live action Disney movies of the sixties would look like if it had been directed by William Castle? The famed showman of the cinema was best known for his thrillers and horrors, but still found time in his busy schedule to fashion works in other styles, as here he tackled comedy and fantasy combined. He took as his source an obscure, satirical novel by Walter Karig, and had Ray Russell whip it into some kind of family friendly shape, yet as if Castle could not leave the darker aspects of his oeuvre behind, there was something not quite clicking here between his intentions and what he ended up with.

This coin, you see, is able to do three things which Jonathan works out thanks to his mastery of the writing on its face. Whatever it's written in it must be a very compact form of communication, as although there only looks to be about four short lines of lettering, and he goes on for about a minute when translating them out loud. Anyway, on reading out the name "Zotz!" - a god of the ancient world, so it is said - there's a great big thunderclap and a huge storm blows up, scattering papers and landing a naked woman at Jonathan's door. Eh? This is still a family film, right? Well, it's not as if we see her nude, as it's all tastefully shot, but nevertheless makes one pause.

This naked woman tells the professor that she was walking along minding her own business when a lightning bolt struck her and all her clothes flew off; he finds her some of Cynthia's clothes to wear and sends her on her way agreeing never to speak of this again. Naturally, they meet later on at a posh party thrown by the Dean (Cecil Kellaway), and have an embarrassed acknowledgement of the recent incident. She turns out to be Professor Virginia Fenster (Julia Meade), who has a new post there, as a small amount of professional rivalry is part of the plot between Jonathan and another academic (Jim Backus). But what we want to know is, what else can that coin do?

As I say, it's not a very friendly magic object, because when the holder points at someone, they suffer a crippling pain in their insides and double up. Why, Mr Castle, that's hilarious! Oh, no, no it's not. Maybe another power might tickle the funny bone, yeah, how about slowing down time after speaking the word "Zotz!" which leads Backus into a comic setpiece where he is struck by this spell and everyone thinks he's drunk? That's better, but then there's the third power, which has both pointing and saying the word, with the result that whatever you're targeting bursts into flame - not much humorous potential there. This being the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets take an interest where the Pentagon has not, and Jonathan is kidnapped by Nikita Kruschev himself! Well, it's actually B-movie composer Albert Glasser finding alternative employment: he could have passed for Tor Johnson as well. It is lighthearted, but doesn't quite convince as being as wholesome as it wanted to be. Music by Bernard Green.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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