Box Office Gold, Disc 2

Shaker Run, 1986, color. Bruce Morrison (dir.), Cliff Robertson, Leif Garrett, Lisa Harrow, Shane Briant, Peter Rowell, Peter Hayden. 1:31 [1:29]

A research scientist whose project has accidentally developed a lethal bioweapon (it suppresses the immune system) finds that it’s about to be turned over to the military—so to save mankind from that awful fate, she and her lover (also on the project) decide to steal the stuff and deliver it to…the CIA? Really? So that sterling institution can see to it that an antidote is developed. Oh, and the evil country whose military she’s trying to avoid: New Zealand.

Yep. That’s what we have: the New Zealand military vs. the CIA—except that it’s mostly stunt car driving with Cliff Robertson as a former race car driver turned stunt-car driver, who takes on the delivery job without knowing what he’s transporting (but he’s bad broke and she’s offering $3,000). Garrett plays Robertson’s mechanic (and son of the crew chief Robertson’s character accidentally killed at Daytona). The military presence includes a sinister head and an associate who’s pure assassin. All filmed on location and with decent production values, on roads covering a good portion of New Zealand’s South Island—lots of scenery. Lots of shooting, explosions, cars going over cliffs, and mostly lots of stunt car driving. The print’s pretty decent for VHS quality, and the movie moves right along. Even if…the CIA? Really? (When Robertson, as an American stunt driver, hears what she’s doing, he comments “Lady, you are really naïve.” Ya’ think?) I have no idea how MCE could get rights to a 1986 color movie cheap enough to include in a megapack, but there you go. All in all, a minor effort worth $1.25.

Against All Hope, 1982, color. Edward T. McDougal (dir.), Michael Madsen, Maureen McCarthy, Cecil Moe. 1:29.

Awful, awful, awful: A badly-done film that’s nothing more than a 90-minute sermon for one narrow brand of Christianity as being the five-second cure (and the only cure) for whatever ails you.

It’s all about a falling-down drunk and how he got that way, told in flashbacks as he’s sitting in a 4a.m. chat with a minister he’d never met, trying to decide whether to kill himself. It’s a mildly sad story, but mostly boils down to a man with no apparent self-esteem who lives for his drinks and has somehow stayed married. When he decides he’s in trouble, we get a display of how every other helping profession is worthless: A doctor blows cigarette smoke in his face while telling him there are no medical problems, a neurologist dismisses his issues, a psychiatrist wants to know whether he hates his mother or his father and then refers him to a minister from the Church of Good Times (or something like that), whose only advice is that the couple should come to Wednesday Night Bingo or Friday Night Dances at the church—and, of course, not one of these people asks anything about him being a drunk. No AA suggestions or anything that might actually help.

Add in a barroom scene in which everybody in the bar gathers around him to force him to take a drink after he’s been on the wagon for a couple of months, a diner with a remarkably vicious waitress and even nastier other customer and the fact that not one character in the whole film, including the long-suffering wife and the protagonist, seems to be more than a convenient cliché. And even after the lead is miraculously saved (after a 30-second prayer, he walks out of the minister’s house, says everything suddenly looks beautiful, and of course everything goes great after that), he’s upset because his wife (who’s always been religious, even taught Sunday School for 11 years, but doesn’t much cotton to his particular fundamentalist group) “still isn’t a Christian yet.”

The lead character’s name—Cecil Moe–is also the name of the cowriter and executive producer (who also plays a different role, the minister who saves Moe). It’s really bad propaganda, of a sort that strikes me as wholly useless—I mean, would anyone outside the “you’re all doomed, but if you just Say the Magic Phrase, you’re instantly saved” camp be convinced by anything here? Madsen’s first movie; based on his stellar performance, it’s a miracle he was ever in a second one—but this one must have been seen by, what, 50 people including the cast? (If you read the IMDB reviews, note that the only semi-favorable ones are from those who think the “Christian” message overrides everything else.) I’d give it a flat $0, but as an example of really bad moviemaking that’s also remarkably awful propaganda it’s a weak $0.25.

Kangaroo, 1952, color. Lewis Milestone (dir.), Maureen O’Hara, Peter Lawford, Finlay Currie, Richard Boone, Chips Rafferty. 1:24.

An old guy, Michael McGuire, shows up at a cheap sailor’s rest (six cents a night for bedding and a bunk) drunk and with booze to share—and, as he’s singing and then becoming maudlin, Richard Connor (a young Peter Lawford—29 at the time) asks about it and finds that he’s mourning the long-lost son that he put in an orphanage as a child, from whence the son fled. Connor then leaves the sailor’s rest, tries to rob a gambler, John W. Gamble (Richard Boone), winds up robbing the proprietor of the gambling establishment with Gamble (a robbery during which Gamble shoots the proprietor)…and that’s just the start. (Interesting gambling hall: Most of the action’s betting on whether a person tossing two coins in the air will have two heads or two tails land, with one of each being a non-result.)

The primary plot: McGuire’s got a 10,000-square-mile cattle station in South Australia; the two, after taking him back to his ship (dead drunk), connive to go to the station…with the hope that they can convince him that Connor’s his long-lost son. Turns out he also has a beautiful daughter (Maureen O’Hara), and they’re just trying to hang on given a three-year drought that’s nearly wiped out the nearby town and threatens to wipe out their herds.

Most of the movie’s a combination of Australian scenery, driving cattle, aboriginal rites and a little action here and there. The ending’s not terribly important (indeed, other than a break in the drought, the ending’s not even very clear). It’s fair to say that the long con doesn’t work, partly because Lawford’s conscience gets the better of him.

Fine cast, generally well played, maybe a little heavy on the Australian exotica (supposedly the first Hollywood flick and first Technicolor movie shot entirely in Australia). While the print’s not terrible, it’s not as good as you might want for a movie this heavy on scenery. All in all, though, it’s entertaining enough. If the print was better, this might get more, but I’ll give it $1.25.

A Hazard of Hearts, 1987, color (made for TV). John Hough (dir.), Diana Rigg, Edward Fox, Helena Bonham Carter, Fiona Fullerton, Christopher Plummer, Steward Granger, Neil Dickson, Anna Massey, Marcus Gilbert. 1:30.

Romance-novel fans may recognize that as a Barbara Cartland title, and snobs may say “Oh, please, it’s a cheap romance novel.” Maybe, but it’s well-done and a distinct pleasure, some highly implausible plot issues be damned.

The basic plot: A British nobleman (Christopher Plummer) is an inveterate gambler and loses not only his entire fortune but his estate and his daughter’s promised hand in marriage (which brings with it an £80,000 inheritance) to a villainous lord who his daughter detests. Another lord takes on the villain, winning back the estate and daughter…while the nobleman shoots himself. Then, the other lord (an oddly distant sort, but handsome) discovers the youth of the daughter (Helena Bonham Carter, 21 at the time) and decides he can’t possibly wed one so young—and decides to sell the estate and send her to live with his mother at his estate. His mother, played by Diana Rigg, is a proper scoundrel—another inveterate gambler who runs her own gambling operation and also a smuggling franchise, and who regard the girl as an annoyance to be dealt with.

That’s just the start of a hearty plot involving hidden doors, staircases and even apparently-dead fathers, subterfuge, betrayal, and eventually both a pistol duel and a swordfight. Virtue triumphs—how could it not? And, frankly, it all works—because the actors are first-rate. Also, this is an unusually good print for a Mill Creek movie, nearly VHS quality: It was a pleasure to watch on the big screen. Yes, the plot’s silly, but the staging and acting are both fine. I’ll give it $1.75.

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