Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

Warriors Classic 50 Movies, Disc 1

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Fifty movies about an Oakland basketball team: who woulda thunk it? OK, so they’re really “sword and sandals” movies—all those Hercules, Son of Hercules, Colossus, Ursus and similar pictures, strong on Legendary Heroes, usually strong on magic and gods/goddesses, with lots of wholly innocent beefcake and (usually) cheesecake, usually some humor along with lots of fighting, loads of scenery, surprisingly good production values and plots that don’t always make much sense. Oh, and really bad dubbing, except sometimes for the one or two American actors. These are fun movies, mostly Italian, and I grade them within their own realm: a really great sword-and-sandals flick might not be a classic in traditional Hollywood terms. It’s a thirteen-disc set (there aren’t many hour-long sword-and-sandals flicks); Part 1 covers discs 1-6.

Hercules and the Masked Rider (orig. Golia e il cavaliere mascherato), 1963, color. Piero Pierotti (dir.), Alan Steel (that is, Sergio Ciani), Mimmo Palmara, José Greci, Pilar Cansino, Arturo Dominici. 1:26 [1:23]

Who knew that Hercules (“Alan Steel”) was not only a demigod but a time traveler? In this flick (clearly shot in widescreen and panned-and-scanned, more’s the pity), he’s jumped from the second century BC to the 16th century CE, since there are at least two handguns along with the many swords—and he’s somehow riding with a band of gypsies in Spain. (According to the source of all knowledge, this character was Goliath in the Italian original, but that still involves time travel, albeit only 16 rather than 18+ centuries—and Goliath wasn’t an immortal demigod. Hey, it’s swords-and-sandal magic!)

This means that—other than Hercules, who seems allergic to shirts, and a few of the evil Don’s soldiers who wind up naked after being humiliated by the gypsies and Hercules—everybody’s fully clothed, from head to toe. (Even Hercules has a shirt on for maybe three minutes total.) It also means that there are no gods & goddesses, no magic (although the Evil Don would happily burn the head gypsy as a witch), just lots of plot.

Plot. Hard to say whether it’s ever worth describing the plot in these spectaculars, but here it’s two Dons with their lands on either side of a river—and the Don on one side is pure evil, just loving to hunt down innocent peasants trying to escape from forced labor and really loving the occasional torture opportunity. The other Don is aging, has a beautiful daughter, and is unwilling to risk war with the evil Don—to the extent that he’s willing to marry his daughter off to the evil Don in the thought that this might prevent war. Foolish (and soon dead) man! Meanwhile, the aged Don’s nephew, the actual love of the daughter (well, why not? they’re first cousins, but it’s 16h century Spain), has returned from battle (after meeting up with the gypsies, fighting Hercules to a draw in a one-hour contest that earns him not only his life but the welcome of the gypsies), and thinks this is all a terrible idea. He becomes the Masked Rider and…

Lots’o’plot ensues, and of course things all work out in the end. (Hercules isn’t really the primary character, but here’s there now and then. Some reviewers compared the real protagonist, the cousin, to Zorro: that’s not too far off.) And, you know, even though the premise is even more bizarre than usual, it’s fun. Good score, pretty good print. I’ll give it $1.50.

Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators (orig. Gli invincibili dieci gladiatori), 1964, color. Nick Nostro (dir.), Dan Vadis, Helga Line, Ivano Staccioli/John Heston, Alfredo Varelli/John Warrell Ursula Davis, Giuliano Dell’Ovo/Julian Dower. 1:39

What this movie has in common with the previous one: in both cases, the titular character is not the major protagonist—Spartacus is there for maybe a third of the picture, and the biggest of the ten gladiators (who in this case aren’t slaves but entertainer/warriors) is the protagonist (and, in the end, rides away with The Girl).

Otherwise: set in Roman times, with the Ten Gladiators blackballed by the primary entrepreneur (because the big one almost spears a Roman senator instead of killing the winner of a 12-person to-the-death battle who refused to kill his father, one of the others) saving a senator’s daughter from Bad Thieves and being recruited by the senator to find and kill (they prefer capture) Spartacus, who is supposedly thieving. They find and meet Spartacus (involving an apparently hours-long battle between the big guy and Spartacus, ending with both of them collapsed and laughing) and join to his cause—which is, mostly, to take his group back to Thrace and freedom.

The gladiators say they’ll go back and try to sell that to the senator (with the promise that he’ll be sent ransom money for the group later)…who says “sure, why not?” and drugs them over dinner, putting them in the dungeon.

There’s more plot—and, other than the sheer stupidity of the gladiators and the apparent deal that knocking an enemy out means he’s out of the action forever, it’s not as implausible as you might expect—ending with a reasonably satisfactory conclusion. The overall lesson: if the venal, vicious Senator Varro had let a hundred or so slaves escape, he would have avoided destroying a major part of the Roman army—and dying in the process. But, you know, power demands respect, especially wholly corrupt power.

Lots of fights, of course, with swords but the good guys prefer punching the other guys out; very little blood shown; some humor; the gladiators almost never wear anything above the waist or more than a foot or so below, if that matters; and the kind of production values (thousands of extras, huge battle scenes) you expect from these movies. I was particularly taken with one plot point: the gladiators, trying to figure out how to free the slaves held in a compound that combines mining with aqueduct-building, capture a blacksmith and convert him to the cause by noting that, if they free the slaves, there will be thousands of chains and handcuffs that he can melt down and make into shields and the like. He winds up being one of the foremost warriors in the grand battle.

Excellent print, great production values, but a narrow view of a wide-screen movie. Still, another $1.50.

The Conqueror of the Orient (orig. Il conquistatore dell’Oriente), 1960, color. Tanio Boccia (dir.), Rik Battaglia, Irene Tunc, Paul Muller. 1:26 [1:14]

The story of Dakar, an Evil Usurper who’s murdered the king (or sultan) and seized the throne, with an army that seems to go around burning villages for fun (which makes it difficult to provide the required tributes), and along the way found a beautiful young woman, Fatima, who Dakar would make the first of his many wives. We’re also introduced to a young fisherman, Nadir, (trawling in the river) and his elder. A bit later, Fatima escapes and is next found floating in a little boat about to hit rapids—and, of course, Nadir rescues her. (Perhaps the name “Nadir” is a clue as to the quality of this flick.)

One thing leads to another, Fatima is recaptured, the fisherman vows vengeance, and of course we learn that he’s the legitimate heir to the throne—and after lots of talk, more talk, some really bad scimitar-fights, and the like, he slays the usurper and brings eternal peace to his kingdom.

Pretty bad. The English-language scriptwriter appears to have had English as a third language (at one point, having been captured, our hero is left behind bars “until thirst and famine shall end his life.” Famine? Really? The production values are at best OK, the plot makes little sense. Maybe the missing 12 minutes would help; probably not. Charitably, $0.75.

The Last of the Vikings, 1961, color. Giacomo Gentilomo (dir.), Cameron Mitchell, Edmond Purdom, Isabelle Corey. 1:43.

“Prince Harald needs more wood!” That cry as hundreds of trees are being felled by wholly inept axe-wielders is probably the best dialogue in this mess. We also learn that Vikings fight by waving axes around a lot, that axes defeat bows and arrows even at long range, that some kings are hand-rubbing gibbering incarnations while princes just laugh a lot…and that perfidy runs deep in Norway.

As to the plot and acting and scenery…well, this was the first old flick I’d watched in almost three months (the DOAJ project was more fun); I was watching it the day after surgery; I was on low-dose opioids,,,without all of which I might not have made it all the way through. Maybe, charitably, $0.75.

Mystery Collection, Disc 46

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Murder Once Removed, 1971 (TV movie), color. Charles Dubin (dir.), John Forsythe, Richard Kiley, Reta Shaw, Joseph Campanella, Barbara Bain, Wendell Burton. 1:14.

A junkie vet (Burton) who’s trying to kick the stuff and go to college, a doctor (Forsythe) who’s helping out—and who’s got the hots for the wife ( Bain) of a local businessman (Kiley), and a police detective (Campanella, of course). Those are the key players—well, those and the doctor’s nurse (Shaw) and the nurse’s dog (uncredited), who howls whenever there’s been a death.

See, the wife and the doctor are seeing each other—innocently, so far, but the doctor wants to change that—and the businessman’s looked into the doctor’s past in another town, where his mother-in-law died of a heart attack and, not too much later, his wife died of a heart attack, leaving him the money to come back home and buy out his father’s medical practice. The businessman—a patient of the doctor, as are all the other characters—believes the doctor did it and tells him so, thinking he’s taken precautions to assure that the same fate doesn’t befall him.

That’s the setup. The rest involves the doctor murdering the businessman (but not by inducing a heart attack), his careful framing of the young vet, the detective being suspicious of it all being too pat…and a little stage acting that results in the doctor confessing all.

Except…well, there are two more twists in the last five minutes of the flick (which has all the characteristics of a TV movie). I won’t give them away, but will note that one of them makes an earlier scene seem entirely phony and implausible. Incidentally, the plot summary on IMDb is wrong: the wife did not plot the murder with the doctor. At least not directly…

When I write the review, I don’t know whether it’s a TV movie, but can’t explain this one any other way. Good cast, decent movie. $1.25.

Hollywood Man, 1976, color. Jack Starrett (dir.), William Smith Jennifer Billingsley, Ray Girardin, Jude Farese. 1:37 [1:24]

This seems to be a no-budget movie about making a no-budget biker movie and the perils of getting most of your absurdly inadequate financing from someone you know is out to screw you, and who can claim all of your assets if the flick doesn’t get made rapidly. (Really: the obviously-connected “financier” turns them down, hands them another guy’s card and says “If I was you, I wouldn’t call him.” Sounds like a sure winner to me! On the other hand, that was the dramatic highlight of the portion of the film I watched.)It was written by four of the “stars” with assistance from the cast and crew; it was produced by two of the “stars.” (OK, maybe William Smith really was a star at some point, famous for Grave of the Vampire and Nam’s Angels, two other flicks I’ll probably never see.) It seems to be mostly a bunch of badly-filmed stunts done by people who don’t much give a damn.

Within ten minutes, I realized that I couldn’t tell which group of mumbling lowlife asshats were the good guys and which group were the bad guys and that I didn’t care one way or the other. Within 20 minutes, I recognized that this was one of those just plain incompetent movies, not one that’s so incompetent—but with such good intentions—that it’s amusing (e.g., Plan 9 from Outer Space).

Apparently, the stupidity escalates to beatings, murders and rapes further in the movie; I didn’t encounter that (well, maybe one murder: it was hard to tell, frankly) because the movie was such crap that I didn’t get that far. Maybe it’s because I’m now officially Old (at 70): With only 25-30 years to go, life really is too short for this garbage.

I never look at IMDB reviews until I’ve written mine—but this “review,” from Ray Girardin, may say all that needs to be said about the flick:

Hi, I’m Ray Girardin. I wrote “Stoker” (which became “Hollywood Man”) along with my friend Bill Smith in 1976. We wrote it mainly so we could do a movie together, and it worked out. He played the lead, Rafe Stoker, and I played the heavy, Harvey. There were problems along the way, as there always are with low-budget films, but we enjoyed doing it. If you’ve seen it, I’d welcome your comments, pro or con.

I stopped watching about 20 minutes in, and have no plans to resume. If you’re so inclined, you can apparently watch it for free on Youtube or download it from the Internet Archive. As the first financier might say, “If you’re smart, you won’t.” $0.

Dominique, 1979, color. Michael Anderson (dir.), Cliff Robertson, Jean Simmons, Jenny Agutter, Simon Ward. 1:40 (1:35)

The wealthy (but nervous) wife of a stockbroker (who seems to need money, although they live in a mansion with several staff members) witnesses some odd incidents—she’s apparently being gaslighted by her husband. Eventually, she commits suicide—but then her husband starts having incidents that lead him to believe that her ghost has returned. An oddly substantial ghost, capable of paying for a dual headstone (with his side having “soon” as the death date), playing piano and more.

Lots of odd incidents, eventually involving the murder of the family doctor (who certified the wife as being dead) and the semi-accidental death of the husband. Both wills are read at the same time, and other than minor bequests, her money all goes to the chauffeur and his all goes to the half-sister, despite his business partner’s assurance that most would go to the business.

The reveal, such as it is, is mostly annoying, especially as it winds up badly for everybody (and leaves a number of key plot points unresolved). Perhaps the missing five minutes would have helped.

Slow-moving, plodding at times, not terrible but certainly not great. Good cast; odd that it’s in this set, although it was apparently never released in the U.S. Maybe $1.25.

Julie Darling, 1983, color. Paul Nicholas (dir & screenplay), Anthony Franciosa, Sybil Danning, Isabelle Mejias, Paul Hubbard, Cindy Girling. 1:40 [1:30\

Julie just wants to be with her father. Not so much her mother, and she finds a way to take care of that, thanks to a delivery boy who finds the mother hot enough to turn him rapist and, more or less accidentally, killer.

Ah, but the father’s been seeing somebody else, a young widow, and soon enough…well, Julie fails to kill off the widow’s son, but is determined to do in the woman who’s now her stepmother. I won’t go through the whole plot, except to note that some stepmothers ought not to be messed with (and the last thing you want to be is Julie’s girlfriend from school!).

A tawdry little movie (badly panned-and-scanned) that earns its R with nudity, both gratuitous and not quite so gratuitous, plus of course violence. The missing ten minutes might help but wouldn’t make it less tawdry. After watching this, I really feel the need for a shower—but lovers of tawdry noir might give it $0.75.

Gunslinger Classics Disc 12

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

As usual for these 12-disc fifty-movie sets, one disc has six short movies: this one. These are all oaters, B-movie programmers of an hour or less, mostly low-budget short-plot flicks. Four with John Wayne; one each with Bob Steele and Crash Corrigan.

Texas Terror, 1935, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury(dir. & screenplay), John Wayne, Lucile Browne, LeRoyMason, Ferm Emmett, George Hays. 0:51.

Wayne’s the newly-elected sheriff. The man who pretty much raised him comes by the office, shows the wad of cash he’s withdrawn from Wells Fargo to restock his ranch now that his daughter’s coming home in a few months, notes that he’d tied his horse up behind Wells Fargo, and rides off. Almost immediately thereafter, three gunmen rob Wells Fargo; in chasing them, Wayne winds up in a shootout with results that make him believe (a) that he—Wayne—shot the old man (we know it was one of the gunmen) and (b) that the old man might have been one of the bandits, since they dumped the money bag and one wad of bills on his corpse. After the town (jury?) concludes that the old man
had to have been a bandit—after all, people saw him tie up his horse behind Wells Fargo—Wayne resigns his position, turning it back over to the old sheriff (George Hayes, not in the Gabby persona). Wayne goes off, grows a beard, and becomes…well, that’s not clear.

Lots’o’plot, much of it involving the daughter, and most of it makes just as much sense as the idea that Wayne wouldn’t mention during the court hearing that the old man had told him his horse was tied up where it was. But hey, if you like lots of riding, some shooting, and a band of friendly Indians saving the day, I guess it’s OK. Generously, $0.75.

Wildfire, 1945, color. Robert Tansey (dir.), Bob Steele, Sterling Holloway, John Miljan, Eddie Dean. 0:59

An unusual entry: late (1945) and in color, but still a one-hour flick with lots of riding, lots of shooting, a couple of good fights—and a singing cowboy (actually sheriff in this case, Eddie Dean) who gets the girl. The plot, not in the order it unfolds: a gang is rustling all the horses from ranches in one valley and blaming it on Wildfire, a wild stallion—and it turns out horse theft is a sideline: the motivation is for one gang member to buy up the ranches cheap, since he already has a contract to sell them to a big ranch for a big profit. Two itinerant horse-traders with a tendency to stay on the right side of the law wind up in the middle of this and expose it.

The color’s a little faded, but the whole thing’s good enough that I’d probably give it six bits—except for one thing: however they “digitized” this, at several points it looks like a projector losing its grip on film sprockets, losing chunks of the action and disrupting continuity. With that, it goes down to $0.50.

Paradise Canyon, 1935, b&w. Carl Pierson (dir.), John Wayne, Marion Burns, Reed Howes, Earle Hodgins, Gino Corrado, Yakima Canutt. 0:53.

John Wayne again, this time as a government agent sent to investigate counterfeit traffic that may be connected to a medicine show. (One person went to jail for ten years for counterfeiting, and may be running such a show.) He finds the show—which has a habit of leaving towns suddenly, either for not paying debts or because the proprietor tends to drink his own tonic, go to town, bust things up and not pay for them (his tonic is “90% alcohol,” which is 180 proof and should make it flammable). For that matter, he helps the show evade arrest by getting them across the Arizona/New Mexico border just ahead of the law, and joins the show as a sharpshooter.

The next town is a New Mexico/Mexico border town—and turns out the medicine show’s not really involved any more: instead, the counterfeiter, who framed the medicine man, is now operating out of a saloon on the Mexican side. One thing leads to another with lots of riding, lots of shooting and some true sharpshooting, and of course both the good guys winning and John Wayne getting the girl—with a mildly cute surprise ending.

The highlight is probably the medicine man’s pitch, a truly loopy piece of speechifying, including his assurance that he once knew a man without a tooth in his head…and that man became the best bass drum player he ever knew! All it takes is determination, and Doc Carter’s Famous Indian Remedy.

Not great, not terrible. Once again we have Yakima Canutt doing something more than trick riding—he’s the villain in the piece. (Wayne does not sing; the two singing entertainers in the medicine show are…well, that’s six minutes I’ll never get back again.) I’ll give it $0.75

The Lucky Texan, 1934, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury (dir. & writer), John Wayne, Barbara Sheldon, Lloyd Whitlock, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt. 0:55.

This time, John Wayne’s Jerry Mason just out of college and returned to the ranch of old geezer Jake Benson, who more or less brought him up—and finds that the ranch’s cattle have all been rustled, but Benson’s opening up a blacksmith shop in town. Wayne immediately starts working there, and an early customer’s horse had picked up a stone—a stone that, when Wayne looks at it, seems to have gold in it. (It must have been a thriving smithy, since the geezer refuses payment for dealing with the horse’s problem…) Oh, and Benson’s pretty young granddaughter’s about to finish college (thanks in part to the geezer’s monthly checks) and returning soon.

One thing leads to another, and we have Wayne and Benson (not a TV series, but it could be) getting really good pure gold out of the site where they figured the horse had been; when they go to sell it, the assayer pays them…and then notes to his sidekick that he now “owned” most of Benson’s cattle.

More plot; the villains trick the geezer into signing a deed to the ranch; the sheriff’s son shoots the banker in a holdup just after Benson pays off the loan for the blacksmith shop (and Benson seems like a likely culprit until John Wayne Saves the Day)…and more. As always, it all works out in the end, which involves the usual Wayne-and-the-girl wedding. No singing; lots of fist fights (with no phony sounds—lots of grunting, but not much more); oddly enough, although two men are shot (and two others are shot at), there’s not a single death in the movie. There is, on the other hand, Wayne surfing down a sluice riding on a tree branch—and a chase scene involving Hayes semi-driving a car (he’d never driven before) and the villains on a powered railway car, in an almost slapsticky sequence. (That long chase is also the only time in an old Western I’ve ever seen The Hero, Wayne in this case, jump from his horse to tackle the villain on his horse…and miss, tumbling down a hill.)

George Hayes gets to show his dramatic abilities pretending to be his sister (you’d have to see it—he’d played the lead in Charley’s Aunt many years before, and does a good job in drag), and although he now has Gabby Hayes’ intonation and look, he’s not playing the fool by any means, and not even the sidekick—after all, it’s his ranch and his blacksmith shop. Another one with Yakimah Canutt doing more than stunt riding (although he did plenty of that—apparently chasing himself at one point), once again playing a bad guy (something he was very good at). (I would note that many of the reviews at IMDB call George Hayes “Gabby” or “Gaby” Hayes—but he didn’t become Gabby Hayes until later on in his career.)

Maybe I’m getting soft as I near the end of this marathon, but this one seemed pretty good; I’ll give it $1.

Riders of the Whistling Skull, 1937, b&w. Mack V. Wright (dir.), Robert Livingston, Ray Corrigan, Max Terhune, Mary Russell, Roger Williams, Yakima Canutt, Fern Emmett, Chief Thundercloud. 0:58 [0:53]

A few archaeologists and a trio of cowboys known as The Three Mesquiteers are out to plunder a lost Indian city, or as they put it, rediscover it and recover all the golden treasure. A bunch of Native Americans don’t like this idea, and attempt to discourage them. One half-Native American, who passes himself off as one of the party, had previously kidnapped the father of the beautiful young (female) anthropologist and has been torturing him to reveal the location of the treasure.

Of course, this being a B Western from the 1930s, the plunderers are the heros and it’s a great thing that they manage to shoot at least half a dozen Native Americans and bury more of them under a wildly implausible collapse of half a mountain. Naturally, it all ends “well,” with the most handsome of the Mesquiteers getting the girl and an older and plainer woman (another sort-of archaeologist) getting the less handsome of the Mesquiteers. (In this one, Yakima Canutt plays the American Indian guide who’s in cahoots with the half-Native American.)

Reasonably well staged and with continuous action, but it’s also blatantly offensive. If you can ignore that, maybe $0.75.

Randy Rides Alone, 1934, b&w. Harry L. Fraser (dir.), John Wayne, Alberta Vaughn, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt, Earl Dwire. 0:53.

This cowboy riding along tops a ridge and spots the roof of a building—a halfway house saloon. He hears the honky-tonk piano and goes in…only to discover that everybody’s dead and the piano is a player piano. As he looks over the situation, including an open safe, the sheriff and his posse show up…and, naturally enough, arrest the cowboy. But we saw eyes moving in a painting on the wall…and after they’ve gone, a young woman steps out and inspects the scene.

Thus begins a story involving a hearing mute who runs a local store, the young woman breaking the cowboy out of jail so he can find the real killers, a gang hideaway for a gang run by…oh, let’s not give it all away. Lots of riding, a fistfight or two, some shooting, and of course all ends well. This time, George Hayes (not at all in the “Gabby” persona) plays the lead villain (and the—spoiler—mute shopkeeper) and Yakima Canutt plays the chief henchman.

The flick seems padded at 53 minutes, and Wayne is notable mostly for his young good looks. Generously, $0.75.

Mystery Collection Disc 45

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

The Manipulator, 1971, color. Yabo Yablonsky (dir & screenplay), Mickey Rooney, Luana Anders, Keenan Wynn. 1:25 [1:31]

No. No no no. It’s been almost six months since I watched one of these, and more like this could make me give up entirely. The plot, to the extent that I saw it: Mickey Rooney as a crazed old Hollywood person who carries all parts of a movie-making set of conversations as he bumps into thinks in an old prop warehouse…but he’s got an actress tied up as well (kidnapped and being slowly starved), and I guess that their interactions are the heart of the movie. But after 20 minutes, I just couldn’t—and wish I’d given up after ten.

I didn’t see Keenan Wynn during the chunk I watched. Looking at the IMDB reviews, I see one that values it as an experimental film and, well, I guess you can make the worst shit look like roses if you try hard enough. Another praises it for Rooney’s “extraordinarily uninhibited performance,” but several say things like “endurance test for the viewer” and “nearly unwatchable.” I’m with them: not only no redeeming value, but really nasty. No rating.

Death in the Shadows (orig. De prooi), 1985, color. Vivian Peters (dir.), Maayke Bouten, Erik de Vries, Johan Leysen, Marlous Fluitsma. 1:37.

This one’s pretty good—with plenty of mystery, although the metamystery’s easy enough to resolve. (The metamystery: why is a 1985 color film available in a Mill Creek Entertainment set? The answer: it’s from the Netherlands, has no stars known in America, and wouldn’t have done well as a U.S. release.)

In brief: an almost-18-year-old young woman finds that her mother was killed—and that her mother didn’t have any children. The young woman now lives alone (and her boyfriend/lover is leaving for a big vacation as it’s the end of the school year), and—sometimes working with a police detective, sometimes ignoring his advice—wants to know what happened. In the process, she almost gets run down (which is what happened to her mother), her mother’s brother gets murdered, and she avoids death. We find out what happened.

Moody, frequently dark, fairly well done. Maayke Bouten is quite effective as the young woman, Valerie Jaspers. but this is apparently her only actual film credit (she was 21 at the time, so 18 isn’t much of a stretch: she also did one TV movie and appeared as herself on a TV show). Not fast-moving and no flashy special effects, but a pretty good film. $1.50.

Born to Win, 1971, color. Ivan Passer (dir.), George Segal, Paula Prentiss, Karen BlackJay Fletcher, Hector Elizondo, Robert De Niro. 1:28 [1:24]

The disc sleeve identifies Robert De Niro as the star here, but this is very much a George Segal flick, with Karen Black and others—although De Niro’s in it (for some reason feeling to me like Billy Crystal playing Robert De Niro). The movie’s about a junkie (Segal) and…well, it’s about an hour and 24 minutes long.

Beyond that: poor editing, worse scriptwriting, continuity that deserves a “dis” in front of it. I got a hint in the first five minutes that this was going to have what you might call an “experimental” narrative arc, and so it was. Pretty dreary, all in all. Yes, it’s a low-budget indie with a great cast, but… (I will say: most IMDB reviews seem very positive. Good for them.) Charitably, for George Segal or Karen Black fans, maybe $0.75.

A Killing Affair, 1986, color. David Saperstein (dir.), Peter Weller, Kathy Baker, John Glover. 1:40.

A juicy chunk of Southern Gothic—set in West Virginia in 1943, starring Kathy Baker as the wife (or, really, property of a mill foreman who’s ripping off the employees, openly sleeping with other women, and generally a piece of work. A stranger comes to…well, not so much town as the house across the lake from town where Baker lives (with her children on weekends—during the week, they stay in town with her brother, the preacher who clearly believes that women are to Obey their husbands).

Ah, but shortly before the stranger (Peter Weller) shows up, she discovers that her rotten husband is now hanging in the shed, very much dead. She makes some efforts to get help but isn’t quite willing to walk two miles to town (the boat’s gone), so… Anyway, the stranger shows up and Plot happens. Part of it: he admits to killing her husband, but claims her husband killed his wife and children and was about to shoot him. And there are all sorts of family secrets involved in her past. A pack of wild dogs also plays a role throughout the flick, especially in the climax.

Languid most of the time, with an unsurprising ending. Not terrible, not great; Weller’s a pretty convincing mentally unstable (but smooth!) killer, and Baker’s pretty much always good, and certainly is here. (How does a movie this recent and plausibly good wind up in a cheap collection? I have no idea.) I’ll give it $1.25.

Sometimes there is a little progress

Monday, September 21st, 2015

Sometimes. Shonda Rhimes (who must be the most powerful black woman in TV today, I’d guess) puts together shows that always feature strong women who aren’t just appendages of men, and sometimes they’re black–so that Viola Davis was able to win an Emmy. As she said, it’s tough to win an Emmy for parts that don’t exist.

So that’s progress, a little of it.

And in language: if I was writing about either of these people at length, I’d probably use Ms. Rhimes and Ms. Davis, because I neither know their marital status nor believe that’s a defining characteristic for a woman.

Which is, I think, progress, given that I’ve been reading portions of a William Safire language-column collection from 1986, including a discursion on the use of Ms. (Safire was in favor), including this gem:

Most of the mail ran the other way. “A woman who wants to be addressed as ‘Ms.,'” wrote Mrs. Havens Grant of Greenwich, Connecticut, “is either ashamed of not being married or ashamed of being married.”

And at the time, that supposed newspaper of record in New York City would not allow Ms. (have they finally stopped that nonsense?). And, sure enough, the longest response to Safire’s follow-up column attack Ms. as feminism run amok.

I’d like to think that people like Mrs. Grant (I assume her husband’s first name is or was Havens, since The Traditional And Proper Means of Naming Woman makes it clear that they’re essentially property by not even retaining their first names) have come around to the belief that a woman is something more than her marital status. I could be wrong.

Hey, I’m an optimist (my wife, Ms. Driver, sometimes has stronger terms); I’ll take progress where I can find it. Even if it is slow.

By the way: if you’re one of those who still believes it is Right and Proper for a woman to be either Miss or Mrs.: Show me the commonly-used male equivalents. If you can’t, well…

Gunslinger Classics Disc 11

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

OK, so it’s been a while since my last old movie post. In fact, when I went to add the fourth movie to this part of the six-disc Word document, I noticed that the last time the document had been edited was May 10, 2015—so it’s been, lessee, four months and two days since I’ve watched an old movie. You can blame open access journals for that, I suppose: I found the research process more interesting than the old movies. (Then it took me a little while to figure out what Word 2013 did with the post-to-blog process. Still there, but now it’s a template rather than a separate File tab.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

The Man from Utah, 1934, b&w. Robert Bradbury (dir.), John Wayne, Polly Ann Young, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt, George Cleveland. 0:52.

This flick—which embeds maybe 15 minutes of plot into a 51-minute movie largely through lots of rodeo “action” and really embarrassing “Indians from thousands of reservations in full regalia” stuff—begins by giving us young John Wayne as a singing cowboy. That’s truly odd: it sounds like somebody else strumming a ukulele and singing, after which Wayne is holding a guitar up in one hand as if to say “what the heck am I doing holding a guitar while I’m riding?”

That’s it for the singing cowboy, and probably a good thing. Otherwise, Wayne’s a broke drifter who, in short order, prevents a bank robbery in the town he’s just ridden into (where a pre-“Gabby” George Hayes is a U.S. Marshal looking out for a rodeo gang), rows a boat to get to the rodeo, gets involved with the gang, double-crosses them, figures out their methods, wins the rodeo, prevents another bank holdup…and, of course, gets the girl. (One IMDB review says there’s no gunplay. The reviewer must have seen a different picture.)

As B programmers go, this is pretty mediocre. If you love rodeo action and some trick riding (thanks to Yakimah Canutt, I imagine), you might find it OK. And for that, I’ll give it, charitably, $0.50.

Utah, 1945, b&w. John English (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, Gabby Hayes, Dale Evans, Peggy Stewart. 1:17 [0:53[

I’m a sucker for Roy Rogers movies—I think he’s the best singer and actor of the singing cowboys, and Trigger is, well, Trigger. Dale Evans doesn’t hurt. But I was less enchanted by this flick than I expected to be, maybe because it’s either too clever for its own good or too dumb.

The basic plot: Dale Evans is a lead showgirl in Chicago and, along with her friends, trying to deal with a promising new musical that’s run out of funds—so she decides to go to Utah to sell the ranch her grandfather willed to her, which she’s never seen. She wires ahead to Roy Rogers, foreman at the Bar X, who conspires with Gabby (who owns a wretched little farm next to the fine Bar X) to figure out how to keep her from selling, which would presumably result in sheep taking over the cattle range. His method (after some byplay involving an attempt to shoot Rogers and some trick riding) is to pretend that Gabby’s ranch is really the Bar X, so she’ll figure it’s not worth selling…but it backfires, because the crooks who wanted to pay her $20-$25,000 so they can sell the Bar X for $100,000, convince her to sell what she believes to be the Bar X for $5,000 (with a worthless $1,000 check as a downpayment).

There’s more, and it all ends well, with the musical now called Utah! and starring…well, you can guess. Except that, along the way, Rogers’ attempt to be clever set up a situation where everybody was worse off, and he does a jailbreak as part of his attempt to sour the deal. One IMDB review says Rogers acted like “a bit of a jerk” in this flick, and that’s about right: the plot’s mostly about his trying to undo the harm he caused in the first place. For that matter, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes is considerably more misogynistic than usual, and it gets a little wearing. As usual, Rogers uses fists rather than guns, always looks great, and sings up a storm—but it was more than a little disappointing. Chances are, cutting it down from a feature-length 1:17 to a second-feature-length 0:53 didn’t help—24 minutes is a lot to lose. Still, probably worth $0.50.

Lights of Old Santa Fe, 1944, b&w. Frank McDonald (dir.), Roy Rogers, Trigger, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Dale Evans, Lloyd Corrigan. 1:18 [0:56]

Easy complaint: This movie doesn’t belong in a “Gunslingers” set—which is true for some of the others as well, but even more so here. One gun gets drawn briefly at one point, but it’s just as quickly taken out of action—and what this is, basically, is a musical. There’s a ballet number and another dance number, there’s a number by the Sons of the Pioneers without Roy Rogers, Dale Evans does a song or two (and at least two with Rogers), and Gabby Hayes shows that he can sing straight if he so chooses.

The plot? There’s not much of it. Evans is the owner of a struggling rodeo (with Gabby as the manager), inherited from her father, just out of college, being courted by a rival rodeo owner. Rogers and the Sons are first signed by the rival, then let go—apparently because they want to be riders, not just singers—and try to Save the Day for Evans’ rodeo. But one of the rival’s hands sabotages them on the way to Albuquerque, setting horses loose, setting one wagon on fire thus panicking the other horses and destroying other wagons. Rogers tries to trick Evans into believing the rodeo actually happened, using a radio broadcast, but the trick is discovered shortly thereafter. Evans is about to sign over her rodeo and herself (as a bride) to the rival when…ah, but of course it all works out in the end. Hmm: Turns out the original was 22 minutes longer, a full-length feature, with—probably—more plot and even more music.

In any case, lots of good music, Dale Evans, Roy Rogers, Trigger, Gabby Hayes. Seen for what it is, it’s an entertaining not-quite hour. If you’re looking for a shoot-em-up or a traditional western, you’ll hate this; if you like Rogers, Evans, Trigger and cowboy music, you’ll like it just fine. $1.00.

The Star Packer, 1934, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury (dir. & screenplay), John Wayne, Verna Hillie, George Hayes, Yakima Canutt. 0:53.

Another “B” programmer with lots of horse riding and, this time, lots of shooting as the town’s cattlemen take on the surprisingly large gang, but it’s not all that good a movie. It’s interesting on at least two counts: George Hayes is most definitely not “Gabby” in this flick, as he’s the serious upstanding Matt Mattlock (who’s also, to be sure, “The Shadow” and gangleader)—and Yakima Canutt, certainly the greatest stuntman in the first few decades of moviemaking (with 253 screen credits!) actually plays a character, not just doubling for stunt riding. The character’s named “Yak” and is a Native American—which Canutt wasn’t—and he’s John Wayne’s sidekick.

The basic plot: A gang is raiding all the cattle and stagecoaches in this town, and three sheriffs have been shot down in the main street mysteriously; “The Shadow” is in charge. Wayne and Yak show up and, in short order, solve the mystery, save the girl (she shows up as half-owner of Mattlock’s ranch—well, he’s not really Mattlock either—and shows spunk, and of course winds up married to Wayne), and save the town. Eh. Some fancy horse riding. Not a lot else. Maybe $0.75

Mystery Classics Disc 44

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

What? You thought I’d given up old movies? Not entirely—but the Open Access Landscape project has been interesting enough to use up most of the Wednesday afternoons I’d otherwise spend on movies.

Power, Passion and Murder, 1983, color (TV—see below). Michelle Pfeiffer, Darren McGavin, Stella Stevens and a whole bunch of other people. 1:28.

The good parts: interesting cast members, and I believe they get the look and feel of ’30s Hollywood down pretty well…although that was even before my time.

The bad parts: Where to begin? The plot—or, rather, the two plots that seem to come and go with no real interaction—seems contrived and more vignette than anything else. One plot boils down to: studio head has a bad evening. The other boils down to: single actress seduces married man, leading rapidly to disaster. In neither case is there enough development (character or otherwise) for me to feel anything about it. The picture varies from soft and damaged to mediocre. The sound is far worse—with volume levels and distortion varying so widely that I probably missed a significant chunk of the dialogue.

Cast or no cast, this is a mess. Trying to find it in IMDB makes things even messier: it is, apparently, two separate episodes of PBS’ Great Performances mashed together into a single, well, mash. Or is it two episodes of something else? If I try to reconstruct it, there’s “Tales from the Hollywood Hills: Natica Jackson” from 1987 (or was it 1983?), with Pfeiffer and a bunch of other people—but I don’t remember seeing most of the people in the cast listing actually in the segments starring Pfeiffer. There’s also “A Table at Ciro’s” with McGavin, Stevens and others—I guess from 1983. Apparently the mess is supposed to be 16 minutes longer. It would still be a mess. Charitably, $0.50.

Midnight Cop (orig. Killing Blue), 1988, color. Peter Patzak (dir.), Armin Mueller-Stahl, Morgan Fairchild, Frank Stallone, Julia Kent, Michael York. 1:36.

This nourish cop flick set in Berlin is a little strange at times (the police station seems to be going through some extreme renovations that involve lots of broken toilets), but it’s also surprisingly effective and tags an ending onto the main plot that’s a nice, satisfying twist.

Basically, a police inspector is having trouble sleeping, lost his wife and daughter, and is pretty much messed up because he accidentally shot a young girl while trying to arrest a major criminal (who got away); he frequently takes gifts to the place where the now-crippled girl is recovering but (until late in the film) isn’t prepared to meet her. Meanwhile, he has a new assistant—and is dealing with a DA (who’s a friend) as well. The colleague’s daughter’s friend is murdered in an odd manner; they both become involved; a drug dealer seems to be the obvious suspect; a prostitute also becomes involved with the inspector and in the plot; and all is not quite what it seems.

I liked it. Morgan Fairchild makes a great prostitute; Michael York is very effective in a complicated role; Armin Mueller-Stahl, the inspector, is first-rate; the whole cast is good. Pretty good print, no real problems. I’ll give it $1.50.

The Stoolie, 1972, color. John G. Avidsen & George Silano (dirs.), Jackie Mason, Dan Frazer, Marcia Jean Kurtz. 1:30 [1:28]

This feels like a Jackie Mason vanity project (he’s the star and the executive producer) to show his chops as a dramatic actor. If so, I’d rate it a D: he certainly maintains a cheap-grifter persona throughout, but that’s about it. He plays, well, a bozo, a low-rent criminal (who’s such a loser that his “partners” in crime screw him out of his share as a matter of course) who’s also a stoolie for one police detective in Weehawken. He ups his game enough to convince the detective to give him $7,500 in police money to set up a string (or something)—and takes off for Miami with the money.

There, after demonstrating to various & sundry what a bozo he is, he meets up with a young woman who’s as down on life as he seems to be, and shazam, they’re in love and engaged…but the detective nearing retirement, who faces being thrown off the force for throwing away $7,500, has tracked him down. The rest of the movie is attempts by the cop and the grifter, with the girl along for the ride, to raise the $7,500 (he’d already spent all but a few hundred)—which the cop finally manages to do, turning thoroughly bad in the process. He drives off with his money (upped to $10,000) and two bags of heroin taped to the car, one of which is leaking. The couple are left in Miami, where their future…well, it’s a low-rent movie. A dispiriting movie at that. Charitably, $0.75.

Cross Mission (orig. Fuoco incrociato), 1988, color. Alfonso Brescia (dir.), Richard Randall, Brigitte Porsche (as “Porsh”), Peter Hintz, Maurice Poli. 1:31.

The plot: a military dictator has run a Latin American country for two decades. He oversees an operation to burn down one cocaine/marijuana plantation at the UN’s behest—so that he can run three other, larger plantations with better camouflage without interference. Oh, and there are rebels, which his spokesman denies. Also, the dictator has certain magical powers that involve a little person.

There’s an American woman, a photographer/journalist, and an American man, apparently a buddy of the dictator. Of course they wind up in bed. Of course the man turns rebel. Most of the movie is shooting and explosions. About the only surprise (spoiler alert): the woman winds up dead.

Truly trashy. If you’re a big fan of gunfire and explosions in the Spaghetti Western mode (the flick’s Italian), maybe $0.50.

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics Disc 10

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

We’re back to b&w and the hour-long B-movie “programmers.” Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to be sure.

The Lawless Frontier, 1934, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury (dir. & story), John Wayne, Sheila Terry, Jack Rockwell, George “Gabby” Hayes, Yakima Canutt, Earl Dwire. 0:59 [0:49]

The sleeve makes more of this plot than I think it deserves—but maybe that’s the missing ten minutes (out of an original 59 minutes!). What I got from the plot was horse riding, more horse riding, an occasional shot being fired, an idiot sheriff, even more horse riding, Gabby Hayes apparently can’t be killed with a knive in his back and bullet upside the head, more horse riding, really? a sheriff stupid enough to think that cuffing the outside of huge cowboy boots to a bed is somehow going to keep an outlaw trapped?, even more horse riding, and of course the woman in the cast winds up married to John Wayne, who’s the new and less stupid sheriff.

Even Yakima Canutt’s stunt riding’s not that great. Mostly for John Wayne completists. Charitably, $0.50.

Rim of the Canyon, 1949, b&w. John English (dir.), Gene Autry, Champion, Nan Leslie, Thurston Hall, Clem Bevans, Walter Sande, Alan Hale Jr. 1:10

This is more like it—even if there isn’t much real gunslinging (a fair amount of shooting, basically none of it precision or stunting). It’s a real movie with an actual plot, and long enough that it could be considered a feature rather than a programmer. Gene Autry—and this one’s late enough that it’s “A Gene Autry Production”—may not be the #1 singing cowboy and wonder-horse, but he’s a strong #2. And, of course, the character he almost always plays is named Gene Autry of the Flying A Ranch and his horse Champion.

The plot (yes, there is a plot): three prisoners have escaped, notably including one who staged a holdup netting $30,000 in silver (a lot of money at the time) and was caught and put away by Autrey’s father, the sheriff at the time. The escapee wants revenge, but also wants his $30,000, and the other two escapees are there to help out. Autrey just wants to win a stagecoach race as part of the town annual festivities (and with winning, a local hot number will go to the dance to follow), but a competitor has removed one wheel’s nut, so he craches; the competitor laughs at his request to take him back into town—and he limps (he twisted his ankle) two miles to a ghost town, formerly owned by the miner whose $30,000 was stolen. There, he meets up with the local teacher (female and a whole lot more interesting than the town floozie) who goes out there every couple of weeks and swears she’s heard the miner speak to her.

Meanwhile, the thugs have lost one horse and decided to steal Champion as a replacement—forcing him into a nasty-looking metal bit that he really, truly does not like.

That’s just the beginning. In the end, all is well (but no phony “and the hero marries the girl” ending), and along the way, it’s a solid picture. As usual, The Hero prefers fistfights to actual gunplay—and it’s Champion who deals the fatal blow to the chief villain. Along the way, we get to see Gene as his dad in a flashback. Only two songs, which is OK. Even though it’s 1:10, I’ll rate it as a B flick—whilch means $1 in this case.

Man from Music Mountain, 1938, b&w. Joe Kane (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Carol Hughes, Sally Payne, Ivan Miller, Ed Cassidy. 1:00 [sleeve; 0:58 IMDB, 0.53 actual on the disc]

Perhaps a more typical Autry flick, with his cowhands all being singers and his sidekick being Smiley “Froggy” Burnette. Lots of songs, an interesting instrumental number with some surprising instruments, a couple of Burnette-written comedy songs—and enough plot to keep it moving. It’s an odd one, though: it starts with con men buying up an old ghost town and abandoned gold mine and selling lots (and shares) on the basis that the recent opening of Boulder Dam means electricity and water coming soon, and with hydraulic mining they can work the mine. It’s a con—and Autry, on his way back from a cattle run, spots it—but it takes in lots of people, including Froggy.

Where things get strange is that, between Autry’s counter-con (he salts the mine to con the con men into buying back the mining shares) and shootouts…well, he winds up making the con men’s case: The town winds up with electricity and a worthwhile mine. If he’d been in cahoots with the con men, he could scarcely have done a better job (but they probably wouldn’t have wound up arrested for killing one of his hands, a crime he doesn’t seem to take as any big deal). It’s missing five or minutes and possibly some plot development.

Do note that this is the 1938 Gene Autry flick, not the 1943 Roy Rogers flick with the same title prefaced with “The.” The sleeve description of the plot is just plain wrong—and the sleeve has the “The” from the 1943 flick. Anyway, it’s OK but nothing special. I’ll give it $0.75.

Public Cowboy #1, 1937, b&w. Joe Kane (dir.), Gene Autry, Smiley “Froggy” Burnette, Ann Rutherford, William Farnum, Arthur Loft, James C. Morton. 1:01 [0:53]

Another Gene Autry one-hour B-movie songfest with seven minutes missing—but this time, instead of being Gene Autry of the Flying “A” Ranch in some unstated location, he’s Gene Autry, a deputy sheriff in Grand Junction, Wyoming (ol’ Froggy’s the other deputy). And the aging sheriff and deputies have a real problem: a band of rustlers using airplanes and shortwave radio is ruining the local cattlemen. The rustlers have an interesting MO: the plane spots a herd on the move with relatively few cattlemen; they radio the main group telling them where to go; the main group—a truck full of horses, a couple of cars full of bad guys and a couple of big refrigerated trucks—kill off the horsemen, round up the herd into a makeshift corral, slaughter and skin them on the spot and load the carcasses into the trucks—adding the butcher’s signs later on.

There’s not much three guys with horses can do against this big high-tech gang, even if one of the horses is Champion. The townsfolk demand that the sheriff resign (egged on by the new editor of the local paper, that editor being—of course—young and pretty, since this is a singing cowboy movie). They bring in a hotshot detective agency to replace the sheriff and his deputies. There’s some entertainment (I find that I really don’t care for most of Autry’s written-for-the-movies songs, at least at this early stage, and the Burnette number is flat-out racist), and the deputies manage to spring a trap, showing up the modern detectives. It’s all a lot implausible, but not bad as B-movie entertainment. I’ll give it $0.75.

Suspension of disbelief and the Earth problem

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Warning: This is a silly post. If you’re looking for significance, go elsewhere.

We’ve been watching Stargate: Atlantis (on DVD, from DVD Netflix–you know, the one that doesn’t have shows disappearing all the time because movie companies can’t tell it what it can and can’t circulate), roughly one episode a week, since we went through Stargate: SG-1 some time back.

On one episode we saw recently, we ran into a suspension problem: Namely, even given the grotesque level of suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy Atlantis, we found it difficult to believe this episode. (Hey, we enjoy Scorpion: we can suspend disbelief with the best of them.)

Here’s the situation:

The wormhole/scanning/whatever handwave required for Star Trek‘s transporter and, on a much more galactic scale, the Stargate is a classic handwave: you learn to accept it. (Einstein-Rosen? OK.) And one aspect you learn to accept is that it’s purely a transport mechanism: you can’t duplicate objects in the process because Science.

The episode in question involved a wraith Dart, the ships the wraiths use to harvest their victims by transporting them up to the ships and, later, draining the life force from them (because Evil). The Dart had crash landed or something, and the chief scientist could–of course–get it working again. And, under duress, the good guys were going to fly it up to a much bigger wraith ship and plant a bomb on the ship (and get somebody out or something–I’ve forgotten the extra bit).

But then, when you see the Dart, it’s tiny–with basically enough interior space for the pilot. Which raises the question: where do all those harvested folks go? Or, in this case, where will the other folks on this mission go while they’re rocketing off to the big wraith ship?

Turns out they’re stored as patterns in the Dart, until they’re regenerated later. Now, remember, this method is used to provide food for the wraiths (only human essences are nutritious for them).

And, at that point, I said “Bullshit.” Because, if you’re storing patterns, there is no way you can’t recreate multiple copies of those patterns. Which means there’s no way the wraith can’t simply generate as many cloned humans, thus food, as they want.

I know, I know: the whole transporter/stargate/beaming method is ludicrous anyway. But at least–with the possible exception of one or two Star Trek episodes I’ve half-forgotten–at least it’s consistently ludicrous. You can’t use the transporter/stargate to clean up illness or the like, you can’t make copies, it’s always A goes in and is destroyed, while A comes out somewhere else, just exactly the same, immediately. If A can be stored in some little box, well, bullshit.

My wife had exactly the same reaction. Sure, it’s a silly point–“how much nonsense is too much nonsense?”–but there it is.

The Earth Problem

This one applies to both Stargates. It stems from the assumption that every group Our Heroes encounter on every planet is human or closely related to humans and speaks English–because, you know, they all spring from ancient Egyptians who conquered the stars. And, of course, spoke English.

Given that, it strikes me that, whenever Our Heroes come out of a stargate or Chappa’ai and ask the locals what planet they’re on, they’re going to get the same answer: Earth.

Because, realistically, we all live on earth, thus Earth. If you asked true natives in any land area where they were, they would presumably respond with some language’s version of “here” or “where we live” or “Ourland.” And, presumably, on alien planets the planet would be called by that language’s equivalent of “here”–that is, Earth.

Which could get confusing. Fortunately, Our Heroes rarely ask that question, and they refer to planets as a set of coordinates or magic numbers for dialing the Chappa’ai.

I know, I know: it’s TVSciFantasy. Don’t expect much. Certainly don’t expect the fairly rigorous internal consistency of, say, Buffy. It’s just good cheap fun. Which is OK by us. (Yes, someday I’ll rent one disc from season 1 of ST:TOS, on Blu-ray, just to see just how cheesy those sets and SFX actually look in high-def on a big screen. One episode should do the job.)

Really clever folks will have figured out what this post is. I just finished–sort of–the first draft of one major project. I’m not quite ready to start the next essay/project. This is what you call procrastination.

Mystery Collection Disc 43

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Bail Out (orig. W.B., Blue and the Bean), 1989, color, “video,” Max Kleven (dir. & writer), David Hasselhoff (star and producer), Linda Blair, Tony Brubaker, Thomas Rosales Jr., John Vernon, Gregory Scott Cummins, Wayne Montario. 1:27.

We start with a thoroughly misanthropic bail bondsman, who drives his classic car to his mistress’s (I guess), has a quickie, then drives to work in a serious beater. Shortly we’re introduced to the three guys he relies on—for as little money as possible—to make sure bailed folks show up. One’s David Hasselhoff (W.B., which stands for Whitebread) back story unknown; one’s a former pro football player; one’s Hispanic with no apparent means of support. After seeing how clever they are individually, we see them in action together.

The person in question is a beautiful young heiress arrested because she was driving with her boyfriend in a car with 40 pounds of cocaine in the trunk. She says he was just some guy she met at a bar. She’s also supposedly disinherited. Anyway, the plot starts there, goes through several kidnappings, a number of drug lords, a demand for $5 million, the street price of the seized drugs, to her father (whose companies were pretty clearly being used to transport and store the cocaine), lots of shootings, and…well, it’s silly to try to keep up with the action. Let’s just say they—very definitely “they” (the trio and the young woman) conspire to get a better payday than the bail bondsman had in mind.

As a cable TV movie (my assumption: too cheaply done for a real movie, too much nudity—including the manager of a hot-sheet motel who greets renters in the altogether—for network TV: turns out I was wrong, it was a “direct to VHS” job), it’s—well, it’s Hasselhoff. It’s amusing (if you discount all the shootings, but they all seem to be bad guys, although in this case it’s hard to tell who the good guys would be). It is a long way from classic cinema. Oh, and it includes the assumption by various Hispanics that nobody in LA can understand Spanish. The quartet (the daughter and the three operatives) make an amusing group. What more can I say? Charitably, taking it as a so-bad-it’s-good action comedy, $1.25.

The Night They Took Miss Beautiful, 1977, color, TV movie. Robert Michael Lewis (dir.), Gary Collins, Chuck Connors, Henry Gibson, Victoria Principal, Gregory Sierra, Phil Silvers, Sheree North, Stella Stevens. 1:40 [1:37]

See, this is what happens when you take a three-month break from watching old movies. As I was thinking about doing this writeup, I thought “I could be really silly and suggest that this mediocre TV-movie was in the Mystery Collection, not some collection selling the presence of Name actors.” Ah, but here it is: in the Mystery Collection. (It was pretty clear it was a TV movie before going to IMDB.)

The biggest mystery is why the collection of mostly-TV stars you can see in the summary took part in this exercise in poor low-budget “drama.” I guess money is the answer.

The plot, such as it is. We start in the Miss Beautiful beauty pageant, where emcee Phil Silvers tells bad jokes, introduces the five semifinalists who will be flown via seaplane to the site of the final contest (huh?), and does the worst job of singing a bad beauty pageant closing song I’ve ever endured. Then we get the incredibly old prop-job seaplane, with two “cleaners” being left at the plane by ground personnel who take them at their word that they’ll walk back to the Miami tower. Then the contestants and emcee and a couple of other people—including one pilot who’s “dead-heading it” on a charter flight to pick up his next flight—are in the plane, it takes off, and the cleaners hijack it.

They’re a little but incredibly crazed group who just want $5 million and a ride to Nicaragua, and so far they’ve only killed one copilot. What they get, though, thanks to Feds who take over from the airport’s security, is an attempt to wipe them completely off the face of the earth—contestants and other hostages included—because (ahem) the government was using a cheapo charter flight and one of the contestants to smuggle a cigar case (one cigar tube) full of incredibly deadly virus that would kill all of Florida if it escaped to a “friendly nation” that works on antidotes to such viruses. (OK, that’s a spoiler, but it comes out very early in the movie and you can’t really spoil a flick like this.) Anyway, first attempt to bomb them all to oblivion fails because the radio messages aren’t coming from the hideout (an abandoned base in the Florida Keys, I think) but from a boat…and the job of blasting them so thoroughly that the virus is completely destroyed is done so well that the government folks can and do rescue the hijacker who was in the boat, and who of course tells them where the hostages actually are.

Oh, never mind. We get forced beauty pageantry. We get various stupidity. We finally get a touch of heroism by flying a seaplane straight into the sea. And I say “there’s 97 minutes I’ll never get back.”

Awful awful awful. A waste of good talent. I could commend the scenery, but they managed to shoot it so cheaply that you don’t see much. If only for the talent, I’ll give it $0.50.

Mysteries, 1978, color. Paul de Lussanet (dir.), Rutger Hauer, Sylvia Kristel, David Rappaport, Rita Tushingham, Marina de Graaf. 1:28.

A stranger comes to town…

That’s one of the classic beginnings for any plot, and I’m tempted to summarize this flick with the line above followed by:

…the stranger dies.

That’s a little cryptic, but so is this movie. Technically, it’s not quite the end of the plot, as the little person (“the midget,” David Rappaport) who narrates much of it winds up defacing one of the two (or three) women who (apparently) drove the stranger to his end (somehow). The stranger is an agronomist: that much is clear, and it’s the only clear thing about him.

For what it’s worth, this is an (apparently faithful?) adaptation of a novel by the same name by Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun. So there’s that. It’s filmed entirely on the Isle of Man.

Sorry, but I really can’t summarize this one. Either the print is flawed or the color is deliberately somewhat artistic and sometimes oversaturated. It’s moody, it’s odd, it’s…well, it was good enough to keep me watching through the whole thing, so even though I end up no wiser or more satisfied than when I began, I’ll give it $1.00.

Corrupt (orig. l’assassino dei poliziotti, also Copkiller or Order of Death). 1983 (sleeve says 1977, IMDB says filmed in 1981), color. Roberto Faenza (dir.), Harvey Keitel, John Lydon, Leonard Mann, Nicole Garcia, Sylvia Sidney. Ennio Morricone (composer). 1:57 (1:33).

I see that the last post on a disc’s worth of movies was in June 2014—and here it is January 2015. That’s the power of OA investigation: I’ve only watched four movies in seven months instead of the usual one a week.

Or, actually, make that 3.3 movies—because I was unwilling to waste another hour on this piece of crap after struggling through the first half hour of perhaps the worst Morricone score I can ever image hearing (“highlighted” by an awful repeated “country” song set to a classic Tchaikovsky melody) and a plot that—if I could make sense of it—was just terrible people doing terrible things, partly while wearing badges.

I guess it’s about a series of cop killings in New York, with the cops all on the drug squad (I guess?), with a detective who has two apartments and an apparent second identity (but with no attempt at disguise—the sleeve says he’s leading a double life as a drug dealer, but that doesn’t show up in the first half hour), and with a young lunatic (Lydon of the Sex Pistols, in apparently—and deservedly—his only acting role) with an extreme British accent who claims to be American and says he’s the killer, which he apparently isn’t. Or is. I dunno. Perhaps all is revealed later in the movie. He gets locked up and tortured by this detective (Keitel).

And, well, I just couldn’t. I didn’t give a damn what happened to Keitel. I didn’t give a damn what happened to Lydon. I never wanted to hear that song again or more of Morricone’s “here’s a sting because this bit of film matters!” score. A cheapo Italian flick. No rating.