Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

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.

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics Disc 9

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Law Men, 1944, b&w. Lambert Hillyer (dir.), Johnny Mack Brown, Raymond Hatton, Jan Wiley, Kirby Grant, Robert Frazer. 0:58 [0:54]

If this movie was about 15 years older, I might excuse the awful quality of the print (missing frames, generally dark, some cases where it sure looks as though they’re swapping in old stock footage when they change views) on the grounds of early movie history. But this one’s from 1944, making it fairly late in the game for the “B” westerns.

The plot: two U.S. marshals are sent to a town that’s been having a lot of robberies, working undercover. One rides into town, sees one such robbery with four bad guys riding away and shooting things up, shoots the fourth—and becomes an instant hero. (There’s no sheriff in town.) He claims to be a cobbler (because that’s the first business he sees), and suddenly—turns out the cobbler was shot some months back—he’s in business as a cobbler, much to the eventual woe of anybody who needs boots repaired. The other marshal trails the bandits to their lair and works his way into the gang.

Doesn’t take long for us to find out that the reason every gold shipment from the bank (robbed three times this year itself) gets robbed is that the banker’s running the banditry. Of course, nobody ever suspects a banker. Meanwhile, the banker and gang conspire to set up his honest assistant and almost manage to do so. Naturally, it all turns out OK after some fancy draws and shooting and a few deaths here and there.

It’s just…not very good. Not even by the relaxed standard of these sub-hour programmers. Maybe $0.75.

West of the Divide, 1934, b&w. Robert N. Bradbury (dir & screenplay), John Wayne, Virginia Brown Faire, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Loyd Whitlock, Yakima Canutt. 0:54.

I like this for possibly the wrong reasons—there’s an innocence and sweetness about it, or maybe that’s mostly low budget. Set in the 20th century Old West (most folks ride horses but the town doctor drives a car), it features John Wayne as an orphan—with his sidekick (Hayes in a very early role—Canutt’s a henchman in this flick and the stunt double for some remarkable stunts) who rescued him when his father was shot and the killers believed they’d shot him too. (OK, I’ve only seen that plot basis a dozen other times.) Oh, and just as Roy Rogers is the spittin’ image of Jesse James, Wayne is the spittin’ image of a killer who stumbles onto him and his sidekick, dies from the poisoned waterhole he drank at, and has in his pocket an introductory letter to a local rancher (Whitlock, an almost Snidelyesque villain)…and the Wanted poster showing he’s a killer. So, since they want to know more about this rancher anyway…

The rancher’s trying to buy another ranch, whose owner—with the best water around (never heard that one before!)—doesn’t want to sell. That’s OK: the bad guy first arranges to steal the money the beautiful daughter takes to the bank (and fails, but his henchmen wing the poor girl, against his direct orders—and Wayne and friend manage to get the money deposited), then to rustle all the rest of the good guy’s cattle while killing off the good rancher (a killing left to Wayne).

More plot, lots of horseriding (and one good runaway-team sequence), some really crappy henchmen (who, among other things, accidentally gun down their boss), culminating in happiness all around and, of course, Wayne marrying the daughter. (One example—repeated twice—of what I assume was really low budget work: As the cattle are being herded out of the compound, in one of those midnights where you can see everything clearly, I would swear I could cattle turning after leaving the compound on a course to re-enter the compound at the back so that 20 or 30 cattle can look like hundreds.) The sweetness, in addition to all the charming plot duplications, is partly that this is the young babyface Wayne, partly that the Big Fistfights (with acrobatics included) are remarkably hamhanded examples of “I’ll hit somewhere five inches to the left of your face, in midair, then you’ll do the same to me, then…” with almost no sound effects to even try to sell the fights. By the way, if you’re an IMDB review reader, this is not a print with the new and deproved score; it has very little incidental music. Great cinema? No, but I’ll give it $1.00.

In Old Santa Fe, 1934, b&w. David Howard (dir.), Ken Maynard, Tarzan (horse), Evalyn Knapp, H. B. Warner, Kenneth Thomson, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Gene Autry. 1:04.

A tale of the New West—fast cars, phones and electric lights are standard, he cowboys riding in are mostly going to a dude ranch for an annual race, the horse-and-carriage is carrying dude ranch guests. Except that the ranch owner also uses the horses-and-carriage to deliver $20,000 of gold (he owns a nearby mine) to the bank—with a driver and no guards.

Anyway…Kentucky (Ken Maynard) and his crotchety old sidekick (Hayes, who else?—and in fine fettle) are riding in, he’s singing a really pretty bad song, the ranch owner’s beautiful daughter drives by too fast and winds up ramming a tree (but apparently with no real damage), and meanwhile two city slickers come by in the carriage—contemplating plans to mess with the rancher. Oh, and the bad guy in charge also wants the girl.

Lots of plot. Attempted blackmail based on the rancher having changed his name after fleeing parole on phony charges—but charges, as it turns out, that he’d long since been cleared of. The crusty sidekick betting Kentucky’s horse and all their money against one of the crooks—as they make sure he doesn’t win, both by loosening his saddle (which doesn’t help) and stringing up a wire along the course on the assumption he’ll be in the lead (which does). Of course the good guys win in the end, after various plot turns. (The sleeve plot description is pretty much wrong.)

The real oddity here: The movie’s title credits feature Gene Autry first, all by himself, before introducing the cast with Ken Maynard and the rest. But as far as I can tell, Autry only appears as a singer doing one song—along with Smiley “Froggy” Burnette in an uncredited role. (Apparently, it was the first picture for both of them.) The picture’s title? That’s Autry’s song. To be honest, I didn’t find Maynard all that appealing as a singer, a cowboy or the hot male lead—but the film’s reasonably good for its genre: good horse-riding, reasonably clever plot and all. I’ll give it $1.00.

Days of Jesse James, 1939, b&w. Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Don ‘Red’ Barry, Pauline Moore, Harry Woods, Arthur Loft, Wade Boteler. 1:03 [0:53]

This one—another B programmer with the singing cowboy—surprised me. I was expecting a variant on the “Roy Rogers looks exactly like Jesse James” theme used in one other picture, but didn’t get it. This time around, nobody knows what James looks like—except for the granddaughter of Gabby Whitaker (Hayes), who in this case is returning to Missouri with $40,000+ after 16 years of placer gold mining in California. (The James gang holds up the train they’re on; a brief scuffle with their dog results in James’ kerchief-as-mask being pulled down briefly; James chooses not to take the $40,000 in Gabby’s valise.)

That’s just the start. Once they reach town, the granddaughter convinces Gabby to deposit the money in the local bank (the banker was also on the stage). The banker can’t resist that amount of money, so stages his own holdup, pretending to be the James gang. The Banker’s Association wants Roy Rogers (peace officer) to help track James; the railroaders have their own person, who mostly wants to get the $50,000 reward for James before anybody else does.

Lots more plot, and Rogers (his character name is of course Roy Rogers, and of course there’s a song) and Gabby wind up pretending to be outlaws or, rather, ex-cons with no jobs to get in with James’ gang. One interesting plot twist has the banker fleeing town on the train…and Rogers and Gabby, pretending to be the James gang, robbing the train specifically to get back the bank-robbery loot, which they then return to the depositors as the sheriff watches.

Not bad. Seems tobe missing a few minutes. As is frequently the case, Jesse James comes off as more Robin Hood than robber and far too honorable to shoot a man in the back. I’ll give it $1.00.

Psst: If you don’t like the old one-hour (more or less) B programmers, you won’t like Discs 10, 11 and 12 of this set. If you like early John Wayne, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (and once in a while others), you’ll like them just fine.

Mystery Collection Disc 42

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Seducers (orig. Death Game), 1977, color. Peter Traynor (dir.), Sondra Locke, Colleen Camp, Seymour Cassel, Beth Brickell. 1:31 [1:26]

Blame it on a mild ongoing headache if you like, esp. one probably connected to eyestrain (a long boring story that goes away soon).

Or blame it on sheer incompetence on the part of the moviemakers.

In either case, after several weeks without watching an oldie, I was looking forward to this. Until it started. I made it through the bizarre credits sequence. I made it through the opening sequence, and to the Real Plot, where this apparently well-off middle-aged man is temporarily deserted by his hot young wife on his 40th birthday (there are reasons), and two young women show up at his front door in a driving rainstorm asking directions to a neighbor’s house he’s never heard of.

And we’re off. And after another 10 minutes—his being a gentleman, his rebuffing combined advances from the two young women (both of whom have gotten naked in his palatial bathroom) for, oh, 30 seconds, partial nudity, suggested three-way action, and an odd breakfast the next morning—I couldn’t. I just did not give a damn what happened to anybody in the movie, perhaps immediately following what seemed to be a lengthy still shot of spilled ketchup with multiple layers of music over it.

So this isn’t a review. Maybe this is a minor masterpiece. Maybe it’s noteworthy schlock. Maybe it was the highlight of Sondra Locke’s film career (not sure whether she’s the young woman with a look that suggests that she regularly lunches on crocodile heads). I’ll never know.

After giving up and writing this non-review, I looked up the IMDB reviews. Now that I’ve read them, I’d guess the chances of my ever going back to see the rest of this movie are considerably worse than the chances of my winning Power Ball. (Which I don’t play.) Especially if that damn song gets played again. Not rated.

Kill Cruise (orig. Der Skipper), 1990, color. Peter Keglevic (writer, dir.), Jürgen Prochnow, Patsy Kensit, Elizabeth Hurley, Franz Buchrieser. 1:38.

Maybe I’m getting less patient or maybe I just hit a bad run. This movie is considerably less awful than Seducers, but after getting halfway through (with difficulty) I found that I just didn’t give a damn what happened in the rest of the movie.

It all begins with a storm at sea that kills or badly harms two people on a boat, with the survivor giving his tale to the Gibraltar portmaster the next day and saying he’ll head back out soon, because what’s the point otherwise? Six months later, he’s become a barfly, every day saying he’ll head back out soon… Meanwhile, two young British women (typically wearing relatively little clothing) are hanging out in a cheap hotel, singing and dancing (badly) in the California Club the guy hangs out at, and trying to go…somewhere. (One wants to go back to England; the other doesn’t.) Somehow, they wind up convincing the guy to take them from Gibraltar to Barbados. His estimated time to get to Barbados in a motor-assisted sailboat is four weeks.

Beyond that, it’s various tensions and paranoias, all with a soundtrack that’s hard to hear and a style that’s hard to care about. I gave up. Maybe you’d like it better. (Reading some of the IMDB reviews, I’m not sure why Barbados—the destination mentioned at least a dozen times—gets turned into Bermuda.) Not rated.

The Sell Out, 1976, color. Peter Collinson (dir.), Oliver Reed, Richard Widmark, Gayle Hunnicutt, Sam Wanamaker, Vladek Sheybal, Ori Levy. 1:41 [1:26]

By far the best movie on this disc so far—but that only means it was good enough so I watched the whole thing. It involves some solid actors (such as Richard Widmark and Oliver Reed) and a plot that, although it involves a few too many accidental deaths, at least makes a twisted sort of Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy sense.

We open with the start of an auto race, at which one driver is shot at long range. Then a KGB higher-up drops by a CIA outpost-head’s place, they share a drink, they open up this cabinet full of photos, many of them crossed out. Time to cross out another name (another former agent) on one side—and for the next on the other side to come up, since apparently that’s the long game. The next one, in this case, is Gabriel Lee (Reed), a double agent who defected to the Communists—and the action begins, taking us to Israel, where the double agent has an old friend, Sam Lucas (Widmark), an American agent who has supposedly actually retired (which seems implausible) with his wife.

Lots’o’plot after that, with repeated betrayals, until a somewhat flat ending. Near the ending, we get the final twist, such as it is. Along the way, car chases, shootings, explosions—hey, it’s a spy picture. I’m guessing the extra 15 minutes wouldn’t make much difference.

Certainly not great drama, but at least watchable; I’ll give it $1.00

Crime Boss (orig. I familiari delle vittime non saranno avvertiti or “The families of the victims will not be felt”), 1972, color. Alberto De Martino (dir.), Telly Savalas, Antonio Sabato, Paola Tedesco, Giuliano Persico, Guido Lollobrigida. 1:33.

“Sociopath Makes Good”—a better title, and a reason why I don’t feel particularly good about finishing this flick, even though I did so. There’s not one character that I found worthwhile or cared about; Telly Savalas as an important aging Mafioso Don may come close, but not that close. The protagonist is a country boy who comes to the city (Milan, I guess) to make good in the crime scene and shows his cleverness and utter ruthlessness to good effect, eventually moving up to the big leagues, where, of course, he betrays his mentor.

Good Italian and German scenery. Filmed very wide screen and not panned-and-scanned (but it’s not an anamorphic disc: when you zoom, you’re expanding not very much visual information, although it’s watchable). A protagonist (Antonio Sabata) who always uses his full name, Antonio Mancuso, and seems to expect others to do so as well. Overall, it’s…meh. Charitably, $1.00.

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics, Disc 8

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Kid Vengeance (aka Vengeance or Vendetta or Take Another Hard Ride), 1977, color. Joseph Manduke (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown, Leif Garrett. Glynnis O’Connor, John Marley.

This flick mixes two plots I’m familiar with from other Westerns: One in which a kid, somehow not killed when outlaws kill his parents, grows up to take vengeance on them—and another in which a man, with evidence that outlaws have killed his wife and compatriots, manages to kill the outlaws off one by one using a range of techniques. But this isn’t quite either of those, partly because the kid (in this case, Leif Garrett) doesn’t grow up: he starts taking out the killers shortly after he becomes aware that they’ve raped and killed his mother, killed his father and kidnapped his sister. (Oddly enough, that last part was accidental…)

But there’s more! A black miner (Brown), after having an assayer confirm that he’s got good-quality gold ore, encounters a quartet of idiots/thieves, bests them (and one dies, shot by another one), rides out of town and sets up another plot, as well as some comedy relief in what’s otherwise a pretty gritty picture. This time, Lee Van Cleef is full-on villain, the head of an outlaw band and the rapist in question.

No point going through more of the plot. Once you grant that a kid who has to be starving can sneak up on sleeping experienced bandits, stand there for a while, stuff a scorpion into one of their shoes, and walk away…well, sure, it all works. Garrett is very good, Brown’s fine, Van Cleef is Van Cleef. An Israeli production. I guess it’s worth $1.25.

Rage at Dawn, 1955, color. Timn Whelan (dir.), Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker, Mala Powers, J. Carrol Naish, Edgar Buchanan, Denver Pyle. 1:27 [1:25]

This one’s unusual in that it’s a full-length, color, mid-’50s Western, and a fairly traditional Western at that. It’s the story of the Reno Brothers, a group of brothers who rob banks (with a couple of colleagues) and have a bad tendency to shoot anybody who causes trouble. They own the local officials (three of them share in the proceeds) so their Indiana county is a refuge. They actually live in their sister’s house (she hates the robbing but can’t turn them out) and have an honest brother who’s a farmer. With one possible exception, they’re not the brightest bunch; in some ways it’s amazing that they aren’t all already dead.

The Peterson Detective Agency brings in a tall, handsome undercover agent (Scott), who stages a train robbery to show the Renos that he’s hotter stuff than they are (they never tried train robbery), and eventually gets them involved in a train robbery as a way to get them arrested. Or killed (and it certainly gets some others killed!). Meanwhile, he’s taken a liking to the sister, and it’s clearly mutual.

Strong cast. It’s OK—although I found the last few minutes a little tough to swallow (but won’t pass on the situation). Not great, not bad: $1.50.

Billy the Kid Returns, 1938, b&w. Joseph Kane (dir.), Roy Rogers, Smiley Burnette, Lynne Roberts/Mary Hart, Morgan Wallace, Fred Kohler, Wade Boteler. 0:53.

I find that it makes sense to review and rate films in some sort of context; the context for the one-hour “oaters” is different than that for full-length features, and the context for singing cowboys is different still. And of the latter, Roy Rogers stands out for his voice, his looks—and the fun he seems to bring to every role, where he’s pretty much always playing a character named Roy Rogers.

That said, to buy into this movie you have to believe that Billy the Kid was a dead ringer for Roy Rogers—and that Billy the Kid, while admittedly a cold-blooded killer, was a hero to homesteaders, as he was the only one defending them from the cattlemen who wanted to prevent any farming. Roy Rogers first plays Billy the Kid, hero, thief and killer…up to and including the night where Pat Garrett shoots him dead. Then Roy Rogers rides onto the scene (Lincoln County, New Mexico—about all this flick has in common with Billy the Kid’s actual life), having left Texas after he lost his deputy sheriff’s job because he was too young (or something like that), and finds himself dealing with a band of outlaws who are stealing horses and burning down a farmhouse. The outlaws are, of course, part of the cattlemen’s group and in cahoots with the businessman who has a monopoly on trade in the town.

That’s just the start of a movie that moves right along…and mostly involves Roy Rogers impersonating Billy the Kid first in an attempt to help the homesteaders, then in an attempt to bring the cattlemen’s gang to justice by tricking them into committing a Federal crime, so they won’t just be set free by their peers. Oh, and Pat Garrett’s continuing suspicion that Roy Rogers is no better than Billy the Kid…

A lot of fun, a lot of music (I figure there’s about an hour’s TV episode worth of actual plot here: the other 11-12 minutes is singing), Smiley Burnette with his special “froggy” vocals. Roy gets the girl (Roy always gets the girl). What can I say? It’s what a singing cowboy movie should be, and probably no less plausible than most. $1.25.

Curse of Demon Mountain (orig. The Shadow of Chikara), 1977, color. Earl E. Smith (dir., also producer, writer), Joe Don Baker, Sondra Locke, Ted Neeley, Joy N. Houck Jr., Slim Pickens. 1:54 [1:32]

First we get some Civil War sequences (it’s clear the filmmaker is a Grey at heart even before they use “TheNight They Drove Old Dixie Down” in the soundtrack, the only song in the movie). Then one Confederate officer (Joe Don Baker), his half-Irish/half-Cherokee sidekick and scout (Houck) and a dying older soldier (named “Virgil Cane,” to be sure, and played by Slim Pickens who only has a few minutes to masticate some scenery) are off on their way—and as he’s dying, Virgil tells theofficer about the treasure he’s hidden in a cave in a mountain—some “transparent stones” he got out of Arkansas rivers.

After the former officer finds out that his house has been taken over for a Federal office and that his wife—who ahd been told he was dead a year before, but never mind that—has taken up with a Federal officer. Following a big fight scene, the officer (Joe Don Baker), his sidekick and a geologist they pick up from a local university are off to find the stones and see what they are.

After that, it’s lots of trouble—a dead group of settlers shot with odd black arrows, a black arrow arriving out of nowhere, a woman (Locke) apparently raped who they take with them, the scout concluding that those shooting the arrows must be demons, since they leave no tracks, a trio of bushwhackers (who the four adventurers happily kill by seting off a landslide) and, eventually, the mountain. Which the scout says he’s heard about, the Mountain of Demons.

Don’t expect happy endings. I figured out the twist about ten minutes before it was revealed. It’s not a bad twist. Unfortunately, it’s also not a very good movie—sloppily filmed, poorly played, just not really very good. Maybe the missing 22 minutes (apparently including a bar sequence, since a bartender and barmaid are both in the credits but there’s no bar that I can remember in the movie) would have helped. Maybe not. Generously, $0.75.