Archive for the 'Movies and TV' Category

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics, Disc 8

Posted in Movies and TV on 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.

Mystery Collection Disc 41

Posted in Movies and TV on February 5th, 2014

A Dangerous Summer, 1982, color. Quentin Masters (dir.), Tom Skerritt, Ian Gilmour, Ray Barrett, James Mason, Wendy Hughes, Guy Doleman, Kim Deacon. 1:28 [1:29]

Set in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, this fiery movie starts with fire, ends with fire and is about firebugs and insurance fraud. It’s also deeply disappointing, in that it can’t seem to decide whether it’s a heavily plotted situation—or just an insane young man. Mostly, I guess, it was a paid Australian vacation for James Mason and Tom Skerritt.

It’s set in December (summer in Australia). We open with brush fires and school fires simultaneously, so that when Skerritt—the American co-developer for a supposed resort hotel that never seems to be much more than multistory wood framing—sees smoke from a (set) fire nearby and asks for firefighters, he’s told they’re all busy. We learn a bit later that the chief of the brush fire squad is absolutely convinced the resort will eventually burn down, and apparently not too unhappy about that. Meanwhile, a lawyer at a local insurance company is a bit concerned that the place is insured for $10 million—but only through the end of the year—even though it can’t possibly be worth more than a fraction of that. So is the co-developer, who is told by the person putting up the money that, well, a bit of the bank’s money went to “other little projects” like the money guy’s yacht. Oh, and the local insurance company, which has reinsured with Lloyds of London, either owns the company that owns most of the resort or vice-versa.

We wind up with a drowned insurance company lawyer who was an excellent swimmer (we see the drowning in some detail, and apparently the drowner felt the need to rip off the top half of the lawyer’s swimsuit: she was an attractive young woman). We get various other stuff, including the train the co-developer is on running right into a fire zone and catching on fire. And eventually the partial wood framing that’s supposed to be a big hotel burns down (this time through direct arson on Christmas day)—taking the firebug with it. (First, he sets the co-developer’s house on fire, with his girlfriend—the co-developer’s daughter—upstairs, naked and partly bound. Her father does save her.) And that’s it: We get no resolution of any plot other than the firebug himself.

I found it disappointing and, frankly, not all that well done: poor photography, mediocre directing, poor sound, mediocre acting, incoherent editing. Really nothing special. I’m being generous (mostly for Mason and Wendy Hughes) by giving it $0.75.

Mitchell, 1975, color. Andrew V. McLaglen (dir.), Joe Don Baker, Martin Balsam, John Saxon, Linda Evans, Merlin Olsen. 1:37 [1:31]

This feels like the pilot for a TV series—but it also appears to be filmed wide-screen (but displayed pan & scan), so maybe not. Joe Don Baker is Mitchell, a slob of a plainclothes detective who doesn’t get along with much of anybody, seems largely incompetent, drinks too much, lives in a studio apartment and seems to be sort of a wreck. He’s warned off one case that’s called justifiable homicide but that he thinks is murder (because the killer’s subject of a big FBI investigation) and told to tail another crook; things start out from there. He’s very obvious about tailing, winds up having drinks with the crook and saying what he’s supposed to be looking for (the crook’s been set up by an associate), and…well…lots’o’plot. None of which makes much sense, any more than Mitchell’s defective, er, detective work

We have Linda Evans as a $1,000/night hooker who shows up at Mitchell’s door as a Christmas present (he chooses the wrong crook as the likely donor) and shows up again—the second time, he busts her for pot. But he asserts that he’s clean, as in, he doesn’t take cash bribes. Some interesting car chases; some interesting interactions; and in the end all of the low-level bad guys are dead, which doesn’t help the FBI or anybody else get to the bigger crooks.

But never mind: it’s mostly just a hoot. Great cast, and if you suspend disbelief a little it’s fun in its own cornpone way. For that, I give it a credible $1.25.

Please Murder Me, 1956, b&w. Peter Godfrey (dir.), Angela Lansbury, Raymond Burr, Dick Foran, John Dehner, Lamont Johnson, Denver Pyle. 1:18 [1:15].

Raymond Burr and Angela Lansbury. In 1956. When Lansbury was a stunning young (31-year-old) femme fatale, and Raymond Burr was (39-year-old) Raymond Burr. It starts with him buying a handgun at a pawnshop, then going into a dark office, turning on a lamp, putting the gun and an portfolio into a desk drawer, then starting a tape recorder in the other desk drawer—and telling the story of how he’s going to be murdered in 55 minutes.

It’s quite a tale, involving best friends, apparent love, pure gold-digging, a dramatic murder trial and acquittal—and people with and without integrity. Talky, to be sure, but compelling enough. I downgrade it somewhat because the print’s jumpy at times, with missing frames and words. Still, $1.25.

The Squeeze, 1978, color. Antonio Margheriti (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Karen Black, Edward Albert, Lionel Stander, Robert Alda. 1:39.

Great cast (Lee Van Cleef, Edward Albert, Karen Black, Lionel Stander, Robert Alda and more). Interesting concept—retired safecracker (Van Cleef) lured into one more job to help an old friend’s son, who soon finds out that the folks he’s helping are Bad Crooks (that is, they’d rather shoot helpers than share the loot). Odd side-story that leads up to an interesting triple-cross finale. (There are a lot of movies entitled “The Squeeze”—this one’s from 1978 and stars Lee Van Cleef, and was filmed on location in seedier parts of New York City.)

Also not anywhere near as good as it could be—but not bad. Unusual to see Van Cleef in something other than a Spaghetti Western, but his looks and personality work here as well. Not a great print, but not bad. On balance, $1.25.

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics Disc 7

Posted in Movies and TV on January 2nd, 2014

Showdown at Williams Creek, 1991, color. Allan Kroeker (dir.), Tom Burlinson, Stephen E. Miller, Michelle Thrush, Raymond Burr, Donnelly Rhodes. 1:37.

This is a flashback film—except for the first few and last few minutes, it’s almost all flashbacks, as a man on trial for murder reluctantly tells his life story. The man, John “Kootenai” Brown (Tom Burlinson), was a British soldier from Ireland who emigrated to British Columbia in 1865, with a friend, to seek his fortune in the gold fields of Williams Creek. After various problems, he went—with a Scot who always seemed a bit less than trustworthy—to the Northern Territories, also for gold, and wound up first being shot with an arrow, then living with a group of Metis, a tribe of half-French/half-Native Americans, where he finds love and a family. Eventually, he winds up shooting the Scot, just as the Scot has robbed him of a season’s worth of wolf hides. (Kootenai Brown is his Metis name, where Kootenai means “the one who comes from the west,” since he’d traveled from BC eastward.)

That’s an absurd oversimplification of the plot, based on a true story. Raymond Burr gets star billing on the disc sleeve (but not in the movie), but he’s a secondary character, the imperious and racist judge at the trial.

It’s a leisurely film in some ways, and I found that it worked reasonably well. Filmed in Canada (a Canadian Film Board production, which may explain a 1991 movie being in the public domain?). Good scenery. The print’s reasonably good. All in all, while it’s not a great film, I thought it was worth $1.50.

Four Rode Out, 1970 (or 1968 or 1971), color. John Peyser (dir.), Pernell Roberts, Sue Lyon, Julian Mateos, Leslie Nielsen. 1:39 [1:35]

This Western is decidedly leisurely. A Mexican bank robber, after stopping by to visit his American girlfriend [Sue Lyon] (who then gets called a whore by her father, after which the father shoots himself), heads out…and a marshall (Pernell Roberts) on his last case is sent out to bring him back. The marshall encounters a self-identified Pinkerton man (Leslie Nielsen) also out to bring back—or at least claim the reward for—the bandit.

All three wind up riding out together (or, rather, the girl follows the other two), much to the marshall’s dismay. They ride and ride and ride. They find the bandit’s dead horse and…well, the second half of the film (or more than half) involves the badly-wounded bandit, his assertion that the Pinkerton man is actually the other bank robber and the one who shot a guard, and the attempt to get everybody back to town (walking through the desert with frequent red-sun shots) before they die of heat and thirst. It is, as I say, leisurely…but made significantly better by Janis Ian, who provides the music (mostly twelve-string guitar, some singing) and begins the movie as a visible singer.

Great cast (Nielsen as a wholly untrustworthy shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later sneering type is wholly believable), good music, good scenery. Some censorship (oddly—a few words, and, apparently, two or three minutes of partial nudity). An unsatisfactory plot and ending, to my taste. Very leisurely, to the point where I double-timed through the last 40 minutes or so and still found it leisurely. Another one where its public domain status seems odd. A Spanish production. On balance, maybe $1.25.

They Call Me Trinity (or My Name is Trinity, orig. Lo chiamavano Trinità…,), 1970, color. Enzo Barboni (as E.B. Clucher) (dir. & writer), Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Steffen Zacharias, Dan Sturkey, Gisela Hahn, Farley Granger, Remo Capitani. 1:46 [1:50]

Both spaghetti western and takeoff on spaghetti westerns, this one’s delightful—more comedy than anything else. It’s also much more character-driven than violence-driven, and while there are a few typically ungory shootings, the biggest scenes are fights with the guns put away, including a long scene near the end (maybe 8 minutes).

The plot? This guy (Trinity) comes—well, not exactly riding into a waystation, more asleep on a sled of sorts being hauled by his horse. He’s so dirty that when he hits down dust flies up in the air. He’s also the fastest gun anywhere. We get to the point where he comes into town and finds that his crooked brother is acting as sheriff (his brother’s as fast as he is, but is also a mountain of a man who beats men down with one blow). The brother’s escaped from prison and is waiting for his gang to catch up so they can stage some more robberies. In the meantime, the town’s troubled by The Major who, with his gang, wants to run a bunch of Mormon settlers and their cattle out of the valley so The Major’s horses can have it.

It ends up…well, it ends up as it started, with Trinity asleep while his horse is dragging him along. In between, it’s great fun. Possibly best dialogue: After the two brothers (respectively the Right Hand of the Devil and the Left Hand of the Devil) have beaten up seven of The Major’s men after they insulted their mother, Trinity says “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let them call Ma an old… [I'm guessing whore in the original].” His brother: “But it’s true.” Trinity: “Yeah, but she ain’t that old.”

It’s panned-and-scanned full-screen from a very wide-screen original, but it’s done well. The print’s decent, and I give this one a full $2.00.

The Gun and the Pulpit, 1974, color, TV movie, Daniel Petrie (dir.), Marjoe Gortner, Slim Pickens, Pamela Sue Martin, Estelle Parsons, Jeff Corey, David Huddleston. 1:14.

I reviewed this one in the March 2006 Cites & Insights as part of the 50-Movie All Stars Collection, and while I didn’t rewatch it this time around, it got one of the best reviews in that set: A full $2.00.

Mystery Collection Disc 40

Posted in Movies and TV on December 5th, 2013

Death Collector (aka Family Enforcer), 1976, color. Ralph De Vito (dir. & writer), Joe Cortese, Lou Criscuolo, Joe Pesci, Bobby Alto, Frank Vincent, Anne Johns. 1:25 [1:29]

What to say about this? I guess it’s about a small-time Jersey (New, that is) crook involved with the local crime families, who tries to act as a collector but never actually recovers any money. Eventually, he gets killed.

There’s lots’o’plot in between, but the movie failed a personal test: There was nobody—nobody—who I found worth caring about. At all. I’m not sure why I even watched the whole thing, except maybe that Joe Pesci (a costar who gets killed partway through) is at least interesting to watch.

The flick establishes its R rating in the first five minutes and seems to glory in showing as much blood as possible. (The picture on the IMDB page, with an alternate title, seems to suggest that Pesci was the primary star. He wasn’t.) If you’re a big fan of sleazy lowlife crime flicks, it might be worth $0.75. Personally, I wouldn’t give it a dime.

The Master Touch (orig. Un uomo da rispettare or “A man to be respected”), 1972, color. Michele Lupo (dir.), Kirk Douglas, Giuliano Gemma, Florinda Bolkan, Wolfgang Preiss, Reinhard Kolldehoff. 1:52 [1:32]

Here’s another widescreen movie—filmed very widescreen, panned & scanned to 16:9. It’s not enhanced for DVD—zooming it out loses a little clarity—but it’s a pretty good widescreen picture anyway. And, you know, Kirk Douglas, also a Morricone score. And one impressive and long car chase with loads of bumper-car action, with one car pretty much demolished at the end and the other only drivable thanks to suspension of disbelief. Also, apparently everybody in West Germany drives like a maniac with lead-footed starts and hasty stops, and police cars travel in huge flocks.

The plot has to do with Kirk Douglas, safecracker who relies more on explosives than finesse, getting out of prison after a three-year term and the crime lord who’d gotten him into the failed job wanting him to rob a safe in an insurance company that’s protected by incredibly high technology alarm systems. He rejects the idea—but only (apparently) because the only time he ever got caught was when he was working for somebody else. Instead, he recruits a circus trapeze artist who’s made an enemy of the crime lord’s henchman (there’s a lot of fighting in this movie as well, but the henchman ultimately disappears for no good reason). He has this great notion of giving himself a perfect alibi for the 1.5 million-dollar high-tech safe robbery (hey, $1.5 million was a lot of money in 1972—equivalent to $8.4 million in 2013): he gets caught cracking a pawnshop’s safe at the same time the other alarm goes off. Easy-peasey: Serve 18 months for attempted burglary, get out to retire with the money (after the trapeze artist who actually cracks the safe gets his cut). Except that the trapeze artist kills a guard—changing the 18 months to a life sentence. It seems as though the trapeze artist and Douglas’ wife…oh, never mind.

Sorry if these are spoilers, but the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense anyway. Defeating the high-tech security system is way too easy; the henchman turns out to be a sideshow that takes up close to a third of the movie; and the situation with Douglas’ wife suggests that Douglas has all the emotional sensitivity and listening capabilities of a fencepost. The missing 20 minutes might help. It’s an Italian production set in Germany, and it’s at least stylishly done at times. One IMDB review does point up one thing: None of the characters is really likable, although Douglas comes close enough that I watched the whole thing. All things considered, I’ll give it $1.25.

Code Name: Zebra (aka The Zebra Force), 1976, color. Joe Tornatore (dir.), Mike Lane, Richard X. Slattery, Glenn R. Wilder, Anthony Caruso. 1:40 [1:20]

We start with seven black guys robbing a (presumably illegal?) casino (I guess in LA), shooting quite a few folks in the process—but it turns out they’re not black guys, they’re whites wearing uncannily good black masks. The honcho of the group is The Lieutenant, a one-armed Vietnam veteran with half his face badly disfigured: the rest of the group were his squad from Vietnam (where he got blown up by a land mine). He’s worked out a plan to rob the Mob (it was a Mob casino) four different ways, then split the money among the eight so they’ll be set for life. Hey, why not? They’re taking from the crooks (the second heist involves a big load of heroin, which he insists they flush down the toilet: they only keep the money) and keeping for themselves—not quite Robin Hood, but close.

Meanwhile, the local mob’s brought in a Detroit enforcer because the Detroit capo’s son was one of those killed in the casino heist. Naturally, they assume that their black subordinate in East LA is either behind it or leaking info (the robbers always know just where the security is and how to deal with it). In one plot, they decide to set up the black subordinate using the crooked cop (in a tiny little police station that seems a bit odd for LA) and, in the process, take out the cop as well. That happens…but the Vietnam vets also make their fourth and final stop, robbing the local capo’s house on delivery day. Unfortunately, one of the vets gets captured.

This all leads to a big gun battle involving the mob, the vets and the police. If I count right, either three or four of the eight (including the leader) survive and escape. There’s one final plot twist, but I won’t give that one away.

An interesting plot, albeit wildly implausible (there’s no explanation for the amount of info the vets have, the mob seems underarmed and generally sloppy, etc., etc.). Unfortunately, once again, there’s nobody that’s worth cheering for—not even close. More unfortunately, the print’s really bad in parts, with serious digitization artifacts. How bad? It’s literally impossible to read the closing credits and about half of the opening ones. I relied on IMDB for credits—as, apparently, did the people doing the sleeve copy, as both their “star” and their plot are for another movie, eight years later, with the same director but an entirely different plot. It’s also not, shall we say, a paragon of acting or screenwriting—but there’s loads of action. Maybe the extra 20 minutes would help, but I’m guessing not. At best, I’d give it $0.75.

The Cape Town Affair, 1967, color. Robert D. Webb (dir.), James Brolin, Jacqueline Bisset, Claire Trevor, Bob Courtney, John Whiteley. 1:40.

This is more like it. James Brolin plays an expert pickpocket in Cape Town, who lifts a wallet from a young woman on a bus (Bisset, lovely as ever)—a wallet, as it turns out, that was carrying something she was supposed to deliver to somebody. Who, although she didn’t know it, is a Red or Commie (used more or less interchangeably in this of-its-time movie); the delivery is a strip of Highly Important Film (not microfilm). And although Brolin’s an expert pickpocket, he’s identified immediately—because two agents on the bus (trying to find who the wallet’s intended for) were watching her, not him, and could figure out when the wallet disappeared. A tie-selling woman (Trevor), Sam, knows all the crooks and, when the cops provide a 50 Rand inducement, gives them four names (based on the guy’s methodology), allowing the agents to select his photo.

Thus begins a reasonably fast-moving number with a modest number of complications. I won’t even attempt to describe all the plot twists, although—with one huge exception—none of them seems especially outrageous. The huge exception: The villain (not Brolin) is at large, the cops have an all-out bulletin for him (with photos), they know Brolin’s address and that the villain’s likely to head his way…but when that happens, the cops are nowhere to be found, leaving Brolin to take care of the matter on his own.

That glaring improbability near the end weakens what’s otherwise a pretty good flick. The print’s good, the cast is good, the acting’s good enough, the script is…well, you can’t have everything. You get to see a lot of Cape Town at the peak of apartheid (the movie’s a South African production) and even with the slightly-weakened ending, I’ll give it $1.25.

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics, Disc 6

Posted in Movies and TV on October 30th, 2013

Savage Journey, 1983, color (for TV). Tom McGowan (dir.), Maurice Grandmaison, Richard Moll. 1:36.

Since this set’s already demonstrated that “gunslinger” means “any movie with a gun in it,” I suppose a 95-minute chunk of propaganda for the Mormons is as suitable as anything—and that’s what this is. It leads us from Joseph Smith being tarred-and-feathered some time in the early 19th century through the many tribulations unfairly suffered by the always-good, always-just, never-vengeful, always-united Mormons (and from this movie’s perspective, Joseph Smith and his buddies destroying the printing press at a Nauvoo newspaper that said bad things about him is fully justified and proper), to the promised land in Utah, which somehow becomes “1,500 miles from the nearest food supplies” when locusts attack. (Didn’t know it was 1,500 miles from Utah to any other part of civilization in 1847? Read up on History According to Savage Journey!)

That said, it’s not a terrible picture. Even after it was obvious that it was an entirely one-sided simplification of the history of Mormonism, Smith and Brigham Young, I found it interesting enough to watch all the way through. (It never occurred to me that Richard Moll was Bull on Night Court; he comes across as a slightly wild-eyed prophet as he portrays Joseph Smith.) I’ll give it $1.00.

Savage Guns (orig. title Era Sam Wallash… lo chiamavano ‘Così Sia’ or His Name Was Sam Walbash, But They Call Him Amen). 1971, color. Demofilo Fidani (dir.), Robert Woods, Dino Strano, Benito Pacifico, Amerigo Castrighella, Simonetta Vitelli. 1:28.

I have mixed feelings about this spaghetti Western—and make no mistake, that’s what it is. On one hand, it’s got an interesting score, lots of scenery, action sometimes so “natural” in pace that I used the 2x viewing mode to get through one excruciating “French singer” ballad and one boxing match faster, and cartoon violence. Oh, and it’s sort-of widescreen. My guess is it was filmed in very widescreen mode (based on credits missing parts of the first and last letters), then trimmed—but not to 4×3, rather to 16×9 (widescreen TV) mode. It’s not an enhanced DVD, so you’re losing some resolution, but it zooms nicely to fill an HDTV screen.

And there is a plot of sorts. A gang busts into a saloon, wearing partial masks, confronts the barkeep, forces him to drink tequila pouring out of a barrel they shot into (barrels of tequila in the Old West? why not?), then shoot him and everybody else in the bar, afterwards burning it down. Except that one guy (Wallash or Walbash) was shot in the arm, fell under a table, and managed to escape. The rest of the picture consists of him hunting down and killing a couple of dozen gang members and, eventually, the boss man, Mash Flannigan (or Mash Donovan). (Along the way, we see a flashback with him as a child, in which his father and mother were gunned down in their home—for no apparent reason—by a gang that must have fired 70 or 80 shots to kill two people. It’s The Gang That Couldn’t Stop Firing.)

But the logic of the plot is so bad as to almost defy belief even by spaghetti western standards. Right after the opening scene, the evil honcho tells his gang that this sends a message to assure that nobody will ever rat on him again to the sheriff (which you’d think he would have sent more efficiently if he shot the barkeep but not every witness)—and then, as soon as he learns somebody may have escaped, he says “but if it’s not a bounty hunter, you can be sure he’ll go right to the sheriff.” Ummm… Later, a bunch of the gang surround the Lone Hero and beat him senseless—but don’t kill him. Still later, this clown who’s ridden off with a bullet wound and been robbed of everything at least once seems to have not only unlimited funds (and guns and ammo) but the wherewithal to, overnight, acquire a dummy U.S. Army paywagon with a hand-cranked Gatling gun and two wax dummies dressed in Army uniforms. Oh, and the gang—which, no matter how many are shot—always seems to be as big as it needs to be. But nobody in the gang finds it suspicious that this U.S. Army paywagon has two drivers and no guards riding in front or in back. Never mind the villain’s girlfriend, who the hero’s confident he can instantly turn in his favor, apparently correctly. The whole thing almost appears to have been written randomly. (I didn’t know bar girls got migraines—and called them that—in the Old West. Come to think of it, it can’t have been that old west—in the boxing match, the challenger is introduced as having won medals in 46 states, The 46th state was admitted in November 1907.

One IMDB review calls Demofilo Fidani “the Italian Ed Wood.” I can see why. The song by the French chanteuse is remarkably awful in every way; there’s an introduction of three major killers partway through—but those killers, not part of the regular gang, are never seen again; and… oh, never mind. The musical score is quite good. I find it interesting that neither IMDB nor the reviewers can agree on the hero’s last name.

It’s also not a great print. In the end, I can’t muster enough enthusiasm to give it more than $0.75.

Death Rides a Horse (orig. Da uomo a uomo or From man to man), 1967, color. Giulio Petroni (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Anthony Dawson. 1:54.

Reviewed in June 2010 (C&I 10.7). That review:

Remember the blue-eyed blind angel in Barbarella? What if he was a 21-year-old whose family was slaughtered (after his mom and older sister were raped) and house burned down 15 years earlier by a truly evil gang—one of whom saved him from the fire? And he became a crack shot, presumably planning revenge sometime? Now mix in the ever-stoic, ever-slightly-sardonic Lee Van Cleef as an outlaw just emerging from prison after a 15-year sentence, after he’d been sold out by the gang he thought he was part of—and he finds that some of the gang members are now Highly Respected Citizens. Throw in a Morricone score with singing that’s either supposed to be incoherent or is marred by a poor soundtrack—oh, and a Mexican village so suppressed by an outlaw gang that dozens of them won’t rise up against four of the gang left to guard a million-dollar theft.

There you have it: The seeds for a movie that combines vengeance and revenge, generational (and style) conflicts (Ryan, Van Cleef’s character, calls Bill, the younger one “kid”; “Grandpa” is the responding epithet), suppressed memory, lots of trick gunplay and not-so-trick gunbattles, truly bad bad guys and the gray Ryan and more. Law does a fine job as a hate-filled but naïve young sharpshooter; Van Cleef is, well, Van Cleef (after just two movies, I see why spaghetti western aficionados hold him in high regard.) It’s a solid spaghetti western, the print’s generally fine, and even with the muddy score I’ll give it $1.50.

Riders of Destiny,

John Wayne as a singing cowboy? Singin’ Sandy, that is, the notorious gunslinger known across the states—except he’s actually an undercover Federal agent. (And his primary song, done repeatedly in a robust baritone, is about blood and death.)

He encounters a sheriff who’s been shot in the back and saves the sheriff. Cut to…he encounters a scene in which a woman on a horse has the horse shot out from under her by stagecoach drivers…who assume she’s a highwayman (and she did in fact rob them, because they were carrying money meant for her father, and the weekly money loads were somehow getting robbed every. single. week). He saves her.

This all gets into a situation where the evil owner of a land and water company holds water rights to all the water in a valley—except for this woman’s dad’s ranch, which has its own well. The slick villain is trying to buy out the other ranchers for $1 an acre, or will quadruple the price of their water. Meanwhile, his own people are robbing his own stagecoaches and passengers…

Anyway, Singin’ Sandy concocts a quick scheme that saves the day for all concerned and, of course, gets the girl. Wayne is young, the movie’s a classic cheaply-done B programmer, and I guess if you like Wayne at all it’s worth $1.00.

A hi-def “tragedy” in four short acts

Posted in Movies and TV, Technology and software on October 29th, 2013

Act 1: 2008

Pioneer introduces the Kuro line of plasma TVs, which offer the best picture quality of any flat-screen HDTV ever made (with the possible exception of the 12″ $2,500 Sony OLED TV, and that’s too small to count). The Kuro TVs use a number of special technologies, including panels that eliminate the air space between the plasma pixels and the glass front, which cost extra but make for a superb picture.

Act 2: 2009

Pioneer exits the TV business. End of the Kuro. It sells several patents to Panasonic, and it’s possible that some engineers moved there as well.

(By the way, the Wikipedia “article” on the Kuro is offensively wrong–saying that Panasonic is the only other significant TV manufacturer involved in plasmas omits those tiny little nobodies Samsung and LG.)

Act 3: 2013

Panasonic introduces the ZT60 series (TC-P65ZT60 and TC-P60ZT60, where the P number shows the diagonal size in inches). It involves several technological advances–including a panel with no air space between the plasma pixels and the glass front.

According to a review in the October 2013 Sound & Vision, done by a reviewer who still owns a top-of-the-line Kuro set and included a side-by-side comparison, the ZT60 is essentially the equal of the Kuro in all key areas of image quality. In other words, it’s the best HDTV (at least at 1080p) you can buy.

Act 4: Later in 2013

Panasonic announces that it’s getting out of the plasma TV business.

And, I guess, we wait for OLED to make it to big-screen and reasonable-price.

(About the only weakness of the ZT60 was that it’s not enormously bright in 3D mode. To which most of us might say, “who cares?” )

Mystery Collection Disc 39

Posted in Movies and TV on October 9th, 2013

Paco, 1976, color. Robert Vincent O’Neill (dir.), Jose Ferrer, Allen Garfield, Pernell Roberts, Panchito Gomez. 1:37 [1:30]

Paco’s a kid living in the hills of Colombia with his ailing father, his mother and his younger siblings; his only real possessions are a donkey and cart. He makes his way down to the village where he tells the priest that his father is very, very sick—so sick that his uncle’s on his way from Bogota. The priest performs Last Rites; the father dies; the uncle shows up; there’s a funeral.

Paco wants to go to Bogota with the uncle (Ferrer), who says no, stay here, I have a business there, go back and be the man of the house. But first, since the next bus isn’t until the next day, the uncle’s going to show Paco a good time: buys him new clothes, takes him to dinner at a “restaurant” (one table, a woman cooking on a home stove)—and would have taken him to the hotel, except that the uncle gambles away his money (with the priest looking on and drinking beer) and, eventually, the kid’s donkey and cart; both wind up sleeping on the street.

Next morning, the uncle says the donkey must have been stolen, says he’ll send money to get a new donkey and cart as soon as he gets back to Bogota and leaves on the bus. So we already know the uncle is a liar; soon enough, we learn that his business is being Fagin to a huge gang of gamines, street thieves for whom he acts as fence and occasional loan shark. (He begs as a presumed blind man when he’s not dealing with the street thieves, and apparently has a cozy relationship with the police.)

Anyway…Paco eventually runs away and makes his way to Bogota, in the process having most of his possessions stolen and doing an odd job for which he doesn’t get paid. He encounters one of the street kids and keeps looking for his uncle. Then a new plot enters: the uncle had claimed he was a good friend of a big-time movie star…and the kid manages to find the movie star and give him a crucifix necklace for good luck. While the movie star, a former street kid, is now informed by his Family that he must do something for them: steal a huge emerald that’s to be shown in a museum. Let’s just say the plots intersect thanks to the crucifix necklace and, in the end, the uncle continues to be what he is and Paco goes back home.

I guess the mystery is whether the incompetent jewel robbery (which becomes a smash-and-grab job, and come on, of a gang of four or five people only the actor has any disguise at all and there are a bunch of eyewitnesses…) will be solved and whether Paco will survive. I’m not sure what to make of the movie. The plot (badly mangled on the sleeve summary and equally mangled by IMDB: Paco is not an orphan!) seems to bear a fair amount of debt to Oliver Twist; the movie doesn’t make as much of the Colombian scenery as it could. It’s sort of a mess. But it’s not terrible. Maybe $1.25.

The Lucifer Complex, 1978, color. Kenneth Hartford & David L. Hewitt (dirs..), Robert Vaughn, Merrie Lynn Ross, Keenan Wynn, Aldo Ray. 1:31.

Where to start? How about “how did Robert Vaughn and Keenan Wynn both wind up in this atrocity?” It seems to be a one-hour low-budget schlock paranoia movie stretched out to 90 minutes through, well, loads of padding—a guy on an island, with thought narration, who happens to have a cave equipped with a big lights-flashing computer that’s apparently actually a laserdisc player with All of Man’s Records, including footage that couldn’t plausibly have been taken—oh, and although the huge console has a microphone, he doesn’t control playback using a keyboard: he twiddles one of many knobs scattered across the console. He mostly sits there staring at the screen and twiddling knobs. He’s apparently the Last Man on Earth, which does raise the question of who’s filming him, but never mind. For the first half hour or so, he’s showing various war clips from WWI and WWII. Then, he goes on to what I assume is Woodstock footage and Vietnam.

Then he gets to The Real War, in 1985, and that’s the actual movie. Basically, the Fourth Reich is cloning world leaders and running an operation on an island. Robert Vaughn, an apparently not-very-competent special agent, winds up parachuting onto the island, being captured and uncovering the plot. Or, rather, being told the plot by his captors until he uses his Fancy Moves to get out. Oh, and all the women who’ve been kept in a barracks (for unclear reasons that have something to do with cloning) have apparently armed themselves with submachine guns (maybe they made them during craft period?), so when he gets away, they start shooting up the place. I think half an hour is devoted to this nonsensical mayhem. All of which ends with…it being too late, because by then all the world leaders had been replaced by clones anyway. Which is why the narrator is alone on this wholly self-sufficient, eternally-powered island.

The pacing is…zzz…sorry, nodded off there. The photography is worse than mediocre. The acting…what can I say? It’s probably better than the direction. I would say the direction is better than the screenwriting, but you reach a certain level below which it’s hard to make fine distinctions. There’s no character development at all. The “small group of women who’ve been under constant watch suddenly become fully armed and wipe out an entire Nazi compound” plot makes no sense. Honestly, I only watched the whole thing because I was exhausted from a hike and kept hoping it would improve. I see from IMDB that the movie, filmed in 1976, was never released to theaters, going directly to TV in 1978. I imagine it was shown mostly after midnight.

This is dreck. It’s not “So bad it’s funny” or “Nice try by an incompetent team,” like, say, Plan 9 from Outer Space (a masterpiece by comparison). This is more in the Apache Blood category: so bad it’s really bad. But at least that horrendous film (which I think was even worse) had good photography; this doesn’t. Not worth a cent. The big zero.

A Tattered Web, 1971, color (TV movie). Paul Wendkos (dir.), Lloyd Bridges, Frank Converse, Sallie Shockley, Murray Hamilton, Broderick Crawford. 1:14.

Lloyd Bridges standing on a hill looking down at the young couple in swimsuits strolling far below. Lloyd Bridges in car as guy (from the couple) comes out of apartment building; calls girl, tells her to stay away from the guy. It doesn’t take long to learn that Bridges is a veteran cop, that the guy is his cheating son-in-law, that his daughter and son-in-law are living with him (and she’s a papa’s girl)…and when Bridges confronts the girl again, he winds up accidentally killing her.

That’s the setup. The rest of the story is how he tries to cover for it—and simultaneously keep his son-in-law from being blamed. It’s not great drama, but it’s reasonably well done, with a fairly predictable ending. Broderick Crawford has a remarkable turn as a befuddled old drunk who’s killed his best friend and can be convinced that he killed the girl as well. It looked like a TV movie from the get-go; I’m not surprised that it was one. Good cast, TV-movie direction and music, not great but not terrible. $1.25.

Target of an Assassin, 1977, color. Peter Collinson (dir.), Anthony Quinn, John Phillip Law, Simon Sabela. 1:45 [1:42]

Anthony Quinn. John Phillip Law. Hey, how bad could it be?

I honestly can’t tell you. First, I had external speakers on. Kept turning them up and up and still couldn’t make out the dialog. So switched to headphones. Kept turning them up and up, to the point where any musical cues were way too loud…and still couldn’t understand the dialog.

Based on IMDB reviews, it’s not that I’m going deaf(er)—it’s that either the original movie had incompetent sound recording or the transfer (which looks fine otherwise) was absurdly mishandled. After about 20 minutes, I gave up—at least up to that point, it was slow-moving and required the dialog to be worth watching at all. (Actually, based on other IMDB reviews, the flick sounds pretty marginal in any case.) South African; not sure if that’s part of the problem. Couldn’t watch; no rating.

Breaking Dexter’s Wire: No spoilers here

Posted in Movies and TV on September 30th, 2013

A confession here: For the last few years, my wife and I have missed most of the Most Acclaimed Best Series Must Watch TV.

And we’ll probably continue to do so. Despite the TV critics who tell us that we must watch this and can’t miss that and are, I guess, woefully culturally illiterate if we aren’t chattering about the other.

On one hand, we have an excuse of sorts. We pay for limited basic cable–which is, essentially, what you’d get with a good antenna. (If we could get decent reception with an antenna, without building a tower, we wouldn’t use cable at all.) So: no HBO, no Showtime, no AMC, no…whatever.

But, of course, if we wanted to watch most of these shows we could, the same way we watch about half of the TV we do now: Delayed, on DVD/Blu-ray, from Netflix.

Don’t come back at me with “But Hulu Plus! But Netflix streaming! But Roku!” Our broadband–which will switch from AT&T DSL to AT&T “Uverse” midweek–is nowhere near fast enough for streaming to look worth a damn on our HDTV. We tried it. To get sufficient speed would mean switching our broadband provider to C…no, won’t say it…and paying a whole lot more than we do now, or than we’re willing to. For that matter, if AT&T ever actually builds out real Uverse to our neighborhood, the bill for really fast broadband may be more than we’re willing to pay, since the only thing really fast broadband would add is more TV. We’re seriously considering dropping the minimal cable we have, increasing our disc-only Netflix plan, and watching entirely from discs. We haven’t made that move yet, but…

Oh, I’m aware of most of these shows. How can you not be?

I’m certainly aware of the near-universal acclaim and loads of awards they win.

Here’s the thing, though. My wife and I like to have at least one or two characters on a show that we like–that we empathize with. We watch TV (usually about an hour a night, either broadcast or old series on DVD or Blu-ray) for entertainment. We don’t find consistently downbeat shows with antiheroes as protagonists particularly entertaining.

Telling us that they’re Great Drama doesn’t help. Telling us that they’re Daring–nah, I don’t buy that any longer. Ten years ago, maybe a dramatic show with primarily unlikable characters was Daring. Now, it’s In. At this point, doing a show like West Wing, with superior writing, directing and acting but also with mostly sympathetic characters, would be daring. To get great critical acclaim, Pres. Bartlett would probably have to become an adulterer and the rest of the cast embezzlers, influence peddlers, drug runners or possibly serial killers on the side.

If you just love these series, that’s fine: More power to you. I don’t think you’re going to run out of dark series. But, y’know, when you tell me that these are the only good things on TV, I’ll probably ignore you.

And if we really are missing magnificent acts of writing and acting that have never been paralleled on TV and will live forever in the history of drama…well, that’s OK too. Life is too short to watch TV that we don’t find entertaining…by our standards.

(This confession partly prompted by a post on a psychologist’s blog about why “we” watch these shows. It was an interesting post. It did not make me the slightest bit more interested in watching these shows.)

Gunslinger 50 Movie Pack Disc 5

Posted in Movies and TV on September 8th, 2013

The Day of the Wolves, 1971, color. Ferde Grofé (dir.), Richard Egan, Martha Hyer, Rick Jason, Jan Murray, Frankie Randall. 1:35 [1:31]

I guess you can call any movie a “gunslinger” movie if guns are involved—and they certainly are in this odd movie about a sort-of perfect crime. Here’s the setup: Jan Murray with a beard—who looks exactly like Jan Murray with a beard—recruits six men of low morals (all of whom have beards), flies them all to LA where they’re variously met by “Acme Construction” station wagons (but no Roadrunner!) and told by tape recorder not to ask questions, not to talk, to put on gloves, a blindfold and dark glasses and that the trip will take about 2.5 hours.

They all wind up in this deserted structure somewhere in the desert, where Number One (Murray) introduces them as Numbers 2 through 7 and explains that no names are to be used, nobody is to discuss where they’re from or take of the gloves, and they’ll all find out why. Oh, and as per the letter, they’ll get a minimum of $50,000 for three days of their time. (That’s roughly a quarter million in 2013 terms.)

The gig: A perfect crime. They’re going to take over an isolated town on payday—knock out the roads out of town, blow the power and knock out the phone company, lock up all the cops, then rob the two banks, the two supermarkets and the major businesses in town. All very neat, over in three hours—and since nobody but the leader knows who any of them are, and they’re all disguised with beards and don’t leave fingerprints, voila.

This assumes, of course, that none of the locals is armed and chooses to be a hero. Like, say, the upstanding police chief (Egan) who’s just been fired the day before because the town council thought he was too upstanding, or something like that. Who, of course, has a few shotguns at home.

Without giving too much away, four of the crooks do manage to fly out of town, and the getaway’s also designed to be perfect. Which it would be, even though one of the three crooks shot by the ex-chief didn’t survive to be questioned. Unless, say, Jan Murray’s regular gig is as a clown hosting a kid’s TV show who takes off his clown suit to tell stories, chooses (ahem) seven kids to help him, calls them by number and both looks and sounds exactly like Number One without his beard…

This “perfect crime” would be a lot tougher these days—you’d also have to knock out every cell tower within a fairly wide radius, and you could probably assume that every third resident of an Arizona town would be armed. (The flick was filmed in Lake Havasu City, with credits, and although they give the town a different name, “Havasu” can be spotted in at least one business sign.)

Oddly enough, it’s a fairly entertaining if somewhat implausible flick. Given the costs incurred by Number One for plane tickets, the airplane to fly them in and out of the town, weaponry, the pilot, etc., etc., I’m not sure this would be a big enough heist to be worthwhile, but never mind. The print has vertical scratches at times. I’ll give it $1.25.

This Man Can’t Die, (orig. I lunghi giorni dell’odio), 1967, color. Gianfranco Baldanello (dir.), Guy Madison, Lucienne Bridou, Rik Battaglia, Anna Liotti, Steve Merrick, Rosalba Meri. 1:30.

I saw this flick three years ago as part of the 20-movie Spaghetti Westerns pack—and of course it’s also in the 44-movie Spaghetti Western megapack. I remembered it as being reasonably well done, and I watched it again—all the way through. It’s an excellent print—no apparent flaws in video or sound.

Here’s my writeup from the June 2010 Cites & Insights:

On one hand, this one has English-language credits and no language oddities—and it’s fair to assume this doesn’t come from a videotape used for American TV showings, given bare breasts in a couple of scenes. On the other, there’s an unfortunate amount of sadism (the villains in this one are really villainous) and a lot of shootings—but after all, it is a spaghetti Western.

Martin Benson’s a mercenary on a government mission to find out who’s sending guns and booze to a renegade tribe (in 1870—the location’s not clear, but the date is). Meanwhile, marauders have gone to the ranch where his parents and siblings live, killed the parents and ravaged one daughter (so badly that she may never speak again!), and ridden off.

Little by little, the plots intersect. It’s not quite clear whether the title refers to Martin or to Tony Guy, presumed to be a wounded member of the marauders but, as it turns out, actually a government undercover agent. If you’ve seen many cowboy B films, you’ll guess who the primary villain is long before it’s made clear.

Lots of scenery. Pretty good score. Some very strange secondary parts and dialogue, par for the course. Beautiful women (with remarkably well-tailored clothes for 1870) and the handsome loner hero, Martin. Long, complex shootouts with no false nobility. A ballad for the opening and closing titles that makes no sense at all (also par for the course). Google translates the original title as “I hate long days,” but the alternate U.S. title “Long days of hate” seems a little more plausible… Not great, not terrible. What the heck: $1.25.

I didn’t see a lot of on-camera sadism as I watched it this time; maybe I’m inured to spaghetti westerns? One of the gang subleaders is clearly a sadist, however. Apart from that, I’ll stick with the review—but it seemed to hang together better the second time around. I’ll up the rating to $1.50.

Dan Candy’s Law (orig. Alien Thunder), 1974, color. Claude Fournier (dir. & cinematography), Donald Sutherland, Gordon Tootoosis, Chief Dan George, Kevin McCarthy. 1:33.

I could just say “couldn’t finish, didn’t rate,” since at about 1:21 there was a disc flaw that froze the movie. But that’s not quite true. As I suspected, the flick is available (albeit in the shorter 1:15 version) on the Internet Archive; I watched the last 10-11 minutes there, so certainly didn’t miss more than a minute or any significant plot points. And this is, with rare exceptions, a slow, slow movie—and one where the “pan & scan” consisted of using the center portion of the flick regardless of content. Either that, or the direction and cinematography (by the same person!) were incompetent: There are frequent cases where the person speaking is invisible, and some where you see a table with a hand at either edge of the frame because both participants are off to the sides. It’s also a grainy scan, and portions are almost unwatchable. (The original was full Cinemascope ratio, 2.35:1. Cutting that down to 4:3 or 1.33:1 without paying any attention to what you’re doing, as is clearly the case here, means throwing away 56% of the image—I was seeing less than half the picture.)

I looked this up (by the original title) after writing this review. Apparently you can now buy the movie in wide-screen, but the box copy may give you some sense of how incoherent this actually is: “He hunted his best friend’s killer—while he hunted him.” He him who wha?

Regardless of print quality, portions of this Canadian movie are almost unwatchable because of the acting, the directing, the cinematography and the plot, even if the plot is supposedly based on a true story. If you buy the Internet Archive synopsis, the true story is of the 1885 attempt by Dan Candy, Northwest Mounted Police Constable, to bring Almighty Voice (Tootoosis), a Cree who killed his partner, in for a fair trial after he’s been a fugitive for a year. But it comes off as a manhunt—with both sides being hunter and hunted, until a huge mass of NMP (later RCMP) troops overwhelm the situation (after losing three or four men) by sheer force. The original crime? The Cree slaughtered a cow that was part of Her Majesty’s Herd because his people were starving. He surrendered, and it was clear that he was going to be hung in the morning as an object lesson. Apparently (it’s hard to tell from the movie) Candy removes the Cree’s chains, making it possible for him to escape—and kill Candy’s partner.

The partner, not there for that long, is long-time actor Kevin McCarthy doing a fine job as the Noble Mountie. Sutherland as Candy comes off as…I dunno. Crazed? Strange? Obsessive, even before the hunt? (Yes, he was young—but this was four years after he played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, so I’ll blame the director. I’ve now read that Sutherland considers this the worst movie he ever made.) Maybe I’m just not the target audience. (Chief Dan George is OK, but has very little to do. In fact, that’s true of everybody…this is a slow movie that could readily be cut down to less than an hour.) I’d be hard-pressed to give this more than $0.25.

Seven Alone, 1974, color. Earl Bellamy (dir.), Dewey Martin, Aldo Ray, Anne Collings, Dean Smith, James Griffith, Stewart Petersen, Dehl Berti. 1:37.

A heart-wrenching story of courage, as the disobient eldest son in a seven-sibling family, on its way to Oregon in a wagon train, keeps the family together after both parents die and the train leaders say the kids should go back East—oh, and the rest of them should go to California because it’s too late in the Fall to make Oregon. The kids sneak off (with Kit Carson’s assistance), sneak along a day or so behind the small group who insist on going to Oregon, lose them…but of course it all eventually turns out all right, even with an infant with no mother’s milk, several days in untracked winter wilderness, etc., etc.

Apparently based on the true story of the Sager family, which should make me feel bad about calling this “family entertainment” a pile of crap. But…let’s see. It’s made clear that the appropriate way for the kid’s father to deal with his pranks is to take off his belt and whup the kid. The kid helps make clear that a wife’s place is to obey her husband (choosing carefully-selected never-wrong Bible verses). Thus it’s clearly appropriate that immediately after the wife says they’d leave their pleasant Midwestern farm to go west “Over my dead body,” the very next scene has her smiling alongside her husband driving their wagon, because, you know, he’s the boss. (And she’s pregnant again.) The kid continually ignores good advice, clear through to the end. We have “thieving Redskins.” “Gunslingers”? Well, the kid’s carrying a rifle and there is one gun battle between settlers and natives at one point… Pat Boone does the opening and closing theme, and it was sappy even for Boone (this is before Boone became a religion writer for an extreme-right website). This is Family entertainment with a capital-F. Badly written, badly acted, badly directed. One review says this is great because you’ll learn the history of the Oregon Trail. Really?

I see the phrase “politically correct” turns up in several of the favorable reviews. It appears that I should love the movie because it Promotes Family Values. Sorry, but that’s not enough, especially given the selective set of values it seems to espouse. Maybe the Sager story’s worth telling—but not in such an awful movie. I guess the scenery merits $0.50.

Mystery Collection Disc 38

Posted in Movies and TV on August 21st, 2013

The Boxer (orig. Un uomo dalla pelle dura or “A man with a thick skin”), 1972, color. Franco Prosperi (dir.), Robert Blake, Catherine Spaak, Ernest Borgnine, Gabriele Ferzetti, Orazio Orlando. 1:13.

Let’s see if I can get the plot straight. Teddy “Cherokee” Wilcox (Robert Blake), a boxer after a stint in prison and in Vietnam, decides his manager’s holding out on him, takes the manager’s entire wad ($800) and goes somewhere else—where, as he’s being ignored by a diner waiter and making a scene, an old buddy runs into him, says he’s in the money (he’s an assistant newspaper editor/sportswriter) and takes him home.

After a while, Wilcox says he needs to make some money, so the buddy introduces him to a manager/trainer who’s not in it for the money, supposedly. We then get to The Fight, in which the manager’s called with a threat that if he doesn’t throw the fight, he’ll be killed—and the manager tries to throw it by dosing Wilcox with something that partly blinds him. But he catches on, rinses out his eyes, and wins the fight, and of course says he’s gonna kill that manager… Who then calls him, says he needs to talk, Wilcox goes over…and winds up on the floor next to the dead manager. Running out (as the cops arrive), he collides with the beautiful estranged daughter of the manager.

That’s just the start. Police Captain Perkins (Ernest Borgnine) grows increasingly exasperated as the daughter perjures herself by identifying a cop in the lineup, the buddy perjures himself with a phony alibi for Wilcox, and the body count keeps growing—the ex-manager, two TV station (I guess) guys trying to work with the fight video and audio, maybe some others? Oh, and a little random footage of a pseudo-hippie at the fight can be lip-read by a deaf professor making the whole scene a little clearer: Big Money’s involved and the hippie “balances the books.” All of which is sort of resolved in the last few minutes with another two or three murders, the police miraculously saving the day and a fadeout with promise of romance between the daughter and Wilcox.

Lots of plot, but not much of a picture. It’s just plain dull. Some of it almost seemed random; some seemed slow and pointless. I guess Borgnine would take any paying job, and the same must have been true for Blake at the time. (I just learned from IMDB that Blake started out in the Our Gang comedies. Now it all makes sense…) R-rated, I guess for all the killings (there’s less than a minute missing so it can’t be sex that was trimmed from the American release). The print’s OK, and on that basis I can maybe come up with a generous $0.75.

Cat O’ Nine Tails (orig. Il gatto a nove code), 1971, color. Dario Argento (dir. & story), James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak. 1:55 (1:52).

It’s Italian—with two known Hollywood actors and one of Europe’s best actresses for this sort of thing, Ms. Spaak. It has lots’o’plot mostly involving a genetics research company and some sort of idea that we could solve violence by testing all children for the “XYY” deviation that’s linked to murderous rage and “separating them” (a euphemism for eugenics? separate them for life? to Italy’s version of Australia?). The “cat o’ nine tails” refers to nine threads in the mystery, I guess.

And it’s all a bit much. Karl Malden is one lead as a blind former journalist (the sleeve says police detective) living with his sub-teen niece; James Franciscus another, a journalist who gets involved in whatever this story really is. Spaak is the mysterious daughter (well, not really…) of the head of the research firm who’s always showing lots of leg and a fair amount of breast, who pretty much demands sex of Franciscus (always happy to oblige) and who continues to be mysterious to the end, even after Franciscus puts 2 and 2 together and gets 7. Four murders (two of them shown in loving detail as people are garroted slowly), child kidnapping, industrial espionage (maybe), gay bars…and lots more. Oh yes: also car racing and a humorously incompetent thief they call The Loser.

I never did quite know what to make of this. Maybe it makes more sense in Italian. But it’s stylish in its own way. I’ll give it a slightly-better-than-mediocre $1.25.

The Woman Hunter, 1972, color (made for TV). Bernard L. Kowalski (dir.) Barbara Eden, Robert Vaughn, Stuart Whitman. 1:14 [1:10]

Ah, there’s nothing like a plot twist—unless it’s one, three minutes before the end of a movie, that makes you go “Give me a break!” Which is the case with this movie. You have Barbara Eden as the wealthy woman who’s apparently accidentally killed someone with her runaway car, now recovered from the hospital and on her way to Acapulco (I guess) to relax. Robert Vaughn as her husband, a go-getting developer who wants to develop a resort—with her money, natch. And Stuart Whitman as an apparent stalker who, well, stalks her throughout and seems likely to be the jewel thief who murdered somebody else at a party (before the titles). (Larry Storch is in the movie for the first five minutes, telling really awful jokes at a party as a woman’s being killed outside. The best I can say for Storch is that he was not in the rest of the movie.)

And then there’s the twist. And, you know, it doesn’t work. Sorry. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth; it just undermined what was otherwise a mediocre little star vehicle, appropriate as a TV movie. (There’s also a magic tape recorder—a pocket unit that, somehow, when you push the Play button goes back to play from the start of the last recording session all by itself. Isn’t that convenient?) At best, for a good cast and scenic filming—well, and for Barbara Eden really doing a pretty good job—I could maybe cough up $1.00.

Escape from Sobibor, 1987, color (made for TV). Jack Gold (dir.), Alan Arkin, Joanna Pacula, Rutger Hauwer, Hartmut Becker, Jack Shepherd. 2:23 (1:59)

While I’m not quite sure this counts as a mystery, it’s quite a movie—apparently based on the true story of the one and only time workers in a Nazi death camp managed a mass escape. Alan Arkin is the key man fomenting an escape for perhaps 10 or 20 people—and rethinking that after seeing two people escape, 13 others try and 26 in all shot because of the attempt. Rutger Hauer arrives halfway through the film as leader of a captured Russian outfit—and between the two of them, they conclude that the only way for anybody to escape is for everybody to escape.

I’m not sure it’s a great movie, but it’s close. I’m also not sure what more to say about it. I’m a little surprised it’s a TV movie; the production values seem movie-worthy, the acting’s good, and it’s just under two hours, long for a TV movie. (Apparently the original was even longer!) Good print, and I’m giving it a full $2.00

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