Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

Paywall: The Movie–not a review

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

I just finished watching Paywall: The Business of Scholarship, after hearing about it for a few weeks.

It’s the longest video I’ve ever watched on my notebook computer (I watch TV and movies on a proper TV).

I recommend it to others.

Yes, there’s a factual error (the description of green OA by one person).

As I say, this isn’t a review.

I thought it interesting that a so-called society publisher effectively acted as an Elsevier advocate.

I found it interesting because I could attach faces and voices to quite a few people I’ve dealt with online. (I have never been to an OA conference. That’s not likely to change.)

To my mind, only one participant came off as a tool–and it would be unkind to identify the person in question. (No, not the AAAS person.)

Overall, I thought it was a good flick and worth the time. If you haven’t seen it and can spare the 1:05, give it a watch. On my notebook, at least, expanded to full screen it was smooth and had no problems. And, of course, if you’re crazy an entrepreneur, you could legally turn it into a DVD and sell copies: it has a CC BY license. Unlike far too many articles on OA, it walks the talk,

50 Classic Movie Warriors, Disc 4

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

50 Movie Warriors, Disc 4

 

 

Colossus and the Amazon Queen (orig. La regina delle Amazzoni), color, 1960. Vittorio Sala (dir.), Dorian Gray, Rod Taylor, Gianni Maria Canale, Ed Fury. 1:30 [1:24]

There’s no Colossus, but there is Glauco (Ed Fury), strongest man in Greece as judged by an all-out battle royale that begins this mostly-humorous outing. Rod Taylor plays Pirro, conniving friend of Glauco who helps get them into and back out of trouble through a series of…well, escapades…involving the Queendom of the Amazons, where some men who arrive are married for one night then enslaved in bear-guarded mines while others seem to carry on as marketeers. Dorian Gray as Antiope is a continuing “Egyptian” inventor. There are holes in the plot, and some sequences seem to be missing endings, but this is mostly just peculiar good fun.

I guess the plot doesn’t much matter. A lot of sight gags, good scenery, slapstick, and mostly just fun. Music distinctly unlike a typical movie of this genre. If you treat this as a Serious Sword & Sorcery film it’s atrocious—but it’s really hard to do that. Not great, but $1.25.

Duel of Champions (orig. Orazi e Curiazi), 1961, color. Ferdinando Baldi & Terence Young (dirs..), Alan Ladd, Franca Bettoia, Franco Fabrizi, Robert Keith. 1:45 [1:29].

Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but I found this one richer and more subtle than I expected—specifically, more of a family-conflict plot and less pure action. It’s not a gladiatorial epic; it’s something quite different.

The setting: Rome and Alba have been fighting an exhausting war, as shown in the clumsy battle royale at the start and the successful ambushing of the 4th Legion, on its way to beef up the Romans. “Exhausting” in this case means that the resources of both city-states are pretty much exhausted—and, after some significant plot (the would-be future king has supposedly fled during the ambush; his wife, daughter of the king, is then immediately wed to the next future king—but the original future king was captured, escaped, and has been recuperating), both kings agree to see what their joint gods would have them do.

The sibyl proclaims that the war should be decided by three brothers from each city fighting a duel in one month’s time: to the winner goes the war. But the only plausible set of Roman brothers includes the recuperated one, who’s been denounced by his father for (supposedly) fleeing the battle and decides to go live peaceably outside the war zone. Lots of discussion ensues; at the last minute, he shows up to the fight. (The original title refers to the families: the Roman Orazis and the Alban Curiazis.) Without giving away plot turns, it’s fair to say that Our Hero not only triumphs (by himself) but takes steps to see that the two cities live in peace.

To my taste, this was a good family-conflict drama with some action thrown in. The sound track’s poor at times, but the print’s pretty decent. You’re only seeing part of the widescreen picture, but the pan-and-scan was competently done. [I see why many IMDB reviews are negative: as a traditional sword-and-sandals movie, it’s not great.] I could see watching it again (unlikely though that is), so by the relaxed standards of these flicks, I’ll give it $1.75.

Hero of Rome (orig. Il colosso di Roma), 1964, color. Giorgio Ferroni (dir.), Gordon Scott, Gabriella Pallotta, Massimo Serato. 1:30 [1:27]

The Romans have ousted and exiled evil king Tarquin, becoming a republic—and, of course, the king wants Rome back, allying with Etruscans to do battle. Enter a strongman hero (Mucius), following which all sorts of betrayal and battles ensue. There’s a happy ending.

I don’t think the plot deserves more. There are elements that aren’t followed up, but mostly there are strong men, treacherous men, beautiful women, lots of scenery, and battles galore. I should note one thing about Mucius’ typical one-huge-man-defeats-ten-warriors bouts: he does a lot of tossing people over his shoulder, and sometimes it’s just a leetle too obvious that the other person has set up the stunt, unless appropriate fighting style was to place your foot on top of your opponent’s outstretched hand. Decent pan & scan. Not great, not terrible: $1.00.

Thor and the Amazon Women (orig. Le gladiatrici), 1963, color. Antonio Leonviola (dir. & screenplay), Susy Andersen, Joe Robinson, Harry Baird, Janine Hendy. 1:35 [1:26]

On one hand, there’s some interesting scenery. On the other…

Really vicious misogyny, not just saying that a violent female dictatorship is bad but—explicitly, several times—that women should never lead a government. Of the two blacks in the movie, one is the vicious Amazon queen; the other, who seems to be more muscular than Thor, is mostly a comic figure. All men are slaves…except for the men who are guards. The gladiatrices (that’s how they say it) don’t so much engage in battles as in bloodbaths, and despite the fact that they are also essentially slaves, they’re loyal to the queen (until they aren’t)..

Oh, and it’s a terrible pan&scan: at times, both actors in a scene are off to the sides and either invisible or barely visible. For that matter, the big “fight” between 100 trained gladiatrices and Thor turns out to be a tug-of-war, “settled” because the flames between the two sides burn through the rope.

If I didn’t look at what’s being said in the flick, it might be worth $0.75; as it is, at best $0.25.

 

Mystery Collection Disc 50

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Where’s Disc 49? (I have readers with memories going back that far?) The box got out of order…

The St. Louis Bank Robbery, 1959, b&w. Charles Guggenheim and John Stix (dirs.), Steve McQueen. 1:29.

The sleeve calls this “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery” and has it in color, filmed in 1959, 84 minutes long. The movie, however, is “The St. Louis Bank Robbery,” black and white, 89 minutes long. It’s a pan-and-scan version of a widescreen movie. (Apparently it was also released with “Great” in the title.)

One thing it surely is not is Great. In fact, if not for double-speeding, I’m not sure I could have made it through this dark, dismal and deeply boring flick. I suppose you could call it a psychological thriller, and I suppose it’s interesting that, in the seven minutes or so of actual action, the police actually involved in the robbery played themselves.

Otherwise…it seems like most of it takes place in a bar that always has the same odd music or a diner always, always playing a single stupid song. Dull, boring, annoying, and the only semi-likable character gets killed for absolutely no good reason. I feel as though I’m generous in giving this turkey $0.50.

Jail Bait, 1954, b&w. Edward J. Wood,Jr. (dir., prod. & writer), Lyle Talbot, Dolores Fuller, Herbert Rawlinson, Steve Reeves. 1:11.

Time to pick up the old flicks after a mere 15-week interruption…

Mea culpa: If I’d paid more attention to the opening credits, I would have realized what I was in for. And if I hadn’t been tired and distracted by Absolutely Not Worrying about an upcoming biopsy, I would have stopped watching this after ten minutes of incompetent dialogue, acting and direction and a thoroughly offensive (and unfunny) blackface routine. But I didn’t…

The poster at IMDB.com has a flag “Danger! These girls are hot!—but it’s not that kind of jailbait. Nope. This sorry little picture features a sorry young man (in an era when all the men, including the police, wore snappy suits and all the women wore gowns), son of an internationally famous plastic surgeon, who’s involved with a murderous low-life criminal and Pays the Price.

Despite the partly-good cast, there’s nothing positive to say about the acting or the dialogue. As usual, cop handguns have infinite numbers of bullets—all wasted firing at a car, and of course nobody thinks about writing down the license plate. The police mostly just sit around waiting for the solution to a police killing to fall into their laps. There’s a plot twist toward the end that you should see coming a mile away—and that only works because nobody dealt with fingerprints in 1954, apparently (or wrote down license plate numbers in hot pursuit).

IMDB’s rating is 3.3 out of 10. I think that’s generous. But looking at the IMDB listing, I see something that explains a lot about the picture: Written, produced and directed by Edward J. Wood, Jr., and the production, directing and writing are all below par even for Wood’s course. Three police departments cooperated in making this flick; I can’t imagine why. Plan 9 from Outer Space is entertainingly bad; this is just bad.

My review price is only for completist fans of Lyle Talbot, Edward J. Wood, Jr., Dolores Fuller or Steve Reeves—and even then, I’m being generous at $0.25.

Dangerous Passage, 1944, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Robert Lowery, Phyllis Brooks, Charles Arnt, Jack La Rue. 1:00.

This one’s better than it needed to be, as a low-budget hour-long “B” flick. A young American oil man stuck in South America learns that he’s inherited $200,000 (at the time, a small fortune). He gets the necessary credentials to claim the money in Galveston from a seedy, strange and thoroughly rotten local attorney, who tells him to sail north on one good ship—and, of course, immediately sends a henchman to bump him off.

That fails, and the guy goes north on an awful old steamer with one beautiful woman as the other passenger. Lots of murder attempts, questions as to who’s aligned with whom, and of course the two seems to fall in love immediately. Turns out there’s insurance fraud involved, with this tramp steamer intentionally wrecked as the latest act. Of course thins turn out OK. Interesting plot. Not great, but not terrible: $0.75.

Bulldog Courage, 1935, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), Tim McCoy, Joan Woodbury, Paul Fix. 1:00 [1:01]

It’s a Western, not a mystery, and it’s not too bad—if you don’t mind that it ends at least five or ten minutes before it should. Briefly, Slim Braddock as “the Phantom” has been robbing stagecoaches because the local banker robbed him of his mining claim. (“The Phantom” never wears a mask or shoots people…) He gets shot…and we jump to years later when Tim Braddock seeks revenge.

From there, we have robbers robbing robbers, interconnected gold mines, a potential love interest and a wiseacre detonation expert, apparently from Brooklyn, in a really bad suit. A great scene where Braddock imitates Bailey—very well.

Not a very good print (some missing syllables and words), but it’s clever enough that, if they’d finished the film, it might even have been worth $1. As it is, no more than $0.75.

Tarzan and the Green Goddess, 1938, b&w. Edward Kull (dir.), Bruce Bennett (credited as “Herman Brix”) as Tarzan, Ula Holt, Frank Baker. 1:12 [1:01]

At the full length cited on the sleeve, this mess might have been a mediocre, badly-acted, poorly-written pseudo-Tarzan flick—but as it is, it’s an incoherent set of excerpts from such a flick.

The estimable Lord Greystoke is having a gypsy-themed party at his ancestral estate, and folks are asking what happened to the Green Goddess. So an old hag (this flick is just full of stereotypes, among them that Guatemala is entirely removed from “civilization”) consults her crystal ball and tells the flashback (so guaranteed Happy Ending). It involves that super-powerful ancient Mayan explosive formula, many times as powerful as anything known today, which explains why the Mayan Empire rules the Americas. It’s hidden in a statue dedicated to salad dressing (we always see the statue wrapped, which presumably saved a buck or two of modeling), and is in the Lost City, and Tarzan/Greystoke and friends go after it, and so do villains and… Then there’s that Special Yell, which he does only after killing a lion or something; it’s up to the rest of the flick, which is to say awful.

This is a special Guatemala, with African animals. Never mind…

Sigh. I guess the impeccably dressed Greystoke spins around to achieve his preferred loin-cloth attire. When he’s not fondling simians, he’s doing that vine-and-tree thing, then jumping down into a large group of people—which generally means he gets captured. But, of course, it all works out—although we never see how.

Now that I’ve written this, I go to IMDB.com—and, oh look, it’s an edited version of a 1935 serial, “The New Adventures of Tarzan.” For that matter, it’s the second edited version, so maybe you had to see both to have it make any sense at all. Supposedly Edgar Rice Burroughs produced the serial and chose the star.

Culturally offensive, but that hardly matters since it doesn’t even make much sense, with huge continuity gaps and all. If you like Guatemalan scenery and steamboats in black-and-white, maybe $0.25; otherwise, I’ll give it a big $0.

50 Classic Movie Warriors, Disc 3

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Hercules Against the Moon Men (orig. Maciste e la regina di Samar or Maciste and Queen Samar), 1964, color. Giacomo Gentilomo (dir.), Sergio Ciani (“Alan Steel”), Jany Clair, Anna Maria Polani, Nando Tamberlani. 1:30 [1:27].

The city-kingdom of Samar is ruled by an evil (if beautiful) queen and under the domination of creatures in the Mountain of Death, who require a sacrifice of many of Samar’s young men and women on each full moon—a process that requires a remarkably large army and would seem to undermine the survival of Samar. (Most of the creatures are slow-moving stiff giants made of stonelike slabs, but there’s a top man who’s clearly a human with a funny mask and Princess Selene, a beautiful woman who must be brought back to life and power by the blood of the queen’s sister so that Jupiter can align with Mars and…well, never mind, it’s even more confusing than the Age of Aquarius.)

A senior adviser says enough is enough and asks for Hercules’ help (against the wishes of the queen, who attempts to kill him on the way into town). Lots of stuff happens from then on, culminating in a pointless and lengthy sandstorm, Hercules once again winning through unlimited strength, and a happy ending of sorts.

The so-called plot is incoherent, and the revolt never seems to take any shape. What this is, is mostly HercPorn: lots of closeups of well-oiled arms, legs and chest of this person who can lift and move anything. A mediocre print, crudely panned-and-scanned from what must be a widescreen original. I double-speeded through some of it, which helped (true double-speed, sl all the dialog and the really poor music.) Mostly for fans of Alan Steel’s acting ability muscles. Maybe the dialogue made more sense in Italian (or Greek?). Notably, this is really a Maciste movie, not a Hercules flick. (The French title, Maciste Against the Men of Stone, makes considerably more sense—although the plot’s still, well…) Generously, $0.75.

The Giants of Thessaly (I giganti della Tessaglia), color, 1960. Riccardo Freda (dir.), Roland Carey, Ziva Rodann, Alberto Farnese. 1:38 (1:28)

Title or no title, this is Jason and the Argonauts and the search for the Golden Fleece. As such, it involves gods, an island full of beautiful witches and talking sheep and stones, despair at sea, treachery at home, lots of beefcake (and beautiful women modestly dressed), and a lot of plot—and yet I found myself double-timing through a lengthy dance number and Jason’s seemingly interminable climb to retrieve the fleece. There’s only one giant (Cyclops) and he’s one-eyed and nowhere near Thessaly. It’s amazing how, after wandering aimlessly and seemingly lost for months, the Argo manages to return to Thessaly so rapidly and directly once the Golden Fleece is in hand, but… This was filmed three years before Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts, for what that’s worth.

It’s wide-screen (16×9), but you’ll have to zoom to get that and the resolution isn’t all that great. Still, good color, and it’s all reasonably well done. Not a classic, but worth $1.25.

Ali Baba and the Seven Saracens (orig. Simbad contro i sette saraceni, color, 1964. Emimmo Salvi (dir. & story), Gordon Mitchell, Bruno Piergentili, Bella Cortez, Carla Calo, Franco Doria. 1:34 [1:20].

I would say this flick has continuity problems, but that assumes continuity. Some scenes seem out of order; others just betray really cheap production—e.g., “midnight” scenes that are in broad daylight and a solar eclipse that only occurs over the palace grounds, not a few hundred feet away. When Simbad or Ali Baba or whoever is rescued (momentarily) by princess/harem member Fatima, he pushes her away and, about 30 seconds later, they proclaim their eternal love for one another. The best acting may be from the little person (Doria)who scurries around in secret passages—and the worst may be the deranged harem guard.

The plot has to do with Omar, a brutal lord who wants control of eight territories and to sit on the Golden Throne, but to do that requires winning a death match with one representative from each of the other seven tribes—the Seven Saracens, I guess. Ali Baba has a knack for being captured, and much of the plot doesn’t really work. No relationship to either the Sinbad or the Ali Baba of literature, of course. But never mind…

A reasonably decent eight-way battle (accepting that these people only use swords to hack at each other: although some of them wear what seem to be modern pants, shirts and boots or shoes, nobody’s ever heard of swordsmanship). A little unusual in that the American actor is the villain (although several actors used Americanized names for the film). Apparently only released in the U.S. as an 80-minute movie for TV, and not really even up to American-International’s standards. Very generously, $0.75.

The Giant of Marathon (orig. La battaglia di Maratona), color, 1959. Jacques Tourneur (dir.), Steve Reeves, Mylène Demongeot, Sergio Fantoni, Daniele Vargas, Gianni Loti. 1:30 [1:24]

Phillipides, medalist at the Olympics, new commander of the Sacred Guard and farmer at heart, saves the day for Athens against Persia, thanks to a sudden pact with Sparta and despite the treasonous acts of Athenian aristocrat Teocrito. Steve Reeves! Lots of action and scenery! Wide-screen (you’ll have to zoom), and a good enough print that it’s quite watchable. Good continuity, very good photography, excellent battle scenes, decent acting.

The sleeve description makes it seem as though it’s all about the battles, but about half the movie is about instant love lost, regained, lost again and…well, of course there’s a happy ending. By the standards of these flicks, $1.50.

 

Mystery Collection Disc 48

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

With four movies to a disc, how does Mill Creek get 50 movies on 12 discs—or, in this case, 250 on 60? By having the occasional disc with more, usually shorter, movies. Like this one, with six relatively short mysteries.

 

Rogue’s Gallery, 1944, b&w. Albert Herman (dir.), Robin Raymond, Frank Jenks, H.B. Warner, Ray Walker, Bob Homans. 1:00 [0:58]

The title makes no sense at all, but this is a wacky little story of the wisecracking woman reporter (the smartest one in the flick) and her slightly dim photographer sidekick as they encounter a wonderful (and wonderfully dangerous) invention and a couple of murders.

The plot moves quickly and maybe isn’t worth recounting. (The invention allows you to listen to anybody, anywhere, if you know the “unique frequency” their location has. It has one very prominent vacuum tube. Hey, it was 1944.) There’s also a corpse that keeps getting moved and a couple of car chases. That the cameraman had the bad guy’s picture all along and didn’t realize it may not be too important, since all the action seems to take place in one night. Fast-moving and pretty enjoyable. That Frank Jenks (the sidekick) gets first billing over Robin Raymond is typical Hollywood sexism: she’s the star player. Given its length, I’ll say $1.25.

The Black Raven, 1943, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), George Zucco, Wanta McKay, Noel Madison, Robert Livingston, Glenn Strange, Byron Foulger. 1:01 [0:59]

It was a dark and stormy night…

That’s the weather and the mood of this movie, which is so dark that the action’s invisible much of the time (the print doesn’t help). The action takes place in The Black Raven, a hotel near the Canadian border whose host (Amos Bradford, also known as the Black Raven) makes a few extra bucks by smuggling criminals across the border—and probably through other means. As the picture begins, his old partner in crime (busted out of prison with ten years left to serve) shows up and, in the usual manner of Movie Bad Guys With Scores To Settle, stands there talking at him instead of using that gun—so that when his tall, oafish assistant Andy, the comic relief of the movie, walks in, Bradford can wrestle the gun away and tie the guy up in his office. He gets out at some point.

I’m probably missing some of the plot, but basically the bridge across the border is washed out, as are other ways across, so the guy turning people back directs them to the Black Raven. Thus, in addition to a wanted criminal mastermind awaiting the cross-border smuggle, we have a bank clerk who’s embezzled $50,000; a young couple planning to get married in Canada because her father, a crooked politician, opposes the marriage; the father in question; and eventually a sheriff. (I may have missed someone.) The politician winds up dead; the bumbling sheriff immediately assumes that the young man must have done it; and, as time goes on, we get [I think] three more deaths.

Between the dark print and the muddled plot, I can’t see much to recommend this. Charitably, $0.50.

Seven Doors to Death, 1944, b&w. Elmer Clifton (dir.), Chick Chandler, June Clyde, George Meeker. 1:04 [1:00]

While this flick also suffers from goings-on-in-the-dark print problems, the main problem is that it’s 100 minutes of plot in a 60-minute film. It starts out with a sequence that never quite makes sense, and I’m not sure I ever did figure out the full cast of characters and who did what to whom when why…

The title’s easy enough. Most of the film takes place in an odd community of seven shops (and apartments for the shopkeepers?) arranged around a courtyard. There’s a photographer, a milliner (the heroine, who also may or may not be heir to the whole operation), a furrier/taxidermist (primary villain) and…well, others. There’s a jewelry heist, two murders, a disappearing corpse, and an interesting gimmick. Oh, and the wisecracking…architect, apparently, with a jalopy named Genevieve. He winds up with the beautiful milliner. Cops are also involved. There’s even a dance number.

It’s not terrible, but it’s not all that great either. Maybe $0.75.

Five Minutes to Live, 1961, b&w. Bill Karn (dir.), Johnny Cash, Donald Woods, Cay Forester, Vic Tayback, Ron (Ronnie) Howard, Merle Travis. 1:20 [1:14]

An unusual cast and an improbable bank-robbery plot, adding up to an OK movie. The cast features Johnny Cash as a gun-happy thief with a sadistic streak (he’s only too happy to shoot his girlfriend, but he’d rather not shoot kids) and Ronnie Howard (later Ron, but this is at Opie age), along with Vic Tayback as the hardbitten criminal mastermind whose plot really doesn’t work out very well. (At least he’s alive at the end, albeit in the hands of the cops: Cash doesn’t fare as well.) Merle Travis has a brief role as a bowling alley owner (and plays a guitar solo on the theme song and guitar through much of the soundtrack).

A lot hangs on a banker who was about ready to run off with his girlfriend and divorce his wife, but in the end turns out to love his wife after all. Maybe. I’d spell out the rest of the plot, but why bother? (The title, which is also a Johnny Cash song over the titles, alludes to a key plot point: if Cash, holding a gun on the wife, doesn’t get called every five minutes she gets it—except that it doesn’t quite work out that way.) Clearly a low-budget flick, so-so print, but some interesting acting (esp. Cay Forester, the wife and hostage, a little over the top—and why not, since she also wrote the screenplay?). All in all, not memorable, but not bad. $1.25.

Lady Gangster, 1942, b&w. Robert Florey (dir.), Faye Emerson, Julie Bishop, Frank Wilcox. 1:02.

The basic plot is that a would-be actress, in the same rooming house as three would-be bank robbers, facilitates the robbery…and is sent to prison. She’s also an old friend of a sort-of crusading radio station owner. After lots of scenes in a women’s prison (which seems to let inmates wear the clothes they arrived with), she escapes to help apprehend the others (although she’d actually hidden the $40K loot anyway). Somehow, despite multiple killings and her unquestionable involvement, it has a Cute Ending with Probable Nuptials. Apparently, a young Jackie Gleason was one of the robbers.

Even charitably, and mostly for Faye Emerson fans, make it $0.75.

The Sphinx, 1933, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Lionel Atwill, Sheila Terry, Theodore Newton, Paul Hurst. 1:04 [1:02]

This time, it’s a wisecracking male reporter—with a society/features writer girlfriend who he wants to marry. He works the crime beat, and the crime’s a stockbroker strangled in his office, as were three other stockbrokers previously. There’s a witness of sorts, a janitor who sees a guy come out of the office, ask him for a light and ask him the time.

The murderer, obviously—except that he’s a deaf-mute, as tests by both defendant’s and state’s doctors attest. The woman thinks he’s also a Great Man, a benefactor to charities, and starts going to his mansion to interview hum (sometimes with the help of an assistant/interpreter, sometimes with the use of a notepad.

I won’t go through the rest of the plot, but it has to do with identical twins and secret chambers and piano playing. Oh, and the old suicide-through-poison-ring bit.

A bit low on plausibility—the killer’s excuse is that the other stockbrokers disagreed with him on a deal, but he’s been doing the deaf/dumb routine for years and obviously expected to be caught eventually (otherwise why the poison ring?). Still, not bad. $1.00.

50 Classic Features Warriors, Disc 2

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

Two Gladiators (orig I due gladiatori), 1964, color. Mario Caiano (dir.), Richard Harrison, Moira Orfei, Alberto Farnese, Mimmo Palmara. 1:40 (1:33)

A mix of good and bad. Good: It’s widescreen (but not Enhanced for DVD, so your player has to do the zooming). Bad: It’s sort-of color: reds, blacks, occasionally a bit of blue-green, but rarely a full spectrum. Good: lots of mass swordfights. Bad: Really badly done swordfights with three heroes overcoming ridiculous odds on a regular basis.

It’s about the twin sons of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, one supposedly dead at birth but actually, well, supposed to have been killed but we all know how that goes. The supposed only son, Commodus, engages in gladiatorial matches (really?) until he learns of his father’s death, at which point he becomes emperor and looks to rival Caligula for evil. As you might expect, the other son (Lucius) wins out in the end (in the arena, with the two sons both dressed alike and wearing identical helmets, making it effectively impossible to tell them apart). Who knew that a hundred peasants armed mostly with torches could defeat whole hordes of Roman centurions?

Not terrible. $1.

Ursus in the Land of Fire (orig. Ursus nella terra di fuoco), color, 1963. Giorgio Simonelli (dir.), Ed Fury, Luciana Gilli, Adriano Micantoni, Claudia Mori. 1:27.

This flick falls into that special category of Paper Bag Flicks—one where it’s fortunate that man-size paper bags didn’t exist in the times being portrayed, since Ed Fury certainly could not have acted his way out of one. He can, however, defeat (and usually kill) any number of enemies at once, except when it suits the “plot” for him to be captured. (Apparently reviewers like the fact that he smiles more than most Hercules-style heroes, but to me he comes off as insipid. Diana is pretty good.)Another problem: this was a wide-screen picture (very wide screen, 2.35:1) converted to TV size by, apparently, just taking the center of the print: the credits are unreadable and during certain conversations you can only see part of the heroine’s face.

The plot? The sleeve has it wrong, at least in part: Ursus, leader of a village of peaceful shepherds on one side of a lake, doesn’t battle monsters except for the human kind. The setup is that a more military tribe lives on the other side of the lake and its evil general claims that for any shepherd to cross the lake is punishable by death. The beautiful Princess Diana, out riding near the lake, has her horse spooked by a rattlesnake; the horse throws her into the lake—and she seems unable to swim but can call for help. (Noteworthy because in two later scenes she’s a champion swimmer in the same lake.) Ursus, wandering nearby (half-naked as usual), saves her…and is, of course, then arrested and accused of trying to seize power (Diana was unconscious at the time, apparently fainting as soon as he’s saved her). Anyway…he escapes, but the not-so-bad king is convinced by the evil general (aided by Diana’s evil female cousin, who vouches for the general’s story) to let him go after Ursus and, what the heck, set the village to flames, kill all the women and children and take the men as slaves.

Beyond that, the general kills the king and seizes the throne, with Diana somehow fleeing (and meeting upwith Ursus, the two of course instantly falling in love) and the cousin marrying the general. But the people hate him, so he arranges a tournament to win their love. It’s an interesting tournament: any challenger in danger of beating the general/king’s champion gets an arrow in the back from the sidelines. Ursus shows up disguised, wins the competition against absurd odds and is immediately enslaved to help turn one honking big gristmill.

More stuff and nonsense having to do with the Land of Fire, a volcanic region with its own priesthood that the general defiled. The climax involves, in addition to more feats of strength and One Good Man Against Any Number of Bad Ones fights, the mountain’s revenge for that defilement and the people finally rising up against their evil ruler. I’ve skipped lots of plot, but all ends happily. Lots of action, zero plausibility, volcano erupting, a painfully bad actor as hero and, well, I’ll give it $1.

Cleopatra’s Daughter (orig. Il sepolcro dei re), 1960, color. Fernando Cerchio (dir.), Debra Paget, Ettore Manni, Erno Crisa. 1:49 (1:29).

The perils of Shila, daughter of Cleopatra, captured and forced into a dynastic marriage with Pharaoh Nemarat—under the vengeful eye of his mother and with the court physician desirous of Shila. That’s about as coherent as the “plot” gets, and the Big Dramatic Action seems mostly limited to a grave robbery and peculiar partial revolt. Let’s see: there’s also a poisoning, induced deathlike coma, several stabbings (rarely quite sure who’s stabbed or doing the stabbing)…and mostly lots of moping around.

The good? Halfway-decent print, although you’re getting just the center of a very widescreen “Ultrascope” movie. (That is: 1.33:1 of a 2.35:1 flick.) The bad? Pretty much everything else. Maybe the missing 20 minutes would help. This came off as a mediocre soap opera, but more confused, and with a few minutes of dramatic special effects. $0.50.

David and Goliath (orig. David e Golia), 1960, color. Ferdinando Baldi and Richard Pottier (dirs.), Orson Welles, Ivica Pajer, Eleojora Rossi Drago, Massimo Serato. 1:53 [1:32]

Orson Welles? Really? Yes, albeit an old, overly-large, shambling version of Welles as King Saul, the voice is intact. (Welles directed his own scenes—and he’s in quite a few.) Otherwise, this story, “freely adapted from the Bible” (as the credits say) is to some extent a typical tale of betrayal (Abner wants King Saul’s throne and is scheming with one of Saul’s daughters to get it), heroism (David, because David) and lots of action—except that in this case nearly all the action is in the last 15 minutes.

Slow and talky, but great scenery and a pretty decent print. If you can buy the premise that the Philistine army, ten times the size of the Isrealite guards, would actually give up (after its king breaks his promise to fall back if David slays Goliath, because what good Evil King wouldn’t immediately renege on a promise?) just because the king is slain…well, never mind. The extra 21 minutes would probably help. As pans & scans of very widescreen flicks go, this one isn’t terrible. All things considered, $1.25.

Mystery Collection Disc 47

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

In the past, you could expect about one old-movie-on-DVD post every four to six weeks, and a disc from this endless (OK, 60 disc/250 movie) collection every two or three months. Now…well, the post for Disc 46 was in December 2015 and the most recent post was April 2016. With no further ado, then…

The Swap (orig. Sam’s Song), 1969, color. Jordan Leondopoulos (dir,), Robert De Niro, Jarred Mickey, Jennifer Warren, Sybil Danning, Terrayne Crawford. 1:29 [1:21]

Guy gets out of prison, goes looking for his brother’s murderer, gets warned off by a cop, keeps looking, finds out his brother was making pornos, keeps looking, eventually finds and shoots the killer…getting shot himself in the process.

Put that way, it doesn’t sound that great…and the movie’s nothing special. Maybe the missing eight minutes (which must have had the footage that got an R rating) made all the difference? A young (and, honestly, not very interesting) De Niro stars…or doesn’t. Ah, looking at the IMDB listing and reviews makes it a bit more interesting: De Niro’s the director, and what I saw is a 1979 thing that remakes his 1969 Sam’s Song into a different movie. Still not compelling or very good. Charitably, for De Niro completists, $0.75.

Night of the Sharks (orig. La notte degli squali), 1988, color. Tonino Ricci (dir.), Treat Williams, Janet Agren, Antonio Fargas. 1:27.

Let’s see. I watched this on December 15, 2016. Apparently I watched the previous movie on April 2, 2016. At this rate, I’ll be done with the remainder of this set and the other two megapacks on hand in…about 75 years. Guess I’ll have to pick up the pace. One can only hope that most of the rest aren’t quite as lame as this one is.

Plot? Such as it is: the brother of a laid-back diver had been bugging telephone calls between a crook and the President for years, and has cut a CD with the Greatest Hits: he wants a big payoff to return the disc. He then mails the original to his beach-bum brother (the flick was filmed in the Dominican Republic, so let’s assume it’s set there). From then on, we have occasional spurts of action and lots of underwater and above-water footage, all of it in the daytime, involving this really mean shark who really, really wants our hero. There’s more, of course, but it’s all pretty lame: poorly directed, not very well shot, badly “written.” Oh: I suppose this is the R version, as there’s about 15 seconds of topless women at a swimming pool who are totally unrelated to the plot. Hey, it’s bad Italian cinema. Very charitably, $0.75.

We Interrupt These Mini-Reviews for a Message

My wife asked a reasonable question, given that book reading, OA research, etc., etc. conspired to leave more than half a year between viewing movies that weren’t any good: Why? Thinking about it…I’m raising my standards. If after fifteen or twenty minutes the flick doesn’t seem likely to be at least at the $1 level, I’ll stop and do one of the “not viewed” write-ups. That should help. Now, back to the flicks.

Beyond Justice, color, 1992. Duccio Tessari (dir.), Rutger Hauer, Carol Alt, Omar Sharif, Elliott Gould. 1:53 [1:46]

A wealthy young businesswoman’s son (sort of a rotten kid, kept in private school only through her frequent donations) is kidnapped by her ex-husband (his father), the son of a Moroccan Emir. There’s some nonsense with silver boxes planted in both their houses—all of which leads up to The Situation: the Emir wants the grandson to become the next Emir (Omar Sharif), since his son is too Westernized or something.

Meanwhile…the mother (Carol Alt, with Elliott Gould as her lawyer who also wants to marry her) hires a mercenary (Rutger Hauer) to find and rescue the son—and insists on accompanying them. After which we get lots of intrigue, lots of shooting, an enormous amount of Moroccan desert scenery, a feuding desert tribe that gets involved at the last minute—and an ending that leaves me wondering why the whole bloody mess was necessary in the first place, as the still-alive Emir gives his grandson the choice of how to proceed and he goes with his mother. (The father’s kaput.) Oh, and the mother falls for the handsome mercenary.

Great cast (but Gould’s completely wasted). Great scenery. Ennio Morricone score. Bizarre and ultimately pointless plot. There must have been dialogue and direction, but…. I watched the last half of it double-speed, which kept it moving. Not a great movie by a long shot, but possibly worth $1.

Cold Blood (orig. Das Amulett des Todes), color, 1975. Günter Vaessen (dir), Rutger Hauer, Vera Tschechowa, Horst Frank. 1:20 [says 1:30 on sleeve, actual runtime 1:14]

The original title makes a little more sense, but not a lot. The “plot”? A young woman has gone off to a country house—where she has the key oh-so-cleverly hidden by leaving it on the sill over the door, because nobody would ever think to look there. Anyway, she takes a shower, hears shots, and see that three men have been chasing another man who’s headed for her house…and shoot him, while seeing her.

So they’re going to take her with them so she won’t call the police and can bind up the guy’s wounds. Of course, she drives her car with The Boss of the little gang and the guy who’s been shot (Hauer). Of course, The Boss either falls asleep or has been stabbed and she easily eludes the other car, gets the guy worked on by a doctor, and goes with him to a semi-deserted country estate…where, equally of course, she jumps into bed with him (after a display of nudity which pleases one of the gang watching with binoculars—because, of course, they’ve found where she’s driven to and she disrobes in front of an open window).

What can I say? The explicit sex scene is the most complicated acting in the flick and makes no more sense than anything else. Of course she’d jump in bed with a guy she’s never met but who’s endangered her life and is probably a criminal because…well, Rutger Hauer, I guess. $0.50 if you’re a Hauer or Tschechowa fan, $0.25 otherwise.

 

Warriors Classic 50 Movies, Disc 1

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Collection, Disc 46

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunslinger Classics Disc 12

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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