Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

Mystery Collection Disc 39

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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

Sunday, 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

Wednesday, 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

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics Disc 4

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

The Hanged Man, 1974, color (TV movie). Michael Caffey (dir.), Steve Forrest, Dean Jagger, Will Geer, Sharon Acker, Brendan Boone, Rafael Campos, BarBara Luna, Cameron Mitchell. 1:13.

Although I knew I’d seen this earlier (seven years earlier), I also knew I gave it an unusually high $2.00 rating and decided it might be worth seeing again.

Which it was. The hanged man (Steve Forrest) is a gunslinger, probably wrongly convicted of murder; he’s a cool customer during preparations for the hanging. Then he’s hanged, and declared dead. But he’s not quite dead (maybe because the doctor gave him loads of laudanum?). In a parallel plot (joined because of a common lawyer, Dean Jagger), a woman (Sharon Acker) is in town with her son to bury her husband, who “accidentally” died at the mine she doesn’t want to sell to the local silver baron (Cameron Mitchell). The silver baron will stop at nothing to force her to sell him the mine—and the hanged man winds up in the middle..

The movie moves at a natural pace. It develops toward an appropriate climax (although at the end we’re left wondering what might come next; it was apparently a series pilot)—and it’s even reasonably believable. I found it thoroughly enjoyable, for the scenery, the acting, the cast, the cinematography, the script. The print is about as perfect as you’ll find on these sets. It’s an unusual, moody Western, and I think it’s worth the full $2.00.

Trinity and Sartana…Those Dirty Sons of Bitches, (orig. Trinità e Sartana figli di… or “Trinity and Sartana children…“), 1972, color. Mario Siciliano (dir.), Alberto Dell’Acqua (as “Robert Widmark”), Harry Baird, Beatrice Pella, Stelio Candelli, Dante Maggio (as “Dan May”), Ezio Marano (as “Alan Abbott”). 1:42.

In this case, I’d seen the flick three years ago—and it was not worth watching again.

The One-Eyed Soldiers, 1966, color. John Ainsworth (dir.), Dale Robertson, Luciana Paluzzi, Guy Degby, Andrew Faulds, Mile Avramovic, Mirko Boman. 1:23 (1:14).

A doctor with the UN Relief Medical Organization is being chased by bad guys and falls off a tower in a Central European nation. With his last breaths, he says something like “18 July one-eyed soldiers.” And with that, we’re off and running in a caper that takes place during one evening, one night and the next morning and afternoon. There’s a beautiful young woman (the doctor’s daughter), a journalist and a fat man—all on a train, all about to cross a border, but then the border’s closed. The plot involves a little person with bad teeth who’s a Syndicate head looking for the key to $15 million in a Swiss lockbox (I guess); the doctor was acting as a courier but took off with the key. The fat man is after it. I’m not quite sure how the daughter and journalist are involved—but before the film is halfway over, they certainly are involved.

A fair amount of gunplay, nonstop chases and the like, and about as happy an ending as you might expect. It’s not exactly a classic (and I’m not even sure I have the plot right), but it moves right along, the print’s decent and it’s not a bad way to spend 75 minutes. It’s a Yugoslavian film. What it’s doing in a “Gunslinger” collection is anybody’s guess. $1.25.

Mad Dog Morgan, 1976, color. Philippe Mora (dir.), Dennis Hopper, Jack Thomson, David Gulphil. 1:42 [1:38]

I suppose this Dennis Hopper showcase (if he’s not in every frame, it’s close) is a legitimate “gunslinger” item—he’s holding guns a lot of the time and it’s set in the Old VERY West—1850s-60s in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia (filmed in Australia). He plays Daniel Morgan, an Irishman who voluntarily moves to Australia to “seek his fortune” and, after not having much luck with goldmining, decides that highway robbery is the way to go. He gets caught and sentenced to 12 years at hard labor in a horrifying island prison; he’s paroled after six years. (Before turning robber, he takes delight in smoking opium in the mining camp’s Chinatown section. He gets his hand branded at the prison, and he’s treated brutally…)

Post-prison, our upstanding hero becomes a “bushranger,” a kind of semi-lovable robber who only robs from those who have money (which makes sense). Supposedly, he’s “vowed revenge,” but it’s not clear what that means. He does kill people, but hey, none of us are perfect. He’s clearly a bit around the bend—more than a bit as time goes on. Eventually, he’s hunted down and killed. End of story. It’s apparently based on a true story.

I kept waiting for this film to develop a heart or some plot beyond “lovable desperado eventually gets shot,” or for that matter some reason we’d love this “rogue.” Maybe I’m not sufficiently enamored of Hopper’s acting? Maybe Australians will find this more interesting? Good scenery, but at most I found it mediocre and maybe worth $1.00.

Mystery Collection Disc 37

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Cry of the Innocent, 1980, color (made for TV). Michael O’Herlihy (dir.), Rod Taylor, Joanna Pettet, Nigel Davenport, Cyril Cusack, Walter Gotell. 1:33.

Based on a Frederick Forsyth story and with a first-rate cast, this movie is set in Ireland, where a former Green Beret (Taylor), now an insurance executive in Dublin, is on vacation with his wife and two kids in his second house in Kerry. He goes off with his son to fish—but sends his son back to get the carrier for the catch. At which point, just as the son gets back to the house, an airplane falls out of the sky, crashes into the house and explodes.

As the movie progresses, he learn what we already knew—the crash was no accident, as there was a bomb in the plane (but hitting the house was bad timing: it was supposed to explode over water), and industrial espionage appears to be at play. He runs into a young woman, a journalist, who has an uncanny resemblance to his dead wife (and who he falls for in time)—Pettet, quite good in both roles. There’s a lot more plot, including retired spies and agents in an old folks’ home on Corsica and their connected friends, leading up to a fairly remarkable final ten minutes as he takes his revenge while keeping the constabulary happy. (Cyril Cusack as the Irish police inspector is particularly good throughout.)

But right about the middle of those last ten minutes, it began to seem a little familiar. There’s a reason for that: I’d already seen the movie—more than seven years ago, in another megapack. Still, it was worth watching again. Not great, but quite good: I’ll stick with $1.50.

Paper Man, 1971, color. Walter Grauman (dir.), Dean Stockwell, Stefanie Powers, James Stacy, Tina Chen, Elliott Street, James Olson. 1:29.

A college student picks up his mail and finds in it a credit card in someone else’s name, sent by a local bank (this was before Visa and Mastercard, I think). His ethics are not wonderful, so next thing we know he’s gathered three friends—two women, one man—all of whom have learned to fake the signature he adds to the card. Then they corral a shy computer nerd (Dean Stockwell with Big Hair) who always seems to wear a suit, to add records to “Big Ugly,” the campus computer, that will give some credence to the existence of the “paper man.” (For some reason, all four of these students also spend loads of time in this computer room—and in at least one case it’s not at all clear why.) Then they each go out and charge things on the card (ah, the old imprinters in action!), figuring they’ll eventually pay them back, and it’s really OK because students can’t get credit cards…

That’s the setup. A “technician” who’s actually in charge of this computer room (the old, huge, lots-of-blinking-lights computer naturally operates everything in the building including a pretty sophisticated dummy medical patient) learns about this and agrees to keep it secret. And then…people in the group start dying. In various odd ways. And when the computer nerd decides to remove the records from the computer, he finds that it doesn’t work, and also that there’s now more real-world paperwork for the “paper man,” stuff he didn’t add.

You can probably see what’s coming: Identity theft added to identity creation in order to give a hunted man a new identity. And you can probably guess who the hunted man is. Or, if you prefer, maybe the computer’s the killer! (They sure try to make it look like that along the way…) If you guessed that the survivors are Stockwell and the ever-lovely (and talented) Stefanie Powers, that’s not a stretch either.

Classic early-’70s computer: Loads of blinking lights with huge waves of light when it actually does anything, teletype for input, all caps output (DEATH DEATH DEATH…when one of the four is trying to teach it “Breath” in a speech recognition exercise), incredibly powerful and linked up to all the other computers in the world by telephone lines. (Note: IMDB says “made for TV” but in fact this was briefly released in theaters—and what’s here is the 89-minute theatrical version, not the 75-minute TV version.)

Especially for its time, pretty good. On balance, I’ll give it $1.50.

The Cold Room, 1984, color (TV). James Dearden (dir. & screenplay), George Segal, Amanda Pays, Renée Soutendijk, Warren Clarke, Elizabeth Spriggs. 1:35.

In the first half of this film, a young woman’s leaving school to meet her father in Berlin; one of her teachers (a nun) hands her a Berlin guidebook from 1936, while a friend hands her a bag of weed. She meets her father; they drive to East Berlin (this was before The Wall fell); the relationship is clearly strained (the father has a girlfriend in East Berlin, the daughter worries about the border guards finding her pot). It doesn’t help when they check into a hotel that’s not one of the tourist hotels, instead being…I guess quaint is the best word.

She almost immediately starts having vivid dreams of Nazi Germany, seeing a butcher in the shop opposite the hotel…which has apparently been boarded up for some years, hearing things in the wall and eventually managing to tear down the wall behind the cupboard and find a man there. Who’s a dissident and wants her to contact a person on a specific street. Except that the street was renamed after WWII and the person’s long gone.

There’s probably more, but I gave up after the first half. This seems to be more a psychological thriller than a mystery, and I just plain didn’t like it well enough to keep going. George Segal as the father was OK; Amanda Pays (in her first role, the daughter—but also apparently somebody else, presumably in the second half of the movie) was mostly annoying; and I gave up. One IMDB review says “Incredibly bleak and almost unwatchable.” Sounds about right. No rating.

Millions (orig. Miliardi), 1991, color. Carlo Vanzina (dir.), Billy Zane, Lauren Hutton, Carol Alt, Jean Sorel, Alexandra Paul, Roberto Bisacco, Catherine Hickland, John Stockwell. 1:50.

The bad news: This flick was filmed in Panavision but what you get here is pan&scan. Oh, and it’s a little trashy. The good news: It’s stylish EuroTrashy with good production values, loads of casual nudity, almost wholly amoral characters (except the two women who don’t get naked and have sex with whoever’s handy, one of whom is Lauren Hutton), and a plot that—while sometimes a little over the top—is fun.

The opening sets the scene for the ethics at play. A drunk gets kicked out of an Italian tavern. As he’s walking home, he sees a helicopter explode not too far away. He walks over to it…and removes the wallets and watches from the pilot and passenger, along with a briefcase in the passenger compartment. (As he later say: “Why call for help? They were dead anyway.”) As it turns out, the passenger wasn’t quite dead…

He’s an industrial magnate, who has secret plans (guess where they are!) to take his company public and make it one of the ten largest international conglomerates. Now he’s in a coma, with his (ex?)wife (Hutton) by his side and his family gathering to look after the company. Or in the case of Maurizio (Billy Zane, who makes a great villain), a nephew, find some way to take over the company by hook or by crook. Preferably by crook.

Zane beds or attempts to bed his sister-in-law, his cousin, the second-in-command of the company’s American operations (headed by his father, who she’s also sleeping with), hookers sent his way by various people…I lost count. He’s a good enough bluffer to be able to determine that his father’s been cooking the books, which lets him blackmail his father into making him the acting president of the overall company and…well, it gets too complicated.

As far as I could tell, the only two characters who had ethics worth a damn are Hutton’s character (the reason she’s separated from her husband is because she can’t conceive and she thinks he should have an heir with somebody else) and her sister-in-law (I guess: it got a little fuzzy) who doesn’t really have much of a part. Otherwise—well, even after the more-or-less happy ending, there seem to be at least two more double-crosses waiting to happen.

And, although “millions” really should have been billions for one of the ten largest international companies, even in 1985 (really? you could take that large a company public and, when the stock crashes, buy it back for $200 million?), the print’s good and the plot just keeps on moving. Certainly not a classic, but not bad as an Italian sex-and-wealth-and-intrigue comedy with several American actors, and at 10 minutes shy of two hours it didn’t seem long. (The sleeve says 1985 and 105 minutes; in fact, it’s 1991 and 110 minutes.) I’ll give it $1.50.

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics Disc 3

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Yuma, 1971, color (TV movie). Ted Post (dir.), Clint Walker, Barry Sullivan, Kathryn Hays, Edgar Buchanan, Morgan Woodward, Peter Mark Richman, John Kerr, Bing Russewll, Bruce Glover. 1:14

Given a perfect print and the Aaron Spelling Production credit—and the fades to black at convenient plot points roughly once every fifteen minutes—it was fairly obvious this was a TV movie before looking it up. But it’s a good’un, with Clint Walker as a U.S. Marshal sent to Yuma after the last three law enforcement types have either died or left within a week of arriving. Even before he can check into a hotel or visit his office, he must deal with an out-of-control stage coach driven by two out-of-control cowboys, who start shooting in the air, go into a saloon to get even more drunk and keep on shooting. In the process (it’s clear that they hijacked a stage coach just for drunken laughs), he winds up shooting one of the King brothers—admittedly after the brother shot at him three times.

Just the start of a moderately complex plot that is as much mystery as western. I won’t bother recounting more of the plot, which involves corruption, the army, bidding procedures, a local tribe that’s being cheated and more. It actually hangs together fairly well. It’s particularly interesting that after you believe you know who the villains are, there’s more to it…and none of it’s trickery. Most of the performances are pretty good, and the whole thing was thoroughly enjoyable. (One little problem: The credits say the film was partly made in “Old Tuscon,” and I strongly suspect that was really Old Tucson.) A flick I may watch again. $1.50.

The Belle Starr Story (orig. Il mio corpo per un poker), 1968, color. Piero Cristofani and Lina Wertmüller (dirs..), Elsa Martinelli, Robert Woods, George Eastman, Francesca Righini. 1:43 [1:40]

This story is roughly half flashbacks, half contemporary—as Belle Starr, that pants-wearing fast-shooting poker-playing outlaw, falls suddenly in lust with Larry Blackie, a local criminal, and tells him her background. The contemporary part: He wants to hire her for an audacious robbery; she refuses and sets out to do it herself (with a hired gang). Things do not go well.

This version of Belle Starr is young, beautiful, heavily freckled and a fool for lust (I keep writing “love” but…), with a back story having almost nothing in common with the actual Belle Starr. The print’s fairly good (the credits are widescreen, but, sigh, the rest of the flick is pan-and-scan), and other than an extended torture scene (involving Starr’s lustmate), it’s not too bad on the violence part. It’s a Eurowestern, but an unusual one—one of few with a woman in the primary role (and nearly every frame) and almost certainly the only Eurowestern directed by Lina Wertmüller. A little baroque but not bad. (If you’re one who watches spaghetti westerns for lots of violence and gunplay, you’ll be disappointed.) $1.50.

Joshua, 1976, color. Larry G. Spangler (dir.), Fred Williamson, Cal Bartlett, Brenda Venus, Isela Vega, Bud Stout.

Or “oshu” according to the on-screen credits, I think. I almost gave up on this one because, while the print is OK as far as it goes, it doesn’t go very far: not so much pan-and-scan as stare-and-discard, the center portion of what appears to be a very wide-screen movie, such that you get people half off screen, none of the credits are readable, and the sense of scenic grandeur that might have made this sad enterprise more tolerable isn’t there. (IMDB says it was very wide-screen: 2.35:1, so I was saying the center 57% of the picture.

It’s a Fred Williamson movie all the way: He wrote the story and screenplay and he’s in almost every scene, as the son returning from the Civil War to the Old West and a cabin where his widowed mother’s cooking for a farmer, there with his much younger mail-order bride. But before he gets there, five riders appear at the house, say they need water and food, get invited in for supper…and, to show their gratitude, run off with the bride, shoot the guy when he protests (but don’t actually kill him), and shoot the cook because she reaches for her late husband’s rifle.

Enter the son, Joshua. He hears about the situation (from the bandaged farmer), sees a group of lawmen arrive saying they lost the five in the hills, hears the note that there are five of them, says he killed twice that many in the war…and he’s off.

The rest of the movie is riding. Lots of riding. More riding. Some stalking. Some really poor music, repeated endlessly. More riding. And, once in a while, Joshua offing one of the five men—or anybody else who happens to be in the way or is a nuisance of any sort. I lost count, but I think he avenges his mother’s death by killing at least 20 people—including the kidnapped bride. (Who, after being raped a few times, somehow turns willing cohort of the kidnappers—Stockholm syndrome, I suppose.) He arranges several of the deaths in various nasty ways. Oh, and even though he apparently took after these outlaws with just a saddlebag (holding supplies enough for several days), the saddlebag apparently includes the bundle of dynamite sticks that I assume were standard issue for Civil War veterans. (Oh yes: And there’s one big fistfight where each punch sounds like a kettledrum. I never knew flesh was that resonant.)

Pretty bad. For Fred Williamson fans and lovers of scenery, maybe, charitably, $0.75.

Any Gun Can Play, 1967, color. Enzo G. Castellari (dir.), Edd Byrnes, George Hilton, Gilbert Roland, Stefania Careddu, Jose Torres. 1:45 [1:37]

This is more like it. The flick was filmed very wide screen…and that’s how it appears here (once you use zoom setting). It’s a good enough digitization that zooming in doesn’t make the image unwatchable or less than VHS-quality. And the flick itself plays with Western tropes while being a pretty good (and moderately complex) spaghetti-style Western—part parody, part tribute, sometimes straightforward, with some nice touches along the way (e.g., spilling wine on the table to serve as a crude mirror for what’s happening behind you).

The opening is classic Western: three men riding slowly into the deserted streets of a town, sometimes filmed through a swinging wooden gate, with shots of townsfolk peering fearfully out their windows and the whole shebang. The Good, the Bad and the..well, no, these three gunmen aren’t important to the picture, as we quicky learn from a plot twist involving three coffins and the role of The Stranger, a bounty hunter (George Hilton). Then we move to a short train carrying $300,000 to a bank and occupied by armed troops to protect the shipment, a bank employee (Edd Byrns), and—oddly—one other passenger (guess who!). There’s an unusual robbery, and the plot’s in motion. I can’t even begin to describe all of the plot; it’s fair to say that the somewhat-happy ending isn’t at all what I expected. Some extended fistfights (with exaggerated sound effects), some gymnastics (really), lots of deaths but nearly all in the standard Spaghetti Western style (the person’s shot, makes one sound, jumps up and keels over—with maybe a bit of ketchup on his or her shirt). Some humor, some playing with clichés, and generally just enjoyable. Great scenery. (The IMDB synopsis is dead wrong, by the way.) Not quite a classic, but certainly worth $1.75.


Delayed recognition

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Just a fun little post.

Last weekend, we finally watched Topsy-Turvy, since we’re now seeing every Lamplighters production of Gilbert & Sullivan that shows up at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore and so begin to qualify as G&S fans.

It was excellent, if long (2 hours and 40 minutes!).

When the opening credits–all the stars–went by, the only one either of us recognized was Jim Broadbent (and neither of us recognized him in the film itself). That was fine: The movie wasn’t an all-star extravaganza, especially not for us heathen Americans.

But there was one actor who we thought we recognized–and then we were sure, although only when he wasn’t in his character for The Mikado.

“That’s Dr. Hunt!” (Dr. Owen Hunt, Grey’s Anatomy).

His name sure didn’t appear in the opening credits. But, between the first half and the second half (we split the flick across two nights), we’d both checked IMDB, and sure enough: Kevin McKidd was in both the movie and the TV series.

The reason we didn’t see his name in the opening credits? Simple enough: The movie was made in 1999, and McKidd (who was only 26 at the time, but looked a lot older) wasn’t a major star at the time. (His most prominent role before that was probably Trainspotting, and he wasn’t one of the primary stars in that 1996 film–which we have not seen–either.)

No deeper significance. Oh, and if you like G&S at all, I do recommend Topsy-Turvy–but then, you’ve probably already seen it.

Service, part 2

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

I need to catch up on some open-ended posts/topics–and, for various reasons, I’m doing an unusually crappy job of it. Even by my low standards. This is a start…

On May 22, 2013, I posted “Service, part 1“–an upbeat (at least in how it turned out and in the generally good attitude of all involved) service story about the Social Security Administration. Here’s the thing: SSA doesn’t precisely have to treat customers well so it can attract them. SSA doesn’t go out looking for customers. But I’m generally impressed with how things were handled.

A less positive story

I’ve already told this story, in a January 27, 2013 post: “Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story.”

It’s now a little more than four months later.

Nothing has happened.

I consider this unsatisfactory customer service.

Yes, we eventually got the set repaired. (It’s still working. It’s still the best picture I’ve ever seen–in THX mode–on a reasonably-priced HDTV, when it’s working. We hope it keeps working for years to come.)

Did Panasonic owe us anything? That’s hard to say. When you have what’s usually rated as the brand with the best reliability, you don’t expect circuit board failures just 25 months after purchase of an $1,800 set, especially when that set’s only used about an hour or two a day.

You also don’t expect to be referred to an Authorized Panasonic Service Agency that misdiagnoses the failure (while talking to Panasonic reps), charges a VERY high price for the diagnosis, and quotes an outrageous price for the repair–and wants to take the set away to do that repair.

Oh, and you probably don’t expect that the same circuit board will fail not too long after it’s replaced.

I believe Panasonic should at least pay for the overpriced mis-diagnosis. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Do we love the set? Yep.

Would we buy another Panasonic if/when this one needs replacing? Almost certainly not.

Nothing more to say here. Soon (hah!), I’ll wrap up another unfinished post or two.

Mystery Collection Disc 36

Monday, May 20th, 2013

A typical “sixth disc” with six short movies—except that this time around two of them aren’t all that short. (At least according to the sleeve—which turned out to be wrong in both cases.)

Night Life in Reno, 1931, b&w. Raymond Cannon (dir.), Virginia Valli, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Christy, Arthur Housman, Dixie Lee, Clarence Wilson, Carmelita Geraghty, Pat O’Malley. 0:58

Here’s what the sleeve says: “A woman finds her husband in a compromising position and decides to seek a divorce from him. Heading to Reno to secure a divorce, the woman learns it will take six weeks for her divorce to be granted. Finding she has to wait in Reno for the six weeks, the woman ends up living the wild life and taking up with a married man.”

Here’s what I saw: The first two sentences are accurate enough, with the divorce attorney being somewhat of a comic character. But then we get a long, slow, languid…sequence where the husband (who’s followed her, finds the attorney, and pays him to attempt a reconciliation) is drunk in a casino (where only the swells play and all they play is roulette), hangs out with another stiff, attempts the world’s worst pickup and, somehow, winds up drinking with the other stiff’s friend and with, well, his wife (under an assumed name). The wild life appears to consist entirely of playing roulette and drinking way too much.

In any event, the last ten minutes have all the action—almost enough action for a five-minute short. The wife goes off with the other man, he makes a pass, she deflects it and phones her soon-to-be-ex, she leaves the apartment, the other guy’s ex (or soon-to-be-ex?) shows up and plugs the guy. Next morning, the maid arrives, sees the corpse, the cops show up and, given obvious evidence, arrest the heroine. At which point her husband shows up and confesses (falsely). Fortunately (?) as she’s released and back in her hotel room, the other woman shows up to kill her as well, and since she was about to call someone through a switchboard, cops show up to save the day. The woman and husband reunite and leave Reno, with the attorney doing an odd sort of bit.

Damned if I can tell what this was supposed to be. Badly paced, incredibly slow, with acting seeming mostly to consist of looking one way and then the other…and if that was Reno in 1931, its reputation as a hot town was exaggerated. Maybe the missing 14 minutes make a big difference, but this one already made 57 minutes seem an eternity. As a period piece, very generously $0.75.

Convicts at Large, 1938, b&w. Scott E. Beal & David Friedman (dirs..), Ralph Forbes, Paula Stone, William Royle, John Kelly, George Travell, Charles Brokaw. 0:57.

Two setup plot lines: A prison break on one hand, an architectural office where one architect is clearly moonlighting—when he should be drawing up a basement design for a building, he’s busy with plans for his own Happy Home LLC company to build homes that are “scientifically designed” to maximize the happiness of residents—a concept he just can’t shut up about (including selling an idea as though it was a going concern). He’s also hung up on a local singer, to the dismay of his housemates.

He goes for a walk to escape his housemates’ incessant chatter. One escapee grabs him, knocks him out, and takes his clothes. As he wakes up—third plotline—two thugs (one a typical comic thug) from the nightclub where the singer works drive by and toss a bundle of clothing out to what they assume to be the escapee (the nightclub owner paid for the escape). Oh, and in the pocket of the clothes is some money, but the comic thug used badly-made counterfeit money instead of real money.

You can almost see how things come together. The architect, wearing the clothes in the bundle, finds himself in front of the nightclub and goes in to get something to eat. He strikes up a conversation with the singer (who, for unclear reasons, is almost immediately taken with him). The thugs and owner—who have no idea what the escapee (a jewel thief who’s supposed to split a $200,000 haul with them) looks like—decide this guy must be the thief and bring him and the singer back to the Back Room.

Anyway: Lots more action, the assumption that—when the actual thief shows up—the couple (which is apparently what they are now, an hour after they met) will be killed, and a Happy Ending. Yep: As they’re being held in adjacent cells until the architect’s sister shows up to clear them, he proposes to her—and she accepts even before he finishes the proposal. All of this within, what, 12 hours of them first meeting?

What it is, is a combination of romantic comedy and farce with some crime thrown in for good measure. (Definitely some farce: When the architect, pretending to be the thief, is drawing a map of where the heist is supposedly hidden, he makes a mistake and asks for an eraser—at which point the dumber thug hands him his pistol. You know: His eraser.) You even get one song on the radio and another song-and-dance number (Paula Stone has a good voice and did a fine dance routine). Another indication as to its plausibility: When the thugs, the club owner and the actual thief—all of them obviously armed—are digging up the jewels, the other three apparently have no idea at all that the thief could possibly double-cross them. But hey, it’s a romp—and not a bad one. Given the length, I’ll say $1.00.

Tough to Handle, 1937, b&w. S. Roy Luby (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Phyllis Fraser, Harry Worth, Betty Burgess, Johnstone White, Burr Caruth, Stanley Price. 1:00 [0:58]

For some of you, “a Frankie Darro flick” may be all that needs to be said, for good or for bad. He’s not the East End Kids, but he’d never be my favorite actor either. That said, this wasn’t a bad little B/second-feature flick, especially using one trick (more on that later), although it was an odd mix of thriller (not really much mystery), romantic comedy and musical, a lot to pack into 58 frequently slow-moving minutes.

The basic plot (the sleeve copy gets it entirely wrong): a nightclub owner is running an Irish Sweepstakes racket—or, rather, he’s sort of running it. The racket: Print up phony tickets, sell them, PROFIT. Except that one set of plates accidentally had real sweepstakes numbers instead of impossible ones—and one of them wins. Darro enters (right at the start) as the winner’s grandson and a newspaper peddler, who sells his grandfather the “Sweepstakes Extra” that prints all the winning numbers and names—and is surprised as his grandfather (a) says he has a winning ticket (for $16,000) and (b) says the newspaper prints the winner’s name as some woman in another state. Naturally, Darro also sells his paper to the nightclub owner/crook—oh, and Darro’s sister is a singer dating an investigative reporter. Can you see where this is heading?

I guess there actually is a mystery (in addition to the absurdly bad “drunk” play by a club patron who turns out to be, supposedly, an undercover agent—and who’s clearly acting in cahoots with the bartenders who feed him no-alcohol drinks all day, which makes no sense at all): who’s actually in charge of the racket? By now, you’ve probably figured that one out.

Did you know that most modern DVD players can play a DVD at exactly double speed without chipmunk noises? You hear the dialog (or singing) at its original frequency, just twice as fast. That’s how I made it through this movie, especially once the musical numbers started. (It also made the absurd fistfights more tolerable.) Given that I watched the 58-minute movie in 45 minutes, it was appropriately paced. For Frankie Darro fans, maybe $0.75.

The President’s Mystery, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Henry Wilcoxon, Betty Furness, Sidney Blackmer, Evelyn Brent, Barnett Parker. 1:20 (0:53).

The setup (accounting for the title) is unusual: Supposedly, Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved mystery stories and wondered how a millionaire could disappear (and start a new life)—with his money. Six writers put together a story; this movie is based on that story (and the story is referenced in the film); the lead titles say the proceeds from the story and the screenplay both went to FDR’s Warm Springs Foundation.

That said, it’s very much a movie of its time, in the heart of the depression—when, at least according to this flick, predatory businessmen were shutting down competition and refusing to grow and employ people because it might cut profits. They were also sending hotshot lawyers to Washington to assure that bills to ease credit and reopen factories wouldn’t pass. The hotshot lawyer in this case also loves fishing and has a loveless marriage, and goes fishing in a town that’s essentially shutting down because the local cannery went under. The owner of the bankrupt cannery is a beautiful young woman (Betty Furness) who feeds the town using illegal fishing methods (actually, her father owned the cannery and committed suicide when it went under).

You can probably guess where this all leads. A combination of Message film, love story and good old American (cooperative) save-yourself knowhow, it’s a pretty good story for a one-hour flick. I do wonder about the missing 27 minutes (actually, the first IMDB review suggests that it’s all exposition, setting up the lawyer’s method for “losing” his money without losing it). I’ll give it $1.25.

Racing Blood, 1936, b&w. Victor Halperin (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Gladys Blake, Arthur Housman, James Eagles, Matthew Betz, Si Wills, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones. 1:01 [0:55]

What? Another Frankie Darro B flick? Yes—but this one’s not too bad. Darro’s the kid brother (named Frankie) of a jockey and the proprietress of a horse-themed diner (parents never in evidence); he begs $4.85 from his sister to buy an injured colt about to be shot. (The seller gives him back the $4.85 to go towards hay.) After lots and lots of calendar-pages flying by, the colt’s healthy, fast, and will only let the kid ride him. Which he does in a $1,000 race, after scrounging the $100 entry fee from various friends. And, of course, wins—racing against his brother, the favorite, who was deliberately fouled by riders in the employ of a ruthless gambler. Oh, and after that, the kid’s naïveté leads to his brother’s being barred from racing (don’t ask).

One thing leads to another, and we have—in short order—the brother seriously ill and lacking the will to live, the colt being poisoned by the gambler’s henchmen (except that they actually poison another horse), the kid being kidnapped and, in a truly bizarre last 10 minutes, the kid conquering all odds (he’s shot, he’s loaded into an ambulance, he steals the ambulance and drives off, he can barely stand as he goes to get weighed in…) and winning the Derby. Your suspension of disbelief has to be really firmly in place (e.g., since the gambler had already decided to kill the kid so there are no witnesses, why doesn’t he just do that?). But, hey, for what it is, it isn’t bad. Mostly for Darro fans, maybe $1.00

The Shadow: Invisible Avenger (aka The Invisible Avenger), 1958, b&w. James Wong How & Ben Parker (dir.), Richard Derr, Mark Daniels, Helen Westcott, Jack Doner, Jeanne Neher, Steve Dano, Dan Mullin. 1:10 [0:57]

I think this is the first of several “The Shadow” flicks I’ve seen in which The Shadow’s mystical powers actually come into play. To wit, with the counsel of his compatriot Jogendra (who seems to be telepathic or at least able to project thoughts), he’s able to fade out in the minds of beholders, leaving only a shadow. Jogendra can apparently instantly hypnotize anybody by staring at them, even from across the room, and get them to do anything he chooses, so “disappearing” is no big deal.

The plot? Set in New Orleans, where the deposed president of Santa Cruz (your basic Caribbean nation) is in exile after being overthrown by a dictator—a dictator with lots of hired hands and guns working for him, who fears (correctly) that the president’s supporters may overthrow the dictatorship. The hired hands do in a jazz trumpeter who’s trying to help the president and who has contacted Lamont Cranston to see whether he can contact The Shadow. And the race is on…

Jogendra on more than one occasion points out that if somebody fires (accurately) at the shadow, Cranston will be just as dead as if he hadn’t overused his power—but the only time this comes into play, it’s somehow the person behind the shadow who dies. Never mind. We have a present in which executions are actually shown on TV—and, of course, all the Hispanics in Santa Cruz speak English. There’s a little low-key sort-of romance, a lot of music (some pseudo-jazz, one fairly bizarre misogynistic semi-reggae piece under the opening credits, a little Nawlins stuff), and all turns out well. Except that, given the way things turn out, I don’t see that Cranston’s/The Shadow’s activities really made much difference at all. The flick has the feel of being a clumsily-assembled set of serial episodes, with total blackouts between segments. (It was originally intended as a TV pilot.) Oh, and The Shadow’s tagline (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only The Shadow knows. Bwahahahah…”) ends with a laugh that would have you think The Shadow is a villain, not a hero. The missing 13 minutes might have helped. But it’s not bad: $1.00.