Saturday, May 19, 2018

Friends to the End?

This is my entry in the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen and Classic Movie Hub

Only one comedy acting duo has managed to stand the test of time and appeal to all generations throughout the ages.  Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Marin and Lewis.  All had their days during their run in Hollywood. But try showing them to kids and young adults of today and you may just as likely get a yawn as a laugh.

On the other hand, show a Bugs Bunny/ Daffy Duck cartoon and only the most cynical of octogenarians will not get a chuckle at the antics on screen.  Over the course of roughly 13 years, from 1951-1964, the duo teamed together to make some of the best cartoons Warner Brothers Studios ever put on the screen.

Unlike most comedy team duos like Abbott and Costello, and Martin and Lewis, the `comedy duo of Daffy and Bugs rarely got along on screen.  Also unlike those others, the friendship off screen never deteriorated int a rancorous relationship.  Even after they parted ways as an on-screen team, the two remained lifelong friends, and even got together for more on screen antics later in life, including several full-length  Looney Tunes movies.

Beginning with Rabbit Fire (which coupled with Rabbit Seasoning and Duck! Rabbit, Duck! comprise what is known as the "Hunter's trilogy"), Bugs and Daffy played the classic straight man/comic duo that their predecessors such as Abbott/Costello and Laurel/Hardy did, but with much more exaggerated antics, since they were cartoons and could be blown up/shot/fall off cliffs with impunity.

Rabbit Fire:  was the first pairing of Bugs and Daffy.  Elmer Fudd is out in the woods and sneaking along hunting wabbit (as in "Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet.  I'm hunting wabbit. Hahahaha")  Bugs an Daffy go after each other trying to convince Elmer is alternately either duck season or rabbit season.  Some of the classic gags include Bugs accusing Elmer of hunting rabbits with an elephant gun, and then telling him to go shoot an elephant.  And behind Elmer is an elephant who responds (in a Joe Besser of the three Stooges voice) "You do and I'll give you such a pinch!"  The show ends with Bugs and Daffy tearing off posters on a tree, shouting "Duck Season!"  "Rabbit Season" until the final poster reveals a picture of Elmer and the words Elmer Season.  Elmer takes off like a rocket and Bugs and Daffy follow.  "Shhh.  Be vewy vewy quiet.  We're hunting Elmers.... Hahahaha."

Rabbit Seasoning:   was the second in the so-called Hunter trilogy.  This one had Daffy trying to convince Elmer that it's rabbit season when it's really duck season.  The main gag involves a repartee between Bugs an Daffy which has Bugs tricking Daffy into saying "and I say he does have to shoot Me now.  Shoot Me NOW!"  Hmm pronoun trouble... As in the previous episode, it ends with Daffy spluttering to Bugs "You're despicable."

Duck! Rabbit, Duck!:  was the third entry in the trilogy once again has the two fighting over whether it's duck season or rabbit season, including a couple of scenes where Daffy calls Bugs a dirty rat and Bugs calls Daffy a dirty skunk.  Daffy expostulates "I'm a dirty skunk?  I'm a dirty skunk?" at which point Bugs holds up a sign that says "Dirty Skunk Season" and Elmer shoots Daffy.  Then Daffy says "Well, I guess I'm the pigeon" and of course Bugs holds up a sign, "Pigeon Season".  After Daffy loses his cool, Bugs shows up in a ranger's outfit and Elmer asks "What season is it really?"  Bugs holds up a baseball and says it's baseball season, at which point Elmer exits enthusiastically shooting the baseball.

But the hunter's trilogy wasn't the only appearances by our two battling heroes.  Over the next few years there were some more classics, including:

Beanstalk Bunny:  Daffy has just been hoodwinked by a huckster into trading the family cow for some beans.  This is, of course, a takeoff of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, so Daffy is named "Jack" in the feature.  The beans grow a beanstalk up to the sky and Daffy rubs his greedy hands together thinking about all those "solid gold goodies".  The fly in the ointment is that Bugs, into whose hole Daffy inadvertently threw the beans is on the beanstalk.  After Daffy kicks Bugs off the beanstalk, Bugs mutters "I don't remember there being a rabbit in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.  But there's going to be one in this one!"  The giant turns out to be Elmer Fudd, and various antics ensue as both Bugs and Daffy try to escape the giant.  One of the best lines, after Daffy has tried to convince Elmer he's not Jack, that bugs is.  "Jack rabbit!"  Elmer's response is "I guess I'll have to open with a couple of Jacks."  (Kids won't get it, probably, but we adults do, and that's what makes it so funny.  But most of the WB cartoons had little references that were designed to appeal to adults.)

The Abominable Snow Rabbit:  Bugs and Daffy have been tunneling to the coast, but Bugs took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and they end up in the Himalayas.  Angrily Daffy jumps back in the tunnel to return to his starting point, but runs into the foot of the Abominable Snowman, who thinks Daffy is a rabbit.  Ecstatically, the Snowman picks up Daffy, exclaiming that he has a pet rabbit and that he will name him George (a reference to the character of  Lenny in Of Mice and Men.)  The usual chaos occurs as Daffy continually tries to get out of his predicament by redirecting his nemesis to Bugs. 

The Million Hare:  Daffy is visiting Bugs, and is the usual annoying house guest as he watches TV instead of hanging out with Bugs.  He is watching a game show that involves two friends who must race to the studio, the winner getting a million bucks.  Daffy tries all sorts of shenanigans to win while Bugs plays it cool, and Daffy arrives first.  But the prize is not exactly what he expected.

These are just my favorites.  Bugs and Daffy were paired in several other WB shorts, and all of them are worth seeking out.  Check them all out when you get a chance.  (At only about 6 minutes each, you could watch all 15 of them in a couple of hours.)  Time to ride off into the sunset, folks.  Drive home safely.


Thursday, May 17, 2018

In Old Gay Paree

This is my entry in the MGM Musical Magic Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood

Androgyny has always been a staple of Hollywood moviedom.  Whether it has been two innocent bystander musicians on the run from the mob (Some Like it Hot), or a young Jewish girl trying to achieve her dream in learning the Talmud (Yentl), men posing as women and vice-versa have appeared in film numerous times, sometimes to great effect and with great affection for the role reversal.  It has also been used in comic venues, often as a focal point of ridicule for the cross-dresser.

And that in effect is the primary point in many of the films featuring androgynous characters (usually depicted as being gay and then ridiculed for that, too.)  Prior to Stonewall (which I think was a turning point in more ways than one), Hollywood usually made gay characters either one of the villains, or as a foil for the audience to laugh at simply because of his gay-ness.  That is, when Hollywood even deigned to admit that a character was gay in the first place.  This was in keeping with the Hays Code which specifically banned "sexual perversion" (their words not mine).

But after the Stonewall riots (and if you don't know the history behind this trend-changing event, I would recommend a little light reading at the very least), gay characters made great strides in cinema, (as well as in society in general), becoming people that were accepted as viable members of society as well as heroes, in some cases in said movies.  To be sure, not always, but definitely more frequently than before.  Of course, not all of the gay characters were actually played by gay actors and actresses, but the fact that Hollywood was more sympathetic to the culture was an improvement.

The movie we discuss today is a result of an active trend towards portraying gay characters not only openly, but with a sympathetic attitude towards them.  Robert Preston, who portrays Carroll "Toddy" Todd, is an example of a gay character who is one with whom straight audiences can identify.   And Hollywood's changing attitudes even went so far as to nominate Preston as Best Supporting Actor (unfortunately losing to Louis Gossett, Jr for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman).

The movie was a remake of sorts of a 1933 German film, Viktor und Viktoria, and the film garnered more recognition at the Oscars besides the aforementioned Best Supporting Actor.  Leslie Ann Warren was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (losing to Jessica Lange), Best Adapted Screenplay (losing to Missing) and Julie Andrews for Best Actress (losing to Meryl Streep).  It did come away with an Oscar for Best Adapted Score, however.  And the song Le Jazz Hot, from the film is one of the more memorable songs in my opinion of a musical.

Victor/Victoria (1982):

The movie follows Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews), a struggling singer in 1934 Paris.   She is on the verge of starving because her particular style of singing is not what the clientele want.  After performing for a cabaret owner, Labisse (Peter Arne), and being dismissed, she heads back to her hovel of a hotel room where she owes back rent.  Willing to sacrifice her moral virtue just for a meatball, she sees a roach and has a panic fit.

Later at a restaurant, where she plans to eat a full meal, then release the roach and thereby get a free meal, she encounters Toddy Todd (Robert Preston).  Toddy had seen her performance at the audition at Labisse's cabaret, Chez Lui, where he works as a lounge singer, and thinks she has potential.  He encourages her to start a performance in which she will become a man who is a female impersonator.  As such, she will be transformed into Count Victor Grazinski, and he, Toddy, will be her agent.

Toddy is doing this for altruistic reasons, as he has no designs on Victoria.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie, after he has admitted he is gay, is when she asks "How long have you known you were gay?" and he responds "How long have you known you were a soprano?".

Victoria as Victor as Victoria becomes a sensation in Paris.  On her triumphant premiere she performs the song "Le Jazz Hot" to a sold out crowd at the cabaret.  Among the attendees is King Marchand (James Garner) who is infatuated with her, to the displeasure of his moll, Norma (Leslie Ann Warren).  That is until Victoria removes her wig revealing herself as "Victor".  At that point, the roles reverse, as it is Norma who cheers while King looks on aghast.  King is shocked that he had been attracted to what turns out to be a man, and of course Norma's thrill is primarily due to King's reaction after his discovery.

Hijinks ensue as Marchand tries desperately to come to terms with his infatuation.  He is convinced that he is not really attracted to a man and becomes convinced that there is some shady doings in the mix.  As a result he tries to get his henchman, Squash (Alex Karras), to try to get to the bottom of the story but Squash fails.  Marchand sneaks into the hotel room where Victoria and Toddy are staying and finds out the truth.

Much of the movie involves others trying to establish just what is going on.  Norma is sent packing back to America where, in a bitchy mood, she tells Marchand's mob associates that King is doing dirty things with another man.   Labisse, who has his suspicions, hires a detective to try and prove there is more than what he is being told to the situation.

Given that this movie is about a woman pretending to be a man, we are expected to believe the situation can actually happen.  And maybe it could.  But is Julie Andrews truly convincing playing a man?   Not really, but I tend to side with Dr. Rebecca Bell-Metereau who, in her book Hollywood Androgyny, states that "[t]o quibble with the fact that Andrews and Preston both deliver totally unconvincing performances as the opposite sex... would be as pointless as to wonder why Shakespeare's characters cannot recognize Ganymede as Rosalind" (a reference to the play As You Like It, for the uninitiated).  (For the record, the only scene where Preston is supposed to be playing a woman, I thought, was supposed to be for laughs and I don't think even the characters in the context of the movie were supposed to believe he was a she...)

Despite that fact, this movie is very entertaining.  Coincidentally, it was released the same year that Dustin Hoffman made his movie Tootsie, which involved a male actor who goes to great lengths to get an acting job, so much so that he pretends to be an older woman to get a role on a soap opera.  Viewing both of these movies as a double feature gives a very nice insight into the theme of androgyny as it was in its early stages of being an accepted theme in Hollywood.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Zone"d Out with Ida Lupino

This is my entry in the Ida Lupino Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

Ida Lupino is the only person to have ever starred in one Twilight Zone episode and to have also directed another Twilight Zone episode.  She is also the only woman to have directed one of the episodes of that iconic series.

 Spoiler Alert!:  I can't do Twilight Zone posts without revealing the ending.  But if you are a fan of the show, you know there's always a twist at the end.  Still, if you'd like to watch the episode first, feel free to do so.  Come back, I'll still be here.

The Twilight Zone "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine":

Barbara Jean Trenton (Ida Lupino) is an aging movie star who lives in the past.  She spends hours at a time cuing up old movies, ones in which she was a leading lady, and watching them by herself.  She has no real interest in the outside world.

Rod Serling delivers one of the most enigmatic introductions of his entire career as series host:

"Picture of a woman looking at a picture. Movie great of another time, once-brilliant star in a firmament no longer a part of the sky, eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. Barbara Jean Trenton, whose world is a projection room, whose dreams are made out of celluloid. Barbara Jean Trenton, struck down by hit-and-run years and lying on the unhappy pavement, trying desperately to get the license number of fleeting fame."

Danny Weiss (Martin Balsam), Barbara's agent, shows up frequently to try to coax Barbara out into the real world.  For the most part he is unsuccessful because this is a woman who believes her heydey is not really in the past.  In her mind she is still a viable romantic lead star.  She is only interested in re-imagining her role as a leading lady.

When Danny tells Barbara that a director, Marty Sall (Ted de Corsia) is interested in her, she is ecstatic.  Finally someone realizes her potential!  But the brief wall comes crumbling down when it turns out that the director only wants her to play a bit part, and as a mother!  She is indignant, claiming she has never played a mother and that she deserves better roles.

Barbara retreats even further into her fantasies.  She tells Danny she wants to throw a party and invite all of her old co-stars from the movie days.  Danny tries to talk he out of it, and eventually finds her old co-star (and her favorite leading man) to come visit.  Jerry Herndon (Jerome Cowan) shows up, but of course it's not the Jerry that she sees daily on the screen, but a man who, like she, is now 25 years or so older.  Barbara refuses to believe that this "imposter" is Jerry, insisting that Jerry is young and captivating, just like she believes herself to till be.

Barbara's isolation becomes complete.  When her maid comes to deliver a snack for her in the projection room she doesn't find Barbara there.  Instead she sees something shocking on the screen.  A little later Danny comes by and the maid reveals that something terrible has happened.  Barbara is not there.  When Danny enters the projection room and runs the movie he finds out the truth.  Barbara, the older Barbara, is now a part of the movie and is now living in her past glories.

The similarities between this episode and the Billy Wilder movie Sunset Boulevard are many.  In both we have an aging film star who is convinced her glory days in the cinema are not in the past, but are in the present.  And both had music by Franz Waxman.  Although the plot is predictable (most of the plots on Twilight Zone were predictable, if not for the precise ending at least for how it would turn out in the end),  what draws you into this episode is the remarkable performance of Lupino.  She has the nuances right, and given enough leash she could easily have taken this to even higher levels.  One of the flaws of many of the great episodes of the series was it's confinement to stage settings.  Many of them have the feel of the old live setting performances from just a few years earlier.

Rod Serling himself was quoted as saying this one was one of his least favorites, and it suffers from it's lack of a cult following in many ways.  Most DVD collections of highlighted episodes ignore  it in favor of much more well known episodes such as "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" or even the classic culinary episode of "To Serve Man".  It barely makes the top 100 (out of all 156 episodes) on one ranking site I looked at.   It was an early episode in the series, when it was still getting its chops as a powerful show, which should give it at least a little credit.  But its still a fairly good outing.

The Twilight Zone  "The Masks": 

Ida Lupino returned to the sound stages of "The Twilight Zone " in the fifth season, this time in the director's chair to give the haunting tale of  a New Orleans dysfunctional family.

Jason Foster (Robert Keith) is a rich old man who is dying.  His physician tells him he hasn't got a whole lot of time left, but Jason is holding out for the hope that he lasts until midnight of Mardi Gras.  See, while the rest of New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras outside his window, Jason has a devious plan.

He wants his daughter, her husband and their two children to spend Mardi Gras with him in his mansion.  His daughter, Emily (Virginia Gregg) is a whiny complaining shrew.  Her husband, Wilfred (Milton Selzer), is the essence of a greedy conniving business man.  The daughter, Paula (Brooke Hayward) is vain and egotistical a selfish.  The son, Wilfred, Jr (Alan Sues) is a sadistic brutish thug.

Jason's plan involves each of his "guests" to wear a mask for the entire evening; masks designed by an old Cajun medicine man, which are supposedly the embodiment of the exact opposite of how each of the four sees him or herself (but in reality are the fitting embodiment of their own true personalities, as we the audience are aware).

Of course these four are reluctant to follow through with even such a minor demand, even to humor a dying man.  That is until Jason tells these greedy S.O.B.s that if they refuse all they will get out of his inheritance is a plane ticket back home.  Apparently his will is already prepared and the one that will take precedence is the one that will follow their decision.

Of course, being the vain and greedy people they are, they agree to wear the masks, albeit not without bitching about it every second they get.  Finally just before midnight Jason goes on a tirade and tells each of them exactly what he thinks of them and that he hopes each will be happy with what they get from him.  At the stroke of midnight, Jason dies.  And the four remove their masks.

If you know how Twilight Zone stories end this won't be any surprise.  You would be expecting nothing less from Rod Serling.... Each of the family member's faces have been contorted into exact replicas of the masks they wore.  They are rich, but they are forever disfigured.  (Just try going to Neiman-Marcus now, Paula..)

Once again, the Twilight Zone gods gave us a remarkable episode.  And in this case, "The Masks" crops up on just about everyone's top 10 lists.  The previously mentioned list above ranks this one as #8.  I was only familiar with one of these actors with any real knowledge of their work.  Alan Sues is just a caricature, albeit a rather devious one, but it is a far cry from his usual role as a comic actor.    OLder readers may remember his campy personality as a regular on game shows like Hollywood Squares and his frequent appearances on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.  This was definitely nothing like it.

Hope you enjoyed the foray into one of the best TV shows in television history.  Time for me to travel down the road.  There's an odd sinpost down the road I've been meaing to check out.



Saturday, April 28, 2018

Spaced Out in 1961

This is my entry in the 1961 Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog.

1961 was a momentous year.  The year started with the first Roman Catholic candidate for President being inaugurated into office.  Later significant events included the first man to orbit the Earth in space (Yuri Gagarin) later to be followed by the first American in space (Alan Shepherd),  the President first advised the public about building fallout shelters, the "hijacking to Cuba" craze started with the first plane that was hijacked, and Adolph Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, went on trial (and was later found guilty of war crimes).  Also significant;  your not-so-humble blogger was born.

On the movie side, several significant and well received movies made their debut in 1961.  West Side Story was the Oscar darling of the year, but also significant movies such as The Hustler, The Guns of Navarone, Judgement at Nuremberg and Breakfast at Tiffany's, all of which took home Oscars were released.

On the slightly less significant, but just as interesting side of the entertainment industry were the first performance of a band that called themselves "The Beach Boys", two classic TV shows, "Mr. Ed" and "the Dick Van Dyke Show" premiered, and Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in a single season (a record that would stand for 37 years).

The Phantom Planet (1961):

There is nothing like a rogue planet to stir up consternation among the scientific community.   Especially when that rogue planet only shows up periodically to cause havoc with the space industry.

The Pegasus III encounters some problems while out from  Lunar Base 1, scoping things out.  The instruments go haywire and then suddenly an asteroid appears on the radar that wasn't there before.  Not only that but some tractor beam has caught the Pegasus III in it's grip and is drawing it into the asteroid.  (Can anyone say "Death Asteroid"?).  Also since Lunar Base 1 is unable to detect the asteroid out there in space, the only people that have encountered it were the crews of the two spaceships that have eventually crash-landed on it.

Yes, I said two.  Apparently this has happened before.  A previous spaceship, Pegasus II, also experienced the same phenomena.  And apparently there were no survivors of either crash.  This doesn't make the American space bigwigs back home very happy.  So they decide to send their best pilot, Capt Frank Chapman (Dean Fredericks) to check it out.  Chapman had been scheduled to be the first man to fly to Mars, but the brass decides to postpone that in an effort to get to the bottom of this situation.

Chapman goes out in Pegasus IV (you'd think there might be some superstition about sending out a third spaceship called Pegasus, but maybe that's just me...)  Chapman and his second-in-command, Lt. Ray Markonen (Richard Weber), don't initially find anything.  They conclude that the orbit of the mysterious planetoid must be very erratic.  Through some rather unfortunate events, Markonen is eventually killed.

Then Chapman finds the same planetoid that the others have found, and yes, his rocket is also captured by the mysterious tractor beam that the other  spaceships.  But our hero manages to get the ship to land safely.  He passes out into unconsciousness after exiting the spaceship.

He is found by a band of Lilliputians (really, little people just like the ones in Gulliver's Travels).  They open his helmet, and when he breathes in the air of the planetioid, he too becomes a little person.  He is taken hostage where he meets with the ruler of the place, Sessom (Francis X. Bushman).  Chapman finds himself on trial for the crime of being a foreigner (??!!)  His sentence;  he is made a citizen of Rhetan (???!!!), the name for the planetoid.

He immediately gets on the bad side of Herron (Anthony Dexter), the resident bully, because Herron sees him as a rival for the love of Liana (Colleen Gray), who happens to be the daughter of Sessom.  Of course, Chapman doesn't really want Liana, or for that matter, to even stay on Rhetan, but he is almost a prisoner, since he is forbidden to ever leave.  But if he is to remain, and is to actually marry and become a viable producing member of society, he actually has his designs on the mute Zetha (Delores Faith).

But Herron insists on a duel for Liana.  When Chapman gets the upper hand in the duel, but refuses to administer the death blow, Herron and Chapman become bosom buddies.  (only in the movies...)  Herron and Liana and Zetha eventually agree to help Chapman escape Rheton.  Fortunately for Chapman, if he does get back to Earth, he won't be six inches tall anymore, because, surprise, surprise, when he breathes his normal Earth oxygen, he will be reverted to his normal size.

In the interim, the Rhetons have to do battle with another race know as the Solarites.  These are pretty ugly creatures (actually we only get to see one, a thoroughly unrecognizable Richard Kiel, in his first feature film role as a captured Solarite being help prisoner on Rhetan).  It is Chapman's bravery that helps get him the help he needs to escape the phantom planet.

As ridiculous as this whole thing sounds, the movie is actually pretty good.

Assignment- Outer Space  aka Space-Men (1961):

The Italian movie Space-Men was made in 1960.  It appeared on the US shores with a re-dubbed English version of the script in 1961 as Assignment: Outer Space.

I am honestly not sure what the hell the plot of this movie is.  Initially, a reporter from Earth, Ray Peterson (Rik Van Nutter), also given the name of IZ41, is sent to a space station to write a story about "infra-radiation" (whatever the hell that is..).  He makes friends with the pilot who takes him out to the space station, Al (Archie Savage), also known as X15.  (Note:  It's never really clear why all these people have additional alphanumeric names, especially since most of the time they are addressed by their given names).

Once on the space station, Peterson gets sideways with the commander, George (David Montersor) (who is the only one who wasn't given an alphanumeric name, so I guess rank has its privileges).  Peterson, just by being there, annoys the commander.  But he also a supreme f**k-up.  He manages to cause a problem that makes the ship lose 500 gallons of fuel into space.  (Of course he was trying to save the life of Y15, a fellow astronaut, but that is besides the point, as far as George is concerned.)

Y15, as it turns out, is Lucy (Gabriella Fannon), the ship's navigator.  The ultimate surprise, (sexist as it may be, but this was the early sixties after all) , when Peterson finds out that his fellow astronaut is female is to exclaim "You're a girl!"  To her credit, she doesn't respond with "No sh*t, Sherlock!"  The bad news is, now Peterson is even more hot water with George because, guess what, Lucy is George's girlfriend.  (It's probably useless to ask why the authorities let a girlfriend/boyfriend situation be on the same space ship...)

Now here's why this plot is so confusing.  Apparently there is a rogue spaceship, pilot-less, that is heading towards Earth.  When it reaches Earth it will begin to orbit it.  And it's fitted with some kind of cosmic mumbo-jumbo that will burn up the planet if it is allowed to orbit it.  And it's also got some heavy-duty force field that makes it virtually impregnable to missiles.  (I can't help but wonder why the scientists built the damn thing in the first place..  Also this sounds a bit like the Death Star, again.  Wonder if George Lucas watched this double feature in real life as a young man..)

Several attempts are made to destroy the rogue spaceship, but eventually, and you had to know this was coming, our hero, despite being only a reporter and not having any space piloting experience, volunteers to drive a space cab through a tiny vulnerable spot in the force field and land on the space ship, in an effort to disable it.  Any guesses as to whether he succeeds?   Peterson of course is given a medal by Princess Leia (oops, I mean, he gets to be friends with his fellow spacemen, including George and Lucy).

I can save you a little bit of trouble on this one.  The acting is very sub-par.  The special effects are negligible.  (There is even a short three or four frame scene in one shot in which you can clearly see a car and a house, despite the fact that the scene takes place on Mars, which even in this movie is currently not habitable.)  Both of these movies were released on the same day, December 13, 1961  (just two days after yours truly was born).  They indeed were paired at the drive-in so it's looking more and more like Lucas might have seen them together.  Take my advice, though.  See the first one, but skip this one, unless you are a movie masochist like me.

Time to drive off into the dark recesses of space (or at least to the nearest Death Star).  Drive home safely folks



Sunday, April 22, 2018

Four Things Tag

The Four Things Tag

I saw this tag on Hamlette's Soliloquy.  It's not my usual thing for this movie blog to do tags, but I thought I'd go for a change of pace.

Four Jobs I’ve Had

Housekeeping employee at a resort
Fast food cook
Grocery stock boy
Current: Logistics engineer (a fancy term I made up for being a shipping employee)

Four Things I Don’t Eat

Brussels sprouts

Four Places I’ve Lived

I was born in North Carolina, but since six months old I've lived in:
and, oh yeah, Texas

Four of my Favorite Foods

Chicharrones (Mexican version of pork skins)

Four Movies I’ve Watched More Than Once

The Maltese Falcon
The Great Escape
The Blues Brothers
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai

Four TV Shows I Watch

I thought about skipping this one since I don't have a TV, but I have several complete runs of older shows:

Star Trek (the original series)
Sherlock (the Benedict Cumberbatch version)

Four Things I’m Looking Forward to This Year (2018)
Except getting older, not much...

Four Things I Can’t Live Without

Comedy and laughter
A good writing pen.

Four Places I’ve Visited

Washington D.C.
New Orleans, LA
Tulsa, OK
Almost Mexico.  (Got to the border, but I didn't have a passport so they wouldn't let me cross over.)

Four Pet Peeves
Jackass Drivers
Dallas Cowboys fans
"Helpful" people (as in people who think they are giving you sound advice, but are really just annoying the hell out of you.)
The phase "It's an acquired taste".  (Why the hell should I keep trying something I don't like initially just to "acquire" a taste for it?)

Four Things I Wish I Could Do

Sing (I don't even karaoke).
Travel in space.
Create some fad that people would stupidly spend millions of dollars on.  Like the Pet Rock fad...
Write the next Pulitzer Prize novel that every Hollywood studio wants to make into a movie.

Four Subjects I Studied at School

History (it was my major)
Creative writing (It was my minor)
British literature

Four Things Near Me Right Now

My cat. 

Cup of coffee
My good writing pen
Every movie I own.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fighting the Good Fight

This is my entry in the William Holden Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood, The Flapper Dame and The Wonderful World of Cinema.

1968 saw the release of several notable war movies.  War movies were still popular, even if the real ongoing war in Asia was not.  Especially popular were movies that glorified the heroes of the previous generation.  The biggest money maker, as far as WWII movies, was Where Eagles Dare, a film based on a novel by Alistair MacLean.  There were several others that came out in 1968.  By far the box office star for war movies was The Green Berets which was John Wayne's answer to the protests over the unfavorable Vietnam war.  For my money, the absolute best war movie from 1968 only had two actors, however; Hell in the Pacific, with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as enemy combatants eventually forced to form a partnership when both are stranded on a deserted island.

Equally rousing however is The Devil's Brigade, based on a true story of the formation of the First Special Service Force during WWII, a combined force of American and Canadian troops.  The Canadians are composed of staunch chins up soldiers, but the American force is a ragtag gaggle of various malcontents.  Not exactly criminals like those that formed the crack outfit in  The Dirty Dozen, but I did notice a few characters who seemed to resemble some of the characters in that previous movie.

Of course William Holden's Col. Frederick is not a stand-in for Col. Reismann, but he does exhibit some of the same disregard for authority that Lee Marvin's  does.  And Claude Akins' Pvt. Rockman could easily be mistaken for John Cassevetes' Franco (with maybe a dash of the racist views of Telly Savalas' Maggott.)  Richard Jaeckel, who was a sergeant in the first movie is a private here, not quite as dumb as Donald Sutherland's Pinkley, but just as carefree.  If you've seen the former flick, you might find yourself attaching some of the same similarities to the characters in this one.

The Devil's Brigade (1968):

William Holden plays Lt. Col. Robert Frederick who arrives in Britain to discuss with Lord Mountbatten what he considers an ill-conceived idea.  He had already sent papers from the U.S., but had to show up personally, and is disgusted when he finds that the Allies are going through with their plan despite the flaws in the plan he has already pointed out.

It turns out this meeting was really to get a good look at Frederick, because the Allied command has ideas of forming a crack troop of soldiers for a mission in Norway.  Frederick has to mold a ragtag group of soldiers, most of whom have been in and out of the brig for various offenses,  and mold them into a group that can head the Norway invasion.

Among these are Private "Rocky" Rockman (Claude Akins), a bulky malcontent who is always itching for a fight, Private Omar Greco (Richard Jaeckel), who has gone AWOL more times than anybody can keep track of, and Private Theodore Ransom (Andrew Prine), who is running from a cushy job as a piano player for a base because he really, really wants to get into the action.

On their first day on the base the soldiers are astounded by the arrival of a contingent of Scots-Canadians, marching smartly in formation, decked out in kilts and bagpipes.  There is the requisite hostility between the Americans and the Canadians, mainly it seems because the Canadians are in better shape as soldiers.  Rockman and a few others are constantly trying to instigate a fight, but the orders are down from the leaders that he Canadians are to resist the temptation.  An brawl in a bar with a bunch of unruly lumberjacks is the thing that gets them all on the same page.

But word comes down from the high brass that they have decided to let the Brits take the Norway mission.  Frederick is disgusted, mainly because the brass doesn't think he has done a good enough job on his troops to make them ready.  He demands an opportunity to prove their worth and he is given it;  a recon of a German garrison in Italy.  Like Rambo in First Blood: Part II, their job is only to look around and bring back information, but the renegade side of Frederick has other ideas.  They actually plan to capture the garrison.

They end up capyuring the garrison, but it's not over yet.  Now that the high command has seen how capable this "Devil's Brigade" is, they are given another mission, to capture a mountain fortress.  And it won't be easy, I can tell you that much.

Holden is joined by a familiar cast of actors in this one.  His second in command is Dr. Ben Casey!  Vince Edwards, really.  Cliff Robertson plays the leader of the Canadian contingent.  Richard Dawson appears as one of the soldiers.  Carrol O'Connor is a general with whom Frederick appeals for a chance for his troops.  You'll even catch Dana Andrews and Michael Rennie in the head office.

For an action/war movie, this one is a pretty good one.  I had never even heard of it until I saw it on the shelf at my local library.  It's well worth a peek.

Drive home safely, folks.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Solar System on $5 a Day (Pt 3)

This is my third (and final) entry in the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

For three days, from April 13th -15th. we are going to take a tour of the solar system.  American International Pictures is our main guide to this tour. We will be visiting many of the planets in our solar system along with a brief jaunt to Earth's moon.  We hope you enjoy this respite from your daily humdrum life.

(This is a continuation of a thee part series.  You should read Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 first if you don't want to be slightly confused...)

On our travels through the solar system we have already paid a visit to Venus, Mars and Jupiter as well as a side trip to the Earth's Moon.  Our journey is just about to get exciting, as we have saved  the best for the last.  Join us now as we conclude our brief tour of our neighborhood.

Space Patrol, a British television series, is one of the film documentations of encounters with Saturn.  But Silent Running, a film from the 70's actually had a spaceship orbiting the planet.  Most other references to Saturn occur obliquely, such as the fact that the main character in the Star Trek episode, "Tomorrow is Yesterday", would eventually head a crew that was to be on the first Earth-Saturn probe.

Planet Outlaws (1953):

The hero Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe) was a standup kind of guy who, through some drastic events, crashed his dirigible over the North Pole and was suspended in animation, along with hi pal Buddy (Jackie Moran), for 500 years.  When Buck and Buddy are found, they are taken captive by soldiers of an underground city.  Apparently initially they are thought to be spies for the ruthless dictator "Killer" Kane (Anthony Warde).

The tide turns quickly when the underground city's leader, Dr. Huer (C. Montague Shaw) finds out his captives are from the past.  Quickly Buck and Buddy become allies in trying to wrest power over the planet from Kane.  See, the city is impenetrable by Kane's forces outside the city (due to a secret entrance that only the city inhabitants know about, but at the same time they are almost virtual prisoners in their city as Kane's superior forces rule the skies.

Buck and Buddy volunteer to take a dangerous trip to go to Saturn and appeal to the residents of that planet to help in their ordeal.  But when Buck arrives, so do representatives of Kane's dominion.  And the Saturnites initially side with Kane's contingent.  (Why the Saturnites want to side with anybody who goes by the name of "Killer" is anybody's guess, but there it is.)

 Back on Earth Buck kidnaps the representative of Saturn and forces him to see video proof of Kane's true evil intentions.  Kane takes all his prisoners and makes them wear special helmets which reduce them to mindless automatons.   As such, the Saturn native eventually switches allegiances and sides with the good guys.

This movie was originally a 12 part serial, and the editing on it is a little stagnant in places, but it is a typical example of the gung-ho type of serial that was prevalent at the time.  Lots of fist fights and occasionally a few pistol shots, (but surprisingly very few ray guns except on the spaceships).  You take away the spaceships and the travel to another planet and it could just as easily have been a good guys vs. the mobsters movie.  Even so, it is pretty good, well worth a couple of viewings, and probably entertaining even for the youngsters in the family.

The planet Uranus, like it's predecessor in this blog entry, was also rarely seen in film. The aforementioned Space Patrol delved into the planet briefly.  And apparently it had been mined for a mineral needed by Doctor Who at some point, although the show never actually went to the planet.

Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962): 

The focus of this film is a trip to Uranus.  Our five man team of astronauts, which include Don (John Agar), who is the Captain of the team, along with Eric (Carl Ottosen), Karl (Peter Monch), Barry (Ove Sprague) and Svend (Louis Miehe-Renhard) arrive in orbit around Uranus. (BTW, if those names sound a little strange to you, it's because this film was originally made in Denmark).

The first thing that happens is some alien that is on the planet uses a sort of mind control, and while a voice tells them that it has been waiting for them and that it will use them to go to Earth to take over the Earth, time passes for them.  Although they think only seconds has passed, it is apparent they have been in some kind of suspended animation for several days, and they are completely unaware of the presence of  the alien.

When they disembark from the rocket, they find an Earth-like atmosphere and plant life.  One of them actually recognizes the area as being exactly the same as a place where he grew up.  While investigating further, the crew finds an old farm, which again is exactly like the one where he grew up.  Each also encounters the one woman he loves the most from back on Earth.

They run into some kind of mobile barrier, and when one of the crew members rashly sticks his arm through the barrier it is frozen solid.  Fortunately it heals quickly, and when the crew discusses what they should do, three of them are designated to check out what's beyond the barrier.  Decked out in spacesuits, they advance through it and find an entirely different  situation on the other side.

The alien, it turns out, is using their minds to create the things they fear the most.  Giant rat-like creatures and a huge tarantula attack them on different occasions.  They eventually cotton to the idea that there is an alien presence and just what it's goals are.  They realize their only chance of escape is to cross the barrier and find and kill the alien in it's lair or they will never be able to leave Uranus.

As cheesy as this movie sounds, it is by far the best movie of the entire weekend.  If you don't watch any of the others, you really shouldn't miss this one.  If it sounds vaguely familiar as a story, it seems to me at any rate to be somewhat based on a Ray Bradbury story "Mars is Heaven".  At least the elements of an alien force using the minds of the Earthlings to create a world they can relate to seem to mirror that story.  It ain't Casablanca, folks, but if you like your entertainment on the cheap side, it is well worth a look.

In conclusion, we had to miss out on our complete tour of the solar system.  Both Neptune and Pluto received some peripheral attention in the Doctor Who and Space Patrol TV series, but no real investigation of the planets has ever been recorded. Suffice to say both would be intriguing places to visit, but they will have to wait for more in depth surveillance before we make an attempt to land there at this point.  Your safety is paramount.

We will now return you safely to planet Earth.  Hope you enjoyed the trip.