The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by Space Cadet on 3/26/2020, 5:38 pm

Well, THANK'S A LOT! Ya taunt me with a movie like this, when Ya know I'm locked up and wearin' coat that laces and ties in the back. Now I'm gonna have to pay some service a fee for this flick. Because I've GOTTA SEE IT!
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Post by ghemrats on 3/26/2020, 6:06 pm

Oh, I think this is right up your alley, Space. And besides, for every person I finagle into paying for films, I get a kick-back of up to one-tenth of a cent from Amazon. {wink} It's all about the benjamins, baby.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/27/2020, 4:44 pm

Post #334: As a public service couldn't we all use some diversionary tactics to help reduce the possibility of cabin fever in these days of self-imposed exile in our individual game show isolation booths? Rather than cowering under the bed and poking family members with ten foot poles, let's celebrate! I've found these little tips can make all the difference between succumbing to the Claustrophobic Caged Chicken Complex (CCCC) and joyfully embracing a vacation from responsibility:

*Lie on your back and marvel at how much less clutter you'd see in the house if you lived on the ceiling;
*See who can count how many commas there are in the Bible, and the first one to hit 7.000 yells, "Uno!"
*Make pancakes and start your own Indoor Frisbee Golf League;
*Start up a game of Yahtzee using 120-sided dice;
*Initiate that time-honored legend of placing a remarque on each blade of grass in your yard; compete with neighbors;
*Try barbecuing an egg directly on the grill; for added adventure substitute grits;
*Turn on the Hallmark Channel and create a drinking game whenever someone uses the word "Love" or pauses dramatically;
*Engage in a spirited game of Monopoly with luncheon meats instead of paper money; play until the expiration date;
*Dust your furniture with the family pet;
*Start on that tunnel to Ireland (or your choice of scenic backdrop) with a discarded Tide Detergent scoop;
*Call the local pharmacy and ask if they sell condoms and offer changing rooms;
*Toss a boomerang from the den into the living room; wait with bated breath.

Of course that last one might create more work for you than you'd like, creating a neat multi-piece puzzle out of your Precious Moments Collection, but as an alternative, you could just sit down with today's feature, *Boomerang* (1947) which would cause less damage *and* eat up 88 minutes of your day. In addition to reducing the waiting time before you can go to bed, it will offer you a nifty little docu-noir, the third film directed by Elia Kazan (*A Streetcar Named Desire* 1951, *On The Waterfront* 1954 and a score of other indispensable films). Faithful to the true story drawn from an article in *Reader's Digest*, *Boomerang* follows the murder of a beloved Connecticut Catholic priest, Father George A. Lambert (Wyrley Birch) and State's Attorney Henry L. Harvey (Dana Andrews) as he questions the guilt of suspect and vagrant ex-serviceman, John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy).

There's a vise of political pressure being tightened on the investigation led by Police Chief Harold F. "Robby" Robinson (Lee J. Cobb) to bring the case to its quick conclusion, and this tension grows sharper with each passing moment. Even though he is the prosecutor in the case against Waldron, who has confessed under the duress of an intense three-day sleep-deprived interrogation, Harvey spots strong inconsistencies in the gather testimonies and argues them in a pre-trial hearing. Meanwhile, Harvey incurs the wrath of the police department, the suspicions of the judge, the rancor of the public hungry for meting out justice (even if the suspect is innocent), and the shady motivations of businessman Paul Harris (Ed Begley) who stands to gain a much needed windfall for a property sale to the city.

Many of the people in the film are untrained actors, just average folks on the street, giving the film the aura of authenticity, filmed in Kazan's stark but compelling style and adhering very closely to the facts of the case. Surprisingly taut, the film never lags or falls under presumptuous recreation, but serves its dramatic purposes with gritty determination. The cast of seasoned professionals is completely believable, with Jane Wyatt as Harvey's wife who figures in Harris's scheming, Karl Malden as a hard-nosed Detective Lieutenant White, and a saucy Cara Williams as Irene Nelson an eyewitness waitress at the Coney Island Cafe. *Boomerang* delivers the suspense of a good *Perry Mason* episode while mixing in elements of *Naked City* and the Rashomon effect. Even though the actual case went unsolved, Kazan has offered a tidy speculation in a powerful denouement.

Usually I find such docu-noirs less compelling than straight noir fabrications, this film easily joins the ranks of such striking films as *Call Northside 777* (1948), *T-Men* (1947) and *The House On 92nd Street* (1945) in its unsparing treatment of "reform party" politicking and the fourth estate's handling of the case. *Boomerang* might well be considered one of the first films to portraying the 1940s' version of Clickbait in the declarative hammering of headlines. It is simply one heck of a suspenseful, well paced thriller two steps away from reality.

Of all the options I've cited to help reduce the wall crawling imposed by self containment, perhaps *Boomerang* is the least invasive and most ultimately satisfying. I'd hate to be party to a spate of do-it-yourselfers hot-wiring the family dishwasher to expel knives and forks into strategically placed dartboards in the kitchen, competing for cash prizes, or cranking up the front-load Maytag driers to allow skeet shooting of the family china in the basement, just to fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. It's best to keep our heads in these times and not risk possible decapitation by seeing what a frog in a blender *really* looks like. We're better than that, and besides, if you use up all the amphibians now, what will people do when Psychedelic Frog Belly Licking Season comes around?
Enjoy. Safely.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/28/2020, 5:04 pm

Post #335:  I firmly believe sometimes life calls for opportunities to uncoil with a big, dumb guilty pleasure and never feel a whit of guilt in enjoying it.  Some people camp out on a couch risking a coma on Ben And Jerry's Phish Food, throwing all caution to the wind, while others prefer to power through 514 episodes of *Peyton Place* in one sitting.  I've even heard of women sewing jock straps together to form sports bras, and well meaning social workers trying to interest junkies in needlepoint. As for me, I just drop in Stoopid Movies--not Stupid Movies, mind you, but films so big and hulking and dumb that they defy time to become cult classics in their earnestness, if not their rough edges. Such is today's feature, the classic 1988 John Carpenter screed against free enterprise gone wonky, *They Live* with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in the lead.

*They Live* stands as a loud, goofy riff on subliminal mind control perpetrated in the media to keep the middle class docile while the rich get richer under the auspices of conquering invaders.  Money is imprinted with instructions of "This is your god," while magazine covers are masking messages like "Obey, stay asleep, consume, and submit."  You know, sort of like their mission today.  Only our hero John Nada (Piper--and if that name is not an existential tip of the hat, I don't know what is) and a handful of revolutionaries under constant surveillance by the fascist police force are aware of this mad-capped rule.  He's stumbled over a cache of special revelatory sunglasses that allow the wearers to see The Truth--in black and white footage, suggesting alien Ted Turners have colorized most of reality with insidious intent of subjugation by greed.

By this time, of course, John Carpenter has entered the hallowed halls of Hollywood Legend with such formidable films as *Halloween* (1978), *Escape From New York* (1981) and *Big Trouble In Little China* (1986), all very comfortable indicators of subversive glee.  In *They Live*, Carpenter said,  "Free enterprisers from outer space have taken over the world, and are exploiting Earth as if it's a third world planet. As soon as they exhaust all our resources, they'll move on to another world... I began watching TV again. I quickly realized that everything we see is designed to sell us something... It's all about wanting us to buy something. The only thing they want to do is take our money."  It's rather like frothing at the bit to have people thumb their noses at calamity, damn the death toll, there's a shipload of money to be made on Easter candy and plastic grass, though I'm comforted by the knowledge this is just science fiction and intrudes in no way on our reality.

So Nowhere Man and a small band of crusader rabbits take on the monolithic influence of organized usury and mind control by venturing to shut down the transmission of cable TV, which is so pervasive even the homeless in shanty towns cobble together ragged television sets amid their oil drum heating units.  Joining the fight albeit only after a five-minute, twenty-second fight sequence with Nada is boxer and homeless construction worker Frank (Keith David) whose reticence in trusting Nada provides some weirdly satisfying fisticuffs in the bravura alley scrabble before the obligatory gunfire is trotted out against all odds.  

But what would a stoic loner such as Nada do when fleeing from the law after dispatching a small army of blended aliens if he didn't have a lovely much put-upon woman to be called into his service?  Enter She Whose Ethereal Blues Eyes Must Be Obeyed Holly Thompson (Meg Foster) who figures more prominently in the story than you might expect. Whip in the gravitas of street preacher Raymond St. Jacques, and you have an action flick (I actually hate that word, but here it oddly fits) with a social conscience and a nice stab at satire.  While staunchly anti-Reaganomics in its original intent, casting light on the widening gap between America's classes, *They Live* holds up remarkably well today as we see gaudy gold ballrooms overflowing with America's upper three percent juxtaposed against the dispossessed and refugee survivors being bulldozed out of their cardboard dwelling places.

Now rabid viewers who are not in on the joke will bemoan a perceived "Hollywood bleeding heart liberal agenda" without realizing John Carpenter is at heart a capitalist but who decries the radical profanation of freedom of choice in the marketplace in much the same way novelist Maxx Barry lampooned free enterprise in his wickedly satirical *Jennifer Government* (2004) and *Syrup* (2000), both of which I taught in my literature classes. (I wish now I'd exercised the forethought to show *They Live* in conjunction with those novels; what a treat that would have been. I'm eager for the release of his new novel *Providence* next Tuesday, March 31.)  But praise be that 93% of Amazon's viewers rated the film four or five stars, and it opened as Number One in the box office in 1988.

Of course, it's silly, obnoxious and loud, and Roddy Piper will never lose sleep over not being nominated for Best Actor, let alone Best Chunk of Scenery in an Alley Fight (wherein only shots to the face and groin were feigned; this is a full body contact pummeling of both actors filmed over a three-week period, blown up from its original twenty seconds to its full five-and-one-half minute glory).  In the words of Steve Winwood, roll with it, baby.  It gleefully joins the ranks of Sam Raimi's *Evil Dead 2* (1987) and *Army Of Darkness* (1992) in its campy delivery even though it lacks Raimi's slapstick gore and sustained run of one-liners (I don't think anyone can beat Bruce Campbell's goofy charm), but it's still stoopid fun.

So if you are vegging out with neon-orange-tinged fingers from those mounds of Cheetos bag insulating you, and if you've gorged yourself to your limit of Sham-Wow, Bamboo Steamer, Ginsu Knives and Chia Pet ads, and you're looking for your next avenue of escape, try *They Live*.  You don't even need to go rooting through the kitchen drawers for your polarized reflective sunglasses not offered in stores or the miracle sun visor extenders which you can now attach to your head with your free complimentary headband for expanded, even greater night vision, doubling your free order in four to six weeks just for an extra charge, to watch and enjoy this film.  John Carpenter may be a capitalist, but even he knows where to draw the line in incurring the wrath of a giant like Ronco or K-Tel by selling special goggles with each viewing.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/29/2020, 4:50 pm

Post #336: I'll take Esoteric Icons for $700, Alex, and since it's a Daily Double, of my extant $5,200 I'll wager. . . $1.42. "Known under the pseudonym W. Morgan Thomas, the partnership of S. M. "Jerry" Iger and Will Eisner resulted in the creation of this heroic star of *Jumbo* Comics from 1938 to 1953." Who is. . . Dan Dan The Mattress Man? [BRANKK!] No, I'm sorry, it's Sheena. Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle. Tough question, that drops you down to third place.

Much like today's feature, *Sheena* (1984) with Tanya Roberts as the titular blonde. I place it in third place in a two-Jungle Girl race, with first place going to Irish McCalla's 1955's TV show and second going to the 2000 TV reboot with Gena Lee Nowlin. Now to be fair, even though this film created a bomb crater so wide in its original release, it threatened to swallow Kenya whole, today a sizable following of lemmings are ready to jump into that hole and fill it to the rim with brimming enthusiasm. Amazon viewers rank it with an 80% four- or five-star rating, and the *New York Times* screams it's "The perfect summer movie." Unwitting parents have proclaimed it's great entertainment for the kids, since *somehow*--God only knows how--it's rated PG even though a couple scenes show star Tanya Roberts completely nude from behind and full frontally.

Oh wait--well, there we are--I answered my own question as to why people are flocking to this movie. Whereas people used to be ushered through puberty with their parents' collections of *National Geographic*, today we can cut all that excessive educational value, do not pass Go to collect $200 for some cultural misappropriation, and go right for the gonads. *Sigh* Defenders of displaying nature's nipplature are quick to point out it's all in service to a budding sense of innocence and Sheena's tentative lip locks with documentarian Vic Casey (Ted Wass) are the only hint of baser instincts. Okay, I'll grant that--those early kisses are as chaste as a kid closing in on attaching his lip to a flagpole in February, but Sheena ogling Vic's "furry chest" when her people have been using Nair for centuries is weirdly unsettling.

The plot dispatches Sheena's (nee Janet Ames) parents, missionary geologists, with the clean efficiency of a Disney movie, leaving her to be "the fulfillment of a prophecy from the cries of the sacred mountain" that a little blonde American girl would emerge from the Zambouli wilds in her Pampers to one day lead her people to reruns of *Charlie's Angels* for two seasons. Taken under the protective guidance of the Zambouli Shaman (Elizabeth of Toro, who is an authentic African Queen of Ugandan Royalty, dispossessed by Idi Amin--and she is fabulous), Sheena grows to full womanhood, swinging from vines, communicating telepathically with the animals to root out hair conditioner, and gambol through the vistas on her spray-painted zebra, at time in slow motion.

This idyllic, untouched lifestyle is protected by Tigora's King Jabalani (Clifton Jones), a benign aristocrat whose jive-talking brother, ex-football champion Prince Otwani (Trevor Thomas), is conspiring with his brother's fiancée, Countess Zanda (France Zobda) to assassinate the good king and wrest control of the country's rich titanium deposits because blood is thinner than profit. Rigging a steel archery housing just beyond the King's veranda, Otwani will impale his brother with a ceremonial Zambouli arrow, blaming Shaman for the death and resuming rule by wiping out the remaining tribal members. If only there were some long-legged answer to ancient prophecy available--a *Playboy* model or a Bond girl, for instance--to uncover the plot and quash the militaristic surge of tanks and machine artillery into Tigora with bamboo sticks and monkeys who could hurl rocks on the marauders! And maybe we could throw in some random documentarian, escaped from his stint on the ABC comedy *Soap*, who has caught the assassination on VHS! O, the humanity.

What are the chances that that confluence of fortune might manifest itself in the Kenyan jungles? As it turns out--pretty good. Accompanied by a rather lush ambient score from Richard Hartley and the admittedly beautiful cinematography of Pasqualino De Santis (known for his work on Zeffirelli's *Romeo And Juliet* (1968) as well as camera technician on Fellini's *8 1/2* (1963)), *Sheena* is a visual comic book whose plot is just the other side of ludicrous and the acting for the most part abysmal. It's not a "stoopid" movie, as we discussed yesterday; it's just stupid, not enough fun to be campy, even though the TV scribe for *Batman* Lorenzo Semple Jr. is co-writer, and too serious to be taken seriously.

Critic Pauline Kael, who years before had made headlines by calling Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry a "fascist," was uncharacteristically soft in her assessment, stating,"Tanya Roberts is too tense and earnest for her blond-goddess, queen-of-the-jungle role. Yet she has the face of a ballerina, with a prodigious slim and muscular form. She also gazes into space with exquisitely-blank, pale-blue eyes. She's pretty funny when she presses her fingers against the center of her forehead, in order to summon legions of waterbucks or swarms of tall birds." But most critics savaged the savage while audiences invested a mere $6 million in box office receipts against its $25 million budget, while cultists today gush over the "soft core porn" appeal of its star, leading me to conclude that some of these cult followers have never seen a naked mannequin at Victoria's Secret mall stores before.

Paraphrasing John Lennon, Just give me some PLOT! For me there's more substance in a 1955 27-minute syndicated episode of *Sheena* done on the cheap than in the entire 117 minutes of this film. It is beautiful to watch, with sweeping shots of the Serengeti sunsets and the score provides echoes of Vangelis's cinematic work like *Chariots Of Fire* that make it pleasant enough, but with the hammy overacting of the villains and the wooden delivery of Roberts and Wass who hold the conviction and chemistry of a can of Pringles that's lost its lid, I found little to transport me back to a childlike sense of wonder. Oh, I was filled with wonder, but it was over why so many people thought this was underrated and misunderstood. What's to misunderstand? I'll take "Fractured Shakespeare" for $200, Alex. "In *Romeo And Juliet*, Act-II, Scene-ii, this paraphrase sums up the film *Sheena*." [DING] What is "That which we call a boob/ By Any Other Name would droop as well."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 3/30/2020, 3:53 pm

Post #337:  One of the key reasons I watch films while my wife is occupied elsewhere is because she has very particular tastes when it comes to cinema.  I must admit it took me a couple years of married life to get over the acidic glare she'd cast in my direction if she were not pleased with my choice for the evening.  That look would make Ilsa from *Frozen* (2013) head for the ice cube tray in dissipation.  But it was almost always followed up with a simple declaration in the form of a question: "Do we HAVE to watch this?"  I recall once I answered flippantly, "Well, yes, actually we do. It's mandated in the Book of Da-do-ron-ronemy, 'It pleases the Lord when we lift our hearts from the Hallmark of Hell and seek things above us.' So give me a break, honey."  That break healed nicely, but I still feel twinges in my hip when it's rainy.

And so it is that I call upon my wife's general summation of my taste in movies in service of today's feature, *Get Carter* (1971) starring Michael Caine: and I quote, "This is not a nice movie."  

She's right, as you can see from the trailer. There are no pleasant pastoral pastures in director and screenwriter Mike Hodges' English green and pleasant land.  Just dark satanic mills, grit, laundry wafting in the dirty breeze over well worn cobblestone roads and a perpetual sense of foreboding hanging in the dense industrial clouds shrouding the claustrophobic brick edifices of the city.  And the people inhabiting these pubs and docks appear to have spent their entire lives toiling in drive-through coal and slag heaps for far less than minimum wage.

It's also ranked 16th on the BFI Top 100 British films of the 20th century; five years later, a survey of British film critics in Total Film magazine chose it as the greatest British film of all time, the first directed by Hodges, and furiously endorsed by Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, originally earning an infamous X-rating but eased into a solid R-rating when films saturated the market of the '70s with even more graphic and brutal violence and female nudity.  *Get Carter* is an uncompromising British gangster film that drew Sir Michael Caine to it, according to Caine "as a memory of his working class upbringing, having friends and family members who were involved in crime."  Carter represented a path his life might have taken under different circumstances: "Carter is the dead-end product of my own environment, my childhood. I know him well. He is the ghost of Michael Caine."  

Caine is positively chilling as Jack Carter, a professional killer whose returns from London to his old stomping ground of Newcastle and Gateshead to attend to his brother Frank's funeral arrangements. While ruled a suicide, Frank's death was actually a murder, and the cold blooded Jack wants to know why. Taking time away from his London mob bosses Gerald and Sid Fletcher (Terence Rigby and John Bindon)--and his affair with Gerald's girlfriend Anna (Britt Ekland)--Carter enlists his laser focus in a relentless and ruthless pursuit of the truth, seeking vengeance if not justice.  Re-establishing ties with his niece Doreen (Petra Markham) and evasive old acquaintances like Albert Swift (Glynn Edwards) and Eric Paice (Ian Hendry),  as well as Frank's mistress/hooker (Dorothy White), Carter drives down leads on his brother's killer, leading him to the head of an organized pornography ring headed by crime boss Cyril Kinnear (John Osborne).  

Following a series of dead ends and red herrings, Carter cuts to the heart of a devastating series of events and revelations that make for a top shelf crime thriller filmed with a coldly rational documentary style in which few characters are blameless or even faintly moral.  No, it's not a nice movie, but it is a good one demonstrating a Darwinian struggle in which wits and efficiency are more important than brawn and firepower.  Caine said, "One of the reasons I wanted to make that picture was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they're neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they're certainly not very funny."  Certainly no one laughs at Jack Carter and walks away with his or her dignity and unbroken body intact.  In fact, Ian Hendry, originally slated to play Carter, harbored a strict animosity toward Caine throughout the filming, and Caine capitalized on those feelings to amp up the tension between their characters on screen.

Now I'm being purposefully vague in outlining points so if you do venture down these mean streets you'll be able to relish the ever tightening coils of anger and vitriol.  It's all very organic and necessary, never gratuitous, for Carter's history of relationships is complex, shedding light on patterns of society from which most of us are gratefully distanced.  People are commerce, motivations are simple for the most part, snuggling alongside the seven deadly sins in sagging mattresses, clustered poker games with high stakes, and dark intentions are as far removed from redemption and grace as the chances of a fish competing in and winning the Tour de France.

Today *Get Carter* stands as its own hallmark of British cinema:  In 2008 the film was placed at 225 on *Empire* magazine's 500 Best Movies of All Time list, selected by over 10,000 Empire readers, 150 filmmakers and 50 film critics. In October 2010 the critics from *The Guardian* newspaper placed the film on their list of "Greatest Films of All Time," placing it at number 7 in the 25 greatest crime films, and the film was selected by a panel of 150 film industry experts  at 32 in its 100 Best British Films list. Amazon viewers rate it with 83% four- or five stars as well, so time has been kind to this hard nosed Raymond Chandler-inspired work.

For me *Get Carter* fulfills Chandler's assessment of Humphrey Bogart: "Tough even without a gun." And evidently Sir Michael Caine still holds it in regard as he named his dog Carter after his character.  Its concluding moments do not pull punches, either, leaving audiences stunned at the careful precision of Mike Hodges' vision.  No, it's not a film I'll be urging my wife to see in the near future, even though it's undeniably powerful and the acting is terrific, totally absorbing. In the final analysis I'd just as soon continue living in good health for the next few decades with She Who Must Be Obeyed and kept relatively happy.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 3/30/2020, 8:20 pm

One of the key reasons I watch films while my wife is occupied elsewhere is because she has very particular tastes when it comes to cinema. I must admit it took me a couple years of married life to get over the acidic glare she'd cast in my direction if she were not pleased with my choice for the evening. That look would make Ilsa from *Frozen* (2013) head for the ice cube tray in dissipation. But it was almost always followed up with a simple declaration in the form of a question: "Do we HAVE to watch this?" I recall once I answered flippantly, "Well, yes, actually we do. It's mandated in the Book of Da-do-ron-ronemy, 'It pleases the Lord when we lift our hearts from the Hallmark of Hell and seek things above us.' So give me a break, honey." That break healed nicely, but I still feel twinges in my hip when it's rainy. wrote:

That is almost word for word, the reason I often refer to my beloved as, "She Who Must Not Be Angered."

Yes, I'm silly enough to say it within her hearing range... Twisted Evil affraid Laughing
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Post by ghemrats on 3/31/2020, 5:45 pm

Post #338:  Fiery! Tempestuous! Electrifying! Sensual! Seductive! Lusty! Passionate!--None of these words will ever be used to describe Mitch McConnell or Steve Mnuchen.  But then neither one of them ever rose to the challenge of playing Prosper Mérimée's muy caliente heroine Carmen Garcia with such vixenish abandon as Rita Hayworth in today's feature, *The Loves Of Carmen* (1948).  Honestly, who could?  My eyes are still watering with her blazing, brazen beauty burned into my retinas.  In case I'm being too subtle here, let me be clear: Rita Hayworth is pretty pretty pretty. . . pretty.  For me nobody can peel an orange with her teeth and run her tongue over her lips quite like Rita Hayworth.  And it doesn't hurt that her middle name coincidentally is Carmen.

Ask me if I care that Bizet's operatic interludes are missing from the film.  No regrets, man.  *The Loves Of Carmen* is a straight dramatic examination of the gypsy's charms, which are plentiful.  Push the cross examination further: Do I care if the story is basically skeletal, following the moral, physical and spiritual descent of naive Spanish Dragoon soldier Don José Lizarabengoa (Glenn Ford) into exile as a deserter and accidental murderer after his skirmish with his commanding officer Garcia (Arnold Moss) for the affections of the temptress Carmen?  Not really, even though after *Gilda* (1946) the re-pairing of Ford and Hayworth obviously wished to capitalize on their chemistry.  Undeniably Rita is combustible, but as Don Jose Ford for the most part exudes all the bland charisma of a spent tea bag left to consider its fate on a kitchen counter overnight after a furious social.

So in more ways than one Don Jose and Carmen cancel out one another. She is a consuming fire burning all she touches with her gaze; he is brittle sagebrush willingly being blown into her.  She is worldly and reckless; he is innocence incarnate and teetering on round heels.  She holds allegiance only to her whims and will, boldly flouting fate; he is burdened with crushing ethics and honor, forced and forged into servitude of his emotional upheaval  Altering the words of Harry Chapin a bit, "She was the sun, burning bright and brittle/And he was the moon shining back her light a little." She is Federal Express--she absolutely positively has to be there overnight; he is the Pony Express--the male must go through.  

Glenn Ford, for me, however, just doesn't seem credible in his virginal simplicity early on.  I think he holds up fine when he takes to the hills and becomes the obsessive, manic depressive fugitive ably complimented by Dancaire (Luther Adler), Remendado (Joseph Buloff) and Pablo (Bernard Nedell) and the gloriously notorious but unfettered Garcia, Carmen's husband and leader of the gang (Victory Jory).  But it's Dancaire who lobs all the best lines as the resident nihilist who sees the world in unvarnished clarity in stark contrast to the idealistic Don Jose:  Confronting Don Jose's dedicated romanticism to marrying Carmen, Dancaire admonishes, "You will be a fine pair, you two. Payo and Gypsy, the tame and the untamed, the dog and wolf. Dog and wolf weren't created to live together. It won't work, Navarrés. You'll see."  And he lives to grind that wisdom into the poor soldier's conscience: "You don't like us, do you? We fill you with disgust. We're the symbol of your degradation. . .The only really wicked men I've known were those who started as idealists. That's what depravity feeds on, illusions, idealism and love gone wrong."  Day-um! This guy's good.

The fatalism of the narrative is well predicted by the fortune telling gypsy crone Lilla (the terrific Margaret Wycherly, who in her own way steals scenes away from Rita Hayworth, a real talent), who warns Carmen, "It's pulling towards you, with a dark, invisible thread as strong as life-and death-itself" and "Someday she'll eat the wrong thing, and then she'll howl about the pain as if she'd never been warned before."  That Carmen is a compelling force of nature is lost on no one, even those who know of her destructive self-immolation, like the hapless and helpless Andres (Ron Randall) who warns Don Jose early on: "Gypsies will always steal anything they can get their hands on. I don't know why I bother with that girl. She's bad all the way through. She lies as easily as other people drink water. She's a liar, a thief and a cheat. Has no more manners than my great aunt's cat. She's really awful. And I'd sell my soul to hear her say just once that she loves me."

Orson Welles, Rita's husband from 1943 to 1947, had wanted to write, produce and direct his version of *Carmen* with Rita Hayworth, but Columbia head Harry Cohn, angered that Welles had cut her hair short and bleached blonde for *The Lady In Shanghai* (1947), turned down that idea until after Welles' and Hayworth's divorce in 1947, fashioning his own star vehicle for The Love Goddess with Charles Vidor in the director's chair.  Co-produced by Rita's production company The Beckworth Corporation, which gave her a percentage of the profits and final approval, the film's choreographer was Rita's famous father dancer Eduardo Cansino and her brother Vernon plays a bit part as one of the Dragoon soldiers leading Carmen to jail.

In all its Technicolor splendor, *The Loves Of Carmen* crosses genre barriers, drawing us into a hyphenate movie: romance-compulsion-western-noir-melodrama with sexy dancing and outstanding costumes. Call it what you will, but if you're a Rita Hayworth fan, call it indispensable viewing.  Carmen as a woman is infuriating, manipulative, iconic, flirtatious and perhaps a little emasculating, and she enjoys spitting on people who disdain her--a lot. Rita arguably could have invested in Biotene Dry Mouth solution and broken the bank with her stock options, for all the expectorating she does in this film.  But there's no denying she's in such furious command of her presence, it's no wonder she leaves a trail of orange zest in her wake. And for me, Tang will never replace the real thing again.  
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 4/1/2020, 6:46 pm

Post #339: Because I can track down no trailer for today's feature, *Moontide* (1942) with Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino, but just this fabulous scene in which our protagonist Bobo gets drunk, I am reminded of the "Drinking Song" from Danny Kaye's *The Inspector General* (1949): "Play, gypsy, sing gypsy, dance gypsy, leap gypsy, dream gypsy, slide gypsy, slink gypsy /DRINK...gypsy. /And so we drink./But first . . . we play." With St. Patrick's Day behind us I recall a joke that bears less than zero relevance to today's film. But we need a laugh left unsupplied by today's wonderful pre-noir. And so we drink. . . but first. . . we joke:

An English Episcopal priest went to Ireland to study differences between his church and that of the Catholic faith. Father O'Brien met him most courteously in time for a rather lengthy line of confessors awaiting their penance, and the good Father invited Reverend Sternbridge in to study the individuated approach so common to the parish. The first confessor was a young woman who cried, "Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I've engaged in illicit sex three times this week." Father O'Brien motioned to Reverend Sternbridge and said, "O, O 'tis a terrible thing ye've done. Ye are loath in the sight of the Lord. Go out and place a pound note in the poor box and sin no more, ye are forgiven." A second young woman followed, "Father, Oh father, forgive me for I have sinned as this week I had sex out of marital bed thrice." Again the old Irish priest repeated, "O, O me child, 'tis a terrible sin ye've committed, ye have made Jaysus weep. Go and place a pound in the poor box, repent and sin no more, for our God is merciful." A knock came at the confessional door from the maid Mrs. Flannery who said, "Fatha, would ye be comin' back to the office. Ye've got an important call." Father O'Brien patted Reverend Sternbridge on the shoulder and said, "Ah, me brother, could ye be takin' my next parishioner as by now I believe you have a taste for appropriate absolution to be givin'. I'll be right back." Father Sternbridge waited a moment before a third young woman knelt in confession. "Father, forgive me," she said. "I have been impure this week, for indeed I've had sexual relations once since last confession." The Episcopal priest puzzled for a moment, then answered, "Ah, so I see. Tell you what to then: Go out and have it two more times, we're having a special this week--three for a pound."

Barump bump. And so we drink. And if you're Jean Gabin's Bobo, a longshoreman stopping over in San Pablo Bay with his needy get-rich-quick pal, Tiny (Thomas Mitchell), you're drinking a lot [underscored three times]. As you can see from the clip, Bobo's night escapes him in a swirl of hale and hearty elbow-benders, waking the next morning, with no memory of the night's binge, on a barge in a tar paper shack owned by fisherman Takeo (Victor Sen Yung). Takeo hires Bobo to sell fresh bait in exchange for a couple bucks, a bottle of saki every day and the swanky one-room shack for shelter. Meanwhile, with the police scouring the docks for the murderer of old Pop Kelly (Arthur Aylesworth) who was strangled last night, Bobo decides to take the job and settle in, much to the dismay of Tiny's wanderlust. Nonetheless Bobo makes friends with the locals, including Nutsy (Claude Rains), a philosophical town watchman, who becomes a kind of moral compass and voice of reason.

One night under the pale moonlight a young woman ventures out from the beach and fully clothed swims out to sea, amidst calls from the night crowd that she's committing suicide. Bobo rescues her, a waif named Anna (Ida Lupino), and takes her back to his shack where, after an angry and resistant fit, she falls asleep while Bobo keeps watch on the floor. The next morning Anna awakes and tidies the shack while Bobo tinkers with the boat engine of a wealthy doctor (Jerome Cowan) and his mistress (Helene Reynolds). Tiny once again tries to convince Bobo to leave with him, denigrating Anna in the process and raising questions in modern audiences' minds that there's a latent homoerotic fascination in Tiny's interests. (One of the reasons *Moontide* was freighted with all manner of controversy from the censors and the Hays Commission when it was released; more on that in a moment.)

What blossoms is a sweet and chivalrous romance between Anna and Bobo, while Nutsy finds Pop Kelly's hat in Bobo's possession, raising suspenseful questions about what exactly happened on that drunken binge. Fearing the worst, Nutsy spirits away the hat and burns it in a midnight bonfire after trying to reason with Bobo's decision to leave, unaccustomed as he is to harboring feelings of putting down roots and establishing a home. But after packing up and leaving, stopping at the Red Dot bar again and having a last drink with good-time-girl Mildred (Robin Raymond) whom he met during his drunken spree, he decides he cannot leave Anna and returns to her, confessing his dark history with Tiny who has seen his violent outbursts when Bobo's drunk too heavily.

But when two broken people find one another and discover their wounds together make them whole, Bobo and Anna decide to marry, fixing up their ramshackle shack. With the spectral shadow of unresolved violence creeping in with the fog and the looming repressed anger of Tiny lurking, *Moontide*'s narrative is far from over, though I will not reveal more here, urging you to see this oddly moving pre-noir moody minor-piece on your own. The performances are first rate, with Claude Rains' Nutsy seasoning the story with warm humanity. Jean Gabin, an international French star now relocating to America to extend his well deserved popularity, is charming and natural, his longshoreman exuding an extremely likable, charismatic demeanor with graceful throwaway mannerisms that seem completely in the element of his character. Twenty-eight year old Ida Lupino, whom Bobo calls "Sunnyside" after the eggs she fixes him, similarly submerges herself in her character, imbuing her with complexity and vulnerability while demonstrating a steely backbone. Most unnerving is Thomas Mitchell, here cast against type (he will forever be remembered as Katie Scarlet O'Hara's father and the irascible but lovable Uncle Billy in *It's A Wonderful Life* 1946); his Tiny is a horrible hulk, made even more so menacing because of the memories he stirs in his other roles in hindsight.

And the cinematography from Charles G. Clarke (who won an Academy Award nomination for this film) under the direction of Archie Mayo is stunning to behold. Lit with luminous gloomy banks of fog and shadow, *Moonlight* is perfectly balanced with the leit motif of Irving Berlin's "Remember" played first in the Red Dot, then becoming part of the romantic score drawing the two ill-fated lovers together from across the Bay. Who would have thought such a dingy little abode as a shack on a barge could be invested with so much attitude.

Truly, the backstory of *Moontide* is almost more interesting than the film itself, burdened as it is with crackling electricity during its production. Fritz Lang was the original director, but ran afoul of Gabin since both of them were having an affair with Marlene Dietrich at the time of filming; consequently, their protracted head-butting combined with Lang's dictatorial directing style caused Lang to jump ship when he determined with Backstreet Boy and Burger King finality he couldn't have it his way. Even though Archie Mayo brought in the final product, historians suggest Lang's fingerprints are all over *Moontide* (and presumably Marlene Dietrich).

San Pedro Bay, California, on-site filming was complicated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, necessitating expansive sets to be built on the Fox lots due to California being declared a security zone. This may have actually worked in the film's favor, however, because the entire film is imbued with a sense of fantasy, an adult fairy tale of sorts, with its closed sets and shimmering light display issuing from the huge water tanks holding the barge and docks in ethereal suspension. That dreamlike ambiance is further in evidence in the drunken reverie seen in the clip provided with this commentary. Originally designed by the flamboyant Salvadore Dali, these sequences were deemed a little too bizarre for the 1942 viewing public and toned down from Dali's more violent sketches of a behemoth sewing machine and a brothel slaughterhouse wherein naked women wear shark heads, a gutted shark rests on a table, and sailors metamorphose into a skull. Especially in light of Pearl harbor's attack, such scenes would have pushed the Hays Office into apoplexy.

Tom Charity in *Sight And Sound* remarks, “John O’Hara wrote the screenplay from a tawdry novel by character actor Willard Robertson – but censor Joseph Breen cut all the guts out of it. The story scarcely holds together, but the artifice – notably an elaborately phoney harbour set, in the Alexandre Trauner style – is quite intoxicating.” The source novel was in fact fairly lurid, with open references to prostitution, rape, people living in SIN! (what would an Irish priest make of that in 1942?), and an almost nihilistic denouement along with the homoerotic overtones that fairly scream today.

All that said, *Moontide* is a nifty little proto-noir with a romantic slant that absolves Bobo of his dark distant past, while Jean Gabin found himself at sea with the Hollywood Studio System, returning to his native France after a short stint in America. Noir expert John Grant explained *Moontide* "has often been described as being far more in tune philosophically and stylistically with the French Poetic Realist school of the 1930s than with film noir," a trait that certainly appealed to the megastar Gabin in *Pepe Le Moko* (1937) and Renoir's *La Grande Illusion (1937), an anti-war film that ran at a New York City theater for an unprecedented six months.

So it remains a little curiosity worth viewing and enjoying. And the best thing is you don't have to go to confession after watching it because at its heart it holds a strong moral code. So "Play, gypsy, sing gypsy, dance gypsy, leap gypsy, dream gypsy. . .And so we drink". . .responsibly. . . but first. . . this guy walks into a bar and pulls out of his pocket a small baby grand and a little foot-tall man who begins playing a mad Chopin etude. . . .
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 4/2/2020, 5:04 pm

Post #340: I equate today's feature, *Nadine* (1987) with Kim Basinger and Jeff Bridges, with a tub full of Mr. Bubble. Our titular character holds pink as her favorite color, the plot has the substance of the top layer of foam whipped into a froth, it's almost totally harmless, and it has the goofy charm of Mr. Bubble himself, smiling broadly even as the hot water churns around in turbulent cascades. It's a comfortable immersion and a clean diversion to soak away aches and pains of the day's concerns. And it's 99 44/100% pure Kim Basinger since the role was written just for her quirky sensibilities.

Writer and director Robert Benton (*The Late Show* 1977, *Kramer vs. Kramer* 1979, *Places In The Heart* 1984 and great Paul Newman films *Twilight* 1994 and *Nobody's Fool* 1998) sets this romantic comedy/crime thriller in 1954 Austin, Texas, with a couple of dreamers in the last stages of divorce.

Nadine Hightower (Basinger) is a beautician at the Alamo Beauty Shop who, as we meet her, attempts to retrieve some "art studies" from disreputable photographer Raymond Escobar (Jerry Stiller); deluded into believing he was a talent scout for Hugh Hefner, Nadine paid him a whopping $22.00 to take some "tasteful art study" photos to jumpstart her big plans of success. While waiting for him to retrieve the photos she now regrets, hidden in his bathroom, Nadine is surprised when he bursts through the door with a knife buried in his heart. Panicked, she grabs the files marked "Nadine" and scurries away as sirens scream in the distance. Don't you just hate it when your day starts out this way?

Unfortunately, the file does not hold her pictures (of course). She finds confidential blueprints outlining the State of Texas Highways Department location of the proposed route for the new highway between the US 81 and US 90 freeways a windfall of secure information for land developers. And with her opportunistic near-former husband Vernon Hightower (Jeff Bridges) over $820 in debt with his failing Bluebonnet Lounge, this find could make all the difference in the world. Naturally, the procurer of the plans, crooked Buford Pope (Rip Torn), is not above the threat of violence to get what he wants, and so the game is afoot.

Robert Benton knows his way around film and re-creates or re-imagines 1950s Texas with a good eye, filling the screen with loads of local color, and a good ear for dialogue. The textures, the cars, the pastels are all firmly in place to evoke another time, while his cast of characters, including Glenne Headly as Renée Lomax, "Miss Pecan Queen 1947," who provides a little spit and vinegar as Vernon's new love interest and whom Nadine finds a "little on the cheap side":
Vernon Hightower: Who?
Nadine Hightower: Miss Low-Rent Lust back there.
Vernon Hightower: Renee? Are you kidding? She's got a good job with the Lone Star Beer Company.
Nadine Hightower: She don't look that smart to me.
Vernon Hightower: Well, she's smart enough to work in Accounts Receivable.
Nadine Hightower: I don't know, Vernon. She looks a little on the chubby side to be a pecan queen.

All the way through the film I kept returning to the idea that the Coen Brothers could have made this spark and fizz with their characteristic wit and vision trained on the characters' eccentricities, as they did in one of my all time favorites *Raising Arizona* made the same year. As it stands with Benton, *Nadine* is barely tapping all the possibilities of a screwball comedy--the charming, beleaguered, put-upon heroine, her not-quite-dumb but nonetheless dim almost-former husband, and a few plot complications and set pieces that lifted it if fleetingly from the annals of the dismissible. But overall it's just . . . fine, slight in its 83 minutes, but watchable for the potential chemistry between Basinger and Bridges. There's humor to be mined here, but the gold vein still remains unexcavated. It's as though Benton found a supply of fool's gold that sparkles on the surface in the Texan sun, but he's left the real treasure just inches below the dusting he's settled for.

It's another one of those films that left me wishing it were a bit more but satisfied that it offered a simple escape anyway. It's like after a long day of digging in the dirt, it wiped away the first layer even as the bath water turned tepid too quickly and the bubbles settled down without much of a trace let alone a lasting wedding ring around the tub.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 4/3/2020, 4:48 pm

Post #341: Today's feature is a lost masterpiece, kept from public view for forty years due to its troubling and tragic shooting history, but it was re-released with a new score and title song in 1968 written and sung by the then-eighty-year-old star, director, producer, editor and writer Sir Charles Chaplin. My friends, I am pleased to offer Chaplin's final completely silent film, *The Circus* (1928), a sure fire comedy classic for the entire family who has pitched a tent in your front room, complete with roaring campfire since you never got around to framing in that fireplace you always wanted. So pass the 'smores and prepare yourself to laugh.

Coming in at an economical 70 minutes, *The Circus* is the perfect introduction for the kids who have never seen a Chaplin film. His Little Tramp is once again beset by circumstance when a pickpocket ditches his booty in The Tramp's sagging slacks when the law zeroes in. Unaware of how he acquired his newfound fortune, he quickly gorges himself on hot dogs before he's mistaken as the thief and chased into a traveling circus in decline, taking refuge in a Hall of Mirrors and blending in with automatronic dummies at a Noah's Ark attraction running rings around the police in pursuit.

Meeting the beautiful Merna (Merna Kennedy), a horse rider who is badly mistreated by her harsh ringmaster stepfather (Al Ernest Garcia), The Tramp tries out for a position in the Circus as a clown, a job to which he is ill suited. But when the property manager and his cronies quit over a wage dispute, he joins the troupe behind the scenes, falling in love with Merna and doing odd jobs. But through a glorious set of misunderstandings, our Little Tramp becomes the inadvertent star of the show, packing the tents nightly with his antics.

A gypsy fortune teller reading Merna's future informs her she will marry a dark and handsome stranger whom she will meet at the Circus, filling with an eavesdropping Tramp with joy, not realizing the man is actually Rex (Harry Crocker), the debonair tightrope walker. And so we have the traditional Chaplin pathos mixed in with the hilarity. Chaplin's lush score moves the narrative along in characteristic sweetness, allowing his meticulously choreographed routines to unspool naturally, when in truth some scenes took over 32 takes before the perfectionist director was happy enough to move on. His sequence trapped in a lion's cage, in fact, took 200 takes and his right-hand cameraman Rollie Totheroh's multiple exposure magic to result in the finished version we see in the film. (Three separate lions were used in the sequence, one lion who slept, another who was well trained, and a third which elicited real fear in Chaplin as evidenced in the scene.)

Despite taking over one year to film, *The Circus* today is regarded as the seventh highest grossing silent film of the time and included among the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies as well as Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list. Ironically, the comedy classic was beset with tragedies from nearly every front, personal and professional. Chaplin's mother died during the production, just as he was struggling with a vitriolic divorce from his wife of four years Lita Grey, nineteen years his junior (she was sixteen when they married). Lita's petition included a 52-page complaint against Charlie, listing his sexual peccadilloes, which tarnished his delicate image. He settled after she threatened to name five "prominent women" with whom he had been sexually involved during their marriage with a settlement of $600,000, the largest cash settlement ever in an American divorce. Being the partial inspiration for Nabokov's *Lolita*, including her name, Grey later said, "Charlie Chaplin's genius was in comedy. He had no sense of humor, especially about himself."

During the divorce, the IRS piled on, seeking $1,000,000 in back taxes, and Chaplin's studios burned to the ground, with footage of his own tightrope performance forty feet in the air lost and scratched in its processing. One of the circus wagons was stolen during production, and commuting between London and New York with two-thirds of the production completed caused Chaplin to suffer a nervous breakdown, turning his hair a stark white, which he dyed to complete the filming for a complete schedule of eleven months.

With this background *The Circus* becomes even more intriguing and satisfying. The Criterion Collection edition on DVD also offers some rare footage of outtakes, including a wonderful sequence outlining the Tramp's jealousy over Rex which plays out through three inspired comic bits that for whatever reason Chaplin excised from the final print. If you get the chance to seek out that sequence, do so, as personally I think it would have been an absolutely wonderful addition to the finished product. The sight gags and characterizations of supporting cast members are textbook definitions of pacing and grace; my personal favorites include a stubbornly aggressive mule and Chaplin's assuming the role of a robotic mannequin who repeatedly beats a thief into submission while mimicking outrageous laughter (seen in the clip accompanying this commentary). But the lasting image of the Tramp's walk into the sunset pulls at the heart. The sacrifice and sadness quickly morphing to optimism over the next escapade leaves us smiling through our sniffles.

This was Chaplin's last film before *City Lights* (1931), roundly recognized as one of the finest films ever made, and of all his films my favorite. I saw *City Lights* on a big screen in college, and in an auditorium of over seventy students its final shot left every single person in silence, desperately struggling to "be cool" and not allow their tears and choked throats to be seen and heard by the people next to them. I recall the projectionist leaving the lights out for a couple minutes so we could compose ourselves before walking out into the afternoon sun unself-consciously. Such is the staying power of Sir Charles Chaplin.

Do your family a favor and sit down together with this classic and then kick off a marathon of his other masterpieces. If we ever needed Charlie, these are the days. And remember: douse your campfire, stir the ashes and wash your hands. Only you can prevent forest-green couch fires in your living room.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 4/4/2020, 5:16 pm

Post #342:  And now for something *completely* different.  And by that I mean, no matter what you might be expecting from a movie titled *Eating Raoul* (1982), not coincidentally today's feature, you probably won't be anticipating anything like this.  This is a film that forces you to put aside your traditional movie-going experience (and some of your taste) and either go with its pitch-black comic sensibilities or crank up your moral outrage meter and wash your brain with Bab-O.  Written, directed, co-produced and starring Paul Bartel with Andy Warhol's protege Mary Woronov, *Eating Raoul* is one outrageous, totally politically incorrect (especially by today's standards) and fiercely independent screwball comedy that is as subversive as it is funny.  You have been forewarned.

According to Bartel, a former Roger Corman director who consistently butted heads with the shlock auteur by adding outrageous comedy to Corman's desire for serious potboilers, "I wanted to make a film about two greedy, uptight people who are at the same time not so unlike you and me and Nancy and Ronnie, to keep it funny and yet communicate something about the psychology and perversity of those values . . . My movie touches on many things: the perversion of middle class values, the resurgence of Nixonism, machismo versus WASP fastidiousness, film noir . . . "  Say what you will about *Eating Raoul*, but Bartel delivers on his promises.

Played with matter-of-fact Pop Art lack of irony, *Eating Raoul* follows Paul and Mary Bland (Bartel and Woronov) as they trudge through their mundane lives as a snobbish wine connoisseur stuck in a dead-end liquor store job and a nurse constantly fighting off the libidinous attacks of her patients respectively.  Coexisting in a comfortably numb and sexless marriage, they dream of opening their own restaurant--Paul And Mary's Country Kitchen--while funds remain elusive.  And their hopes of living happily in the American promise of prosperity and good fortune are set into a tailspin when Paul loses his job and the apartment building in which they live is overrun with "swingers" whose noisy and decadent parties threaten to invade their prudence.

So one night when Paul finds one of the obnoxious participants staggering into their apartment by mistake and attempting to force Mary into "loosening up," Paul defends his wife as any man would--he smacks him in the head with a lead frying pan, its hollow dead-pan BONGK! signalling he's killed the intruder.  Rationalizing no one will miss the miscreant, our couple toss him in a Hefty bag (hefty hefty hefty, not wimpy wimpy wimpy like a lesser bag) and drag his body down to the trash incinerator while pocketing the contents of his wallet, which he will no longer need anyway (I mean, we must be practical after all.  Besides, this donation will put them that much closer to their funding their restaurant and living the American Dream.)

In the spirit of free enterprise, Paul and Mary determine they could easily raise money by killing "rich perverts" by enticing them with the lure of sexual adventure to satiate their boundless energies.  They enlist the expertise of a regular in the building, Doris the Dominatrix (Susan Saiger), actually a sweet housewife and mother who augments the family income with her talents, and they take out a lurid advertisement in a local newspaper.  Determining they also need to up their security, they hire Raoul Mendoza (Robert Beltran), a disreputable locksmith who ends up partnering with the Blands by disposing of the bodies which have been BONGK'd by Paul's cast iron frying pan.

So I guess you can assume by all this that *Eating Raoul* is not going to be streaming on Disney-Plus any time soon. But you can see some familiar faces in the film--Ed Begley Jr., Buck Henry, Edie McClurg, Hamilton Camp, director John Landis in a bank cameo, Richard Paul, and John Paragon (the famous head-in-a-box Jambi on *Pee-Wee's Playhouse*)--and you needn't worry about gruesome violence as it holds all the malice of a Bugs Bunny cartoon--no blood, all murders tastefully executed only with sound effects, though its near-constant sexual salvos are definitely played for laughs and flashes of nudity.  According to AV Club's Keith Phipps, "but it’s the spirit of the film that sets it apart, the sense that those making it knew they were getting away with something they’d probably only be able to pull off once, so why not take it all the way? Everyone’s a target here: the repressed, the liberated, the rich, the poor, and, above all, those in the middle looking on in disgust at those around them, whether hoping to move up in the world or secretly desiring to lose themselves in the flesh parade."

*Eating Raoul* is a delirious satire when you allow for its weird excesses, in much the same way you might indulge in a John Waters film.  Made on a modest budget of $350,000, it's been named by *Entertainment Weekly* as one of the 50 Greatest Independent Films available.  It's a shame Paul Bartel died at age 61 due to heart failure after undergoing liver cancer surgery, before he could gain funding for the sequel to *Eating Raoul* tentatively titled "Bland Ambition," which would follow Paul and Mary into their restaurant. Bartel wrote it:

"starts with Paul and Mary Bland happily ensconced in their Country Kitchen, where they're doing a land-office business. The arrogant young Governor of California stops off to have lunch and is furious he is not recognized and permitted to jump the line. In retaliation, he sends a health inspector to close down the Country Kitchen, and Paul and Mary are encouraged by the media to retaliate in kind and run against him for Governor of California. In order to improve their family image for their political sitcom, they secretly adopt a little girl who turns out to be just to the right of the Bad Seed."

So Bartel and company knew how to push buttons while making the effort slyly funny.  And luckily we do have access to Bartel's directorial debut in what he called "A Paranoid Fantasy," his 1968 short *Secret Cinema*, available on Youtube at if you want to test the waters; Steven Spielberg liked it so much he asked Bartel to adapt it for his NBC anthology series *Amazing Stories* (Season 01, Episode 20) with Penny Peyser, Griffin Dunne, Mary Woronov and Eve Arden starring alongside Bartel himself.  That episode is available at   as well.

If your tastes move toward the strange and goofy at times, stop by Paul and Mary's for one heck of a ride. Just be sure to wear your protective viking horns if you do.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 4/4/2020, 5:36 pm

Why does this sound like the third chapter of a disjointed trilogy? Right after Arsenic and Old Lace and Little Shop of Horrors? But maybe I'm jumping at a collusion... scratch
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Post by ghemrats on 4/4/2020, 5:52 pm

You are so astute, my friend. I hadn't made that connection, but they are all products of their times, growing more edgy with each passing year.

Wow. You are The Man, Space.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 4/5/2020, 4:25 pm

Post #343:  You might think that today's feature, a return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when films were churned out with the stink of sugar beets, *The Wasp Woman* (1959), is a serious study of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant housewives entering the workforce in the 1950s.  And honestly that might be more interesting than what producer/director Roger Corman had in store for us when he dropped this bug bomb in a mad dash to capitalize on Vincent Price and David Hedison's *The Fly* (1958). Remember the whiny "Help me, help me" in that movie?  Well, you might be repeating it after watching this one.

Made on a shoestring budget of $50,000, *The Wasp Woman* concerns cosmetics founder and CEO Janice Starlin (Susan Cabot), the Face of the company's advertising for many years, as in her forties she now looks at falling profits and the effects of gravity on her own skin.  While still far removed from being beaten by an Ugly Stick, she nonetheless is alarmed that people tend to get older with the passage of time. But when doddering old apiarist and misunderstood scientist (is there any other kind in the 1950s) Dr. Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark) buzzes by her office with a proposal to reverse the aging process, she leeches onto him, setting him up in his own laboratory.

Extracting wasp enzymes, the old cootie has been able to transform grubby crabby old cats into cuddly kitties with just a few injections of his royal jelly. Even though he has yet to experiment on humans, Susan yearns to stem time's tide so she can once again bask in the attention of an admiring public telling her it must be jelly 'cause jam don't shake like that. So she starts secretly injecting herself with the formula, even if it does stimulate stifling headaches and an irrepressible urge to gorge herself on Post Honeycomb cereal. But she loooooooks mah-velous! And it's better to loooook good than to feel good, you know what I'm saying. . . .

Soon her secretarial pool and board members notice a change in her--smoother skin, breasts offering a new perkiness, more energy radiating from her, and more frequent bouts of her lovely hands moving up to her face to massage her temples and pull her alabaster complexion back over her ears so she appears to be grimacing in a wind tunnel.  Oh, and a couple folks have also noticed how in odd moments her head morphs into insectoid irregularity, at which time she chews their faces off, but hey, they're never heard from again anyway so it's hardly worth mentioning.  

By today's standards of horror, *The Wasp Woman* wouldn't really hurt a fly (she's too busy dragging dead people down the hall) so for all its 73 minutes, time just flies by.  [For a more stinging sense of dread, watch *The Outer Limits* (Series 01, Episode 18) *Zzzzzz* with the outrageously hot Joanna Frank who is a queen bee incarnate. Click the following link]Outer Limits ZZZZ  It's overall a tame exercise in fear, though the weird jazzy score by Fred Katz deserves a mention, as every time Corman hired Katz to supply him with background music, Katz sold him the same score as a fresh composition.  Consequently, you can hear the same music in seven of Corman's films, including *Little Shop Of Horrors* (1960) and *Creature From The Haunted Sea* (1961).

So the appeal of *The Wasp Woman* is not in its stark terror but in the campy seriousness with which it takes itself.  The cast is a veritable Who's Who of B-movies:  Anthony Eisley ('Hawaiian Eye'), the beautiful Barboura Morris (*A Bucket of Blood* 1959), William Roerick (*Not of This Earth* 1957), Frank Gerstle (*The Atomic Brain* 1963), Roy Gordon (*Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman* 1958, and one of my favorites), Bruno VeSota (*Attack of the Giant Leeches* 1959), and Frank Wolff (*Beast from Haunted Cave* 1959).  And Susan Cabot as Janice once dated Roger Corman in 1957. "He gave me a lot of freedom," she said, "and also a chance to play a lot of parts that Universal would never have given me. Oddball, wacko parts, like the very disturbed girl in *Sorority Girl* (1957) and things like that. I had a chance to do moments and scenes that I didn't get before."

During the filming of the final confrontation between Cabot and Michael Mark, Mark threw a breakaway bottle of "Carbolic acid" at Janice/Bugface, but it was filled with water, making the projectile heavier than anticipated. Cabot's reaction to being struck is genuine. "I thought my teeth had been knocked through my nose!" she said, and the faux smoke used to simulate acid burns made her choke and cough, the final result leaving her with a large purple bruise on her neck.  But that was not the end of her tragic troubles.

Susan Cabot's own story is certainly more unnerving than *The Wasp Woman*.  Married at age seventeen to escape a long life of eight foster homes, she studied drama and debuted in *Kiss Of Death* (1947).  After a string of Arabian Nights films and westerns in the late '40s and '50s, she was coaxed back to Hollywood by Roger Corman who gave her a contract for six films starting with *Carnival Rock* (1957).  In 1959 she carried on a tempestuous affair with King Hussein of Jordan, who fathered a son with her--who suffered from dwarfism--out of wedlock, and then summarily ended his relationship with her when he discovered she was Jewish. Experimenting with growth hormones prescribed to her son may well have contributed to increasing mental instability and paranoia she suffered until her homicide in 1986 at the hands of her son, who killed her with a weightlifting bar, pleading insanity through mental abuse from his mother.

While being far from the worst sci-fi B-Movie out there, saturated by B-rolls, watching a Jewish woman play a Wasp holds its own eccentric charm, and if you look carefully you can even find Roger Corman's cameo as a doctor, while screenwriter Leo Gordon's wife Lynn Cartwright plays the striking Brooklyn-tinged receptionist Maureen Reardon.  In her own final screen credit Cartwright played the older incarnation of Geena Davis's Dottie Hinson in *A League Of Their Own* (1992), though she's best remembered for her role in *The Wasp Woman*.

Hey, folks, you take your pleasures where you can in this world.  This one ain't as sweet as a plastic bear filled with Sue Bee, but for your own chance to play the home edition of *Mystery Science Theater 3000* in the comfort of your family room, *The Wasp Woman* beats emptying a box of Honey Nut Cheerios on the floor in a rousing game of Find The Oat Hole Shaped Like A Heart.  
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 4/5/2020, 4:49 pm

This one's just another Bee Movie. But it reminded me that it's been a while since I dug out Corman's Fantastic Four movie. Now there's a movie that truly deserves the MST3K treatment.
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Post by ghemrats on 4/6/2020, 4:54 pm

Post #344: To appreciate today's feature fully, do your best to imagine yourself nine years old, sitting in the plush red seats of the State Theater in Bay City, Michigan, surrounded by the heady scent of fresh popcorn and butter, eyes adjusting to the HUGE screen slowly being revealed behind heavy automated curtains and bordered by softly glowing sconce lights in art deco glory.

Stretched out before you is today's feature, *Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea* (1961) dramatically unveiling a sense of wonder of it all. And while you're at it, work hard at dismissing the cartoony dumbness of the TV show trotting out its rubbery Creature Of The Week and stock footage of crew members being tossed like a salad from one side of the sub to the other every four minutes. In its day, the movie was SERIOUS BUSINESS, man, with earth's skyline set ablaze by something called the Van Allen Belt, which was the educational justification our school used to take us all on a field trip to the movies. At that point none of us knew who Van Allen was, but his belt was an inferno laying waste to our very existence; after the film some speculated that Van Allen was related to the co-writer, producer and director of the movie, Irwin Allen. Whoever he was, he was one very angry dude.

Ah, songs of innocence. But I do recall a collective moan when the opening credits began to roll and Frankie Avalon sang the love theme with what we imagined was that drifty, shifty dreamy look in his eye, looking up and to the left while the girls heaved sighs in his general direction. Barf. Thank God it was only one verse long, or that mush would have overshadowed the kewl blinking lights and stainless steel of the nuclear powered control room of the Seaview submarine and the crusty mad genius of Admiral Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) barking orders at everybody that he was going to save the world from utter annihilation and really bad sunburns. No worries, as it turned out--there was only one lip lock between Captain Lee Crane (Robert Sterling) and Lt. Cathy Connors (Barbara Eden in pre-Jeannie days), and the good lieutenant was introduced to us through a close-up of her rounded bum twisting to a trumpet solo.

And who cares if the supporting cast featured Floyd the Barber from *The Andy Griffith Show* (Howard McNear) as Congressman Llewellyn Parker and Michael Ansara as doomsday nihilist Miguel Alvarez, even though we all knew he was really married to Barbara Eden (What's he got that I don't?) and some Hollywood great Joan Fontaine as Dr. Susan Hiller? They had Peter Lorre on board as Commander Lucius Emery who smoked like he was ignited by Van Allen's belt holding up his portly pants, and we loved Peter Lorre ever since he appeared in those Bugs Bunny cartoons; everybody "did" Peter Lorre impressions. These people were forty feet tall!

(Real trivia artists will also recognize radio operator Robert Easton's Sparks' southern drawl as the voice of Lieutenant George Lee 'Phones' Sheridan in Gerry Anderson's "Supermarionation" *Stingray* underwater series three years later--further enhancing the nostalgia-fest that *Voyage To See What's On The Bottom* offers. Does anyone else recall Mike Mercury in *Supercar* or *Thunderbirds Are Go*, *Fireball XL-5* or *Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons*? Spectrum is Green. . . . I loved that stuff.)

I guess that's what confinement does to people, drives them back into reminiscence when the contemporary barrage of news is so relentless. So, he said, shaking it off and steering the sub back on course to comment on more catholic appreciation of Irwin Allen's $400,000 sets and narrative, beyond stirring intensely individuated childhood memories, what does the film offer today's audiences? Well, it gives us rich, pure Technicolor that is so potent it'll make your eyes water. It's filmed in Cinemascope, so the aspect ratio is magnificent even on today's screens. It's got plenty of drama to ratchet up the internal conflicts onboard the sub--what's more damning: the heat death of the universe through radiation or the creeping paranoia of the world's future hanging in the balance and resting on the shoulders of a scientist who might be a megalomaniac? What if his plan to fire a missile into the ring of fire surrounding the earth is just a pipe dream? (God knows he smokes more than Peter Lorre, which is considerable.) What if he's actually Captain Queeg who's a few strawberries short of a cake?

In addition to the interpersonal conflicts juxtaposed against the lack of external communications imposed by the radiation, there are also external impediments beyond the rising temperatures: the melting polar ice caps bombard the Seaview and its glass hull (strange that they don't float?), gigantic octopi try to mate with the craft, bothersome torpedoes dispatched by navy to stop the missile launch streak toward our heroes, and floating mine fields under the Arctic waters bob and weave like Dr. Seuss's Floob-boober-bab-boober-bubs. Not to mention the constant possibility of nuclear meltdown in the core if something else goes wonky, like an idealistic saboteur whose positions on Global Warming differ from the Admiral's. (Everybody knows it's a hoax, right? And the turning of the polar ice caps into a Turkish Steam Room is just fake news. . . .)

But should Lt (j.g.) Danny Romano (Frankie Avalon) should make a snotty comment to the Admiral and get a sharp smack across the jaw for it, suddenly there's a chance for mutiny? Dang. Maybe the Admiral just didn't like his singing a ballad in an otherwise action-packed escapade. Besides, tensions tend to bubble up when it's the end of the world as we know it, and people don't feel fine.

Simply stated, there's something for everyone in this movie, unless you want exercise your brainpower. This ain't Ingmar Bergman, folks, nor is it intended to be. It's twenty thousand leagues more fun than its resultant television series because it takes itself so seriously, radiation, like clones, is real, especially in 1961--no zipper-in-the-back foam monsters and the high camp that Irwin Allen would spool out in *Lost In Space* and *Land Of The Giants* and *The Time Tunnel* in years to come, let alone his disaster movie genre with *The Poseidon Adventure* (1972) and *Towering Inferno* (1974). In *Voyage* the close-ups of screaming mimis are kept to a bare minimum, though roiling indignation and mounting frustration, for me, are always preferable to quivering uvulas anyway.

Say what you will, *Voyage* is big, silly, overwrought and full of macho posturing, but it is also fun, fanciful and saved from dread despite the odds. About the only thing that's missing from it is an excitable Congressman Parker whipping out a pair of scissors giving the crew a little trim while gushing, "Ooooh oooooh, An-deeeeee."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 4/6/2020, 6:39 pm

1) "Dr. Seuss's Floob-boober-bab-boober-bubs" may be my new official favorite quote.

2) My "Bad old movie" for the day is Them (1954)
Starring James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, and James Arness.

3) Why is the theme from The Time Tunnel suddenly stuck in my head?
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Post by ghemrats on 4/7/2020, 5:32 pm

Post #345: Yesterday we had icebergs. Today we have Ekberg's. And in typical Hollywood bravura, today's feature, *Back From Eternity* (1956) Anita's estimable talents are foremost in the promotion of what really is an ensemble picture, a patently pandering propaganda move in the marketing of this sturdy jungle thriller, even though Anita Ekberg certainly knows how to get the jungle drum beating. In the service of full disclosure, I haven't seen the original film, *Five Came Back* (1939) on which this remake is based, so my commentary today will not comment on which film is better, even though they share the same producer/director in John Farrow, husband to Maureen O'Sullivan and father to Mia. And if you press me further, I'll admit one of the reasons I bought this incarnation rather than the original is because I prefer Anita Ekberg to Lucille Ball as the bad girl on the run. Call me crazy.

In many ways *Back From Eternity* plays like a prototypical *Airplane* (1980)/*Airport* (1970, 1975, 1977,1979) movie as eleven colorful characters, each with a sufficiently dramatic back story, board and huddle in small South American Douglas DC-2 en route to Boca Grande (Spanish for Big Mouth), where each will embark on a new life course. But first. . . . we dance:

Rena (Ekberg) has just been kicked out of her cushy job in a casino boss's good graces with a good-time girl job awaiting her at "Aunt Sophie's." Newly engaged Jud Ellis (Gene Barry) is escorting his new fiancée Louise Melhorn (Phyllis Kirk) on a business trip/honeymoon parlay. Mobster henchman Pete Bostwick (Jesse White) is playing nursemaid to his boss's son Tommy Monroe (Tommy Rettig, with Lassie nowhere in sight). Professor Henry Spangler (Cameron Prud-Homme) and his wife of forty-two years Martha (Beulah Bondi) are on a research trip. Bounty hunter Crimp (Fred Clark) is taking political assassin Vasquel (an outstanding Rod Steiger) to Boca Grande to collect a $10,000 price on his head. Top off this merry bowl of socio-economic goulash with sharp first-timer co-pilot Joe Brooks (Keith Andes) and hardened pilot Bill Lonagan (Robert Ryan), garnish with a little B-movie cheese, and you have a surprisingly hearty little snack.

Why, of course it's hurricane season, what else would you expect? The weather started getting rough, the tiny airship was tossed, and if not for the courage of the fearless crew, this minnow would be lost. Trying to rise above the storm does no good, nor does burrowing under it, as passengers are jostled around while the camera ominously closes in on clanking portable oxygen tanks, straining against their moorings while Crimp's gun goes skittering down the aisle, people panic and approach the cockpit as if they know far more about navigating flight patterns than the pilot who coldcocks anyone who burst through his door, and Tommy sleeps through it all as if he's drunk a nembutal milkshake as big as the Ritz.

But for all the hoopla-la-la-lah, our plane and its passengers plummet into a clearing in the remote jungle below, presumably where Tondelayo, Sheena, Jana of the Jungle and Bomba have long since left in search of Hollywood's klieg lights and a nice cappuccino. But our intrepid voyagers make do, each being afforded an opportunity to reveal their true natures: Ellis is a sniveling bombastic boob whose cowardice pushes his fiancee Louise into the teeming musculature of steely good guy Joe; Crimp also shows his true colors, mostly yellow, as he sneaks away under cover of night after knocking out night watchman Pete with a log (Log, Log, it's big, it's heavy, it's wood--it's better than bad, it's good); Rena and Louise cat fight in a stream for a chance to excite the men in the audience; The Professor and his wife (strangely not named Mary Ann!) look at the moon and speculate that it's the same one they saw when they were young (quite the revelation); and Vasquel turns out to be one of the most principled philosophers in the bunch.

The rundown seems much more formulaic than it plays out, *Back From Eternity* actually turning into a really fine B-movie studying the dynamics and characterizations of high-stress situations. And in a compact 100 minutes that's no mean feat. When after a week or so the natives, intent on protecting their property values, start pumping out Buddy Rich drum solos, the real mettle of our troupe is tested, and they engage in values clarification exercises to survive, the name of the game being compromise and sacrifice.

*Back From Eternity* also plucks at the strings of redemption with a surprisingly strong moral compass as its story clips along. Rod Steiger, for me, steals the show with some gritty and touching scenes in which he confronts his guilt and life choices with understated power and more humanity than some of his cohorts. This movie isn't going to win any awards for subtlety, but it makes for some really good drama. On the trivia front, look for Barbara Eden in her film debut in an uncredited role as a student journalist who wants to snap Professor Spangler's photo, and Vikki Dougan, the inventor of the backless dress popularized by Jessica Rabbit, as a showgirl lounging around Rena's former boyfriend's casino.

By the time Franz Waxman's soaring score hits its stride, I was hooked. It's a good old-fashioned survival yarn with just enough malice to offer some suspense and solid performances to keep your attention from straying too far from the campground. According to TCM host David Karger, “After the release of this film, RKO finally shut down for good a few months later in January 1957, and *Back From Eternity* was one of the last films it ever produced.” And even though the English professor in me can quibble with Vasquel's syntax in the statement, "If there were more people like you . . there would be less people like me,"--it should be "fewer people like me"--I can't fault him for making RKO's swan song a tune worth remembering.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 4/8/2020, 5:20 pm

Post #346: Quick question: Of these two titles, which one appeals more to your sense of drama--*The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home* or *Man In The Vault*? Well, the former title announces the signed first edition novel I just bought, and the latter is today's feature made in 1956 by John Wayne's production company. No, there's no prize attached to your selection and this quiz isn't going toward your final grade. I'm just trying to make a point. Shouldn't a title stir your imagination with promise, draw you in, and indicate something about your investment of time? For today's film, the title holds all the excitement of a wet gym sock. And for sheer aptness, an arguably better title would be "The Guy With The Hair." Jeez, even *Watch Me Get Punched In The Face* would be an improvement, as well as amping up the relevance.

But we're stuck with *Man In The Vault* for our trouble with our "hero"--get this--Tommy Dancer (no, I'm not kidding). As portrayed by William Campbell, Tommy Dancer is a lanky lackey with a head full of greasy kid stuff and a permanent scowl to match his permanent wave piled into a DA, ready to make an honest buck as the quintessential locksmith. When squeamy surly mobster Willis Trent (Berry Kroeger who eats scenery like a rabid termite in a lumberyard) decides he wants to steal $200,000 from his rival LA businessman Paul De Camp (James Seay), he enlists his attorney Earl Farraday (Robert Keys) to seduce DeCamp's girlfriend Flo Randall (Anita Ekberg) to find out DeCamp's safe deposit box number and location. Are you with me so far? Maybe you could fashion a Bingo or score card to keep all these names straight, and it's still only the first five minutes of the film. Maybe a more appropriate title for this movie is *Convolution*.

Let's try again: Fashion-blind mobster Willis Trent hires Tommy to open an army trunk for him at a party he's throwing. Tommy cracks it like an leftover Easter egg in August and lingers at the party at Trent's invitation. There he sees Farraday mashing in a corner with Flo Randall (yes, it's THAT kind of party) just as Farraday's girlfriend Betty Turner (Karen Sharpe) makes a surprise visit draped in furs and fury. Preferring not to believe Farraday's "Oh, baby, that was just business" ploy, Betty leaves in a huff, actually a Cadillac convertible six blocks long, much to the amusement of Trent and the rest of the partygoers. Tommy follows, instantly in love with Betty who lets him drive her to his apartment for a scotch and water (See the scene in today's trailer)--Leaving the audience to ponder, Who the hell are these people who change emotional reactions faster than a schizophrenic chameleon on a tartan plaid blanket?

I suppose if you have only 73 minutes to hatch a plot, populate it with more key players ('cause Tommy is a locksmith, see) than the Sault locks have switches, and pile up a respectable body count and body blows, you can't be bothered with little things like character development and logic.

Even while Tommy looks like a mincing Sal Mineo, he is principled enough to turn down Trent's $5,000 offer to break into DeCamp's safety deposit box, despite taking a beating from Trent's muscleman Louie (Mike Mazurki). Meanwhile he pursues Betty who turns out to be a spoiled, entitled brat who runs hot and cold until Trent decides she will be his bargaining chip to force Tommy into action: Louie will ensure Betty looks like a Picasso if Tommy doesn't dance into the vault and jimmy the lock on DeCamp's fortune. And so we are treated to a couple of good suspense moments as Tommy's hand is forced into illegal service, Flo gets backhanded enough to set her breasts out of alignment, and another rival opportunist goes hunting for Tommy and the dough in Art Linkletter's La Cienega Lanes bowling alley (obviously the killer is not a golfer).

There's some nice vintage footage of Los Angeles, including the Rexall Drugstore on Hollywood Boulevard and a pleasant scene at the Hollywood Bowl at night, and it is a kick seeing Tommy watching the pins knocked from under him in the bowling alley, but as Andrew V. McLaglen's directorial debut it's also pretty goofy with a badly lip-synched solo of "Let The Chips Fall Where They May" at Trent's party, giving us pause to wonder where the string section accompanying the song is hiding in such a small apartment.

So while Karen Sharpe is cute as Betty and manages to hold her own amidst all the threats and slapping and punching, she doesn't just jump at the change to profess her love, she catapults herself into it, bouncing off her affair with the spineless, boozy face-sucker Farraday without so much as a smack-me-bum, providing a denouement that will cause whiplash for the audience. Clearly a low-budget production, in the final analysis *Man In The Vault* lives up to its name--it does show a man who goes into a bank vault a couple times, but at the same time, so what? He doesn't get stuck in there with a limited air supply singing, "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you/I know you were right believing for so long/I'm all out of love, what am I without you," and all told he's in there for maybe four minutes of screen time. It would be better served with a name like "Pick Your Lock, But Leave Your Nose Out Of It" or better yet "Is It Safe?"

But then, that's why I'm not making the big bucks in Hollywood.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 4/9/2020, 5:35 pm

Post #347: Gratefully, today's feature, *Where The Spies Are* (1966) does not have a theme song gushed over by Connie Francis, eliciting visions of Fort Lauderdale, guys named Moondoggy in baggy trunks yelling "Surf's up!" when the non-existent plot comes to a dead stop, and dreamy eyed does frugging their way into concussions. Pretty far from it, actually. Instead we've got the suave David Niven and a coterie of stiff Britons straining at their starched collars, uttering Pooh-isms like "Spot of bother, that" when their MI6 agents are perforated in the back with Russian bullets. Yes, friends, we're back in Bond and Gagged Territory again.

The first in a proposed series of spy films that once again never materialized, *Where The Spies Are* is simultaneously a victim of the international man of intrigue trope and wholly its own sort of reserved animal magnetism. For roughly the first half of the film I couldn't tell exactly *what* the tone was--a comedy? a strict drama? a pastiche? a Cold War thriller?--but that confusion abated by the end when I *still* couldn't figure out its intent. It's not really funny (no glib double entendres or jokey delivery), it doesn't seem to be taking itself too seriously, it's got gadgets which make it side with slight silliness, but the face smacking, gut-punching, blood spotting and overall promise of malice are straight out of a Len Deighton novel. And the violence really seems to hurt!

So file this one under "Huh?" But good.

David Niven plays Dr. Jason Love (which for me ups the "Ugh" Factor), a former WWII intelligence officer recruited to investigate the death of an operative in Beirut and attend a medical convention at which insidious plans are being hatched. His contact in Paris is a fashion model and undercover agent, Vikki (Françoise Dorléac, in her final film role before her tragic death one year later when her Renault 10 flipped and burned while en route to the Nice airport). Sensing a formidable chemistry, Love and Vikki miss Love's connecting flight to Beirut, which explodes in a fiery ball, signalling the end of bad food served on little aluminum trays.

Once in Beirut Love contacts another agent Parkington (Nigel Davenport) and together they uncover a Soviet plot to assassinate the pro-British Prince of Zahlouf, thereby threatening Britain's Eastern oil treaties. We are treated to the requisite exotic locales, flashy cars--including a gorgeous white 1937 Cord 810 Phaeton Convertible--a nicely underplayed use of gadgets including "a signal-emitting dental insert, a pen that injects poison, rendezvous passwords, a radio wristwatch and ring that works like a stun gun" (according to the DVD notes), and a nice adult relationship (that is, not just sexy slap-and-tickle with a bevy of brainless beauties but a basically monogamous tryst of some depth) sprinkled with honest threats of personal harm. All these nods to and deviations from the standard spy kit make the film worth watching.

Produced and directed by Val Guest who also worked on the screenplay, *Where The Spies Are* is actually a pretty nifty little caper, even if its intentions are somewhat muddled. Guest said, "I have never in my life set out to make a picture for the lowest common denominator audience. Any picture I've made I've made because it was the sort of picture I would like to see. I just hope that other people share my taste. At no point would I ever pander to the audience."

And he is ably assisted by Niven and Dorleac, who was the elder sister of Catherine Deneuve and a formidable star before her sibling entered the scene. They playfully compliment one another, giving fresh performances that ground their amorous attraction in credibility. While the marketing of the film is understandable, drawing direct correlations to 007, given the glut of spy films in their heyday, it seems unfortunate that *Where The Spies Are* is so easily lost in the crowded mass when it actually presents a fresh perspective that does not copy the comic action of Matt Helm or the intense seriousness of Michael Caine's Harry Palmer but straddles them both.

Some will find its opening half hour dry as fried bread while setting up the premise, but splashes of action, almost nonchalantly dropped in, sell the expertise of Jason Love in a pinch. Since the novel inspiring this film, James Leasor's *Passport To Oblivion*, has sold a multi-million number of copies and has been published in at least nineteen languages, it's almost a shame that the other nine novels in the series were not given the chance at the box office with David Niven. For my money they might have transcended the weirdly uneven *Casino Royale* (1967) and the abysmal *Lady L* (1965) in Niven's canon of great films.

But at least he never stooped to strolling like Vincent Price through the sands of Palm Springs as Big Daddy while Annette and Frankie fought Eric Von Zipper for the perfect wave. And hey, Kids--surf's up!
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 4/9/2020, 8:01 pm

I suddenly feel the need to dig up a bunch of 60's surfer movies. Either that, or the complete Anita Ekburg filmography.
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Post by ghemrats on 4/9/2020, 8:21 pm

I'd be hard pressed to determine which one of those two would be a greater labor, Space.

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Post by ghemrats on 4/10/2020, 5:29 pm

Post #348: As a service to all the high school valedictorians who will not be delivering their commencement addresses due to social distancing parameters, I offer congratulations on dodging that emotional grenade and suggest you watch today's feature, *I Love You, Beth Cooper* (2009) to see how horribly wrong such a honor can go. In that bizarre alternate reality visited upon us by Hollywood, a lifetime of wild escapades can be telescoped into one madcap night, eternal truths can be laid open for all to see, and lawns can be chewed up, multi-million-dollar mansions can be demolished in playful abandon, and the air is crackling with enough hormonal energy to overload the power grid of the entire west coast, snapping out every light in Las Vegas like a monstrous bag of Jiffy Pop.

*I Love You, Beth Cooper* joins the long line of teenage escapade movies set into propulsion by John Hughes's iconic visions back in the '80s and endlessly revamped and bastardized in the ensuing years by sleazy filmmakers who cared more about showing boobs (metaphorically and physically) than telling a story or commenting on social mores. By the time 2009 rolled around, the teen market had been graduated into horror films in which having sex almost immediately led to innovative decapitation and disembowelment with a Sham-Wow towel. So in many ways *I Love You, Beth Cooper* is a movie out of its time.

It bombed spectacularly, taking in only $4,919,433 of an estimated $10 million, placing #7 for its opening weekend, and when only five movies opened that weekend, that ain't good. In its second week it sank 43.8% to $2,766,863 and really picked up steam to drop a precipitous 74% to $719,468 in its third week. With an $18 million budget, it pulled in a worldwide gross of $15,821,907--which by any standard is gross. So how can such a poorly received film still manage an 81% four- or five-star rating on Amazon and a generally positive response in my wheelhouse? I have a theory. . . .

First of all, it was directed by Chris Columbus (who directed the first two *Harry Potter* films (2001 and 2002), the first two *Home Alone* films (1990 and 1992), *Mrs. Doubfire* (1993), and produced both *Night At The Museum* films (2006 and 2009) and *The Help* (2011)) with breakneck speed and an over-the-top slapstick sense of fun. Secondly, while sexual shenanigans are alluded to throughout the film, *I Love You, Beth Cooper* doesn't stoop to the level of many horny teenager ripoffs and offers no nudity. Since author of the novel Larry Doyle was consciously working from a well worn set of tropes surrounding this genre, some audiences felt they had already seen these scenes before--and yes, Doyle does tap the stereotypical role call: the gorgeous cheerleader who's misunderstood and is flanked by a posse of two busty buddies, the nerdy socially inept admirer from afar who's captain of the debate team and head of his class, his ambiguously gay best friend, the thick headed ROTC jealous boyfriend who enjoys stomping the sensitive nerd, and a planet full of parents who are either absent or Norman Rockwell models. So, yeah, the narrative ground is fertilized with decades' worth of old horses of the trade.

And yet. . . .

By avoiding the inevitable hook-up between hawk-nosed Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) and the unattainable Beth (Hayden Panettiere) and exploring some of the sharp perceptions lobbed at his graduating class during Denis's speech the film occasionally lapses into nuanced sweetness that is so often lacking in *stoopid* teen comedies, suggesting Columbus and Doyle's interest in breaking the facades which create the infrastructure of high school dynamics. There is a dreamlike fantasy element at work here, right down to the slow motion capture of Beth and her posse arriving at Denis's graduation party. Of course, we've seen this shot countless times--that is the point: *I Love You, Beth Cooper* is almost a parody of the genre it's positioned itself in.

Why else does Denis's buddy Rich Munsch (the natural Jack T. Carpenter) unspool his encyclopedic knowledge of films in an awkward attempt to impress? His is a life patched together with celluloid, not a flesh-and-blood existence but a simulacra of leftover, second-hand experiences--a motif in the film bolstered by the portrayal of Denis's father by Alan Ruck (a sly call back to his days as Ferris Beuller's best friend Cameron, now himself a parent to a burdened teen). And it's no coincidence that Denis's friends like to call his folks "Mr. and Mrs. C" a'la *Happy Days* much to their disgust. And if you wish to get even more esoteric, you might recall that in the comics Archie, the perennial teenager, spent half his time in love with Elizabeth (Beth or more appropriately known as Betty) Cooper when Veronica Lodge was busy being a bee-yotch.

So it's little notes like these, poking fun at the cliches, that endear the film to me and lift it from the dregs of the John Hughes Wannabes. The allusions to the trendsetters Cameron Crowe's *Say Anything* (1989) as well as Hughes' own *Sixteen Candles* (1984) and *The Breakfast Club* (1987) as well as a dose of *Weird Science* (1985) are nostalgic homages, not copycat requisitions. But evidently audiences in 2009 were not totally in on the joke, or they just didn't host the patience to relax and go with it. Viewed through these eyes perhaps you can enjoy the ride.

No, it will never join the ranks of Columbus's *Mrs. Doubtfire* in the pantheon of comic masterpieces, but it does explore some of the director's early charms of his *Adventures In Babysitting* (1987) with its frantic pace, logic defying jokes (Can a microwave really hit a wall with such force as to lodge itself between the joists?) and likable goofball protagonists. Rated PG-13 it's a little too focused on racy jokes for the younger crowd, but for anyone who's quietly harbored the desire--even for just one day--to speak the capital-T Truth in public and damn the ramifications, *I Love You, Beth Cooper* might be the zany 102 minutes you could only imagine.

It's loud, silly, largely dismissible, but it's also so acutely aware of its heightened reality that you can't really get mad at yourself for having enjoyed it. There's something a bit crushing in Denis's realization that "You're not Beth Cooper" halfway through the film and in Beth's very real fear of being "ordinary" with her best years behind her at so tender an age. The dismantling of stereotypes raises *I Love You, Beth Cooper* into a more subtle mission of understanding and actually listening to what is not said, those subtexts which we find difficult to confront even to ourselves.

My fiftieth high school reunion is set for this summer, and there's a big push to get everybody back together. Two of my best friends in the world--twins; both of them--have already shown interest in attending. As for me, I'm not sure. So many years, so many experiences, all fired up in that passionate crucible, over in a flash. All I know with conclusive certainty is that I'll never forget What's-Her-Name.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 4/10/2020, 5:55 pm

"Save the cheerleader and save the world"

Admit it. Ya knew I'd go there...
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