The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by ghemrats on 5/9/2020, 5:43 pm

Post #377: Okay, picture this: Alfred Hitchcock riding the wild surf in baggies while Frankie and Annette cheer him on as their gay beach buddies wrestle in the sand. On second thought, erase that image from your head, because it's seriously disturbing. But for all its weirdly provocative evocations, that's a pretty decent description of today's feature, *Psycho Beach Party* (2000), one of the strangest but curiously entertaining hybrid films I've seen in a long time. Maybe ever?

Brought to the screen from its Off-Broadway stage show, *Psycho Beach Party* is a dead-perfect send-up of 1960s Beach movies, tacky 1970s teenage slasher films, vintage suspense thrillers and John Hughes coming-of-age tomes. A film endeavoring to parody any one of those genres could be a recipe for disaster, but to take on ALL of them and still do justice to each is a lunatic's dream. Who'd'a thunk there'd be a writer so demented as to achieve such daring levels of madness? Well, Charles Busch (who also plays Captain Monica Stark) is that twisted genius, and director Robert Lee King knew exactly how to bring it to life.

Parodying a collection of film genres that, by this time, have almost become goofy shadows of themselves requires a deft touch, or else the result will flail and sink under its own labored intentions. But *Psycho Beach Party* somehow manages to retain a straight face, never breaking character but offering the most inane, witty dialogue and fresh takes on movie tropes while still providing a solid narrative that functions even without the jokes. But be advised: This movie will not cater to everyone's tastes--while unabashedly arch, like a particularly good episode of *Rick And Morty*, it does drop some crude humor (though handled with bald-faced innocence that heightens the effect), homoerotic subtexts that probably existed in the original Beach movies but were subverted by Annette and Frankie, and a couple very quick flashes of nudity done with comic result. A small handful of F-bombs sneak in, but for me the cumulative effect makes all those caveats little grace notes rather than an avalanche of bad taste. Think of a more restrained John Waters, and you get the picture.

The plot itself is simple: Doe-eyed Florence Forrest (Lauren Ambrose) and her bestie Berdine (Danni Wheeler) are on the outskirts of the cool high school surfing clique, led by the ultra-groovy surf guru Great Kanaka (Thomas Gibson). One night, at the local drive-in as the whole crew watch B-movie actress Bettina Barnes (Kimberley Davies) in a trashy big screen film, a serial killer cuts loose, and one of the spectators' throat, claiming a first victim. Questioned by police Captain Monica Stark (Busch), Florence is swept away by her mother Ruth Forrest (Beth Broderick of *Sabrina The Teenage Witch* fame) to shield her daughter from harm, even though Florence has suffered secret blackouts after which she can recall nothing. Back home, with their Swedish exchange student boarder Lars (Matt Keeslar, from Grand Rapids, MI! who was in, among other films, *Waiting For Guffman* (1996) and *Scream 3* (2000)), Florence dreams of learning to surf, and so goes right to the source, asking Kanaka to take her under his wing (and surfboard); he does so, much to the dismay of his beach buddy followers who don't believe girls can surf, promptly nicknaming her "Chicklet."

Meanwhile, Chicklet's blackouts continue, triggered by circular patterns in clothes or decor, and the body count mounts. Escaping the rigors of Hollywood fame, Bettina Barnes takes up residence at the beach, drawing her own kind of attention from the boys and becoming friends with the gang: University dropout (and Chicklet's love interest) Starcat (Nicholas Brendon, who was Xander in *Buffy The Vampire Slayer*) surfers Yo-Yo (Nick Cornish) and Provoloney (Andrew Levitas), Starcat's girlfriend Marvel Ann (Amy Adams--yes, THE Amy Adams in a very early role before she'd become one of the top three highest paid actors in Hollywood), and the wheelchair-bound class "queen bee" Rhonda (Kathleen Robertson). And in the blender of whirling hormones and high school hijinks the serial killer claims more victims (though again the violence is absolutely bloodless).

The kooky joy of this film comes from its playing all this straight, right down to the uber-cheesy rear projection curling waves for our characters' close-ups. And what a kick to keep a running tally of movie homages at which it pokes fun. A partial list of films nodded to includes:

*Every American International Beach movie made, right down to the twangy surf guitar soundtrack with a cameo appearance by "name band" Los Straightjackets with songs also supplied by Ben Vaughn, Man Or Astro-Man?, and The Fathoms;
*Hitchcock favorites, directly spoofed, *Spellbound* (1945), *Psycho* (1960) and *Marnie* (1964) with Bernard Herrmann samplings during dramatic scenes;
*Attack of the 50-Foot Woman* (1958);
*Carrie* (1976);
*Berserk* (1967) with Joan Crawford;
*Kiss Of Death* (1947);
*Blue Hawaii* (1961) and *Viva Las Vegas* (1964);
*Gidget* (1959) and *Gidget Goes To Hawaii* (1961);
*A plethora of hard-boiled noir films, specifically *Mildred Pierce* (1945);
--and on television, *Leave It To Beaver*, *Father Knows Best* and *Ozzie and Harriet*.

It's hard for me to isolate my favorite part of all this craziness, for Chicklet's dissociative identity shifts are hilarious and really put the sparkling Lauren Ambrose through her paces, and the entire pastiche of 1962 sensibilities--the late Fifties' sanitized cultural repression of sexual mores seething to be released in Freudian outlets--is wonderfully etched. But as a guilty fan of the AIP Beach movies, I was knocked back by the fidelity of *Psycho Beach Party*'s opening and closing credit sequences with the kinetic whirlwind of go-go dancing Tera Bonilla, who's a cross between Ann-Margret and Candy Johnson. So patently pandering to the males in the audience, Tera's uninhibited energy sets the perfect balance between parody, homage, pastiche and sex appeal. Groovy.

This is a deliriously fevered dream for anyone who's sat through and enjoyed the goofy mindlessness of the whole bubbly teenage summer escapism popularized in the drive-ins of yesteryear. It's so affectionate in its fun-poking that you'll excuse its occasional lapses of taste; even that is part of the point. Made with a relatively modest budget of $1.5 million and shot in twenty-one days, usually in one or two takes per scene, it's rightfully proud of its 83% four- and five-star rating on Amazon with a mere 3% rating it with one star.

Last night my wife and I started to binge-watch the original run of the first season of *Peyton Place*, after which I revved up my movie for the evening. On reflection, since the TV show ran first in 1964, I was surprised how appropriately *Psycho Beach Party* mirrored the Gee-Whiz-Jeepers, pregnant dramatic pause acting style of the time, which heightened my enjoyment of the whole 95 minutes. So watch it with your tongue rubber cemented in your cheek, fire up some 'smores around the barbecue pit and throw out your spine switching from The Swim to The Frug and The Jerk as that tinny surf guitar music annoys your neighbors, and make sure your Ginsu Collection (which you found on your doorstep six to eight weeks after you ordered, with a separate collection available free--just pay the extra charge) is not missing one really big mother a carver in the butcher block holder.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/10/2020, 4:31 pm

Post #378: In special tribute to mothers everywhere today, today's feature is a really sweet and funny romantic comedy starring two Hollywood legends, Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney in 1948's *That Wonderful Urge*. A special tip of the hat goes to my buddy Space Cadet​ who clued me into this screwball chemistry test that's as breezy as it is cute. And with Gene Tierney in a luminous comic turn, it's quickly turning into a very welcome addition to my library. (Man, just look at that still accompanying today's commentary--Gene in floor-length fur. Great googly moogly. [That's a not so veiled allusion to a Frank Zappa song concerning Nanook.])

Actually a remake of Tyrone Power's earlier film with Loretta Young, *Love Is News* (1937), *That Wonderful Urge* concerns itself with conniving, opportunistic newspaper reporter Thomas Jefferson Tyler (Power) dogging the steps of young grocery store heiress Sara Farley, as he sensationalizes a series of exposes on her personal life. Never having actually met her, Tom tracks her Sun Valley, posing as a sympathetic small town reporter "Tom Thompson," hoping to gain revealing quotes from her. As is typical in these frothy rom-coms, Tom discovers Sara is actually a down-to-earth sweetheart done wrong by his stories, and they form a budding romance under Tom's subterfuge.

But when the Sun Valley newspaper reveals Tom's true identity, just as he composes a complete turn-around story correcting his past muckraking stories, he abruptly leaves, hoping to get the true story of Sara Farley to press before she discovers his identity. Whoops, too late. His publisher refuses to print the story as it's too "nice," and Sara discovers his betrayal minutes after he leaves. Determined to get even, Sara borrows a huge diamond from her eager fortune-hunting friend Count Andre De Guyon (Reginald Gardiner) and casually lets it leak to the media that she and Tom fell into a whirlwind courtship and marriage in Sun Valley. After all, what's good for the goose. . . .

The 82-minute revenge plot clips along as Tom tries to dismantle Sara's faux publicity marriage while Sara delights at watching him squirm. It's a frothy battle of wills and sexes as the couple maneuver to outdo the other in a storm of paparazzi panic. While Tyrone Power developed a screen presence with Twentieth Century Fox in the 1930s playing lightweight roles, Gene Tierney's 1940s career languished primarily in drama, pairing Power and Tierney in the classic serious piece, *The Razor's Edge* (1946). So this change of pace for Gene Tierney is really fun to watch. The obvious chemistry Power and Tierney have fairly sparkles on the screen, and while I own but haven't yet watched the original with Loretta Young, I can't comment on the comparative highlights, though most critics suggest *Love Is News* is a superior film. Personally, I'd pay to watch Gene Tierney read cereal boxes, so I am admittedly prone to her charms here.

As an aside, it's also a plus to see two returning character actors from *Miracle On 34th Street* (1947)--Gene Lockhart, playing a judge in both films, and Porter Hall (the persnickety Granville Sawyer, Macy's psychological assessor) playing Tom's attorney Ketchell. This was director Robert B. Sinclair's final feature film, though he would go on to direct television episodes of *Johnny Staccato*, *77 Sunset Strip* and *Hawaiian Eye*. One of the odd elements of *That Wonderful Urge* is the sexual innuendo, which today will probably pass unexamined, but some critics of the time complained Tom's reading *Sexual Behavior in the Human Male* written by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey and published in 1948 was inappropriate for children watching the Christmas release (December 21, 1948), and the suggestion of "closeness" at the conclusion was a moral sticking point. Another small oddity is the radio-soap-opera-tinged organ music used in the soundtrack, even though for me it merely accented the light tone of the picture.

Tierney and Power were good friends, and this reteaming, their last, shows how much fun they were having on the set, with their cunning quips, chicanery and nutty antics trying to outdo one another. It's fluffy, light and airy as a cloud, and for a rainy afternoon it's ideal silliness. I predict audiences today will be charmed by Tyrone Power's easy light-hearted performance and Gene Tierney's graceful sweep in her husband Oleg Cassini's wardrobe. It's not a big budget extravaganza primed to knock you off your feet, but a little bit of pleasure with glamorous goofy people. Enjoy your day, Moms; we would be nowhere without you.

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Post by Space Cadet on 5/10/2020, 6:19 pm

Oh how I love me a snappy dialog flick. And when that dialog passes between actors who have great chemistry, it's elevated to a higher plateau. This one is great fun. A few of my favorites are, "It Happened One Night", "The Philadelphia Story", "Bringing Up Baby" and most of the "Thin Man" movies. There are many others on the same level. But you'll have to explore and find those on your own. It's a treasure hunt that's well worth pursuing.
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Post by ghemrats on 5/11/2020, 5:52 pm

Post #379: Tapping back into the successful formula initiated by *Murder By Death* (1976), Neil Simon reunites some of his star-spangled cast in today's feature, a not-really-sequel-comedy *The Cheap Detective* with Peter Falk reprising his Bogarted private eye in a properly circuitous mystery in 1940 San Francisco. If you count among your favorite movies *The Maltese Falcon* (1941), *Casablanca* (1942) and *The Big Sleep* (1946), you'll find your heart's content with this homey homage to betrayal, suspense, red white and blue herrings, femme fatales and a surfeit of surly sycophants.

IN 1853, twelve Albanian fishermen conquered China, Mongolia and Tibet—and in their wake they scrambled a perilous pursuit of a set of priceless diamond eggs, each flawless, the size and weight of a Grade A, extra large Eggland's Best. Antiquarians, collectors and criminals alike got cracking when the eggs took a powder. Now, in 1940, it's been rumored that the stash is cooped up in Frisco, seven thousand miles from Casablanca, ready to be plucked as the ultimate Pullet Surprise. In this incubator of passions lives hard-boiled dick Lou Peckinpaugh (Peter Falk) who's having an affair with his partner's wife Georgia Merkle (Marsha Mason); too bad his partner has just been murdered and he's been hired by a client who's named, variously, Denise Manderley, Wanda Coleman, Gilda Dabney, Chloe LaMarr, Alma Chalmers, Alma Palmers, Vivian Purcell, Carmen Montenegro, Diane Glucksman, Mrs. Danvers, Natasha Ublenskaya, Sophie DeVega, Mary Jones, Lady Edwina Morgan St. Paul, Norma Shearer, and Barbara Stanwyck (Madeline Kahn). The yoke of responsibility is on Lou to make sense of it all, and he's not one to chicken out.

You don't watch a movie like *The Cheap Detective* for plot but for one-liners and slapstick parody--and this one is stuffed. While I prefer this one to *Murder By Death* (my wife's favorite, though she rightly observed that these two are completely different stories and characters), the parade of stars is equaled here, and you'll need a scorecard to keep them straight [and that's an apt statement as most of the subsidiary characters are actually named after a roster of New York Yankees baseball players: Roger Peckinpaugh (Yankees, White Sox and Senators), Fred Merkle (Giants, Cubs, Yankees), Joe Tinker (Cubs), Phil Rizzuto, Frankie Crosseti and Joe DiMaggio]. So be on your toes, folks. A lot is going on here:

*Betty DeBoop (Eileen Brennan) = Lauren Bacall's Marie "Slim" Browning from To Have and Have Not (1944);
*Carmen Montenegro (Madeline Kahn) = Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941);
*Jasper Blubber (John Houseman) = Sydney Greenstreet's Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon (1941);
*Pepe Damascus (Dom DeLuise) = Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo in *Falcon*;
*Paul DuChard (Fernando Lamas) = Paul Henreid's Victor Laszlo from Casablanca (1942);
*Boy (Paul Williams) = Elisha Cook Jr.'s Wilmer Cook from *Falcon*;
*Marcel (James Coco) = Leonid Kinskey's Sascha in *Casablanca* (1942);
*Tinker (Scatman Crothers) = Dooley Wilson's piano player Sam from Casablanca (1942);
*Marlene DuChard (Louise Fletcher) = Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa Lund from Casablanca (1942);
*Bess Duffy (Stockard Channing) = Effie Perine, Sam's secretary in *Falcon*;
*Jezebel Dezire (Ann-Margret) = Claire Trevor's Mrs. Grayle in *Murder, My Sweet* (1944) and Martha Vickers' Carmen Sternwood in *The Big Sleep* (1946);
*Ezra Dezire (Sid Caesar) = Charles Waldron's General Sternwood from *The Big Sleep* (1946) ;
*Lt. Rizzuto (Abe Vigoda) = Regis Toomey's Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls in *The Big Sleep* (1946);
*Lt. DiMaggio (Vic Taybeck) = Barton MacLane's Det. Lt. Dundy in *The Falcon*;
*Colonel Schlissel (Nicol Williamson) = Conrad Veight's Major Heinrich Strasser in *Casablanca* (1942);
*Lou Peckinpaugh (Peter Falk) = Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Rick Blaine from Casablanca (1942).

Once again, Neil Simon's rapid-fire jokes strafe the audience with such regularity it's sometimes hard to catch up, but given that the climactic finale was shot on the same soundstage as *Casablanca*'s legendary closing, *The Cheap Detective* is like a love letter to the good old dramas and mysteries we just don't see anymore. According to Neil Simon, some of Warner Brothers' original *Casablanca* props, stored away for years, were brought back to retain as close a resemblance to or recreation of Rick's Cafe Americain as the production would allow. With the fiercely gorgeous cinematography from John A. Alonzo, who also filmed *Chinatown* (1974) and the Chandler Philip Marlowe film *Farewell, My Lovely* (1975), this is a treat for the senses (especially if you have popcorn next to you, supplying the olfactory element).

As we've come to expect from the noir genre, sexy repartee is the lexicon hard at work, as innuendoes roost around every fog-enveloped corner. One of my favorite lines sneaks in as Marcel enters the room to find Lou speaking to Betty in her underwear: Marcel says, "I'm sorry, I thought you were alone." And Lou responds, casually, "I tried it that way. It's not as much fun alone." And though Lou has ample opportunity to find love in all the wrong places, he does hold a private eye's sense of morality: "Being a private eye may not be much, but we do have a code of honor. It's all right to fool around with your partner's wife, but once he's dead it makes it all so dirty. That's the way it is, angel. You marry yourself a nice guy, have a couple of swell kids. Once you're all set up and happy, maybe we can fool around again."

Finished two days before its scheduled completion date of ten weeks, with a budget between $5 - 6 million, *The Cheap Detective* earned back its initial investment in its opening weekend, grossed $15 million in its first two weeks, and ended with a final box office tally of $28,221,552. Amazon viewers rate it at 88% four- and five-star reviews, with just about everyone with eyes suggesting Ann-Margret never looked better in her form fitting wardrobe, and Louise Fletcher wonderfully replicates Ingrid Bergman's designer hat (if not her passionate reading) and gains big laughs in her pontification with Nazi officers.

Now, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of fifteen great comic performers don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away. Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not to make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgement. So I'll just leave it this way: *The Cheap Detective* is a rollicking 92 minutes that may make you giggle like Peter Lorre, guffaw like Sydney Greenstreet, or smirk and smile inwardly like Humphrey Bogart. By gad, sir, they are characters, that they are. There's never any telling what they'll say or do next, except that it's bound to be something astonishing.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 5/11/2020, 6:16 pm

I'll be back later, I suddenly feel a need to see Casablanca again.
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Post by ghemrats on 5/12/2020, 5:30 pm

Post #380: Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1973, let's say on a Saturday night in October. A variegated group of friends are huddled together in a windowless basement TV room of their dorm, anticipatory and heckling in readiness for the 11:30 showing of their favorite piece of cable madness broadcast from Channel 50, WKBD, Detroit. It's a ritual, a frenzied fellowship of harmless anarchy promoting a communal union that will bind them for years to come. Suddenly the blast of a bank of saxophones rumbles from the tube and the room cheers. "Hey, Group! Zingy zing zingy, overday!" The man sporting a fright wig, a plastic goatee and glasses with one darkened lens and another empty one prances into frame accompanied by rude sound effects. The Ghoul is on the air once again, blowing up stuff and performing unspeakable violence upon Froggy The Gremlin brought out with a flash of smoke and the words "Plunk yer magic twanger, Froggy." The dual meaning of the incantation is not lost on the crowd who laugh uproariously as the plastic toy intones, "Hiya hiya hiya. . ."

Channel 50 is gone now. The Ghoul (Ron Sweed) died of a heart attack some years ago at the tender age of seventy, and those schlocky bits and the egregious movies he lorded over are the things of legend. I doubt if we'll see the insane joy we experienced on those Saturday nights ever again. For somehow such patent goofiness of the Bad Movie Host, who mercilessly skewered the films he showed, seems of another time. If you'll forgive this lengthy retrospective, introspective introduction to today's feature, *Movie Orgy* (1968), you can just file it under Heartwarming Slides of Grampa's Lost Youth. Pat me on the head, tolerate me and kindly turn down my repeated offers of "Have an apple?"

In 1973, at the peak of The Ghoul's fame for us, a tightly banded clique of crazies, Schlitz Brewing Company was touring college campuses with a four-and-one-half-hour melange of movie clips, old commercials, educational film snippets, and vintage television shows cobbled together and edited by director Joe Dante (who would go on to create great memories with *Gremlins* (1984), *Explorers* (1985), *Innerspace* (1987), and *The 'Burbs* (1989)). It was called *Movie Orgy* because that's what it was--an wild tour of popular culture slammed into its final form by a Cuisinart. And it was free! It offered anyone bold enough to venture into its whirling morass of images and nostalgia a 4.5-hour unrestrained journey into clips juxtaposed in such a way as to keep us in rapt suspense over what would appear on the screen next.

Evidently the original *Movie Orgy*, I later discovered, was actually over seven hours long, and it was a hit first at Philadelphia College of Art, then NYU, then Columbia University, then the Fillmore East, finally taken out of distribution in 1977, only to resurface at the Museum of Modern Art and a 2016 showing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which was a capital-E Event. The print that now survives is the one I saw in college--and Wonder of Wonder, Miracle of Miracles, now own on DVD (It has taken me over forty years to track one down). It is now legendary, and well worth that accolade.

Dante and his friend Jon Davison tied this compilation together by interspersing classic bad movies into the mix; among those films sampled to form some manner of "narrative" cohesiveness are *Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman* (1958), *Speed Crazy* (1959), *Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers* (1956), *Tarantula* (1955), *The Giant Claw* (1957), *The Giant Gila Monster* (1959), *Teenagers From Outer Space* (1959) and *College Confidential* (1960). These extended clips are mashed together with scenes from Howdy Doody, Ed Sullivan Presents, Wyatt Earp, The Lone Ranger, Mighty Mouse, American Bandstand, Huntley-Brinkley, Elvis on the Steve Allen Show, Mickey Mouse Club, The Rifleman, Rin Tin Tin, Jeff's Collie, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Nixon's Checkers speech, Adventures of Superman, Sky King, The Twilight Zone, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx, Warner Brothers newsreel footage, masses of TV commercials from the 1950s, vintage stag reels, and just about anything you might not begin to imagine. Even after four-plus hours, I wanted more--it is such a tumbling tour of nostalgia and cheese.

Interviewing Joe Dante, Roger Ebert celebrated the film. "Dante's cinematic collage has no narrative, but plenty of thematic 'points of contact,' to use a phrase film coined by critic J. Hoberman. It's a hallucinatory blend of surreal violence, droll humor and madcap counter-culture ideology." Dante explained, "Its imperfections are fairly apparent. When we put it together, it was seven hours. It was done because there had been a very successful revival of the 1943 Batman serial, which they ran in its entirety in one sitting. All 15 chapters. People came in, they got pizza, they got up, they came back. It was sort of a 'being' of the time. I don't know if you know what that means, but people would get together and just be. I had a great time at it. . . .there are five different stories being told at the same time interspersed with all this trivia. It was a huge hit. People went out, got high, ordered food, got higher and recognized all these landmarks from their childhood: TV shows, kid's shows that hadn't been on for years that they had vague memories of ... it became quite the phenomenon.

"The Schlitz beer company came to us and wanted to sponsor us: we'd take this thing around to college campuses, and they'd sell beer. We went to various college campuses with our one print—our 16mm, all 2,000-splices print—which we would have to ride. Every time there was a lighting change, we'd have to change focus. The sound levels would go up and down. But there was no mixing involved, there was no correction. It was all splices, hand-spliced. And eventually it started to wear out. There's only so many sprockets you can fix before it's too late. . . . And, more importantly, this only works with an audience, with a crowd. It's an experience movie, it's not a movie movie... it's the group experience that makes it what it is."

*Movie Orgy* stands as a fascinating, somewhat subversive commentary on America's movement through popular culture history. According to the fascinating Make Mine Criterion website, " Part of what makes *The Movie Orgy* so important is that a notable portion of it are what Dan Streible calls 'orphan films' – works whose owners or rightholders cannot be identified or located, or who have abandoned the care of those works. Dante estimates that 5% of The Movie Orgy could contain the only remaining copies of some content. These orphans are fascinating. An outtake to a Johnson’s Baby Powder commercial presents a bathroom scene where two women descend into a topless softcore fling following a flubbed line. A police educational video promoting the use of mace as weapon against court-imposed legal restrictions sees a man voluntarily take a full blast to the face. A series of commercials to an unused Bufferin ad campaign ('Strong Medicine for Sensitive People') show unlikely spokespeople for the pain-reliever – a father disappointed by his son’s refusal to shoot a rifle, a draft officer sending a young man to war, a real estate agent evicting an elderly couple so their apartment building can be demolished."

There is a strong social and editorial eye at work in this film, but for me one of the most uncomfortably strange snippets comes from *Andy's Gang*, a kids' show sponsored by Buster Brown Shoes when Andy Devine took over for a retiring Smilin' Ed McConnell. In this bit, without any shard of irony, we see Midnight the Cat playing a pipe organ and Squeaky the Mouse accompanying him on the bass drum while Andy wheezes his way through "Jesus Loves Me." The incongruity of a puppet cat and mouse struggling through the song and Andy's labored singing AND the sweetness of the song itself doubtlessly elicits unnerving laughter. But that's what *Movie Orgy* intends. It's a long, delirious stream of oddities what never cease to entertain. Even my wife sat mesmerized through at least forty-five minutes of it.

The DVD is available in its 4.5-hour format, and I'll be glad to pass along the address of the vendor to anyone who is brave enough to give it a shot. At only $14.95 you will surely get your money's worth when that same amount will get you a library of less entertaining 90-minute films these days. For me, I can't wait to end the self-imposed isolation and have our families home for the holidays so I can subject them to as much of this as they can stand; they've heard me gush over the experience of sitting through it in college so much that surely their curiosity is piqued.

If you're a movie maven, a nostalgia merchant, or a repressed college student taking Springsteen's *Glory Days* a bit too much to heart, then *Movie Orgy* is for you. It's a total departure from my usual commentaries, but since we don't have Channel 50 WKBD, the Ghoul or even Bill Kennedy at the Movies anymore, this is a golden flashback. Have an apple?
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 5/12/2020, 6:25 pm

That sounds like my typical Saturday afternoon, for most of my life. How many ours did I spend with Elvira, Mistress of the Darkness and Dr. Paul Bearer? Much of my life has included a self created MST3K soundtrack.
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Post by ghemrats on 5/13/2020, 4:48 pm

Post #381: For better or worse, you know what you've signed up for as soon as you read the title of today's feature, *Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine* (1965). But what, you may ask and rightfully so, distinguishes this fine cinematic masterwork from anything else in the contemporary canon of American International Pictures' vaults? Yes, it does offer Frankie Avalon and Vincent Price, amazingly stultifying plotlines, the standard fan boy fantasy of gorgeous girls in skimpy two-piece bathing wear with brains much smaller than their bustlines, solo bikini'd blondes in the final credit sequence wiggling in rhythmic spasticity to the bouncy theme, and bumptious sidekicks who, along with the accumulated IQs of the girls, elicit the brainpower of an eggplant.

But wait--there's more! If you act within the next sixty seconds, you can also get these special premium features: An unreleased recording of The Supremes singing the theme song (there's a reason it wasn't released), a Claymation opening sequence by Art Clokey, the creator of Gumby!, sets borrowed from other AIP cheapjack Edgar Allan Poe features, the biggest budget ($1.5 million) of any AIP feature, cameos from a pregnant Annette Funicello and Eric von Zipper's Harvey Lembeck (accumulated screen time: 7 seconds), a script from Three Stooges scribe Elwood Ullman and direction from Elvis's favorite director Norman Taurog (who worked with The King in nine of his 30 movies), and most surprising of all NO MUSICAL NUMBERS! With all these special bonuses, you can expect to be the envy of your neighborhood when you screen this fare. And if you're among the blessed few to call within the next minute, you can receive on the same high-technology DVD a SECOND FEATURE, the sequel to this epic, *Dr. Goldfoot and The Girl Bombs* (1966), also starring Vincent Price, to be commented on later as a huge hit in Italy. Just pay separate handling.

A modest hit in the States, another pale parody of the just-released 007 classic *Goldfinger* (1964), *Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine* involves the insidious plan of the evil genius to create a race (or runway) of beautiful gold-bikini-clad robots to seduce and marry the world's richest men, thus amassing a fortune for their creator. Foremost among them is Diane (Susan Hart), who somehow gets her wires crossed and picks up unsuspecting schlub (and Secret Agent 00 1/2 for Craig Gamble (Frankie Avalon), mistaking him for millionaire entrepreneur Todd Armstrong (Dwayne Hickman, fresh from his Dobie Gillis days). Playing the titular Dr. Goldfoot (so named for his penchant for curled toes gold slippers covering his 24 karat feet) is Vincent Price, not so ably assisted by Igor (Jack Mullaney) whose hunchback has been removed along with his intellect. And. . . that's about it narratively.

*Playboy* Playmates pepper the doctor's parade of automatons, placing the film in the Oh-my-how-progressive-and-good-naturedly-naughty school of filmmaking as they march and frug their way through scenes as eye candy and nothing more, as befitting their stature. It's all very nudge-nudge wink-wink especially as Robot #11 Diane (Susan Hart, who incidentally was the girlfriend of AIP owner James H. Nicholson) does her best to enliven her part with a seductive flair, even as she changes bad accents from target to target. Frankie invests a manic energy as an ineffectual agent of SIC, Secret Intelligence Command (he's a SIC man, you see) with broad reactions that seem to parody his Beach movies' personna, and Dwayne Hickman tries his best to keep his inner Dobie intact while backing his car halfway up a lamp post upon seeing the gold-bikini-bottomed Diane on the street, assuming the position to change a tire she has flattened as a ruse.

According to Vincent Price, the original treatment of the film was to insert the standard musical interludes throughout, but those singing parts were excised in the final print. "It could have been fun," Price said in 1987, "but they cut all the music out." Susan Hart validates that assessment: "One of the best scenes I've seen on film was Vincent Prince singing about the bikini machine - it was excellent. And I was told it was taken out because Sam Arkoff thought that Vincent Price looked too fey. But his character was fey! By taking that particular scene out, I believe they took the explanation and the meat out of that picture... It was a really unique explanatory scene and Vincent Price was beautiful in it, right on the money." Hart would return to play the Cecily the Ghost in AIP's "The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini* (1966), the last of AIP's Beach movies, by which time she was Mrs. James Nicholson, and now owns full rights to the *Goldfoot* films, asking (and receiving) an exorbitant amount for the sale to the home video market. (Nicholson's daughters Luree Holmes and Laura Nicholson were also featured as robots in the first *Dr. Goldfoot* film.)

Sharp eyed viewers will notice that the sports car Todd and Craig steal in the madcap final chase scene is a red Sunbeam Alpine, a nod to Maxwell Smart's red Sunbeam Tiger in the opening credits of *Get Smart*, furthering the parody of the James Bond franchise as another decked-out auto becomes fodder for jokes when Craig can't figure out how to use its special features during the chase. Critics are almost unanimous in their appreciation of the film, labeling it "gonzo, goofy, campy, ridiculous, pretty darn stupid, a baggage of downright offensive sexism, and excruciatingly dumb." One critic, placing it in its historical context explained, "The admittedly cartoonish but highly gendered power dynamics expressed in *Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine* may be understood as a cultural response to the perceived threat of women's emancipation from the home and from male control through their work in the computer industries." But equally unanimous is the assessment that it's undeniably fun.

The final chase scene allows the foolishness to come alive--it's lengthy, twisting and turning through the labyrinthine streets of San Francisco like a slapstick *Bullitt* (1968) sequence with a runaway cable car. Filmed in thirty days, and by some critics' reckoning, based on his participation in AIP films a year before he died, powered by gags written by Buster Keaton, the propulsive chase is doubtlessly the high point of the film. At the time *Dr. Goldfoot* was being developed, AIP was experimenting with the changes fortunes of the viewing public--an outgrowth of the Beach movies which were pumped out quickly but losing some steam in the mid-sixties, the dawning of the Secret Agent genre, the cheap popularity of horror and Poe-inspired cheap productions, and AIP's hiring of once-great actors who now had trouble finding roles (Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price, the top thespian in these films)--all contributed to odd fusions of horror and comedy with burgeoning sexuality. The perfect incubator for *Dr. Goldfoot*'s campy nonsense.

So this is more of a cultural slideshow than a full-blown cinematic Old Master, even though Price seems to be totally in his element as he giggles and twitches. Austin Powers' exploits owe a great deal to this film, so if he's in your wheelhouse, you can easily spot his spiritual roots here, even though you'll find the emphasis on boobs in *Dr. Goldfoot* is solely male, just a bunch of wacky goofballs who react to leggy women like Tex Avery's Wolf. If only their eyes would balloon out with the sound effect of a vintage car horn, the cartoon would be complete.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/14/2020, 5:33 pm

Post #382: Welcome to FacePalm Theater. I am writing this commentary under the duress of a headache and a forehead forever marred with a red handprint from slapping myself repeatedly to get my eyes from being permanently stationed from rolling back in my head. I didn't think it was possible, but today's feature, *Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs* (1966), has successfully unseated *Eegah!* (1962) and *Manos: The Hands Of Fate* (1966) as the worst bottom dwelling piece of cinematic poop I've ever stepped in. It makes *Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance* (2015) look like lost footage from *Citizen Kane* (1941). Honestly, my friends, this nearly stopped me from writing commentaries altogether.

Aw come on, is it really that bad? Isn't that just hyperbole to enliven an otherwise bloated prose? Uh, no. The director Mario Bava tried to be released from it, but was contractually obligated to finish it. Star Vincent Price called it "the most dreadful movie I've ever been in. Just about everything that could go wrong, did." And co-star Fabian Forte said, "I hid in the back seat of my car at the drive in when I went to go see it." Convinced yet? But wait--there's more!

Filmed in Italy, the movie gained because of the success of the first *Dr. Goldfoot* film, commented on yesterday, and consequently was edited into two completely different films to serve the Italian and American audiences and recoup the production costs for Fulvio Lucisano's Italian International Pictures and Samuel Z. Arkoff's American International Pictures. The Italian version is five to seven minutes longer (placing it securely in the same disaster memory bank as the last days of Pompeii) to capitalize on two of the country's top comedians, Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia, who are as funny as a visit to a vomitorium. Its title is also translated into *The Spies Who Came In From The Frozen Custard* [I'm not kidding], with Vincent Price and Fabian interacting with them in diminished roles.

The film suffered through nine rewrites before it went into production. According to producer and co-writer Louis Heyward, "We had one person speaking Portuguese, several of them speaking Italian. Vincent would shake his head in disbelief and say 'What is happening to me?' Not only did he not understand the Italians or the Portuguese or the Spanish; he didn't understand Fabian." In the Italian post-production, brunettes were substituted for the American blondes, and director Bava was completely divorced from the American cut, which was re-edited by Ronald Sinclair, re-scored, and re-written in the dubbing, which is painfully obvious.

Pointing out the plot points will further add to the festivities of foolish flatfootedness: Dr. Goldfoot is back, with absolutely no explanation of how he didn't die in the first film. Frankie Avalon's Craig is replaced by another disgraced SIC Agent Bill Dexter, who is treated as if we in the audience know who he is narratively, and whom Dr. Goldfoot has somehow had run-ins in the past. (Frankie Avalon was slated to return, but opted out to spend more time with his pregnant wife at the time of filming in Italy.) In fact, Vincent Price is the only character who returns in this SIC sequel, this time blowing up all the representatives of NATO with girls who detonate with a kiss. His ultimate plan is to initiate a World War between Russia and the US by stealing a USAF bomber and nuking Moscow--or perhaps by just releasing this movie.

Fabian's Bill is an irreproachable horndog who spends most of the film trying to wrack up points with his superior's secretary Rosanna (the only reason to spend even the most fleeting moments with this film, Laura Antonelli), while two madly mugging hotel doormen Franco and Ciccio are wrongfully recruited into the secret service by Colonel Doug Benson (Francesco Mulé). (Perhaps the Colonel could form his own organization--IBID, for Inexcusably Bad Idiotic Dunderheads) How this Italian duo came to be such beloved stars of over one hundred films in Italy is far beyond my ability to comprehend. Even Dr. Goldfoot's annoying Igor is absent, supplanted by a silent Asian hench-woman named--heavens to Goldfinger--Hardjob who serves no purpose whatsoever save for her jokey monicker, leaving Vincent Price to fall back on the most stylistically lame exposition tool, breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience to keep them up to speed on the unfolding of the plot. No need, Vincent: that thread has raveled.

In AIP's Beach movies, the patent absurdity at least had some level of internal logic which redeemed them, but *Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs* seems rootless and so abundantly random that comparatively Benny Hill skits are on a par with Dostoevsky. For what conceivable purpose would Dr. Goldfoot and his minions, being chased by "the good guys," try to escape in an amusement park on a ferris wheel, an anchored slow moving Octopus ride, and a carousel? These are not chase scenes--they're head scratching interludes begging the question WTF Were They Thinking? Of course everyone loves a good snail-paced chase scene in a hot air balloon filmed against a rear projection screen juxtaposed against exceptionally grainy and scratched footage of USAF bombers in flight, camped up by treating the whole sequence as a silent movie with cutaways to dialogue title cards for added unnecessary exposition.

Universal in their distaste for this film, critics agree this is director Mario Bava's "worst film ever," not at all representative of his talent, especially renown in the horror genre, acting as cinematographer for 79 films and director of 39 including *Black Sunday* (1960). "In my entire career, I made only big bullshits, no doubt about that," Bava said. "....I'm just a craftsman. A romantic craftsman....I made movies just like making chairs." Executive producer Samuel Z. Arkoff believed the problem with the movie lay in the fact that Laura Antonelli wouldn’t take her clothes off; Arkoff claimed she was originally willing to do so, but his nephew, Ted Rusoff, sent to supervise the film, developed a crush on her and persuaded her not to do it. Even so she spends most of the film in flimsy nightie, and putting the onus of failure on such a relatively insignificant albeit beautiful star explains a great deal about the politics of AIP.

We could conclude that *Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs* should have been relabeled in homage to another Arkoff AIP film, *A Comedy Of Terrors* (1963), but that would be misrepresentation since there is nothing laughable in the film, except the expectation that it would recoup its slashed budget. It is, however, a terror, even though my personal preference for renaming the film would be *Dr. Goldfoot And The Stink Bombs*.

Okay: So my headache is dissipating now, my fingerprints are fading from my forehead, and I'm still on the fence about whether I should continue my commentaries. But all things being equal, I can rest on the sage wisdom of Marty Feldman in *Young Frankenstein* (1974): "Could be worse. Could be raining. . ."

Oh heck, was that thunder I just heard?
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 5/14/2020, 5:55 pm

A bit of perspective here. It's pretty well known that I like movie stinkers. It's my opinion, that they bring balance between my right brain and my hare brain. But when I watched this movie, I decided after the first 28 minutes, that mowing the back yard was more entertaining.

Good cheese has good mold. This cheese is ALL mold. BLECH!
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Post by Seamus on 5/15/2020, 3:49 pm

One thing that is a theme running through your thread Jeff is for most movies your review is way better than the movie. This review was way, way better than the movie. Like Space I love the stinky cheese movies but some are just plain too far in the stink.

Friend who knows I love shit movies sent me this link I laughed at this review as it reference Tommy Wiseau the king of stinkers. its a fun read.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/may/07/more-beautiful-for-having-been-broken-review-worst-film-ever-contender?CMP=share_btn_link
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Post by ghemrats on 5/15/2020, 4:23 pm

Tommy Wiseau! Why, he's the Marcel Duchamp of acting! His work is best memorialized by Duchamp's Fountain (R. Mutt must be Wiseau's real name)

Post #383: Here's Reason #42 We Don't Have People Visiting Us, Even If We Weren't Quarantined: We celebrated watching a good movie and being given another chance at Living The Dream today by blasting music and shaking the foundation of our cul de sac. Loud music is not the reason we're largely left alone, as sometimes our neighbors join in and go Dancing In The Streets like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas; but perhaps it's our *choice* of music that works like a Raid bug bomb to people: Today we rocked out the suburbs to "I Made It Through The Rain" by Barely Manenough. . . uh, Barry Manilow.

So self-isolation lives on. But at least today's feature is a a return to genuine fun after building sinking castles in the swamp with Dr. Goldfoot over the past couple days. This time we leave Italy and take up residence in England with *Carry On Cabby* (1963) in what is largely recognized as one of the best in the *Carry On* franchise. This being only my second *Carry On* feature, it took me about fifteen minutes in to get with the rhythm and flow, but then it really settled in and got my meter running.

The seventh in the series of thirty-one films, this one features Sid James and Hattie Jacques as Charlie and Peggy Hawkins celebrating fifteen years of married bliss--kind of. Charlie is the dedicated owner of Speedee Cabs, an enterprise sucking all his time and attention away from his neglected wife who just wants some quality time with him in a rose-covered cottage, perhaps starting a family. Charlie, whose face holds the pushed-in quality of the loser in an aggressive pillow fight, is a hangdog overachiever whose staff of inept drivers is ever expanding, with the addition of Terry "Pintpot" Tankard (Charles Hawtrey) who is suited as a cab driver as much as Pee-Wee Herman to a life as a gigolo. But Charlie is a good natured lump who reminded me of Chester Riley in *Life Of Riley* with Kenneth Connor as Ted Watson, his right hand Gillis.

The first half of the trim 91 minutes deals with Charlie's slapstick coaching of his cabbies and their adventures before changing course ever so slightly to deal with Peg's mounting frustration over Charlie's focus on the business. Deciding she'll teach him a lesson for missing their fifteenth-year anniversary dinner, Peg shows Charlie she won't take the back seat to anything, secretly opening her own cab service to compete with Speedee Cabs. But her company, GlamCabs, has a difference--she hires a bevy of shapely women in mini-skirted, plunging necklined uniforms to drive customers crazy in their spanking new Ford Cortina Mk1s. Armed with her assistant Flo (Esma Cannon), glamorous driver Amanda Barrie in her first *Carry On* role, and Sally (Liz Fraser), her best friend who works as a mole in the canteen at Speedee Taxis, Peg creates a force to be reckoned with.

The comic complications of Peg's secretive job form the spine of the second half of the film, as Charlie and his pals, Ted, Pintpot, Smiley (Bill Owen) and Len (Milo O’Shea) struggle to lure fares away from the metal more attractive in the GlamCabs. They try intercepting radio signals to best their competition--to no avail and very funny backfiring--sabotaging their cabs--with no positive result--and even infiltrating their ranks with Ted dressed in drag. The sexual innuendos are light and cute rather than crude or sexist, and the entire cast seems to be having a wonderful time. There's even a small lesson to be learned here about keeping equality and sustained attention in relationships alive. Even when the movie takes a potentially dark turn toward the end, the handling, pacing and affection for the characters leave us glad we came along for the ride.

Screenwriter Talbot Rothwell, who piloted twenty of the original twenty-nine *Carry On* features, breathes warm life into these characters, offering a plot that drives the action rather than the converse of certain recent disasters I've mentioned and whined over. This was Rothwell's first *Carry On* film, and critically one of the best of the series' black and white offerings. Anglophiles will particularly enjoy the scenic tour of Windsor, where most of the production was filmed, and I recommend the website http://www.thamesweb.co.uk/windsor/windsorhistory/films/carryoncabby1963.html which chronicles the changes to the roads since 1963.

Give this one a viewing if you hanker for an old-fashioned domestic battle of the sexes that will keep you smiling. It is definitely worth seeking if you find yourself being run down by the pits in the lonely old road of routine. These are very pleasant company with whom you can pass the time and the rigors of limited travel. And if you happen to be in our neighborhood, pay no attention to the pulse-pounding bass line making the hostas tremble and quake in the front yard. It's just Joyce blaring her heavy-metal head-banging Captain and Tennille vinyl at eleven on a ten-point amplifier. Or is that Roger Whittaker?
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/16/2020, 5:13 pm

Post #384: In the immortal words of Hedley Lemarr (Harvey Korman in *Blazing Saddles* (1974)): "My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives. . . aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention." Yeah. Ditto. In these days of social isolationism, how could our minds be anything but whirlpooling vorteces? Now, I don't wish to be alarmist, you understand, but our present situation may indeed offer opportunities when realities begin to clash, mesh and overlap. Take, for instance, our feature for today, *Singapore* (1947) starring Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner. It's a rather nice melding [sic] pot of noir, foreign intrigue and romance with a side of *Casablanca* and *Double Indemnity* tossed in as a side salad.

That's all well and good, a light snack weighing in at a gluten-free, lo-cal 79 minutes, a late-night finger-licker that will satisfy your appetite before bed and never leave you feeling bloated. So what if Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner spark all the chemistry of a forty-six-year old dried Sterno cake and can't really establish enough heat to warm a popcorn kernal into a puff? They're still nice to watch, in Ava's last film before jumping ship to star in top-drawer MGM films--and though she's an acting novice here, there's no denying she's got the look. And the supporting cast of Spring Byington and Porter Hall as vacationing married couple blindly pulled into intrigue, Roland Culver as possessive good guy wannabe Michael Van Leyden, and Thomas Gomez and George Lloyd doing their best slimy interpretations of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre--all make for some solid wartime suspense.

But first. . . . we dance. It's been five years since pearl smuggler Matt Gordon (MacMurray) last set foot in Singapore, just as the Japanese bombing turned the place into a Singapore Sling. Five years since Gordon fell deeply in love with the gorgeous Linda Grahame (Ava Gardner) and trembled at the alter of marriage with her, momentarily called aside to scarf up the three-quarter of million dollars in pearls he's stashed in his hotel room circulating fan. The bombs didn't hit the fan, but the excrement surely did when Linda became part of the wreckage when they decimated the church in which she waited. Crestfallen, and leaving the pearls in the lurch, Gordon went dumpster diving to find his love to no avail, escaping the further Japanese salvos in his schooner.

Now, five years later, Gordon has returned, his heart in tatters, to find the hotel untouched by the war, his fortune still rattling around in the ceiling fan. But of course Deputy Commissioner Hewitt (the spectacular Richard Haydn) is wise to the old rogue's ruse, just as the unscrupulous Mr. Mauribus (Gomez) and his squeamy little weasel Sascha Barda (Lloyd) seek to capitalize on Gordon's stash. And this is where the dance comes in--sitting at the table he used to share with Linda, Gordon peers across a crowded dance floor to see--no, it can't be, but it is--LINDA cozying up to wealthy plantation owner Van Leyden (Culver). No longer known as Linda, his soul mate is now Ann Van Leyden, amnesiac and wife to this jamoke with the pencil-thin mustache. Collectively, let's all yell *Ooooooh Nooooo! Mr. Bill!" Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world . . .

Ann/Linda loves Michael Van Leyden, even as he possessively shields her from remembering her past, when she was knocked unconscious, brought back from the shambles of waterfront church to a new life in a Red Cross hospital, with no memory whatsoever of life before Michael. Well, by Beechnut by gum, Gordon will not stand for it, throwing all caution to the breaking wind of Mauribus's machinations to retrieve the pearls, the dogged attention of Hewitt, and the punchy direction by John Brahm in his last feature film before resigning himself to a long stretch of successes with *The Twilight Zone* and *Alfred Hitchcock Presents*, ending his career with the cinematic masterpiece *Hot Rods To Hell* (1967).

*Singapore* holds up pretty well today, certainly not an *A* film, but not dipping into the *B* roll territory either. Richard Haydn plays a really fine Claude-Rains-inspired deputy commissioner with a hidden heart, and the film has more than its share of melodramatic tropes including a spin around the airport denouement that almost explicitly calls up Rick and Ilsa and Captain Renaud, with the same shot of propeller blades whizzing into life, but with a twist that is more homage than rip-off. Still, it's a mashup that works, though Gordon isn't quite the rugged leading man to empathize with too heavily. If it did nothing more than fuel my ragged dreams afterward, it's still a modest success. . .

As I mentioned, maybe it was *Singapore*, maybe it was my seldom venturing outside the confines of the family mansion and the hours glued to the idiot box that tossed my collective consciousness into the psychic blender. But whatever the cause, I woke this morning with vivid memories of aeronautical engineer Steve Douglas (MacMurray) traveling to the colonized East with Chip, Mike, Rob, Ernie and Bub (William Frawley, who's married to Vivian Vance) smuggling Tramp aboard a tramp steamer. Steve continually smokes a pipe and calls himself by code name Walter Neff, as he's pursued through the mean streets by Barbara Stanwyck and Ma and Pa Kettle; he has evidently hidden an invaluable cache of Flubber somewhere on the island, and Keenan Wynn wants it. So does Humphrey Bogart whom Steve sidetracks by feeding him strawberries and little metal balls, raising Caine with the local authorities led by "Uncle Charlie" (William Demarest), an irascible old scoundrel who plays strip poker with Mickey Rooney and his wife. The dream ended with a harmonica solo playing a variation of *Chopsticks*. Go figure.

If you watch *Singapore*, while I can't guarantee you'll be swept up in a tsunami of conflicting images, I can suggest you'll at least enjoy this little white trifling truffle available on Youtube. If you're lucky, you'll just smile through it and let it go at that. Otherwise you'll find yourself wasting time and energy trying to extend that dream you had to give you a peek at Ava Gardner losing at strip poker in the late stages of the game.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/17/2020, 6:17 pm

Post #385: You know the old story about the shrewd entrepreneur who made such a killing with his corner gas station that he bought the other three corners at the same intersection and put up three more gas stations to quadruple his profits? Now, that's sound business acumen. It's also the same thought process that American International Pictures used in making today's feature, *Pajama Party* (1964). Can't you just see the executives sitting around their burnished wood meeting room, spit-balling the concept: "We need something fresh, gentlemen. Something unique, something ground breaking, something to shake up the youth with its brash and brassy boldness. We've done *Beach Party*, *Muscle Beach Party* and *Bikini Beach*. . ." "How about moving to ANOTHER beach?" "How about *Love Canal Beach Party*? You've got love, you've got water, and I think we can get the property cheap." "I was thinking about *Surfin' The Mekong Delta--" "No, you've forsaken the 'Party' aspect. No, men, we need to break the mold. Give them something they've never seen before." A hand shoots up. "I know, S.A. Let's take the kids out of bathing suits--wait for it--and put them in PAJAMAS. Baby Dolls, skimpy bottoms with fringe--and then get them around a pool so they can GET WET!" Pure genius. A major executive was born.

Perhaps I've given the impression that *Pajama Party* is just another derivative William Asher-directed paean to watered down gags, manufactured pablum pop songs, puppy love romance, and a bankload of skimpy outfits in constant motion with the dances of the day, like The Swim; goofy pap, in other words. Well, I'm sorry if I've misled you, but that is not the case: Don Weis directed this one.

Give me an A: Annette. Give me an S: Swimming. Give me an I: Icons, in this case Buster Keaton, Elsa Lanchester, and Dorothy Lamour in her last singing film appearance, unironically crooning "Where Did I Go Wrong?" [I'm not kidding]. Give me an N: New teen heart throb Tommy Kirk, playing a Martian, even though Ray Walston was my favorite. Give me an I: Industrious product placement, as this is historically the first film to feature the Ford Mustang (a full month before *Goldfinger* would reintroduce it) and Dr. Pepper. Give me an N: Nubile cameos from Teri Garr (who usually danceth at the right hand of Annette), Toni Basil (who annoyed the living crap out of me with her song "Mickey" seventeen years later), Bobbi Shaw (doing a dumb Swedish "Ja Ja" routine), Susan Hart (who debuts here as a sulty hip mover), and Candy Johnson the human mix master. Give me an E: Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and his usual Ratz and stoopids who are painfully underutilized here. What have you got? The final assessment of this meandering "mush," as the kid in the bushes (Dorothy Kilgallen's son, in fact) proclaims at regular intervals.

But in the words of Jack Skellington, what's this, what's this? Frankie Avalon has been replaced by a big lunk named Big Lunk (Jody McCrae) as her primary love interest until Gogo the Martian (Tommy Kirk) sweeps her off her feet and into the pool? Sadly, yes. Frankie is delegated to a cameo as Socom, the lead Martian who's shown from behind for the duration of the film and not revealed until the final scene (Whoops, spoiler alert, too late--as if we are too dumb not to realize immediately who he is from the back of his head). Also relieved of the carrying the weightless plot is "Big Bang" Martian Don Rickles who holds less than zero relevance to the film except exposition masquerading as narrative. And for the big teenage demographic pull we've got Jesse White greasing the wheels as con man J. Sinister Hulk who plans to steal "Aunt Wendy's" (Elsa Lanchester) hidden fortune while the kids distract everyone by falling in the pool in their pajamas.

And for those audience members hungry for the best in contemporary rockin', we've got The Nooney Rickett 4 accompanying Donna Loren as she twists her way through "Among The Young," one of the instantly forgettable songs powering the sexy shenanigans of Po-jama People. I have to admit until I saw this film, I never fully appreciated the message of Frank Zappa's song of the same name:

The pyjama people are boring me to pieces
Feel like I am wasting my time
They all got flannel up 'n down 'em
A little trap-door back aroun' 'em
An' some cozy little footies on their mind
Po-jama people
Po-jama people, people
They sure do make you sleepy
With the things they might say
Po-jama people
Po-jama people, people
Mother Mary 'n Jozuf, I wish they'd all go away

Look: I suppose any Beach Party movie has to be judged on its own singular criteria, totally divorced from the rubrics of other films or genres. So in that regard, since critics call this one the "fourth Beach Party" movie since it luxuriated with an almost identical cast as the other three preceding it in the early '60s, for me this film ranks at Position 3, just above *Muscle Beach Party*. It's still a long way from *Dr. Goldfoot*'s horror fest, but a couple good ones are still to come, like *Beach Blanket Bingo* which is announced at the end of *Pajama Party*. [WARNING: When we've exhausted my supply of Beach Party movies, I'll give my final ranking of them all, including *Psycho Beach Party* even though it's not technically part of the canon. We still have at least two more to go before we'll bid the beach farewell.]

From a cultural standpoint, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of the more neglected or subtly buried talking points of this film, that of Tommy Kirk. Starting out as Joe Hardy in Disney's Hardy Boys series, Kirk was something of a golden boy at Disney studios, even though he clashed badly with Fred MacMurray and Jane Wyman on *Bon Voyage* (1962). While starring in *The Misadventures of Merlin Jones* (1964) with Annette for Disney, he was called "my good luck charm" by Walt himself--until news came out that Kirk was homosexual, which provoked his dismissal from Disney studios. "When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn't going to change. I didn't know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that it was going to wreck my Disney career and maybe my whole acting career. It was all going to come to an end. . . .Even more than MGM, Disney was the most conservative studio in town, " Kirk said. "The studio executives were beginning to suspect my homosexuality. Certain people were growing less and less friendly. In 1963, Disney let me go. But Walt asked me to return for the final Merlin Jones movie, *The Monkey's Uncle* (1965), because the Jones films had been moneymakers for the studio." He was tapped by AIP to star in *Pajama Party* directly between the two Jones pictures and went on to make several more with AIP due to his appeal throughout the late 1960s.

Even though Kirk and Annette don't generate the same chemistry as Frankie and she did, Kirk, who starred with Annette in several films, said she was "A perfect lady, perfect manners, very careful about her career, a very cool-headed businesswoman, friendly. We've always been friendly, but never been friends... But nobody can fault her, she's always friendly and gracious to everybody. People say bad things about everybody in this business, but I don't know anybody who ever said anything bad about her."

Some audiences say *Pajama Party* is the "sexiest" of the Beach pictures, and it certainly is another madcap romp with the same old formula moved away from sand into swimming pools with obligatory sped-up double-time sequences to provide an easy chuckle. And if you can look askance at the decidedly un-PC Buster Keaton playing Chief Rotten Eagle it's fun to see the Great Stoneface again, as it is enjoyably arch watching Ben Lessy as Fleegle being manhandled by Jesse White in homage to Three Stoogery. For me it's just a little jarring, after a healthy intake of this diet, to see Annette (diverging from the Dee Dee/Delores name to now be called Connie) trying to make time with Deadhead, now named Big Lunk, even while Eric Von Zipper's crew retain their original names, as does Candy. I know I'm picking nits from the nuts, but I'm a victim of continuity, especially since the next one in the series *Beach Blanket Bingo* they revert to their Beach names of Dee Dee and Bonehead, with McCrae stretching himself after playing Deadhead in two films.

I suppose these are period pieces, Polaroid snapshots of a more innocent (or stupid) time, and as such they hold a certain goofy charm. And considering the next wave of teen-o-centric movies was concerned with more overt examination of post-pubescent horniness (*Porky's* (1981), *Fast Times At Ridgemont High* (1982), *Risky Business* (1983), *Revenge of the Nerds* (1984), *Weird Science* (1985), et al--good Lord, how did we make it out of the '80s without a huge population explosion?) followed by the Dead Teenager film spread, *Pajama Party* is pretty cute, tame if lame stuff. If nothing else, it will be a fairly innocent antidote to sleeplessness until we get back to the beach where Don Rickles is "Big" Something-or-other, Buster Keaton is a sad native American, and Bobbi Shaw can go "Ya ya ya" all the way home while Candy Johnson throws out her hip.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/19/2020, 6:02 pm

Post #387:  Say, Mother, have you ever sung along with Bruce Springsteen in earnest when he wished, "Want to change my clothes, my hair, my face" when he was dancing in the dark?  Well, now thanks to Dr. Philip Ritter (Paul Henreid) and his associates at the Uplifting You Plastic Surgery Clinic, you can BE all that you can BE without joining the Army.  Have a high school reunion coming up? Nip that catty criticism in the butt.  Sagging skin? Pick your chin up off the ground. Uneven breasts? Don't go to the Chinese surgeon One Hung Lo--try Dr. Ritter who will give you a boost. And you'll never have to worry that with your make-over your left leg will pop up every time you smile, because, let's face it--Dr. Ritter knows his craft. You'll never look like you're straining into a wind tunnel when Dr. Ritter rids you of wrinkles.  So what are you waiting for? Under the gun? Get under the knife!  Face off the ravages of time in a supportive, ethics-free procedure by a trained professional who only occasionally allows his tortured personal life to intervene in the operating room. So, get to it, Mother, it's time to save face; even if it's someone else's, you'll still be the same inside. Tell Father Time to do an about face, because as they say, it's better to looook good than to feel gooood. Sign up now to be a cut above the rest.

Our feature today, *Stolen Face* (1952), is the fulfillment of those promises.  Overwrought, overworked, highly principled and humanitarian plastic surgeon Dr. Philip Ritter has his nose to the grindstone, treating patients and giving hope to even the most indigent or misguided people. A thoughtful and altruistic man, he will never allow the lure of money to compromise his craft just to satisfy rich customers' vanity.  No, he will never see his caduceus tied in a knot out of convenience or cash. But he is in long need of some down time, so he takes a vacation in an English country inn where he meets and falls in love with Alice Brent (Lizabeth Scott), a concert pianist resting before her world tour. Theirs is a whirlwind romance, ending abruptly when a conflicted Alice leaves Phil with a keyboard of questions.

Distraught, demoralized and despairing, Phil returns to his practice and a scheduled surgery on a prison inmate, the facially disfigured Lily Conover (Mary Mackenzie).  A firm believer in nurture over nature, Phil determines to give Lily a better life, strong encouragement, an improved environment--and a face that's the spitting image of Alice, which in his mind is nothing to spit at. Naturally, as is the case with all reputable surgeons, Phil then marries Lily, adorning her with jewels and furs as befit anyone who looks like Lizabeth Scott (who now doubles as Lily with a dubbed Cockney voice of Mary Mackenzie).  But Lily is still trash in a pretty bucket, as Phil discovers when she recklessly shoplifts, outright steals and throws wild destructive parties in Phil's sedate, aristocratic estate.  

So you can imagine how difficult life can be when Alice returns from her world tour, being freed from her commitment to her fiance David (Andre Morell) who, in noble good-guy silent suffering style, steps aside in recognition of her pining love for Phil.  Oh dang.  What's a guy to do when he's married to a strident, grasping harpy slut when he could be in the arms of his true love who knows culture is more than day-old yogurt?  Well, I won't tell you here, but it ain't pretty.

*Stolen Face* makes no pretense toward A-list material, and as a Hammer film directed by horror-maven Terence Fischer who made a killing (aarr arrrr) with Christopher Lee and overt terror inducers for that studio, it certainly requires a leap of faith across the Grand Logic Canyon, but it is a fun diversion.  Paul Henreid, moving away from acting and more into his role as director, plays it all completely straight, and Lizabeth Scott seems to be enjoying herself in her dual role, one as the prim, uptight love interest and the other as a slobbering drunk who weebles and wobbles but almost never falls down.  Here she proves she is more than some critics' branding her a Neo- or Faux-Lauren Bacall with her husky voice and blonde cascade.  

From 1951 to 1955 American producer Robert LIppert forged a deal with Hammer Films, providing American acting talent--frequently stars on the down-swing of their careers or lesser known supporting actors--while Hammer would cover the rest of the cast with British extras and the production facilities. Lippert and Hammer's union profited both sides of the ocean as they churned out low-budget noirs like this one before Hammer switched over to pure horror, where they made their name.

This little melodrama toasted the screen a good six years before Hitchcock would explore, in much finer style and depth, similar obsessive ground with *Vertigo*'s Kim Hunter and James Stewart, but *Stolen Face* is a quicker, more facile treatment barely scraping by with a 72-minute running time.  And running it is toward the conclusion--one can only imagine what a master like Hitchcock would have done with its climax, which like Phil's love affair with Lily is over before it's really started (and that's no pun on his endurance, by the way, though Phil on balance does not strike one as a raging libidinous volcano). This ends up being another denouement leaving the audience to ask "Is that all there is?" I would have tried to eke out another twenty or so minutes of suspense. . . .

Incidentally, heading off claims of sexism, let me offer this DISCLAIMER:  my introduction, focused on "Mother" while making comments about women undertaking cosmetic tinkering, was purely in keeping with the film:  The secondary main character, a woman, was getting the surgery, not a male.  If this had been *Dark Passage* (1947), I would have directed the comments toward men. I am an equal opportunity offender who's not out to create a flap or get jaws waggling.

Amazon viewers rate it at 88% four- and five-stars with no one ranking it below three, and it was the first of thirty features produced by Hammer to premiere on ITV (Britain's Independent TV) on Tuesday 8 November 1956, all three weekday stations linking up to show it, the first time this had happened with a cinema film. So don't turn your nose up at it, or let your nose get out of joint over plot slip ups, and don't look down in the mouth.  Face it, as *Stolen Face* provides a new wrinkle on the old theme of obsession implanted in lovestruck men who sing, "Waddle I do when you are far away and I am blue, waddle I do?" Just tuck in and enjoy this cheeky little slice of life.  
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/20/2020, 5:08 pm

Post #388: UPDATE: The Weather Report for today is scattered blots of red mixing with smatterings of violet segueing into pastel blue and white as the flood waters recede with no rain forecast in the foreseeable future. In the worst flood our city has seen since 1986, Joyce and I are dry but not high, safely stored inside our hermetically sealed house, so thanks go out to God and the kind folks who have asked if we're okay. Yes. Being proactive, we had our flood of sewage back in July. We B OK though prayers go out to all our friends who have not been as lucky. Yesterday I told Joyce, "Well, we had the cornonavirus, Trump, and now the flood--Come on, God, where are the locusts?" I am training myself to talk again with a dislocated jaw after the powerful roundhouse punch with which she responded; I think it's ironic that the daughter of a Baptist minister would possess such a right cross. And besides, we do have those Killer Hornets and their faithful valet Kato.

Some people with lesser constitutions would hang dere heads and wail "Nobody knows the trubble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus" and buckle under the pressures we've seen, but we are strong, we are invincible (we are woman? No, I refuse to channel my inner Helen Reddy, thank you), but then we wouldn't make very interesting movie people. . . unlike the protagonist of today's feature, *Blackout* (1953), another from the Hammer Noir Period directed by Terence Fischer. This guy, Casey Morrow (Dane Clark), just moved from America to London for a job that fell through, and he couldn't wait to go swimming in a bottle in the opening minutes of the film. Jeez, what a big baby. Put on some big boy pants, Casey, instead of going blotto and bleary-eyed in a hotel bar until the hottest number in the place (19-year-old Belinda Lee) sashays over to you with a proposition. Wait a minute! Strike that, reverse it, as Willy Wonka says: If a beautiful, curvaceous blonde who's independently wealthy finds you at your lowest ebb and offers you five hundred pounds to marry her--you're not necessarily down on your luck.

. . . Until you wake up the next morning in an artist's studio with no recollection of what transpired the night before. You don't even know the woman, Maggie Doone (Eleanor Summerfield), who's cleaning blood off your coat and making you coffee, even though she doesn't know who you are either. You were just deposited on her doorstep in the pouring rain at two in the morning, and wearing the fashion of being oddly pathetic and drenched was not a good look, coming in from the wilderness, a creature void of form until "Come in," she said, "I'll give ya shelter from the storm." But why does she have a half-finished painting of the blonde in her studio? Why do I have five hundred pounds in my pocket when I was flat busted, even though the blonde wasn't? Did we get married? Where is she? Who is she? And why was there blood on my coat? And most of all, is this Folger's or fresh ground?

These questions whirl around the convoluted narrative of *Blackout* (aka *Murder By Proxy* in Britain) providing a very tidy female-driven noir that might well keep you guessing almost as much as Casey. Casey's confusion is multiplied when he reads the morning paper to find millionaire art collector Darius Brunner has been murdered, and his flighty heiress daughter Phyllis (Belinda Lee)--now possibly Casey's wife--is missing. Talk about a hangover. He is able, however, to piece together a few facts--Phyllis was engaged to Lance Gordon (Andrew Osborn), the Brunner family lawyer, Casey is the prime suspect in the murder, and Maggie is Phyllis's friend though she holds no allegiance to her, assisting Casey in clearing his name.

Soon enough Phyllis drags herself out of the rain and gushes her story all over Casey in tearful self-reproach: She paid him to marry her to keep Gordon from gaining access to the family millions through her. He's an unprincipled cad whom her mother adores, and now that her father has been murdered, the world's just . . . just poopy. So Casey goes about unraveling this ball of twine in classic noir style, doing his best to crack wise in his soggy trenchcoat while people try to run him over in the streets and Phyllis's hoity toity high society friends make him feel like a carp in a Hawaiian shirt.

Along the way we discover Casey's softer side when the young couple take refuge in the pub owner by his step-father and estranged mother whom he hasn't seen in eight years. It's a weird side trip in an otherwise hard-boiled mystery as tough guy Casey is reduced to a repentant whiny pine in front of his centerfold wife and grateful, accepting family as the police and bad guys close in on them. The denouement is a kick, tying all the Gordian Knots together with some knuckle busting and gun play to form a satisfying mystery clocking in at a brisk 87 minutes.

It's clear Clark is doing his best Philip Marlowe impression, which he carries off pretty well, though in the final analysis that chip on his shoulder is a chunk off the White Cliffs of Dover, and his chemistry with Belinda Lee is palpable, which helps. The usual suspects of supporting characters are sharp enough to draw attention without upstaging anyone, and Eleanor Summerfield's Maggie Doone is a spirited, sarcastic red herring who is so likable for a while the audience almost wishes Casey would end up with her. But it's Belinda Lee who really steals the spotlight; she's inscrutable enough to keep us guessing, cool enough to manipulate our sympathies, and vulnerable enough to openly make love to the camera. The British Film Institute said, "of all the Rank Organisation's starlets, Belinda Lee stands out as the most notorious, yet paradoxically anonymous, British actress of the 1950s." And in 1957 she was named by British exhibitors the tenth-most-popular British film star at the box office. Never achieving much stardom in her 26-film career, sadly reduced to playing sexpot roles and comedies with Frankie Howerd and Benny Hill that underutilized her talents, she tragically died in an automotive accident in Los Angeles when she was a mere twenty-six.

For once, Hammer Studios put out a noir with a solid story, good acting and more than capable directorial flair. It's still not up to the distinctly American trademarks of noir, but it's more than just a passing fancy. In these days when it appears we're all rehearsing for a splashy new production of Job, it's hard to feel sorry for Casey's perils since we're prone to warble "I've seen that worried look upon your face; you've got your troubles, I've got mine." The trick is to smile, nod and keep singing "When you're chewing on life's gristle, Don't grumble, give a whistle, And this'll help things turn out for the best, And Always look on the bright side of life. . . ."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/21/2020, 5:32 pm

Post #389: FURTHER UPDATE: I didn’t realize when I made a joke the other day about Barry Manilow that I’d literally be singing “I Made It Through The Rain” in the days to come. As I intimated to a couple folks yesterday, Joyce and I are doing well, outside of building the ark. Now I’m praying for another cold snap to ensure all my hard construction work doesn’t go to waste—in accordance with Biblical writings, the ark is being fashioned to meet the Exacting Specifications of 300 ice cubes long, 50 ice cubes wide, and 30 ice cubes high. That should account for its buoyancy, but, dang, it’s been hard gathering all those materials; our freezers have been working overtime. Thank God we’ve got a Frigidaire and the old family Norge, not to mention a formidable AC unit to keep the ark from melting before I can get it to the water.

(Now before you start admonishing me for historical inaccuracy, let me clarify that I know the difference between an ice cube and a cubette. When Noah and his wife Joan of Ark were given the blueprints, ice cubes were much smaller than they are today, hence their being called cubettes. If you don't believe me, just ask Indiana Jones, who has had some passing acquaintance with such an ecumenical structure.)

And speaking of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft and Tomb It May Concern, since the virus and the flood I've come to realize even more how The Idol Mind is the Devil's Playground, as evidenced by today's feature, *The Living Idol* (1957). If you stand on the river Styx singing "Too Much Time On My Hands," you should be content just enjoying the treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi mud, or you'll end up like our protagonists Terry Matthews (Steve Forrest) and his fiancee Juanita (Liliane Montevecchi) following archaeologist Alfred Stoner (James Robertson Justice) into an ancient pyramid at Chichén Itzá, Mexico. Personally, I wouldn't place a lot of faith in a doctor named Stoner to begin with, as his cockeyed theories might have been home grown from a Mayan herb, but that's just me.

But when he starts expounding on how thousands of years ago maidens (or women of untried virtue, a rare commodity in today's world) were swathed in blue and sacrificed to appease the Jaguar gods, if I were Terry I wouldn't be soothed by his maniacal eyeing of Juanita or invite him over to dinner with a nice chianti and some fava beans. And when Juanita screams in abject horror, swiping blue dust across her wide hips and streaking in terror down the narrow Aztec pyramid stairs at the sight of a Jaguar God Idol, I wouldn't book another couple weeks at the local Death Takes A Holiday Inn.

Convinced that Juanita has recalled ancient racial memories and is now the host to a soul of a demon jaguar god, Dr. Stoner really lives up to his name when he steals away in the night to hold lengthy conversations at the zoo with a caged jaguar in a long-dead cultural Yucatan language. (I never in my life ever dreamed I would write a sentence like that.) In the meantime, Juanita's father antiquarian Manuel (Eduardo Noriega) excavates a two-ton monument slab with an embossed jaguar devouring a human heart. Could it be a premonition? Sure, why not? Because as Juanita looks on the raveling rope suspending it frays, and it's Uh Oh Spaghettios for Manuel as he's floored by a pressing engagement with the slab. At least now he won't have to go looking for his housekeys as they can now just slip him under the door.

Being too dense to acknowledge Stoner's anchored belief that Juanita is unknowingly possessed by the jaguar soul, Terry continually exposes Juanita to symbols of demonic possession, all in the spirit of fun. He takes her to a town fiesta with garish mask-wearing celebrants who try to entice Juanita into a symbolic sacrificial dance. They conduct trips to the zoo which whip up the ire of Stoner's conversational pal with her presence. He shows her a newly excavated bust fragment of a statue from a jaguar temple bearing more than a passing resemblance to her. And in one of the most stultifying pieces of exposition I've ever witnessed, he subjects her to one of Stoner's boring slide lectures where she's asked as a volunteer to wear ritualistic sacrificial togs to show the audience. What in holy hell is wrong with this guy, who purports to love her? Why doesn't he just disembowel her with a ceremonial knife while singing "I Put A Spell On You"? If I were Juanita I'd sue Chuck Woolery and anyone attached to this Love Connection gone horribly awry.

Naturally, by this time you're well ahead of me, in knowing Dr. Stoner wants to let the caged jaguar loose so it can attack Juanita and drive the evil soul out of her, as is a quaint little custom in this town. By the time Terry realizes the Dr. is a few tacos shy of a specialty plate, Stoner's already at the zoo, coaxing out the animal out of its cage and arming it with a Google Map of how to get to Juanita's house. Of the 101 minutes' running time, I think we spend a good 17 minutes watching Stoner driving either behind or before the cat as it treks across the town toward the exciting (yeah, right) final confrontation, building suspense and tension matched only by its tedium, lethargy, inertia and anesthesia. Take some solace, however, in knowing Stoner and Terry get to play Randy "Macho Man" Savage with the animal individually, though one shot of their games of Slap and Tickle looks like Terry is doing The Hustle with a stuffed interloper.

Still, this is definitely not one for the kids, between the weird exotic-erotic sacrifice re-enactments and the ferocity of the live jaguar fights. But take heart: They wouldn't make it through the interminable middle section of the film where basically nothing happens but Juanita and Terry suck face and Stoner hovers over manuscripts. It all falls squarely in the lap of producer-writer-director Albet Lewin, whose cross-eyed vision of horror lost MGM $339,000 on a $360,000 budget. Justice's Stoner is overbloated, Forrest's Terry is little more than a stick with carefully coiffed blonde hair, and Liliane Montevecchi's Juanita appears to be suffering from a thyroid condition as her eyes pop out at the slightest provocation. Her look of love is largely indistinguishable from her look of fright, and her look of fright surfaces in the same register of horror whether she's seeing a stalking jaguar or a heaping bowl of warm tortillas. Arguably, despite some lovely panoramic shots of scenic Mexico, the best part of this movie is its opening title cards which obviously inspired *Raiders Of The Lost Ark*.

*The Living Idol* is all hokey smoke, Bullwinkle, without the mirrors. This is one cinematic animal that will not be packed away on the Ark for future generations. This one will go the way of the unicorn with the Irish Rovers, though less favorably recalled. It's so uncompromisingly Out that it's In: ept, ane and ert.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/22/2020, 4:52 pm

Post #390:  Damn. Damn dams.  Never in my wildest fevered dreams would I imagine these would be the times when Led Zeppelin and Milli Vanilli would be mashed together on my playlist. When The Levee Breaks, Blame It On The Rain, and we do. And it's small consolation, I suppose, that today the 500-Year Flood waters are receding when so many have to deal with the aftermath.  Our hearts and prayers go out to our dear friends who have to contend with the Mud Valley Chronicles.  And that's the news today.

But on the celluloid front, in our feature for today, *Love Is News* (1937) with Tyrone Power and Loretta Young with Don Ameche in tow.  Yes, we've seen this scenario before, a few days ago actually, since I commented on *That Wonderful Urge* (1947) when Tyrone Power remade today's film with Gene Tierney.  It's still the same old story, a a fight for love and glory, a tale of do or die. . . of embarrassment as the two stars, Hollywood's dream couple, bicker and one-up their irritants in the media circus.  With a breezy, deft comic touch, director Tay Garnett knows how to unfurl the screwball, rapid-fire dialogue with the teaming of Power and Young in their second of five features together before they would go separate cinematic ways but remain close friends for the rest of their days.

Tin can millionaire "Countess" Antoinette "Tony" Gateson (Loretta Young), tiring of her appearance under the media microscope by newspaper hound Steve Leyton (Tyrone Power), decides to turn the lens on her tormentor by announcing to his competition that they are getting married, with Steve receiving a one million dollar dowry.  And in a feature role absent from the remake, Don Ameche pulls out all the stops as Steve's managing editor and newspaper foil that adds an extra dimension of snappy madness to the proceedings with a running gag of alternating between giving Steve a raise and firing him.  Relegated to a less prominent role played by Reginald Gardner in the remake is George Sanders as Tony's fiance Count Andre de Guyon; he's only on screen for a couple flashes, but his effete self-absorption is classic.

Some scenes play out exactly as told in *That Wonderful Urge* including the duo's jailing in neighboring cells, but in this incarnation it's much funnier due to the wonderful casting of Slim Sommerville as the beleaguered Judge Hart.  He's a joy to watch as his well ordered universe implodes around him and the jail cell doors have a nasty habit of falling off their hinges.  Really fun, too, is the addition of supporting player Elisha Cook Jr. as novice newsboy Egbert Eggleston, charged with a task at which he fails miserably.  As a special bonus, you can also find Stepin Fetchit as Penrod, hoping to sell Steve a car though Steve procures the vehicle merely as a method to chase Tony,

Since this is 1937, all of the cast fairly glow with freshness and youth, Young and Power being only 22 and 23 respectively when they made the film.  Comparing the two versions of the story, it's difficult to pronounce which edges out the other.  Both are strong screwball comedies in their own right, though I must confess I side with Gene Tierney just a bit more as the heiress due to personal taste--I'm less used to Loretta Young being so fast on her feet comedically, and Gene Tierney underplays her kookiness which heightens her sexiness for me.  But I'm in the minority, it appears, because the Young-Power dynamic has been much praised as a Hollywood Hot Couple. No matter how you cut it, though, *Love Is News* is a feather light 77 minutes worth your while.

But *Love Is News* certainly stands on its own merits, and you can watch both productions independently and not believe you're watching the same story simply reheated with a new lead. There were some solid shifts in the narrative which allow both to be rollicking good fun.  In *Love Is News* there's next to no subterfuge involved in Steve's gaining an exclusive, while that's a big plot point in the remake--Tony knows who he is in the first seven minutes of the film. The publisher and managing editor play larger roles in this one, giving a nice subtext and extra comic mileage to Steve's frustrations.  Count Andre here is a bit more of a cad as well, selling love letters for publication to Steve's paper.  So side by side, comparing the two movies is like comparing apples to apple sauce--they satisfy the palette but in very different ways.

In any event, a good comedy can take your mind away from the troubles of the day, so you'll be well served by either of these films.  And if you're safe from the poor workmanship of the beavers who suffered one dam thing after another, and you're mostly dry, just remember the cure for water on the knee--wear pumps.  Joining Stevie Wonder in a rousing chorus of "Higher Ground," I'll be back tomorrow with another diverting comedy. Stay safe. Keep your powder dry.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 5/22/2020, 8:10 pm

Jeff, I find that I must watch this movie. It didn't click with your earlier remake recap. But this one sounds a lot like a mashup of "It Happened one Night" and "The Philadelphia Story". So, I feel the need to compare them.
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Post by ghemrats on 5/23/2020, 5:03 pm

Post #391:  Today's feature, *Hollywood Boulevard* (1976), clearly demonstrates what can be left behind when flood waters recede. It's a murky muck (or a mucky murk) of a movie mired in mindlessness as it meanders in search of mirth. Directed by Joe Dante and Allan Arkush, *Hollywood Boulevard* was produced by Jon Davison on a bet that he couldn't make "the fastest, cheapest drive-in movie in the history of New World Pictures"--coming in at $50,000 and ten days' shooting.  Roger Corman, the "Pope Of Pop Cinema," was behind this mish-mash that I find a lot less fun than Dante and Davison's *Movie Orgy* though it employs a bit more structure and some of that marathon's footage.

More than anything, the film pokes fun at the politics and behind-the-scenes mayhem of movie making (to call it a satire implies more elevation than it deserves, because it's really a paean to low taste). We follow the adventures of Candy Wednesday (Candice Rialson), a fresh-from-Indiana newbie to Hollywood as she tries to carve out a name for herself in the movies, little realizing her name intimates the Flavor Of The Day.  A rich stable of Roger Corman satellite "stars" are on parade, including cheapo director Eric Von Leppe (Paul Bartel, whose character is named after a Boris Karloff role in *The Terror*, 1963, also a Corman film), harried downbeat agent Walter Paisley (fan favorite Dick Miller, named after his role in Corman's *Bucket Of Blood* 1959 in which Miller starred), queen-B movie star Mary McQueen (Mary Woronov), hack screenwriter Patrick Hobby (Jeffrey Kramer, named after F. Scott Fitzgerald's failing Hollywood writer Pat Hobby), and a host of other Corman hangers-on.

Cribbing footage from twelve other Corman films, *Hollywood Boulevard* cobbles together a tour of how movies are put together on the cheap, while taking broad swipes at the entire process.  After Candy is duped into driving a getaway car for two conniving bank robbers, thinking she's making a movie, she ends up represented by Walter Paisley, securing a job under Von Leppe, falling for Pat Hobby, and commencing her uphill career with fellow starlets Bobbi (Rita George) and Jill (Tara Strohmeier).  Since Von Leppe treats his talent like disposable Kleenex tissues, his films have a high turnover rate, though Mary McQueen holds sway over them all. Because this is a Roger Corman film, there is plenty of stereotypical '70s exploitation even in this parody, proudly banking on the drive-in audience's preoccupation with totally gratuitous nudity and Michael Bay explosions.  

There are some funny moments amidst the chaos, and *Hollywood Boulevard* offers ample opportunity to play Spot The Corman Footage from his oeuvre, and it's all very self-referential with cameos from other Corman directors (Charles B. Griffith, Jonathan Kaplan, Joe Dante himself, Danny Opatoshu and Lewis Teague) as well as Robby The Robot from *Forbidden Planet* (1956) playing a waiter at a swanky party. Clearly Dante and Arkush fully realize they're making a bad film--that's the point, and we're asked to join in their self effacement, luxuriating in the sophomoric silliness.  So there's some cleverness in a movie parodying a genre of films that are parodies in and of themselves; if you go into this film thinking of those barber shop mirrors reflecting themselves in endless processions, you might enjoy this movie because Candice Rialson, herself a Corman B-actress, is merely playing an incarnation of herself, just as Paul Bartel and Mary Waronov (*Eating Raoul*, 1982, which Bartel directed and wrote) are essentially mugging on their own careers.

After skewering Corman's drag race, caged women, and vigilante movies--with a side trip to musical montage as Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen sing a bouncy though R-rated rockabilly/country tune--the plot shifts to the Killer-B-Movies genre as each of the "stars" is executed by a serial murderer shown in shadowy profile and backlit menace. Candy becomes another target in the mad slasher's inventory, so expect to see her falling down a bit while screaming, with a goofy denouement underneath the Hollywood sign.  Of course for all her suffering and indignities visited upon her, she comes out on top, now the darling of Tinsel Town with her success in Von Leppe's films *Machete Maidens of Mora Tau* and *Atomic War Brides," which he pretentiously describes as "the myth of Romeo and Juliet, combined it with high speed car action and a sincere plea for nuclear controls in our lifetime."  

No, you can't expect much from *Hollywood Boulevard*'s 83 minutes, and your enjoyment of it will rely heavily on your tolerance level for cheap jokes and puerile drive-in movie fodder.  Seventy-nine percent of Amazon viewers rate it four- or five stars, with eleven percent rating it at one star, its lowest score, so many folks are in on the joke and relish its low budget mania.  Historically, for me, it's interesting because it shows the anarchic spirit which would propel Joe Dante's later work, like *Gremlins* (1984) and *The 'Burbs* (1989) as well as *Innerspace* (1987) and *Matinee* (1993), two of my favorites.  It's slapdash, fast, and all in all an affectionate prodding at Corman, the executive producer who gave a first break to such luminaries as Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, and James Cameron behind the camera, and who helped to launch the careers of Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Bruce Dern, Sylvester Stallone, Diane Ladd, and William Shatner.  

So here's a toast to Roger Corman: Buck up, Beebee Eyes, have a swig of swamp water. With over 400 films to your credit, that ain't bad for a boy from Detroit, even if the sludge leaves a lot to be desired. (This one's for you, Space)
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 5/23/2020, 6:40 pm

OMG... Gotta Have It!!! It looks like a full on Double Decker Grilled Cheese Sammich!
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Post by ghemrats on 5/24/2020, 5:11 pm

Post #392: Remind me, the next time three of my friends want me to go on a fishing trip with them in Portugal, I should bow out. Of course, I'm just being cautious; nobody I know frequently schleps over to Portugal for a weekend anyway, and I may not even have three friends to begin with, much less murderous ones. But such is the case for Philip "Vic" Vickers who has returned after four years, having been drugged and left for dead, suffering a bonk to the forehead with a studded lead pipe which induced amnesia. In today's feature, *The Unholy Four (aka British title, *A Stranger Came Home*)(1954), Vic (William Sylvester) is more than just a little peeved because he's been left with a bad impression on his mind, clearly evident by the indentation in his head, and a glamorous, much sought-after wife Angie (Paulette Goddard) who may or may not be complicit in his disappearance. For four years he's been stopped up with revenge, and with friends like his, who needs enemas?

*The Unholy Four* is another Hammer film directed by Terence Fischer with a little dash of suspense as Vic methodically takes his lugubrious, hovering demeanor from friend to friend hoping to exact a confession. Any one of his buddies--Job Crandall (Patrick Holt), Bill Saul (Paul Carpenter) and Harry Bryce--could have been the culprit since they all salivate over Vic's wife Angie. Well, let's amend that list: Harry is found dead, floating under the dock of the Vickers' mansion within a few minutes of the film's opening, so in proper Whodunnit fashion, it isn't he who tonked Vic's noggin. But is it Angie or her creepy secretary Joan Merrill (Alvys Maben) both of whom slink around the ritzy country estate in the Cotswolds in weirdly suspicious actions. But weighing in at a mere 80 minutes, there's not so much to do to generate memorable thrills except talk and eye one another warily and talk and drink mickeys and then talk.

Adapted from a 1946 novel by actor George Sanders (who didn't write the novel; it was ghost written by Leigh Brackett), *The Unholy Four* suffers from continuity errors (the kitchen appears to be host to a movable feast since the stove changes positions throughout the film) and logical head scratchers as well as patently stupid moves, like Vic being drugged again, regaining consciousness with a fireplace poker in his hand, which he drops then picks up to stare at again before another corpse is tripped over.

Yes, it's largely a toothless mystery worthy of a soggy episode of *Barnaby Jones*. But it does offer some great deeply incisive philosophical dialogue like this, as the medical examiner answers Inspector Traherne's (Russel Napier) query as to a woman's ability to murder: "Ah, women. They're getting too capable for their own good these days" and "It's amazing sometimes how long a chap can live with his skull smashed in."

Fortunately, as one of the 140 Hammer films Robert Lippert produced between 1946 and 1955, *The Unholy Four* bled him for only $50,000, the rest of the budget lost to history in Hammer time, so we can't touch this. Its marketing on posters is a marvel, showing Paulette Goddard in a strikingly lurid pose almost dressed in diaphanous lingerie with heaving decolletage and looking hot and fetching in a come-hither stare. But nothing even remotely close to the clothes or the beckoning seduction is in evidence on the screen. If anything, the striking and sexy former Mrs. Charlie Chaplin is actually a pretty proper Angie who is never once given a vixenish inclination, either in wardrobe or cinematography. Anyone not accustomed to her sexiness and photogenic smolder might actually wonder, from this film's portrayal, what's all the hubbub, Bub? She is certainly worth watching, but the hound dogs who would kill to be with her must have lost their scent because they ain't never caught a rabbit and they ain't no friend of mine. . . or Vic.

Once again we're treated to a trifle more than an out-and-out time waster, with Sylvester (who would later play Dr. Heywood Floyd in Kubrick's *2001: A Space Odyssey*, 1968) taking center stage as the pent-up, repressed victim who can remember only the insistent voice of his would-be killer, intoning, "Turn around, Vickers! Turn around, Vickers! Turn around, Vickers! Turn around, Vickers! Turn around, Vickers! Turn around, Vickers! Turn around, Vickers!" leaving one to wonder if they were playing Ring Around The Rosie before the game ended with a lead pipe cinch. It's all veddy propah, you see, while the tension is supposed to mount in a capable drama leaving us wishing it were more than it is.

On the whole it reminded me of an extended Tooter Turtle cartoon as Mr. Wizard chanted, "Drizzle drazzle druzzle drome, time for this one to come home." Vic came home all right, but Tooter Turtle had more fun.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 5/25/2020, 4:34 pm

Post #393: There are days when I fervently believe Frank Zappa's observation: "Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe. . . and it has a longer shelf life."  Your honor, as validation of that statement I'd like to present to the court Exhibit A:  Hammer Film's 1954 59-minute epic *The Glass Tomb (aka The Glass Cage* in Britain) starring John Ireland and Honor ("Pussy Galore") Blackman. While on the surface it appears to be a malarkey-minded mystery of murder, misfortune and misdirection, I respectfully suggest to the jury that it is actually blunt force trauma with a dead mackerel.

The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony - Page 22 Glass10

Full movie here:  The Glass Tomb

I'm beginning to suspect Hammer Films are so threadbare, their writers see no profit in exercising enough brainpower to give their protagonists real first names, as evidenced by yesterday's film with Vic Vicker and today's with Pel Pelham (John Ireland), a carnival owner and barker who is determined to set the world on fire with his spectacular new act.  But he needs capital to get started, so his bookie buddy Tony Lewis (Sidney James from *Carry On* films) squares a deal with him: Tony will front Pel the money if Pel calls off Rena Maroni (Tonia Bern), a former mistress who's blackmailing him.  Easy peasy, beautiful cover girl.

Appealing to Rena's better nature is simple, because Pel knows her, sympathizes with her, and recognizes her soft hearted sweetness. After all, she's just a misguided girl who can't say no, even though someone later takes advantage of that soft heart, her soft head and soft neck by strangling her moments after Pel leaves.  While that's taking place, Pel is one floor down from her apartment celebrating his newly funded act with its star Henri Sapolio (Eric Pohlmann) and all his other circus "freaks."  But when Sapolio goes out to buy olives for the party (because what's a party without olives?), he spots a shadowy man exiting Rena's room, setting his Spidey sense to tingling.  And the game is afoot--a club foot stumbling along narratively.

Capitalizing on the public's rigid adherence to anti-intellectualism, Pel barks at the boobs and rubes who cluster around his new feature--Sapolio The Starving Man, who will go seventy days without eating, on full display in a glass tomb where patrons can peer in at him NOT eating. Evidently Pel couldn't contract with The Man Who Let His Fingernails Grow Before Your Very Eyes. But that's not disconcerting to the carnival crowd who actually utter dialogue like, "Turn round and watch the man starve like a good boy." And they say parents don't know how to raise kids anymore. . . .

Meanwhile, another blackmailer Rorke (Sidney Tafler) puts the squeeze on the murderer, Pel's wife Jenny (Honor Blackman, who is domesticated into oblivion here) is threatened, another murder is committed, and Pel worries that Sapolio may be in danger since he might be able to finger the killer while police Inspector Lindley (Liam Redmond) maneuvers to sound glib when Pel says, "Look, Lindley, you do your job; I'll do mine. I could never do your job because I'd always be for the underdog." Lindley blithely quips in response, "That could be a dangerous dog sometimes."  I mean, throw me a frickin' bone here, I'm the boss, need the info. . . .

Directed by Montgomery Tully, who directed many Hammer blows including *Terror Street* (1953) and *Paid To Kill* (1954), both of which will be featured here soon, *The Glass Tomb* offers novelty if nothing much else.  John Ireland is properly serious with his furrowed brow while the supporting cast perform their chores with sincerity, some recognition going to Sam Kydd as George, a former alkie who struggles with sobriety and a small part. If I were more sympathetic to this melange of madness, I might venture a guess that at its own gooey caramel center there was a hint of satirical intent at work here, laying waste to the sad morality of making money out of mankind's grotesque fascination with others' hardships.  But the film's final hucksterism, rationalized as "It was what Sapolio would have wanted," washes that benefit of the doubt away without a trace.

No, while I'm still an optimist at heart, I can't discount Frank Zappa's assertion that Stoopidium is one of the more neglected elements on the Periodic Table.  I'd rest my case, but I'm afraid the present news cycle will just dredge it up again at 6:30. So I'll just shut up and waggle my picket sign proclaiming, "Free The Glutens."
Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 5/25/2020, 4:55 pm

Since I just finished Season 1 of Charlies Angels I refuse to watch anything that does not have Farrah Fawcett in it. I now live inside a very tiny bubble of Farrah's work. And I am perfectly happy.

#howIcopeWithCovid
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Post by ghemrats on 5/26/2020, 6:02 pm

Post #394: I have never been one to understand people's fascination with water, and recently its excesses have further made me drift away from being a rabid fan. I mean, I do shower and bathe, and a brain-numbingly shot of cold Ice Mountain is wonderful when I'm sweating or thirsty. But in junior high I didn't enjoy pool, I never felt the need to trade in my TV for a seven-hundred-gallon fish tank, I absolutely hated any level of *Tomb Raider* that made me swim through extended levels (Invariably Lara ended up twerking and twisting into a disturbing pretzel as her air supply ran low), and I was not ravenously drawn to movies like *The Abyss* (1989), *20,000 Leagues Under The Sea* (1954), *The Deep* (1977), *Voyage To See What's On The Bottom* (1961) or even *The Undersea Kingdom* (1936) with Flash Gordon, I can take or leave *Finding Nemo* (2003) even though I think *The Little Mermaid* (1989) is cute as long as she grows legs. And I don't relish seafood either. So today's feature, *Sphere* (1998) will never bob to the top of my favorites list like so much chum, but it's not solely because of its deep-sixed setting.

It's a got Gold Seal credentials, after all: It's based on a novel by Michael Chrichton (whose books I inhaled as fast as they hit the bookshelves), it's produced and directed by Barry Levinson (whose films I routinely enjoy and even admire: *The Natural* (1984), *Good Morning, Vietnam* (1987), *Rain Man* (1988) and lesser but comfortable films like *Toys* (1992) and *Tin Men* (1987) and *Disclosure* (1994, also a Chrichton adaptation)), and it stars Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson with Peter Coyote, Liev Schrieber, Queen Latifah and Huey Lewis (no News there) in supporting roles. I really like the novel, so what could conceivably go wrong?

Only coherence and a smashing pay-off.

*Sphere* floats a really solid, if rudimentary, premise: An mile-and-a-half long alien spaceship, left dormant under three hundred years of coral, has been discovered (no, not by Geraldo Rivera) one thousand feet below the ocean. A crack team of disparate experts is dispatched to The Habitat, a state of the art underwater environment housed near the spacecraft for observation. Marine biologist Dr. Beth Halperin (Stone), mathematician Dr. Harry Adams (Jackson), astrophysicist Dr. Ted Fielding (Schreiber), psychologist Dr. Norman Goodman (Hoffman), and U.S. Navy Capt. Harold Barnes (Coyote) cluster in waterlogged wonder in claustrophobic confines recalling the paranoid shadows of *Nostromo* in *Alien* (1979) as they wait for danger to attack as they cast their lines into the murk.

It's all very prototypical with personality clashes, worries of psychological imbalances and hidden agendas swimming around, especially after examining the alien craft to discover it's not alien at all--it's American! with technological powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, which can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with a bare hand, and who, disguised as "Jerry," mild mannered intelligence working for the Daily Panic, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the crew's imagination. Perhaps sucked into a black hole in the future, the ship has now become a bed and breakfast for a perfect Sphere, a glowing grooved champagne-colored ball bearing the size of the Ritz, allowing access to some of the crew who exit without recalling anything about their encounter. But they are certain "Jerry" can monitor every action the crew undertake in their Habitat since "he" sends numeric coded messages through the onboard computer.

Meanwhile, a cyclone churns up the waters above them, requiring them to stay where they are beneath the ocean floor, with only "Jerry"'s messages to keep them treading water. Who is "Jerry" and what will they do if "he" gets angry? Of course that's not enough to contend with: We discover Norman was Beth's psychologist--and more?--some time ago, when Beth was suicidal, the perfect companion to be isolated with under high-stress situations; Harry starts acting strangely aloof if not annoyingly smug after his encounter with "Jerry" The Sphere; large jellyfish and an elephantine squid are on the attack; Captain Barnes may not calculate all his decisions well; and as the film dogpaddles on, there's hamburger all over the hallways.

Visually Barry Levinson is a master of building tensions and suspense, and certain set pieces pump up audience involvement. A few jump scares tighten the screws while the ship's and crew's bolts loosen, so there's a boatload of promise here. But somewhere along the way in our sailing along on Moonlight Bay we lose our mooring and are set adrift wondering what is going on. By the time we figure out "Jerry" is manifesting the characters' fears into reality, we're already floundering. The characters' motivations hold the clarity of silt, metaphysical excursions into exposition are reeled in then thrown back before they make sense, and it becomes increasingly apparent we can't tell the difference between the perceptual and actual. So the first hour is rather fun, but we're building to a climax that erodes before we get there.

Dustin Hoffman is okay but for me almost completely unbelievable as the love interest of Sharon Stone, who in her own right has next to nothing to do except move the ambiguous plot lines forward. And I freely acknowledge my own personal prejudice that Sam Jackson's performance was toned out and equalized to the point of snarky boredom: What I wouldn't give to have him blow up *just once* and scream something along the lines of "I've HAD it--with these muther****** visions from this muther****** Sphere!" I fully understand why Harry handled situations as he did (having read the novel and enjoyed it much more than the film), but the only character I could empathize with was Ted (Liev Schreiber), who is but a minor fly in this ointment but seems most invested in true reactions.

Kubrick made the executive decision to divide *The Shining* into "chapters" indicated by black screen interruptions indicating the time frame, one of my pet peeves with that film. Barry Levinson does the same thing here, fractionating the story into headings indicating what we're about to see. I just don't get it. They do not build suspense or orient that audience, but simply intrude on the audience's submersion into the film. Look, guys, I KNOW I'm watching a movie--you are not serving your audience or your product by reminding us every fifteen or twenty minutes. It's one literary device that for me does not translate well from the written page.

And when all is said and done, that's what's wrong with *Sphere*: It doesn't make the leap to the screen easily. Its metaphysics are more cerebral than visual, and the attempt to concretize the abstract fails because, like the proverbial screen door in the submarine, too many plot holes are letting questions seep in, buoy around and never reach a satisfactory examination; the apparent logic is at sea. *Sphere* was originally slated for a Christmas release in 1998 but was rushed into release on February 13, 1998 to avoid holiday box office competition. The result was palpable: Hoffman expressed disappointment in the final product, stating more issues needed to be discussed in the film but there wasn't time, resulting in "an incomplete film"; Roger Ebert said, "As long as we're in suspense, we're involved, because we anticipate great things. But *Sphere* is one of those movies where the end titles should be Peggy Lee singing 'Is That All There Is?' The more the plot reveals, the more we realize how little there is to reveal, until finally the movie disintegrates into flaccid scenes where the surviving characters sit around talking about their puzzlements." And perhaps most telling is its total grosses amounting to $50.2 million against its budget of $73-80 million, registering this one as a rushed flop.

Equally interesting is how during the shooting of the film, in their down time, Dustin Hoffman and Barry Levinson also made *Wag The Dog* (1997), and on weekends from shooting Sam Jackson made *Jackie Brown* (1997) with Quentin Tarantino--both of which I'd argue are better films.

So *Sphere* swims along from "OMG" to "WTF" to close with "H2O-No," which is a shame really because even though I didn't take to it like a fish to water, I didn't expect it to sink under the weight of its pretensions either. And to think I could have been back on dry land with Frankie and Dee Dee and Bonehead catching a wave instead of wiping out with these poor suckers. Or even watching Farrah Fawcett give herself whiplash by shaking her head and allowing her hair to move under its own volition for the ensuing 134 minutes in Clairol commercials.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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