Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The rear box art is courtesy of TV Shows on DVD.
The Penetrator comes to Mardi Gras, but not to party, in Pinnacle's fifth paperback adventure published under the name of Lionel Derrick. All the Penetrator books were actually penned by two different men: Mark Roberts wrote the odd-numbered entries, Chet Cunningham, the even.
So, it's Roberts who's responsible for the entertaining MARDI GRAS MASSACRE (which is completely unrelated to this 1978 film, which I own, but haven't gotten around to watching). The 1974 novel lures Mark Hardin to New Orleans, naturally, using a mysterious letter posted to his secret California headquarters by a Cajun fisherman who is murdered before the Penetrator arrives.
Teaming up with the fisherman's beautiful (but aren't they all?) daughter Angelique, the Penetrator looks into the Gulfland Fisherman's Co-Op, led by the effete hood Marcel Bouchet, which is bullying the local fisherman into accepting its terms…or no terms at all. Hardin's path of destruction includes blowing up Bouchet's multi-million-dollar cannery ship and a wild boat chase to an island where evidence that can reveal Bouchet's plot to destroy the U.S. economy with perfect counterfeit bills can be found.
Another great Penetrator adventure, most of which I read while waiting for the mechanics at CarX to replace the brake pads on my Malibu Classic.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Despite a few cribs from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SEVEN, the patron saints of serial-killer movies, 2000'S BLOWBACK is a direct-to-video thriller lensed in San Diego that stands on its own as an effective movie. The writing isn't good, but the main performances and the action sequences are. BLOWBACK was directed by Mark L. Lester, who graduated from well-remembered drive-in flicks like TRUCK STOP WOMEN and ROLLER BOOGIE to major studio actioners like FIRESTARTER and COMMANDO before falling back into low-budget exploitation movies.
The great character actor James Remar, memorable as the psycho killer Ganz in 48 HRS. and now a regular on Showtime's DEXTER, is John Whitman, a vicious serial killer who kidnaps women, strips them, tortures them, kills them and then arranges their bodies to replicate those of obscure saints. He's finally captured by San Diego detective Don Morrell (Mario Van Peebles) in a bloody struggle that includes Morrell biting Whitman's nose off. A year after Whitman's execution in the gas chamber, the city is plagued by a new series of copycat killings. The victims are no longer exclusively women, but the jurors in the Whitman trial. Morrell, a theological expert who considered the priesthood before becoming a cop, recognizes the killer's M.O., right down to the Bible verses left at the scene of each murder, and deduces that the perpetrator is no copycat, but Whitman himself.
While the manner of Whitman's resurrection involves an element of science fiction, it's safe to put BLOWBACK firmly in the police procedural category, as Morrell doggedly investigates the clues left by the killer, who continues his habit of mutilating his victims post-mortem. The product of three screenwriters, BLOWBACK manages to hit most of the cop-chases-killer clichés, including Morrell being placed on suspension by his stern captain (the recently deceased David Groh) and his being assigned a vivacious rookie partner (blond Sharisse Baker, now married to Carlos Bernard, 24's Tony Almeida). However, veteran director Lester delivers a competent level of sheen and interjects energetic chases and shootouts at regular intervals. Both Van Peebles and Remar do good work, and the San Diego locations are a nice change from the usual L.A. and Vancouver haunts. Really, the two stars do a lot to make the procedural mumbo-jumbo feel real, and their experience and charisma really carry the story between chases.
Also helping BLOWBACK stand out is the high level of gore and Whitman's habit of nailing topless women to a cross--you don't see that every day. The ending is a particularly audacious one that arguably splashes too far over the top, but you can't say it isn't memorable.
Friday, April 25, 2008
The Assassin is a character created by author Peter McCurtin, who wrote a lot of books. Besides three (at least) Assassin novels, he also wrote for the Marksman, Carmody and Soldier of Fortune paperback series, as well as a ton of westerns, crime dramas and even the novelization of James Glickenhaus' screenplay for the exploitation sickie THE EXTERMINATOR (I'd love to read that one). McCurtin doesn't seem to be very good, despite his busy resume. He has a blunt writing style…well, maybe "style" isn't the right word. He writes as though his routine is to sit down at his typewriter and punch keys until he hits his word count.
MANHATTAN MASSACRE, published in 1973, reads as though it could have been the Marksman's origin story, and Dell's attempt to copy the success of the Executioner and other similar paperback action heroes is obvious. Robert Briganti is a crack shot and gun dealer whose family is murdered as payback after he refuses to arm a Brooklyn mobster named Joe Coraldi. Feeling he has no reason to live, except to get revenge, Briganti rips off some weapons from the munitions company he used to work for, and sets to work knocking off Coraldi and his men. He makes audio tapes, describing his bloody mission, and sends them to the media and the FBI, hoping to make the public aware of how evil the Mafia really is.
It's really a pretty decent read, even though there isn't anything unusual or original about it. MANHATTAN MASSACRE even has a title reminiscent of an Executioner, Death Merchant or Butcher title, which is certainly no coincidence.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Mack be back in MIAMI MASSACRE, which was the fourth Executioner novel within a year for Pinnacle and author Don Pendleton. After rocking Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Los Angeles and Palm Springs in the first three Executioner novels, Mack Bolan opens #4 by blasting the shit out of a bunch of mobsters in Phoenix, which only paves the way for the main storyline. All the big Cosa Nostra top men are assembling in Miami to discuss how to rid the world of the Executioner, and Bolan follows them there, showing no fear.
The most dangerous man in the world is one who doesn't give a shit what happens to him, and that is Mack Bolan. The guy strikes and strikes hard, invading a hotel that the mob has taken over and roaming room to room wasting them all. Although there isn't a solid main villain that the Executioner goes one-on-one with, Pendleton does a nice job of filling in the blanks of the supporting characters, even to the point of carrying some old favorites over from previous novels. Also, since MIAMI MASSACRE was written at the height of U.S. disenchantment with the war in Vietnam, Pendleton doesn't shy away from pointing out the parallels between Bolan's killing in the war and his killing here and now.
True, some of the writing feels repetitious, now that we know the formula for a good Executioner thriller, but the action is crisp and exciting.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Death is always right around the corner where the Death Merchant is concerned. The earliest book in the series I have read is #4, CHINESE CONSPIRACY, published by Pinnacle in 1973. I think I'll always have a soft spot for it, due to the fact that it opens in DuQuoin, Illinois, a very small town in the southern part of the state very close to Carbondale, where I attended Southern Illinois University.
Chapter 1 finds Richard Camellion having a beer at a bar near DuQuoin, a night after working as a carny at the DuQuoin State Fair. It's never explained why the hell the Death Merchant is undercover, running one of the games under an assumed name, but his enemies find out and ambush him in the parking lot. After kicking their asses, with some help from a friendly CIA agent, Camellion takes Route 51 to Urbana (next to where I live) to catch a plane for Canada. Although 51 doesn't go through Urbana, it does pass through Pana, St. John and some other real towns referenced in the early chapters of CHINESE CONSPIRACY, as Camellion receives exposition from his CIA pal on the late-night drive to Urbana.
The plot is simple enough. Former Nazis have teamed up with Red Chinese agents to kidnap an American rocket scientist from Cape Kennedy. The U.S. is due to launch its first space shuttle, and China's plan is to blast it out of the sky with missiles fired from a nuclear sub floating in a Canadian bay, and then force the scientist to build them a duplicate. The Death Merchant's path takes him from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa into the very bowels of the Chinese sub itself, guns and grenades blasting all the way.
As usual, Joseph Rosenberger provides a rollicking action story filled with graphic violence and barely bridled racism. Interesting that he never provides Camellion (or at least rarely) with a romantic subplot. It's fine with me, since women usually just get in the way of a straight adventure like this one, but it is unusual.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
I really liked MURDER MISSION!, which was the first of Lancer Books' Soldato novels I read and the fourth in the series. Credited to Al Conroy, the real authors of the Soldato series seem to be Marvin H. Albert and Gil Brewer. It isn't quite clear to me which wrote which book, but Soldato #5—BLOOD RUN!—seems to me to have been written by whoever didn't write MURDER MISSION!
Whereas MURDER MISSION! stuck with a typical crime drama story about Johnny Morini, the "Soldato," infiltrating a gang of mobsters in New Orleans and eliminating them, BLOOD RUN! takes us globe-trotting from California to Italy, Turkey and Syria. This time, Morini takes the place of a Mafia hitman named Dietrich and travels to Rome, where he infiltrates the drug-running organization of a French mobster named Gilbert and teams with an assassin named Paul Marc to bring heroin into the U.S. In order for Morini to complete his mission annihilating the mob on the West Coast, he has to follow the junk to the leader.
From Rome, Morini, Gilbert, Dietrich and a red-haired Chinese woman named Opal trek across the Turkish mountains to meet the smugglers contracted to deliver the heroin. BLOOD RUN! reads more like a Sam Durell novel than a typical Mob-busting adventure, and much of the narrative plays like a travelogue, describing Istanbul's bustling atmosphere and the dangerous hike through the Turkish wilderness. There is some action and violence, but BLOOD RUN! is not as tightly written nor as exciting as the earlier Soldato book. It's still worth a read though.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Oddly, THE ROCKFORD FILES followed up "The Four Pound Brick" with an episode with an identical premise. Just as in the previous week's episode, "Just an Accident" has a widowed mother (Louise Hartman, played by James Garner's former NICHOLS co-star Neva Patterson) hiring Jim Rockford (Garner) when she believes the car accident that caused her son's death may have been murder. This time, the son, Billy Joe (Joey Aresco), is a demolition derby driver involved in insurance fraud who is killed when he threatens to quit the gang.
While the plot by ROCKFORD newcomers Charles Sailor and Eric Kaldor, whose best known work may be the nutty TV-movie THE HOSTAGE HEART, about terrorists who take over a hospital while a millionaire is undergoing heart surgery, may be no great shakes, they (or script polishers Juanita Bartlett and/or Stephen J. Cannell) do provide some terrific individual scenes, such as Rockford's run-in with a disagreeable civil servant (Fritzi Burr, who was such a good foil for Garner that she came back several times to play similar characters), some extraneous interplay with a woman who wants to use Rockford's pay phone to place a bet on a horse, and a bit where he fast-talks a buddy (Gordon Jump) at a used car lot into providing a loaner while his Firebird is in the shop. Yep, fans of the tan Pontiac may sob when it's run off a cliff, but Jump promises to put it back together good as new.
E.J. Peaker (LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE) appears as Jeannie Szymczyk, whose name provides Rockford with a vital clue, but the big mystery is what the character's purpose is. It appears as though her relationship with Billy Joe is a plot point, but what it may be, I can't guess.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I'm so-so on KIDNAP HOTEL, #2 in Warner Books' series about C.A.T. (Crisis Aversion Team). Author Spike Andrews (whoever he really is) seems to be going for a Joseph Wambaugh vibe with black humor, daredevil cops and kinky sex. The villains, though, are pretty tame and don't seem like a big enough threat for the reader to get worked up over. I like the cover though.
A group of lazy young people, now led by a charismatic Brit named Graham, run scams in which they kidnap affluent couples in separate cars and let them go after driving the husband to the bank to withdraw $5000 and hand it over to them. Seeking a bigger payoff, they kidnap several wealthy people and hold them hostage together on top of an unfinished but abandoned skyscraper. Smartass cops Stewart Weston and Vince Castillo, who may be based on "The Super Cops," are assigned to the case, even though it doesn't really seem like a "crisis" that needs "averting."
Beyond the dull heavies, KIDNAP HOTEL suffers from a rambling plot and a lack of good solid action. I have another C.A.T. novel too, but I don't think I'll be seeking more unless it's an improvement in quality.
Monday, April 14, 2008
HIGH NOON, PART II: THE RETURN OF WILL KANE. I can't imagine a more ludicrous title or concept than this. Admit it—at first glance, you'd assume this was an SCTV parody with Joe Flaherty as Gary Cooper, wouldn't ya? ("Yup.") Then you notice that it was written by Elmore Leonard, which piques your interest a little bit. And once you start to get into it, you realize that it really isn't too bad. In fact, HIGH NOON, PART II, which aired on CBS in the fall of 1980, would likely play much better under any other title, because as good as it is, it of course doesn't measure up to the 1952 classic.
More than a year after killing Frank Miller and leaving Hadleyville with his wife Amy (Katherine Cannon stepping into Grace Kelly's dainty shoes), former marshal Kane (Lee Majors) returns to buy some horses and settle down. His dreams of a simple future are shattered, however, when his horses are unnecessarily killed during a gun battle between a posse led by arrogant new marshal Ward (Pernell Roberts) and the roguish but basically decent Ben Irons (David Carradine), who has a $5000 bounty on his head. Kane knows Irons is innocent of the murder charge against him, but Ward, who delights in cruelly mistreating everyone, including his deputies Darold (Michael Pataki) and Alonzo (J.A. Preston), insists on hunting Irons anyway, ordering his men to shoot to kill on sight. As we know from the Cooper film, Kane can't bear to let an injustice pass, and his decision to bring Irons in himself to stand trial makes him an enemy of the gun-happy Ward.
Let's get it out of the way—no, Majors (in between THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE FALL GUY) is no Cooper, but he isn't bad either. In fact, his casting as a durable, righteous western hero is spot-on, and he's an excellent foil for both the wry Carradine (THE LONG RIDERS had already come out) and the bigoted sadist Roberts. Nicely photographed in Old Tucson by Harry May (FRIENDLY FIRE), HIGH NOON, PART II benefits from its rousing score, which is reminiscent of Ennio Morricone (who composed the theme to Majors' earlier western series THE MEN FROM SHILOH). Since no music credit is given, and some of the score sounds familiar, I've concluded that CBS or producer Edward J. Montagne (MCHALE'S NAVY) oddly decided to use library tracks. An unusual decision for a TV-movie of that era, but an effective one. Carradine later appeared three times with Majors on THE FALL GUY (once memorably with his father John and brothers Keith and Robert), while Roberts guest-starred on Lee's series THE BIG VALLEY and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Saturday, April 12, 2008
West Virginia-born Tony Anthony was a struggling actor in bit parts before he moved to Europe and found great success as the star of several so-called "spaghetti westerns"—Italian productions usually filmed on Roman soundstages and in the Spanish desert. A STRANGER IN TOWN received a major theatrical release in the U.S. in 1968 by MGM and made enough money worldwide to bring Anthony back for three sequels.
The plot is simple and a bit reminiscent of Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, which was made in 1964. A Bounty Hunter With No Name (aka The Stranger) rides into the tiny Mexican village of Cerro Gordo, where he witnesses bandits led by Aguila (Frank Wolff) slaughter a platoon of Mexican soldiers and steal their uniforms. Aguila's men plan to impersonate the soldiers and meet up with the U.S. Army, who is transporting two sacks of gold meant to be a loan to the Mexican government. The Stranger muscles in on Aguila's plan by claiming that he's the Army's advance man and, with his assistance, he can vouch for Aguila's authenticity and get the gold with no bloodshed. Aguila, not surprisingly, welches on the deal and beats The Stranger up. Unfazed, the American manages to swipe the gold from Aguila's hideout and stash it back in Cerro Gordo, where Aguila arrives for the blood-soaked finale.
From looking at him, Anthony seems an odd choice for a western hero. He's not particularly charismatic, and he's short to boot. He struck some sort of chord with audiences, however, or perhaps people just liked to pay to see Anthony shoot people. American Allen Klein, the Beatles' manager during the breakup, produced the film, though it lacks any kind of Hollywood gloss. Leone's influence on director Luigi Vanzi is evident in the occasionally slow pacing, as Anthony wanders slowly around town, giving half the rooms in Cerro Gordo a once-over. When the action comes, however, it's relatively exciting and well-staged. Benedetto Ghiglia's oddball score isn't exactly what you would call melodic, but it does fit Vanzi's weird vibe, and you'll be humming the theme out of repetition if not affection.
Anthony had a strong hand in his acting career, contributing the story for his next movie, THE STRANGER RETURNS. Like the first film, it was released in the U.S. by MGM in 1968, and they likely even played together on drive-in double bills. While influenced by Sergio Leone's westerns with Clint Eastwood, returning director Luigi Vanzi and Anthony add more humor and vulnerability to the leading character, making him easy to root for, even when he's acting like a scoundrel.
The Stranger poses as a murdered postal inspector to track a large gang of bandits led by the vicious En Plein (Dan Vadis, then a European star from many muscleman epics). The killers dry-gulched a stagecoach crew and made off with the entire rig, thought to be carrying a strongbox filled with gold. In actuality, the stagecoach is made of gold, which is a heckuva target for The Stranger and his nose for money. The bounty hunter teams up with a batty old preacher (Marco Guglielmi) with a pocketful of fireworks, who provides The Stranger with a super-cool weapon: a four-barreled shotgun.
Starting with Stelvio Cipriani's awesome score, THE STRANGER RETURNS is the most consistently entertaining of the four-film series. Vanzi shoots the violent climax with some wit, as The Stranger invades the bandits' town and blows them away one at a time. As usual, he takes plenty of physical punishment before laying some smack down on the baddies, who are well led by the sneering Vadis, who appears somewhat leaner than he did in his days making Italian sword-and-sandal pictures like SPARTACUS AND THE TEN GLADIATORS and HERCULES THE INVINCIBLE. I also like the unearthly vibe Vanzi and Cipriani provide for the golden stagecoach, really playing up its status as an oddball plot point.
Anthony went on to play the laconic, serape-wearing Stranger again in THE SILENT STRANGER, which was released in Europe in 1968 as THE STRANGER IN JAPAN. However, as a result of legal wrangling, MGM didn't release it in the U.S. until 1975. The plot is similar to other spaghetti westerns; namely, it's another ripoff of YOJIMBO (see: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS). The Stranger shoots down some bandits attacking a young Japanese man. The dying youth hands him a scroll and begs him to deliver it to Japan, where he will be paid $20,000. Once The Stranger gets there, he finds that two opposing factions lay claim to the scroll, and must play both against the other to ensure his own hide survives.
The Japanese setting provides a unique backdrop for the typical spaghetti trappings (swords replace guns in some action scenes), and director Vanzi and Anthony slather a good amount of sex and violence across it, despite its PG rating. Co-starring with Anthony as the main heavy is American actor Lloyd Battista, who provided the same function opposite Anthony in BLINDMAN.
You have to give Anthony his props. As the producer, star and occasional writer, Anthony, more than most working in the genre, wasn't shy about thinking outside the box. Returning to the iconic Stranger character he played in the 1960s, Anthony, who wrote the original story (co-star Lloyd Battista and Wolf Lowenthal receive screenplay credit), places 1976's GET MEAN firmly in the realm of fantasy.
The bizarre plot finds the Stranger accepting a $50,000 offer to return Princess Elizabeth Maria (Diana Lorys) to Spain, where a battle for her kingdom ensues between Moors and Vikings! The Stranger loses the princess to the Viking king, but negotiates his way into the warlord's good graces with the promise of a treasure hidden in a nearby temple.
Battista, who played the main heavy opposite Anthony in both THE SILENT STRANGER and BLINDMAN, is the Viking lord's hunchbacked sidekick with a RICHARD III obsession. GET MEAN is a strangely weird movie, even more so than THE SILENT STRANGER. It's somewhat effective, but it's pretty clear the spaghetti western genre was on its last legs. At least it's about time one of these Spain-lensed pictures actually set itself in Spain.
Anthony's next picture was probably his biggest hit, certainly in the United States. Another spaghetti western, COMIN' AT YA! was filmed in 3D and was an incredible success, kicking off a shortlived 3D craze that saw sequels to FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and JAWS, among many other films, play big screens across the country. But that's a post for another day.
Pinnacle's Penetrator series is rapidly becoming one of my favorite. The five Penetrator novels I've read so far are fast-paced adventure stories with just the right ingredients of bloody violence, kinky plots and oddball gadgetry. Probably because the authors were ripping these things out right and left, just pounding their typewriters in pursuit of as many paychecks as possible, the Penetrator stories—as with many in the men's adventure genre—are breakneck espionage/crime plots in which no story element is too strange.
Mark Hardin, the half-Indian Vietnam vet who dedicated his life to crimebusting after his fiancé was murdered in a car crash meant to kill him, goes to New York in HIJACKING MANHATTAN to find a black militant group called Black Gold, which establishes itself as a threat to be taken seriously when it blows up a subway station. The city agrees to pay the group a $2 million ransom, but when the police department's plan to follow the money blows up in their faces (literally, as the detective pursuing the ransom is run off the road and killed when his car explodes), Black Gold asks for more money not to release a nasty virus called X-446 into the Manhattan water supply.
Chet Cunningham, the author of HIJACKING MANHATTAN (as Lionel Derrick), approaches the plotting with such gusto that he manages to include a wild scene in which the Penetrator disguises himself as a black man to investigate an auto painting outfit he thinks may be a Black Gold front. With "the right chocolate brown covering on his hands, arms and face," Hardin spends a couple of hours wandering around Broadway, listening "to the chatter of the blacks, refining, updating his 'black' mannerisms." Oddly, his disguise doesn't really work, as the employees spot him as a cop right off, leading to one of many of the book's exciting shootouts.
By the way, Cunningham was in such a hurry to hit his word count that he never wraps up a dangling plot thread in which the female cop assigned to deliver the ransom is captured, gangraped and held captive. As far as I know, she's still tied up in bed, waiting for the Penetrator to rescue her.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I was pretty excited to find THE HITCHHIKE KILLER in a 50-cent box at last month's Gordyville flea market. I've been searching eBay for one of the Chopper Cop novels for several weeks, but haven't found very many of them (I think only three exist). I had never read one of the Popular Library Chopper Cop books, but was naturally drawn to the ludicrous concept of a, well, "chopper cop."
The Chopper Cop is Terry Bunker, a long-haired (though he doesn't appear to be on the cover) antiestablishment Vietnam-vet hippie, 26 years old, who works as a special investigator for the state of California who appears to be answerable only to the governor, one of the few establishment types with whom Bunker gets along. Bunker's police superiors spend most of their time grumbling about his hair, his non-conformist approach to law enforcement, his womanizing, his beer drinking and pot smoking, while begrudgingly admitting that, yeah, okay, Bunker's the best damn cop on the force.
1972's THE HITCHHIKE KILLER finds Bunker investigating three murders that took place during the same weekend, hundreds of miles apart, but appear to have been committed by the same person. All the victims were attractive teenage girls who were hitchhiking and terrorized and run down by a motorcycle rider. The cops all suspect a biker gang, but Bunker thinks the killer may have taken a commuter flight from San Francisco to San Diego to commit the murders, and begins shuttling up and down the state via a small airline, where he meets a pair of foxy stews, Lisa and Chris, and begins suspecting Lisa's married boyfriend, co-pilot Paul Bunn.
Another cheap paperback that could have been a pretty cool movie, THE HITCHHIKE KILLER is a brisk, entertaining read with an unusually left-wing hero for this type of book. I'm particularly looking forward to finding Chopper Cop #3, which is titled DYNAMITE MONSTER BOOGIE CONCERT! Author Paul Ross is identified in the indicia as Lyle Kenyon Engel, who "produced" THE HITCHHIKE KILLER and owns the copyright. However, it's reported that Engel never did any writing and farmed it out to various authors, so Engel was actually a house name working under a house name, so to speak.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
In addition to replaying the five-year-old Lennon interview, which turned out to be Lennon's last televised interview, Snyder brought on journalist Lisa Robinson, who had interviewed Lennon several times for publications, and Jack Douglas, who co-produced DOUBLE FANTASY, the Lennon album then shooting up the Billboard charts.
This TOMORROW episode is now on DVD, courtesy of Shout! Factory, and is mandatory for all Beatles fans. It's very difficult not to become a bit shell-shocked as you watch this piece of history, and start thinking about where you were December 8 when you heard the news.
The episode is part of a 2-disc set titled JOHN, PAUL, TOM & RINGO: THE TOMORROW SHOW WITH TOM SNYDER, which also includes Paul McCartney's 1979 appearance and Ringo Starr's in 1981 (along with Barbara Bach and Angie Dickinson). I haven't watched that disc yet, but am looking forward to it.
Monday, April 07, 2008
Also, Mark Evanier fields some e-mails about Heston on his blog, mainly from folks relating warm memories of personal contact with the great movie star.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
I find the New York Times' obituaries to be more thorough and thoughtful than anything I could ever write here, so I'll leave it to you to read here about the late Heston, who died over the weekend at age 84.
I've never been certain how I felt about Heston. Some of his politics were appalling, but I respect his support for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Those that knew him and those who were just fans who met him once all seem to have thought of him as a nice, graceful, gentle man. He certainly was intelligent, defending his views on gun control on POLITICALLY INCORRECT and DENNIS MILLER back in the '90s. And I definitely appreciate the sense of humor he had about himself, as appearances on FRIENDS and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE prove.
Of course, as a movie star, Heston has my utmost respect. When I was growing up, Heston's greatest films were behind him, but he remained an incredibly busy leading man, and I loved so many of the films I saw on TV and in theaters as a kid: PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEGA MAN, EARTHQUAKE, WILL PENNY, TWO MINUTE WARNING, MIDWAY (which, like EARTHQUAKE, was presented in Sensurround!). Many of these pictures aren't very good, but I still liked them.
Obviously, outside of PLANET OF THE APES, which is justifiably a science fiction classic, Heston's best films were made prior to the '70s: BEN HUR, EL CID, THE NAKED JUNGLE (with killer ants!). TOUCH OF EVIL, which is definitely one of his greatest films, only happened because Heston stuck up for Orson Welles and forced the studio to let the genius direct the film. Okay, so perhaps Heston was miscast as the Mexican police officer--and I firmly believe that Heston was always "Charlton Heston," no matter what character he was playing--but the oddball casting certainly adds to the charm of the offbeat film.
I think I admired Charlton Heston more than I thought.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Jon Messmann's description of Mafia overlord Johnny Lupo is so distinctive in CITY FOR SALE that I could only think of actor Henry Silva, who starred in the obscure 1963 crime drama JOHNNY COOL. Lupo is young, charismatic, quick-tempered, and violent, which pretty much describes many of the roles Silva played during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in several crime dramas he made in Italy.
#5 in Messmann's Revenger series, published by Signet in 1975, CITY FOR SALE finds Mafia hater Ben Martin squaring off against Lupo, after the gangster makes a move to kidnap Carola Cozzi, the beautiful daughter of hardnosed Judge Salvatore Cozzi, a New York law-and-order advocate with a strong reputation for wiping out the Syndicate. Martin witnesses the initial snatch of Carola by Lupo's boys, and rescues her, killing all three of her kidnappers. This sends Lupo into a rage, marking Martin for a personal vendetta that ultimately boils over into a violent confrontation at the Statue of Liberty.
As I wrote before about THE VENDETTA CONTRACT, Messmann's writing, particularly his soap opera-level dialogue, is overly flowery for this type of adventure. It's only 144 pages and punched up with several well described scenes of action and violence, so Messmann does have a nose for this type of novel.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
It's hard to believe this film even exists, let alone received an American theatrical release, but I'm one of the few who can testify that it does and it did. I'm pretty sure the year was 1990, and Todd Woodman and I saw it at the AMC University Place 8 multiplex in Carbondale, Illinois. We may have been the only people in the theater; in fact, I'd be shocked if we weren't.
I sometimes feel as though I should watch it again, since I don't remember anything about it, although I'm certain it would be an experience like LOOSE CANNONS, where I would think, "Yep, it still sucks." Basically, KEATON'S COP is Lee Majors (THE FALL GUY) as a badass cop (aren't they all?) who teams up with Abe Vigoda (BARNEY MILLER's Fish) as an elderly mobster to find the killer of Majors' partner, an old cop played by Don Rickles! It and NIGHT GAME (with Roy Scheider) are the only films I've ever seen that were filmed in beautiful Galveston, Texas! And Cannon released it theatrically! I'm certain it didn't make a dime for Cannon, but Woodman and I will always have KEATON'S COP.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Let me take the opportunity to recommend a little sleeper you probably haven't heard of, but I think is worth your while if you have an interest in crime dramas about serial killers. RESURRECTION ended up going directly to HBO, I believe, and then to home video without playing American theaters, though it did play theatrically around the world. And, yes, no doubt that it's a ripoff of SE7EN, but it's a gripping one with many nice surprises. Propelled by an absorbing Brad Mirman (KNIGHT MOVES) screenplay, actor Christopher Lambert's steady performance in the leading role, and unusually attentive direction by Russell Mulcahy (who previously worked with Lambert on the first two HIGHLANDER movies), RESURRECTION is an exciting police procedural with enough gore and suspense to please horror fans, much like SE7EN.
Chicago detective John Prudhomme (Lambert), newly transplanted from New Orleans to explain the actor's French accent, gets the call when a 33-year-old man is found murdered in his mansion. The victim was electrocuted and tortured pre-mortem, and his right arm was amputated. The killer took the arm with him, but left a message written on the window in lamb's blood: "He's coming." More bodies turn up, all with missing body parts, all belonging to 33-year-old white males, and all left in grotesque positions by their murderer. Investigating with his joke-telling partner Andy Hollingsworth (Leland Orser, who appeared in another SE7EN-influenced film, THE BONE COLLECTOR) and an FBI profiler (familiar character actor Robert Joy), Prudhomme discovers that the extremely clever killer, who leaves telltale clues to his identity, is collecting the corpse's limbs in order to resurrect Christ on Easter Sunday.
It's a shame that Mirman and Mulcahy had so little faith in RESURRECTION that so much of it echoes SE7EN so closely. The plot so closely follows that of SE7EN that it seems as though all Mirman had to do was change the names of the characters. Cinematographer Jonathan Freeman shoots his Toronto locations (filling in for Chicago) with enough fog and rain to suggest a post-apocalyptic setting, while the killer's identity, a mid-reel foot chase, and scenes of Lambert's brooding home life, complete with flashbacks to his young son's death years before, give one déjà vu to watch.
However, once one gets past the similarities to SE7EN, what's left is an often remarkable thriller and one unfairly relegated to the direct-to-video slagheap. Mulcahy, whose modus operandi is all-style-little-substance, must have been impressed with what meat exists on Mirman's script (Lambert receives co-story credit), because he stages the brutal attacks and gory crime scenes with a charnel house fervor. His use of so-called "taboo" images such as male nudity and a newborn baby under attack intensifies the suspense, as do some jittery camerawork and the scariest "killer's mask" since Michael Myers rampaged through Haddonfield.
While RESURRECTION might be take an effort to find (I originally happened across the video box in the "2 for $1.00" rental section, but Netflix has it on DVD), it's certainly well worth it, as it contains some of the best work both Lambert and Mulcahy (whose career has moved into episodic television) have done in years. A more original approach and a higher budget (which would have allowed Mulcahy to shoot in Chicago with a more colorful cast) could have really made it something special, true, but it's unlikely that the filmmakers' skill and passion will be lost on you.