Monday, June 30, 2008

Monkeemen


Dial B for Blog, one of comic book fandom's greatest blogs, chimes in with a typically thorough examination of those master battlers of evil--the Monkeemen!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yor On Turner Classic Movies

I know, I can't believe it either. TCM's recent acquisition of titles from the Columbia library has resulted in some interesting programming choices this year, though probably none as weird as YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE, an Italian/Turkish co-production filmed in Turkey with an Italian director (Antonio Margheriti, who used his usual "Anthony M. Dawson" nom de plume) and released in the United States by Columbia in 1983.

This extremely funny fantasy stars Reb Brown (TV's CAPTAIN AMERICA, who now is a Sunn Classic Pictures executive) as Yor, a rugged blond warrior who teams up with lovely cavegirl Corinne Clery (MOONRAKER) and irascible old man Luciano Pigozzi (billed, as usual, as "Alan Collins") to fight an evil overlord (John Steiner). Actually, there's much more to it than that, since YOR is a condensed version of an Italian TV miniseries. I can't imagine watching this any longer than the 88 minutes that it already is, but cutting the miniseries down to feature-length makes it play like a particularly strange Republic serial, making Yor leap from one dangerous situation to another without looking back, meeting ape-men, pterodactyls, dinosaurs and even robots with lasers! We eventually learn that Yor is really from the future, hence, the literal title.

If you aren't cracking up at the dialogue or special effects, you'll certainly get a kick out of Yor using a giant bat as a hang-glider or smacking a plastic monster in the head with his stone axe or swinging across futuristic chasms, dodging laser beams, like Luke and Leia in STAR WARS or smacking a robot's head clean off its body with a big rock. Or comely Clery, scrumptious in her teensy leather outfit.

Two 30-second TV spots for YOR follow, so you can laugh your ass off too.



While we wait for a YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE DVD release, you can watch the whole film on YouTube now. And rock out to the awesome YOR theme song.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Executioner Vs. The Assassins

After beating plenty of mobster ass in France and in England, Mack Bolan returns to the U.S.A. in #7, NIGHTMARE IN NEW YORK. No sooner does he step off the damn airplane than hitmen begin circling and have to be eliminated in that gritty Executioner style. However, Bolan suffers serious injury, and is taken by three sexy fashion designers to their apartment to recuperate. Outside of Bolan's new "girlfriends," who appear to be kinda clingy and not terribly bright, even though we're supposed to feel sympathetically toward them, this book follows the Executioner format pretty tightly. Bolan flippantly rips off a Mafia "bank" and, in the well-played climax, invades a lodge where the big Mob families are staging a sit-down meeting. At this point, Bolan is good and pissed after discovering the ravaged body of one of the three girls who befriended him, who had been raped and tortured before her death.

I enjoyed NIGHTMARE IN NEW YORK, but found it less memorable than previous Executioner adventures. While Bolan's bloodlust for the Mafia is what drives him to adventure, it's possible the formula may be becoming repetitious, as opposed to rival Pinnacle heroes like the Penetrator and the Death Merchant, who varied their choice of villain.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Murphy Contingent

08 The Murphy Contingent
April 18, 1979
Music: William Broughton
Writer: Frank Lupo & C.R. O'Christopher

We learn more about BJ's past in this BJ AND THE BEAR episode, as, for the first time, we meet someone from his past. Or, I should say, several someones. Members of his Army commando unit in Vietnam, to be exact: Murphy (Lance LeGault), Melendez (A Martinez) and Jefferson (Tony King), as well as civilian volunteers Rita (Susan Woollen) and Joanne (Katherine Cannon), whose late brother Bobby was interned with BJ (Greg Evigan) in a POW camp.

With the help of the others, Murphy has founded Walken House for disabled GIs, but a $122,000 loan has put the place's future in jeopardy. Desperate, the five Army pals plot to knock off a bunch of mobsters hiding out in a farmhouse with millions of dollars worth of stolen gold in its basement. However, they need BJ's help to pull the heist. Reluctant to tangle with gangsters or to mess with stolen government money, the trucker makes a deal with a straight-arrow Treasury agent (MAVERICK's Jack Kelly) that he hopes will make everyone happy. Except the gangsters, of course.

Some impressive helicopter stunts, many squealing tires and a heckuva lotta machine gun fire dot this action-packed episode with impressive direction by Rod Holcomb that's marred only during some glaring continuity errors during the car chase. LeGault's performance is very fine, as we never quite know whether Murphy is deranged, desperate or even dangerous, and Martinez and King back the actor up well. Martinez remains a busy television actor, whereas King ended up in Italy making trashy horror and action films like CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE and RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS.

I suspect writer C.R. O'Christopher may be a pseudonym, though he also receives a writing credit on the dull Canadian sci-fi flick THE LAST CHASE. Like Martinez, director Holcomb also is a busy man in television as executive producer of the dramas SHARK and MOONLIGHT on CBS.

A Homecoming In Hell

I knew right away that Ric Meyers was the ghostwriter of FAMILY SKELETONS, because of the early movie references to SUPERMAN II and JUST BEFORE DAWN, which means #5 in Warner Books' Dirty Harry series was probably written in 1981 (its publication date is 1982). I think Meyers has a better grasp of the Harry Callahan character than the other (unknown) writers who worked as "Dane Hartman," at least based on what I've read so far.

Meyers gives the flinty San Francisco police inspector a family, which is more than the films ever did, outside of a reference to Harry's late wife in DIRTY HARRY. Here, he flies to Boston at the urging of his first cousin, Linda Donovan, who fears her 20-year-old daughter Shanna, a volunteer at the local Unitarian church, may be the next victim of a serial killer who made Shanna's friend Judy his first victim. Callahan, who isn't exactly the nostalgic or friendly type, hasn't seen these family members, who may be his only living relatives, in over ten years, and isn't looking forward to the reunion, but, down deep, he figures when family needs help, he has to pitch in.

FAMILY SKELETONS is more complex than other Dirty Harry adventures, which is fine. The Scooby-Doo twist ending is kinkier than anything in the films, and feels like something Meyers pulled out of his ass last-minute (though I know he didn't). It is exciting and poignant, however. Callahan does a lot more cursing in the book than he ever did on screen, though his disregard for authority remains a constant.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Die Spinne

The Death Merchant battles Nazis in THE IRON SWASTIKA PLOT, just two entries after encountering them in the Brazilian rain forest in the excellent THE MATO GROSSO HORROR. I prefer the Death Merchant's pulpier plots to the tales of him fighting the Mafia, if only for the change of pace.

These Nazis, which turn out to be associated with the baddies of THE MATO GROSSO HORROR, are part of a network called Die Spinne—The Spider. The organization has discovered the location of a sunken Nazi submarine in the Atlantic near the Falkland Islands. It reportedly contains not just $2 billion in Nazi gold and diamonds, but also secret papers containing the names of Nazi sympathizers all over the world who could finally be brought to justice.

At the same time The Spider learns of the sub's whereabouts, so do the CIA, which pays freelancer Richard Camellion his customary $100,000 fee to take a team underwater and salvage the treasure before Die Spinne can arrive.

I've read enough of these to comfortably fall into author Joseph Rosenberger's routine by now. Characterization is nil, and graphic descriptions of bullets entering bodies and explosions blasting off limbs prevail. The Death Merchant differs from most other men's adventure characters in that he isn't psychotic or even particularly unfriendly. He's just a guy being paid to do a job, which he does better than anyone else in the world. If you're comfortable with action setpieces that take up half a 178-page book, you can't go wrong with the Death Merchant.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Misses By That Much

THE NUDE BOMB was ahead of its time in one way. In 1979, when it was filmed, it was extremely unusual for Hollywood to remake old television shows as motion pictures, and even more rare for the film to reunite the original cast and/or creators. When THE NUDE BOMB, which brings Don Adams as GET SMART's bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart to the big screen, was being filmed, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was just preparing for its national release—and that film was considered a sure hit, because of STAR TREK's rabid fan base. While GET SMART had been a successful sitcom—four seasons on NBC and one on CBS—and had been in syndicated reruns for the ten years since its 1970 cancellation, it still seems to have been an unusual choice for a big-screen revamp.

Where Universal went right with THE NUDE BOMB was to bring back Adams, of course, as well as Leonard B. Stern and Arne Sultan, who were valuable writers and producers of the GET SMART series and penned the screenplay along with Bill Dana, a talented actor, comedian and writer who "discovered" Adams when the young standup comic portrayed a clumsy detective on the 1963 sitcom THE BILL DANA SHOW. Where the studio screwed up is not bringing back everybody else involved with the series. Actor Edward Platt, who portrayed the beleaguered Chief of CONTROL, was dead, but the absence of Barbara Feldon, the fine comedienne who played "straight woman" to Adams, is a glaring goof-up. I'm perplexed why Feldon didn't co-star in THE NUDE BOMB—she claims she was never offered the part of Max's sexy sidekick (and eventual wife) Agent 99—and the three actresses hired to replace her—Andrea Howard (as Agent 22), Sylvia Kristel (as Agent 34) and Pamela Hensley (as Agent 35)—beautiful as they may be, don't add up to 99.

Oddly, not even CONTROL is featured in THE NUDE BOMB. Now, Smart (Agent 86, of course) works for an organization called PITS, and it's unclear whether the Chief (now played by Dana Elcar) is supposed to be the same character who ran CONTROL in the 1960s. THE NUDE BOMB is not a successful film, but it almost works somehow. Adams steps back into character smoothly enough, but the script lacks the wit and satire of the TV show. Whereas GET SMART creators Buck Henry and Mel Brooks were spoofing the incompetence of the CIA and government, THE NUDE BOMB is content to mock James Bond movies, which were already gross parodies of themselves at this point (the execrable MOONRAKER, which THE NUDE BOMB's opening copies, came out the year before). The intent is clear from the opening titles, which play behind a terrible Bondian theme song, penned by Don Black and Lalo Schifrin and performed by Merry Clayton, that has nothing to do with GET SMART and everything to do with mocking 007. Would you believe the memorable Irving Szathmary theme from the TV series isn't reprised once in Schifrin's score?

Smart is the only agent who can save the world after mad fashion designer St. Sauvage (Vittorio Gassman) creates missiles that destroy all fabrics and threatens to force the world to face its own nekkiditity if the United Nations doesn't pay up. Someone inside PITS is a double agent feeding inside info to St. Sauvage's one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged assassin, Nino Salvatore Sebastiani (also Gassman), who keeps failing in his efforts to bump off Smart. Without 99 by his side, the Chief gives Max a squad of assistants, including the three sexpots mentioned earlier, brother/sister computer experts (Gary Imhoff, Sarah Rush) and Q stand-in Carruthers (Norman Lloyd).

More money for stunts, special effects and locations might have helped director Clive Donner open GET SMART up for the big screen. A big chase scene through the Universal Studios theme park comes back to bite Donner later, when another chase that's supposed to be set someplace else is also obviously filmed on the Universal lot. The plot takes 86 to Austria, Washington, D.C. and New York City, though the film clearly never leaves Southern California. Likewise, the big action setpiece that closes the movie has the germ of a good idea—clones of Sauvage and Smart fighting each other in an exploding laboratory—but obvious doubles and lethargic staging fail to give the climax the pizzazz it needs.

THE NUDE BOMB was shown on television (and possibly home video) as THE RETURN OF MAXWELL SMART. It's not very good, but GET SMART, AGAIN!, a made-for-television reunion made for ABC in 1989, is. Unlike THE NUDE BOMB, the TV-movie was smart enough to bring back Feldon as 99, as well as fellow GET SMART actors Bernie Kopell (as KAOS baddie Siegfried), Dick Gautier (as robot Hymie), King Moody (Shtarker) and Dave Ketchum (Joey Forman played the part of Agent 13 in THE NUDE BOMB). Besides Adams, Robert Karvelas as Larrabee is the only GET SMART actor to appear in both film sequels.

Adams and Feldon returned to their most famous television roles in—what else—GET SMART, which was the title of a shortlived Fox sitcom in 1995 that cast Andy Dick (NEWSRADIO) as the Smarts' bumbling secret agent son Zach and teamed him with sexy but smart agent 66 (Elaine Hendrix). Sound familiar? Adams, who served in the Marines and fought at Guadalcanal during World War II, died in 2005, but his legacy lives on, not just in syndication and on DVD (the original GET SMART series, the Fox series, THE NUDE BOMB and GET SMART, AGAIN! are all available), but also in the 2008 "reimagining," which stars THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN's Steve Carell as Smart, Anne Hathaway (THE PRINCESS DIARIES) as 99, Alan Arkin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) as the Chief and Terence Stamp (THE LIMEY) as the Chief.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Slam Evil

Paramount's entertainingly old-fashioned PG adventure is based on the 1936 King Features comic strip hero created by Lee Falk. The masked, purple-garbed Phantom, known as The Ghost Who Walks by the local natives who believe him to be immortal, has patrolled the African jungles for over 400 years, protecting the area from poachers, thieves, killers and supernatural forces. The Phantom is not really immortal, however; the mantle (and costume) of the Phantom is merely passed down from generation to generation. Billy Zane, who projects appropriate earnestness, athleticism and joy at being a costumed hero (if little else), plays the Phantom of 1936, the 21st Ghost Who Walks, while television legend Patrick McGoohan appears in spirit form as Zane's father, Phantom #20, who dispenses advice.

The Phantom becomes involved in a plot by New York businessman Xander Drax (Treat Williams) to track down three mythical skulls--made of gold, bronze and brass--containing mystical powers that Drax can use to rule the world. Kristy Swanson (the original BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) is Diana Palmer, perky niece of a New York newspaper owner who becomes involved in stopping Drax's plan and with the Phantom. Pirates, kidnappers, mobsters in pinstriped suits, sharks, fuel-depleted seaplanes and many other obstacles stand between the Phantom and his quest to prevent Drax's evil scheme, but he manages to pull through with daring aplomb.

Jeffrey Boam's screenplay is very reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films and THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. (he also wrote for those franchises), but remains faithful to the Phantom legend that predates most other superheroes more familiar to today's audiences (though Bob Kane and Bill Finger's Batman owes a great allegiance to him). THE PHANTOM is a beautiful film that owes a great debt to its Australian and Thai locations, and the costumes and production design that turn the Paramount lot into 1930s New York City are equally plush. Matter of fact, outside of Christopher Reeve as Superman, Zane's costume is the most attractive and believable I've ever seen on a filmed superhero, and the actor looks plausible behind the black mask and purple rubber. Those who claim that superhero costumes that look cool in the funny books, but silly in the "real world," need to look closely at Marlene Stewart's wardrobe skills here.

THE PHANTOM is the movie I wish the Batman films could be, and I like it better than any of those pictures. It's light, exciting, old-school adventure with a rousing David Newman score and a joie de vivre missing from contemporary comic book adaptations. Williams camps it up too much, making his megalomaniac more entertaining than intimidating, but he's capably aided by Catherine Zeta-Jones in her first big Hollywood film. THE PHANTOM is where I first saw her, and I predicted she would be both a major star and a terrific Bond girl. Well, I wasn't half bad.

Pegged as Paramount's big action blockbuster in the summer of 1996, THE PHANTOM was a bust, which I attribute to its awful "Slam Evil" marketing campaign. A money-loser in '96, it's a film worth reevaluating in the midst of Hollywood's current infatuation with comic book heroics. James Remar, Casey Siemaszko, Bill Smitrovich, Samantha Eggar and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa round out the spirited supporting cast.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Wolf Leaves The Pack

The Lone Wolf inhabited paperback book shelves beginning in 1973, when author Barry Malzberg penned the first of fourteen quickie adventures for Berkley Medallion. Later entries were set in San Francisco and Las Vegas, but the Lone Wolf's origin takes place in New York City.

Malzberg, writing as Mike Barry, dispenses with all backstory during a 3 ½-page prologue. Burt Wulff was a Vietnam vet and a New York narcotics cop whose hard nose and no-graft policy forced the politicians on the police force to bust him back to squad car duty. His first night riding with black rookie David Williams, Wulff receives an anonymous tip directing him to a dead girl in a brownstone, a victim of a fatal overdose. The girl is Wulff's fiancĂ©, Marie Calvante. Convinced she was murdered by conspirators within both the department and the mob, Wulff walks away from his job and dedicates his existence to destroying the drug trade, one body at a time, if he has to.

In NIGHT RAIDER, Wulff begins at the bottom, ambushing a pair of low-life pushers and torturing them into revealing their connections. After murdering them, Wulff climbs the ladder until he reaches the top, killing more mobsters and destroying their homes and goods along the way. No question about it—Wulff is obsessed. The Lone Wolf's only ally is Williams, whom he barely knows, but still reveals a willingness to help Wulff operate outside the law.

Barry maintains a sense of continuity throughout the Lone Wolf series, which he wrote for only two years. NIGHT RAIDER closes with a clue to Wulff's next destination: San Francisco. I recently added almost all the Lone Wolf novels to my collection, including the finale, #14, and I look forward to following Wulff on his journey.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Happy Friday The 13th



Last year at this time (well, around Friday the 13th), I was in the middle of my FRIDAY THE 13TH marathon. Click here to read those 11 (!) posts.

Lobo’s Revenge

07 Lobo's Revenge
April 7, 1979
Music: William Broughton
Teleplay: Michael Sloan
Story: Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim
Director: Bruce Bilson

Bruce Bilson, who directed BJ AND THE BEAR's pilot episode about truck driver BJ McKay (Greg Evigan) going up against a white slavery ring run by Orly County's sheriff Elroy Lobo (Claude Akins), returns for this sequel (Lobo also menaced BJ in "Odyssey of the Shady Truth," the first regular BJ AND THE BEAR episode). By now, Lobo and his bumbling deputy Perkins (Mills Watson) are firmly established as cartoon characters whose attempts at harassing BJ rival Wile E. Coyote's against the Roadrunner.

Lobo, whose department is in serious debt after crashing 19 police cars and rebuilding the jail after his last tangle with BJ, wants revenge and sends Perkins to kidnap Bear in order to lure BJ back to Orly. Perkins' initial attempts, which find him getting beaten up by a mountainous newlywed and busted for dressing in drag (he was attempting to fool BJ into rescuing a damsel in distress with car trouble), fail, but he eventually snags Bear, and BJ naturally follows. Knowing there's no way he can force Lobo to return Bear—and knowing that if he even spits on the sidewalk, Lobo will have him arrested—BJ pulls a series of pranks on Lobo that he hopes will drive the beefy lawman crazy.

Nothing more than good, clean, lighthearted fun, "Lobo's Revenge" finds Akins and Watson in fine form, as the two knuckleheads play off one another quite well. It's sort of like a Gilligan/Skipper relationship, if the Skipper was an avaricious crook. Evigan also has a good time, primarily in later scenes where BJ appears to be enjoying Lobo's clumsy attempt to frame him for a bank robbery that the sheriff himself committed.

Katherine Moffat, billed as Kitty Ruth, reprises Jo Ann Harris' role of Barbara Sue from "Odyssey of the Shady Truth," while Dennis Burkley plays slightly against type for once as Orly's banker (he pretty much plays Burkley in a three-piece suit, but it's still a welcome change). Brion James is seen briefly as Perkins' arresting officer. Michael Sloan, who wrote the bulk of BJ's first season, collaborated on the story with Richard Lindheim, who was the show's co-producer.

Bruce Bilson, who returned a few weeks later to direct Akins, Evigan and company again in "Lobo," was the epitome of a television craftsman. He began as an assistant director in the 1950s, and made his directing debut with THE PATTY DUKE SHOW's third-season premiere in 1965. He directed hundreds of TV shows and movies, but made only one feature film in his fifty-year career, the underperforming CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO in 1984. His writer/producer son Danny Bilson (THE FLASH) and his actress granddaughter Rachel (THE O.C.) also have found success in television.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The T.J. Hooker Pilot In 50 Seconds

Sorry For Slacking

I'm a little behind on my posting this week, and probably will be for another couple of weeks. Lots going on that's taking up my time, most of it house-buying. Tomorrow afternoon, I close on my first house, and I've been spending my evenings (and some afternoons) making phone calls, attending meetings, arranging financing, dotting i's and crossing t's. Pretty stressful stuff, and thankfully over soon.

Monday, June 09, 2008

One Lone Soldato

1972's SOLDATO! is the origin of Johnny Morini, who starred in five Lancer paperbacks during the mid-1970s. Morini was created by Philadelphia native Marvin H. Albert, who used the name Al Conroy on his Soldato books and many others (sometimes Albert Conroy). It should also be said that the Conroy moniker was used on all five Soldato novels, even though a couple of them appear to have been ghosted by author Gil Brewer. Albert wrote a lot of stuff in different genres and media, including screenplays, and you can learn more about him here.

SOLDATO! is a darn good action story about Morini, an ex-Mob enforcer who became sickened by his evil world and testified against his don, Renzo Cappellani. Don Renzo was eventually acquitted and swore revenge against the traitorous Morini, who went into the witness protection program, courtesy of a U.S. attorney named Riley.

In Morini's new life, he's the proprietor of a general store in a tiny Arizona town and newly married to Mary. Despite Riley's assurance of safety forever, a shady private eye in Cappellani's employ manages to track Morini down after two years of searching, leading to a lengthy action setpiece in the mountainous desert against two Mafia gunsels. After dispatching his pursuers, Johnny brings Mary back to New York City, where he sets about killing Don Renzo on his home turf.

Inspired, obviously, by the Executioner and perhaps the Butcher (also an ex-mobster gone straight), SOLDATO! is a crackling actioner with good plotting and an interesting protagonist. I also liked MURDER MISSION, #4 in the series, and BLOOD RUN, #5, somewhat, although that finale (which may have been penned by Gil Brewer) fell too far off the beaten path.

Never Give A Trucker An Even Break

06 Never Give a Trucker an Even Break
March 24, 1979
Music: Peter Ivers
Teleplay: Frank Lupo
Story: Frank Lupo and Richard Lindheim
Director: Christian I. Nyby II

This substandard episode of BJ AND THE BEAR is notable for the early, tragic deaths of two of its creative personnel. The score was composed by Peter Ivers, who seems to have been an odd choice to hire for a series like BJ AND THE BEAR. Ivers was a prominent New England-based New Wave musician who hung out with the National Lampoon crowd and penned a song for David Lynch to use in his debut feature, the midnight hit ERASERHEAD. Prior to BJ, Ivers was hired by Ron Howard and/or Roger Corman to score Howard's directorial debut, the drive-in car-crash comedy GRAND THEFT AUTO. I was unaware before now that Ivers had ever worked in episodic television. He was murdered in Los Angeles in 1983.

Guest actress Angela Aames was only 32 years old when she died of heart failure in 1988. Blessed—or cursed, depending upon how one looks at it—with an eye-popping curvaceous figure, Aames bounced between episodic television and exploitation films, almost always playing a sexy girl with little else to offer beyond her breasts. H.O.T.S. (notorious for its topless touch football game) and Jim Wynorski's THE LOST EMPIRE provided her with her most prominent roles, even though they, too, asked her to jiggle for her paycheck.

In "Never Give a Trucker an Even Break," Aames gets plenty of screen time, but little character development (par for the course for this series), as Charisse, the secretary to con man Aaron Wainwright (Beau Kayser), a shady promoter who books a stunt motorcycle rider for a carnival, planning to skip to Mexico with the profits, rather than give it to charity as promised. BJ (Greg Evigan) becomes involved when he agrees to transport the stuntwoman, Tara (Cassie Yates), and her gear to the site, only to discover that Aaron is his old Vietnam buddy. Two gunsels from Aaron's past stick their nose in as well, leading to a wild chase scene along some oceanside cliffs.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Got A Buyer For The Books

Thanks, everyone, for your indulgence.

Who Wants An Instant Paperback Collection?

I'm going to be moving soon, so I've been packing up all my books. I've set aside one box of books that are either doubles in my collection or to be discarded. I'd rather not throw them away, and I'm certain my local library doesn't want them. If you do, just email me. I'm willing to give them away free, if you don't mind paying shipping, which will be about $20 Media Mail. There's probably about 100 books in there: Sharpshooter, Death Merchant, Penetrator, Butcher, Tobin's War and many others. First come, first serve, so whoever e-mails me first and says he/she wants them, you get them. We'll trade addresses, PayPal info, etc. offline.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Kazoo Kazoo

I WONDER WHO’S KILLING HER NOW? is something of a discovery. Mixing dabs of Second City, THE MONKEES, Monty Python and early Woody Allen (the screenplay was written by Mickey Rose, who penned BANANAS and TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN), this inexpensive comedy is a silly and often very funny compendium of sight gags, clever wordplay and goofy accents. I remember it used to play a lot on television and was later released on VHS with an unappealing box with costar Bill Dana’s face (no offense to Bill Dana's face) on it, so it probably never was rented out very much.

Bob Dishy, a New York actor with a background in musical comedy (and seen earlier this year on a LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT), plays a rare film lead as Jordan Oliver, an embezzling ne’er-do-well who plans to bump off his wife Clarisse (a game Joanna Barnes) for her life insurance. After hiring eccentric Captain Bobo (Bill Dana) to do the job, Oliver learns that a mistake at the insurance company has resulted in Clarisse’s policy being invalid. Hoping to prevent his wife’s death, Oliver tracks down Bobo, who tells him that he has subcontracted the murder to someone else, who subcontracted someone else, who subcontracted…

The film’s biggest laughs result from Steven H. Stern (THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT) pointing his camera at his talented supporting cast and letting them do their schtick. In addition to Dana (doing a variation of his Jose Jimenez routine), the hired killers include Harvey Jason as an Indian musician, Jack DeLeon (whose flaming gay was a semi-regular on BARNEY MILLER) as a Lugosi-like mad scientist, George Memmoli (from the Ace Trucking Company) as his assistant in drag, Richard Libertini (THE IN-LAWS) as a CIA agent and Vito Scotti as an Italian in Mussolini’s army. Much of the funny business happens in one master shot, which makes Stern’s film often play like a typical mid-‘70s TV variety show.

As is often the case with gag-a-minute films, I WONDER WHO’S KILLING HER NOW? peters out before its 84 minutes are up (the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker comedies usually do this too), but don’t let this stop you from checking out this unsung comedy, which is available on DVD from Mills Creek in one of those 50-movie box sets. Also with Jay Robinson as a hammy actor (great casting there), Ian Wolfe as a sarcastic butler, Severn Darden (in three roles), Steve Franken, Angelo Rossitto, Albert Cole and Pat Morita. Rose tackled the same sort of material in his directorial debut, the slasher-movie spoof STUDENT BODIES, which suffered from not having a cast nearly this good.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Agency Zero

The Big Brain is Colin Garrett, a super-genius who was orphaned at age ten after his parents were killed in an automobile accident. After whizzing through school and university, he joined the Army, but eventually discovered his intelligence was wasted in an organization seemingly built around politics and incompetence.

Years later, his former C.O., Jefferson Judd, contacts Garrett and asks for his help solving a strange mystery. In Washington state, at a secret Army base, three scientists awakened one morning in a complete vegetative state. All three were working on a project known only as Aardvark, which Judd claims is an experiment using lasers technology to change barren soil into land ripe for growing crops. Garrett's assignment is to discover what happened to the scientists.

Structured as a mystery, rather than an espionage adventure, the Big Brain series' first book, THE AARDVARK AFFAIR, published by Zebra Books in 1975, showcases a couple of decent action setpieces, but may as well have been a standard private-eye adventure. Gary Brandner's writing is crisp and clear, dropping a couple of interesting twists and trivial facts into the story. Outside of Garrett's status as the world's smartest man, there are few wild or audacious touches, although it's stated that his eyes change color when deep in thought.

Brandner, by the way, is probably best known as the author of the 1977 novel THE HOWLING, which was adapted into a hit movie in 1981, directed by Joe Dante. Brandner wrote two sequel novels, as well as the first film sequel, the awful HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, which I actually saw in 1986 when it played at the Co-Ed Theater in Champaign, Illinois. Outside of Christopher Lee being in it and the hilarious sight of Sybil Danning's topless scene being repeated over and over under the closing credits for no good reason whatsoever, I've blocked most memories of it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot...In Color

The Onion AV Club posts an interesting and favorable review of "Polynesiantown," the brilliant SCTV NETWORK 90 episode that inspired the title of this blog.

A Battle For Blood

Did you know about a blood type so rare that only eleven people in the world have it? It's called Bombay Blood, and ten of those people are slaughtered and drained of it in the first chapter of KINGDOM OF DEATH, which was, to the best of my knowledge, the seventh and last of Charter's TNT series of adventure paperbacks. #3, THE DEVIL'S CLAW, is the only novel that has eluded me so far, but I'm eager to catch up with it.

As I've said before, the TNT books, written by an unknown author calling himself "Doug Masters" and released during the early/mid-1980s, are just about the strangest books I've ever read. No concept is too far out or too tasteless for Masters, who began the series with a scene in which his hero is forced to have sex with several dozen mentally retarded teen and preteen girls. By those standards, KINGDOM OF DEATH, like the previous entry, plays like an episode of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Anthony (Tony) Nicholas Twin, the star of the TNT books, is the dullest and least vivid, whereas Arnold Benedict, the effete millionaire who sends the reluctant Twin on his missions, has progressed (regressed?) from a sadistic pedophile to an eccentric, germophobic snob.

Benedict, acting upon a request from prominent politician Adlai Mayflower, recruits Twin to find the masked terrorist code-named Cancer who is stockpiling all the world's Bombay Blood and threatening to destroy a bottle of it every four hours until his demands are met. The only surviving person with that blood type is Mayflower's hemophilic young great-grandson.

Twin, who was given enhanced strength, stamina, sight and hearing powers after he was caught in a nuclear explosion in TNT, is teamed with a supporting cast this time around, including the Titan, the bizarre 300-pound Russian strongman with pink bows in his beard who dresses in drag and rides elephants in this adventure.

Despite being slightly more mainstream than the earlier TNT novels, this is just about the only story I can imagine that could feature Twin battling a zombie Josef Stalin (really!) and it not be the weirdest thing that happens in it.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Coffin With A View

04 A Coffin with a View
March 10, 1979
Music: William Broughton
Writer: Michael Sloan
Director: Ray Austin

BJ AND THE BEAR has fun sending up horror movies in this episode that guest-stars legendary thespian John Carradine as an addled old caretaker of a Transylvanian cemetery. Hollywood producer Holly Tremaine (Pamela Hensley) hires BJ (Greg Evigan) to transport two coffins filled with Transylvanian dirt from the San Francisco waterfront to Los Angeles, where they'll be used as publicity for Holly's new vampire movie FANGS. As BJ, Holly and Bear travel the backroads on a dark and stormy night, a pair of mysterious murders occur in which the exsanguinated victims are found with puncture marks on their necks. Vampires? Impossible, right? But how does one explain the appearance of hitchhiker Paul Desmond (George Lazenby), whom BJ picks up in the forest in a bone-dry tuxedo on a rainy night?

The strangest thing about the episode is its use of Carradine, whose extensive horror credits date as far back as the 1930s (he had actually played Count Dracula in Universal's 1944 HOUSE OF DRACULA and in a 1956 MATINEE THEATER TV play). "Special Guest Star" Foster Brooks (whose alcoholic standup routine was very popular in the 1970s) plays Terry Morgan, a hammy horror actor who enjoys tipping the bottle and performing impromptu monologues before bar crowds. In effect, Brooks is playing John Carradine, and I wonder why Carradine didn't play the role. I'd cite health concerns (always a factor with Carradine at this stage of his life), but he and Brooks have roughly the same amount of screen time.

One thing about ol' BJ: he surely does know where to find the hottest ladies. Hensley was also appearing as the sensuous Princess Ardala on another Universal series, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY, when she made "A Coffin with a View." One of the '70s sexiest leading ladies (I know that's getting repetitive, but it's true), Hensley retired from acting after marrying her MATT HOUSTON producer, E. Duke Vincent.

George Lazenby, the former 007 (ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE) who spent the '70s making Hong Kong action movies and Australian television shows, worked again with Sloan and director Ray Austin (THE AVENGERS) on the 1985 TV reunion THE RETURN OF THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE 15-YEARS-LATER AFFAIR. Also appearing in this episode are veteran tough guy Jack Ging and 32-year-old Danny Glover, making his network television debut in an unbilled part as a TV reporter who interviews Hensley about her next movie.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Oozing Corpse

One thing I've noticed about the "hero" of Bruno Rossi's Sharpshooter novels. Although many of these men's adventure protagonists seem singleminded in their pursuit of violent justice, the Sharpshooter is downright psychotic. Johnny Rocetti aka Johnny Rock lives only to kill Mafioso. He eats, he sleeps, he sexes up women, but only out of basic animal needs. The only thing in the world Rock gives a shit about is killing mobsters. I mean, that's it. He's practically the most bloodthirsty hero I've read, and that tone is definitely carried out on Leisure Books' covers. Blood drenches nearly every corner of these scummy paperbacks, and "Rossi's" blunt force trauma of a writing style matches.

Several different authors are suspected of being Rossi at various times, but THE WORST WAY TO DIE is reportedly the work of Leonard Levinson, about whom I know nothing (but would like to). Published by Leisure in 1974, it finds Rock storming through Little Italy, where he's ambushed by a mobster he calls Snake Eyes, who roughs him up and sends him off to die. Only Rock escapes, and makes it to the home of an old family friend, a physician, who patches him up. The doctor's daughter, during Rock's recuperation, teaches him the art of makeup, which he uses to disguise himself as a homeless man (they were called bums back then), so he can sack out on the street and case the hangouts of his next targets.

Lots of violence, some blunt and unerotic sex, and plenty of gore mark this Sharpshooter adventure, which ends rather abruptly, as though Levinson/Rossi reached his deadline or his page count earlier than he expected.