Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Orly's Hot Skates

Orly’s Hot Skates
May 6, 1980
Music: John Andrew Tartaglia
Story: Richard Lindheim
Teleplay: Robert Feinberg & Howard Liebling
Director: Jack Arnold

THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO’s first-season finale aired six weeks after the previous episode. Because of the 1980 Writer’s Guild strike, the next episode wouldn’t air until December with a major format change to go with it.

For the final episode set in Orly County, deputies Birdie (Brian Kerwin) and Perkins (Mills Watson) dress in drag to infiltrate the Miami Maulers roller derby team. Perkins is devastated at the thought of losing his beloved mustache, but rooming with comely skater Marti (April Clough) makes up for it. And why are Orly’s finest, along with waitress Margaret Ellen (Janet Curtis-Larson), undercover as roller derby stars? Why, to capture the armed robbers whose crimes coincide with the Marlins’ road schedule.

Obviously, a willful suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy any LOBO episode, but asking us to buy Perkins and Birdie as female roller derby skaters is a whopper. And because it was the end of a season, it appears as though the budget was drained, leaving nothing for stunts or elaborate slapstick sequences. The story holds together better than most LOBOs do, however, and veteran director Jack Arnold creates a few inventive shots on and off the roller track to give the show some pizzazz.

Liberty Godshall, the beautiful actress who plays Rhonda, later married filmmaker Edward Zwick and went to work as a writer and producer on his TV series THIRTYSOMETHING and ONCE AND AGAIN. “Orly’s Hot Skates” was the last of three LOBO scripts penned by Robert Feinberg and Howard Liebling and the last LOBO directed by Arnold, who made his first film in 1950.

Friendly Double-Cross

Friendly Double-Cross
March 29, 1980
Music: William Broughton
Story: Frank Lupo
Teleplay: Robert L. McCullough
Director: Keith Atkinson

BJ AND THE BEAR ended its second season on NBC with a special appearance by soul group Sister Sledge, who sang their smash hit “We Are Family.” Its director was Keith Atkinson, an odd choice whose only other television credit was an episode of BJ executive producer Glen A. Larson’s THE HARDY BOYS MYSTERIES. Atkinson had earlier helmed two little-seen independent features, one of which was the documentary ARE YOU LISTENING?

BJ McKay (Greg Evigan) and Bear go to Miami to visit BJ’s Army buddy from Vietnam, Charlie Broler (77 SUNSET STRIP’s Edd Byrnes), who runs a helicopter charter service. After introducing BJ to Sister Sledge and his girlfriend Noreen (Andrea Howard, in THE NUDE BOMB that summer) at the local disco, Charlie splits to handle a last-minute charter. A few hours later, his chopper is found wrecked in the ocean, and BJ teams up with local cop Georgie Thayer (Maggie Cooper) to investigate.

McCullough’s teleplay is one of the most laidback of a very laidback series. The plot takes a backseat to frothy scenes that have nothing to do with the murder investigation. At one point, BJ and Georgie leave a stakeout to round up a loose alligator—a fun scene that lets Evigan and Cooper adlib with a frisky gator. It was the end of the season, and likely the cast and crew were too bushed to pay much attention to plot points. Atkinson handles the action beats well enough, including a dive over the railing of a steamship and a tight two-on-one fight scene in Charlie’s apartment.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I'll Have My Revenge And Deathstalker II

Shout Factory's latest in its Roger Corman's Cult Classic series is a pretty damn good deal: four movies for the price of one. The SWORD AND SORCERY COLLECTION gives you DEATHSTALKER, DEATHSTALKER II: DUEL OF THE TITANS, THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS, and BARBARIAN QUEEN.

The latter two were previously released on their own Shout Factory disc, so to find out more about them, read my review from last fall.

Both DEATHSTALKER and its sequel saw DVD release on New Concorde discs, but in fuzzy full-frame prints that didn't do them much justice. For the first time since their initial theatrical releases in the 1980s, both films can be seen in their original aspect ratios--well, approximately, as the 1.85:1 ratios have been transferred at 1.78:1 for widescreen TVs, but this is pretty standard in the industry and, honestly, doesn't hurt these films any.

If you’re curious as to how many different monsters, swordfights, and nude women Roger Corman can stuff into an 80-minute movie, DEATHSTALKER is a great place to start keeping tally. Shot in Argentina to capitalize on the success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN, DEATHSTALKER stars TV actor Richard Hill (TODAY’S F.B.I.) as, er, Deathstalker, an arrogant warrior who urged by an ousted king to overthrow evil wizard Munkar (Bernard Erhard), who has kidnapped the king’s nubile daughter Codille (famous PLAYBOY Playmate Barbi Benton, also in HOSPITAL MASSACRE).

Munkar terrorizes the land with a magic amulet and chalice, and needs only Deathstalker’s mystical sword to become completely unstoppable. With traveling companions Oghris (Richard Brooker, who wore the hockey mask in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3) and Kaira (the late Lana Clarkson), who enjoys swordfighting while topless, Deathstalker invades Munkar’s celebration and volunteers to fight in the ruler’s competition to become the land’s greatest warrior. Munkar’s plan is actually pretty clever; after all but one competitor have died in the arena, he’ll kill the winner, ensuring that no badasses are left alive to threaten his reign.

Director James Sbardellati (who took his name off the film) and writer Howard Cohen surprisingly play it all straight, which just makes the movie funnier. I don’t know how they expected us not to giggle at the rubber hand puppet that subsists on human fingers, the giant pig man that battles Deathstalker, or the lengths to which they go to show another gratuitously nude woman. With Corman as executive producer, DEATHSTALKER is never boring and is one of New World’s most entertaining trash classics of the ‘80s. Counting Benton’s lines is great fun; I think her ratio of boob shots to spoken words is close to even.

Corman may not have, but Jim Wynorski realized how silly DEATHSTALKER was. When he was hired to direct the sequel (also in Argentina), he camped it up, casting the non-buff John Terlesky as the hero and piling anachronisms, jokes, and puns on top of the action and nudity.

Deathstalker rescues cute seer Reena (super-sexy Monique Gabrielle) from perverts and becomes convinced by her that treasure lies at the castle of Princess Evie. What she fails to let on is that she actually is Evie, who was deposed by ruthless sorcerer Jurak (John LaZar aka Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell!) and replaced by a sexy evil clone (also Gabrielle). The road to the castle is a dangerous one, filled with assassins, exploding midgets, zombies, boobytrapped crypts, 300-pound female wrestlers, an army of scantily-clad Amazons, and plenty of anachronistic gags ripped from Bugs Bunny, Abbott & Costello, and even HAWAII FIVE-0.

LaZar (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and Toni Naples as his sultry sidekick are appropriately over-the-top antagonists, while Terlesky and Gabrielle, while decidedly lightweight as performers, milk the spoofy material for all it’s worth.

Meanwhile, the action and swordfighting (and bevy of beautiful damsels) are handled quite well by Wynorski, including a climatic battle choreographed by Terlesky himself, and Gabrielle provides a much-needed nude scene. Chuck Cirino’s score may have been composed and performed in haste (he didn’t see the film; he just wrote cues that were spliced in later by editor Steve Barnett), but it’s energetically cheesy with a catchy theme that sticks in your head.

Both DEATHSTALKERs are fun viewing for different reasons. Both are presented in their original theatrical cuts. For DEATHSTALKER, that means it's three minutes longer than the New Concorde DVD (I don't know what has been added). DEATHSTALKER II is more than ten minutes shorter than the original DVD. That's because Shout Factory has assembled Wynorski's preferred Director's Cut which eliminates redundant scenes and stock footage added to DEATHSTALKER II for TV airings.

A trailer for each film is included as an extra, as is a DEATHSTALKER photo gallery. The informative and often hilarious DEATHSTALKER II commentary track featuring Wynorski, Naples, and Terlesky is ported over from the New Concorde DVD and is well worth viewing.

As for DEATHSTALKER, Shout Factory once again put the inept Bill Olsen on a commentary track, this time with DEATHSTALKER director Sbardelletti, makeup FX man John Buechler, and actor Brooker. If you have fifty questions about the production and distribution of this movie, you'll still have 49 of them after listening to the commentary. It's not the filmmakers' fault--they're enthusiastic--but Olsen is just miserable. He neglects even the most obvious questions, such as "why did Sbardelletti take his name off the picture?", "why doesn't Barbi Benton have more than a couple of lines of dialogue?", "why did Roger Corman shoot in Argentina?" Writer Howard Cohen is ignored. The film's marketing and distribution is ignored. It's implied that Sbardelletti quit or was fired during production or post-production, but no one follows up on this. Olsen finds time to ask three times, "Did (star) Richard Hill enjoy doing this?", which inevitably leads to a sarcastic "No, he hated it" reply. I honestly don't know why Shout Factory, which clearly knows how to produce a quality DVD and wants to do a good job, continues using the Olsen brothers on their commentaries.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Flesh-Eaters

I did not enjoy Barney Cohen's second novel as much as his first, even though it has a seemingly foolproof premise.

Remember all those urban legends about alligators living in the New York City sewers, the progeny of all those pet baby gators that parents flushed down their toilets? Writer John Sayles and director Lewis Teague made a terrific thriller from this premise. However, Cohen comes at it from a different direction in his 1977 Berkley Medallion novel THE NIGHT OF THE TOY DRAGONS. Instead of one big alligator roaming the series, how about a million little bitty gators?

TOY DRAGONS has some nifty gory attack scenes and isn't afraid to bump off a few kids. However, the excitement is infrequently spaced throughout, as Cohen splits time between a college professor investigating the cause of the grisly deaths, in which bodies are stripped of their skin and innerds, and his sewer-worker father and their respective romantic subplots. A lot of the book is technical mumbo-jumbo from the professor and his staff.

It ends quite abruptly too after 218 pages, as if Cohen had hit his word limit. Just as the danger is branching out to the city streets, Cohen whips out a deux es machina and concludes the action off-page. Why he didn't cut some of the domestic soap opera and dull lab scenes and include more action, I don't know.

Despite its cool premise, THE NIGHT OF THE TOY DRAGONS is, sadly, a disappointment. Learn more about author Cohen here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

All Hell Breaks Loose

Well, you certainly can’t accuse DRIVE ANGRY of playing it safe.

It’s a real mess, but kind of a gutsy one that isn’t afraid to not only be batshit ridiculous, but also wear its absurdities on its sleeve. Director Patrick Lussier and his co-writer Todd Farmer, who previously collaborated on the entertaining MY BLOODY VALENTINE remake, drench the screen with a palette of blood, naked women, car chases, tough talk, ripe performances, and supernatural mumbo-jumbo that’s difficult to resist. Wandering around amid the thriller’s excesses is a wryly undercooked bit by the always excellent William Fichtner (PRISON BREAK) that seems to know even more than its director does how silly it all is.

Nicolas Cage, who abandoned all pretense of being a good, not to mention serious, actor a long time ago, is in top paycheck mode as Milton, a somewhat greasy guy whose determination to rescue his granddaughter from Satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) has him mowing down half the hoods in the South. Along for the ride, after Milton rescues her from her dimwit two-timing fiancé (played by Farmer, who more or less reprises his VALENTINE role), is trash-mouthed waitress Piper (Amber Heard, coming to network TV this fall in THE PLAYBOY CLUB), who comes along to both give the predominantly male audience something nice to look at and ask Milton the appropriate questions about his backstory.

Surprisingly, Lussier and Farmer save Milton’s crazy personal history for the end, though blunt hints are laid down by the presence of the Accountant (Fichtner), a bounty hunter or agent of some sort with amazing recuperative powers and a determination to capture Milton that rivals his target’s own.

Too much of a mess is rarely a good thing, and what holds DRIVE ANGRY back from being more than a silly romp is Lussier’s unsteady direction. He rarely appears in control of his own movie, though he deserves some consideration for holding down Cage, who treats his role like a professional and resists any urge to show the camera how dumb it is.

However, DRIVE ANGRY is better than most contemporary action movies, and its cheeky sense of humor and raucous style make it perfect drive-in fare. It was a box-office flop in February, a testament to audiences' fatigue with trashy Nicolas Cage movies and perhaps Summit Entertainment's lazy marketing strategy, which disguised the film's horror elements.

It’s nice to see David Morse (TREME) pop up in the third act with a typically gentle performance that helps bring Cage down to Earth. It’s also nice to see more of Charlotte Ross (NYPD BLUE) than I’ve ever seen before.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Is Back

DRAGNET 1968 was not the first tie-in novel based on Jack Webb's pioneering radio and television creation, but it was the first based on the show's 1960s continuation. Actor/director Webb began DRAGNET as a 1949 radio program, bringing it to NBC-TV for an eight-season run in 1951. Enormously popular and influential on many films and television series that followed, DRAGNET returned to NBC in 1967, barely changed at all outside of its shift to color and the addition of Harry Morgan (DECEMBER BRIDE) as Joe Friday's new partner.

One of the new series' busiest writers was David H. Vowell, whose background was in news and documentaries; his environmentally conscious SAY GOODBYE received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature in 1971. Even though it was strangely unusual for television writers to also pen the tie-in novels of their shows, Popular Library picked Vowell for DRAGNET 1968. He wrote the notorious episode "The Big High"--the one about the young couple whose baby drowns in the bathtub while they're smoking marijuana--and it's no surprise that Pot In Suburbia is also the theme of his book.

Allegedly based on actual events, like the TV show, DRAGNET 1968 is about Friday and Gannon's (the detectives played by Webb and Morgan on TV) investigation of the suicide of a fifteen-year-old girl they had found in an alley on a Sunday morning. What we know that the cops don't is that she had been a guest at Frank Coffee's pot party the night before, where an acid trip spurred her to scratch bloody streaks into her face and arms with her fingernails. Wanting to be rid of her, Frank's guest Stuart Allen (a typically-for-DRAGNET unsympathetic gay character) dumps her in the alley for the cops to find.

Only 132 pages plus an appendix, DRAGNET 1968 is unusual in that it doesn't stick to the detectives' point of view, which was the show's style. Vowell puts us in the head of not only Allen and Coffee, but also Frank's teenage son Bob, whose exposure to his parents' casual drug use sets him up for trouble of his own.

Frankly, this material is less interesting and not what anyone buying a DRAGNET novel wants to read. The series thrived on the matter-of-fact portrayal of police methods, and when Vowell sticks Friday and Gannon's plodding, the book works well. Maybe Vowell didn't think he could stretch the investigation to book-length, though I wish he had tried.

The other problem is that the plot may be interesting enough for a half-hour TV episode, but it's more than a little lackadaisical for a novel. The cover blurb of "a bizarre menace stalking Los Angeles" is not really representative of the book's focus on a middle-aged businessman who drops acid in his living room.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hung By The Thumbs

I think I'm about done with Pinnacle's Dakota series. 1975's CHAIN REACTION, the fifth in Gilbert Ralston's series, is so dull that I could hardly finish it. Really, I spent the last chapter and a half speed-reading, even though this is where the allegedly thrilling climax occurred.

Ralston spent the 1960s and the first part of the 1970s as one of television's busiest writers, penning episodes of major dramas and adventures like HAWAII FIVE-0, I SPY, GUNSMOKE, STAR TREK, and THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR. He also penned the screenplays for WILLARD and its sequel BEN, which were based on his novel about A Boy and His Rat.

By the time he created Dakota, a Native American private eye, Ralston appears to have left Hollywood behind to churn out cheap paperback novels. Unfortunately, CHAIN REACTION reads like a rejected MANNIX script. It lacks excitement and mystery, the cast of characters is ridiculously and confusingly large, and many scenes exist of filler dialogue telling us stuff we either already know or don't care about. Sort of if a writer was trying to stretch a 50-minute screenplay to a 180-page manuscript.

CHAIN REACTION starts promisingly about the murder of an Indian woman who is found in an abandoned house, tortured and hung by her thumbs until death. Her teenage daughter enlists the help of local private dick Dakota, who drags his best pal and the victim's two brothers to Oakland to investigate. Precious little action and lots of driving around occur.

I liked the first Dakota adventure okay, but two others that followed left me wanting.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Episode Guide: Walking Tall

This is an updated version of a post on my old Tripod blog dated 4/17/06.

The cinematic saga of Buford Pusser began in the winter of 1973, when the now-defunct Cinerama Releasing Corporation released WALKING TALL, a crude, simplistic, violent R-rated drama about an ex-Marine and pro wrestler who returned to the Tennessee county of his childhood and single-handedly wiped out organized crime. Joe Don Baker played Pusser, who was elected sheriff of McNairy County after a severe beating by hoodlums left him scarred and near death.

WALKING TALL struck a major chord with rural audiences, who turned it into one of the year’s most talked-about and financially successful films. Pusser planned to portray himself in the 1975 sequel, but he was killed in a mysterious auto accident, and 6’6” Bo Svenson was enlisted to play the lawman who “walks tall and carries a big stick” in two movies and a short-lived NBC television series.

WALKING TALL, the series, premiered the same month that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th U.S. President, which may have been too soon. The Reagan administration’s black-and-white views on law and order were an influence on dozens of violent, high-octane Hollywood action movies, many of them starring macho men like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Chuck Norris. But when NBC debuted WALKING TALL on January 17, 1981, audiences were still in the sensitive grip of the Carter era and perhaps weren’t quite prepared for a single-minded law enforcer who eschewed the civil rights of the accused if they stood in the way of what he considered to be justice.

Svenson, a familiar face to TV audiences from schlocky TV-movies like GOLD OF THE AMAZON WOMEN and SNOWBEAST, probably felt right at home with Sheriff Buford Pusser’s badge and “pacifier” (his term for the hefty four-foot club he carried in the back seat of his police car) in hand again. The show’s premise was just like that of the WALKING TALL movies in which Svenson had starred. He again was a widower who lived in McNeal (changed from McNairy) County, Tennessee with his father Carl (Walter Barnes, taking over for Noah Beery and Forrest Tucker), son Michael and daughter Dwana. McNeal was a small rural community where everybody knew everybody else, which didn’t make it as difficult as you would think for some of its citizens to get into trouble with the law and run afoul of Buford’s temper.

NBC scheduled WALKING TALL for 8:00pm Central on Saturday nights. Its CBS rival, the shortlived FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (also an action-oriented spinoff of a successful film), was no competition, but both series were slammed in the ratings by THE LOVE BOAT, which formed a Saturday-night juggernaut with FANTASY ISLAND for several years on ABC. After five episodes, the show was pulled, only to reappear six weeks later at 9:00pm on Tuesdays, where another smash ABC series, HART TO HART, buried it, this time for good. Only seven episodes of WALKING TALL were made, and all of them are available on DVD from Columbia/Tri-Star. Because I believe that no TV series should be forgotten, what follows is a somewhat comprehensive WALKING TALL episode guide. Print it out and keep it next to your remote.

Bo Svenson as Sheriff Buford Pusser
Walter Barnes as Carl Pusser
Harold Sylvester as Deputy Aaron Fairfax
Courtney Pledger as Deputy Joan Litton
Jeff Lester as Deputy Grady Spooner
Heather McAdam as Dwana Pusser
Rad Daly as Michael Pusser

Music: Edd Kalehoff
Cinematographer: William Gereghty
Editors: Bob Fish, Richard Freeman, Rod Stephens
Production Designer: Stan Jolley
Associate Producer: Stephen Cragg
Producer: Mel Swope
Executive Producer: David Gerber

“The Killing of McNeal County’s Children”
January 17, 1981
Writer: Stephen Downing
Director: Alf Kjellin
Guest Cast: Robert Englund, Charles McDaniel, Eric Stoltz, Whit Bissell.

Pusser investigates when two teenagers become brain-damaged after a few puffs of some powerful new PCP cigarettes. He threatens pusher Bobby Joe Wilson (Englund, later Freddy Krueger in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and is nearly killed when Wilson’s home lab explodes, but still fails to stop the ring led by oily businessman Oliver Moss (McDaniel). Even Buford’s environmentally dubious strategy of assaulting Moss’ trucks and dumping their chemical contents onto the highway makes little dent in the drug’s onslaught of the local high school. It gets personal after two classmates (one is played by future star Stoltz) drug Michael Pusser’s drink with angel dust, which leaves him perched on the school roof thinking he can fly.

“The Protectors of the People”
January 24, 1981
Writer: Donald R. Boyle
Director: Daniel Haller
Guest Cast: Charles Napier, Jesse Vint, William Windom, William Sanderson, Otis Young, Dey Young.

This episode may have the show’s best guest stars, and Boyle (the show’s executive story editor) gives them an incendiary topic to bite into. McNeal runs afoul of the Ku Klux Klan, mainly in the personage of vile Napier (the great character actor with the toothy grin), sadistic Sanderson (NEWHART) and store owner Vint (FORBIDDEN WORLD). In their repulsive desperation to make the county all-white, they attack a white teenage girl while disguised in blackface and then blow up a store owned by black businessman Otis Young (THE LAST DETAIL). It all gets terribly out of control when Pusser’s black deputy Aaron (Harold Sylvester) is framed for raping a white woman.

January 31, 1981
Writer: Paul Savage
Director: John Florea
Guest Cast: Chuck Connors, Edward Albert

Theo Brewster (Connors in a “special cameo appearance”) is shot by a guard during his commission of a bank robbery and taken into custody to Pusser’s jail, where he lies on life support. His sons--also his fellow bank robbers--plot to break him out by taking a local family and Buford’s father hostage.

March 31, 1981
Writer: Robert E. Swanson
Director: Alf Kjellin
Guest Cast: Merlin Olsen, L.Q. Jones

Not a terribly original concept, but strong direction, particularly during the final act, and good performances make the episode worthwhile. NBC sportscaster and former Los Angeles Ram Olsen, just a few months before starring in his own NBC drama, FATHER MURPHY, is Webb McClain, an old friend of Buford’s who returns to McNeal County to renew their relationship. Unbeknownst to Pusser, however, McClain is an assassin who has been hired by mobster Jones to murder Buford. Svenson and Olsen play the tension perfectly, giving the incredulous idea necessary weight.

“Company Town”
April 7, 1981
Writer: Lee Sheldon
Director: Harvey S. Laidman
Guest Cast: Ralph Bellamy, Lane Bradbury, Art Hindle, Claude Earl Jones

Leaving his regular supporting players behind, Pusser travels to a mining town to investigate the disappearance of a miner who had been riling his employers with talk about low wages and unsafe working conditions. Learning of other missing mining workers with similar rabble-rousing backgrounds, Buford follows the trail of bodies all the way up to the mine’s owner, James Clausen (Bellamy), and his hot-headed son Stuart (Hindle).

“Deadly Impact”
April 14, 1981
Writer: Gregory S. Dinallo
Director: Alexander Singer
Guest Cast: Gail Strickland, Ken Swofford, Richard Herd, James Whitmore Jr.

Credit director Singer and guest star Strickland for pulling off a late-in-the-game story twist that provides this episode with an effective dramatic punch. It smells like SILKWOOD when chemical plant employee Strickland suspects her boss of authorizing illegal dumps of toxic wastes into the nearby river. After she’s nearly run off the road, Pusser protects her from further attempts on her life by putting her up with Carl and the kids at his house, where his relationship with her turns from professional to personal.

“The Fire Within”
June 6, 1981
Writer: Lee Sheldon
Director: Phil Bondelli
Guest Cast: James MacArthur, Ed Nelson, Lance LeGault, Anthony Edwards, John McLiam, Richard Venture

MacArthur, a veteran of eleven seasons on HAWAII FIVE-0, exchanges his badge for a collar in this “special guest star” role as Father Adair, a new priest who takes the confession of a dying criminal. His vows prevent him from telling Pusser any information about what the man was involved with, namely a gunrunning operation masterminded by McNeal County real-estate agent Ed Campbell (Nelson). Look for future ER star Edwards as a horny teenager.

After WALKING TALL’s quick cancellation, star Svenson continued to rack up an army of television and film credits. Many of them were in exploitation movies such as NIGHT WARNING (in which he played a homophobic cop) and the Italian THUNDER WARRIOR (he also reunited with Charles Napier in the Fred Olen Ray ALIEN-ripoff DEEP SPACE), but his best TV performance of the era was a memorable turn in MAGNUM, P.I.’s third-season premiere as Ivan, a KGB agent who had tortured Thomas Magnum (Tom Selleck) in Vietnam and murdered Magnum’s friend Mac in Hawaii. The final confrontation between Magnum and Ivan was quite a corker and is probably the series’ finest moment.

Brian Dennehy played Buford Pusser in A REAL AMERICAN HERO, a CBS movie that aired in 1978, The Rock starred in a 2004 WALKING TALL remake that had nearly nothing to do with the original films or the Buford Pusser legend, and Kevin Sorbo (HERCULES) played Pusser in two direct-to-video sequels to the Rock movie.

The seven one-hour television episodes on DVD are nothing like TV crime drama at its finest, but its realistic location shooting (all in Southern California, it appears), fine actors, sharp action scenes, and committed, passionate lead performance by Bo Svenson, who could usually be counted on for one deeply felt monologue per show, make it an appealing curiosity for cop-show fans.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Apple

Note: this post is one of a series of STAR TREK episode reviews originally written for the alt.tv.startrek.tos newsgroup. For more information, please read this post.

Episode 40 of 80
October 13, 1967
Teleplay: Max Ehrlich and Gene L. Coon
Story: Max Ehrlich
Director: Joseph Pevney

The U.S.S. Enterprise visits Gamma Trianguli VI, a planet populated by naïve pacifist natives who worship Vaal, a stone dragon carved into a hill. As with many false gods encountered by Captain Kirk (William Shatner) during his space journeys, Vaal turns out to really be a sophisticated computer constructed by a previous civilization. And, as per usual, Kirk outsmarts it, blows it up, and forces the locals to learn to stand on their own two feet.

“The Apple” (no points for figuring out the plot’s Garden of Eden allusion) is not one of STAR TREK’s finest moments. The makeup on the namby-pamby aliens is silly, the “stone god” is clearly made of papier-mâché, Ehrlich and Coon’s climax isn’t very climactic, and, as all TREK fans know, Kirk breaking the Prime Directive is never a good thing.

On the other hand, the episode is packed with action and death (four “red shirts” die horribly!), stuff blows up real good, and director Pevney cast some gorgeous women. Well, it’s better than nothin’. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) breaks a very phony-looking Styrofoam rock in two, but Jay Jones playing a red-shirted security guard does one hell of a stunt tripping on an exploding rock. Reportedly, the stunt was a little too dangerous, and Jones was hurt (but not seriously) in the explosion.

Obviously, the main point of interest is guest star David Soul in one of his first television acting jobs, one year before signing on as a regular on HERE COME THE BRIDES. After that western went off the air, Soul co-starred with Arthur Hill on OWEN MARSHALL, ATTORNEY AT LAW before achieving superstardom as one half of STARSKY AND HUTCH. Soul’s role as Makora is fairly minor, and it’s hard to gauge from watching what kind of acting ability or screen charisma he may have had in 1967.

The main guest star, as Akuta, leader of the Vaalians, is Keith Andes, who had been a regular on several series, including THAT MAN DAWSON and GLYNIS, and had appeared in films too. Basically, Andes was a sturdy but still leading man type, basically on par with the Richard Carlsons. My favorite Andes credit, however, is his performance as the voice of Hanna-Barbera superhero Birdman (“Birrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrdmaaaaannn!”), who, with his eagle sidekick Avenger, battled evildoers on Saturday mornings during the late 1960s. Later, those shows were repurposed and satirized on Cartoon Network as HARVEY BIRDMAN, ATTORNEY AT LAW with Gary Cole (A SIMPLE PLAN) revoicing the character.

California native Celeste Yarnall, playing Ensign Chekov’s love interest, is gorgeous—certainly one of the most beautiful actresses to appear on STAR TREK. Today an artist and an ardent believer in holistic health care for pets, Celeste was a busy actress in films and television who is likely best known today for starring as THE VELVET VAMPIRE (for which she performed nude scenes) and with John Ashley in the Philippines in BEAST OF BLOOD. I’m still waiting to see EVE, in which she plays a white jungle goddess in a tiny fur bikini. Celeste is generously available to her fans on Facebook.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Men from Mobius

I've written a lot here about Trashy Movies. Now I've taken my act on the road, so to speak. Pop on over to By John Charles, where I took part in a four-way discussion with John and fellow Mobius Home Video Forum veterans William Wilson and Mark Tinta about trash cinema, present and past. Among the topics: Brian DePalma, those Cannon cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, Jim Wynorski vs. Andy Sidaris, the overuse of CGI, and, of course, the beloved Roger Corman.

Yeah, it's long, but substantive. And John has pictures!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Take On The Whole Goddamn Government

James Caan’s only film as a director is an earnest adaptation of Leslie Waller’s non-fiction book about a blue-collar worker who spends eight years looking for his children. HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT is a promising directorial debut, and it’s a shame Caan stopped at one (his actor son Scott of HAWAII FIVE-0 has directed two features).

Caan, who made this between COMES A HORSEMAN and CHAPTER TWO, plays Tom Hacklin, a Buffalo, New York factory worker who loses contact with his children when his ex-wife (Barbara Rae) and her mobster husband (Robert Viharo) are relocated by the Federal Witness Protection Program. The U.S. Government gives Hacklin the runaround when he attempts to uncover his kids’ whereabouts, so, supported by his new wife (Jill Eikenberry) and his well-meaning lawyer (Danny Aiello), he determines to find them himself.

This is the sort of material, as written by Spencer Eastman (KANSAS), that usually plays like a made-for-TV movie, but a passionate performance by Caan and a fascinating subject elevate HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT to the level of good solid drama. As a director, Caan favors long master and medium shots that allow for greater realism in the storytelling. His and cinematographer Paul Lohmann’s (SILENT MOVIE) naturalistic approach and widescreen camerawork are like peering through a window into Tom Hacklin’s life. An opening three-and-a-half-minute crane shot adds nothing to the plot, but nicely sets up the film’s atmosphere and introduces us to Hacklin’s hard-working background.

Where HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT lapses is in its telescoping of actual events from eight years to less than two. I understand why Caan and Eastman felt they had to make the true story more cinematic (including the addition of climactic violence that never happened to the real guy), but the downside is that the movie’s episodic nature drains some of the suspense and obscures a few important plot points. I don’t think it’s a serious problem, and Caan’s directorial debut does more things right than wrong. Leonard Rosenmann composed a sparse score, though not sparse enough for the director, who thought music would interfere with the movie’s verite approach and opposed MGM’s edict to include it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Blood Justice

I'm frequently amazed at how sloppy the editors of Belmont Tower's Marksman paperbacks were. In some of them, author Frank Scarpetta (most likely either Peter McCurtin or Aaron Fletcher) actually calls leading man Phillip Magellan by the wrong name. In book #5, HEADHUNTER, published in 1973, the story appears to pick up right at the conclusion of #4. Since Scarpetta makes little attempt to catch the reader up with the events of that story, you can be forgiven for spending the first few chapters of HEADHUNTER wondering what the hell is going on.

Magellan, having wiped out a bunch of Mafioso in St. Thomas, arrives in Puerto Rico with several suitcases full of drugs and weapons. I think he's planning to stay just temporarily on his way back to the United States, but he's mugged by some crooks on the lookout for naive tourists, then his romantic relationship with Terri White, who seems to have been introduced in the previous book, hits a snag when she is raped.

By this point, the Marksman figures, "What the hell, I'm here anyway, I might as well kill all the Mafia here too." The rest of HEADHUNTER's 159 pages is Magellan kidnapping, torturing, and killing bad guys in Scarpetta's blunt-nosed style that involves the heavy use of exclamation points outside of dialogue. I think I read HEADHUNTER in about two hours, which is meant to be a compliment, I think.