Friday, June 29, 2012

Look! If You Dare!

William Read Woodfield, an amateur magician and expert plotter who went on to craft intricate scripts for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and COLUMBO, penned THE HYPNOTIC EYE with his wife Gitta Woodfield. In one of cult cinema’s great openings, a sexy blonde in slinky black lingerie walks into her kitchen, rubs shampoo in her hair, turns on the stove, and sets her own hair on fire (the visual effect involves superimposing flames over the actress’ head, and it isn’t bad).

This is the eleventh case of a woman mutilating herself, and police detective Dave Kennedy (Joe Patridge) wants to get to the bottom of it. He takes his girlfriend Marcia (Marcia Henderson) and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders) to see a stage hypnotist named Desmond (Jacques Bergerac). Dodie volunteers to be Desmond’s subject, and he makes her levitate. That night, she pours acid into a sinkful of water and burns the skin off her face.

Dave begins to suspect Desmond of planting post-hypnotic suggestions into his subjects that make them harm themselves later. Marcia takes the stage at Desmond’s next show and reveals to Dave and psychiatrist Philip Hecht (Guy Prescott) that Desmond flashes an eye in the palm of his hand to the women he puts into an onstage trance. But what is Desmond’s motive for hypnotizing women into self-mutilation?

Allison Hayes (ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN) portrays Justine, Desmond’s stage assistant who plays a major role in the sinister plot. She’s terrific, but she unfortunately outmatches the French-born Bergerac, who doesn’t hold the screen the way a great villain should. Quickie director George Blair, probably best known for the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV series, does a pretty good job moving the Woodfields’ story along and presenting the shocking deaths with bursts of gore that were unusual for the time period.

It isn’t just the gruesome makeup effects that contributed to the hoopla. Blair cast “The Great Imposter,” Fred Demara, who was a notable talk-show guest in those days, as well as hipsters Lawrence Lipton and Eric “Big Daddy” Nord in supporting roles. Best of all, Allied Artists released THE HYPNOTIC EYE in “HypnoMagic!” This comes into play in a scene in which Desmond hypnotizes a crowd of people in a theater, but Blair shoots it as though he’s hypnotizing the audience watching the film. You can imagine the kids in the seats having a blast following Desmond’s on-screen instructions.

THE HYPNOTIC EYE is a ludicrous horror film, but, boy, is it entertaining. Woodfield wrote it as THE SCREAMING SLEEP, and Blair directed it in two weeks on a $365,000 budget. The shock scenes are very effective, and the catwalk climax is excitingly rendered by Blair. I sure wish I had one of those HYPNOTIC EYE balloons.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The B.A.D.dest Cats Of Them All

B.A.D. CATS ran only six episodes (including this feature-length pilot) on Friday nights before ABC’s quick cancellation in the winter of 1980, and if anyone remembers it today, it’s because of 21-year-old Michelle Pfeiffer’s starring role as a curvy cop named Samantha “Sunshine” Jensen.

Pfeiffer, hot off a turn as “Bombshell” on another shortlived ABC series, DELTA HOUSE, shared star billing with Asher Brauner, familiar to trash movie fans as brooding yet somehow sympathetic hoodlum Dominic in SWITCHBLADE SISTERS, as Los Angeles detective Nick Donovan and Steve “No Relation to Tom” Hanks making his regular television debut as Nick’s partner and roomie Ocee (!) James.

An obvious ripoff of STARSKY & HUTCH (and executive-produced for the same network by STARSKY’s Aaron Spelling), B.A.D. CATS pitted the two male detectives—one blonde and one brunette, natch—of the Burglary Auto Detail, Commercial Auto Thefts squad (!) against various hijackers, terrorists, dope fiends, and auto thieves. Because Nick and Ocee happen to be former racecar drivers, their method of busting crime involves endangering innocent civilians and destroying lots of private property.

The stuntwork is top-notch. A good director, Bernard Kowalski (his credits include the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE pilot), does a great job handling the many car chases (Stunts Unlimited and second unit director Ronnie Rondell receive a big credit), but struggles with the rest of Al Martinez’s pilot teleplay. Charles Cioffi (KLUTE) in a Shatneresque toupee plays Paul Stone, who tries to smuggle $5 million in gold out of the country by forging it into auto parts. GOOD TIMES star Jimmie Walker plays car thief Rodney (the show’s Huggy Bear), SANFORD & SON’s LaWanda Page is rib proprietor Ma, and curly-haired Vic Morrow (COMBAT!) is Captain Nathan, head of the B.A.D. CAT squad.

For the most part, the acting is as poor as the scripting, particularly the stiff Hanks, whose banter with Brauner won’t remind one of Soul and Glaser. Pfieffer (and her original nose) is strictly eye candy who looks terrific in tight shorts (and wears a bikini in the opening titles). Her role consists of answer the squadroom’s phone and being addressed by her fellow officers as “baby” and “sweetie.” She soon did SCARFACE and left television in her rearview mirror.

Producer Everett Chambers later denounced the series publicly and claimed not to list it on his resume. Also with Tom Simcox (CODE R), George Murdock, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael V. Gazzo, Penny Santon, James Hampton (THE LONGEST YARD), and Lance Henriksen (ALIENS) as Cioffi’s number one flunky. Barry DeVorzon (THE WARRIORS) scored it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sexy Naked Vampire Girl

Distinguished British actors dedicated to taking this nonsense seriously spread a veneer of respectability over 1985's LIFEFORCE, Cannon’s deliriously silly sci-fi movie based on Colin Wilson’s novel THE SPACE VAMPIRES.

A team of British and American astronauts, commanded by Colonel Carlsen (Steve Railsback, previously in THE STUNT MAN and TURKEY SHOOT), enter an alien spacecraft and retrieve a gorgeous naked woman and two naked men in a state of suspended animation.

The human-looking aliens are returned to a space research facility in London, where the woman (French actress Mathilda May in a game performance) breaks free, French-kisses the life out of a guard, and strolls calmly out of the building and into the fog, making out with strangers and stealing their lifeforces to gain strength.

While Carlsen and SAS colonel Caine (EQUUS’ Peter Firth) are following a trail of desiccated corpses in pursuit of May (it’s easier for a sexy nude woman to hide in Hyde Park than you think), the screenplay by Dan O’Bannon (ALIEN) and Don Jakoby (BLUE THUNDER) leaps from science fiction to medical thriller, AIDS allegory, and finally full-tilt zombie movie with London in a state of martial law and a gun-wielding Firth careening through crowds of life-sucking undead haunting the streets.

O’Bannon and Jakoby’s dialogue is hilariously arch at times, but performed at a perfect pitch by pros like Frank Finlay (an Oscar nominee for OTHELLO), Michael Gothard (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), and a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart, whose makeout scene with Railsback draws screams. Props to director Tobe Hooper (THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE) for keeping LIFEFORCE from going off the rails—a difficult feat for a film as over the top as this one.

John Dykstra (STAR WARS) supervised the visual effects and Nick Maley (INSEMINOID) the makeup on Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’ $25 million production, and Henry Mancini (THE PINK PANTHER) enlisted the London Symphony Orchestra to perform his rousing score. Railsback, always a jittery force, fits perfectly into Hooper’s arch atmosphere.

LIFEFORCE is one of the most bizarre science fiction movies of the 1980s, and it’s little surprise that it didn’t catch fire at the box office (not that Tri-Star cutting seventeen minutes out of it helped). Hooper also made INVADERS FROM MARS and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 for Cannon, and they flopped too. John Larroquette (NIGHT COURT), who did the same favor for Hooper on the first CHAIN SAW, reads the opening narration uncredited.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Two '60s Sci-Fi Cheapies For Tuesday

United Pictures produced CYBORG 2087 for a 1966 theatrical release. The stodgy science fiction programmer was probably made back-to-back with DIMENSION 5, with which it shares director Franklin Adreon (PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO), writer Arthur C. Pierce (WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET), producer Earle Lyon (PANIC IN THE CITY), cinematographer Alan Stensvold (IT’S A BIKINI WORLD), composer Paul Dunlap (I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF), art director Paul Sylos (WILD IN THE STREETS), and other crew members.

Both DIMENSION 5 and CYBORG 2087 are turgid affairs, due to Adreon’s lock-down-the-camera directing style, Pierce’s ludicrous scripting, and Lyon’s puny budget. The latter film is probably a tad better, thanks to its familiar cast, unintentional laughs, and bemused similarities to THE TERMINATOR (which credited Harlan Ellison’s OUTER LIMITS episode “Soldier” as its inspiration).

Rebels from 121 years in the future send Garth A7 (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL star Michael Rennie), a cyborg, back to 1966 to prevent Dr. Marx (Eduard Franz of THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE) from announcing his new scientific breakthrough to the world. Garth’s orders are to either kidnap Marx and bring him back to his time machine stashed in a western ghost town or kill him. Pierce’s screenplay reveals that future governments will use Marx’s invention to enslave the human race. On Garth’s tail to stop him from stopping Marx are two killer robots called tracers carrying sweet ray guns. Using Marx’s future device, Garth mind-rapes the scientist’s beautiful assistant, Sharon (Karen Steele), and forces her to help him carry out his mission.

FORBIDDEN PLANET’s Warren Stevens helps out as biologist Carl Zellar, who claims not to be a medical doctor or a surgeon, yet he has surgical instruments in his home lab and performs surgery on Garth to remove his homing device. The tracers, played by old-time stuntmen Troy Melton and Dale Van Sickel, look hilarious jogging around town while holding their left wrists in front of them like they’re perpetually checking their watches. Even funnier are Zellar’s daughter Laura (Hanna-Barbera voice actress Sherry Alberoni) and her partying pals, who dance wildly to bad rock music (one of them is macho ROLLERBALL co-star John Beck, sans mustache in his film debut).

Adreon directs with expediacy over style. At least he gets outside on the backlot occasionally for some fresh air, unlike DIMENSION 5, which remained mostly housebound. Adam Roarke (DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY), Byron Morrow, Richard Travis, and MATCH GAME hottie Jo Ann Pflug are among the past and future familiar faces dotting Adreon’s supporting cast, and Wendell Corey, who stayed plastered throughout THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES, grabs third billing as the local sheriff trying to make heads or tails out of the evening’s weird events.

Both DIMENSION 5 and CYBORG 2087 deal with time travel, and it’s a tough call as to which is duller. Considering the director of both began his career writing, directing, and producing Republic serials, like DRUMS OF FU MANCHU and THE FIGHTING DEVIL DOGS, it’s something of a surprise that his pacing of these two pictures is so damned slow. Adreon shoots quickly and flatly on an obviously small budget.

After a silly action prologue filmed in Bronson Canyon, which is even more laughable to anyone familiar with the popular B-movie location’s layout, DIMENSION 5 jumps into a bland plot about a Red Chinese organization called the Dragons, led by former Peking secret policeman Big Buddha (Harold “Oddjob” Sakata, dubbed by Paul Frees), and its plan to detonate an atomic bomb in Los Angeles on Christmas Day. Jeffrey Hunter, who did this after playing Captain Christopher Pike in the first STAR TREK pilot, stars as American agent Justin Power, who enjoys a jocular relationship with his crippled boss Cane (Donald Woods). France Nuyen, who did four I SPY episodes with husband Robert Culp, co-stars as Power’s Chinese-American partner Ki Ti, pronounced “Kitty.” Hunter seems to be putting in a professional effort, but Nuyen seems bored, as she often did, though this time she has a good reason.

Lyon’s threadbare production allowed Adreon to populate scenes with pretty girls, but very little in terms of sets and special effects. Hunter and Woods lay out some heavy exposition in a laborious walk-and-talk scene that finds the actors passing through doors, but strolling down the same (barely redressed) corridor three times. Power’s big gimmick is a time-travel belt that neither Pierce nor Adreon seems to understand and neither do we. It’s a cheap prop that Hunter conceals beneath his suit vest. He pushes a button and disappears in a purple flash. It makes no sense.

DIMENSION 5 also features Linda Ho, Robert Ito (QUINCY, M.E.), Jon Lormer, Kam Tong (HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL), Robert Phillips, Maggie Thrett, LAND OF THE GIANTS sexpot Deanna Lund, and Ed Parker as “Sinister Oriental.” I assume Feature Film Corporation of America programmed DIMENSION 5 and CYBORG 2087 on double bills together, though the former certainly shared marquees with the Rod Taylor espionage adventure THE LIQUIDATOR.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Eight You'll Love Or Hate

Christopher George, fresh off his two-year run as leader of THE RAT PATROL, is perfectly cast as a low-budget Lee Marvin in this DIRTY DOZEN ripoff, though American International only had money for eight. Included in THE DEVIL’S 8’s screenwriting credits are John Milius (CONAN THE BARBARIAN), Willard Huyck (AMERICAN GRAFFITI), Lawrence Gordon (producer of DIE HARD and WATCHMEN), and James Gordon White (THE THING WITH TWO HEADS and THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT).

George plays Faulkner, an undercover Treasury agent who orchestrates the breakout of six prisoners from a Southern chain gang. Instead of dashing to freedom, however, Faulkner herds the hoods directly to a waiting helicopter, which flies them to their new camp in moonshine country. There the rugged Faulkner offers them a deal: either help the Feds bring down a murderous bootleg liquor organization run by boss Burl (Ralph Meeker) in exchange for a pardon, or return to prison to serve out their life sentences. Among Faulkner’s new partners are callow drunk Sonny (Fabian), bigoted mechanic Billy Joe (Tom Nardini), black Henry (Robert DoQui), violent Sam (Joe Turkel) and pacifist Chandler (Larry Bishop).

The first half of THE DEVIL’S 8 details the group’s training, as Faulkner plops them behind the wheels of some monstrous ‘50s cars to teach them the fine art of stunt driving. Of course, these convicted lifers brawl and bicker, but of course come to like and respect each other. You’d hardly know they were hardened killers.

Eventually, Faulkner’s men prove their readiness and sneak into Burl’s county, where they hijack the crook’s shipments and force him into a reluctant partnership. Faulkner’s ace in the hole is Frank Davis (Ross Hagen), a former employee of Burl’s who wants revenge for the murder of his brother. Since Frank knows Burl, but not the location of his stills, both sides engage in an uneasy rivalry until Faulkner is able to obtain enough evidence to make an arrest.

Aside from George, Burt Topper’s biggest weapon is stunt coordinator Chuck Bail (THE GUMBALL RALLY), who delivers a steady stream of car crashes, gun battles, explosions (with the help of special effects man extraordinare Roger George), and fight scenes. The violence isn’t graphic or gratuitious, but is enough to, along with some subtle nudity, earn THE DEVIL’S 8 an M rating.

George went on to a long career as a leading man in television and exploitation movies, setting the standard with his gravelly presence here, chewing nails and slapping faces to keep his boys in line. Meeker (KISS ME DEADLY) had few peers in portraying slimy heavies (he played virtually the same role in JOHNNY FIRECLOUD nearly a decade later), and it’s interesting to see him and George bounce off the supporting cast of familiar faces, which also includes Leslie Parrish, Cliff Osmond, Ron Rifkin, and Lynda Day George in an unbilled cameo.

The pace slacks somewhat in the middle, when director Burt Topper (who used Fabian again in SOUL HUSTLER) concentrates on expanding the character relationships. Jerry Styner and Michael Lloyd provide the repetitive rock score, but stay tuned for the hilarious closing theme, which relates the origin of The Devil’s 8 and was co-written by Mike Curb. The pine trees around Big Bear, California successfully fill in for the unnamed Southern state where the action is set. KILLERS THREE was its co-feature on AIP’s 1969 double bill.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Assignment: World Killer

Besides 24, which produced 195 episodes over eight seasons, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is American television's most successful espionage series--171 episodes over seven seasons on CBS. I've written about the series, one of my all-time favorites, many times on this blog, so read those posts for more information.

The show also inspired four Popular Library tie-in novels, two of which were penned by John Tiger, the pen name of noted screenwriter and novelist Walter Wager. Wager, whose credits include the novel TELEFON and excellent I SPY tie-ins, wrote the first and fourth M:I novels, and I'm covering the first book here.

Published in 1967, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (the novel's title) was the only paperback tie-in to feature original series lead Dan Briggs. Steven Hill, later the irascible D.A. Adam Schiff on LAW & ORDER, starred as Briggs during the show's first season, but was then jettisoned for more familiar leading man Peter Graves as Jim Phelps.

Briggs chooses actor Rollin Hand (played by Martin Landau in the series), model Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus), and gadget specialist Barney Collier (Greg Morris) to assist him on the Impossible Missions Force's latest mission, which involves Nazis Kurt Dersh and Fritz Messelman developing deadly chemical weapons on an island within the South American country of Santilla (M:I always used fake countries).

Wager/Tiger follows the series' premise very well. He knows the characters and story format, and he develops a clever plot that gives all the characters something worthwhile to do. The biggest difference between show and book is that Wager uses his 142 pages to flesh out the M:I characters a little bit.

The TV series was notorious for not doing this. The characters had almost zero backstory, which would get it crucified by today's critics, who would miss the point that they didn't need backstories or complicated arcs. Because every episode called for them to play a role or even wear elaborate disguises, their blank pasts and Everyman personalities helped the team members keep their covers when the slightest slip-up could mean the deaths of one or all of them.

Still, it works in Wager's book, which makes Briggs a former high school football coach and Willy an Olympic weightlifter, for instance. Fans of the series will definitely want to read this book, which is also tailored nicely for adventure and espionage junkies.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Killer Can Hide

From time to time, I plan to use this space to repurpose film reviews I wrote for several local independent newspapers during the previous decade:

THE OCTOPUS: 1999-2000
CU CITYVIEW: 2002
THE PAPER: 2003-2004
THE HUB: 2005-2006

During my tenure as a professional (re: paid) film critic, I wrote about both new releases and cult classics. The date provided below is the date the newspaper issue containing the review hit the streets.

This review has been slightly edited from the original published piece.


A STRANGER IS WATCHING (1982)
Rated R
Running Time 1:32
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Stars Kate Mulgrew, Rip Torn, James Naughton, Shawn von Schreiber
First published October 21, 2005

Sean Cunningham never wanted to be a horror film director. It was just his bad luck that he was very successful at it.

Cunningham fell into filmmaking in his twenties, along with a very good friend named Wes Craven, with whom he made the notorious LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, an unrelentingly brutal reimagining of Ingmar Bergman’s THE VIRGIN SPRING as a horror film. Craven directed it and Cunningham produced it, and even though it met with some financial success, it wasn’t what Cunningham really wanted to do as an artist.

However, when a pair of children’s movies he directed failed to ignite with audiences or studios, Cunningham took a cue from HALLOWEEN, then the most successful independent feature ever made, and decided to direct his own horror movie using what he believed was an identical formula. The result was 1980’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, the crudely effective “slasher” movie that became one of the most influential horror films of all time. Cunningham was in demand to direct more movies in the same vein, but to his credit, he elected to move on to something more mature.

A STRANGER IS WATCHING was an answer to MGM’s belief that a white-collar audience existed for horror films without the gore that characterized FRIDAY THE 13TH. The psychological thriller was not a box-office success in 1982, convincing Cunningham that fans weren’t interested in seeing bloodless horror movies. He may have been right at the time, but A STRANGER IS WATCHING is, despite its apparent financial failure, a suspenseful, well-photographed thriller that holds up quite well.

Two years earlier, a man broke into little Julie Peterson’s (Shawn von Schreiber) home and raped and murdered her mother right before her eyes. A teenager named Ronald Thompson (James Russo, later to get good roles in BEVERLY HILLS COP, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, and DONNIE BRASCO), whom Julie identified in court as the assailant, now stands on Death Row for committing the crime. The story receives tremendous media attention, particularly from the news magazine edited by Steve Peterson (James Naughton), Julie’s father, and his new girlfriend, television reporter Sharon Martin (top-billed Kate Mulgrew).

Three days before Thompson is scheduled to be executed, a misogynistic psychopath (Rip Torn) kidnaps Sharon and the now-11-year-old Julie from the Peterson house and hides them in a long-forgotten room located deep in the steamy, dank bowels of Grand Central Station. He demands a ransom for their safe return, but his appearance so close to the execution seems like an unlikely coincidence. What’s his connection to Julie’s mother’s murder, and what does he really want from Steve?

Cunningham and cinematographer Barry Abrams attack the audience in much the same manner that distinguished FRIDAY THE 13TH, using the camera as a stalker, flitting down dark, crowded, filthy train tunnels, up fragile iron ladders and staircases, allowing the steam and despair of the mysterious existence below Grand Central Station to become as much of an antagonist as Torn’s character. The gloomy underground locations and sets provide an overwhelming feeling of dread that plays right into Cunningham’s strategy of keeping us on edge. And while he may have dialed back the gore content, Cunningham still delivers the sadistic goods. Victims are stabbed with knives and screwdrivers, bashed in the head, pushed down sweaty staircases—all shown in loving detail, while the goosebump-inducing orchestral score by Lalo Schifrin pushes the suspense to barely bearable levels.

Based on a best-selling novel by Mary Higgins Clark, the screenplay by Earl MacRauch (THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION) and Victor Miller (FRIDAY THE 13TH) doesn’t completely hold together. For one thing, the innocent-man-waiting-to-be-executed-for-a-crime-he-didn’t-commit subplot turns out to be basically superfluous and isn’t given the weight hinted at in the first half. Torn’s motive for the snatch and his relationship with a co-conspirator remain unclear.

The performances, for the most part, mesh with Cunningham’s taut direction to make you care about Torn’s victims and not care so much about the inconsistencies in story. 27-year-old Mulgrew, not yet the captain of the U.S.S. Voyager, but a veteran stage performer just coming off the NBC mystery series MRS. COLUMBO, is a more mature Final Girl than usual and very believable in her scenes with young von Schreiber, a likable child actress who appears to have made no other films. Torn could, of course, play heavies in his sleep, but doesn’t walk through this one, essaying a tone more sinister and realistic than the broad villain he portrayed the same year in THE BEASTMASTER.

Sean Cunningham went on to direct other movies, but found greater success in the horror genre as a producer. He learned he couldn’t escape the movie he was most closely identified with and bought back the rights to FRIDAY THE 13TH, which he then combined with the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET concept created by his pal Wes Craven to produce 2003’s FREDDY VS. JASON, the biggest hit of his three-decade career.

Bloody Crusade

DEATH TO THE MAFIA is as dumb and sloppy as you would expect a Marksman novel to be. It opens with a half-page introduction that was probably hastily slipped into the book at the last minute explaining the absence of Terri White, a character from Belmont Tower's two previous Marksman novels. Probably whomever "Frank Scarpetta" was this time was unaware or didn't care about the Terri White character, leaving it to the editor to clear up the continuity problem.

1973's DEATH TO THE MAFIA, the sixth Marksman book, opens with Magellan on his way to Los Angeles to kill some mobsters there. Along the way, he's waylaid by several carfuls of gunsels who open up on him on a desert highway. He kills them all, but has to rescue an innocent bystander, Doris Sims, and take her along for the ride in his Cadillac. More gunmen pursue Magellan to Carlsbad Caverns, but he manages to kill them all--and several innocents--by starting a panic two miles underground.

Hilariously, the Marksman drops Doris off at home after this, never to be heard from again. The next 115 pages contain his real mission, which involves disguising himself as a black man (!) and posing as an HEW official in Watts! He kills many more people on his journey to waste Big Man in L.A. Frank (the Bump) Bommperone.

Obviously, this is mindless trash, but it's amusing how silly, violent, and sloppy it is. In Magellan's "black" disguise, he visits a local official, but this has no bearing on his quest or his cover. In fact, there's no reason for this scene to even exist. Frankly, there's no reason I could see for this disguise to exist, except to make the book weirder. I guess that's a good reason, come to think of it.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Random TV Title: Monday Night Baseball

Yep, ABC used to rule the Monday evening airwaves in the summertime too with its weekly MONDAY NIGHT BASEBALL telecast. And as you can see from this opening, the damn Boston Red Sox were dominating the prime-time schedule even then!

This open is from the July 23, 1979 telecast at Fenway Park between the Red Sox and the California Angels. Keith Jackson does the opening narration. I'm guessing Howard Cosell and Don Drysdale joined him for the broadcast.

Of interest is the clip of Yankee Lou Pinella getting thrown out at home plate in a game against the Kansas City Royals and tossing a tantrum over it!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Adults Have The Right To Disappear

GONE is one of those thrillers that works only if everyone acts like buffoons. Which means, of course, that it doesn’t work at all. It’s difficult to figure why GONE was even made, except just for the sake of making a movie. Performances, script, direction, and score are perfunctory at best and idiotic at worst.

Amanda Seyfried (JENNIFER’S BODY) stars as Jill Conway, the world’s hottest all-night-diner waitress, who suffered an emotional breakdown and spent two months in a mental hospital after she escaped from a kidnapper. A kidnapping the police believe never occurred, by the way. A year later, Jill is still shaken by her experience and really freaks when she comes home from work to discover her sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) has disappeared. She thinks her kidnapper has returned and mistaken Molly for her, but the cops, including lead detective Powers (RESCUE ME regular Daniel Sunjata) shine her on.

Armed with a .38 and a wad of cash that yanks from the living room drawer (great tips in Portland), Jill, for whom lies come easily, storms the city of Portland, Oregon, dodging police and absurd red herrings in search of her sister. Scripter Allison Burnett (BLOODFIST III) and director Heitor Dhalia (ADRIFT) fall down on the job big time, so bereft of ideas that they resort to the old springloaded cat trick to draw a jump from the audience. Seriously. In 2012. There’s no mystery as to whether the calamity really is in Jill’s head, and Burnett’s response to his own plotholes is to have his characters refer to them (that doesn’t get you off the hook, my friend). GONE is a real goner.

DEXTER’s Jennifer Carpenter appears as Seyfried’s co-worker, Nick Searcy (JUSTIFIED) nimbly inhabits a friendly hardware store owner, Joel David Moore (HATCHET) is one of several jittery suspects, and ‘90s direct-to-video stalwart Michael Pare (EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS) is a welcome sight as Powers’ boss. And Wes Bentley (AMERICAN BEAUTY) is in this too, but I really couldn’t tell you why.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Is Rommel's Secret Weapon A Bluff?

I was very impressed by THE TROJAN TANK AFFAIR, Paperback Library's third novel based on ABC's action series THE RAT PATROL. Quickly, THE RAT PATROL was about four Allied soldiers who battled the Afrika Corps during World War II in a pair of jeeps outfitted with machine guns. It was cool to see these jeeps leaping over sand dunes and blasting the enemy.

THE TROJAN TANK AFFAIR isn't just a quickie tie-in. It's a rich, thick 224-page novel by David King that understands the TV show's characters and atmosphere and creates an exciting mission. In fact, since the TV episodes were only thirty minutes long, they tended to concentrate on spectacle and action in lieu of plot and character. THE TROJAN TANK AFFAIR is just the opposite, although it does contain many fun action scenes.

The story finds the Rat Patrol sent on a secret mission to infiltrate a Nazi camp in the desert and find out the enemy's invasion plan. Since it takes the Rat Patrol several days just to reach their target, King provides the journey with much flavor, introducing interesting side characters and establishing a neat secret base for the Rat Patrol hidden beneath a large rock in the desert.

Though Sam Troy (Christopher George in the series) and Jack Moffitt (Gary Raymond) perform the bulk of the heroics, as they did on the show, the characters of Mark Hitchcock (Lawrence Casey) and Tully Pettigrew (Justin Tarr) get their moments in the spotlight too.

And, yes, the Rat Patrol's formidable archrival, Hauptmann Hans Dietrich (Eric Braeden), makes an appearance too!