Thursday, July 30, 2009

Anything That Turns You On, Baby

One of trash literature's most misogynist counterculture heroes returns in the luridly titled SCARLET SURF AT MAKAHA (McFadden, 1970), which is really the most extreme aspect of the fourth Operation Hang Ten novel.

24-year-old millionaire private eye/surfer/spy Bill Cartwright is ordered to cut short his libidinous playtime with the hippie hitchhiker he picked up in his computerized mobile home and fly the whole setup to Hawaii for his latest mission for Hang Ten. He reluctantly teams with a sexy Russian agent named Debbie Kwan to track down $9 million in gold hijacked from an English freighter by a stolen Soviet helicopter. Also on Cartwright's agenda is the kidnapping of a fellow Hang Ten agent. Natch, the whole operation is hidden within a newly constructed apartment complex for swingers built by the villain on a Makaha beach.

Although supposedly young and hip, the arrogant Cartwright doesn't appear to like women very much. Oh, he enjoys having sex with them, but that's about all. I suppose that attitude is par for the course with the men's adventure genre, but one would expect an anti-establishment type to be perhaps a bit more enlightened.

If you're into surfing, you may groove on some of the sea action here. Otherwise, writer Patrick Morgan (actually George Snyder) presents a few mild action and sex scenes, and the climax isn't too bad. Light entertainment that in no way approaches the excesses of a Butcher or a Death Merchant adventure.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Random TV Title: Switch

Clearly based on THE STING, the CBS-TV series SWITCH was one of many successful vehicles to star the suave Robert Wagner. Here, he played a conman, Pete Ryan, who teamed up with the ex-cop who busted him, Frank McBride (Eddie Albert), to open a private detective agency. More often than not, the smooth operator and the bunco detective used the skills from their former lives to run stings on the bad guys.

If it sounds a little like THE ROCKFORD FILES, let it be known that at least one ROCKFORD episode ("This Case Is Closed") later turned up as a SWITCH also, due to Universal's habit of recycling scripts (Warner Brothers was especially bad about this in its heyday of the late 1950s, particularly with another James Garner series, MAVERICK).

At any rate, SWITCH was a pretty good show with excellent chemistry between Wagner and Albert. Comic Charlie Callas was the wacky sidekick, and cutie Sharon Gless, later to win multiple Emmys for CAGNEY & LACEY and currently on BURN NOTICE, played the boys' secretary. Ironically, Gless was also a guest star in "This Case Is Closed," the ROCKFORD episode that SWITCH ripped off.

I believe the theme presented here, which was the show's second, was composed by Stu Phillips, who usually got the call for shows created by Glen A. Larson.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's Die Hard At A Rock Concert

Coming to Netflix real soon: the latest Dolph Lundgren joint, COMMAND PERFORMANCE, which looks completely badass. Dolph has been directing his own films for a few years now, and he's very good at it.

Check out the trailer here:
Twitch - First Full Trailer For Dolph Lundgren’s COMMAND PERFORMANCE

David Carradine Roundtable

If you're a fan of the late actor David Carradine, please hop on over to Chris Poggiali's Temple of Schlock blog for a roundtable discussion of Carradine's two features as a director: 1972's YOU AND ME and 1983's AMERICANA.

I had a terrific time rapping about these two terrific films with Chris and Video Watchdog assistant editor John Charles (whose essential McFarland reference book THE HONG KONG FILMOGRAPHY: 1977-1997 is now available as a trade paperback). Particularly because I had never seen either film, but had been curious about them.

YOU AND ME is very difficult to find, as it has never been on VHS or DVD in the U.S., while AMERICANA is available only in a severely compromised pan-and-scan version. Carradine, who died in June at age 72, is an actor I have watched and admired for some time, and it was a great privilege to discuss his work with two fellow fans and friends. Please enjoy our Temple of Schlock salute to the fine David Carradine.

Now, I have to finally pull ENDLESS HIGHWAY off the shelf and give it more than just a cursory skim.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Do I Need To Watch Hotel?

I never watched HOTEL when it was on ABC, but this review makes it sound like the greatest show ever:

So for those of us who lived 1970s and 1980s television, the spectacles of Erin Moran singing (badly) Delta Dawn with Mel Torme, or Pernell Roberts and Shirley Jones in a hot tub, or Morgan Fairchild getting gang-raped (off-camera) by the kid from Ben and Burnt Offerings, or Peter Marshall forcing Heather Locklear into sex ("I just wish I didn't have to be so damned beautiful all the time!"), or Connie Stevens coldly informing Locklear, "You have to use men before they use you," or Robert Vaughn in full drag, or Robert Reed as a perverted child molester, or Charlene Tilton grotesquely trying to seduce Peter (remember, ladies: one finger crooked to your chin), or Vic Tayback talking to his dead wife, or Scott Baio doing a Sylvester Stallone imitation, or John Davidson as a surprisingly convincing sexual blackmailer, or Adrienne Barbeau as a heroin addict, or Liberace (he just has to show up), or little Tori Spelling plugging Dynasty, or McLean Stevenson desperately looking for someplace in the St. Gregory to slip-and-fall (as if his career didn't give him enough opportunities for that), or Steve Kanaly buying his son Lance Kerwin a hooker to pop his cherry, or a Hollywood Wives reunion, complete with Mary Crosby, Steve Forrest, and Robert Stack, or Larry Wilcox as Larry Can't-cox because of his too-low sperm count, or Englebert Humperdinck starting After the Lovin' and mercifully ending it, or Jan Smithers with Lou Gehrig's disease ("When the doctors told me I had Lou Gehrig's disease, I said that was impossible: I never even watch baseball on TV,"), or Bradford Dolman as a dangerous fruitcake, or Shelly Winters (god bless her) as Ma Barker-late here, or Sally Kellerman as a former porn star (we even get to hear audio of her most celebrated performance as husband Ted Shackelford swallows down his gorge) - those spectacles of insane 1980s television handily push Arthur Hailey's Hotel into the plus column for vintage TV fans.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Men Of Violence

As a regular reader of this blog, you've become well aware of my fondness for those cheapjack men's adventure novels of the (mainly) 1970s. As they were never exactly considered high art or even literature in some circles, very little has been published about the people who wrote and published the adventures of the Executioner, the Death Merchant, the Penetrator, and so forth. But even less has been written about them.

Justin Marriott attempts to rectify that in the first of what I hope will be a series of fanzines titled MEN OF VIOLENCE. In old-school fanzine tradition, it's somewhat crude-looking, short (20 pages), strife with grammatical errors, which actually seems a perfectly natural approach for the material Justin is covering.

Using the incredibly badass cover of Bruno Rossi's Sharpshooter novel BLOOD BATH to illustrate his own mag, Justin takes brief looks at three of the most successful paperback series of the era: Don Pendleton's Executioner, Stuart Jason's Butcher, and Paul Edwards' John Eagle: Expeditor.

Also profiled are Dean Ballenger's three Gannon novels for Manor Books, which I haven't read, but desperately want to, after reading how lurid and violent they are. Finally, you may know best-selling author Nelson DeMille from his novels like THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER (which was made into a movie starring John Travolta) and GOLD COAST, but he started out writing extremely trashy cop novels about interchangeably hotheaded and racist detectives named Ryker, Keller (which I have, but haven't read yet), and possibly Joe Blaze. Justin does a good, if superficial, job in less than three pages deciphering DeMille's convoluted history as a paperback writer.

I believe the subject of these novels is worthy of an entire book, complete with reproductions of the often jawdropping cover art. I hope Justin will be the one to eventually accomplish that task.

Random Comic Book Splash Page: Miss Beverly Hills Of Hollywood #4

I don't know a damn thing about this story, except it was featured in MISS BEVERLY HILLS OF HOLLYWOOD #4, which DC Comics published in 1949. But it ain't every day you see a Burt Lancaster comic book.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Final Prison Break

For four seasons on Fox, the cast of PRISON BREAK dodged the authorities, searched for D.B. Cooper’s buried treasure (!), got trapped in a Caribbean hellhole, encountered international intrigue, and even underwent a covert mission for Homeland Security. As the final season bore to an end, the producers decided they had one last story to tell. Since ratings had dropped precipitously in its final year, the two extra episodes were cut together and released directly to home video a few months after the last show aired.

To fully explain PRISON BREAK would entail more space than I have available (the show’s premise changed every season), but in a nutshell, brilliant engineer Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) had himself tossed into a Chicago penitentiary with the notion of helping his brother Lincoln Burrows (JOHN DOE's Dominic Purcell), on Death Row for the murder of the Vice-President’s brother (which he didn’t commit), escape. They did at the end of Season 1, along with Scofield’s cellmate Sucre (Amaury Nolasco), serial killer T-Bag (scene-stealing Robert Knepper), and several others. Prison doctor Sara Tancredi (Sarah Wayne Callies), who helped Scofield’s breakout, tagged along, and William Fichtner (late of INVASION) eventually joined the cast and was consistently wonderful as drug-addicted FBI agent Alex Mahone.

Season 4, which is when THE FINAL BREAK takes place, found Scofield, Burrows, Sucre, T-Bag, and Sara involved in a conspiracy headed by a shady organization known as The Company, headed by the insidious bald General Krantz (flinty Leon Russom). The series ended with the good guys clearing their names and the bad guys behind bars, where they belong. But THE FINAL BREAK finds the brothers back together with Mahone and Sucre for—what else—another prison break. This time, it’s Sara (now Michael’s wife) in the joint for killing Michael’s mother (played by Kathleen Quinlan in the series), also a high-ranking member of The Company.

Since THE FINAL BREAK is a two-part episode and not really any kind of “movie,” its strengths and weaknesses coincide with those of the TV series. If you were a fan of PRISON BREAK, THE FINAL BREAK offers the same wacky plotting, slick production values, rocky performances, breakneck chases, and terse dialogue. By this time, you’ve either learned to give in to the production’s charms, which resemble a Republic serial on PCP, or give up altogether. The TV finale foreshadowed the bittersweet ending, but the actors, perhaps mirroring their own feelings about ending the show, still make it deliver a lump in the throat.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Boxoffice: June 21, 1976

Here's what the theaters in your neighborhood might have been playing--and making money with--the week of June 21, 1976. I love these old ads in Boxoffice, which was a publication aimed at film distributors and theater owners. Founded in 1920, it still publishes regularly today. But I doubt there's anything in it as cool as this.




Sunday, July 19, 2009

Somebody Loves Emily...Too Much

1980’s WINDOWS is an extremely obscure picture today, despite its relative youth and the fact it came from a major studio, United Artists. This notoriously awful, sick psychological thriller is also the only film directed by master cinematographer Gordon Willis (THE GODFATHER films), which makes it more than just a curiosity.

Emily (Talia Shire, whom Willis “shot” in THE GODFATHER), a mousy window-dresser with a stuttering problem, is raped in her apartment by a man with a tape recorder. The rapist, who is soon captured (in a pretty foolish way) and never mentioned again, gives the tape to Emily's friend and neighbor Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley), a twisted psycho lesbian who listens to Emily's recorded moans over and over in the dark. After Emily moves into a "safer" building, Andrea takes a loft across the river, where she uses a telescope to spy upon Emily's tentative relationship with the cop investigating the rape, Bob Leffrono (Joe Cortese).

WINDOWS is one of the sleaziest studio pictures I've ever seen, featuring a prolonged rape scene, serious lapses in taste and logic, and one of recent cinema's most embarrassing portrayals of that old stereotype staple--the deranged, perverted, murderous homosexual. Those who picketed BASIC INSTINCT ain't seen nuthin' 'til they've checked out Ashley's ranting and quite unsubtle ravings.

Ashley’s performance is the most obviously awful, since she's so far over the top, but Shire's acting is even worse, relying on the same "wounded deer" schtick she brought to several roles (including her Oscar nominated turn in ROCKY). Since WINDOWS begins with her rape, we're unable to gauge how Emily's behavior changes after the attack. It doesn't appear she was very interesting in the first place and definitely not the type to attract Cortese's cop.

Cortese, delivering the movie's third bad performance, looks like he's sleepwalking, reading his lines with the same inflection whether he's calling for a cab or scrambling to save his girlfriend's life. Actually, he doesn't scramble so much as sit on his fanny and wait for something to happen.

Because Willis served as his own cinematographer, it's no surprise that WINDOWS at least looks good. Many shots contain the same warm browns THE GODFATHER was so famous for, and Ennio Morricone's sensitive score helps, but not nearly enough to make up for Barry Siegel's illogical, slow-moving, and offensive screenplay and the poor performances.

WINDOWS didn’t do much for anyone’s career. Willis never directed again, but continued as an A-list cinematographer on big movies like PRESUMED INNOCENT and Woody Allen fare until his (apparent) 1997 retirement. Cortese moved on to a couple of TV pilots directed by William Friedkin and the shortlived sci-fi/cop series SOMETHING IS OUT THERE. Likewise, Shire and Ashley continued their careers as busy character actresses.

Still, I must admit, if WINDOWS was released to DVD with a commentary track by anyone involved with the production, I'd snap it up immediately to find out how the heck this mess got bankrolled. As far as I know, WINDOWS has never received a home video release. I saw it many years ago on cable—I think on Cinemax—and it would make an interesting double feature with CRUISING, another controversial thriller about a homosexual murderer that filmed in New York at about the same time, the winter of 1979.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite

"So, Walt, what words do you have trouble pronouncing?"

Worst meets best in this landmark episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, "Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite," which I pulled off the DVD shelf upon learning of the death of the venerable CBS newsman today at age 92. Unbelievably, the man so many Americans thought of as "Uncle Walter" served just 19 years in the anchor chair, and lived long enough to see his successor, Dan Rather, eventually replaced.

In "Ted Baxter," which aired during MARY TYLER MOORE's fourth season, vain WJM anchorman Baxter (Ted Knight) buys himself a Teddy Award, given to Minneapolis-St. Paul television productions, after six straight years of losing. His gambit, which includes praying on the air in an attempt to make himself appear more likable, works, and he now believes the network is going to come calling to make him a co-anchor with Cronkite.

Wouldn't ya know that Cronkite just happens to be in town to give a lecture and stops off at WJM to see his old war buddy Lou Grant (Edward Asner)? Cronkite has only one scene in the episode, which is worth seeing just for his introduction. It's a perfect indication of how popular he was that, when he enters the stage through the newsroom door, not only does he receive a round of applause from the studio audience, but also a few cheers.

Cronkite was reportedly a reluctant celebrity, and it must have been considered quite a coup for MARY TYLER MOORE to land him as a guest star (I believe this was his one and only sitcom appearance).

Walter Cronkite covered Watergate, Man on the moon, the JFK assassination. He was the most popular newsman in the world. More importantly, he was the most trusted newsman. We miss our favorite uncle tonight. But we have been missing him for a long time, since he left the CBS anchor desk in 1981, and broadcast journalism changed--for the worst--forever.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Street Fighting Girl

Polish director Andrezj Bartkowiak, whose specialty is making terrible action movies (DOOM, CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE) is perfectly suited for STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI, a knuckleheaded adaptation of the once-popular videogame. STREET FIGHTER was already made into a bad movie (sadly, the 1994 feature was the last for the fine actor Raul Julia), but I guess once wasn’t enough for Hollywood.

Chun-Li (SMALLVILLE’s comely Kristin Kreuk) is a concert pianist who saw ruthless blue-eyed gangster Bison (Neal McDonough) kidnap her wealthy father (Edmund Chen), when she was just a little girl. Somehow, though, she has photos of her adult self posing with her dad, which may be the sloppiest plothole I’ve ever seen.

She decides to go looking for her dad, which she can only do by wandering around Bangkok aimlessly until her contact Gen (Robin Shou) finds her. Gen, a former member of Bison’s organization gone straight, invites Chun-Li to join the Order of the Web, which is kind of his Justice League. He trains her in the martial arts and prepares her for battle against Bison and his chief henchman, the hulking Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan).

Meanwhile, Hong Kong cop Maya (Moon Bloodgood) and Interpol agent Nash (Chris Klein), in one of the most pointless parallel storylines in recent history, investigate Bison for the beheading deaths of his fellow gangsters. I’m not sure why Bartkowiak thought we wanted a bad LAW & ORDER episode dropped into our kung fu flick, but it sure helps drag down the level of acting in it.

Nobody is good in this movie. McDonough, who has done fine work in television (particularly BOOMTOWN), battles an inexplicable Irish accent. Duncan, of course, is not an actor, but rather a boulder. Kreuk is pallid (it sounds like her entire performance was looped), Bloodgood clumsy (she was equally poor as a cop on BURN NOTICE), and Klein delivers one of the worst performances ever given in a major Hollywood film. No kidding, I could play this role more convincingly and certainly more calmly than he does. Okay, so we aren’t watching STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI for its acting, but it isn’t too much to expect a little charm or charisma. This is one of the most colorless casts I’ve seen in awhile.

More egregious is the film’s relative lack of fight scenes. A movie based on STREET FIGHTER should have a lot more action than this one does. Writer Justin Marks falls in love with his plotting, constructing a painfully convoluted and senseless story that wastes the filmmakers’ time and ours. Chun-Li’s father’s kidnapping is the impetus for the plot, but we never find out who he is, where his money came from, or why Bison needed to hold him captive for twenty years (during which time, by the way, none of the characters but Chun-Li appears to age).

Fox picked up the negative, slapped its logo on it, dumped it into theaters, and eventually lavished a comprehensive DVD and Blu-ray release on it. They really shouldn’t have bothered. STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI is so lame, it even recycles the old let’s-pretend-to-make-out-so-the-bad-guys-won’t-know-we’re-staking-them-out trick.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Police Escort

Police Escort
February 5, 1980
Story: Robert E. Feinberg & Howard Liebling and Michael Russnow
Teleplay: Robert E. Feinberg & Howard Liebling
Director: James Sheldon

In this MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO episode, shady banker Harry Cunningham (Dennis Burkley), a former business partner of Lobo (Claude Akins), is back in Orly after serving a jail sentence. He tricks Lobo into working for him as a chaperone for his new escort service, which is part of an overall scheme to blackmail the town’s officials. Meanwhile, a series of THREE’S COMPANY-esque misunderstandings causes various characters to believe both Perkins (Mills Watson) and Lobo’s mother (Rosemary DeCamp) are knocking on Heaven’s door.

Watson spends most of the episode laid up in a hospital bed; maybe the actor needed a rest after so many weeks of falling down on the job—literally. That means Akins carries a heavier load, which leads to some fun at the expense of Lobo’s dignity. Needing extra money to buy his mama a mobile home, Lobo suffers plenty of abuse from the big, bearded Cunningham, who sends the sheriff to fetch him drinks and chauffer his girls on their dates. Don’t worry—Harry gets his much-deserved comeuppance at the end.

Writer Feinberg appears to have been a neophyte TV scribe who teamed up with the veteran Liebling, whose greatest success in the entertainment business was as a songwriter of Lesley Gore hits (“Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows”). Director Sheldon had a 35-year career in television without ever directing a feature, which seems amazing, when you think about it. Obviously, he had a great skill for keeping the buses running on time, and nothing about his direction of “Police Escort” is anywhere near ambitious. Also, veteran Lloyd Turner, whose writing credits included GET SMART and ALL IN THE FAMILY, joined THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO as a script consultant.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Abduction (1975)

Back in the 1970s, an author using the pseudonym Harrison James published BLACK ABDUCTOR, which told the story of a rich heiress named Patricia who is kidnapped by political terrorists, including a female named Angela. She eventually becomes sympathetic to her abductors’ views and astonishes her family by officially joining the group.

Shockingly, this is not a true-crime book about the Patty Hearst case, but a softcore paperback novel published in 1972—two years before the Hearst kidnapping. And it’s BLACK ABDUCTOR that forms the core of this sleazy potboiler by 29-year-old director Joseph Zito, who cut his teeth as a film exhibitor and distributor and later became a horror director of some note (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER).

Zito and writer/producer Kent Carroll must have thought they had struck gold when they stumbled upon the novel, as it allowed them to do a quick knockoff without inciting the wrath of the Hearst attorneys. ABDUCTION plays a lot like a trashy Seventies novel—a crude but effective potboiler filled with violence, nudity, lesbianism, miscegenation, and rape. Amazingly, Zito convinced stars Leif Erickson (THE HIGH CHAPARRAL) and Dorothy Malone (an Oscar winner for WRITTEN ON THE WIND) to play the parents, and Lawrence Tierney (DILLINGER) pops in to play an FBI agent.

In the film, it’s Patricia Prescott (TV actress Judith-Marie Bergan making a game feature debut) who is snatched from her campus apartment by extreme left-wingers. Her father isn’t a newspaper magnate, but a real estate developer who takes money meant for low-income housing and spends it on expensive highrises.

One wonders whether Zito and distributor Vantage originally intended to make this a sex film, as it features not only the kidnappers’ constant sexual abuse of Trish, but also her father’s warped insistence on watching videotapes of her rape. It seems unlikely seasoned veterans like Malone and Erickson would have signed on for an X-rated porno, though. Zito favors long takes (the actors are good enough to hold your attention) and eschews a musical score in an effort to make ABDUCTION feel as real as possible. He mostly succeeds, which means you may need a shower after you watch it.

The FBI allegedly sought out the author of BLACK ABDUCTOR—the non-existent “Harrison James”—as a suspect in the Hearst snatch. Some believe the true author may have been none other than CIA spook E. Howard Hunt! Was the Symbionese Liberation Army influenced by this trashy dimestore paperback original? Or did one of the SLA actually author it?

James appears to have been science fiction writer James Rusk Jr.; at least. the New York Times reported it in 1974. The publisher, Regency, which specialized in sex books and magazines, folded without a trace soon after BLACK ABDUCTOR was released. It was reportedly not legally copyrighted, and Dell republished it in 1974 as ABDUCTION: FICTION BEFORE FACT to capitalize on the Hearst case. It’s a fascinating mystery, and one that likely helped Zito’s film at the box office in the fall of 1975.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

There He Was...

The Butcher's fifth Pinnacle novel is a particularly weird one. In Stuart Jason's DEADLY DEAL, White Hat sics the Butcher on a mobster named Leo Lucho, who is stockpiling the world's platinum inside an abandoned mine shaft near Turnip Green, Kentucky. Lucho plans to blow up the mine, which he believes will then make him Premier of the United States of America.

Bucher becomes involved, initially, in an effort to find an Native American woman named Noma Kiva, a missing witness to Lucho's assassination of a Syndicate rival. During his search for Noma, the Butcher becomes aware of Lucho's oddball plot.

Apparently written by James Dockery using the Stuart Jason house name, DEADLY DEAL continues the trend of earlier Butcher novels of describing all Mafia employees as repugnant physically as they are cruel and perverted. Dockery's mobsters are all dimwitted or homosexual or limping or fat or scarred. It makes one wonder how the Mob could have gotten so powerful.

Plenty of location-hopping, rough action, and brisk pacing makes DEADLY DEAL an adequately filling Butcher adventure.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Mannix Meets Murder

In 1968, during MANNIX's first season on CBS, Popular Library released its first and only tie-in novel, imaginatively titled MANNIX. Author Michael Avallone probably wrote the dang thing, prolific as he was, during one cigarette- and coffee-fueled weekend without ever watching an episode. It's only 128 pages and bears little resemblance to the TV series, outside of its basic concept.

During Season 1, Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was an iconoclastic tough guy working for Intertect, a high-tech detective agency run by officious Lew Wickersham (Joe Campanella). Avallone got that right, but he strangely sets his novel in New York (the MANNIX series was L.A. through and through) and tosses in a couple of comely co-workers for Mannix to flirt with, Moneypenny-style.

Instead of a two-fisted private eye tale, Avallone delivers an espionage story, and a dull one at that. Rich bitch Iris Foley (the Paris Hilton of her day) is recruited by the Communists to engineer a plot to draw the U.S. Secretary of State into a compromising position to be used as blackmail material. The government hires Intertect and Joe Mannix to stop it.

The cover called MANNIX (the book) "bullet-fast," but it ain't. Very little happens in terms of action, and the big climax, which turns on a lame plot twist in a high-rise apartment, may have worked in a budget-conscious episode, but it's a real fizzler on the page.

Avallone does kind of get star Mike Connors' wise-guy attitude pretty well, and Wickersham, which could have been a thankless role in the hands of a worse actor than Campanella, plays okay too, so maybe Avallone did see a show or two. Beats me, though, why he failed to showcase any chases or fights. Or why he moved the setting to New York.

Seven years later, Belmont picked up the MANNIX franchise, and published four new novels by J.T. MacCargo.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Random TV Title: The Men From Shiloh

Well, with Stewart Granger being Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month and all, it seemed like a good opportunity to highlight THE MEN FROM SHILOH, a series I've never seen, but would really like to.

THE MEN FROM SHILOH was really just an extension of THE VIRGINIAN, a weekly 90-minute western series that debuted on NBC in the fall of 1962. By the time it kicked off its ninth season in 1970, it was felt that a change of pace was in order, so movie star Granger was brought in to headline opposite actors James Drury (as the Virginian) and Doug McClure, who had been with THE VIRGINIAN since the beginning.

Even bigger was the show's new look and sound. Obviously inspired by the wave of gritty, filthy Italian westerns in movie theaters and drive-ins all over the U.S., THE MEN FROM SHILOH dirtied up the photography and costumes, gave its leading men facial hair, and offered viewers a brand new theme. Instead of THE VIRGINIAN's majestic Percy Faith theme, each MEN FROM SHILOH kicked off with opening music composed by the great Ennio Morricone, who had scored Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns," among many others.

The result may or may not have been popular with TV viewers, though the fact that SHILOH lasted just one season may lean in the latter direction. As far as I know, THE MEN FROM SHILOH is the only TV western of the era to pattern itself after the stylish, operatic, more violent westerns coming out of Europe.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Fog Of War

Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson who was a major architect of the Vietnam War, died today at age 93.

Anyone following the war in Iraq, especially those at BushCo who started it, should be required to watch Errol Morris' fine 2003 documentary THE FOG OF WAR: ELEVEN LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ROBERT MCNAMARA.

It's basically one long interview with McNamara, an arch-foe of the passionate anti-Vietnam protesters of the period, a man accused of arrogance, a lack of human feeling, and a mathematical, rather than emotional, approach to sending men overseas to die. Obviously, there's no way to watch FOG and not feel compelled to substitute the words "Rumsfeld", "Bush," and "Iraq" for "McNamara", "Johnson," and "Vietnam".

The similarities between the two administrations and their approaches to war are frighteningly similar. As McNamara even points out, the lack of effective data, an inability to admit or accept failure, and an arrogant dismissal of the opinions and advice of U.S. allies were fatal flaws in the Johnson administration's approach to 'Nam. And, of course, the sight of a Texan President with a decidedly inferior intelligence to those businessmen (McNamara was the president of the Ford Motor Company before joining Kennedy's staff) in his inner circle is one we saw on the evening news every night during the Bush administration.

While McNamara doesn't go so far as to apologize for his actions during the late 1960s, he clearly sees his tenure as Defense Secretary in a different light, a more sorrowful one. Perhaps he feels an apology would feel hollow so many years later; after all, what's done is done. I came out of FOG admiring him a lot more than I did going into the film. I'd like to admire our contemporary leaders the same way. I just hope it doesn't take forty years for Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. to admit they screwed up.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape

I just discovered this 1983 song by The Times on Rhino's CHILDREN OF NUGGETS box set. It's funny that the video plays almost exactly like any number of homemade tribute videos on YouTube, where a fan reenacts a scene or the opening credits from their favorite TV show.

Times lead singer and songwriter Ed Ball had been a member of three earlier British bands, including the Television Personalities and the Teenage Filmstars, before forming The Times in 1982. The Times' third single on the new ARTPOP! label was a tribute to the great 1960s television series THE PRISONER, which starred Patrick McGoohan as a British former spy who is kidnapped and held prisoner in a mysterious village by people who want to know why he retired.

"I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape" was not a hit single, but it is a catchy song, and its video is a fun tribute to McGoohan and THE PRISONER.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Random TV Title: Karen Sisco

I've written plenty about KAREN SISCO on this blog, including individual reviews of all ten episodes. Elmore Leonard created the character for a short story and the novel OUT OF SIGHT, published in 1996. OUT OF SIGHT was made into an excellent film in 1998 with Jennifer Lopez playing the role.

When ABC brought the character to television in 2003, the very foxy Carla Gugino (WATCHMEN) played Karen, a U.S. Marshal based in Florida who encounters a bevy of oddballs in both her professional and personal lives. Bill Duke (who once signed my PREDATOR DVD) played her limping boss at the Marshal's office (don't know if the cane was a carryover from the Leonard stories), and Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN) played her father, with whom she had a very personable relationship. In fact, I'd say it was one of the most interesting father/daughter teams I've ever seen on television, partially because the overall writing on KAREN SISCO was so good, but mostly because Forster and Gugino had genuine chemistry together.

ABC treated KAREN SISCO like shit, promoted it badly, took it off the schedule, and never put it on Sundays back-to-back with ALIAS, where it would have been a hit. ABC only aired seven episodes with the three unaired shows running later on USA and on Sleuth. USA realized what a good concept it was, and is currently ripping it off with its series IN PLAIN SIGHT, which stars Mary McCormack (MURDER ONE) as a U.S. Marshal in another sun-drenched locale: Albuquerque.

KAREN SISCO's groovy open bathes Gugino in MIAMI VICE-style Day Glo colors (the show was set in Miami) and features a remix of the Isley Brothers' 1971 smash "It's Your Thing."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Random TV Title: The Streets Of San Francisco

I've had little time to do much blogging this week, but I have to acknowledge today's passing of actor Karl Malden, who made it to age 97. The list of film directors Malden worked with in his extraordinary career as a character actor is incredible: Hitchcock, Kazan, Ford, Henry Hathaway, Marlon Brando, Norman Jewison, Ken Russell, Frankenheimer, Schaffner, Blake Edwards, Martin Ritt, even Dario Argento. Malden also directed a film of his own, the suspenseful courtroom drama TIME LIMIT, which only recently made it to DVD, and I'm glad Malden lived to see it released.

However, he's best known (and it's what most of his obits are leading with) as the star of THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, an above-average Quinn Martin crime drama that was a hit for five seasons on ABC from 1972 to 1977. Sharp writing, high production values, location shooting in San Francisco, and a warm, realistic relationship between Malden and the young actor playing his cop partner--Michael Douglas--made the show a success. The first two seasons are available on DVD, and I advise you to sample some episodes.

Here's a video I posted to YouTube. It's the opening titles to the Season 4 episode "Murder By Proxy," guest-starring John Ritter, Bradford Dillman, and other recognizable faces.