Thursday, December 30, 2010

Game Plan For Disaster

As the cover of this Dell paperback indicates, take a dash of BLACK SUNDAY, add the "searing horror" of THE TOWERING INFERNO, and you get Barney Cohen's 1975 novel COLISEUM, which would have made a swell TV-movie starring David Janssen and David Birney.

I'm sure someone in Hollywood did read COLISEUM, because not only did SUPERDOME and MURDER AT THE WORLD SERIES soon become TV-movies about killers infiltrating major sporting events, in 1976, Universal released TWO-MINUTE WARNING, which has the exact same plot as COLISEUM. The Universal film was officially based on George LaFountaine's novel, which presumably also duplicates Cohen's plot. Or did the LaFountaine book come first? I'm not sure.

As you may have guessed, COLISEUM is about a sniper that attacks a 112,000-seat domed stadium on the first Sunday of the National Football League season. In tried-and-true disaster movie fashion, however, the action doesn't start until very late. Up to then, Cohen creates a bunch of different characters and provides us with their various backstories.

What's interesting is the details involving the day-to-day operation of a stadium that plays host to rock concerts, sporting events, and even a millionaire swami. Among the leading characters are publicity director Danny Haber, who is one of the men in charge of the operation; security chief Jason Stretcher; pro quarterback Bo Detwiler; and Mindy Haber, Danny's sister and Bo's lover.

Outside of Danny, most of the characters detailed in Cohen's novel have little to do with the plot, which opens with the sniper (his identity is meant to be a mystery that is revealed about halfway through) sneaking into the stadium a few days early to fire some test rounds. Once the action begins, it's surprisingly brutal, and I was surprised that Cohen doesn't just save the tragedy for white male victims.

Cohen, who moved from novels into screenwriting, maintains a steady pace and clearly was a baseball fan, sprinkling names like Terry Forster and Von Joshua into the narrative. Probably best known for penning the screenplay for FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, Cohen later wrote a draft or two for Cannon's proposed SPIDER-MAN film, created the vampire-cop series FOREVER KNIGHT, and supervised scripts for the SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH TV series.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Is For Awesome

21-year-old Emma Stone is charming as hell in EASY A, which is its prime asset and also partially a problem.

Stone is playing Olive, an Ojai, California high school student who is supposed to be unpopular and unattractive. Of course, Olive is wonderful and sexy and funny and stretches the film’s premise into science fiction territory. But because Emma Stone, whom you may recall from SUPERBAD, is a terrifically appealing young actress in a real star-making performance, she gives you all the reason you need to watch the amusing EASY A.

Bert V. Royal’s plot targets Olive as the object of scurrilous rumors after she tells her best friend Rhiannon (BANDSLAM’s Aly Michalka, showing off Ojai High’s student body’s lone boob job) a fib about losing her virginity to a community college student named George. The story gets around, and soon the school’s male outcasts, including a fat, hairy guy and a gay student named Brandon (COUGAR TOWN’s Dan Byrd), are soliciting Olive to say she slept with them so they can improve their street cred. Amanda Bynes plays fundamentalist classmate Marianne—Olive’s chief rival—and GOSSIP GIRL’s Penn Badgley is the nice guy who doesn’t believe the rancid stories about Olive.

Royal’s dialogue is smart and catchy and the kind of words Diablo Cody wishes she could write. The cast clearly loves the script, which brings out the best and the glibbest in former MURDER ONE castmates Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive’s parents, Thomas Haden Church (SIDEWAYS) as her concerned English teacher, Lisa Kudrow (FRIENDS) as her adulterous guidance counselor, and Malcolm McDowell (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) as the principal. TV veteran Will Gluck (ANDY RICHTER CONTROLS THE UNIVERSE) keeps the gags and words coming at a rat-a-tat pace. It seems weird that high school students would look down as piously on sexually active peers as EASY A’s do, but Gluck stays true to his cockeyed universe that pays homage to the popular teen movies of the 1980s without slavishly copying them.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Death At Its Ugliest

So who wrote DEATH RACE, the seventh in Pinnacle's men's adventure series about an ex-mobster called the Butcher? Some online sources claim prolific pulp author Michael Avallone, who certainly wrote some Butcher novels, also penned this 1973 entry, while Bradley Mengel's SERIAL VIGILANTES OF PAPERBACK FICTION credits DEATH RACE to Butcher creator James Dockery.

I'm inclined to go with Dockery, though DEATH RACE is not a very good novel. It sends Bucher, the former Mafia kingpin with a quarter-million-dollar bounty on his head, to Alaska to perform a mission for the super-secret government agency White Hat, for which he now operates as an agent codenamed Iceman. Unfortunately, it also saddles Bucher with a new Eskimo lover, Sonya Rostov, and most of the book is this badass mooning over her and even considering quitting White Hat to live with her in the cold and the ice and the snow.

It comes as no surprise that Sonya doesn't live to the end of the book, which motivates the Butcher to kick ass. The villain is Dr. Wan Fu, a criminal genius with--literally--two brains, one of which grows on the outside of his face like a hideous birthmark. His favorite game is to sic his killer canines on helpless victims.

DEATH RACE may have the lowest body count of any Butcher novel, which is depressing. It won't take long to read, but is probably not worth the effort.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Astro-Zombies

Las Vegas-based filmmaker Ted V. Mikels’ cult classic THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES has earned its spot on any list of all-time worst films, and I love that M*A*S*H star Wayne Rogers (!) was involved in its screenplay and production. At least he put his name on it (he was just a somewhat recognizable TV guest star at the time), unlike his previous Mikels collaboration, DR. SEX, in which he billed himself as Juan Rogero. The opening titles play over footage of radio-control toy robots. I have no idea why. Just accept the fact of THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES.

Mikels’ film stretches across the horror, science fiction, and spy genres to present the story of mad doctor DeMarco (John Carradine, natch), furious after being sacked by the government. For revenge, he creates a zombie (played by an actor wearing an obvious rubber Halloween monster mask) from corpses and sends his mute hunchback assistant Franchot (William Bagdad) after more body parts. All the mutilation murders get the attention of CIA desk jockey Holman (veteran character actor Wendell Corey, who may not be entirely sober), as well as a bunch of Commie spies led by the alluring Satana (FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!'s alluring Tura Satana), whose cleavage and thigh-high skirts, as well as a revolver with a silencer (!), keep her boys in line.

THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES lurches madly back and forth from hilarious to stultifying, sometimes within the same scene. For instance, almost every Carradine scene finds the horror legend alone in his lab, reciting two pounds of senseless technobabble to Franchot and twisting knobs. Just when your eyelids have about closed (through no fault, I should say, of Carradine, who handles the turgid dialogue like a pro), Mikels cuts to the other side of the lab, where a sexy girl in a bikini lies strapped to a table. For absolutely no reason—nothing is done with her, and she is incidental to the plot.

Rogers claims some of THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES was filmed at Peter Falk’s house (!) and that he made a lot of money on it in drive-ins. Shot in six days (and Carradine was surely done within two), Mikels’ movie is a total mess with distracted actors and a nonsense plot. As rotten as it is, however, THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES (there’s only one astro-zombie until the last ninety seconds) remains eminently watchable and is certainly one of Mikels’ most entertaining pictures.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Deadly Game

I know. It's been a long time since I did a book review here. I had been laying off the trashy novels for awhile to catch up on other things, but now I'm back and starting the new reviews with a winner. And I must say I'm surprised it took Pinnacle fourteen novels for the Penetrator to rip off "The Most Dangerous Game."

First published in 1924, "The Most Dangerous Game" is a short story by Richard Connell and has probably been stolen for use in more novels, stories, movies, and television shows than any other. I believe only the 1932 feature THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and 1956's RUN FOR THE SUN are the only official film adaptations, but you've seen the central plot a hundred times: man and/or woman is captured by a crazy hunter who sets them loose in the jungle/desert/forest with a head start and then tracks them as game. For instance, in SURVIVING THE GAME, it was a homeless Ice-T who was the quarry of hunters including Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer. Even GILLIGAN'S ISLAND (!) did a MOST DANGEROUS GAME ripoff with great white hunter Rory Calhoun tracking Gilligan.

The 1976 novel MANKILL SPORT, written by Chet Cunningham under Pinnacle's house name of Lionel Derrick, pits Mark Hardin, the Penetrator, against a Detroit mobster named Johnny Utah who runs an operation in Canada in which he kidnaps people off the street, strips them naked, cages them, and systematically sends them off into the woods to be tracked and hunted like game by rich assholes.

Hardin allows himself to be captured to expose the operation from the inside, but Utah and his men get a lot more than they bargained for when they inadvertently snatched a victim who can fight back. Even without shoes and clothes, the Penetrator kicks some major ass. As he's not a total psycho, unlike some other men's adventure heroes, he tries to show some mercy for Utah, who then proves he isn't worthy of it.

MANKILL SPORT packs few surprises, but is still a compact, easy read that delivers a couple hours of thrills. It drags a bit at the beginning when it saddles Hardin with a romance with Joanna Tabler, an FBI agent he met in an earlier story. Hardin even gives horsey rides to some little kids! Bah, who wants a domesticated Penetrator?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Random Comic Book Splash Page: Night Nurse #2

Once upon a time, kids, there were actually comic books that didn't have superheroes in them. You could find cowboys, spies, soldiers, barbarians, funny animals, teenagers, and sometimes just ordinary human beings with interesting stories to tell. It takes talent to write and draw those stories, however, and those people don't work in comic books anymore.

Not to make NIGHT NURSE out to be more than it was, which was a soap opera aimed at a young female audience. It's true--girls used to read comics too!

NIGHT NURSE was part of a plan by Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Roy Thomas and publisher Stan Lee to create books for girls to read. None of the three, which also included SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL (covers by Jim Steranko) and CLAWS OF THE CAT, lasted more than a few months.

The Night Nurse was Linda Carter, who, in this issue, works with her roommate to prove that a doctor was the hit-and-run driver who killed a young woman. Written by Thomas' then-wife Jean and drawn old-timer Win Mortimer, NIGHT NURSE #2 from January 1973 was a rather typical issue--not terribly exciting next to the city-exploding storylines in other Marvel books, but certainly capable storytelling.

NIGHT NURSE was canceled after four issues, but Linda Carter was resurrected in Marvel storylines a few years ago and continues to exist in the company's universe.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crazy Lady In Red

BIG BAD MAMA starring Angie Dickinson was an enormous hit for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures—the studio’s biggest to date—so it should come as little surprise that Corman had the similar CRAZY MAMA in theaters a year later. Somehow, he convinced Academy Award winner Cloris Leachman (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) to star in it. Leachman was no past-her-prime matinee queen trying to hold on to old glory (as when Corman cast Shelley Winters in 1970’s BLOODY MAMA). She was extremely popular on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and in TV-movies, getting nominated for Emmys almost every year, and it’s a mystery why she chose to do a low-budget comic action programmer for drive-ins.

One guess is that she saw something in director Jonathan Demme that Corman did and the rest of the world soon would. Later the Oscar-winning director of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and PHILADELPHIA, Demme broke into Hollywood the way many other filmmakers did—in Corman’s trenches at New World. After writing and/or producing the women-in-prison flicks THE HOT BOX and BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA, Demme made his directing debut with another one, CAGED HEAT, which garnered critical acclaim unusual to the genre. More importantly, it made New World money and influenced Corman to hire Demme to direct another violent melodrama with female leads: CRAZY MAMA.

With more humor and less sex and violence than BIG BAD MAMA, Demme’s film suffers from its lack of exploitation elements. The director and screenwriter Robert Thom (DEATH RACE 2000) are going for a screwball vibe in its attempt to parody 1950s kitsch, but instead they’ve created a lot of racket and wheel-spinning. A soundtrack packed with hit singles (“All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Money,” “Lollipop”) and Burma Shave spoofs are little substitution for wit.

Frustrated with the system after banker Albertson (Jim Backus) takes their California beauty shop, Melba (Leachman), her mother Sheba (Ann Sothern), and her pregnant daughter Cheryl (Linda Purl) steal a car and head to Arkansas to buy back their long-ago-foreclosed farm. To get the money, they pull a series of robberies with the help of Cheryl’s meek boyfriend Shawn (Donny Most), 82-year-old Bertha (Marie Earle), greaser Snake (Bryan Englund, Leachman’s son), and gambling sheriff Jim Bob (Stuart Whitman), who becomes Melba’s new Vegas husband.

Editors-turned-directors Allan Holzman (FORBIDDEN WORLD) and Lewis Teague (ALLIGATOR) try to piece together a cohesive story, but too many plot points are lost in the cacophony (like John Aprea’s photographer character), and the postscript showing us the fates of the surviving characters feels like a copout.

Dick Miller, Sally Kirkland, Carmen Argenziano, Beach Dickerson, Clint Kimbrough (husband of co-writer Frances Doel), Will Sampson (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST), and Tisha Sterling, who plays a younger version of her real-life mother Sothern’s character, appear in support. You can also see Dennis Quaid making his (silent) film debut as a bellhop and THE WIND AND THE LION director John Milius as a bearded cop. Demme, who stepped into CRAZY MAMA after Shirley Clarke (THE COOL WORLD) dropped out, made a third film for Corman—the action picture FIGHTING MAD with Peter Fonda—though it was produced for 20th Century Fox.

A smart script by John Sayles (PASSION FISH), then a member of Roger Corman’s screenwriting stable, lends 1979's THE LADY IN RED some class. Pamela Sue Martin, then something of a name coming off the Nancy Drew TV series and a Playboy spread, stars as Polly Franklin, the young acquaintance of gangster John Dillinger who was by his side when he was shot down in Chicago in 1934.

In actuality, the “Lady in Red” was the moniker given to Anna Sage (Louise Fletcher), the madam who informed the FBI of Dillinger’s whereabouts that day. I guess Corman or Sayles liked the title, though, and manipulated the narrative so that it pointed towards Polly. Martin is quite good as both the innocent who leaves a rough home life with her abusive, religious father to make it on her own in the city and as the confident prostitute who learns to toughen up behind bars. Despite her squeaky clean television image, she has no problem carrying this mature picture.

TV star Robert Conrad (then on BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP) has much less screen time than the film’s marketing lets on, but essays the notorious baddie Dillinger as a happy-go-lucky guy who looks like more of a hero than the Feds who blow him away. Director Lewis Teague, a New World editor directing his first film (he was fired during production of DIRTY O’NEIL) throws in plenty of action and nudity to occupy the drive-in crowd, while the good performances and occasional humor elevate the movie to one of New World’s classier releases.

THE LADY IN RED, shot in four weeks for under a half-million dollars, was not successful at the box office, however. In an attempt to find an audience, New World retitled the film GUNS, SIN & BATHTUB GIN (!) and put together a coarse trailer that must have included practically every nude scene and blood squib in the movie. The new campaign failed, and THE LADY IN RED, while surely a moneymaker, became a rare Corman misfire.

You can see both CRAZY MAMA and THE LADY IN RED on Shout Factory's latest Roger Corman Cult Classics DVD. All of CRAZY MAMA's supplements come from the old New Concorde DVD, over which the new disc is a great improvement. Demme and Corman provide an interesting commentary track--thankfully, the A-list director doesn't look down on his early exploitation work--and also shoot the shit in a sitdown interview also taken from the New Concorde disc. A theatrical trailer and some TV spots complete the CRAZY MAMA extras, as well as a poster gallery that includes THE LADY IN RED material.

Shout Factory has also included a couple of trailers, including its re-release spot as GUNS, SIN & BATHTUB GIN, for THE LADY IN RED, which gets two audio commentaries, both new. The first, teaming director Teague and co-star Robert Forster, who goes uncredited in a small role as a sympathetic hitman named Turk, is something of a disappointment. It really needs a moderator, since the two men have little to say about the film. It eventually goes out of sync, meaning they're talking about scenes we won't see for another couple of minutes, and they eventually just give up talking altogether. Much better is the second commentary pairing writer Sayles and producer Julie Corman. Sayles, a bright guy who did a lot of research into Dillinger, dominates the track so much one wonders whether Mrs. Corman gets a bit bored listening to him.

We also get trailers for other Corman flicks now or soon available on DVD: THE GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE, SMOKEY BITES THE DUST, BIG BAD MAMA, CAGED HEAT, and THE BIG BIRD CAGE.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

When Justice Fails

Gidget goes Charles Bronson in EYE FOR AN EYE, a rather heavy-handed thriller Paramount justifiably buried in its January ’96 graveyard.

Sally Field, playing a grieving mother who considers vigilantism in the wake of her daughter’s murder, is earnest enough and surrounded by a bravura cast, but the simplistic screenplay by the makers of THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE infects the production with a Lifetime Television mentality that lets the actors down. It doesn’t get off to a good start when a hysterical Field runs down the street with a phone in her hand screaming for someone to lend her a phone.

Karen (Field) and Mack McCann (Ed Harris) are traumatized after their teenage girl is murdered in their home. The police, represented by Sergeant DeNillo (played by Joe Mantegna as a mealy-mouthed wimp to suit the movie’s one-track agenda), find the killer, Robert Doob (Kiefer Sutherland), but have to free him on a technicality. Because EYE FOR AN EYE can’t decide if it wants to be a mindless vigilante thriller or a serious examination of the issues, it stacks the deck to prevent the audience from thinking. Sutherland plays Doob as an evil, remorseless redneck, and the authorities are almost comically ineffectual in their efforts to jail him. He spits on the sidewalk, cackles while driving erratically, and even pours hot coffee on a stray mutt.

Ultimately, EYE FOR AN EYE doesn’t even have the courage of its convictions, putting Doob into a situation where Karen has no choice but to kill him. Perhaps the climax satisfies the audience’s desire to see a nasty villain dead, but it’s a dramatic copout that makes the preceding ninety minutes feel like a waste.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Big Bad DVD

All Wilma wants is the very best for her daughters. Isn’t that what all mothers want? And if it just so happens that she has to wave a Tommy gun around to get it, well, then, that’s just what she’ll do.

A middle-aged widow didn’t have many options in Depression-era Texas, not even one as feisty, as intelligent, and as beautiful as Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson). BIG BAD MAMA, as directed by Steve Carver (DRUM) and written by Frances Doel (DEATHSPORT) and William Norton (WHITE LIGHTNING), finds the fortyish mother scrounging to make a good life for her two teenagers. The oldest girl, Billie Jean (Susan Sennett, THE CANDY SNATCHERS), didn’t fall far from the tree, able to sass, smoke, screw, and shoot in her mama’s image. Younger Polly (Robbie Lee, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS) is still a little girl trapped in a burgeoning woman’s body, built for pleasure, but still reliant on a teddy bear for security.

The McClatchie women find themselves quickly on the move out of eastern Texas after their bootlegging business comes to a violent end. With a pair of bumbling G-men hot on their trail, Wilma schemes to take her family to California to start a new life, an honest one. Her plan doesn’t work out when Wilma, aghast at discovering her daughters performing an ersatz striptease for a bunch of drunken vets, pulls a pistol and robs the joint.

Rationalizing that “we need it more than they do,” Wilma escalates to bank robbery, using her luscious confederates as a distraction. One such heist is interrupted by Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt), who tries robbing the same bank at the same time and ends up sharing Wilma’s spoils as a member of her gang and as her lover. With Fred’s hotheaded attitude and skills with a machine gun, the McClatchies begin making a name for themselves, brashly knocking over more banks and even an oil field in broad daylight.

Roger Corman produced BIG BAD MAMA for his New World production company, which was perhaps the most exciting and most profitable independent Hollywood studios of the 1970s. One reason for New World’s success was Corman’s instinct for what an audience wanted to see: namely nudity and violence. BIG BAD MAMA certainly delivers on that front, serving up like clockwork a smorgasbord of bloody gun battles, car crashes, undraped females, and sweaty sex scenes. It has been said that Corman’s only rule for his directors was to deliver a “bump”—something exploitable—every ten minutes. Carver took Corman’s advice to heart and then some; BIG BAD MAMA is one of the company’s best-paced and most frenetic pictures.

However, what set New World movies apart from others playing at the drive-in were the social commentary and relevant human drama that often lurked beneath the surface. Dickinson, a ‘50s ingĂ©nue who would experience the biggest success of her long career in POLICE WOMAN a few months after BIG BAD MAMA’s premiere, plays Wilma ahead of her time as a fully emancipated woman who certainly didn’t need a man to complete her, but surely enjoyed the company of one when it suited her purpose. Women weren’t allowed to be openly sexual beings in 1933, when the movie is set, and that goes double for teenage girls. BIG BAD MAMA exploits that taboo by letting Skerritt’s character explore open relationships with all three McClatchie women.

The gang’s crime spree takes a turn with the arrival of Southern smoothie William J. Baxter (William Shatner), whom Wilma picks up during a racetrack heist. The money-grubbing weakling quickly replaces Fred as Wilma’s bed partner, freeing Diller to hop into the sack with Billie Jean first and then both girls simultaneously. The complex relationships among the five leading characters are quite unusual for a low-budget action movie of the period, endowing the sex and violence with a human element that forces you to care about the next car chase or shootout beyond whether it delivers viscerally or not.

The game cast is mostly responsible for the dramatic weight. Dickinson, at age 42, is a tremendous sport, not only agreeing to appear nude in several scenes (which undoubtedly contributed to the film’s box office), but performing much of her own stuntwork and deftly handling the responsibility of transforming Norton and Doel’s lead into a fully rounded woman. Both Skerritt and Shatner are able foils for Dickinson. Shatner’s post-Kirk image may have taken a slight beating, considering his amusing characterization of a weak-willed, mealy-mouthed card sharp, but the result was worth it. He’s a joy to watch, and so is BIG BAD MAMA, a ribaldly entertaining action/comedy that stands, out of literally hundreds of Roger Corman productions, among his most satisfying.

Wilma dies in the closing shot of BIG BAD MAMA, which didn’t stop Corman from reviving her thirteen years later. BIG BAD MAMA II isn’t a helluva lot different than the original, however. The screenplay by director Jim Wynorski (NOT OF THIS EARTH) and R.J. Robertson (FORBIDDEN WORLD) is more of a remake than a sequel.

Wilma McClatchie (Dickinson, still looking foxy in her 50s) is still robbing the rich with her two sexy underage daughters, played by TV good girls Danielle Brisebois (ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE) and Julie McCullough (GROWING PAINS). To provide the romance, again like the original, she recruits a young stud, Jordan Crawford (Jeff Yagher) and a crafty older journalist, Daryl Pearson (Robert Culp). Out for revenge against Morgan Crawford (Bruce Glover), the venal millionaire who stole her farm and murdered her husband, Wilma pulls her Thompson out of storage and goes on a violent rampage. Along for the ride and romancing Wilma in the process, Pearson smells Pulitzer and crafts his weekly column to promote Wilma as a heroine.

Wynorski keeps the action rolling along, but the production just isn’t as much fun the second time around. The sequel features less action, less nudity, and even less production value. Wynorski lets his typical sloppiness slip in on occasion—for instance, the mullets on the 1930s extras and the use of action footage pulled from the first BIG BAD MAMA. Dickinson doesn’t doff her clothes this time, but the choice of much younger body doubles to play Angie and Culp in the love scene is hilarious.

Both BIG BAD MAMAs are available from Shout Factory on a new Roger Corman Cult Classics DVD. It’s the third time the original has been on disc, although the first in its preferred 1.85:1 aspect ratio. BIG BAD MAMA II was a VHS and cable staple, but has never been on DVD before now. You can watch the films separately or as part of the “Grindhouse Experience” as a double feature with trailers and other bits.

Both films have been blessed with audio commentary tracks by their makers. Corman and Angie Dickinson’s track from the Buena Vista DVD is included here, along with a new commentary by director Carver and director of photography Bruce Logan. The hapless Walter Olsen moderates the track with his typical disdain for preparation. Director Wynorski goes solo on the BIG BAD MAMA II track, which was included on New Concorde’s 2002 DVD. He’s one of the few directors who can handle a feature-length commentary by himself, but he seems bored here. He’s certainly less candid than he can be, diplomatically discussing Robert Culp, an actor he has said publicly he hated.

Also ported over from the Buena Vista DVD is a short featurette on BIG BAD MAMA featuring Dickinson, Shatner, Corman, Carver, and the film’s writers, as well as Leonard Maltin interviews with Corman. Olsen sits Bruce Glover before a camera for a short interview. Also included are trailers for both films, as well as future Shout Factory releases CRAZY MAMA (a trailer I haven’t seen before that really pushes its 1950s setting), SMOKEY BITES THE DUST, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, and THE LADY IN RED.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Don Meredith On Police Woman

Everyone knows the late “Dandy” Don Meredith was a fine NFL quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, being named to the Pro Bowl three times and the NFL Player of the Year in 1966. Everyone also knows about Meredith’s career as a sportscaster, namely as one-third of the most popular football announcing teams of all time, joining Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell for many seasons on ABC’s MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. But what is mostly forgotten is Meredith’s brief career as an actor.

“The Danderoo,” as Cosell sometimes called him, left MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL to join NBC. His three-year contract not only included calling NFL games with Curt Gowdy, but also acting in NBC TV series and movies. One of his first acting gigs under his new deal was in “The Loner,” POLICE WOMAN’s first-season finale.

POLICE WOMAN starred Angie Dickinson (RIO BRAVO) as Sgt. Pepper Anderson, an undercover Los Angeles police detective who worked for her platonic friend Sgt. Bill Crowley (Earl Holliman). A sexy mature actress, Dickinson was one of the first women to star in a one-hour police drama. Unlike the campy CHARLIE’S ANGELS, which came two years later, POLICE WOMAN was played straight with plenty of sex, violence, and adult storylines featuring white slavery, illegal adoptions, narcotics, serial killers, and lots of rapes. Under executive producer David Gerber, POLICE WOMAN was gritty, tough, and popular with audiences.

“The Loner” aired March 14, 1975. Burton Armus, later a staff writer on KOJAK, NYPD BLUE, and STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, penned the teleplay, and ONE STEP BEYOND host/creator John Newland directed it. Meredith plays Turk Allison, a Texas-bred private eye hired to keep an eye on an important witness named Fred Blau (Pat Harrington, ONE DAY AT A TIME’s Schneider). After an assassination attempt at LAX that leaves one gunman dead, Blau splits, and the lone-wolf Allison teams with Pepper and a reluctant Crowley to find Blau before mobster Ace Briscoe (Neville Brand) does.

Meredith is amateurish and a bit stiff, but not without charisma, and the Southern-fried Allison may have been written for him. Gerber knew him well, having cast Meredith in several episodes of the anthology series POLICE STORY as Tony LoBianco’s partner. The Meredith/LoBianco shows were popular, but surprisingly never led to a regular series. 1976’s BANJO HACKETT was certainly an attempt at getting Meredith a weekly vehicle, but the pilot didn’t go.

Dandy Don returned to the MNF fold in 1977, but continued to act, most notable in the NBC movie UNDERCOVER WITH THE KKK, which starred Meredith as FBI agent Gary Rowe, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama in the early 1960s. He left MNF for good in 1984 and pretty much retired from the public life, popping up for occasional acting jobs and rare NFL appearances.

Meredith died last night in Santa Fe, New Mexico after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was 72 years old. His Dallas Morning News obituary is here.

Mystery On The Orly Express

Mystery on the Orly Express
March 25, 1980
Music: John Andrew Tartaglia
Writer: Lloyd Turner
Director: Christian I. Nyby II

Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins), deputies Perkins (Mills Watson) and Birdie (Brian Kerwin), and Lobo’s mother (Rosemary DeCamp) are riding the Amtrak in this MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO episode. It’s the last run of the Orly Express from St. Louis to Orly, and the officers are aboard to guard a $2.5 million diamond belonging to movie star Nicole Russo (Camilla Sparv). Also aboard is Birdie’s father (William Schallert), the mayor, who is teaming with Nicole to judge a beauty contest about the train.

Of course, the diamond disappears along the way, and there’s no shortage of suspects on the train. Is it pickpocket Francis (Arthur Batanides)? Insurance investigator Hemmings (Roger C. Carmel)? Chaperone Myra Kimberly (Ellen Travolta)? Or European jewel thief Medici (Cesare Danova)? Writer Lloyd Turner (GET SMART) deftly juggles several plots in this fast-moving episode that offers a nice guest cast and a solid mystery. Rhonda Shear, Jan Speck, Melanie Vincz, Debra Jo Fondren, and Shelley Johnson provide the eye candy as Miss Orly Magnolia Festival contestants.

If you guessed that Perkins would end up on top of the train at some point, you’ll be pleased to know it only takes about ten minutes.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The 18-Wheel Rip-Off

The 18-Wheel Rip-Off
March 22, 1980
Music: William Broughton
Story: Michael Sloan & Sidney Ellis
Teleplay: Michael Sloan
Director: Gil Bettman

How many corrupt sheriffs can BJ McKay (Greg Evigan) possibly run into? In this BJ AND THE BEAR episode, the cowboy trucker runs afoul of Sheriff Jackson Cordell (Charles Haid, soon to be Renko on HILL STREET BLUES), who wants revenge for BJ tossing his friend Sheriff McCandles (in “Silent Night, Unholy Night”) in the pokey. Cordell has rookie officer Tracy McBain (Wendy Phillips, a regular on EXECUTIVE SUITE and THE EDDIE CAPRA MYSTERIES) haul in BJ on a bogus charge, and then sends car thief Belford (Sean Garrison) steal BJ’s truck for crooked disco owner Mama (Gloria DeHaven). To get his semi back, BJ teams up with the innocent Tracy and his old Vietnam buddy Shades (Michael D. Roberts) to infiltrate Mama’s operation.

First-time director Gil Bettman (NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE) handles the stunt-heavy episode with a sure hand. Two impressive car chases and a cliffside fight at the climax keep action fans happy. Haid would seem to be perfect casting for a nasty small-town sheriff, but, despite an annoying catchphrase (“Thank you kindly.”), he doesn’t appear to be giving the part his all. Not only does BJ run across another evil sheriff, but he also encounters still another old war buddy. Maybe the writers were running out of ideas late in the season, because in the next aired episode—the second-season finale—McKay met up with still another pal from Nam!