Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films

You loved director Mark Hartley’s NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF OZPLOITATION! about the wooly world of Australian cult cinema. You got a big kick out of his MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED!, which zipped through the history of exploitation movies filmed in the Philippines. And you’re going to enjoy, at the very least, ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, which details the Cannon pictures of the 1980s produced by “Go Go Boys” Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus.

And it is Golan and Globus, whether in archival footage or as the subject of conversation, who dominate the movie. Cousins who grew up in Tel Aviv worshipping American movies and American movie stars, Golan and Globus bought the fledgling exploitation factory Cannon Group in 1979 and quickly transformed it into one of the biggest independent studios of the 1980s, mostly using ballyhoo, chutzpah, enthusiasm, and millions of dollars they didn’t have. And, of course, schlock.

For what it’s worth, Cannon was ahead of the curve when it came to capitalizing on current trends or even creating them. The reason you couldn’t step into any video rental store during the ‘80s without being surrounded by boxes featuring hooded ninjas was Cannon: ENTER THE NINJA, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION. Cannon made the first breakdancing movies. Cannon made superhero movies when nobody else was. Cannon made Chuck Norris into a major movie star.

Hartley tells these stories through the eyes of practically everyone who ever stepped before or behind a Cannon camera, the most recognizable names being Michael Dudikoff (AMERICAN NINJA), Robert Forster (THE DELTA FORCE), Bo Derek (BOLERO), Dolph Lundgren (MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE), Lucinda Dickey (BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO), Catherine Mary Stewart (THE APPLE), Richard Chamberlain (KING SOLOMON’S MINES), Molly Ringwald (KING LEAR), Franco Nero (ENTER THE NINJA), and Elliott Gould (OVER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE).

Those actors and others, plus an assortment of writers, directors, producers, editors, and even the guys reading the scripts, appear downright gleeful to discuss their adventures in Cannonland, usually while acting out an impression of the mercurial Golan. The Go Go Boys declined to talk to Hartley’s cameras. Aside from them, the most notable absence is Norris, one of Cannon’s three big contract stars (Dudikoff and the late Charles Bronson being the others).

Some of the participants are quite candid, and ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is at its best when it’s dishing dirt on stars like MATA HARI’s Sylvia Kristel (hooked on alcohol and coke), SAHARA’s Brooke Shields (Golan somehow thought the wooden actress would win an Oscar), and Sharon Stone (hated by all, including her co-star Chamberlain). Most of the tales are told about Golan, the creative half of the Golan-Globus duo, the one with the largest ego and the worst taste.

Hartley also covers Cannon’s rare non-junk productions, such as BARFLY and RUNAWAY TRAIN, but doesn’t get as much as I would like into the company’s odd mixture of prestigious art film (by directors like Godard, Cassavetes, and Barbet Schroeder) and bad-taste comedies and action pictures. If ELECTRIC BOOGALOO is at all disappointing, it’s that Cannon’s output — as junky as it was — rarely plumbed the outrageous depths of the Australian and Filipino productions covered in Hartley’s earlier documentaries.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Frozen Alive

Poor Dr. Frank Overton (Mark Stevens) has the worst timing. Just as he decides to be the human guinea pig for his new cryogenic formula, placing himself in a frozen coma of sorts, his drunken, cheating wife Joan (Delphi Lawrence) accidentally shoots herself to death. And everyone believes Frank killed her!

Let’s back up a bit. Stevens, a B-movie and television leading man who frequently directed his acting projects, spent much of the 1960s acting in Europe. Regrettably, he found himself toplining this boring science fiction movie in West Germany. Directed by British television helmer Bernard Knowles, FROZEN ALIVE was filmed with sync sound, surprisingly, but also in black-and-white, which meant there was little market for it by the time it hit North America in 1966.

It would be surprising if anybody anywhere was interested in FROZEN ALIVE. It takes forever for the plot to get going—Joan doesn’t shoot herself until the 63-minute movie is more than halfway over—because Evelyn Frazer’s screenplay is frontloaded with scientific gobbledygook and low-rate romantic melodrama.

Joan is jealous because she believes Overton is dallying with his attractive lab partner played by Marianne Koch (he isn’t). There’s absolutely no suspense or urgency to any of this. We know Frank didn’t shoot his wife, and he doesn’t even know she has been shot. The only bright spot in this boring movie is Lawrence, whose drunken ramblings provide FROZEN ALIVE with the only energy it has.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cold Sweat

Somehow, COLD SWEAT, a direct-to-video erotic thriller from Canada, was not produced or released by Roger Corman’s Concorde/New Horizons, despite its name cast of B-movie stars, its female director (Corman was unusually progressive in this regard), and one of the all-time great exploitative one-sheets.

Beth (Shannon Tweed, who gives her fans plenty of what they're waiting for) is married to Larry (SCTV’s Dave Thomas, hamming like he’s still doing THE DAYS OF THE WEEK), but having sex with Larry’s business partner Sean (Henry Czerny) and his rollerblading drug dealer Mitch (Adam Baldwin, later on FIREFLY and CHUCK). Mark (Ben Cross, a long way from CHARIOTS OF FIRE) is a conflicted hitman who is being haunted by the ghost of his last victim, an accidental witness (Lenore Zann) to the killing of his real target. At least she’s usually naked when she shows up.

Beth’s and Mark’s lives intersect when Larry, using Mitch as a liaison, hires Mark to kill Sean. However, the hit goes bad, there’s a struggle, Sean kills Mark at Beth and Larry’s house…or does he?

COLD SWEAT, written by Richard Beattie (MAXIMUM CONVICTION) and directed by Gail Harvey (MURDOCH MYSTERIES), is fairly stupid. Or at least it makes its characters act fairly stupidly. Why does Sean have a habit of shooting his targets in clear view of others? Why don’t Beth and Sean call the police instead of trying to conceal Mark’s body? Why…oh, why even ask? Harvey and Beattie didn’t ask them when they made the film.

There’s a lot of deception and doublecrosses, so much that the movie eventually escalates into parodic happy endings for Cross and Tweed. Besides the miscast Thomas, the acting is generally good though, and Czerny (REVENGE) is very good—he landed his big break in CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER that year.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Avenging Force

AVENGING FORCE is not just a terrific action movie, but it may also be the best exploitation movie Cannon ever produced. It was originally intended as a sequel to INVASION U.S.A., which starred Chuck Norris as a double-Uzied superman chasing terrorists around Atlanta. However, Norris didn’t like the script, and AVENGING FORCE was hastily retooled as a vehicle for Cannon’s new star, Michael Dudikoff, whose AMERICAN NINJA had grossed over $10 million the year before without ever getting into more than 672 theaters.

Directed by Sam Firstenberg, whose flair for staging exciting, violent action sequences has gone unheralded, even while similar low-budget filmmakers like William Witney and Isaac Florentine have found admirers in cult circles, AVENGING FORCE is a taut thriller that takes advantage of authentic New Orleans locations and a good script by actor James Booth (ZULU) that draws distinctive characters and carries a complex message, if not quite subtly. Better yet, it reunites Dudikoff with AMERICAN NINJA co-star Steve James, a charismatic actor and martial artist who elevated everything he appeared in, even as filmmakers refused to graduate him from sidekick roles before his untimely death from cancer at age 41.

But what really makes AVENGING FORCE stand out are its villains, which rank among the most vicious antagonists of any action film of the era. Not even children are immune to their evil, as these bad guys mercilessly gun down the offspring of one hero and sell the 12-year-old sister of the other into prostitution. Elliott Glastenbury (IT’S ALIVE’s John P. Ryan, convincingly crazy), the leader of the white supremacist group called the Pentangle, openly worships Hitler and declares open season on Larry Richards (James), a black man running for a United States Senate seat.

Dudikoff, who went on to make AMERICAN NINJA 2: THE CONFRONTATION with James, stars as Matt Hunter, the name of Norris’ character in INVASION U.S.A. Hunter is a former government operative who is now retired and rearing his little sister Sarah (Allison Gereighty) on a ranch after their parents were killed by a car bomb meant for him. While visiting New Orleans to see his old partner, Richards, Hunter runs afoul of the Pentangle, a secret and influential organization of survivalists who attack Richards and his family aboard their Mardi Gras float.

The Pentangle’s thing, aside from pledging to make America a lot whiter, is hunting men for sport, which we first see in the arresting main title sequence (directed by a second unit, rather than Firstenberg) of Glastenbury and his colleagues, dressed in outlandish costumes, stalking their prey through nasty, muddy, treacherous swampland.

Firstenberg eventually comes full circle with Dudikoff dodging baddies in the bayou with several terrific action scenes sandwiched in between, including a Mardi Gras shootout and rooftop chase, another chase through a shipyard, and a spectacular setpiece in a burning house that features some really dangerous-looking stuntwork coordinated by B.J. Davis.

James, always looking for an excuse to shed his shirt, is a nice balance for Dudikoff’s remote performance, though both are positively subdued compared to Ryan’s ripe ham-slicing and Booth’s ambiguous turn as Dudikoff’s former boss in the CIA (and weird mix of British and Cajun accents). One of Cannon’s more expensive exploitation movies (which is not to say the film is by any means expensive), AVENGING FORCE did not earn the same level of box office as AMERICAN NINJA did (not to mention INVASION U.S.A.), so the sequel hinted at in the end never happened. It did open with a healthy per-screen gross, but with only 500 screens to play on, AVENGING FORCE’s theatrical play was undeservedly fleeting.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Live-Blogging Star Trek: The Motion Picture

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, the first of twelve (to date) features based on the 1960s television series, premiered nationwide on December 7, 1979 — exactly 35 years ago today and just a bit over ten years after the final episode aired on NBC. Perhaps the biggest myth surrounding it is that it was a flop.

On the contrary, ST:TMP opened at #1 at the box office (knocking off 10, which spend nine consecutive weeks at #1) with the biggest opening-weekend gross of 1979. Not only was it the fifth most successful movie of the year (even outgrossing 10), but — to this day — it’s the second most successful STAR TREK movie ever made. Adjusting box office grosses for inflation, ST:TMP trails only the 2009 STAR TREK reboot.

So, ST:TMP, for whatever its production and dramatic faults, was a big hit with STAR TREK fans and also, probably, non-fans who watched the show occasionally in reruns and were curious to see what it would be like on the big screen. In 1979, it was still a rarity for Hollywood to turn old TV shows into movies and even more so for the movies to star the original cast.

In this article, I plan to watch STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and write down my thoughts as they occur — a process known as “live-blogging.” I’m watching the Paramount Blu-ray, which is the version released in theaters in 1979. In 2000, Paramount prepared a Director’s Cut with Robert Wise’s participation for a DVD release. While I also own a copy of that version, I prefer the original. While some of the updated footage, music, visual effects, etc. are effective, I believe the DC is a lateral move at best. I don’t dislike it, but I don’t think it’s really any better than the original cut — just different.

00:00 And so the human adventure begins with an opening overture featuring a black screen (the DC changed this to a starfield) and Jerry Goldsmith’s remarkable music. ST:TMP is one of the last films to open this way.

01:55 After the Paramount logo, Goldsmith’s theme kicks in over the opening titles, which are white type on black. Fans watching ST:TMP today may be surprised to hear the “STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION” theme here. While I understand why ST:TNG executive producer Gene Roddenberry wanted to repurpose Goldsmith’s theme — it’s terrific — I always thought it was unfair to the new cast and a confusing commingling of “universes.” Granted, by the time ST:TNG debuted in 1987, the Original Series movies were more readily identified with the new themes and melodies James Horner created for STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and built upon in STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK.

03:32 One of ST:TMP’s three Academy Award nominations was for its visual effects, which are showcased in the film’s first scene. Somewhat aping STAR WARS’ famous shot of the Star Destroyer, director Robert Wise (whose credits include THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN) opens with the camera lovingly exploring a wonderfully detailed model of a Klingon destroyer. Propelled by Goldsmith’s action-oriented cues, this scene, in which three Klingon vessels are destroyed by a mysterious force, is one of the movie’s most exciting.

04:40 The commander of the Klingon ship is played by Mark Lenard, a familiar character actor who had portrayed a Romulan commander in the STAR TREK episode “Balance of Terror” and Mr. Spock’s Vulcan father in “Journey to Babel” and in the STAR TREK animated series episode “Yesteryear.” His appearance here makes Lenard the only actor to play a Romulan, a Vulcan, and a Klingon. Lenard reprised his role of Sarek, Spock’s father, in STAR TREK III, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, and in two ST:TNG episodes. The Chicago-born Lenard died of multiple myeloma in 1996.

07:05 David Gautreaux plays Commander Branch of the Epsilon 9 space station. Long story short, before ST:TMP was filmed as a big-budget theatrical feature, it was going to be a two-hour pilot for a new STAR TREK television series that would have been the flagship show of a fourth network owned by Paramount. Leonard Nimoy declined to return to the Spock role, so Gautreaux was cast as Xon, a Vulcan who would have been the Enterprise’s new science officer in the show. When the decision was made to produce ST:TMP and Nimoy signed on, there was no need for the Xon character. Wise and producer Roddenberry rewarded Gautreaux with the small but pivotal role of Branch.

08:51 Nimoy’s first appearance as Spock is set on Vulcan. It was filmed in a tank in a parking lot at Paramount Studios. Because the visual effects were never officially finished, Spock looks up into a blinding sun, but when Wise cuts to the Vulcan landscape, the sky is dark.

12:17 William Shatner gets a nice hero shot to introduce him as Admiral James T. Kirk. To the best of my knowledge, this shot marks the debut of Shatner’s “high” hairpiece that would eventually morph into his so-called “T.J. Curly” wig that he wore through the remainder of the TREK movies. Stephen Collins tells a great story on Kevin Pollak’s podcast about the poor makeup girl who made the mistake of asking Shatner about his hairpiece after the first day’s filming...and didn’t return on the second day.

13:05 Wise cuts from Kirk telling Lieutenant Commander Sonak (Jon Rashad Kamal) about a meeting he plans to have with “Admiral Nogura” to Kirk beaming aboard the satellite orbiting near the Enterprise in drydock (after a few nice VFX shots establishing the satellite). The purpose of the meeting is to convince Nogura to let Kirk assume the captaincy of the Enterprise. I always thought this meeting, which does occur in Roddenberry’s novelization of Harold Livingston’s screenplay (from Alan Dean Foster’s story), was important to establishing Kirk’s backstory and motive for going back into outer space. Considering the film clocks in at 132 minutes anyway and that the bulk of the criticism against it is the lack of characterization, the confrontation between Kirk and Nogura would have heightened the drama of later scenes involving Kirk and Commander Decker (Stephen Collins), whom Kirk demotes to Executive Officer.

14:04 First appearance of Scotty’s mustache, which James Doohan also wore in the movies that followed.

14:58 And so begins one of ST:TMP’s most criticized scenes — Kirk and Scotty’s extended flyover of the Enterprise. It takes up a lot of screen time, but its length has never bothered me. One reason is Goldsmith’s music, which was nominated for an Academy Award and is so beautiful and powerful here that it sells the majesty of the Enterprise. A bigger reason has to be considered in context. Wise — and rightly so — considered the U.S.S. Enterprise to be a major character, just like Kirk and Spock and Dr. McCoy. So why not give it a heroic introduction to fans who had not seen the ship in a decade? Plus, the miniatures and starscapes are wonderful eye candy, particularly on the big screen. Kudos to Shatner and Doohan, who, as actors, have to sell the audience on the beauty of the Enterprise without knowing what the hell they’re looking at. For Kirk, who has just come making a major life decision, he has to know that he made the right one. And seeing the Enterprise helps to confirm it.

15:43 Shatner mocks Scotty’s accent.

23:35 Poor Scotty, standing around awkwardly, knowing that Decker is about to get canned. Not mentioned in the film, but it is in the novel (and is considered “canon”), is that Willard Decker is the son of Commodore Matt Decker, the poor soul played excellently by William Windom in “The Doomsday Machine.”

23:47 Interesting look at Kirk’s command style. No beating around the bush. He just tells Decker flat-out, “I’m taking over the center seat, Will.” Shatner plays it with a mix of compassion and professionalism that takes it as easy on Decker’s feelings as possible, considering the urgency of their mission. He even takes an appropriate amount of backtalk from Decker, knowing how disappointed his protege is.

26:01 Sonak is one of the two crew members killed in the transporter accident, forcing Decker to double up as both Executive Officer and Science Officer. The other victim is unidentified in the film, but Roddenberry’s novel reveals her as Lori Ciana, a Starfleet admiral and Kirk’s former lover. Some skillful visual effects, editing, and direction allows this sequence to come across as scary and gruesome and still earn a G rating from the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings board.

26:19 Shatner’s line reading of “Oh, my God” is not among his most convincing. Wise cut it out of his Director’s Cut.

26:58 Kirk consoles transporter officer Janice Rand, whom Grace Lee Whitney hadn’t played since 1966. Rand was intended to be a regular cast member, appearing in a surprising number of press photos in the series’ first season, but the writers found it difficult to work her into stories, and Whitney — though no fault of her own — was let go halfway through the first season.

27:20 Kirk gets lost in the Enterprise corridors — a nice touch signifying his unfamiliarity with the new starship he bullied his way into captaining and foreshadowing a major suspense scene coming up.

27:37 Why is Decker standing around down here? Just a few minutes ago --in screen time and real time — Kirk ordered him to the bridge.

28:05 The entire crew assembles on the Recreation Deck for no other reason than the filmmakers could, for the first time, thanks to a feature-film budget, show all 400-and-some members of the Enterprise crew. Among the extras, as is well known by now, are STAR TREK superfan Bjo Trimble, “The Trouble with Tribbles” writer David Gerrold, Robert Wise’s wife (it’s interesting how many middle-aged crew members are aboard this Enterprise), and James Doohan’s kids. One extra is dressed like an American Indian.

32:33 “My oath of celibacy is on record, Captain.” Without the proper context, this line makes no sense, and I don’t understand why it’s still in the movie, even in the Director’s Cut. The late Indian-born actress Persis Khambatta plays Lieutenant Ilia, the ship’s navigator who is a Deltan and completely bald. The idea behind the Deltans, as described in Roddenberry’s book (as well as earlier scripts), is that they are highly sexual beings who give off powerful pheromones that stimulate members of the original sex. In the book, Sulu is unable to stand up to greet her because of his embarrassing erection! And though it’s established that Ilia and Decker had a previous relationship, the book notes that they were never lovers, because a human could never survive sexual intercourse with a Deltan. None of this made its way to the film, except Ilia’s line about her oath of celibacy. So now it looks like all Starfleet members have to swear one. But we know James Kirk never would have joined up if they did.

32:40 Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) tells Kirk that one crew member is refusing to beam up to the Enterprise. Kirk hints at a smile and heads to the transporter room: “Oh. I’ll see that he beams up.” I like the way Shatner and Nichols play this. It’s subtle, and on a larger level, it’s a bit of a mystery: who is refusing to beam up and why? Kirk, of course, knows who is beaming up, but the way Uhura relays the news, it’s like she doesn’t know. But if you read the scene as she does know — and Nichols’ line reading carries a hint of mirth — then the scene becomes one of camaraderie involving an in-joke between two old friends. So while this short bit seems to be not very important, I think it carries some of the characterization that the film is often criticized for lacking.

33:08 A dramatic entrance for fan favorite DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. And, of course, he’s bitching and moaning and looking like an old hippie in his beard and neck chain. McCoy — and Kelley — are essential to STAR TREK, in this case providing most of the film’s humor. Kelley, whose background was mostly playing brawn heavies in westerns before Roddenberry rescued him from Dodge City, played Everyman between Shatner’s heroic, handsome Kirk and Nimoy’s otherworldly Spock and was — is? — the series’ most relatable character.

33:47 I like that Janice Rand is amused by McCoy’s tirade as we are.

35:42 The Enterprise leaves drydock, and we’re heading into Act Two. Another sign of how quickly this film was produced is the presence of dirt on the lens shooting some of the model shots.

38:03 Kirk’s first Captain’s Log entry is punctuated by a few bars of Alexander Courage’s iconic theme from the TV series. Goldsmith even brought in Courage to orchestrate this cue. When Roddenberry first approached Goldsmith about scoring ST:TMP, the composer was hesitant about using the TV theme and was happy when Roddenberry assured him that he wouldn’t have to. Nothing against Courage or the music, obviously, but Goldsmith wanted to do his own thing (and his theme has become almost as strongly identified with STAR TREK as Courage’s). I think using the Courage theme is a sweet touch, a reminder of why we’re watching this film in the first place, and spotting it in its traditional slot behind a Captain’s Log entry shows that Goldsmith was paying attention.

38:43 I like how Kirk asks McCoy a question and totally does not give a shit about his answer.

39:24 Why are those guys in Engineering standing at attention?

39:50 Wooooooo! Warp speed is all rainbowy!

40:00 Shit! WORMHOLE!! This scene is what comes closest in this movie to an action setpiece, and it’s suspenseful and imaginatively directed. The “streaking” effect appears simple, but surely wasn’t, as it involved painstaking animation. It gives the scene a weird, unsettling feeling. I still don’t know how blowing up the asteroid ends the wormhole.

40:08 Kirk has a seatbelt now! No more cheap jokes about the bridge crew falling out of their chairs.

41:29 Decker belays Kirk’s phaser order — a dramatic moment foreshadowed in the earlier scene of Kirk asking a yeoman for directions.

43:45 Kirk looks pissed.

44:55 Decker looks apologetic. But not enough to resist tossing Kirk an I-told-you-so.

45:23 We learn ST:TMP takes place two-and-a-half years after the completion of the original five-year mission. Which is pushing it, considering the actors have visibly aged ten years.

47:06 One of several “split diopter” shots composed for the movie by Wise and cinematographer Richard Kline.

47:35 I like the use of rear projection here, which allows Shatner to stand in front of the viewscreen and make the technology more believable.

48:35 I always liked the cool flip this shuttle does when it docks with Enterprise. Wise removed it from his Director’s Cut, dammit.

49:29 And Spock is on the bridge. Reactions vary from Uhura’s startled gasp to Sulu’s bemused, “Why, it’s Mister…” Spock acts like a total dick, which seems to amuse Kirk at first. By the end of the scene, Kirk is convinced something is weird after Spock fails his “welcome aboard” test.

51:20 Another Captain’s Log and another cameo by Alexander Courage’s TV theme.

52:03 And we have warp speed for real this time. Warp Seven! Thanks for fixing the ship, Mr. Spock.

52:36 Wink.

57:11 Captain Kirk is a pretty good boss to work for, which never gets talked about. Here, Decker gets in his face again about something. Kirk’s first reaction is to ream him out, but he stops, thinks — in the middle of a major crisis — realizes Decker is in the right, and admits it in front of the bridge crew. A boss that is able to admit he’s wrong about something in front of his employees is a guy you want to please with your best work.

57:29 By the way, the “belt buckles” on the tunics are not just decorative. They aren’t explained in the film, but the buckles are actually medical devices that can monitor the vital signs of the person wearing it. I presume it can also be used as a sort of GPS device that would allow Dr. McCoy (and who else?) to spy on your whereabouts. Bob Fletcher designed the costumes. The cast hated them — they had to be sewn into them, including the boots — and they demanded new costumes for STAR TREK II. I don’t mind them, even if they do resemble pajamas. I think they’re a nice complement to the colored lights and monitors on the bridge and the colors of V’Ger.

59:18 Chekov screams. That son of a bitch was always getting hurt in these movies. This scene is missing an interesting character bit for Ilia that Wise reinstated for his Director’s Cut. Deltans have the ability to absorb pain, and there’s a deleted scene where Ilia rushes to help the injured Chekov by placing her hands on him and relieving his pain. As the theatrical cut plays, Chapel sprays some stuff on Chekov’s burned hand, and Ilia’s disappearance from the navigator’s station results in a continuity error.

1:00:15 Shatner milks the line for humor, which isn’t appropriate here. Still, I suppose one could argue any humor is welcome in this film.

1:01:55 Something to ponder while watching ST:TMP is whether the Enterprise would have been able to prevent Earth’s destruction if Decker had been in command. We aren’t given enough information to know for sure, but Livingston and Wise’s viewpoint seems to be that Decker’s overly cautious nature might have jeopardized the mission. Decker is not incompetent — Starfleet would never have given him the Enterprise, nor would Kirk have such praise for him if he were.

1:04:12 If you love scenes of people watching TV, this is your favorite part.

1:06:36 At least they’re watching some pretty pictures. ST:TMP lost the Visual Effects Oscar to ALIEN, but I think it wuz robbed.

1:10:10 Still watching TV. This stuff goes on for some time, doesn’t it? Jerry Goldsmith really is ST:TMP’s unsung hero, because — as nice as these effects are — they wouldn’t imbue such awe and mystery without the music helping to carry it. Can you tell this is my favorite film score?

1:12:56 Something happens! Plasma being! It’s augmented by optical effects, but it was mostly created on the set so we could see the light on the actors. It’s effective.

1:14:29 Spock uses a two-fisted approach (literally) to smashing his computer keyboard. I fail to see how this would prevent the energy being from doing what it’s doing.

1:15:03 I like Persis Khambatta in this movie. Yes, she looks gorgeous with no hair, which was a prime job qualification — really, her unusual look in general. Later roles in NIGHTHAWKS and MEGAFORCE indicated she didn’t have much range as an actress, and in most of her ST:TMP scenes, she’s playing an emotionless automaton. However. She genuinely appears to be scared shitless in this scene.

1:15:15 Wonderful use of silence by Bob Wise.

1:16:53 Ilia’s replacement at the navigator’s station is Chief DeFalco. She’s played by Marcy Lafferty, who was then Mrs. William Shatner. They acted together many times, including IMPULSE, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, and several T.J. HOOKER episodes, and they were on TATTLETALES. Her father was Perry Lafferty, the one-time head of CBS.

1:17:13 One of the few dolly shots in the movie. Wise prefers to keep the camera stationary, even though some camera movement may have enlivened some of the many dialogue scenes.

1:18:30 More TV watching. By the way, in addition to Oscar nods for Visual Effects and Original Score, ST:TMP also was nominated for its art direction. Only STAR TREK IV and STAR TREK 2009 were nominated for more Oscars: four each. Out of the STAR TREK films’ fifteen Oscar nods, the only win is for STAR TREK 2009’s makeup.

1:22:41 Leave it to Gene Roddenberry. Somehow, even with the costumes looking like footie jammies, he managed to get a beautiful woman into a revealing outfit. The Ilia probe steps out of the sonic shower wearing a robe that’s cut so high that it’s about a quarter-inch from revealing when Khambatta last waxed. Okay, perhaps it can be justified as something that the sonic shower would provide after a shower, but the high heels?

1:23:26 Ensign Perez gets a line. Nice job. McCoy has been on the Enterprise only a few hours. It seems unlikely he would know the names of everyone aboard.

1:24:10 Lots of circular talk about V’Ger and the Creator. As is well known, ST:TMP’s story bears more than a resemblance to John Meredyth Lucas’ plot of “The Changeling,” a 1967 STAR TREK episode.

1:26:26 Ilia’s sexuality is a major theme in Roddenberry’s 1979 novelization of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, but it has been completely excised from the film. Did Paramount balk? Did Roddenberry and Wise want a G rating? Some of the more adult material in Roddenberry’s book (which I read at age 12) is silly, but Ilia’s impact on the men she works with and how the Ilia probe finds it awkward is an intriguing dramatic conceit. I wish the film had found a way to hold on to this material in some manner. Roddenberry: huge perv, by the way.

1:27:24 Another Captain’s Log, another snippet of Courage’s TV theme.

1:30:26 It’s a bad habit of Spock’s: assaulting his fellow crewmen. In STAR TREK II, he pulls the same stunt in the engine room before saving the ship.

1:31:30 A hint that Decker is getting turned on by the Ilia probe — obviously enough that McCoy has to remind him that it isn’t really Ilia, but a mechanism. Again, Bones’ line seems confusing without the original context of Ilia as a pheromone-producing machine (pun not intended).

1:33:09 Majel Barrett, again playing the voice of the computer, as she did throughout the TV series.

1:33:57 I’m surprised ST:TMP got a G rating with its mild swearing and its subject matter aimed over the heads of children. Perhaps Paramount wanted the G to ensure that the kids who were watching the show in afternoon reruns would go. All later TREK movies would be rated PG or PG-13, and the Wise Director’s Cut was re-rated as a PG.

1:37:12 Spock: always trying to mind-meld with stuff. How many times did he try a mind-meld and was sorry later?

1:37:50 Kirk outside in a thruster suit to retrieve Spock. Cut from the release print, but reinstated for television broadcasts, is a shot of Kirk leaving the Enterprise for his space walk. Embarrassingly, the shot’s visual effects were not completed, so what you see is Shatner’s double dangling in front of a set, which is surrounded by lights and scaffolding, plain as day in the shot. You even see a member of the crew standing off to the side. It looks even sadder in 2.35 on the Blu-ray’s deleted scenes.

1:40:35 Spock and Kirk holding hands, making ‘shippers swoon around the world.

1:41:20 Sulu in the captain’s chair, forever giving George Takei feelings of grandeur.

1:42:35 Interesting that none of the crew members thinks to mention that time that one probe asked for its Creator, Jackson Roykirk, and mistakenly believed Captain James Kirk was its Creator. Sure would like to have seen Kirk talk V’Ger into blowing itself up like he usually did with crazed computers.

1:45:02 Here’s that Kirk now. Arguing with the Ilia probe. He even runs a bluff on it, like in “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

1:45:54 The look on Nimoy’s face as he reacts to another useless McCoy homily with complete indifference.

1:48:42 Considering that the Enterprise’s entire mission lasts only a few hours — perhaps a day — it seems unusual that all the crew members would have changed their uniforms as often as they do.

1:49:51 Aaaaand Kirk’s bluff has been called.

1:51:59 I’ve always thought this shot of the landing party standing on the Enterprise was cool, even though the matte lines are evident. I supposed they could have just beamed over to V’Ger, but this way is more creative and visually interesting.

1:52:57 These final scenes of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Decker, and the Ilia probe sure are reminiscent of the final scenes of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy meeting another malevolent god-like being in STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, aren’t they?

1:54:11 The Oscar-nominated art directors and set decorators did a great job with this V’Ger set. It looks unfunctional, machine-like, messy--just as if it were cobbled together from spare parts on a journey through space.

1:55:07 So here’s the big twist: that V’Ger is actually Voyager 6, which left Earth in the 1990s to collect knowledge and has now returned as an omniscient living machine to deliver its data. It seems a little weird that the beings that reconstructed V’Ger didn’t know enough to wipe the dirt off the spacecraft’s nameplate, but… In the ST:TMP novel, Roddenberry spells it “Vejur,” though the name is usually spelled “V’Ger” everywhere else, including in the film. I believe Roddenberry did this to preserve the mystery and prevent readers from guessing V’Ger’s identity.

1:55:54 I bet the actors hated working on this set. It looks hot and cramped and hard to walk on. I wonder if they taped their ankles.

1:56:45 Split diopter!

1:57:23 Another nice camera move. It really stands out because of Wise’s normal hesitance to do so.

1:58:04 I love the professionalism of the Enterprise bridge crew. Kirk calls them and demands the response code for a 300-year-old United States spacecraft, and they just say okay, cool, no problem, on it.

1:59:34 Boy, the colors sure pop on the Blu-ray.

2:02:47 Decker’s decision would carry more dramatic weight if the film had been able to go into the relationship between him and Ilia. It’s a little confusing why Decker would do this. Sure, he’s brave and saving the Earth, but it’s more than that to him. The film forces us to take it on faith though, which is a weakness.

2:04:30 The Earth is saved through the power of love.

2:05:52 I love this tag, which is very much like the scenes that used to close the original episodes. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy clearing up the philosophy and sharing a quip.

2:07:08 Scotty’s on the bridge. Since no one could have possibly known at the time that this crew would ever be together again, it’s great to have everyone together at the end.

2:07:36 “Thataway.” Love it. Perfect ending. It sets us up for another adventure, it makes us feel comfortable knowing the Enterprise and its crew is out there exploring, and it perfectly illustrates Kirk’s intrepid nature.

2:07:46 The camera swoops around the Enterprise just as it did the Klingon vessel in the opening shot. Lovely bookending.

2:08:30 “The human adventure is just beginning.” Dammit, there must be some dust floating around in here.

2:08:36 The closing credit crawl runs exactly three minutes and 24 seconds. Can you imagine that happening in a big-budget studio science fiction film today?

Thank you for watching STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE with me. If you had a good time, let me know in the comments. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime. Maybe our human adventure is just beginning.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Thunder Run

Forrest Tucker’s next-to-last film (he shot TIMESTALKERS in June of 1986 and died a few months later) was for Cannon, and it's a delightfully silly action romp that unfortunately doesn’t really get churning until its second half. THUNDER RUN also has roles for Oscar nominee John Ireland (ALL THE KING’S MEN), John Shepherd (poor Tommy Jarvis from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING), Wallace Langham (THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW and 250 episodes of CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION), and adorable Jill Whitlow from NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.

That cast plus the gimmick of a gadget-riddled armor-plated semi truck makes THUNDER RUN an interesting curio for fans of offbeat action movies. The bad news is that director Gary Hudson doesn’t make the action happen, for the most part, until late in the picture, sticking us with a lot of mediocre teenage hijinks to sit through until the good stuff gets here. With veteran special effects artist Cliff Wenger also listed as a producer and writer and legendary stuntman Alan Gibbs directing the “special action unit,” it’s little surprise that the explosions and stunts are as cool as they are. When they finally arrive.

Ex-trucker Tucker (F TROOP) owns a cobalt mine in Nevada, where he also lives with his wife O’Connor and his grandson Shepherd. Tucker’s old war buddy (Ireland) pops in one day to ask a favor: would Tuck mind picking up a load of plutonium in his rig and driving it a few hundred miles to an Army base in Arizona? There’s $250,000 in it for you, and, oh yeah, some terrorists are going to try to steal your cargo.

The fun begins when Tucker starts frying bad guys with a tricked-out semi that would make Q weep. Are his flamethrowers and battering rams any match for Alan Rachins’ (L.A. LAW) rocket-launching dune buggies? It sure ain’t every day you get to see an 18-wheeler jump over a train, and its wild stunts like that one, as well as the steady presence of the avuncular Tucker behind the steering wheel, that makes THUNDER RUN worth seeing at least once. Characterization is limited to what the actors can bring to their roles, meaning Whitlow and sexy blonde Cheryl Lynn are stuck as eye candy.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Make Room For Granddaddy, "A Hamburger For Frank"

“A Hamburger for Frank”
November 18, 1970
Starring Danny Thomas, Marjorie Lord, Angela Cartwright, Michael Hughes
Special Guest Star: Frank Sinatra
Guest-Starring Michael French, Cara Peters, Lorna Denels
Music: Earle Hagen and Carl Brandt
Executive Script Consultant: Frank Tarloff
Associate Executive Producer: Ronald Jacobs
Executive Producer: Danny Thomas
Producer: Richard Crenna
Writer: Bernie Kahn
Director: Danny Thomas

Six years after MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY ended its eleven-year run, Danny Thomas brought the series back to prime-time in the fall of 1970. Most of the original cast came to ABC with Thomas, except for Sherry Jackson, who appeared in the pilot as older daughter Terry just long enough to drop off her son Michael (Michael Hughes) and run off to be with her soldier husband serving overseas.

Otherwise, MAKE ROOM FOR GRANDDADDY wasn’t much different than the original show. Thomas was still nightclub entertainer Danny Williams (by this time, James MacArthur was playing a different Danny Williams on HAWAII FIVE-0) with Marjorie Lord as his wife Kathy, Angela Cartwright (who had done LOST IN SPACE in the interim) as daughter Linda, and Rusty Hamer as son Rusty. One major difference would be Thomas’ use of his famous friends as guest stars. Diana Ross, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis Jr., Sid Caesar, and Milton Berle stopped by the Williamses, and the “Hamburger” in this episode belonged to Frank Sinatra.

Bernie Kahn’s script is low on plot. Basically, Frank Sinatra comes to the Williams house for dinner, and Linda and Kathy get all nervous and tongue-tied and fawn all over him. Sinatra is a good sport, not that it would be a real imposition to play a legend and kiss a beautiful girl in a fantasy sequence. Even though he is just playing himself, it was a rare occasion that Sinatra acted in episodic television, making “A Hamburger for Frank” something of an historic occasion. By the way, Thomas directed the episode using the name “Amos Jacobs,” the American version of his Lebanese name.

GRANDDADDY didn’t pull in many viewers on Wednesday night opposite the hit THE MEN FROM SHILOH, and a move to Thursdays against IRONSIDE, the season’s fourth biggest hit, didn’t help keep it on the air beyond its one and only season.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Power

Director Byron Haskin and producer George Pal, who had made 1953’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS together, reunited for THE POWER. It was Haskin’s final film and assembles a pretty good cast of familiar faces and an incredible Miklos Rosza score (Haskin actually cuts shots of someone playing the cymbalum into the film!).

Someone on a government research project has telekinetic powers and doesn’t want anyone else to know about them. He or she murders Professor Hallson (Arthur O’Connell, who’s terrible), who discovers the anomaly, and frames another colleague, Jim Tanner (George Hamilton). Tanner’s only clue to finding the psychic killer is the mysterious Adam Hart, a name Hallson scribbled just before he died.

Suspects include fellow scientists Van Zandt (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE's Richard Carlson), Melnicker (Nehemiah Persoff), Scott (Earl Holliman, also in another MGM science fiction movie--a little thing called FORBIDDEN PLANET), and Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette). Gary Merrill plays a cop investigating Hallson’s death, and Michael Rennie (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) is a government liaison in charge of the research project.

Tanner’s snooping is interrupted by a street signal that addresses him directly and toy soldiers that fire blanks at him, and then more serious obstacles like a gas station attendant (Aldo Ray) who coldcocks him and drops him into the middle of an Air Force desert bombing test site. Hamilton plays Tanner’s freakouts rather well, and screenwriter Robert Gay (FATAL VISION) frames it all as an absorbing mystery with a weird psychedelic ending.

Besides O’Connell’s overacting, THE POWER mainly suffers from phony-looking Hollywood sets that dilute the terror with their artificiality and a draggy middle act that includes an ill-conceived party scene. All in all, a decent little picture, but I think it would have worked better as an independent with fewer bucks to spend. Also with Celia Lovsky and Lawrence Montaigne (both of whom played Vulcans in “Amok Time”), Yvonne DeCarlo, Ken Murray, Miiko Taka, Vaughn Taylor (unconvincingly playing O’Connell’s father despite being three years younger than the actor), and BRIDES OF BLOOD’s “Miss Beverly Hills,” a stripper.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Man Dawson, "The Bomber"

“The Bomber”
Starring Keith Andes
Guest-Starring Vic Perrin, Charlotte Lawrence, William Woodson, Joseph Granby, Robert R. Stephenson, James Tartan, Herold Goodwin
Producer: Elliott Lewis
Writer: Stephen Alexander
Director: Elliott Lewis

THIS MAN DAWSON is Keith Andes in his first television series as Frank Dawson, the police chief of an unnamed American city (as narrator William Conrad makes clear in the opening titles). The half-hour crime drama was produced inexpensively and efficiently by Ziv, which also made HIGHWAY PATROL, SEA HUNT, and THE CISCO KID, among other popular shows, for syndication.

DAWSON is a relatively simple show, based on “The Bomber,” which isn’t exciting or groundbreaking. DRAGNET seems to have been an influence, right down to the casting of Jack Webb repertory player Vic Perrin in the key guest role, but lacks that series’ verisimilitude or dedicated performances. Dawson gets a call from a man, who we come to learn is Dan Mason (Perrin), who claims to have planted a bomb in a bus terminal. Dawson and his cops, including one played by William Woodson (who, like Conrad, narrated Quinn Martin shows), find the bomb, but another one turns up in the police station.

Mason has a hatred of cops dating back to when some corrupt officers caused his bar to go bankrupt. Dawson tricks Mason into giving up the location of the bomb in the police station by escorting Mason’s wife (Charlotte Lawrence) into the building, figuring the bomber would never allow his wife to get blown up. Director Elliott Lewis (THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW) gets some mileage out of filming on real Los Angeles locations, but “The Bomber” is still something of a dud.

THIS MAN DAWSON premiered on local stations in the fall of 1959 and lasted a full season of 39 episodes. Andes went on to co-star with Glynis Johns in GLYNIS and perform the voice of Hanna-Barbera superhero Birdman on BIRDMAN & THE GALAXY TRIO. He also guest-starred in the STAR TREK episode “The Apple.”

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Destination Moonbase-Alpha

The two-part SPACE: 1999 episode “The Bringers of Wonder” was re-edited into DESTINATION MOONBASE-ALPHA, a “movie” that was sold into TV syndication after the series had been cancelled. One of five SPACE: 1999 compilation movies, this one also was released by CBS/Fox on videocassette in 1985. For some reason, ITC changed the show’s setting to 2100 and used footage from the pilot to cobble together a clumsy prologue that explains the premise and main characters. It also dumped Barry Gray’s funky theme in favor of generic action music composed by Manfred Mann’s Mike Vickers.

The 311 men and women who operate and live on Moonbase Alpha have been literally lost in space ever since a surface explosion blasted the Moon out of Earth’s orbit and sent it drifting into uncharted space. After several years of no contact with Earth, the crew is stunned when a spaceship carrying many of their loved ones inexplicably appears. Everyone is so thrilled to see their siblings and fianc├ęs that the question of how they could have appeared, particularly on a ship traveling faster than the speed of light—a physical impossibility—is glossed over.

Of course, the visitors aren’t human at all, but actually space monsters that resemble the Green Slime that have arrived to blow up the Moon’s nuclear waste dumps and kill the humans. Only the base commander, John Koenig (Martin Landau), can see the aliens’ true appearance, but because of a recent head injury he suffered, nobody believes him, and chief medical officer Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) places him in restrains.

Terence Feely’s purpose in writing the teleplay was likely to open up the lives of SPACE: 1999’s supporting cast and give the actors more to do by filling in their past lives. In this regard, it works, but there isn’t enough strong material to stretch to a two-parter (or a feature). Landau’s work is admirable, not only early on when Koenig flips out and acts crazy, but also in scenes opposite the monsters, where he has to make the audience believe they aren’t ridiculous. Producer Fred Freiberger appears to have had extra money to spend on the two-parter, but it must not have extended to the creature costumes, which look like slimy tents with one eye. They can glow like a firely though, which is fairly impressive and imaginative.

The climax, which takes place on the Moon’s surface and involves slow-motion fights and wirework, is directed very well by Tom Clegg (SWEENEY 2). ITC “produced” three more SPACE: 1999 movies for syndication and videotape (one was turned into an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000). Another was made exclusively for Italy. SPACE: 1999 was cancelled in 1977 after two seasons.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Black Oak Conspiracy

Jesse Vint, the earthy star of the 1974 drive-in classic MACON COUNTY LINE, served as producer, writer, and star of BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY, which will seem familiar to anyone versed in the ‘70s phenomenon of rural revenge movies.

In the vein of MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS and FIGHTING MAD, BLACK OAK stars Vint as Jingo Johnson, a Hollywood stuntman who returns to his hometown after he receives word that his mother has fallen into ill health. Jingo comes home to find that the family farm is now in the hands of a large mining company owned by the father of his childhood rival (Robert F. Lyons), the same rich scumbag who’s now dating his ex-girlfriend Lucy (Karen Carlson). Turns out his mother’s illness is directly related to the farm’s mineral rights, forcing Jingo to turn to vigilante justice, since the local sheriff (Albert Salmi) may be involved.

The final theatrical film directed by Bob Kelljan, a solid action director whose above-average screen work includes the two COUNT YORGA movies, SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM, and the STARSKY & HUTCH episode that pitted the two cops against a vampire (?) played by John Saxon, BLACK OAK could have used more judicious editing and a few more action beats. Making Jingo a stuntman was a clever excuse to throw in an exploding car and a fire gag, but Vint’s screenplay is more of a suspense piece than a Burt Reynolds action romp.

Vint looks and feels right, and he has a seasoned supporting cast to back him up, but the film feels longer than 90 minutes. Either the material or the budget kept out another chase or two that could have made this one of the better Southern-fried action movies. It’s still worth a look, if only to be reminded of the kind of low-key action programmer that isn’t made often these days. Vint pulls the potato-in-the-tailpipe gag years before Eddie Murphy did, and there’s a surprisingly gory exploding head.

Produced independently by Vint and Tom and Gail Clark in the wake of MACON COUNTY LINE, BLACK OAK was picked up in 1977 for theatrical release by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. According to Vint, it played “all over the world.” It also aired on CBS, and considering the budget was just $300,000, BLACK OAK must have been a moneymaker for somebody.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hot Cars

The only feature directed by Don McDougall, whose busy career in television spanned more than thirty years, HOT CARS was produced by Howard W. Koch and Aubrey Schenck, who churned out several effective little crime pictures for their independent Bel-Air Productions in the 1950s.

Nick Dunn (John Bromfield) is that rare breed—an honest used car dealer. So honest, in fact, that he gets fired from his job for steering a customer away from a lemon. Arthur Markel (Ralph Clanton), impressed with Dunn’s character, hires him to manage one of his lots. With better pay and better hours, it seems like a great job until Nick discovers his boss is operating a stolen car ring. Quitting is Nick’s first impulse, but with a wife and a very sick little boy at home, money is a necessity, so he hangs in.

At sixty minutes, HOT CARS packs quite a bit of story, and McDougall handles it in a clean, perfunctory manner. It benefits from shooting on location, including two actual lots in Culver City, California—Big John’s and Johnny O’Toole’s, which are no longer in business. The impressive finale has McDougall staging a brawl on the roller coaster at the Santa Monica pier that’s performed by the actors—no stuntmen.

Bromfield is a less-than-exciting leading man, but he’s capable of fulfilling the needs of Don Martin and Richard Landau’s script and is able to get the audience on Nick’s side. Dabbs Greer is very good as a nosy cop, but it’s (as usual) Joi Lansing who steals the picture with her seductive manner (who can blame Nick for getting lured in?) and stacked figure.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Owen Marshall, Counselor At Law, "Five Will Get You Six"

“Five Will Get You Six”
October 26, 1972
Starring Arthur Hill and Lee Majors
Also Starring Joan Darling
Guest-Starring William Shatner, Sam Jaffe, Sandra Smith, James Luisi, Christine Matchett, Russell Johnson, Nate Esformes, Richard X. Slattery, Eileen Baral, Bill Quinn, John Francis, Jim Drum
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Executive Producer: David Victor
Producer: Jon Epstein
Associate Producer: Joseph Monzio
Executive Story Consultant: Jerry McNeely
Creators: David Victor & Jerry McNeely
Writer: Shimon Wincelberg
Director: Harry Falk

OWEN MARSHALL, COUNSELOR AT LAW was a fairly successful one-hour drama set in Santa Barbara, California. Canadian actor Arthur Hill, a 1963 Tony winner for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, was the star in his first regular series role. Hill’s mild-mannered looks and plain demeanor made him perfect for cuckolded husbands, officious CEOs, and authority figures, yet he was also able to occasionally play against his Everyman looks as white-collar villains and killers.

Hill was a middle-of-the-road leading man, which made him perfectly cast in the thoroughly middle-of-the-road OWEN MARSHALL. His client in “Five Will Get You Six” is none other than William Shatner, playing an equally mild-mannered architect named Gary Saugus. Gary is into a loan shark, the grandfatherly Henry Noel (Sam Jaffe), to the tune of $10,000 plus 20 percent compounded weekly.

He’s having trouble making his payments, and, under pressure from the district attorney (Russell Johnson) investigating Noel, commits perjury before a grand jury. Before Marshall and his assistant Jess Brandon (Lee Majors, in between THE MEN FROM SHILOH and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN) can get the charge dropped, Gary ends up in the pokey on a more serious charge: the murder of Noel’s goon Tom Mundy (James Luisi).

This was Shimon Wincelberg’s only OWEN MARSHALL teleplay, and it’s pretty bland stuff. There’s little director Harry Falk could do to spice it up. Oh, the story is solid enough, I suppose, and it’s decently performed by a very good cast. But it doesn’t go as far as it could. “Five Will Get You Six” could have been a good opportunity to examine loan sharking. Why would someone agree to borrow money at such an absurd interest rate and risk injury or even death to keep up with the payments? Gary’s reason for borrowing from Noel is given a throwaway mention, and the episode bogs down into a courtroom scene in which Jess argues his client acted in self-defense.

She isn’t given much to do—at least not in the episode I saw, which was cut for syndication—but it’s interesting to see Sandra Smith as Shatner’s wife. Three years earlier, they played antagonists in STAR TREK’s final episode “Turnabout Intruder,” in which Smith’s character switched bodies with Captain Kirk’s, enabling her to “play” Kirk and Shatner to play a psychotic female Starfleet officer.

Friday, November 07, 2014

48 Hrs.

Eddie Murphy, amazing just 21 years old when production began on 48 HRS., shines in one of the most outstanding film debuts in the history of cinema. He and the seasoned Nick Nolte (NORTH DALLAS FORTY) are definitely co-leads in this influential buddy-action-comedy, but Ric Waite’s camera unquestionably loves Eddie to death. Nolte is no slouch — in fact, his work in 48 HRS. has been unfairly overlooked — but Murphy...well.

Murphy had fewer than two full seasons of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE under his belt when he was cast by director Walter Hill (THE WARRIORS) to play black con artist Reggie Hammond in a rollicking, profane, exciting, and darkly funny screenplay credited to Hill, Roger Spottiswoode (who next directed Nolte in UNDER FIRE), Larry Gross (STREETS OF FIRE), and Steven E. de Souza (DIE HARD). It’s a terrific role that fits Murphy so well that it’s impossible to imagine any other comedian of 1982 playing it.

Take, for instance, The Scene. If anyone sitting in a theater watching 48 HRS. were still, up to that point, unsure about Murphy’s ability to hold the screen, all doubts disappeared when Murphy as Hammond wanders into a redneck bar filled with crackers and bigots and takes complete control in a dazzling display of bravado and fast thinking. By the time Murphy John-Wayne-walks out of the bar after verbally demolishing everyone in it, a star has been born.

48 HRS. is a comedy, but it’s primarily an action movie about cops chasing bad guys in San Francisco. The combination of brutal violence and big laughs was unusual in 1982, but the critical and commercial success of 48 HRS. led to many imitators, including the LETHAL WEAPON series and Murphy’s BEVERLY HILLS COP, which was an even bigger smash than 48 HRS.

Nolte plays Jack Cates, a typical-for-the-movies burned-out cop on the trail of a couple of killers named Ganz (James Remar) and Billy Bear (Sonny Landham, graduating to the mainstream from the porn world). It’s personal for Cates, because one of their victims, a fellow detective (Jonathan Banks), was killed with his .44. His best chance is to spring Ganz’s old running buddy, Hammond, from prison and let Reggie lead him to the killers.

Why Cates thinks this would work is beyond me, but his plan leads to a pretty terrific crime drama packed with rich characters, taut Hill action sequences, biting dialogue, and ribald humor. The plot doesn’t make complete since, and the concept of two men stuck together who bicker and fight but learn to like each other wasn’t fresh even in 1982. But it’s often the singers, not the song, and with Hill’s unique macho directing style perfectly tuned to Murphy’s and Nolte’s wavelengths, 48 HRS. plays like a true original.

Monday, November 03, 2014

U.S. Seals II: The Ultimate Force

U.S. SEALS II: THE ULTIMATE FORCE is nothing less than one of the best direct-to-video action movies ever made. In fact, its energy and spectacular fight sequences are thrilling enough to rank U.S. SEALS II among the best action films of the 21st century so far, period.

Yeah, I know.

Released in 2001 by Nu Image/Millennium as a sequel to a film it has nothing to do with, U.S. SEALS II is as close to an authentic Hong Kong action movie as any American production has ever gotten (with the exception of the unbelievably great buddy action/comedy DRIVE). Although its title and DVD box indicate a straight-forward macho military-style shoot-'em-up, director Issac Florentine (now a big name in DTV features for his collaborations with action star Scott Adkins) and writer Michael D. Weiss (OCTOPUS) have concocted a preposterous thriller with enough high-octane awesomeness to line a decade of Jerry Bruckheimer schlockfests.

Former Navy SEAL Frank Ratliffe (Damian Chapa) kidnaps sexy nuclear physicist Dr. Jane Burrows (Kate Connor) and stashes her on a private island, which used to be a Soviet military base until a chemical accident left the island saturated in methane gas. Because of the gas, no guns can be fired there, due to the possibility of explosion (just go with it, man).

Surrounded by his army of kung-fu experts, including foxy Brit Sophia (Sophia Crawford, Sarah Michelle Geller's former BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER stunt double), Ratliffe demands a billion-dollar ransom to prevent him from firing a pair of nuclear warheads smack dab into Washington, D.C. To stop Ratliffe's mad plot, Army major Donner (ROAD HOUSE heavy Marshall Teague) recruits the megalomaniac's former best pal, Casey Sheppard (Michael Worth), who left the SEALs after Frank raped and murdered their sensei's daughter. With less than 48 hours to Ratliffe's deadline, Casey recruits a ragtag team of martial-arts experts, including Donner, who's armed with a paintball gun that fires acid missiles, and Kimiko (Karen Kim), Casey's ex-lover and the twin sister of the woman Frank murdered in Okinawa.

One thing is made clear from the very beginning: none of this is to be taken even the least bit seriously. In fact, much of the dialogue sounds like it was penned for a NAKED GUN movie, as it's spoken so earnestly by a mostly unknown cast of straight faces. Florentine punctuates not just the action scenes, but also almost every little movement, with a "whoosh" sound effect, right down to a turn of the head or a roll of the eyes. The gimmick of an island surrounded by methane, as ludicrous as it sounds, is perfect for this comic-book universe and nicely justifies some of the most exciting martial-arts battles ever filmed outside of Asia. The fights were choreographed by Andy Cheng (who also portrays one of Chapa's goons), a veteran of Jackie Chan's stunt team, as super-balletic dances of death--swords, knives, chains, machetes, and old-fashioned hands and feet all become deadly weapons under Cheng's tutelage.

Florentine appears influenced by Italian westerns as much as he is kung-fu flicks, and indeed U.S. SEALS II's themes of loyalty and male friendship lie in that same tradition. But in a movie where the villain can fire a nuclear missile by pressing a button on a remote control (the air inside the silo was unaffected by the methane explosion, we're told) or a nuclear scientist can be a sexy 25-year-old Army officer in a bun and miniskirt, it's doubtful you'll be looking for any subtext.

And that's okay when the movie is as much cheeky fun as U.S. SEALS II. It's a shame to see an action movie this clever and skillfully made go ignored. Hell, there aren't any more video stores, so you can't even go rent it. The violence provides a high body count, but it's never meanspirited, and there's something to be said for the climax, which offs its main heavy with an over-the-top gore effect more likely to draw admiring laughs than uneasy grimaces. Seriously, it's one of the greatest movie deaths ever.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

U.S. Seals (2000)

Nu Image, more or less the Cannon Films of the 1990s and 2000s, developed a series of U.S. SEALS action movies as a follow-up to its five OPERATION DELTA FORCE pictures. Because of their no-name casts and Bulgarian production base, the indie studio was able to get quite a few bangs for its few bucks, filling the films with good photography, as well as the requisite amount of explosions, bullet hits, and impressive stunts. 

U.S. SEALS finds its gung-ho squad of titular soldiers slipping into an abandoned oil rig, where modern-day pirates are hoarding their stolen merchandise. The SEALs kill several of the pirates, including the brother of bad guy mastermind J. Kenneth Campbell (TURBULENCE). Out of revenge, Campbell blows up the wife of SEAL leader Jim Fitzpatrick (THE GLASS SHIELD), making the SEALs’ original mission now something personal. Fitzpatrick assembles the squad, with the blessing of his boss (Burnell Tucker), and leads them to Albania to kill the guy who killed his wife in retaliation for killing the guy’s brother. Got it? 

Writer David Sparling also penned four of the OPERATION DELTA FORCE movies, and it’s likely the U.S. SEALS script was originally intended as the latest in that series. It’s a pretty standard story, held together by strong production values and slick direction by Yossi Wein (CYBORG COP III), whose experience as a cinematographer likely contributed to the film’s expensive look. That is, if you don’t mind the attempt to pass off Sofia for the United States.

With Wein’s Bulgarian stunt team seemingly game for anything, U.S. SEALS is an entertaining actioner that moves at a rapid clip. Fitzpatrick is handsomely bland or perhaps blandly handsome, but he does play well against Campbell’s more theatrical performance. The acting is not great, though, and the dubbing of Bulgarian bit players is worse.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Don't Go Near The Park

Lawrence Foldes was just 19 years old when he directed, produced, and co-wrote DON’T GO NEAR THE PARK, a confusing, ambitious, rambling, and inept gore pic, in the Los Angeles area, primarily the old Paramount ranch and Griffith Park.

It opens "12,000 years ago" with two caveperson siblings being stricken by a curse that dooms them to a life of immortality. To remain young-looking, they kill teenagers and chomp on their entrails to drain their youth. The only way the two can ever die is if one has a female child and sacrifices her on her 16th birthday.

Gar ("Crackers Phinn," a nom de plume for Robert Gribbin, who was okay using his real name in TEEN LUST, HITCHHIKE TO HELL, and TRIP WITH THE TEACHER, which should tell you something about DON’T GO NEAR THE PARK) makes it happen by stalking a cute blonde (Linnea Quigley) and mesmerizing her into marriage. Gar’s devotion to their daughter Bondi (Tamara Taylor) earns Linnea's resentment, and a fight between the parents spurs Bondi to run away from home on her 16th birthday.

Surviving a rape attempt by potheads in a shitty custom van by using the power of The Force locked inside her magic amulet to explode the van, Bondi ends up at an abandoned cabin hidden inside Griffith Park, where dozens of children have gone missing over the centuries. The cabin's only inhabitants are Nick (Meeno Peluce from TV's VOYAGERS wearing a Wacky Packages T-shirt), a wiseass 10-year-old; Cowboy (Chris Riley), a wimpy teen; and—coincidentally—Gar's sister Tre.

Tre, usually seen in a gray wig and an eyepatch, is played by a pseudonymous actress named "Barbara Monker." Foldes claims Monker is actually Barbara Bain, the Emmy-winning co-star of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and SPACE: 1999, but she clearly isn’t. I don’t know whether Foldes is mistaken or lying (moderator David Gregory inexplicably doesn’t challenge Foldes’ assertion on the Dark Sky DVD’s commentary track), but there’s no doubt that Barbara Monker is not Barbara Bain.

Aldo Ray, a former Academy Award nominee on hard times, pops up briefly as an investigative reporter looking into the mysterious Griffith Park deaths who tries to rescue Nick from his homelessness. More murders occur until the far-out climax inside Bronson Caverns that includes zombies, fire, eye lasers (!), and more ridiculousness. And it’s all based on actual events, according to the film’s opening card!

It's pretty obvious that Foldes and his co-writer Linwood Chase had no idea what they were doing when they snapped this picture together. Making sense of the story is a fool’s errand. Trying to determine why Aldo Ray is in this movie is a fool’s errand. The only thing that’s crystal-clear about DON’T GO NEAR THE PARK is the reason a young, imaginative, but untalented Foldes was handed $100,000 to make this movie: rich parents.

Monday, October 27, 2014

My Blood Runs Cold

William Conrad, the corpulent character actor best known at the time for playing Marshal Matt Dillon on the GUNSMOKE radio show, directed three straight horror films that were released by Warner Brothers in the first half of 1965. In addition to acting jobs for hire, Conrad had stepped behind the camera for the occasional directing gig in episodic television, as well as producing Warner Brothers shows like KLONDIKE and 77 SUNSET STRIP.

MY BLOOD RUNS COLD was the middle child of Conrad’s horrific triptych, balanced between the equally medium-budgeted TWO ON A GUILLOTINE and BRAINSTORM. Oddly, after grinding out these three chillers, Conrad ditched directing for good, more or less, and became an unlikely late-in-life TV star on CANNON, a CBS detective show for Quinn Martin that aired five seasons from 1971 to 1976. He didn’t direct even an episode. Maybe he got the bug out of his system at Warners.

Shot in black-and-white and widescreen Panavision by Oscar winner Sam Leavitt (THE DEFIANT ONES), who keeps the camera gliding smoothly and surely under Conrad’s direction, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD is a thriller about reincarnation. Let’s call it a mix of Bridey Murphy and Norman Bates, as the clean-cut young man who meets cute with rich girl Julie Marriday (Joey Heatherton) when her car sideswipes his motorbike turns out to be a raving psychopath.

It’s love at first sight for Ben Gunther (Troy Donahue), who tries to convince Julie that he loved her in a past life and forks over a century-old locket with a photo of Julie’s lookalike great-great-grandmother inside. Julie’s wealthy widowed father, Julian (Barry Sullivan), who disapproves of her stoic wimp boyfriend Harry (Nicolas Coster), pushes Ben and Julie together at first. But...something just ain’t right with that boy.

I called MY BLOOD RUNS COLD a thriller because that’s the way it was always described in TV GUIDE, but it may be the least thrilling thriller of 1965. GUNSMOKE producer John Mantley wrote the screenplay from BEN CASEY producer John Meredyth Lucas’ story, and it plays like a middling TV show — lots of dialogue, a low body count, and not a thing to threaten the censors. All the murders are depicted off-screen, and it takes forever for Donahue’s character to show off his true flipped-out nature. Conrad acts more interested in the sibling rivalry between Sullivan’s Julian and his more free-spirited sister, played by Jeanette Nolan.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Beasts Are On The Streets

In the wake of JAWS came a gaggle of movies about animals running amok on both the big (GRIZZLY, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, PROPHECY) and small screens (ANTS, TARANTULA: THE DEADLY CARGO, THE SAVAGE BEES). THE BEASTS ARE ON THE STREETS, which was produced in Texas by Hanna-Barbera (!), is neither the best or the worst of the killer-animal genre, and its standout title is the most memorable thing about it.

Whereas most of these movies were content to unleash just one species against man, be it spiders or bears or bees or dogs, writer Laurence Heath (a former MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE producer) goes hog wild in his teleplay for BEASTS, unleashing an entire wildlife sanctuary against a Texas populace fattened up for the kill from all that local barbecue. Lions and tigers and bears and oh my elephants and buffalo and zebras and you name it prey on some of the dumber members of the human species (“I just wanna see what’s going on.”).

Heath resists appending a supernatural or mystery element to the animals’ behavior. They’re just acting like wild animals. An ersatz combination of road-raged hunters Billy Green Bush (ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE) and Burton Gilliam (HONEYMOON IN VEGAS) and pill-popping trucker Bill Thurman (a mainstay of Larry Buchanan’s Texas schlock) results in the African Wildlife Park’s fenceline demolished and an army of hungry animals on the loose.

The director is a slumming Peter Hunt, making his first foray into American television after helming big action films like ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and SHOUT AT THE DEVIL. So it’s no surprise that the animal-attack scenes contain a decent level of thrills, though necessarily bloodless, thanks to network standards of 1978 (although the suspense would hold more weight if we didn’t see a whole crew of worry-free filmmakers reflected in the windows of cars being assaulted by wildlife).

The human characters are no less shallow than usual for the disaster genre, but they seem like they are because of the colorless cast, including undistinguished Dale Robinette (BILLION DOLLAR THREAT), wispy Carol Lynley (THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE), and future Tubbs Philip Michael Thomas. Filmed at the long-gone Lion Country Safari drive-through park in Grand Prairie, Texas, THE BEASTS ARE ON THE STREETS definitely has its share of knuckleheaded scenes, but the variety of animals involved gives the film a certain cheesy spectacle that’s worth a watch.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hercules In The Haunted World

Although it was not unusual for Italian sword-and-sandal adventures to pit their musclebound heroes against monsters or strange creatures, this atmospheric fantasy from acclaimed director Mario Bava (BLACK SUNDAY) careens way over past other pepla into the horror genre.

Back as the titular Greek god is Reg Park, who had just played Hercules for director Vittorio Cottafavi in HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN. Not only is HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD a marvelously sumptuous treat for the eyes with its fascinating color schemes and imaginative visual effects, but it also provides Hercules with a strong opposite—not physically, of course, but no less dangerous than if he were beefed up to Parkian proportions—in Christopher Lee, then well known for playing Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster in Hammer productions.

Unfortunately, Lee’s distinctive baritone is dubbed by another actor, which dilutes his performance to some degree. Lee uses his stern countenance to good avail as the evil Lico, the uncle of Hercules’ betrothed, the beautiful Princess Deianira (Leonora Ruffo). Hercules (Park) returns home from his latest adventure to learn from Lico that Deianira has taken ill and is unable to rule, leaving her uncle in charge. Actually, Lico has hypnotized her into a zombie state in order to seize the throne.

To cure his special lady and restore her to her rightful place as ruler of Ecalia, Hercules teams up with his best friend Theseus (Giorgio Ardisson) and Telemachus (Franco Giacobini) to first retrieve a golden apple from a creepy tree, and then use it to gain entrance to Hell, where a magic stone that can restore Deianira’s soul rests. But, hey, that’s all child’s play next to the zombie army Lico keeps in his catacombs to ward off intruders while he sacrifices his niece to the gods.

Less exciting than the earlier CAPTIVE WOMEN, HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD makes up for its relative lack of action by washing everything in cool green and red and blue colors or drenching its strange worlds in shadows. Bava does deliver some rousing heroics, of course, and Park is more than up to the task—for instance, the opening, in which he tosses a huge wagon at a band of invaders. Bava’s use of glass paintings, gels, and miniatures are sublime. HAUNTED WORLD is one of the best pepla.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


It's a little disappointing not to be covering NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL  HOUSE for the Jack Webb Blogathon. As you may know, director John Landis really wanted the DRAGNET star to play Dean Wormer in his 1978 comedy classic (and Kim Novak to play Wormer's wife!). He even met with Webb, who hadn't acted on-screen since a 1971 episode of the Don Adams police sitcom THE PARTNERS. It isn't clear whether Webb turned down the role, Universal rejected the notion, or both. At any rate, John Vernon (CHARLEY VARRICK) was hired to play Wormer and was terrific.

So, to a film that Webb did star in. Not only that, but he was also the director and producer of -30-, Webb's first film since DRAGNET went off the air in 1959 after 276 episodes (and many more on radio).

Webb takes Joe Friday to the big screen and a newspaper office in 1959's -30-, a simultaneously cynical and sentimental drama about reporters and editors pounding a beat, so to speak. And, boy, are they glib, at least according to screenwriter William Bowers (THE GUNFIGHTER), who can’t resist making the whole damn city room sound like a Hope & Crosby routine.

Led by night managing editor Sam Gatlin (Webb), the staff of a big-city newspaper working the 3pm-midnight shift tries to fill pages on what starts out as a slow night.

Before you know it, a lost three-year-old is wandering around the storm drains, rewrite woman Lady’s (Louise Lorimer) test pilot grandson is flying into danger, the boss’ influential friends are touring the newsroom, Gatlin frets over his wife's (HAZEL's Whitney Blake, later the co-creator of ONE DAY AT A TIME) decision to adopt a child, and city editor Jim Bathgate (William Conrad) is risking a buck on the sex of an Italian movie star’s new baby. All while a torrential thunderstorm rages.

Being a Jack Webb joint, the banter occasionally slows for a self-righteous monologue, but the dialogue is generally paced like a DRAGNET episode at 78 rpm. In fact, -30- rips by so quickly that, a minute after learning of a newsroom tragedy, Gatlin and Bathgate are making jokes again. As weird as it is to see Jack Webb laughing, he carries the picture well, and the blustering Conrad (CANNON) nearly steals it off Webb’s shoulders.

Joe Flynn (MCHALE’S NAVY), Richard Deacon (THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW), Howard McNear (THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW), and David Nelson (THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET) are also on the paper’s staff. Webb directed one more feature before returning to television to produce G.E. TRUE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, TEMPLE HOUSTON, and a revamp of DRAGNET. Warner Brothers originally released -30- on a double bill with the Clint Walker western YELLOWSTONE KELLY.

This post is part of the Jack Webb Blogathon being hosted by The Hannibal 8. Make sure you drop by this weekend for plenty of wild Webbness.