Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Storm Trooper

Carol Alt once wore a bikini on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. She graduated to an undistinguished career in independent movies, both in Hollywood and in Italy, including this direct-to-video action movie directed by Jim Wynorski. And there’s no doubting it’s a Wynorski movie when the first scene is guys with guns running into L.A.’s Department of Water and Power — a Wynorski staple location.

Another way to identify STORM TROOPER as a Wynorski joint: the cast. Many of the director’s repertory company is here: John Terlesky (DEATHSTALKER II) as Guy With Shotgun, Ross Hagen (HARD BOUNTY) as Goon Driving Semi, Arthur Roberts (NOT OF THIS EARTH) as Evil General, Tim Abell (RAPTOR) as Douchebag Cop, Melissa Brasselle (RANGERS) as Butch Soldier, Jay Richardson (MUNCHIE) as Other Evil General. And the plot is similar to Wynorski’s THE ASSAULT (which Brasselle wrote).

Alt is an abused wife who kills afore-mentioned Douchebag Cop husband at exactly the same time an amnesiac arrives on her doorstep. Pursuing him are Roberts’ soldiers, which include Zach Galligan (GREMLINS), Rick Hill (DEATHSTALKER), and Corey Feldman (THE GOONIES) in an eyepatch. Alt and the amnesiac (John Laughlin) fight back while the dead husband lounges in the bathtub. It takes forever for Wynorski to reveal the big twist, which is that Laughlin is a robot.

Whatever. That Laughlin is a robot has no bearing on the story, which would have played out the same way if he were a whole man. This sloppiness runs throughout the production. Characters crash through windows with no glass in them. The ground shows no signs of a recent thunderstorm. Alt is saddled with memories of a dead son that have no impact on the plot or her arc. STORM TROOPER is unexceptional, though some will get a kick out of the cult actors, even the ones who are miscast.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Girl On The Run (1953)

This very cheap independent production gets off to a discouraging start, as the opening titles play over a still of a creepy clown while generic school-band music plays. However, if you stick with GIRL ON THE RUN, its weirder elements start to take effect, leading to an unusual, almost dream-like narrative that barely sustains its 64-minute running time. And Steve McQueen is in it.

The whole film takes place over one night in a single location: a small-town carnival. Traveling carnies may not have been as skeevy as GIRL ON THE RUN indicates, but it’s an appropriately grim setting for Joseph Lee and Arthur Beckhard’s murder tale. Richard Coogan, best known at the time as TV’s Captain Video on the DuMont network, stars as Bill Martin, a newspaper reporter accused to killing his editor, a man named Marsh, who was investigating allegations of vice at the carnival.

In keeping with normal B-movie pacing, Martin’s backstory is dispensed through early dialogue. Our first glimpse of the film’s hero is inside a dark tent, where he and his girlfriend Janet (Jacqueline Pettit) are hiding from both the cops and a local councilman named Reeves (Harry Bannister). Martin suspects Reeves and the carnival’s owner, a midget (!) named Blake (Charles Bollender), of pimping and, of course, Marsh’s murder.

So with the story already in motion when the film opens, it moves along pretty rapidly while still leaving room for local color — namely tantalizing views of the forbidden pleasures awaiting inside the adults-only tent. Whether the result of the low budget, desperate casting, or the filmmaker’s attention to realism, the hotsy-totsy burlesque dancers are a long way from Vegas showgirls. Dumpy, weary, hard-edged, and certainly not the girls next door, they’re alluring enough to entice the rubes, but with no question Blake’s rundown show is as far as they’ll ever get.

As for McQueen, he can be seen early in the picture testing his strength with a mallet, and then again a few minutes later squiring his date to the fortune teller’s tent as Coogan walks into frame.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Klansman

Paramount released this notoriously tasteless, inept, and unintentionally hilarious racial melodrama, but not proudly. Richard Burton, whose performance is terrible (producer Bill Shiffrin said Burton didn’t deserve to be paid), was so drunk during shooting that, years later, he had no memory of meeting co-star Lee Marvin, with whom he shares many scenes. Best of all is the stolid Burton’s clumsy karate fight with equally uncoordinated Cameron Mitchell, which remains funny no matter how many times you see it.

As with Paramount’s later release MANDINGO, THE KLANSMAN is based on a novel (this one by William Bradford Huie) and features major stars humiliating themselves in an overwrought stew of sleazy sex, violence, and racial epithets. The slurring Burton (CLEOPATRA) plays Breck Stancill, a rich liberal landowner who allows poor African-Americans to squat rent-free on his Alabama mountain. This pisses off the locals, many of whom, including the mayor (THE BIG LEBOWSKI’s David Huddleston), are members of the Ku Klux Klan. Trying to stay neutral in the heated confrontation between blacks fighting for their voting rights and whites trying to block them is local sheriff “Big Track” Bascomb (Marvin, who claimed he and Burton never received their full salary), who is kinda racist, but is willing to live and let live.

Samuel Fuller (VERBOTEN!) was the original writer and director before being replaced by Millard Kaufman (BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK) and Terence Young (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE), respectively, in those roles. It’s difficult to know who to blame for THE KLANSMAN’s most sordid moments, which include the castration of a black man wrongly accused of raping white Linda Evans (MITCHELL), Bascomb covering up racist deputy Butt Cut Cates’ (Mitchell) rape of black virgin Lola Falana (LADY COCOA), and O.J. Simpson (!) sneaking around and shooting the white men responsible for his friend’s murder. By the time Marvin has smeared the blood from Falana’s busted hymen across Mitchell’s face, you may be in the mood for a Silkwood shower.

One thing’s for sure: once you’ve seen THE KLANSMAN, you’ll never forget it. No movie with Lee Marvin mowing down the Ku Klux Klan with a machine gun can be all bad. The Staples Singers perform the opening song, and Shiffrin somehow convinced name actors to wallow in this mire, including THUNDERBALL’s Luciana Paluzzi (dubbed by Joanna Moore) laughably miscast as a small town police clerk named Trixie. She’s at least as convincing as Oroville, California’s performance as Atoka County, Alabama.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pink Cadillac

Any discussion about the worst film of Clint Eastwood’s career has to begin with PINK CADILLAC, Malpaso’s attempt at a comedy about white supremacy. Opening the same weekend as INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE certainly didn’t help at the box office, but PINK CADILLAC was deservedly a dud, debuting in fifth place and pretty much out of theaters a month later.

As mentioned above, PINK CADILLAC is a comedy about neo-Nazis, a tough feat for accomplished filmmakers, much less screenwriter John Eskow (AIR AMERICA) and director Buddy Van Horn (THE DEAD POOL), Eastwood’s longtime stunt double. Playing to his Philo Beddoe fan base, Eastwood plays Tommy Nowak, a bounty hunter who wears wacky disguises in pursuit of bail jumpers. His new assignment is dingey Lou Ann (Bernadette Peters, of all people), who steals her jerk ex-husband Roy’s (miscast Timothy Carhart) pink Cadillac, unaware that it contains dirty money belonging to Roy’s white supremacy group.

It would come to no surprise to learn Tommy Nowak was one of Eastwood’s favorite roles. The macho actor gets to pose as wacky morning zoo DJ, lisping redneck (pretty funny actually), and rodeo clown in pursuit of prey, never mind there must be ninety easier and less costly methods. No doubt he had more fun making PINK CADILLAC than anyone has watching it. The preppy-looking Carhart (THELMA & LOUISE) is the least convincing trailer-park-living redneck racist of all time, and Jim Carrey (also in Eastwood and Van Horn’s THE DEAD POOL) appears briefly as an Elvis impersonator. Unfunny, tasteless, and insanely long at 121 minutes, PINK CADILLAC runs out of gas early in its first act and sputters out quickly thereafter.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Count Yorga, Vampire aka The Loves Of Count Iorga, Vampire

The career of 44-year-old journeyman Robert Quarry received a major boost from COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, which led to a sequel and an AIP contract as the studio’s next big horror star. What was originally intended as a softcore sex flick by writer/director Bob Kelljan (RAPE SQUAD) and producer Michael Macready (TERROR AT THE RED WOLF INN) was re-edited and released as straight horror based on the belief that Quarry’s regal, sexy performance as a charismatic vampire would make the film a success. Some prints still bear the original title, THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA, VAMPIRE, but the film is strictly PG fare.

After performing a seance for Donna (Donna Anders) and her friends, Count Yorga (Quarry) is driven home by Paul (Michael Murphy, later in Robert Altman films) and Erica (Judith Lang) in Paul’s van. After dropping off Yorga, the couple is stranded in the count’s driveway and spend the night there, where they are attacked. We see the assailant is Yorga, now pale and bearing fangs, but Paul doesn’t get a glimpse at him and Erica doesn’t remember anything. All she knows is that she has lost a lot of blood and bears two strange puncture wounds on her neck. Nobody apparently having heard of vampires, Erica’s physician, Dr. Jim Hayes (Roger Perry), advises her to eat a lot of steaks.

Only after Paul and his friend Mike (Macready, whose character actor father George contributed the opening narration) walk in on Erica chowing down on her pet cat instead of a juicy steak do they start to believe a vampire may be in their midst. Yorga, who has already taken Erica’s late mother (softcore actress Marsha Jordan) as one of his undead brides, kidnaps the weakened Erica as another, leaving it up to Mike and Jim to storm the Bulgarian count’s mansion on a rescue mission.

Quarry is excellent as Count Yorga — perhaps too good, as the bland but likable Perry, a reliable television actor, and his co-stars are not believable as formidable opponents, either physically or mentally. Placing an old-fashioned vampire story, usually told in a Gothic setting, in modern-day Los Angeles was a novelty at the time COUNT YORGA was released, and Quarry does a nice job straddling the contemporary and the Old World.

Spurred by the success of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, AIP not only commissioned a quick sequel, THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, but also a pair of films about Blacula, an African vampire played by William Marshall. Quarry also played a vampire in DEATHMASTER, and co-starred with AIP star Vincent Price (the two actors disliked one another) in two horror movies. Quarry died in 2009.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Sudden Impact

The only Dirty Harry movie directed by Clint Eastwood, SUDDEN IMPACT is the one in which Clint says “Go ahead...make my day” — a catchphrase that went so viral even President Reagan used it in a speech two years after the film came out. The film was a hit — it opened at number one at the box office, out-grossing the premiering SCARFACE (!) and CHRISTINE — and audiences openly cheered the violence.

Eastwood’s San Francisco police inspector, “Dirty Harry” Callahan, kills so many people in SUDDEN IMPACT that he is first suspended and then sent to a small California town to investigate a series of vigilante murders. The killer is a sympathetic one: Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), the victim of a gang rape years earlier that left her sister a catatonic and Jennifer out for revenge. A sympathetic villain, perhaps, but a weak one, as Locke isn’t a strong enough actress to project the proper represssed rage and, despite their long romantic relationship, she and Eastwood never had much on-screen chemistry.

The weak central plot in the screenplay by Joseph C. Stinson (STICK) actually works to SUDDEN IMPACT’s advantage. As a series of unrelated action setpieces, Eastwood’s film is a lot of fun. Bad guys with guns seem to pop up everywhere Harry goes, and he can’t even take vacation days without stumbling into a crime scene. Eastwood directs the chases and shootouts for maximum excitement, and Stinson (and possibly uncredited script polisher Dean Reisner) ensures Harry always has the perfect bon mot to punctuate each confrontation.

Scored by Lalo Schifrin (DIRTY HARRY), who lays down a killer cue to announce Harry’s arrival in the climax, SUDDEN IMPACT was the last Eastwood hit for almost a decade until UNFORGIVEN revitalized his career. Even the fifth and final Dirty Harry movie, THE DEAD POOL, despite featured roles for unknowns Jim Carrey (THE TRUMAN SHOW) and Liam Neeson (TAKEN), was a 1989 bomb.

Fire Maidens Of Outer Space

There’s something quaint about Cy Roth’s obvious pride concerning FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE. Credited as the film’s director, producer, and writer (story and screenplay!), Roth’s name is given an ostentatious signature font in the opening titles, as if to mark the film definitively as Un Film De Cy Roth. What makes it so quaint is that FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE is quite bad, mainly because of Roth’s direction, which is leaden, unimaginative, and devoid of adequate pacing. Roth directed two other films — military-themed B-pictures — that are forgotten today. Thanks to loyal science fiction fans, FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE will always exist. Some of them don’t even mind that a “stone” wall wobbles when a tree branch is propped against it.

Anthony Dexter, the lead in Columbia’s VALENTINO, stars in this British production as an American scientist in charge of Expedition 13: a space flight to the newly discovered 13th moon of Jupiter, which amazingly looks like Earth. Like those classics MISSILE TO THE MOON and CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON, Dexter and his men find a civilization of sexy women and one old dude (Owen Berry), the last of the original inhabitants of Atlantis, who left Earth to colonize space many years earlier. The so-called Fire Maidens, er, spend all day dancing near a flaming hearth. The only maidens we get to know are Berry’s daughter (Susan Shaw) and head dancer Jacqueline Curtis.

Oh, there’s also a creature, referred to only as “the creature.” Hammer makeup man Roy Ashton (THE MUMMY) created the creature’s look, which isn’t wildly convincing, but since Roth really only shows the creature in long shots (and it serves no purpose in the story, along with everything else), the makeup is okay. Despite the premise of astronauts meeting dancing girls and a monster in outer space, auteur Roth only has about 20 minutes of material in an 80-minute movie, so three out of every four scenes are padded with shots of people walking, sitting, dancing, staring, smoking — god, all the smoking — anything but telling a story.

Most of the visual effects are swiped from earlier films, including KING DINOSAUR and ROCKETSHIP X-M. No attempt is made to present its science with any degree of verisimilitude (“their gravitational laws and magnetic poles are contrary to ours” sounds like bullshit to me), and Roth’s direction is so sloppy that you can see British motorcars driving in the background of “the 13th moon.” Outside of Dexter — hardly a household name — the actors are obscure and were likely chosen for their low asking prices rather than their screen presence. Roth was no director, but judging from the massive product placement (TWA, Chesterfield, Coca-Cola, Longines…), he must have been a heck of a salesman.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Any Which Way You Can

Of course, Warner Brothers demanded a sequel when EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE became Clint Eastwood’s biggest box office smash to date, so here we are with ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN. To this day, the two films are Eastwood’s all-time most successful as an actor when grosses are adjusted for inflation, which is something when you think about the brilliant films in which he has starred. Also, I suspect it may hold the record for acts of violence in a PG film.

The screenplay by Stanford Sherman (KRULL) is not exactly outside the box nor should it be, I suppose. Bare-knuckles brawler Philo Beddoe (Clint) is back with most of the cast of the first film, including but not limited to scene-stealing Clyde the orangutan. Nazi bikers are still giving Philo a hard time, his pal Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) and Orville’s cantankerous mother (Ruth Gordon) still has his back, and even the country singer who jilted him (Sondra Locke) is back (it’s easy to forget the first film ended on kind of a bummer). Hell, even the main titles are the same, except instead of Eddie Rabbitt, it’s Clint warbling a song with Ray Charles about being in Vietnam. And, of course, it all ends with another knockdown dragout punchfest between Clint and Tank Murdock surrogate Jack Wilson, played by ubiquitous movie badass William Smith (CONAN THE BARBARIAN).

This sequel has more of a story — something about gangsters kidnapping Philo’s lady friend to coerce him into one last fight — but what makes it really interesting is the relationship between Philo and Jack Wilson. Smith doesn’t play Wilson as a standard heavy, but a man with a strong moral code who respects and maybe likes his opponent. Their fight, directed by stuntman Buddy Van Horn (THE DEAD POOL) making his debut, is a real corker that doesn’t stop just because of Philo’s broken arm. ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN is smuttier than the first film with more Clyde and more low-hanging boob jokes (literally). It’s also dumber and weirdly compelling most of the time.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Every Which Way But Loose

Clint Eastwood was one of the world’s biggest movie stars and at the height of his fame when he made EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE against the advice of his Malpaso team. Clint’s first comedy, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE shocked critics to not only become his biggest box office hit to date, but his biggest hit ever when grosses are adjusted for inflation. It ain’t exactly Noel Coward, but the blue-collar antics of Clint’s bare-knuckles brawler Philo Beddoe and beer-swilling, bird-flipping orangutan Clyde struck gold in America’s heartland.

Writer Jeremy Joe Kronsberg (GOING APE!) sort of concocts a plot leading up to a match between Philo and the legendary Tank Murdock (Walter Barnes), but there’s a lot of cursing, infantile slapstick, weak double entendres, chases, drinking and driving, destruction of property, and punching of Nazi faces first. A surprising amount of screen time is given to Philo and his friends on a road trip where they camp out, get into fights, and sneak into a zoo to get Clyde laid.

Beddoe and Clyde live in Los Angeles next door to Philo’s best pal Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) and Orville’s senile mother (Ruth Gordon). Philo, who can lift a car, makes extra money fighting in underground bare-knuckles bouts. He picks up country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor (Sondra Locke, who bowls in tiny shorts) in a bar and makes out with her in his old Chevy pickup. He also beats up a Pacoima Nazi biker gang called the Black Widows, played by the ugliest character actors Clint could find. Basically, Philo Beddoe is awesome.

With Eastwood’s ace crew, including editors Ferris Webster and Joel Cox, assisting director James Fargo (THE ENFORCER), EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE looks and sounds more professional than its ragged storyline deserves. Gregory Walcott (PRIME CUT) and James McEachin (FUZZ) play corrupt cops on Philo’s tail, and Beverly D’Angelo (NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION) gives Lewis a romance. Mel Tillis sings a couple of his big hits, and Eddie Rabbit’s title song went to number one on the country charts. Believe it or not, the sequel, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, is Eastwood’s second-biggest inflation-adjusted box office hit of all time.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The Ghost And Mr. Chicken

Don Knotts is at his wound-up finest in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, his first film after leaving THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. He’s a cornucopia of fidgets and shakes that pushes his physical comedy skills to the limit. Even when he isn’t saying anything, Knotts is a delight to watch.

As written by GRIFFITH vets Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum and directed by the Griffith show’s Alan Rafkin, THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN is one of the most quotable comedies of its era: “Bang! Right on the head!”, “Mister Boob. That’s me. B-Double-O-B. Boob!”, “When you work with words, words are your work,” and, of course, “Attaboy, Luther!” Set in rural Rachel, Kansas, Knotts plays Luther Heggs, a meek, excitable typesetter at the local newspaper with dreams of becoming a reporter. Neither his editor (Dick Sargent, later the Fake Darrin on BEWITCHED) nor his reporter rival (Skip Homeier) takes him seriously, and Homeier isn‘t even particularly friendly, cutting Luther down like a grade school bully.

Luther’s big chance comes when he accepts a dare to spend the night in the creepy Simmons mansion, an abandoned old house rumored to be haunted since Old Man Simmons murdered his wife there 20 years previously and then committed suicide. Simmons’ nephew (Phil Ober) has returned to Rachel to demolish the place, but those plans are put on hold after Luther’s scoop the next day in which he describes encounters with hidden staircases, a pipe organ that plays by itself, and a portrait of the late Mrs. Simmons with bloody shears protruding from it.

Since you and I don’t believe in ghosts, it’s easy to guess that human hands might be behind Luther’s apparitions. The journey to the mystery’s solution is a pleasing one, particularly because of the delightful supporting cast Rafkin assembled. TV Land fanatics will undoubtedly smile at Reta Shaw, Charles Lane, Ellen (“Grandma Walton“) Corby, Robert Cornthwaite, Cliff Norton, and Burt Mustin, just to name a few. However, the movie's secret weapon is the amazing jazz score by Vic Mizzy, whose jaunty main theme is later rearranged as a spooky organ tune Luther hears in the mansion. It's hard to get the tune out of your head once you've heard it, and it‘s one of the finest comedic scores of the 1960s.