Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Wild Blue

This is my entry in the Janet Leigh Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood

How many major motion pictures can you name where a branch of the Armed Services gets top billing?  By that, I mean one that is not a documentary?

Jet Pilot does just that.  Check out the movie poster below.  The opening credits of the movie bear it out, too.  After the Universal logo we get scenes of jets spinning in the air with the words "Starring John Wayne... Janet Leigh... and the United States Air Force".

And to be honest, that's the best part of the movie, the Air Force.  Although Jet Pilot is not near as bad as The Conqueror, coupled with the latter it ought to have proved to Wayne and everyone else that Howard Hughes was not the ideal boss to work for.  But then I guess Wayne could be forgiven on some level because part of the reasons for making the two films was that he was sucking up for funds to finance the film of his dreams, The Alamo.

With up around 200 appearances in film and television over the span of his 50 year career in Hollywood, there are bound to be a few duds of course.  (Personally, although I am a huge fan, most of the westerns he made in his early days before [and just after] Stagecoach are pretty much interchangeable.)  But Wayne's experience with Howard Hughes seems to be the low point of his oeuvre.

The story is what hampers the movie more than anything else.  For one thing, the movie was actually filmed in 1950, when jet planes were hot stuff, but by the time Hughes had quit screwing around with the film in 1957, jets were becoming passe.  That and the plot line becomes rather lame.  Even Wayne himself admitted that it was a silly movie.  Which just goes to show what happens when you want to make a political statement but don't bother to get the right people behind you.  Howard Hughes was a brilliant businessman, to be sure.  He just should have stayed in the office and let the people who knew what they were doing run the film industry side of it.

Janet Leigh and John Wayne do have a little chemistry which makes it a better than the pairing of Wayne with Hayward in the aforementioned  The Conqueror.  Can't say I actually believe Leigh as a pilot, or for that matter as a Russian (the producers didn't even bother to have any of the actors and actresses playing Russians use a fake accent... James Bond it's not, but still if you aren't paying attention you may not know which country the characters are supposed to be in).  I did have a hard time accepting Wayne falling in love with a communist soldier (not Wayne's character, Wayne himself.  If it had been any less virulent Red-baiter of an actor I might have fell for it more.)

Watch this movie for the very good scenes of aerial photography and as a window into the early age of jet engine technology.  As I stated in my review of The Conqueror, you could probably just as easily turn off the sound and make up your own dialogue.

BTW, Chuck Yeager supposedly is one of the Air Force pilots you see flying those jets.

Jet Pilot (1957):

In the Alaskan frontier, an Air Force base detects the invasion into American air space of a Soviet jet plane.  After forcing it to land, they discover that the pilot is a woman, Anna Marladovna (Janet Leigh).  Col. Jim Shannon (John Wayne) is assigned to scope her out and figure out just what she is up to.

Eventually over the course of  a few days (or weeks or months; it all depends on how believable you think it is for a man to fall in love with a woman he just barely met...), Shannon does fall for Anna.  Although he acts like a typical shy gallant hero (no hanky panky before marriage, no sir!  At one point when her orders he to take off some of her outer gear, he is flabbergasted when she is on the verge of stripping naked in front of him...).

The brass has the ultimate say in what is going to happen to Anna.  Ultimately, it turns out, Anna is a spy.  She has been sent over by the Soviets to see what she can divulge from the Americans, without giving away any secrets the Soviets might have to which she'd be privileged.  When her subterfuge is uncovered, Shannon determines that the only way to save her from being deported is to marry her.  (Yeah, right...)

But the brass still wants its pound of flesh and determines that they will jail her instead, since they can get away with that.  She is an American citizen now.  But Shannon still has an ace up his sleeve.  On the pretext of taking Anna to authorities south and east of Alaska he instead heads north and west.  Into Siberia.  Yes, that's right, the notorious Communist-hating Wayne defected.  All because of the love of a woman.  (OK, maybe I can see that...)

Of course, now that he's in Russian territory its "the shoe is on the other foot" and Russian authorities are trying to get Shannon to reveal secrets of the Americans.  Well, he may be thinking with his genitalia, but that doesn't mean he's stupid.  There is no point in trying to avoid the spoiler alert, but then if you know John Wayne the actor and his politics you ALREADY know how the movie HAS to end anyway.  Or at least you know the spoiler alert... Shannon doesn't stay in Russia.  But I will leave you with something to watch to see how he manages to get away from the crack superior Russian Air Force.

Time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.


Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Pit of Despair

This is my entry in the OLivia deHaviland Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Clasic Hollywood

I will preface this review with this comment:  I did NOT like this movie.  And that has absolutely nothing to do with the acting of Ms. de Haviland or any of the other stars in the movie.  As a matter of fact, I wholly concur with the Academy that Olivia should have been given a nomination for Best Actress (and maybe even should have won. Having yet to see Johnny Belinda, I won't comment on whether it was better than the winner, just that I was impressed.)

No, what I didn't like about the movie was how real it seemed.  Which is a bonus for how well Anatole Litvak, de Haviland et. al. did in presenting the movie, to be sure.  But it made me feel claustrophobic in it's presentation.  Maybe its because the character of Virginia reminded me of a woman in my past.  There is something a little disturbing about Virginia, and even after the issues she has are resolved,   I still felt vaguely unsettled by the character.

That and the film is listed as film noir and my definition of film noir is rather more limited.  I guess I went into it expecting some rather shady dealings to have been the cause of Virginia's committal to the insane asylum (I watched this for the first time just for this blogathon and only chose it because it had been listed as film noir).  I learned one thing after watching, however;  I need to be more open-minded about how I define movies.

One of the things that really made the movie so disturbing was a fact that I hadn't clued in on until it was pointed out by a fellow blogger.  There is no glamor in this film.  None of the women are wearing makeup and apparently no form-fitting undergarments either.  de Haviland and her fellow inmates look rather stark, something not very common in films, where even Ma Jarrett in White Heat is not all that disheveled, even after she has gone to prison.

The movie exposed a rather jaundiced eye on the situation in mental institutions of the time, according to the experts.  And it experienced a bit of controversy as a result.  Especially in England, where censors demanded a point to be made that all of the people in the movie were actors and that the situations portrayed therein were not indicative of the British mental institution system.

Several familiar faces appear in the film, including Natalie Schaefer (Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island) as Virginia's mother,  Betsy Blair (Marty's love in the film of the same name) as one of the inmates, Lee Patrick (Sam Spade's secretary in The Maltese Falcon), and Glenn Langan (who was the titular The Amazing Colossal Man) as one of the doctors.  As well, Ms. deHaviland's main co-stars included Mark Stevens and Leo Genn as the two men in her life, her husband and her doctor respectively.

The Snake Pit (1948):

The movie was based on a book, written as a semi-autobiography by Mary Jane Ward which, I think, is sort of a composite of her own experiences in a mental institution as well as incorporated experiences of fellow inmates.

Virginia is a patient in the ward, a mental institution that only caters to women.  Virginia herself is a bit schizophrenic.  She hears voices and wonders exactly where she is.  She has no concept of being in a mental institution and early on thinks she might actually be in a prison.

Over the course of the movie Virginia alternates from being lucid to being entirely in the depths of some fantasy world.  She calls herself alternately Virginia Cunningham and Virginia Stuart (the first being her married name and the second being her maiden name).  At times she admits to being married and at other times she insists that she is NOT married.  This despite the fact that her husband, Robert (Mark Stevens) shows up to visit her.

Her main doctor at the facility (Dr. Van Kensdelaerik (Leo Genn) who, fortunately for us as well as his patients.and colleagues, answers to the name Dr. Kik), is convinced he can help her and tries various methods, including some of the then acceptable treatments like electroshock therapy.

Over the course of the film we find out that Virginia has had some issues with men and that she blames herself for the death of two men in her life, her father and the fiancee she had before she eventually married Robert.  It's a long road to recovery.  She first has to face the hidden psychological tremors of her past, and then has to accept them.

In the process she goes from the lucid part to the almost total insanity.  At one point she is straitjacketed and sent to the ward for the worst of the patients (mentally).  Every scene in this movie has some of the most believable characters.  It's hard to believe that Litvak didn't incorporate a few actual patients in his film.

de Haviland made this movie work.  It's hard to think of anyone else who could have pulled  it off so convincingly, but I noted that Gene Tierney had originally been cast but had to be replaced because she got pregnant before production started.  Kudos to every one of the women who played patients in this film.  Although most of them are unknown to us these days, they all stepped out of the comfort zone, in my opinion, and played parts that had no glamor or prestige.  Still, as I stated before, even though I applaud the performances, it still made me feel extremely uncomfortable.

Well, folks, time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.  Please.


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Chaos in the Outback

This is my second entry in the Blizzard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Me

Earlier in this blogathon I intimated that my first entry, Strictly Ballroom, was not really, in general, my type of movie.  Many of you may already know this, but for those of you new to the blog I'll map out what IS my type of movie.

Science fiction.  Cars.  Explosions.  Guns.  Chaos.  To wit, the average "man cave" movie.

The Road Warrior  was one of the first movies I saw in the theater after I turned the age of consent and could go to any damn movie I wanted to without my parents' permission.  I really had no idea what to expect.  Although it is a sequel to Mad Max, a 1979 Australian film directed by George Miller, it was promoted initially as an independent feature.  Meaning I had no knowledge of the first movie when I went to see The Road Warrior, and it wasn't even promoted as Mad Max 2, at least not in the United States.

It was also my introduction to Mel Gibson.  His star had yet to rise in the U.S. (that would come later), but he had been around for a few years.  Credit could probably be given to George Miller for his "discovery", however.  And after The Road Warrior, he never had to look back. 

The first Mad Max film never really went into detail about the background for the society that surrounds Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), although this brief synopsis should help:  Max is a policeman in a world where chaos has pretty much taken over and gangs rule the road.  A gang that Max tangles with ends up killing his family and Max ditches his policeman status and goes on a revenge rampage. 

By the time of The Road Warrior some time has passed.  (I estimate maybe a year or so).  At the beginning of the movie the narrator tells a little more of the background of how the world that Max currently lives in came to be.  It was a world war initiated by two great powers (and although they never state which powers, it doesn't take a PhD to infer the culprits).  Now the road is ruled by various gangs who are out in search of the elusive commodity, gasoline, to power their cars and motorcycles.

The Road Warrior (1981): (aka Mad Max 2)

Max (Mel Gibson) is a loner who roams the Outback with his dog. 

He is assaulted by a gang, intent on taking his vehicle and whatever gasoline he has.  But max has other ideas.  Wez (Vernon Wells) and his gang come away empty as Max outmaneuvers and out guns them.

Farther down the road Max stumbles upon an apparently abandoned gyrocopter.  Intent on raiding the vehicle for gas for his own car he is captured by the Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence).  But Max quickly turns the tables on the Gyro Captain and takes him prisoner.  In an effort to save his own skin, the Captain tells max of an enclave just up the road where he can get "all the gas you want."

Upon arriving at the enclave, Max and the Captain discover the enclave surrounded by a gang intent on taking the gasoline for their own purposes.  As Max and the Captain watch from afar, two separate vehicles leave the compound, but are immediately surrounded by the gang.  The gang is being run by a character called the Humungus (Kjell Nillson), whose right hand man is our old friend Wez from the earlier assault on Max.

After the gang leaves the victims, Max approaches one of the vehicles and finds one man still alive.  Assured by the man that if Max takes him back to the compound he can have as much gas as he can carry.  Unfortunately the man dies upon arrival, and the leader of the compound, Pappagallo (Mike Preston, who looks, to me, quite a bit like a rather well-worn  Peter O'Toole...) tells Max that his "deal" died with the dead man.  Not only that, but he takes Max prisoner.

As the gang continues their assault outside the compound, Humungus addresses the besieged people, claiming that if they surrender the entire supply of gas within the compound he will allow them to leave.  Of course, no one believes him.  Max then tells Pappagallo of an abandoned rig he saw just down the road that he promises he can bring to them in exchange for the gas that he originally wanted.

With the help of the Captain, who apparently must be desperate for companionship after the way Max has been treating him, they end up getting the rig to the compound.  Although Pappagallo pleads with Max to drive the rig and gas out into the Outback, max claims that his part of the bargain is over and leaves.  But he is attacked by the gang and his car is wrecked.  And a couple of would-be gang thieves are killed as the car explodes taking the precious gas within with them.  Max, severely wounded but still alive, manages to crawl back to the compound where he finally agrees to drive the rig to safety.

I just realized I completely forgot about one of the secondary characters in the flick, a boy only referred to in the credits as The Feral Kid (Emil Minty).  A wild child in the extreme,  and a deadly shot with a boomerang, the Kid bonds with Max and tries to tag along with him.  And it is revealed at the end of the movie that the Kid, now grown, is our humble narrator.  (As a side note: Minty only appeared in three movies, all as a kid.  According to wikipedia he went to school and studied to be a jeweler and now resides in Sydney in the capacity of a jeweler.)

Australian films of this type rival Hong Kong action flicks for sheer chaos and destruction.  An excellent documentary I saw a few months ago, Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild Untold Story of Ozploitation! (which, by the way was the inspiration for creating this blogathon) tells the riveting story of how Oz became the rival for sheer action on film.  Some of the films in the documentary I am actively seeking for future entries on The Midnite Drive-In.

Well folks time to power up the Plymouth and head home.  Hope I manage to avoid the road gangs.  Drive safely folks.


Friday, June 21, 2019

The Ugly Duckling

This is my first entry in the Blizzard of Oz blogathon hosted by Me


There is absolutely no logical reason why I should like this movie.  It's a romantic comedy, for one thing and I'm not enamored of romantic comedies in general.  I'm not entirely sure if "love" even exists.  (I'm a 57 year old jaded single man, if that helps...)  Also it involves a lot of dancing.  I have yet to watch a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie simply because I'm not interested in classic dancing (although, give me Saturday Night Fever and I'm hooked for the next 2 hours...)

But I must admit the movie captured my interest one dark night back in 1994 when I saw it on cable.  And, although unlike the reviewer in Videohound's Independent Film Guide, I haven't seen it a dozen times yet, every time I watch it I'm entranced by it.  Peopled by several actors and actresses who are making their debut in film, including stars Paul Mercurio and Tara Monice, and being the directorial debut of Baz Luhrmann, the film has an attraction that will draw many into it's web.

Luhrmann, who also gave us Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Australia and the recent remake of The Great Gatsby has been on the scene for over 25 years now, but hasn't got a very long credit list.  The 5 movies mentioned here comprise his entire output of theatrical releases (although he has several "shorts" in his repertoire).  But I think it's pretty significant that those 5 are well remembered by any fans.  Strictly Ballroom, along with the aforementioned Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge comprise what is known as his "Red Curtain trilogy". 

"Trilogy" is a bit of a misnomer to those who think that "trilogy" means they are all related in plot.  Instead, "trilogy" here means that all three use a certain motif of theater: (Strictly Ballroom: dance, Romeo+Juliet: language, and Moulin Rouge: music.)

Strictly Ballroom (1992):

Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) is the son of ballroom dancers.  His mother (Pat Thomson) has dreams of her son achieving the glory of being the king of ballroom dancing, something that she never quite achieved.  But Scott has his own ideas about dancing, including incorporating some rather outre moves that don't quite fit in with the standard rules for ballroom dancing.

Mom and Dad

In a contest against the undisputed current king, Ken (John Hannan) and his partner Pam (Kerry Shrimpton), Scott not only disqualifies himself with his rather strange moves, but he manages to piss off his partner, Liz (Gia Carides), who bemoans that she wishes her partner was the rather egotistical Ken.  "What do I want?  I want Ken Railings to walk in here and say 'Pam Short's broken both her legs and I want to dance with YOU!'"  Which is exactly what happens.

Ken and Pam

Now Scott not only has his illegal dance moves but he has no partner to do them with.  Enter Fran (Tara Morise), an amateur, who has a secret love for Scott and asks him to dance with her.  At first Scott is rather reluctant.  Not only does Fran not have the extensive training needed to perform at the professional level, but she is rather plain looking to boot.


Fran convinces Scott to give her some lessons which, after seeing her perform some of her own creative moves, he agrees.  Meanwhile Mom frantically searches for a new partner for Scott.  The deadline for the next dance contest is only a few weeks away.  But most of the partners that Scott tries out with are unacceptable.

Gradually Scott and Fran work out enough that Scott is convinced that she is the acceptable partner, and wants her to be his partner.  She turns from the ugly duckling into a swan, especially after she removes her glasses and lets down her hair, and revels she's a pretty damn good looking woman after all, and she can dance too.  The trouble will be convincing Mom and Dad to allow such a thing.  Because while Scott has been training Fran, Mom has worked out a deal in which the top female ballroom dancer, Tina Sparkle (Sonia Kruger) will agree to being Scott's partner.

Fran and Scott

In all this time, Scott has finally met Fran's father, Rico (Antonio Vargas) and her grandmother (Armonia Benedito),  Fran's family is Spanish, and Scott tells them he wants to dance the Paso Doble with Fran.  But Rico sneers at Scott's attempts to prove his ability.  Grandma insists that Rico teach Scott how to do it with feeling.  Eventually he becomes a fantastic Paso Doble dancer with Rico's instructions.

But Mom has insisted that Scott take Tina as his partner, much to the disappointment of both Fran and Scott.  See, in all this time Scott has fallen in love with Fran.  But he reluctantly goes along with Mom and dances with Tina.  Mainly because he has been told that his parents missed out on their chance at a championship because Dad (Barry Otto) had, like Scott, insisted on using his own unconventional dance moves.  But that was a lie just to get Scott to play ball, as he later finds out.

So will Fran and Scott finally get to dance in competition?  I think you know the answer to that.  Check out this film, and if you are not at least enthralled by it, I'll gladly refund your misery so you can watch a depressing movie instead.

Time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.


The Blizzard of Oz Blogathon is Here!

Well, if you been waiting in ant---ic---i---pation for it, The Blizzard of Oz Blogathon is now here.  The celebration of Aussie cinema, Aussie stars and Australia in general is now ready for posts.  Keep checking back over the weekend as this post will be updated with the entries as they come in.  And while you're at,  put another shrimp on the barbie...

The Blizzard of Oz Roll Call:
(Note:  I was tired Friday night, so all who posted Friday, sorry for the delay in updating...)

Realweegiemidget Reviews peeks in on the Neighbours

My take on the indie film Strictly Ballroom

It's the wandering life for Caftan Woman and The Sundowners

Silver Screenings takes us on a Picnic at Hanging Rock

Its road trip time!  Angelman's Place rides on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Revealed in Time gives us the whole story of The Thorn Two parts

Diary of a Movie Maniac plays some Road Games

Coffee, Classics and Craziness sings the praises of her Gladiator

The Stop Button delves into Malcolm

Dubsism likes Living Dangerously

Crítica Retrô helps us follow In the Wake of the Bounty

Hamlette's Soliloquy gives us a guided tour of Five Mile Creek

Revealed in Time  takes us to the real Australia

Movies Meet Their Match introduces us to The Man from Snowy River

And, finally, my second entry on The Road Warrior

Thanks to all who entered.