Friday, August 23, 2019

A Nightmare in Oz

This is my entry in The Wizard of Oz Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room

When I was a kid growing back in the 60's and 70's, there were only the three major networks; NBC, ABC and CBS, not including any number of UHF stations which were independently owned.  We didn't have cable in those dark prehistoric days, kiddies,  so unless the weather was just right, we only had 3 stations to choose from for our nightly entertainment.

Beginning in 1956 (5 years before I was even on the face of the Earth), stations started showing the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz, and it quickly became an annual tradition.  Once a year one of the major networks would replace their regular programming that night with the movie.  In my vague memory I want to say it was the day after Thanksgiving, but that is probably wrong, since that would have meant substituting the film for potential ratings for the newest season of their regular shows.

More than likely it was during the summer, when reruns of their regular shows would not have been inhibited by the substitution.  But then again,  a wikipedia article on the subject says it was put in place of a regular TV movie slot on those networks, aired instead of, say, The Night They Raided Minsky's or In the Heat of the Night, (both of which I recall seeing when they made it to TV.)

My sister and I would watch it almost every year when we were growing up.  I don't know whether either of us understood it when we were 6 and 7, but as the years went on we began to appreciate it.

I do recall a very early viewing in particular.  This must have been in the late 60's because I recall my sister and I shared the same bedroom at the time, and I moved from there to my own bedroom (a converted porch) about 1968-69, the same year I started grade school.  I do remember that I was still in the same bedroom with my sister at the time, even if I can't recall the exact year.

We had watched The Wizard of Oz that night.  (Was it our first time?  I think it just might have been.).  We went to bed that night with visions of dancing munchkins.  Or my sister did.  I apparently went to bed with visions of flying monkeys.

I woke up in the middle of the night convinced that the flying monkeys were out to get me.  I screamed for my mother in near tears from the nightmare that had awoken me.  Why I didn't fear the wicked witch being out to get me is beyond me, but I guess she wasn't all that scary, even at 6 or 7 years old.  But those flying monkeys were real and they scared the shit out of me that night.

Needless to say, I never went Halloween trick-or-treating as a flying monkey.  Hell, I wouldn't even go to a costume party today as one.

Even today, those damn things still give me the willies (although I never had another nightmare about them.)  It gives me great relief, however, to know that I am not alone in my trepidation about airborne chimpanzees.

That such a thing has such a widespread effect on people is a tribute to the makers of the film.  I'm pretty cold-blooded, hardhearted and cynical in real life.  I've seen hundreds of horror movies over the years.  Not one single damn one of them has ever freaked me out.  I could almost laugh at Freddie Krueger, and the zombies in Night of the Living Dead remind me of nothing so much as a few of the drunken friends I saw at parties I've attended.  But those chimps can make me feel wary even at 57.

Maybe I'll sleep good tonight.   And, then again,  maybe I won't.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Horndogs from Outer Space

This is my entry in the Jeff Goldblum Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Emma K Wall Explains it All

Imagine if you will a film with Jeff Goldblum as an outsider trying to cope with the changes in his life.

Imagine Geena Davis as a woman who is struggling with feelings for the outsider.

Imagine the two developing a relationship, despite the significant differences between the human Davis and the "not-so-human" Goldblum.

No, it's not the David Cronenberg adaptation of The Fly.  It's a piece of late 80's fluff called Earth Girls are Easy.  Featuring Goldblum as well as early appearances by Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans as aliens who end up crash landing in Valley girl Davis' swimming pool.  And a story, not entirely uncommon, of the aliens trying to adapt to the "strange new world" that they find themselves in.

It also stars Julie Brown, the iconic singer of such Dr. Demento type songs as "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun" and the song that inspired this movie "Earth Girls are Easy".

Earth Girls are Easy (1988):

Mac (Jeff Golblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and Zeebo (Damon Wayans), a trio of furry aliens (who look like they are wearing carpets for clothes, but it's their fur) are traveling through space when the ineptness of Wiploc and Zeebo cause the ship they are on to crash land in the swimming pool of Valerie (Geena Davis).

(L-R: Valerie, Mac, Wiploc and Zeebo)

Of course, the main reason that the three crash is because they are suffering from that stigma that affects all males, apparently even aliens, from time to time...they are horny.  And attracted to the strange but extremely attractive hairless girls they have seen on the scope in their ship.  So the crash may not be entirely an accident.

Valerie, for her part, is having a difficult time with her fiance.  Dr. Ted (Charles Rocket) is committed to the impending marriage with Valerie, but he is also prone to having flings on the side with attractive nurses.  And when Ted comes home thinking he will be alone with his new conquest of the moment, he finds Valerie and she discovers his infidelity and kicks him out.

Meanwhile the rocket ship from space crash lands.  In her pool.  And out come the blue furred Mac, red-furred Wiploc and yellow-furred Zeebo.  Valerie initially freaks out, but she is very adaptable, apparently, because she gets over it rather quickly.  She invites them into her apartment where they begin to learn English (by watching TV, no less.)

She takes the three to her job as a hairdresser where she convinces her friend and fellow hairdresser Candy (Julie Brown) to shave the three and make them look normal.  And what a job she does of it.  At least they "look" normal.  But their adaptability to life on Earth may be a bit more complicated.  First, their initial learning of the English language comes from watching TV.  Which leads to some hilarious moments, especially when Candy and Valerie take them to the local dance club.

Eventually, Valerie's on and off relationship with Dr. Ted leads her to be a bit sullen and it's Mac to the rescue.  He consoles her (in more ways than one) and she finds herself becoming more attracted to him.

Chaos ensues when Zeebo and Wiploc inadvertently rob a convenience store and try to escape driving a car (which of course they have no idea how to operate, but since they were responsible for crashing the spaceship, too, it's not surprising...) 

All of this leads to them being brought to the emergency room where Dr Ted, who thinks they are really a rock band that Valerie is flirting with on the side, decides to examine them and discovers, lo and behold, they aren't exactly "human".

Two things about this movie come up as a little strange.  First, about 15 minutes into the movie I found out something I didn't know before committing to reviewing it.  It suddenly turns into a musical!  (OK, so Julie Brown's presence and credit for writing it should have been a clue, but I'm not always quick on the draw...) 

It wasn't the first science-fiction musical to ever come down the pike.  That credit (probably) goes to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The second thing is, when I tried to find this movie on Amazon, one of the options was as one of the films in a multi-pack of horror movies.  Note:  there is almost no horror in this film, unless you count the bizarre nightmare Valerie has after spending an evening in the sack with Mac.

The musical aspect didn't put a damper on the shindig for me.  The songs aren't entirely memorable, but they had a feel of the late 80's pop culture, something I still like, so it wasn't entirely bad.  The goofiness of the movie is endearing, and maybe if it had had nobodies as stars it might have been annoying.  But Carrey and Wayans work together great.  (If you liked In Living Color, you'll probably like this film, too.)

The movie also features Michael McKean as a ditzy surfer dude.  Gotta tell you.  I saw his name in the opening credits, but I had to watch the closing credits to see which character he played.

Well, folks, the Plymouth rocket ship is finally repaired.  Time to head back to my home planet.  Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, August 8, 2019

Murder is a Joke

Neil Simon was pretty much box office gold in his heyday of the seventies.  A playwright by trade, of course, but many of his Broadway productions eventually made their way to the big screen, including such fondly remembered films like The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, Barefoot in the Park,  and The Goodbye Girl.

We lost Neil Simon in August of last year, but he left a legacy that will be forever remembered.  Quotes that appear in such diverse mediums as TV (Seinfeld for one), books and even comic strips pay tribute to Simon's wit.

In 1976, Simon tried his hand at parody with the screenplay Murder by Death, a pastiche of the typical locked room murders from the golden age of mystery fiction, which included parodies of well known fictional detectives.  As Simon stated in an interview, he had to write it for film as opposed to stage because many of the cinematic tricks needed to pull it off would have been impossible on stage (including the disappearing room scenes).

Robert Moore was his co-conspirator in bringing the movie to the screen.  Moore only had a handful of credits to his name on screen before his passing in 1984, but he was a prolific Broadway stage director, winning several Tony Awards, including one for Deathtrap.  He was also the director of the stage version of one of the first plays to treat gay characters in a more sympathetic light, The Boys in the Band.

The all star cast that Simon and Moore tapped into for Murder by Death included David Niven, Peter Falk, Eileen Brennan, James Coco, Maggie Smith, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. 

Murder by Death (1976):

A rich and eccentric millionaire, Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) sends an invitation to "dinner and a murder" to the most preeminent detectives in the world.  Each detective arrives a Twain's mansion with an associate to discover what is really going on, their curiosity peaked by the unusual invite.

The detectives, which are caricatures of classic fictional characters consist of Inspector Wang (Peter Sellers, doing an imitation of Charlie Chan) along with his #1 "adopted" Japanese son,  (Richard Narita),

Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith, playing on the Nick and Nora Charles characters from "The Thin Man"),

Milo Perrier (James Coco, doing his best to essay a Hercule Poirot character) along with his French chauffeur, Marcel (James Cromwell),

Miss Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester, who is playing a Miss Jane Marples type) with her nurse Miss Withers (Estelle Winwood)

and Sam Diamond (Peter Falk, doing a bravura performance as a Sam Spade private eye, a la Humphrey Bogart) with his secretary Tess (Eileen Brennan).

The comic aspect of this film never lets up as Simon throws every cliche in the book at you.  As well as some play on phrases.  (The address of the mansion is "22 Twain".  Choo Choo Train in case you are slow on the uptake...)

After navigating a rickety bridge and barely escaping falling gargoyles from the top of the mansion above the door, the 10 detectives arrive to debate just what the hell Twain is up to with his shenanigans.  They are greeted by the butler, Jamessir Bensonmum (Alec Guinness), possibly the funniest character in the movie (and that's saying something, considering the all-star cast...).  Bensonmum is blind and some of the funniest scenes occur as a result of his not being able to see.  (Politically correct this movie is not.)  Additionally on the scene is a newly arrived cook, Yetta (Nancy Walker), who is deaf and mute.  The exchanges between Bensonmum and Yetta are particularly funny, if you aren't sensitive to the politically incorrect treatment of the handicapped.

Eventually Twain shows up to the dinner party and announces that he has brought them all together because he wants to prove that they are NOT the world's most premier detectives and that instead he, Twain, is.  He announces that there will be a murder at midnight and that he will give a million dollars to the one detective who can solve the crime.

Thus begins a comedy of epic proportions as nothing is ever what it appears to be.  You have locked rooms, disappearing rooms, vanishing bodies, vanishing CLOTHES, and the essential one-upmanship that is bound to occur when a group of self-satisfied experts compete with one another to win a prize and the prestige of solving the "unsolvable" murder.

All of the actors on hand seem to be enjoying themselves immensely (although it is on record that afterwards Guinness thought the movie would be a dud.  He was wrong.  It was both a critical and financial success.)  As hinted at earlier, I think Falk pulls of the Sam Spade parody the best. He went own to work with Simon and director Moore to make The Cheap Detective, in which he played basically the same character (albeit with a different name.)  Sellers, as usual, is the essence of wit as he manages to essay a damn good imitation of the movie version of Charlie Chan.  Of the additional characters, i think only Lanchester's Miss Marbles suffers, mostly from lack of enough screen time I'm sure.  She is upstaged in almost every scene by either Sellers or Falk or even Coco in his Poirot mode.

Be sure to hang on for the final denouement.  Remember what I said about nothing being what it seems?  You won't expect the final reel, no matter how bizarre your sense of comedy is.

Well, folks, time to see if this old Plymouth is up to the trek home.  Fortunately there are no rickety bridges to cross.  Drive safely, folks.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Comic Noir

This is my entry in the Noirathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

As I have stated before I enjoy the concept of film noir    If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was created by French essayist Nino Frank to describe a specific sub-genre of mysteries that became popular post WWII (although the concept had been around for a few years prior.)

I could try to describe film noir, but I think David J. Hogan does a much better job in his book Film Noir FAQ:

"As noir evolved, themes became increasingly familiar.  You do not control the circumstances of your life.  Choices you agonize over are likely to be bad ones.  Choices you make without thinking are likely to be worse.  Whatever you love and value can be taken from you at any moment.  Forces greater than you, and greater even than your leaders, can conspire to destroy you.  These forces are no smarter than you, but they have the power and you don't.  You are not a true participant in the events, only an observer.  If you are particularly foolish, or just unlucky, you will be a victim."

(David J. Hogan; Film Noir FAQ; pg xiv).

There are several tropes that pop up in the average film noir.  One is a regular schmo who gets caught up in some rather unsavory incidents due to his being just an innocent bystander (the "victim").  Another is the femme fatale.  The schmo can be seduced easily by a pretty woman, and in the case of the film noir, the woman is not so innocent as public perception would lead one to believe. (the "values that can be taken")  And, as always, there is a puppeteer behind the scenes manipulating the poor schmo (the "forces greater than you").

By 1949, the film noir movie had been developing into a well-loved genre, and was ripe for parody.  Along comes Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who had already been hard at work parodying one of the classic Universal monsters of days gone by, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  (The rest of the oeuvre of A & C  vs. monsters would come later.)

In Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff,  we finally got the match-up of the comedy duo and the monster king.  (Karloff had declined to participate in the Frankenstein parody because he felt the monster genre deserved more respect, but he apparently had a change of heart by this time.)


Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Bros Farloff (1949):

A group of reporters await the arrival of a bigwig attorney, Amos Strickland (Nicholas Joy).  Freddie (Lou Costello), a bumbling bellboy gets off on the wrong foot with Strickland by breaking his glasses, dropping his golf clubs on the man's foot, and in general just being a clumsy fool.  Strickland adamantly demands that the manager, Mr. Melton (Alan Mowbray) fire Freddie.  When this happens Freddie indignantly tells Strickland he will get even with the attorney.

Later, Freddie goes to Strickland's room to try to apologize and hopefully get his job back.  Unfortunately Freddie finds the murdered body of Strickland.  And, of course, Freddie is bound to be Suspect Number One, since he had previously threatened the man.  His friend, hotel detective Casey (Bud Abbott) tries to help by declaring Freddie wouldn't do such a thing, but the police are not so sure and demand that he be held under house arrest.

A host of other guests also are suspects.  Much like the riders in the Murder on the Orient Express, they all have some previous association with Strickland.  These include a Swami (Boris Karloff), and our femme fatale Angela Gordon (Lenore Aubert).  All of these people have some sort of motive for killing Strickland and thus work in conjunction with each other to shift the blame to Freddie and away from themselves.

In particular, Angela tries to seduce Freddie and gets him to sign a confession to the murder.  Ostensibly the idea is presented to Freddie that Freddie will find the murderer and get him to sign the confession, but that is not her true intent.  And the Swami will use his powers of hypnotism to try to convince Freddie to commit suicide, thus eliminating any potential for Freddie to discredit the confession.

Meanwhile, two other murder victims show up.  Unfortunately for Freddie, they show up in his htel room;  in the closet, in the bathtub in his bed....  Casey and Freddie try to move the bodies out of Freddie's room, leading to some of the funnier antics of the film, including Freddie and Casey trying to pretend to be playing cards with the two dead men, and Freddie dressing up as a maid to transport the bodies in a laundry cart.  (And this scene includes an hilarious exchange between Freddie and the night manager (Percy Helton) who tries to put the movies on the "female" Freddie.)

So who actually killed the three men?  Was it our psuedo swami?  Was it one of the three duplicitous women?  Or was it Freddie's friend, Casey?  One thing we know.  As pretty much pointed out in the film, it wasn't Freddie...he's not smart enough to have pulled it off.

As far as film noir goes, this film is a pretty good example of how one can take the tropes of the genre and twist them around.  It's not as good as The Maltese Falcon or  any other of a number of classic serious entries in the genre.  But compare it to some of the really low-budget poverty row entries and it shines.

Well, folks, the time has come to hit the road.  Drive safely.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Blogger Recognition Award

I've been nominated for another award.  I like these awards because there is no competition, so no worry whether I'll win or or lose, and no trepidation about giving an acceptance speech, so no worry whether I'll get up in front of a bunch of people and say something that will be mocked for years to come, like "You like me.  You really like me!"

So Sally @ 18 Cinema Lane thinks this blog deserves an award.  (I guess there's no accounting for taste...:-D)  But seriously, thanks, Sally for the recognition.

The rules say I should tell people why I started this blog in the first place.  So here goes.

When I was 20 years old I got a job with a friend delivering the Dallas Times Herald to residents in the town where I lived.  Since we always had one or two extras, I took it home.  I wasn't all that interested in the news of the world back then, but I was interested in the movies.

On Fridays, a column by a guy named Joe Bob Briggs (pseudonym of John Bloom) appeared in the "Entertainment" section.  Briggs was the drive-in movie critic.  Not a fan of the "indoor bullstuff",  his column dealt with the trashy blood guts and gore cinema of the ubiquitous (at the time) drive-in movie theater.  I read the column religiously every week, until he made some comment once that ended up getting him fired. 

Years later I found two books that collected many of the articles he wrote, published as Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In and Joe Bob Goes Back to the Drive-In.  (Both of these are now Out Of Print and run you about $100 each on many sites I've seen.... so, NO, you can't borrow them...)

Flash forward to late 2015.  I was reading bloggers on line for a couple of years and decided to create my own blog, The Midnite Drive-In.  Originally I had intended on focusing on the kind of fare that populated the drive-in from the early days of drive-in movies to the decline of the drive-in in the early 90's.  If you've been reading regularly you know I've detoured from that plan, but I still try to get a few obscure and oddball entries now and then.  (ie. sometime next month I will be doing one on Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh)

As far as rule #4 on the list; sharing advice to bloggers:

If you want to be a blogger you have to be committed (in more ways than one...)  Don't be discouraged if you miss a promised deadline for something.  I have had to bow out of three or four promised reviews over the past four years.  But I didn't just chuck it all because I have a desire to share.

And never second guess yourself.  Write what you want to write.  Don't let worries about how it will be perceived deter you.  You are unique, just like everyone else.  You opinion matters.

I won't nominate 15 bloggers.  But I will nominate a few.

1.  Rachel @ Hamlette's Soliloquy  (because she is a frequent collaborator on blogathons)

2.  Chris @ Angelman's Place (because I think he needs the work...:-D)

3. Steve @ MovieMovieBlogBlogII  (because he is a fellow lover of the bizarre)

4. Paddy Lee @ Caftan Woman (because she has suffered through nearly every one of my posts..)

Don't feel left out.  I think everyone should get the award.  If you want, just go ahead and post and say I nominated you.  I won't quibble.

In case you do this, here are the rules as given to me:

1. Thank the person who nominated you and feature a link to their blog in your award post.

2. Post the award banner somewhere in your blog.

3. Share the reason why you started your blog.

4. Share two pieces of advice that could benefit new bloggers.

5.  Nominate a maximum of 15 other bloggers.

6.  Tell your nominees about your award post so they can participate.



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Street Swindlers

This is my entry in the Joan Bennett Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

Yet another example of how the female species can't be trusted in the film noir world.  But to Catherine "Kitty" March's credit, she is spurred on by her lover, Johnny.  Which brings in a second factor to those of you caught in a film noir cycle.  If you see Dan Duryea anywhere in the vicinity, run like hell the other direction.

Joan Bennett is an attractive bait for a harangued and disillusioned man like Chris Cross (Edward G. Robinson).  Like some alcoholics, Cross seems to be of the notion "if you had a wife like mine, you'd look for companionship elsewhere, too..."  Adele Cross (Rosalind Ivan) is the perfect example of a film noir harridan.

But Cross is a victim of his own makings.  Sure his wife is a t-total witch, but his wandering eye is the cause of his own problems.  Kitty and Johnny are duplicitous, but Cross goes into it willingly if not completely aware of the behind-the scenes shenanigans.

Scarlet Street (1945):

Christopher Cross (Edward G. Robinson) is feted by his boss and fellow employees for his faithful 25 years of service as a cashier.  He is even given a gold watch by his boss as a token of his esteem for his servant.  When the party breaks up, Cross and his friend watch as his boss gets in a limo with his gorgeous (and young) wife.

Cross laments that he never had any luck finding love with a hot number like his boss's wife.  On the way home he witness a beautiful young girl being assaulted by a hoodlum and goes to her rescue.  Unbeknownst to Cross, however, the "hoodlum" was really, in fact Kitty's (Joan Bennett) boyfriend, Johnny (Dan Duryea), whom she allows to escape while Cross goes in search of a policeman.

After the policeman runs off in the wrong direction, due to Kitty's misdirection, the two go off.  Cross invites Kitty for a drink, where Kitty is given the impression that Cross is not a cashier, but actually a painter, and maybe wealthier than he lets on.  (Cross, does paint, and he thinks his work is amateur at best, and, of course, is not in reality a painter by trade.) Later, Kitty and Johnny concoct a scheme to weasel money out of Cross, whom they think is rich.

Cross, stuck in a loveless marriage, falls in love with Kitty (and who wouldn't if she was as true as she lets on to be.)  Kitty uses Cross in anyway she can, trying to wheedle money out of him to pay for a new apartment, among other things.  She sweetens the pot by telling him the apartment can double as an art studio.

Things go on as planned, and even when Cross shows up unexpectedly to find Kitty with Johnny, the two manage to convince Cross that Johnny is not involved with Kitty, but her former roommate instead, with whom she still maintains a friendship.  The subterfuge works mainly because Cross is rather dim-witted at best and truly believes that Kitty really loves him in return.  Love can be blind like that.

The fly in the ointment, of course, is Adele (Rosalind Ivan), Cross' actual wife.  It is a wonder how Cross and Adele ever hooked up.  She is a shrew whose former husband was a police detective who died trying to save a drowning woman.  She is clearly still in love with her dead husband, as a full size portrait of the gent dominates the living room of their apartment.  (The fact that Cross puts up with it just goes to prove how meek and weak-willed he is.)

Cross first manages to steal some of Adele's money she has been hoarding from the death insurance payoff from her previous husband.  When Kitty and Johnny still look for even more money, Cross' commitment to his job proves to be the source of a windfall, as he embezzles the money from his employer. 

Meanwhile, Johnny and Kitty have discovered that some people think Cross' paintings are pretty good, so they concoct a scheme to sell them as Kitty's paintings instead.  Oh the web gets even more tangled...

Cross still debates how he can get out of his marriage to Adele so he can marry Kitty, and when fate drops an opportunity in his lap, he jumps at the chance.

The opportunity in question is the resurfacing of Adele's former husband, Higgins (Charles Kemper) whom, it turns out, was not quite the honest cop he had the world believing he was.  When the supposed dead Higgins tries to extort money from Cross he arranges for the husband to steal it from his own wife, neglecting to tell Higgins that his wife will be in the same room at the time.

When Cross tells Kitty they can now be married, Kitty laughs in his face.  Which doesn't set well with Cross.

As a film noir, this movie has all the elements; duplicitous femme fatales, shading dealing with unscrupulous men, and even a cop who edges on he wrong side of the law.  At the center is the poor schlub whose world falls apart simply because he is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  My only complaint with the film (other than the fact that my two available copies had poor quality transfers) is that the ending seems a little bit disheveled.  Not that its not satisfactory in the sense that everybody gets what they deserve (to a point), just tat it seems to be a bit contrived.

That's it for this time.  Drive safely, folks.


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.