Friday, March 24, 2017

Time is of the Essence

This is my entry in the Favourite Classic TV Episode Blogathon sponsored by A Shroud of Thoughts

I have intimated before my love of time travel themed stories, and the fact that my interest probably stems from the fact that I love history.  I majored in history during my brief attempt at college level study.  The concept of how to be involved in a historical setting in film usually takes one of two tacks.  The first one, sometimes just for fun, and sometimes serious, will address the issue as nothing the time traveler does will affect the past in any way.  (See how the two bumbling idiots Bill and Ted interact with historical characters in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure or how the dwarves and their human companion do in Time Bandits.)

The second way is how the time traveler knows his theories and will consciously avoid trying to do anything that might affect the future.  (The Final Countdown which I reviewed last year is a great example).  In these kinds of stories, the time travelers will make great efforts to keep the past fluid (or as fluid as possible, since, after all, their mere presence must have SOME impact, even if the story refuses to acknowledge it).

The methods used to transport people  through time can be varied.  Time "machines" are the most common, as expressed in H. G. Well's classic novel, The Time Machine, as well as the two more well known Hollywood films by the same name.  But time "machines" can come in all sorts of forms.  Bill and Ted used a time machine in the form of a phone both, as did Dr. Who.  Marty McFly, used a DeLorean car altered by Dr. Emmett Brown.  And we can't leave out The Hot Tub Time Machine...

But the various methods of time travel are not limited to just your basic machine that is designed explicitly for that purpose.  One of the best places to see a nice array of time travel theories is in the Star Trek Universe.  In the episode of the original series' Tomorrow is Yesterday, as well as in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Enterprise used the sun and a "slingshot theory" (basically using the gravity of the sun) to propel the ship through time.  Other methods included the two varied attempts in today's entry.

Star Trek: "The City on the Edge of Forever"

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and company are mapping out a course on a planet that puts the Enterprise through a rough time.  The Enterprise rocks through several tremors, one of which causes the control panel to explode near Sulu (George Takei), knocking him unconscious.  Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is summoned and administers a drug to revive him, but during another tremor accidentally injects himself with an overdose of the drug.  This causes him to become wildly unpredictable and he escapes to the surface of the planet.

An away team is formed to follow him and bring him back.  On the planet the crew find a strange rock formation which after a time, becomes active and identifies itself as "The Guardian of Forever".

 Essentially it is a time travel device.  (At this point you may wonder why a device on a remote planet is essentially only a time travel device for the history of Earth.  After all, Spock is not an Earthling, even if he is ½ human.  But the device only show's Earth's history, not the history of Vulcan.  Did Vulcan not have a history?)  McCoy, who is still mentally unstable escapes though the device into the past, and immediately the rest of the crew find themselves stranded unable to contact the Enterprise.

They deduce that somehow McCoy has done something in the past that he entered and altered history, in such a dramatic way that the crew's mission was never started.  Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Kirk decide they have to enter the time travel device and try to prevent McCoy from doing whatever it was he did that altered history.  They enter the device and end up in Depression era San Francisco, where they pose as unemployed, homeless men while they search for McCoy.

The pair try to blend in, becoming citizens of the time era, and in the process encounter Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), a director of a shelter that feeds homeless and unemployed men of the time.  Spock works on trying to find out exactly what point McCoy changed history using "knives and bearskins" (essentially early 20th century technology which consisted of tubes and circuits to create a machine to allow him to review the events he recorded earlier on his tricorder before the event happened, while still on the planet).

Kirk, in the meantime develops a relationship with Edith, which becomes a problem as Spock determines that what McCoy must have done involves her.  When he finally gets his primitive machine to work he gets two different images:  One an obituary of Edith Keeler, and another a meeting between Keeler and the President of the United States 6 years into the future of where they are.  Spock deduces from the images that McCoy must have saved Edith's life, and she was instrumental in a peace mission that delayed the U.S.'s entry into WWII, the domino effect of which was that Hitler and the Nazis won WWII.

Kirk and company have an ulterior motive to righting the wrong caused by McCoy's interference with the timeline, of course.  (The away team will either be stranded on the planet, or as Kirk suggests, if he and Spock don't succeed, the crew will enter the device and start a new life in the past.)  But the original series had a desire to not let the past be influenced by knowledge of he present.  It was the same way with the episode of "Tomorrow is Yesterday", in which a 1960's era jet pilot is introduced to the future through some extenuating circumstances.  The crew made sure they resolved the problem by sending him back without leaving him with knowledge of how the future turned out.  But as we shall see, future Enterprise crews were not so reluctant to have people from the past left with such knowledge.

Star Trek The Next Generation: "Time's Arrow"

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew are called to Earth where an astounding discovery has been made.  Deep in a mine that has not been disturbed for over 500 years (since the late 1880's by this timeline), excavators have discovered, among other things, the head of the Enterprise's resident android, Data (Brent Spiner).

This episode is one of the more intriguing ones of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The cavern is replete with something called "triolic waves",  a phenomenon that is not normally found on Earth.  Also, after examining artifacts, they find a cellular fossil which leads them to the only planet in the galaxy that is home to this particular organism.

While there, they find a separate cavern that is replete with the phenomenon of triolic waves.  Data, using his android abilities, is able to determine that there are people there, albeit at a infinitesimally small deviation in time (.004 seconds).  Using a device that he creates and his own positronic brain, Data is able to move himself into that altered time phase, where he encounters two members of an alien race, and is transported back to San Francisco, circa 1880.

Data immediately begins to work at trying to resolve his problem, while the rest of the crew tries to find a way to follow him into the timeline.  Data, for his part, enlists the help of Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), who as a member of a long-lived alien race, is, at that point, still unaware of the future relationships with the members of the crew of the Enterprise.  But she, as is typical of her, manages to take it in stride and help Data.

They are hampered, however, by an extremely inquisitive Samuel Clemens (Jerry Hardin), also known as the famous author Mark Twain.  In fact, Clemens becomes aware that Data is from the future, and tries to stop him from what he believes is an intention to interfere with the past, his present.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew determines that there is an alien race which is travelling back and forth in time to kill people of the 19th century and take their essence back to their home planet where fellow members feed on it.  (The alien race appears to be only killing people who are already on the verge of dying, but that is still not exactly kosher.)

The crew resolves the issue adequately, but in the process, Clemens is introduced to the crew and starship.  And here is that niggling little faux pas I hinted at earlier.  The episode ends with Clemens still knowing about the future.  The crew did not even address the issue of what might happen with someone of the past continuing on with a knowledge of the future.  Of course, it could have been easily resolved, I think, by just stating that he would never be believed, and since he was a writer and it would be taken as just more flights of fancy from an imaginative mind, but even that was not proposed.  Still, despite this little lapse in the scriptwriters' story, it remains one of the best episodes of the series.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Not Your Average Job

This movie takes the classic tale of The Prince and the Pauper and twists it around to a new direction.  The film is actually a remake of a 1939 film, The Magnificent Fraud (of which I hadn't even heard, much less seen.  I found this tidbit on the wikipedia site.)  The 1939 movie in turn was based on an unpublished short story by Charles G. Booth, Academy Award writer of The House on 92nd Street.  This movie was directed by Paul Mazursky, who had a flair for combining comedy with the social issues of the day.  (See the previously reviewed Down and Out in Beverly Hills)

BTW, a similar idea to the plot of this movie was introduced in the Ivan Reitman  / Kevin Kline film from 1993, Dave.  I don't think there's any relationship between the two.

Moon over Parador (1988)

Jack Noah (Richard Dreyfuss) is a struggling actor who loves his job way too much to give it up.  He is constantly looking for new work, and as such, is at a casting call in New York City, where he meets up with two friends.  Asked where he has been, since neither of them had seen him for  about a year, Jack relates the tale of where he has been.

He was on the set filming a movie in Parador (Brazil makes the role for the fictional country).  While the casts welcomes the dictator Alphonse Simms (played by Dreyfuss' brother, Loren...did YOU know he had a brother?  I didn't...), Jack is coaxed into doing his impression of Simms.  Shortly thereafter, Simms, who is an alcoholic, dies of a heart attack brought on by the consumption of alcohol.  Roberto Straussmann (Raúl Juliá), the dictator's head of the Secret Police, kidnaps Jack and forces him to pose as Simms.

Although this was to be only temporary, it extends to a long session for Jack, who at first is buoyed by the fact that he is accepted as Simms, massaging his actor's ego ("Phht on Bobby DeNiro"), it eventually wears on him.  But he is encouraged to continue with the subterfuge, both by threats from Straussmann, and eventually by his relationship with Simms' mistress, Madonna (Sonia Braga).  Madonna, for her part, immediately becomes aware of the plot, but encourages Jack to continue, because the alternative would be to leave the country in the hands of Straussmann and his Fascist cronies.

In the meantime, the American C.I.A has their own reasons for not seeing a change in the government.  An agent, posing as a retired civilian, keeps an eye on Simms and Straussmann and tells them to keep the "Commie" rebels who want a change in the system under control.  When Jack sees what is really going on behind the scenes, he makes plans to accomplish a change himself.  I won't tell you what he does, but since at the beginning he is back in New York City, it won't be a spoiler to tell you he doesn't continue on as the dictator.

Dreyfuss, of course, is at his usual level as an actor, and with the addition of Juliá, this is a special treat.  Both Juliá and Braga were nominated for Golden Globes for their roles in the movie.  Don't miss out on an hilarious cameo by the director as Simms' mother.

A rather short review this week.  I'm overwhelmed with other responsibilities.  Including two more reviews I need to get completed before the next week runs out.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Announcing the Favorite Director Blogathon

In the movie world, actors make the story come alive.  Everyone has their favorite actor in this regard.  (Mine is John Wayne).  But without a director of expertise, the movie can sometimes just lie there like a cake that has fallen.  Some people are actor groupies.  I, myself, am a director groupie.  There are any number of directors that I would like to meet (or to have met) that have impressed me over the years.  Among these are Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorcese, Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone, John Landis, John Huston, and my favorite director, John Carpenter.

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies  and I have teamed together to pay tribute to some of these great directors.  The Favorite Director Blogathon will run over Memorial Day weekend.  For the purposes of this blogathon, you can choose any director that you wish and write a tribute to him or her.   There are only a few rules to follow:

1.  You can pick any director from the silent days all the way to 1990.  You can choose to cover one specific movie that encapsulates the essence of the director, or you can cover the entire career of the director.

2.  Only one entry per movie, please.  But that is still wide open.  For instance, if one person chooses John Ford's The Searchers, another person could still choose another John Ford movie, or even cover Ford's career.

3. Because this is running over the Memorial Day weekend, and we understand you might have other plans, early admissions will be accepted.  Write your review and come back and leave a link to your review and we will see to it that you are added to the roll call.

4.  Choose one of the banners that Phyllis Loves Classic Movies created for the blogathon and put it on your blog, linking back to us.

5. Above all, the most important rule is....HAVE FUN!

The Roll Call:

The Midnite Drive-In:   John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: Collaborations of Frank Capra and Robert Risken

Angelman's Place:  Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby

Because We Have the Stars:  Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard

Caftan Woman:  William Wyler's Hell's Heroes and The Big Country

Champagne for Lunch: Mervyn LeRoy

Charlene's (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews: Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly

Christina Wehner:  William Wellmann

Cinema Cities: Billy Wilder

Cinematic Scribblings: Yasujiro Ozu's Late Spring

Classic Movie Treasures:  John Ford's The Quiet Man

Crítica Retrô: Orson Welles' Othello

Hamlette's Soliloquy:  John Ford's The Searchers

John V's Eclectic Avenue:  Jacques Tourneur's  Out of the Past  and Curse of the Demon

Love Letters to Old Hollywood:  Billy Wilder's The Apartment

Realweegiemidget Reviews:  Ed Wood

Whimsically Classic: Billy Wilder's The Major and the Minor

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part III)

2017 marks 55 years of James Bond on the movie screen.  To celebrate this momentous year, I am undertaking to review the entire oeuvre of Bond films, all 24 of them (at this juncture in history), two at a time.  These will appear on the 7th day of each month  (Bond's agent number being "007").  At the beginning of each entry I will give my personal ranking of each movie and of each movie's theme song.  (These are subjective rankings and do not necessarily agree with the view of the average Bond fan, so take it as you will).  I hope you enjoy them, nay, even look forward to the next installment.  As an added note, I am deeply indebted to Tom DeMichael, and his book James Bond FAQ,  for tidbits of information I with which I am peppering these entries.                                                                                                                                                                                                  -Quiggy

By 1967, Connery was getting tired of the Bond thing, worried that he might be getting close to being typecast.  After filming You Only Live Twice, he bowed out of the series.  This led to a frantic search for a replacement.  The producers set out to find a newcomer, much like Connery had been before he landed the role.  Among some of the potential possibilities was John Richardson and Anthony Rogers, but the role went to George Lazenby, an Australian (???!!!).

In the lexicon of Bond history, most people rank George Lazenby's Bond as the worst of the lot.  I have to admit, it would have been hard to follow Connery who had already made the role a household name.  You couldn't find a harder job to do.  So don't blame Lazenby too much, but that said, he just didn't exude the panache and charisma that we had come to expect from Bond.  Which made it not too surprising when he didn't show up in the next Bond entry.

You Only Live Twice (1967)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #10

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #22

Best Bond Quote:  (After being told by Moneypenny that he is late, having supposedly just been killed and buried at sea)  "We corpses have no sense of timing".

Best Bond Villain Quote:  Blofeld:  "Give him his cigarettes.  It won't be the nicotine that kills you, Mr. Bond."

Best Weapon:  The electronic safe cracker.  I could use one of those when I forget the combination to my locker.

Sean Connery returns once again as Bond, and, after an opening sequence in which an American spaceship is hijacked, Bond gets killed, even before the opening credits...  After the opening credits, Bond is buried at sea.  The End.

Or it would have been, except Bond is not really dead.  Divers bring the wrapped body aboard a submarine and unwrap the body, and there is Bond just as alive as ever.  M and Miss Moneypenny are also aboard the submarine, a sort of field office for MI6.  M is there because how else would Bond get his new assignment.  As to why they needed Miss Moneypenny, well, what would a Bond movie be without the sexually deprived repartee between Bond and the ever unrequited love affair between him and Moneypenny?

Bond gets clued in on the situation.  The Americans are blaming the Russians for the hijacking of their spacecraft.  The spacecraft that did the hijacking, however, landed somewhere in the sea of Japan, and of course, the Russians are claiming to be innocent of the deed.  Bond is sent to Japan to find out what he can.  And I'm here to tell you, even if he found out in the first 15 minutes, it was worth it.  Japanese women are the most beautiful women on Earth.  (and this from an Anglo-Saxon without an ounce of Oriental blood...)

After meeting his contact in Tokyo, Henderson (Charles Gray. who apparently has the nine lives of a cat, fittingly, since he was cast as Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever), who is murdered before he has a chance to spill any useful information, Bond manages to catch a ride with the assailants to Osato Chemicals.  IT turns out Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada) is one of Blofeld's men and has some secret documents hidden in his safe, which Bond gets by using his pocket electronic safecracker.  (Why do these dimbulb criminals always keep incriminating evidence in their safes?  Hasn't anybody ever heard of not leaving a trail?)

Bond has Q deliver "Little Nellie" which turns out to be a mini-helicopter, which Bond uses to scope out an island suspected of being the secret hideaway of the criminals, but finds nothing but volcanos.  So Bond goes undercover (even more undercover than he already is, I mean), posing, with the help of makeup, as a Japanese fisherman, married to a native island girl, who is also a secret agent, Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama).

Meanwhile the bad guys capture a Russian spaceship, and of course, the Russians blame the Americans.  The Americans deny it, and counter with the threat of repercussions  if their next ship launch is sabotaged.  Someone seems to be trying to get a full-scale war going between the Americans and the Russians.  Bond suspects his old nemesis SPECTRE is behind it all, and of course he is mostly right.  Blofeld meets with agents from Red China who stand to benefit most from an all-out war between the two super-powers.  But he isn't doing it for altruistic reasons for the Red Chinese.  He demands a boatload of money for his endeavors.

Bond and company find out that the "crater lake" on the island is fake, and tries to infiltrate the secret hideaway of Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), eventually meeting up with him face-to-face (for the first time in the ongoing series).  As usually, Bond is captured, and as usual, Bond gets away, helping the Americans and the Russians to narrowly avoid going to war in the process.

This one is a pretty good entry in the oeuvre, as you noticed in my ranking, even if I didn't particularly care for the Nancy Sinatra version of the theme song.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #21

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song:  #9 (for the instrumental opening, not the Louis Armstrong love theme, which I really don't count, since it only briefly appears in the middle of the movie.)

Best Bond Quote: (In response to Bunt's asking if something is wrong, after being fondled by one of the female patients) "I just feel a slight stiffness coming on."

Best Bond Villain Quote: Blofeld:  "Respectable baronets from the College of Heralds do not seduce female patients in clinics".(Somehow I think Blofeld's advice is wasted on Bond...)

Best Weapon:  There is nothing really new in this film.  Even the electronic safe cracker, which was pocket size in You Only Live Twice pales by comparison since this one requires a winch to get it into the office where Bond needs it.

Just in case you didn't know this was another James Bond movie, the producers and writers spent every effort to let you know.  In the opening sequence, the new incarnation of James Bond (George Lazenby) tries to save a girl from committing suicide by drowning and fends of an attack by unknown assailants.  Instead of being grateful the girl drives off as Bond quips "this never happened to the other guy..."

And then during the opening credits sequences we are inundated with some scenes from the previous five Bond films, in which Lazenby was not cast as Bond, but since they are just clips of previous villains and Bond girls and femme fatales, you aren't even aware that it was not him  (unless of course, you had seen the previous five films...)  But the producers apparently just wanted to make sure you knew it was a Bond film and not some cheapjack knockoff, I guess.

Lazenby has been vilified as the worst James Bond of the series, and much of that is probably due to the script as anything else.  Of course, Lazenby decided to make it only one Bond movie, since I guess he really didn't like his experiences.  (Note:  I always thought it was because of his poor performance that the producers threw a bunch of money at Sean Connery to come back to the series, but according my book, mentioned in the header of this post, Lazenby declined to continue in the role on his own.)

The sad part of the movie, however is not the fact that Lazenby was not the great successor to Connery that most people hoped.  It's not even that the plot was pretty tame and somewhat ridiculous as far as Bond plots go.  My opinion is that the worst thing about the movie is that Telly Savalas was cast as Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Not that Savalas was not good in the role.  Just that he had to play a role in the movie.  Savalas was a great actor, whether he was playing a lollipop sucking detective good guy in Kojak, or a psychotic killer with a misplaced sense of morals as Maggott in The Dirty Dozen.

Savalas was the second actor to essay Blofeld on the screen, following Donald Pleasance's performance in You Only Live Twice. (I don't actually count the previous Blofeld's since you only really saw his cat, and the actor who played him was not even credited.)  The omnipresent pet cat of Blofeld's only makes a very brief appearance in one scene.  This shouldn't deter you from the performance of Savalas, however, but until the scene, it could have been any villain, and it would have been a lapse to me.

Bond becomes interested in Teresa (Diana Rigg), who is the daughter of Marco Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), a Mafia don in the French Mafia.  Draco tries to bribe Bond into romancing his daughter with the dowry of a million dollars, which Bond counters to include information on the whereabouts of Blofeld.  When Teresa finds out about this she demands that her father give him the information without including her in the deal.

Bond ends up romancing Teresa anyway, and the two fall in love.  Meanwhile Bond discovers that Blofeld has a rehab center for allergies in the Swiss Alps.  Of course, Blofeld's intentions are not truly altruistic.  He is conditioning his patients, all women, to be unwitting carriers of a plague that will sterilize entire species (plants, animals humans) unless the world pays a ransom, (the less than stellar evil plot I previously referenced).  Bond gains access to the center through the auspices of a genealogical institute which Blofeld has hired to prove he is a descendant of a dynasty called the de Bleuchamps (supposedly the French variation of Blofeld).

Since Bond has previously met Blofeld face to face in You Only Live Twice, it is curious that Blofeld does not recognize Bond right away.  He is accepted by Blofeld in his guise as Sir Hillary Bray, the genealogist sent to work with Blofeld to determine the authenticity of his claim.  But because Bond tries to woo a couple of the female patients, Blofeld and his right hand woman, Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), determine his true identity.

Bond escapes the clutches of Blofeld, but in the ensuing actions, his lover Teresa is kidnapped by Blofeld.  Because MI6 relieves him of his position in the efforts to capture Blofeld, and the world governments have decided to acquiesce to Blofeld's extortion demands, Bond has to rely on help from Draco to save Teresa.

The Bond entry this time has all the requisite action and intrigue you come to expect from a Bond movie, but I have to admit Lazenby did nothing for me as Bond.  He just doesn't have the cachet that Connery did, nor does he have the humor that my favorite Bond, Roger Moore, had.  Savalas' Blofeld helps keep this one from being the worst Bond on my personal list, however.

Well, folks, that ends this entry.  Enjoy a martini while you wait for next month.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Money for Nothing

This is my post for the Unsung Hero Blogathon hosted by KG's Movie Rants.

You know, the most shocking thing about Robert Redford's acting career is NOT that he lost the Best Actor Oscar to Jack Lemmon (for his portrayal of Harry Stoner in "Save the Tiger") in 1973.  The shocking thing is, believe it or not, the nomination he got for playing Johnny Hooker in "The Sting" represents the ONLY time he was nominated for Best Actor.

Really, you say?  That's right!  Wait!  What about The Sundance Kid in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"?  Nope.  Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men"?  Nah.  Jay Gatsby in "The Great Gatsby"?  Not a whiff.  Denys Finch Hatton in "Out of Africa"?  Negative.  Well, surely for his portrayal of Roy Hobbs in "The Natural"?  Not even.  And when you consider that each of those movies mentioned were nominated for and/or actually won Oscars in various other categories, it becomes nothing short of astounding.

The fact of the matter is that Redford has only won one Oscar (so far), and that one for being on the other side of the camera.  He won Best Director in 1980 for "Ordinary People".  But as an actor, he has barely been noticed by the Academy.  If there was a category for most Oscar-worthy roles ignored by the Oscar committee, a case could be made for Robert Redford being close to the top of that list.  (I'm sure I'll get arguments from others on that, but I feel sure he'd be up in the top ten of that fictional list, at the very least.)

And why he should be ignored is curious. It's not as if he has political views that conflict with the Hollywood elite.  John Wayne probably got snubbed more times because he was a political conservative than for his less than Oscar-worthy performances, but Redford is a staunch liberal, so it can't be because of his politics.  (The Academy is politically motivated, I don't care what argument you make to discredit that view...)

Redford got his start on television, beginning in 1960, including one role on one of my favorite TV shows, The Twilight Zone.  He made the transition to film fairly quickly and won a Golden Globe for Best New Star-Actor for his role as Wade Lewis in "Inside Daisy Clover'.  By 1968, with "Barefoot in the Park", he was a name star.  Over the years he has had a great career.  But the Best Actor Oscar spot on his mantle still remains vacant.

His role as Johnny Hooker really deserved the award.  I've seen "Save the Tiger", and not to discredit Lemmon's performance, I thought Redford was better.  I've also seen the other three performances.  Jack Nicholson was great in "The Last Detail" and  Al Pacino was pretty good as "Serpico".  I admit I was not really impressed with "Last Tango in Paris", even with Marlon Brando in it.  It's too bad the voting is secret and we can't find out how the final tally went except for the actual winner.  Personally, I would bet that Redford was a close second...

The Sting (1973)

Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), and his partners in crime, Joe Erie (Jack Kehoe) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones who, BTW, was the father of James Earl Jones), exist on the streets of Joliet, Illinois, by way of a grifting scheme that was one of the confidence games hustlers used during the Depression.  The three make the mistake of conning a numbers runner who has some $10,000 on him, rather than the two-bit plays with which they usually come away.

The numbers runner, it turns out, works for Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), an Irish gangster with a temper and a heart for revenge.  He finds out who the small-time grifters are and arranges for their early exit from this life.  He succeeds in killing Luther, but Johnny gets away.

Hooker makes his way to Chicago, from the advice of Luther, who had been planning to retire on his cut of the take.  There Hooker meets up with Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), a friend of Luther's and a legendary con man who has since fallen on harder times.

Hooker is hounded to Chicago by a bunco lieutenant from Joliet, Snyder (Charles Durning).  Snyder represents the fly in the ointment throughout the movie, because Snyder was a crooked cop, demanding a cut of the take from the con job and Hooker paid him off in counterfeit money.  Snyder seeks Hooker out to exact revenge for his bilking of Snyder on his due cut of the heist.

At the same time, Hooker is being sought by Lonnegan's hit men who want to send him to the same early grave they sent Luther.  But the two gangsters bungle it, so we find out that Lonnegan put his best soldier, Salino, on the job.  Meanwhile Gondorff and Hooker set up an elaborate con game to try to take money from Lonnegan as revenge for the death of Luther, because as Hooker says "I don't know enough about killing to kill him."

This movie way too complex and it would be a sin to spoil it anymore than I already have.  The con game is fairly genuine.  David S. Ward, the scriptwriter, did his homework.  He stayed away from making it truly authentic in terms of language (slang) of the time, using only the bare minimum to get the feel of it because, as he says in the special features, if he had gone whole hog on it, it would have been incomprehensible to the general public.

Not only does Redford play extremely well in his role as Hooker, we can't leave out some of the outstanding supporting cast.  In addition to Newman and Shaw, you get Eileen Brennan as Billie, a brothel owner and love interest of Gondorff, and some outstanding co-conspirators in the con played by, among others, Harold Gould and Ray Walston, Everyone on the con game side seems to be having the time of their lives, making the audience co-conspirators with them.

Redford is the key, though.  In the hands of someone else, the character of Hooker might have come across as obnoxious and unsympathetic, which would have seriously undermined the goal to draw the audience to root for him.  Hooker is likable, even when he seems to be doing something the audience thinks he shouldn't do (and that's as close to a spoiler as I'm going to do.)  Suffice to say, this is definitely Oscar-worthy material.  "Nuts!" to the committee for not seeing it as being the best of the year.


Saturday, February 25, 2017


Director (and former stuntman) Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds had a rapport that led to several movies in the late 70's and early 80's.  They first teamed together for the movie Smokey and the Bandit, which was Needham's first movie as a director, the chance being given to him by his freind, Reynolds.  The pair went on to do Hooper a movie about stuntmen.  It was one of the first movies to ever have a blooper reel during the end credits crawl, something that would become something of a tradition in movies of this type.  (Jackie Chan, who was in the Cannonball Run movies, made this sequence a part of his movies after his experiences with that series).

Needham and Reynolds would also make the sequel Smokey and the Bandit II,  as well as Stroker Ace, a comedy about a stock car racer.  All of these movies  are lowbrow comedies, which were a specialty of Reynolds, even without Needham at the helm in the director's chair.  The two Cannonball Run movies were based on a real event.  The Cannonball Run  was a race run in the 70's to celebrate an historical run from coast-to-coast by the legendary Erwin "Cannonball" Baker in 1933.  The race was run five times and became a sort of protest to the then current reduction of the speed limit in most areas to 55 mph, as an effort to save on fuel during the energy crisis.

This was the dual movie match up at a drive-in that I went to see back in the early 80's.  It was a great time, as four of us loaded up on pizza and beer and had a ball laughing at the antics on the screen.   Although I remember several of those trips to the drive-in back in the day, sometimes just by myself and sometimes with friends, this is the one I remember most fondly.

I took a different tack in this review.  In the tradition of comedian Bob Newhart (who was NOT in either film, but I liked the idea), whose stand-up routine involved a one-sided telephone conversation to get his comedy across to the public, I post this one-sided conversation from a fictional scriptwriter (not the actual scriptwriter, be forewarned...) to a studio executive proposing the idea of the movie.

The Cannonball Run (1981)

Hi, Chief!  I have an idea for you to make a movie.  Plot?  There is no plot.  Really.  It's just about a race across the country in cars, and the efforts of the police to stop the race.

Really.  There is no plot.  Stars?  Well, we have Burt Reynolds as the main guy.  Yeah, it's SORT of like Smokey and the Bandit, but this will involve a lot of other people trying to achieve the same goal.

That is the plot!  No.  I'm serious.

Well, I'm thinking we could get Dom DeLuise to play Reynold's sidekick.  He will play a guy who has an alter ego that will show up at the most inopportune time, Captain Chaos.

Other characters?  Well, how about Jack Elam as an unhinged doctor?  Well, I'm thinking that Reynolds and DeLuise could be posing as ambulance drivers in order to avoid the police.  And they get Elam on board in case they actually do get pulled over...

No, I'm not kidding.  There really is no plot.  Other characters?  Well how about Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. as a pair of gamblers who are also trying to win the race?  They'll be disguising themselves as priests... As well as Jackie Chan as another racer, driving a souped up James Bond style trick car.

More?  Well, speaking of James Bond, I've got Roger Moore playing himself, an actor who has made a career out of playing a spy.  He would be a parody of himself as James Bond.  We could also get Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis as a couple of perpetually drunk hicks who are also entered into the race.

Cheesecake?  Well, yeah, I've got a couple of chicks to run the race, too.  Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman will use their sexual endowments to try to get out of any encounters with the police.  And I'm also going to get Farrah Fawcett as an innocent environmentalist who will basically be kidnapped by Reynolds and DeLuise to be their patient in the ambulance.  Not to mention a revolving group of Bond girls who will appear as passengers with Roger Moore.  We won't explain how he keeps getting different girls, that will be part of the comedy.

No, Chief, we don't need a plot.  The whole movie will just be various vignettes about the racers and their encounters with the police across the country.

I do have one particularly funny idea for one of those vignettes.  I'm thinking an all-out brawl between the racers and a biker gang they encounter on the way.  And get this.  I'm thinking Peter Fonda as the leader of the biker gang  Yeah, I know.  Easy Rider and The Wild Angels star would be a fantastic addition.

Oh, yeah, I forgot.  I've got an idea to cast Jamie Farr as a sheikh from an oil-rich Arab country who will be trying to win the race for the glory of Allah.   There will also be Bert Convy as a millionaire who is in the race just for the thrills.  He'll be riding a motorcycle with a fat guy on the back and do the whole race on a wheelie.

With all those stars you still want a plot?  We'll make millions!  Who needs a plot?

The Cannonball Run II (1984)

Hi, Chief!  Yeah, it's me again.  I have another idea for you.  Remember Cannonball Run?  We made millions.  I told you so.  I've got an idea for a sequel.  Let's do it again.

Plot?  Well, OK, I'll give you a plot this time.  Better yet, I'll give you several plots.  We'll get Jamie Farr back as the sheikh who has been commanded by his father played by Ricardo Montalban, to win the Cannonball Run.  Only problem  is there isn't going to be a Cannonball Run this year.  So daddy tells son to buy one.  They put up a million dollars for the winner, which daddy expects son to win.

Well also have Charles Nelson Reilly as the ne'er-do-well son of a Mafia don who owes big bucks to a rival Mafia guy played by Telly Savalas.  With the help of some cohorts dredged from the Godfather movies (Abe Vigoda, Alex Rocco and Michael V. Gazzo, as well as Henry Silva), they plan to kidnap the sheikh and take his million, as well as hold him for ransom.  The cohorts will try various bumbling attempts which are doomed to fail.

Oh, yeah, chief, we'll have plenty of guests, just like last time.  I've got Martin and Davis returning, this time posing as policemen.  I've got Mel Tillis teamed up with Tony Danza driving a limousine that they get from their uncle played by George Lindsey, who is a used car dealer.  The limousine will be chauffeured by an orangutan. Yeah, an orangutan, like the one in the Clint Eastwood Every Which Way But Loose movie.

For cheesecake I've got Susan Anton and Barabara Bach as the drivers of a Lamborghini.  I've also got Shirley Maclaine and Marilu Henner as chorus girls who convince Reynolds and DeLuise that they are nuns.  Which reminds me, this time Reynolds and DeLuise will be posing as army officers.  This comes in handy when they are later pulled over by a cop and manage to get out of the ticket by the convenient arrival of Jim Nabors as an army private on leave who just happens to be a relative of the cop.

I've got Jackie Chan returning in a souped up computer operated car, and Richard Kiel as his bodyguard/driver.  And I've got so many cameos it'll make your head spin.

Who?  Well how about Tim Conway an Don Knotts as police officers?  Dub Talor and Fred Dryer as more cops?  How about Arte Johnson as a deranged stunt pilot?  Joe Theismann as a guy who gets hoodwinked into driving the two girls when their car breaks down?  And as icing on the cake?  I'll get Frank Sinatra to play himself!

I think we got a winner, Chief!  I really do.

(Hope you folks enjoyed this entry.  I'll be back to my regular format next time, but I enjoyed the chance to write this in this style.  Have a safe trip home.  And don't speed....unless you think you can get away with it...   Quiggy)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Time for Fun

This is my entry in the Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology.

Buster Keaton, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, are possibly the triumvirate of slaptick comedy from the silent era.  Keaton's career spanned from early vaudeville days, when he performed on stage with his parents, right up until his death in 1966.  (He died in 1966, not long after having completed work on what was to be his final appearance on screen in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).

During the span of his film career, which began in 1917, he made some 100+ films, many of which, in those early years, were shorts (films which had a running time of 30 minutes or so).  A number of those early features were with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  Buster graduated to full length films.  His first headlining role in a feature length movie was one called 3 Ages, but he really came into his own with his third feature Sherlock, Jr, a movie in which Buster played a movie projectionist who enters, via a dream, into the fantasy world of the movie he is showing on screen.

In his later career, Buster appeared in cameos in such movies as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Around the World in 80 Days.  He was also a guest star on a variety of TV shows, and even had a brief run of his own TV show, The Buster Keaton Show, which unfortunately did not catch on and only lasted for 5 episodes.  The problem, apparently, with the TV show was that he tried to recreate the scenes for which he was most famous from his movies.  (I'm just guessing, since I haven't seen any episodes, but I assume it was mostly without dialogue, not a good idea for TV.)

One case where he did do a portion of his part in silent mode was the classic episode of the TV show The Twilight Zone, tiled "Once Upon A Time".  The episode is a fan favorite, myself included.  

Once Upon a Time

As indicated in the screenshot above, this episode was written by Richard Matheson, one of the better known contributing authors to The Twilight Zone.  "Once Upon a Time" was directed by Norman Z. MacLeod, no stranger to comedy himself, having directed many comedies in Hollywood, including two Marx brothers movies, and several Bob Hope movies.  Coincidentally,  the "Once Upon a Time" episode aired just a few days after I was born.

The story begins, fittingly, in silent movie mode, as the time period is 1890.  Woodrow Mulligan  (Buster Keaton) is a man who wishes that life could be a lot more quiet and peaceful.  He is frustrated with lfe where he thinks 17 cents a pound for sirloin steak is outrageous, bicycles are a road hazard, and the noise of livestock is just too noisy.

Woodrow works as a janitor for a scientist (Milton Parsons), who has created a time helmet that will allow the wearer to go into the future.  Woodrow decides to use it.  The slapstick scenes where the helmet starts shooting fireworks and panics Woodrow is just priceless.   Woodrow ends up in 1960, where to his shock it's even noisier and costlier to live.  To make matters worse, the time helmet breaks leaving him stranded.

The transfer to the present (1961 being the "present" at the time of the broadcast) changes the show from silent to sound.  For those of you who have never heard Keaton's  voice, you will get to do so.  The slapstick still continues as a kid absconds with the helmet and Woodrow has to chase him down.  He runs into Rollo (Stanley Adams) who, being convinced Woodrow really is from 1890 and not some crackpot, endeavors to help him fix the time helmet.  They enlist the help of a repairman (Jesse White).

There is a pretty funny scene in the repair shop as Woodrow encounters his first meeting with a television.  He thinks the thing is a window and that he character on the screen is talking directly to him.  The character says "That man does not have all his buttons."  What does that mean to Woodrow?  It's anybody's guess...

With a fixed helmet, Rollo tries to use the helmet to back to 1890, and Woodrow tags along for the ride.  But 1890 turns out to not be the great thing that Rollo was expecting and he begins to miss the comforts and pleasures of 1960.  So Woodrow slaps the helmet on Rollo and sends him back.

The Twilight Zone tended to be bleak most of the time, but this is one of a handful of episodes that used humor to get the point across to its viewers.  Fans of Keaton's slapstick style will not be disappointed.  Of all the humorous episodes during it's run, this one is by far the funniest.

I'm going to stay here in the 2000's myself.  If not for the internet, at least for the air conditioning.  Hope you had fun with this one.