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.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Coloring Outside the Lines

This is my entry in the Sidney Poitier Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.

In the old days of the racist South, a black man had to abide by certain rules of etiquette when dealing with white people.  There was segregation that  reared it's ugly head in the form of substandard facilities, like restrooms and restaurants.  There were places where only whites were served.  Black people had to live in segregated neighborhoods, and since they were not paid anything near equal in wages, those neighborhoods were also substandard.

When John Ball appeared on the scene with his first novel featuring Virgil Tibbs, he set the story in this world.  Tibbs himself was, probably (although it's not entirely clear), a former resident of this world.  (He was on his way back home from visiting his mother, and I highly doubt she moved to this world from a more lenient section of the country).  Tibbs, being from Pasadena, CA (in the movie it was changed to Philidelphia, PA), has grown accustomed to being treated more equally, and the change in attitude from the locals leaves him frustrated and edgy.

Sidney Poitier was cast in the iconic role of a northern police officer caught in the South with a murder in which he is first a suspect, then is instrumental in solving the true identity of the murderer.  In the course of the film, Poitier exudes the right amount of a blend of hostility, compassion and superiority, without overdoing any of them.  Since his debut about 20 years earlier, Poitier had been nominated twice for Oscars, winning once for Lilies of the Field.  He brought to the production and astounding resume already at this point in his career, and SHOULD have been able to add a third Oscar nomination for his performance here, but that would prove not to be so.  (He was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, so it's not all bad, but still...)

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

It is a hot summer's eve in Sparta, Mississippi.  (Note:  There is no connection to the real Sparta, MS.  The film was not even made in the south, as obviously at that time there would have been extreme hostility to the film's concept in that part of the country.  It was filmed in a "Sparta", but the one in Illinois, instead.)  Officer Sam Wood (Warren Oates) makes his rounds, which includes a brief episode where he indulges in voyeurism, spying on a young girl as she parades around her kitchen in the nude.

Wood eventually discovers a dead body, which is revealed to be that of Philip Colbert, a wealthy man who had been in town to negotiate building a factory, which would have brought much need money and prestige to the community.  Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) sends Sam out to find and round up any suspicious persons.  Checking the train station, Wood finds a man in the "colored" waiting room and arrests him.  It turns out, however, that the man is above suspicion: he's actually a police officer on the force in Philadelphia, PA, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier).

Once it becomes clear that Tibbs is not a valid suspect, the focus is on finding the killer.  Tibbs is basically commanded by his superior officer in Philly to present himself as a help to solve the murder.  Gillespie and the rest of the town are reluctant to even admit that a black man could be of any use, but Gillespie lets Tibbs inspect the body of Colbert.  Tibbs garners some information from his inspections and heads back to the police station.

Enter Harvey Oberst (Scott Wilson), a poor white from the town who has been found with Colbert's wallet and a large sum of money.   Tibbs tells Gillespie that it is highly unlikely that Oberst killed the victim because Oberst is left-handed, and Tibbs' investigations prove that the killer was right-handed.  But since Gillespie's prejudices restrain him from accepting Tibbs' theories, he has Oberst jailed on the murder charge.

Colbert's wife (Lee Grant) is instrumental in the continuation of keeping Tibbs on as a helper in the investigation, threatening to pack up and move the potential factory somewhere else if he is not given a free hand in the investigation.  But she is the only person in town, initially, who is on his side.  Because Tibbs refuses to kowtow and be the subservient Negro that the white people expect of their dark-skinned neighbors, he manages to offend just about everyone with whom he comes into contact.  This is especially true of a gang of roughs who at one point chase him and corner him in an abandoned factory.  It is only the fortunate arrival of Gillespie that prevents him from getting the snot beat out of him.

Tibbs main suspect is the town's rich man, Eric Endicott (Larry Gates), with whom he gets into a slapping match. The so-called "slap heard round the world" comes in a confrontation during an interview with Endicott on his plantation.

 In the course of the film, Delores appears before Gillespie and accuse Woods of having seduced her and gotten her pregnant.  This coupled with the fact that woods recently made a large deposit at the bank causes Gillespie to arrest Woods on suspicion of the murder.  But Woods is innocent, since he has been saving money at home and just made the large deposit after it got really big.  But the pregnancy of Purdy leads Tibbs to discover the true culprit of the murder.

Although he does not win he hearts of the entire town (which would put the movie in the realm of fantasy if he did), he does win the admiration and respect of Gillespie and Woods (and probably  several of Woods' fellow officers).

Steiger was nominated for, and won, the Oscar for Best Actor in the film.  He went up against some sound performances by 4 other actors from other movies, but he was NOT challenged by Poitier for his role as Tibbs.  Why, I can't say.  Poitier's performance is definitely Oscar material.  However, looking at the four other candidates that year, I'd be extremely hard pressed as to decide which one I would have left out in order to put Tibbs in their spot.  Perhaps you might have a choice, so I'll include the other four candidates and see if you can choose:

Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate
Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke
Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

The film also won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound Mixing and for Best Film Editing, and was in the running for several other categories.  1967 was a landmark year in the film industry, and for an excellent overview on the background to the five nominees for Best Picture this year (along with this one, also were in the running: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde and Dr. Doolittle), I refer you to Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood.

Well folks, time to rev up the old Plymouth and head home.  Drive safely.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Special Post to the Drive-In

I'm not the kind of person to shy away from controversy.  And while I've kept this blog rather light-hearted over the past year or so, I have come across two rather riveting documentaries I felt obliged to share.  Both deal with the homosexual community, one as the subject of Nazi Germany's persecution of its homosexuals in the late 30's and 40's, the other a look at the AIDS epidemic and how people in the homosexual community fought to have the government address it with the issue and find medical solutions to the epidemic.

Paragraph 175 (2000)

From the beginning of the film:

"An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be imposed.

Paragraph 175
German Penal Code, 1871"

Well, there it is in black and white.  As early as 1871 homosexuality was deemed a crime under German law.  But the same or similar codes existed throughout the world, in some form or another  (and still exist in some countries, to be sure).  You can even find history of some of the more liberal minded nations, including the United States and England having laws against "sodomy".   The Nazis being who they were and the essence of the theme of purity of the Aryan race, however,  caused the group to enact harsher penalties than any that the rest of the "civilized" world may have done, but it was not wholly limited to the Nazis.  The documentary follows Klaus Muller, a young man who interviews five surviving homosexuals and one lesbian, all who experienced the persecution of Nazis, as well as their life and experiences prior to the rise of the Nazis .  Rupert Everett was tagged to be the narrator of the film.

In the Weimer Republic, paragraph 175 was largely ignored, although crackdowns did occur.  In Berlin, the decadent lifestyle of post WWI, however, included allowing homosexuals to exist freely, for the most part. "Heinz F." (a psuedonym)  tells of a club in Berlin which allowed itself to be rented out a couple of times a week for dances for homosexuals.  Annette Eick, a lesbian tells of falling in love with a woman at one of these gatherings that reminded her of Marlene Dietrich.  This woman made it to England and sent Annette a passport that got her out of Berlin.

Pierre Seel, a Frenchman is somewhat reluctant to talk to Klaus because of his experiences.  He says he made a promise to himself at the time that he would never talk to or shake hands with a German. Albrecht Becker  had an older lover that he spent time with for 10 years during the Wemer Republic.  Gad Beck tells of an athletic trainer with whom he had an encounter.  All of the interviewees tell of how the years before the rise of the Nazis were almost idyllic.

Upon the rise of Hitler, however, that all changed.  It was not immediate however.  Even Hitler's right hand man, Ernst Rohm, the founder of the SAS, (the Stormtroopers) was gay.  Hitler himself condoned Rohm's sexuality, at first, claiming that since  the SA was "not an institution for moral education...but a formation of seasoned fighters...private life [could] not be an object of scrutiny", thus basically saying it didn't matter about Rohm's private affairs so long as he didn't conflict with the ideology of the Nazi party.

That changed almost immediately however, and with the so called "Night of the Long Knives" Rohm and many of his followers were executed and then it was open season on German homosexuals.   it had been preceded by the same treatment with Jews.  Many in the gay community thought they were safe however, because they considered themselves to be loyal Germans, but soon found out that didn't matter.

The film continues with interviews with the former concentration camp survivors, Heinz Dormer, Karl Gorath, as well as the previously referenced "Heinz F.", Pieere Seel, Albrecht Becker and Gad Beck.  Some of the film is rather heartbreaking, much as interviews with surviving Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis are.  Typically, according to the fim, it was the homosexual males who received most of the attention.  A passage of the narration states that the Nazis thought the lesbians could be rehabilitated.  Most of this prejudice stemmed from the fact that the Reich needed every available fertile female to increase the population of the Aryan nation, not because they actually had any plan to implement for the rehabilitation.

Paragraph 175 will make you think.  It is obviously not the film for family night (or maybe it is, if your children are old enough to understand what they are seeing).

How to Survive a Plague (2012)

The title of this movie (probably) gets its genesis from an outburst from Larry Kramer midways through the film, in which he addresses a group of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) activists:  "Plague! We are in the middle of a f***ing plague! 40 million infected people is a f***ing plague! "

The film covers the efforts of ACT UP to get the government and the drug companies to fulfill their obligations to find a cure for the disease of AIDS.  Most of the people involved in the actions were from the homosexual community, but they had several medical personnel who also worked to find the cure.  But they had some very serious opposition, especially in the person of Jesse Helms, a U.S. senator whose own view is on record that the homosexual community brought this epidemic on themselves through their own actions, including, but not necessarily solely, having bad safety measures during sexual intercourse.

The activists, which included men like Mark Harrington, Bob Rafsky and Jim Eigo formed a group to spur the drive to find a cure.  Because of the prevailing views of political representatives kept the drive stalled, and because the drug companies seeking a cure were hampered by rules and regulations that inhibited quick solutions, the activists had to take to protests at various locations to try to bring public awareness to the situation.

Coupled with all this political agenda, we as viewers are also let into some of the private lives of some of the people who either had been infected or wee affected by the loss of loved ones who had been infected by the disease.  Also along the way, a splinter group called Treatment Action Group (TAG) formed to take a different tack in getting the cure in motion.

The film ends on a positive note as there was some success in using a variety of drugs that prolonged the lives of the victims of the disease.  Although some of the main figures did pass on from the disease before the success, we find several of the main figures (I assume) in present day still surviving the "plague".  The film will open your eyes and may even instill some faith in human nature.  I admit that I found some of the actions by the ACT UP group to be a little disturbing, but that is tempered by the fact that some of the politicians don't seem to be quite the sympathetic souls they should be.  (Jesse Helms, of course, but even Bill Clinton in archival footage doesn't come off all that sympathetic).

As a heterosexual male, I still got a lot from both of these films.  I recommend both, but as with the first one, they are not family-friendly films, so exercise caution if you want to watch them with children.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Bet on Bette

Bette Midler, actress, chanteuse, film producer.  Ms. Midler started out as a singer, but has managed to imprint herself on the world in other endeavors as well.   My first introduction to Midler was, as with probably many of you, in the film The Rose, a biography of a self-destructive pop singer, based loosely on the life of Janis Joplin.  Not only can she sing her ass off, she's a pretty decent actress, too.

Turns out she's one hell of a comedienne, too.  Two movies, both coming out in 1986, and of two decidedly different styles of comedy, Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Ruthless People, featured the "Divine Miss M."  (1986 was a pretty good year for comedies, too.  Also coming out that year were Ferris Bueller's Day Off, ­­¡Three Amigos!, the first Crocodile Dundee, Back to School and the Michael Keaton movie Gung Ho, (at least I thought it was funny, despite how it was reviewed by the critics...)

The Paul Mazursky  directed Down and Out in Beverly Hills is typical of the dry wit and social issues for which he was known.  This was the guy who directed the comedy about sexual mores in the late 60's-early 70's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and the Robin Williams film about a defecting Russian trying to adapt in America Moscow on the Hudson. Typical of his movies, D & O, deals with homeless people and how more affluent people look at and accept (or not accept) them, as well as how we as people allow our prejudices affect our abilities to view individuals as individuals.

On the other side of the scale is the broad, sometimes raunchy comedy we come to expect from an Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker (ZAZ) film.  Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker make up the team.  These are the guys responsible for inflicting the riotously funny classics such as Airplane!, Top Secret!, Hot Shots! (and Hot Shots! Part Deux), The Naked Gun: Files from the Police Squad!  (You get the idea that ZAZ really likes "!"s?)

The Divine Miss M plays a spoiled rich bitch in both, but despite that fact they are two entirely different characters and she plays both with such extreme gusto. By the way, I don't know if this had anything significant to do with it, but it turns out that the casting director for both movies was the same person: Ellen Chenoweth....

 (An early warning:  I tried to give both of these movies an even-steven share of the commentary, but even so I imagine it will be obvious which of the two I really prefer.)

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

Midler plays Barbara Whiteman, the wife of the self-proclaimed coat hanger king Dave Whiteman (Richard Dreyfuss).  Spoiled rotten, and a bit self important (and also a sucker for every mubo-jumbo new age thing to come down the pike.  She has a psychiatrist for the dog, for crying out loud...)  Into this staid world comes Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte), a homeless man whose best friend, his dog (named Kerouac, now isn't that fitting?) has left him.  After a fruitless search, Jerry decides to committ suicide by jumping into the Whiteman's pool.

Dave rescues him, and decides that the best thing to do is take Jerry under his wing, so to speak, cleaning him up and making him a guest at his home.  Nobody else at the Whiteman house likes this one bit.  Barbara is inundated with all sorts of stereotypical prejudices against him because he is homeless.  Carmen (Elizabeth Pena), the Whitemans live in maid, objects to him because he is filthy.  Dave's son, Max (Evan Richards), although not openly hostile to Jerry, clearly does not like his father's attitudes towards him, and may be standoffish as a result to Jerry.  When Dave's daughter, Jenny (Tracy Nelson), shows up for Christmas and finds the arrangement, she too exhibits hostility to Jerry.  The only person who shows any regard for Jerry is Dave.

But that changes over the course of the movie.  Jerry is a consummate liar, claiming to be, at alternate times, an actor, a concert pianist, a former resident of an ashram in Oregon, and other things, as suits whatever situation with which he is confronted. Through these subterfuges he manages to convince and win over everyone in the house, at the expense of alienating his first true friend in the household, Dave.

Admittedly, part of his ability to win over the hearts of the females in the house is he manages to bed each one of them.  Barbara, who suffers fro migraines, and has tried just about every wacko new age fad in the world, eventually succumbs to Jerry's ministrations as a masseuse (ostensibly learned at the ashram) and ends up in bed with him.  Carmen, who is easily manipulated by Jerry's Communist knowlege (he bought the books he gave her at a supermarket), ends up in bed with him.  Jenny, admittedly hostile at the outset, ends up in bed with him.  Max doesn't end up in bed with him, but Jerry encourages him in his homosexual (or at least his cross-dressing) tendencies.

Added into this mix is the Whiteman's next door neigbor, Orvis Goodnight (Little Richard) whose antics come off as rather an obvious parody of someone reminiscent of Al Sharpton.  Orvis is a record producer who bewails his unequal treatment compared to his white neighbor, but he does go to the Whitemans NYE party, so maybe its all just a ploy...

Midler is a gas in this one, especially when she gets into her self-righteous mode, demanding that Dave get his head on straight and gets rid of Jerry before the homeless man murders them all in their sleep.  Likewise when she finally comes over to Jerry's side of the table, and champions him (with a brief lapse when she learns that Jerry has two-timed her with Carmen), she can be overly emotional.  (Be sure to not miss the scene where she has gotten plastered while Dave is out.  Barbara is a vegetarian, but makes the excuse she can drink vodka because it's made from the potato...)

Ruthless People (1986)

Once again, Midler plays another spoiled rotten rich bitch, Barbara Stone (you think Bette has an unresolved resentment against someone named "Barabara"?  Or is it just a coincidence that two of her most obnoxious roles involve a woman with that name?).  She is the wife of an unscrupulous businessman, Sam Stone (Danny De Vito).  Sam has an intense desire to rid himself of his wife, and plans to kill her.

Fortunately for Sam, two kidnappers, Ken and Sandy Kessler (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater), have kidnapped Barbara and threaten to kill her if their ransom demands are not met.  Sam, for his part, has no intention of paying the ransom, even going so far as to go against all the warnings the kidnappers have set up that supposedly will result in them killing Barbara outright if they are not met.

Sam has a mistress, Carol (Anita Morris), to whom he is planning to get married after he disposes of Barbara, and whom knows of Sam's plans to kill his wife.  Carol is cheating on Sam on the side with a male bimbo, accurately described by another character as the "stupidest person on the face of the Earth".  With Earl (Bill Pullman), Carol plans to film Sam's murder of his wife and blackmail him for mucho dinero.

Meanwhile, the kidnappers, who are really the most sympathetic characters in the movie, have done just about everything they can to wheedle money out of Sam, even going so far as to reduce the money they demand from $100,000 to $50,000 to $10,000.  They just want to hurt Sam for cheating them after Sam has stolen Sandy's idea (she being a wanna-be designer herself) and claimed it as his own.

Barbara makes life hell for the kidnappers, being a screeching, demanding captor.  She demands certain foods and health products (she being a failed fitness freak, trying to lose weight, but being very unsuccessful) .  If I were truly the ruthless kidnapper I claimed to be, it wouldn't take long to follow through on my threats at this point, but the Kessler's are really good-hearted people who just want to be recompensed by Sam for his unscrupulous actions.

Carol sends Earl to the supposed site where Sam is going to kill Barbara, but instead of filming the murder, Earl films the police chief (William G. Schilling) having a sexual liaison with a hooker.  But Earl, being the dimwitted soul he is, actually thinks he is filming the murder.  So when Carol and Earl send the tape to the police chief, thinking it is Barbara's murder, and demanding that he arrest Sam, the chief is at a loss, and worried about his marriage and career if the tape is made public.

There is more confusion and double-cross in this movie than an entire fleet of classic Three Stooges reels.  Will Sam succeed in ridding himself of Barbara?  Will the Kessler's succeed in extorting money from Sam?  Will Carol and Earl succeed in extorting money from Sam?  Will Earl get a brain from the Wizard of Oz? (Sorry wrong movie...)  This, and all other questions you may have from reading this review will be answered when you actually watch the movie.

As much as I hate to admit it, Bette Midler has stolen my heart, despite the mostly obnoxious women she plays in these two movies.  What does that say about me...?  Drive home safely, folks.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part II)

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

Sean Connery continued his portrayal of the iconic spy after his two initial performances in Dr. No and From Russia with Love  (see The Bond Age (Part I).   James Bond was definitely on his way to becoming the box office draw that would continue for the next 50 years.

Among the candidates for the role of Bond's next villain, Auric Gold finger, was Theodore Bikel, whom fans of The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! will recognize as the captain of the Russian submarine, and whom also was a prolific stage actor, having originated the role of the von Trapp household head in the first stage production of The Sound of Music, and did a stint in the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  My DVD of Goldfinger has his screen test.

The role of Goldfinger actually went to Gert Frobe, s German actor who had been a former member of the Nazi party in Germany during that party's regime.  But as noted in my reference book, he was not entirely on Hitler's side.  He apparently hid two Jewish friends in his home throughout the war.   Frobe had to learn his lines phonetically, which caused some problems during the filming.  Honor Blackman stated that she couldn't really understand him and only spoke her lines when he stopped speaking.  Michael Collins dubbed his voice in the film.

Dubbing an actor's or actress' voice was becoming not so uncommon in the Bond films.  Both Ursula Andress and Daniela Bianchi in Dr. No and From Russia with Love had been dubbed as well, Adolpho Celi, in the following Bond entry,  Thunderball. was dubbed by another man, Robert Rietty.  It should be noted that dubbing was not done any of these times because they were terrible actors, just that their individual accents were thought, at least by the producers, to be a bit hard to understand.  Frobe was a consummate actor in his own native Germany and Celi made movies in Italy for years.  Let's face it, unless you were used to Herve Villechaize from Fantasy Island, you probably would have been hard pressed to understand him in The Man with the Golden Gun.  (Yes, Golden Gun was made before Fantasy Island came on TV, but you must remember I was brought up in a rather repressive household, and didn't actually get to see that one until I was much older.)

Goldfinger (1964)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #3

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #10

Best Bond Quote:  (A prefatory note:  I actually LIKE the Beatles, but this one was just too good to not include...) "My dear girl, there are some things that just aren't done.  Such as drinking Dom Perignon   '53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.  That's just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs."

Best Bond Villain Quote: (After being asked by Bond if he expects Bond to talk) "No, Mr. Bond!  I expect you to die!"

Best Weapon:  Despite all of Bond's accoutrements for this film, the absolute best weapon HAS to be Oddjob's deadly hat...

In what was to become a tradition, the opening segments of Goldfinger included the final moments of his previous case, the destruction of a drug laboratory, and the execution of a drug lord via electrocution in a bathtub.  This was the first Bond film to actually have James Bond defeat an enemy and wrap up a case before the credits.  (In From Russia with Love, it was just an introduction to Bond's coming nemesis, and the "real" Bond himself was not actually in the scene.)

After the credits, featuring Shirley Bassey singing the theme song (actually the first to have the Bond theme song with lyrics during the credits.  Again, in From Russia with Love only the music played, and you did not actually hear the lyrics version until the end credits).  Bassey's song was the also first one to chart as a single on Billboard's Top 100. It made it to #8 on March 27, 1965 where it stayed for two weeks.

Bond thinks he's on vacation in Miami Beach, but in reality it turns out he has been sent there by M to work with the CIA, and Felix Leiter (Cec Linder), to investigate Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), an industrialist who is thought to have been illegally smuggling gold.  He finds Goldfinger cheating at cards, using an accomplice, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), who spies on his opponent's cards from a hotel room, using a telescope.  Bond uncovers the ruse and forces Goldfinger to lose money to the oppponent, which of course doesn't make Goldfinger happy.

Goldfinger gets his revenge by having Oddjob (Harold Sakata), his valet, knock out Bond and paint Jill with gold paint, which suffocates her.  Bond then challenges Goldfinger to a game of golf, and through subterfuge, nicks him again for more money.  Meanwhile he puts a homing device on Goldfinger's car and chases him through Switzerland.  Goldfinger has another shadow, in the person of Tilly Soames (Tania Mallet), who is later revealed to be the sister of Jill.  She is trying to kill him for revenge of the death of Jill.

In the course of the film, Oddjob and his henchmen eventually capture Bond and make him a prisoner, also killing Tilly in the process.  Goldfinger it turns out has a plan to rob Fort Knox of it's gold.  At least that's he plan as stated to a plethora of underworld mob figures he has meet him with various implements he plans to use in his heist, called "Operation Grand Slam".  Evil villains being what they are in the Bond films, he kills off the underworld characters in one fell swoop so he won't have to share.

Bond meets up with Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).  (Fleming's actual name for Goldfinger's right hand woman, I'm not trying to be prurient...)  Ms. Galore is immune to Bond's charms, although they do not come right out and state her sexuality, it's obvious she is supposed to be a lesbian.  But since two of the Bond women are already dead, I think you can guess how successful he will eventually be.

As it turns out, Goldfinger's actual plan is to break into Fort Knox and set off a nuclear bomb, which would contaminate the supply stored there and make his own supply that much more valuable.  (Although this sounds pretty ingenious in theory, I can't actually vouch for how it would work in reality, but it would definitely make the gold untouchable for years, if the bomb didn't actually demolish the supply in the first place).  Bond's goal then is to prevent the event from happening, and this makes for a pretty exciting final reel of he movie.

Thunderball (1965)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #22

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #3

Best Bond Quote: (taunting Emilio Largo who is #2 in the SPECTRE organization, after he defeats him in a card game) "I thought I saw a specter at your shoulder".

Best Bond Villain Quote: Fiona Volpe (Largo's right hand woman):  "But, of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond.   James Bond.  The one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing.   She repents and turns to the side of right and virtue...but not this one."

Best Weapon:  Bond uses a jet pack early in the movie (before the credits).  This thing was actually a prototype that had been invented just a few years before.

In the pre-credits sequence, Bond watches the funeral of Col. Jacques Bouvar (Bob Simmons).  But as he watches Bouvar's widow leave the funeral he realizes that the "Widow" is actually Bouvar himself and follows him home and kills him.

The credits roll wit Tom Jones singing the theme song to "Thunderball". Johnny Cash also recorded a Thunderball song for the movie, entirely different, but it was not used.  The Tom Jones' version made it to #25 on the Billboard Top 100 on Jan. 22, 1966.

Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), and the rest of the heads of SPECTRE attend a meeting in which Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the number one guy in the organization executes a member who has been secretly giving false numbers of the actual monies being taken by his sector.  Largo then outlines his plans to extort money from the various nations by hijacking two nuclear bombs and threatening to explode them  if the nations don't pony up the extortion.

Meanwhile, Bond, who is supposed to be recuperating at a spa, uncovers part of the plan.  He doesn't uncover it all, but his neighbor, a man whose face is completely bandaged seems to not be on the up and up.  In reality the man is being groomed and facially altered to take the place of an airline pilot, François Derval (Paul Stassino), so that he can hijack the plane carrying the bombs.  By coincidence, François' sister, Dominique (Claudine Auger), also called "Domino", is Largo's mistress.  When Largo kills her brother, he eventually creates an enemy with Domino, although she does not initially know he has done so.

The game continues with a lot of underwater sequences which involves Bond trying to avoid a couple of deadly sharks, and several of Largo's henchmen, as Bond tries to locate where the bombs have been hidden.  He also has to deal with Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), who as Largo's right hand woman, alternately plays with Bond and his seductions and even tries to kill him at one point.

One of the reasons this movie ranks on my list as one of the worst in the series is the underwater sequences, which often causes confusion as to whom is on whom's side, and the final reel in which a battle between Bond and Largo looks as if it was edited by a lunatic on acid.  The movie is standard Bond fare otherwise, but a lot of the action sequences, I thought, could have been done better.

Well, folks, time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  Still waiting on James Bond to offer me one of his cast off Aston-Martin's....


Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Big Buzz

This is my entry in the O Canada! Blogathon sponsored by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings

The Great White North (better known to us here south of the border as Canada) is a vast expanse of land, and as you would expect, plenty of space in which to film movies.  I'm not quite sure any of The Fly series was actually filmed in Canada.  Maybe some of the exterior scenes... I do know that the credits for The Curse of the Fly credit it as being filmed in England.  Be that as it may, the films take place in Montreal and its surrounding areas.

Montreal is located in the province of Quebec, a region of Canada that is unique in the fact that it's official language is French.  (Note to nitpickers:  Yes New Brunswick has French as an official language, but it shares that with English. Quebec on the other hand only has French as it's official language)  Therefore it should come as no surprise that nearly all the characters in the Fly movies have French names.

A few notes about the story on which the first The Fly was based:  It was written by George Langelaan and published in June 1957 issue of Playboy magazine.  It received honors as the Best Fiction Award from Playboy  for that year as well as the 1958 edition of the annual Greatest SF and Fantasy.

The Fly (1958)
The Return of the Fly(1959) 
The Curse of the Fly(1965)

Warning!  This whole post contains numerous spoilers!

The Delambre family suffers from a curse, the curse that affects all practitioners of strange science in the Hollywood film world.  Of course, usually that's only limited to one generation, but since Hollywood has an affinity for milking a topic for all its worth, this extended to three generations in the world of The Fly.  I am referring to the curse of being victimized by one's own sense of purpose, which often, especially in science fiction films, translates to having your (mostly) altruistic intentions cause horrible unexpected events to occur in the process.

The movies take place in Montreal, where Andre Delambre (Al Hedison; later in life billed as "David" Hedison) and his brother, François (Vincent Price) own a metal works.  Andre is a working scientist who is secretly working on a project, which turns out to be a device that can transport solid objects from one place to another.  Sort of a predecessor to the transporters used in the Star Trek world, but thius one has drastic consequences (since, as I said before, in sci-fi, often  altruistic intentions do not work out as planned).

At the beginning of the movie, Andre's wife, Helene (Patricia Owens), has just killed Andre by using the hydraulic press at the plant to squash him.  The story plays out in flashbacks, as well as in the present, as Helene tells the story to the police and François.  While Helene acts oddly, including frantically looking at every fly that comes into the room, she tells of how her husband worked on his invention.  A couple of mishaps, including a plate that reappears with the printed letters transposed and the family cat who disappears at one end but doesn't reappear at the other end,  cause him to return to his work trying to perfect it.

Finally he thinks he has succeeded and uses the machine to transport himself.  But a fly which inadvertently got in the machine with him causes him to reappear with the head of the fly.

As he gradually goes insane from the effects of the transformation, he and Helene frantically try to find the fly that has his head.  Unfortunately, they are unsuccessful, and Andre destroys his lab and has Helene kill him.  In the end, François and the police inspector (Herbert Marshall) finally find the fly and kill it shortly before it is about to be eaten by a spider.  ("Help me!  Help me!"  Sound familiar?)

Flash forward about 10 or 15 years.  In The Return of the Fly, Andre's son, Phillipe (Brett Halsey) tries to recreate his father's work.  His uncle (played again  by Price) warns him against the actions and refuses to give him any help.  But Phillipe is determined to succeed.  With the help of an associate, Alan Hines (David Frankham), he continues to work, and when he really needs the money manages to blackmail uncle  François by threatening to sell his half of the plant if his uncle doesn't help.

When he finally succeeds in doing the work, Alan, who turns out to be a spy named Ronald Holmes, tries to sell the secrets to another source.  He eventually is confronted by Phillipe, and the spy knocks Phillipe out and uses the transporter, with a fly included, to transform Phillipe into a human/fly mutation.  Phillipe escapes and finds the secret source and kills him, then returns and finds Holmes and kills him, too.  With the help of a police inspector, Phillipe and the fly are re-transported and successfully become normal again (a happy ending for a change).

In The Curse of the Fly, another generation of the Delambre family is working on the teleportation project.  Martin Delambre (George Baker) has been working with his father, Henri (Brian Donlevy) on the project.  (A note here:  Henri is supposed to be the son of the first Delambre, Andre, but they changed his name from Phillipe in between the second and third movies for some reason.)

Henri and Martin, along with Martin's brother, Albert (Michael Graham), have had some success in transporting people, although they have had a few mishaps, such as two assistants named Samuels and Dale, and Marin's wife, Judith, all of whom are kept in stables on the Delambre farm.   (Who the "successes" are remains a mystery since it seems everyone who has been through the transporter in the film has had some sort of bad side effect or another from the process.

Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray), an escapee from a mental institution, whom Martin finds on the road in her underwear, also figures into the story.  Both Martin and Patricia hold on to secrets that they don't reveal to one another (Martin his strange experiments, and his still alive first wife, and Patricia her past and the fact that she is an escapee from the funny farm), making for a pretty iffy start since Martin marries Patricia early in the movie...

Things get a little rocky when Patricia discovers the first wife, horribly disfigured from the experiment gone awry, and martin finding out that Patricia was in the institution.  Martin, for his part, uses that info to try to convince Pat she was just dreaming when she saw Judith (Mary Manson).  But when the whole world comes crashing around them, Martin and Henri act just like the typical mad scientists by trying to hide their mistakes forever.

Altruistic intentions aside, the Delambre family does seem to be cursed (thus the rather aptly named title of the third installment).  The third movie ends its credits with "Is this the end?", indicating that the studio though they might have a franchise that could go further, but the third movie was such a failure at the box office that that ended that dream.

Well folks, I'm still depending on the old Plymouth to transport me from place to place, at least until the next Delambre finally gets the damn invention right.  Drive safely