Sunday, June 25, 2017

Drawn to Jessica Rabbit

This is an addition to the Reel Infatuation Blogathon hosted by Font and Frock and Silver Screenings.

"I'm not bad.  I'm just drawn that way."

So says Jessica Rabbit to Eddie Valiant in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and in all truth, who cares?  She can be bad or good and she'd still be the hottest 'toon in 'Toon Town.  Of course, every red-blooded guy in the movie (and, like myself, probably quite a few in the theater audience) wish she was as "bad" as she looked.  But she's not.  She's a dedicated and loyal loving wife to her husband, Roger Rabbit, unlike a lot of the femme fatales you see portrayed by real women in film noir movies of which this was a parody.

Jessica is a lounge singer in a 'toon review club, with her Veronica Lake-style peekaboo hairdo, and a sultry style reminiscent of Rita Hayworth.  She was voiced by Kathleen Turner, with a soft breathy type style, but what really gets the blood pumping in the average male is the knockout version Jessica does of  a song originally done by Peggy Lee, "Why Don't You Do Right".  That singing wasn't done by Turner, however.  It was done by Amy Irving, who was married at the time to Steven Spielberg.  And Peggy Lee's version has nothing on the job Irving did for Jessica Rabbit.  And that sequined dress ain't such a bad enhancement either....

When you get right down to it, Jessica ain't exactly the safest thing on the planet, as one of the weasel cops finds out when he tries to search her in some rather indelicate areas of her person.  She's a 'toon, after all, so she comes equipped with some of the same abilities that the Coyote and the Roadrunner have, namely places to hide things that the average eye can't see until it's too late...

Even so, I could go for a chick like her.  And I'm not alone.  Empire Magazine once named her #6 on a list of the Greatest Animated Characters, surpassing many classic Disney and other characters.  Empire magazine also listed her in the top 100 Greatest Movie Characters (which included both real actors and actresses in roles such as Darth Vader, so it was some stiff competition.  Listal has her as #29 on a list of the sexiest female characters, too.  (See, I'm not just a freak...)

There is a rumor that the artists had some fun while drawing the character.  Seems like there are a couple of frames in which they drew Jessica completely naked, which can't be seen by the naked eye, but if you have a Laserdisc, and slow it down frame by frame, you can.... supposedly..  Now I can't verify this for certain, but since the rumor was published in Variety just prior to the release of the Laserdisc version in 1994, and when the Laserdisc was finally released it sold out in minutes all over the country., I'd say it sounds suspiciously like false marketing to me...  (If you guessed I wasn't successful in finding the naked Jessica frames... I categorically deny even trying...)

Once again I steered away from real actresses for this blogathon, because I figured it would be too tough to say I was infatuated with, say, one of the many Bond girls, and not that I found the actress portraying her sexy.  This way, I wasn't distracted by a real person.


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Don't Be Afraid of No Ghosts

This is my entry for the Summer Movie Blogathon hosted by Blog of the Darned.

In 1984 Hollywood needed a new blockbuster to fill the void left by the ending of the Star Wars trilogy from the previous summer.  Hollywood has never suffered for a lack of mega-hits, at least not since the mid-70's.  Give credit to  Jaws for really putting the summer blockbuster on the map, although George Lucas' franchise starting film certainly kicked the idea into overdrive.

1984 was yet another banner year for the summer crowd.  Between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, you could have gone to see new releases featuring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), William Shatner, (Star Trek II: The Search for Spock), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan the Destroyer), the singer Prince ( Purple Rain), not to mention The Karate Kid, The Last Starfighter, Revenge of the Nerds, Red Dawn, and a host of others.

Looking at a list of films released in 1984 made me realize I must have spent more time in the movie theater than I did studying in college.  I counted no less than 47 movies I saw in the theater that year.  Sure that's less than one a week, but on some of those occasions I had to go to two different movies the same day, and that doesn't count any repeat viewings.

According to wikipedia the number 1 movie of 1984 was Beverley Hills Cop.  But that was a Christmas release.  The biggest summer movie of 1984 was Ghostbusters.  And it was a very big hit, not just due to the star power (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis), but also due to the merchandising aspect of it.  In the summer of 1984 you couldn't go anywhere and not hear the strains of Ray Parker, Jr's theme song to Ghostbusters.  And that "No Ghosts" symbol was ubiquitous.

True story:  I had NEVER before been on the cusp of a fashion trend before, and have never since.  But when this movie came out, I bought a t-shirt from a place that did iron-on decals to regular t-shirts.  (Remember those places in the malls back then, kiddies?)  I showed up at my regular dance club hangout that night and EVERYONE was asking me "where'd you get that shirt"?  I was never so popular ever again, but I was that night.  Then by next week everybody had them and things went back to same as usual.

How big was this movie?  Well, if you don't know by now, it spawned a sequel, two Saturday morning cartoons, a carload of toys and gadgets, a video game, and when the sequel came out it was the same thing.  I was working at a summer job at a Hardee's outside DC when the sequel came out.  Hardee's was one of the official sponsors, and they had a set of four kid's meal toys which were just cheap electronic noisemakers, but each one had the ubiquitous "Ghost 2" on them.  I bought them all and had them for years until the batteries finally died.

Hardee's in DC (maybe elsewhere, too, for all I know) gave a sneak preview for its employees one afternoon just before its official release.  I wouldn't swear to it, but I think I was the only white person in the entire audience.  When Bobby Brown, who was a popular singer, and the artist who did the theme song to the sequel made a cameo appearance (he was a valet), the whole theater erupted in pandemonium.

There were rumors for years that the three stars and the director were going to do a third feature film, but it, as yet, has never materialized, mostly due to the death of Ramis.  Instead, we got a crappy "reboot" in 2016, with an all female crew of "Ghostbusters".  Ivan Reitman was involved in the production of it, and several of the original stars came on board for cameos (Harold Ramis had died a couple of years before, but most of the surviving stars of the originals did appear briefly, in cameos).   The movie lacked the cache that the original two had and, although it was moderately received, I think it was a pretty piss poor entry in the franchise.

Ghostbusters (1984)

In New York City, at the prestigious Columbia University, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is conducting research on ESP.  Not a scientific study, per se, since, as the dean of the university points out (and it's true, unfortunately, for Peter), he is performing a "dodge", milking the university with a bogus study.

Meanwhile his buddies Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are investigating paranormal occurrences throughout the city. As paranormal experts, the three are called into to investigate a sighting in the NYC Library.

This encounter is somewhat a disaster, but coupled with the loss of their jobs at the university, they are inspired to open up their own agency to deal with ghosts.  Setting up business in an old abandoned firehouse, with a secretary, Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), and with an ambulance decked out with Christmas tree lighting, they go into business as "Ghostbusters".

They do a phenomenal business, so much so that they have to acquire a fourth person, Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson).  They also acquire a woman as a client, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who has some really bizarre stuff in her refrigerator (and I don't mean sugar-free, non-dairy yogurt).

But all this attracts the attention of the government, in the person of Walter Peck (William Atherton), a jerk of a representative for the EPA.

Peck, using his authority, orders the containment system, or prison, if you will, that the Ghostbusters are using to house the ghosts they capture, shut down.  This makes all the ghosts flee like madmen and causes untold devastation on the city of New York.    The Ghostbusters are brought in for an audience with the mayor (played by David Marguiles) to combat this problem.

But its even bigger than the mayor thought.  The Ghostbusters have discovered that Dana's apartment was built with the express purpose of bringing an ancient evil spirit into the real world.  After Dana, and her dweeb neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) hook up (through  the efforts of evil forces, not because the dweeb is a sexual dynamo), the pair turn into guardian dogs.

They help prepare the way for Gozer the Gozerian, the ultimate evil spirit. The Ghostbusters must defeat this spirit top save their beloved NYC.

But that's easier said than done.  Don't miss out on the climatic battle between the quartet and the ultimate monster.

This movie is a riot, but if you want to watch with the kids, be forewarned there are some potentially traumatic scary scenes in it.  But then it is about "ghosts".  If you were expecting guys in sheets, you are in the wrong theater.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

Several years after the boys had saved NYC from the destruction of Gozer, They are in dire straits.  Political pressure has forced them to disband the "Ghostbusters" business.  Ray is now the owner of an occult books and paraphernalia shop.

Egon is doing scientific research.

And Peter is the host of a bogus TV show called "World of the Psychic"

There is no indication what Winston has been doing.  Maybe he had to go back on the unemployment line.

Once again, there is something weird going on in NYC.  (Yeah, like there is ever anytime when something weird is NOT going on in NYC...)  In this case, there is some really funky pink slime oozing throughout the underground, and is making its way to the surface.  And once again, it seems the evil forces are out to get Dana Barrett.  Or, more to the point, her little baby.

The boy is the result of a failed marriage Dana had with an unnamed husband.  Prior to that marriage however, she apparently hooked up with Venkman in the interim after the events of the invasion and defeat of Gozer.  But Peter was not the ideal mate and they broke up.  Now Dana works part time in a museum where she helps restore paintings, watched over by a sleazeball director, Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) who has the hots for Dana, even though she continually gives him the brushoff.

Janosz's main concern besides Dana is the restoration of a gigantic portrait of a 16th century Carpathian tyrant named Vigo.  This guy looks like the most formidable foe, as badass a portrait as any that Vlad Dracul ever posed for.

Guess what?  Somehow the spirit of Vigo is living in the painting, and he needs a child to come back into the world.  Seems like someone had a child of the right age...oh, yeah, Dana does...  So Vigo sends Janosz out, with some fancy magical help, to get Dana's baby.

Meanwhile the boys investigate this pink slime, which involves them going down into the older subway systems of NYC, getting arrested by the police, and put in an insane asylum by a sleazeball flunky of the governor.  The Ghostbusters have determined that the pink slime is a result of all the violence and aggression in NYC.  Its some psychic sludge that enhances the emotions of those with which it comes in contact.

 But it also can be used to magnify happy emotions, and this is what the boys use to defeat the evil spirit of Vigo.  And you'll never guess how the boys inspire NYC to be good-natured and happy in unison so as to invest in their plan to defeat Vigo...

As with the previous film, there are some rather scary parts, but I have to admit, with the exception of Vigo, most are pretty tame.  There is even a neat scene where the Titanic finally makes it to NYC and we see a long line of its ghostly passengers disembarking.

Summer blockbusters like these don't come along every year.  Its hard to find the right blend of comedy and horror where you don't scare away the comedy fans and you don't disappoint the horror fans. Notwithstanding that there is very little blood, and no one actually dies (except the villains, but they were already dead to begin with, so no loss), it is a great pair of horror flicks.  And you can't go wrong when you get Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd together in the same movie if you like comedy.

Time to fire up the old Plymouth for the ride home.  Just hope the spirits are asleep when I get home.  They are a pain in the ass when they are up all night.


Friday, June 23, 2017

"Reely" Infatuated with Penelope

This is my entry in the Reel Infatuation Blogathon hosted by Font and Frock and Silver Screenings.

I decided to take a different tack from my usual output of movie reviews for this blogathon.  Mainly because, as I intimated to Maedez on her original Reel Infatuation Blogathon post, I find it extremely hard to separate the character from the actor or actress playing the character.  So in essence I would have been tempted to focus on the actress in the film, rather than focusing on the character she portrayed.  So it is a bit easier to keep with the theme by choosing a literary character, one whom, although I saw a TV miniseries of "The Odyssey" in the late 90's, it has been so long that I had even forgotten who played the character.  (It was Greta Scacchi, but I had to look that up or I would not have remembered...)

The Odyssey by Homer

A bit of background for those of you who have not read (or don't remember reading) either The Iliad or The Odyssey.  In The Iliad, which basically only covers events towards the end of the Trojan War, we are told of the heroic efforts of a handful of heroes and their epic battles.  In the process, although it is not actually a part of the plot, we are informed why the Greeks and the Trojans went to war.  (Paris, a prince of Troy, kidnapped Helen, the wife of Menelaus).  The movie Troy from 2004 covers a lot of the story (although the movie did take more than a few privileges wit the story).

Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, was one of the heroes of the Trojan War, and it is his story (and that of his wife, Penelope) that encompasses The Odyssey.  While the rest of the heroes from the Greek army made it home, Odysseus is condemned to wander aimlessly, hampered by his crew and by various demons and demigods from reaching his home in Ithaca.

On the home front, being that, at the start of the story, it has been many years since the rest of Odysseus'  comrades-in-arms have made it to their own homes, Penelope, who is still a beauty in her own right, is being pressured by everyone to declare Odysseus dead and move on.  You should know in this day and age and at this place in time a woman was not the liberated being she is today.  Penelope could not really be Queen of Ithaca without having a King at her side.

Sure, there are many stories of Queens who ruled in history, some even in the same remote part of ancient history, but these were mostly barbarian tribes.  Cultured and educated societies still prospered under a male-dominated ideal of a man was King, and the Queen only ruled by his side.

Penelope has a steadfast love for Odysseus.  (It was not, in other words, a marriage of convenience or an arranged marriage, something that was, and still is not so uncommon in royal marriages).  Penelope remained loyal to Odysseus and delayed any action to declare him dead for many years.  Finally, because the greedy suitors who clamored for Odysseus' wealth (and his beautiful wife) would not give up, Penelope stated that she would marry one of them and declare Odysseus to have been taken by the gods.

But she had one final trick up her sleeve.  She said that this was all contingent on the completion of a burial shroud for her beloved husband.  She would only marry after this ritual was complete.  So for days and months on end she worked at weaving a burial shroud.  But at night, while everyone was asleep, she would spend time undoing the weave, prolonging the completion of the weaving job.  This had the effect of making the ritual last for several years.  Not coincidentally, enough time for Odysseus to reappear on the horizon.

Penelope is an inspiration for all woman who want to stay faithful despite the trials poured on them.  To always believe that things will turn out right in the end.  (And, since I am a man, I find it a great thing she stayed faithful to her husband.  Love conquers all.)

The story of Penelope inspired the name I gave my cat.  Although I call her "Pennie" for short, her full name is Ms. Penelope Weaver.  She got that name because, I live alone, but whenever I finally do get home from work, she is always waiting by he door to greet me.

Hope you enjoyed this brief departure from the movie theme.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

A Ladd and His Gun

I've been promising a fellow blogger,  Rachel (Hamlette), for months that I was going to get around to doing this double feature, but I kept putting it off, due to time and commitments to various blogathons.  She is a big Alan Ladd fan, and, I might add, a fellow enthusiast for film noir, of which both of these movies are under that double umbrella. I, too, am a big fan of film noir.  Personally, however, I can take or leave Alan Ladd.  I've seen a number of movies he was in, and he is a great actor, but as I've stated before, with the exception of John Wayne, I don't actively seek out movies just because a certain actor or actress is in it.  (Of course, the opposite is not true... I have also stated elsewhere that I dislike Kevin Costner and Tom Cruise, and it would take an extraordinary movie indeed for me to sit through one with either of those two guys...)  But Alan Ladd is not one of those, so I will watch movies in which he is the star without complaint.

Alan Ladd was on the scene for many years before he got his big start as a headliner.  And this was news to me because I thought, pretty much, based on the impression that I got, that he just popped up out of nowhere to be cast as the star of This Gun for Hire.  He had actually been a veteran as an extra on some 40 features and shorts since 1932.  But the noir classic WAS his first starring role, and he never had to look back.

A bit of history about Ladd; he was born in Arkansas.  After his father died, his mother remarried, and eventually the three ended up in California, where Ladd was "discovered" while performing in a high school production of The Mikado.  He was signed to a Hollywood contract, but was eventually let go.  Not because his acting was sub-par, however; he was dismissed because he was "too short".  He was only 5½' or so (height measurements vary) and leading men just weren't shorter than their leading ladies in those days.

After various "working stiff" jobs, Ladd found work in radio, where his voice was the only factor, and his height didn't matter.  His voice impressed an agent named Sue Carol who signed him and began promoting him, both for radio and film.  He got several walk on roles over the next few years, but his height was still a hindrance.  Then Paramount called.  They were looking for the right person to play the role of a hitman in a production of Graham Greene's novel, A Gun for Sale, which eventually was titled This Gun for Hire.  And not only was Ladd an excellent choice for the role, the added bonus was that Veronica Lake, the woman who would be the the leading lady, was shorter than Ladd.

He never had to look back.  His acting brought him the roles that exhibited his great acting, and on more than one occasion, studios even took to filming him on ramps and with special filming styles that de-emphasized his height.  After a very brief career in the Army (he was initially classified as 4-F, but did serve for most of 1943 before he was discharged due to medical reasons), Ladd returned to Hollywood where he worked for another 20 years, until his death by accidental overdose in 1964.

As stated before, the initial role that kicked off his career was as the hitman "Raven" in This Gun for Hire.  It was followed by The Glass Key, both of which featured Veronica Lake as his leading lady.

(An interesting side note: Among the actors who were considered for the role of "Raven" in This Gun for Hire was DeForest Kelley.  Yes, the same actor who became more famous for playing Dr. Leonard McCoy on Star Trek.  As he had played mostly villains in the films he made prior to Star Trek, doing the job fairly well, I might add, it's not inconceivable that he could have pulled off the role.  Check out Warlock for a great example.  Kelley's career was put on hold just after losing out to Ladd because he was drafted into service for WWII, and would not be a film star until after the war was over.)

This Gun for Hire (1942)

This film starts out in San Francisco, with a bang.  Raven (Alan Ladd) shows us what we are in for when he slaps around the house maid, Annie (Pamela Blake), for swatting a stray cat that Raven has been feeding.  See, we are supposed to find the character at least a wee bit sympathetic because he likes cats.  (We later learn that he likes cats because he thinks they bring him good luck.)

Raven goes to do the job for which he was hired, that of killing a blackmailer by the name of Albert Baker ( Frank Ferguson).  (A side note:  If you have ever seen the Steve Martin classic film noir parody Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, you've seen the scenes where Alan Ladd appears and shoots his man, with Martin subbing for Ferguson in the scene).

Raven then goes to meet the man who hired him, Willard Gates (Laird Creagar).  Gates is a wimp, and somewhat of a weasel,  with an affinity for peppermints.  He pays off Raven, but unbeknownst to Raven, Gates has another agenda on his mind, that of getting rid of Raven as a confidante in his scheme, and he pays off Raven in bills that have been reported as part of a stolen payroll.

Raven is tripped up in this regard when he uses one of the stolen bills to buy a dress to replace the one he ripped when he slapped around Annie.  Enter Michael Crane (Robert Preston), a police detective on the trail of the stolen money.  He shows up at the boarding house looking for Raven, but Raven escapes through a bit of subterfuge.  Preston is the most annoying beau to ever come down the pike, if you ask me.  He's a little too exuberant, which was OK when he played such roles as "Toddy" Todd in Victor/Victoria, but grated on my nerves in a film noir characterization.

Raven, having discovered he has been duped by Gates, goes on the trail looking for him, and boards a train.  On the same train is Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake), a nightclub singer who has recently been hired to sing in Gates' nightclub in LA.  By coincidence, she has also been induced to spy on Gates for the government, because Gates is suspected of dealing with enemy agents, it being wartime that this movie takes place.  They don't actually come down and name the enemy, but hints are it is the Japanese, which makes it even more treasonous in the eyes of the viewer at the time of this movie, since it had only been ½ a year or so since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Also, by coincidence, Ellen and Michael, the policeman, are romantically involved.  (Any more coincidences, and I may not be able to restrain myself...)  She is sworn to secrecy by her government contact, and is not to tell anyone, including Michael about her secret mission.  On the train, by coincidence (uh oh..), she and Raven are seated next to each other.  Also, by coincidence, Gates just happens to pass through the car where they are and sees them together.  (OK, just how much of this coincidence crap am I supposed to take?)

Gates telegraphs the police to meet the train, but Raven, with Ellen as his hostage, manages to escape the dragnet.  A scene where Raven and Ellen are in a deserted building and Raven is about kill Ellen really shocks the senses, since up to that point we have been gradually, if somewhat reluctantly, dragged into a feeling of sympathy for the killer.  Fortunately for us, and the rest of the movie, Raven is interrupted by some workmen who are preparing to demolish the building.

Raven continues on his quest, while Ellen goes to her new job at Gates' nightclub.  Gates' suspicions of Ellen increase and he invites her to his home for dinner, ostensibly to get to know her, but really to get to the bottom of what her connection is to Raven.  In that regard, he and his valet incapacitate Ellen and plan to kill her by dropping her in the river with weights on her ankles.  But Raven shows up and rescues her.  (This teeter-tottering of Raven's display as , alternately, a sympathetic soul and an unrepentant killer keeps the viewer on edge.  Just when we start to think that Raven deserves what his fate must be, we are dragged into a feeling of hope that he might escape, because, after all, he's not such a bad guy after all, is he..?)

Raven and Ellen end up hiding out in a factory, but they are surrounded by the police.  Michael, whose feelings for Ellen have been complicated by the fact that she seems to be in cahoots with Raven, leads the charge.  In the factory Ellen and Raven have an intimate moment, of sorts, where Ellen convinces Raven to give up his killing, to which Raven promises, but only after he has finished his goal.  Ellen gets him to help her in getting down to the truth of the traitorous dealings that Gates has been doing, however.  The traitorous

Needless to say, it all works out in the end, although maybe not entirely the way we as the viewers may hope at this point.  This is a really good movie, all the way up until the end.  I can't understand, though, why a movie that involves all this subterfuge and killing ends, with the screen credits rolling, with a perky, happy almost screwball comedy type of music.  It definitely seems like an odd choice.   But that is the only downside to what is a terrific movie.

The Glass Key (1942)

Ladd is cast here as Ed Beaumont, a second-in-command to gangster Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy) .  Donlevy is the most unlikely looking gangster in the history of film, if you ask me, but be that as it may.  Madvig is involved in trying to help a reform candidate, Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen) to win the position of governor of the state, notwithstanding that Henry wants to shut down illegal operations of gangsters like himself, and his counterpart Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia).

Varna is among those who have a stake in seeing that Henry does not win.  And there is, of course, some animosity between Varna and Madvig, not just for the political reasons but because they are competitors in business.

Madvig has a less than friendly encounter with Henry's daughter, Janet (Veronica Lake).  She slaps him.  Rather than be offended, Madvig proclaims he loves her and intends to marry her.  (Must be a masochist, to boot).  To complicate matters even further, Henry's son, Taylor (Richard Denning), is a gambler who owes big time money to Varna.

And Opal (Bonita Granville), Madvig's sister, is carrying on a relationship with Taylor.  A relationship that Madvig has  attempted to discourage, but Opal is a girl with a mind of her own.  But that is not going to be a problem for too much longer, because Taylor ends up murdered.  And his body is found, first, by Ed.

Which becomes a thorn in Ed's side, because someone is out to make an issue of that fact.  A note starts popping up which states "If Paul Madvig didn't kill Taylor Henry, how did his best friend happen to find the body?"  And everyone, it seems, suspects Madvig of having done it, including Ed.  But Ed is still a loyal confidante and is determined to help Madvig through it, even though Madvig won't own up to the murder, or for that matter profess his innocence.

But eventually, or so it seems, Ed gets fed up and quits his relationship with Madvig.  And goes straight to Varna.  Varna, for his part, is eager to have Madvig's right hand man in his camp, but apparentyly Ed is not so eager.  Varna sicks his dog, Jeff (William Bendix) on Ed.  Calling Jeff a "dog" is not meant to imply that Jeff (or Bendix) is ugly.  It is meant to say that Jeff is as vicious as any pitbull stories you may have ever heard.  In fact it is probably derogatory to pitbulls to call him a "dog"... Jeff beats the crap out of Ed.  And seems to enjoy every minute of it.

Fortunately for Ed, he manages to escape during one of Jeff's breaks from kicking his ass.  Meanwhile Varna has apparently bribed a guy into claiming he witnessed Madvig kill Taylor.  But this witness is gunned down, and Madvig ends up on the hook for his murder.  Ed has to get down to the bottom of what all these loose threads tie up to reveal, which he does, and you'll be relieved to know it wasn't Ed, all along who committed the murder.  (I half expected they would throw that monkey wrench into the fray, which is why I mention it...)

The Glass Key has it's downsides, not the least of which, as I stated, is the casting of Brian Donlevy as the most un-gangster-like gangster to ever be portrayed (on a film I've seen, at least.  I don't include any overt comedies in that judgement, just gangster and film noir movies).  The absolute best part of the movie, for me, is when Bonita Granville smiles with that twinkle in her eye.  Makes me wish I had a time machine...  If I had to pick only one of these two, I'd opt for The Glass Key just to see her.

Well, time to pack the gat away and shuffle on home.  Enjoy the movies.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cold (Space) Warrior

This is my entry for the Christopher Plummer Blogathon hosted by

It had to happen sooner or later.  In 1989, the big news was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the complete and utter chaos that followed after the Communist Russian government collapsed.  The Klingons of the Star Trek Universe had, for most of their first twenty years of existence, been a stand-in for the Russians.  Thus when the Communist Russian government fell, the Klingon government had to follow suit.

Several parallels to the current events at the time can be seen.  In 1986 a nuclear accident happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.  A similar disaster happens on the Klingon moon Praxis.  The Klingons in particular have to stand down from their aggressive military stance because their planet is dying as a result of their disaster.  Soviet Russia, too, had difficulties which made their own lifestyle as a nation collapse.

As I stated previously in my review of StarTrek II: The Wrath of Khan, my favorite Star Trek villain is Ricardo Montalban's portrayal of Khan Noonien Singh, but a close second is Christopher Plummer's portrayal of the renegade Klingon General Chang.  The fact that both of these movies were directed by Nicholas Meyer has a lot to do with it.  I personally feel that Meyer was able to draw out the story line much better than any of the other directors who attempted it.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

At the beginning, Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), a former helmsman for the USS Enterprise and now the commander of his own vessel, the USS Excelsior, is on manuevers when they are hit by unexpected shock waves.  The shock waves resulted from an explosion on the Klingon moon, Praxis, the site of a key energy production facility for the Klingons.

The Klingons initiate a procedure to bring peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire (because the Klingons can no longer apply the aggressive pressure they had previously exhibited... sounds familiar, doesn't it?)  The Klingons send an ambassador to Earth for negotiations, Gorkon (David Warner).  He is to be escorted by the Enterprise, which Kirk resents because as he says he has never forgiven them for the death of his son.

A note from your blogger:  In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, a crew of Klingons led by the villainous Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) had engineered an attack on the Enterprise and its crew.  I won't go into more detail; that's for another post, but it must be pointed out that Kirk is not the ideal liberal paragon of virtue that Roddenberry envisioned in this movie.  And I totally agree with this idea. After all, Kirk exhibits a xeno-racism by blaming all Klingons for the actions of one, or a group if you accept that all of Kruge's crew were complicit in his actions.  Roddenberry himself made himself a PITA about the fact that his liberal idealistic future had been compromised by some of the xeno-racist things some of the characters say in this film.  In fact he had made a petition to the powers that be to stop the release of the movie, but died a few days later, so his petitions were not followed.

Gorkon and a few guests, including Gorkon's military guard, Chang (Christopher Plummer) come aboard the Enterprise for a dinner, after which the crew of the Enterprise express some remarks about the way the Klingons composed themselves at the dinner.  So obviously Kirk is not alone in his feelings towards the Klingons.

That night (there is night in space?), the Klingon ship is fired upon, ostensibly by the Enterprise, and the ship is damaged and many Klingons either hurt or killed.  The Enterprise crew is flabbergasted because they did not fire upon the Klingon ship.  Kirk and McCoy beam aboard to render what help they can, but McCoy, being unacquainted with Klingon biology, is unable to help and Gorkon dies.

Kirk and McCoy are arrested for the crime of murder by Chang and taken to the Klingon homeworld to stand trial.  They are defended eloquently by an unnamed Klingon defense attorney (played by Michael Dorn, and a theory runs through the Star Trek fanbase that he may have been Worf's grandfather, although he is not identified by name in the movie).  But the two are convicted and sent to the Klingon equivalent of Siberia.

Meanwhile, on the enterprise, Spock and crew try to find out what really happened in the attack on the Klingon ship.  To help aid in this they have to ignore or pretend to have communications problems when Starfleet tries to order them back to Starbase.  It takes a while but it is soon revealed that there  is at least a couple of traitors on board the Enterprise.  And they were working in conjunction with Chang, who as it turns out, is the ultimate cold warrior, kind of like General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove.  Chang just could not face a future with no enemies (in this case Starfleet), and engineered the assassination of his own Klingon ambassador so as to restart the conflict.

While Plummer does not evince the mania or pure menace of Khan from the earlier Star Trek movie, he still manages to leave a mark on the viewing audience. And I absolutely love every time a Shakespearean, or other literary quote is used in the movie (of which there are several.  See how many you can identify).  One of the best lines in the movie is when one of the Klingons says you can't appreciate Shakespeare "until you've read him in the original Klingon"...:-D

Plummer has the neatest look of any Klingon ecer portrayed on film, too.  That's him in the banner at the head of this entry.  Who wouldn't want to go hang out at the bar with a cat who looks that menacing?  You could keep all the riff-raff away with just his look.

I haven't seen a whole hell of a lot of Plummer movies, mostly as the star or one of the stars of a few war movies.  (The Night of the Generals, Battle of Britain, Aces High, Waterloo).  I always enjoy him when he makes an appearance on screen though.  He is one of those few men that I think I could fall for if I had been born a woman, even in his older age.

Hope you enjoyed the tribute this time, kiddies.  Time to fire up the nacelles and head home.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part VI)

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  with which I am peppering these entries.                                                                                                                                                                                                  -Quiggy

Note: As stated last month, I skipped over The Man with the Golden Gun so I could pair the two movies featuring the Richard Kiel character "Jaws".  I revert back to the chronological order with this month's entry. (sort of)

***I have to begin this review on a sad note:  On May 23 Sir Roger Moore passed away.  Roger Moore will always be my favorite James Bond.  Both this and next month's posts are dedicated to his memory.***

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #2

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song:  #6

Best Bond Quote:  (I'm cheating here. The scriptwriters gave M such a classic retort it HAD to take precedence.  After Bond comments "Who would pay a million dollars to have Me killed?")
M:  "Jealous husbands...outraged chefs...humiliated tailors.  The list is endless." 

Best Bond Villain Quote:  (after Bond and two young girls have defeated the best of Hai Fat's students at his karate school)
Scaramanga:  "What do they teach at that academy?  Ballet dancing?."

Best Weapon:  OK.  I was promised by 2015 I'd have flying cars (see Back to the Future).  If Bond villains are hoarding them, I say we mount an attack.  The flying car in this movie gets my vote.  Even if it did have to have airplane wings attached to accomplish it.

The pre-credit sequence for this installment does not involve Bond himself.  It sets up the character of Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and his valet/henchman Nick-Nack (Herve Villechaize).  It looks like Nick Nack has hired a Mafia hit man to take out his boss, but instead, it turns out, he is just providing entertainment for him.  (If you can call being in a gun battle with a hit man "entertainment":...)  A wax dummy of Bond does make an appearance after the battle, and Scaramanga shoots it's fingers off...ouch.

The credits sequence features the song, sung by Lulu.  Alice Cooper had also recorded his own song that he intended to submit for consideration, but his entry was one day too late, as Lulu's song had already been accepted.  It was a different song altogether.  If you'd like to see how the credits would have rolled with Cooper's entry, I provide this video..

Someone sends a golden bullet, engraved with "007", to MI6, implying that Scaramanga's next assassination is to be Bond himself.  Bond is called in and taken off assignment  (he's trying to find the Macguffin-like object called the "Solex Agitator"), and told to take some time off.  But Bond realizes that his real "assignment" is to locate Scaramanga and resolve the issue.

With the help of a female agent, a ditzy blonde named Goodnight (Britt Ekland), Bond goes looking for Scaramanga.  His first goal is to locate the person who is Scaramanga's connection to the golden bullets, which leads him to a weapons manufacturer named Lazar (Marne Maitland).  This leads him to Scaramanga's lady, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), the one who picks up the bullets for him.  (BTW, Maud Adams is one of the few actors and actresses that appeared twice as different characters in a Bond film.  She shows up as the title character in Octopussy).

Through Anders Bond traces Scaramanga to a nightclub where the inventor of the Solex Agitator appears.  The inventor is killed by Scaramanga and in the ensuing confusion, the Solex Agitator is stolen from his body.  Bond proceeds to pose as Scaramanga himself and goes to the residence of the man who may have hired Scaramanga.  Unfortunately for Bond, the man knows he is not really Scaramanga, and Bond has to escape an entire dojo of karate students.  But he does get some help from two unlikely teenage girls.

Ultimately Bond ends up on Scaramanga's island fortress, helped along because our ditzy Goodnight had the misfortune of being kidnapped by Nick Nack and Scaramanga.  Of course, Scaramanga has the Solex which Bond has been looking for all this time, but despite the altruistic potential of the device, you just know our villain has other plans for it's use.  And this is part of what makes this movie my #2 favorite Bond film (that and the presence of Lee as one of the best Bond villains).

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie:  #24

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #5

Best Bond Quote:  "I hope he was dining alone." (after a shark swims by)

Best Bond Villain Quote:  OK.  this is cheating, I admit, but look at my ranking of the movie... The best Bond villain quote comes from Loque  who manages to get through the movie without saying one damn word.

Best Weapon:  I can't really give any praise to the weaponry (Bond's only weapon is his gun).  I gotta hand this one to Melina's car, a Citroen, which must have been made by Timex, because it took a licking and kept on ticking.

I preface this by restating that Roger Moore was my favorite Bond.  But this entry was the worst, but not entirely due to anything that Moore did.  It's just a pretty shoddy script.  It appears to have several short stories cobbled together to make one movie.  Which is not entirely unprecedented.  The book that Ian Fleming wrote bearing the title For Your Eyes Only was a collection of short stories.

The movie opens with Bond visiting the grave of his wife (he had married in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and she had died at the end of that film).  A helicopter arrives to take Bond back to headquarters, but it is commandeered remotely by a villain who, although not named, is given a lot of clues that it might be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE.  "Blofeld" tries vainly to kill Bond, Bond wins the day and drops "Blofeld" down a smokestack.

The opening credits feature Sheena Easton singing the title song.  It also features, for the first time, the actual face of the singer singing the song.  I credit this to the fact that the movie was made around the same time as the premiere of MTV, and it was probably supposed to be functional as a video for the station.  (yes, kiddies, at one time MTV actually DID play music videos...surprised?)

The death of Bernard Lee early in 1981 prevented him for reprising his role as M.  The production on the movie had already started at this point, but Lee's scenes had not yet been filmed.  Instead of replacing him (which they would do in the following Bond movie), they chose to just say, within the movie, that he was "on leave".  Instead, filling the responsibilities in M's absence are the Minister of Defense and the MI6 Chief of Staff.

Bond has been called in on assignment because a British spy ship has sunk.  (It was an accident, not through any subversive sabotage.  It seems it caught an old sea mine in its netting and the mine did what mines were supposed to do.)  But on board was a special computer called Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC), which becomes the MacGuffin of the movie.  The British want to retrieve it and the Russians want it for themselves.

The British have employed the services of a marine archaeologist to find the machine, but he and his wife are gunned down, in view of the doctor's daughter, Melina (Charlotte Bouquet).  Bond is sent to the area to find out who killed the doctor and his wife, but his efforts are frustrated when Melina shows up and kills the man Bond was supposed to be investigating.  Needless to say, Bond's superiors are extremely displeased.

Using help from Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and an identifying computer, Bond determines that a suspicious character he observed at the gunman's place is a man named Locque (Michael Gothard).  This leads him on the trail to Italy.  There he meets his contact, Ferrara (John Moreno), who in turn introduces him to Ari Kristatos, a Greek business man.  Kristatos tells Bond that Locque  is in the employ of Milos Colombo (Topol).

Bond also meets Kristatos' ice skating protege, Bibi Dahl {...really...?} played by real ice-skating champion Lynn-Holly Johnson.  Bibi becomes immediately smitten by Bond, and does something for which Bond is extremely unprepared.  She tries to get HIM to go to bed with HER.  Bibi shows up occasionally over the course of the film, but disappointing to prurient interests, she fails to get Bond in the sack.

In the course of his investigations, Bond comes to realize  couple of things.  First, Kristatos is not the ally he seems to be, and second Colombo is not the enemy he seems to be.  Both are involved in illicit trade and both were former partners.  Each would like to get the other out of the way.  It turns out that Kristatos is a true businessman as he intends to get the ATAC (remember the ATAC from the beginning of this movie?) and sell it to the Russians in the person of our old friend General Gogol (Walter Gotell).  Bond's new found ally in Colombo and his men try a valiant siege on Kristatos fortress to see to it that the trade goes wrong.

Part of the reason that this movie gets ranked as the worst on my list is that by 1981, we had come to expect a Bond with a rather quick wit, and there seems to be little of it here.  Of course, some of my fellow Bond enthusiasts rank the Roger Moore Bond's as the least of their favorites precisely because that dry wit annoys them.  But its exactly the same reason why I rank them high.

The martinis are waiting, so it's time to head home.  Drive safely, folks.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

D-Day in Memorium

Today marks the 73rd Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion which signaled the beginning of the end of WWII.

I was a history major when I attended college.  I found my most abiding interest in military history, especially in the major conflicts in what became known as World War II.  WWII was a direct result of the devastation, both economic and political, that resulted from the impositions made on the defeated countries of Germany and it's allies after what was then called "The Great War".  Without these harsh restrictions it is questionable whether the rise of Adolph Hitler would have been necessary, much less likely.

Be that as it may, Hitler did come to power, and the result was a conflict that involved almost every nation on the face of the Earth embroiled in a conflict that extended from September of 1939 until the surrender of Japan as the final combatant in August of 1945.  The war was fought on three fronts, the Japanese being the Eastern Axis power and Germany, along with Italy, fighting on the Western front.

The beginning of the end for Germany began with the invasion of the Normandy coast in France, then a part of Germany's conquests, on June 6, 1944.  Today marks the 73rd anniversary of that event.  Cornelius Ryan wrote the phenomenal book that inspired this movie (also titled The Longest Day) and it was immediately scarfed up by Darryl F. Zanuck who had dreams of making the big book into an even bigger movie.

In an effort to do that, not just one, not just two, but three directors had a hand in the movie.  Ken Annakin directed the British and French scenes, Andrew Marton directed the scenes invoplving the American soldiers, and Bernhard Wicki directed the scenes from the German point of view.  To add verisimilitude to the film, those scenes with either French or German characters were filmed with the characters actually speaking French or German.  (Not to worry, the movie provides subtitles so you can follow along...)

The film was helped along by many of the actual participants in the invasion and, on the side of the Germans, in the defense, as advisers to make sure the historical aspects were true to the actual events. Because of this, the action of the evens and the actions of the actors participating are more or less true to the real story. (In other words, you don't get a dramatic death scene of one of the main characters just because the director or the actor wanted one.  True, some of the headliner actors do die, but not any of the ones who portray real people who didn't actually die in the D-Day landing.)

The Longest Day (1962)

John Wayne, Robert Mitchum and a cast of thousands came together in the early sixties to create one of the most intriguing historical epics to ever come out of Hollywood.  The movie runs almost like a documentary.  Interchanging between the Allied front as the Allies prepare for the invasion of the Axis powers hold in France, and, on the other side, as the Axis powers prepare their defense against an invasion they are sure is imminent.

The movie is filmed almost documentary style.  Standout performances are too numerous to mention, but there are some that are memorable.  In the tradition of previous entries to this blog for ensemble cast movies, I have chosen to address specific characters instead of doing an encapsulation of the movie.  (For greater clarity, you should watch the movie, and even read the book. It's fascinating and imminently readable even for people who find history boring).

John Wayne as Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort

Wayne has always been a favorite of mine, despite the fact that many of his characters are pretty much played the same way.  This one is not much different, even though he is cast as a real person.  Vandervoort was one of the instrumental characters in the landing.  The real Vandervoort survived the war and passed away in 1990 (at the age of 73), making him the longest lived American survivor of the main real participants that were portrayed in this filming.  Wayne does a pretty decent job of it.  I wonder how Vandervoort reacted to Wayne playing him.  However, my feeling is that the best performance by an actor playing one of the real participants was...

Robert Mitchum as Brigadier General Norman Cota

Mitchum plays a cigar chewing gung-ho soldierr, willing to do whatever it takes to make the landing successful.  Cota himself also survived long past the invasion, passing away in 1971 (he was 78).  I probably would rank Mitchum as my second favorite actor, behind Wayne.  The expanse and scope of this movie being what it is, Mitchum is on screen for far less time than I would like, but every time he does get the screen time, he dominates it.  There are other actors who play real characters.  One of them who stands out is...

Red Buttons as Private John Steele

The scene where Steele, as a parachutist, gets hung up in a church steeple and watches in horror as the rest of his comrades get slaughtered by the Germans during a parachute drop is a true event.  Buttons actually had a conversation with Steele prior to his playing the role.  On my DVD commentary he talks about how terrifying it was for Steele.  Steele lived through the was and died in 1969 (at age 56).  The city in France where this occured now has a tavern, the Auberge John Steele, named in his honor.  Buttons is one of the standout characters in the film.   But we can't leave out some of the "fictional" characters, especially...

Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell as Flying Officer David Campbell and Private Morris, respectively.

Burton and McDowell were in the middle of filming Cleopatra at the time, but if you know some of the history of that filming, it will come as no surprise that the two showed up on the set of The Longest Day, just itching to be productive, because the other film was bogged down in its own production.  Burton in particular, is memorable because he delivers the penultimate line in the movie:  "It's funny.  He's dead, I'm crippled, you're lost.  I wonder if it's always like that.  I mean war.  I wonder who won..."  This line is spoken to another of my favorite "fictional" characters...

Richard Beymer as Private Schultz

Beymer is well known to many as Tony in West Side Story, or from Twin Peaks (if you were into that).  Beymer excels as a happy-go-lucky character who seems lost in the actual fighting.  In the scene with Burton, Schultz claims he has not even had to fire his gun, but he still seems shell shocked by what he has witnessed.  But we can't forget there were some standout performances by the actors playing Germans, either.  One of my favorites is...

Heinz Reincke as Oberstleutnant Josef Priller

How Reincke did not receive a credit in the casting list at the end of this movie is a mystery to me.  I think Reincke's preformance as Priller is the most memorable.  Priller, by the way, was also a real combatant on the German side. passing away in 1961.  He is honored in Augsburg with a street named after him.  Two future James Bond villains also appear as chacters on the Germn side...

Curt Jurgens  and  Gert Frobe  as General Gunther Blumentritt and Unteroffizier "Kaffekanne"

Frobe's only scenes involve him as a fat officer deliver coffee to soldiers on the beach in Normandy, thus his character's name "Kaffekanne" ("coffee pot").  On the other hand, Jurgens plays the real Blumentritt, one of the officers frustrated by the lack of sufficient forces to combat the invasion which had been expected, but due to poor communications was not adequately addressed in its efforts.

This is only a smattering of the participants in the movie.  In honor of the D-Day invasion, which was the beginning of the end of World War II, I present this piece.  I hope you get a chance to take time out today to honor those who fought, and especially those who sacrificed their lives to ensure the freedom we have today.