Saturday, July 22, 2017

Announcing The Texas Blogathon

The time has come for me to do another blogathon. Because I live in Texas, and Texas has been a state that time and again has been on the big screen, I proudly announce

The Texas Blogathon

People from Texas have the greatest pride in their state and I'm far from the least of them.  I was raised in Texas and, apart from a few vacations and two summer stints in D.C. have spent almost my entire life in Texas.  (It's a big state, and I live in the center of it so it takes a LONG time just to get out of it, for me...)

Hollywood has used Texas as a backdrop for hundreds, maybe even thousands of movies.  And not just westerns.  Plenty of movies with modern day settings take place in Texas. Texas is known for many things, some good (home of some of the most famous musicians in the world, including Willie Nelson, George Strait, ZZ Top, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin... the list is endless), some not so good (depending on your political perspective, but three presidents have hailed from Texas; four if you include Eisenhower, who was born in Texas, but raised elsewhere), and some bad (its the place where JFK was shot, among others).

For this blogathon, you only have only one real requirement.  The movie (or TV show, if you prefer) has to take place in Texas or have been filmed in Texas.  I am allowing that many low budget westerns were really filmed in the outskirts of Hollywood, and only "claim" to be taking place in Texas.  And I am also allowing films that were filmed in Texas that don't claim to be set in Texas, as long as they don't, alternatively, claim to be taking place somewhere else on the planet.  That last caveat means if you choose to review a sci-fi movie that takes place on another planet or in a fictional place on Earth, I will allow it, if it was principally filmed in Texas.  To clarify with an example; Logan's Run  takes place in some unnamed area of the U.S. but it was filmed in Dallas/Ft. Worth area, so it would qualify.

I would like a variety of movies, hence I will ask that you limit doubling up to a minimum.  There are LOTS of movies to choose from in the Texas film oeuvre, so there is really no need to have dozens of entries on, say, Rio Bravo.  So I ask that only two entries per movie be allowed.  (My personal entry on John Wayne and his Texas connection in movies doesn't count as one.  Therefore there are STILL two opportunities for any one, or more,  of Wayne's Texas output.)

I would also like to thank, profusely, Hamlette at Hamlette's Soliloquy for taking time out of her busy day to provide me with a few banners.  Check her blog page out and, also,  make her (and me) proud by posting one of these banners on your blog.

I would like to list a few movies that could be suggestions as possible entries, but you are definitely not limited to these:

A Perfect World
The Alamo (1960)
The Alamo (2004)
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Bloodsuckers from Outer Space
Dazed and Confused
Dallas (TV series)
El Dorado
Friday Night Lights (Film)
Friday Night Lights (TV Series)
Happy, Texas
Laredo (TV Series)
The Last Picture Show
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
No Country for Old Men
Paris, Texas
Places in the Heart
Red River
Rio Bravo
Rio Grande
Rio Lobo
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Urban Cowboy
Walker, Texas Ranger (TV Series)

The Roster:

The Midnite Drive-In:  John Wayne and Texas: An Overview

Angleman's Place: Giant (1956):

Coffee, Classics and Craziness:   Texas (1941):

Crítca Retrô:  Duel in the Sun (1946):

Hamlette's SoliloquyTexas Across the River (1966):

Hamlette's Soliloquy:  Ten Favorite Texas Movies

High Noon:  The Lawless Breed (1953):

It Came From the Man Cave!:  The Lone Ranger (2013):

Mildred's Fatburgers  The Last Picture Show (1971):

Moon in Gemini:  Days of Heaven (1978):

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies:  Two Guys from Texas (1948):

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society:  Texas, Heaven and Brooklyn (1948):

Realweegiemidget:  Dallas (TV Series):

Sometimes They Go to Eleven: Cohen & Tate (1989):

Thoughts All Sorts:  Home from the Hill (1960):

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Seedier Side of Infidelity

This is my entry in the Til Death Us Do Part Blogathon hosted by Cinemaven

Raymond Burr made a memorable career out of playing a famous lawyer, Perry Mason, on TV for years.  He must've have honed his chops in this movie.  Here he plays a lawyer who defends a woman he loves, a woman who just happens to be the wife of his best friend, a wife who is on trial because she is accused of murdering her husband.  Burr defends her because he believes her story. She shot her husband, but it was in self-defense because she thought he was going to kill her first.  (OK, so the lawyer is not entirely as goody-two-shoes as Mason.  After all, you would never believe Perry Mason would have an affair with a married woman... For that matter you probably wouldn't believe Jessica Fletcher, Angela Lansbury's most memorable character, would have an extra-marital affair either...)

Please Murder Me! (1956)

As stated above, Burr plays an attorney, Craig Carlson.  Reminiscent of Double Indemnity, Carlson goes to his office (after having purchased a gun, shown during the opening credits), and begins recording a note. The note he is recording is for DA Ray Willis (John Dehner).  He details his original relationship with one of his best friends and former war buddy, Joe Leeds (Dick Foran). He intimates to Willis that he expects to be murdered within the hour, and goes into detail about the background.  A few weeks before, Carlson had gone to Leeds and admitted to having an affair with Leeds' wife, Myra (Angela Lansbury).  He wanted Leeds to consent to a divorce, since Myra no longer loved Leeds and the two wanted to get married.

Leeds is reluctant, but asks for a few days to think about it.  A short time later, Leeds writes a letter, and gives it to his associate, Lou Kazarian (Robert Griffin), to be mailed, then leaves to talk to his wife.  We see Leeds walk in to his bedroom where Myra is waiting,  and with a wild look in his eyes, closes the door.  Moments later a shot rings out.

Myra claims that Leeds was going to kill her and she shot him in self-defense.  Carlson defends her against the accusation that she intentionally murdered her husband, led by D.A. Willis.

In an effort to persuade the jury that she is innocent, Carlson reveals that Myra and he were lovers, and that she had no reason to really murder her husband; that all she wanted was a divorce.

If this were all, the movie would just be a domestic drama, albeit with a death involved.  But after the trial, while celebrating her success at the trial with Carlson at a party, Kazarian shows up and apologizes for the delay in giving him the letter that Leeds wrote just before he died.

  In it Leeds admits that he finally had learned that Myra had never loved him and only married him for his money.  He also wrote that Myra was really in love with an artist, Carl Holt (Lamont Johnson).

Carlson realizes that Myra hoodwinked him, and that she did indeed murder her husband (although it should be as no surprise to anyone who knows this type of movie in the first place), and that she never really loved him, Carlson, either.  Carlson begins a systematic plan to drive Myra to the point where she will have to kill him, Carlson.  He tells her he plans to reveal her guilt to Holt (and the rest of the world).  The driving effort of Carlson to accomplish his plan to drive Myra to do what she has to do to prevent him from ruining her plans is the saving grace of the film.  Up until this point it was a cheapjack film noir, and it may still be, but Burr and Lansbury pull off a great battle of wills, and it is fun to watch Lansbury's face as she tries to second guess what Burr is doing.

I can only hope that if you find a copy of this film it is better than the quality of the one I got.  The sound is horrible on my copy (either that or I'm going deaf in my old age).  Or maybe there just isn't any interest in any interest in re-mastering what is probably a barely remembered knockoff.  Still I think it makes for a fairly interesting look into the second tier of the film noir world.

Enjoy the drive home folks.


Monday, July 10, 2017

In the Shadow of the Skull and Crossbones

This is my entry in the Swashathon (a Swashbuckler Blogathon) hosted by Movies Silently.

The pirate of fiction owes a great debt to Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure novel Treasure Island.  That book introduced such memorable tropes of the pirate legend as buried treasure and the charismatic but still cutthroat pirate.  (I honestly don't remember any scene of "walking the plank" in the book, but even that is legendary.)  I mention this because a true history of the pirate reveals that such things were either rare or non-existent in the real pirate world.

The legendary pirate story

According to David Cordingly in his very fascinating and readable history of the pirate, Under the Black Flag, pirates rarely buried their treasure.  In fact, according to his research, they dealt more in trading goods like fabrics and other goods rather than "booty".  They also didn't do such niceties like making a prisoner "walk the plank".  Instead they just chopped them to pieces and threw the bodies overboard.  They were, in contrast to most pirate films, not nice at all.

History of pirates

The film world has had a history of making pirates out to be heroes or at least anti-heroes.  The pirate of film is quite often someone you could be buddy-buddy with, despite his affinity for being on the wrong side of the law.

 And even that is not entirely true about the pirate of history.  Some pirates were actually on the "side of the law", so to speak.  The age of the pirate was also the age of great conflicts among nations, and some pirates of history were actually privateers, which is a nicer appellation, since privateers were pirates who had been given authority by the ruler of one country to attack enemy vessels.  Sort of like a renegade version of a Navy, in that respect.

When Hollywood came to call, however, the pirate was essentially transformed into a charismatic hero.  The pirate was often a misunderstood romantic hero who had a secret past that sent him into piracy.  Even somewhat ruthless pirates were not all that "ruthless".  Case in point, just about every portrayal of Long John Silver in film shows him to be even a likable character, despite his, and his comrades-in-arms', intentions.

Near as I can tell, the first portrayal of a pirate on film was The Pirate's Gold, a D.W. Griffith directed short film from 1908.  It starred, probably, nobody you've ever heard of, and the plot is fairly melodramatic, as was typical of dramas in the early years.  Three pirates come ashore with their booty and end up killing each other.  The last pirate manages to have a local woman hide the booty before he dies, but she is killed by lightning.  So the treasure is lost forever...or is it?

Treasure Island, of course, has been filmed countless times. The story, in case you didn't know, involves a young boy who comes into ownership of a map, that leads to the hidden treasure of Captain Flint.  Along with Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney, and a bunch of brigands, including Long John Silver who manage to pass themselves off as honest seamen, set course for the island where the treasure is buried.  Hollywood came to call first in 1912, with a very early version of the book.  It was only a short film (which probably means 15 minutes or so), and I think it may be a "lost" film.  I can't find much on it.  But, needless to say, Tinseltown would milk this story for all it was worth over the next 100+ years.  1920 even saw a version with a female, Shirley Mason, in the role of Jim Hawkins.

In 1934, what some believe may be the definitive version of the story was filmed., with Jackie Cooper as young Jim Hawkins and Wallace Beery as Long John.  I think Cooper is a bit over-exuberant in the film, and although Beery is good, I personally don't agree with that sentiment that it is "the best version".  My personal favorite is the one that came a few years later, in 1950.  This one starred Robert Newton as Long John, and I personally love the version he brings to the big screen.  It also starred Bobby Driscoll has Jim.

The Beery Long John with Coogan
Robert Newton's turn as Long John

Coming back to the same well, again and again, the story has been told in animated form with cartoon characters.  It has been done with the Muppets, Muppet Treasure Island,  (featuring a fantastically funny Tim Curry in the role of Long John).  And in places other than Hollywood, it has also been a popular source.  Soviet Russia and Japan both got into the mix.  The Russian version, in particular, is supposed to be rather faithful to the original story.

Tim Curry's Long John

But Treasure Island was not the only well from which Hollywood and the film industry drew inspiration.  Since the pirate was a adventurous hero in several novels, it stands to reason that those same heroes would make their way to the big screen, too.  Rafael Sabatini, an author of Italian descent, wrote two novels that eventually became fodder for films; The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood.  Both of these movies featured Errol Flynn in the title roles.  Flynn pretty much made the character of a dashing devil-may-care pirate a standard for much of the rest of pirate film history.  You can see elements of Flynn in Johnny Depp's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Flynn (again)

Another classic pirate crops up in the numerous versions down through the years of Peter Pan.   Pan is ostensibly the main character in these films, but on several occasions, the actor playing Captain Hook, the pirate nemesis of Pan, shines much brighter.  The story, written by J. M. Barrie, first appeared on stage, but it was Hollywood that really set the bar for Hook.   Peter Pan  was first filmed in 1924 as a silent movie, and again as a Disney animated film in 1953.

Peter Pan

Live action versions didn't really take off until 1991 when Robin Williams (as Pan) and Dustin Hoffman (as Hook) made its way to the big screen in Hook.  As it's title foreshadows, the real star of the movie is Hoffman as the ultimate pirate.  Hoffman really shines in what is otherwise a fairly shoddy production.

Hoffman and Williams

And speaking of animated pirates, besides the aforementioned cartoon version of Peter Pan (and a couple more attempts at animating said same), several more popular series did their turns in the pirate genre.  A popular Christian-themed cartoon series Veggie Tales, took its turn at the pirate theme, albeit to teach kids a Christian message.  There was also film with a futuristic tinge, Treasure Planet, a variation of the previously mentioned Treasure Island story, only in space.

Veggie Tales Pirates
Treasure Island in Space

A movie (actually three movies, but the most commonly remembered one is the 1960 version)  that was filmed from a classic children's story, Swiss Family Robinson, focused on a family who had direct dealings with some rather nefarious pirates.  The pirates in this film are not antiheroes in any sense of the word, but are devilish nemeses for the Robinson family, proving to be the alternative to many of the pirates portrayed in films discussed here.

Pirates of Swiss Family Robinson

Pirates have been the subject of musicals on film, too.  Sometimes really poor, such as The Pirate Movie, (which was loosely based on the classic Gilbert and Sullivan musical, The Pirates of Penzance) which starred Christopher Atkins and Kristy MacNichol.

MacNichol and Atkins

Speaking of the Gilbert and Sullivan musical, it has been filmed also, a fairly good version, too, with Linda Rondstat, Angela Lansbury, and a remarkably good (and unexpected, by me) singing performance by Kevin Kline.

Rondstadt and Kline

Not all pirates have been of a historical nature.  One of my favorite childhood movies was Blackbeard's Ghost, in which a modern day man, while futzing around with a spell book he find's in an old inn, raises the ghost of Blackbeard, played by Peter Ustinov.  This pirate was strictly for laughs, as was usual with the Disney movies of old.  He plays a drunken, inept character who constantly gets Dean Jones' character, Steve,  in trouble, emphasized by the fact that only Steve can see him.

Ustinov and Jones

And comedy plays a part in a few other entries in the pirate genre.  The comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meet a notorious pirate in the historical setting of the late 18th century in Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.  In this entry, the two play tavern workers who inadvertently come to loggerheads with the infamous captain, played by Charles Laughton,  when Costello switches a love letter he has with the captain's treasure map.

Abbott and Costello (and Laughton)

To be sure, there have been quite a number of missteps in the pirate tradition.  One of the worst is Cutthroat Island, in which Geena Davis is cast as the daughter of a famous pirate seeking out a fortune with a competitor in her uncle, played by Frank Langella.  Everything you've heard about this movie is true, but it's worth mentioning because it has a rather unique place to put a portion of a treasure map.

Geena Davis (with Matthew Modine)

Down through the years, pirates have been an inexhaustible well of inspiration.  In 2006, director Gore Verbinski and oddball actor Johnny Depp created probably the most well-known pirates in recent history with a film based on the Disney theme park ride Pirates of the Caribbean.  Depp's portrayal of Jack Sparrow brings full circle the pirate as he was first popularly portrayed in the 30's as a romantic yet morally flawed antihero.  The original, subtitled The Curse of the Black Pearl, has spawned four sequels, two of which continued the Verbinski/Depp pairing while the other two, although still including Depp. lacked Verbinski's vision as a director.

The "Depp"-finitive pirate?

This is only a smattering of the tales of pirates that Hollywood has produced thus far.  To be sure there are hundreds I have left out.  Nor will this be an end to the movie pirate.  At the time of this writing a film version of a novel published posthumously in 2009 by the great Michael Crichton, Pirate Latitudes, is in development.  And I feel certain within the next year or so another Pirates of the Caribbean will be forthcoming.  And someone is bound to try another hand at one or both of the classic box-office pirate draws of Peter Pan and/or Treasure Island.

Until then, happy sailing, kiddies.


Friday, July 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part VII)

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

***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 last month's posts are dedicated to his memory.***

By the time that it came around to filming Octopussy, Roger Moore was getting on up in years.  His contract to make Bond films had officially ended with Moonraker and he had agreed to stay on for one more film (For Your Eyes Only).  But he was not anxious to continue on in the role.  A few other actors had auditioned for the role, including a future Bond, Timothy Dalton and,  believe it or not, James Brolin. (Having an American actor in the role of the iconic British agent probably would have raised some hackles on purists, I bet.)

However, when word got out that Sean Connery had agreed to reprise his James Bond role (Never Say Never Again) for a competing non-official Bond film, it was thought that a new Bond competing against the classic Bond actor would have been somewhat catastrophic for the box office, so the producers redoubled their efforts to entice Moore to be Bond again.  And it turned out to be a good decision because Octopussy did better at the box office than the Sean Connery Bond entry.

What would end up being the final two appearances for Moore as Bond also had a bit of help from some fantastic actors to play the villains.  In Octopussy, we get two.  Louis Jourdan, was prominently known as a ladies' man in films (see Three Coins in a Fountain, Gigi and Can-Can), but he carries himself well here.  He is outdone however by Stephen Berkoff as a renegade war hawk Russian general, General Orlov.  Berkoff is memorable to some as the villain in Beverly Hills Cop and another role as the villain, another Russian general, in Rambo: First Blood Part II.  Fans of the mini-series War and Remembrance  will also recognize him as yet another evil villain...Adolph Hitler.  Obviously he was very good playing the villain role.  Even if he did have a tendency to overact on occasion.

Going on to the next film in the saga, we've got one of the best actors ever when playing unhinged characters, of which is a good description of any Bond villain, but Christopher Walken has done ithe "unhinged" aspect more times and better than just about anyone from his era.  (I leave it open to you to decide if he does "unhinged" better than, say, Cagney or Bogart, but I will pit him against any other actor in the same style of character in the modern era, even Nicholson).

Grace Jones, a singer and model, had some training as an actress, but for the most part she stuck to the other two careers.  She had an oddly intriguing look, somewhat vaguely androgynous in her appearance, and apparently quite athletic.  Her other major role that comes to mind is as the female warrior who accompanies Conan on his quest in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Conan the Destroyer.  

Octopussy (1983)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: # 11

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song:  # 17

Best Bond Quote:  (On being told that Octopussy's island is exclusively for women)  "Sexual discrimination?  I will definitely have to pay a visit."

Best Bond Villain Quote:  Kamal Khan: (being a master of the obvious; to Bond) "You have a nasty habit of surviving..."

Best Weapon:  Good god, there's so many...  But that yo-yo with the saw blades in place of the spinner is really cool.  Even if it is a villain weapon.

The opening has Bond, disguised (and not very convincingly by my eyes) as a Latin American colonel, trying to plant an explosive in a weapons depot.  He is caught by the person he is supposed to be impersonating and taken prisoner.  Of course he escapes, using a fold-out plane that was in a horse trailer.  And needless to say, manages to fulfill his mission of destroying the weapons cache in a different way.

The opening credits song, "All Time High",  was done by Rita Coolidge.  It was the second Bond theme song which did not have the title of the movie in the lyrics, not including Dr. No, of course, which didn't really have a theme song.  (Pretty hard to find a way to get "octopussy" in a song, I'd say).  The song cracked the top 40, making it to #36, thus making it a fairly popular hit.  These days, though, you almost never hear it.  But then the list of Bond themes you DO hear on the radio from days gone by are pretty rare indeed. Odd, considering many of them did become pop hits at the time.

Somewhere in East Germany a clown runs from a pair of twin knife throwers.  The clown (we find out later) is 009, a British Secret Service agent.  He is killed but manages to escape long enough to get on the other side of the border.  He has in his hand a Faberge' egg.  At MI6 HQ, we find out that the egg is fake.  Someone is dealing with counterfeit jewelry and Bond is sent to investigate.

His investigation leads him to Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), who is actually at an auction bidding on the real Faberge'.  Bond surreptitiously swaps it out with the fake one before Khan succeeds in winning the auction.  Later he uses the real Faberge' to hoodwink Khan in a rigged backgammon game.  Of course, Khan is not entirely pleased and sends his henchman, a huge India native named Gobinda (Kabir Bedi) to express his displeasure.

Magda (Kristina Wayborn), one of a member of an all-female band of miscreants, and a confidante of Khan seduces Bond (or vice versa), and gets away with the real egg, but Q and Bond have placed a miniature homing device in the egg and Bond actually intended for her to get away.  This leads him to a meeting between a renegade Russian general, Orlov (Stephen Berkoff) and Khan.  At some point it should be clear why there is a counterfeit/real conspiracy going on with artifacts, but other than it somehow has to do with financing Orlov's evil plan, it escapes me.

Bond meets our titular character (no pun intended), Octopussy (Maud Adams), the head of the all-female group.  She is initially a foe of Bond, but as we have seen before, Bond has a way of seducing women away from the dark side, and she eventually begins to help Bond foil the plot of Orlov and Khan.

What is the plot?.  Orlov plans to explode a nuclear device, using a travelling circus as a cover, in a US military base.  The complicated ruse, which prevents Russia from being implicated in the disaster, is that it will appear to be an accident, causing worldwide demand for nuclear disarmament.  "Worldwide" not including Orlov's Russia, thereby making it easier for the Soviets to conquer the rest of the Europe and eventually the world.  However, since Orlov is acting independently from Russian government approval of his actions, he has other, saner Soviet men trying to stop him too.

As usual, there is a nail-biting finale in which Bond races to try to prevent the villains from succeeding in their endeavor.  I particularly like Bond's struggle with the two knife throwers who killed 009 earlier in the movie.  Of course, Bond is successful, but watching him in his attempts to succeed is the whole point of a Bond movie, anyway.

A View to a Kill (1985)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #1

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song:  #2

Best Bond Quote: (referring to Stacey in a trucker's disguise)  "It's women's lib.  They're taking over the teamsters."

Best Bond Villain Quote:  (after dumping one of the men out of the zeppelin)  Zorin:  "Anyone else want to drop out?"

Best Weapon:  Not really much in this one.  I guess I'd have to vote for the gadget that lets Bond get an image of the check that Zorin gave to Stacey.

By 1985, Roger Moore was pushing 60, and his age shows in this outing, especially in the face.  I'm not entirely certain if Sir Roger had had any face-lifts at this point in his life, but he certainly looks too old.  Despite that fact, as seen above, I rate this one as my favorite Bond film, as much for Moore's performance as for the fact that one of my favorite actors, Christopher Walken, is the Bond villain.

The movie opens with the pre-credits sequence, in which Bond retrieves a microchip from the dead body of a fellow agent in the snowbound mountains.  Of course, the Russians want the chip too, and he is chased down the mountain on skis, while being pursued by his nemeses.  At one point he commandeers a ski sled, which eventually is disabled, but not before Bond can turn one of the skis into a surfboard.  Which results in him surfing down the mountain... accompanied by the most ridiculous but fun part of the movie...the Beach Boys singing "California Girls" over the scene.

Duran Duran did the title song.  It was the first Bond title song to reach #1 on the Billboard charts, probably due more to the fact that it was Duran Duran than whether it was a good song.  Be that as it may, it ranks as #2 on my list of favorite songs because its driving rhythm is more fitting to what I expect should be a Bond song.  Those movies that have sweet sultry openings don't always mesh with the action. (Maybe they do for the love scenes, but who watches a Bond movie for the love scenes...?)

Bond gets to MI6 HQ to find that the microchip is an exact duplicate of one that Zorin Industries has developed for the West.  There must be a saboteur, it is deduced, in the company.  But surely not Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), he is a staunch "anti-communist".  Bond goes to a horse race in which one of Zorin's horses is entered.  Zorin's horse, naturally, wins, but was it pure effort or was there something else?

Under the guise of an interested buyer, James St. John-Smythe, Bond attends a horse sale on Zorin's estate, with Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee), a fellow agent and former horse trainer posing as his chauffeur.   They discover (surprise surprise) that drugs were involved.  But while investigating this they also find an enormous stash of microchips in Zorin's warehouse.

On the other side of the doors to this warehouse, there is the Bond girl of the moment, Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts).  Zorin has written a check to her, which Bond discovers with his secret tool mentioned above.  He tries to connect with her, but his charm fizzles as she snubs him.  Which would have been devastating if he didn't have the panache to shrug it off.  (Of course, then again, maybe he read ahead in the script and knew he'd get her in the end...)

Zorin eventually discovers "Smythe" is really James Bond/007 and proceeds, as all villains do, to try to eliminate Bond.  After May Day (Grace Jones), his accomplice, kills Tibbett, the two knock out Bond and put him in the car with the now dead Tibbett and send it into a lake.  Thinking they have succeeded they go on about their nefarious plan.

So what is the nefarious plan?  This is one of the more interesting evil plans of the Bond films.  Zorin plans to send a bomb to blow up on the San Andreas Fault and start a chain reaction that would eventually destroy the entirety of "Silicon Valley", the place where the world's biggest microchip producers reside.  Thus, Zorin would become richer and his comrades in the plan (which include members of various countries), would benefit from the destruction of the American competition)

Ultimately, of course, Bond with some help from a surprising ally, foils the plan.  And there is a climatic battle between Zorin and Bond on top of the Golden Gate Bridge (which gave me the willies seeing on the big screen since I have a slight case of basiphobia. That's a fear of falling for those of you who aren't phobia experts...)

As mentioned earlier, Walken, more than anything else, makes this movie my favorite in the Bond oeuvre.  He has a knack for inspiring a loathing for the character he plays while still acquiring an admiration of the way he portrays them.

Well, folks, time to fire up the old Plymouth.  Have a martini and a face lift on me.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Road to Discovery

You know, certain movies stick with you, despite the fact that you only saw it once, and its been years since that.  I used to talk to anyone who would listen about a movie I saw on Showtime once back in 1982.  It was called The Stunt Man,  and despite fact that I had only seen it that one time, I talked about it for 30 years, and FINALLY found a DVD copy of the movie a couple of years ago.

Books and movies.  Books and movies.  About 1979 or 1980, I acquired a paperback copy of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.  A great book, but not the subject of this review.  In the back of the book was a list of books you could buy, that were somehow related enough that the publishers thought it might interest the reader of the book they currently were reading.  These weren't detailed synopses, just little blurbs designed to hook you.  There was one that attracted my attention; The Last Detail by Daryl Ponicsan.

It was a very entertaining look into human interaction as two crusty Navy seamen are given a detail to escort a fellow young seaman from the () Naval Base in Virginia to the Portsmouth Naval Prison in New Hampshire.  Along the way, the two older seamen develop a kind of a friendship and kinsmanship with the younger one, who is very naive and inexperienced in life.  It had been made into a movie in 1973 with Jack Nicholson, and had received kudos and nominations for the work by the various awards committees, including 3 Oscar nominations, but I didn't get a chance to see it until late one night in 1983.   I remembered a lot of details from the movie for years, but I only got a chance to see it again this week, after buying a DVD of it.

I have stated before that the competition was fairly stiff that year, especially for Best Actor.  And while I still think, as I stated in a review earlier, that Robert Redford should have won for his performance as Johnny Hooker in The Sting (as opposed to Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger), Nicholson's performance here was outstanding.  Randy Quaid, who was a newcomer on the scene with this movie, also was nominated as Best Supporting Actor, but lost to John Houseman in The Paper Chase.  The Last Detail ended up being a three time loser at the Oscars because Robert Towne, who also wrote among others Chinatown, was up for one for Best Adapted Screenplay.  That one actually went to The Exorcist...

An interesting note on the casting.  Jack Nicholson was, from the very beginning, going to be cast as Buddusky, of course.  There were some problems there, however, because Nicholson was filming another movie, and the studio pressured the production crew to cast someone else.  Burt Reynolds was one of the suggested ones.  But the producers insisted on waiting for Nicholson.  John Travolta could have been cast as the prisoner, but director Hal Ashby liked the idea of a large guy like Quaid being the milquetoast innocent character better. Also, initially, Rupert Crosse, an Oscar nominee for The Reivers (1969) was going to be cast as Mulhall, but he backed out after being diagnosed with cancer.  (Crosse died the next year, before the movie even reached the theaters.)

The movie version follows the book fairly well.  A few minor changes, probably due to time constraints more than anything else, occurred.  But there is one major difference between the book and the movie, and if you want to read the book, then you should skip to the next paragraph, but this spoiler alert only is about the book. Spoiler Alert!  At the end of the book, the character Nicholson plays gets in a fight after dropping off the kid and is killed, and the character Otis Young plays ends up in Naval prison himself.  But 40 years later Ponicsan wrote a sequel to his novel, Last Flag Flying, jumping off from the movie ending, not his book, because it takes place with Buddusky still alive. That book is scheduled to be release as a movie later this year, which is why I'm doing this movie now, in anticipation of the sequel.

The movie is notable for being one of the first movies released after the relaxing of rules governing language.  The movie is rated R, and it received that rating mostly because of the coarse language used throughout the movie. (The movie poster makes that a part of its draw by quoting the Nicholson character, expletives deleted...)  In its defense, it is a movie about military men, and the language is not egregious in any sense of the word, although some people might find it so.  Definitely not a movie for the prudish viewer, but if you can get past the language, there really isn't much to get uptight about in the film.

It had a few notable early appearances of actors and actresses aside from Randy Quaid.  Carole Kane, who many may remember as Latka Gravas' girlfriend/wife on Taxi, appears as a prostitute.  Gilda Radner (if I have to tell you who she is, you are way too young...) appears as a member of a Buddhist group.  Nancy Allen, notorious as one of the tormentors of Carrie in the Brian DePalma adaptation of Stephen King's novel, appears as an attendee of a party the three attend.  And Michael Moriarty, famous as Asst. D.A. Stone on Law and Order plays a military officer at the prison where the three are going.

The Last Detail (1973)

Petty Officer Billy "Badass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) is awaiting his new orders at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia when he is called in to see the Master-at-Arms.  So is Petty Officer "Mule" Mulhall.  They get the call and are assigned a detail as "chasers"  to escort a prisoner,

 Seaman Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to Portsmouth Naval Prison in Maine to serve a term in prison.  Meadows, it seems, tried to steal the polio contribution box at the commissary and was give 8 years and a DD (dishonorable discharge).

The pair have five days to deliver the prisoner. Now the immediate question you could ask is "Five days?  Why not just commandeer a car and drive up there?  It would only take two days even if you stopped over to rest..."  Well, if you did, you wouldn't have much of a movie...  And I'm not an expert on Navy protocol, especially protocol as it was 40+ years ago, so maybe this was standard procedure then.

Anyway, through use of Greyhound buses and trains, the three start out on their journey.  Through early events we gradually come to realize that poor Meadows is a victim of his own psyche; he is a kleptomaniac.  He didn't need the money he tried to steal, it was just a compulsion.  He steals candy and vegetables over the first 15 minutes in the movie and is exposed by the pair when they discover carrots secreted in the sleeves of his coat.

Buddusky gradually warms up to the kid, while Mulhall serves as a conscience of sorts, trying to keep them on the right track.  But Buddusky takes it into his heart to try to show the kid a good time on the trip, considering that Meadows is inexperienced in the seamier side of life (such as getting drunk, getting laid, etc.)  Buddusky first tries to buy the kid a beer in a bar, but since drinking age is 21, the bartender refuses to serve him.

So they buy a couple of six-packs and drink in an alley.  It is the middle of winter, so, after determining that they have missed their connection on the train, they get a hotel room and get even drunker.

The next day, they decide to take Meadows by to see his mother, but mom isn't home.  (Mom was home in the novel, and the scenes that could have been in the movie from here would have been interesting, but be that as it may).  They continue on their journey and stop over in the city that never sleeps.  (New York City, for those of you who never heard the term.)

Among other things the three get introduced into a Buddhist religion, which becomes relevant later.  Among the attendees to the discussion group (which is how I describe the event, whether that's what the Buddhists call it or not) is an early appearance by Gilda Radner as one of the Buddhists.

The three come away with some information, including a chant ("nam yoho rengay kyo" sp?).  While at a bar later, a girl, Donna, overhears Meadows chanting, and being a Buddhist herself, invites the three to a party.  Upon hearing that Buddusky and Mulhall are taking Meadows to prison, she tries to convince him to go to Canada.

It is apparent throughout the film that Meadows is an innoncent and naive individual, one who hasn't really experienced life at all, this despite the fact that he has been in the Navy and obviously gone through at least boot camp.  It's hard to imagine someone going through that and not coming away at least a little more experienced in life.  He is even still a virgin.  (Although he won't be by the time the movie ends.  But fear not, people, there is no overt pornographic scenes.  In fact the prostitute, played by Carol Kane, has her long hair covering the more "offensive" portions of her body when its let down.)

The penultimate scene, a picnic in the park, in the dead of winter, is one of the more revealing scenes in the movie.  While Buddusky and Mulhall discuss the fate of Meadows (who will be hardassed by Marines during his tenure at the prison, a fate Buddusky absolutely hates, even though he himself is not going to be experiencing it), Meadows himself sits a few feet away chanting like the dickens.  Without saying anything other than the chant, you can see a lot in the face of Meadows and it will be no surprise what he tries next.

The Last Detail is not a feel good movie, but it is an entertaining one.  Nicholson and Quaid both are worth the price of admission.

Have a safe drive home.