Sunday, August 27, 2017

Madness Comes from Above

This is my entry in the Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema

The scene is Grauman's Chinese Theater.  It is the 1945 Academy Awards presentation.  Leo McCarey, et. al. are running away with the statuettes, nearly sweeping every category for which the film was nominated.  (Much to the dismay of Billy Wilder, whose Double Indemnity was an "also-ran" in many of the same categories).

Fortunately for Ingrid Bergman and her fellow candidates for Best Actress, there was no competition the running from that mega-winner.  The competition was still fierce, however.  Included in the running, besides Bergman for her role in Gaslight,  were Barbara Stanwyck, whose virtuoso performance of Phyllis Dietrichson in the aforementioned Double Indemnity virtually defined the film noir  role of  femme  fatale.  Others included Claudette Colbert, Greer Garson and Bette Davis.

Bergman had been nominated once before, at that point, for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls, but lost out to Jennifer Jones. When the dust cleared in 1945, it was Bergman who came out on top. It was Jones who presented Bergman with her Oscar. The remarkable thing is, although she had many roles under her belt in her native Sweden, she only had about ½ dozen or so English speaking roles by this time, one of which was her famous role in Casablanca.

In fact, after she made her first English language film, Intermezzo, she fully expected to return home, because she could not speak English, and thought she would not be accepted by the American people.  Not only was she accepted, she eventually took her place in the rankings of most popular actresses of the day.  And she is still popular even today.  A list by lists her only behind Bette Davis and Barbara Streisand as the most popular actress of all time.  .

Gaslight (1944)

It is the late 19th century.  A woman, Alice Alquist, has been murdered.  She was a famous stage actress, and efforts to find her killer, or for that matter, the reason for the murder, have been largely fruitless.  Alice has only one heir, a niece, Paula (played by Terry Moore in the opening segment).  Paula is sent to Italy where it is hoped that a tutelage with a music teacher, and time away from the scene of the tragedy will help Paula get over the event.

Several years later, Paula (now played by Ingrid Bergman) is studying to be a singer.  But her teacher, Maestro Guardi (Emil Rameau), sees that her mind is not on her studies.  He drags the truth out of her, she is in love, and it is distracting her from her studies.  He encourages her to go be with her man, asking her to bring him round to meet her teacher someday.  Paula meets Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), the man she loves, and a whirlwind romance begins.  It comes to its fruition when the two are married.

Paula and Gregory return to Paula's home in London which she inherited from her aunt, but has been vacant these past few years.  Life begins idyllically at the onset, with Gregory hiring a couple of house servants, Elizabeth (Barbara Everest) and Nancy (Angela Lansbury)

Side note:  Believe it or not this was Lansbury's first role and OMG, she almost steals the scenes in which she appears.  She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her efforts.  And after having watched this, as well as The Manchurian Candidate and the previously reviewed Please Murder Me, I think she must be one of the most underrated actresses of all time, since she played good-natured and pleasant women so well, too... (see Bedknobs and Broomsticks or the TV series Murder, She Wrote)

At any rate, Gregory begins a systematic and evil campaign to convince his wife she is losing her mind.  He accuses her of losing, misplacing or outright stealing many items in the house.  And he also feigns innocence when she mentions the lights dimming in the house.  (It being before electricity, all lights were gas operated, and we are led to believe (although I can't vouch for its truth) that when a light is lit in some other room in the house, the flow of gas is diminished to all, so the lights in her room dim as a result.  The reason why the lights dim is because Gregory is upstairs in the supposedly sealed off attic.

What Gregory is doing is he is trying to get her out of the way so he can look for the jewels her aunt had hidden, unimpeded.  See, it was really him who had murdered her aunt, but he was  interrupted before he could retrieve the jewels for which he had killed her.  I should note here that it seems to me that Boyer is playing against type in this role.  I admit to have never seen Boyer in any film, but I listen to a lot of old radio shows, and he was always projected as a dashing romantic lead who makes  women swoon.  Rather like when Brad Pitt played Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys, it was not a character for which it was expected of the charismatic actor.  And yes, Boyer was nominated for an Oscar for this portrayal, but was a victim of the Going My Way curse mentioned above.  (Do you get the idea I'm not a big fan of the Bing Crosby flick?)

Joseph Cotten appears in this movie as Brian Cameron,  a police official who was an admirer of Paula's aunt, and even initially thinks Paula is Alice.  It is he who is suspicious enough of the situation that he begins to investigate the long-since closed case of the murder and discovers what Gregory is really doing.

Despite Gregory's attempts to shield his wife from the outside world,  he gets in touch with Paula and uncovers the truth, both as to what Gregory's plans are as well as who he really is.  Stay tuned until the end to see how Paula reacts to the truth and the denouement when she confronts Gregory.  It is this scene that makes her Oscar so right.

Well folks, time to dim the lights and close the drive-in.  Drive home safely.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Learning to Command

This is my second entry in the Van Johnson Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese navy, under orders from the Japanese government, bombed the American naval base in Hawaii, commonly referred to as Pearl Harbor.  As a result of fears of Japanese-Americans who might be sympathetic to the Japanese side, many Japanese-American were interned in what were essentially POW camps. (Side note: When I visited Washington DC in 1988, the Smithsonian had a fascinating display where you could see what life was like for these internees.)

The order to intern these people, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stipulated that military commanders could exclude access to areas that were deemed of national security.  Only those citizens on the American mainland were interned.  In Hawaii, it was deemed logistically impossible due to the large numbers of those of Japanese descent, and the devastating effect it would have on the work force in Hawaii if such restrictions were implemented.  Instead, martial law was established.

But one of the after effects of the order was that many soldiers already serving in the military who were of Japanese descent were discharged.  Many of these Japanese-Americans were, as opposed to the government's suspicions, loyal to their adopted homeland.  And many young men wanted to be considered as potential soldiers to fight for the American side.  Initially they were only allowed to serve as a sort of "home guard".  Eventually, however, the 442nd Regiment was formed to allow these soldiers to be included in the fighting front of the war effort.

The 442nd fought in the European theater.  They were forbidden to fight in the Pacific Theater.  There was still some remaining fears among the brass and the government of their loyalty, I guess.  On the other side of the coin, no such restrictions were made on those of German and Italian descent to fight in Europe.  The unit saw its first action in the war in 1944, and the legend began.  By the way, the title of this movie comes from the motto of the 442nd, which was "Go for broke!"

Go for Broke! (1951)

Van Johnson plays Lt. Michael Grayson, who appears newly commissioned to his post at () to receive his first assignment.  He is extremely disappointed by the sight of Asian-America soldiers training on the barracks, but his disappointment is increased ten-fold when he discovers that his assignment is to train a squadron of Asian-American enlistees for service in the war effort.

Grayson is from Texas and a newly decorated lieutenant, and quite expected that he would be returned to his old regiment from Texas after finishing officer's school, so his disappointment is magnified.  He exhibits some prejudice towards his new regiment, but I think it's more a product of the time rather than a hatred of race.  After all, just a couple of years earlier the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and he, like most of his fellow Americans, still had some stinging memories of that betrayal.

In retrospect, we can see from a idealistic liberal standpoint how it is wrong to lump all Asians into a pile and treat them as the enemy, much in the same way that Americans did to Muslims in the weeks and months after some radical members of a Muslim based faith hijacked a few planes and did monstrous damage on US soil in 2001.

But at the time, it was not uncommon for such racial lumping of those of ethnic descent.  Grayson does not  particularly like his new circumstances, and he is rather hard on his new wards, but he treats them more or less fairly, if a bit harshly.

He is what is referred to as a "90-day wonder", a term used to describe new graduates of the officer training camp, a not always conciliatory pejorative.  That's because a great majority of newly commissioned officers had yet to get their feet wet, so to speak, and ended up initially alienating a lot of the non-commissioned officers and soldiers under them.

This is the case with Grayson.  He his hard on his new soldiers, taking a lot of his frustrations at his assignment on them.  The first 30 minutes of the movie deal with the soldiers and Grayson trying to adapt to each other, while Grayson continues to find a way to be transferred from this position to a more appealing one


But once the regiment ends up on European soil, and begins to engage in battle both sides develop some respect for each other, although Grayson's course seems to flow a bit faster in that regard.  In one pivotal scene in a bar off the front, Grayson meets up with a former comrade from his Texas unit.  The comrade comments how Grayson got stuck with a bunch of "Japs", a racial epithet used frequently during the war, referring to the enemy.  Grayson insists they are not "Japs", but that they are  "Japanese-Americans, or Nissei, or, as they like to call themselves, 'Buddha-heads'".  Grayson gets in a fistfight with the former comrade-in-arms over the racial epithet.  He has grown to respect his unit and their bravado.

There are lots of great battle scenes here if you like war movies, and yes, unfortunately some of the beloved members of the regiment do die.  It is war, after all.  But the transformation of the characters from mistrust to respect make this a great drama piece as well.

Thus brings an end to this double duty feature weekend tribute to Van Johnson.  Drive home safely, kiddies.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Sing a Song of Villainy

This is my first entry in the Van Johnson Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood

Everybody, and I mean everybody, wants to jump on the bandwagon when its on its way up the hill.  And Batman was not an exception.  The show was hot in it's first season, and even through most of it's second season.  As such, with its potential for "guest villains", many of Hollywood's elite sought to be one of the premiere guest villains on the show.  Besides the recurrent quartet of The Joker (Caesar Romero), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (variously played by Julie Newmar, Lee Meriweather and Eartha Kitt), there were occasions when other Hollywood stars were able to play their own versions of Batman's storehouse of nemeses.

Among these were Vincent Price (as Egghead),  Maurice Evans (as The Puzzler), Michael Rennie (as The Sandman) and Joan Collins (as The Siren).  Van Johnson, a prolific actor from about 1940 until cancer laid him low in the early 90's, was a guest villain early in the second season, playing The Minstrel, a charismatic and virtuoso singing talent who used his electronic genius to play havoc with the Dynamic Duo.  Johnson died just a few years ago, but he left behind a legacy of his own.  I am particularly fond of his appearances in some of my favorite WWII movies such as Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and Battleground.

Batman:  Episodes "The Minstrel's Shakedown" and "Barbecued Batman?"

There is something fishy going on at the Gotham Stock Exchange.  Some members are flat busted while others become multi-zillionaires due to the freaky way the stocks are being sold.  But wait, is it really stocks being bought and sold at unprecidented levels?  No, actually it is super-villain-of-the-week, The Minstrel (Van Johnson), a musical genius and an electronics wizard, who has manipulated the stock quotes.  And he has plans to make the most out of it.

Batman and Robin are called in to investigate, and they find that The Minstrel has been planting microchips in the computer system that allows him to manipulate the system.  Of course, Batman being the resourceful character that he is, he plans to catch The Minstrel retrieving his chip.  But he is thwarted, first by a washer woman (Phyllis Diller), who may  or may not be in The Minstrel's employ. (Note:  I don't know for sure whether she is or not, but its highly suspicious that she is whistling the minstrel's tune...)

Then The Minstrel himself shows up and through electronic wizardry stuns Batman and Robin and makes his escape.

The Dynamic Duo manage to create a Bat Drone that will locate from where The Minstrel's television signal is coming.  And, as usual they end up at a warehouse, and as usual they decide to use the Batarang and Bat rope to climb up the side of the building , and, as usual (again), they are captured and put to an elaborate death sequence, this time roasting over an electronic radar grill.

Side note:  Just out of curiosity why don't these lame-brained villains do what I would do first if I captured Batman and Robin?  That is, unmask them to reveal who they really are...  Anyway we tune in "tomorrow" same Bat-time same Bat-channel as our narrator exhorts, to find that our heroes find a way to escape, as they always do.

The Minstrel and his henchman manage to make their escape, but leave behind The Mimstrel's main squeeze, Amanda (Leslie Perkins) to delay them.  She expects to be arrested, however,  Batman lets her go, but unbeknownst to her, has planted a bug in her purse.

When The Minstrel finds the bug, he informs Batman that he plans to use his electronic genius to bring the stock exchange bulding down via vibrations attuned to the frequency of the stones in the building, much akin to the way a singer can hit a high note and shatter glass.  Bat man and Robin go to the building, and the building does indeed shake, despite and attempt by the duo to shut off the power in the building that The Minstrel needs to accomplish his task.  The climatic battle at the end results in, as expected, The Minstrel's capture, but The Minstrel delivers a warning as he is taken away that a jailbreak is imminent and he will return to do in the Dynamic Duo.  (Which may have happened, eventually, but the character never returned during the series' run.)

The Minstrel is a bit of a dilettante.  He remains on the sidelines and watches his cohorts try to take out Batman because he "abhors violence".  Personally, I think it's just because he is a wimp.  Hey, even Catwoman gets her knocks in once in a while.  Is The Minstrel the most ridiculous concept of a villain ever to face the Dynamic Duo in the series?  I wouldn't go so far as to say that.  (I think that honor would probably go to "Shame", a parody of western outlaws, played by Cliff Robertson. )

Van Johnson is charismatic as usual in this episode.  And he can sing pretty good.  The Minstrel was a villain created specifically for the TV series and was not in the original Batman comics.

Well, folks, that wraps up today's entry.  Tune in tomorrow, same Van Johnson time, same Van Johnson channel for a review of one of his dramatic roles in Go For Broke!.


Friday, August 18, 2017

A Week in Hell...Err, School

This is my entry in the Workplace in Film blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini.

I graduated high school in 1980.  I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wasn't ready to go off into the sunset and find a real job.  So I caromed around the local junior college, taking courses that interested me.  Still no real plan, my choices of subjects were pretty haphazard.

Then in 1984 I went to see a movie called Teachers.  Although the comedy/drama did not always present teachers and their job in an enticing light, it still inspired me to buckle down and I proceeded to start taking courses to achieve a degree that would let me teach.  (My focus was on history, which is why you see a few historical films reviewed on my blog.  I love history.)

The ensemble cast of  teachers and students in Teachers makes for a very entertaining movie, but one that is hardly conducive to the kind of review I usually do.  I have chosen, therefore, instead to do a quick overview of the most predominant individual characters in the movie.  The running plot, besides a daily week in the life of an urban school, is that the school is being sued by a former student who graduated from the school but can't read or write.

Teachers (1984)

In no certain order, just as I decided to cover them, here are some of the major characters in the movie):

Alex Jurel (Nick Nolte):

Jurel is an idealist, and a left over from the 60's.  He believes in the kids and wants to make sure they get prepared for the real world.  He is also a threat to the system because the powers that be fear he will testify in the deposition on the court case telling the truth and exposing the system for being as faulty as it really is.  Most of his students look up to him and really respect him.  One in particular, Diane (see below), comes to him specifically in time of dire need.

Roger Rubell (Judd Hirsch):

Along with Jurel, Rubell was an idealistic teacher.  But somewhere along the line he became a realist, siding with the system, more or less to keep his status within it secure.  He is the "voice of reason", trying to convince Jurel to play ball and not buck the system.  All Rubell really wants is things to go back to normal (i.e. the dismissal of the court case; the teachers to keep doing whatever it takes to keep the status quo; etc.)

JoBeth Williams (Lisa Hammond):

Hammond was a former student at JFK, and is now an attorney on the court case representing the plaintiff.  She admits she had a "crush" on Jurel when she went there, but she is also an idealist in her own right, wanting what's the right thing to be done (changing the status quo and the system at the school).  As such, the romantic aspect of the movie becomes a bit tight as she thinks that Jurel ewill ultimately side with the system and try to prevent the case from succeeding.

Ralph Macchio (Eddie Pilikian) & Crispin Glover (Danny Reese):

Eddie and Danny are buddies, malcontents and just plain troublemakers, although Eddie, for his part has a good heart.  Danny, on the other hand, is a bit disturbed (something Glover has played well over the years).  Both Danny and Eddie create trouble within the school, but Eddie is viewed, by Jurel at least, to be salvageable, and gets transferred to Jurel's class to try to get him to be all that he really can be.  Danny's case doesn't work out so well.  He is intimidated by almost everything, and ultimately pays the toll in a very heart-wrenching scene.

Laura Dern (Diane Warren):

Warren is a student in Jurel's class.  More or less she is just there, but her case becomes significant in Jurel's life when it is revealed hat she is pregnant, having had a liaison with Mr. Troy (Art Metrano), a gym teacher.  Jurel helps her out by taking her to get an abortion at her insistence, and that later plays into Jurel's position in the system.

Allen Garfield  (Carl Rosenberg):

Rosenberg is a tormented soul.  He doesn't get the respect he thinks he deserves from his students, nor does he really want to play ball with the system.  He has some of the same idealistic tendencies as Jurel, but these are mostly for self-preservation rather than a real idealistic goal of changing the status quo.

Royal Dano  (Kenneth "Ditto" Stiles):

"Ditto", as he is known, is called "Ditto" because he hogs the copy machine (called a ditto machine, if you remember those things).  He has won awards for the most complacent class, which you have to see to really get the joke.  "Ditto" gives out tests in class and dozes behind a newspaper while the class does the tests.  He really annoys fellow teachers and the school psychologist when he does this.

Richard Mulligan  (Herbert Gower):

This is the character that really inspired me, which becomes funny when you know who he really is.  Gower is an outpatient from a mental institution who is inadvertently hired because the school thinks he is someone else, a Stuart Van Ark, a substitute teacher for a history class.  The reason why he inspired me is because he dresses up as Abraham Lincoln and General George Custer, and seems to be really inspiring to his students to being interested in history.

The school bell has sounded so that's the end of today's lesson.  Be sure to do your homework and come back to school Monday, because there will be a quiz.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Little Girl Goes Solo

This is my entry in the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old days of Hollywood

Drew Barrymore probably wasn't Stephen King's favorite, but she did appear in two adaptations of his work early in her career.  Springboarding from her role as "Gertie" in E.T., she immediately landed the role of () in Firestarter, and subsequently, the next year, as the main protagonist in Cat's Eye.

A side note:  I always thought my first experience with Stephen King was when I was introduced to Night Shift in high school.  However, I recently remembered something I had quite forgotten.  My family used to visit the rest of my father's family in Houston twice a year.  We stayed at an uncle and aunt's house during these stays.  At Thanksgiving in 1976 I discovered a stash of Penthouse magazines under my uncle's bed.  In the July 1976 issue there was a story I read, "The Ledge" by Stephen King.  At the time the name meant nothing to me, I just read the story because I liked to read.

Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore's first starring role after her appearance in ET was as Charlie McGee in Firestarter.  Charlie is the offspring of two young 60's students who were part of a secret government project to try to foster psychic abilities.  I'm not quite sure what the mother (played by Heather Locklear in flashbacks) ended up with, since she is dead by the time of the present in the movie.  But Andy, the father, played by David Keith, ended up with an ability to influence people's actions.

Charlie herself is a prodigy, and you don't want to make her angry, you wouldn't like her when she's angry...(sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it?)  Charlie has an innate ability to start fires with just her mind.  And the beginning of the movie only shows a small inkling of what she is capable.  In the beginning, Andy and Charlie are on the run from the secret government organization, called "the Shop". (Probably a subversive version of the offspring of the CIA and the NSA, if you ask me).

Andy uses his own abilities to get out of a few jams (and why does he have to put his hands to his head to make the power work?  Is he afraid his head will explode if he doesn't?  Maybe that's why his nose bleeds every time he does it...)

 Eventually Andy and Charlie meet up with a kind hearted elderly couple who help them out (Art Carney and Louise Fletcher).  They get to see fully of what Charlie's talent is, as government agents show up at their farm to take Andy and Charlie hostage.

But Charlie "saves the day" by making all their cars go up in flames. (and yet another oddity, which King himself has also pointed out, why does her hair need to flutter when she engages her power?)

Meanwhile, back at the HQ of "the Shop", director Captain Hollister (Martin Sheen, who just may be playing the same ruthless character he played in The Dead Zone... it sure seems like it), and John Rainbird (George C. Scott as an Indian...?) make plans to try to capture the pair.  To that extent, Rainbird goes to the cabin where Andy and Charlie think they are safe and uses tranquilizer darts to subdue them.

The second half of the movie involves the Shop trying to get Charlie to show just how powerful she is, while Andy tries to figure out a way to get him and Charlie away from the evil organization. Rainbird does his part to help the Shop by pretending to be a friendly orderly to get on Charlie's good side.  And she does fall for the ruse, by taking his advice and helping out the Shop, with the idea that if she does she will; get to see her daddy again.

Working together the two do manage to get to a helicopter barn where Andy has the idea that he has controlled the agents and escape is imminent.  But the fly in the ointment is Rainbird, who has been planning all along to take the both out of the picture.  Once again, no one learns the basic lesson, it's not wise to get on Charlie's bad side.

Stephen King used to say this was the worst movie version of one of his stories ever.  (I guess he said that before Lawnmower Man, but then that's just my opinion).  I have to admit a lot of talent was wasted on this film, nobody seems to be able to break free from the confines of the script, which was better in the novel, but here comes off as just plain ridiculous.  Fortunately all of the people involved were able to redeem themselves in a future movie or two.

Cat's Eye (1985)

Like the first Creepshow before it, Cat's Eye was not a fluid feature length movie.  Instead it was a compilation of three short stories by King, two previously published in his book Night Shift ("Quitters, Inc." and "The Ledge"), and a third original piece called "The General".  And like the aforementioned Creepshow, the only connecting sequence was a sort of guide through the series.  This time it was represented by a cat, and instead of being just a "guide", the cat interacted in the stories, although it was only a star of the movie in the third sequence.

Barrymore only really appears in the first and last sequences for any reasonable period of time.  But she is a presence in the first two as a ghostly figure that only the cat can see, encouraging him to come and save her.  (This event is the focus of the last story).  In the opening sequence she also appears as the mildly retarded daughter of the main protagonist.  In the meantime, in the prologue, in Wilmington, NC, the cat is chased by a dog, and it escapes by way of a truck.

(An interesting side note: According to the director's commentary on my DVD, there was supposed to be an entire sequence that had the cat trying to save another little girl in Wilmington from the troll that appears in the third story of the actual film.  The mother thinks the cat is responsible for her daughter's death, as opposed to the troll, and goes after it with a machine gun.  The sequence was deemed too over the top and was deleted, so we only see the basic motivation for the cat through the first two encounters in the two previous stories.)

In the first scenario, based on "Quitter's Inc.", the cat is captured by a flunky for the company and taken to a caged room.  James Woods plays Dick Morrison, a habitual chain smoker who takes the advice of a friend to go to a company to help him stop smoking.  (Some "friend", as will become apparent.)  Morrison meets Donatti (Alan King) who introduces him to the company's radical aversion therapy process.

"Quitter's Inc", it seems was founded by a chain smoking capo di tutti capi (that's Mafia boss for those of you slow on the uptake...).  The process is to make the smoker an offer he can't refuse.  (I'm not being flippant, this whole segment seems to have been played for laughs, if you watch it).  Morrison is shown a hidden room where the floor is wired for shock.  The cat is stuck in the room and gets to do a little dance for Morrison's viewing.  (I should note here that on the commentary the director says the hit was hit with little puffs of air to make it look like he was getting shocked and was not hurt at all.)

The first time Morrison lights up, he is told, his wife will be put in the room and he will be forced to watch.  The second time, his daughter will be taken and put in the room.  The third time, and two burly men will show up at his home and do something crude to his wife.  There will be no fourth time.  Of course, if there were no infraction by Morrison, this would be a rather short segment, but you will be pleased to know that Morrison's mildly retarded daughter escapes a second infraction.

Barrymore only briefly appears in this sequence in a scene where Morrison shows up at her school and gives her a doll.  But she also is the guiding force in which the cat is appealed to return to Wilmington to save her.  She also appears in a commercial on a TV in the second sequence, which finds the cat has made it as far as Atlantic City.

Here Kenneth McMillan plays Cressner, a rich egotistical bastard.  He makes a bet with his companion outside a casino as to whether the cat, which is on one side of a busy thoroughfare will be able to navigate across it to safety. (Why did the cat cross the road?  To get to the other side...where these dumbasses were calling it.)  Cressner's wife has been carrying on an affair with a tennis pro, Johnny Norris (Robert Hays).  Norris and Cressner's wife are in the process of making plans to fly from Cressner's empire, but Cressner kidnaps Norris and has him brought to his penthouse.  There Cressner tells him that he has planted a large chunk of heroin in Norris' car, and if norris doesn't play along with the plan, Cressner will call the cops.  It doesn't help matters that Norris has been in trouble with the law before and stands to go away for a loooooooooooooooong vacation if caught.

Cressner, an admitted gambler, makes Norris a deal.  If he, Norris can go outside the building and navigate the ledge just below the floor line, Cressner will destroy the heroin, give him a large chunk of dough, and let Norris have his wife.  The ledge, however, is only a few inches wide, and the penthouse, needless to say, is not on the ground floor.  And if you are a little leery of heights, be glad you didn't see this on a big screen.

After Norris manages to navigate the ledge, circumstances turn the wheels on Cressner, and Norris makes the same wager with him to do the trick.  Meanwhile, the cat has escaped and finally manages to make it back to Wilmington.  You don't actually find out the whole back story, but it seems that the cat and a troll that appears in the third sequence have been fighting and ongoing battle.

The troll appears at the home of Hugh (James Naughton) and Sally Ann (Candy Clark), and their young daughter Amanda (Barrymore).  Amanda is immediately taken by the cat and asks to keep him.  Her mother insists that he stay outside.  She appears to have some preconceived notions about cats which are proven right in her eyes.

Amanda wants the cat to stay in her room because a monster lives in the walls of her room and keeps coming out at night.  (in this case, its not her imagination, its the troll.)  The cat, whom Amanda has named "General", manages to find it's way into her room.  The troll kills Amanda's pet parrot to silence it (and guess who's going to be blamed...)  As opposed to the old wive's tale that cats are dangerous because they try to steal children's breath, it is the troll that is actually trying to achieve this endeavor.

The cat manages to fend off the troll, but is left as the supposedly guilty party in the aftermath.  Mom captures General and takes him to the shelter to be put to sleep.  But not to worry, the wily cat manages to escape.

An epic battle occurs in the finale between the troll and the cat, encouraged along by Amanda.  This troll, although reminiscent of Jim Henson's Muppets, is not a likeable fellow in any sense of the word.  Hang on to the end to see how the cat manages to save the day.

This one is a better movie, all around.  As I intimated above, everyone from Firestarter  got a chance to redeem themselves and Barrymore didn't have to wait long.

Enjoy the rest of your evening.  drive home safely, folks.