Friday, September 29, 2017

Come to Texas! The Texas Blogathon is here

The Texas Blogathon begins today.  If you haven't been paying attention, I am a Texan through and through, and I love my state.  Texas is the setting for many a movie, and Texas is also a producer of many icons of the cinema.  This blogathon was started to honor those movies and heroes.  Keep coming back all weekend to this post, as I will be updating this thread with all the entrants who have chosen movies to cover for this blogathon.  (Note to my fellow entrants: As always, be patient with me in getting your entries posted.  I am a working man, so the job must take precedence...)

The Illustrious Roll Call:

  My personal entry is a tribute to John Wayne, and the movies he made with Texas as its center.

Reaweegiemidget Reviews gushes about the TV series "Dallas"

Angelman's Place praises a true Texas classic, Giant.

It Came from the Man Cave looks at the box-office failure of The Lone Ranger.

Sometimes They Go to Eleven gives us a view from the darker side with Cohen and Tate

Coffee, Classics and Craziness  gives us some thoughts about Texas (1941)

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies tells about a Hope/Crosby-like duo in Two Guys from Texas

Hamlette's Soliloquy fills your weekend schedule up with ten movies about Texas

 Pure Entertainment Preservation Society covers a vast area with Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven

Crítca Retrô looks at an interesting family in Duel in the Sun

Moon in Gemini talks about a Terence Malick masterpiece Days of Heaven

Home from the Hill gets the Thoughts All Sorts treatment.

 Hamlette's Soliloquy adds another entry with Texas Across the River

Mildred's Fatburgers chimes in on The Last Picture Show 

John Wayne: The Texas Hero

This is my entry in The Texas Blogathon, hosted by yours truly.

John Wayne was not born in Texas.  He was born in Winterset, Iowa just to clarify, a place I would like to visit just to see his birthplace, but otherwise a nondescript burg in southern Iowa. (An interesting  side note: Winterset was also the birthplace of Henry A. Wallace, who was vice-president under Franklin D. Roosevelt for most of WWII.)

John Wayne was not raised in Texas.  He was actually raised in southern California, where his mother and father moved in about 1914.  John Wayne did not attend university classes in Texas.  He actually went to USC (gak!), where he was a football player on scholarship.  He later had to drop out after he was cut from the team.

John Wayne never lived in Texas, at least not on a permanent basis.  He resided there briefly during the making of the movies he filmed in Texas, but his permanent residence was still in California.  In point of fact, only two of the many movies he made that were set in Texas were actually filmed in Texas.  Most of them were filmed on back lots of studios in California.

So why does Texas revere John Wayne (or more to the point, why do I revere him)?  Because Wayne was the quintessential Texan in ethos and demeanor. He is the ideal of many, a force that stood his ground despite opposition in Hollywood.  In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas legislature officially declared Wayne an "honorary Texan" and designated May 26 of that year as "John Wayne Day". (By contrast, in 2016 a plan to name May 26 John Wayne Day was voted down in Democrat-dominated California)

The following represents an overview of some of the movies Wayne starred in that take place in the state of Texas (though not all, less this post become unmanageable in length...)

One cannot begin such an expansive overview without touching upon the epic tribute Wayne did for the history of The Alamo (1960)The Alamo was Wayne's dream project.  He spent years finagling with the studios and various inside personnel trying to get the movie financed. He famously even committed to making what is arguably his worst movie ever, The Conqueror, because he thought by doing so he could finagle some financial backing.  He eventually put up a large chunk of the financing from his own pocket to get the movie done.

Wayne is not a Texan in this movie.  He plays Davy Crockett who arrives with a band of Kentuckians to help defend the Alamo from the imminent attack by Generalissimo Santa Ana and his Mexican army.  The film is a rousing tribute to the ideas and values that the average Texan feels toward his or her state.  And, although the film is at times jingoistic, and does get a few things wrong (San Antonio is not "right here on the Rio Grande" as Sam Houston [Richard Boone] states early in the movie...the nearest point is about 150 miles away...)

The Alamo is probably the first Texas movie that comes to mind, when you think of John Wayne, but that's not the ONLY movie that has a Texas connection.  Wayne worked with Howard Hawks to film Rio Bravo (1959) and its subsequent remakes, El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970)In the first two Wayne plays a sober fellow who helps a notoriously drunk friend to defend a jail against an assault by a mob of bad guys trying to get a jailed friend out of the jail.  Wayne is typically the hero of these films, but shares that role with his newly sober friend, a gunslinger who sides with them and a crotchety old codger who fills the role of comic relief in some rather great scenes.

Although actually filmed in Arizona, John Ford's classic The Searchers (1956) involves Wayne, along with Jeffrey Hunter as a half-breed associate, searching for the kidnapped daughter of his best friend across parts of West Texas.  This one is the one that most people consider one of the best westerns ever made, and John Wayne's best performance.  To some Wayne enthusiasts, like myself, Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, is hard to like because he is a hard-bitten cynic who has no love at all for the Native American. You might say he's "racist", and I would not disagree completely, but I'm pretty sure his racism only extends to the "Indian" and not to all non-white peoples.  Nevertheless, he puts an Academy Award worthy performance, which is all the more frustrating since the Academy did not nominate him for the role.

When Red River (1948)  came out, John Ford, the director most people associate with Wayne, famously quipped "I didn't know the big son of a bitch could act."  Red River features Wayne as Tom Dunson, a man who yearns to have a cattle ranch in Texas.  Wayne once again plays a hard-hearted man, and once again put in a virtuoso performance that was ignored by the Academy.  Dunson's interaction with his adopted son, played by Montgomery Clift in an early role, is the stuff of legend.  This movie, by the way, is the only other movie besides The Alamo which was actually filmed on location in Texas.

One of my favorite John Wayne movies is Big Jake (1971) .  Here Wayne is paired up with Maureen O'Hara in what was the fifth (and final) pairing of the two. O'Hara runs the McCandles ranch and her son, young "Little Jake" McCandles is kidnapped by a band of outlaws led by Richard Boone.  Rather than rely on the Texas Rangers, she sends for her estranged husband, the titular "Big Jake" to come home and lead a team to go after the outlaws.  Some of the greatest action sequences ever filmed in a Wayne movie appear here, and Wayne's character is the ideal I envision when I think of Wayne.   Outside of El Dorado, my absolute favorite Wayne movie, this is the one I would recommend for people who have never watched a John Wayne movie (are there really such people?)

In The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)Wayne has to share the stage with his "brothers" (Dean Martin, Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson, Jr), the titular sons of a woman who really loved her sons and wanted only the best for them.  Fate saw their fortunes go a bit differently as three of them grew up to be less than the saintly sons their mother expected, and with the fourth, despite the opposition of the three older brothers, seemingly on his way to follow in their footsteps., all around disappoints to their mother.  The four have arrived to see to the burial of their mother (who passed away prior to the beginning of this movie).  The sons go after a rancher who, through chicanery,  has taken over the family ranch in Texas, and you know how that will all turn out.  No one ever upstaged Wayne, in my opinion, but Martin and Holliman come damn close in this one.

The Comancheros (1961)  features Wayne as a Texas Ranger who takes a custody of a Louisiana man who has run from te law after a duel in New Orleans and endeavors to return him to justice back in Louisiana.  The outlaw (Stuart Whitman) escapes, but later teams up with Wayne to help battle the titular Comancheros, a band of renegades, led by Lee Marvin, who have been helping the Comanches out by supplying them  with liquor and guns.Another rousing story that gives Wayne one of his best roles.

Other movies include several of Wayne's earliest work in the movies when he was cranking out westerns at, like two or three a month in the B- movie world.  Such titles as Texas Cyclone (1932), THe Lucky Texan (1934), Texas Terror (1935), King of the Pecos (1936) and The Lonely Trail (1936) all came out prior to his breakthrough role in Stagecoach,  all with cookie cutter story lines.  These roles gave Wayne his first acting chops and, although they were all really filmed on a backlot at Hollywood studios, essentially put him in the state of Texas for purposes of the story.  These early Wayne pictures are really only good for either true Wayne aficionados, or lovers of classic western potboilers, but they do entertain on their own level.

This has only been a smattering of the many movies John Wayne made, and some of the Texas themed movie I left out in the interest of brevity, but suffice to say Wayne became the icon in the heart of many Texans based on his ethos and appearance in many epic Texas themed movies.  I hope you enjoyed this brief foray.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Robots With Guts

This is my entry in the Duo Double Feature Blogathon hosted by The Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

Science fiction movies are always better when you place them in a dystopian future.  Of course, that defines about 99% of all sci-fi movies set in the future.  After all, how long could you last sitting in a movie theater where everything was hunky-dory and life was beautiful all the time.  Personally I'd doze off after about 10 minutes....

Peter Weller is the star of several movies in my list of the top sci-fi and horror movies  A look at his oeuvre of films shows that he is a prolific actor in the genre,  The same goes for Nancy Allen.  She had been in several movies before this role, some of which I had seen, but this was the first one in which I had ever noticed her.  Both of these went on to do many more movies after the RoboCop movies, and I will list some other appearances you can check out later.

The chemistry between the two on screen is great.  They start out as partners in the police force, but gradually come to respect each other. 

RoboCop (1987)

In the near future (an unspecified year), the city of Detroit is in turmoil.  Crime is rampant.  A company called Omni Consumer Products (OCP) has bought the Detroit Police Department and runs it as a corporate entity.  Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is transferred to the inner city division and is assigned as a partner to Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen).

Meanwhile, at corporate headquarters of OCP, a senior executive, Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), introduces a concept of a robotic cop called ED209.  The ED209 is a disaster as it malfunctions, killing an executive.  The head of OCP, called 'The Old Man" (Daniel O'Herlihy), is "disappointed" with the results.  Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) immediately takes initiative in proposing his idea for "RoboCop", which would involve taking a human officer and imbuing him with a vast array of cybernetics.  Jones  is not very happy with the usurping of his authority, however.

On patrol, Lewis and Murphy chase down a criminal mastermind, Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, who endows the character with MUCH more menace than he did as Red Forman on That 70's Show).  Boddicker and his gang trap Murphy and literally pour an entire armory of bullets in him while Lewis watches in horror from a hiding place.

Murphy is taken to a hospital where OCP officials take over, and in the name of enterprise, convert him to the prototype for the RoboCop program.  The faceless corporation (which isn't exactly faceless, per se, but you get the point) commandeers the former Murphy and makes him essentially a product owned by OCP.  They send him back to his former precinct, where several incidents show that he is a superior force with which to be reckoned.

Lewis observes RoboCop do a fancy move with his gun and realizes that the robot has the personality and memories of Murphy, since she had seen Murphy perform the same maneuver.  She approaches RoboCop and calls him Murphy, which triggers some memories in the machine, remembering not only his life as a married man with a kid, but also his death at the hands of Boddicker and his men. Meanwhile, Dick Jones has taken an extremely vengeful dislike for Bob Morton, and has his stooge, (guess who?  If you said Boddicker, you've been watching just about the right amount of these kinds of movies) to kill Morton, but not before Jones tells Morton via video why... Because he's a mean vindictive SOB, that's why.

Shortly thereafter, RoboCop goes on a vengeance raid of his own, tracking down Boddicker and his men in an abandoned factory.  He proceeds to extract his revenge, all in the name of the law, f course, since his directives (program) prevent him from becoming a true vigilante.  Boddicker, in a panic, trying to save his ass reveals that he works for Jones at OCP.  RoboCop arrests him instead of executing him.  He then goes to confront Jones, but finds that he has a hidden directive in his program that prevents him from acting on his evidence against the OCP executive.

The final third of the movie is very entertaining as RoboCop and Lewis try to stop Boddicker (who was bailed out by Jones) and a final confrontation with the executive board which will make you stand up and cheer, if you haven't already left the theater because of the violence... 

Which brings me to a final point.  This movie is ranked as one of the most violent movies ever made.  I think even Sam Peckinpah would have cringed at this movie.  And surprisingly, director Paul Verhoeven's original cut was even much more violent.  According to my research, it was originally rated X for violence, and Verhoeven had to re-cut the movie an astounding seven times before the movie review board finally gave it an R rating.  Admittedly the movie is over the top as far as violence is concerned.  The question as to whether it is worth it is up to the viewer.

 RoboCop II (1990)

The movie takes place sometime after the events of RoboCop.  Detroit has gradually fallen on hard times financially, and the mayor (Willard Pugh) has taken some financial assistance from OCP to keep the city in the black.  But they are about to default on their loan, which would allow OCP to have complete ownership of Detroit.  Part of OCPs plan to financially ruin Detroit involves the cut in pay to Detroit's police, which causes the police force to go on strike.

.OCP has designs to create a new RoboCop to help curb the rampant violence and crime in the inner city.  "The Old Man", who still runs the company, has become a less attractive character by this time.and wholly desires the outcome of control of Detroit, and is behind the plans of Dr. Faxx (Belinda Bauer) to create her new RoboCop 2.

Her plan is to fully integrate a personality with the cybernetics and she seeks a willing volunteer to be the human portion.  Enter drug lord Cain (Tom Noonan), a despicable character who is trying to engineer a worldwide addiction to his manufactured drug, "Nuke". 

He is helped by his associate, a young kid called Hob (Gabriel Damon).  RoboCop assualts the drug plant, where his programming stops him from shooting the kid who actually shoots him instead.  The criminals then dismantle RoboCop and send him back to police HQ in pieces.

Faxx and company rebuild RoboCop, but they screwith an army of new directives which basically turns him into a politically correct dumbass.  Lewis is frustrated with her new partner and tells him so.  RoboCop uses an electrical grid to fry his circuits, which eliminates all his directives, then goes after Cain, enlisting the help of his fellow striking officers.  They raid Cain's factory an in the ensuing melee, Cain is severely wounded.  Faxx decides that Cain is the perfect specimen for her RoboCop 2 program and turns him into the new cyborg.  To help matters, Cain has an addiction to Nuke which she feels will commit him to helping out.  But Cain, still with part of his own personality still in place, has other ideas.

Once again, this is a violent movie, and as opposed to the first one, this one just seems to relish in the violence for it's own purposes.  It doesn't have Verhoeven's touch to help it along so it basically just becomes something like one of those ultraviolent video games where the point is just to notch up the violence just for titillation.    I recommend it only because of Weller's presence, and suggest that you avoid RoboCop III, because without Weller to balance the violence, it was just a mess of hash.

Well folks, that ends this session with the ballad of the gun.  Drive safely.  I end with the promised list of Weller and Allen movies:

Peter Weller Movies: (Only ones I have seen, and like... not a complete list)

Of Unknown Origin (1983)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984)
RoboCop (1987)
RoboCop II (1990)
Naked Lunch (1991)
Screamers (1995)
Top of the World (1997)
Star Trek: Into Darkness ( 2013)

Weller also appeared briefly as a chacter in an episode of my favorite TV series Monk.

Nancy Allen Movies: (again, only ones I have seen, and liked...not a complete list)

The Last Detail (1973)
Carrie (1976)
1941 (1979)
The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)
 RoboCop (1987)
RoboCop II (1990)
RoboCop III (1993) (This one had a different actor as Murphy/RoboCop)
My Apocalypse (2008) 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Planet of Solitude

This is my third (and final) entry in the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings

Sometimes the prognosticators of the 50's era science fiction books and movies were overly optimistic.  Sometimes they were astoundingly cautious.  In the case of this movie, it seems they didn't think too much of the possibilities that the scientists were discovering at the time, as they predicted it was only in the late 21st century that man finally reached the moon.  (For those of you not up on your chronology calculations, that means they thought man would not reach the moon until at least the 2080's).  But then they also thought that, having achieved such an astonishing  "difficult" feat, that hyperdrive and faster than light drive was only a mere hop, skip and a jump away.

By the time the mid-2100's rolled around, therefore, we as Earthlings, according to this movie,  would be on planets at the far-flung corners of the universe.  Thus setting up the premise of Forbidden Planet, which involved a spaceship manned by Earthmen, heading to Altair IV to investigate the progress of a ship of colonists that had been sent out 20 years before.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

You think you know lonely?  How's this for lonely?  Being on a planet where the rest of your colonization crew has been wiped out, including your wife.  The only other two companions you have on the planet are your daughter and a sentient robot named Robby.  That's the situation for Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who has been isolated on Altair IV for 20 years.

Morbius w/ Robby

Interrupting this isolation, which Morbius is reluctant to give up, comes a manned crew of spacemen who have come to relieve the colonists.

The unwanted crew

Morbius tries to warn Capt Adams (Leslie Nielsen [yes Nielsen did play some dramatic roles early in his career]) to return to Earth and not attempt to land, but Adams, being the macho male and authoritative figure common in 50's movies, ignores Morbius and lands anyway.  Morbius sends his robot, Robby, to meet them.  Robby is a marvel to the men of the spaceship.  He is as strong as 20 men and can do things no one would have believed possible.


Morbius tries to shield Alta (Anne Francis), his daughter, from the men.  But she is an independent sort, and despite her naivete, comes to the fore to meet the men.  Over the course of the film, her naivete places the men in some seriously shocking situations, including one officer who tries to teach her to kiss.  (She's never seen another man besides her father).

 In another scene she is swimming in a pool and invites the commander to join her.  He tells her he doesn't have a bathing suit to which she replies "What's a bathing suit?".  (Note: By this she implies that she is swimming naked, but unless the atmosphere on Altair IV caused he skin to become diaphanous, she is wearing something... I know...  OK so this the 50's and nudity would have been strictly verboten, but I can dream can't I?)


There is some invisible creature roaming the planet which makes its presence known and causes damage to the spaceship and also kills a few crewmen.  However, when the crew sets up a perimeter barrier, the creature lights up like a Christmas tree, so we can vaguely see hat it looks like, and it is huge!

The creature from  Id

Morbius in the meantime reveals a discovery he has made.  The planet was once inhabited by a race known as the Krell which were thousands of times more intelligent than the human races best geniuses.  Morbius has used their equipment to magnify his intelligence, but due to its power, it is only an infinitesimal increase compared to even the children of the Krell.

The Krell lab

Morbius keeps on insisting that he must remain behind, and the more he insists the more adamant the commander becomes that Morbius must come back to Earth with them so that he, Morbius, can convey what he has learned.  And the more Morbius insists, the more violent the reactions become of the invisible monster that has been attacking the crew.  It doesn't take the genius level of the Krell to see that there seems to be a connection.

Morbius trying to deny the truth

The film is inspired in some parts by William Shakespeare's play The Tempest.  Morbius has many of the same characteristics as Prospero, particularly in the devotion he shows towards his daughter.  His sense of need for isolation is inspired by his love for the planet that he has come to call home.  

A few familiar faces come up if you are up on your actors from the 50's and 60's. Richard Anderson (who BTW passed away just last week), as Quinn, was better known as Oscar Goldman on the American TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Earl Holliman, who plays the ship's cook, was seen regularly on the TV show Police Woman.  James Drury, who was the title character in the TV show The Virginian, plays Strong.  And Jack Kelly who plays Jerry, will be instantly recognizable of the "Maverick" TV series as Bart Maverick.  And if you look quick, you might spot James Best, who was famous (or notorious) as Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. Apparently this was a good jumping off point for the nascent television fame...

Some future TV stars

Well, folks, time to blast off into the wild black yonder.  Be sure to watch out for any stray spaceships on the way home.