Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching, and So Should You! (Or Not....)

Sure, Superchick (1973) is from Crown International, so I already knew full well it would never, ever live up to that poster let alone the trailer. Still, I kinda dug Policewomen, a contemporary piece made by the same folks, so I gave it a whirl and found this tale of a free-loving, kung-fuing stewardess and the somewhat dicey entanglements with her trio of cross-country beaus (and anyone else willing to take a number and wait in line...) to be gleefully moronic in a *bonk*bonk*bonk*bonk*bonk* kind of way. Recommendation: Worth it for the musical "composing" scene alone -- in a Stravinsky, Rite of Spring sense. Wow.

I was really kind of amazed by the bawdiness of One Body Too Many (1944), with hero Jack Haley spending half the movie in his birthday suit. Seriously. He did. (And that thing with the kittens floored me.) Good supporting cast, too, with a special shout-out to Bela Lugosi. He was pretty funny, as is Haley, in a rare top-billed performance, in this otherwise rote tale of spiteful heirs conniving to increase their shares of inheritance of the recently deceased patriarch by any means necessary; and when the body in question keeps disappearing, this leads to an evening of buffoonery with a few gruesome twists. Recommendation: I dug it, but if you've seen one of these Reading of the Will programmers and didn't like it, odds are this one won't change your mind.

With Reign of Terror a/k/a Black Book (1949) Anthony Mann tries to do for period melodrama what he did for the western with Winchester '73. One wouldn't think a noirish, hard-boiled sensibility would work for a costume piece like this; but this tale of the French underground's efforts to derail Robespierre is really good and littered with many familiar, out-of-place faces who completely shine as the plot and several heads keep a'rollin' along. Recommendation: Despite the absolutely butchered public domain print I sat through nearly ruining things, this one is well worth the eye-strained effort.

As one who suffers from the rare genetic anomaly of preferring the Dave Clark Five over the Beatles, and being an unabashed fan of John Boorman's "unique" cinematic styling, I fear I was expecting a little more from Having a Wild Weekend (1965). By no means a bad film, mind you, and I suspect it will grow on me, but if I have to sum up first impressions, no matter how hard I try to soft soap it, this film is teetering on the precipice of being a major disappointment. Recommendation: File this one under Expectations Be a Bitch Seldom Satisfied.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) is about three or four different movies trying to be one movie. (One of which was pretty good, the others ... eh.) And the resulting over-compression to make it all fit into one narrative proved too steep a hill to climb. It didn't help that I spent too much time debating on placing where I'd heard Bane's voice before (SOLVED! Toucan Sam by way of Sean Connery) and then continuing the debate on which was more silly, his or Batty's cranky asthmatic Sydney Greenstreet impression. The opening action set-piece and the cast almost saves it (-- especially Hathaway, Oldman and Gordon-Levitt), but the film is ultimately undone by a third act that teetered between really clumsy and kinda dumb. Overall, not terrible, but just not very good. Recommendation: As always, your mileage may vary.

Entrance (2012) ... Well, that was odd. And disturbing. Disturbingly odd. To give a plot description would spoil the soup but I did not see the third act playing out quite like that. So, well played, movie. Now, I enjoy a slow burner but I fear most will find the opening two acts of this "psychological thriller" too slow and too plodding with irritating characters who do nothing but mundane, day-in-the-life navel gazing. So irritating, in fact, you will probably wish on them some form of grievous bodily harm. And if you hate those kind of movies, well, here, the movie was listening to your bitching, and, in this case, be careful what you wish for.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Glenda Farrell Project :: Take 2 :: Frank Capra's Lady for a Day (1933) :: Missouri Martin Wants a Man!

Lady for a Day is a slightly scorched bag of instant Capra-corn where a shady gambler (Warren William) finances a Pygmalion on Apple Annie, a local destitute / good luck charm (May Robson), for reasons that would and could only make sense in the Frank Capra Universe. Not that there's anything wrong with that, 'natch, because before you even realize it you've eaten the whole bag -- and enjoyed it quite thoroughly.

Here, our gal Glenda plays Missouri Martin, the gambler's Girl Friday, who's put in charge of pulling silk from the sow's ear for Annie's make-over, and later plays the Jiminy Cricket to make sure our hero sees the con through to the inevitable happy ending.

But before we get to the end, we need an introduction. And, brother, what an introduction do we get:


Preach on, sister.

"All comedians are unique performers. It's possibly something they're not aware of themselves, until they get the part that brings it out and displays it to them, so they become aware of the fact that they play comedy and that they got laughs. Then they begin to develop this certain quality, develop it till they get bigger and bigger laughs. This is something the comedian himself can do. A writer can write divine lines, beautiful lines, and they can cut around, and the director can direct the actor, all so that she may be a great comedienne in this particular part, but they may never reach that again. Because if they don't have the lines, they can't do it. However, this may be the start of the development of a technique and flair for comedy—because I think most actors start out not knowing they're comics, and suddenly find that a unique way of reading a line gets a laugh. A simple line can be read by five different people, and only one person get a laugh, and that one person can get a big laugh on it. It's his own individual way of interpreting the line. This is the thing a comedian does, and he cannot do it unless he's experienced, unless he learns the way to get the laugh and knows what's in back of it."

-- Glenda Farrell xxxxxxxxx

One of the things I am most thankful for from 2012 is getting a crash course on the life and times and film career of Glenda Farrell. And the more I dig, the more I love. And so, to share that love, we're kicking off The Glenda Farrell Project for 2013 and beyond, as I will do everything in my power to share my Glenda love in the usual, obsessive compulsive fashion in all matters and means and ways. Stay tuned! Lots more to come.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Favorites :: Inks and Paints :: Drew Struzan: Perhaps the Lost Art of Movie Posters Isn't as Lost as We Thought?

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

 The Thing (1982)

Squirm (1976)

The Evictors (1979)

The Cannonball Run (1981)

Return to Macon County (1975)

 Unused art for Radioland Murders (1994)
Shaddup. I LOVE that movie.

Promotional art for Buck Rogers
in the 25th Century (1979-1981)
No idea where the Colonial Vipers came from.

Promotional art for Tales of 
the Gold Monkey (1982-1983)
Stifle it. That show was awesome, too!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Video Purgatory :: Why Isn't This Out on DVD Again? :: Henry Levin's Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966)

After discovering a potent impotency-causing extract taken from a rare Amazonian plant, a wealthy and whackadoodle industrialist plans to use a series of satellites to spread these deadly spores worldwide, sterilizing the entire planet, leaving only himself virile and viable enough to repopulate the world in his own image. But before this phase of the plan can be put into action, this Brazilian crackpot must first gather a harem of proper breeding stock, resulting in a rash of kidnappings around the globe, whose victims are placed into suspended animation for safe-keeping until needed. Hot on his trail to stop this nefarious plot are a crafty CIA agent (Connors), a daffy MI-6 asset (Provine), her chauffer (Thomas), a tripped out limousine, and a shitload of bananas...

Video courtesy of OurManinHavana.

After From Russia With Love proved that Dr. No was no fluke at the box-office, an avalanche of spy movies soon followed to feed the voracious appetite of an espionage-addled viewing public. But even by Goldfinger, folks could see the 007 franchise wasn't taking things all that seriously, piling on the zingers, the eye-candy, gaudy villains, and take-over-the-world plots that would make even Machiavelli blush, which is why most of the knock-offs and cash-ins followed suit by taking these notions and ratcheting them up to even more outlandish heights (-- or depths, depending on how you look at these things...)

Famed Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis was no stranger to this kind busting-blocks, which is why he co-teamed with Columbia Pictures to rush Se tutte le donne del mondo a/k/a Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die through production and into theaters before the studio's own spy-spoof Casino Royale hit. And those weren't the only two spy pictures Columbia had in the pipe, with the first of Dean Martin's Matt Helm movies, The Silencers, set for release the very same year. Henry Levin was tapped to co-direct with Arduino Maiuri, who also co-scripted the film with Jack Pulman. Levin broke into the business with Cry of the Werewolf (1944) and had recently polished off the slapstick antics of a group of co-eds in Where the Boys Are and shepherded James Mason, Pat Boone and a duck through a Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Apparently, Mike Connors was in the running for the Matt Helm role and the studio offered him this as a consolation prize. Connors showbiz career began on the basketball court, playing for UCLA, where William Wellman spotted him, liked his rugged looks and the way he handled himself on the court and encouraged him to give pictures a try. Connors did just that and got himself a contract with MGM, but turns out this hire was only used as leverage to get Farley Granger back on the payroll. And though Connors never did make a picture for MGM a few bit parts for the majors and several big parts for the minors followed (-- most notably a couple of early Roger Corman vehicles for American International, and he even produced a picture for them), but his career never really blossomed until he switched mediums and found success on TV, beginning with Tightrope and another near miss when he almost replaced Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, but, again this was mostly behind the scenes wrangling to speed up contract negotiations with a reluctant Burr.

Connors had already co-starred with Dorothy Provine in a couple of those B-pictures. According to legend, the actress was only off the bus for three days before landing the lead in The Bonnie Parker Story, another American International ten-day wonder, followed by Riot in a Juvenile Prison, and then a really, really big role as Lou Costello's wife in The 30ft. Bride of Candy Rock. She did get some traction with several minor roles in a series of Hollywood Blockbuster comedies, including The Great Race, Who's Minding the Mint? and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World before she took the role of secret agent, Susan Fleming.

Despite the rush job, Laurentiss spent a lot of money on the picture, with a ton of lavish sets, special effects, wardrobe, and a lot of location shooting in Rome, the Amazon jungle, and Rio de Janeiro, including the famous opening scene at the city's famous landmark, the giant statue of Christ, where Connors had to do his own stunts when the hired stuntman chickened out. In fact, shooting was put on hold for a whole week while the producer took Provine to Europe for a complete makeover. And from what we see in the trailer, it was all money well spent.

Yeah, and that's all most of us have seen: the trailer, myself included, as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die has never had an official home-video release in any format. And knowing full well that the film has no chance in hell of living up to that trailer, I still want to see it. And see it, most desperately. I've seen a few clips and the first ten-minutes or so on YouTube but that's it. And that's just wrong. Now, several years ago, I participated in one of those blogathons that asked you to tic off 12 movies that you really wanted to see but hadn't gotten around to yet and this film topped the list. Since then, I've managed to cross all the others off but this film remains maddeningly elusive as all efforts to find even a gray-market bootleg have failed to turn up a print worth the price. *sigh*

It's not hard to understand why the film is so hard to find. Sandwiched between The Silencers and the royal mess of Casino Royale, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die kinda got lost in the media blitzes for the star-studded competition and has been wallowing in relative obscurity ever since. After the film was done, de Laurentiis kept on plugging along, teaming up with Maiuri again and Mario Bava for the immediate follow up, Danger: Diabolik!. Director Levin, meanwhile, was given the director's chair for the next two Matt Helm entries, The Wrecking Crew and The Ambushers. And somewhat ironically, 13 years later, the sterilization from space plot of Kiss the Girls... was recycled somewhat blatantly for the latest James Bond entry, Moonraker. (To be fair, though they came out around the same time, but, Agent Fleming, her driver, and her tricked out limo easily bring to mind Lady Penelope and her entourage from Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Thunderbirds.) As for the stars, just two short years later, Provine retired from the business for good, while Connors returned to the small screen for a little show called...

Video courtesy of Yours Truly.

Yeah, it was while watching and enjoying the hell out of the first season of Mannix -- a season where he worked for Intertect, a season I didn't remember at all, and a season that was Madmen before Madmen was cool -- that got Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die back on my You Really Need to See This Radar. In fact, after losing his first hit series, Tightrope, to studio dickering with the sponsor, Connors almost lost his second over shaky ratings until executive producer Lucille Ball stepped in and saved it. The show went on for seven more seasons, earning several Emmy and Golden Globe awards, making one wonder what else we've been missing. So please, someone, anyone, get this thing out on DVD, BluRay or on a streaming site as soon as possible, won't you? Thank you.

 Other Points of Interest:

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (1966) Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica :: Columbia Pictures / EP: Dino De Laurentiis / P: Salvatore Argento, Arduino Maiuri / D: Henry Levin, Arduino Maiuri / W: Arduino Maiuri, Jack Pulman / C: Aldo Tonti / E: Alberto Gallitti, Ralph Kemplen / M: Mario Nascimbene / S: Mike Connors, Dorothy Provine, Raf Vallone, Terry-Thomas, Margaret Lee, Nicoletta Machiavelli, Beverly Adams, Marilù Tolo

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Vintage Review Spotlight :: Gojira vs. Godzilla! Who Will Be Crowned King of the Monsters! Either Way, We Win!

Way back in the year 2000, after the world breathed a huge sigh of relief over the whole Y2K whiff and eBay found itself burdened by a sudden glut of mint, never-removed from the box gas-masks and survival rations, I was both relieved and excited for the impending premiere of Godzilla 2000, marking the Big G's return to the American cineplex after a fifteen year hiatus -- with no Matthew Broderick, Dean Devilin, or Roland Emmerich anywhere in sight. Woo to the Hoo! Also, way back then, I decided it was high time I finally reviewed our hero's debut film -- both of them: the original Gojira and the domestically re-tooled Godzilla King of the Monsters. And this I did, and a good time was had by all.

Coming just nine years after the atom bombs fell to end World War II, and directed by a man who witnessed firsthand the destruction and devastation those bombs caused, these, and several other factors and influences converged by chance, circumstance and a little bad luck to create the film Gojira. Seems fledgling producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was in some trouble when his current Indonesian based film fell apart over some hassles concerning the necessary work-permit visas. With a cast, crew and money to spend but no movie to expend them on, during the flight back to Japan, Tanaka, while looking at the vast Pacific below, began wondering what beasties might be lurking just below the surface and hit upon an idea. Only two years prior Japanese cinemas had been hit with the original King Kong for the first time and The Beast from 20000 Fathoms soon followed to much box-office success, making it no small wonder, then, that Tanaka decided Japan needed a giant monster of its very own.

At the time of Gojira's release back in 1954, somber message and poignant symbolism aside, Toho Studios was taking a huge financial risk by putting that much money into what was essentially just a giant monster movie. And even though the end-result proved a big hit in Japan, to help defray some of the production costs, the studio opened an office in Los Angeles to help find and secure American distributors for all of their films. (Remember, Toho's Seven Samurai was released the same year.) Serendipitously, in Hollywood, with the major studios imploding, several smaller, independent companies were crawling out of the woodwork looking for a piece of the box-office pie, willing to snatch up almost anything. Honestly, looking overseas for more product made far better sense financially for these smaller companies; distributing already made films meant less expense and more profits, right? And with the resurgent sci-fi and monster boom of the 1950's already well-cemented, taking on a film like Gojira and turning it into Godzilla was an absolute no-brainer.

Look, I'm not breaking any new ground by stating that even though both films share a lot of the same footage they wound up being two completely different films. One, an allegory for mankind's retribution from the  atomic bomb personified, the other a wild creature feature with lots of mayhem and destruction. The former featuring a fraying love-triangle, the other featuring a guy who talks to the back of a lot of other people's heads. And I love them both unconditionally on their own merits. And if you'd like to know more about my thoughts on the history, making of, and meaning of this burgeoning franchise that's very dear to me, follow on through to the full reviews with the links provided below.

Other Points of Interest:

Poster campaign for Godzilla King of the Monsters at the Archive.

For the record, the whole thing will probably make a lot more sense if you start with the Gojira review first. Now get to stompin'!

Gojira (1954) Toho Eiga Company / P: Tomoyuki Tanaka / D: Ishirô Honda / W: Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata / C: Masao Tamai / E: Kazuji Taira / M: Akira Ifukube / S: Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956) Toho Company :: Jewell Enterprises Inc. :: Embassy Pictures Corporation :: TransWorld Releasing Corp. / EP: Joseph E. Levine, Terry Turner / P: Tomoyuki Tanaka, Edward B. Barison, Richard Kay, Harry Rybnick / D: Ishirô Honda, Terry O. Morse / W: Ishirô Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata, Al C. Ward / C: Masao Tamai / E: Kazuji Taira, Terry O. Morse / M: Akira Ifukube / S: Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Akira Takarada, Frank Iwanaga

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Trailer Park :: Hail! And Happy Birthday to the King :: Finding a Soft Spot in Norman Taroug's Spinout (1966)

 ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

"Moose pudding!"
___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___

As we hit the ground with the pedal already to the metal, race car driver/ singer Mike McCoy (Presley) takes his eyes off the road to make the goo-goo with a perky little number in a souped-up coupe only to wind up forced off the road and into the drink by the same. (Hands at ten and two, buddy.) And wouldn't you know it? Said Perky McPerky wants McCoy and his band to play at her birthday party with a little snogging and cake to follow. And whatever the perpetually spoiled Perky McPerky wants, Daddy McPerky will dole out whatever it takes to make his baby girl happy no matter what. However, turns out she's not the only one drawing a bead on our boy, Mike...

Video courtesy of OldHollywoodTrailers.

Only ten minutes into this tale of Jedi mind-tricks, music and mayhem, when Jack Mullaney (comedius reliefi odious) genuinely made me bark out loud with laughter on three separate occasions, I knew I was in for something truly ground-breaking with Spinout; one of the many reasons why Tickle Me has now been officially dethroned as my favorite Elvis movie. Well, that and the fact the Big E and his 1+2+1/2 back-up band immediately brought to mind The Impossibles helped a little, too.

Also, Deborah Walley being so freakin' adorable that I couldn't care less that she played the drums with a slow right AND left hand probably sealed the deal.

Yeah, Spinout is another one of Presley's "stone-age" flicks, that just so happened to mark the 10th Anniversary of his film career, one should note, which had devolved both minerally and cinematically since the golden heyday of  Loving You and King Creole. Nope. Spinout doesn't have a single coherent thought in its head aside from one simple notion rattling around in a lot of empty space; a notion to keep stringing together one song or gag after another as Elvis butts heads with the local big-wig, who is bound and determined to get our hero for his daughter and on his racing team, and not particularly in that order, while trying to avoid not one, or two, but three women (maybe even four) who've got 'em locked in their matrimonial sights, when all our boy wants to do is be left alone to play his music and race his roadster his way, baby.

E'yup. Spinout is dumber than a bag of peanut-butter and 'nanner sammiches. But, You know what? I don't care. Not anymore. If you've read any of my old reviews of Presley's less than stellar foray into feature films on the mothership, the bitterness over the wasted potential is readily palpable. Most of those were written over a decade ago, from a very angry and cynical place, apparently, but something's changed. And changed fundamentally, thanks to Spinout. (That's me shrugging right now) And so, from here on out, I will be watching these later Presley pictures with a fresh eye and a keen for taking them at face value for being the cinematic goofs, studies in escapism, and sheer stoopidity they are and celebrate them as such. If I want serious Elvis, I'll watch Jailhouse Rock or Wild in the Country. If I want goofball Elvis, I'll start with Spinout and work my way out in a spiral pattern from there. You hear that? I am done moping and grumping about this kinda shit.

Anyways, the film does have some actual merit. From Adam and Evil to the hideously infectious Never Say Yes, Spinout probably sports one of the better soundtracks of these later pictures, too, including a cover of Bob Dylan's Tomorrow Is a Long Time, though one should note the number did not appear in the actual film. I'll get to the leading ladies in a sec, but, as I already mentioned, Mullaney is a helluva lot funner here than he was in Tickle Me, and teamed up with Jimmy Hawkins these two make a great pair of second-bananas for Elvis to play off of.

 Presley and Taurog did nine pictures together.

And let's give Norman Taurog some credit, as well. The veteran director rode herd on nine of Presley's post-army flicks, starting with G.I. Blues and ending with Live a Little, Love a Little. I don't know, to me, Taurog just seemed to have an uncanny knack for cajoling Presley into really cutting loose with the slapstick elements that dominated these later pictures, and his actor always appears more at ease being the goof than he did in the likes of Harum Scarum and Girl Happy.

And on top of all that, we've got Walley being spunky and adorable, Dian McBain being seductive and gorgeous, Shelley Fabares being adorable and perky, Dodie Marshall being completely out of her mind, and Elvis being, well, Elvis. And sometimes, that's all we ask and all we need.

 Other Points of Interest:

Spinout (1966) Euterpe :: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / P: Joe Pasternak / AP: Hank Moonjean / D: Norman Taurog / W: Theodore J. Flicker, George Kirgo / C: Daniel L. Fapp / E: Rita Roland / M: George Stoll / S: Elvis Presley, Shelley Fabares, Diane McBain, Dodie Marshall, Deborah Walley, Jimmy Hawkins, Jack Mullaney

Sunday, January 6, 2013

YouTube Finds :: Gettin' Funky with the Fearsome Foursome on Shindig! (1965)

Though they were technically the third incarnation of the dreaded Fearsome Foursome to dominate the Sunday gridirons, the Los Angeles edition (1963-1967) is probably the most notorious -- and I mean that in a good way, both on and off the field. Don't believe me, well, check out their appearance on Shindig

Video courtesy of nyrainbow5.
That is so awesome I can't even even ... Olsen and Greer went on to quite the career in Hollywood, even Jones showed up in a couple of films, including (quite inexplicably) Charles B. Pierce's The Norseman. But it's their brief musical career that I find most fascinating. The group released one single through Capitol Records, but that's not Greer in the photo. (I believe that's Charlie Cowan.) 

It was released in 1965, so Greer was still with the team, but I have no idea if Greer provided the vocals for this, though everyone on the web seems to think so. I've spun it a few times on YouTube and it sounds like him, but that photo's a definite puzzler so I can't say for sure that it definitely is him. If anyone does know, please sound off. Thanks!

The Fearsome Foursome (L to R):
Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, Rosey Greer
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