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.


Monday, August 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part VIII)

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

It had to happen sooner or later....  After working on A View to a Kill, Roger Moore finally followed through with his threat to retire from the Bond role, and a casting call went out for someone to take the reins.

The call went out and the final decision was to have Pierce Brosnan take over the role.  But wait a minute.  Brosnan had just finished up playing a role in a TV series, Remington Steele, which had been cancelled.  Except that after hearing about their star being cast as James Bond, and thinking that was good publicity for their show, the network decided to renew the series.  Thus Brosnan was committed to another season of the show and was unavailable.  Worse, the next season only aired 6 episodes before it was cancelled permanently.  But by then it was too late for Brosnan.

Timothy Dalton, who had been among the finalists years before to replace Connery was tagged for Moore's replacement.  (He had decided he was too young the first time, and also did not want the task of replacing Connery, but by 1987, he was ready to give it a try.)

The role of Miss Moneypenny also became available. Lois Maxwell had decided to retire along with Moore, and a younger (and infinitely sexier) Moneypenny was cast, with Caroline Bliss in the role.  With or without the glasses she affected to distinguish her from Maxwell, she still looked the part of a Bond girl, so it must have been pure professionalism that Dalton's Bond did not succumb to her charms.

The Living Daylights (1987):

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: # 19

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song:  # 8

Best Bond Quote:  (After hearing Koskov tell him an old Russian saying) "We have a saying, too, Georgi.  And you're full of it."

Best Bond Villain Quote:  (wielding an M80, after Bond has expended the 8 bullets in his gun.) Whitaker:  "You've had your 8, Bond.  Now I have my 80."

Best Weapon:  A key chain that has two really cool features, both responding to a certain whistle from Bond.

In the opening sequence, Bond and a handful of other agents are in a war game exercise where they have to infiltrate a stronghold, defended by fellow military personnel.  The agents who are shot by the defenders (with paint guns) are out of the game.  But there is someone who is not playing by the rules, and kills several people, both agents and defenders.  When Bond discovers the deception, a chase ensues on the mountaintop in a truck filled with explosives.  And I don't guess I have to tell you how that scene ends...

The opening credits, which includes a song by the Norwegian band  a-ha, leads into the main story line.  Russian General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen KrabbĂ©) wants to defect to the West.But there is information circulating that the Russians plan to kill Koskov as he defects, so Bond is tasked with preventing the assassination.

Bond sees the beautiful Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo), a cello player in the orchestra with the rifle, and instead of killing her as instructed, he merely wounds her.  Koskov escapes to the West.  But at a safe house, a tall blond killer called Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) infiltrates the place and causes chaos, in which in the interim, Koskov is kidnapped from the safe house.

Koskov is a weasel, and it's almost telegraphed from the start that he is playing both sides of the candle against each other.  So it's no surprise to find out that it isn't the Russians who recaptured Koskov.  It was all part of an insidious double-cross, or triple-cross or even quadruple-cross.  It turns out that Koskov has been playing games with Kara, pretending to be her lover.  In fact, he had set her up, too.  She was supposed to fire blanks at Koskov during his defection, but she was also supposed to have been killed by Bond or the MI6 agent sent to prevent his "assassination",  thus eliminating a loose end in the plan.

It turns out there was a complicated plan in which opium was traded for guns and guns were traded for diamonds and the whole plot centers around trying to get Koskov's boss, General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies, the actor who played Indiana Jones' friend, Sallah), assassinated.  In help for this matter is the false rumor that Koskov spreads to MI6 that Pushkin is planning on reinstating the Stalin era plan of smiert spionim. ("Death to spies").  This is totally untrue, and Bond discovers the whole ruse.  He also helps Pushkin out by faking Pushkin's death at the hands of Bond.

Bond is arrested as an assassin by russian agents, with Koskov still playing his ruse as the now head of Russian KGB.  The police put Bond and Kara in prison, but as usual Bond finds a way to escape.  He also frees a fellow prisoner, an Afghan, who turns out to be a leader in the Mujahadeen.  (This being prior to the events of 9-11, the Mujahadeen were still regarded as allies, especially since they were enemies of the Russians.)  Art Malik, who has made somewhat of a career in Middle eastern roles, plays the rebel leader.  And he eventually, although somewhat reluctantly, repays Bond for helping him escape by helping bond in his mission.

Koskov's real ally is Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), a wannabe leader and mercenary who basically sells his services to the highest bidder.  It is he who is involved deeply in the diamonds/opium/arms trade.  He is also a gung-ho military man who among his delusions of grandeur imagines himself to be the consummate war strategist.  In his fortress hideout he has a room in which he re-enacts famous battles with toy soldiers, complete with sound effects from a high tech sound system, and busts of famous generals of the past around him.  (although, as a credit to his ego, they all have his face...)

The only thing that keeps The Living Daylights from being ranked even lower on my scale of Bond movies is the presence of Joe Don Baker as the renegade military man.  Baker is a pleasure to watch in almost everything I've ever seen him.  (He was fantastic as Buford Pusser in Walking Tall.)  The character is essentially a cardboard cutout of a mercenary leader, but Baker puts more pizzazz into the character than a lesser actor could have achieved, and even though I am glad to see a villain get his comeuppance in a Bond film, this is one where I kind of wish he had survived...

Timothy Dalton created a new image of Bond which stayed as far away as possible from the witty predecessor of Roger Moore.  It seems to hearken more back to Connery, although Dalton did put his own spin on it.  But he is not one of my favorite Bonds.  I wouldn't even rank him above Brosnan.  But I must admit, as you will learn if you read further, that one of my favorite overall Bond movies is his second try at the role.

License to Kill (1989):

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: # 5

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song:  # 13

Best Bond Quote:  (Having just been given the snub by a potential sexual conquest with Pam) "I hope you don't snore, Q."

Best Bond Villain Quote: (Actually a note attached to Felix Leiter, but we will assume it was written by Franz Sanchez:)  "He disagreed with something that ate him."

Best Weapon:  A gun that looks like a camera, but is engineered and works only from Bond's hand print, making it totally useless when one of Sanchez's henchman tales it away from him.

There are more current and future stars in this outing than you could shake a stick at.  Priscilla Barnes, who took over the resident blonde role after the departure of Suzanne Somers on Three's Company, is cast as the tragic figure of Mrs. Felix Leiter.  Benicio del Toro, in a very early role, is Robert Davi's right hand man, a superb villain.  Anthony Zerbe and Wayne Newton (yes, THAT Wayne Newton) also appear in significant roles.  Grand L. Bush, whom you will recognize by face, if not by name, because he has been in dozens of action movies, is Hawkins.  The same goes for Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.  Both are regular actors, if you like the type of movies I most frequently review.

The opening sequence features Bond and his pal, CIA Agent Felix Leiter (played this time by David Hedison) on their way to Felix's wedding to the future Mrs. Leiter (Priscilla Barnes).  A Coast Guard helicopter intercept the entourage and informs Leiter that Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), a notorious drug kingpin, is on United States soil, and the game is afoot to capture him.  Despite being on their way to a wedding, Leiter and Bond join the chase.  After an impressive action sequence which also involves Bond hooking up Sanchez's plane with a wire and taking him into custody, the two parachute in to the wedding.

The opening credits feature what was to be Maurice Binder's last work as credits designer for a Bond film.  He would pass away from lung cancer in 1991.  The song featured was done by Gladys Knight, one of the first songs to be done after the disbanding of her backup group, known as Gladys Knight and the Pips.

At a CIA interrogation, Sanchez makes a blatant statement that he will escape, and says that he will pay 2 Million dollars to whomever helps him.   It works because one of the agents present, Killifer (Everett McGill), takes the bait (and the cash).  Sanchez takes over in his revenge by kidnapping Leiter and killing his new bride.  He feeds Leiter to the sharks.  Bond hears about Sanchez's escape and goes to Leiter's house where he finds Della dead, and Leiter barely alive.

Bond goes to investigate a boat owned by Milton Krest  (Anthony Zerbe) and discovers evidence of what happened to Leiter.  He also confronts Killifer, who tries to bribe Bond, but Bond is having none of it.  He is now on a mission of revenge.  Bond is taken to a secret quarters where M (Robert Brown) informs him that he is supposed to be on assignment, but after a confrontation, Bond finds his 007 "license to kill" is revoked.

Bond begins a systematic plan of revenge, his ultimate goal being the death of Sanchez.  Sanchez's right hand man, Dario (Benicio del Toro),  encounters Bond as Bond meets with Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), a pilot and ex-CIA agent.  Escape from Dario is eminent, but Dario can identify Bond.  Bond makes his way back to Krest's boat, where he hijacks a load of drug money from the associate.  He takes the money and opens an account in Isthmus City, Sanchez's home base, and begins a systematic plan to infiltrate the drug kingpin's team of trusted servants.  He has the help of Q, who is probably going to be in deep trouble with M later for helping Bond out.

Professor Joe Butcher (Wayne Newton), a sleazy tele-evangelist, uses his television program to inform potential buyers of the drug prices and sales.  Sanchez's financial adviser,  Truman-Lodge (Anthony Starke) informs Sanchez of the deals that are made via the tele-evangelist's program.  The base of operations for the drug processing are located in Butcher's supposed meditation retreat.  A concept that, although logistically unbelievable (it involves mixing the drugs with gasoline to disguise them, which are later reprocessed back into pure cocaine), is revealed.  The drugs are packed into four tanker trucks and ready to go.

At the plant, Bond destroysthef  , as the tankers leave the facility. One of the action sequences that ensue involves what I consider one of the greatest stunts of all time.  As Bond is driving one of the tanker trucks, several of Sanchez's henchman stand by and fire a Stinger missile at him.  Bond uses a boulder on the road to cause the tanker to do a wheelie to avoid the missile.  While a two wheelie in a car is not necessarily passe', I think this nine wheelie is absolutely fantastic.

Davi is possibly the best and most fearsome Bond villain of all time.  He definitely manages to exude more of the unmitigated despicableness that makes a Bond villain memorable. Despite the fact that this movie has no real "conquest to dominate the world" like most of the Bond entries, and despite the fact that I really don't care for Dalton as Bond for the most part, this entry ranks as #5 on my list simply because of Davi's ad de Toro's performance, and the aforementioned "favorite stunt".

Well, folks, the martinis are calling.  Have a good night until next time.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Hammer Films Does Film Noir

This is my entry in the British Invasion Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts

If you are like me and are pretty much educated as to the output of the Hammer Films Productions through the classic Dracula and Frankenstein films of the 50's - 70's (starring Christopher Lee and/or  Peter Cushing in the iconic roles therein), you may be surprised that only 50 or so of 163 movies the company put out before it retired in the 70's were in the Gothic horror genre.  It was a complete surprise to me when rummaging through a rack of cheap DVDs that I found the following two movies on one DVD.  And it was labeled "Hammer Film Noir Vol. 5", which indicates there are at least 4 more volumes out there somewhere.

This information inspired me to do a little research on Hammer Films.  Hammer films was started in 1934 by William Hinds (who performed on the stage as Will Hammer, thus the origin of the company name).  The first actual movie produced by Hammer was a comedy, The Public Life of Henry the Ninth. But after only a handful of movies, the company basically went into hibernation.  (WWII had started and both Hinds' son, who was now a partner, and his executive, James Carreras left to go serve King and country).

But after the war was over the company went full blast into producing movies.  And for ten years the company produced a variety of themes; crime films, comedies, thrillers and film noir.  It was only with the first appearance Professor Quartermass (a legendary character for those who love British sci-fi) in 1955 that Hammer really delved into the area for which it more renowned today.  The Quartermass Xperiment was closely followed by X: The Unknown, and then came the start of the Frankenstein/Dracula films which garnered Hammer Films the cult following it has today: The Curse of Frankenstein which starred Peter Cushing as Doctor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the Monster, a pairing of two great actors that would crop up again and again in Hammer Horror.

But Hammer Films apparently cut its teeth on gritty crime dramas and film noir. I'll save the Gothic horror stuff for a later date.  The two films covered today are classed as film noir and with good reason.  The characters are almost all unethical to some extent, and their motives are almost always personal.  That is the essence of film noir to me, anyway.  The two movies also have the same director at the helm, Montgomery Tully.

Note: Both of the movies were originally released in the UK under the titles listed in bold below.  The American titles are listed in italics.  The posters are, by necessity,  the ones for the American releases,  because I could not find any images of the UK versions.

Five Days (1954) aka "Paid to Kill"

Dane Clark stars a Jim Nevill, a businessman who has some rather unethical tendencies.  He gambles on business deals without the consent of his board of executives.

One deal, involving some purchases for which he expected a client, Cyrus McGowan (H. Marion Crawford, whom fans will recognize as Dr. Watson to Ronald Howard's Sherlock Holmes in the 50's British TV series "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes".)

McGowan reneges on a verbal deal he made with Nevill.  Nevill is not in great standing with his board in the first place, especially with the man who is his most ardent critic, Hyson (Arthur Young).   At wits end, and wanting his wife, Andrea (Thea Gregory), whom he dearly loves to be financially well off, Nevill arranges to have an acquaintance kill him, so she can collect the life insurance.

Wikipedia says that Paul Kirby (Paul Carpenter) is Nevill's "best friend" in the movie.  I'm just glad I don't have any "best friends" like that.  Apparently sometime in the past they had a falling out, most likely due to the fact that Kirby had murdered someone years ago and Nevill defended him at the trial by witnessing that it was "self defense", and has recently found out that the situation was otherwise.  Kirby is a lush who has never been any good at anything, except making friends with bartenders.  Especially his girlfriend, who just coincidentally happens to run a bar

At any rate, Nevill tries to hire/blackmail Kirby into killing him 5 days from the meeting.  The confrontation plays out somewhat like an episode of the 60's TV series  Batman, if you ask me. (Note: What follows is only a humorous creation by me; not the actual dialogue...)

Nevill: I want you to kill me. (POW!)
Kirby:  I won't do it!  (BANG!)
Nevill:  Yes, you will, or I'll tell on you!  (KERPLUNK!)
Kirby:  You can't make me!  (THWOCK!)

Despite this rather ridiculous confrontation (and believe me, it is kind of funny, even without the humor I injected into the scene), Nevill goes off to conduct the business he has planned, trying to wrap up the final details of his life, convinced he has succeeded in convincing Kirby to take care of his end of the deal.  He arranges for one of his business partners, Peter Glanville (Anthony Forwood), to take of entertaining his wife while he is gone, and goes off to Dublin on business.

But when Nevill gets back from his business deal, who shows up but McGowan, ready to re-initiate the deal he had promised.  Nevill's life is looking up, and he no longer needs to have Kirby kill him.  But when he tries to find Kirby to arrange to stop the killing, Nevill can't find him.  He seems to have disappeared.

Yet someone is definitely on the job, because someone takes a shot at him.

Not only is he shot at, his desk is sabotaged by a bomb and a couple of other potentially deadly incidents occur.  The bomb goes off and it is only Nevill's quick reflexes that prevents either him or his secretary, Joan (Cecile Chevreau), from being injured.  Desperate, Nevill tries to find out what happened to Kirby and discovers that he seemed to have skipped town the day after Nevill hired him and has not been seen since.  Nevill deduces that someone else is trying to kill him, and this is what makes the film interesting.

The ending may be telegraphed a mile away, but it is still an entertaining hour (actual running time is only 70 minutes)  for the viewer, in my opinion.

The Glass Cage (1955) aka "The Glass Tomb"

Pel Pelham (John Ireland) is a huckster, a carnival promoter who has basically only one act; a man named Sapolio (Eric Pohlmann), who intentionally starves himself.  (It's the 50's and it's London... Maybe that kind of thing would really attract a crowd.  Personally, I'd go see it once, if that, and ignore it for the rest of the event, but that's me.)

Pelham goes to a former boss, a bookie named Tony Lewis (Sidney James, the same James who starred in all those "Carry On" movies.  You'll see a lot of familiar faces in this one, BTW...).  Pelham gets Lewis to back him with money to put on the show.

 Lewis also gets him to approach a woman who is trying to blackmail Lewis.  It turns out that Pelham is familiar with the woman, although not under the name Lewis gives for her.  She is Rena Maroni (Tonia Bern), the daughter of a carnival owner who gave Pelham his start in the business.  By strange coincidence (or egregious plot device, your choice), Rena lives in the apartment upstairs from where Sapolio and his wife live.

After confronting Rena and seemingly convincing her to abandon her blackmail scheme, Pelham invites her to a party that he and Sapolio are throwing in celebration of the upcoming act.  But while the party is going on, Rena is murdered.  We as the audience actually see who the murderer is, so it really isn't a spoiler alert to tell at this point.  But I think I'll withhold it anyway.

Blackmail, double crosses, and a police inspector who suspects Pelham somehow involved complicate the matter. However, Sapolio thinks he saw who committed the murder so he becomes a target for the murderer, as do several other people in the film.  This is classic film noir in my opinion, because almost no one, with the exception of Pelham's wife (played by Honor Blackman) and his son, are even remotely ethical in any sense of the word. (And BTW, if I hadn't been told beforehand I doubt I would have even recognized the future Miss Pussy Galore...)

Don't miss out on seeing several familiar faces in this film.  I racked my brain trying to place a couple of them.  (I have a terrific memory for faces, but I often have to use the internet to place which other movies I've seen some faces.  The guy who plays "Rorke" (Sydney Talfer) was one of these.  It turns out he had a brief role in "The Spy Who Loved Me", a James Bond movie I had recently re-watched.)

Once again, Hammer Films made a short film noir.  This one doesn't even top 1 hour in length.  But despite some its flaws, its still a rather decent movie.