Sunday, April 22, 2018

Four Things Tag

The Four Things Tag

I saw this tag on Hamlette's Soliloquy.  It's not my usual thing for this movie blog to do tags, but I thought I'd go for a change of pace.


Four Jobs I’ve Had

Housekeeping employee at a resort
Fast food cook
Grocery stock boy
Current: Logistics engineer (a fancy term I made up for being a shipping employee)

Four Things I Don’t Eat

Brussels sprouts
Asparagus
Pickles
Artichokes

Four Places I’ve Lived

I was born in North Carolina, but since six months old I've lived in:
Texas
Texas
Texas
and, oh yeah, Texas

Four of my Favorite Foods

Pizza
Chicharrones (Mexican version of pork skins)
Hamburgers
Strawberries

Four Movies I’ve Watched More Than Once

The Maltese Falcon
The Great Escape
The Blues Brothers
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai

Four TV Shows I Watch

I thought about skipping this one since I don't have a TV, but I have several complete runs of older shows:

Star Trek (the original series)
Taxi
Monk
Sherlock (the Benedict Cumberbatch version)

Four Things I’m Looking Forward to This Year (2018)
Except getting older, not much...


Four Things I Can’t Live Without
 

Comedy and laughter
Friendship
Books
A good writing pen.

Four Places I’ve Visited


Washington D.C.
New Orleans, LA
Tulsa, OK
Almost Mexico.  (Got to the border, but I didn't have a passport so they wouldn't let me cross over.)

Four Pet Peeves
Jackass Drivers
Dallas Cowboys fans
"Helpful" people (as in people who think they are giving you sound advice, but are really just annoying the hell out of you.)
The phase "It's an acquired taste".  (Why the hell should I keep trying something I don't like initially just to "acquire" a taste for it?)


Four Things I Wish I Could Do

Sing (I don't even karaoke).
Travel in space.
Create some fad that people would stupidly spend millions of dollars on.  Like the Pet Rock fad...
Write the next Pulitzer Prize novel that every Hollywood studio wants to make into a movie.


Four Subjects I Studied at School

History (it was my major)
Creative writing (It was my minor)
Astronomy
British literature

 
Four Things Near Me Right Now






My cat. 

Cup of coffee
My good writing pen
Every movie I own.
 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fighting the Good Fight






This is my entry in the William Holden Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood, The Flapper Dame and The Wonderful World of Cinema.





1968 saw the release of several notable war movies.  War movies were still popular, even if the real ongoing war in Asia was not.  Especially popular were movies that glorified the heroes of the previous generation.  The biggest money maker, as far as WWII movies, was Where Eagles Dare, a film based on a novel by Alistair MacLean.  There were several others that came out in 1968.  By far the box office star for war movies was The Green Berets which was John Wayne's answer to the protests over the unfavorable Vietnam war.  For my money, the absolute best war movie from 1968 only had two actors, however; Hell in the Pacific, with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as enemy combatants eventually forced to form a partnership when both are stranded on a deserted island.

Equally rousing however is The Devil's Brigade, based on a true story of the formation of the First Special Service Force during WWII, a combined force of American and Canadian troops.  The Canadians are composed of staunch chins up soldiers, but the American force is a ragtag gaggle of various malcontents.  Not exactly criminals like those that formed the crack outfit in  The Dirty Dozen, but I did notice a few characters who seemed to resemble some of the characters in that previous movie.

Of course William Holden's Col. Frederick is not a stand-in for Col. Reismann, but he does exhibit some of the same disregard for authority that Lee Marvin's  does.  And Claude Akins' Pvt. Rockman could easily be mistaken for John Cassevetes' Franco (with maybe a dash of the racist views of Telly Savalas' Maggott.)  Richard Jaeckel, who was a sergeant in the first movie is a private here, not quite as dumb as Donald Sutherland's Pinkley, but just as carefree.  If you've seen the former flick, you might find yourself attaching some of the same similarities to the characters in this one.





The Devil's Brigade (1968):

William Holden plays Lt. Col. Robert Frederick who arrives in Britain to discuss with Lord Mountbatten what he considers an ill-conceived idea.  He had already sent papers from the U.S., but had to show up personally, and is disgusted when he finds that the Allies are going through with their plan despite the flaws in the plan he has already pointed out.

It turns out this meeting was really to get a good look at Frederick, because the Allied command has ideas of forming a crack troop of soldiers for a mission in Norway.  Frederick has to mold a ragtag group of soldiers, most of whom have been in and out of the brig for various offenses,  and mold them into a group that can head the Norway invasion.

Among these are Private "Rocky" Rockman (Claude Akins), a bulky malcontent who is always itching for a fight, Private Omar Greco (Richard Jaeckel), who has gone AWOL more times than anybody can keep track of, and Private Theodore Ransom (Andrew Prine), who is running from a cushy job as a piano player for a base because he really, really wants to get into the action.

On their first day on the base the soldiers are astounded by the arrival of a contingent of Scots-Canadians, marching smartly in formation, decked out in kilts and bagpipes.  There is the requisite hostility between the Americans and the Canadians, mainly it seems because the Canadians are in better shape as soldiers.  Rockman and a few others are constantly trying to instigate a fight, but the orders are down from the leaders that he Canadians are to resist the temptation.  An brawl in a bar with a bunch of unruly lumberjacks is the thing that gets them all on the same page.

But word comes down from the high brass that they have decided to let the Brits take the Norway mission.  Frederick is disgusted, mainly because the brass doesn't think he has done a good enough job on his troops to make them ready.  He demands an opportunity to prove their worth and he is given it;  a recon of a German garrison in Italy.  Like Rambo in First Blood: Part II, their job is only to look around and bring back information, but the renegade side of Frederick has other ideas.  They actually plan to capture the garrison.

They end up capyuring the garrison, but it's not over yet.  Now that the high command has seen how capable this "Devil's Brigade" is, they are given another mission, to capture a mountain fortress.  And it won't be easy, I can tell you that much.

Holden is joined by a familiar cast of actors in this one.  His second in command is Dr. Ben Casey!  Vince Edwards, really.  Cliff Robertson plays the leader of the Canadian contingent.  Richard Dawson appears as one of the soldiers.  Carrol O'Connor is a general with whom Frederick appeals for a chance for his troops.  You'll even catch Dana Andrews and Michael Rennie in the head office.

For an action/war movie, this one is a pretty good one.  I had never even heard of it until I saw it on the shelf at my local library.  It's well worth a peek.

Drive home safely, folks.

Quiggy




Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Solar System on $5 a Day (Pt 3)






This is my third (and final) entry in the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

For three days, from April 13th -15th. we are going to take a tour of the solar system.  American International Pictures is our main guide to this tour. We will be visiting many of the planets in our solar system along with a brief jaunt to Earth's moon.  We hope you enjoy this respite from your daily humdrum life.

(This is a continuation of a thee part series.  You should read Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 first if you don't want to be slightly confused...)





On our travels through the solar system we have already paid a visit to Venus, Mars and Jupiter as well as a side trip to the Earth's Moon.  Our journey is just about to get exciting, as we have saved  the best for the last.  Join us now as we conclude our brief tour of our neighborhood.
























Space Patrol, a British television series, is one of the film documentations of encounters with Saturn.  But Silent Running, a film from the 70's actually had a spaceship orbiting the planet.  Most other references to Saturn occur obliquely, such as the fact that the main character in the Star Trek episode, "Tomorrow is Yesterday", would eventually head a crew that was to be on the first Earth-Saturn probe.


Planet Outlaws (1953):

The hero Buck Rogers (Buster Crabbe) was a standup kind of guy who, through some drastic events, crashed his dirigible over the North Pole and was suspended in animation, along with hi pal Buddy (Jackie Moran), for 500 years.  When Buck and Buddy are found, they are taken captive by soldiers of an underground city.  Apparently initially they are thought to be spies for the ruthless dictator "Killer" Kane (Anthony Warde).

The tide turns quickly when the underground city's leader, Dr. Huer (C. Montague Shaw) finds out his captives are from the past.  Quickly Buck and Buddy become allies in trying to wrest power over the planet from Kane.  See, the city is impenetrable by Kane's forces outside the city (due to a secret entrance that only the city inhabitants know about, but at the same time they are almost virtual prisoners in their city as Kane's superior forces rule the skies.

Buck and Buddy volunteer to take a dangerous trip to go to Saturn and appeal to the residents of that planet to help in their ordeal.  But when Buck arrives, so do representatives of Kane's dominion.  And the Saturnites initially side with Kane's contingent.  (Why the Saturnites want to side with anybody who goes by the name of "Killer" is anybody's guess, but there it is.)

 Back on Earth Buck kidnaps the representative of Saturn and forces him to see video proof of Kane's true evil intentions.  Kane takes all his prisoners and makes them wear special helmets which reduce them to mindless automatons.   As such, the Saturn native eventually switches allegiances and sides with the good guys.

This movie was originally a 12 part serial, and the editing on it is a little stagnant in places, but it is a typical example of the gung-ho type of serial that was prevalent at the time.  Lots of fist fights and occasionally a few pistol shots, (but surprisingly very few ray guns except on the spaceships).  You take away the spaceships and the travel to another planet and it could just as easily have been a good guys vs. the mobsters movie.  Even so, it is pretty good, well worth a couple of viewings, and probably entertaining even for the youngsters in the family.













The planet Uranus, like it's predecessor in this blog entry, was also rarely seen in film. The aforementioned Space Patrol delved into the planet briefly.  And apparently it had been mined for a mineral needed by Doctor Who at some point, although the show never actually went to the planet.


Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962): 

The focus of this film is a trip to Uranus.  Our five man team of astronauts, which include Don (John Agar), who is the Captain of the team, along with Eric (Carl Ottosen), Karl (Peter Monch), Barry (Ove Sprague) and Svend (Louis Miehe-Renhard) arrive in orbit around Uranus. (BTW, if those names sound a little strange to you, it's because this film was originally made in Denmark).

The first thing that happens is some alien that is on the planet uses a sort of mind control, and while a voice tells them that it has been waiting for them and that it will use them to go to Earth to take over the Earth, time passes for them.  Although they think only seconds has passed, it is apparent they have been in some kind of suspended animation for several days, and they are completely unaware of the presence of  the alien.

When they disembark from the rocket, they find an Earth-like atmosphere and plant life.  One of them actually recognizes the area as being exactly the same as a place where he grew up.  While investigating further, the crew finds an old farm, which again is exactly like the one where he grew up.  Each also encounters the one woman he loves the most from back on Earth.

They run into some kind of mobile barrier, and when one of the crew members rashly sticks his arm through the barrier it is frozen solid.  Fortunately it heals quickly, and when the crew discusses what they should do, three of them are designated to check out what's beyond the barrier.  Decked out in spacesuits, they advance through it and find an entirely different  situation on the other side.

The alien, it turns out, is using their minds to create the things they fear the most.  Giant rat-like creatures and a huge tarantula attack them on different occasions.  They eventually cotton to the idea that there is an alien presence and just what it's goals are.  They realize their only chance of escape is to cross the barrier and find and kill the alien in it's lair or they will never be able to leave Uranus.

As cheesy as this movie sounds, it is by far the best movie of the entire weekend.  If you don't watch any of the others, you really shouldn't miss this one.  If it sounds vaguely familiar as a story, it seems to me at any rate to be somewhat based on a Ray Bradbury story "Mars is Heaven".  At least the elements of an alien force using the minds of the Earthlings to create a world they can relate to seem to mirror that story.  It ain't Casablanca, folks, but if you like your entertainment on the cheap side, it is well worth a look.




In conclusion, we had to miss out on our complete tour of the solar system.  Both Neptune and Pluto received some peripheral attention in the Doctor Who and Space Patrol TV series, but no real investigation of the planets has ever been recorded. Suffice to say both would be intriguing places to visit, but they will have to wait for more in depth surveillance before we make an attempt to land there at this point.  Your safety is paramount.

We will now return you safely to planet Earth.  Hope you enjoyed the trip.

Quiggy




Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Solar System on $5 a Day (Pt. 2)







This is my second entry in the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

For three days, from April 13th -15th. we are going to take a tour of the solar system.  American International Pictures is our main guide to this tour. We will be visiting many of the planets in our solar system along with a brief jaunt to Earth's moon.  We hope you enjoy this respite from your daily humdrum life.

(If you haven't read the first installment of this series it is highly suggested that you do so as this is a continuation of it.  See it here.)





Welcome back to the tour.  We have come a long way since the start of our tour, but we have only touched the surface.  The tour of Venus and our Earth's Moon are but a start of just the vast space contained within our solar system.  We will bypass The Phantom Planet that exists between the Earth and Mars.  For those of you curious about that one check back later this month for an entry in the 1961 Blogathon.




















The next planet on our tour is Mars.  Mars was the second most intriguing sight (after the Sun and the Moon) for our ancient ancestors.  Both invasions by Martians (The War of the Worlds) and trips to the red planet are in our history.  The Russian classic Aelita, Queen of Mars was one of the first visits to our nearest neighbor, but it didn't stop there.  The Rocketship X-M was scheduled to go to the moon ("X-M" stood for Expedition-Moon) but ended up going to Mars.  There was also the story of  a man who got stranded on Mars, Robinson Crusoe on Mars  (as well as another more recent case, The Martian).  And Martians once kidnapped Santa Claus in an effort to bring Christmas to Mars (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians)

The Angry Red Planet (1959):

In this movie, a spaceship on it's return from Mars is stranded.  No contact can be made with the ship so the brass uses a remote control to bring the ship in safely.  On board they find two of the original four members.  One, the commander, Colonel Tom O'Bannion (Gerald Mohr), has some kind of green growth on his arm that is gradually spreading, consuming him.  The second crew member, Dr. Iris Ryan (Nora Hayden), is catatonic.

All the tapes of the trip seem to have been erased, so the scientists are unable to determine exactly what happened to the crew.  Meanwhile, Tom is comatose and essentially dying from his growth and Iris has been unresponsive.

When the scientists finally get Iris awake they try to quiz her on what happened to the rest of the crew and the trip to Mars, but she is suffering from some kind of forced amnesia and can't remember anything.  So they use a sort of drug-hypnosis combination and Iris reveals what happened (told in flashback).

The ship, which also included Professor Gettell (Les Tremayne) and Officer Sam Jacobs (Jack Kruschen) was launched to investigate Mars.  There's not much that happens on the trip to Mars, except for the obligatory love subplot in which Iris and Tom flirt with each other, and Sam tries to horn in good-naturedly, but unsuccessfully.

The real story begins after the crew lands.  And here is where some of the issues with this movie come into play.  For one thing apparently the special effects budget ran dry.  Mars' special effects are essentially done by Cinemagic (prominently touted in the credits).  It is essentially some very poorly drawn matte paintings.  ("magic" my wet patootie.)  Even the monsters encountered in the film are just animated cartoons.

On their first investigation tour Iris is almost eaten by a giant Venus flytrap.  On their second outing they encounter a stand of "trees", which turns out to be the legs of this giant rat-spider creature, which of course gets annoyed when they try to saw off a sample of it's leg.  Back on the ship Iris sees a grotesque looking face peeping in the porthole and faints.

On their last outing the crew try to cross a lake but encounter a giant amoeba which pursues them and devours Sam.  It then tries to digest the ship.  The crew can't seem to use it's rockets to escape and have to devise some other means to get away from the amoeba.  After this is finally revealed, the scientists have a clue how to save Tom. 

If you can get past the special effects fiasco, this is really not all that bad a film.  It was directed by Ib Melchior, who also directed the previously reviewed The Time Travelers.  But he is more well known in sci-fi circles as a screenwriter and author.  He was co-screenwriter for Robinson Crusoe on Mars, as well as one of tomorrow's reviews Journey to the Seventh Planet.  He is memorable also for writing the short story on which the Roger Corman / Paul Bartel classic Death Race 2000 was based.

Gerald Mohr's name will be familiar to old radio show lovers.  Among others he spent a few years playing Phillip Marlowe on the radio.  Jack Kruschen was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Apartment and had a pretty good career as a guest star on TV shows. 





The next stop on our tour is Jupiter.  Jupiter has been ignored all too often, at least the planet itself, but it's moons have been colonized or explored on occasion.  2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: The Year We Make Contact both explored to Jovian moon Io.  And Io was also the location of a mining outpost in Outland.  With the exception of a couple of films (like A Trip to Jupiter) , however, the planet itself has been rarely seen up close. But even the moons of Jupiter can be attractive as we shall see.


Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956):  

Fire Maidens from Outer Space is on the list as being one of the worst movies ever made.  And I guess I have to admit that it's just about the worst piece of crap I ever watched. It even surpasses Teenage Zombies as the worst movie ever, in my book.  You know, I sometimes say that a really bad movie would not have been entirely as bad if some of the female cast members had appeared topless.  I'm not even sure that would have helped this movie.  Despite the fact that most of the females are Playboy centerfold quality women.

The goal at the outset of the film is a trip to investigate the 13th moon of Jupiter.  It doesn't even have a name, it is only called the "13th moon"... (A historical side note:  In 1956 there were only 12 known moons of Jupiter, so a hitherto unknown moon would have been a big deal.  As of now astronomers have designated many more "moons" orbiting Jupiter.)

The five man crew head to the 13th moon where they encounter a voice telling them to land in a certain area.  Unable to hold on out of curiosity, they disembark the rocket (via an old-fashioned step ladder for God's sake!)  They hear a screaming and rescue an attractive girl from a hideous monster (actually just some guy with a fright mask, but it's SUPPOSED to be a monster in the context of the movie).

The girl takes the men to a hidden garden.  The two leaders tell the other three to wait.  The two leaders are taken to the head of the hidden fortress and guess what?  This is what remains of the fabled city of Atlantis, a race so advanced they could build a rocket to take their civilization to a distant planet, but couldn't figure out how to save their city from sinking beneath the oceans on Earth.  (Or for that matter, how to adapt to living underwater...)

It turns out that the leader, Prassus is the only man on the entire moon.  The rest of the populace of this so-called "New Atlantis" is comprised of eligible nubile young women, whom Prassus calls his "daughters".  (Must've been one hell of a stud in his prime, if you ask me.)

Well, surprise, surprise.  Prassus wants the men to stay on New Atlantis and help repopulate the moon.  But they still have quaint ideas of marriage, as well as the idea that the oldest daughter will be allowed to be the first to be married.  Except that our prime hero has the hots for the second daughter instead.  So the first daughter decides the only solution is to sacrifice the second daughter to the gods.

Confused?  Watching the movie won't help much.  In fact I recommend you watch a version of it that is  on youtube with this one guy translating everything into Russian (and all with the same voice.)  It won't make any more sense, unfortunately, but it will give you a couple of laughs.

Time to get some rest for the final leg of our journey.  Rest well, folks.  Come back tomorrow for the conclusion.

Quiggy








Friday, April 13, 2018

The Solar System on $5 a Day (Pt. 1)




This is my first entry in the Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini


Attention patrons of the Midnite Drive-In! For three days, from April 13th -15th. we are going to take a tour of the solar system.  American International Pictures is our main guide to this tour. We will be visiting many of the planets in our solar system along with a brief jaunt to Earth's moon.  We hope you enjoy this respite from your daily humdrum life.







The solar system is fairly huge.  At least it is by comparison to a trip around the world.  From our sun, it is around 7.4 billion miles to Pluto, the last planet in our solar system.  (Pluto is still a planet in my book.  The hell with what Neil deGrasse Tyson and the rest of  his big forehead astronomer buddies say...).  You could start at one point on Earth, say New York City, and travel completely around the Earth back to NYC almost 3 million times before you could come close to the same distance.

Almost ever since man has noticed that there are other planets in his neighborhood, there has been speculation that there might be life on those other planets.  The most famous example of speculation of life on other planets within our solar system would probably be H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.  I would hazard a guess that probably only the most remote aboriginal tribe in deepest dark Africa has never heard of this classic tale (which, in case you are one of those tribal members, involves Martians invading the Earth).

The drive-in movie theater has always been a ripe venue for tales of space travel.  Movies that were specifically made for drive-ins usually had a budget of mere pennies compared to the extravaganzas that crop up in the multiplex theaters of today.  (All six of the movies we will address over the next three days were made for less than a hundredth of the entire budget for the Tom Cruise version of The War of the Worlds...)

But cheap budgets did not always mean cheap entertainment.   While a couple of the movies that I address do come off a little stale, they are still worth at least one view, and a couple of them are entertaining enough to be watched several times.





















We begin our tour with the planet Mercury.  Mercury is hot.  Take my word for it.  Cameras and film start melting before you even get within 100,000 miles of the planet.  This explains why no movies were ever filmed on Mercury until the early 21st century, when studios finally solved the enigma and were able to have a spaceship orbiting Mercury in Sunshine.  But we won't delve into that movie because our tour is limited on time.  You can check that movie out on your return to Earth.

The next planet on our tour is Venus.  Venus was the site for several decent films, among which were Queen of Outer Space which featured Zsa Zsa Gabor as a courtier to the dictatorial Queen of Venus helping our astronaut heroes who crash landed on the planet.  A Russian film, Planeta Bur, also took place on Venus, as did Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women and today's first feature, both of which were adapted from the Russian film.


Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965):

The film Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet is an example of someone taking a foreign film and adapting it, with a Russian film called Planeta Bur (Planet of Storms) standing in for real authentic American movie making.  The people who released this movie recut the movie, much like someone else did with the Japanese flick Gojira (Godzilla).  But instead of actually having the main actors interact physically with the inserted characters (Raymond Burr supposedly actually talks with some f the Japanese characters onscreen in the latter example), this movie just substitutes our main American actors and actresses talking to the characters from the Russian film via radio.

Basil Rathbone, who must have been hard up for a paycheck, plays a scientist, Professor Hartmann,  on a Lunar base that is in contact with three ships trying to reach Venus.  One of the ships, the Capella, is destroyed by a meteorite, leaving two ships.  Hartmann informs the two ships that they should wait on a replacement ship to arrive to help them.  But our astronauts don't want to wait the two months it will supposedly take for another spaceship to arrive, and one set of astronauts decide to go ahead with the plan and land on Venus.

Upon their arrival the two astronauts lose contact with the mother ship and another crew of three astronauts go down to look for them.  They leave Marsha (Faith Domergue), another astronaut, on board to keep in touch with the landing crew as well as keeping in contact with Hartmann back on the Lunar base.

You probably wouldn't know any of the actors who play the astronauts by name, but even if you did, for some reason AIP decided to give them more European sounding names like Robert Chantal and Kurt Boden.  And the actors are obviously not American, you can tell, but even if you couldn't you would surely notice that their lips are not actually forming the same words that are coming out of your speakers.    

Both sets of astronauts encounter dinosaurs and other exotic life on the planet, including a giant man-eating Venus flytrap (now THERE'S a humorous vignette...)  As the two groups try to connect with each other they run into several dire situations.  Fortunately they have the help of a robot who is able to get them out of one situation involving a rising flow of lava from a volcano.

 This movie has some very cheesy special effects and it is hampered by the fact that the Russian actors are not very good, but since it is only about an hour or so long, it is worth a watch, if only for the appearance of two memorable movie icons.  Basil Rathbone is famous to most viewers for his many portrayals of Sherlock Holmes and Faith Domergue was a sultry siren in many sci-fi and horror films herself ( Cult of the Cobra, It Came From Beneath the Sea, The Atomic Man and of course the most familiar role in This Island Earth)




On our tour of the planets in the solar system, we felt we would be remiss if we did not take a detour and visit Earth's moon.  The Moon was the first thing many of the early Earth natives looked at with awe and wonder over the years.  It was often speculated that life on the Moon existed, and when man finally went to the Moon it was discovered that, indeed, there was a life of sorts.  This was discovered first by the people who made A Trip to the Moon.  Among the other excursions to the Moon, we have Destination: Moon and a bizarre entry in the nudie film genre called Nude on the Moon (in which astronauts find a nudist colony on the moon, although technically it's only a topless moon colony, not a true nudist colony...)  Additionally we have today's second feature:


12 to the Moon (1960):

The premise of this movie is a multi-national group of astronauts is on a mission to be the first to land on and investigate the moon.  A distinguished director (played by the equally distinguished Francis X. Bushman) introduces the crew who will man the Lunar Eagle 1.  They include such distinguished scientists and experts as a German who was the ship's designer, Erich Heinrich (John Wengraf), a boy genius, the ship's mathematics specialist, Rod Murdoch (Robert Montgomery, Jr.), a Turkish physician, Selim Hamid (Tema Bey) and his Swedish nurse, Sigrid Bomark (Anna-Lisa), a French engineer, Etieene Matel (Roger Til), a British geophysicist, Sir William Rochester (Phillip Baird), a Japanese space photographer, Hideko Murata (Michi Kobi), a Russian geologist Feodor Orloff (Tom Conway), a Nigerian navigator Asmara Markonen (Cory Devlin), a Polish born Israeli who serves as the recorder, David Ruskin (Richard Weber), A Brazilian pilot Luis Vargas (Anthony Dexter) and the ship commander, John Anderson (Ken Clark), who is an American.  The ship's commander was unanimously elected to be the leader because of his experience in the field of space travel (and of course because he is a American and this is a United States made film...)

The 12 board the Lunar Eagle, the rocket designed by Dr. Heinrich, and blast off for space.  The trip s supposed to take 27 hours.  In that time, several subplots come to light.  Firstly, for a supposedly cooperative international flight, the Russian comes off as a typical Russian of the era, claiming that Soviet technology is the reason the mission will be successful.  Also there is some sniping between the Israeli and the Russian, since the Israeli is actually of Polish descent (Poland having been under Soviet dominion at the time).  Also, it turns out that the German scientist's father was the Nazi who ran the concentration camp where all of the Israeli's family had been exterminated, although the Israeli is the only one who doesn't know it.

On the trip there are several encounters with meteor showers.   The crew has some special equipment that helps them avoid being hit by the meteors.  (Seems like they probably could have gone at a different time and avoided them altogether, but you know Hollywood...)

After landing the crew find several interesting things, including gold and a bubbling viscous emanation which one crew member foolishly tries to touch and gets his hand burned.   The Swede and the Turk find a cave which seems to, incredibly, have breathable air.  They take off their helmets, and immediately fall in love.  (Don't look at me, I didn't make this up...)    They walk off deeper into the cave and essentially disappear.  Meanwhile the rest of the crew returns to the Lunar Eagle, less one other member who was swallowed up by some version of lunar quicksand.

Back on the Lunar Eagle, the computer starts printing out a message.  It is in the form of some hieroglyphics which, although they don't look Japanese in the slightest, the Japanese scientist can translate.  It is from the residents of the Moon who tell them to leave immediately.  They are worried that the Earth people will contaminate the utopia that is the Moon.  The Moon people say they have the two lovers and are going to keep them to observe them and decide whether or not they are going to destroy the Earth to prevent any further contamination.

Despite a few plot holes that you could fire a howitzer through, this movie is not all bad.  There are a few revelations and plot contrivances that you can see coming a mile away, but most of them, if viewed in the context of the time, are acceptable.

Come back tomorrow as we will continue or trek across the solar system.  In the meantime make use of the well stocked bar and diner on the third level of our spaceship.  We will be sure to drive it safely.

Quiggy



Thursday, April 12, 2018

There's Gold in Them Thar Trains






This is my entry in the Great Western Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts





John Wayne was the essence of the classic western.  Of the 150 or so movies he made during his career over ½ of them were westerns.  Many were of the variety of the cheap budget movies which made him a recognizable albeit underrated star, but beginning with Stagecoach he became a marketable star.  A John Wayne movie during his heyday was sure to be one of the bigger moneymakers of the year.

The greatest western movies usually evoked a time long gone by.  Sometimes they could be politically incorrect (at least by today's standards) when the enemy was the Native Americans, but the "Cowboys and Indians" trope was not the only one Hollywood used during the golden age of the western.  There were also plenty of the "bad guys vs. good guys" type.  A list here would make this post long (and probably a bit boring), but suffice to say not all of the westerns had Indians has the enemy.

I chose two here that have similar themes, that of Wayne as a sort of anti-hero.  Meaning he plays a character who is somewhat on the wrong side of the law, but he is still a character with whom the audience sides, mainly because the alternative is some fairly shady characters.  And both involve trying to get a stash of gold (another western trope that crops up now and then).

























The Train Robbers (1973):

The film begins with a pair of desperadoes waiting the arrival of a train.  The two men, Grady (Rod Taylor) and Jesse (Ben Johnson) are expecting the arrival of an old war buddy, Lane (John Wayne).  Grady has brought along Calhoun (Christopher George) and Ben (Bobby Vinton), two men that he was asked by Lane to include in the coming event.  Also include to round out the gang is Sam (Jerry Gatlin; no relation to the country music Gatlin brothers, as near as I can tell).

When Lane arrives he has a woman with him.  He introduces her as Mrs. Lowe, the wife of a deceased train robber.  Sometime in the past Lowe and a gang of men robbed a train of $500,000 and it was stashed on a wrecked and abandoned train in the desert near Durango, Mexico.  The plan, according to Lane, is not to get the money and split it.  It is to get it and return it to the train company, thereby clearing Lowe of his nefarious deeds.  Ostensibly this is so that Mrs. Lowe's son won't grow up thinking daddy was a bad guy.

Of course these guys aren't going to do it just for the glory of hero-ship.  Nor are they going to do it just because Mrs. Lowe is a sweet woman who has an impressionable young child.  There is a $50,000 reward for the return of the money, which Lane plans to divide among his compadres.

So seven souls set off in search of gold.  But there is an added twist. Ricardo Montalban, as a character whom is never really identified until the denouement, is shadowing them.  What his mission is is really unclear, but his presence in the shadows is always there.  One could easily get the idea that he plans to hijack the gold once our heroes have actually recovered it.

The gold seekers are also hounded by a horde of men who are probably inspired by the posse that chased Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  I say this because they arrive on the scene the same way that the posse did in the earlier movie; already mounted and ready to leap off a train and head out after our crew.  They chase the gang, unbeknownst to them in the early stages, but of course never quite catch up to them until the dramatic scene at the wrecked train.

When Lane and his gang arrive at the train, it is as predicted, a wreck in the sands.  One could wonder why the train company built a track through the sandy desert, but that is immaterial to the story itself.  The gold is stashed aboard the wreck, and Lane and company retrieve it.  But by this time they know that a cadre of no-gooders is hot on their trail and decide their only course is to make a stand.

Having decreased the number of their pursuers and chased off the rest the company makes it's way back to their original destination.  But they have to continue to worry about an ambush from the remaining soldiers of fortune.  A last stand back at the town is set in motion.

Be sure to stay tuned for the final twist in the film, in which we FINALLY find out who Montalban's character is and what his goal is.  We also find out that Mrs. Lane is not necessarily who she claims to be, either.

The movie is truly enhanced by the musical score.  Dominic Frontiere wrote the score, a veteran of Hollywood's composers who would later win a Golden Globes for best score for The Stunt Man.  Burt Kennedy, himself a veteran of many movies, a lot of them westerns, directed Wayne and company.    Kennedy also directed our second feature.  He worked closely with wayne for his Batjac Productions company over the years, although these two movies were the only ones in which he directed John Wayne.



 

The War Wagon (1967):

Taw Jackson (John Wayne) has just been released from prison. He was a rancher who had been falsely imprisoned by Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot), a man who eventually acquired Jackson's ranch, and was now the bigwig in town.  Pierce regularly ships gold from a nine he has discovered on the property, in the titular War Wagon, an armored tank decked out with a Gatling gun, and escorted by an army of about 30 or so gunmen.

Jackson engineers a plan to hijack a shipment that Pierce is going to ship which has a value of about $500,000.  To help he calls in several friends; Levi Walking Bear (Howard Keel), whose help is needed when dealing with the Kiowa Indian tribe that is being railroaded off the land that Pierce wants;  an explosives expert Taw met in prison, Billy (Robert Walker, Jr.), an old coot who has a wagon that comes in handy, Fletcher (Keenan Wynn); and an old friend/enemy, Lomax (Kirk Douglas), who is an expert safecracker. 

Pierce tries to hire Lomax to kill Jackson and part of the fun of the movie is you never really know which side Lomax is actually going to come out on.  He sides with Jackson in the plans, but he has also agreed to Pierce's offer of money to kill Jackson.

The plan is to attack the war wagon at a weak point in the trail and Billy gets some nitroglycerin to blow up a bridge on the trail.  The rousing scenes involving the actual hijacking are riveting to say the least.  In the end, the plans go slightly awry, and there is a question whether any of them will be as rich as they hoped.

In an effort to find interesting trivia to entertain my readers, I often watch the special features on DVDs.  One fact that stood out is Keenan Wynn's hat.  Wynn found the hat when he was doing a screen test and realized it was the same hat that Leslie Howard wore as a Confederate soldier in Gone with the Wind.  So he stole it.  And he managed to wear it again in every movie he made thereafter, according to legend.  (I must say I can't remember seeing him wear it in Dr. Strangelove, but it's a neat story anyway, and at least it LOOKS like the same hat.)

Also included in that special feature was an interview with Burt Kennedy in which he stated that he thought Kirk Douglas was such a great fit for the character of Lomax that he voluntarily gave up half of his salary as a director in order to have the budget to hire Douglas to play the role.  And he was right.  Douglas makes the role very interesting, even with that gaudy ring he wears on the outside of his leather gloves.

Hope you enjoyed the movis.  Drive home safely, folks.

Quiggy

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Bette Davis meets Walt Disney






This is my entry in the Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Hollywood






Bette Davis was one of the greatest actresses who ever lived, in my opinion.  She could pull off sultry sirens, innocent ingenues and beastly bitches with equal panache.  One only has to watch Dark Victory or All About Eve or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? to become convinced that she was just dynamite on screen.  Her debut performance in Bad Sister garnered her the attention that led to a career of great performances and netted her, over the years, 11 nominations and 2 wins for Oscars.

So why, at the end of her career, did she opt for such clunkers as these two films?  During her heyday she had complete control over what she would do, and I doubt that she would have signed on to either of these movies at the height of her career.   Both of these, however, rank in the bottom 10 of her performances on at least one site I have seen.  And I agree wholeheartedly.  She deserved better, and if I had watched these two without ever having seen or heard of Bette Davis before, I might never have watched another.






















Return from Witch Mountain (1978):

This movie is actually a sequel to a previous Disney film, Escape to Witch Mountain.  (You don't actually need to see the first one, but it might help explain a few things if you did.  I didn't, but I read the plot summary on wikipedia.)


At the start of the movie we see a flying saucer land in the Rose Bowl arena.  (In the first movie it was revealed that our two kids were actually extraterrestrials).  Off come Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards), along with their Uncle Bene (Denver Pyle).  Uncle Bene sends the pair off on a vacation to visit museums.  A pre-arranged taxi awaits them.  The taxi breaks down, being out of gas, and the taxi driver goes off to get gas.

Both Tony and Tia have various psychic abilities and Tony mentally sees someone falling from a height and goes off to try to save him while Tia remains behind.  Thus we have a rather typical Disney trope of two young kids separated and their attempts to reconnect with each other.

Christopher Lee as a scientist, Dr. Victor Gannon,  has developed a device that allows him to take control of the actions of an individual who has been implanted with the device.  His unwitting stooge is the nephew of Letha Wedge (Bette Davis).  Sickle, played by Anthony James (he was a significant character in In the Heat of the Night), is a somewhat dimwitted heavy in the film.  When Gannon's device is accidentally broken while Sickle is walking along a building's ledge, Gannon has no way to stop Sickle.  Fortunately for Sickle, Tony arrives on the scene and uses his innate ability to stop Sickle from crashing into the pavement.

Gannon, having observed this, sees power in his eyes.  Letha sees dollars, but Gannon sees the potential for world domination, and the pair kidnap Tony.  Meanwhile Tia, who remained behind at the cab, and who ts psychically connected to her brother, sees him in danger.  She takes off looking for him.

Gannon, back at his lab, has added his mind control device to Tony and is trying to perfect a way to use him in his nefarious plans.  Tia connects up with a youth gang who help her try to find Tony.  Letha, still with the bottom line of getting rich, waits until Gannon leaves on an errand and tries to use his device to get Tony help rob a museum which conveniently has a display of gold bricks (yeah, right.)

I won't delve too much more into the plot.  It is a typical Disney-esque story.  Of course the bad guys are defeated in the end and the family is reconnected.  The story itself is not really horribly bad, especially if you like the Disney take on family entertainment.  Lee is acceptable as a Disney villain, but Davis seems to be at a loss.

I actually had to force myself to sit through this one to the end.  I admit that I'm not the biggest Disney family movie fan, but I do like quite a few of them.  But this one just left me cold.  Even without Davis I doubt I'll give the first movie a watch.




The Watcher in the Woods (1980):

A Disney movie, just by the fact that Walt Disney's name was attached to it, usually meant a family-friendly fun event.  Between the release of the previously reviewed  movie above and this one alone, Disney had released such all ages fun as The Cat from Outer Space, The Apple Dumpling Rides Again, Unidentified Flying Oddball and later in the same year as this movie released Herbie Goes Bananas and The Last Flight of Noah's Ark.  Even 1979's The Black Hole could have been considered family friendly (although maybe the younger set would have been lost in the technical aspect of it.

The Watcher in the Woods, however, marked a divergence from the usual family fare.  The trailers for the movie even suggested that this was NOT a movie for the folks to take the tots to see.  In addition to the voice-over which ends with "This is NOT a fairy tale", there was an added piece that suggested that, although Disney was proud of their new movie, that parents should not bring the younger kiddos to see it.  It turns out that this is not a marketing strategy, nor is it hyperbole.  The movie is pretty scary, at least in terms of the standard Disney fare.

An American family that has a father, Paul Curtis (David McCallum), his wife, Helen (Carroll Baker) and two daughters, Jan and Ellie  (Lynn-Holly Johnson and Kyle Richards) are looking for new digs in England and are brought to a mansion owned by a Mrs. Aylwood (Bette Davis).  The mansion is being rented as Mrs. Aylwood has moved to the guest house, and the price is such a steal that the Curtises can't resist.

Mrs. Aylwood decides she will "take a chance" on the Americans, which has a lot to do with the fact that Jan looks a lot like Aylwood's daughter, Karen, whom, as we will see, disappeared some 30 years earlier.  The first indication there is something weird going on around the woods surrounding the mansion is when Jan looks out her window and sees a bright light, and the window cracks when she touches it.  But like any good horror movie instead of running for safety she just looks at it with a "That's odd" look on her face.

Ellie gets a new puppy which she names Nerak.  This is presaged by Ellie, in a sort of trance, writing the name in the dew on a nearby window.  But she writes it backwards, and if viewed from the other side it is "Karen".  The neighbors of Mrs. Aylwood, in particular Mary Fleming (Frances Cuka), are disturbed by the coincidence.

It turns out that Mary, along with Tom Colley (Richard Pasco) and John Keller (Ian Bannen) were involved in a secret initiation rite with Karen Aylwood the night she disappeared, and all three have lived with the guilt they felt that led to her disappearance.  Jan becomes convinced that the upcoming solar eclipse will be important, and becomes even further sure that she can rescue Karen, whom she is sure is still alive, but trapped somewhere.

After having watched this movie I would have thought that all of the actors were just pulled off the street and had never acted before.  No one, not even Davis, seemed to have a clue.  Davis, for her part, plays a wooden emotionless character.  And as cute as she is, I don't think Lynn-Holly Johnson should ever have been given a chance to take off her skates and try acting.  Even McCallum, who was excellent in the TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. seems lost in his altogether very brief role.

Upon reflection, I think the blame for both of these movies should really lie on the shoulders of the director, John Hough.  Hough had a career in Hollywood, but most of his output was pretty unmemorable. He was responsible for one of the worst (my opinion) versions of Treasure Island and The Howling IV (but then ALL of the sequels to the original The Howling were pretty bad, so maybe I should cut him a break there...)

Time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  Drive safely folks.


Quiggy