Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seven Obscure Movies That I Curiously Remember (Volume 3)

1. Johnny Nobody (1961) - In a small Irish village, a ranting atheist dares God to strike him dead--at which point, a mysterious stranger shoots and kills the man. The killer identifies himself as "nobody" and claims that God directed his actions. That becomes his defense when he is brought to trial. I haven't seen this film since the early 1970s, but the premise alone left a lasting impression. Hey, TCM, if you have this one in your vaults, let's get it on the air!

2. The Southern Star (1969) - Set in Africa in 1912, this lighthearted tale concerns a huge diamond, which is stolen soon after its discovery. Adventurer George Segal, diamond miner's daughter Ursula Andress, security chief Ian Hendry, and portly villain Orson Welles all seek the missing stone. This one pops up on TV occasionally because of the cast. For some inexplicable reason, the scene I remember best is a chess game involving liqueur-filled glasses.

Ursula Andress looking groovy!
3. The 10th Victim (1965) - In the future, a television show called The Big Hunt pits participants--known as Hunters and Victims--against each other in multiple rounds of murder with the big winner gaining international fame. In this pop-art vision of the future, hunter Ursula Andress tracks down victim Marcello Mastrianni as they flirt with one another and wear stylish clothes. The 10th Victim is a bizarre film, but has its share of passionate fans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was frequently shown on television (probably due to Ursula's popularity). These days, it's a rarity.

4. Shoot Loud, Louder...I Don't Understand (1966) - Such was Raquel Welch's fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s that most of her films were shown on U.S. network television--even this Italian-made oddity. Marcello Mastrianni (again!) stars as a sculptor who dreams that his neighbor, a notorious gangster, has been murdered. As in , Mastrianni's character has trouble distinguishing between dreams and reality--but, rest assured, this is no Fellini masterpiece.

Angel Tompkins.
5. The Teacher (1974) - What did Jay North do after the Dennis the Menace TV series? Well, one of his few starring roles was in this drive-in picture notable for featuring cult movie favorite Angel Tompkins. Jay plays a high school student who has an affair with an attractive teacher (Angel). This situation doesn't sit well with another young man who has been stalking her--and accidentally causes his young brother's death. The Teacher is not very good, but don't tell that to any of Angel's fans!

6. Paul and Michelle (1974) - One of the surprise hits of 1971 was Friends, a romance about two teens who run away together and have a baby. It was directed by 007 veteran Lewis Gilbert and featured songs by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. This belated sequel picks up the story with Paul, now in prep school, searching for Michelle and then competing with a rival for her affections. It's pretty bland, but, hey, most people don't even know there was a sequel to Friends. Now, you do! So, if you're a Jeopardy winner because of this, you ethically owe a portion of your winnings to us.

7. The Strange Door (1951) - Charles Laughton's 1950s films were a hodgepodge, ranging from excellent (Witness for the Prosecution) to awful (Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd). The Strange Door falls closer to the latter with Laughton as a vengeance-minded nobleman who plans to force his niece to marry a cad (as if locking up her father for 20 years and not telling her wasn't bad enough). The title door has no latch on the inside--so once a visitor enters Laughton's abode, they cannot escape.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cult Movie Theatre: The Green Slime

Robert Horton as the stoic hero.
What do you do when you learn that a six million ton asteroid is on a collision course with Earth and impact is just ten hours away?

The UNSC (United Nations Space Center?) recalls Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) from retirement and sends him to Operating Base Gamma 3. Once there, Rankin's mission is to plant two explosive devices on the asteroid, thereby reducing it to atomic dust. Rankin's arrival at the space station is a little awkward. He assumes command from former best friend Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel), who is planning to marry Rankin's former flame Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi).

Luciana Paluzzi as Dr. Benson.
Before this revived love triangle can be sorted out, though, Rankin and Elliott must destroy the asteroid. Their mission goes well, but a colleague gets a trace amount of a green organism on his uniform. Back on the space station, the organism begins to reproduce exponentially ("It's spreading like wildfire!"). Pretty soon, Gamma 3 is being overrun by green, one-eyed, tentacled creatures that feed on energy and kill the crew by electrocuting them.

Made by MGM in 1968, The Green Slime was an American-Japanese co-production. It was shot in Tokyo by a Japanese crew, but with an American cast (except for Italian beauty Paluzzi). Many of the extras were not professional actors. Some critics claim it was intended as the fifth installment in an Italian science fiction film series about a space station called Gamma One. (The first movie in that series was 1966's Wild, Wild Planet.

One of the cheesy-looking creatures.
The Green Slime is now considered a camp classic thanks to its atrocious special effects, silly-looking alien creatures, and composer Charles Fox's rock 'n' roll title song. That said, the monster-on-the-space station premise works well enough and foreshadows Alien (1979)--though both movies owe much to It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958).

As the stoic hero, Robert Horton appears to be having a lot of fun. In one scene, I swears he looks like he's about to burst out laughing. Sadly, the stunning Luciana Paluzzi has little to do. She was one of my favorite Bond henchman, playing fiery Fiona Volpe in Thunderball (1965). She also appeared in Muscle Beach Party (1964), in which she tried to steal Frankie Avalon away from Annette. The unfortunate Vince was played by the always solid Richard Jaeckel, who forged the most successful film career of the three leads.

Shouldn't it be "The Green
Slime is coming?"
The Green Slime was directed by the prolific Kinji Fukasaku. He later produced Asian box office hits like Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) and the controversial Battle Royale (2000). The latter film preceded The Hunger Games by eight years with its futuristic tale about high school students who must participate in a government-sponsored game in which they kill one another until only one survives.

Incidentally, there are two versions of The Green Slime. The U.S. release is 90 minutes long, while the Japanese version clocks in at 77 minutes. It omits the love triangle, has a different title theme, and sports a more downbeat ending.

Here's a clip from The Green Slime. You can view it full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. You can also stream the entire movie at warnerarchive.com.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Shadow of Death Lingers Over "The Gunfighter"

Released in 1950--the same year as Winchester '73--Henry King's The Gunfighter helped usher in the "adult Western" genre. From its simple title to star Gregory Peck's authentic mustache, this character study works hard to differentiate itself from conventional oaters.

Peck plays Jimmy Ringo, a gunslinger and former outlaw whose body count numbers "10, 12, 15--depends on who's telling." Ringo knows the exact number, as well as the names of the men he has killed. It's not something that he takes lightly. And though there was a time when he wanted to be the fastest gun in the West, he now longs for a normal life with the woman he loves and the son he's never known. Unfortunately, he cannot escape his reputation--and those determined to earn their own fame by killing the notorious Jimmy Ringo.

Millard Mitchell was also in Winchester '73.
Most of The Gunfighter takes place in a practically empty saloon as Ringo awaits his wife's decision on whether she will see him. He reminiscences about the past with his friend Mark (Millard Mitchell), who became a marshal years earlier when errant gunfire killed an innocent boy. He learns that his best friend, another gunfighter, was shot in the back of the head in an alley. He confronts a young hothead named Hunt who unsuccessfully tries to goad him into a shoot-out.

Skip Homeier as Hunt.
But mainly, Ringo awaits his ultimate fate. In addition to Hunt, an elderly man aims a rifle at the saloon doors, hoping to kill the man he believes was responsible for his son's death. There are also three men riding toward town with the goal of gaining revenge on Ringo for the death of their brother (although it was a fair fight). It quickly becomes as clear as the ticking of the loud clock in the saloon that Ringo will not survive the day.

The use of time in The Gunfighter foreshadows the later High Noon (1952). Just as Will Kane prepares for a face-off at noon, Ringo has been given a 10 a.m. deadline for hearing back from his wife Peggy. What he doesn't know--but the viewer does--is that the vengeful brothers are due to arrive in town at that same time. As the clock counts down the minutes, the film turns more somber and the conclusion more inevitable. 

Gregory Peck and Helen Westcott.
In addition to Peck and Mitchell, the strong cast includes Karl Malden as a bartender who remembers Ringo from the old days. Regrettably, Helen Westcott comes off as incredibly bland as Peggy. While that could have been by design--a sort of opposites attract relationship with Ringo--one wishes for more passion on her part in the big scene with her husband.

William Bowers and Andre de Toth (best known for directing House of Wax) wrote the original story for The Gunfighter and received an Oscar nomination. It was initially intended as a vehicle for John Wayne. When a deal couldn't be reached with the Duke, the property wound up at Twentieth Century-Fox. 

Bob Dylan and playwright Sam Shepard co-wrote a 1986 song called "Brownsville Girl" that references The Gunfighter. The opening lyrics are:

Well, there was this movie I seen one time
About a man riding 'cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself 
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Falcon Goes on a Date...and then Strikes Back!

George Sanders as The Falcon.
A Date With the Falcon (1942) is a direct sequel to the series' first film, The Gay Falcon, with Wendy Barrie returning as Gay Lawrence's fiancée. She wants to whisk the Falcon away to get married. Instead, the debonair adventurer gets involved with an investigation into a missing scientist who has invented a near-perfect synthetic diamond. In fact, almost no one can tell the difference--which could be devastating for the jewelry industry.

The Falcon movies, which starred George Sanders and later his brother Tom Conway, were consistently entertaining "B" detective movies. Sometimes, the "comic relief" (typically provided by the Falcon's crony Goldy Locke) was a bit excessive. However, Sanders and Conway always found a way to elevate these fast-paced programmers above the likes of Charlie Chan, Boston Blackie, and Michael Shayne. Certainly, the brothers were charming on screen and seemed to define the word "suave." But I think their true secret was that they looked like they were having fun--and invited the audience to have fun with them.

A Date With the Falcon is a solid entry in the series, though I do find it silly that the writers decided the Falcon should get engaged. Sanders flirts with every woman in sight, inspiring a flower girl to quip: "He's much too nice and undependable to be taken out of circulation." There was no fiancée in sight when Gay Lawrence returned in The Falcon Takes Over, an unusual reworking of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novel Farewell My Lovely.

Tom Conway as The Falcon's brother.
When George Sanders moved on to bigger roles, RKO casts his real-life brother as Gay Lawrence's brother Tom. The transition was effected rather cleverly in the appropriately-titled The Falcon's Brother (1942). Conway's first solo outing is one of the best in the series, The Falcon Strikes Back (1943).

It opens with Tom Lawrence recovering from a hangover, only to be visited by a beautiful mysterious woman (Rita Corday) that wants him to find her missing brother. Lawrence's search leads to a cocktail bar when he's knocked unconscious. He awakens in the backseat of his convertible and quickly discovers he's been framed for the murder of a bank messenger and the theft of $250,000 in war bonds. When he returns to the cocktail bar, it's now the home of the Volunteer Knitters of America!

Harriet Nelson and Tom Conway.
Lawrence's investigation leads him to the Pinecrest resort hotel, where he encounters more murder, a bizarre puppeteer, and Harriet Nelson from Ozzie and Harriet fame. Who could ask for more?

I've always preferred Tom Conway as the Falcon, perhaps because he seems tougher than George Sanders. The Falcon Strikes Back is an enjoyable series' outing with the added distinction of being directed by Edward Dmytryk one year before Murder, My Sweet cemented his reputation.

Don't you love the irony? An earlier Falcon movie was based on Farewell, My Lovely, which was adapted again in 1944 as Murder, My Sweet. The director of that movie? Edward Dmytryk.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Five Best Gregory Peck Performances


Gregory Peck and Mary Badham.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - This is an obvious choice for the top spot. After all, Atticus Finch ranked No. 1 on the American Film Institute's list of favorite movie heroes. However, the beauty of Peck's performance is that he doesn't make Atticus a saint. He quietly conveys the character's values and principles, while achieving incredible natural chemistry with the young actors that play Scout and Jem.

2. Twelve O'Clock High (1949) - One of the best films about World War II, this insightful drama stars Peck as an Air Force general charged with replacing a nice guy commander and toughening up a bomb group with low morale. General Savage lives up to his name, telling his troops: "Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won't be so tough." While Peck delivers those lines with authority, he expresses his character's inner turmoil in the brilliant scene with his executive officer played by Dean Jagger.

Peck kisses Audrey Hepburn.
3. Roman Holiday (1953) - Most film buffs probably think of this lyrical comedy as an "Audrey Hepburn picture." While it's true that she glows in every frame, it takes two actors to create a believable romance and Gregory Peck is ideal as the serious journalist. He provides the perfect balance to Audrey Hepburn's carefree, undercover princess who relishes her temporary freedom from royal responsibilities.

4. The Gunfighter (1950) - This Western stars Peck as Jimmy Ringo, a gunslinger and former outlaw who longs for a normal life with the woman he loves and the son he's never known. Unfortunately, he cannot escape his reputation--and those determined to earn their own fame by killing him. Peck believably captures the loneliness and guilt etched on his character's face.

With Ingrid Bergman on a train.
5. Spellbound (1945) - Alfred Hitchcock's clever suspense film provides Gregory Peck with multiple "roles." Initially, the viewer thinks he's the new intelligent, caring head of a mental hospital in Vermont. However, it's soon revealed Peck is only masquerading as a psychiatrist--he actually has amnesia. Later, it turns out that he may be a murderer. It's a great part and Peck shines as the impostor-victim-investigator trying to sort out what happened to him...and falling in love with Ingrid Bergman at the same time.