Thursday, September 13, 2012

Henry Fonda Uses the Phone, John Huston Gets Confused, and Shelley Winters Sports a Giant Sombrero

Henry Fonda calling his agent after
appearing in Tentacles.
Kirk Douglas did it. Ditto for Walter Pidgeon. Even John Wayne and Ray Milland got into the act. Yes, we're talking about fighting giant octopuses and squids. So, there's nothing unusual about Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, and John Huston appearing in a movie about a giant octopus harassing a seaside community. It's just a shame that they had to choose a low-budget, Italian-made horror opus called Tentacles.

Huston and Winters play brother and sister; he's an investigative reporter and she's a single mother. Huston's writer somehow connects a series of mysterious deaths around Solana Beach with an underground tunnel being built by an industrialist played by Henry Fonda. He's right, of course...Fonda's company's excavations have unleashed a giant octopus that likes to eat people. Have I mentioned that Tentacles was made two years after Jaws shattered box office records?

Shelley Winters makes hats popular again.
Despite its budget, Tentacles had the potential to be an entertaining popcorn movie; consider what John Sayles did with Piranha one year later (and his biggest stars were Kevin McCarthy and Bradford Dillman). Unfortunately, Tentacles is drenched with cliches, such as: the diving bell that can't be pulled from the water because the mechanism malfunctions (it always does in these movies); the first-person views of the creature (which lowers special effects costs); murky underwater photography (see SFX budget again); and the regatta that places a bunch of kids in peril (a blatant rip-off from Jaws). Add one of the worst music scores ever recorded and you've got a clunker.

Huston discussing the squid--no, I mean
octopus!--with Claude Akins.
Henry Fonda apparently filmed his scenes in one day and never appears onscreen with Huston nor Winters. Huston shows minimal interest in the proceedings and, at one point, calls the title creature a giant squid--after we have clearly established it's an octopus. Shelley Winters fares the best, essentially reprising her character from The Poseidon Adventure.

There are two reasons to watch Tentacles. The first is a Fritz Lang-worthy scene near the beginning in which a mother has parked her baby carriage near the shoreline as she crosses the street to talk with a friend. The camera frames the mother in the foreground and the baby carriage (with little Billy inside) in the background. It's a disturbing scene as the viewer waits for a slimy tentacle to snatch little Billy. Cars pass by between mother and child. Then, as a final car cruises by, we see that the baby carriage is now floating on the water. It's an effective sequence and gave me hope (false hope, as you know by now).

Hopkins gives his big
a killer whale.
The second memorable scene is a camp classic. Bo Hopkins, who plays a marine biologist whose wife was an octopus victim, prepares to send one of his captive killer whales to destroy the octopus. He gives it the following pep talk:

"I guess you know now why I brought you here. I wanted to tell you more about it, but there've been many people that died... I've lost a loved one. I need your help more now than ever. I remember the times when I was training you--people used to call you killers. They used to call me that on the streets. It doesn't mean nothing. You have more, more love in your heart, more affection than any human being I ever met. But now I...I can't ask anybody else, so I'm asking you to help me kill this octopus. I hope you understand that. I know I'm in your environment. I don't want it this way, but if I release you and you go away, I want you to know I'll understand. All right, enough said. I gotta go now. If you feel anything--you talk to me. Make some noises. I know people'll think we're crazy. Maybe we are...maybe we are...."

If there's a tear running down your cheek, I'm sorry I didn't warn you about the raw emotion of that passage.   Honestly, I don't know how Hopkins delivered it with a straight face, but--to his credit--he does. He also went on to carve out a solid acting career, mostly in television series like Dynasty.

As for Henry Fonda, he weathered follow-ups like The Swarm and Rollercoaster to win an Oscar in 1981 for On Golden Pond. As a director, John Huston was Oscar-nominated for Prizzi's Honor in 1985. Only Shelley Winters missed out on an opportunity for redemption. Ditto for the giant octopus, too, of course.


readerman said...

Good God that sounds awful. I think I'll stay "out of the water" on this one. Funny post though. Thanks.

KC said...

This is a terrible movie. I think I've seen it five times? I mean, octopi don't even have tentacles. I know "Arms" would be a bad title, but heck, this is a bad film. I'm pretty sure Shelley Winters was drunk when she filmed her scenes. I love her so much! I'm pretty sure that's why I keep watching this movie.

Kimberly J.M. Wilson said...

I thought I was reading a Sark post until I saw it was from you, Rick. You've picked an interesting theme for this week: Good Actors in Bad Movies. You gonna do Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 next?

toto2 said...

Rick, you have truly had a host of fun with "Frogs" and "Tentacles." Shelley's ginormous sombrero was hysterical to see and I think Bo's discourse with the killer whale may be one of the most bizarre yet. Keep up the great work!

Jeff Flugel said...

Ha! Great post, Rick! I remember catching this godawful flick on TV as a kid and even then knowing it was a cheapjack production. That Hopkin's speech is hilariously bad -- thanks for the laugh.

Silver Screenings said...

This is a great review. And THANK YOU for including Hopkin's rallying speech. That just made my day.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Both this film and Frogs is available for free viewing on Comcast On Demand this month. Now I'm more tempted to watch them both :)

Rick29 said...

Philly, I watched them both on Comcast this month!