Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Five Best Made-for-TV Horror Movies

What's Halloween without a post on classic fright films? This year, we are paying homage to the best horror films made specifically for television. And since this is a classic movie blog, all of our choices were broadcast no later than the 1980s. Hey, that's the classic era for made-for-TV movies anyway!

1. Gargoyles - A rare network TV-movie excursion into visual horror, Gargoyles opens with a prologue that explains the ancient creatures are the devil's offspring and are reborn every 600 years. They exist to “battle against man to gain dominion of the earth.” This theme closely parallels horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's mythos, in which creatures known as The Old Ones lurk in a parallel world, waiting to regain control of this world from mankind. Set in Mexico, Gargoyles is a lively, entertaining film with solid performances by Cornel Wilde, Bernie Casey (as the lead gargoyle), Scott Glenn, and Grayson Hall (Dark Shadows, The Night of the Iguana).

2. Dark Intruder - Some of you may quibble with this choice since it's more mystery than horror and was originally intended as a theatrical release. That said, there is a monster and it boasts some eerie scenes on the foggy streets of San Francisco (with no Karl Malden). Leslie Nielsen plays a wealthy "chronic dabbler" who investigates a series of ritualistic murders tied to a Sumerian god representing the essence of evil. To give away any more of the surprisingly complex (and, at times, again Lovecraftian) plot would spoil the fun. There are two other made-for-TV movies that also mix mystery and horror effectively: Spectre starring Robert Culp and The Norliss Tapes with Roy Thinnes.

3. The Night Stalker - Darren McGavin stars as Carl Kolchak, a pesky reporter who investigates a series of Las Vegas murders where the victims are drained of blood. Initially, Kolchak believes that the culprit imagines himself to be a vampire—but eventually the reporter comes to realize that the killer is a modern-day vampire. Versatile horror/fantasy author Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Duel) co-wrote this fast-paced blend of chills and humor set in Las Vegas. Unlike traditional bloodsuckers, Matheson made his vampire (played by Barry Atwater) a contemporary villain with superhuman strength and the wiles to survive in modern society (e.g., he steals blood from a hospital). This is probably the most famous made-for-TV horror film. It was also a huge ratings hit and spawned a sequel (The Night Strangler) and a TV series.

4. Trilogy of Terror - A trio of Richard Matheson short stories formed the basis for this anthology film which starred the late Karen Black in all three segments. The first tales, "Julie" and "Millicent and Therese" are interesting, especially the latter which offers a nice twist ending. However, it's the third segment, "Amelia," that earned Trilogy of Terror its reputation as a creepy classic. Black plays Amelia, a single woman who has purchased a Zuni doll with razor-sharp teeth and a spear. The doll supposedly houses the spirit of a Zuni warrior known as "He Who Kills." When Amelia is alone in her apartment, the doll comes alive and attacks her. She apparently destroys it--but all is not what it seems. Black is excellent in all three segments, especially the final one. And if all three tales had been as good as "Amelia," this film would have occupied the #1 slot.

5. Satan's School for Girls - This admittedly cheesy 1973 flick about mysterious deaths at a girls' school has earned a minor cult reputation because of its cast and plot similarity to Dario Argento's later Suspiria. It also boasts some bona fide scares. Pamela Franklin stars as a teen investigating her sister's apparent suicide at the Salem Academy for Women (just that name doesn't bode well in a horror movie). You'd think the school would shut down after another suicide, but it doesn't--which provides time for Franklin's character to discover the secret room in the cellar! The cast includes future Charlie's Angels Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd, plus Jo Van Fleet, Roy Thinnes (again), and Lloyd Bochner. Interestingly, the same year, Pamela Franklin also starred in the theatrical film The Legend of Hell House.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Billy Wilder and Jack the Ripper Take on Sherlock Holmes

The 1970s featured two revisionist takes on Sherlock Holmes: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was released in 1970 and Murder By Decree appeared at the end of the decade. While neither film is wholly successful, they each boast a lot of star power either in front of or behind the camera. They also overcome convoluted conspiracy plots and miscast actors to justify a couple of hours of your time.

Murder By Decree opens atmospherically with the sounds of London--a dog barking, a baby crying, distant bells--accompanying a heavy fog. A quick scene at a local theatre, in which the Prince of Wales is jeered by the crowd, indicates a tumultuous political climate. Shortly thereafter, we experience the third of a recent series of Whitechapel murders through the eyes of the killer. 

Before you can say "Elementary, my dear Watson," the Baker Street sleuth (Christopher Plummer) and his companion (James Mason) are delving into a labyrinthine plot that involves Jack the Ripper, 33rd-degree members of the Secret Order of the Free Masons, a possible psychic, and a "decadent monarchy."

Holmes in disguise.
With an assist from screenwriter John Hopkins, Plummer transforms Holmes into an athletic hero who uses a weighted scarf as a weapon (sort of like a bola). He also makes jokes at Watson's expense and sheds tears at human injustice. It's a far cry from the more conventional Sherlocks portrayed by Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, and Jeremy Brett. There's certainly an audience for different Holmes interpretations, as shown by the success of Robert Downey, Jr.'s films, but one's appreciation for Murder By Decree will hinge largely on whether you accept Plummer as Holmes.

Holmes as action hero?
Plotwise, Murder By Decree squanders an interesting premise by layering it with too many complexities. It's also not the first film to pit Holmes against Jack the Ripper. A Study in Terror, a tidy 1965 mystery, holds that distinction (and also features a fine John Neville performance as Holmes). Interestingly, Frank Finlay played Inspector Lestrade in both A Study in Terror and  Murder By Decree. The 2001 Jack the Ripper film From Hell, although based on a graphic novel, shares some plot similarities with Murder By Decree (though there's nary a Sherlock Holmes to be found).

There's no Ripper to be found in Billy Wilder's ambitious The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It opens 50 years after Watson's death when a new manuscript is discovered in a sealed box in a bank. The document contains a letter from Watson, in which he states that in addition to his published Holmes stories, "there were other adventures which, for reasons of discretion, I have decided to withhold from the public until this much later date." 

Robert Stephens as Holmes.
Wilder and distributor United Artists originally intended The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes to be a three-hour "road show" attraction. However, such motion picture "events" were being phased out (one problem was that lengthy films often generated less profit because they could only be shown twice the days before multiplexes). As a result, the film was edited down to 125 minutes by removing two stories: the 15-minute "The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners" and the half-hour "The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room."

The two tales that remain are a mixed bag. The first is a slightly amusing, albeit silly, story of a ballerina offering to pay Holmes for a week of lovemaking so that she can conceive a child genius. She points out that Holmes was not her first choice, but there were problems with Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Nietzsche. Not wishing to offend, Holmes implies that he and Watson are more than just friends--an insinuation that Watson fears will destroy his reputation.

The second tale starts with the appearance of a mysterious amnesiac woman and spirals into a mystery that involves a missing mining engineer, peculiar monks, midgets, the Loch Ness monster, and a conspiracy headed by none other than Sherlock's older brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee). Its outcome is a letdown, but there are delights along the way, such as the stunning Scottish scenery.

Blakely as Dr. Watson.
In fact, the same can be said of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in general. Wilder never quite finds the right tone, but Robert Stephens is a delightful Holmes (unfortunately, Colin Blakely's overexcited Watson is a liability). Wilder and his frequent screenwriting partner I.A.L. Diamond have a grand time debunking some of Holmes' famous traits. For example, Sherlock wears the deerstalker hat solely because the public expects to see him in it. Holmes blames Watson's magazine stories, while Watson claims it was The Strand's illustrator that added the now-famous head apparel.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a first-rate production, from the period sets to Miklos Rozsa's lovely score. Still, it was neither a popular nor critical success at the time of its release, though critics have grown more appreciative over the years. Billy Wilder would go on to direct four more films, the last one being Buddy Buddy in 1981.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hammer Halloween Blogathon: The Plague of the Zombies

The villain appears in a pre-title
sequence--but he's masked.
Dr. Peter Tompson's medical practice in a small Cornish village has not gone well--that will happen when 13 patients die suddenly within a year of one's arrival. The baffled physician writes a letter to his former medical professor, Sir James Forbes, stating: "Our village has been beset by a number of mysterious and fatal maladies...the victims have no will to live." Sir James' daughter Sylvia, a friend of Peter's wife, suggests an impromptu visit.

A frightened Alice.
Following their arrival, Sir James learns that things are worse than described. A group of aristocratic young men, affiliated with the local squire, run roughshod over the town. The frightened villagers distrust the new visitors. And, worst of all, Peter's wife Alice looks pale, displays a loss of appetite, and acts very defensive about the unusual cut on her hand. She also seems to have an obsessive interest in the handsome and wealthy Squire Hamilton.

Released in 1966, The Plague of the Zombies exhibits all the traits that made Hammer Films synonymous with horror cinema: a strong cast; an atmospheric setting; an interesting plot; and production values that disguise the modest budget.

Andre Morell as Sir James.
The cast in Plague is anchored by Andre Morell, a classically trained actor who worked on the British stage with the likes of John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, and Robert Donat. Morell made his Hammer debut in 1959 as one of the screen's finest Dr. Watsons opposite Peter Cushing's Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Morell brings his authoritative presence to the role of Sir James--a perfect counterpart to the charming villain played by John Carson. The best supporting performance belongs to Jacqueline Pearce as the vulnerable Alice.

Director John Gilling filmed The Plague of the Zombies back-to-back with The Reptile. The films also share the same crew, the same setting, and some of the same performers (the most prominent of which is Pearce, who plays a more significant role in The Reptile). A journeyman director, Gilling brings surprising visual flair to The Plague of the Zombies. He employs an effective blue color scheme--from the deep-blue night sky to the blue-tinted zombies. The first zombie appearance is played for chills as the creature--almost silhouetted again the sky--tosses a woman's corpse toward Sylvia. Another effective scene has hands rising up out of the earth.

The only thing that keeps Plague from ranking with Hammer's best is the derivative nature of the plot. Although Hammer attempts to mask it with a different setting and better acting, a key element of the plot--why the squire wants to turn people into zombies--appears to have been lifted from the 1932 Bela Lugosi film White Zombie.

Hammer released The Plague of the Zombies on a double-bill with Dracula: Prince of Darkness, a fair entry in its usually entertaining Dracula series with Christopher Lee. The poster promised vampire fangs for the young male movie theatre patrons--so they could "bite back." The girls in the audience got "zombie glasses" to defend themselves. I'm still pondering the zombie's pretty easy to recognize a zombie (especially if they're tinted blue and move in a lumbering fashion). So, I'm not sure if those glasses really provide much in the way of zombie protection.

This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café. Click here view the complete blogathon schedule.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hammer Halloween Blogathon: Blood from the Mummy's Tomb

In 1959, Hammer released The Mummy, another remake of a Universal classic, to follow The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula (aka Dracula). Like its predecessors, The Mummy was a stylish, gothic rendering filled with action, shocks and topnotch performances from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. But quite unlike the previous two, sequels were slow to follow and weren’t nearly as memorable. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) was a sluggish B-movie, while The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), admittedly a vast improvement over Curse, is still largely unremarkable. Seth Holt’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) would prove to be a much different film.

Tera in her sarcophagus

An archaeological team unearths an ancient tomb in Egypt, in which resides the body of a priestess. The decision to disturb the tomb has dire results even before they take relics – the wife of Fuchs (Andrew Keir) dies giving birth to the couple’s daughter, Margaret, at the same time the discovery is made. Years later, Margaret (Valerie Leon) is the mirror image of Tera (Leon again), the Egyptian priestess, whose perfectly preserved remains lie in a sarcophagus in Fuchs’ basement, a recreation of the tomb. Margaret’s birthday is looming, and it’s the ideal time for Tera’s resurrection, her lost soul collecting her purloined relics, as well as the lives of the people who are holding them. 
This tomb doesn't look inviting.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel, The Jewel of Seven Stars, is a stellar film, drenched in atmosphere and a markedly somber tone. There’s nothing to marvel in the Egyptian tomb--it’s dark and dank, like the place of death that it is. The nights are covered in fog; a mental institution, where one of the archaeological team winds up, is a place of long corridors and deep shadows; and Margaret stands in never-ending gusts of wind without a visible source.

This relentlessly spooky ambiance comes through characters and performances as well. Dandridge (Hugh Burden) is petrified when he sees the grown Margaret, before the audience knows the full story of Tera (“It was her… She who has no name”). Corbeck (James Villiers) is hiding in a seemingly abandoned house across the street from Fuchs. Helen (Rosalie Crutchley), working as a fortune teller, sees a foreboding image of the seven stars (the same seven that form the Big Dipper). Director Holt also gives life to the inanimate relics by way of shadows and their mere presence when people are attacked by something unseen. Even the recurrent image of Tera is chilling, despite spending most of the film lying in a sarcophagus, eyes closed and looking very much dead.

She's tall, too.
Valerie Leon is impressive in the lead. For a good part of the film, Margaret is mesmerized, making return trips to the basement to stare at the priestess or the slowly restored relics. It’s a gradual transformation: she’s initially dazed but eventually it’s hard to tell if Margaret is simply captivated or if Tera has completely possessed her. The beautiful, rather lanky actress – just an inch shy of six feet – either matches her co-stars in height or towers over them. It’s an imposing posture that augments an already marvelous performance.

Peter Cushing was originally cast as Margaret’s father, Fuchs. But he left after just a day of filming because his wife was ill. Director Holt died with a week of shooting remaining, and filming was completed by producer/director Michael Carreras, son of Hammer co-founder James Carreras. Cushing’s wife also died before the production’s end. Carreras’ work on the film is seamless with the scenes already shot by Holt; it certainly doesn’t look like a movie made by two different directors.

Corbeck's hiding place.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb wasn’t the only adaptation of the Stoker novel. The 1970 British telefilm, Curse of the Mummy, actually made it to screens (albeit small) first. Later versions included The Awakening (1980), Mike Newell’s feature film debut, with Charlton Heston, Susannah York and a pre­-Remington Steele Stephanie Zimbalist; Fred Olen Ray’s The Tomb (1986), starring John Carradine, Cameron Mitchell and Sybil Danning; and the 1998 straight-to-video Bram Stoker’s Legend of the Mummy (aka Bram Stoker’s The Mummy) with Louis Gossett, Jr. and featuring Aubrey Morris playing a doctor, much like his character in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. Margaret’s boyfriend, played by Mark Edwards, is named Tod Browning after the director of another Stoker adaptation, Universal’s classic 1931 Dracula.

Leon, unfortunately, was not cast in leading roles very often. She also starred in a number of Hammer’s Carry On movies and had appearances in both an official and unofficial Bond film – she was a hotel receptionist in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) with Roger Moore and one of Bond’s conquests in 1983’s Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery. Villiers starred in a Bond film as well, For Your Eyes Only (1981), as the MI6 Chief of Staff; he and Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defence were essentially sharing the role of M, after the script was rewritten due to the death of the original M, Bernard Lee. Villiers, however, did not appear in future 007 outings. Actor Morris specialized in cult films, also cropping up in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973).

Alleys: Just as spooky as tombs.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb did not receive much notice or acclaim when first released--it was released as a double-bill in support of Roy Ward Baker’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. But it has since gone on to become a cult film. It is definitely one of Hammer’s best – a mummy film so gripping and moody that it didn’t even need the iconic bandage-wrapped figure. Just a tall, radiant, alluring woman. In a coffin.

This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film & TV Café. Click here view the complete blogathon schedule.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bad Movie Theatre: Jerry Lewis Pays a "Visit to a Small Planet"

This review isn't about Charo and
The Concorde...Airport '79.
I originally intended to review The Concorde...Airport '79 in this column. I actually watched that debacle because of its notoriety as an awful movie. After all, Roger Ebert included it in his book I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie (he doesn't review the film, but addresses one incredulous scene). However, I ultimately decided that the makers of The Concorde must have made a bad movie on purpose. I mean, I like Charo, but when you film a scene of her smuggling a chihuahua aboard an airplane--well, it's obvious that you knew what you were doing. We don't pander to the makers of bad movies at the Cafe, so that's all the press we'll devote to The Concorde... Airport '79 (for reviews of Airport 1975 and Airport '77, click here.)

I apologize for the digression. Let us shift our attention to Visit to a Small Planet. It's also a bad movie, but clearly not intended as such. Acclaimed playwright and author Gore Vidal, who penned The Best Man (a favorite), originally wrote Visit to a Small Planet in 1955 for the Goodyear Television Playhouse. He adapted it for Broadway in 1957, where it ran for almost a year. Cyril Ritchard--best known as Captain Hook opposite Mary Martin's Peter Pan--directed and starred as an alien being who visits Earth. The play earned three Tony nominations: Ritchard for Best Actor in a Play; Eddie Mayehoff for Best Featured Actor in a Play; and Best Scenic Design.

Lewis on the ceiling.
When Paramount decided to mount a film version in 1960, it naturally wanted to cast an established star in the lead. According to a 2012 article for Film Threat, David Niven, Alec Guinness, and Danny Kaye (my pick!) were considered for the role of Kreton the alien. Any of them would have been a better choice than Jerry Lewis--who got the part. Of course, to put things in historical perspective, Lewis was a reliable box-office star in the 1950s and early 1960s. His casting surely seemed like a good idea at the time.

Alas, my friends, I can attest to the fact that the combination of Gore Vidal and Jerry Lewis does not make for a funny movie. Nor even a good one. Of course, one can't really blame Mr. Vidal. I haven't seen the television or Broadway versions of Visit to a Small Planet, but I suspect they featured more social satire than what finally made it to the silver screen.

Kreton mugging in school.
Jerry Lewis plays Kreton as a child-like alien from Planet X47 with an infatuation with the Earth. Ignoring his teacher Delton (John Williams), Kreton sneaks off to visit his favorite planet during the time of the U.S. Civil War. However, he miscalculates by 99 years and lands near Richmond, Virginia, in the year 1960. He first reveals his identity to Major Roger Putnam Spelding (Fred Clark), a TV commentator who recently proclaimed: "Flying saucers--there ain't no such animal." Pretty soon, though, Spelding's whole family knows that Kreton is an alien being, including Roger's daughter Ellen (Joan Blackman) and her goofy boyfriend Conrad (Earl Holliman).

Delton soon tracks down Kreton, but decides to let the younger alien study the Earthings for a short period. However, he cautions Kreton not to "get involved." Naturally, Kreton ignores that advice and, after misinterpreting Joan's kindly actions toward him, he decides that he's in love for the first time (incidentally, love does not exist on X47).

The over-used right ear tug.
From the opening scene, Lewis appears to have no confidence in the screenplay. He resorts to over-the-top mugging whenever a visual gag falls flat. Yes, I realize that mugging was always part of Lewis' shtick, but there's an air of desperation in Visit to a Small Planet. It eventually grows tiresome watching Jerry issue commands by tugging his right ear and flaring his nostrils.The one scene with genuine possibilities--Kreton's visit to a beatnik club called The Hungry Brain--starts out well (seeing Kreton in his spacesuit, a groovy patron observes: "Who laid the threads on you?"). Unfortunately, it segues into a musical number that drones on for too long and deflates any sense of fun.

Blackman, Lewis, and Holliman.
Lewis can't be faulted for everything. Joan Blackman is a dull female lead and Earl Holliman grates as a country bumpkin with a pet goat named Myrtle. Even veteran comedians like Fred Clark and Gale Gordon are incapable of finding a way to salvage the humorless proceedings.

I must admit that I had fond memories of watching Visit to a Small Planet as a youth. Honestly, I thought I was a more discerning film buff even back then. Perhaps, the movie still holds some appeal for juvenile audiences--though I doubt it. Still, if you're a fan, please remember that dissenting opinions are always welcomed at the Cafe!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Jack Lord x 2 = 1st Episode of "Hawaii Five-O" + "Walk Like a Dragon"

One could argue that the first episode of the original Hawaii Five-O TV series was the "pilot" broadcast on CBS on September 20, 1968. While the pilot certainly established the show's premise--and introduced Wo Fat, its most famous villain--it was still a trial run. When the series was given the green light, James MacArthur had replaced Tim O'Kelly as Danny and Richard Denning had taken over from Lew Ayres as the governor.

Louise Troy and Kevin McCarthy.
"Full Fathom Five," shown the week after the pilot's premiere, doesn't feature a villain of Wo Fat's notoriety. However, it does offer Kevin McCarthy--who specialized in slimy characters--as Victor Reese, who teams with his wife (Louise Troy) to scam and then murder lonely women with money. Interestingly, the Five-O team might have never suspected Reese if an attorney hadn't pressured McGarrett to search for a missing heiress. In an effective ironic twist, the heiress turns out to be alive. However, while investigating her disappearance, Danny uncovers ten cases where single women with no close relatives had disappeared at the rate of one per month.

When McGarrett assigns a female detective (Patricia Smith), with no field experience, to go undercover as Reese's next target, Danny takes exception.

DANNY:  I don't like it.

McGARRETT:  Nobody asked you.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett.
As with most of the show's episodes, the focus is on the investigation. We don't get a glimpse of the personal lives of McGarrett, Danny, Kam Fong (Chin Ho), or Zulu (Kono). But we do get plenty of stunning Hawaiian scenery, a lively shootout at the climax, and the terrific opening credits (voted #4 all-time in 2010 by TV Guide readers--and it should have ranked higher). Surprisingly, though, McGarrett never utters his signature line: "Book'em, Danno!"

For the record, Jack Lord was a last minute replacement as Steve McGarrett. Creator Leonard Freeman originally wanted Richard Boone (allegedly, Gregory Peck was also in the discussion). Lord's no-nonsense attitude was perfect for the part, though, and he played McGarrett for 12 years, making Hawaii Five-O the longest running detective series prior to Law & Order (which is a hybrid anyway).

Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, The A-Team) tried to revive Five-O with a 1997 pilot starring Gary Busey and MacArthur, who returned as Danny (now governor of Hawaii!). It didn't sell, but, of course, the 2010 series revival became a hit for CBS.

Jack Lord as Linc.
In 1960, eight years before his signature Five-O role, Jack Lord starred in Walk Like a Dragon, an underrated "B" film written and directed by James Clavell (best known as the author of Shogun). Set in California after the Civil War, it features Lord as Linc Bartlett, a small town freight line owner on a trip to San Francisco. He buys a nineteen-year-old Chinese girl, being sold as a slave, to rescue her from a certain life as a prostitute. He gives the girl, Kim (Nobu McCarthy), her freedom--but she has nowhere to go and still considers Linc her owner. Linc ends up taking Kim and a young Chinese man named Cheng Lu (James Shigeta) to his home town of Jerico--where they all have to cope with the devastating impacts of racial prejudice.

James Shigeta as Cheng Yu.
As in Shogun, Clavell does a masterful job of showing what it's like to be thrust into a totally different culture. He eschews subtitles when the Chinese characters speak, giving the viewer a taste of what it's like to not understand potentially important conversations (incidentally, the Shogun miniseries avoid subtitles as well). In one telling scene, Cheng Lu's uncle speaks in broken English in front of Linc, only to speak it fluently to Cheng Yu in private. He explains to his nephew: "If you want to stay alive, you always have to follow certain rules."

Nobu McCarthy as Kim.
Each of the three main characters struggle with the sudden changes in their lives. Linc realizes he's fallen in love with Kim, but knows their life as a married couple would be a very difficult one. Cheng Lu doesn't want to play by the "rules" like his uncle; he wants to be treated with the same respect as men like Linc. And Kim finds herself caught in the middle, unsure whether to pursue a challenging future with the man she loves or a more traditional one with a man she respects.

Mel Torme--the gunfighter?
The cast is uniformly fine, with Lord giving one of his best performances as the conflicted Linc--although Shigeta steals the film. A major surprise is Mel Torme as Deacon, a Bible-quoting gunfighter dressed in black. It's a fascinating casting choice and, frankly, Mel handles the part well. He also sings the atypical title tune.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Seven Things to Know About Don Rickles

1. He appeared in four of American-International's Beach Party movies: Muscle Beach Party (1964); Bikini Beach (1964); Pajama Party (1964); and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). So how did that happen? Rickles' agent was Jack Gilardi, who was then married to Annette Funicello! Our favorite is Muscle Beach Party, in which he played Jack Fanny, a fast-talking bodybuilding coach whose protégés include Peter Lupus (Willy in Mission: Impossible).

2. He originally aspired to be a serious actor and studied his craft at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. One of his classmates in the late 1940s was Grace Kelly. Rickles played dramatic film roles in Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), X--The Man With X-Ray Eyes (1963), and Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995).

Rickles as Crapgame in Kelly's Heroes.
3. Rickles, who served in the Navy during 1944-46, played a member of the armed services in several films and TV series: Run Silent, Run Deep; Gomer Pyle USMC (as a guest star); Kelly's Heroes (1970); and CPO Sharkey (1976-78).

4. Frank Sinatra became an early fan of Rickles' stand-up act. According to Rickles' web site, when the then-unknown comedian spotted Sinatra in the audience at a Miami nightclub, he quipped: "I just saw your movie The Pride and the Passion and I want to tell you, the cannon was great." Sinatra's affectionate pet name for Rickles was "Bullet Head."

5. Rickles attributes his fame to his TV appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Rickles appeared over 100 times on The Tonight Show, sometimes as guest host. It was Carson that gave him his most famous nickname: Mr. Warmth.

6. Rickles also appeared frequently on The Dean Martin Show, which subsequently led to his participation in numerous "celebrity roast" specials in which he "insulted" the likes of James Stewart, Milton Berle, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra (of course), Bob Hope, and many others.

7. At age 87, Don Rickles still tours regularly and appears on the late night shows with Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jimmy Kimmel. In the recently-announced Toy Story 4, he will once again provide the voice for Mr. Potato Head.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Review of "Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz"

As the holidays approach, the Cafe's staff is always on the lookout for unique gift ideas for classic film and TV fans. A great recent find, Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz, is sure to delight fans of the original Star Trek TV series. In his oversized 112-page book, Ortiz has designed a poster for each of the 80 episodes of Gene Roddenberry's 1966-69 series. While the majority of the posters are done in a movie style, some of them replicate the look of pulp novel covers, comic books, and advertisements.

One of my favorites (shown below) is the poster for the season one episode "Arena," which pits Captain Kirk against a reptilian alien in a potential battle to the death. Note the discoloration around the edges to give the impression that the poster was originally created in the 1960s.
In the book's introductory interview, Ortiz describes his approach to the posters: "Star Trek was many things. It wasn't just a show about science fiction. Episodes ranged from war, love, horror, court dramas, death, mental illness, politics, social issues, and of course the Western theme, to name just a few. Therefore, I was able to approach each poster with its own take, without feeling as though I were repeating myself."

At the back of the book, Ortiz includes a brief commentary about each poster, in which he describes his influences or intent. For the season one episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", his inspiration was the episode's two androids: the imposing Ruk (played by Ted Cassidy) and the beautiful Andrea (Sherry Jackson). "I thought a bit about Frankenstein while working on this one," writes Ortiz. "I like how Ruk and Andrea form a singular silhouette."
At a suggested retail price of $39.95, Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz is not an inexpensive book. Still, it's a must-have for fans of the original series. The posters are stylish, colorful, clever, and suitable for framing (though you'd have to cut up your book!). Any trekker would beam it aboard his or her starship without hesitation.

Titan Books provided a review copy of this book.

Monday, October 7, 2013

We Provide the Cast...You Name the Movie!

In this new game (for the Café anyway), we provide three cast members of a famous film and you name the movie. How easy is that?  Of course, in some cases, we tried to make it challenging by selecting lesser-known supporting players such as Whit Bissell and Richard Anderson (both of whom appeared in a ton of movies and TV series). Still, it's a relatively easy quiz--so don't look up any of the answers! (You're on the honor system.) Be sure to include the question number with your response. Please don't answer all the questions so others can play, too.

1. Richard Anderson, Mel Ferrer, Eleanor Parker.

2. Una O'Connor, Eugene Pallette, Patric Knowles.

3. Patric Knowles, Ilona Massey, Bela Lugosi.

4. Dean Martin, Whit Bissell, Robert Mitchum.

5. Whit Bissell, Richard Anderson, Ava Gardner.

6. Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Brad Dexter.

7. Jack Nicholson, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff.

8. Celeste Holm, Art Linkletter, Vincent Price.

9. Lee Remick, Richard Anderson, Angela Landsbury.

10. Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins, Ava Gardner.

11. Charles Ruggles, Leo G. Carroll, Maureen O'Hara.

12. Grace Kelly, Jeffrey Hunter, Richard Basehart.

13. Keenan Wynn, Red Skelton, Mike Mazurki.

14. Diane Ladd, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern.

15. Humphrey Bogart, Alan Hale, Miriam Hopkins.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Cary Grant IS James Bond in "Goldfinger"

Bond using a gold phone.
In his third outing as Ian Fleming's debonair James Bond, Cary Grant has made the role his own. Goldfinger, which opened yesterday at the Bijou, provides Grant's secret agent with a meatier story and the series' best villain yet in the guise of Sydney Greenstreet.

Greenstreet plays Auric Goldfinger, a European gold smuggler targeted by British intelligence. Assigned to maintain surveillance on Goldfinger, Bond quickly earns the villain's ire by causing him to lose a bet. It doesn't help that Bond then sleeps with Jill Masterson (Veronica Lake), Goldfinger's paid companion. In retaliation for Bond's meddling, Goldfinger has Jill gruesomely murdered--from asphyxiation after being covered in gold paint.

Veronica Lake as Jill Masterson and Jane Greer as sister Tilly.
In his vengeful pursuit of Goldfinger, Bond encounters and ultimately pairs up with Jill's sister, Tilly (Jane Greer). They discover that Goldfinger and his cronies are working on a major heist known only as Operation Grand Slam. But before they can learn more, Goldfinger's henchman Oddjob (Rondo Hatton) kills Tilly and Bond is taken prisoner. Can 007 escape from Goldfinger's clutches and thwart the evil mastermind's devious plan to control the world's gold?

A little beefcake?
Grant's strong performance grounds the screenplay's more outrageous elements, such as a key plot development hinging on his romancing of an airplane pilot called Pussy Galore (Eleanor Parker). He may be suave, but his steely gaze also convinces us that he's not afraid to use his fists or his Walther PPK. The Bond character also provides Grant with a great opportunity to move away from the more refined heroes he played in films like North By Northwest. And, naturally, there's a beefcake element to the Bond films that's sure to please Grant's female fans.

Yet, aside from the eye candy for both male and female viewers, Goldfinger offers a pair of quality villains. Sydney Greenstreet hits all the right notes as the gold-obsessed criminal mastermind. When a helpless, captured Bond tells Goldfinger that he won't talk, Greenstreet's villain gleefully retorts: "I don't want you to talk, Mr. Bond. I want you to die!" As his deadly henchman, Rondo Hatton has no dialogue as Oddjob, but he certainly captures the menace as no other actor could.

Eleanor Parker looking tough,
but lovely, as Ms. Galore!
The most difficult role, though, comes down to Eleanor Parker. First, she's saddled with one of the most outrageous character names in recent memory. Second, she has to come across as strong and independent--despite being incredibly attracted to Grant's secret agent. All things considered, she pulls the part off, which is a testament to her thespian skills.

Director Michael Curtiz keeps the action moving along at a fast clip. The production values are first-rate. And the big, brassy title tune warbled by Ella Fitzgerald is sure to be a hit on the pop charts. In short, this third entry in the James Bond series is just what it should be: Golden.

This fictional review is part of The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes.