Monday, January 24, 2022

The One That Got Away

Hardy Krüger as von Werra.
It'd be hard to make up a story as exciting and unlikely as The One That Got Away (1957), the true tale of a German prisoner-of-war (POW) who escaped from the British army in 1940. 

Lieutenant Franz von Werra's exploits begin when his plane is shot down during the Battle of Britain. After landing safely in the English countryside, he is captured, interrogated, and sent to a country manor being used as a POW camp. Von Werra's first escape glistens with simplicity: During a rest break during an exercise march, he rolls over to the other side of a stone fence. As his compatriots march away, he runs towards the forest in the opposite direction, partially hidden from view by the fence. Despite his efforts to reach the coast, the British capture von Werra five days later.

That does not dissuade the confident German from trying to escape again...and again...and again.

Based on the book by Kendal Burt and James Leasor, The One That Got Away seems like an unlikely film to be made in the mid-1950s. After a bitterly-fought war with Germany that ended barely a decade earlier, here's a British-made movie with a German officer as its de facto hero. To be sure, Lieutenant Franz von Werra was not a Nazi, but he did shoot down numerous British planes. Initially, the film's producers considered casting a British actor in the lead, specifically Kenneth More or Dirk Bogarde. Fortunately, a German actor--Hardy Krüger--was cast in the title role.

Krüger, who was fluent in German, English, and French, had acted in German films previously. His bigger-than-life performance as the unflappable von Werra is the heart of The One That Got Away. He manages to project complete confidence without coming across as smug and, most importantly, convinces the audience to root for his character. When von Werra reminds a British officer that it's his duty to escape, the German officer isn't throwing off a wisecrack. He's just being factual (though it lands him 21 days in solitary confinement).

His performance made Hardy Krüger an English-language star and he followed up The One That Got Away with the romantic comedy Bachelor of Hearts (1958). He quickly became the go-to actor for any international films with significant roles for a German character. His most notable movies are Hatari! (1962), Sundays and Cybele (1962), and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)--which features my favorite Krüger performance.

Hardy Krüger is reason enough to see The One That Got Away, but it's also a rousing story that will hold your attention. Plus, it's the kind of fact-based drama that will have you researching to find further details of von Herra's amazing tale.

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Vincent Price Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a Vincent Price film and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1.  A Lady's Portrait.

2.  $10,000 for the Night.

3.  Morgan.

4.  City Beneath the Sea (might be a hard one!).

5.  Dirty Waters.

6.  Prospero's Ball.

7.  The Great Swindle.

8.  The Plagues of Egypt.

9.  Sisters By the Sea.

10. Die, Critics, Die!

11. The Man Who Vanished.

12. The Spider Web.

13. Robur the Conqueror.

14. The Celestial Tribunal.

15. The Devious Professor Ratigan.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Mad Max Ventures Beyond the Thunderdome

Mel Gibson as Max.
The third film in director George Miller's post-apocalyptic Mad Max series faced a daunting task from the outset: Surpassing or equaling The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2). The latter was an intelligent, thrilling sequel that left the original Mad Max in the dust--and was also one of the best films of 1981.

Still, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) gets off to a promising start with Max headed to the makeshift, desert city of Bartertown to find the helicopter pilot who stole his truck and belongings. Bartertown is ruled by Aunty Entity (Tina Turner), whose reign is threatened by Master, a dwarf who controls the city's source of power. Aunty Entity offers a deal to Max:  Kill Master's bodyguard, Blaster, and she will equip Max with everything he wants.

Tina Turner as Aunty Entity.
As required by Aunty Entity's own laws, the showdown between Max and Blaster must take place in a large, confined arena called the Thunderdome. The plan goes smoothly until Max has a change of heart at the last minute. It's a decision that leaves Max stranded in the desert with little hope of survival.

Up to this point, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a taut, entertaining action film. However, screenwriters Miller and Terry Hayes make a sudden left turn with Max being rescued by a group of abandoned children. The kids have formed their own adult-free community in a desert oasis. It turns out they are the survivors of a plane crash and believe Max is the pilot who has returned to lead them back to civilization (or Tomorrow-morrow Land as the kids call it).

Max takes aim.
This entire subplot comes across as forced, from the children's "unique" language to the obvious parallels with the Lost Boys in Neverland. It's almost as if George Miller watched The Road Warrior and keyed in on Max's relationship with the Feral Kid. That worked well--so why not put Max with a bunch of kids and transform him into their reluctant hero? Of course, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome reverts to an action film for the climax, with another extended chaotic chase sequence (which lacks the "wow" factor when compared to a similar scene in The Road Warrior).

Mel Gibson's cynical drifter and Tina Turner's powerful Aunty Entity are the highlights of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Alas, they only have a few scenes together and Aunty disappears for the entire middle portion of the film (and has little to do during the climax). It would have been interesting to learn more of her backstory, especially how she became the ruler of Bartertown.

Despite generally positive reviews at the time of its release, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was only a modest box office hit. The soundtrack did well, though, spawning two hit records for Tina Turner:  "We Don't Need Another Hero," which hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "One of the Living," which peaked at #15.

George Miller worked on several ideas for a fourth Mad Max film starring Gibson. However, by the time he was ready to make Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), thirty years had passed and the role was recast with Tom Hardy. I'd rank Hardy's film as the second best of the Mad Max series, right behind The Road Warrior.

(Note: Although Bruce Spence plays helicopter pilots in both The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), they are different characters.)

Monday, January 3, 2022

Seven Things to Know about Yvonne Craig

1. Yvonne Craig studied ballet at age 16 as the youngest member of The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. After three years, she left the company and wound up cast opposite Patrick Wayne (John's son) in 1959's The Young Land. Craig occasionally got opportunities to display her dancing skills in film and TV, most notably as a Russian ballerina dancing with James Coburn in the spy spoof In Like Flint (1967).

2. In the 1959 pilot episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Yvonne Craig appeared in the opening credits in which Dobie (Dwayne Hickman) peeks through a hole in a fence at her and Myrna Fahey. When the series was picked up, that opening was replaced with an animated sequence of Dobie and the girls. Still, Yvonne guested on Dobie Gillis five times, playing characters such as rich girl Linda Sue Faversham.

Batgirl with the Boy Wonder.
3. In 1968, ABC considered launching a Batgirl TV series with Yvonne Craig as the title character. A short "pilot" was produced, which also featured Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward). Batgirl saves the Dynamic Duo from the Killer Moth, who traps them in a cocoon. When ABC rejected the idea of a separate series, Yvonne Craig's Batgirl was incorporated into the last season of Batman. For many years, the Batgirl pilot was available only on bootleg copies, but it was included as a bonus feature in a 2014 Batman boxed set.

4. Craig embraced her role as Batgirl. In a 2015 CNN interview, she stated: "I hear from women that I was their role model. When I was a little girl, I realized that girls could kick butt just like guys." She also found the experience to be a rewarding one. "I got to work with people that I would never have the chance to work with. We had Ethel Merman. I would never have met Milton Berle, I got to work with him, and he was a delight."

As Marta in Star Trek.
5. Yvonne Craig was a frequent guest star in 1960s and 1970s TV series, appearing in shows such as The Courtship of Eddie's Father, My Three Sons, 77 Sunset Strip, and Ben Casey (with one-time boyfriend Vince Edwards). She also starred in a third season episode of the original Star Trek series called "Whom Gods Destroy." She played a green-skinned female Orion--but she's not the green woman shown in Star Trek's closing credits. That's Susan Oliver in the guise of another Orion from the famous two-part episode "The Menagerie."

With Elvis in Kissin' Cousins.
6. Yvonne Craig and Deborah Walley shared several connections. Each of them appeared in a Gidget movie: Yvonne had a small role in the 1959 original and Deborah played the lead in Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961). Deborah Walley appeared in the Beach Party movies Beach Blanket Bingo and The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini; Yvonne Craig appeared with Walley in the Frankie Avalon comedy Ski Party (1965). Yvonne starred with Elvis in two films: It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) and Kissin' Cousins (1964). Deborah Walley appeared with Elvis in Spinout (1966). Later in their careers, each actress voiced characters in animated TV series: Walley in Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers and Yvonne Craig in Olivia

7. Yvonne Craig was married twice. The first marriage was to singer Jimmy Boyd ("I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus") and lasted two years. She was later married to real estate investor Kenneth Aldrich from 1988 until her death in 2015 from breast cancer that had spread to her liver. In between her two marriages, Craig supposedly dated Robert Vaughn, Bill Bixby, Vince Edwards, Mort Sahl, and Elvis Presley. In 2000, she published her autobiography From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond.