Monday, March 20, 2023

Goodnight, My Love: A Made-for-TV Film Noir

The ABC Movie of the Week was unique among made-for-TV movie franchises in that its films spanned a wide variety of genres. It presented family dramas, thrillers, comedies, horror pictures, and even a kung fu movie. One of its most unusual efforts was Peter Hyams' homage to film noirs: Goodnight, My Love. Made in 1972, it's set in post-World War II Los Angeles and stars Richard Boone and Michael Dunn as a pair of gumshoes whose primary concern is the source of their next meal.Embed from Getty Images Richard Boone, Michael Dunn, and Barbara Bain.

Business starts looking up for Francis Hogan (Boone) and Arthur Boyle (Dunn) when the slinky Susan Lakely (Barbara Bain) saunters into their low-rent office. She wants the two private eyes to find her boyfriend, whom she claims has been missing for several days. Hogan is unenthusiastic about the case, but Boyle is hungry so they take the job.

Somehow, the boyfriend's disappearance is linked to a missing briefcase and a shady nightclub owner named Julius Limeway (Victor Buono). Limeway's henchman, Lakely's lies, and a couple of corpses muddle the clues as Hogan and Doyle try to uncover the truth--and get a decent dinner.

Richard Boone, who flashed plenty of charisma as Paladin in Have Gun--Will Travel, is surprisingly low-key as possibly the grumpiest detective in the history of cinema. It works, though, thanks to his castmates who elevate their game. Michael Dunn shines as Boone's witty sidekick, delivering his quips with style--even when he's not on camera. In one scene, when Susan expresses concern about Hogan's safety, the detective reassures her: "I'm a big boy. I can take care of myself." Offscreen, Dunn's sidekick adds: "I'm not so big."

Barbara Bain, who looks fabulous in the 1940s fashions, plays her femme fatale with a knowing wink, but never crosses the line into parody. The same applies to Victor Buono, who is ideally cast as the white suit-wearing villain who would have been played by Sidney Greenstreet once upon a time. Embed from Getty Images

I had the opportunity to interview Barbara Bain in 2019. When I asked her about Goodnight, My Love, she told me:

"I just loved doing that movie with Richard Boone and Michael Dunn. It was interesting to play this woman about whom we find out all kinds of things by the end. She's all 'poor me' in the beginning and not so 'poor me' by the end of it. I received extraordinary compliments about my performance. I spent some time with (director) Peter Hyams in the last year or two and we recalled making the film. Lee Strasberg (the famous acting teacher) said I was just wonderful. I can't even say it. I can't quote somebody else talking about me without being a little embarrassed. But after all these years, it was very nice to hear that from one's master teacher." Embed from Getty Images

For many years, it was hard to find a quality print of Goodnight, My Love. Fortunately, one of my Twitter friends (@CED_LD_Guy) has made it available on Rumble (a free streaming platform like YouTube). Click here to watch it.

Goodnight, My Love may not rank with the best of film noir, but it's an entertaining, well-made homage. It's also a great example of the kind of creative filmmaking that made the ABC Movie of the Week appointment television for those of us who grew it up in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Monday, March 13, 2023

'80s Flashback: Trouble in Little China and Vampires in Santa Carla

Kurt Russell as Jack Burton.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986). This fourth collaboration between Kurt Russell and director John Carpenter is a mildly diverting martial arts fantasy--which has nevertheless attracted a strong cult following. 

Russell stars as Jack Burton, a tough-talking truck driver trying to collect a gambling debt from pal Wang Chi (Dennis Dun). When Wang's fiancée Miao Yin is kidnapped soon after arriving in San Francisco, Jack agrees to help Wang rescue her. It turns out that the green-eyed Miao Yin has been abducted by Lo Pan, a powerful ancient sorcerer. He wants to "marry" the girl so he can regain earthy form and rule the world.

Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law.
Big Trouble in Little China consists mostly of colorful fight scenes and chases as Russell quips one-liners and banters playfully with Kim Cantrell, who plays a crusading lawyer. It's all very tongue-in-cheek and boasts an amusing conceit: Wang is the real hero and Jack is the sidekick.

And yet, despite its good intentions, the film comes across as "B" movie fodder, especially compared to Russell and Carpenter's previous pairings Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982). Perhaps, part of the problem is that Carpenter was the driving force behind those films whereas Big Trouble in Little China was a big studio film already in development before Carpenter came aboard.

There are worse ways to spend 99 minutes. However, if you want to see a Kurt Russell-John Carpenter movie, you're better off watching Escape from New York, The Thing--or even Elvis.

The Lost Boys (1987). As the Emerson family drives past the "Welcome to Santa Carla" sign, a spray-painted message on the backside adds: "Murder capital of the world." An ominous greeting for new residents, no doubt!

Corey Haims and Jason Patric.
Recently divorced, Lucy Emerson has relocated to the coastal community to move in with her elderly father. It will be a new start for Lucy and her teenage sons: the introspective Michael (Jason Patric) and his younger outgoing brother Sam (Corey Haim). 

During a nighttime concert on the crowded, neon-lit boardwalk, Michael makes a connection with an attractive teenage girl named Star (Jami Gertz). She is somehow affiliated with a gang of delinquents led by the charismatic David (Keifer Sutherland). What Michael doesn't know--but soon finds out--is that David and his cronies are vampires!

The Lost Boys is one of the best teen horror films of the 1980s, a smartly-written drama with several strong performances, stylish cinematography, and a sly sense of humor. The film's title is a tip-off that it's a play on James M. Barrie's Peter Pan--only these Lost Boys have to drink the blood of the living to avoid growing up. Like Peter Pan's "gang," these youths need a mother and it turns out that their target is Lucy Emerson (a delightful Dianne Wiest).

A softly menacing Sutherland.
The weak link in the cast is Corey Haim. Certainly, Haim got a lot of mileage out of his likably goofy on-screen persona. It works well enough in The Lost Boys, but it still feels like Haim is trying to too hard. There's a "look at me" quality to his acting that conflicts with the polished performances of his co-stars. Jason Patric commands attention with his brooding attitude while Sutherland can generate chills simply by uttering: "Michael."

The Lost Boys clicked with audiences in 1987, earning almost as much as bigger productions such as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Studio heads flirted with a sequel to be called The Lost Girls. In the end, two low-budget belated sequels--Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008) and Lost Boys: The Thirst (2010)--were released straight to video. Corey Feldman (not Haim) revived his role as a vampire hunter from the original.