Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Is "Fight Club" a Cult Classic?


"Fight Stud": Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in "Fight Club".

Hi Keebah, movie lovers.

Are you a person of the male gender?

Do you feel trapped in your job? Disrespected by your kids? Sexually frustrated with your wife/girlfriend/live-in/partner/cuddlemate?

Are you fed-up with being blamed for everything from war to global warming to feckless capitalism to Ryan Seacrest and modern art?

Has life become so stressful and overwhelming that you feel like you're about to explode...or punch the first parking meter you see?


"Fight Tub": Tyler cools off after a bout.

If so, join the club.

Or, rather, join "Fight Club".

Released in 1999, "Fight Club"(based on Chuck Palahniuk's cult/pulp novel of the same name) was initally met with mixed reviews and dismal box office. Twenty three years later, however, this Brad Pitt/Edward Norton cage match has since been deemed a "cult classic" and reviewers have reappraised its cinematic merits.

My question? Does "Fight Club" deserve to be called a cult classic?

Let's ponder the issue, shall we kiddies?

"Fight Shlub": Edward Norton as the put-upon Narrator/Jack.

Our feature presentation begins by introducing us to an unnamed Narrator (who is called Jack from time to time), played by Edward Norton. A well-paid corporate drone, Narrator and/or Jack is single, depressed, unhappy at work, has a dink for a boss and suffers from crippling insomnia. Unable to get any medical help for his condition (or any sympathy, for that matter), Narrator/Jack attends various 12-step support groups as a "tourist" (a fake patient) so he can find a little compassion and feel free to cry.

While attending these groups, Narrator/Jack meets up with Marla (Helena Bonham-Carter), a poor, Goth girl who feels "dead inside" and attends support groups for the same reason he does. She calls out Norton for being just as big a fake as she is, so the two decide to "split" the groups they visit to avoid being discovered.

On a business trip, Narrator/Jack meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a trash-talking, chain-smoking, beer-swilling, in-your-face nonconformist who dresses like a pimp. Tyler slices porn scenes into family movies at the theater where he works and urinates in the soup at the fancy restaurant where he waits tables. His home is a rotting, stinking, crumbling house. He's Narrator/Jack's total opposite! Yet they bond over beers and when Narrator/Jack's meticulously IKEA decorated condo explodes, Tyler lets him bunk with him. He does ask one favor, though: "Hit me in the face as hard as you can."

Narrator/Jack reluctantly complies. One blow leads to another and, seconds later, Tyler and Narrator/Jack are punching each others' lights out. Crazy as it seems, Narrator/Jack finds these fist fights liberating--and he's not the only one: the city is apparently crawling with men who find bare knuckle brawling a welcome release from the grind of their daily lives. Soon enough, Tyler has organized an underground "fight club" that's the hottest draw in town.

"The first rule of Fight Club", Tyler announces, "Is you DO NOT talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! The third rule of Fight Club: someone yells 'stop', goes limp, taps out, the fight is over."

"Fight Grub": Narrator/Jack eats something other than fist.

But that's just the beginning. After (literally) tasting blood, Tyler morphs Fight Club into Project Mayhem: a secret, paramilitary group that bombs consumer giants, public art displays...and chi chi coffee spots. When Project Mayhem member Bob (the late Meat Loaf) is killed during one of these raids, Narrator/Jack is horrified; he'd met Bob at a support group for testicular cancer survivors and the two had become friends. The other Mayhemers, however, just shrug their shoulders and continue making bombs. This causes Narrator/Jack to freak out and have a much needed moment of clarity. Or, to put it another way, Narrator/Jack suddenly realizes that Tyler and his band of merry Fascist pranksters are dangerously off their collective dots and must be stopped.

Unfortunately, Narrator/Jack has also come to learn that their secret Fight Club is not so secret; Tyler has been setting up fight clubs all around the country, indoctrinating its members with his wacky screeds on capitalism, technology and manliness.

Oh, and one more thing: while retracing Tyler's steps and following his paper trail (via airline receipts), Narrator/Jack is STUNNED! SHOCKED! and HORRIFIED! to learn that HE is Tyler Durden! At some point, Narrator/Jack must have suffered a psychotic break (or an extreme trauma) that caused him to splinter into two, distinct personalities--like Tommy Lee Jones in "The Eyes of Laura Mars" (read my review of "The Eyes of Laura Mars" if this is confusing to you) and various soap opera characters.

Unfortunately, Narrator/Jack's attempts to stop Project Mayhem from destroying various credit card companies doesn't quite pan out. However, he does succeed in ridding himself of Tyler by shooting himself in the face (!?) which causes his Tyler personality to die or evaporate, I'm not quite sure which.

"Fight Club" ends with Narrator/Jack and Marla holding hands, watching helplessly as buildings  explode and collapse around them. Will Narrator/Jack turn himself in? Stop future violence? Get the professional help he needs? Or has Tyler and Project Mayhem become so entrenched in the fabric of our nation they can't be stopped? The film doesn't tell us, but my impression is the worst is yet to come.

"Did I do that?": Narrator/Jack surprises himself (and others) after he pulverizes a fellow club member into pulp.

Now we turn to the burning question if "Fight Club" qualifies as a genuine "cult classic".

According to the The Movie Web website, a "cult classic" is a "movie that has generated a significant and highly dedicated fan base over time." 

Or, to put it another way, think of the cinematic universe as your typical run-of-the-mill high school. Traditional classics like "The Grapes of Wrath" or "Singin' in the Rain" are the "cool kids." Cult classics, like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" or "Eraserhead", meanwhile, are the "cool misfits"--and proud of it (read Sophie Collins' full article for more detail).

Does "Fight Club" make the grade?

I say no.


"Fight Bub": Jared Leto as "Angel Face" one of "Project Mayhem"s new recruits.

Why?

Because "Fight Club" is too much of a mainstream Hollywood production-- despite its trappings of male alienation, mental illness, underground clubs and Fascism run amuck-- to be a cult classic.

One of the things a cult classic must do is surprise its audience with their willingness to ignore or flaunt the rules of traditional movie making: the ominous ending in "Night of the Living Dead", for example, or the revelations about Leatherface and his family in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Think, also, of the in-your-face flamboyance of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" or "Barbarella". Then there is the cheerful bad taste and taboo breaking in John Waters' oeuvre.

 "Fight Club" has none of that.

The flick was directed by David Fincher, who gave us "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", "The Social Network" and "Panic Room", among other titles. Dave is clearly at home with presenting dark, violent stuff  brewing just below the surface of society. Thus, he's not saying or showing us anything new in "Fight Club" that we haven't seen in his other films--unlike like David Lynch, who seems to have bottomless pit of crazy to draw from.


Malcolm McDowell as Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" (1971). With all due respect to Tyler Durden, this is what a scary, anti-social character who "enjoys ultra violence" looks like.

The acting in "Fight Club" is universally good. Pitt and Norton are two of our finest actors. However, their characters and their predicament has been done before: "American Beauty" (1999), "Falling Down" (1993) "Angel Heart" (1987) and the TV series "Breaking Bad" all feature guys being crushed by a world that has A) suddenly chosen to dispose of them or B) after acquiring all the symbols of outward success, these guys feel unfulfilled and hollow. 

Even the plot point of a "square" (like Narrator/Jack) embracing the wild side is another familiar theme; think of Jack Nicholson's star turn in "Easy Rider", where his uptight lawyer George bonds with hippies Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, hits the road and begins smoking reefer--all to break free from his middle class shackles. Somehow, Narrator/Jack falling in with Tyler just doesn't have the feeling of danger or liberation the story needs to involve us in his plight.

Next, there is the surprise "twist" of Narrator/Jack and Tyler being the same guy. Sorry, but that wasn't much a shocker to me--or to anyone else who watched the flick. The film leaves clues about it everywhere: Narrator/Jack and Tyler are never shown together (unless they are alone); Marla (who is sleeping with "both" men) constantly asks Narrator/Jack, "Who are you talking to?" when the guys are supposedly conversing; she's also regularly befuddled as to why Narrator/Jack swings between "nice" and "mean" in the blink of an eye. That's because Tyler is Narrator/Jack's ID! Tyler does everything Narrator/Jack wants to do, but can't! If you need even more proof that this "twist" is far from a novel one, just watch "Frankie and Alice" (2010), "Walking Madison" (2010), "Primal Fear" (1996) or "The Other" (1972). They use it, too!

So movie lovers, I hate to disappoint you. The movie "Fight Club" is many things--violent, creepy, even funny in parts--but it's not a cult classic.

Although many are called, few flicks truly reach the heights of cult classic status. This is a very exclusive club and not just anybody can be admitted.


Lawyer George (Jack Nicholson) rides off into the sunset with Captain America (Peter Fonda) in 1969's "Easy Rider"-- a real cult classic, by the way.

Sorry Brad and Ed. Better luck next time.

So movie lovers, I leave you with a quote from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (reworked a bit) to conclude this piece: "In the case of cult classics, I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."

Save the movies, too.












Thursday, December 30, 2021

Learn How Decorating With Phones Can Save Your Marriage In "Once Upon A Honeymoon"

 

"We can still have sex at home, dear.": Mary comforts frustrated hubby Jeff when they learn their honeymoon must be canceled yet again in the musical short "Once Upon a Honeymoon"(1956).

Huzzah and welcome, movie lovers.

Recently, I posted a review of the award-winning documentary "Bathtubs Over Broadway" (2018), which lifted the lid on the wonderful, funderful world of industrial musicals: big, splashy Broadway style entertainments created to motivate/celebrate salespeople from the 1950's to the mid 1980's.

While most "industrials" were live shows, companies also commissioned short films for promotional and motivational purposes. The most famous (or notorious) of these was 1956's "Mr. B Natural", where hyper-perky Betty Luster gads about extoling the "spirit of fun in music" on behalf of Conn Instruments.

Another totally bonkers short from 1956 came via Bell Telephone. Titled "Once Upon a Honeymoon", it's a musical/fantasy/fever dream where angels and telephones save a married couple who keep having to postpone their honeymoon.

Directed by Broadway vet Gower Champion and filmed in blinding Technicolor, "Once Upon a Honeymoon" begins on "cloud seven" in heaven. The Head Angel (Russell Hicks) is furious that angel Wilbur (Chick Chandler) has not been doing enough to ensure the happiness of Jeff and Mary (Ward Ellis and Virginia Gibson). See, Jeff is a Broadway tunesmith and his latest project has been beset with problems. By far the biggest problem is temperamental ballerina/diva Sonya (Veronica Pataky), the star of the show. She keeps insisting that Jeff rewrite the song "Castle in the Sky" over and over and over again.

Angel Wilbur (left) has a performance review with the Head Angel (right). Notice the phone.

"I vant more vishing in the vishing song," Sonya demands (the flick never says where Sonja hails from, but Pataky was a native of Hungary, which explains why she sounds like Zsa Zsa Gabor).

Turning up invisible on Jeff and Mary's roof top, Wilbur arrives just as our cuddlemates learn their honeymoon plans have been foiled yet again. Jeff's boss Gordon (English actor Alan Mawbray) has phoned to report Sonya has rejected his latest rewrite and is threatening to walk if he doesn't send over another version--pronto!

"You said when I finished the score I could take Mary on our honeymoon!" an irritated Jeff retorts. "We've waited a year now and we're going!" (Author's note: My dad worked for Greyhound Bus Lines and he only got three days off for his honeymoon. Consequently, he also got no time off when my mom delivered me and my siblings. Instead, he tried to arrange his vacation time around her due dates, which didn't always work. I, for example, came early. But I digress...)

Gordon, surrounded by his suit-wearing, cigarette-smoking backers, insists Jeff has enough material at home to whip up another rewrite. Frustrated and disappointed, Jeff has no choice but to put down the phone, light up a cigarette and get back to work. In a trick that's suppose to show how much time has gone by, we see the ashtray on Jeff's piano is soon over flowing with cigarette butts (ewww). 

"No inspiration, dear?" Mary asks.

"Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?": Wilbur (Chick Chandler) phones home. 

"I couldn't write 'The Farmer in the Dell'," grouses Jeff.

Gathering up his uneaten lunch, Mary goes into the kitchen and begins singing. "I wish I had a castle in the sky," she trills. "Away up high, where blue birds like to fly! Just a cozy little castle, with a hundred rooms or more. With stars for windows, clouds for rugs and a rainbow for a door!" As she does this, Mary realizes that her fridge never closes properly, her faucet drips and her stove's pilot light must always be lighted when she wants to cook something or make coffee.

"I wish..." Mary warbles. "I wish... I just wish I had a decent kitchen!"

That's Wilbur's cue to start sprinkling angel dust (rim shot) over Mary, causing her to fantasize about a new kitchen that comes complete with "a bright red phone" that will come in handy when "friends call up to chat a bit!"

Still tripping out on Wilbur's angel dust (rim shot), Mary flounces into her living room and sings, "I wish my living room were all redone!" And PRESTO! Not only is Mary's living room redecorated, but Jeff has been put in white tie and ties and Mary is sporting a fluffy white gown. While hubby pounds away on the piano, Mary continues to sing, declaring, "It's nice to have a telephone to blend with my new drapes and rug--a living room that's all our own!"

Mary sings about the joys of having a phone that "matches my new drapes and rug."(Note the MST3K silhouettes in the frame.)

Mary and Jeff then have a dance break, where they twirl around like Bobby and Cissy from "The Lawrence Welk Show". When that's over, Mary flits off to the bedroom--which, this being 1956, features separate twin beds. 

"The bedroom should be changed completely, too," Mary warbles. "Perhaps a color scheme of gold and blue?"

As the bedroom magically changes, Mary pops her head up from behind a couch up and sings, "On second thought, I might try dusty rose..."

Then she runs over to one of the beds, flops on top of it, kicks up her heels and continues singing: "A lady likes to have a change her miiiind...just like a yellow room with turquoise and white...and maybe a telephone that lights up at night. I wish I may, I...wish...I...might."

Mary's reverie is broken by the sound of a ringing telephone. Racing to the hall way, she picks up the phone and finds the caller has hung up. Jeff, at wit's end, slams down on the piano keys and tells Mary to call Gordon; there's no way he'll have the rewrite Sonja wants today. Mary heaves a deep sigh and dials Gordon's number. Still on the roof, angel Wilbur throws down more angel dust (rim shot) on Mary and the phone.

Jeff and Mary tripping the light fantastic.

As Mary dials Gordon's number, the sound of the rotary dial sparks something in Jeff's imagination; he has Mary redial the number again and EUREKA! Jeff has the hook he needs to finish his song!

Soon Jeff and Mary are singing the new and improved "Castle in the Sky" together, even taking time to twirl around the front room. If you're wondering how the piano keeps playing while Jeff and Mary waltz around, invisible angel Wilbur has taken over the keyboards. But, wait! There's more! Boss Gordon suddenly rings in and our cuddlemates perform the updated version of the troublesome tune on the spot. Gordon, in fact, puts the call on speaker phone so Sonya (who happens to be in his office) can hear it, too. Needless to say, the rewrite a hit and Sonya declares, "I love it!" The show is saved!

Finally Jeff and Mary can go on their honeymoon. So our cuddlemates gather up their luggage, Jeff puts on a sport coat and Mary leaps into his arms. Out the door our smitten kittens glide, not even bothering to lock up. Wilbur, meanwhile, phones the Head Angel in heaven to triumphantly exclaim, "Mission accomplished!"

Amen.

Like a Donald Trump press conference, "Once Upon a Honeymoon" is a weird, confusing yet oddly entertaining experience. Obviously a lot of money was spent on this and the performers on screen throw themselves 100% into the proceedings, even if the objectives of the flick remain unclear.

A transformed Mary marvels at her magically redecorated bedroom. Note the twin beds.

I mean, if this short was meant to sell phones, how come the phones play second fiddle to all the redecorating Mary sings so rhapsodically about? After all, Mary just wanted "a decent kitchen"--she never expressed any dissatisfaction with her phone or phone service. Likewise, if Sonya is such a pain-in-the-ass diva, how come we didn't see more of her? A few glimpses of Sonya's never-ending demands might have fleshed out this plot point. Finally, Jeff and Mary's marriage seems OK to me. Sure, they've had to put off their honeymoon for a year, but this doesn't seem to have caused any problems between them. In fact, Mary, the ideal '50's spouse, is nothing less than understanding about the situation.

The website for the National Film Preservation Foundation (!) asserts that "Once Upon a Honeymoon" "exemplifies the enthusiasm and excess of mid-1950's advertising." Indeed, Bell Telephone was so pleased with this flick, local phone companies were given free copies of the song "Castle in the Sky"!

So maybe I have it all wrong. Perhaps "Once Upon a Honeymoon" was just meant to be a fun, musical Technicolor diversion from the rigors of daily life. There was no grand statement, no deeper meaning intended. And if that's true, then, "Once Upon a Honeymoon" succeeded admirably.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, that while marriages are made in heaven, phones are made on Earth and some things are just meant to be crazy.

And SAVE THE MOVIES while you're at it.

You never know where inspiration might strike: A humble rotary phone helps songwriter Jeff finish his latest Broadway score.
















Monday, December 27, 2021

Junk Cinema Salutes The Uniquely American World Of Industrial Theater In "Bathrooms Over Broadway"

 

All Singing! All dancing! All plumbing!: "Bathtubs Over Broadway"(2018) celebrates the over-looked world of industrial musicals.

Hi-dee-ho, movie lovers.

Do you have a favorite Broadway musical?

Is it "42 Street"? "Oklahoma!"? "West Side Story"? "The Sound of Music"?

Perhaps it's something from the oeuvre of the late Stephen Sondheim, such as "Company", "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", "Sweeney Todd" or "Into the Woods"?

Could it be "Hamilton" or "A Chorus Line"? Or maybe it's the melodious stains of " The Wonderful World of Chemistry" or "Diesel Dazzle" that gets your toes tapping?

"Take it from Here": A 1971 industrial musical that billed itself as "the rollicking story of how Charlie Powers of Xerox Data Systems (finds) out what the Xerox Corporation is all about!"

What? You've never heard of " The Wonderful World of Chemistry" or "Diesel Dazzle" or "The Bathrooms are Coming"?!

Guess what, you're not alone. Which is why you must watch the delightfully demented, feel-good documentary "Bathrooms Over Broadway" (2018), currently screening on Netflix.

A hit on the film festival circuit, the winner of numerous awards and the recipient of a 100% "Fresh" rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, "Bathtubs Over Broadway" chronicles the world of "industrial musicals": big, splashy Broadway-inspired entertainments made exclusively for big business from the 1950's to the mid-1980's.

The point of industrial musicals was to hype new products, teach better sales techniques or celebrate a rise in profits with singers, dancers, elaborate sets and costumes and, of course, original musical scores that rivaled the best of Broadway.

However, unless you worked for General Motors, Xerox, GE, Sears or some other big corporation, you probably never saw one of these productions. That's because industrial musicals were conceived and designed as in-house entertainment only, to be shown exclusively at national and/or regional sales conventions or conferences.

 "The New Wide World of Ford"(1960) was made for the Tractor and Implement Division of Ford Motor. The program featured such hits as "Hayin' Line Ahead of its Time" and "More Power to You".

Yet no expense was spared in creating these shows, which often featured Broadway hopefuls like Martin Short, Hal Linden, Chita Rivera and Susan Stroman (a five-time Tony winning choreographer/director) in their cast and crews. Other big names included Bob Newhart, Florence Henderson and writers Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, who gave us "Fiddler on the Roof".

Who's idea was it to alert the American public to this secret stash of musical oddities?

The credit goes to Steve Young, a long serving comedy writer (and Larry "Bud" Melman look-alike) for "Late Night with David Letterman".

Young was given the task of finding weird music for a segment called "Dave's Record Collection." That's where he stumbled upon the soundtracks for industrial musicals. Before long, Young was hunting down these recordings for himself and linking up with fellow industrial musical fans, swapping stories and trading records. That lead to contacts and interviews with the performers and creators of these remarkable shows, including composers Sheldon Harnick, and Frank Beebe as well as singer/actors Peter Shawn, Sandi Freeman and Patt Stanton Gjonala (who warbled the dreamy "My Bathroom" for 1969's "The Bathrooms are Coming!").

When Letterman announced that his show was closing up shop in 1993, Steve, who had been with the program from its beginning, was at loose ends as to what to do next. His love of industrial musicals inspired him to write (with Sport Murphy) Everything's Coming Up Profits, the ultimate resource on "the golden age of industrial musicals". That, in turn, lead to the acclaimed documentary "Bathrooms Over Broadway"...and this blog post.

This record was given out to attendees of a cooler sales convention held in Miami...I think. If you know anything about this song or the production it was featured in, please contact me!

Examples of the crack pot creativity of industrial musicals can be seen in such extravaganzas as "The Wonderful World of Chemistry" (written by Michael Brown for the 1964 New York World's Fair), which sang the praises of such Du Pont products as nylon, mylar and corfam and featured the "Happy Plastic Family"; "Diesel Dazzle" (1966) about selling farm products and featuring the hit tunes "Sell the Truck" and "Reliabilt Hoedown"; "The Grip of Leadership" (1961) from the Coca Cola corporation, where songs such as "Packaging and Pricing", "Keep Things Jumping" and "I Hear America Singing" are found; and "The Bathrooms are Coming!" (1969) where ditties like "Bring Back Those Glorious Years", "Look at this Tub" and "My Bathroom" extol the genius of American-Standard bathroom fixtures.

Of course, "Bathrooms Over Broadway" does more than just illuminate the world of industrial musicals. It also subtly layers in the story of Steve Young and how becoming a fan of "industrials" opened him up to new friends and experiences. Especially moving are the bonds Young forms with the creators and performers of these shows, most of whom never got the recognition they deserved. That was especially true for composer Hank Beebe. Although he worked both on and Off Broadway, Beebe spent considerable time in the world of industrials, which disappointed his mother. She had higher aspirations for her son and dismissed his work there as "just commercials". 

Meanwhile, Young's book Everything's Coming Up Profits is an excellent companion piece to Ken Smith's beyond brilliant Mental Hygiene: Better Living Through Classroom Films. Published in 1999, Mental Hygiene explored the role educational films played in the social development of America's post-war youth. Both tomes focus on an industry that thrived under the radar for nearly 30 years, capturing our country in a more optimistic and forward-looking time. What's more, both authors were initially inspired to write about these entertainment curiosities in hopes of preserving them for future generations.

Junk Cinema, naturally, is an ideal venue for industrial musical appreciation as well. I was first introduced to the joys of industrials on MST3K, THE GREATEST TELEVISION SHOW OF ALL TIME. That's where I saw "Mr. B Natural", a musical short from 1956. Produced by Kling Films for CG Conn Instruments, MR. B Natural was portrayed by the ferociously perky Betty Luster, who is sent  to bring "the spirit of fun in music" to needy, nerdy kids--whether they want it or not. The attention MST3K gave "Mr. B Natural" bought it out of obscurity and gave it new life as "a prime example of period kitsch" (Wikipedia).

Another industrial musical spotlighted by MST3K was "Once Upon a Honeymoon" (1956). Made by Bell Telephone and directed by Gower Champion, this "musical fantasy" told the story of Jeff and Mary, a young couple who haven't been able to go on their honeymoon because of problems besetting Mike's latest Broadway show. The couple's guardian angel (named Wilbur) is dispatched to Earth to help Jeff finish his score, while Mary daydreams about a new house with a phone in every room. A telephone even helps Jeff finish his song "A Castle in the Sky"!

Yes, the gang on the SOL were mocking these industrials, but they were doing it with love. Even Steve Young at first thought industrial musicals were too nutty for words--until he dived deeper into this  secret world and found it a place of pure imagination worth celebrating.


"Go Fly a Kite" premiered at GE's fifth Electric Utility Executives Conference in 1966. The music and lyrics were written by the team of Kander and Ebb, who's next project was the musical "Cabaret". Valerie Harper, TV's "Rhoda", was in the cast. Song selections include "Atom and Evil", "Big, Fat Wife" and "Supermink."

"Bathtubs Over Broadway" ends with a splashy, colorful show stopper called "Take That Step". Co written by Young and Beebe, "Take That Step" features many of the performers and fans we've met in the course of the flick, singing and dancing about the joys of taking chances and following your own bliss: "Take that step/ Shine your light/That left turn/Might be right/Don't wait for the world/To say 'OK',/Find your own way!"

For someone who writes a blog dedicated to saving bad movies, I couldn't agree more!

Therefore, for shining a light on this unseen era of musical creativity, Steven Young, Sport Murphy, director Dava Whisenant and all the unsung heroes of industrial musicals, Junk Cinema salutes you!

Steve Young (center in suit and hat) belts out "Take That Step" with his new friends from the wonderful, funderful world of industrial musicals.

 


Sunday, December 26, 2021

"A Place for Lovers" Or "The Most Godawful Piece of Pseudo-Romantic Slop I've Ever Seen!"*

* Roger Ebert.


Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni are ill-fated cuddlemates in "A Place for Lovers" (1969), a flick dubbed "as exciting to watch as a game of Tiddly-Winks."

Che piacere vederti! (That's Italian for "How nice it is to see you".)

All the world loves a lover, right?

Well, not exactly.

When MGM released the romantic drama "A Place for Lovers" in 1969, the critical brickbats were especially fierce. Here's a sample:

"The most godawful piece of pseudo-romantic slop I've ever seen!" exclaimed Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times.

Film critics reacting to the movie "A Place for Lovers."

"It gives me no pleasure whatever to report that Vittorio De Sica's 'A Place for Lovers' is the worst movie I have seen all year and possibly since 1926," Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times carped. "It is endlessly, interminably, paralyzingly, stupefying bad."

"A dismal mess," sniffed Roger Greenspun of The New York Times. "A Place for Lovers' involves Faye Dunaway, Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio De Sica in what I sincerely hope will be the worst movie of their respective careers."

"Woefully inept," Time magazine marveled, adding, "The five scriptwriters who supposedly worked on the film must have spent enough time at the water cooler to flood a camel."

In the 52 years since its original release, the reputation of "A Place for Lovers" as a Junk Cinema Jewel of Godzilla-like stature has only grown. The film was featured in The Fifty Worst Films of all Time, the January 2019 edition of Italian Vanity Fair magazine included it on their list of the 20 worst films ever made (along side "The Room", "Stayin' Alive" and "Howard the Duck") and even Wikipedia states that the flick "is widely considered one of the worst films of all time."

What makes this romantic drama starring real life cuddlemates Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni so bad? Let's take a look.

Julia (Dunaway) and Valerio (Mastroianni) enjoying la dolce vita.

The Leads Are Nitwits.

Julia (Dunaway) is a fahionista from America. Valerio (Mastroianni) is an Italian engineer working on safety bags for race car drivers. They meet at the airport. 

"I don't even know myself, how, why, I presume to speak to you," Valerio stammers during their first encounter. "I don't have a good excuse. (Pause) But for two hours now, I've been watching you. Look, I'm not a playboy. This has never happened to me before. I don't even know--how--I'm just an engineer..."

Then he hands her his card and asks Julia to contact him if she's ever in Italy. As it turns out, Julia is staying in an Italian villa the size of a shopping mall. She switches the TV on one night and finds Valerio giving an interview about his airbags. She dials his number and Valerio zooms over.

"I see you like experiments," Julia says. "How would you like to experiment by staying with me for two days?"

Italian smoothie Valerio can't believe how easy it was to hook his latest catch, Julia.

"Why did you ask me for only two days?" the befuddled Valerio asks.

"So you can ask me for the next eight," she replies, fluttering her mascara-heavy eyelashes.

When Julia asks Valerio if he's married, he casually replies, "Just about" (I assume that means yes?). Unfortunately, Julia has Ali McGraw Disease, a mysterious yet fatal ailment where the afflicted remain dewy-fresh and fashion plate perfect at all times. No coughing, sneezing, chills or vomiting. Julia was being treated in a London clinic, but she slipped out and headed to Italy.

Julia never tells Valerio she's a goner. Why? Because she's in love! Really in love! For the first time ever! Can't anybody understand that?! Telling Valerio the truth would spoil everything! Julia just wants to live until she dies, is that so bad?

As I said, they're total nitwits.

The Plot Is Preposterous.

Julia is the most beautiful sick person you'll ever see.

Even though they barely know each other, Julia and Valerio decide to spend the next 10 days together. Our cuddlemates have sex, eat out, have sex, go sight seeing, have sex, shoot home movies, have sex, dance to gospel music, have sex, rent a cottage in the mountains, have sex and have sex. The only time they have a disagreement is when they return to Julia's villa and find a party in full swing. The party then morphs into an orgy, complete with a porno movie and couples swapping partners. Valerio finds this too much and stomps off. 

"But it's only a game!" Julia reminds him.

"Only a game?" Valerio huffs. "Some helluva a game!"

Have no fear: our cuddlemates meet later, patch things up and, of course, have make-up sex.

Hovering in the background is Julia's friend Maggie (Caroline Mortimer), a chain-smoking busybody who is mortified that her terminally ill buddy is shacking up with a semi-married gent in Italy. Doesn't he know Julia's dying? Maggie insists she return to her English hospital so she can die as painlessly as possible. But Julia won't hear of it. Why? Because she's in love! For the first time in her her life she's REALLY in love! Can't Maggie understand?! The Grim Reaper will have to wait because she's in love!


"Boogie Nights": Valerio and Julia enjoy a dance with death.

When Maggie tries and fails to get her bestie on a plane back to London, she stubs out her latest cancer stick and calls up the couple's ski chalet. She leaves a message for Valerio, telling him Julia is doomed and must return to her doctor's care before it's too late. Valerio's eyes pop when he learns the news; after all, Julia doesn't look sick, she doesn't act sick--how can this be? How can she be dying when they're in love? Really in love!

Needless to say, Valerio is horrified and angry. How could Julia forget to tell him she was dying?

"Don't look at me!" Julia sobs when Valerio confronts her about the reality of her condition. "I can't take anymore sad eyes! Everyone always gets those good, sad eyes! Yours weren't! Yours were honest! Now," she gasps, "They're like all the others!"

So Julia didn't want Valerio looking at her sadly. Well, OK. And Julia is tired of people feeling sorry for her. That's understandable. But didn't she think she owed Valerio the truth? After all, didn't she make him promise he would always tell her the truth?

 Now that Valerio knows she's a goner, Julia decides to kill herself. However, when the time comes, she can't do it. Then she and Valerio go for a drive and Julia drives like a maniac round the tight curves of the road. Just when you think--hope--the couple will do a "Thelma and Louise", Julia stops the car. Valerio gets behind the wheel and she takes the passenger's seat. He revs up the car and they drive off.

Marcello Mastroianni literally phones in his performance in "A Place for Lovers".

The end.

Which means what, exactly?

Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps the flick's scriptwriters and director wanted one of those ambiguous endings, where the fate of the characters was left to the viewers' imagination. Or maybe they just got tired of shooting this crazy, sloppy movie and decided, "That's it. Everybody's suffered enough. Lets call it a day and go home."

The Acting Is Bad

Both Mastroianni and Dunaway are attractive, talented performers, so it's surprising to see them slogging their way through this pretentious, tedious schmaltz. The critics of the day gave full vent to their frustration at having to watch this "Dumb Enchanted Evening", producing reviews that were more entertaining than the movie.

Charles Champlin snarked that Mastroianni looked "embarrassed and befuddled, also a bit puffy, as if he had his nap interrupted or had tarried too long at the pasta." Time stated that Marcello displayed "all the zest of a man summoned up for tax evasion." Meanwhile, Dunaway, never in the same outfit twice, staggers through her scenes with a preoccupied, far away expression reminiscent of people who can't remember if they turned the iron off. "The only smidgen of a plot is that Dunaway makes a late abortive attempt at suicide," Time remarked. "Something the film successfully achieves after about ten minutes."

"Afternoon Delight": Doomed cuddlemates Julia and Valerio enjoy the sunshine of their love. 

The bad acting of the principals was complimented nicely by "the truly bad script" (according to the Saturday Evening Post) that included five scriptwriters toiling away. Even the crew members realized the flick just wasn't jelling; the same SEP article made note of "the lower ranks" making "sick jokes about doomed, desperate ladies" to pass the time.

"They Do It In The Name Of Love!"

Although "A Place for Lovers" received brickbats from the critics, the producers still tried to get the public interested by focusing on the romantic nature of the story. 

"Wherever they meet, they make it A Place for Lovers!" the ads gushed.

When that didn't work, the promoters tried this: "They Do It In The Name of Love!"

No dice.

Even the real life romance of Mastroianni and Dunaway failed to do the trick. In the end, "A Place for Lovers" was the cinematic equivalent of a really bad blind date: long, slow, excruciating and best forgotten by everyone involved. 

Then a year later, the world witnessed the release of another bat-shit crazy love story about doomed cuddlemates called--what else?--"Love Story". That movie also featured a terminally ill heroine who looked like a Vogue cover model (and actually had been a Vogue cover model) but it made zillions at the box office. "Love Story" was just as bad as "A Place for Lovers", but the public embraced it, begging the question "How could a movie starring Ryan O'Neil and Ali McGraw be better than a movie starring Marcello Mastroianni and Faye Dunaway?"

The world may never know.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, love may mean never having to say your sorry, but when you appear in a stinker like "A Place for Lovers", you will be saying sorry a lot.

So why not help me SAVE THE MOVIES instead?


Monday, November 15, 2021

One Bald Tyrant, Two Princesses and Three Magic Rocks Are No Match Against the "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell"!

 

We don't need another hero...especially if it's this guy: John Allen Nelson as "Deathstalker".

Huzzah and welcome movie lovers.

I have a question for you.

What do you get when you mix a total jerk, the guy who played "Bird Man" on the "Buck Rodgers" TV series, some "dead warriors" who appear to be pan-fried in snot and our future ambassador to Denmark (!) as twin princesses, one nice, one bratty, cavorting in an ultra cheap "fantasy realm"?

Give up?

You have an incomprehensible hot mess AND "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" (1988), which is also an incomprehensible hot mess.

"I'm all...bat ears?": The head of tyrant Troxartas' security team.

Written by Howard Cohen and directed by Alfonso Corona, "Deathstalker and the Warriors form Hell" is the third-to-the last episode of this "Conan the Barbarian"-inspired series. (Ever hear of the other three? Me neither. Ever watch the other three? Me neither.) Taking place in an English/Middle Ages/Middle Earth-type realm that looks like a junior high Renaissance Festival, "Deathstalker" opens with its cast enjoying a village fete, complete with dancing, drinking, jousting and a fire breather (you can't have one of these 'do's without a fire breather).

Our hero Deathstalker (we're never told his real name) is happily partying like it's 1999. As portrayed by John Allen Nelson, he's an odd hero indeed: obnoxious, swaggering and self-centered. He's also extremely proud of his primary male accouterment and spends as much time chasing tail as he does fighting evil. Oh, and he's accompanied by a long-haired wizard named Nicias (Aaron Herman), who dresses like Cousin It and tells goat fortunes (hey, it's a living).

Amid all this strolls in Princess Carissa (Carla Herd, ambassador to Denmark from 2017-2021). She's the co-ruler of a people so down on their luck they don't even have a country. The lucky ones live in tents in the forests and the rest are stuck in packing crates. But plucky Princess Carissa has a plan: there's a secret city called Arandor that is just waiting to be inhabited. In order to reach Arandor, however, you have to connect two halves of a special rock--and as luck would have it, HRH has one of those special rocks. She believes Nicias has the other half because A) he is the last living resident of Arandor and B) he's a wizard and wizards are always carrying around crazy shit like that.

As it turns out, Nicias doesn't have the matching rock Carissa seeks, but he knows where she can find it. While they're conferring in a tent, a group of Black Knights arrive out of nowhere and start hacking people to death. Why? Because their boss--a tyrant named Troxartas--also wants to claim the city of Arandor for himself. AND he has one of those special rocks. AND he believes Nicias has its mate which, we have already established, he does not. Confused? Get use to it; it happens a lot in this movie.

Amid all the hacking and pillaging, Nicias tells Deathstalker to protect Carissa. He then makes himself invisible, leaving only his shoes behind. Deathstalker and Carissa meet up in the forest, but our hero doesn't seem very interested in helping her or her homeless people.


Down on his luck wizard Nicias (Aaron Hernan) works the fortune telling booth at the county fair.

"Why is it I always keep getting mixed up with princesses?" Deathstalker grumbles. "Riding hundreds of miles, fighting whole armies, up against magic, maybe? In the end all I get is flowers on my head and everyone telling me how wonderful I am!"

It never occurs to this jerk that he could go into another line of work, like, say, blacksmithing, which pays well and is always in demand. However, doing so might limit his nooky opportunities, which seems to be Deathstalker's real objective. That's obvious when Carissa decides to turn in and Deathstalker tries to lure her into his tent by saying, "I've got the warmest blankets over here."

"I'll be warm enough," Carissa insists.

Undaunted, Deathstalker keeps pushing, insisting, "I never saw a princess yet who liked to sleep alone!"

Deathstalker's prediction proves correct...up to a point. Carissa does come into his tent, but only to warn him that the Black Knights have come to kill her...which they promptly do. No worse for wear, DS (as I'll call him from now on) simply pockets the magic rock and goes on his merry way. What he doesn't realize is that he's being watched via Tyrant Cam by Troxartas himself.

He's bald and he's bad: Troxartas (Thom Christopher) plots his next move.

As played by Thom Christopher, Troxartas is a cold blooded, bald headed meanie who is absolutely obsessed with uncovering the hidden city of Arandor, to the point that it's really pissing off his cuddlemate Camisarde (Terri Treas) because it's totally lousing up their sex life.

"You own every inch of land and every peasant between here and the sea," Camisarde points out. "And me!" (Pause) "If you ever notice."

Troxartas doesn't. Instead, he proclaims, "That city is power!" and "With this (holding the magic rock aloft) I'll live forever!"

Fed up with his ranting, Camisarde rolls her eyes and flounces off to figure out new ways to spice things up in the bedroom.

Meanwhile, DS is roaming the countryside, having adventures--not that it really matters, but, as long as you're here, I'll recount them for you:

 Casisarde (Terri Treas) wonders when her cuddlemate Troxartas will stop fussing over those magic rocks and pay some attention to her.

 Adventure #1: DS hops a ship that looks like a bamboo duck and hob-nobs with some wandering workers. Then the bat-eared Black Knights arrive looking for him and DS runs for his life like the self-serving jerk he is.

 Adventure #2: DS stumbles upon the camp of bratty Princess Elizena (Carla Herd again), kid sister of the late, lamented Princess Carissa. In the never-ending quest to secure her people a homeland, Elizena has agreed to marry (sight unseen) baddie Troxartas. To avoid capture, DS slips into the princess's tent during a rest stop and threatens her with a stick. When he tries to slip out the back way, Elizena screams, "There he is!" and the Black Knights give chase. When they fail to catch DS, the Black Knights return and kill all of Elizena's guards in a fit of pique.

Adventure #3: Having outwitted the bat-eared Black Knights yet again, DS decides to steal a horse. He doesn't count on frizzy-haired hag Khorsa and her expert archer daughter Marinda (Claudia Inchaurregui) taking issue with this. When mom barks, "Search him!", poor, sheltered Marinda (who looks like she's just stepped out of a Whitesnake video) is so overwhelmed by DS and his manly package that she falls madly in love with him. As Miranda pats him down, DS smirks with delighted glee.

Adventure #4: Khorsa and Marinda allow DS to join them for a dinner of boiled potatoes. When DS objects to the menu, ma sputters, "Boiled potatoes is all we eat!" Khorsa then sends DS to sleep in the barn and warns her daughter, "Men like that only want one thing! Watch him carefully!"

 Marinda watches DS so carefully, in fact, that she runs off with him. See, those bat-eared Black Knights are on his trail again. Marinda leads DS through an isolated, rocky valley all the while begging him to take her with him; she wants to see the "outside world" (and maybe eat something more than boiled tatters). DS demurs, however, claiming Marinda will "loose her innocence" if she enters the outside world. Also, to show us how he's grown as a person, DS remarks that Marinda is the first gal whose "innocence" he hasn't "stolen", meaning, maybe, he likes and respects her? That would be a first. Anyway, even though DS leaves Marinda's "innocence" in tact, he does kiss the hell out of her before he leaves.

"The Man Who Came to Dinner": Deathstalker (center) enjoys a meal of boiled tatters with Khorsa and future cuddlemate Marinda (on the left).

Meanwhile, the sub-plots just keep coming! DS runs into Princess Elizena again! Princess Elizena meets up with Troxartas! Troxartas learns there is a third magic rock he needs to uncover the city of Arandor! Troxartas plans to marry and then kill Princess Elizena! Troxartas has an army of dead warriors! He keeps their souls in a jar, so they have to do his bidding! Wizard Nicias gets captured by Troxartas, who forces him to reveal where the third magic rock is! DS gets captured by Camisarde and she tortures him with burning statement jewelry! She also threatens his manhood! DS manages to over power her and tie her up! DS frees the dead warriors' souls! The long oppressed villagers rise up against Troxartas! All hell breaks loose! Marinda appears out of nowhere, yells, "Deathstalker!" and tosses him a mighty sword! Marinda gets shot with an arrow and dies! Isn't that ironic, since Marinda was an expert archer?! No more boiled potatoes for her! A village boy later shoots Troxartas and his reign of terror is over! Freedom at last!

Whew!

Finally, Nicias puts all three pieces of the magic rocks together (if you're wondering where the third magic rock was hidden, tough tatters. You'll have to watch the movie yourself to find out) and the land of Arandor emerges from the protective mists of time. Queen Elizena's people now have a home of their own. However, poor DS is heartbroken; he must burry his beloved Marinda. Although Elizena asks DS to stay in Arandor, he says no. Instead, DS must fulfill his destiny by helping disadvantaged people everywhere--even though he complains endlessly about the low pay, poor working conditions and lack of sexual favors he has to endure in order to do so. Thus, with a heavy heavy, DS mounts his horse and rides off into a golden sunset and on to the pages of Junk Cinema history.

Good riddance.

For a cheap rip-off of "Conan the Barbarian" that chokes on its own cheese, "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" has a very complicated plot. Perhaps only Frank Herbert or JRR Tolkien could appreciate the twists and turns of a story line involving a hidden city, magic rocks, twin princesses, the sexually frustrated wife of a power mad tyrant, a wizard who can disappear and turn into a bird, but can't fight off a mortal jerk, soldiers with bat-wing head gear terrorizing the countryside, dead warriors who want their souls back and mother/daughter horse breeders who eat nothing but boiled potatoes. As for me, even after multiple viewings of the flick, I still needed a score card to keep track of everything.

Rudolph Valentino? Nope, it's baddie Troxartas.

Besides the convoluted plot, the Deathstalker character isn't much of a hero.

This might be because the "Deathstalker" series came from the bowels of the beloved Roger Corman film factory, where cheapness and cheese are regularly pushed to the limit. According to the "TV Tropes" website, Rick Hall played the first DS "as a typical Barbarian hero minus the hero". This was primarily based on his yucky treatment of women (DS kills a beast man who attempted to rape a female, then turns right around and attempts to rape the gal himself.) In fact, MST3K was planning on showing the first "Deathstalker" movie, but after they edited out the violence and nudity, they realized they had only 30 minutes of film to mock!

The next DS was John Terlesky. Because of a short shooting schedule (two weeks) and other problems, director Jim Wynorski and Terlesky decided to improvise the film using "a broad outline of the original script and Bugs Bunny cartoons." This DS was suppose to be a "loveable rogue" who helps another princess. The second "Deathstalker" movie is considered the most light hearted of the bunch.

Which brings us to John Allen Nelson as DS number three. He decided to by-pass the "loveable rogue" stuff and instead gave viewers a DS that was "a jerk with a heart of gold mercenary". Unfortunately, as "TV Tropes" pointed out, Nelson "succeeds only in being a jerk." He also treats women yucky, too: he tries to get Princess Carissa into the sack, threatens Princess Elizena with a stick, thinks about assaulting Casisarde after he's tied her up and doesn't appreciate Khorsa's boiled potatoes. Sure, he doesn't take Marinda's "innocence", but that doesn't mean he didn't think about it.

John Terlesky returned for "Deathstalker IV: Match of the Titans", which was distinguished by a heavy use of stock footage. No word on the acting, but I'm sure DS was as unlikeable as ever.

"Look! We didn't shave out pits!": John Terlesky is the second actor to play the unlikable, self-serving Deathstalker character.

Suffice it to say, if your movie is based around an action hero, it helps if the action hero is actually a hero. Even if your flick is low-budget, how much does it cost to make your main character someone people will root for? Regardless of who had the title role, DS was always a self-serving jerk who treated women yucky and was only interested in himself.

The supporting cast matched DS in jerkiness and ham-bone acting.

The two prime offenders here are Thom Christopher as Troxartas and Carla Herd as Princesses Carissa and Elizena.

Christopher must have thought "Deathstalker and the Warriors of Hell" was an important movie, because he plays Troxartas as if he were Richard III. He takes himself soooo seriously you wonder if anybody had the heart to tell him this was a straight-to-video hack job and not an atypical episode of "Masterpiece Theater".

As for Carla Herd, she's the most famous gal to appear in the "Deathstalker" movies--after Barbi Benton, of course, who co-starred in the first "Deathstalker". The important stuff about Carla is she later quit acting (smart move), got a chiropractic degree (smart move) and then married a real estate tycoon named Fred Sands (a really smart move). He, in turn, died and left Herd (now using the name Sands) a fortune. She contributed to Donald Trump's presidential campaign and was rewarded with being appointed our ambassador to Denmark. During her tenure, Carla pushed for the Danes to spend more money on their military. Wanna bet when Carla presented her credentials to the Danish court, she left appearing in "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" off her official resume?

"Are we in Copenhagen yet?": Future Danish ambassador Carla Herd Sands has an appointment with Queen Margrethe II...in 29 years.

Although "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" is in many ways an unpleasant, confusing movie, it's one of the reasons why Junk Cinema is so easy to love. Where else will you find a "Conan the Barbarian" rip-off set in "Europe" that was actually filmed in Mexico, with a jerk hero and the future ambassador to Denmark tagging along? And considering how violent and nudity-friendly the entire "Deathstalker" series is, this entry may be the best of the lot! And if "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" is the best of the lot, how bad could the other flicks be?!

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Well, it makes me wonder. Hmmm, I think I sense a future blog post...

Until next time, remember that boiled potatoes are a great side dish and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.


Deathstalker is bummed that he has to go back on the road after "The Warriors from Hell" ends.












Sunday, July 25, 2021

And Now For Something Completely Different

 

Is it just me or has the world gone crazy?

Hi Keebah and hello, movie lovers.

Because the world seems to have gone completely topsy-turvy lately, I decided to spotlight a flick which takes place in a world that has also gone completely topsy-turvy.

Released in 1968 with a script by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, "Planet of the Apes" is a certified classic. It's also one of the few science fiction films I genuinely like. Forget all the remakes, reboots and "re-imaginings" that make up this "film franchise"; the original remains the best, even after 53 years.

Charlton Heston, in one of his best roles, is Taylor, an astronaut leading a special mission "in the not too distant future" (1972). Just before he joins his crew in hyper-sleep, Taylor makes his final log entry. He's been gone six months by normal calculations, but the team has actually been away 2,000 years-- if  Dr. Hasslein's theory their mission was sent to prove is correct. As they make their way back to Earth, Taylor hopes mankind has improved in their absence.

While on auto-pilot, the space ship gets off course or runs afoul of some unexplained phenomenon and crash lands on an uncharted planet in an unknown solar system. That's not all: the only female crew member is dead and their vessel is sinking into the ocean. Taylor, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) abandon ship and via rubber raft paddle ashore to safety. They hike for days on a rocky, barren and parched landscape, until they stumble upon what appear to be scarecrows--and a water fall. While the guys strip down and go swimming, they're observed by primitive humans. Mute, they roam around in herds looking for food and shelter. When the crew follows them to a green pasture, Landon remarks, "We got off at the wrong stop." Taylor, however, is more optimistic: "Relax, in six months we'll be running this place."

From left to right: Taylor (Chuck Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) survey the "Planet of the Apes."

Not so fast. Suddenly a huge army of hunters arrive and all hell breaks loose. As the humans scatter to avoid capture, guns are fired and clubs are used to bash in skulls. Leading the attack are gorillas--on horse back, no less.

Dodge is immediately killed. Landon and Taylor are separated in the melee. Trying to out run a gorilla with a net, Taylor is shot in the neck and falls off a cliff. His unconscious body is dumped in a cart alongside other captured humans.

When he wakes up, he's is in a lab staffed by walking, talking chimpanzees. Taylor's wounds have rendered him temporarily unable to speak, but he quickly realizes--to his disbelief--that on this planet, apes are the dominant species. Society is broken down like this: gorillas handle the military, chimpanzees are the professional class and orangutans head the government and church. Their main religious texts are "The Sacred Parchments", written by the Law Giver over a thousand years ago. Humans, on the other hand, are pesky beasts either to be hunted for sport or used for scientific experiments.

Because he's more advanced than his fellow captives, Taylor attracts the attention of Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), an animal psychologist and brain researcher. She nicknames him "Bright Eyes" and marvels at his eye-hand coordination. "I wonder how he'd score on a Hopkins Manual Dexterity Test!" she exclaims. Later on, Zira brings a female human (Linda Harrison, later dubbed Nova) into his cage, hoping the two will mate.

Less impressed is Dr. Zira's fiancee' Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), an anthropologist, and Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), head of the Science Academy and Defender of the Faith. After the humans get into a fight in their outside pen, Taylor is wounded again and taken inside. He grabs Zira's paper and pencil and writes her a message. Stunned by what she sees, the doctor takes Taylor to her home.

Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) debate evolutionary theory while Taylor looks on.

Taylor writes out his story to a shocked Zira and Cornelius. The couple have a hard time believing he's from another planet or that his crew walked across what they call "the Forbidden Zone", but Taylor persists. Zira then begins to wonder if Heston is "a missing link", causing Taylor to write, "I am NOT a missing link!"

"Touchy, isn't he?" Cornelius remarks.

Still, Zira thinks Taylor could help Cornelius prove his theory that apes developed from "a lower order of man." Her fiancee' isn't so sure; see, Cornelius recently headed a dig that went too far into the Forbidden Zone. That aroused the anger of the Science Academy and ever since the chimp anthropologist has tried to avoid controversy. Getting involved with Taylor or suggesting that a human culture could predate ape culture could cause them real trouble, as Cornelius reminds Zira: "We both have fine futures, marriage, stimulating careers. I'm up for a raise!" Then Dr. Zaius arrives and demands Taylor be sent back to his cage.

Soon after, two gorilla officers arrive to take Heston off to be gelded. Taylor manages to over power the guards and escape. In a chase through Ape City, he stumbles upon a funeral service where the minister says of the deceased, "He always said he never met an ape he didn't like." Later on, at a museum, Taylor finds Dodge stuff in an exhibit. In an outside market, he's pelted with vegetables by the horrified citizens while gorillas manage to string him up in a net. That's when he shocks the crowd by growling, "Get your stinkin' paws off me you damn dirty ape!"

A hearing is called. Presiding is James Whitmore as President of the Assembly and James Daly as Minister of Animal Affairs. Dr. Zaius is there, too, along with Cornelius and Zira. Taylor attempts to  defend himself, but the presiding judges dismiss him at every turn. They also refuse to allow Cornelius and Zira to explain their evolutionary theory, putting their hands over their eyes, ears and mouths in a "Hear no evil/Speak no evil/Say no evil" tableaux. The climax of the trial occurs when the humans captured at the same time as Taylor are reassembled. Taylor instantly recognizes Landon, but Landon has been lobotomized, reduced to a speechless, zombie state. Screaming "You bloody baboon!", a furious Taylor rushes to attack Dr. Zaius, but he's caught, bound and carted away.

The President of the Assembly (James Whitmore, center) and his justices refuse to monkey around with Cornelius' radical theories.

Things look pretty hopeless until Zira arranges for Taylor and Nova to escape. With the help of her nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner), a hippie chimp, Taylor over powers cigar smoking pen keeper Julius (Buck Kartalian, a former pro-wrestler). Later joined by Cornelius, they travel by caravan to the Forbidden Zone, where Taylor offers to help Cornelius identify the artifacts at his dig. A posse of gorilla soldiers and Dr. Zaius soon follow. After taking the doctor hostage, everybody goes into the cave, where Taylor identifies false teeth, glasses and a heart valve. The find that really clinches Cornelius' theory, however, is a talking doll. Dr. Zaius, of course, remains unmoved.

In return for releasing Dr. Zaius, Taylor demands horses, food and weapons; his plan is to "follow the shore line" and leave  Ape City far behind. Dr. Zaius warns Heston "he might not like what he finds" out in the Forbidden Zone--and, in one of the best endings in movie history, he doesn't. Falling to his knees in the surf, an anguished Taylor screams, "You finally did it! You blew it up! Damn you all to hell!"

"Planet of the Apes" was a critical and box office smash. It earned Oscar nominations for Morton Haack's costume design and Jerry Goldsmith's Best Original Score. John Chambers won a special Oscar for his make-up effects, which are better realized than any CGI. Four sequels followed, along with a TV series, a cartoon show and a comic book. "Mad Magazine" parodied the series in "The Milking of the Planet that Went Ape", with illustrations by Mort Drucker, my favorite of "Mad"s talented "usual gang of idiots".

What makes a movie a classic? The script and the direction must mesh. The casting and the acting have to be expert and compelling. If there are special effects, they must move the plot along, not over power it. Timing has a role, too. "Planet of the Apes" was released when Hollywood and the US were under-going great changes; had the flick been released earlier or later, its impact may have less powerful. It's an imperfect science at best, but it's clear "Planet of the Apes" had all the ingredients necessary, and then some, to achieve classic status.

Some more tidbits? "Planet of the Apes" was based on Pierre Boulle's novel Monkey Planet. In the novel, the apes are more technologically advanced than in the film. It was star Chuck Heston who suggested scaling back the tech stuff, which also made the film less expensive to shoot. Fans of the flick often sight the influence of "The Twilight Zone" episode "People Are Alike All Over" (where an astronaut from Earth is put in a zoo on Mars). One more side note: my mom hates "Planet of the Apes" and everything with it; she wouldn't even let my brother Joel get a "Planet of the Apes" mask! When I ask why she hates the series so much, she always says, "Because I just do!" 

A trio of gorilla soldiers smile for the camera.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, anything can happen in science fiction and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.