Thursday, November 3, 2016

How Do You Solve A Problem Like "Sylvia"?

Co-stars George Maharis and Carroll Baker enjoy an afternoon tete-a-tete in "Sylvia".

A hardy hail and hello to you, movie lovers.

Say, have you met Sylvia West (Carroll Baker)?


Well, let me introduce you.

Sylvia is the extravagantly bouffanted fiance of millionaire Frederic Summers (ex-Rat Packer and Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford). She earns her keep writing of obscure poetry and growing prize winning roses. Honest. Because Sylvia is not the sort of gal who likes to talk about herself, Fred has become convinced she's "hiding something." Hmmm, like what? A Home Shopping Club addiction? A fondness for funny black cigarettes? An obscene Smurf collection? Before things come to a matrimonial conclusion, Fred decides to hire hip and happen' P.I. Mack ("Route 66" heart-throb George Maharis) to check his honeybunch out.

"Sinatra won't take my calls. Can you help me?": Millionaire Frederic Summers (Peter Lawford) hires Mack (George Maharis) to unravel the mysterious background of his bride-to-be.

And that, movie lovers, is the basic premise of "Sylvia", a laughably pretentious, B&W oddity from 1965 where a gal sleeps her way to a better life...and reads a lot of books while doing it (no pun intended).

I first learned about "Sylvia" from my dog-eared copy of Bad Movies We Love by Edward Margulies and Stephen Rebello. I have been trying to find this flick for years, but kept coming up empty handed. Then, out of the blue, I stumbled upon it on YouTube. It's nuttier than squirrel scat, just like the authors promised. So let's begin, shall we?
After money-bags Fred hires Mack, the P.I. begins searching out Sylvia's childhood on "the poor side of town" in (gasp!) Pittsburgh. We know our heroine had it rough because A) her old neighborhood looks like something straight out of "Dead End" and B) her father is played by budget baddie Aldo Ray. The only bright spot in Sylvia's life is her friendship with kindly librarian Irma Olanski (Vivecia Lindfors), who introduces her to Jane Austen novels and the hope of a better life. However, when her hard drinkin' pa catches Sylvia trying on some lipstick, he flies into a rage and assaults her. Sylvia's pitiful mom (who is rapidly succumbing to TB) can only look on as her dazed daughter staggers out of their crummy flat, never to return.

Sylvia finds sanctuary--she thinks--in a skid row store-front church. Unfortunately, the gentleman running the place is actually a flimflam man. Soon enough, he takes Sylvia south of the border, where he runs her as hooker.

Off  Mack trots to Mexico, where, with the help of a savvy street kid, he meets up with kindly Father Gonzales (Jay Novello). He remembers Sylvia vividly; after all, she was the only member of his congregation who sported blinding blond hair and tight dresses. Anyway, Sylvia came to the good Father asking if would bury her pimp (who expired in a knife fight) in his grave yard, with the full rites of the church. The priest agrees and Sylvia pays for the whole thing. Then she promptly leaves town, having made an (ahem!) "arrangement" with traveling salesman Edmond O'Brien to return to the States.

"Don't bug me, I'm reading!": Edmond O'Brien begs Sylvia to put her book down and pay attention to him.

Landing in the Big Apple, Sylvia gets a job running a coin machine in an arcade. It's there she befriends Gracie (the scenery chewing Ann Sothern), a fellow employee, as well as a down-on-her-luck hooker and marathon drinker. The two gals end up rooming together and Gracie appreciates that the much younger (and prettier) Sylvia doesn't try to muscle in on her few remaining "gentleman callers." To tell you the truth, Sylvia isn't much interested in anything but reading. That totally bums out O'Brien, Sylvia's former car companion, who pesters her at work every chance he gets, begging for a date. Fed up with his obsessive behavior, Sylvia's boss takes it upon himself to beat O'Brien up and ban him from the arcade.

Mack manages to track the frustrated suitor down and interviews him at his suburban home. While O'Brien is telling his tale of thwarted love for Sylvia, his creepy, smart-ass son is eavesdropping behind the backyard hedge. As Mack prepares to leave, junior appears cackling like a demented crow. He then announces that unless his father triples his allowance PRONTO! he'll tell mom the whole sordid story. Mack promptly kicks the kid in the hinder, knocking him to the ground, earning the gratitude of O'Brien as well as the audience.

Acting on O'Brien's information, Mack locates Gracie. She's still making change at the arcade and has upped her drinking, but she hasn't seen Sylvia in years. Nevertheless, she agrees to meet Mack for dinner in an upscale restaurant. In one of the movie's unexpectedly zany highlights, Sothern swaggers in dressed like a Spanish countess and proceeds to regale the P.I. about the next phase in Sylvia's life.

Watching Sothern slur her lines, down martinis like there's no tomorrow and wax nostalgic about her own crummy existence, you can't help thinking the actress was sure this shameless, showy, scenery-chewing would net her an Oscar nomination. You can blame this misguided behavior on Helen Hayes, who was rewarded for her hammy histrionics in "Airport" (a movie just as bad as this one, by the way) with a Best Supporting Actress Oscar she did not deserve--thus beginning a trend that continues to this day (admit it: did you really think Gloria Stuart deserved an Oscar nomination for all her mugging in "Titanic"?).

But back to our story. Turns out making change wasn't making ends meet, so Sylvia went back to work as a hooker. Her boss this time was a crabby old crone known to her girls as "Mother"--although "she was often called worse behind her back." As usual, Sylvia was more interested in reading than servicing her clients. In fact, Mother had to repeatedly tell Baker to put her book down and get into bed. However, during this stint in the world's oldest profession, Sylvia did manage to make friends with fellow doxies Jane (Joanne Dru) and Shirley (Nancy Kovack). Everybody bonded even more when their bordello was raided and they did a 30-day stretch in prison together. Naturally, Jane and Shirley are Mack's next contacts.

The Duchess of Alba on a bender? Nope, it's just Ann Sothern realizing her shameless over-acting is all for nought.

Shirley is known by her stage name "Big Shirley" because she's so tall. When Mack finds her, she's working in a burlesque house and at first she thinks he's a talent scout. When Shirl learns he's a P.I., she's disappointed, but beckons him into her dressing room anyway. Standing behind a flimsy screen, Shirl explains,"I'm neurotic. I like to get dressed in front of men." As Shirl changes into her next costume, she tells Mack that she, Sylvia and Jane all decided to give up hooking after prison--except something happened to Jane and Sylvia was involved. Mack wants to know where he can find Jane and Shirl says she married a rich stockbroker. With that last bit of info, Shirl waves Mack goodbye and heads out on stage, wearing a gigantic salt shaker on her head.

Now, if you think the events described thus far in "Sylvia" seem a bit preposterous...well, that's because they are. However, movie has more twists and turns to unveil, so settle in.

OK, so, Mack arrives at the Park Avenue penthouse of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips. Naturally, Jane isn't happy to see him, thinking he's a blackmailer or, worse, one of those reporters from "Inside Edition." Thoroughly acclimated to her new role as lady of the manor, Jane has no interest in discussing her or Sylvia's past life as hookers--in fact, she snippily informs Mack that her husband knows all about her former profession and could care less. In fact, Jane says that quite a few rich society wives were once hookers--so there!

After trading arch insults and accusing each other of being a judgmental prig, Mack and Jane agree to have lunch in a fancy restaurant to discuss Sylvia. As it happened, Sylvia and Jane were leaving prison, anxious to begin new lives, when Jane was hit by a truck. To pay for her friend's medical expenses, poor Sylvia went back to hooking again. This time her pimp was Lola Diamond, a night club chanteuse and drag queen played by Paul Gilbert. In what surely must have been shocking to 1965 sensibilities, Lola (in high heels and a sparkly gown) removes his wig and lights up a cigar before "interviewing" Sylvia for a "job".  "What did you expect? Goldie Locks?" he barks.

"You be nice to the gentlemen, Sylvia, and they'll be nice to you": Lola Diamond (Paul Gilbert, center) introduces Carroll Baker to yet another doughy, middle-aged admirer.

Although Lola insists he runs a classy operation, the "clients" he introduces Sylvia to are by far the screwiest bunch our heroine has come up against--and that's saying a lot. The worst by far is Bruce Stamford III (Lloyd Bochner, future co-star of Pia Zadora), a married, wealthy, socially prominent captain of industry who is also a porn monkey with a thing for hiring (and beating up) hookers. When Sylvia tells Bruce the book he wants her to read aloud (which is bound in plain brown paper--hint, hint) "belongs in the trash", be goes berserk. Sylvia tries to get away, but Bochner screams, "You're paid for!" and chases her around his hotel room. The unhinged jerk later tackles Sylvia and beats the tar out of her. When that's over, Bochner collapses in a heap, crying. 

When we next see her, the bruised and bloodied Sylvia is trying to call the cops. The hysterical Bochner begs her not too, telling her he has a wife and kids to think about. He admits that he has a problem (that's putting it mildly) and has tried to seek help, but he fears for his social position if word got out. Instead, Bochner offers to give Sylvia ten grand if she stays quiet. She agrees and he writes her a check on the spot.

Sylvia turns her ten grand over to Jane's stockbroker hubby, who quickly invests it with great success. Financially secure and independent for the first time in her life, Sylvia can now quit hooking for good. She then treats herself to "travel, Europe and culture." When she returns to the states, Sylvia moves to L.A., publishes a slim volume of poetry (Moon Without Shadow) and begins growing those prize-winning roses. She also changes her name from Sylvia Karoki to Sylvia Kay to Sylvia Carlyle to Sylvia West. Somehow she meets rich Frederic Summers (remember him?) and they become engaged. The particulars of the Sylvia/Fred romance are not recounted in the flick, so you'll have to figure those out for yourself. I imagine our cuddlemates must have met at a high society flower show and spent the rest evening discussing fertilizer and aphids, before regretfully parting. Then perhaps Fred called Sylvia up and asked her to join him on a trip Seven Dee's nursery and the rest just fell magically into place.

By now, you're probably wondering what Mack thinks of Sylvia. Of course, his professional ethics dictate that he must remain neutral and simply collect the facts for his employer. However, over the course of his investigation, Mack develops the hots for Sylvia, which should not surprise anyone. In fact, even Mack decides to meet Sylvia in person without telling her who he is, which should also not surprise anyone.

The long awaited meeting between investigator and subject takes place at a Brentwood bookstore. Store employee Annie (an old friend of Mack's) introduces them. Mack pretends to be a real fan of Sylvia's poetry and she's flattered. The two hit it off so well, in fact, that Mack takes Sylvia out to a local hot dog stand. They even go for a spin on a merry-go-round. Sylvia then says, "Mack, I like you" and invites him to attend a fancy flower show as her guest. Mack accepts.

Love in the afternoon: Mack and Sylvia yak and snack.

It's clear to any idiot that Sylvia and Mack are FALLING IN LOVE and MEANT TO BE TOGETHER, which is going to put a big crimp in Sylvia's wedding plans. What could possibly happen next?

First, Mack 'fesses up that he's a P.I. hired by Frederic.

Upon learning this news, Sylvia throws a temper tantrum and tells Mack she never wants to see him again.

Mack then goes to see Frederic. He hands the millionaire a totally bogus report that claims Sylvia is who she says she is and that she has lived an unblemished life.

However, money-bags Frederic calls Mack's bluff. He also declares that Sylvia has already been over and confessed to everything. The wedding is off and, for good measure, Frederic called City Hall, filed a complaint and got Mack's P.I. license revoked.

"I can read you like a book": Sylvia and Mack get literary.

Whew! But wait! There's more! Believe it or not, the movie isn't finished yet!

After a reasonable interlude (about 30 seconds), Mack goes over to Sylvia's house. She's in the backyard working on her next cycle of poems. Mack announces that now they are "free to be themselves", so why don't they get married? Sylvia ponders this for a bit, but appears to agree. A happy ending? That's up to you. Personally, I give them five years...four if Sylvia cooks.

What makes "Sylvia" worthy of a bad movie designation?

It could be the acting of the principals, which ranges from self-satisfied smugness (George Maharis) to old-fashioned scenery chewing (Ann Sothern) to misplaced Method madness (Caroll Baker) to I'm-Just-Working-For-The-Check indifference (Peter Lawford). It could be the script from Sydney Boehm (based on Howard Fast's novel) that asks us to believe someone would say, "I'm full of hate and anger and resentment and it's going to take all the gold and diamonds in the world to cure me"--with a straight face. It could be nutty scenes such as Lola Diamond singing "Live and Learn"...and then chopping a plywood board in half...and then declaring "And that, you lovely things, is what Lola calls a 'bang-up finish'!" It could be the premise that anyone could earn a living writing obscure poetry and prize-winning roses. It could also be because "Sylvia" clearly rips-off the noir classic "Laura"--and not in a good way. Any one of these theories--alone or in combination--would be more than enough the categorize "Sylvia" as a bad movie.

However, what makes "Sylvia" so bad is that it takes itself so seriously. Everybody was obviously convinced that they were making an edgy, hard-hitting movie about a hard-luck gal who manages to better herself; sort of a Moll Flanders with a library card. Instead, they made a Lifetime movie so wacky the only thing missing was Tori Spelling.

What a drag: Paul Gilbert is night club singer and pimp Lola Diamond.

So, until next time movie lovers, don't take yourself too seriously, support our libraries and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Because It Is Bitter And Because It Is My Heart

One day I was walking out of a classroom. Standing outside the door was a boy waiting for his girlfriend. I remember this boy's name, and most importantly, I remember what he did: he let out a loud "Woof!" in my direction.

This wasn't an isolated incident, at least not for me. As a wall flower first-class, I got accustomed to hearing teenage boys making their feelings known about my looks and figure.

There was a boy in seventh grade who, whenever he saw me in the hallway, used to yell out, "Hey, Flats, how are they grown'?"

When we had gym outside, there were always knots of guys waiting to "rate" the girls as they walked past in their gym clothes. When it was my turn, there would be gales of laughter and then I'd hear "two!", "two and a half!" or "three!"

One time I cut my hair shorter than usual. When I met my friends for lunch in the cafeteria, a loud whoop greeted my presence. "What a hair cut!" a male's voice screamed. Seconds later, I was hit on the side of the head by a flying milk carton.

I could go on. I really could. If there was one thing I accumulated in junior and senior high school, it was painful vignettes where teenage boys rated me a "dog",  a "woofer", a "ghost" (because of my fair skin) or a"spaz" (because I wasn't good at sports), enough to fill a book.

These teenage snapshots have flooded back to me because of the candidacy of Donald J. Trump.

The GOP standards bearer has a long and well documented history of passing judgement on any and all women who have come his way.

Super model Heidi Klum? She's "no longer a ten". Oscar winner Hallie Berry? Her face "only gets an eight." Rosie O'Donnell is "ugly", "fat" and "a loser." A nursing mother is "disgusting". A former Miss Universe was "Miss Piggy" when she gained weight. During his divorce from first wife Ivana, he complained that her implants had deflated. Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, who is deaf, was called "retarded" by Trump. He doesn't even object when the one female who apparently passes muster with him--his eldest daughter Ivanka--is called "a piece of ass" by Howard Stern.

In my own situation, you could argue that the boys saying those things were just that: boys. Dumb, immature teenage boys.

But as Donald Trump proves, some boys never grow up. They may physically resemble adult men, head Fortune 500 companies, run for higher office, but they remain immature, loutish boys.

Even more troubling: Donald Trump believes it's perfectly fine to treat women this way. He doesn't believe it's wrong. When challenged, Trump reacts as if its his targets who have the problem, not him.

No, he was just being "funny" or people don't get his "sense of humor" or his put-downs were merely "locker room talk". Trump's other excuse is that he has no time for "political correctness". If that fails, Trump insists his accusers are lying because they are too unattractive to be sexually harassed.

It appears this attitude is shared by Trump's sons. Donald Trump, Jr. went on the "Opie and Anthony" radio program and basically said if women can't handle sexual harassment, they shouldn't work in the corporate world. Rather, they should become "Kindergarten teachers instead."

I have taught Kindergarten. It's not for the faint of heart. And if Mr. Trump, Jr. believes teachers cannot be victims of sexual harassment--or that any profession is free of this taint--he's nuts, like his old man.

Of course, Trump hasn't just singled out women for scorn. He's attacked blacks, Jews, Mexicans, the disabled, Muslims, Gold Star families, journalists. He accused Ted Cruz's father of being in cahoots with Lee Harvey Oswald, called John McCain "a loser" because he spent five years as a POW and he took his sweet time repudiating comments made on his behalf by the former Grand Wizard of the KKK.

 All are inexcusable. All show why "The Donald" has no business running for village idiot, let alone President.

Trump repeatedly says he wants to "make America great again." Great for who? There is barely a segment of our society he hasn't offended, insulted, dismissed, threatened or ridiculed multiple times.

The man has contempt for everybody. His core constituency is himself and no one else.

I recently saw a  female Trump supporter on the news who insisted that God "can still use" Donald Trump in a positive way and that's why she's voting for him, despite everything he has said and done and everything he continues to say and do.

I wanted to tell her, "Don't you understand? Donald Trump doesn't people to pray for him; Donald Trump wants people to pray to him."

I have never met Donald Trump, but I don't need to. He was in every dumb, loutish boy I encountered in school, telling me how ugly I was, how flat my chest was. He lived in every bully, male or female--and, yes, girls can be huge bullies, too-- I ever had the non-pleasure of meeting in my early, formative years.

I don't want to brag, but one result of surviving the bullying I experienced growing up is that I can now spot a bully anywhere--my track record is 100%. I see Trump for what he is: a big, loud, vulgar, racist, hateful bully.

And I pity the people who can't.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ray Danton IS "Secret Agent Super Dragon"!

He's secret, he's suave, he's supremely self-satisfied: Meet "Secret Agent Super Dragon" (Ray Danton).

Greetings, movie lovers.

 It is I, The Movie Maven, The Geek Goddess Of Sucky Cinema, with yet another Junk Cinema Jewel that will inspire you to ask, "What was the hold up between postings?"

Well, I had to take an on-line class and I had to help arrange this meeting at church and then I had to dig out my garage because my washer tanked and I had to buy a new one...oh, forget it. Let's make with the movies, OK?

Released in 1966 under the combined producing skills of French, Spanish and Italian investors, I give you the latest entry in cut-rate, lame-o James Bond rip-off sweepstakes, "Secret Agent Super Dragon"!

Just like 007, Secret Agent Super Dragon (played by the irritatingly smug Ray Danton) works for a secret government spy agency, has a cranky boss, gets all kissy-face with an adoring secretary (named Comfort Denby), has a goofy sidekick, loves smart-ass puns and is never short of futuristic gadgets he can whip out when the going gets tough.

Oh, yes, and "Secret Agent Super Dragon" also has a super villain who heads up a super evil organization that intends to rule the world via a secret drug called "Synchron."

The frozen-faced Fernand Lamas (Carlo D'Angelo) is Super Dragon's super nemesis.

 Allow me to explain.

Synchron is colorless and tasteless, like the former host of "American Idol", Ryan Seacrest. When added to food and drink products, people become instantly addicted. What's more, since our movie's baddies secretly add Synchron to food and drink products, people have no idea what has been done to them. But that's not all! Once hooked on Synchron, its victims are A) prone to acting supremely nutty, then they become B) crazed, violent lunatics before C) suddenly dropping dead.

The good news is there is an anti-dote to Synchron called (of all things) Anti-Synchron. The bad news is that our evil meanies refuse to share it. That is not only super mean, but also super selfish.

Like any top flight evil organization that wants to rule the world via addicting mass quantities of people, our Euro-trash villains test market Synchron is the sleepy college town of Fremont, Michigan. How is the test marketing carried out? By covertly lacing batches of chewing gum with Synchron and selling the tainted stuff to college kids. Once the co-eds start sampling the lethal gum, all hell breaks loose. Delighted by the devastating results, our villains plan the next phase of their roll out.

Secretary Comfort Denby (Margaret Lee) and her bouffant reporting for duty.

The inexplicable behavior of the (secretly) addicted college gum chewers alerts The Authorities that something is rotten in Fremont. One Agent Jackson is sent to investigate, but he suffers a fatal car crash on "a canyon road" outside of Fremont. Adding a touch of mystery to Agent Jackson's death is that A) the other person in the car, a female named Christine Brooder, is no where to be found and B) there are no canyon roads in Fremont, Michigan (many thanks to IMDB for this info).

Now you are probably wondering where Secret Agent Super Dragon is. Well, he's on vacation--and he's in no mood to cut things short just because of the strange things going on in Michigan. However, because Agent Jackson was his friend, Super Dragon eventually decides to poke around a bit just to be nice.

What our hero discovers is that Christine Brooder is a Dutch party girl who supplied the most popular college hang-out in Fremont with a new type of gum. Strangely, the manager of this hang-out refuses to sample this gum, even after Super Dragon tries to cram a piece in his mouth. Seconds later, this fellow is shot in front of Super Dragon. Moving right along, Super Dragon pays a visit to Christine's apartment and finds a picture of Fernand Lamas (Carlo D'Angelo), a mysterious art dealer, on her side table. Then a no-good-nick in a turtle neck bursts in and tries to kill Super Dragon. Our hero manages to subdue this guy, but he chooses to off himself rather than answer any of Super Dragon's questions about Christine or her gum.

All of this convinces Super Dragon that he must head over to Amsterdam, Christine's home town. His boss agrees, but balks when the agent insists a chap named Baby Face (Jess Hahn) must accompany him. See, Baby Face is a goofy inventor, but he's also a crook currently serving a five year sentence in Sing Sing. It's only after Super Dragon pinkie swears he will return Baby Face to Sing Sing once their mission is accomplished that the duo are allowed to head over to swingin' Amsterdam (hey, it's 1966, everybody was swingin').

Unusual for an international man of mystery, Super Dragon speaks no Dutch. However, he has no language barrier with his Dutch contact Rembrandt 13, a slinky red head. It is she who accompanies him to Fernand Lamas' place to learn more about the still missing Christine. Turns out Christine and the frozen-faced Lamas were quite a fun couple--until Fernand dumped her when she "began to drug herself" and hasn't seen her since. As Fernand is very busy planning a high society charity art auction, the agents take their leave. Later on, at Rembrandt 13's flat, another no-good-nick barges in and tries to kill Super Dragon. Of course, our hero dispatches this goon with a few judo chops and then casually tosses him out the window. Business concluded, Super Dragon returns to his primary objective, which was making out with Rembrandt 13.

 Secret Agent Super Dragon and Rembrandt 13 debrief.

A bit later, Super Dragon and Rembrandt 13 discover that Christine Brooder is in a local clinic suffering from an unknown malady. The agents arrive just in time for the sweaty, goggle-eyed Christine to gasp, "I don't want to've got to help me...Anti-Synchron, please!" before expiring.

Christine's tortured death so rattles Rembrandt 13 that she runs out of the clinic and straight to the office of...Fernand Lamas!

"Christine is dead!" the hysterical agent declares. "You killed her by refusing her the anti-dote! After all she had done for you! And now the same will happen to me!"

The frozen-faced Lamas coolly agrees that Rembrandt 13 could share Christine's fate--especially if she fails to "eliminate" Secret Agent Super Dragon.

"I don't want to kill anybody!" Rembrandt 13 sputters. "Until now, I have done everything for you, even against my will! You have got to keep your promise and free me from this drug!"

The mysterious Christine Brooder succumbs to her lethal chewing gum addiction.

Well, well, well. This is an interesting plot twist, isn't it kiddies? What could possibly happen next?

Hmmmm. Could Rembrandt 13 send Super Dragon to an obscure address, where he could be jumped by a gang of goons, placed in a coffin and then dumped into the sea? Thanks to his secret agent training, Super Dragon is able to hold his breath or put himself into suspended animation (I can't remember which) until Baby Face arrives to fish him out of the drink.

With the super villains now convinced that Super Dragon is super dead, "Secret Agent Super Dragon" plows full speed ahead into its final act.

Remember that high society art auction evil Mr. Lamas told our agents about? Well, the big night finally arrives. Because the guests are required to wear masks, Baby Face, Comfort and (most importantly) Super Dragon can mingle among the swells unrecognized. As the auction commences, Super Dragon notices the bidders on a series of Ming vases all seem strangely alike. Specifically, they all wear black tuxes and wear the same type of mask. So he follows one, knocks him out, takes his mask, swipes the black eraser he had on his person and seamlessly takes his place at a secret meeting chaired by Mr. Lamas in another part of his mansion.

Turns out, the Ming vase owners are all operatives (or investors) in Lamas' super evil organization. Their vases have been coated with Synchron and, after they are melted down, the drug can be extracted--and then slipped into the food, drink and chewing gum products of the unsuspecting population at large.

"I can't take you anywhere!": Secret Agent Super Dragon schools Baby Face in high society etiquette. 

To show his investors/operatives what a great deal Synchron is, Lamas has gals dressed in sexy French maid costumes pour his guests Synchron-laced bubbly. From hidden cameras, the baddies watch as the high society attendees begin to act like drunk revelers at an out-of-control Shriner's convention. But don't worry; Lamas has doused the hooch with a non-addictive amount of Synchron.

Baby Face and Comfort, meanwhile, were advised ahead of time not to eat or drink anything at the shin-dig. Amid the mayhem, Comfort attempts to swipe some of the Synchron-laced champagne for analysis, only to be caught by Rembrandt 13. She's marched (at gun point) to another part of the mansion and turned over to Lamas' goons. They force her to strip down to her skivvies so she can be given an "electricity bath". Luckily, Super Dragon hears her screams and rushes in to save the day.

What follows next is a nail biting cat-and-mouse shoot out between Lamas and Super Dragon. Unexpectedly entering the fray is Rembrandt 13, who is ordered by Lamas to shoot Super Dragon. She shoots Lamas instead. The baddie, in a fit of pique, proceeds to shoot the slinky agent. As she crumbles to the floor, Super Dragon catches her in his arms. Rembrandt 13 confesses all, including her addiction to Synchron. "I know, I know, sweetheart," Super Dragon murmurs as she fades away.

 Leaving Rembrandt 13 in a lifeless heap, Super Dragon tracks down the evil (but fatally bleeding) Lamas. The baddie taunts the secret agent, claiming that the antidote to Synchron will die with him and that his operatives will carry on his dirty work. Not so fast, Super Dragon informs Lamas. He has a copy of the antidote--and even people already addicted to Synchron will be saved. Ultimately foiled in his evil plans, the dying Lamas emits an anguished "D'oh!" and drops dead.

"Secret Agent Super Dragon" ends, as all secret agent movies must, with our hero canoodling in a hotel room with an unnamed cuddlemate. He's also on the phone to Comfort. The Anti-Synchron antidote is working wonders. Governments of the world are pleased as punch; awards and decorations are pouring in for Super Dragon. However, our hero is in no hurry to rush home to collect them. Super Dragon wants to remain in Amsterdam and enjoy the sights-- if you know what I mean. And Baby Face? He won't be returning to Sing Sing anytime soon, either. He's out fishing with a local family. When Comfort begins to protest, Super Dragon says their connection is breaking up and hangs up the phone. He then turns his attention to his Dutch treat, safe in the knowledge that the world's chewing gum is safe and sound. Zo lang uit Amsterdam! (So long from Amsterdam!).

"Get me out of this movie or I'll shoot!": Rembrandt 13 resorts to desperate measures to end her--and the audiences'--agony.

At first glance, "Secret Agent Super Dragon" appears to have all the necessary ingredients to create a decent spy thriller. However, once those ingredients are mixed together and set to boil, the end result is a doughy, fetid stew that sticks in your throat and makes you gag.

Ray Danton as Super Dragon is lean, handsome and flexible as hell, thanks to all that yoga. Unfortunately, he's also smug, stuck-up and supremely self-satisfied. Danton also has a serious personal warmth problem--namely, he doesn't have any. All of this creates a main character you can barely tolerate, let alone root for to save the world.

Furthermore, Super Dragon has the annoying habit of snatching cigarettes--including those already dangling from a person's lips-- and smoking them himself. This is not only unhealthy, but gross. It is also another example of an actor (and character) fatally convinced of his own coolness. Indeed, Ray struts around this movie more self-satisfied than Parnell Roberts in "San Fransisco International"--the gold standard of cinematic insufferablity. It should come as no surprise that this was Danton's first and last attempt at playing a sexy, globe-trotting secret agent. The failure of "Secret Agent Super Dragon" to unseat (or rival) 007 would ensure Danton took his rightful place next to such luminaries as Mike "Mannix" Connors, Stewart Granger, Peter Mark Richmond and Gordon Scott (to name but a few) in the very long line of secret agent super flops.

Women--even in the more recent Bond films--primarily exist in secret agent movies to model the latest fashions and hit the sheets with their hero. The females in "Secret Agent Super Dragon" are no exception. The difference here is that the ladies vying for Super Dragon's attention--Comfort Denby and Rembrandt 13--hate each other and spend an inordinate amount of screen time making nasty cracks about their rival's figure and (gasp!) hair color.

"I bet that red hair came out of a bottle," Comfort snips after she sees Rembrandt 13 waltz off with Super Dragon.

"Mind if I smoke?": Super Dragon lights up while Rembrandt 13 smolders (it was her cigarette, after all).

"So that's 'the Joker'" Rembrandt 13 snaps when Baby Face describes the secretary as "a real luscious blond."

In the end, of course, Super Dragon stiffs both these gals for a cute blond in a nightie (sharp-eyed viewers will recognize her from an earlier bit in the film).

As for "Secret Agent Super Dragon"s plot about an evil organization secretly drugging the world via Synchron: Who are these people? What's their organization's name? What is their mission statement? How did Fernand Lamas become their leader? And what's his story? The movie never tells us any of this. In even the worst James Bond movies, the screenwriters at least had the decency to clue us in as to why SPECTRE or the Commies were after the nuclear sub or special ray gun or whatever. In "Secret Agent Super Dragon", the audience is left to their own devices to guess why the baddies were acting so bad. And if the screenwriters didn't care, why should we?

The only good thing about "Secret Agent Super Dragon" is that I can cross it off the list of hysterical James Bond rip-offs I have challenged myself to seek out and watch. Up next: "Hammerhead" with Vince Edwards. Anyone now where I could find a copy?

Until next time movie lovers, I'll try not to have have such a gap between posts if you'll join me and SAVE THE MOVIES.

Ray Danton phones in the rest of his Super Dragon performance.

Monday, August 8, 2016

For A Good Time Call...Faye Dunaway?

She's chic, she's sophisticated, she's shameless: Faye Dunaway IS the "Beverly Hills Madam."

It's a sunny day in Beverly Hills as Lil Hutton (the killer cheek bones of Faye Dunaway) strides purposefully down its swanky side walks. Suddenly she stops. She spies a tres chic dress in the window of one of its famously fab boutiques and marches inside.

"Good morning, Miss Hutton," an obsequious sales clerk chirps, rushing to her side. "May I get you an espresso?"

No, Lil knows what she wants.

"This dress is lovely," Lil declares. "Will you accessorize it and send it up to my house?"

"It'll be ready this afternoon," the clerk assures her.

"I'm Faye Dunaway and you're not."

Business concluded, Lil heads over to a chi chi restaurant where the elite meet to eat. As she glides over to her regular table, the power lunching male diners eye her nervously. As well they should. Lil Hutton isn't just anybody, after all. To the uninformed, she's a rich divorcee. To those in the know, she's the "Beverly Hills Madam".

Made in 1986 before Reality TV scorched the broadcast landscape dry, "Beverly Hills Madam" is a made-for-TV-movie. Once a regular part of network programming, made-for-TV-movies are now as rare as hen's teeth. Yet during their hey-day, these mini-flicks covered a wide variety of territory: sci/fi, mystery, "based on a true story", horror, biography, romance, comedy and the "sex and shopping" genre, which is where today's featured film falls squarely into. Made-for-TV-movies offered Junk Cinema lovers an embarrassment of riches in bad acting, big hair and hysterical writing---which our feature presentation provides in spades.

As "Beverly Hills Madam" begins, Lil Hutton is at the top of her game. Her clients are the richest of the rich: senators, tycoons, movie stars, royalty. That's because Lil screens her perspective clients with a fine tooth comb. She also insists her working girls be well dressed, cultured and punctual. This attention to detail has made Lil rich herself: she resides in a fancy mansion, drives a spiffy car, never appears in the same outfit twice, dines at pricey eateries, has a maid and butler and gets invited to charity balls (no pun intended).

However, no one can stay on top forever (no pun intended) and cracks are starting to appear in Lil's carefully crafted construction.

 Claudia ("Manimal"s Melody Anderson), one of her top girls, is leaving Lil's employ because she's found true love. Law student Wendy (Donna Dixon) is finding it difficult to balance her hooking commitments with her study schedule. Then there is ditsy dancer April (Robin Givens), who is always late for "work". While trying to manage these storms, Lil is also breaking in a new hooker, the naive Julie (Terry Ferrell). A native of Nebraska, Julie arrived in L.A. to visit a friend--who has mysteriously vanished. After being robbed, beaten and arrested in a raid, Lil takes Julie under her wing and into her stable of working girls.

 Claudia is one unhappy hooker.

Then the corn really hits the grinder

As Claudia prepares for her wedding to Mr. Perfect, she's recognized by the groom-to-be's uncle--at a family dinner, no less. When Mr. Perfect forces Claudia to own up to her shameful past (she claimed she worked in "public relations", which is kinda accurate), the wedding is off. "Steven! We love each other!" Claudia wails, to no avail. When we next see her, Claudia is crying her eyes out and staggering down lonely street. She begins hitting the bottle in earnest, all the better to numb her broken heart. In fact, Claudia spends so much time drinking, she runs out of money. Ever resourceful, Claudia manages to pay for her latest booze binge by having sex with the delivery boy.

Meanwhile, law student Wendy starts feeling sick and begins upchucking in the bathroom. Oh no, she's preggers. However, when Wendy shares this bit of news with her wealthy, married paramour, he's less than thrilled.

"Do you want money?" he barks.

Compounding Wendy's horror is her sugar-daddy's assertion that he couldn't possibly be the baby's father because of her multitude of other "clients."

Wendy (Donna Dixon) glumly ponders her post-hooking future.

"You're the only one I see!" Wendy throbs.

Later on, Wendy and Lil have a nasty little spat about this turn of events.

"Lin Culver (the client's name) bought you!" Lil hisses. "You can't forget what you are!"

"Oh, I see," Wendy wails. "The furs, the jewels, the declarations of love! You did such a good job convincing me that I was someone special in Lin Culver's life!"

Lil wises Wendy up: "This is business!"

"I'm still Faye Dunaway and you're not, understand?"

With Wendy's future as a hooker up in the air, Lil tosses her an envelope with fifty grand from Culver. Wendy refuses the money, which causes Lil to hit the the roof.

"If you are dumb enough to have a kid," spits Lil, "at least be smart enough to give it something!" Then the madam turns on her high heels and stomps out.

Now, remember Julie? Her break-in period as a hooker is over and Lil sends her on her first "date": a four day cruise where she is suppose to deflower the 18-year old son of a mega- tycoon.

"He's young and sensitive," Lil tells Julie. "Be gentle with him."

That she is. In fact, when the cruise is over, Julie and Justin are MADLY IN LOVE and want to get married. "Men don't marry prostitutes," Lil asserts when Julie tells her the happy news. But Julie insists that she and Justin are different. So it comes as quite a shock when she travels to Justin's McMansion and his angry dad wants her gone. Justin wants her gone, too, especially after he learns his "first time" was co-opted (and paid for) by dear old dad.

"I felt like a piece of meat! And I'm a Vegan!": Heart-broken Julie unburdens herself to Lil.

Back at Lil's, the devastated Julie packs up. She's learned her lesson; no more hooking for her.

"I don't want to make love to a man for four days and come away with nothing!" the mid-westerner sobs.

"I wouldn't call forty thousand dollars nothing,"  Lil shrugs (she's got a point).

Believe it or not, "Beverly Hills Madam" still isn't over yet!

One evening the perpetually stewed Claudia asks the dim April to take over her regularly scheduled "date". The aspiring dancer agrees, unwittingly signing her death certificate in the process. See, Lil hasn't had the time to properly screen this new "client"--and it turns out that he (and his friends) are not gentlemen. That's made clear on the late night news, when it's reported that April is the victim of  a fatal assault.

The ditsy April (Robin Givens, in her TV movie debut) mistakes a straw for a pair of chopsticks.

It's during a dark and stormy night that "Beverly Hills Madam" finally comes to its frenzied conclusion.

First, Dunaway staggers into her house, still reeling from the news of April's murder. She finds Claudia in her living room, nursing a drink.

"I think you've had enough," Lil states.

Claudia disagrees. In fact, she thinks hookers NEED to drink in order to numb themselves.

"Whores don't have feelings, Lil!" Claudia shrieks. "That's what we give up when we sell ourselves!"

"Don't give me any of your back talk!": Lil and Claudia have words.

Next, the women launch into an argument over who is responsible for April's death. Naturally, Lil blames Claudia, who failed to alert her that April was taking her place. Claudia, on the other hand, says Lil is the guilty party for failing to properly check out the client's "references".

"That could have been me!" Claudia fumes. "It's your fault April is dead!"

Dunaway then has an eye rolling, tear-streaming melt-down, while Anderson hovers over her shoulder and taunts her for failing to protect "her girls."

Finally, Lil gets a grip and has a moment of clarity. She realizes running a prostitution ring is bad and she decides to give it up. Then her phone rings. Lil hesitates to pick it up. Could it be a client asking for a "date"? While Lil dithers, the phone continues to ring.

"Answer the phone, Lil!" Claudia commands.

"My acting will improve on 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.'": The devastated Julie.

But, no. Instead, Lil draws herself imperiously up and fixes Claudia with a steely gaze.

"You want to be the new Beverly Hills Madam?" she seethes. "You want to be me?"

In one feel swoop, Lil whips out her exclusive client list and tosses into the fire.

"Do it on your own! Like I did!" Lil screams, before adjusting her shoulder pads and stalking off.

Seconds later we see Lil driving off into the night. Where is she going? Who knows? But to assure us that Lil has truly turned over a new leaf, she fumbles for a cigarette, then tosses the smoke aside. Tobacco and prostitution have no place in Lil Hutton's life anymore.

Lil is happy to leave the hooking life behind.


"Beverly Hills Madam" is a sublimely nutty hoot-fest and that is due entirely to the casting of Faye Dunaway as Lil Hutton. The actress, famous for her intensity, sinks her teeth into this part and doesn't let go.When Lil says, "I'm tough on my girls", you believe it. Nobody can clench their jaw, narrow their eyes and read the riot act like Dunaway. In fact, the Oscar winner so owns this movie that no co-star or scenery is safe from her patented scenery chewing--and that includes Louis Jourdan, who plays an "old friend" of madam Lil's in his last screen appearance before passing away in real life.

So, kiddies, what can be learned from watching this (in the words of People magazine) "WHORATIO Alger story"?

1) Sleeping your way to the top isn't all it's cracked up to be.

2) In the world of prostitution, the pimps and madams get all the fun and money, while the hookers do all the work and suffering.

"I will always be Faye Dunaway. Deal with it."

3) Faye Dunaway can chew the Grade A Fat along side Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor.

4) Why waste your time watching the fake drama of Reality TV when you can watch the real drama of a flick like "Beverly Hills Madam"?

So, movie lovers, please remember, the high life isn't always so high and mighty, and SAVE THE MOVIES.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Who Will Win The Battle Between "Earth Vs. The Spider"?

"Hey, that's a rented car!": Pandemonium strikes when a giant spider is super imposed on the terrified residents of a small town in Bert I. Gordon's 1958 epic "Earth Vs. The Spider" (AKA "The Spider").

Hi-dee-ho, movie lovers.

Do you remember Little Miss Muffet?

In case you forgot, she's the one who sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey, when along came a spider, which sat down beside her, and frightened Miss Muffet away.

Remember her now?


"OW! That stings!": The ill-fated father of bobby soxer Carol winces in pain...just like the audience.

Because bargain basement filmmaker Bert I. Gordon has done Little Miss Muffet one better. In his 1958 epic "Earth Vs. The Spider" (AKA "The Spider"), his spider is not content to merely frighten you "away". NOPE. His spider wants to kill you, drink all your blood, drag your filthy carcass back to its lair and wrap you up in a cocoon so you will stay nice and fresh when he decides to munch on you later.

Don't say it couldn't happen, because that's exactly what happened to bobby soxer Carol's dad (some unknown guy)! He was driving home late one night after purchasing her birthday present. Then he suddenly squinted his eyes and screamed bloody murder. Next, somebody throws raspberry jam in his face. Then his truck crashes--and the screen went ominously dark.

Not good.

The next day we see bobby soxer Carol (June Kenney) walking to school. Dad never arrived home, it's her birthday and she's totally bummed out. Then quasi-boyfriend Mike (Eugene Persson) bounds up. He tries to reassure bobby soxer Carol by reminding her that dear old dad is a total booze hound prone to benders that could last for weeks. What's more, the whole town knows it, so she shouldn't worry because pop's probably just in a drunk tank somewhere!

Bobby soxer Carol makes a face and stalks off.

"Hello? Dial-A-Prayer?": Bobby soxer Carol phones from home.

Later that day, quasi-boyfriend Mike apologizes to bobby soxer Carol. He even offers to help her look for dad. Off they drive into the countryside and what do you suppose they find? They find bobby soxer Carol's dad's mangled truck. They also find her birthday present. Dad, however, is nowhere to be found. So our two plucky protagonists decide to check out a near-by cave, which has a "No Trespassing" sign clearly posted out front. The logic behind their decision is that bobby soxer Carol's dad might have gone into the cave "to keep warm" (or perhaps sleep it off).

While inside the cave, bobby soxer Carol and quasi-boyfriend Mike find several human skeletons. They also "fall" off a "ledge" and land smack dab into the middle of a "spider's web"...a spider's web that looks suspiciously like a volley ball net. Trust me on this one: I hate volleyball and I know a volleyball net when I see one and this "web" is indeed a volleyball net. In fact, I practically break out in hives when I see a volleyball net, because I have so many horrible gym class experiences seared onto my soul that revolve around volleyball. But enough about me! What about bobby soxer Carol and quasi-boyfriend Mike?!

Well, they are struggling to get unstuck from the huge web. As they are doing this, the teenagers hear a loud growling sound, sort of like Janis Joplin gargling with Clorox Bleach. The sounds of this gargling will soon be replaced by the sounds of bobby soxer Carol shrieking like a dental drill because a black, hairy spider the size of a mini van is steadily crawling towards them!

Bobby soxer Carol and quasi-boyfriend Mike mange to unstick themselves and escape. They run like hell or, rather, drive like hell back into town to warn everybody about the disaster that is surely coming their way.

The only person who really takes their claims seriously is high school science teacher Mr. Kingman (Ed Kemmer). Never the less, he, Sheriff Cagle (Gene Roth), a silver-haired, doughy guy who refuses to believe in giant spiders, a posse of police officers, a bunch of gentleman with a lifetime supply of DDT and our teen couple head back to the cave. Once inside, they find the body of bobby soxer Carol's drunk dad. Sure, he's dead, because the spider drained all his blood, but at least he's sober for once. Walking further along, the gang stumble upon the spider's web, which is actually a giant volleyball net. Then the menacing gargles of the spider pierce the air. The DDT experts put on their gas masks and blast the beastie with everything they've got. The giant spider is knocked off all its eight legs and declared dead. Except for the loss of one policeman, it's been a successful mission and everyone prepares to return home.

"Say cheese!": The giant spider enjoys a photo-op with the local press.

Sheriff Cagel wants to blast the spider's cave shut for security reasons, which seems reasonable. However, Mr. Kingman insists they drag the super spider over to the local university so it can be studied. "When nature makes a freak, it usually dies," the prof explains. See, only "the eggheads" at the university are capable of understanding how this king-sized spider lived. Furthermore, their research will enable folks to figure out how to prevent future giant spider outbreaks. The sheriff reluctantly agrees.

When we next see our eight legged freak, he's roped off in a corner of the high school gym. Mr. Kingman assures everybody that the beastie is deader than a door nail. However, when a fellow "egghead" is knocked to the floor by one of the "dead" spider's hairy legs, the prof insists it was merely an "involuntary muscle spasm" which "happens all the time."

My Aunt Fanny, right Junk Cinema lovers?

It's the approaching final act of "Earth Vs. The Spider" where director/producer Bert I. Gordon pulls out all the stops, masterminding a frenzied climax where various plot points surge in from all directions and merge into a massive pile-up outside the giant spider's cave.

Plot Point#1: Bobby soxer Carol is despondent not only at the loss of her drunk dad, but because she left her birthday present at the cave. She convinces quasi-boyfriend Mike to take her back to retrieve it. Naturally they get lost while searching in the cave.

Bobby soxer Carol and quasi-boyfriend Mike stumble upon one cave's less-than-happy residents.

Plot Point#2: Turns out the giant spider is not dead! This becomes apparent as a group of teenagers practice for the upcoming sock-hop in the gym. As they wail away on their instruments (and drama club members jitterbug), the giant spider WAKES UP and promptly bursts through the walls of the gym. Once free, he hits Main Street.

Plot Point#3: While the folks on Main Street scream, run, crash their cars and basically go ape-shit, the spider calmly ambles around. Turns out the spider just wants to go home. So after he trashes a few houses, munches on a few citizens and turns over some cars, the spider heads for his cave.

Plot Point#4: Mr. Kingman, Sheriff Cagle, a bunch of deputies, some city workers et. al gather up all the explosives they can carry and drive to the spider's cave. This time everybody agrees that sealing up the jumbo beastie's cave is a pretty good idea.

Plot Point#5: No sooner have the city workers set off an explosion that seals the cave tighter than a drum, the parents of bobby soxer Carol and her quasi-boyfriend Mike show up. As it's 100% certain the teenagers are inside the cave, the city workers must now blast OPEN the cave they just blasted SHUT. D'oh!

Plot Point#6: Bobby soxer Carol, quasi-boyfriend Mike and, alas, the spider, all survive the blast. The plucky teens then gingerly make their way to the front of the cave. As they scream for help, the crew workers, who are furiously digging a hole the kids can climb out of, hear them. But just when it appears that escape is imminent, Plot Point#7, in the form of our giant spider friend, rears its ugly head.

"I'm not dead yet!": DDT, bullets and an explosion can't stop this spider.

Plot Point#7: In order to vanquish the spider once and for all, and to save the teen couple, Mr. Kingman lowers down some electrical wires to quasi-boyfriend Mike. The plan is to electrocute the spider as it crawls over the wires. Although this seems like a dicey proposition, it works like a charm and the air is soon filled with the scent of fried spider. (Wanna bet it tastses like chicken?)

Safe at last, bobby soxer Carol and quasi-boyfriend Mike climb out of the cave and into the warm embraces of their parents. Earth having vanquished the spider, everybody wearily heads for home, again.Good night and have a pleasant, spider-free tomorrow.

"Earth vs. The Spider" is such a punishingly dreadful film that its only redeeming features are the many glitches, goofs and continuity errors that stick out like a bag of Cheese Puffs at an organic buffet.

First off, I lost track of how many times the people in this movie drove out to the spider's cave, drove away, drove back and then had to repeat the whole process all over again.

Then you had bobby soxer Carol finding her birthday present, losing her present and then finding it again. By the way, bobby soxer Carol's birthday present was a charm bracelet.

 The cave's residents aren't much help in locating bobby soxer Carol's birthday present.

Incidentally, did anyone else notice the city workers in charge of the DDT had the longest hose in the history of the world? Never once did it snag, buckle, get tangled or come up short. And while the city workers are to be congratulated for bringing along such a perfect hose, how come they didn't remember to bring enough gas masks for everybody?

Remember Mr. Kingman's pitch about carting the super spider over to the university for "the eggheads" to study? What was the hold-up with the university picking up their critter? Didn't they want it? And while the super spider cooled its heels in the high school gym, where was the school holding PE classes? I can't believe PE teachers would put their classes on hold while the university took its own sweet time in collecting their spider.

It is also worth noting that the "teens" in "Earth Vs. The Spider" look old enough to be having a mid-life crisis. In fact, Eugene Persson (Mike) was 35 years old at the time of filming!

Even the title of this flick is botched. "Earth Vs. The Spider" implies that the entire planet battled this beastie. In reality, only a science teacher, some police, and a variety of city employees fought this freak. And our science guy wasn't much help, either: it was Mr. Kingman, after all, who insisted on bringing the spider back to town, said the freak was dead when it clearly wasn't and, worst of all, he kept calling the spider an "insect" when it's an "arachnid"!

Did any else notice that "starring" is misspelled in the the flick's credits? Or that the flick showing at the downtown movie theater was "The Amazing Colossal Man", directed by Bert I. Gordon?

Another fine point over looked by Bert I. Gordon and his team: the spider used in this movie is a Tarantula and Tarantulas don't spin webs.

"It's not my web!": Our plucky protagonists are trapped in a huge volley ball net.

Watching "Earth Vs. The Spider" is like looking at a mosaic: it's all those small pieces of incompetence--from misspelled credits to over-age actors to cardboard sets to horrible acting to bad F/X--that create something supremely nutty. Each of those elements had their own part to play in making this movie bad. Film making is a team effort and team Bert I. Gordon can truly congratulate themselves on a job badly done.

Until next time movie lovers, remember that spiders are our friends (unless they are as tall as a sky scrapper) and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Peter Mark Richman IS the "Agent For H.A.R.M."!

"Deadly!.. Daring!... Diabolical!.. Dumb!": One of the many movie posters for James Bond rip-off "Agent For H.A.R.M."

Hello to you and yours, movie lovers.

Today I am pleased to announce I am one step closer to my goal of seeing every cut-rate James Bond rip-off ever made with the recent acquisition  of "Agent For H.A.R.M."!

A failed TV pilot from 1966 which was released to movie theaters (Lord knows why), "Agent For H.A.R.M." has all the James Bondian elements the producers could afford on their TV budget: a jazzy score with crazy credits; a secret government agency (H.A.R.M.) which does international espionage work; a suave secret agent (Peter Mark Richman) who loves the ladies; a craggy boss (Wendell Corey) who is always lecturing Chance on departmental policy; a strangely accented villain
 who works for the Commies; a defecting East German (Carl Esmond), who has a sexy niece who only wears bikinis; futuristic gadgets (like a man's electric shaver that doubles as a camera/recorder); and an evil plan involving spores that eat human flesh.

More about that later.

Unfortunately, the one thing "Agent For H.A.R.M." doesn't have is glizy locations for backdrops. So instead of the gaming tables at Monte Carlo or the picturesque Alps or even shots of London's Hyde Park, "Agent For H.A.R.M." gives us a modest two-story beach house in San Diego and the Sea Urchin Restaurant for local color.

"The name is Chance. Adam Chance.": Peter Mark Richman as one of the more obscure James Bond imitators of the 1960's.

Anywhooo, it's 1966 and The Cold War is blazing hot and heavy. Those pesky Commies are once again furiously working on a plan to rule the world--or at least take over part of Canada. That's what motivated East German scientist Dr. Janas Steffanic to defect to the West. Unfortunately, he was about half-way to safety when a baddie in a beret tries to kill him. That leads to a fist fight/gun battle where the evil guy (and Dr. Steffanic's traveling buddy) are shot with a revolver that sprays flesh-eating spores. As their faces turn to goo, Dr. Steffanic drives off to freedom in a Chevy van (I don't know if he ever made love in it and that's all right with me).

Now we are ready to meet our agent for H.A.R.M.: Adam Chance. He's at "the judo range" with a comely agent-in-training.

"There's so much to learn," the aspiring agent pants. "Could we continue our lessons later? Say, at my apartment?"

Chance would love to comply, but the bosses at H.A.R.M. are calling. See. an agent in Italy has been killed, as well as Dr. Steffanic's wimpy assistant Henry.  H.A.R.M. head Wendell Corey thus sends Chance over to exotic San Diego to see what's up.

Lounging at the beach in a striped tent (and a tiny bikini) is Dr. Steffanic's niece Ava (Barbara Boucet). "I'm 22, unencumbered and, if I'd known you were coming, I'd have been more presentable," Ava twitters to the agent.

Dr. Steffanic's niece Ava (Barbara Boucet) is far from H.A.R.M.less.

"If Washington had known you here, they'd have never sent me," Chance parries, while kissing Ava's outstretched hand.

Dr. Steffanic, you see, is working on a top secret project and he refuses to tell anybody the details--not even H.A.R.M.

"I have a job to do!" the defecting doctor thunders to Chance, "Alone!"

"How can I trust you if you won't trust me?" Chance thunders back. "Do you think you can't get hurt, doctor, because this is America?! Apple pie and all that jazz?" Narrowing his eyes, Chance coldly announces, "My job is to keep the pie on the table!"

Realizing he can't argue with such brilliant logic, Dr. Steffanic 'fesses up. Turns out, the East Germans have created a lethal powder out of an alien meteor that eats human flesh. The Commies plan to spray this dust on the West's fruits and veggies, making those apple pies deadly indeed. Dr. Steffanic found this out and was horrified. That's why he high-tailed it to the West. Since then, the good doctor has been trying to create an antidote--something fey Commie baddie Basil Malko (Martin Kosleck) really wants.

Now that Chance finally understands what he's up against, he devises a cunning plan to save the world. Part of that cunning plan involves hiding in the back of a fake dry cleaning van and strangling one of Malko's preppy goons with a wire hanger. Later on, Chance pulls out a special thing-a-ma-jig he stored in the back of Dr. Steffanic's TV (in 1966 TV sets were huge) and hot wires the door knob of the beach house. When another of Malko's preppy goons opens the door, he's fried. Hearing all the buzzing and screaming, Ava asks Chance (whom she was making out with) what's going on.

"I Wear My Sunglasses At Night. And Morning. And Afternoon.": Rafael Campos is one of Basil Malko's hippest henchmen.

"I'm barbecuing a pigeon," Chance smirks.

Although Ava and Chance appear to be enjoying a steamy affair (they even go swimming at night), not everything is what it seems to be. Ava, it turns out, is a secret agent too, but for the baddies. In fact, she may not even be Steffanic's real niece! Ava has been sending secret messages all along to Malko via her Barbie record player, allowing him to know Chance's every move. And she even replaces Chance's gun with one that doesn't work--while she was kissing the hell out of him, mind you.

"Agent For H.A.R.M." ends, as all secret agent movies must, with a race against time to prevent the crop dusting of our fruits and veggies with those flesh eating spores. There is also a duel between Dr. Stffanic and Malko, where the defecting doctor is shot with the spore gun. But wait! Dr. Steffanic has perfected the antidote--and even tried it on himself! Super evil Malko is fit to be tied that Steffanic doesn't instantly turn into goo, but he doesn't have time to pout: Chance sneaks up and pours a bunch of spore dust on Malko. Soon the Commie is simmering in his own goo. Our apple pies are saved!

Meanwhile, back at the beach house, Ava (wearing the only dress she probably owns) is busily packing for "The World Archery Competition" to be held in Vienna. Who should stroll in but Chance, who announces that Ava is under arrest. At first, she denies his claims and even tries to defend herself (she registered for the archery competition under a false name to protect herself from Malko's goons). When that fails, Ava throws herself at Chance. Nibbling at his lips, reminding him of all the fun they've had, she purrs, "Oh, Adam, don't let zem take me." However, Ava's wanton ways have no effect on Chance, who is nothing if not professional. "Come on Angel face, cut the Borsch," he snaps. Then Adam coolly hands her off to fellow H.A.R.M. agents and closes the book on his latest assignment.

Because "Agent For H.A.R.M." was a TV pilot and the producers clearly hoped future episodes were in the offering, the flick's ending suggests viewers would be seeing a lot more of Chance's daring do in the future.

A nattily dressed Adam Chance prepares to spring into action...well, some action.

Of course, they didn't.

Instead, "Agent From H.A.R.M." joined "Operation Kid Brother", "Danger! Death Ray!" and "Code Name Alpha" (among other titles) on the secret agent slush pile.

I once read that musicals were the hardest movies to make. However, after watching quite a few of these super spy movies, I am beginning to believe spy movies are the hardest movies to make. When you take into account that many countries have tried and failed to create a worthy equal to 007, you can't help but wonder what the problem is. Nobody may do it better than James Bond, but surely someone else out there could do it just as well.

As far as "Agent For H.A.R.M." is concerned, the problems were pretty obvious: the leading man wasn't very charismatic, the villains weren't interesting, the setting was pretty blah, it was clear from the beginning that Ava was up to no good and the "action sequences" moved slower than great-grandma at the mall.

In other words, "Agent For H.A.R.M." is entirely clueless. Seek it out and watch it NOW!

"Sorry, Wrong Number": Peter Mark Richman decides to phone in the rest of his performance.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"Spinout": Another Cinematic Flat Tire From Elvis

Have sneer, will travel: Elvis at the wheel of his latest cinematic Edsel, "Spinout".

Hello and happy Fourth of July, movie lovers.

 Elvis Presley made 31 movies during his storied career.

That's 31 movies too many.

Although fans of the King will defensively point out that none of Elvis' movies ever lost any money and he was a legitimate box-office draw. However, what they cannot deny is that the quality of Elvis' big screen efforts often reside somewhere between a drunken Karaoke night and "Sharknado, Part 3."

It did not have to be this way. With the right scripts and the right directors, Elvis could have had a real film career. After all, he had looks, sex appeal, talent and charisma to burn.

Mike McCoy enjoys a chat with the only female in "Spinout" who doesn't want to marry him.

Instead, he chose (or was blackmailed) into appearing in Cheese Whiz like "Spinout" (1966), a painfully unfunny "musical romantic comedy" where Presley plays rock'n'roll singer/race car driver pursued by three different women who all want the same thing: marriage. To him.

Our hopeful brides-to-be-are the tomboy-ish Les (Deborah Walley); rich girl Cynthia Foxhugh (frequent Elvis co-star and aggressive flip-wearer Shelley Fabares); and how-to-trap-a-man author Diana St. Clare (Diane McBain).

How did these women decide Mike was "The One" for them? Well, I'll tell you.

Les, who wears her hair in a Beatles mop top, is Mike's drummer. She's also the brains of his organization, bossing around band mates Larry and Curly (Three Stooges, anyone?) and preparing gourmet meals for the gang. Naturally, everybody is so used to thinking of Les as "one of the guys" that they forget she's a girl--forcing her to constantly remind them of this fact. Les is forever making goo-goo eyes at Mike, so her feelings should come as no surprise to anyone.

Meeting Cynthia proved to be a bit more complicated.

"Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Car": Rich girl Cynthia (Shelley Fabares with her back to the camera) and Mike suffer a collision course on the freeway of love.

She and Mike first locked eyes on the freeway, where they engaged in a round of high speed Chicken. Then Mike crashes through a guard rail and flies into a near-by lake.

"Hey! You're all wet!" the none-to-bright Cynthia chirps. "I saw you last night at the Crazy Club! You were great!" Then she adds, "You're cute!"

To which Mike replies, "Naw, you're cute!"

 "The way you sing, the way you drive, the way you get mad!" Cynthia gushes, " Mike, I really go for you!"

 "I'm just about to go for you!" Mike screams.

Mike goes for Cynthia.

To which Cynthia squeals, "Oooh, I can hardly wait!"

"If you're not out of here in about three seconds, I'm gonna turn ya over my knee and paddle your bottom till it's as red as that jalopy you're drivin'!" Mike hollers.

Because Cynthia is a high society trust-funder used to getting everything she wants, she promptly decides she wants Mike.

Diana St. Clare, on the other hand, has been secretly following Mike around the country and taking detailed notes for her latest book. When she finally confronts her subject, Mike asks the author, "When you find this Mr. Perfect, does he get some kind of award?"

"Oh, yes," Diana purrs, "he gets me."

Diana St. Clare and Mike McCoy have a close-up close encounter.

Mike, of course, isn't ready to end his bachelorhood any time soon. Therefore, out-witting these gals will take considerable effort. Adding to Mike's misery is Howard "Foxy" Foxhough (Carl Betz), the owner of Foxhough Motors and Cynthia's money-bags dad. He wants Mike to drive his company's latest sports car in the upcoming "big race". He also wants Mike to sing at Cynthia's upcoming birthday party, privately. Mike refuses both requests out right.

"There's nothin' I enjoy more than singin' for a girl," Mike declares, "but it's gotta be one I pick!"

He also refuses to drive the latest Foxhough Special because Mike wants to win the "big race" in his own car for his own reasons--not as a shill for Foxhough Motors.

Like his daughter, Foxy Foxhough is used to getting what he wants. So when Mike continually refuses his offer to sing for Cynthia's birthday (turning down a $5,000 fee, which is $37, 189.49 in 2016 values) Foxy is undaunted. "McCoy, you'll be there," he smugly replies. Just to be sure, Foxy cancels Mike's concert tour.

The band duly shows up at Foxhough Manor, where Mike warbles "I'm Ready To Fall In Love With You" to Cynthia as required. You can tell McCoy is performing under protest because he moves in so close to Cynthia he can see her nose hairs. He also narrows his eyes and purses his famous liver lips, so it's perfectly understandable when Cynthia plants a big, fat kiss on Mike's puss when his song is finished.

Mike clearly hates singing to Cynthia, can't you tell?

Their set over, the band prepares to leave, but Cynthia has other ideas. Mike's in-house command performance has convinced the air-headed heiress that she's even more in love with Mike and she's even more determined to marry him. Soon. What's more, once they're hitched, Cynthia plans on Mike giving up rock'n'roll and taking a "son-in-law-job" with Foxhough Motors. Mike, of course, is horrified.

It's just at this moment that Diana St. Clare pops back into the picture. To the surprise of no one, Diana has chosen Mike as her "perfect American male."

"As soon as I domesticate you, get you house-broken, you'll be the best husband a girl ever had," Diana declares.

"Husband?!" Mike gulps.

Clearly, something drastic must be done to save Mike from the shackles of matrimony, but what?

Bad doggie? Diana St. Clare plans to house-break Mike.

Putting two and two together (and getting five), the gang moves into the mansion next door to the Foxhoughs and proceed to throw one swingin' pool party after another. Supposedly, this non-stop revelry will annoy Foxy Foxhough and convince Cynthia that Mike is one party animal that can't be tamed.

Of course, no such thing happens. Instead, Cynthia shows up at one of Mike's shin-digs in her bikini and wraps herself around him like a beach blanket. Coincidentally, Diana St. Clare also arrives on the scene, but she falls into conversation with Foxy Foxhough. Neither of them wants Cynthia to marry Mike, so they discuss various ways to make sure this doesn't happen. Not to be left out of the fun is drummer Les, who stops gourmet cooking long enough to ditch her tomboy duds for a slinky gown, all the better to impress Mike.

Now, remember that "big race" Mike has been preparing for? The one Foxhough insists he drive his latest car in? Race day finally arrives and the cast converges at the track. Mike is in his Cobra, Foxy Foxhough is in his Foxhough Motors Special and soon they are off...except some unknown rival suddenly yanks Mike out of his Cobra and zooms off, leaving McCoy in the dust. No matter, Elvis merely borrows someone else's car and puts pedal to the medal to catch up.

Of course, movie lovers, you know what happens next: shots of cars zooming around at lighting speed, shots of cars passing each other on the course, shots of cars making quick turns, shots of actors gripping their steering wheels for dear life, shots of cars spinning out, shots of cars hitting hay bales, shots of the crowd going wild etc., etc. Eventually Elvis wins the "big race" because it's his movie. That ties up one plot point. But what about those three marriage-obsessed gals panting after Mike like hyenas?

Easy. Mike marries Diana St. Foxy Foxhough. He then marries Les off to Tracy, a policeman-slash-gourmet cook-slash-minor character that I didn't see fit to mention until now. Last but not least, Mike marries Cynthia to her father's chief assistant Philip, an annoying little putz who faints when he's under stress and (surprise, surprise) has loved Cynthia from afar for years. I'm just now mentioning Philip because the movie is over and Cynthia had to marry somebody.

Here come the brides! Mike marries Cynthia, Diana and somebody else.

With all three gals happily hitched, and his trophy from the "big race" in the back seat of his car, Mike, Larry, Curly and their new female drummer hit the road, where a marriage-free future (and even worse movies) await, at least for Elvis.

Predictably, "Spinout" was a hit with Elvis' fans, but nobody else. Critics were especially put out with the flick's unrelenting stupidity. The Hollywood Reporter called "Spinout" "foolish and altogether improbable." Films and Filming described the flick as "monotonously and unfailingly vapid." Their critic (Richard Davis) even took a swipe a Elvis' figure, carping that the King was "getting decidedly tubby" (perhaps he could see the toll all those fried banana and peanut-butter sandwiches were beginning to take?). Over at Time magazine, meanwhile, the reviewer took issue with Elvis' hair: "He now sports a glossy something on his summit that adds at least five inches to his altitude and looks like a swath of hot buttered yak wool."


Of course, Elvis was not the only famous singer who failed--miserably--at the movies. Madonna, Mariah Carey, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Roger Daltry, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Ringo Starr, Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, Brittney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Jon Bon Jovi have all similarly disgraced themselves. And while Elvis may not have made worse movies than those warblers did, he did make more of them. And he couldn't have done it without his fans! Apparently, Elvis fans are the most loyal fans in the world--or they were brainwashed, I don't know. It's hard to believe living, breathing, thinking people would sit through 31 terrible movies just because Elvis was in them, but stranger things have happened, right? I mean, people bought Pet Rocks, wore bell-bottom jeans, listened to disco, voted for Ronald Reagan, ratted their hair, bought Giorgio, drank Crystal Pepsi and made "The Dukes of Hazard" at top-ten TV hit. Taken in that context, Elvis' loyal but undemanding fans might not seem so crazy after all.

Here is where I leave you, movie lovers. However, please remember that uneasy is the head that wears (the rock 'n' roll) crown and SAVE THE MOVIES.