Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Older Woman, A Younger Man And "All That Heaven Allows"

Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) admires the length of Ron Kirby's (Rock Hudson) wood in "All That Heaven Allows".

Greetings, movie lovers.

It either is or soon will be Valentine's Day (depending on when I finish and post this piece). And you know what that means: love, love, love! Hearts! Flowers! Candy! Date night! So, in honor of Valentine's Day, your humble film historian has unearthed a big, glossy, sloppy, mushy romantic drama for your viewing (dis) pleasure.

Directed in 1955 by Douglas Sirk (the patron saint of big, glossy, sloppy, mushy romantic dramas), I give you "All That Heaven Allows" starring fun couple Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson.

Say what?

Yes, it's true! Rock Hudson, one of the hunkiest yet stiffest actors in movie history, and Jane Wyman (the Oscar-winning ex-wife of Ronald Reagan) are the May-December smitten kittens who's coupling causes an entire town to go berserk--and causes bad movie lovers to laugh uproariously from the opening credits to the final fade-out.

"Was it something I said?": Ron and Cary have their first date.

Our story begins in an upscale, neat-and-tidy, pearly white township in upstate New York. Wealthy widow Cary Scott (Wyman) dresses to the nines, mingles with her country club cronies and would vacuum in her pearls if she didn't have a maid to do it for her. Her smart-aleck son Ned (William Reynolds) is at Princeton and her annoying daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott) is studying social work. However, they only pester mom on the occasional weekend visit home. Despite being the picture of 1950's contentment, Cary is lonely and a little sad, even if she has difficulty admitting it.

Hoping to spread her wings a bit, Wyman attends a country club dance with dry-as-dust old friend Harvey (Conrad Nagel). He's lost his spouse too, and wants he and Cary to marry to ease their mutual loneliness. Far pushier is the married Howard, whom Cary makes the mistake of cha-cha-ing with at the dance. He maneuvers her outside and pants, "Why don't we meet in New York? I know a place."

After these downer encounters, is it any wonder Cary returns to her hermit ways?

After her best gal-pal Sarah (Agnes Moorehead) begs off a previously scheduled lunch, Cary asks landscaper Ron Kirby (Hudson) to join her. Because Ron is always so eager to trim her trees, he says yes.

It's at this innocent little nosh that the seeds of love--and scandal--begin to take root.

Married man Howard makes Cary an offer she sternly refuses.

As it turns out, Ron has always been sweet on widow Cary, but was too shy to say or do anything about it. Cary's invitation to lunch was just the opening Roy had been hoping for. As the weeks pass, their friendship deepens and Ron tells Cary about his plans to shutter his landscaping business and focus just on growing trees. Later on, he invites her to view the Silver Tipped Spruces he's been nurturing along. Ron drives Cary to his home, an old mill he's restoring. Wyman thinks it's a swell place and will make an ideal home for "the nice girl" he'll surely marry some day. To which Ron declares, "I've met plenty of girls, nice and otherwise"--and then plants a big, fat kiss on her!

Her loins finally stirred, Cary plunges head-first into love and Ron's free-spirited, bohemian lifestyle. After all, who wouldn't prefer Ron's set, a colorful clan who throw impromptu clam bakes and dance to folk music? Characters like Grandpa, a bee keeper and primitive painter, and Edna, head of the Audubon Society ( "and an outstanding bird watcher"), are tons more fun than those country club snoots like mean Mona (Jacquline deWitt), who live to spread gossip and act snarky.

Eventually Ron asks Cary to marry him and she says yes. When Wyman tells her kids she's engaged, they stupidly think it's to dull, dim Harvey. Imagine how their jaws drop and their eyes pop when ma explains it's to Ron.

Imploring her youngsters to give Ron a chance, Wyman asks Ned to whip up a batch of his "special martinis." To which Ned screams back, "This is no time for martinis!"

"There's no point in approaching this emotionally," the insufferable Kay declares. "Let's try to be rational." Turning to her mother and squinting her eyes, Kay asks, "Why did you keep this affair a secret? Were you subconsciously afraid (Ron) wouldn't fit in?"

Kids Ned (and especially) Kay are shocked that their mom plans to marry young Ron instead of old Harvey.

Ron, in a tux, arrives to meet Cary's fam--a meeting that goes over about as well as a dead rat in a punch bowl. Ned and Kay are appalled to discover the lovebirds plan on selling the family manse and living in Ron's restored mill. The annoying Kay tells Ron that a marriage to their mother would never work because "she's more conventional than you think", pointing out that (Cary) "has the innate desire for group approval, which most women have." However, the %@?! really hits the fan when Ned realizes that his late father's sporting trophy is no longer on the living room mantel.

"Was the trophy part of the clutter you were putting away?!" Ned spits before stomping off  "to study."

Suitably stunned, Ron and Cary move from one firing squad to another. BFF Sarah is hosting a party and Cary and Ron are the guests of honor. Mean Mona has her claws sharpened and is ready to pounce. Gushing about how great Hudson is at yard work, Mona meows, "Of course, I'm sure he's handy indoors, too." Remember married man Howard, the country club cad who propositioned Cary? He's at this shin-dig as well-- and fit to be tied that Wyman wouldn't give him a tumble, yet will let this gardener hoe her row (if you get my drift). Fueled by a bucket of martinis, Howard makes a drunken lunge at Cary. Ron decks the soused louse, while the society matrons present gasp. To Sarah's horror, her party comes to a crashing halt.

Could things get any worse? Of course they can! When Cary arrives home, son Ned has packed his bags. He tells his mother that if she marries Ron, he will never speak to her again and stalks off into the night. Several days later, Kay comes home in hysterics. While studying at the library, she got into a shouting match with some locals who--GASP!--claimed Cary was doing it with Ron before the death of her husband! What's more, Kay was asked to leave the library! 

Seeing the turmoil her relationship with Ron is creating causes Cary to call the whole thing off. After all, what else could she do? It was simply too much to expect her children, friends, neighbors, fellow country club members and community to accept her love for a man so different (and so much younger) than her late husband.

Sob Sister: Grieving widow Cary has a blue Christmas without Ron.

Naturally, everybody is thrilled that Cary and Ron are kaput. Ned starts speaking to his mother again. Kay and her boyfriend get engaged. The country club matrons click their tongues and prattle about how good it is that Cary has come to her senses and dodged this bullet. The world is back the way it should be--except for Cary. She's holding her head up high, of course, and hiding her tears, but she's suffering. She misses Ron and his colorful friends. She misses having having someone to love. The poor dear begins having chronic head aches and shows all the signs of depression. So Cary hustles over to her doctor, hoping he can give her something for the pain.

Instead, Dr. Hennessay (Hayden Rorke, best remembered for "I Dream of Jeanne") gives Cary some advice: marry Ron! Why let her future happiness be dictated by a bunch of spiteful country club snoots? Her children are nearly adults and have their own lives to live. Who are they to deny their mother's happiness?

"Let's face it," the good doctor tells Cary, "you were ready for a love affair, but not love."

Finally freed from convention, Cary rushes over to Ron's place. He's been out hunting and sees Cary has driven over. They smile and wave to each other; they run with their arms outstretched for a loving embrace...except Ron trips running down a snowy hill, falls, conks his noggin and promptly passes out cold. D'oh!

While her cuddlemate lies on the couch in his blue jammies, Cary looks out the picture window of Ron's converted mill. A deer nibbles at food left outside. Snow blankets the ground. Then the sun breaks through the clouds in a heavenly shaft of golden light. The violins swell on the soundtrack and Ron opens his peepers at last. Cary kneels by his side; he smiles at her. No words are necessary. Never again will Ron and Cary allow themselves to be parted. Love has truly triumphed over all.

Lying comatose on the couch provides Rock Hudson's best acting in "All That Heaven Allows".


OK, I realize that the message of "All That Heaven Allows"--that you should follow your heart and ignore stifling convention--was pretty radical for 1955. The rest of the flick, however, is pure, unadulterated corn pone.

Take the casting of Rock Hudson as the free-spirited Ron; simply put, Hudson is terribly miss-cast. He's about as free-spirited and easy going as William F. Buckley. Sure, he wears flannel shirts, drives a Woody and lives in a converted mill, but these touches don't fool anyone. Nor, for that matter, does the infamous party scene at pals Mick and Alida's house, where Rock "plays" the piano and sings a ditty called "Flirty Eyes". Then he grabs Wyman and they do a frantic jitterbug, in the course of which Rock throws his head back several times and yells "Ho!"

If you think that scene seems nutty, it's topped moments later when Ron and Cary are driving home. The cuddlemats are discussing Mick (Charles Drake), a Madison Avenue drop out who served in Korea with Ron. Cary asks Ron if "fearlessness" was something he taught Mick. Ron says no; you see, "Mick had to (learn) make his own decisions" and that "he had to be a man." This causes Cary to inquire, "And you want me to be a man?"

"Only in one way." Hudson says.

"Why so serious?" Cary and Ron contemplate their relationship...or they each have tummy trouble. You decide.

After Rock, it's Gloria Talbott, as the psycho-babble spouting Kay, who gives the flick's second worst performance. Her character is so grating, you wonder if Kay was meant to be an in-joke by director Douglas Sirk. After all, she lectures people about "sex attraction", dismisses brother Ned's "typical Oedipal reaction" to their mom's red cocktail dress and announces that "after a certain point, sex becomes incongruous." Talbott's prissy, know-it-all act wears real thin real fast, to the point where you want to scream "Shut up!"every time she flaps her yap.

Then there is Jane Wyman as the love lorn Cary. Although she had earned an Oscar for "Johnny Belinda" and had appeared in such flicks as "The Lost Weekend" and "The Yearling", all Jane is required to do in "Heaven" is change her tastefully tailored outfits and look strained. However, I'm convinced Cary's pained expressions are not the result of emotional upheaval, but because her pumps are too tight or her earrings are pinching her lobes. Why? Because Wyman and Hudson have all the romantic chemistry of a couple of Ted Cruz supporters. You just don't buy them as a couple, even though "All That Heaven Allows" was their second flick together. (Their first paring was in "Magnificent Obsession", where playboy Rock kills Jane's hubby and blinds her in a car crash. He later falls in love with Jane and becomes a super-duper eye doctor in order to fix her peeper.)

Even though we are meant to identify with Jane and Rock, the only fun person in "All That Heaven Allows" is Jacqueline deWitt as the meanie Mona. This gal, who has a tongue like an ice pick, relishes stirring up trouble and stabbing her friends in the back. Whenever Mona's on screen, you wonder who this society shrew will harpoon next.

In final analysis, "All That Heaven Allows" is an improbable tale acted with GREAT SERIOUSNESS by the principals, who are at least to be congratulated for keeping a straight face through the whole, manufactured ordeal.

I, on the other hand, laughed till I snorted.

So, until next time, remember love can strike at any time, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Special Post: Ammon Bundy Will You Please Go Now!

Special Note: As a proud, life-long native Oregonian, whose family homestead in Oregon before Oregon was even a state, the standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge is an outrage. With a tip of the hat to Dr. Seuss' Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! (all rights reserved), and with a few minor changes, I present...

Ammon Bundy, Will You Please Go Now!

The time has come.

The time is now.

Just go.



I don't care how.

You can go by foot.

You can go by cow.

Ammon Bundy, will you please go now!

You can go on skates.

You can go on skis.

You can go in a hat.

But please go, please!

I don't care. You can go by bike.

You can go on a Zike-Bike if you like.

If you like you can go in an old blue shoe.

Just go, go GO!

Please do, do, DO!

Ammon Bundy, I don't care how.

Ammon Bundy, will you please GO NOW!

You can go on stilts.

You can go by fish.

You can go by Crunk-Car if you wish.

If you wish you may go by lion's tail.

Or stamp yourself and go by mail.

Ammon Bundy! Don't you know the time has come to go. GO, GO!

Get on your way!

You might like going in a Zumble-Zay.

You can go by balloon...or broomstick.

Or you can go by camel in a bureau drawer.

You can go by Bumble Boat...or jet.

I don't care how you go. Just GET!

Get yourself a Ga-Zoom: you can go with a BOOM!

Ammon, Ammon, Ammon! Will you leave this refuge?!

Ammon Bundy! I don't care HOW,

Ammon Bundy! Will you please GO NOW!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves In "Racket Girls"

"That is why the lady is a champ!" Peaches Page, star of "Racket Girls", savors her victory in the ring.

Hi Keebah, movie lovers. Is it 2016 yet?

Today we turn our cinematic attention to the glamorous (?) world of professional women's wrestling and its fight to stay pure. Written and directed by Robert C. Dertano and produced by George Weiss, put your hands together for "Racket Girls" (aka "Blonde Pick-Up" aka "Pin Down Girls" 1951)!

Our proto-feminist heroine is Peaches Page (yes, that's her real name), a tall, blonde, buxom gal the movie bragged was "the most exciting body in Hollywood." Peaches wants to be a wrestling champ like her idol Clara Mortensen (who also plays herself). "Racket Girls" is her story. Actually, it's a highly fictionalized version of Peaches' story. Well, it's a story, let's put it that way.

After seeing Peaches defeat her latest opponent in the ring, promoter and ladies gym owner Umberto Scalli (B-movie regular Timothy Farrell) purchases her contract. Ms. Page is undoubtedly thrilled, especially after Scalli promises to make her a star. In pursuit of this fine goal, "Racket Girls" devotes plenty of screen time to Peaches jogging, bouncing a ball, working out on a rowing machine, getting a rub down and even wrestling.

In fact, Peaches is so immersed in her work outs that she fails to notice that Scalli's gym is actually a front for gambling and horse race fixing. Peaches also might not notice this because she's kinda dim. Nice, but dim.

"Is it hot in here or is it just me?" Mr. Scalli (Timothy Farrell) and side-kick Joe (Don Ferrara) check out their newest property, Peaches Page.

Helping Scalli carry out his dirty deeds is the short and smarmy Joe (Don Ferrara). Joe is always ogling the girls in the gym and he takes a special interest in Peaches. After Joe complains that women don't take him seriously because he's small, Peaches reassures him, "Good things come in small packages."

"Not to my way of thinking," he parries back, looking directly at Peaches' chest.

Other nefarious characters hanging around the edges of this flick include Monk (Paul Merton), a coke-eyed bookkeeper who is spying on Scalli for a certain "Mr. Big". Mr. Big, you see, is the head of an all powerful crime syndicate. He's always filmed with his back to the camera, which is suppose to enhance his "bigness", I guess. Anyway, Mr. Big has been squeezing Scalli for a piece of his action--as well as making sure Scalli doesn't knuckle under to the subpoena-waiving feds who are investigating local organized crime.

Then there is Jackie (Mary Jean Walker). She's a tough talking female bookie in Scalli's employ. Monk, that baddie, is blackmailing Jackie (when he's not spying on Scalli). Why? Seems Monk's discovered that Jackie "buckets" (skims money) off the debts she collects for Scalli. Jackie has gotten so good at this, she's moved from "a cheap hotel room" into "a swanky new apartment." When Jackie refuses to share her ill-gotten gains with Monk (whom she calls "a sewer rat"), he tattles the tale to Scalli. This info makes Scalli so mad  he gives Jackie just 24-hours to leave town, or, he hollers, "I'll have you beaten up!"

As Peaches becomes more entrenched in Scalli's world, he begins to make romantic overtures to her. This upsets gym manager (and former cuddlemate) Ruby (Muriel Gardner). Turns out Scalli had promised to make Ruby a champ, too. Although Scalli failed to deliver--and has cheated on her repeatedly--Ruby can't walk away from the cad. "I use to believe his lies and sometimes I still do..." she sighs.

Scalli's former cuddlemate Ruby tries to rub some sense into Scalli's newest cuddlemate Peaches. 

While giving Peaches a rub down, Ruby relates a tale (which becomes a flashback) about an unfortunate gal named Beverly. It goes like this:

Beverly owes Scalli money. However, she can't make her regularly scheduled "payments" because she's recently lost her job. "They said I was drunk!" Beverly explains, somewhat miffed. 

Beverly is also taking certain unspecified "pills" that Scalli supplies her. These "pills" have become rather spendy and Scalli frets that he might have to cut Beverly off. That makes Bev burst into tears. When Scalli asks if her folks can help her out, Beverly sobs, "Would you call a drunken father and mother folks?"

Ever the gentleman, Scalli tells Beverly about a friend of his named Mr. Gomez. He's a "businessman" who runs a "cabaret". Sometimes his patrons "drop in without a date" and Mr. Gomez has female employees who "act as hostesses" to make the men "feel at home."

When Bev hears this, she sobs even more. "Oh, no, Mr. Scalli! I couldn't do that! I've sunk pretty low," Beverly admits, "but I couldn't be a..."

Sob Sister: Scalli makes an offer the down on her luck Beverly can't refuse.

A prostitute? Hooker? Street walker? Doxie? Whore? Bev never utters any of these terms, but it's crystal clear that's the job Scalli is pushing her into--and poor, parent-less, pill-popping Bev agrees to it!

The moral of Ruby's story? Mr. Scalli "is the sort of guy who can change a girl's nightly stroll from a recreation to an occupation."

Unfortunately, Ruby's warning fails to be absorbed into the piece of ground round between her ears that Peaches calls a brain.

In the mean time, Scalli is feeling the pressure from all side: Mr. Big, who wants a piece of his gambling action; the feds, who want him to testify a public hearing; and female wrestling champ Clare Mortenson, who refuses to accept Scalli's "business deal."

"How would you like to throw your bout to Rita Martinez?" the crave creep queries Mortenson. "I could make it very interesting, say, a thousand dollars?"

You go, girl! Wrestling champ Clare Mortenson (as herself) listens with disgust to Mr. Scalli's "business deal."

Champ Clare is shocked, shocked! that anyone would suggest she would throw a match for money. "Wrestling is one of the few remaining clean sports," Clare lectures Scalli. "And those of us who make our living at it intend to keep it that way!"

Mortenson then storms off in search of Peaches. She finds the dim wrestler applying her lipstick in the locker room--and promptly orders her to clear out her lock and quit Scalli's gym pronto.

"This place is a hot box!" Clare announces.

When Peaches worries about her contract, Clare replies "I know what I'd tell Mr. Scalli to do with it!"

"You don't seem to like Mr. Scalli very much," the deeply dumb Peaches observes.

"We're outta here!" Clare orders pea-brained Peaches to quit Mr. Scalli's "hot box" gym for good.

"I hope he dies with a fish bone stuck in his throat!" Clare snaps as she hustles Peaches out of harm's way.

As it turns out, Mr. Scalli does die--but from bullets, not fish bones. See, both the feds and Mr. Big catch up to Scalli. After being forced to testify in a grand jury hearing (which appears to take place in a broom closet with an American flag pinned to the wall), Mr. Big's goons gun both he and Joe down.

As for Peaches, we have no idea what happens to her. With Scalli's death, "Racket Girls" ends its broadcast day. Peaches never made another movie, which was probably a wise choice: as an actress, Peaches was a good wrestler.

As befitting a truly unique Junk Gem, "Racket Girls" appears to suffer from a personality disorder. On the one hand, it wants to be seen as a serious examination of professional women's sports. That's why it features Clare Mortenson and Rita Martinez (the female wrestling champ of Mexico) as straight shooting professionals who want to keep their sport clean. However, to ensure that there would be a (male) audience for the picture, "Racket Girls" promoted itself with a lurid ad campaign that promised to show (male) patrons "the strange love life of a wrestling gal!" and "intimate scenes of gorgeous girl wrestlers with the naked eye of the camera!"

Timothy Farrell as the no-good gambler, horse race fixer, pimp, pusher and women's wrestling promoter Mr. Scalli.

"Racket Girls" promotional trailer was even more over the top, screaming that women's wrestling was "fierce yet feminine" and promised to show (male) viewers "what happens when the cruel lords of the underworld try to make gorgeous gals of the ring their slaves!"

Of course, the 1950's were hardly an enlightened era for women's rights or women's sports. Thanks to Title X, girls can now play any sport they want in school and college. Therefore, "Racket Girls" serves as an important reminder of how hard female athletes have had to work to be taken seriously. In her own blinkered way, Peaches Page helped pave the way for more equality in sports. Wherever she is, I hope she's proud.

Until next time, always keep your gym togs handy, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Dynasty"s Royal Disaster

Big hair! Big sleeves! Big mistake! The cast of "Dynasty" relocates from Denver to Moldavia, with disastrous results.

Hi ho, movie lovers.

The TV series "Dynasty" was by far the glitziest, glossiest show ever to appear on network television. Supposedly set in the worlds of high finance and oil production, it was really about the scheming and double-dealing ways of the very rich, principally the Carrington clan. And because "Dynasty" was produced by the Sultan of Schlock Aaron Spelling, everything on this show was was way, way over the top. Everyone's hair was pouffed sky high; the shoulder pads gave every frock worn the wing-span of a 747; the ladies all swished around in Nolan Miller gowns, while all the gents paraded about in Nolan Miller tuxes; people traveled via jet, rolls and spiffy sports cars; and the entire cast played musical beds with friends, enemies, rivals, employees and the occasional spouse (not necessarily their own).

The main characters were patriarch Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), his devoted second wife Krystal (a pre-Yanni Linda Evans), his vengeful ex-wife Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter (camp tramp expert Joan Collins) and a rotating cast of supporting players with names like Fallon, Dex and Sammy Jo.

My favorite among the sprawling "Dynasty" cast was Amanda Carrington, the "secret", quasi-illegitimate daughter of Blake and Alexis. She was played by the frozen-faced Catherine Oxenberg, an English/Serbian blue blood who's mom was born Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia.

Despite her tony accent and exotic lineage, Oxenberg's acting skills were rather pedestrian. That was no problem on "Dynasty", where bugging one's eyes, flaring one's nostrils, tossing your head, throwing drinks in someone's face, slamming down the phone and marching off in a huff were the order of the day, not acting.

Catherine Oxenberg runs the gamut of emotions from A to B as Amanda Carrington.

As Amanda, Oxenberg changed her outfits more than her facial expressions. Her most common pose was to stare into space with the look of dull surprise. She could on certain occasions pout and even squint her eyes. Thus, for her entire stint on "Dynasty", no matter what crisis befell our heroine, Catherine displayed the emotional range of a very over-dressed crash test dummy.

True the show's over-the-top soapy histrionics, where characters painted their rival's offices with poisoned paint and tossed each other into fish ponds, the "Dynasty" scriptwriters gave Oxenberg a suitably daffy story line. After flouncing into Denver announcing her connection to Alexis via a tell-all newspaper interview ("You little bitch!" mommy Alexis hissed before slapping her), Amanda searches for her "real" father (it's Blake, of course) and develops a fixation on mummy's latest hubby, the gravelly-voiced Dex Dexter. Dex, naturally, insists he only has eyes for Alexis. In hopes of making her step-daddy jealous, Amanda begins an on-and-off flirtation with Prince Michael of Moldavia (a real country in Eastern Europe, although for the show's purposes, it was relocated to somewhere in the Mediterranean). 

Alexis, of course, is delighted that a genuine royal is taking an interest in her daughter. Turns out Michael's pa King Galen (don't you love these names?) had a romance with Alexis years ago that his parents put the kibosh on when it got too serious.

Poor Amanda can't decide if she loves or hates Dex or if she truly loves Prince Michael or just enjoys using him to annoy Dex. In due time she hops between Michael's royal bed covers (which, we were lead to believe, were quite crowded) and even takes a shower with him. Looks like true love to me! Then at breakfast, Prince Michael lowers the boom: he's engaged to the Duchess Elena of Brana. Amanda reacts to this news in true "Dynasty" fashion: she bugs her eyes, juts out her chin and stomps off to get dressed.

What's a poor girl to do? Well, in Amanda's case, not much. It's mom Alexis who springs into action, convincing her ex-cuddlemate the king to allow Michael to marry Amanda in exchange for some hefty financial investment in Moldavia. This wheeling and dealing is interlaced with the push-me-pull-you drama between Dex, Amanda and Michael. At one point, Amanda arranges to meet Dex, where she informs him that Michael has proposed. Dex encourages Amanda to accept, which causes her to wail, "How can I when it's you I love?" The granite-faced Dex insists for the hundredth time that he loves Alexis. Amanda then scrunches up her face and screams, "I hate you!" and runs off. Of course, Amanda decides to marry the prince, but that only leads to more complications and conniptions.

"Can you pass the shampoo?" Prince Michael and Amanda enjoy a steamy moment.

Remember the Duchess of Brana? Well, no sooner has the royal wedding been announced than ex-fiance Elena begins throwing her aristocratic weight around. She insists on telling anyone who will listen that Prince Michael loves her and that Amanda isn't cut out for the royal drill. Elena even slinks into the prince's bedroom, declares her love for him and promptly strips naked. Who should suddenly stumble in but Amanda? Horrified, she pulls off her pricey engagement ring and stomps off.

Things get ironed out, after a fashion, because the show is heading for "The Moldavian Massacre", the ultimate "Dynasty" season-ending cliff-hanger. Amanda and Michael no sooner say "I do" than a platoon of commandos burst into the church and shoot up the wedding party, invited guests, dignitaries and possibly even the catering crew. Who survived? Who didn't? In those pre-Internet days, magazines, newspapers, tabloids and TV morning shows endlessly debated this state of affairs. "Dynasty"s ratings and popularity were at its peek. Unfortunately, the long awaited season premiere was a total let down. Only two cast members (Ali McGraw and Billy Campbell) and the predictable posse of the extras were offed; everybody else was just fine, thank you. That included Amanda, who had neither a hair out of place nor a smudge on her puffy gown.

Concerning "The Modavian Massacre", I have always had a few questions.

Question #1: Why wasn't the Moldavian royal wedding televised, at least in Moldavia? When the Crown Prince of Greece married heiress Chantal Miller in England, the wedding was televised in Europe and in Greece, even though the Greeks threw their royals out in 1969.

Question #2: How come "Dynasty" had Michael and Amanda have their religious wedding first and their civil wedding second? It is always the civil wedding first, and then the religious wedding the next day. Didn't the producers watch tapes of Grace Kelly's wedding?

"With this ring I thee dread..." Prince Michael and Amanda make it legal.

Question #3: How could all those commandos spray all those bullets into a church and only two people die?

Question #4: What kind of government did the revolutionaries in Moldavia want to replace the monarchy with? Communist? Socialist? A republic? A junta? Military dictatorship?

Question #5: Didn't anybody think it was a bit odd that the king's head of security was a weaselly guy named Yuri who sported a black eye-patch?

Naturally, the marriage of Michael and Amanda doesn't survive the upheaval in Moldavia and they divorce. Catherine Oxenberg didn't stay with the show much longer, leaving over a contract dispute. Although she appeared in several TV movies (including a badly received remake of "Roman Holiday") and the feature "In the Lair of the White Worm" (co-starring Hugh Grant), appearing on "Dynasty" became Catherine's best known role.

Of course, it's only in the wonderful, funderful world of Junk Cinema that a show like "Dynasty" could exist--and Catherine Oxenberg is one of the many interesting personalities you will find there. Her mom, born Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia remember, would marry four times and become engaged to Richard Burton. Catherine is also related to every royal house in Europe and can claim Catherine the Great as a relative. Where else but in Junk Cinema would a real European blue blood end up on a prime time soap opera cast as "the secret daughter" of Joan Collins (now herself a Dame) who marries and divorces a prince? In fact, Catherine would play a princess a total of four times in her career: twice as Princess Diana, once in "Roman Holiday" and then on "Dynasty". Later on, Catherine would appear in a reality show titled (what else?) "I Married a Princess".

The flag of Moldavia

Will wonders never cease?

Until next time, Save The Movies!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Enjoy This Holiday Cheese Platter Courtesy Of Candice Bergen (And Junk Cinema)

Big hair, big name: Candice Bergen in her modeling days. 

Happy holidays, movie lovers.

Before she won our hearts (and five Emmy Awards) as the take-no-prisoners TV journalist Murphy Brown, before she co-starred in the quirky drama series "Boston Legal", before she earned an Oscar nomination for her turn as a tone-deaf disco singer in "Starting Over" and before she published two best-selling memoirs (Knock Wood and A Fine Romance), Candice Bergen was one of the premiere cheese whizzes of her generation.

Starting off as the ice cold "Lakey the Lesbian" in 1966's "The Group", Edgar Bergen's little girl (and Charlie McCarthy's kid sister) accumulated an astonishing array of cinematic stinkers to her credit. Some were big budget bombs, a few were European flavored art house flops, others were just dumb duds. The net result was that before Ms. Bergen showed the world she could act, she showed the world that she couldn't...repeatedly.

Firmly enshrined now as a national treasure, let's take a long, loving look at the celluloid cheese Candice churned out over the years--a Junk Cinema rap sheet that would eventually earn her a nomination as "The Worst Actress of All Time" by the esteemed Golden Turkey Awards (fellow nominees were Vera Hruba Ralston, Maime van Doran and the eventual winner, Raquel Welch).

"The Day The Fish Came Out" (1967)-- This totally mental "satire" about missing H-bombs on an obscure Greek island featured Candice as the go-go boots-and-hot pants wearing "assistant" to a visiting archaeologist. No more than 21 or 22, Bergen is thoroughly upstaged by her wacky wardrobe and the on-going on-screen hysterics of this over-the-top oddity. Previously reviewed on this blog ("Cowabunga, Dudes! It's, Like, Nuclear Catastrophe!"), "The Day The Fish Came Out" has since become "a cult failure" and a prime example of cinematic over-indulgence on a massive scale. Bergen herself has describe her performance as "terrible."

Candice Bergen as a futuristic dental hygienist (actually, a professor's assistant) in "The Day The Fish Came Out."

"The Magus"(1968)-- Based on the novel by John Fowler and starring Michael Caine, Bergen is cast as Lily, the cuddlemate companion of puppet master Anthony Quinn. She spends the whole movie changing into weird costumes and acting even weirder. The movie also takes place on a Greek island, but that hardly matters. In its review of the flick, the New York Times opined that Candice was "not a remarkable actress." Ouch. Bergen herself called the movie "awful" and recalled, "I didn't know what to do and no one told me. I couldn't even scrape together the semblance of a performance."

"The Adventurers"(1970)--With a cast that included Ernest Borgnine, Olivia de Havilland, Fernando Rey, Charles Aznavour and the sensational newcomer Bekim Fehmiu (as the lead "Dax"), this south-of-the-border potboiler is based on the Harold Robbins trash classic. A schlockbuster of epic proportions, Bergen is cast as "poor little rich girl" Sue Ann, who is based (very unsubtly) on the much married Barbara Hutton.

A world famous but broke playboy, Dax deflowers Sue Ann on her 21rst birthday and puts a bun in her oven. The duo marry and Bergen asks her rent-a-hubby to push her on a rickety swing--with disastrous results. Sue Ann and Dax divorce and the jaded jet-setters spend the rest of the movie shedding spouses like a snake sheds skin. At one point, Bergen marries fashion designer-turned-lush Tommy Berggren, but that marriage ends when he finds Candice making out with another woman at a swanky party.  "Well," her husband shrugs, "at least we have something in common."

Candice admitted she did "The Adventurers" "for the money" adding, "Selling out wasn't as hard as I thought it would be."

Bekim Fehmiu consoles Candice Bergen about appearing in "The Adventurers": "Remember, Candy, we're getting paid."

"The Hunting Party"(1971)--Ugh. This is a very brutal, very nasty western where cattle baron Gene Hackman abuses his young wife (Bergen), various hookers and the audience.

 Outlaw Oliver Reed kidnaps Candice, believing her to be a schoolmarm. He wants her to teach him to read; she wants to escape, as well as avoid getting beaten and raped. She doesn't make it. Hubby Hackman, meanwhile, heads up a posse to track everybody down. He intends to knock-off the outlaws, of course, and his wife. Why his wife? Because Gene figures the kidnappers will have assaulted Candice and he isn't about to pass off "a little stranger" as his kid. Plus he's just mean.

It all ends, as violent nonsense like this must, with everybody dying in the dust in a hail of bullets. Off screen, Candice was bullied by co-star Reed, who was miffed she wouldn't have an affair with him. In fact, he wouldn't talk to her except when the cameras rolled. Bad form, Mr. Reed.

"Oliver's Story"(1978)-- If you thought "Love Story" was a bad movie--and it was--its totally unnecessary sequel "Oliver's Story" is even worse.

Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) appears to be affecting a mourning even more prolonged for his wife Jenny than Queen Victoria did for Prince Albert. He mopes at work, he mopes around friends, he mopes around on blind dates and he even mopes around at singles bars with his father-in-law. Everybody tells him to stop moping and get on with his life, but Oliver can't stop moping. Then he meets peppy department store heiress Candice Bergen...and mopes around even more. Wasn't Candice suppose to help O'Neal move on? Guess nobody told the filmmakers. Or the cast.

Candice Bergen and Ryan O'Neal try to laugh off the rotten reviews for "Oliver's Story."

It's not often that a bad movie is preceded by a sequel that is even badder, but "Oliver's Story" pulls it off. The shame and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Ryan O'Neal, who gives a performance that makes Ali McGraw's obnoxious Jenny look good. Interesting tidbit: film critic Pauline Kael once said the only flair in Ali McGraw and Candice Bergen's acting "was in their nostrils."

"Hollywood Wives"(1985)-- Made during the Golden Age of TV mini-series and based on the best seller penned by the High Priestess of Potboilers (the late Jackie Collins), Candice is cast as the wife of a fading movie star. Fretting that her hubby's dwindling box office appeal will fatally impact her cushy life style, Elaine (that's her character's name) becomes a compulsive shopper to cope. She's even arrested for shoplifting! The horror, the horror.

Featuring more big hair, puffed sleeves, bugle beads and frosted eye shadow than you can shake a stick at, "Hollywood Wives" also co-starred Stephanie Powers, Suzanne Sommers (as a bimbo star who wants to be taken seriously), Roddy McDowell (as a decorator), Angie Dickinson as a big-shot agent and (say it isn't so!) the future Sir Anthony Hopkins.

"The Mayflower Madam"(1988)-- Sydney Biddles Barrow (Candice Bergen) was an upper crust  lady who could trace her family back to the original passengers on the Mayflower, which should earn her the never-ending respect of righr winger Ann Coulter. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Syd was all set for a career in high fashion...that, sadly, never materialized. Things got so bad, in fact, that she had to accept a job as the phone scheduler for a paid escort service. Eww!

Realizing she was bred for better things, Sydney decides to start her own escort service, but she'll do it with class. Is such a thing possible? Of course not!

Sisters are doin' it for themselves? High class madam Sydney Biddle Barrows teaches her "girls" how to be "real (80's) ladies".

As the woman dubbed "The Mayflower Madam" sets out to work, she recruits pre-med students and acting hopefuls into her operation, no skanky, chain-smoking, disease ridden crack whores for her! Sydney tutors them on etiquette, takes them shopping, screens her clients and always pays her taxes. Business at "Cachet" is booming and the madam rewards her employees with fun picnics (complete with balloon rides) in Central Park. Sydney is such a super boss, in fact, she even helps one hooker prepare for an important acting audition!(Needless to say, she gets the part.)

But the good times can't last. Soon the police get into the act and Sydney is busted. The uproar over her high class call girl business costs Sydney the love of her rich beau (Chris Sarandon) and her mom is drummed out of the social registrar. In real life, Sydney paid a fine and was unapologetic. The TV movie, of course, had to have Sydney suffer for her sins, which meant her fellow high society snoots gave her the cold shoulder and struck her name off their guest lists.

As Sydney, Bergen has no problem carrying off her character's upper crust poise. Unfortunately, her acting is stiff and wooden, like she didn't have time to rehearse. And her working girls are all standard-issue TV Tropes, all planning on hooking part-time until something better comes along.

"The Mayflower Madam" was Candice Bergen's final hurrah in Junk Cinema, because the next year saw the premiere of "Murphy Brown" and the rest is history. But one could argue that her years churning out cheese were what made Bergen's break-out role possible. A true late bloomer, Candice finally started acting lessons, began accepting scripts for reasons other than money or the location and realized what she did best was comedy, not drama. This hard won knowledge totally turned her career around and her status today reflects that. Candice Bergen: Junk Cinema salutes you! Or, better still, Junk Cinema: Candice Bergen salutes you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

You Won't Believe Your Eyes...Or The Movie. Faye Dunaway Strikes Again In "The Eyes of Laura Mars"

Primal Scream Therapy? No, it's just Faye Dunaway at her most understated in "The Eyes of Laura Mars", a bonkers thriller that's a real fashion fail.

Hi keebah and hello, movie lovers.

When Faye Dunaway made "Mommie Dearest" in 1980, she dealt her career a body blow it has yet to recover from. Hard to believe that four years earlier the gal shrieking, "No wire hangers!" had won the Best Actress Oscar for "Network"--where, admittedly, Dunaway did plenty of shrieking as well. In fact, the entire cast did nothing but shriek. "Network" is one movie that did not need Dolby Surround Sound or any kind of sound system; you could hear it a mile away. But I digress...

How did such a turn-around happen? Not by accident, I assure you. Ever the perfectionist, Dunaway prepared for her over-the-top "Mommie Dearest" hysterics by performing over-the-top hysterics in "The Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978), a totally bonkers slasher flick/romance where the beleaguered heroine must fight off the horrors of a murderous stalker, deadly visions and disco music--all without mussing her hair or smearing her make-up, mind you.

Laura Mars (Dunaway) is a world famous photographer who specializes in sexy, brutal fashion photos where models in fishnets and furs punch each other in front of burning cars. Of course, her work is highly controversial, but Laura doesn't understand why. She's merely chronicling the chaos of the times, after all. When she's pressed by reporters about her photos glamorizing violence or demeaning women, an impatient Mars sighs, "Doesn't anyone have anything positive to say?"

Then comes the night of her big splashy book launch party, where the fashion crowd and the Beautiful People sip champagne and boogie to the melodious strains of KC and the Sunshine Band. Harshing everyone's buzz is the arrival of the police. Turns out Laura's book editor has been fatally poked in the peepers. This unnerves the star shutter-bug because she'd recently had a bad dream which depicted that very thing. Less upset than annoyed is Laura's publisher Ellen (Rose Gregorio), who can't believe someone would have the nerve to get killed on such an important night.

"Laura Mars, I presume?" Det. John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) and Laura engage in a staring contest.

"Why does everything have to happen to me?" Ellen fumes.

Unfortunately, Ellen is offed right quick and in the same way. Laura was busy shooting a lingerie spread in Columbus Circle when suddenly the whole grisly scene played before her eyes from the killer's POV. How is this possible? Beats me. The movie doesn't explain how this phenomenon could possibly take place, even though it's a major plot point. Anyhoo, the photog freaks out and soon the whole fashion crew are cooling their high heels in the police station.

That's where Laura meets investigating police detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones). Sporting Shaun Cassidy's feathered locks and a unibrow, Jones is confused by Dunaway's explanation of how she "saw" the murder of Ellen without being there. He's also rather keen on finding out why some of Laura's recent fashion photos so closely resemble unreleased crime scene snaps.

"You think I committed the murders and then recreated them as photographs!?" Mars sputters. "I don't buy it!"

Well, OK, fine, suit yourself. Alas, that pesky problem of Laura's friends and co-workers getting fatally popped in the peepers just keeps getting worse. After Ellen, bimbo models Lou Lou and Michelle meet the same fate. Then Laura's flamboyant agent Donald (Rene Auberjonois) is knocked off. His death, however, is a partial case of mistaken identity, as he was wearing Laura's hat and coat. Why was Donald doing this? Because Laura's louse of an ex-husband (Raoul Julia) was having an affair with Ellen and he's wanted for questioning by the cops and he's afraid and on the run and could Laura please meet him? Inexplicably Laura says yes, but she has police protection and where Laura goes the police follow. Thus Donald dresses up as Laura to fool the police...oh, look, just watch the movie yourself if you think I'm making this up. Although Donald's drag act does fool the killer, I bet the baddie was mad when he realized he'd been duped.

Separated at birth? Brother and sister? Laura and her agent Donald (Rene Auberjonois) share the same horrified expression (and hair).

Still with me? Good. Because as if things weren't getting nutty enough, the movie decides to have John and Laura fall in love. Deep, deep love. How do the principals come to this conclusion? After attending a double funeral, John and Laura take a walk in the woods. Pacing around with the urgency of two people needing to find a bathroom, John and Laura suddenly declare that they can't stop thinking about each other.

"This is highly unprofessional!" John declares. "I'm supposed to be catching a killer!"

"I don't have time for this!" Laura gasps between sobs. "I'm completely out of control!"

Then our two smitten kittens make whoopskie and wax philosophical about how one minute "you're doing OK" and the next minute Mr. or Ms. Perfect waltzes into your life and suddenly you're happy and complete and your food tastes better and the sun shines brighter and you vomit up flowers etc., etc.

"It's terrifying," Jones admits.

"This is unprofessional!"--and unrealistic! Fun couple Tommy Lee Jones and Faye Dunaway.

Established now as cuddlemates, John and Laura plan on living happily ever after once that ding-dang slasher is caught. Sure enough, the police suddenly announce they have ample evidence that points to Tommy (the twitchy Brad Dourf) as the trouble maker. Who is Tommy? He's Laura's ex-con of a personal driver, did I forget to mention that? Of course, knowledgeable bad movie fans understand that the Tommy revelation will lead to a police chase, which will lead to a shoot-out, which will lead to Tommy's death. Bad movie fans also know the movie is nowhere near finished.

Once the presumed killer is (allegedly) out of commission, John announces to Laura, "I want to take you away from here!" So she begins packing her bags when--oh no!--Dunaway has one of those gruesome visions from the killer's POV! How could that happen if the killer's dead?! In fact, he's in Laura's building! He's banging on her door! Laura screams for him to go away! Then, CRASH! The maniac throws himself through the sliding glass doors on Laura's balcony!

No, wait! It's not the killer! It's John! Laura throws herself into his arms, sobbing hysterically. John tries to console her, insisting that Tommy is dead. When Laura asks why Tommy had it in for her, John explains that Tommy thought her work trivialized death. "Death is sacred," John says. Then the detective launches into a monologue about Tommy's sordid life. See, his mother ("a hysterical woman") was a hooker who left her son without clean underwear while she plied her trade on street corners. One day Tommy's dad came home and "upset by the state of the child", slit the mother's throat.

"I watched the blood turn to the color of your hair," John reveals.

Oh, no! Gasp! Shock! Horror! John is the killer! And he's got multiple personalities! The most dominant of these personalities tells Laura, "I don't know what you see in that SOB"--and then proceeds to catalog all of John's short-comings, which include forgetting to pay the light bill, neglecting to answer Christmas cards and failing to finish his college dissertation even though he's been at it for three years.

One of the many faces (or personalities?) of Det. John Neville.

"See this body?" Tommy says. "That's my work. If it weren't for me, he'd weigh 98 pounds."

Then Jones fixes Dunaway with a look and announces, "I'm the one you want."

Well, Laura is so dumbfounded by John's revelations that she can only bug her eyes in astonishment. Then John (or one of John's personalities) peeks out and asks Dunway to kill him. She refuses, so he pulls the trigger himself. When we last see Laura Mars, she's numbly dialing the police and repeating over and over again, "He loved me, he really loved me..."

Well, hmmm, I don't know about that...

There is an old saying that goes like this: "No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it's still a pig."

Vampira takes up photography? Troubled shutter-bug Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) on the set of her latest for her latest fashion spread.

In the case of "Laura Mars", one could easily say: "No matter how much lipstick the filmmakers put on this turkey, it's still a turkey."

Consider this: The budget for "Laura Mars" was impressive; John Carpenter of "Halloween" fame co-wrote the script; A-lister Jon Peters produced; an Oscar winner had the lead; a future Oscar winner was the co-star; fancy-pants photographer Helmut Newton supplied the film's still photos and Barbra Streisand warbled the title tune. Does all this mean "The Eyes of Laura Mars" couldn't possibly be a turkey? Of course not!

As I have frequently mentioned throughout this blog, Junk Cinema isn't only produced by incompetent amateurs with little or no money, talent, taste or experience--although it helps. Supposedly seasoned professionals are just as capable of stuffing a cinematic turkey that will delight bad movie fans for years to come.

In the case of "Laura Mars", the linchpin is Faye Dunaway's bug-eyed scenery chewing. Simply put, Dunaway is either screaming hysterically, sobbing copiously or staring dumbfounded into space as if someone had smacked her in the back of the head with a skillet. Hard. Many times. Meanwhile, co-stars Julia, Dourf and Auberjonois appear to be in competition to see who can portray the most over-the-top stereotype of a rotten ex-husband, twitchy ex-con and flamboyant fashionista, respectively. Real life models Lisa Taylor and Darlanne Fluegel play Laura's favorite mannequins, with predictably wooden results. Only Tommy Lee Jones manages to hold on to his dignity--but just barely.

Back in 1969, Dunaway made a movie titled "A Place for Lovers" opposite Marcello Mastroianni. Robert Greenspun of the New York Times was to write that he "sincerely hope(d) 'A Place for Lovers' will be the worst movie" of Faye's career. No such luck. Besides "A Place for Lovers" (and "The Eyes of Laura Mars"), Dunaway would appear in "The Champ", "Mommy Dearest", "Super Girl", "The Wicked Lady", "Don Juan De Marco", "The Temp", "The Arrangement", "The Hand Maid's Tale", "Beverly Hills Madame" and "The Happening". All of these films helped scuttle a very promising career before (and after) "Mommy Dearest" blew it to bits. No doubt, Dunaway is a talented lady, and when one contemplates her long line of impressive stinkers, you can't help thinking, "What a pro."

The "Eyes" Have It: This movie stinks!

Therefore movie lovers, please always remember, there a cheap turkeys and there are expensive turkeys, but they all gobble just the same. Happy Holidays and Save The Movies!


Friday, November 27, 2015

Let's Watch "The Day The Earth Froze" In Glorious "SovoColor"!

"Peek-a-boo-I-see-you!" Nature girl Anniki frolics in the forest before the big chill arrives in the Finnish-Russian epic "The Day the Earth Froze".

Tervehdys, elokuvan ystaville! That's "Greetings, movie lovers!" in Finnish (Thank you, ImTranslator).

Today we travel to the ancient shores of (yes!) Finland, to the town of Kalevala to be exact, where true love, magic, trolls, an evil witch and the timeless allure of a Sampo take center stage in "The Day the Earth Froze" (1959).

A joint Finnish-Soviet Russia production photographed in glorious "SovoColor" (whatever the hell that is), "The Day the Earth Froze" is based on the Finnish epic Kalevaia , sort of their version of The Odyssey. No doubt this is indeed a stirring tale, and perhaps someday it will be captured in the cinematic glory it deserves. Until then, movie fans will have to suffer through the badly dubbed and totally nutsy "The Day the Earth Froze" instead.

Also known under the title of "Sampo" upon its release, our feature presentation takes us to the aforementioned Kalevala, a prosperous town where the hard working citizens are either employed in the fishing, lumber or goat herding industries. Legend has it that if the people of Kalevala stay honest, humble and true, they will someday receive a Sampo.

What, pray tell, is a Sampo? Well, it is a cross between a slot machine and a water fountain. It gives forth salt, grain and gold, so you can see why they are a big deal. What's more, Sampos are very hard to come by, so you can understand why the town of Kalevala would be delighted to have one on the premises.

Prince Valiant out pole vaulting? No, it's our hero Lemminkainen (Andris Oshin).

Also coveting a Sampo is the witch Louhi (Anna Orochko). She has an army of scruffy trolls working over time to produce one, but, unfortunately, these dopes are just not up to the task. So when the witch learns super blacksmith Ilmarinen could make her a Sampo, she connives to kidnap his sister Anniki (Eve Kivi) and then force him to make her the contraption.

Anniki is no ordinary girl, of course. That's because on the day she was born the angels got together and decided to make a dream come true. So they sprinkled moon dust in her hair and starlight in her eyes of blue. That's why all the boys in town follow her around, because they long to be close to Anniki*.  Anniki, however, is a picky girl and she refuses to come across to just anybody until she meets Lemminkainen (Andreas Oshkin).

Lemminkainen is a lumberjack who stumbles upon Anniki when she's out doing the laundry. Of course, it's love at first sight and their first exchange plays like Dumb Enchanted Evening, except it's taking place in broad daylight.

"Who's gold is that?" Lemminkainen asks. "Can this be the daughter of the rosy dawn? Or the radiance of the moon?"

"It's not the moon! Nor is it the sun! I am just a simple maiden," twitters Anniki.

"Call Me Maybe?" Heroine Anniki shortly after meeting Lemminkainen.

Having met Mr. Right at last, Anniki scampers home to tell her bro and exclaim about her true love, "His eyes sparkle like the sun light glittering on the sea foam!" Delighted his kid sister will finally be off his hands at last, Ilmarinen agrees to the marriage. However, before the happy couple can make it legal, witch Louhi kidnaps Anniki and locks her in a cave.

Lemminkainen and his soon-to-be-in-law go off to rescue her, but first they seek the advice from wise old sage Vainamoinen. It is he who tells the guys they must fashion a special boat out of a special tree to survive the voyage to save Anniki. Lem and Ilm dutifully cut down the tree and carve out their vessel. They then sail off for Louhi's place, which is a cold and dark wasteland way off the bus line.

Being a crafty old blister, Louhi isn't about to hand over Anniki without forging the best deal for herself. Thus, she insists that Lem plow a field of snakes. To do this, Ilmarien crafts a horse out of metal. Soon the field is plowed. In the mean time, Louhi's evil Smurfs have smashed the guys' boat to bits. Not to worry; Ilm simply makes another boat out of steel (which has a moose figure at its prow). Then witchie-poo plays her trump card: she wants her visitors to make her a Sampo.

By this time you'd think Lem and Ilm would have had enough to Louhi's nonsensical demands. But no. True to their basic decency, Lem and Ilm (with the help of the trolls) do indeed make a Sampo. To do so, the blacksmith needed some special ingredients: "a wisp of lambs wool, a feather from a swan and a barley of corn." Once all that is rounded up, the blacksmith and the lumberjack get to work and in due time the Sampo is created. The contraption starts gushing salt, grain and gold right on cue. so the witch is finally satisfied. Anniki, Lem and Ilm are soon on their way home.

End of story? Not quite. You see, Anniki remembers that the Sampo was promised to their village as a reward for their piety. The bride-to-be feels guilty that Lem and Ilm had to build a Sampo for Louhi in order to rescue her. Anniki feels--and quite rightly so--that the mean old crone won't share the bounty of her Sampo fairly. In fact, when Louhi catches one of her trolls pocketing some gold coins, she sends the poor bastard off to the snake pits for punishment.

"Let's Make A Deal": Evil witch Louhi lists her demands to Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen

So Lem decides to swim back to Louhi's and steal the Sampo for the village. This leads to all sorts of complications and the end result is Lemminkainen is believed to be dead. This totally bums out Lemminkainen's ma (Ada Vojtsik), which is completely understandable. However, Ada is a plucky Finnish gal and refuses to give in to her despair.

Soon enough she's traveling all over town asking for help to find her son. First Ada asks a birch tree if she has any news about Lem. Unfortunately, the birch tree is only interested in discussing her own problems, which includes people stripping off her bark and kids snipping off her branches to make brooms. OK. Moving right along, Ada next asks the road for some info on locating her son. The road, frankly, could care less about Lem's where-abouts. In fact, the road is supremely pissed off that people are constantly trampling on him day and night. However, what really makes the road mad is all the horses shitting on him and their owners not cleaning up after their nags. OK. Sorry to have bothered you! Finally, Ada asks the sun for help in locating Lem and the sun comes through. Lem is indeed found safe and sound, but the Sampo is toast.

The news that Lem is alive so delights the village of Kalevala that nobody gives two hoots that the all important Sampo is wrecked. Instead, the happy Finns join together to throw Lemminkainen and Anniki a grand wedding. This features much dancing, singing and merry-making and everybody does indeed seem happy. Not so happy is witch Louhi. Whether that is because she wasn't invited to the wedding or because the groom stole (and ruined) her Sampo is anyone's guess. It could just be Louhi is a mean old blister who likes to stir up trouble. Anyway, while the citizens of Kalevala are partying like its 1099, Louhi steals the sun and locks it up in her cave.

This plunges the world into total darkness, of course, as well as perpetual snow and wind. Even for a people used to a harsh climate, this deep freeze is too much. Things get so dark and dismal, in fact, Lem can't tell what color his wife's eyes are anymore! So he decides to gather an army and march on Louhi to free the sun.

That's when old sage Vainamoinen steps in. he tells Lem that fighting witchie-poo with swords won't work. Instead, he orders the young men of the village to chop down a bunch of trees in order to make a passel of Kanteles, a string instrument that is plucked, much like a Dulcimer or a Zither. The women, meanwhile, were asked to give up all their jewelry to be melted down to make the Kanteleses strings. When the instruments are finished (no pun intended!) and tuned, the army marches to Louhi's lair.

"May the road rise up to meet you..." The Road gives grieving mother Ada an earful of complaints when she asks for help in finding her son Lem.

"The Day the Earth Froze" climaxes with Lemminkainen's army playing their Kanteles en masse. Their music puts the trolls to sleep. Louhi, getting desperate, sends her cloak over to strangle Lem. It's pulled off and drowned in the water. Then Lem marches up to Louhi and cuts her in half. The sun is promptly set free and the citizens of Kalevala rejoice and begin to thaw out. Lemminkainen and Anniki, meanwhile, go on to live happily ever after. The movie doesn't say this; I'm just assuming it happens. After all, there is no reason to think these two crazy kids wouldn't have a long, happy life together. They seem well suited to me, and even their hair colors match! Huzzah!

Despite its poor dubbing, moments of nutty surrealism and my good natured ribbing, there is much to admire about "The Day the Earth Froze": its bright use of color, its imaginative special effects, the spirit of cooperation that exists among the people of Kalevala, the chance to learn about another country's literary heroes.

Indeed, "The Day the Earth Froze" is a rare example of "artistic detente": during the dark days of The Cold War, the East (in this case Russia) and the West (Finland) would get together on some cultural project to show how the world's super powers could cooperate for the betterment of mankind. The results were often mixed, yet these periodic exchanges did provide a glimpse of hope that peaceful coexistence was possible.

Although the Soviet Union routinely gave America a severe pounding in their media, the Commie big-wigs really liked Hollywood movies and admired tinsel town's technical know-how. Naturally, they longed to prove Soviet movies could be just as good or even better than the ones churned out by the Capitalists.

The problem in meeting this challenge was the iron hand of censorship. Russian and Eastern Bloc artists had to repeatedly prove their fealty to Communism and The State before they create anything. Shortages, bureaucracy and government interference stifled creativity and production even further. That's why the best examples of Soviet-era film making were flicks based on fairy tales, epic poems and classic children's stories. The subject matter was safely apolitical and drew inspiration from the country's cherished traditions, thus they created fewer problems for both the film makers and the state authorities.

The movie poster for "The Day the Earth Froze" doesn't accurately reflect the film's subject matter.

With its arms always wide open to the weird and wonderful, Junk Cinema is the ideal place for finding flicks like "The Day the Earth Froze"--you won't find this picture on Netflix or Red Box or even on late-night cable. In fact, I only learned about our feature presentation from watching MST3K--yet another example of the pure genius of the folks at Best Brains. This just proves once again how Junk Cinema is a valuable part of our collective cinematic heritage. Where else will you find a movie based on the Finnish national epic, made with the cooperation of the now defunct USSR, shot in "SovoColor", sharing the mystic delights of the Sampo? Junk Cinema rules!

Until next time, keep your Kanteles in tune and SAVE THE MOVIES!

* Yes, these are the lyrics of the song "Close to You" by The Carpenters. Needless to say, I hate the song.