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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Are You Up For A "Catalina Caper"?

Open mouth, insert credits.

Hi Keebah, all you Hodaddies!

Summer's here, so let's break out the swimsuits, wax down our surf boards and hit the beach! Is everybody ready for a "Catalina Caper"?

Shot in 1965 (but released in 1967), "Catalina Caper" (AKA "Never Steal Anything Wet") is a beach party/romance/comedy/musical/heist flick where Little Richard wails "Scuba Party", Robert Donner (from "Mork and Mindy") does endless pratfalls, super model Cheryl Tieges is an extra and the top billed Tommy Kirk tries to foil an art scam cooked up by a Jack Benny impersonator. 

Oh, did I forget to mention that a pre-"Carol Burnett Show" Lyle Waggoner is also on board? Along with a gal who developed an unnatural attraction to a "little fish" she met under water, thus earning the moniker "Creepy Girl" from MST3K's love-sick Tom Servo?

Yes, the writers and producers of "Catalina Caper" enthusiastically stuffed their turkey with everything they could think of. Then they baked their bird until it was golden brown. Once out of the oven, "Catalina Caper" was sliced into turkey hot dogs...which the producers served on a warm summer night at the drive-in...and then ran for cover as patrons en masse puked up their cut-rate product.

The sun! The sea! The stupidity! Extras twist again like they did last summer in "Catalina Caper".

There is a very good reason why "Catalina Caper" is perhaps the most obscure entry in the beach party genre: it's bad! Of course, beach party movies aren't known for their wit or wisdom. Unfortunately, even with the bar already set very low, this concoction of summer love, dumb jokes, forgettable music and art forgery (with a bit of scuba diving on the side) is still a cinematic accident just waiting to happen.

Our featured presentation begins by presenting a chubby burglar in a loud Hawaiian shirt named Laurence (Jim Begg), who easily swipes a "rare Chinese scroll" from a "private museum" somewhere in California. Laurence is part of a trio of would-be criminals headed up by the fey Arthur Duval (Del Moore) and his wife, Anne (Sue Casey). They plan on selling the scroll to a gent named Lakopolous (Lee Dane), a slightly sinister Greek tycoon who cruises around the world on a mammoth yacht and owns a large private island. Hmmm, who could he be based on?

But it's a scam! See, Anne will paint a forgery of the scroll and Arthur will in turn sell it to Lakopolous. Once the trio have their money (and before "their fat Greek pigeon" as Arthur calls him) realizes he's been had, Laurence will return the scroll back to where it came from. The Duvals, you see, are honest thieves. They only dabble in crime to support their lavish lifestyle--which explains why Arthur dresses like Thurston Howell the Third on "Gilligan's Island".

While waiting for the paint to dry on Anne's forgery, the Duvals and Laurence hide out on sunny Catalina Island. Eyeing their activities suspiciously is the Duval's college-age son Tad (the deeply crew-cutted Peter Duryea).

"Dad, why did we come to Catalina?" Tad asks.

"I'll drink to that!" Arthur Duval, side-kick Laurence and wife Anne take a much needed break from their criminal activities.

"We came to enjoy ourselves," Duval cheerfully replies.

Experience has taught Tad not to believe him: "Whenever you and mother 'come to enjoy yourselves', it means you are mixed up in some shady deal."

Arthur Duval huffily insists the family is "here for a holiday" and besides, what kind of trouble could he and his mother possibly get up to on such a tiny island?

"I don't know," Tad rejoins, "but whatever it is, you and mother are right smack in the middle of it!"

Also converging on Catalina are college buddies Charlie Moss (Brian Cutler) and Don Pringle (Disney kid and teen star Tommy Kirk). Charlie, who sports a pompadour Eraserhead would envy, is presented as a wildly popular ladies man. Indeed, for the entire flick, Charlie is surrounded by an adoring flock of females.

"I'm Sexy And I Know It": Charlie Moss and his bevy of beach bunnies.

"I don't know what I do to them!"Charlie sighs at one point--and neither do I, since he's really not that good looking.

Don, on the other hand, has become infatuated with the strangely accented Katrina (Ulla Stromstedt), whom he met on the boat crossing over. When Don attempted to make a little small talk, Katrina launched into a lengthy dissertation about how, when she was last scuba diving, she met up with "a little fish" who followed her around and then suddenly swam away, leaving her heart-broken. Don listens dumbfounded to Katrina's story and then suggests they hook up later on the beach. Unfortunately, she's already spoken for: Katrina's deeply tanned fiance Angelo (Lyle Waggoner) is waiting for her on Catalina island. As it turns out, Angelo is a professional scuba diver and (gasp!) in cahoots with Lakopolous.

With Katrina unavailable (at the moment), Don's head is soon turned by Charlie's perky blond beach bunny sister Tina (Venita Wolf, who gets an "introducing" credit). However, when Katrina suddenly shows up on the beach and announces that she and Angelo are through. Don quickly ditches Tina for Katrina, much to Tina's annoyance. Luckily, Tina finds a new distraction in Tad.

Sparkling Repartee Between Tina and Tad:

She: Are you unattached like I am?

He: Yes, why?

She: You don't catch on very fast, do you?

He: I'm afraid I'm not use to the speed.

Later on, Tad will ask Tina about her former swain Don, to which she suggestively replies, "We are not engaged."

"Go Fish": Fun couple Don and Katrina attempt to make a love connection.

Let's leave the beach blanket bingo portion of our flick for a moment and return to the art scam sub-plot.

Anne has finished her scroll and hubby Arthur has placed the real item and its duplicate in separate canisters. Lakopoloas, meanwhile, doesn't trust the the Duval's as much as they think he does. To that end, he sends a mustachioed henchman to scuba dive over to the Duval's yacht and snatch the scroll.

I wish I could report that hilarious high-seas hijinks ensue, but I can't. Instead, Laurence nearly wets himself and screams, "The water fuzz!"--causing the real artifact to go sailing over the railing and into the drink. Ha, ha, ha! With "the rare Chinese scroll" now resting on the ocean floor, how will the Duval's get it back?

Simple: Arthur proposes son Tad invite his swingin' beach buddies over for a scuba diving scavenger hunt. First prize, of course, goes whoever finds the canister (which none of the kids know is holding a stolen scroll, natch).

Yet again I wish I could report that Arthur's plan was a success or even funny, but I can't. Lakopoloas sends over even more henchmen to spoil the fun. Slapstick fights and people tumbling overboard ensue. Only this time, Arthur and Anne are forced to admit to their son that, yes, they are involved in a shady deal. So how will the Duval's defeat Lakopoloas and keep out of jail at the same time?

Arthur, Anne and Laurence are forced to admit the plot of their movie makes no sense.

Leave it up to the deeply crew-cutted Tad to devise a "switcheroo" on the sinister Greek tycoon. To pull it off, he will need the help of Don, Charlie, Tina and Charlie's flock of females. I am not going to relay the specifics of this plan because, well, I just don't feel like it. Besides, you can watch the movie yourself to find this stuff out and you should. In fact, that's the whole point of this movie blog: to get people to watch these movies! I can't do everything for you! I'm way too busy. I will, however, assure you that everything goes smooth as silk.

Soon enough, "the rare Chinese scroll" is back in its proper place. The Duval's swear-off any future criminal activities. And "Catalina Caper" staggers to its long anticipated conclusion. Don and Katrina are officially a couple. Tad and Tina are officially a couple. Charlie's dance card is as full as ever. Greek tycoon Lakopolas has sailed away on his huge yacht, musing, "You win some, you lose some." His goons, meanwhile, are rotting away in jail. As for that Donner guy from "Mork and Mindy": he's revealed to be "Fingers O'Toole", a government agent who specializes in tracking down art thieves. He had been on the Duval's trail for some time, but Tad's "switcheroo" on Lakopoloas prevents him from placing his parents in the slammer. The jerk performs a couple more pratfalls and then graciously departs.

When we last see them, Don, Katrina, Tad, Tina, the Duvals, Laurence, Charlie, his beach bunnies and tons of extras are dancing up a storm. As they twist and shout under the Catalina sun, we bid them all a fond farewell. It's all over now...except for the credits... and the blame.

As I have said before, nobody watches beach party movies expecting great wit or wisdom. The success of these films depend on the music and the cast. In the case of "Catalina Caper", both of these elements fall way short of the mark. In fact, the personal stories of the cast members are a lot more interesting than the characters they played on screen. To wit:

Tommy Kirk, as the stolid Don, was a Disney  kid and teen star who appeared in films like "Old Yeller", "Swiss Family Robinson" and "Flubber". After his career peeked, Kirk went on to star in even dumber films than "Catalina Caper", such as "Pajama Party" and "Mars Needs Women" before fading away.

Co-stars Tommy Kirk and Peter Duryea compare crew-cuts (note Tom, Joel and Crow in the frame).

The deeply crew-cutted Peter Duryea was the son of Dan Duryea. Outside of our featured flick, Peter is best known for his role in the "Star Trek" pilot "The Cage", which was later retooled into "The Menagerie".

Venita Wolf, the perky Tina, was a top model and beauty pageant winner (Queen of the May in 1962) before making her debut in this surf-board wiped out. You can also get a glimpse of her in the Junk Cinema Jewel "The Oscar", as one of Frankie Fane's fellow apartment dwellers.Wolf  also appeared in the "Squire of Gothos" episode of "Star Trek". She was the cover girl of Playboy's July 1967 issue, too.

Although her character was suppose to be Greek, "Creepy Girl" Ulla Stromstedt was actually Swedish. She studied languages and art at the Sorbonne and was accepted into the Actor's Studio. How she washed up onto the shores of "Catalina Caper" isn't clear.

In conclusion, "Catalina Caper" is a colorful dumb beach party movie that nobody remembers--except for Junk Cinema. And why does Junk Cinema embrace such a flick? Because if we don't, who will? This movie never set out to hurt anybody, unlike, say, "Water World" or "Ghostbusters 2", which hurt a lot of people. Nobody in the cast went on to win an Oscar or conquer Broadway. None of the film's songs became classics. Instead, "Catalina Caper" just filled up two hours of viewing time, which is exactly what it was designed to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

And that's all-right with me.

So, until next time movie lovers, always wear your sum block, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

"Hurray! The movie is over!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...

Despite its colorful plumage, "Bird of Paradise" is a really fowl picture.

Hi Keebah and happy summer, movie lovers.

Hmmm, do I detect a hint a sadness?

Has life pulled the rug out from under you again? Has your Prince Charming morphed into a toad and hopped off with someone else? Has your dream job turned into wage slave Hell? Are your in-laws impossible, your neighbors freaks, your kids ungrateful brats and your hopes for a presidential campaign based on substance and civility dashed thanks to a string of inexplicable Donald Trump primary victories?

Relax. Junk Cinema understands that into each life, some rain must fall. However, if it seems that you're experiencing a torrential down-pour of personal woes, Junk Cinema can help. How? By presenting our semi-regular feature "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...", where a Junk Cinema Jewel is especially chosen to ease your worried mind--and gently remind you that as bad as things might seem right now, someone, somewhere, has it much, much worse.

Therefore, If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch..."Bird of Paradise"(1951), a tropical romance as mushy as a bunch of over-ripe bananas and as irritating as sand in your tong.

College buddies Prince Tenga (Jeff Chandler) and Andre (Louis Jourdan) compare profiles in "Bird of Paradise."

Our saga begins by introducing us to the ultra suave Louis Jourdan as Andre, a Frenchman studying at Princeton. He has been invited to visit the island home of fellow under-grad (and Polynesian prince) Tenga (Jeff Chandler). Although he only planned on a short holiday, Andre quickly changes his plans once he claps his eyes on Tenga's kid sister Princess Kahlua (Debra Paget), who emerges from the sea in a scene that recalls Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus"...and the Miss America swimsuit parade.

Because local custom forbids Andre and Kahlua from uttering so much as a peep to each other, the couple must be content with making goo-goo eyes at each other until HRH's ma decides she's ready for marriage. In the mean time, Andre busies himself with learning how to tie a sarong, surfing with the guys and developing a taste for octopus. He also manages to run afoul of the tribe's "Big Kahuna" or head priest.

The actor chosen to play this key role is Maurice Schwartz, the founder of New York's Yiddish Art Theater. Personally, I would love to know how Maurice's agent pitched his client to the flick's producers. Anyway, ONLY IN JUNK CINEMA will you find the gentleman who head-lined a Yiddish language version of "King Lear" portraying a Polynesian priest with a chip on his shoulder as big as a pineapple. And judging from the look of him, the producers spared no expense in helping Maurice climb into his part: Schwartz appears to have endured several drenchings in Quick Tanning Syrup, was stenciled with fake tattoos, trussed into a sarong and fitted with a Cher wig. Whenever he's on screen, you can't take your eyes off of him. And when Maurice bellows about Andre, "Zis wit one brinks vit hem!" it's hysterical perfection, the cherry on top of the sundae. In the end, you can't help thinking, "What a pro!" 

Eventually Kahlua's mom decides she's ready for holy wedlock. According to tribal custom, the village's single men must sit in a circle and watch HRH perform a special hula dance. When she's done, Kahlua will then kneel before her chosen fella. To the surprise of no one, she chooses Andre--who joyously accepts.

However, leave it to the wet blanket Big Kahuna to object. Before any nuptials can take place, the tribal priest insists that HRH walk over a bed of hot coals to ensure that their gods are all on board with her mixed marriage. Should Kahlua burn her feet in any way, the wedding is off.

"May The Schwartz Be With You!": Maurice Schwartz as "The Big Kahuna".

The coals are duly heated and plucky Kahlua walks across them without any adverse side-effects.

"We have our answer," she tells the astonished Andre. "The gods have smiled on us. Now we can be one."

Well, not quite. See, there are still several more island rituals which Andre and Kahlua must follow before they can be Mr. and Mrs.

The first requires that Andre must "buy" Kahlua from her father. "I will be expensive," she warns her cuddlemate, who assures her money is no object. "You will be worth it!" Andre gushes.

Next, after Kahlua is bought and paid for, Andre must kidnap his intended and she must fight him tooth and nail--but this is just for show. How come? To prove the bride is not leaving home willy-nilly.

Debra Paget and Louis Jourdan are heart-broken to learn to learn they must continue filming "Bird of Paradise".

Then, Andre and Kahlua must spend two weeks isolated in Andre's house, where they will spend their time, ahem, "getting to know each other" (i.e. making whoopski). The villagers will drop off food and water in case the couple needs a break. 

Finally, once the two weeks are up and the couple is still walking upright, they are officially hitched.

Well, the necessary two weeks pass and, to the surprise of no one, Andre and Kahlua couldn't be happier. Even the scowling Big Kahuna has to admit the couple seems well suited for each other. However, just when you think a happily-ever-after is on the horizon, the local volcano decides to blow its top.

What will the villagers do? According to local custom, there is only one thing that can be done: the eldest daughter of the chief must toss herself in to appease the gods.

While Andre looks on in horror, brave Kahlua climbs to the mouth of the raging volcano. She gives her hubby one final look and then throws herself in. Within seconds the volcano quiets down and the villagers sadly return home.

Princess Kahlua is a hunk of burnin' love.

With Kahlua gone, there is no reason for the heart-broken Louis Jourdan to stick around. So he returns to Princeton, sadder, wiser, but with a great tan, no doubt hoping better roles awaited him on the main land.

"Bird of Paradise" is based on a 1913 stage play. The flick was filmed in 1923 and in 1932, but in this case, the third time proved NOT to be the charm.

Louis Jourdan is handsome and self-assured, but all he's required to do here is wear a sarong and bug his eyes at the unfamiliar local ways. Debra Paget, as the doomed Kahlua, spends her time posing like a hopeful in the Miss Hawaii finals. Meanwhile, Jeff Chandler, as Princeton Prince Tenga, is forced to explain, over and over and over again, his tribe's culture and ways to the perpetually confused Andre. This doesn't necessarily add any depth to his character, but it does give Jeff the opportunity to get to utter such South Seas pearls of wisdom as "Nakedness is what the gods wore" and "It is through women and food that evil passes so easily" and "When love makes our heart beat fast, we wear a red flower."And nobody NOBODY! can scowl like Maurice Schwartz.

Critics, of course, were less than enthralled with this South Seas romance/adventure/lecture series. Bosley Crowther, the esteemed critic of the New York Times, dismissed the cast as merely "average actors" and called "Bird of Paradise" a "rambling mishmosh of South Seas romance and travesty." He even carped that the movie's volcano "(had) the look of a pyrotechnic fake." Meanwhile, Leonard Maltin gave our fine-feathered-feature only two out of four stars and deemed it "vapid." On the other hand, Leonard would later see fit to give "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo" two-and-a-half-stars in comparison. Ouch.

"Bird of Paradise" did indeed lay an egg with mainstream movie critics and audiences, but Junk Cinema lovers knew a Golden Gobbler when they saw one. Thus, it was no surprise to that select group of bad movie fanatics when "Bird of Paradise" was honored by The Son of Golden Turkey Awards (written by the beloved Brothers Medved) for having "The Most Awkward On-Screen Marriage Proposal". 

FYI: This is a Bird of Paradise plant.

This coveted category, which included nominees from such turkey trots as "Salome, Where She Danced" (1945), "Cat Women Of The Moon" (from 1953 and starring Sonny Tufts), "Watusi" (1959), "Claws" (a 1977 rip-off of "Jaws") and "Sheena" (1984) was clinched purely because of Kahula's walk over hot coals to prove her love for Andre. The Son of Golden Turkey Awards declared that such a plot point stands as "the only scene in screen history to combine fire walking with a proposal of marriage"--a distinction it still holds today, I might add.

So you see movie lovers, your life isn't so bad. Nobody is asking you to toss yourself into a volcano or walk over a bed of hot coals. Like Andre, try to keep your chin up, finish your degree and remember to keep the hot coals in the grill where they belong.

And help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

FYI: This is one type of Bird of Paradise bird.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Could You Survive "The Longest Ride"?

"I'm an old cow hand/from the Rio Grande/and my legs are bowed/and my cheeks are tan...": Bronco buster Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood, son of you-know-who) prepares to face Rango the Bucking Bull in Nicholas Sparks' latest romantic cow-pie "The Longest Ride".

Greetings, movie lovers.

In the world according to Nicholas Sparks, opposites attract, messages are found in bottles, couples kiss in the rain, swim in their underwear and lovable old people counsel that "love requires sacrifice, always" right before they kick the bucket.

Considering how successful Mr. Sparks is and how Hollywood never tires of film adaptations of his work, far be it from me, a humble, obscure film historian who specializes in rotten movies, to suggest Nicholas bore a hole in himself and let the sap run out before he attempts another masterpiece, but I will anyway.

 Nick, sweetie: bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out, OK?

Actress Britt Robertson (as college girl Sophia) cringes at some of the lines she must utter in her latest film role.

This advice might have saved 2015's "The Longest Ride", Nicholas' most recent best selling novel turned feature film. After all, this is a movie where an Art History major must choose between an un-paid internship in NYC or retaining the love of a professional bull rider with a plate in his head.

Of course, considering that the cow poke in question ( Luke Collins-- no hero in a Nicholas Sparks movie is ever named Irving Hooper or Homer Stackmouse) is played by Scott Eastwood, son of "Dirty Harry" himself, and the owner of killer cheekbones and washboard abs, this is a conflict that would not bedevil most gals with a pulse. They would simply find a way to work it out, either by telecommuting or sharing the flying between cities or perhaps finding a job with an equally prestigious art gallery somewhere closer to home. Luke could make compromises, too.

Nevertheless, with this as its central conflict, "The Longest Ride" devolves into an unintentional chuckle-fest where miscast actors and under-written characters bump uglies with blatantly contrived "romantic complications" that wouldn't even past muster on "The Young and the Restless"--a soap opera where a determined gal once impregnated herself with a gentleman's stolen sperm only to discover, nine months later, that she had swiped the wrong sperm and instead of having mega-tycoon Victor Newman's baby, as she intended, she birthed his arch-rival Jack Abbott's tot instead. D'oh!

"The Longest Ride" begins by introducing us to Sophia (Britt Robertson), a Wake Forrest sorority gal with straight A's and an internship with a snooty-fruity art gallery in NYC. At the urging of her ditsy friend Sarah, Sophia dons a short skirt and a pair of cowboy boots and joins a gaggle of friends at the local rodeo where, Sarah promises, hot guys will be as plentiful as pig offal and cow pies.

It's during the bull riding competition that our smitten kittens first meet. Luke Collins,um, "mounts" an ornery critter named Rango (who is billed in the credits as "himself") and holds on for dear life as the bull bucks and snorts and kicks up a storm in a fruitless attempt to throw Eastwood out of his saddle. At first it appears that Luke has won the day. While he's acknowledging the cheers of the crowd, Rango, clearly pissed off, charges after Luke. To save himself from being gored in the hinder, Luke scampers up a security fence.

"You want a piece of me?": Rango isn't the only bull to be found in "The Longest Ride."

At that very moment, Luke and Sophia lock eyes in a MEANINGFUL CLOSE-UP so viewers will understand that AN UNDENIABLE SPARK has been struck. However, in his haste to avoid getting rammed by Rango, Luke drop his cowboy hat, which Sophia retrieves.

"You forgot your hat," she calls out.

"You keep it," Luke replies, as he saunters off to the holding area.

Adding even more credence to the fact that Luke and Sophia ARE DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER is the dirty look some bleached-blond tramp in a halter top shoots at Sophia.

The action then moves to a honky-tonk where folks are line dancing up a storm--but not to "Achey Breaky Heart", thank God. Luke and Sophia meet up in the parking lot and she offers to buy him a beer to celebrate his victory in the bull pen. That doesn't sit too well with Luke, who is very "old school" about such things. So Sophia agrees to let him buy her a brew. It's about this time that ditsy Sarah shows up, drunk as a skunk. This being a Nicholas Sparks movie, Sarah doesn't toss her cookies on Luke's nice new cowboy boots or wet herself or drunken slur "I love you and I will always love you and I just wanted you to know that", as people deeply stewed often do. Instead, Luke and Sophia quickly exchange numbers and the sorority sisters shuffle off back to the House.

"I'm going to save a horse and ride a cowboy": Sophia's ditsy sorority sister Sarah.

Unlike most men, Luke calls Sophia right away, but she doesn't call him back. Why? Because she's going to be, like, graduating in three months and moving to NYC and she she doesn't need the complication of a hot bull rider messing up her coveted internship, OK? But after Sophia tries on Luke's cowboy hat, she dials his number and they arrange a meeting.

Luke arrives at the sorority house in full cowboy drag and bearing a bouquet of flowers. All of Sophia's sorority sisters are so ga-ga over her gentleman caller that they rush, en masse, to the windows and squeal, "I want a cowboy!" as the duo head off on their date with destiny.

While driving along in Luke's pick-up, our fun couple banter a bit. When Sophia asks Luke if he has any impressions of what life in a sorority house might entail, he pauses for a moment and then muses, "Pillow fights in your underwear?"

"We don't wear underwear," Sophia states with a straight face.

When Luke looks aghast at this bit of info, Sophia declares, "I got you! I got you!"

"You can turn me any which way but loose": Luke and Sophia chat 'n chew.

Viewers are spared more of this witty by-play because the duo finally arrive at the picnic site Luke has especially decked for this occasion: solar lights, a brightly colored table cloth, blue mason jars for mugs and bar-b-que from "Smokin' Amy's". Naturally, Sophia has never been treated so well by a guy and melts like butter on a hot griddle.

Things are going so well between our smitten kittens that the only fly in the (romantic) ointment is a rainstorm on the drive back home. Oh, and that car which has slide off the road and landed in a ditch and is billowing smoke. That's a bummer. Luckily, Luke manages to drag the lone passenger out and Sophia grabs a wooden box from the backseat before the vehicle goes up in flames.

Turns out the driver was Ira (Alan Alda), a grumpy old widower. The wooden box Sophia saved contains the hundreds of letters Ira wrote to his late wife, Ruth (Oona Chaplin, grand-daughter of Charlie and Rob Stark's ill-fated wife on "Game of Thrones"). Ruth arrived with her family in South Carolina from Austria in the early 1940's--and, wouldn't you know it, Ruth was a passionate art lover, just like Sophia!

While Ira recovers in the hospital and complains about every little thing, Sophia begins visiting him. To pass the time, she reads his letters out loud. This allows viewers to tumble into Flashback Land, where we learn all about Ira (played by hunky Jack Houston) and Ruth's romance and marriage. Sure, it seems idyllic, with classic '40's tunes and cars, but WWII is looming and Ruth's relatives in Austria have stopped answering their mail. Then Ira is injured in combat and later learns he cannot have children.

"The Greatest Generation": Cuddlemates Ira and Ruth.

Ruth, who has always wanted to be a mother, is deeply sadden by this news, but she and Ira marry anyway. The couple "try to adopt", but for some illogical and unexplained reason (chosen by the scriptwriters to shamelessly hammer at the viewers' tear ducts), they can't. Ruth, who becomes a teacher, later develops a bond with a young boy named David who is marginally cared for by sleazy hick relatives. The couple tries to adopt this child, but his sleazy hick relatives refuse, basically because that's what sleazy hick relatives do.

This being a Nicholas Sparks movie, the story of Ira and Ruth is meant to be a counter-point to Luke and Sophia's romance. However, while Ira and Ruth faced real (if watered down) issues, Luke and Sophia don't. Their biggest problems are A) Luke refusing to give up bull riding even after he's seriously hurt and B) Sophia wanting to work in a snooty NYC gallery and C) Luke thinking that a painting where dogs smoke cigars and play cards is art. Later on, Luke attends a posh event arranged by Sophia's future boss and he's asked his opinion of the exhibits. After a pause Luke drawls, "I think there's more bull@%&* here than where I work." Incensed, Sophia and Luke have a big fight and break up.

Now, if you experienced whiplash at the end of Nicholas Sparks' movie "Safe Haven", gird your loins, because "The Longest Ride" has a dilly of an ending, too. Needless to say, it involves the death of a beloved old codger (guess who!); the showing of a personal art collection at an invitation-only event; Sophia being hired to help organize the wing-ding; and Luke unexpectedly showing up and buying a picture called "A Portrait of Ruth"--which was painted by David, the child Ira and Ruth had tried to adopt while he was stuck in a group home. How did Ira become the owner of this painting? Well, David's wife gives it to Ira many years later when she read about Ruth's passing in the newspaper. Turns out David never forgot Ruth or that she told him "he could be anything he wanted to be"--so he grew up and became a physics professor and lectured in England. That's how Ira came into possession of "A Portrait of Ruth".

 But, wait, there's still more: by purchasing "A Portrait of Ruth", Luke is given the entire collection which was owned by Ira and Ruth and which includes pieces by Monet, Renoir, Andy Warhol, guys like that. How is Luke allowed to do this? Because Ira's will stipulated that the person who bought "A Portrait of Ruth" would get the whole kit and caboodle because they would understand a young child's picture of his beloved late wife was just as valuable--perhaps even more so-- anything from a grand master. And because Luke is now the owner of an art collection worth zillions, well, he can sell one of pieces he doesn't like and save the family farm! Oh, I did I forget to mention that Luke's family farm is in need of being saved? It is, which is why Luke keeps on bull riding, despite his injuries, so he can save the family farm.

With family farm saved, when we next see the reunited Luke and Sophia, they are doing the ultimate Nicholas Sparksian thing, which is swimming in their underwear. All's well that ends well, wouldn't you say?

Slippery when wet: Luke and Sophia swim in their underwear because, well, doesn't everybody?

Not quite. See, while watching "The Longest Ride", I couldn't help thinking that Nicholas Sparks was having trouble pulling this one off. Frankly, you know a movie is in trouble when the smitten kittens are forced to play a "sexy" scene where she hops on his practice bull and he, um, "rocks" it back and forth to simulate the motion of a bucking bronco while you know damn well this is meant to be a precursor to their upcoming sex scene. You also know your movie is in trouble when the cranky old person is played by Alan Alda, the ultimate '70's sensitive guy. Alda is a fine actor, but he's about as cranky as Mr. B Natural.  Robertson and Eastwood are attractive people, but as actors they have no chemistry. It's also interesting to note that "The Longest Ride" may be one of the few movies in recent history where the male half of the equation is treated more as eye candy than the female half. Scott Eastwood is more than up to the challenge of playing a hunky guy, but I'm sure he has greater aspirations for himself than just being scenery.

Therefore, if you choose to partake of "The Longest Ride", don't blame me if you end of saddle sore.

So, until next time, remember that art is a subjective matter, and help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

Film critics weren't the only ones who objected to "The Longest Ride."

Saturday, May 21, 2016

An Extra-Crispy Chicken McNugget Threatens The Universe In "The Phantom Planet"

"Did you bring the dipping sauce?" A giant Chicken McNugget patrols the universe in "The Phantom Planet."

Hi-dee-ho, movie lovers.

Our feature presentation has something--literally--for everyone: cheap cartoon animation; a self-righteous hero with an extreme crew-cut; Richard "Jaws"/"Eegah" Kiel in a pivotal supporting role; silent screen star Francis X. Bushman as the wise elder of a rare space race; a Liz Taylor look-a-like, complete with Cleopatra eyeliner; a group of alien critters that resemble Walt Disney's Goofy; and a free-floating planet that bears an uncanny likeness to an extra crispy Chicken McNugget.

Like I said, something for everyone!

So set yourself down, prop up your feet and prepare to experience "The Phantom Planet" (1961) in all its no-budget, no-brain glory.

Our tale begins "in the future" (actually, 1980) where two nameless astronauts sit in their spaceship--which at certain angles resembles an Easy Glide Tampon--and under go a routine instruments check. Seconds later, they "drift off course" and face a barrage of Honey Bunches of Oats clusters. The camera starts to shake and, sure enough, our two nameless space cadets are soon toast.

They were expendable: Cast members This Guy and That Guy are the first victims of "The Phantom Planet"...after the audience, of course.

Over on the moon (where the USA parks its space program headquarters) the dour, square-headed, deeply crew-cutted Frank Chapman (Dean Fredricks) is informed that he's been chosen to lead a rescue mission to find the missing astronauts--and learn if there is any truth to this "phantom planet" rumor people are whispering about. Frank's superior also tells him that he won't get any "second chances" on this assignment, so he better not screw it up.

Accompanied by Lt. Ray Makonnen (Richard Webber), a fellow jet jockey who's given to spouting flowery peons about the powers of positive thinking ("Every year of my life I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and the best is to fix our attention on the good and beautiful..."), Chapman blasts off into space. Things seem pretty routine at first, until those deadly Honey Bunches of Oats reappear and begin hammering their spaceship for all its worth. Frank and Ray survive the onslaught ("Now I know why they made us practice those drills so much!" Ray declares), but some obscure part of the ship ends up damaged. This requires our heroes to suit and head outside (armed only with a socket wrench!) to make the needed repairs.

Unfortunately, Frank's air hose (or something) gets unhooked or cut or tangled or gummed-up, I don't know, and Ray has to drag his boss's hinder back into the ship. Frank is saved, but poor Ray takes a fatal hit from a rouge Honey Bunches of Oats cluster and is soon drifting out into space. As he floats to his doom, Ray begins reciting The Lord's Prayer.

Eventually, Chapman comes to and tries to figure out what to do next--and because our main character is not too bright, this is clearly going to take a while. Then a giant extra crispy Chicken McNugget zooms into view and forces Frank's ship to land on its surface via its "tractor beam." Once safely settled, Frank suits up (again) and decides to poke around a bit. No sooner does he take one step onto terra firma than Chapman trips, falls and knocks himself out. D'oh!

While Frank is lying flat on his face, a collection of mini-men dressed in smocks and chinos scamper on screen. Just when you begin to worry that "The Phantom Planet" will turn into an outer space version of Gulliver's Travels, Frank suddenly shrinks down to their size. When confronted by the mini-men, Frank takes a pop at one; however, the tiny aliens quickly over power him and drag him off to face Sesom (silent screen star Francis X. Bushman), the wise elder of their bite-size people.

"Remember, size doesn't matter": Astronaut Frank Chapman is discovered by the tiny inhabitants of "The Phantom Planet" (actually, Rayton).

Turns out the extra crispy Chicken McNugget is actually a planet called Rayton. Frank is found guilty of punching out a Raytonian, yet is given a suspended sentence. The wise elder then announces that Frank is the newest member of the Raytonian family. What's more, after the space cadet settles into his new life and finds a steady job, he will be allowed to select a mate from Rayton's female population (after all, membership has its privileges).

As you can probably guess, Frank is not happy about this turn of events. He wants to return to his normal size, return to his ship and return to the moon. However, the continued safety of Rayton requires as few people as possible know about its existence. See, the Raytonians are the sworn enemies of a group of meanies called Solarites or "fire people". The Solarites want this thing-a-ma-jig the Raytons have invented (don't ask) and if they get their paws on it, well, "they will then attack Earth." Thus, for the sake of everybody, Frank must stay put. It's understandable that this type of news would be hard swallow under any circumstances, but, really, the Ratons are giving Frank a good deal. After all, he has full citizenship and equal rights; he'll be able to have a useful career; he can marry and start a family--it's more like relocating to Denmark than forced captivity. Unlike other alien races, Frank isn't being subjected to anal probes, brain implants, gelding, torture, slavery or organ harvesting. As I noted earlier, this is a fair deal, not perfect, but fair.

But I digress...

Crabby as he is, Frank still manages to attract the attention of Rayton's most eligible bachlorettes: Liana (Colleen Grey) and Zetha (Delores Faith). Liana is Sesom's daughter and she's a bit of a Little Miss Can't Be Wrong. Zetha, who is Rayton's answer to Liz Taylor, is mute. She lost her power of speech when she saw a Solarite. Complicating matters is a chap named Herron (Anthony Dexter), who has long torched for Liana. Naturally, he doesn't appreciate it one bit when Liana starts throwing herself at Frank. In fact, Herron is so determined to to be rid of his rival that he challenges Frank to "a duel."

Unlike on Earth, "a duel" on Rayton isn't pistols at twenty paces at dawn. Instead, it's a shoving match where the aggrieved parties try to push each other into a solar panel or a disintegrater, while all of Rayton watches (since Rayton doesn't appear to have TV and thus its citizens can't watch "Game of Thrones" or "Outlander", these shoving matches/duels constitute a major form or entertainment).

 Which one will Frank propose to? Liana (left) daughter of Sesom or Zetha (right)? Tune in for "The Bachelor: The Final Rose" live from Rayton to find out!

OK, so. Herron and Frank toss each other around for a bit. Then they both come to the conclusion that their "duel" is pretty pointless. After all, Frank has never shown any interest in Liana. What's more, Herron realizes that he really isn't mad at Frank, per se. Rather, he's stewing because Liana is flaunting herself in front of another guy when she knows perfectly well that he (Herron) wants to marry her and Frank is just a scapegoat because Liana is such a drama queen and is apparently never happier than when she's stirring up needless drama--kinda like this one relative of mine (who shall remain nameless) who is a real pill and who just loves to cause needless trouble, especially during the holidays. So the duel abruptly ends and the guys decide to bury the hatchet, in a manner of speaking. Later on, Frank hooks up with Zetha and it appears that the grumpy guy from Earth may finally be beginning to adjust to his new life.

But wait! Remember those Solarites? And remember that thing--a-ma-jig the Raytons created that those "fire people" want? Well, those uppity bad guys are back and they are ready to rumble! That means the Raytonians must man their battle stations and prepare to give their mortal enemies a huge dose of whup-ass in an epic confrontation...that lasts about 30 seconds. Seriously! The Solarites are simply no match for the Raytonians, which makes you wonder why the mini-people were so worried to begin with.

However, trouble brews elsewhere.

You see, in their never-ending clashes with the Solarites, the Raytonians have managed to nab exactly one--one!--Solarite. The poor bastard has been kept imprisoned in some force-field type cell and he hasn't been happy about it. Zetha, you may recall, was so horrified by the sight of this critter that she lost her power of speech. Anyway, during the last epic confrontation between the two enemies, the force field keeping the captive Solarite captive short-circuits. This means the alien baddie is now free to stomp around Rayton and cause all types of havoc.

About this time, you might be wondering what these Solarites look like. Well, brace yourselves. Solarites are tall drinks-of-water with patches of Yak wool stuck to their skin. Their feet are long and flat and their hands looks like lobster claws. Their faces are dominated by huge pop eyes, similar to the ones sported by Goofy. Perched on top of their heads is a pointed cap that resembles those fur hats Cossacks wore. Solarites also favor short grass skirts. They don't speak and they stagger around like a drunk squishing potato bugs. Unlike those dragon-like beasties with acid for blood in "Aliens", the Solarites are more likely to make a person wet their pants from laughing than lose their voice out of fear. Personally, the fact that Richard "Jaws"/"Eegah" Kiel was cast as this Solarite in his first screen credit is what's important here, not the damage any of these flat-footed dorks could cause on Rayton.

Richard Kiel as you've never seen him before...or since.

As is so often the case with rouge critter baddies in low-rent sci-fi cheese, the newly freed Solarite has a thing for the ladies. While stumbling around Rayton, the Solarite finds Zetha asleep in her room. She can't scream, remember, so when she opens her peppers and sees the baddie in all his glory, she faints dead away. The Solarite then scoops her up and staggers off.

"The Phantom Planet" reaches the first of many thrilling (?) climaxes when Frank, Herron, Sesom and Liana all converge on the Solarite and Zetha. The plan is for the guys to duke it out with the alien, pushing him into the disintergrater panels used for "duels" for Rayton. This seems like a fine strategy, except for one thing: the Solarite may have the moves of a drunk Wallaby, but he's not easy to push around. At one point, it looks as if the alien beastie may be pulling out a surprise move on Frank, but have no fear: Zetha finally regains her voice and screams bloody murder, warning Frank and allowing him to shove the Solarite into the disintergrater panels. Once the rouge critter is fried into nothingness, everybody enjoys a group hug and Zetha collapses in Frank's arms.

Rayton is safe at last, the Solarites are defeated, Zetha has regained the power of speech and declares her undying love for Frank ("I've loved you from the moment I first saw you!" she warbles) and Frank appears to have settled into his new home. What's more, Liana seems resigned to marrying Herron and the groom-to-be is thrilled. All that's needed now is to call on the Martha Stewart of Rayton and prepare a double-wedding.

Uh, no. Sorry to burst your romantic bubble movie lovers, but true love will not win out this time. See, the USA's space program has sent a team out to find Frank--against orders, mind you--and guess what? They have found Rayton! They are about to land on the planet's surface! What is Frank to do?

Our hero hims and haws for a minute, then decides he must return to Earth. After all, he can't bring Zetha home to meet the folks because she's the size of a Polly Pocket. Even though she loves Frank to bits, Zetha is a good sport about this and she sends Frank off. Of course, now that she can talk again, Zetha's marriage prospects on Rayton have improved considerably and I have no doubt she'll find happiness soon enough. So, with the help of Herron, Frank scampers back into his flight suit and magically regains his normal size just in time for the away-team to find him and bring him back to Earth...a bittersweet ending to a truly nutty movie.

"Well, I dodged that bullet...": Zetha (Delores Faith) is glad her short-lived engagement to crabby Frank Chapman is off.

In his book Cult Science Fiction Films, author Welch Everman argues that "The Phantom Planet" suffers from what he calls "The Tarzan Syndrome": a white guy stumbling into a foreign land/planet, where he proves himself to be smarter than any of the natives and then winds up the boss of everybody. It's an interesting theory and, yes, it has a sadly racist subtext. Nevertheless, I have to agree with Mr. Everman. Crabby as he is, Frank is presented as smarter and stronger than the typical Raytonian--only Herron comes close to being his equal--just because he's white and from Earth. Wise Sesom drops lots of hints that Frank is on the fast track to succeeding him and our anti-hero hasn't been on Rayton 24 hours! Only his return to Earth (via the moon) prevents Frank from becoming the head cheese on Rayton.

Early in this article I mentioned "The Phantom Planet"s low budget appearance. This wasn't just for snark's sake. During my research into the flick, I learned that all the interior spaceship sets, the space suits and the special effects were pinched from the "Men Into Space" TV series. That clearly means the flick's budget couldn't cover these things, so hat's off to director William Marshall, a former actor and band leader, for economizing and finding these necessities on the the cheap! The thrifty director even saved on cast members by giving his son Mike a small role in the film.

Dean Fredericks, as the crabby Frank Chapman, had just finished 34 episodes of the TV series "Steven Canyon", based on the classic comic strip, when he appeared in this flick. Both roles required him to do nothing more that puff out his chest, cross his arms and glare at people. Dean's other role of note was as the Hindu manservant(!?) on Johnny Weissmuller's "Jungle Jim" TV series (1955-56). Movie fans know, of course, that Johnny Weissmuller was Tarzan in a series of hit movies--and his Jane was Maureen O'Sullivan, a fine actress (and schoolmate of Vivien Leigh's) who was also the mother of Mia Farrow.

Thanks to the wonderful, funderful world of Junk Cinema, we have a movie that personifies "The Tarzan Syndrome" starring a guy who once worked on a series starring moviedom's best known Tarzan, with sets borrowed a short-lived TV series and was then served to the general public on a double with "Assignment Outer Space"--with Richard Kiel in his film debut! Is this a cool world or what?!

Until next time movie lovers, help me SAVE THE MOVIES!