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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves In "The Wild Women Of Wongo"

When Credit Sequences Attack.

Happy 2017, movie lovers!

Are you ready to begin another wonderful, funderful tour of the highways and byways of Junk Cinema? Good! Let's start now.

Our first film of the new year is set long, long ago, when the Earth was young. There were no paved streets or big cities, honking cars or endless Starbucks. Only lush sandy beaches, gently swaying palm trees and frolicking, wise-cracking parrots.

As our eyes marvel at this unspoiled natural beauty, a disembodied voice rings out from the heavens above.

"I am Mother Nature. Designer of all the things you see and all the things you are."

The unspoiled beauty of prehistoric Wongo (actually, Homestead, Florida).

Sounding every inch like a highly satisfied CEO going over last month's sales figures, Mother Nature declares, "All things considered, we (she and Father Time) think we've done fairly well."

Oh, sure, they've made a few mistakes. Who hasn't? One mishap took place "about 10,000 years ago" when she and Father Time "tried a topsy turvy experiment with the human race."

What, pray tell, did Mother Nature and Father Time do?

They made all the females in the land of Wongo "beautiful" and all their men "brutes". Meanwhile, over in the land of Goona ("many days march to the south") Mother Nature and Father Time made the men good looking and the women...not beautiful.

Sighed Mother Nature, "It didn't work."

The King of Wongo looks confused. He looks confused a lot.

What went wrong?

"The Wild Women Of Wongo!"

The ancient, prehistoric land of Wongo is ruled by a beefy king (pro-rugby player Rex Richards) with blue-ish dye sprayed in his hair to make him look "older". He is seen traveling to "The Temple of Dragon God" to ask its High Priestess (Zuni Dyer, a waitress from the Bronx who looks like a cross between Cher and Paul Stanley from KISS) to bless the up-coming marriages of "the maidens of Wongo."

Truth be told, the maidens of Wongo are not happy about these nuptials. That's because their prospective grooms are uncouth jerks who make Steve-O look like Cary Grant. Especially down in the dumps is Ohmoo (Jean Hawkshaw), the king's daughter. She's to be paired with Ocko, a short, surly, pug-nosed lout who can't wait to start bossing her around.

But what's this? Out of nowhere tall, strapping stranger with amazing pecs has paddled up to Wongo's beach head. He's Engor (Johnny Walsh), the prince of Goona, and he's brandishing "the wing of the white bird of peace."

"I Come In Peace": Johnny Walsh as Engor, the prince of Goona.

The sight of the gorgeous guy from Goona causes the women of Wongo to go nuts, as you can imagine.

"It's a man!" one Wongo-ette cries out.

"Oh, no, it's a god! I am sure of it!" corrects her friend.

"This is like a dream I've had!" Ohmoo declares, before turning to her gal pal Mona (Mary Ann Webb) and asking, "Are you certain it's a man?"

"I have a feeling that makes me certain," Mona replies.

A Wongo woman is shocked, shocked, that a man without back hair exists.

If the Wongo women are excited about Engor, the men of Wongo are appalled. They sneer at his "women's skin" and don't for one second buy his claim about the "ape men"  in "big canoes" who are threatening neighboring villages. In fact, the Wongo men think it's a trap by the King of Goona to steal their women.

Ohmoo only reinforces these misgivings when she pleads with her father to give her to Engor and not Ocko.

"His father is a king after all!" Ohmoo points out.

"That is a sacrilege to the gods!" HRH thunders, ordering his daughter to stay in her plastic hut for the time being.

Wongo's tribal council meets and decides that Engor must die. They all agree the strapping stranger will be speared by Ocko first thing in the morning. His death will serve as an object lesson to Wongo's "foolish women" about drooling over cute guys from other villages. It will also send a message to Goona's king to stop meddling in Wongo's internal affairs. Ohmoo over hears these plans and is determind to save Engor...for herself.

"Endless Love": Ohmoo  and Engor go nose to nose under the stars.

After the sun goes down, Ohmoo sneaks out of her hut and beckons Engor to join her. They hold hands and walk around for a while before declaring their true love.

"Ohmoo. They call you that?" Engor asks. Pause. "I like it." Another pause. "I have never seen a woman like you."

"I've dreamed of a man like you!" Ohmoo pants. "I never thought it would come true!"

The smitten kittens passionately embrace and suck face. They come for air and then collapse in a heap in the sand. The camera gracefully glides up into the starry sky above, granting our cuddlemates some much needed privacy.

Bright and early the next morning, the whole cast is assembled on the beach to wave Engor off to Goona. By this time Ohmoo has informed all her Wongo friends about the plan to kill Engor. They agree to help. As Engor innocently trudges down the beach to his canoe, the surly Ocko raises his spear, ready to lob the fatal blow. At that very moment, the Wongo women en masse tackle Ocko, knocking him to the ground. Engor races to his canoe and furiously paddles away.

"Girl Power?": The Wongo Women over-take Ocko. Notice the curiously passive fellow at the left of the picture, who can't be bothered to help his fellow tribesman.

As punishment for helping Engor escape, the maidens of Wongo are sent into the wilderness to appease "The Dragon God." This involves a different gal, every night, sitting in the sand and waiting for the Dragon God ( stock footage of a waddling alligator) to choose one of them for "his bride." It should be noted that when "choosing a bride", the Dragon God actually attacks and eats the lucky (?) lady. A minor detail, perhaps, but an important one.

The Dragon God the Wongo folks worship must be a picky fellow indeed, because after two weeks of sending him a different bride every night, he still hasn't made up his mind. The Wongo women are getting pretty fed-up with this situation and tempers are flaring. Then Mona of Wongo is out taking a sun bath when two "ape men" (cast members with mustaches) sneak up on her. Hearing her screams, the gals grab their spears and rush to her aid. They quickly over-power the "ape men" and push them into the sea...where the Dragon God subsequently gobbles them up.

Believing the "ape men"s deaths fulfills the necessary requirements of their punishment, the women of Wongo decide to head home. Alas, when they get there, no one is there to greet them. Where did everybody go? The gals have no idea, but they suspect the "ape men" may have something to do with it. After a few days of holding down the fort, Ohmoo declares, "We do not want to live and grow old and die without men! Wongo is ended. Tomorrow we leave Wongo--we'll go south!"

Off our heroines troop to Goona, hoping to make a love connection with those hunky Goona guys. The problem is the Goona gents are participating in an ancient ritual to "prove they are men." This entails going out into the wilderness unarmed for about a week. When the survivors return, the women of Goona will greet them "with a wedding feast." However, because the Goona women "are not beautiful", the young men of the tribe are looking forward to their marriages with all the enthusiasm usually reserved for tax audits and prostrate exams. Still, an ancient ritual is an ancient ritual, so off they go.

Imagine the surprise of Engor and his buddy Gahbo (Ed Fury), out skinny dipping in a river, when Ohmoo and her fellow Wongo-ettes show up.

"This one is mine! He's cute!" declares one Wongo woman (that's a direct quote, by the way). Notice the guy isn't putting up much of a fuss.

"Where are your friendly men?"asks Engor.

Ohmoo explains that the "ape men" cleaned out Wongo and their village is no more.

"Come out and we'll cook you a meal," she says.

Engor explains that the Goona men are under-going an ancient ritual and can't inter-act with females at the present time. Besides, they are already paired up with a gal back home.

Ohmoo brushes away Engor's argument by declaring, "Look at us! Wouldn't you rather have us for mates!?"

 Engor and Gahbo look confused. They look confused a lot.

Not waiting for an answer, the Wongo women lasso Engor and Gahbo and drag them out of the water. Following suit, the rest of the Wongo-ettes trap themselves a Goona husband by using nets, spears and all matters of subterfuge. These new relationships are off to a testy start, however, when the Goona men sample their wives' cooking.

"Can't you catch anything but rabbits!?" grouses one Goona guy.

Another complains that the grub "is very poorly seasoned. Not the way the Goona women cook."

That crack causes a Wongo-ette to bark, "Next time, you'll season the food yourself! You'll do it under the whip!"

While all this is going on, it turns out the Wongo men have not died. In fact, they have landed in Goona--and have made the acquaintance of Goona's "not beautiful" women. However, to the Wongo men, the Goona women are perfectly fine. Soon enough, the Wongo men pair up with a Goona gal and everybody decides to make it legal. So off they go to the Temple of the Dragon God to seek the Great Dragon's blessing.

A Goona woman bears her fangs...and her tonsils.

Hilarious complications ensue when the Wongo men and their Goona fiance's run into the Wongo women and their Goona intendeds at the temple. Ocko starts making noises that Ohmoo is his gal, but Engor settles things by declaring he and Ohmoo are getting married no matter what. The High Priestess agrees and Ocko returns to his Goona fiance. The last scene in our flick shows each good looking Goona/Wongo couple facing the camera--and the man winks. The last couple is Engor and Ohmoo, only Ohmoo is the one who winks at the camera.

Don't you love a happy ending?

"The Wild Women Of Wongo" is a cherished Junk Cinema Jewel for a variety of reasons, beyond the obvious ones (it's wacky plot, cardboard acting, cheap sets). This nutsy hybrid of prehistoric romance/beach party movie/ battle of the sexes drama perfectly captures the "Can Do" spirit Junk Cinema's greatest practitioners must posses to achieve their goals.

Director James Wolcott was an accountant bored by the 9 to 5 grind when he decided to throw caution to the wind an become a filmmaker. Needless to say, Wolcott had never directed a fly to an out-house, much less a movie, so making "The Wild Women Of Wongo" was both a challenging task and a labor of love. James' inexperience (and incompetence) is present in every frame of film he managed to shoot in focus: glimpses of camper-trailers in the background of various scenes; the awkwardly inserted stock footage of alligators; High Priestess Zuni Dyer stroking her "pet alligator", which was just a plastic toy strapped to her wrist and the badly sprayed hair of the tribal "elders". Even his cast and crew knew Wolcott was over his head; one even told The Brothers Medved in The Son Of The Golden Turkey Awards that James seemed "vulnerable and helpless", the sort of guy "who didn't know enough to come out of the rain." Yet he persevered.

And like any amateur, Wolcott surrounded himself with even more amateurs! Scriptwriter Cedric Rutherford had never written a screenplay before. Most of the cast had never acted before. Zuni Dyer, remember, was a waitress. The King of Wongo was an ex-professional rugby player. The tribal elders of Wongo were off-duty Corals Gable, Florida, police officers. The hunky Goona men were a motley crew of University of Florida football players and Miami Beach muscle boys. The ONLY cast members who went on to act in other projects were Adrienne Bourbeau (Wana of Wongo) who appeared in a 1967 episode of the TV show "Flipper" and Ed Fury (Gahbo of Goona) who made several "sword and sandal" epics in the 1960's ("Colossus And The  Amazon Women", "Ursus" and "The Seven Rangers" among them).

Future star of Italian sword and sandal epics Ed Fury gives a wink to the camera.

Perhaps the most famous name attached to this flick belongs to Tennessee Williams--yes, that Tennessee Williams, the author of The Glass Menagerie, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof  and A Street Car Named Desire.

See, Mr. Williams was dating one of the male cast members. He arrived a bit early to pick up his friend for their dinner date and had to wait around until his companion finished his scenes. Not surprisingly, Tennessee got bored and fell asleep. When the shooting was over, Williams presumably woke up, allowing he and his friend to resume their plans for the evening. Let's hope they had a nice time.

In spite of all the nuttiness that took place in front of and behind the camera, everyone involved with the creation of "The Wild Women Of Wongo" should be proud of themselves. Why? Because they all achieved what they set out to do. James Wolcott got to direct. Cedric Rutherford had his screenplay turned into a movie. Ed Fury made "sword and sandal" movies in Italy. "The Wild Women Of Wongo" was shown in movie theaters and drive-ins and did not merely gather dust on some shelf. And everybody got to meet Tennessee Williams. Have you ever met Tennessee Williams?

Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

To the entire cast and crew of "The Wild Women Of Wongo": Junk Cinema salutes you!

One of the movie posters for our featured flick.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Fur Flies In "Cat Women Of The Moon"

"Those who play with cats must expect to get scratched": The Hollywood Cover Girls bare their claws in this classic movie poster.

Hi-dee-ho, movie lovers.

Interested in getting your paws on a top-notch outer space thriller?

Watch "Aliens"!

Meanwhile, the rest of us plan to hunker down with "Cat Women Of The Moon" (1953), a cinematic hairball that stars "The Male Sensation of 1944" Sonny Tufts as the head of a mission-to-the-moon and "The Hollywood Cover Girls" as the Cat Women they encounter.

The fun begins with Commander Laird Grainger (Tufts) of Rocket 4 waxing philosophic about "the eternal wonders of space and time. The far away dreams and mysteries of other worlds. Other life. The stars. The planets.."

Female lady person Helen (Marie Windsor) makes a (space) ship to shore call while Kip (Victor Jory) eavesdrops.

But enough of that! Suddenly the flick cuts to a Playtex Easy Glide Tampon hurtling through the cosmos and then to its intrepid crew, who are strapped into lawn chairs and looking mighty uncomfortable.

Head honcho Tufts presides of a crack crew of space cadets that include second-in-command Kip (Victor Jory); the business oriented Walt (Douglas Fowley, who looks like the breast-obsessed director Russ Meyer); newbie Doug (Bill Phipps) and navigator Helen (Roger Corman regular and budget Joan Crawford Marie Windsor).

The fact that a woman of the female sex holds such an important position on this mission is meant to show that, in the future, all vestiges of debilitating sexism have been banished. However, since "Cat Women" was made in 1953, all vestiges of that era's sexism remain firmly in place. Case in point: the first thing Helen does after emerging from hyper-sleep is fix her hair and make-up. Later on, when the gang is attacked by a giant spider puppet wearing a tiara, the men launch into attack mode, while Helen screams and faints (twice).

There is another reason why Helen's presence on this trip is vital-- although neither Helen or her cohorts are aware of it. See, an ancient race of Cat Women have been using their superior mental telepathy powers to take control of Helen's mind. Why? Well, it's simple: the moon is running out of air. The Cat Women--who are the last of their lunar litter--must relocate PDQ. Their choice for a new home? Earth.

Of course, the Cat Women wouldn't be in this predicament at all if their tribal elders, many generations earlier, hadn't decided that the best way to "conserve air" was to knock-off half the population. The male half, to exact. Not only did this strategy not save any air, it pretty much ruined the moon's swinging singles scene.

"Comb Together": Helen (far right) checks out her coiffure while Sonny Tufts checks her out.

Through Helen, the Cat Women plan to lure Sonny Tufts and company to their settlement. Once there, the crafty kittens will pump the crew for info on how to fly their rocket ship. The Cat Women will then ditch the guys (but bring Helen along) and zoom off to Earth. It goes without saying that they will take over the planet, establish a female dictatorship and use males only for "breeding purposes." That, however, is farther down the plot-line. And it must reiterated that Helen knows nothing about the feline mind control being practiced on her; the poor dear merely thinks she's having weird dreams (or really bad PMS).

Now, it's not my intention to bog this article down with exposition and/or plot points, but there is one more aspect to Helen's presence that must be discussed before we move on.

It appears there is a subtle love triangle involving Laird, Kip and Helen... so subtle in fact, that Laird seems totally unaware of it. Never the less, Kip feels the need to dramatically announce, "Look, Helen, I have a very high regard for you. You're smart, you have courage and you're all woman! If it hadn't been for Laird, I would have tried to make it 'you and me' a long time ago!" To her credit, Helen tries to keep things professional, insisting her "interest" in Laird is "strictly scientific". Yet Kip keeps pushing, declaring, "You can't turn love on and off like a faucet!"

OK, back to the action.

"Cat got your tongue?": Helen is speechless upon meeting top cat Alpha and her pussy cat posse.

Our crew finally touches down on the moon. Guided by Helen (who is guided by the Cat Women, remember), the gang trudges to the town square of the Cat Women's encampment. The wonder of it all causes Helen to muse, "It's just like I dreamed! Only now the dream is real!" Seconds later, Helen wanders off to join her fellow feline femmes.

"Welcome to the moon!" purrs top cat Alpha (Carol Brewster). "This is my second-in-command Beta and this is Lambda."

Dressed in form fitting body suits with lace collars, sporting hair-dos that resemble shellacked pineapples and wearing enough mascara to make even Tammy Faye Baker wince, the Cat Women are a sight to see. To bad nobody thought about giving our moon minions some personality to go along with their outlandish wardrobe. Unfortunately, these lunar ladies are dull as dishwater and stiffer than starch. There are department store dummies with more get-up-and-go! After enduring their listless acting, you begin to believe boredom is what killed off their men-folk, not "planned genocide."

After conferencing with Helen, the Cat Women eventually show themselves to our unsuspecting male crew members. Although Beta had sneered earlier, "We have no need of men", the Cat Women know that the way to a man's brain is through his stomach. "May we serve you, Earth men?" the crafty cats ask, bearing trays of Hostess Sno-Balls and an exotic fruit that "tastes a little like Honey Dew Melon." The guys gleefully chow down and appear to enjoy to local wine, too. Everybody, in fact, seems to be getting along great, except for spoil-sport Kip. He plants himself in a corner instead, alternating between glaring at the gang and munching on a K-Ration.

It's during this little social hour that Walt, forever looking for ways to make a fast buck, notices a Cat Woman's bracelet. "It's made from a metal far superior to anything you have on Earth," she informs him. Walt is impressed--especially when he learns that the moon is so full of gold, the Cat Women don't even bother to mine it. Soon, the jet jockey and his feline hostess make a deal: he'll show her around the rocket ship if she shows him the gold.

"I'll show you mine, if you show me yours": Engineer Walt strikes a fatal bargain with his cunning kitty companion.

Walt holds up his end of the bargain and so does the Cat Woman. Unfortunately, while Walt is admiring all the gold, his pussy cat partner stabs him in the back--literally. She then scurries off to Alpha's office, where she mentally downloads all the science info she extracted from Walt.

A less sinister hook-up forms between newbie Doug and Lambda. While Doug munches on that strange moon fruit, he shyly drawls, "I wonder what the folks back home would think if they knew I was having dinner with a beautiful moon woman." These two are definitely headed for Heartbreak Hotel, especially after Lamdba confides, "I love you, Doug, but I must kill you."

Meanwhile, Kip has discovered that if he holds Helen tightly and covers a white spot on her palm (don't ask), it breaks the mental hold the Cat Women exert on his would-be cuddlemate. After doing so, Helen not only admits her true feelings for Kip, but also reveals the Cat Women's evil plans. Without a second to lose, Kip and Doug round up their space suits (with help from smitten kitten Lambda) and race after the Cat Women. Just as predicted, Lambda gets a fatal conk on the noggin for fraternizing with the enemy. While Doug mourns over Lambda's kitty corpse, Kip whips out his gun and races off camera. Bang! Bang! Bang! "The Cat Women are dead!" he yells triumphantly. Oh, and "Helen's alright!"

When we next see them, our crew (minus Walt) are busily working at their stations. Commander Laird tries to comfort the heartbroken Doug ( "What's done is done."), but the newbie insists he's fine. When Rocket 4 finally makes contact with White Sands ( which is ground control, not the hotel), the folks on Earth want to hear all about their mission to the moon. "That's a long story," Doug sighs before signing off. "Cat Women Of The Moon", over and out.

Our featured presentation holds a special place in the pantheon of Junk Cinema. Part of this is due to the priceless presence of Sonny Tufts, "The Male Sensation of 1944" and the Godfather of every talentless Hollywood pretty boy who has since come down the pike, from Troy Donahue to Christopher Atkins to Zac Effron.

"When I think, it hurts": Commander Sonny Tufts confers with second-in-command Victory Jory.

Tufts got his start as the eye-catching "Shirtless G. I." in "So Proudly We Hail" and studio execs were hopeful he could be the Next Big Thing in matinee idols. Unfortunately, Sonny's total lack of acting talent kept getting in the way. (Reportedly, when Sonny did a screen test, his dramatic reading was thought to be comedy piece.) By the time Sonny starred in "Cat Women Of The Moon", he was struggling to hold on to his career and his figure (rim shot!). As Commander Laird Grainger, Tufts stumbles around the cardboard sets like a suburban dad who can't remember where he left the Mini-Van in the Park and Ride. On several occasions you can clearly see him reading directly from his script. And more than once a co-star must jump in and finish Sonny's lines.

No wonder, then, that The Golden Turkey Awards chose to nominate "Cat Women Of The Moon" as one of "The Worst Performance(s) By Sonny Tufts", alongside "Cottonpickin' Chicken Pickers" (1968), "Government Girl" (1943) and "The Well-Groomed Bride" (1946). The eventual winner as "Government Girl", a comedy Sonny claimed was "about as funny as three caskets."

Of course, as bad as Sonny is, he gets plenty of competition from his feline co-stars "The Hollywood Cover Girls." These gals just may be the worst acting "group" in motion picture history, besting even The Village People in "Can't Stop The Music" (1980) or the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders when they set sail on a special 2-hour "Love Boat" cruise. Although the script asks The Cover Girls to do little more than perform klutzy dances and slink about, even these tasks appear to be beyond their capabilities. No wonder, then, that after their auspicious debut in "Cat Women", these starlets faded into obscurity, popping up (once in a blue moon) only as a trivia question.

The rest of the cast--Victory Jory, Marie Windsor, Douglas Fowley and Bill Phipps--struggle to hold on to their dignity, but it's a losing battle.

No review of "Cat Women Of The Moon" can over look the sexism that wafts through this flick like odor from a used litter box.

"She's Got...Tammy Faye Baker Eyes?": One of "The Hollywood Cover Girls" tries to act, but her make-up upstages her.

In fact, The Son Of The Golden Turkey Awards nominated "Cat Women" as "The Most Primitive Male Chauvinist Fantasy In Movie History", along with such luminaries as "Prehistoric Women" (1950), "Mesa Of Lost Women" (1953) and "Fire Maiden From Outer Space" (1956). "Cat Women" follows the trope of an isolated community of man-starved females who can't be trusted because, you know, women are two-faced. The flick also suggests that women are happiest tending to domestic duties; when the "liberated" Helen is told she can't go on a lunar camp-out, she protests her exclusion by squealing, "Who's going to cook your meals?!" Perhaps the lowest point in the flick occurs when the ill-fated Walt tells his kitty companion, "You're too smart for me, baby! I like 'em dumb!"

So, kiddies, what have we learned from today's lunar lunacy?

1) Wine and cheese may improve with age, but Sonny Tuft's acting does not.

2) Any female dominated society, regardless of how old or advanced it is, is just a super-snooty sorority run by Mean Girls.

3) Check the fine print! It's Elmer Bernstein, not "Bernstien"! 

Commander Laird tries to comfort heart-broken newbie Doug: "When we get back to Earth, we'll get you a new kitty."

4) Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: the sets for "Cat Women Of The Moon" later popped up in "Missile To The Moon."

5) If you want your spider puppet to inspire real chills, nix its tiara.

So, movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, cats may shed, they may be picky eaters, they may sleep on clean laundry and they may play havoc with your Christmas ornaments, but they are NOT as bad as those dastardly "Cat Women Of The Moon"!

Thank you for all your support and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wishing You A Patrick Swayze Christmas!

Patrick Swayze in the role that made him shameless: Dalton in "Road House."

Season's greetings, movie lovers.

If you're a fan of "MST3K"--and, really, who isn't?--then you know wise-acre Crow T. Robot penned the holiday hymn "A Patrick Swayze Christmas."*

Inspired by the 1989 cultural touchstone "Road House", a sample of the lyrics go as follows:

"Open up your heart/and let the Patrick Swayze Christmas in./ We'll gather at the road house/ with our next of kin...

"It's my way or the highway/that's Christmas at my bar/ I'll have to smash your kneecaps/ if you bastards touch my car...

"I got the word that Santa/ has been stealing from the till/ I think that right jolly old elf/ had better make out his will..."

Crow, Joel and Tom Servo harmonize to "A Patrick Swayze Christmas."

Therefore, in honor of holidays, in honor of the late Patrick Swayze, in honor of Crow's dandy ditty and in honor of a Junk Cinema Jewel the size of Godzilla, let's all enjoy "Road House"!

Or not. The movie's pretty awful. But I digress...

Once upon a time (1989, actually), there was a small town called Jasper. In this quaint little burg an establishment named The Double Deuce called home.

Once a decent watering hole, The Double Deuce had inexplicably begun to attract an unseemly crowd of bozos, bimbos, bullies and brawlers. Fights broke out every night. The bar-keep was skimming from the till. Waitresses sold drugs in the john. The house band was forced to play on a stage encased in plexi-glass to protect them from flying debris. In short, The Double Deuce had become double trouble, especially for its owner Frank (Kevin Tighe, best remembered as the stolid EMT Roy on "Emergency!").

Frank realized that if he wanted to reclaim his bar back from hospitality hell, he needed the help of a professional. Enter Dalton (Patrick Swayze in his greatest role ever). An enigmatic chap with a painful past, Dalton is known as the best "cooler" (bouncer) in the universe. His specialty is cleaning up disreputable dives, allowing the owners to remake them as honest businesses. Once that's accomplished, Dalton moves on, leaving nothing behind but the great smell of Brut.

Unfortunately, the unruly clientele of The Double Deuce isn't the only problem plaguing Jasper. The entire town is at the mercy of one Brad Wesley (Ben Gazzara). You see, Brad firmly believes he is responsible for whatever prosperity Jasper enjoys: "When I came to this town after Korea, there was nothin'! I brought the mall here! I got the Seven-Eleven here! I got Photo-Mat here! J.C. Penney is comin' here because of me!"  Thus, Brad considers Jasper his personal property, his kingdom--and he rules over it like a combination of Al Capone, Boss Hogg, Noah Cross and Satan. 

Ben Gazzara as Jasper's ruler Brad Wesley: "It's my way or the the highway."

Dalton, of course, is unaware of this situation. That's because he's totally preoccupied with cleaning up The Double Deuce, which he starts immediately. First, Dalton fires an employee who lets in under-age patrons. Next, he cans the waitress dealing drugs in the powder room ("We sell booze here, not drugs," Dalton reminds her.) Another jerk is dismissed when Dalton catches him in the storeroom having sex (doggy style!) with a nameless bimbo whom he lovingly calls "my regular Saturday night thing."

"But I'm on my break!" the moron protests.

"Stay on it!" Dalton replies.

Lastly, Dalton kicks to the curb bar-keep Pat (John Doe), who is skimming about $150 a week from the till. This is a risky move, as Pat happens to be the nephew of Brad Wesley. Soon enough, Uncle Brad sends his goons over to insist his loser nephew (who suffers from "a weak constitution") be rehired. Dalton refuses. When the thugs try pressuring Dalton, he promptly dispatches them with some choice martial arts moves aimed at their crotch and knee-cap areas.

 Dalton may have pissed off Brad Wesley, but he has delighted Frank, because The Double Deuce has been reborn under his ministrations. The bar is repainted and refurbished, the staff have new uniforms, the stage is cleared of plexi-glass and the joint is full to capacity every night. Also on the plus side: Dalton has made the acquaintance of Jasper's only non-bimbo resident, Dr. Elizabeth Clay (indie actress Kelly Lynch), known simply as "Doc."

 Dalton and Doc discuss the finer points of chronic pain management. He: "Pain don't hurt." She: "Most of my patients would disagree with you."

The smitten kittens meet when Dalton comes in to have stitches after a knife fight. Doc is impressed that her hunky patient carries around copies of his medical records ("Saves time," he explains) and that he has a degree in philosophy from NYU. Dalton insists his major isn't that unique; merely "man's search for faith, shit like that." What is unique? Dalton refuses to be numbed up for his stitches because "pain don't hurt." Naturally, Doc and Dalton are destined for A GREAT LOVE and, more importantly, an explicit (and highly improbable) sex scene later on. However, more plot points must be unloaded first.

Like any corrupt, evil villain, Brad Wesley is not happy that Dalton refuses to accept his rule. The "cooler" barely bats an eye when Brad's goons trash his junker cars. He serenely dispatches Brad's cronies when they attempt to disrupt the newly calm atmosphere of the Double Deuce ("You're too stupid to have fun," Dalton sniffs). He even turns down Brad's offer to work at a rival bar for more money. "There isn't enough money in the world to make me work for you," Dalton announces before stalking off.

So Brad Wesley turns up the heat. He vandalizes Red Webster's (Red West) auto supply store--Red is Dalton's friend and Doc's uncle. He sends a monster truck with wheels the size of a house to demolish the car dealership of Pete Stroudenmire, another pal of Dalton's. When that doesn't work, Brad orders his mullet-wearing flunky Jimmy to fire bomb old coot Emmett's farmhouse--where Dalton rents a room. Dalton saves the oldster, but it's obvious Brad Wesley has become dangerously unhinged...not that he never was the easy going type to begin with. I'm don't know this for a fact, of course, I'm just saying...

Anyway, through out all this Sturm und Drang, Patrick Swayze's Dalton remains as calm, cool and collected as a Zen master. He looks people squarely in the eye, rarely raises his voice and insists his staff "be nice"--until the time has passed to be nice. In his off hours, Dalton practises martial arts in the nude and reads the novel A River Runs Through It.  However, when Brad Wesley has his mentor/best friend Wade Garrett (Sam Elliot) fatally stabbed in the chest, it's no more Mr. Nice Guy. Dalton erupts into an apocalyptic rage which horrifies his cuddlemate Doc, but was clearly designed to sate the blood-lust of the movie's target audience, who were no doubt getting restless with all this "niceness" horse puckey. 

With vengeance in his heart, Dalton races over to Brad Wesley's McMansion, where he hits, kicks, stabs, shoots and punches the lights-out of each and every one of Brad Wesley's goons. But that's not all! Dalton flattens one thug by pushing a stuffed polar bear on top of him! He spins donuts on Brad Wesley's manicured lawn! And when Dalton and Brad Wesley have their final, bloody face-to-face confrontation, it appears our hero is preparing to rip Brad's throat out with his bare hands--something Dalton has done before (case in point: the mullet-wearing flunky Jimmy).

"Be nice...until it's time not to be nice": Dalton decides it's time not to be nice.

 But no. Dalton pulls back. He may bust the knee-caps of unruly bar patrons for a living, but he's not an animal. So he straightens up and walks away. However, like Jason and Freddy Kruger, Brad Wesley cannot be killed or subdued for long. As Dalton wearily staggers away, Brad  rises up and prepares to gun Dalton down...when Red, Pete and Frank miraculously materialize out of thin air and shoot Brad Wesley over and over and over and over again. "This our town!" Red declares,"and don't you forget it!"--as Brad crashes through his glass-top coffee table and dies in a bloody heap.

A moment of silence please, to honor the those who suffered and died under the rule of Brad Wesley. May they find peace in the here-after. May their loved ones find closure. May Jasper heal its divisions and come together as one people, one community. Let the faithful join hands and vow to begin anew.


OK, now that that's over, "Road House" ends the only way it can, with Dalton, totally nude, jumping into the river to frolic with his equally nude cuddlemate Doc. Praise the Lord and pass the sunblock!

Movies as supremely, sublimely nutty as "Road House" resemble those towering champagne fountains at chi-chi weddings--except instead of bubbly, the fountain is spewing cheese. Thick, gooey, highly caloric cheese. From its daffy dialogue (Jimmy to Dalton: "I use to f@#$% guys like you is prison!") to its atrocious acting (Ben Gazzara, are you listening? Yes, I know you have passed away, but I bet you can still hear me! Shame on you!) to its cartoon depiction of violence (near-death by polar bear?) and vigilante justice ("Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice"*) to its ripped-off and badly used Spaghetti Western motifs ( is Dalton "The High Plains Drifter" or "The Man With No Name"?!) to its homo-erotic sub-text (Jimmy and Dalton's duel to the death, among other examples), the Velveeta just keeps coming.

Shooting blanks? Brad Wesley's goon squad opens fire.

And yet...the flick is not quite as harmless as so many other mindless trash-fests celebrated here. It's treatment of women is truly vile. This is best summed up by Wade's comment about Doc, the movie's "respectable" female character: "That gal's got entirely too many brains to have an ass like that." Furthermore, "Road House"s obsession with male genitals (kicking them, comparing their size, flashing them) is, well, icky. Producer Joel Silver knew his target audience (dumb jerks who love violence and hate women) and gave them exactly what they wanted. He made buckets of money, too. But mixed in with the cheese are shards of glass, so be careful.

This where I leave you, movie lovers. Remember, it's my way or the highway, and SAVE THE MOVIES.

* "A Patrick Swayze Christmas" was actually written by Michael J. Nelson. All rights reserved.

* This quote is from Barry Goldwater.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Brad Pitt Is The Face That Launched A Thousand Twits In "Troy".

"I am the hero of this movie!" "No I am the hero of this movie!": Achilles (Brad Pitt) and Hector (Eric Bana) battle it out in "Troy". Unfortunately, they both end up losing...but not as much as the audience.

Greetings, movie lovers.

Today we travel back in time, to the days of ancient Greece and its seminal conflict, the Trojan War.

According to Homer, who chronicled these events in The Iliad, the Trojan War was a 10-year battle that divided the gods on Mt. Olympus, pitted the Greek armies against the undefeated (and very walled-in) Trojans and forced mere mortals to grapple with the enduring complexities of honor, hubris, revenge and loyalty.

However, to director Wolfgang Petersen, the Trojan War was more like CGI episode of "The Bold and the Beautiful", complete with pious virgins, adulterous couples, duplicitous power brokers, plenty of skin and a hunky hero who affects the worst English accent since Dick van Dyke in "Mary Poppins."

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Troy", a 2004 epic failure that proves one should be wary of Greeks baring gifts...because they often contain hysterically awful movies lurking inside.

Desperate housewife Helen of Sparta (Diane Kruger) decides to run off with a Trojan (Orlando Bloom)...but will probably wind up pregnant anyway.

Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom are Princes Hector and Paris of Troy. In typical soap opera fashion, Hector is the mature, responsible sibling who must perpetually bail out kid bro Paris, a feckless fellow who can't keep his toga tied, if you get my drift.

Paris' latest scrape involves Helen (Diane Kruger), the desperate housewife chained in marriage to Menelaus (Brenden Gill), King of Sparta. While negotiations for a peace treaty between their two kingdoms are being hammered out, Helen and Paris are hammering each other. This is risky business indeed, as Menelaus is a notorious hot-head with a taste for the ugliest caftans this side of TV's "Maude." Still, the attraction between these two dreamy dead-weights could not be denied.

"Every day I was with him, I wanted to walk into the sea and drown," Helen confides to Paris about hubby Menelaus. "Before you came, I was a ghost. I walked and I ate and I swam in the sea, but I was a ghost."

The king is an oafish brute who will blow a gasket when he learns about the affair, but Helen, so resigned to her unhappiness in Sparta, doesn't care.

"I'm not afraid of dying," she sobs to Paris. "I'm afraid of tomorrow! I'm afraid of watching you sail away and knowing you'll never come back!"

"Paris When It Fizzles": Paris of Troy realizes his romance with Queen Helen has all the makings of  a royal disaster.

After such a declaration, Paris comes up with a great idea: why doesn't Helen come away with him to Troy?

"If you come, we'll never be safe," Paris admits. "Men will hunt us! The gods will curse us! But I'll love you!"

So Paris smuggles his Spartan cuddlemate onto the departing Trojan flagship and nobody even notices. They are about half-way out to sea when Paris tentatively informs Hector (who is anxious to get home to his supermodel wife and new son) that they have an extra passenger on board. Hector hits the roof and orders their ship back to Sparta. However, pretty boy Paris announces that if Helen is returned to Sparta, he's going, too. Realizing his knuckle-knob sibling means it, Hector has no choice but to sail back to Troy--but not before he tears his kid brother a new one: "You say you are willing to die for love, but you know NOTHING about DYING and you know NOTHING about LOVE!"

Meanwhile, Menelaus throws an epic hissy fit when he realizes his trophy wife has flown the royal coop. He then stomps over to to see his older sibling Agamemnon (Brian Cox). All full of brotherly concern, Agamemnon agrees to muster his military might in the service of getting Helen back, so the furious Menelaus can then kill her in the privacy of his own castle.

In true soap opera style, however, Agamemnon has an ulterior motive lurking beneath his sibling solidarity. He wants to rule all of Greece and Troy, wouldn't you know, is the final hold-out. Helen's skipping off with Paris provides Agamemnon with the opening he's been looking for. If things go according to plan, Troy will fall, he, Agamemnon, will become king of everything and bro Menelaus will get to avenge his husbandly humiliation. Win-win for everybody. What could possibly go wrong?

Happy Warrior?: Agamemnon thinks his foray into Troy will be quick and easy. Little does he know...

It's about this time that Brad Pitt struts on as Achilles, the mightiest warrior Ancient Greece has ever known. Pitt reportedly worked out for six months to be ripped and ready as Achilles, and I must say he looks every inch a Greek god. The problem is Pitt's Achilles is a rather conflicted sober-sides: proud of his fighting skills and the renown they bring him, yet fed-up with endlessly winning battles for vainglorious chicken-hawks like Agamemnon. He's gorgeous, but kind of a wet-blanket. 

It's a total bummer, then, that Agamemnon's plans to beat Troy into submission rely heavily on Achilles and his posse of Myrmidons leading the charge. Since Achilles doesn't like Agamemnon and Agamemnon doesn't like Achilles and, furthermore, Achilles doesn't think a runaway wife is worth all the fuss Agamemnon (and bro Menelaus) are whipping up, it's going to be tough sledding getting him to sign-up. 

Enter Odysseus (the future Ned Stark of "Game of Thrones" Sean Bean). He finds Achilles relaxing at his bachelor pad in the company of his pouty cousin Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund), a young warrior in training. Odysseus knows of Achilles' disinterest in the conflict being planned, but he also understands what truly motivates him--and it isn't sunshine or goodness. Therefore, Odysseus proclaims that "this war will be talked about for ages" and says participating will bring Achilles even more glory than he already enjoys. Still not on board 100%, Achilles agrees to think about it and get back to Odysseus. Then the mighty warrior goes off to chat with his mom, Thetis (the uncredited, but still magnificent Julie Christie).

Thetis tells her son he only has two choices: go into battle with the Greeks and become a famous--albeit-- dead hero or stay home, get married, have some kids and die a contented nobody. Want to guess what Achilles ultimately decides to do?

Now, you are probably wondering what's happened to those crazy kids Helen and Paris, whose adulterous antics created this mess. Well, Hector, Paris and Helen arrive in Troy to a joyous welcome. Wise old King Priam (Peter O'Toole in shoulder pads and a Billy Ray Cyrus mullet) greets everyone graciously, commenting on how cute Helen is ("For once the gossips were right!") and offering comfy rooms. Hector's wife Andromache (Saffron Burrows) shows off their baby son and gives hubby a big fat kiss. Then cousin Briseis (Rose Bryne) enters, announcing that she's now a vestal virgin in the temple of Apollo. Everybody seems happy, believing that the sun god will protect Troy, as he always has.

"Will your husband be joining us soon?": King Priam (Peter O'Toole) greets returning sons Paris and Hector and new daughter-in-law Helen.

Unfortunately, Apollo has other things on his "To Do" list and safe-guarding Troy isn't one of them. So imagine the Trojans collective surprise when Achilles, with his posse of Myrmidons and the Greek army in tow, show up on their shores ready to rumble. The invading soldiers sack Apollo's temple and hack its priests to death; later on, Achilles whacks off the head of the sun god's statue just for kicks. Then the Greeks pitch their tents outside Troy's fabled walls and prepare to wait its citizens out.

The invading forces have come well supplied with sub-plots, which they will use to beat the Trojans (and the audience) into submission. For the sake of brevity (and sanity) here is a run down of the major sub-plots that will eventually bring Troy (and the movie) to its doom:

The "Please Don't Fight Anymore/Can't We Move In With My Mother?" sub-plot involving Hector and wife Andromache, who wants hubby to quit the military, stay home with her and make more babies.

The "I Don't Want A Warrior/I Want A Husband" sub-plot, in which Helen begs Paris not to fight Menelaus outside Troy's gates. That's because she knows Menelaus will boot Paris' hinder up between his shoulder blades (which he does).

The "This Isn't The War I Signed Up For" sub-plot, where Achilles realizes Agamemnon is a big fibber who wants to conquer Troy for himself, not to avenge Spartan honor or strike a blow for men's rights.

The future ex-husband of Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie: Brad Pitt as Achilles.

The "Woman Of Peace/Man Of War" subplot, where vestal virgin Briseis is handed over to Achilles as a "thank you present" from his men. The spunky temple maid grows on Achilles, who promptly quits the war when Agamemnon claims Briseis for himself. Even worse, Agamemnon announces he'll make her give him a bath. EWW!

The "Switcheroo" sub-plot, where it appears Achilles has changed his mind and leads his Myrmidons into battle. Surprise, surprise, it turns out to be Patroclus, who slipped into his cousin's battle armor when nobody was looking. Thus, when Hector slays "Achilles" and it turns out to be Patroclus, it provides a valuable lesson: war is not the time to play dress-up.

The "Eye For An Eye" sub-plot, which finds Achilles vowing to kill Hector for killing Patroclus. Briseis begs Achilles not to do this because Hector is a good egg. Achilles kills Hector anyway.

The "Sad King In Disguise" sub-plot, in which King Priam sneaks into the Greek camp dressed as a dowdy peasant and begs Achilles to release Hector's body so he can give his son a proper funeral. The warrior agrees and even tosses in Briseis free of charge.

The "And You Thought Mr. Ed Was Sneaky" sub-plot, where the wily Greeks build a king-sized horse, leave it outside Troy's gates and then head for home--only they don't! Instead, the Greeks hide inside the horse--I don't want to know how they handled the bathroom situation--and wait till the gullible citizens of Troy push the pony into town square and party down. Around midnight, the Greeks burst out of the horse, throw open the city gates and proceed to merrily slaughter the hysterical residents of Troy. Buildings burn, people scream, temples topple, blood flows, and Achilles runs around trying to find Briseis.

My Pretty Pony: The citizens of Troy joyously accept the Greek's equine gift and party like its 1999 BC.

Of course, you know how this all ends: Troy lays in ruins, Achilles is shot through the heel and dies, what's left of the Trojan royal family (including Helen) escapes into the wilderness and poor Odysseus, anxious to get back to the wife and kids, endures a lengthy sea voyage that is chronicled in The Odyssey.

 Or, rather, that is how director Petersen decided "Troy" would end. In Homer's The Iliad, events took a far nastier turn. In fact, the historical (and literary) inaccuracies in "Troy" are for more interesting than the flick itself. According to Dr. James Holoka (a professor of Foreign Languages and History at Eastern Michigan University), Achilles was already dead when the Trojan Horse was unveiled: Andromache, Hector's wife, was captured and enslaved and their son was brutally killed; pouty Patroclus was actually older than Achilles and was not his cousin; Brseis did not kill Agamemnon, his wife Clytemnestra handled that chore; Menelaus wasn't offed by Hector; and. most importantly, Menelaus did get Helen back, they reconciled and later had some kids. Other interesting tidbits: coins couldn't have been put over the dead's eyes because they hadn't been invented yet; it was Alexander the Great who unified Greece, not Agamemnon; Menelaus was actually out of town when Helen ran off with Paris; brave Hector actually ran away from Achilles (three times!) before their final battle and Helen, after learning of Paris' death, took up with another Trojan named Deiphobus. (If you are interested in reading more about this subject, check out "Troy: Hollywood vs. Homer" at

I know, I know, when a famous book is made into a movie, the producers often have to cut away meaty chunks of the text to fit the demands of the silver screen. However, in the case of "Troy", the screenwriters didn't just trim here and there with a sharp knife; they used a buzz-saw. The end result was a soapy stew of cardboard characters mouthing platitudes, while totally missing the deeper meaning of the source material. Even worse, viewers were forced to endure Josh Groban warbling an awful theme song--"Remember", which, by the way, nobody remembers--as if they hadn't suffered enough.

So, movie lovers, here is proof, once again, that Junk Cinema isn't always made by earnest yet incompetent amateurs who lack talent, money, taste, experience and working sound equipment. Talented professionals, given gobs of cash and big name stars, are just as capable of creating a cinematic suppository that would make Edward D. Wood, Jr and Ray Dennis Steckler proud.

Therefore, until next time, beware of Greeks baring gifts, stay away from other men's wives, and remember that immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be. But above all, help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

"Burning Down the House": movie critics were just a merciless to "Troy" as the Greeks were to Troy.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

How Do You Solve A Problem Like "Sylvia"?

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

A hardy hail and hello to you, movie lovers.

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


Well, let me introduce you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

Because It Is Bitter And Because It Is My Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I pity the people who can't or won't.