Thursday, December 16, 2010

Love Sick

Hello, movie lovers! It has been a long time between blog postings, hasn't it?Please don't think I have been ignoring you or have given up on saving Junk Cinema from extinction. No way! It's just that I have been very busy teaching Kindergarten and just haven't had the time to post the columns that have been rattling around in my brain.

Until now.

But enough about me. Let's get down to business, shall we? As you have probably guessed from the title above, today's topic is love. Or, to be more precise, love stories. But instead of "An Affair to Remember", we're going to focus on a collection of cinematic romances that--like 99% of the world's blind dates--ended up being disastrous for everyone involved. So, if you like your dialogue over the top, your plot contrivances ridiculous and your acting embarrassingly awful--and, really, who doesn't?--then pop one of these flicks into your DVD/VCR, hand out the vomit bags and watch the fun!

"Parnell"(1937)--Sporting mutton-chop sideburns and a here one minute/gone the next Irish accent, Clark Gable portrays Charles Stewart Parnell, the champion of Irish Home Rule, in what one critic proudly proclaimed was "probably the worst biopic ever made."

The fun begins when Stew falls in love with Kitty O'Shea (Myrna Loy), the abused wife of a political opponent. The couple meet at the opera and Gable is so instantly smitten with his kitten that he declares, "Have you never felt there might be someone, somewhere, who, if you could meet them, was the person that you'd been always meant to meet?"

Uh, no.

Katie, meanwhile, laps up Stew's flowery vomit and they fall in love. However, she does inject a note of levity to the proceedings after Parnell states that "ours could be a great love story" by reminding him that "great love stories are always unhappy ones."

"Then I hope ours won't be great," Stew replies.

He gets his wish.

Hovering in the background of this Gaelic Harlequin Romance is Katie's no-good-nick husband. When he gets wind of the affair, he demands Stew give him a cushy government job to keep quiet. Parnell refuses and hubby retaliates by filing for divorce--and names Stew as "the other man"! Needless to say, Parnell's humble Irish supporters react with horror to the ensuing scandal and "the uncrowned King of Ireland" is driven from office.

On the plus side, Stew and Katie do get married(off-screen, a fact the movie fails to mention). On the down side, Parnell kicks the bucket shortly thereafter. But before he goes, viewers are treated to Gable's death scene, where he tells a weepy Loy, "You'll have to teach me all the things that are expected of me. It'll be strange to say 'my wife.' I'll have to practice..." ( poor dope doesn't realize that they are already married).

To promote this slop, MGM came up with an unusual ad campaign: two boxing gloves with the tag line "Sock coming!" Sadly, the flick was a flop. Gable's fans, moreover, were deeply unimpressed with his romantic husband bit. One irate fellow even scolded MGM for letting Gable appear in such a wretched picture in the first place: "Let others play historical figures," the fan lectured, "Gable is cut out for roles where he gets tough with women."

This guy must have been thrilled, no doubt, when Gable portrayed the rascally Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind" and made cinematic history when he cussed out Vivien Leigh at the end of the movie.

"Bird of Paradise"(1951)--What would you do to prove your love? Scale the highest mountain? Sail across the stormy sea? Donate a kidney?

In "Bird of Paradise", Princess Kahlua (Debra Paget) walks over a bed of hot coals to prove she and Princeton student Andre (Louis Jourdan) are meant to be together.

 When she doesn't burn her tootsies ("I did not feel the fire"), the tribal elders allow the Polynesian princess and her beau (actually the college roommate of her brother Prince Tenga, played by Jeff Chandler) to get hitched. After a lavish island wedding, the honeymooners frolic for a bit and then things turn sour.

See, the tribal gods (supported by "The Big Kahuna" Maurice Schwartz) disapprove of mixed marriages and threaten to destroy Kahlua's island paradise. What's to be done? Someone has to throw themselves into the neighborhood volcano to make things right, of course.

Gosh, who will that be?

Based on a stage play from 1912, "Bird of Paradise" gave critics and audiences plenty of reasons to snicker, especially over its casting. Blue-eyed and fair skinned Debra Paget as Princess Kahlua "never resembles anything more than a cute trick at a bathing beauty contest at Hollywood High" carped one critic. Even crazier was the casting of Maurice Schwartz as the tribal witch doctor. A vet of New York's Yiddish Art Theater, Maurice gets to scowl and roll his eyes and rage at Jourdan, "Zis whit one brinks evil wit him!" Not until Laurence Olivier (!) fumed at Neil Diamond in "The Jazz Singer" remake in 1980 "I heff no zon!" had a respected professional debased himself so publicly.

On a happier note, for Junk Cinema fans at least, "Bird of Paradise" was honored by "The Son of Golden Turkey Awards" with their highly coveted "Most Awkward Marriage Proposal" award. What clinched it, of course, was Kahlua's fire walking.

"A Place for Lovers"(1969)--Faye Dunaway is an American fashion designer vacationing in Italy. Marcello Mastroianni is an Italian inventor. They meet, he pinches her fanny, they fall in love and have lots of sex. So what's the problem?

The problem is Faye is dying of an Incurable Illness and has no business cavorting in the sheets in her weakened condition. In fact, she's an escapee from a hospital! When a busybody friend informs Marcello of Dunaway's dire condition, Faye gets miffed and takes off. Faithful Marcello tracks her down, prevents Faye from committing suicide (something the movie does in a matter of seconds) and vows to stay by her side until the end.

This simple narrative, however, can't begin to describe how truly rancid "A Place for Lovers" is. In fact, the flick is best remembered today for the heaps of critical scorn it received from irate film reviewers. To wit:

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

"The five script writers who supposedly worked on this film must have spent enough time at the water cooler to flood a camel", groused Time.

"'A Place for Lovers'" involves Faye Dunaway, Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorvio DeSica in what I sincerely hope is the worst movie of their respective careers," carped Roger Greenspan of The New York Times.

"Marcello Mastroianni looks embarrassed and befuddled, also a bit puffy, as if he had his nap interrupted or had tarried too long at the pasta," snipped Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times.

In an interesting side note, Dunaway and Mastroianni had a off screen affair while making this picture. Just like their movie, it was a dud.

In an even more interesting side note, "Bucket of Bloods" Herschel Gordan Lewis is credited as one of the film's producers!

"Love Story"(1970)--Love means never having to say you're sorry?

Wanna bet?

In this turgid tear jerker, Ali McGraw is a poor smart ass and Ryan O'Neal is a rich preppy jerk. Of course, they are perfect for each other. His WASP parents hit the roof when they announce plans to marry and cut Ryan off without a red cent. Not to fear, the plucky couple work odd jobs, graduate on time and then Ryan is eventually hired at a fancy pants law firm.

Happily ever after? Not on your tin type. Suddenly Ali contracts, well, uh, geez, the movie never tells us. Cancer? Ebola? The Plague? Your guess is as good as mine. Whatever she has, though, McGraw looks great with her hair spread out decoratively on her pillow like Ophelia floating downstream in "Hamlet". O'Neal, on the other hand, sniffles and sweats bullets over his dear one's predicament while changing into to nifty ensemble after the next. They must not have had the same stylist.

"Love Story" was a mega-hit and the leads actually earned Oscar nominations(!) for their junior high school play acting. However, the whole thing is so phony and manipulative you can't wait for Ali to croak just so she'll shut up.

Believe it or not, "Love Story" was the highlight of Ali's acting career, a sorry exercise that includes such bombs as "Players", "Convoy" and the TV mini-series "The Winds of War, Part One" (she was replaced in "Part Two" by Jane Seymour).

"Hurricane"(1979)--It is a proven fact of movie life that remakes of classic, hit and/or foreign films are universally bad. If a film has been done the right way to the satisfaction of all involved, why remake it? Why not do something new and original? But noooo...

Thus Hollywood has tortured ticket buyers with "A Star is Born" starring Babs Streisand, "Breathless" with Richard Gere, "Where the Boys Are" with Lisa Hartman(before she was Mrs. Clint) Black, "Psycho" with Vince Vaughn and this water logged remake of the 1930's Dorothy LaMour classic.

This version posits Mia Farrow as the governor's daughter of some South Seas island paradise and Dayton Ka'ne as the local homeboy hunk. Of course these two fall in FORBIDDEN LOVE complicated by the fact that Ka'ne is pledged to another (but I bet you already knew that). Deeply troubled by his cross cultural feelings, Dayton pants at Farrow, "If the gods had meant me for another, then why, why did they send you?!"

Before Farrow can answer, a big hurricane comes along and washes everything out to sea, especially Mr. Ka'ne, who was never seen on the silver screen again.

Farrow made "Hurricane" during her Down Years, when she popped up in some truly odd movies. Of course, by 1979 making movies was the least of Farrow's concerns. After all, this was a gal who had already married and divorced Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn, had been kicked off TV's "Peyton Place", made "Rosemary's Baby" and was aggressively adopting kids. Unlike her co-star, Farrow's career was eventually resurrected by Woody Allen, but it proved a hollow victory: Allen would eventually dump Mia to marry her daughter becoming, in effect, her ex-boyfriend turned son-in-law.


"Dying Young"(1991)--Julia Roberts is packin' 'em in at the theaters with "Eat Pray Love", so it's just as good a time as any to remind folks that, along with her hits, Roberts has had her misses--like this cutesy, goofy tear jerker produced by her "Steele Magnolias" co-star Sally Field.

Rich, handsome, educated Campbell Scott (son of George C) is battling cancer. Thus, he needs a care taker to help with his daily needs--an attractive care taker, mind you. In saunters blue collar Julia, freshly dumped by her no-good-nick boyfriend and endlessly nagged by her Home Shopping Club addicted ma. Although Roberts has zero nursing skills (though she was a hospital volunteer), she gets the job anyway. Remember, Scott wanted somebody cute to look at during his illness, not Florence Nightingale (who was an excellent nurse, but no looker in real life).

Before this mis-matched couple can fall in love, they have to partake in some contrived scenes and trade cutie-pie dialogue, which guarantees that Scott won't be the only one throwing up.

Don't believe me?

Scott, an art history expert, can name the styles and builders around various LA landmarks. Not to be out done, Julia recognizes an important landmark herself: "Ronald McDonald, 1986!" she chirps. Later, the duo eat out at a snooty restaurant and Julia turns up her nose at the fancy food. "My mother always said,'You don't have to like everything, but you do have to try everything,'" Scott counsels her. Quips Julia, "My mother always said, 'Pass the Velveeta!'"

Finally, the couple GIVE INTO THEIR FEELINGS and FALL IN LOVE. Because Julia is on Campbell's payroll, this makes her uncomfortable. So what does Scott tell Julia to calm her fears? "I have only one thing to give you: my heart."


Campbell is delighted one day to announce his cancer is in remission. Now he and Julia can frolic like puppies for a while. The only problem is that, well, Scott doesn't seem to be cured. And he's not. In fact, he stopped doing chemo wasn't attacking the cancer? His insurance refused to pay for his treatment? He had grown allergic to the medicine? He could no longer handle the side-effects? No. Nope. None of the above. Instead, he stopped the chemo because he... wanted Julia to see him with hair. Yes, this dope jeopardized his very life so his gal pal wouldn't be embarrassed by the sight of his cue ball noggin. Never mind that Scott looks better bald than some men do with a full head of hair, so his ROMANTIC SACRIFICE is worthless--and just plain dumb, too.

Look, people in movies do lots of stupid things for love, but this takes the cake. Scott's motives had movie critics crying foul and audiences avoiding the movie in droves--except, of course, for Junk Cinema fans, who delight in this kind of insulting silliness.

So what do all these love sick movies say about the world around us? Plenty!

A)The best love stories always end with someone dying--so much for happily ever after.

B)Opposites may attract, but they repel everyone else.

C)Natural disasters can spoil a perfectly good make-out session.


D)Love does mean having to say you're sorry--very, very sorry--over and over again!