Sunday, December 11, 2011

Turn Down the Volume, I Can't See: Another Peek Into the Junk Cinema Song Book

Just recently I was at an established retail outlet, minding my own bees wax, when all of a sudden my ears were assaulted with a stabbing, piercing pain. It reverberated through my brain and then traveled down to my stomach, where it set off waves of nausea. Eventually I doubled over in agony, as if punched in the gut by a 200 pound gorilla.

What caused this episode?

The store's PA system was blaring "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby", the violently toxic "love ballad" sung (if you can call it that) by David Soul, the blond half of the iconic '70's cop show "Starsky and Hutch".

Junk Cinema has a proud history of embracing the best of filmdom's worst, but it also has a soft spot for wretched music--and you don't get more wretched than this inexplicable chart-topper from Soul's 1977 album "Black Bean Soup."

After recovering from hearing David's one-hit wonder (and forcing myself not to insist customer service to fire the jerk who programmed that tune into their system), I decided it was time to crack open a new page of the Junk Cinema Song Book and revisit the ditties that make us ask the musical question, "Who wrote that piece of (add your own expletive)!"

In the case of "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby", the guilty party is a chump named Tom Macaulay, although Soul should take equal blame for his horrible vocals. The gist of the tune is David pleading with his wife/girlfriend not to leave him, reasoning, "The future isn't just one night." This leaves one to believe the couple's problems are based on:

A) The man's inability to perform in the sack, which caused the female to storm off in a huff.


B) The gal's inability to perform in the sack, which caused her to run off in shame or embarrassment.

Either way, this tune is simply beneath contempt, especially when Soul warbles, "We can still pull throu-ou-ou-gh" and his voice cracks. Indeed, a major part of the surreal weirdness of this song is that Dave's vocals are surprisingly thin and whiny; he might have played a bad ass, rule breakin' cop on TV, but when he sang, he sounded like Tiny Tim.

"Don't Give Up On Us, Baby" is rarely played anywhere but the blandest of "adult contemporary" and "soft rock" stations, where Neil Diamond's "Heartlight" and Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart" are on heavy rotation. However, instead of languishing in Easy Listening Hell, it occurred to me that this tune could be of benefit to our country.

See, instead of water boarding enemy combatants (which Dick Cheney enjoys so much), we should just force them to listen to this song. By the second or third playing, the no-good-nicks will crack like wall nuts. Try it and see!

Next up is an equally revolting ditty from the '70's group Bread titled "Baby, I'm-a Want You."

No, you are not seeing things and, yes, that is the correct spelling of the tune.

A mere recitation of the lyrics and an in-depth analysis of this song's meaning can't begin to do justice to the sheer insanity of this particular piece of mu-zack.

Basically, "Baby, I'm-a Want You" is another plea from a desperate guy for his girl not to dump him. When you consider the tunes Bread regularly cranked out in their storied career ( "I Want to Make it With You", "Diary", the theme of Neil Simon's "Goodbye Girl", for starters), this is par for the course; all their tunes are about some guy pleading for his gal-pal not to dump him.

However, what makes this particular "please don't dump me" lament is writer/lead singer/guilty party David Gates' decision to add an "a" on the end of "I am". Thus, listeners are treated to such verbal flights of fancy as "Baby, I'm-a want you", "Baby, I'm-a need you", "maybe I'm-a prayin'" and "maybe I'm-a crazy" (Maybe he's-a crazy?!).

Why Gates decided to do this has been lost to history. It certainly doesn't improve the song. And, thank goodness, it didn't inspire other groups to monkey with the language in similar, nonsensical ways. Perhaps as a sensitive artist, Dave just "felt" this odd semantic choice "worked" for his tune. Whatever motivated him, it merely turned up the annoying quotient, which for Bread, was always pretty high anyway. Mix in Gates' whiny, high-pitched tenor that regularly soars into dog whistle territory and you have one musical torture test.

And just to prove there is no accounting for taste, "Baby I'm-a Want You" has been "covered" by various artists, ranging from Shirley "Gold Finger" Bassey and Englebert Humperdink.

But wait! There's more! Believe it or not, in what must be a Junk Cinema Song Book first, the worst rendition of "Baby, I'm-a Want You" was not even performed by Bread. That dubious discredit belongs to '70's teen actress Kristy McNichol, who warbled this tune on her brother Jimmy McNichol's TV variety special. Later on, Kristy and Jimmy would perform the whitest version ever of "Enjoy Yourself" by the Jackson 5 on "The Mike Douglas Show."

Of course, when discussing the relative value of certain musical monstrosities you cannot over look the giant cesspool that is "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)."

Written and sung by Rupert Holmes, "Escape" manages to celebrate swinging, answering dubious personal ads, running off with strangers, drinking and traditional monogamy all at the same time.

For those fortunate few who have not heard this song, the plot of "Escape" concerns a jerk in a long term relationship who had "grown tried of his lady." One night "as she lay sleepin'", the said jerk happens upon a personal ad that piques his interest. He responds to it, bragging that he likes "Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain." He's also "not into health food; I am into champagne." Most notoriously of all, the jerk asks if "you like making love at mid-night in the dunes of the Cape", you should meet him "at a bar called O'Malley's/where we'll plan our escape."

Believe it or not, someone actually answers this ad and the jerk excitedly rushes over to meet them. Unfortunately, the respondent is not a psycho with multiple personalities who scans the personal ads for Pina Colada drinkers that they enjoy leading on and then killing in a variety of inventively gruesome ways, but his "own lovely lady."

Ha, ha, it's a surprise ending! Get it?!

Suddenly realizing how much he loves "his lady", the jerk abandons all plans to run off with a stranger and vows not to take his relationship or his partner for granted anymore. The end. Now, everybody drink up!

Perhaps the most irritating part of this song is the overly high opinion the personal ad responding jerk holds of himself. He seems to view himself as a romantic, classy guy with his love of champagne, running in rainstorms and making whoopskie in Cape Cod, rather than, say, some cracker arranging a meeting at McDonald's for a Happy Meal and then proposing a quickie at the nearest Motel 6.

But he's really just a bored jerk out for a little no-strings fun, without or without the champagne.

Finally, it is the irony of ironies that Rupert Holmes, the man responsible for this song, hates "Escape" more than anybody else. A Tony and Grammy winner, as well as the creator of the AMC original series "Remember WENN", Holmes believes the tune has over shadowed his other achievements.

What's more, he doesn't even like Pina Coladas!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dance With Devil, Expect To Get Pricked By His Horns: A Bad Movies Editorial

Whether you like it or not, the 13Th season of ABC's reality show/gravy train/collective IQ dropper "Dancing With The Stars" will be upon us soon and, yes, Chazz Bono, the program's first transgendered cast member, will be there.

No doubt, ABC is counting on the controversy to drive the show's ratings through the roof and give them reams of free publicity. The Suits at the network are businessmen, after all, and it's not your high toned Shakespearean adaptations that bring in the viewers.

However, over shadowed by all the hubbub of Bono's participation is a contestant who's presence on this bi- annual cheese-fest should give people more reason to pause:

Nancy Grace.

Yes, Nancy Grace.

The fire breathing Grace can be found Monday through Friday on HLN dispensing opinions, advice and perspective on the major legal issues/cases of the day. She's no Clarence Darrow, and her critics are legion, but her cable perch has turned her into one of the country's best known legal analysts.

Sober, thoughtful jurisprudence is not Nancy's style. Each segment of her show is pitched at ear shattering decibels and Grace isn't shy about letting the viewers at home know which side she's on or how she'd handle the case if given the chance.

Guests foolish enough to be interviewed by Nancy are often pounded mercilessly into pulp. Grace especially seems to have it in for clueless chumps like Jon Gosselin, who Nancy memorably grilled during his struggles with estranged wife Kate during his (admittedly long delayed) efforts to rein in the effects of reality TV on his kids.

Fixing Gosselin with a look of regal hauteur that would do Queen Mary proud, Nancy repeatedly dismissed the father of eight's parental concerns with a stony "I don't buy it". Then she waved him off the air, implying, "Be, gone! You no longer amuse me."

On a more serious note, Grace was accused of sensationalizing the Casey Anthony trial and famously opined that "The devil is dancing tonight" when the woman she dubbed "Tot Mom" walked away free.

Besides dispensing legal acumen, Grace regularly fields questions about parenting, discipline and shoring up the family unit whenever she makes guest appearances on other programs. She's probably no more or less out of her depth on these issues than any other TV chatterbox, but Grace's legal degree and career as a prosecutor give her a patina of authority and expertise that, bless their hearts, Tyra Banks or Sharon Osbourne just don't have.

Which makes her participation in "DWTS" such a puzzler.

The stated appeal of this show is watching America's "favorite stars" cut a rug on TV. From its inception, "DWTS" has struggled mightily to prove that its featured "stars" are indeed "stars"--especially when the likes of MTV's Steve-O, Priscilla Presley, self promoting "reality royals", former sitcom actors, soap opera hunks and a clutch of singers who've been absent of late from the Top Ten dominate the cast list, while Julia Roberts and Richard Gere are nowhere to be found.

Furthermore, most of these "stars" were probably swayed to join "DWTS" because of the money ($130,000 or thereabouts just for signing up, regardless of how long you last) and the promise of career rehab than a deep love of dancing to awful cover tunes.

But Nancy doesn't need the money or the exposure. She's a serious person, a voice of authority and not a tabloid train wreck.

So why participate in such a tacky travesty, especially when doing so could hurt her cherished reputation as a learned, legal mind?

Maybe Nancy's agents felt appearing on "DWTS" would soften her hard as nails image. Maybe she's a big fan of the show and has always dreamed of tripping the light fantastic to "Sugar Shack" or "Rock Around the Clock". Maybe the "DWTS" people felt having a brainiac like Nancy on the roster would soaked up some of the cheese grease usually provided by the likes of "The Situation". Or, in the words of "DWTS" alumni Tom "The Hammer" DeLay,"Conservatives like to have fun, too."

Perhaps. Yet you can't help wondering if Nancy ever stopped to consider the former lawmaker's appearance on "DWTS" was before she signed on the dotted line herself.

DeLay's attempts to shake his hinder to "Wild Thing" caused the nation's collective jaw to drop. Karl Rove was aghast. Even the indulgent Fox News threw up its collective hands in dismay. Neither DeLay's public image nor his political reputation were enhanced; instead, the one time Capital Hill power broker found himself the butt of senility jokes. It was an ugly, ugly scene.

If she's not careful, Nancy could find herself picking up where Tom left off and then some.

Why? Because you can't have it both ways.

You can't tart yourself up like a Vegas show girl and shimmy to "The Copacabana" and turn right around and dissect oral arguments without something--like your professional reputation--suffering in the process. Maybe a self-promoting "reality royal" could pull it off, but you expect more from a legal expert.

And that they would expect more from themselves.

The only people who really benefit (if that's the word) from dabbling in reality TV are those with nothing to lose: show boating heiresses, social climbing housewives, self-involved ladies men and nut cases short on marketable job skills. Because their reputations were so dubious to begin with, if they made utter nincompoops of themselves on national TV, nobody cared.

But Tom DeLay was a nationally known politician, not cast member of "Jackass". Tucker Carlson, another "DWTS" alumni, was a well-known conservative commentator, not a member of the Kardashian family. After these gentlemen tripped the light fantastic on "DWTS", any professional standing they had was in shreds.

Grace would be advised to take note. She may get to have some fun, she may even collect that ugly Mirror Ball Trophy. But if she believes her credibility as a legal eagle will remain unblemished after debasing herself on "DWTS", she's in for a rude awakening.

Just ask Tom DeLay and Tucker Carlson.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Porno Sheik

Elvis Presley made 31 films in his storied career and each one was worst than the last. While none of Elvis' movies ever lost money at the box office, they never the less plumbed new depths in sheer idiocy, bad taste and wasted talent.

Elvis had charisma, sex appeal and could really bust a move. With the right scripts and direction, Elvis could have had a decent movie career. As it stands, no one except Jennifer Aniston has made more rotten movies than Elvis and still retained "A List" status.

In the end, it was a testament to the loyalty of The King's fans that they kept showing up at the drive-in to watch his latest exercise in cinematic insanity.

Which naturally begs the question, Which Elvis flick is the worst of the worst? In a career that includes "Clambake", "Kissin' Cousins", "Spin Out" and "A Change of Habit", how do you choose?

I could use a complicated cinematic algorithm to the divine the "winner" or consult the reviews of learned critics or just pick a title out of a hat. Instead, I chose the one Presley flick that never fails to make my jaw drop and my eyes pop: "Harem Scarum" from 1965.

This film is guilty by reason of insanity. It takes an unbelievable premise--that foreign baddies believe a movie star is a top flight assassin--and stretches it to the breaking point. Then it piles on the bad jokes, racist stereotypes, horrible dialogue, clumsy fight scenes and obvious plot points until the whole rickety contraption sits on your head and crushes your skull.

Wackiest of all, whenever the action flags, Elvis breaks into song--a lot. In prison, in a harem, in the market place, hiding out from the cops, it doesn't matter. Elvis sings and sings and sings to the point where it gets really, really annoying. And when Elvis sings and it gets on your nerves, you know something is very, very wrong.

Instead of being a pineapple heir, water skiing instructor, race car driver, G.I., back woods hick or a doctor running a free clinic "In The Ghetto", "Harem Scarum" casts Elvis as Johnny Tyronne, America's top singing movie star/action hero. He's on a Middle Eastern goodwill tour, where he's premiering his latest flick "Sands of the Desert" and warbling his newest hit "Go East Young Man" for a crowd of dignitaries.

Sitting among the elite are Prince Dragna (Michael Ansara, all purpose meanie) and his flinty gal pal Aishah (Fran Jefferies). They believe Johnny and his movie alter ego are one in the same and thus convince him to visit the country of "Lunarkland" for a little R&R. Elvis, who obviously has the hots for Aishah, agrees.

Camping out under the desert moon, Aishah and Elvis get all kissy face, sip some hooch and then Presley promptly passes out. Aishah (who dresses like Diana Rigg from "The Avengers") has slipped the singer a Mickey, all the better to kidnap him. Not that Presley minds. See, he's holed up in a harem where he's surrounded by a bevy of belly dancers who enthusiastically attend to his every need. The man from Memphis only gets uppity when he's presented to "Sinan, Lord of the Assassins" and made an offer he has every intention of refusing: kill kindly King Toranshah (Phillip Reed) or die!

Elvis manages to give these baddies the slip with the help of a chap named Zachra (Jay Novello), a sneaky double dealer who rolls his eyes and constantly tries to fleece Elvis for money. A far more pleasant companion is Princess Shallimar (Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America 1959), the king's daughter. She and Elvis meet up when he stumbles into her garden while being chased by palace guards. Pretending to be a slave girl named Yanni, the princess agrees to help Elvis, which causes him to break out into a gooey love ballad.

Visiting the town market place, Elvis sees the troupe of performers Zachra "manages". Sensing their act could use a little help, Elvis jumps in and belts out "Shake That Tambourine". The crowd goes wild, which allows midget Billy Barty the opportunity to pickpocket the bystanders. Soon enough, bumbling cops arrive and everybody scatters. Hiding out with the troupe (which also includes two cute orphans), Elvis learns the performers want to be free of Zachra (who they call "The Root of All Evil") and want Presley to buy them instead. He offers to work something out.

Meanwhile, Princess Shallimar gets all mopey for Elvis. She even fantasizes that he sings her another drippy love ballad while gazing at a reflecting pool. Unfortunately, the real Elvis is once again nabbed by Aishah. To ensure he will indeed off the king, she threatens to kill the orphans. What's a movie star to do?

The whole thing is just so stupid you can't believe it--or maybe you can. Anyway, during "Harem Scarum"s production, Elvis' Svengali Col. Tom Parker thought the film needed more laughs, so he suggested they add a talking camel to the cast. No dice. Elvis, on the other hand, thought the movie was suppose to be more serious in tone and was disappointed that the flick was marketed as a "spoof". But, really, no amount of cheap gags or rewrites could have saved this movie; it's beyond redemption. Even the ending-- Elvis headlining a Middle Eastern-themed stage show, Zarcha's dancing girls swishing away and those two cute orphans apparently adopted by the king--makes you cringe. On second thought, maybe a talking camel would have been a good idea...

Another element that contributes to "Harem Scarum"s over all rancidness is the film's toxic double bill of racism and sexism.

Although the film is set in the Middle East, all the Arabs on screen are portrayed as backward, dishonest and uncivilized. Even King Toranshah, a good guy, is seen as a misguided reactionary: he has deliberately kept his country cut off from the rest of the world to keep those pesky infidels from corrupting the populace. The civilizing presence of Elvis changes all that, of course, and the film ends with the king enjoying Presley's stage show and allowing Shallimar to dress in western clothes. His world view suitably enlarged, I'm sure King Toranshah will even allow that American oil company to come in and start drilling.

As bad as things are for Arabs in this movie, women have it even worse.

True, chicks in Elvis flicks exist merely to drool over The King. However, the females in "Harem Scarum" are universally presented as submissive, passive playthings who live only to serve men. Even the hard as nails Aishah calls her boss "master". There is not one female in this flick who is smart, independent or articulate. Although this flick was made in 1965, the sexism is still pretty jarring for a "spoof".

The only fun element in the film is the terribly tawdry acting of the cast. Elvis, who appears to have been dipped in Quick Tanning Syrup, is stiff and pouty as Johnny Tyronne; you get the feeling he'd rather be anywhere else than in this movie. Michael Ansara purrs his lines and squints his eyes, so it's no surprise he's unmasked as the villain. Fran Jefferies, as bad girl Aishah, slinks around as if she were Theda Bara crossed with Emma Peel. Unfortunately, her wooden delivery renders her stiffer than Elvis. The worst performance, however, goes to Mary Ann Mobley as Princess Shallimar. We know she's the innocent virgin of the piece because A) her costumes don't show off her belly button and B) she's content to merely hold hands with Elvis, instead of slipping him the tongue like naughty Aishah. However, her barely disguised southern accent and over abundance of eye-liner make her the least believable Arab royal since Tony Curtis warbled "Yonda lies dah palace of my fadda" from "The Prince Who Was A Thief" in 1951.

Although Elvis didn't like the final cut of "Harem Scarum", there was one aspect of this dreadful cinematic dog that he did like: his costumes. Those flashy harem pants he wore pleased The King so much, he took to wearing them around Graceland in his off hours. Their expandable waistlines no doubt came in handy when Elvis' diet of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches began to take a toll on his physique.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"The Mesa of Lost Women": The Worst Movie Ed Wood Did Not Direct

Edward D. Wood, Jr. is the greatest worst director in the history of American cinema, bar none.

"Plan 9 From Outer Space", "Jail Bait", "Bride of the Monster"...all of Ed's films are peerless examples of low rent inspired incompetency.

But while Ed was cranking out his treatises on suburban smut peddlers ("The Sinister Urge"), lovelorn cross dressers ("Glen or Glenda") and dangerous teenage deb gangs ("The Violent Years"), did he also find the time to crank out a south-of-the-boarder pot boiler starring Jackie Coogan and a cadre of deadly spider women?

Of course, I'm talking about "The Mesa of Lost Women", a hypnotically bad and hilariously inept monster movie from 1953 that bad film fanatics have insisted for decades was a lost Ed Wood "mess-terpiece".

Admittedly, "Mesa" does sport many hallmarks of Ed's unique style. By that I mean it's badly acted, has ultra cheap sets, boasts an opening prologue that makes no sense and features Wood leading ladies Delores Fuller ("Glen or Glenda") and Mona McKinnon ("Plan 9") as man devouring "spider women". But it doesn't end there! Lyle Talbot, another member of the Wood stock company, provides the flick's over-the-top narration! The nerve-jangling Flamenco soundtrack by Hoyt Curtin was from "Jailbait"! How much more proof do you need?!

Alas, in their 1986 tome The Son of the Golden Turkey Awards the Brothers Medved proved definitively that Ed Wood did not direct "The Mesa of Lost Women". Instead the (dis)credit must go to a mysterious fellow named Herbert Tevos and veteran exploitation hack Ron Ormand. It was these two gentlemen, working independently of each other, who created this supremely nutty flick--proving that, in this instance anyway, two heads were not better than one.

Like so many Junk Jewels, the back story of how "The Mesa of Lost Women" made it to the silver screen is as entertaining--and confusing--as the flick itself. To fully appreciate the ins and outs of its conception and production, I offer this handy cheat sheet:

  • Herbert Tevos, a mysterious and temperamental Hungarian with no previous film making experience, writes a script called "Tarantula".
  • Tevos begins directing the picture, now called "Lost Women of Zarpa", even though he's never directed a fly to an outhouse.
  • Tevos spends three weeks on the project, but is unable to fully realize his "vision" due to a lack of talent or a lack of money--probably both. Cast members claim Tevos was hard to work for, too.
  • Howco International, which planned on distributing the final film, instead shelves the project for an entire year.
  • Veteran hack Ron Ormand, who made Lash Larue westerns and weird-ass exploitation quickies, gets a hold of the Tevos footage. Because he has nothing better to do, he reassembles the cast, shoots for two weeks and then edits the old and new scenes together. The original title of "Tarantula" is changed to "Wild Girls of the Mesa", then to "The Lost Women" and finally to "The Mesa of Lost Women".
  • Tevos is credited as the film's screenwriter, but he and Ormand share "directing" credit.

Bad movie fanatics are divided on whether Ormand's new footage added to or detracted from Tevos' "vision". In fact, nobody is sure which scenes were shot by which director. In any case, "The Mesa of Lost Women" is so nutty that it's easy to see why people felt that only the late, great Ed Wood could create such a mess.

Now, about the movie: Find a comfortable chair. Pour yourself a cold drink. Put out the cat and take the phone off the hook. Settle in. This is going to take a while.

Our feature presentation begins with shots of the unforgiving Mexican desert and a couple stumbling around half dead. While we watch the couple stumbling, the unseen Lyle Talbot blathers on and on about "the monstrous assurance" of "puny bipeds" who have the gall to believe they "own the Earth!" Of course, in the "continuing war for survival" that rages between man and "the hexipods", only an idiot would "bet against the insect". Got that? Good. Furthermore, Lyle lectures, "Let a man or a woman venture from the well beaten path of civilization (they) encounter amazing, wondrous things! The unknown...and the terrible!"

Just like this movie!(rim shot).

Once Lyle's little soliloquy is over, we return to our hot, dusty, sun burnt couple, who have been saved by an oil company survey team and a local named Pepe. Recuperating in a medical tent, pilot Grant Phillips (Bob Knapp) hysterically begins recounting a horror story featuring a Dr. Aranya (Jackie Coogan), huge spiders, menacing midgets and deadly, dancing "spider women."

As Grant tells it, Dr. A is creating a super race by injecting tarantula juice into the pituitary glands of assorted female subjects. By doing so, the mad doctor has made himself a cadre of lethal ladies who favor flimsy nighties, king-size Lee Press-On Nails and rag mop dreadlocks. These gals are so tough that they can come back from the dead and grow back any limb you happen to hack off. It's Dr. Aranya's plan to rule the world with their help.

Just how happy Dr. A's creations are in their enhanced state is never explained. The girls can't talk, but they do click their nails together every now and then. Besides helping their creator in his lab, the spider women spend a lot of time at the local canteen, where they regularly perform kooky dance routines for the astonished patrons. Why? Well, that's never explained, either. My guess is the girls are sent by Dr. A to cut a rug and lure men back to his lab so he can inject them with tarantula juice. If that is indeed the case, this tactic has achieved decidedly mixed results: while the injected women become indestructible spider babies, the injected men become creepy looking midgets. The good doctor might want to fix that when he gets around to it.

Then one evening at the canteen, in wanders rich, stuffy Jan Van Croft (Nico Lek) and his pesty girlfriend Doreen (Mary Hill). They had been planning to fly to Mexico City to get hitched, but engine trouble has stranded them in the dusty little village where Dr. Aranya is conducting his experiments. And, yes, this is the same canteen where the spider women love to dance the night away. While our couple is enjoying a cocktail (and watching head spider girl Tandra Quinn perform a truly mental two step), a fellow by the name of Dr. Leland J. Masterson (Harmon Stevens) ambles in.

Who is he?

Well, I'll tell you: He was one of the country's leading endocrinologists until he met up with with Dr. A. When he objected to the doctor's crazy experiments, he was injected with "stupid serum" which turned him into a glassy eyed Stan Laurel clone. Now reduced to a complete idiot, poor Dr. Masterson stumbles around warning people about the strange goings-on at Dr. Aranya's place. Naturally, nobody believes him and the guy is locked up in a mental hospital for safekeeping. However, Masterson somehow manages to escape, grab a gun and hot foots it over to the canteen...with hospital attendant George (George Burrows) on his heels...which is where Jan Van Croft and his fiance meet up with him...and Masterson kidnaps them at gunpoint...after he shoots the spider woman Tandra.

Now, you may be asking, where does Grant Phillips--the guy recounting this story-- enter into all this? Well, he's the pilot of Van Croft's plane, the one with engine trouble, remember? With Masterson packing heat, everybody piles into the aircraft--including Van Croft's assistant Wu, who calls him "master"--and off they zoom into the wild blue yonder. But that engine trouble kicks in again and the plane crashes right in Dr. Aranya's backyard...which is just what the mad doctor wanted! See, Wu is in cahoots with Dr. A, who plans on turning Doreen into a spider woman and the rest of the guys into midgets. Meanwhile, a giant spider picks off attendant George, Wu has a change of heart, Van Croft dies (don't ask), Masterson regains his sanity and blows up Dr. Aranya's lab and Grant and Doreen escape into the desert...where they are found by the surveying team.


As you can see, "The Mesa of Lost Women" is one confusing, complicated movie. With mad scientists, giant spiders, spider women, killer midgets and unhinged endocrinologists all cavorting on screen, you can't help but think Herbert Tevos, who wrote the script, is either a genius or a crazy person or both.

I vote for both. However, Mr. Tevos is no position to defend either himself or his film because the guy has vanished from the face of the earth! Herb is not listed in connection with any other film ever made since 1953. Because of this, Ed Wood fans have insisted that "Herbert Tevos" was merely a stage name used by the Woodster. However, as noted earlier in this post, surviving cast members told the Brothers Medved back in '86 that Tevos was, indeed, a real person. Off his dot to be sure, but real.

So, after reading and watching and experiencing "The Mesa of Lost Women", what final thoughts can I leave with you to ponder? Plenty!

*"Aranya" is Spanish for spider.

*Jackie Coogan, who played Dr. Aranya, was a major child star during the silent era; he co-starred with Charlie Chaplin in "The Kid", among other efforts. He was also the inspiration for "The Coogan Laws", which decreed that parents of child actors were required by law to put half their kids' earnings into trust. By the time he made this flick, Coogan was on the comeback trail and would later win the role of "Uncle Fester" on "The Adams Family" TV show.

*George Burrows, who played the ill-fated hospital assistant George, was better known for his career as a gorilla in various low rent monster and jungle movies. In fact, "The Mesa of Lost Women" was one of George's few human roles. In the classic "Robot Monster", George not only played "Ro-Man", but his boss "The Great One". One of the reasons George was so in demand as a movie gorilla was because he had his own monkey suit.

*Robert Knapp, who played the hero Grant Phillips in the flick, is listed as both "Robert" and "Bob" in the credits.

*Cast member Allan Nixon previously appeared in "Prehistoric Women" (1950) as "Engor" before acting in this flick. What role did he play? Oh, watch the movie yourself to find out!

*The Son of Golden Turkey Awards voted "The Mesa of Lost Women" as the "Most Primitive Male Chauvinist Fantasy in Movie History".

*The film never explains how Dr. Aranya came to find his various spider women. The title says they were "Lost". How did they become so? Did he kidnap them, advertise on or what?

*The headache inducing soundtrack for "The Mesa of Lost Women" was created by Hoyt Curtin, who would later go on to create music for the classic cartoon series "The Flintstones".

*The midgets in this movie are even creepier than the midgets in "Phantasm"--and if you've ever seen "Phantasm", you know that's quite an accomplishment.

Although "The Mesa of Lost Women" is not an Ed Wood film, it comes as close to the real thing as possible.

Monday, June 6, 2011

We Don't Need Another Hero

In 1982, a big, beefy, buttery Austrian body builder named Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a fantasy/action/adventure picture called "Conan the Barbarian".

Despite a confusing story line and some bad '80's hair, "Conan" became a big hit and made zillions of dollars at the box office. "Conan"s success allowed Arnold to springboard into an international movie career, which included such artistic milestones as "Kindergarten Cop", "Total Recall", the "Terminator" series and "True Lies".

The fact that Arnold couldn't act his way out of a wet paper bag didn't seem to bother his loyal fans because, well, the guy was huge! He could crack walnuts with his butt checks! And while no one would confuse "Predator" with "Citizen Kane", all of Arnie's subsequent films were a vast improvement over his cinematic debut in 1970: "Hercules in New York" where he was billed as "Arnold Strong" and co-starred with the monumentally annoying Arnold Stang.

"Conan" recently appeared on AMC, a cable channel that has seen better days. The basic plot line was Conan wanting revenge on the baddies who killed his parents and sacked his village, which seems fair enough. Before he could do that, however, Conan was turned into a slave, then a gladiator and then he was sent free. Because Conan's job skills were limited to ripping people's arms out of their sockets, he became a thief. A sub plot had Conan hooking up with some other thieves to save a princess who has fallen in with a snake worshipping death cult, headed by James Earl Jones in some freaky hair extentensions.

I would say a good 40% of "Conan" was made up of Arnold walking somewhere, Arnold running somewhere, Arnold riding a horse somewhere, Arnold riding a camel somewhere and Arnold eating lots of chicken wings. To reward the patience of the gals who let their boyfriends drag them to this flick, "Conan"s producers later strung their leading man up on "The Tree of Doom", all the better to showcase his impressively bulging package.

Memo to New York Senator Anthony Weiner: eat your heart out!

All in all, "Conan the Barbarian" is, was and remains a stupid movie. That is why I was so shocked that Hollywood will be trotting out a remake this summer.


"Conan the Barbarian" is not a movie that deserves to be remade. The world was not begging for a new version of this over hyped bone cruncher. Once was more than enough as far as "Conan" was concerned.

Besides, if a movie has been done right the first time, there is no point trying to make lightening strike twice.

Yes, "A Star is Born" was remade for Judy Garland and "An Affair to Remember" was a remake of "Love Affair". But when Babs Streisand remade "A Star is Born" featuring herself and Kris Kristofferson, it became one of the debacles of her career. And not even Warren Beatty (with an assist from Katherine Hepburn) could save his remake of "An Affair to Remember", "Love Affair", from expiring at the box office.

In fact, the roll call of remake bombs stretches farther than the eye can see.

A recent remake of the 1981 comedy "Arthur" starring Russel Brand and Helen Mirren was a dud. So was the remake of "The Razor's Edge" starring Bill Murry. Al Pacino is a great actor, but even his over the top hamminess ("Let me introduce you to my little friend!") couldn't save director Brian De Palma's remake of "Scarface". Let's also not forget Tim Burton's "re-imagining" of the 1968 classic "Planet of the Apes" was a bomb, too--even with Chuck Heston, star of the original, popping up in a cameo. "King Kong", the best monster movie ever, has been remade no fewer than 3 times: in the 70's, featuring an unknown actress named Jessica Lange (the remake almost killed the two-time Oscar winner's career); in the 80's with a pre-"Terminator" Linda Hamilton; and most recently with Jack Black and Adrian Brody. None of them were equal to the original and all did poorly at the box office.

So if remakes or re-imaginings or rebootings or whatever inevitably lead to failure, why does Hollywood insist on doing them?

I have a few theories.

First, studio heads figure if a movie has a certain level of name recognition, it has a built in audience. If viewers flocked to "Conan" in 1982, of course they will flock to "Conan" on 2011--or so they hope.

Second, a big budget remake of an action flick can make lots of bucks in foreign markets even if it bombs in the states.

Third, Hollywood views summer as their blockbuster season. They want explosions, CGI and loud music. Brains are optional. Why pester people with weighty ideas when you can crack some skulls or show a starlet in a skimpy costume?

Yet it is precisely this kind of bone headed thinking that births bone headed movies.

Maybe I'm too touchy. Or maybe I'm still simmering over Conan Schwarzenegger's mistreatment of loyal wife Maria. But one "Conan the Barbarian" is enough. The first one didn't exactly advance the art of film making to any degree and I don't think the second will, either.

Besides, what promising new films weren't made because of all the money being lavished on this unnecessary remake of a really dumb movie from 1982?

APB to Hollywood: if you want to remake something, remake your ratings system. Stop remaking your movies! In the words of Irving "Wonder Boy" Thalberg: "Don't give the audience what they want! Give them something better!"

Monday, May 30, 2011

Think Your Life Sucks? Then Watch...

Greetings and salutations, movie lovers! Today we are going to have another edition of our on-going series "Think Your Life Sucks? Then Watch..." where I recommend a film that is sure to make you feel better about least temporarily.

It goes like this:

Is your life in the toilet?

Are you having a spot of bad luck?

Are you still stewing because that semi-bald English chap chose that Middleton gal over you?

Relax, dears. No matter how bad your life is right now, someone, somewhere has it even worse.

Don't believe me?

Want proof?

Consider this: you could be Maria Shriver.

Think about it. You could have been married for 25 years to a thick-accented chap who started out as a body builder, then became a movie star and then served two terms as the Governor of LA La Land. In the meantime, you have birthed four children, cut short your own TV journalism career to support his political ambitions and stoutly defended him when stories emerged that hubby treated women with a Conan-like grubbiness.

And how did Arnold reward Maria's love and devotion? By announcing 13 years after the fact that he had fathered a son out of wedlock with a trusted family retainer. In fact, Maria and the trusted family retainer delivered their babies just days apart.

Still think you life sucks in comparison?


OK, Chew on this: you could be Jane Seymour.

The former Bond Girl (she was Solitaire in "Live and Let Die"), Kay Jewelry designer, "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" and star of countless made-for-TV movies, was attending a movie premiere in Hollywood where she chose to enlighten the public with her inside knowledge surrounding the Arnie/Maria mess.

To wit: Jane claimed that Arnie had fathered two more out of wedlock tykes, a bombshell news nugget that promptly went around the world and then some.

However, no sooner had Jane made these declarations than she was on "The View" begging forgiveness and furiously back peddling.

Turns out Jane was merely repeating gossip she over heard on the telly and she "doesn't know anything about anything". Furthermore, she knows nothing about any other Arnie "love children" and wishes devoutly that she had kept her mouth shut. In conclusion, she's just so, so sorry for Maria and the children and she hopes they will all accept her apologies.

In other words: please don't sue me.

If facing the wrath of Arnie or Maria or both isn't enough to convince you that your life isn't that awful, try this on for size.

Vogue magazine, the most famous, influential and pricey fashion magazine in the world hires you to write a feature on a young, glamourus First Lady. Let's see, who could that be? Mrs. Obama? Carla Bruni, First Lady of France and a former high fashion model? The Queen of Sweden?

Nope, nope and nope.

In a piece titled "A Rose in the Desert", Vogue chose to profile Asma al Assad the wife of the dictator of Syria. Yes, Syria, a repressive police state where government forces regularly shoot its own citizens for demonstrating peacefully for, oh, the right to vote and the lifting of a five year "State of Emergency" ruling.

The author of the article, Joan Juliet Buck, meanwhile, portrayed Syria as a safe, multicultural Middle Eastern haven. Asma was described as "the most magnetic of First Ladies", a super thin and super stylish humanitarian who wants to turn Syria into a "cultural" mecca that encourages "active citizenship".

Well, not too active.

Anyway, Vogue caught a huge amount of flack for running this puff piece, which ignored the country's human rights record and other unpleasant realities. Vogue editor Anna Winter defended the article, saying it was about Syria's First Lady and not its politics. But the real loser here is Ms. Buck, whose "profile" of Asma amounted to nothing more than happy face propaganda. Simply put, it's the type of thing that could wreck even the most promising career.

My advice to Joan: keep this off your resume.

So, do the travails of Maria, Jane and Joan have you feeling better about yourself? No? OK. If you still think your life sucks, then please watch..."Claudelle Inglish"(1961).This hard to find B-movie gem stars Diane McBain as Claudelle, the daughter of dirt poor sharecroppers Arthur Kennedy and Constance Ford. Pa is a bib-overalls wearing philosopher resigned to his lot, but Ma is bitter over her dreary life. Naturally, she wants better for her daughter Claudelle. Unfortunately, Ma's idea of "better" is to insist her teenage daughter marry Claude Akins, the richest man in town.

Claudelle, however, has fallen in love with a boy named Linn (Chad "Medical Center" Everett) and wants no part of Akins. Just before Linn is shipped off to the army, he asks Claudelle to marry him. She says yes. Then they have sex. Then he promptly dumps her. Then Claudelle does what any girl in her situation would do: she becomes the town tramp. No fella, young or old, is refused, as long as he brings Claudelle a nice present and promises to tell her stuff like "she's pretty all over." Soon Claudelle's shabby bedroom looks like a Macy's store room loaded down with "tributes" from all her admirers.

Ma, meanwhile, still pushes for Claudelle to marry Akins. When her wayward daughter still refuses to give in to the future "B J and the Bear" star's advances, a fed-up Ford decides to take matters into her own hands. She puts on her kid's best dress and offers herself up to Akins as a replacement. Desperate for the touch of a woman, Akins agrees and the two drive off together.

Claudelle continues sleeping with every boy in town until tragedy hits. See if you can follow:

Claudelle goes into town to pick out a dress. The store owner, hearing about how easy Claudelle is, decides to try his hand. He and Claudelle are having sex in the dressing room when his wife finds them. Then the store owner's son announces that he wants to marry Claudelle and goes over to her house for a "date". Little does he know that some un-named bruiser from out of town had gotten there first. The two boys fight over Claudelle and the store owner's son is eventually run over by the thug's car. The dust has barely settled over this mess when Claudelle announces that Mama Ford has left home for good. Father and daughter decide that the best thing for them is to leave town, too. So while Pa is packing up the farm equipment, the crazed father of Claudelle's ill-fated suitor sneaks into her room and declares, "You're still alive with your painted lips and your wickedness!"--and shoots her.


The morale of this southern fried tale? While it is smart to refuse the advances of an old codger like Claude Akins, giving into to every boy that comes bearing gifts in hopes of mending your broken heart isn't a good idea, either.

In conclusion: if your husband hasn't sprung a "love child" on you and you haven't shot your mouth off publicly about stuff you don't know anything about and you haven't permanently tarnished your career writing a puff piece about a dictator's glamorous wife and your mom isn't pressuring you to marry Claude Akins, your life is actually in pretty good shape.

Until next time, dear readers, Save The Movies!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Yvette Vickers: Farewell to a B-Movie Bad Girl

Fans of bad movies everywhere were shocked and saddened to learn that Yvette Vickers, a memorable B-movie tramp expert, had passed away on April 27, 2011.

Although the exact cause of her death is unknown at this point, Yickers had carved a small but significant place for herself in the Junk Cinema universe. A petite, photogenic blonde, Yvette is best remembered for her appearances in 1958's "Attack of the 50 foot Woman" and the Roger Corman classic "Attack of the Giant Leeches" in 1959.

Born on August 26, 1928, Yvette was the daughter of jazz musicians and frequently joined her parents on the road. While attending UCLA to study journalism, Vickers picked up some acting classes for fun and became hooked. She soon began appearing in TV commercials and later traveled to New York to become "The White Rain" spokesmodel.

In 1950 Yvette made her film debut in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard". She later starred in "Short Cut to Hell" (1957) directed by James Cagney. Although that film was not a success, Yvette's best two roles were just around the corner.

In "Attack of the 50 foot Woman" (1958), featuring Allison Hays as an unhinged heiress who grows to gigantic proportions after a close encounter with a bald "Mr. Clean"-type alien, Yvette has the flashy role of Honey, girlfriend to Allison's faithless hubby Harry. Like all classic bad girls, Honey is smarter than her man and is the boss in their relationship. In fact, it's Honey who eggs Harry on to do his nutty wife in so they can run off together and spend her money. Sadly, in the film's climatic scene, Honey is crushed to death while the super-sized Allison grabs her faithless husband and slowly squeezes him to death.

Best of all is Yvette's trashy turn in Roger Corman's "Attack of the Giant Leeches"(1959). Vickers is Liz Walker, a hot blooded swamp tramp married to a dumpy grocery store owner in some backwoods Louisiana backwater. Hubby obviously can't begin to satisfy her, so the restless Liz meets her lover in the swamp for quickie sex. Things are great until Liz's enraged hubby finds the couple and orders them into the swamp at gun point--and into the clutches of giant leeches!

This Corman quickie has all the cheapie touches his fans delight in--like the "giant leeches" which are actually people stuffed into Hefty trash bags--and a sweaty atmosphere you can't deny. But Yvette holds her own as a restless, sex-up tramp always on a look out for a good time to relieve the boredom at home. It's a great tramp turn--and she even gets to wear leopard print panties!

Also in 1959 Yvette became a "Playboy Playmate" for the month of July. Her pictorial was shot by Russ Meyer.

Unfortunately, despite her looks and talent Vickers did not become a major star. She continued to make small appearances in film and TV shows, but her career never took off after such a promising start. At the time of her passing, Yvette was living quietly in her Benedict Canyon home when neighbors noticed she was failing to pick up her mail. Medical examiners have yet to
determine cause of death.

A sad final act for a lovely lady.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Watch...

Think your life sucks? Maybe you are just going through a bad patch. Maybe you are just having a bad day. Or maybe your life does suck. Before you jump to any big conclusions, please remember this: someone, somewhere has it even worse. Don't believe me? Then please beg, borrow or steal a copy of today's installment of our regular feature "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Watch...
"Mother May I Sleep With Danger?"(1996)

Bland, blond and utterly boneheaded Tori Spelling proves she is every inch the daughter of the late Sultan of Schlock Aaron Spelling in this hysterically crack-pot thrill-less thriller from the Lifetime Channel.

Tor Tor is cast as (get this) a co-ed majoring in languages who hopes to study in China one day. How she manages to fit her studies into her hectic jogging schedule is never explained. Like a lot of gals her age, Tori still feels her mom is trying to control her life, especially in the boyfriend department. But how could mom object to her latest beau, a rich handsome pre-med student named Kevin (Ivan Sergei)?

Kev certainly is a looker, but it quickly becomes clear that he's also a dangerously unhinged control freak with a nasty temper and a talent for identity theft.

Oh, and he's a killer, too.

In fact, the flick's first 15 minutes or so are devoted to the gruesome sight of Kevin pummelling his current girlfriend to death with a kitchen cutting board.

However, this being a Lifetime movie and a Lifetime movie starring Tori Spelling, it will take a L-O-N-G time for our featured actress to figure out that Kev is a psycho. Even after he pressures her into going blond, goes totally berserk when Tori talks to other guys, bulges his eyes and declares her mom is "against him", stops Tori from seeing her friends, insists he must be around her 24-hours a day and is given to such insane outbursts as "I have no life if you're not in it!", Tori doesn't seem too concerned.

Yet when Kevin rents them a secluded house to share and lies about the phones being installed, Tori gets a brain wave that maybe Kevin is just, you know, a little weird and breaks up with him. Doing so will be the first and only intelligent thing she does in the entire picture.

Two seconds later, she's back to being as thick as a plank. When Tori goes up to Kevin's to collect her things, she foolishly goes alone. Then she downs his "farewell drink" and passes out cold. See what I mean?

Drugged into unconsciousness, Kevin easily totes Tori up to her mother's cabin. Why? I have no idea. Once she comes to, it's clear that if Tori wants to escape in one piece she'll have to go one-on-one with the increasingly unhinged Kevin. Spelling fans and devotees of " Beverly Hills 90210" will be thrilled to learn that even though Kevin is over 6 feet tall, can punch out parking meters and once beat up two guys at the same time, Tori can knock him out with one slap.

Running for her dear life into the wilderness, Tori comes to the edge of a lake. There she magically finds a canoe (!) tied to the dock and starts furiously paddling away. Close at her heels, though, is Kevin, looking like a maniac and waving a hatchet. He dives into the water, hacks away at the canoe, the vessel flips over...Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Tori?

Of course not; she has top billing, after all. Plucky Tori manages to swim to safety and is reunited with her mom, who was conveniently out searching for her daughter in the exact same place Tori happened to be. Yet the movie is still not over! There must be one more confrontation between Tori and Kev. Needless to say, Spelling's skills using a canoe paddle as an instrument of death are even more impressive than her language skills (although she doesn't utter a peep in anything but English).

Viewers may wonder how an actress of such limited ability as Tori could handle the demands of a character that switches from a Henry James quoting co-ed to an Olympic caliber jogger to a canoe paddling super heroine without breaking a sweat.

Well, she can't.

Even in a movie as ridiculous as "Mother May I Sleep With Danger?", poor Tori is out of her depth. Cursed with only one facial expression and in desperate need of a personality, Spelling stumbles through this movie as if she was whacked in the back of the head with a cast iron skillet before each take. She is no match for hunky Ivan Sergei, who at least gets to rolls his eyes and froth at the mouth as the seriously mental Kevin.

During the filming of "Mother May I Sleep With Danger?", Tori was bitten by an allegedly tame pangolin, a "toothless, scaly mammal" that eats ants and termites and "rolls into a ball when attacked." The pangolin was starring in a production shooting close by Tori's set and he must have seen the rushes of her film. Anyway, the critter's teeth marks are visible on Tori's legs and provide "Mother May I Sleep With Danger?" its only realistic element.

Thus, if you think your life sucks, watch "Mother May I Sleep With Danger?" and remember that as bad as things may be for you, Tori Spelling has it even worse--and has the bite marks to prove it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Introducing a New Feature: "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Watch..."

Greetings movie lovers!

Is it just me or is the world going to Hell in a hand basket? The Middle East is having a nervous breakdown. Both New Zealand and Japan have had major earthquakes. The economy is tanking, state workers are being stripped of their collective bargaining rights, Newt Gingrich is thinking of running for President and Charlie Sheen has become the poet laureate of the nation.

Could things get any worse?

While it's easy to believe our lives are especially pitiful when we hit a bad patch, it's always helpful to know that other people have it worse. And if you don't know anyone who's life is worse than yours, have no fear, for Junk Cinema is here with movies about people who's life is worse than yours!

Our new feature is to be called "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Watch..."

So, without further ado, let's begin.

If You Think Your Life Sucks,

Watch..."Attack of the 50 Foot Woman"(1958)

Think your life sucks? Check out the plight of poor Nancy Archer (B-movie goddess Allison Hayes).
Sure, she has 50 million in the bank and, yes, she does own the "world famous" Star of India diamond. But her husband Harry (William Hudson) is a no-good-nick with a floozy named Honey (Yvette Vickers, a B-movie tramp expert) stashed at the local no-tell motel. Nancy also has a bit of a drinking problem. And a history of nervous breakdowns. Her doctors, meanwhile, think her troubles are due to early menopause. The townsfolk laugh behind Nancy's back, but tolerate her outbursts because she's the biggest tax payer around. The only person who is really cares about her is Nancy's long serving butler, Jess.

As bad as things are, things are about to get worse.

Driving out in the desert one night, Nancy comes face to face with a huge, glowing "alien satellite" (actually a gigantic ping pong ball, but why quibble?). Even more horrifying is the rubbery, king-sized hand that reaches out to snatch her--or cop a feel. Nancy freaks out, ditches her car and runs back into town babbling about her close encounter. Of course, since the whole town believes she's off her dot (and probably stewed, too) nobody believes her.

Meanwhile, Harry and Honey are planning to use Nancy's latest meltdown to their advantage. These two would like nothing better than to see Nancy back in the booby hatch, but the overwrought heiress insists her alien encounter was real. To prove it, she orders Harry to drive her out into the desert in search of her alien ping pong ball. They find it (parked by the side of the road!) and Nancy is over-joyed--until that big rubbery hand reappears and makes a grab for her again.

Rather than save his wife, Harry, the cad, steps on the gas peddle and zooms back into town--and into the arms of his floozy. Convinced Nancy is dead, the duo plan to make a run for it. Then Nancy suddenly reappears on the roof of her pool house. Her Star of India diamond if missing and she has weird blue scratches on her throat. The doctors don't know what to make of all this, but Harry and Honey see their best chance yet for knocking Nancy off for good. Sneaking into her room at night, Harry plans to give his wife a fatal over dose of morphine. His plans are foiled, however, when the nurse flicks on the light to reveal... that Nancy has grown 50 feet tall!

I'm not sure, but I think that bald alien guy has something to do with this...

Anyway, confined to her bedroom with the help of meat hooks and chains, all Nancy can do is wail, "Harry! I want my husband Harry!" Her doctors, trying their best to calm their super-sized patient down, insist he's next door "sleeping". Fed up, Nancy screams, "I know where he is! He's with that woman!" Then she breaks free from her restraints and bursts through the roof of her house--clad merely in her bra and panties, by the way.

Super-sized and super ticked-off, Nancy heads into town to reclaim her wayward husband.

"She'll tear the whole town apart looking for Harry!" yells her doctor.

"And when she finds Harry, she'll tear him apart, too!" yells a deputy.

Sure enough, Harry is dancing away the night with Honey, but not for long. Nancy rips off the roof of the local hot spot, smashes some furniture, grabs Harry in her enlarged paw and heads for parts unknown. While crowds scream and guns blaze, Nancy puts an ever tighter squeeze on Harry who gasps, "I can't breathe!"

Before long, it won't matter. An explosion at a power station electrocutes both the faithless husband and his strapping wife. Sighs Nancy's long suffering doctor, "She finally has Harry all to herself."

If "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" sounds a lot like "The Amazing Colossal Man", it's not an accident: both flicks were written by Mark Hanna. In the 1950's, cheesey sci-fi was obsessed with people either shrinking or growing if exposed to radiation. In Nancy's case, the alien was less interested in her than in her Star of India diamond, which he needed to use to refuel his satellite or some such thing. Although it wasn't nice of him to snatch her swag, at least the alien was gentleman enough to take Nancy home.

Ok, let's review. Rich, drunk, put-upon Nancy Archer has her favorite piece of jewelry stolen by an alien and consequently shoots up 50 feet tall. When she finally gives her faithless husband what he deserves, they both get electrocuted.

Still think you life sucks in comparison?

Of course it doesn't.

So, tune in next time for "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Watch..." for the cinematic reassurance that no matter how bad life your life gets, someone, somewhere, has it even worse.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Thomas Jefferson for Dummies: The Charlie Sheen Edition

Editor's Note: Look, if everybody else can write about Charlie Sheen, so can I!

As the momentous month of February ground to a close, the CBS television network announced that it was suspending production of its hit situation comedy "Two and a Half Men".

The stated reason was the personal problems of its star Charlie Sheen, who was known to be struggling with the after effects drugs, alcohol and porn stars.

Under normal circumstances, CBS' decision was a wise one. After all, how could their show go on if their star was not fit to perform? Thus, halting production and allowing Sheen to straighten himself out seemed like a logical course of action.

But when dealing with an individual as temperamental as Charlie Sheen, logic often flies out the window.

No sooner had CBS made its decision than a furious Sheen began giving a series of rambling, round-the-clock radio and TV interviews and/or rants where he attacked CBS, his producers, his ex-wives, AA, "party girls" and Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson?!

Yes, THE Thomas Jefferson who Sheen ungracious called "a pussy".

Whether Sheen has a legitimate gripe against CBS (which pays him a handsome salary, by the way), I can't say. By the same token, I can't comment on Sheen's on-going disagreements with his collection of ex-wives (he has 3) and the assorted "party girl" companions he chooses to hang out with.

But attacking Thomas Jefferson was simply uncalled for.

Charlie likes to brag that he's "special", that he's blessed with "Adonis DNA" and that he has "tiger's blood" coursing through his veins. That may be so. But despite the very high opinion Sheen holds of himself, he is not and never will be the equal to or superior of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was many things to many people, but he was never, ever "a pussy".

Of course, you don't have to take my word for it. A quick comparison and contrast of the historical record will prove that the star of "Major League" and "Terminal Velocity" has no business casting aspersions on one of the country's most influential Founding Fathers.

Thomas Jefferson and Charlie Sheen: A Historical Comparison

Thomas Jefferson: principal author of the Declaration of Independence, former governor of Virginia, former vice president, former secretary of state and former president of the US of A.

Charlie Sheen: starred in "Two and a Half Men".

Thomas Jefferson: negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, organized Lewis and Clark's expedition and wrote Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom.

Charlie Sheen: starred in "Navy Seals" and "Hot Shots", among other artistic milestones.

Thomas Jefferson: a vigorous supporter of the separation of church and state, Jefferson also practiced law, was an architect, an inventor and served as our first minister to France.

Charlie Sheen: is a vigorous supporter of hookers, porn stars and "party girls".

Thomas Jefferson: founded the University of Virginia (the first institution of higher learning centered around a library and not a church) and his personal book collection (he was an avid reader) served as the foundation for the creation of the Library of Congress.

Charlie Sheen: probably not much of reader, but I bet he has an extensive collection of past editions of "High Times" magazine.

Thomas Jefferson: is honored with the Jefferson Memorial and his face graces the two dollar bill. Jefferson also was an accomplished musician, loved to sing, started the tradition of shaking hands with dignitaries instead of bowing and popularized the eating of tomatoes (they were previously thought to be poisonous).

Charlie Sheen: stars in a sitcom that relies on an over abundance of toilet humor, gross out gags and immature sexual innuendo to milk cheap laughs. Unlike tomatoes, "Two and a Half Men" is poisonous.

Thomas Jefferson: built Monicello.

Charlie Sheen: lays about "Sober Valley Lodge" in the presence of his two "goddess" companions (a porn actress and a marijuana magazine cover model, respectively).

Even in their public utterances, Jefferson towers over Sheen.

"A coward is much more exposed to quarrels than a man of spirit."--Thomas Jefferson.

"I'm (a) total bitchin' rock star from Mars."--Charlie Sheen

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."--Thomas Jefferson

"AA is for pussies!"--Charlie Sheen

"Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom."--Thomas Jefferson

"You're a stupid pussy punk picking a fight with a warlock!"--Charlie Sheen.

A complex individual, Jefferson was not without his flaws. He was a bad dresser, for example. He was not a good public speaker. He broke his wrist foolishly trying to impress a gal with his violin playing. And, yes, Jefferson was a slave owner.

But was Jefferson a pussy? Absolutely not.

If Sheen wanted to single out a historical figure as "a pussy", he could have chosen any number of individuals who fit that description far better than Thomas Jefferson: Stalin, Idi Amin (who once offered to marry Princess Anne if it would improve Britain's relations with Uganda), Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier, Vlad the Impaler, Brezhnev, Khrushchev, Nero, Caligula, Pol Pot, Boss Tweed, Ivan the Terrible, Rasputin, Benedict Arnold, Hitler, General Franco, Castro, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard III, George IV, Jack the Ripper and Gadhafi just for starters.

Sorry, Charlie, but history has the final word. Thomas Jefferson was a decidedly gifted individual who's talents extended into politics, fine arts, sciences, farming, diplomacy, education and nation building. Our country owes him a debt of gratitude for his role in guiding our republic.

You, on the other hand, well, you're just a pussy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Would Not Like To Thank The Academy...

Would you like to win an Academy Award?

Sure, we all would.

Who amongst us wouldn't like to dress up in a designer gown, glide down the red carpet to the cheers of the fans on George Clooney's arm? Then once seated in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, have their name read aloud as the winner of the Great Golden Guy for the year's best acting performance?

Who would turn up their nose at such a once-in-a-life-time-honor?

How about the people nominated for the Oscar itself?

Believe it or not, ever since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been handing out the Oscars (84 years and counting) the folks nominated for the award have been insisting they don't want anything to do with the damn thing.

And, no, George C. Scott and Marlon Brando aren't the only spoilsports indulging in this uppity behavior. Over the course of Oscar's checkered history, lots of folks have reacted to the news that they have been nominated and/or won the statuette with all the enthusiasm of being summoned up for tax evasion.

For example, back in 1957 an actress by the name of Joanne Woodward had been struggling for two years in lousy movies for Fox Studios. Then she made "The Three Faces of Eve", where she played a gal with multiple personalities. In one fell swoop she was proclaimed both a new star and the front runner for the Best Actress Oscar. Joanne's reaction to her new found acclaim? "If I had an infinite amount of respect for the people who think I gave the greatest performance, then it would matter."

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Anyway, Woodward showed up on Oscar night and won. But hers was a hollow victory. First, Hollywood columnists reminded readers of Joanne's flip remarks before the Oscars. Then Joan Crawford, of all people, attacked Joanne for wearing a hand-made dress to the ceremonies. Next, a museum in Joanne's home state of Georgia wanted the Oscar winner to donate the frock to their dress collection. Mrs. Paul Newman said no way; she argued that since she bought the material and sewed the dress herself, she had every right to keep it (after all, she might wear it again). The museum wasn't happy and newly minted Best Actress got lots of bad press.

That year's Best Supporting Actress winner Wendy Hiller (for "Separate Tables" who didn't even bother to show up for the shin-dig) was equally unimpressed with her victory. "All you could see of me in the picture was the back of my head", the actress complained. "Unless they give some award for acting with one's back to the camera, I don't see how I could have won." And forget artistic merit; Hiller hoped her Oscar would mean "cash--hard cash" and "lots of lovely offers to go filming in Hollywood" so she wouldn't be forced to endure "the horrid cold" over in her native England during winter.

Flash forward to 1961 and a cranky actor named George C. Scott, who earned critical raves for his performance in "The Hustler". In due time, Scott was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and he promptly asked the Academy to withdraw his name for consideration. He then gave lots of press interviews where he called called the Oscars "a weird beauty or personality contest" and insisted that "actors shouldn't be forced to out-advertise and out-stab each other". Although Scott claimed his behavior was meant to be "a constructive rather than destructive move", he lost the award to George Chakiris in "West Side Story".

When British actress Susannah York learned she was nominated for her role in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" in 1969 she carped to a writer, "I felt a ghastly sickening thud when I got nominated and tried to get un-nominated." The sticking point for York? The Academy's bad manners. "It angered me to be nominated without being asked," Sue complained. "I was actually appalled." Oh, and another thing: "I don't think I have much chance of winning and didn't think that much of myself (in the film)."

Nobody, it seems, is ever happy with their Oscar experience.

Sidney Poitier, commenting on the stress leading up to his Best Actor win for "Lilies of the Field": "I'm never going to put myself through this shit no more."

Dustin Hoffman: "I hope to God I don't win an Oscar. It would depress me if I did"--he would win two, for "Krammer vs. Krammer" and "Rain Man".

Jane Wyman, on the thoughts rushing through her mind as she walked to the stage to receive her Oscar for "Johnny Belinda": "Did I or did I not put on my girdle tonight?"

Jane Fonda: "I don't care about Oscar. I make movies to support my activist causes, certainly not for any honors." Fonda said this in 1971, when she was nominated for Best Actress for "Klute". This was quite a turn around from Jane's comments in 1969, when she was nominated for "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and gushed, "You can't imagine what winning an Oscar does for your career! I'd love to get it."

Robert Duvall: "It's a lot of crap." (He won Best Actor for "Tender Mercies".)

Jason Robards: "Tasteless shit, anyway." (He won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars).

Sally Field, who spent years trying to live down her "Gidget" and "Flying Nun" roles gave the following opinion on the Oscars the year she was nominated for the flick "Norma Rae": "I think it's exploitative, over-commercialized, frequently offensive and shouldn't be televised." She accepted the Best Actress statuette anyway. Meanwhile, her boyfriend at the time, Burt Reynolds, was so unglued about Sally's win that they broke- up later that year. (Reynolds wouldn't get an Oscar nomination himself until he took a supporting role in "Boogie Nights" nearly 20 years later.)

So if being nominated and/or receiving an Oscar is such a drag, why are they given out every year?

Believe it or not, when the Academy of Arts and Sciences was first created in 1927, it was seen by founder and MGM head Louis B. Mayer was a way to halt the spread of unionism in Hollywood. It was hoped, too, that the Academy would encourage innovation and help spruce up the industry's image in the wake of some very messy scandals, such as the over-dose of Wallace Reid, the trial of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and the mysterious death of director William Desmond Taylor (still unsolved to this day). Giving out "awards of merit for distinctive achievement" was practically an after thought.

Nevertheless, the idea of actors, writers, directors and other film folks getting some kind of recognition from their industry struck a cord. From the beginning, the Oscars were meant to be a very select club; only people who were part of the Academy could participate. What's more, there were no supporting actor categories and Hollywood extras were denied membership.

As the years passed, however, the Oscars expanded to reflect to the growth and changes within the film industry. For example, the category of "Title Writing" had to be done away with when sound arrived. The award for Best Achievement in Black and White Cinematography was discontinued as color film became the standard. Likewise, the Best Achievement in Black and White Costumes and Best Achievement in Color Costumes was merged into one award, Best Costume Design. The coveted Thalberg Award was created to honor the memory of "Boy Wonder" Irving Thalberg, who died unexpectedly at the age 36. It wasn't until 1936 that actors could be nominated for the Supporting Actor category--and the winners got plaques, not Oscars.

Foreign films were originally not suppose to get Oscar recognition, at least in the major categories. Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper was always fit to be tied when a film from another country struck Oscar gold. She was especially angry in 1963 when Britain's racy "Tom Jones" nabbed a lot of awards. Still, the Academy felt it was necessary to recognize the cinematic achievements of other nations, especially when The New York and LA film critics began doing so with their own awards. Thus, Oscar handed out a Best Foreign Film Award, but that eventually morphed into Best Foreign Language Film, as even "American" films began to be made and financed internationally.

At first, the Oscars were a private party. Then World War II broke out and the Academy decided to sell tickets to the general public and the armed forces to raise money for war relief and The Red Cross. Newspapers claimed it was unfair that radio had the rights to broadcast the Oscars and that waiting around for the winners to be announced interfered with their morning editions' deadlines. The secret ballot, meanwhile, was introduced in 1940 precisely to keep newspapers from blabbing the names of the winners to their readers before the winners themselves were notified at the ceremony.

The tradition of the accounting firm of Price, Waterhouse tabulating the Oscar ballots and keeping them under lock and key was brought about by the exclusion of Bette Davis from the Best Actress list in 1934. She had given what many considered the break out performance of the year in "Of Human Bondage" and the fact that she was not nominated caused a huge out cry--even fellow nominee Norma Shearer felt Davis had been rooked. So for the first and only time, the Academy allowed voters to write-in nominees they felt had been unfairly excluded. Davis did not win (the Oscar went to Claudette Colbert for "It Happened One Night") and Price, Waterhouse were duly hired to handle the ballot counting. Years later, Bette claimed in her autobiography that Warner Brothers studio head Jack Warner had released a memo ordering employees not to vote for her. She would win the Best Actress statuette the following year for "Dangerous", but Bette always felt her first Oscar was "a consolation prize". As she saw it, "Even if the honor had been earned, it had been earned last year."

Perhaps the biggest thing to happen to the Oscars was the arrival of television. The studio heads, nervous that TV was eating into their profits, were originally against the new medium broadcasting their show. But they changed their minds when the networks began offering big bucks for the broadcasting rights. Thus, splashy production numbers, film clips, tributes and star presenters grew in size and scope. And just who was going to host to Oscars grew in importance, too. The general consensus is that Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal have done the best job hosting. David Letterman, on the other hand, was a surprising disappointment as master of ceremonies.

So it's probably no wonder that as the Academy Awards bulged and grew into a multi-media extravaganza slash fashion parade with tacky production numbers and endless technical awards that the actors began to feel, well, slighted. And because the original intent of the Academy of Arts and Sciences was to stop actors from creating a union (which failed), you can see how performers might be a little suspicious of the Oscars intentions.

Or not. As Frank Yablans, former head of Paramount Studios, shrugged, "Personally, I think (dissing the Oscars) is foolish. I always accept my awards."

This article is indebted to the book "Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards" by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona.