Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Star Is Not Quite Born

Ho, ho, ho movie lovers! It's that time of year again. Have you finished all your Christmas shopping? I know a lot of you gents out there find it really hard to buy that Special Someone the right gift. Over the years you've tried perfume, jewelry, pen sets and assorted nick-nacks. Of course, sometimes the inspiration well just runs dry. With Christmas only days away, what are you going to do?

Have you thought about buying your sweetie a career on the silver screen?

Don't laugh! Over the decades, both millionaires and moguls have tried to make their respective cuddlemates Hollywood stars. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these efforts flopped, but they left in their wake a treasure trove of hilariously awful movies and lopsided publicity. These misguided campaigns also proved the old adage that love is not only blind, it's frequently deaf and very, very dumb.

Perhaps the most illustrious example of an ill-fated attempt to make one's honey bunch a star is the William Randolph Hearst/Marion Davies saga.

She was a perky chorus girl still in her teens, while he was the filthy rich "Lord of the Press" when they first met. Hearst was also married and about 30 years older. If Mrs. Hearst (Millicent Veronica Wilson, a former chorus girl herself) had given W.R. the divorce he asked for, the newspaper giant surely would have married Marion. But Millicent refused. Therefore, since Hearst couldn't make Marion his wife, he decided to do the next best thing: make her a movie star.

Or at least he tried. Hearst created Cosmopolitan Pictures with the sole purpose of producing Marion's films. Meanwhile, the major Hollywood studios chipped in and happily put Marion under contract. This was unusual, as Marion never had much pull at the box office. But with Davies on the lot, the studio in question could count on the Hearst newspaper empire giving all their films positive reviews--whether they deserved them or not. Thus, accommodating Marion meant good publicity, but bad movies--especially if Marion was in them.

See, because W.R. was paying for everything, he had the final say over what type of movies Marion made. Although Miss Davies had shown a flair for light comedy in such films as "Show People", her sugar daddy insisted that she play noble heroines in weepy epics, parts Marion simply wasn't suited for. Thus, audiences were treated to such fluffy nonsense as "Cecelia of the Pink Roses"(1918), "April Folly" (1920), "When Knighthood Was In Flower" (1922--as Mary Tudor!) and "Polly of the Circus" (1932, where Marion plays a carny who falls in love with minister Clark Gable). Even though Marion churned out 29 films in her career (averaging three a year in her peek) and received an avalanche of Hearst inspired publicity, nearly all her flicks bombed.

Hearst, however, refused to give up. By 1936, Marion's career looked to be about over when W.R. decided to star his sweetie in a splashy musical comedy called "Cain and Mable". This was an opposites-attract-romance between a box named Larry Cain (Clark Gable, Davies' "Polly of the Circus" co-star) and a Broadway diva Mable O'Dare (guess who). The film itself is best remembered today for its wacky, over the top production numbers, where Marion (a former dancer) neither sings nor dances, but merely stands in the center of gigantic sets while platoons of extras sing and tap for dear life. One set piece is especially eye-catching: an enormous organ that has a chorus girl,um, attached to each of its pipes.

No comment.

Davies also modeled a series of elaborate costumes, including a Queen Guinevere get-up that had two pointy cones strapped to her skull from which flowed yards of cloth.

Not until "Satan's Alley", the centerpiece of John Travolta's "Saturday Night Fever" sequel "Stayin' Alive", would movie-goers witness such a nutty display of "Broadway" theatrics.

Needless to say, "Cain and Mable" did not revive Marion's career. In fact, she made only two more films before retiring for good. Then came "Citizen Kane" (1941), Orson Welles' thinly disguised bio of Hearst. The character "Susan Alexander" (a talentless singer Kane tries to remake into an opera star) was seen as a riff on Hearst's attempt at star making with Marion and, perhaps, what she is ultimately best known for. When Davies passed away in 1961, Time magazine called her "The Hearstwhile Empress of Hollywood" and marveled at all the time, effort and money lavished on a career that never got off the ground.

Of course, Hearst wasn't the only fellow furiously trying to make his heart's delight famous. Around the same time Marion was laying all her cinematic eggs, one Hope Hampton was also feathering her celluloid nest. A former model and beauty contest winner, Hope had appeared in several silent films, but her career (such as it was) didn't really take-off until she became the cuddlemate (and eventual wife) of Kodak bigwig Jules Brulator.

In return for Universal Studios showcasing Hope in the divorce musical "The Road to Reno" (1937), Jules gave them a sweet deal to purchase film stock. What's more, he even directed the film, in which Hope warbled eight songs. Alas, the flick bombed and earned poor Hampton the nickname "Hopeless Hope" for her obvious lack of talent.

On the plus side, Jules and Hope eventually tied the knot and were very happy together. The Mrs. there after devoted herself to charity work and, in her later years, Hope was known for her love of doing The Twist at the famed Peppermint Lounge.

Moving right along, we have "The Queen of Republic Studios" Vera Hruba Ralston. And who anointed Vera Queen? Herbert Yates, who was coincidentally the head of Republic Studios and Vera's eventual hubby.

Born and raised in Czechoslovakia, Vera was a world class ice skater who famously turned down Hitler's offer to compete for Germany during the 1936 Winter Olympics. After immigrating to the US of A in 1943, Vera signed a contract with Republic in hopes of becoming their version of skating screen queen Sonja Henie. Unfortunately, things didn't work out quite as planned: whatever charm Vera had evaporated once she left the ice.

Vera's debut was in "The Lady and the Monster" opposite Eric Von Strohiem (as a mad scientist, natch) and she was forced to speak her line phonetically. Indeed, Vera's difficulty mastering English, as well as her thick accent, doomed her screen career. Although Vera earned points form her co-stars for working very hard, it was cuddlemate Yates who chose her films and stubbornly ignored her obvious lack of acting talent. "I think she's great!" Herb declared at one point and put all of Republic Studios at her disposal. That lead to studio stock holders suing Yates to keep him from using Republic assets to promote her career. They needn't have bothered. After a string of Vera headlined bombs such as "Hoodlum Empire" (1952), "Fair Wind of Java" (1953) and "Lake Placid Serenade" (1944), Republic Studios was forced to close its doors for good in 1958.

Yates left his wife to be with Vera and the two lived together for about a decade, with Vera's mom as their chaperon. When the first Mrs.Yates passed away, Herb and Vera were free at last to marry, which they did in 1952. When Yates passed away himself in 1966, he reportedly left Vera a $10 million dollar nest egg. But all the money in the world couldn't save Vera's film career or her reputation as a movie miss-fire. In 1980 The Golden Turkey Awards proudly nominated her (along with Candice Bergen, Maime Van Doren and Raquel Welch, the eventual winner) as one of  "The Worst Actress(es) of All Time".

Last but not least in our Grand Tour of Talentless Tootsie-Pies is Pia Zadora.

In a moment that lives on in bad movie infamy, the Golden Globe Awards chose Pia as 1981's "Best New Star" for her film "Butterfly", over the likes of Kathleen Turner and Elizabeth McGovern (a double Oscar nominee and currently trouping on PBS' "Downton Abbey"). The outrage was so loud and sustaining that the Golden Globe people were forced to defend themselves from charges that perish the thought! Pia's money bags hubby Meshulem Riklis (who financed "Butterfly") had bought the award for his pint sized wife.

And thus the Zadora legend began.

Although "Butterfly" was indeed a wretched, shoddy piece of work, it was not the only wretched, shoddy piece of work Pia was associated with. Way back in 1964, Pia made her actual cinematic debut in the beloved Junk Cinema classic "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians". This science fiction yuletide chestnut (shot on location in an abandoned air plane hanger in Long Island) told the heart warming story of Martian soldiers who bring Santa to Mars to cheer up the planet's depressed tots. Sporting green face paint and a look of perpetual stupefaction is Pia, cast as "Girmar", the daughter of the Martian King.

Believe it or not, this flick (a regular on endless "Worst Film" lists) remains the high point of Pia's career.

Although separated by several decades, Marion Davies and Pia Zadora had a lot in common. Both worked on Broadway as youngsters. Both hooked up with older, wealthy men who took an active role in financing their careers. Both had a hard time proving to the public that they were real actresses. But while Hearst wanted Marion to have a pristine, romantic image on screen, Riklis was more than happy to showcase Pia as a simpering sex kitten who was often abused by men.

In "Butterfly", for example, Pia plays a trampy teenager who may or may not be the daughter of the creepy prospector she eventually has sex with. Meanwhile, in "The Lonely Lady" (based on the Harold Robbins novel), Pia is a wide-eyed innocent who wants to be a screenwriter(!) and is forced to wade through a Tinsel Town sewer of alcohol, drugs and scumbags (male and female) in order to reach her goal. She also endures a brutal rape and an impotent husband. When Pia's character ultimately wins "Best Screenplay" at "The Award Presentation Ceremonies", she's moved to declare, " I'm not the only one here who had to f@!&* her way to the top!"

After the failure of "The Lonely Lady", Pia finally gave up her Hollywood aspirations. She and Riklis would have two children together before calling it quits themselves. Although to be fair, Pia did release several albums of pop standards that were reasonably well received  She also made a memorable appearance in "Hairspray", singing the title tune and portraying a weed-smoking beatnik who reads from "Howl".

Besides the folks already mentioned in this post, you can add the name Samuel Insull, who built the Chicago Civic Opera House when his wife failed to get hired by the Met and Harold Fowler McCormick, who spent millions trying to make his second wife Ganna Walska an opera star (she couldn't sing a note, a fact everybody but Ganna and Harold failed to acknowledge).

In conclusion, what life lessons can one learn from these tales of money wasted on Hollywood careers not meant to be?

*Money can finance films and pay for publicity campaigns, but it can't buy talent, taste or ticket buyers.

*Having a Golden Globe--even one purchased by your hubby--isn't all it's cracked up to be.

*It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man, although rich men have more money.

*Only the public can make a star.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dear mrose

Dear mrose,

Please excuse the delay, but I just wanted to say thank you for the great comments about my post "The Beast of Richard Burton".

Everybody loves feedback from their readers, especially if it's positive!

Keep watching bad movies, support our independent video outlets and don't let our libraries and bookstores languish either!

mrose: Junk Cinema salutes you!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's the wonderful, funderful world of Zardoz!

Hi keeba and hello, movie lovers! Are you in the mood for some off-beat stimulation, film-wise? Because if you are, do I have a movie for you! It features a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape; a floating head that burps guns; a strange chap who looks like TV host Svenghoolie; a weird collection of folks who spend their days making organic, gluten-free bread; and best of all, Sean Connery, 007 himself, appearing in both a jock strap (which he fills out with his enormous package) and a wedding dress.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Zardoz" (1973)!

No need to thank me; we haven't discussed the movie yet.

Let's begin, shall we? A disembodied head wrapped in a bright blue bath towel with a mustache and beard inked on by a Magic Marker floats around on screen. This fey fellow, who calls himself Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), yammers on about being a magician and a puppet master. He warns the audience that what they are about to see could come to pass if they aren't careful. Then Arthur grandly pronounces, "Is God in show business, too?"

If He is, He should fire His agent.

Cut to a barren, over-cast landscape known as "The Outlands" where men on horseback wear two-sided masks and worship a giant flying head called Zardoz. When Zardoz settles on the ground, a booming voice proclaims,"The gun is good! The penis is evil!" Translation: the penis shoots seeds that lead to babies that eventually grow into people. The gun, on the other hand, shoots bullets that kill people so no babies can be born. Killing is good! "Go forth and kill!" Zardoz commands. To help things along, Mr. Z belches out an avalanche of guns. The deity's followers gleefully snap up the fire arms and start shooting up a storm. The resulting chaos resembles a massive NRA wet dream.

Excusing himself from all the fun is a chap named Zed (Connery), who scrambles into Zardoz's extra wide mouth shortly before it zooms off. Zed, you see, is both a "Brutal" (someone who lives in the Outlands) and an "Exterminator", a fellow trained by Zardoz to kill people. Normally, Zed enjoys his job ("I love the moment of their deaths--when I am one with Zardoz"), but today he's on a mission. He senses that something isn't quite right in the Outlands and believes that Zardoz isn't playing fair.

After drifting over hill and dale, Zardoz finally lands in the courtyard of a ramshackle farm. Zed climbs out and pokes around a bit. He's discovered by some locals who overwhelm him with their psychic powers. Splayed out on an examination table, poor Zed's memories are played on a wide screen TV as a haughty gal named Consuela (Charlotte Rampling) explains to a gathering of interested bystanders just who and what he is.

And who are these people? They are "Eternals", a collection of smarty-pantses who posses all the knowledge the world has even known. They spend their days making organic, gluten-free bread and arguing over such lofty matters as the mysteries of Pi and why the show "Manimal" was cancelled. They don't live in the low rent Outlands; instead, they bunk in the much more pleasant "Vortex", which is protected by an invisible fence.

The Eternals are a testy bunch, probably because they have developed beyond the need for sleep (they "meditate on Level 2" instead) and they no longer have sex or procreate. They also can't die. Should, say, an Eternal fall victim to an accident, a place called The Tabernacle (more about that later) begins growing them a replacement body exactly like the old one.

Being immortal, however, isn't all it's cracked up to be. With no sleep or sex, the Externals have had to come up with new activities to amuse themselves--baking loaf after loaf of bread isn't for everybody, except, maybe, Sarah Lee. Should the Eternals decide some poor sap has begun thinking too negatively or too independently, they deem them a "Renegade" and punish them accordingly. How? The Eternals "age" their offenders, anywhere from weeks to months to years. Remember, Eternals can't die. Thus, when forcefully "aged", an Eternal goes senile. No longer a part of the Eternal elite, Renegades spend their endless days dressing up in costumes and dancing to elevator music--it's like being banished to "The Lawrence Welk Show". Talk about Hell on Earth.

Now, you have probably begun to wonder, "Auntie Bee, what's this bread thing?" Glad you asked. Bread, as you know, is the staff of life. Over in the Eternals neck of the woods, however, bread is the only food the Renegades and Apathetics can eat. Who are the Apathetics? They are Eternals who are infected with a strange disease that turns them into glassy-eyed zombies. These folks can't do anything, they can't die and they have to have munch on something. That explains the massive bread making operation.

But back to Zed. The Eternals have probed his mind and discovered some interesting tidbits. Back in the Outlands, the Exterminators were pretty content just killing people. Then Zardoz suddenly started teaching the Brutals how to grow grain (true to their nature, though, the Exterminators shot any farm workers who slacked off). Some Exterminators (like Zed) were allowed to breed (i.e. rape). Later, Zed was taught to read by Arthur Frayn who is, surprise, surprise, the voice of Zardoz. On a more personal level, the Eternals also learned that if they needed to stimulate Zed sexually, all they had to do was give him a clear view of Consuela's barely covered chest and he firms up right quick. (Consuela is both irritated and intrigued by this.)

The big question facing the Eternals is what to do with Zed. Like an exotic pet, he's cute now, but what will happen when he grows up? One faction believe Zed is a threat to their way of life and must be killed. Another faction, led by a gal named May (Sara Kestelman), believe that Zed can help improve their society and must be saved (it's also hinted at that May would love to stimulate Zed herself). While the Eternals bicker among themselves, another Eternal named Friend (John Alderton) sort of befriends Zed. It's he who explains that with the Renegade and Apathetic populations increasing, the Eternals risked running out of food (and remember, nobody can die, not even of hunger). Therefore, Arthur Frayn, who was in charge of monitoring the Outlands, came up with a cunning plan: teach the poor jerks stuck in the Outlands to grow grain. If the order came from Zardoz, it would be followed without question. Put the Exterminators in charge of the whole operation, as well as the mass killing they do so well. The Outland population would remain in check (they can die), the Eternals would have an endless supply of grain and everybody gets an eternity of free sandwiches. What could go wrong?


Nobody figured on Zed sneaking off and meeting up with his fellow Exterminators from time to time. Or that the Eternals' invisible fence could be breached. Or that being immortal would become really dull. Or that people would miss having sex. Or that baking endless loaves of bread would get on a person's nerves after a while. Or that death isn't such a bad thing if it's part of a natural life cycle. Or that sneaky Arthur was looking for a way to break The Tabernacle and bring an end to the Eternals' immortality, without telling anybody about it.

Actually, for being so smart, the Eternals are really dumb--don't you hate it when that happens?

Anyway, "Zardoz" builds up to an amazing, eye-popping, head scratching conclusion. A bunch of Eternals, lead by Consuela, figure out Arthur Frayn's Zardoz plan and decide to snuff Zed out pronto. Crafty fellow that he is, Zed has hid among the senile Renegades by donning a wedding dress. Friend then hustles him over to The Tabernacle, where Zed gums up the whole works. The fence that protects the Eternals is breached and hordes of Brutals and Exterminators suddenly swarm in. By wrecking The Tabernacle, the Eternals are no longer immortal and they are thrilled about the prospect of finally dying. Thus, when the Exterminators start shooting, the Eternals happily throw themselves into the lines of fire. Some Eternals (like May) escape to start a new colony with the knowledge that they are no longer immortal. Still, the Exterminators thin their ranks pretty fast.

Amid all this commotion, Zed and Consuela meet up to discuss their relationship. Turns out the haughty Consuela likes Zed and they decide to get married. Using the miracle of time lapse photography, viewers are then treated to a wordless sequence where, in rapid succession, Zed and Consuela have a son, raise the child, the kid grows up and moves out and Zed and Consuela age and become skeletons. All that is left of the couple are their hand prints on their cave walls and Zed's beloved Webley-Fosbery. "Zardoz" is over now, except for the credits...and the blame.

John Boorman wrote, produced and directed "Zardoz", and he's either a genius or a crazy person or both. I'm convinced he drank a truck load of booze and smoked tons of something much stronger (and less legal) than tobacco when he thought up this flick. Floating heads? Two-sided masks? Sean Connery in a wedding dress? Dialogue like "Stand behind my aura"? If you can come up with a better theory, I salute you. But I bet I'm right.

That doesn't mean, of course, that I'm not impressed. Think of the sheer guts John Boorman needed to make this wacky fever dream of a movie. After he wrote the script, he had to drum up investors, hire a crew, cast the actors, direct the actors ("OK, Sean, we need another take! Please readjust your bridal veil!") and edit the footage. Next, Boorman had to find a studio, show the suits the final cut and convince them to release his movie.Then he had to organize a publicity campaign, release the film to the general public and calm everybody down when the critics ripped "Zardoz" apart and it didn't make money at the box office. And after all that, he still had to find the strength to continue his career in order to make "Excalibur", "The Emerald Forest" and "Hope and Glory"!

John Boorman, for going above and beyond the call of duty, Junk Cinema salutes you! Zardoz has spoken!

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Clinch of the Titans or When Lord Kalidor Met Red Sonja

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in the news a lot lately and it hasn't been pretty.

First came the announcement that Arnie and wife of 25 years Maria Shriver were separating.

Next came the revelation that Arnie had fathered a child with the family's long-time housekeeper.

Maria subsequently filed for divorce.

Then Arnie published his autobiography, Total Recall, where he admitted to a "hot affair" with his "Red Sonja" co-star Brigitte Nielsen--while he was living with Maria, no less. The worst part? Arnie said bonking Brigitte made him realize how much he wanted to marry Maria!


I mean, what gal doesn't yearn to hear her man say, "Screwing so-and-so made me love you more!"

I repeat, ick.

Although Arnie has fond memories of his Danish cuddlemate, he doesn't think well of the 1985 sword and sorcery epic that brought them together. In fact, he rates "Red Sonja" as "the worst movie" of his career.

Considering that Schwarzenegger's cinematic rap sheet includes two "Conan" features, "Raw Deal", "Red Heat" (as a Soviet police officer), "Twins", "The End of Days" (where he battles Old Scratch), "Total Recall",
"Predator", "Batman and Robin" (as Mr. Freeze), "The Running Man", "Commando", "Jingle All the Way" and "Hercules in New York" (his debut, where Arnie was billed as "Arnold Strong" and his voice was dubbed), that's quite a diss.

Is "Red Sonja" really that bad?

I say any flick which features such sparkling dialogue as "If you yield only to a conqueror, then prepare to be conquered Little Sonja!" is a Velveeta banquet just waiting to happen.

But is "Red Sonja" truly worthy of Arnie's scorn? Let's review the matter in depth, shall we kiddies?

The Plot: Set during the "Hyborian Age", Queen Gedren schemes to get her mitts on a powerful Talisman (which looks like a big wad of glowing green chewing gum) which will allow her to be the boss of everything. She must be stopped within 14 days or the world is doomed. Why 14 days? Beats me. It's just a nice round number.

Our Heroine: Red Sonja, so named because she sports a bad '80's Cher wig that is indeed red. This is the cinematic debut of Danish giant Brigitte Nielsen.

Our Hero: Lord Kalidor (Arnie), a freelance mercenary who also sports a bad '80's Cher wig.

The Villain: Queen Gedren, played by Arnie's "Conan" cuddlemate Sandhal Bergman. Her character was deemed rather controversial because she had Red Sonja raped for refusing her sexual advances.

Comic Relief: This arrives in the pint-sized form of Ernie Reyes, Jr. as Prince Tarn. He's the boy ruler of a kingdom leveled by Queen Gedren. The prince is an obnoxious, sexist jerk who has the nerve to suggest Red Sonja be hired as his personal chef. Naturally, she ends up saving his life and the mini monarch learns about humility etc., etc. from her. For Reyes, Jr., "Red Sonja" would lead to even greater parts in such gems as "Surf Ninjas".

The Setting: "Red Sonja" whisks us off to the "Hyborian Age", a supposedly prehistoric period that features robots, close circuit TV and zip lines. This age has an undeniable Asian influence: Prince Tarn is Asian; his servant dresses like a ninja; Red Sonja is tutored by a wise old Asian master (who refrains from calling her "Grasshopper") and there is a large statue of a Buddha-like figure who appears to be going potty. Despite medieval surroundings, explosives and robotics are used. The governing system appears to be a loose patchwork of principalities where travelers must pay "tributes" to pass through. These "tributes" don't conform to any unified set of fees; at one point, some meanie insists Red Sonja "tribute" him in the "tender" way only a woman can (Red declines and quickly dispatches him). Oh, and swords talk.

The Quest: After a group of sheet-draped nuns/high priestesses/vestal virgins/sorority sisters are slaughtered by Queen Gedren's army for trying to destroy the Talisman, one manages to escape, but just barely. She's Red Sonja's sister, Vanna. After Lord Kalidor finds her dying of a cross-bow wound (she was hit with a perfect bull's-eye while fleeing on a zip line-- don't you hate it when that happens?), she begs him to find her sis and warn her about the impending doom.

Red Sonja, recovering from her attack and the murder of her family and the burning of her house, is visited by a spirit who gives her the strength to battle the forces of evil and avenge the crimes of Queen Gedren. On her own, Red Sonja decides not to "give herself" to a man unless he can beat her in a fair fight. This complicates her love life, especially when she meets up with Lord Arnie. But with only 14 days to save the world, there's no time to waste making out.

Anyway, Red Sonja ventures hither and yon to track down Queen Gedren and destroy the Talisman. Only women can touch the darn thing, did I forget to mention that? Well, only women can touch the darn thing. On her journey Sonja meets up with various assorted bad guys, soldiers and rake hells, which she coolly dispatches with the skill of a Samurai warrior. Perhaps the oddest villain she comes up against is a robotic sea monster(?!) that is disabled by poking its eyes out. Always at the last minute, Lord Arnie shows up, but Red Sonja appears to be perfectly capable of handling herself, thank you very much.

The Love Story: With their bad Cher wigs, thick-as-waffle-batter accents and gigantic proportions, Lord Kalidor and Red Sonja seem made for each other. But while Arnie and Brigitte sizzled off screen, their movie characters never mesh. Perhaps it was their mutual lack of acting talent, but you never believe that Red and Kalidor have the hots for each other.

The closest "Red Sonja" gets to a love scene is when Lord Kalidor muses, "So, the only man that can have you, is one who's trying to kill you. That's logic." Then Arnie unsheathes his big, pointy sword and Red, clearly unimpressed, unsheathes her big, pointy sword (which talks, by the way) and our two would-be cuddlemates engage in a duel that unsubtly doubles as both foreplay and a noisy tennis match--Arnie and Brigitte swing and grunt like there's no tomorrow. Their battle of the sexes ends in an exhausted draw and you half expect one of the characters to pant, "Was it good for you, too?"

The End: Despite all the obstacles put in her way, Red Sonja emerges triumphant. She kills Queen Gedren, destroys the Talisman, ditches Prince Tarn and finally locks lips with Lord Kalidor without knocking his (or her) Cher wig off. Cue the exit music and we are done.

The Damage Report: The unbeatable combination of wooden acting, bad hair and nutty dialogue preordained that "Red Sonja" would be a cinematic suppository of the first order. Gigantesque Brigitte Nielsen won the coveted Golden Raspberry Award as "The Worst New Star" of 1985. Although Sandhal Bergman was justly nominated for Worst Supporting Actress, she lost out to Nielsen again (who took home the dishonors for "Rocky IV"). Remarkably, Arnie's Lord Kalidor was completely shut out of the Worst Actor category, where Rob Lowe (in "St. Elmo's Fire") emerged the winner. Does all this indeed prove "Red Sonja" is Arnie's worst film?

Not by a long shot.

"Red Sonja" may be the worst film of the "Conan" trilogy, but "Conan the Barbarian" was a rotten movie to begin with (see my post "We Don't Need Another Hero"). Therefore, by the law of averages, "Red Sonja" couldn't help but be putrid. The only question was what level of intensity of putrescence would rise to.

As it turned out, pretty damn high.

However, if Arnie is being honest with himself, he'll admit the worst movie of his career was husband to Maria Shriver. Not only did he cheat on her before and after they married, he lied about fathering another woman's child and even wanted to have OPEN HEART SURGERY without telling his wife. When Arnie decided to run for governor for California, Maria gave up her broadcasting career to campaign for her hubby, even defending him from charges of infidelity and groping (which were both true). In the end, Maria proved to be Arnie's biggest political asset and he repaid her by being a selfish jerk.


Lord Kalidor would never do that to Red Sonja.

Her talking sword wouldn't let him.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"Bluebeard": The Beast of (Richard) Burton

Richard Burton gets a well deserved kick-in-the-crotch from one of his many ill-fated wives in 1972's "Bluebeard."

Richard Burton is one of my favorite actors. Handsome, talented and charismatic, he also possessed one of the greatest speaking voices EVER. Unfortunately, Burton's considerable gifts did not prevent him from making bad movies. A lot of bad movies. Tons of bad movies. In fact, throughout his long career, Richard (alone or with his primary cuddlemate, Elizabeth Taylor) stuffed enough turkeys to give the Butterball people a run for their money.

"The Robe", "Staircase", "The Sandpiper", "The VIPs", "Boom!", "Dr. Faustus", "The Wild Geese", "The Exorcist Part II: The Heretic", "The Assassination of Trotsky", "A Circle of Two" and "Candy" are just a few of the messterpieces Burton appeared in. But of all his Golden Gobblers, "Bluebeard" from 1972 may be his tour de worst.

Richard is Baron Kurt, an aristocratic WWI flying ace with a tell-tale blue-tinted beard. Although he is virile and courtly, the Baron has a rough time in the marriage department. Getting married is not his problem; keeping his wives alive is. In fact, "Bluebeard" begins with Kurt marrying a sweet young thing named Greta (Karin Schubert), only to have her kick the bucket in a boar hunt a short time later.

Never one for prolonged mourning periods, Burton is out trolling for his next catch when he meets showgirl Anne (Joey Heatherton). Over the years, Richard has shared the silver screen with a number of leading ladies of dubious talent (Joan Collins, Linda Blair and Tatum O'Neal spring to mind). Yet Heatherton earns the (dis)honor of being his worst co-star ever. No matter how hard Joey tries, the poor girl just can't act. Now, to be fair, all of "Bluebeard"s female stars suffer from this malady in one form or another--but Joey is especially afflicted. She appears to have only one facial expression. Her reaction to any frightening situation is to bug her eyes. Judging from the bored look on Burton's face during their scenes, he must have felt he was acting opposite a crash test dummy.

However, talent-deficient stars are not "Bluebeard"s only problem. Although the flick is supposedly set in Europe between the World Wars, people sport shag hair-dos, Afros, mini skirts and leisure suits. Baron Kurt belongs to some kind of Fascist/Nazi party, but it's never made clear if this is meant to be a send-up of or a comment on the real Nazi party's rise to power. Likewise, the movie can't decide if it's a horror film, a black comedy, a satire or a skin flick (the film's backers reportedly insisted on plenty of female nudity and the gals certainly weren't shy about shedding their clothes. The men, naturally, remained covered up at all times.)

Virna Lisi's  marriage to Richard Burton will soon hit a sour note.

Back to the movie. Anne and Kurt meet and marry rather quickly and settle on the family's palatial estate. The only problem is, well, hubby always has something to do or somewhere to go when wifey makes overtures about having sex. Later, Joey stumbles upon a wizened old maid brushing the hair of Burton's mummified mother and suffers from a "nervous collapse", which, naturally, further delays any conjugal relations between the newlyweds. After days stretch into weeks and then months and husband and wife have yet to do The Deed, Anne begins to wonder what the hold-up is.

Of course, what she doesn't know, but the audience quickly guesses, is that Baron Burton is impotent-- and without the miracle of Viagra, he'll never be able to do his husbandly duty. The flick oh-so-subtlety suggests that there might be something wrong with Kurt down there, but they don't explain what. Nevertheless, this quirk has doomed all of his marriages, so Richard believed had no choice but to off his wives before his impotence became public knowledge or the gals blabbed--although sadistic jerk that he is, Richard has convinced himself that the wives were to blame for everything.

Eventually Anne wises up, but only after she unlocks the hidden freezer containing all of hubby's ex-wives with the special gold key she was ordered to never, ever use. Fit to be tied, Burton announces he must now kill Heatherton. In order to stall him, Joey serves Richard that classic American delicacy Jello and gets him to explain why and how he did his other brides in.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome each time. If this is true, then Baron Burton is truly off his rocker: he meets, pursues, marries and quickly becomes disenchanted with each new wife in record time. Then he kills her. Although each wife sins in a different manner, the punishment Burton gives out is always the same: death.

Afro-wearing Virna Lisi kept singing dumb songs over and over again, so Kurt chops her head off with a guillotine. Nathalie Delon takes stripping lessons from hooker Sybil Danning to entice Burton, but finds she enjoys making it with Danning even more. When hubby finds the girls post-coital, he impales them with the help of a pointy chandelier centerpiece (note obvious phallic symbol). Feminist Marilou Tolo gets batty when she drinks cheap red wine. So after she drunkenly kicks Burton in the crotch, he drowns her in a vat of (yes) cheap red wine. Karin Schubert knits up a storm while she waits for hubby to consummate their marriage. After she wails, "I"m tired of being an deflowered wife!" just one too many times, Richard guns her down in a boar hunt. Last, but certainly not least, former nun Raquel Welch(!) insists on naming every man she's slept with. As you can expect, it's quite a long list and Richard, running out of patience, coolly locks her in a coffin.

"Nun-sense": Sister Raquel Welch prays for divine intervention in her marriage to Baron Burton.

These flashbacks lead to a climatic (no pun intended) Burton/Heatherton showdown, where Joey screeches at Burton,"You're a monster! Let me get this off my chest so I can die happy!(Pause) I spit on you, darling!" No slouch in the scenery chewing department himself, Burton pronounces, "I shall feed you to my dogs!"--an interesting turn of phrase, since this entire production is a dog from snout to tail.

While watching a film of such abysmal quality, you begin to wonder why an actor of Burton's stature would want anything to do with it. However big his paycheck was, it couldn't possibly compensate for the damage a movie like "Bluebeard" could inflict on his career.

And "Bluebeard" was a mega-ton bomb for Richard Burton, earning him some of the worst reviews he would ever receive. The Washington Post felt his campy, sub-par performance meant Richard was "announcing his availability for Vincent Price roles." The critic added, "Unless he's contemplating a permanent career in exploitation movies, it would be difficult to sink below this credit." Meanwhile, the critic for Cue magazine hoped "Bluebeard" "remains the worst picture of (Burton's) career." Fat chance! Other Burton bombs would include "The Medusa Touch", "Hammersmith Is Out", "Massacre in Rome", "The Voyage" and "The Klansman." Then he would go on and star as Tatum O'Neal's love interest in "A Circle of Two"! Just when you think Richard couldn't go any lower, he does.

And just how low Richard Burton had sunk became even more apparent when The Golden Turkey Awards gave him their Lifetime Achievement Award as Worst Actor of All Time, besting such worthy contenders as John Agar (Shirley Temple's ex-husband and star of "The Mole People"), Tony Curtis and Victor Mature.

"Anyone can make a bad film when working with hack directors and inane scripts," the Brothers Medved pointed out. "But it takes a true genius like Burton to come up with garbage when teamed with serious artists."

"Made you blink!": Richard Burton and Joey Heatherton engage in a high-stakes staring contest in "Bluebeard."

You have to admit, they have a point.

Thus, we close this post with a heavy heart. Richard Burton, a truly talented actor, became the thinking person's Sonny Tufts. And wherever Sonny Tufts is, he's probably beaming with pride.

Richard Burton is probably kicking himself in the shins.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Welcome to Our Newest Blog Feature: The TeeVee Referee! First Up: "The Mob Doctor"

In the debut episode of the new Fox Channel drama "The Mob Doctor", Chicago resident Grace Devlin (Jordana Spiro) is introduced extracting what appears to be a screwdriver from the temple of some bozo--in a vet's office. Then her phone rings and Grace zips off to her hospital, where she performs surgery on a little kid and over-rules some pompous jerk doctor in order to save the tot's life.

That done, Dr. Devlin's phone rings again and it's her pushy ma (Wendy Makkena). It seems that Susie, a neighbor kid Grace used to babysit, came over to their house and fainted. Ma brought the girl over to the hospital to help out her stressed out dad; his wife recently left him for a female butcher.

Grace learns from Susie's doctor Dr.Brett Robinson (Zach Gilford) that, although the tween is a virgin, she's also pregnant. Viewers will quickly ascertain that Dr. Brett is Dr. Grace's after-hours cuddlemate.

While trying to unravel how a virgin managed to get preggers, Grace's hospital admits a mob informer in need of some super-duper delicate surgery that ONLY Chief of Staff Dr. White (Zeljko Ivanek) and Dr. Devlin can perform. When Grace opens up the stoolie's file, a note falls out. It reads, "Kill Him."

Off like a shot, Grace tracks down a thick-necked wise guy named Moretti (Michael Rapaport). He reminds Grace that her brother is in deep to the mob for gambling debts. To settle his account, she agreed to give the mafia free health care, so to speak. Thus, Grace must kill the informant or the mobsters will kill her brother. Considering what a weenie jerk Grace's brother is, I say whack the sibling and call it good.

In a huff, Dr. Devlin returns to her hospital only to learn that the little boy she saved in the morning is now dead. How? Some pompous jerk doctor gave the tyke a different dosage of medicine than Grace prescribed. Furious, Grace threatens to report the pompous jerk doctor to the medical review board--and is stopped by her Chief of Staff who says her action will accomplish absolutely nothing and will only piss off the pompous jerk doctor even more.

Now, about that pregnant virgin, Susie: Grace tries to explain to the 14 year old that even if she and her boyfriend didn't go "all the way", they still went "enough of the way" that allowed his man juice to slip past her intact hy...Realizing she is getting nowhere, Dr. Devlin tries a "Star Wars" metaphor. Remember when Luke Skywalker demolished the Death Star with that one-in-a-trillion-shot? Well, that's how she got pregnant: her boyfriend unwittingly sent a one-in-a-trillion-shot of man juice and it hit her Death Star.

But, wait, there's more: Susie has just won a swimming scholarship to a Catholic high school and the good Sisters would revoke the offer if they found out she was knocked up. What can she do?

Dr. Grace furrows her brow and then offers up this solution: Dr. Brett will perform a secret abortion on Susie and list it as the removal of "an ovarian cyst." In other words, she wants her cuddlemate to lie to Susie's dad about his daughter's true condition and falsify hospital and insurance records, which is slightly against the law. Dr. Brett hems and haws a bit and then says yes.

This crisis is no sooner solved than Grace's damn phone rings again. It's that thick-necked mobster Moretti who reminds the doc to kill her informer patient or he'll kill her mom--he's at her house right now, in fact. So Dr. Grace jumps into her car, zooms home, sneaks into her backyard and sees that Moretti is indeed holding her mom hostage.

Quick as a wink, Grace jumps back into her car and begins purposefully ramming into near-by parked vehicles. This makes their car alarms go off and Moretti runs out of the Devlin house to see what the hell is going on. Spying Grace, he jumps into his car and the wiseguy and the doctor partake in a very lame version of the "French Connection"s classic car chase. Dr. Devlin  then drag races over to the estate of someone called Constantine (William Forsythe), yelling at the top of her lungs, "Constantine! Constantine! Open the gate!" The gates duly open, but Moretti manages to enter the compound anyway. The two wiseguys argue a bit and then Constantine--a retired mobster who supposedly went straight--shoots the thick-necked Moretti at point blank range. He then coolly tells the dazed Grace to go home, which she does.

End of episode one.

Apparently, the reprehensible Honey Boo Boo isn't the only one sipping spiked "Go-Go Juice" to get through the day. The producers of "The Mob Doctor" obviously came to the conclusion that piling on the plot points and the characters and then pacing their show at Warp speed is the way to go.

They were wrong.

Believe it or not, TV viewers DO NOT have the attention spans of gnats. Given quality writing and interesting characters, viewers are more than happy to let a show unfold at a proper pace.

This high speed approach to 60 minute dramas is not only exhausting to watch, it doesn't give the actors the opportunity to develop their characters beyond the sketchiest of thumb-nail descriptions. Racing back and forth all over Chicago, Dr. Grace is less a character and more like a marble in a pinball machine, ricocheting bumper to bumper without any rhyme or reason. Who is she? What's her story? With all the running around she does, we never find out. Instead, you're left wondering how Grace can still do her job without collapsing in an exhausted heap.

And besides, keeping her gas tank filled up must cost a fortune!

Maybe "The Mob Doctor" wants it that way. With everything happening so fast, viewers won't have time to process the show's flaws, which are considerable. The fancy pants hospital where Grace works doubles as a moral black hole. After all, what healing institution would keep an incompetent doctor on staff just to avoid making him mad? What kind of a doctor would lie about giving a minor a secret abortion, especially when the parent--stressed out or not--is a family friend? Then there is the mob connection. Why does every mob drama have to have an old-time wiseguy who seems more like a grandpa than a hardened killer? And of course the street-smart Grace would hook-up with the rich, sensitive Dr. Brett because opposites attract, right?

The TeeVee Referee's call: pull the plug on "The Mob Doctor"--STAT!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

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

 Hi Keeba and hello movie lovers! It is I, the Movie Maven, here to...what? You say you're feeling down?  You feel like your life is stalled in traffic on a hot day in a small car without air conditioning and the radio is playing nothing but Barry Manilow, Celene Dion and Katy Perry songs? Sounds like you need some cinematic medicine from Dr. Feel Good to chase those blues away. And lucky for you, I have a real celluloid corker that promises to do just the trick. It has romance, drama, adventure and a rubber chicken masquerading as a Pterodactyl. So (repeat with me now) if you think your life sucks, then please watch..."The Prehistoric Women"(1950)!

Written by Sam X. Abarbanel and directed Gregg C. Tallas (who gave us "Siren of Atlantis" in 1949 and "Bikini Paradise" in 1968, so he definitely has an enlightened view of women), "The Prehistoric Women" concerns itself with "romance when the world was young." How young? Well, the filmmakers aren't so sure. The story unfolding before us could have taken place 10,000 years ago. Or 100,000 years ago. The "archaeologists who unearthed this tale" aren't even sure themselves, the flick's narrator (David Vaile), admits. Producer A.J. Cohen would later insist that "The Prehistoric Women" was "50% accurate, scientifically", which ought to satisfy everybody.

Anyway, our story begins a l-o-o-o-o-ng time ago, before the civilizing influence of cable TV or the written word. A tribe of prehistoric women, all dressed in the latest animal print fashions, are dancing up a storm and feeling rather restless. How come? Because they have no men folk to canoodle with. Why? As the Wise Old Lady of the tribe (Janet Scott) explains, about 15 years ago their mothers made the decision to break with men folk because they were brutal creeps. And indeed they were. As flashbacks show us, the club wielding men of their former tribe expected the gals to haul dead animal carcasses all over the place and never let them stop to rest or get water. And if the gals did stop for a bit, the men would slap them around or bonk them on the head with their clubs.

Finally, a woman named Tana has enough. When her man knocks her to the ground, she picks up a rock and brains him on the skull. You go, girl! Then she gathers up the rest of the women and their daughters and they head for the hills.

Under the leadership of emerging feminist Tana, the prehistoric women set up a man-free commune where they learn to fish, tame panthers for pets and create functional living quarters in trees. Everything appears to be going great guns until eight foot, three inch Johann Peturrson (an Icelandic circus performer by trade) roars on as the local giant "Guadi". He has the nerve to off three of the tribe members, including Tana. So its up to the Wise Old Lady of the tribe to herd the remaining females to safer ground.

Flashbacks over, the tribe is now under the leadership of Tana's daughter Tigri (Laurette Luez). On the advice of the Wise Old Lady of the tribe, Tigri leads her fellow tribeswomen and their pet panther on a quest to find some men--purely for "breeding purposes", you understand. Soon enough they find some conveniently hunky guys who are out hunting tigers. Wasting no time, the females load their sling shots with rocks and pummel the guys into submission. Gasps narrator Vaile, "The men are surprised to find themselves under attack by the weaker sex!" While the gals hog tie their captives and march them back to camp, a chap named Engor (Allan Nixon) hides away. He then staggers back to his tribe of cave dwellers and is nursed back to health by his mom.

Determined to free his buddies and punish the pushy prehistoric women, Engor heads out on a rescue mission. Along the way he discovers fire which, the narrator explains, "(Engor)doesn't understand" but does sense "this new discovery has the power to inflict injury." It also makes food taste better.

Advanced as Engor is, he still manages to get captured by the prehistoric women and leader Tigri claims him as her own. Understandably, things get off to a rocky start. True to her bossy nature, Tigri soon forces Engor to perform various chores, with limited success. The most memorable involves a boulder Engor has trouble moving. As Tigri's impatience grows, the duo gets into a snit fit and start trading gibberish insults--which the omnipresent narrator translates for us lucky viewers:

Engor: "Gee-nay! Elko! Lee-to!"

Narrator: "He has just asked her, "If she is so wise and superior, why doesn't she see if she can move the rock!"

Using a branch for a lever, Tigri does just that.

Engor:0 Tgiri:1

Later on, while reclining in their tree house, Engor will attempt to get cozy with Tigri and she slaps him for getting fresh. However, when another member of her tribe shows an interest in Engor, Tigri beats her up. The hunky Engor clearly stirs something up in Tigri, even if she doesn't quite exactly know what it is. To cool off, Tigri goes for a swim and dives like an Olympian off a cliff. This causes the narrator to comment,"Ironically, the Swan Die was invented before the swan."

Of course, because "The Prehistoric Women" is billed as a "love story", Tigri and Engor eventually do iron out their differences. Before that happens, though, the men over power their female over lords and force them back into submissive servitude. Savvy viewers will recall that it was exactly this kind of maltreatment that drove their prehistoric moms into ditching men in the first place. No matter. As narrator Vaile triumphantly declares, "And so the tables are turned. The dominant male is happy and contented. Women wait on him as though he were king."  Even better, "The once proud, fiery leader of the tribe (Tigri) meekly obeys..."

This turn of events wouldn't be possible if the prehistoric women hadn't come to see that male domination was better with their own eyes. The tipping point for this reversal comes when the guys save the women from...a rubber chicken strung up on wires that is suppose to be...a Pterodactyl. Later, that pesky Guadi returns and chases everybody into a cave. Quick thinking Engor then lights a fire that befuddles the poor Icelandic giant and burns him to a crisp. Male superiority thus firmly established, Tigri and the gals ask Engor and his chums to join them in forming a new tribe. They agree. The Wise Old Lady of the tribe, smiling broadly, then performs "a marriage ceremonial" whereby the fur clad couples mingle their blood to seal their unions. This moves narrator Vaile to conclude, "And so in those distant days, even as today, the eternal battle for supremacy between woman and man was solved, not through the clout and the glove, but through romance." Cut and print.

 Unfortunately, even this happily-ever-after send off failed to impress movie critics or audiences who "laugh(ed) uproariously" (in the words of the L.A Daily News) through the entire flick--and continue to do so today.

"The Prehistoric Women" was later remade, sort of, in 1967 under the titles "Slave Girls of the White Rhinoceros" or "The Prehistoric Women". The star was Martine Beswick, a former Bond Girl with the acting talent of a gravy ladle. However, both films were in the running for the coveted Golden Turkey Award for "The Most Primitive Male Chauvinist Fantasy in Movie History" in the prestigious Son of Golden Turkey Awards by the Brothers Medved. The eventual winner was "The Mesa of Lost Women" (a film chronicled in this blog), but there is no doubt both films deserved to be nominated in this category.

After watching "The Prehistoric Women", I hope you come to believe that your life may not be so bad after all.Remember, Tigri and her friends lived in a world without sanitation, medicine or dental floss. Sure, they could tame panthers, but they were powerless against rubber chickens rigged up on wires. And nobody expects you to haul around dead animal carcasses without getting a reasonable break now and then.

So, if you think your life sucks, watch "The Prehistoric Women" and I'm sure you will feel better soon. Until next time movie lovers, Save the Movies!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Is That A Bar of Soap in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?" Junk Cinema Salutes Ronn Moss

If you are a soap opera fan--and with the world situation being what it is currently, who isn't?--you no doubt reacted with sorrow and disbelief to the news that Ronn Moss will be leaving the CBS daytime drama "The Bold and Beautiful" this September after spending 25 years (!) trouping as fashion designer/ladies man/baby maker and all around rich person Ridge Forrester.

Whether this beloved character will be killed off or recast with another soap hunk remains to be seen. Moss has been with "B&B" since its debut in 1987 when it was created as the sister show for "The Young and the Restless". Set in glitzy L.A., "B&B" centers around the lives and loves of the Forrester's, creators of the high-end fashion house "Forrester Creations" and referred to (at least on the show) as "the first family of fashion." Ridge is the favorite son of the clan, as well as its head designer.

For fans of Junk Cinema, Moss's parting with "B&B" is yet another sign that soap operas haven't got much time left as a TV genre. Already "As the World Turns", "One Life to Live", "All My Children", "Passions", "The Doctors", "Loving", "The Edge of Night", "The Guiding Light" and "The Search for Tomorrow" have all gone to the soap dispenser in the sky. Their disappearance means that one of the finest repositories of ham-bone acting, cringe worthy dialogue and cheap special effects on network TV will soon be gone, too.

The boom years for soaps came in the early 1980's, when the shows stopped being about coffee drinking housewives, nervous breakdowns and life threatening illnesses and sexed things up with espionage, evil multinational corporations, mobsters, paternity mix-ups and (in the summer, at least) Romeo and Juliet teen romances. Throw in some alien abductions, kids that age 20 years in two months and folks coming back from the dead on a regular basis and you had a daily Velveeta banquet that was hard to resist.

Of course, it helped that soaps were cast with actors long on looks and short on talent. That is especially true on "B&B", where EVERYBODY is a hard bodied looker clad in the latest fashions, always ready to strip of their shirts or parade around in a bikini or take a shower at a moment's notice.

In Ronn Moss, "B&B" found the perfect soap hunk. Tall with a gravelly voice and killer cheek bones, Moss reacted to every crisis imaginable with the unflinching demeanor of a chump hit in the back of the head with a 2x4. Except for blinking his eyes or raising his voice, Ronn's most impassioned performances were rarely better than wooden.

In fact, Moss had already begun developing his own cheesy cachet before he began working on "B&B". In his pre-Ridge days, Moss was part of the Muzak group Player, which cursed us forever more with their musical whine "Baby, Come Back". Best of all was his appearance as "Rowdy Abilene" in "Hard Ticket to Hawaii" (1987), a movie that's tag line boasted, "This ain't no hula!" So true. After all, this was a flick where a toxic waste ingesting python easily out acted the human cast, which included two Playboy centerfolds (as DEA agents, no less) in their thespian debut. Ronn, naturally, was the cuddlemate of one of these agents and he got to deliver this signature line of dialogue after spying a fellow doing a hand stand on a skateboard: "Man, he must be smoking some heavy doobies."

Should "B&B" decide to write the Ridge character out completely, it may well deprive the show of its most enduring storyline, the Ridge-Taylor-Brooke love triangle.

For the entire length of the show, Ridge has either been married to Taylor (a brunette medical doctor or psychiatrist, depending on the writers' whims) and fooling around with Brooke (a blond fashion designer and former Valley Girl) or married to Brooke (who his mom Stephanie doesn't like) and fooling around with Taylor (who his mom Stephanie does like). Ridge has children with each of these gals (3 with Taylor and 2 with Brooke). He has taken an occasional break from sleeping with Taylor or Brooke and gotten involved with other females, like nutcase Morgan DeWitt. In Ridge's defense, however, Morgan did drug him so he would impregnate her. A shoving match between Taylor and Morgan ended with Morgan miscarrying, so the nutcase retaliated by kidnapping toddler Steffie and making it look as if the tot had drowned.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Ronn/Ridge ever faced was when wife Taylor came back from the dead on the very day he planned to remarry Brooke (who had delivered Ridge's baby only moments earlier). Originally everybody thought Taylor had been shot to death, but, no, Middle Eastern Prince Omar had whisked her away, leaving a life-like body in the casket. Somehow Taylor escaped and made it home just in time to stop the wedding. This development, of course, caused no end of  upheavals that are still being ironed out today.

When one considers all the ups and downs Ronn/Ridge has been put through these past 25 years, it's understandable that the guy would have to pull the plug eventually. But as any soap fans know, death is never permanent. As Moss noted on his Facebook page, "Hang in there with me...we have a wonderful new journey ahead of us." More muzak? Another soap? A sequel to "Hard Ticket to Hawaii"? Anything is possible in the soap universe.

 "Have faith, be strong," Ronn counseled his fans on Facebook, although he could just as well be talking to Brooke or Taylor, "knowing I'm eternally yours."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Grey" Matter: Junk Cinema Trumps Mommy Porn!

Hi keeba and hello, movie lovers! Read any good books lately? If you are a lady person of the female gender, surely you have gotten your hands on "50 Shades of Grey".

A quasi-porn barn burner, it features a sweet young thing falling under the sway of an impossibly hot business tycoon who introduces her to the dubious delights of S&M, bondage and rough sex.

The hero even has his own S&M playroom, which he calls "The Red Room of Pain."

O-o-o-o-o-h, doesn't that sound naughty?

Of course, we Junk Cinema fans can only shakes our heads and laugh over all the commotion this tome has caused. That's because A) we know this book is just a badly written piece of C-R-A-P and B) all the supposedly naughty stuff has already been done BEFORE and BETTER in countless bad movie classics.

Because it is the stated purpose of this blog to praise, promote and preserve Junk Cinema for future generations, I can think of no better example to demonstrate its trailblazing cultural impact than a point by point demonstration of Junk Cinema's superiority over "50 Shades of Grey".

Where do I begin? How about at the beginning?

The heel/hero of "50" is a rich, handsome businessman/tycoon/control freak/bully with an unquenchable sexual appetite. It goes without saying that Christian Grey is "troubled", "struggles with demons" and "can't love"--which explains why he must hog-tie and spank his cuddlemates.

Now, all you gals who believe Mr. Grey is an updated Mr. Rochester with an S&M fetish I politely say: put down the vibrator and pay attention. Way back in 1964, the delightfully daffy trash masterpiece "The Carpetbaggers" introduced movie goers to Jonas Cord...a rich, handsome businessman/tycoon/control freak/bully with an unquenchable sexual appetite. Jonas was also "troubled", "struggled with demons" and "couldn't love".

As played by future "A-Team" stalwart George Peppard, Jonas Cord liked it just as rough as Christian Grey, much to the delight of his step-mother (and ex-fiancee!) Rina Marlow (tramp expert Carroll Baker). In fact, when Jonas charges into his step-mom's bedroom after learning his pop has dropped dead, Rina is stripped down for action in a sexy black nightie.

"Mistreat me! Make love to me!" Rina begs. "Anything! Everything! Then throw me out!"

Of course, Jonas is still so mad that Rina dumped him to marry his wizened old father (Lief Erickson) that he refuses to give into her pleas, which drives Rina even more batty.

Later, Jonas will briefly marry flapper Elizabeth Ashley. However, because she wants kids, Jonas decides to goad her into a divorce by ordering step-mom Rina up to his hotel room and--in front of the horrified Ashley, no less--rips off her dress and sinks his fangs into her neck. While his wife storms off to find a lawyer, Rina screeches, "You dirty, filthy, perverted monster! You're the meanest, cruelest, most loathsome thing I've ever met!"

And we're still not done! After Jonas makes hooker Martha Hyer a movie star, he proposes marriage. Jonas being Jonas, he has a unique take on the institution: "All I ask for is your beauty and your sex! I don't want love or children or home baked cookies!"

Like Christian, Jonas has "demons" that drive his nutty behavior and fuel his off-beat tastes. See, his twin brother died incurably insane at the age of 8. His dad treated him "like a leper". His mom was a booze hound.That's why Jonas abuses people and doesn't want kids and must have kinky sex! Doesn't everything make sense now? Next to Jonas Cord, Christian Grey is just another wimp trying to heal his inner child.

Moving right along, we have Christian Grey's "Red Room of Pain", where the virginal Anastasia Steele learns the meaning of "hurts so good."

Sorry to burst your bubble "50 Shade"rs, but Junk Cinema covered that territory way back when Mr. Grey was just a gleam in the milkman's eye.

"The Adventurers" (1970) is a hysterically over-stuffed turkey set in a fictional Latin American country where they have a revolution every 20 minutes. Among the international cast is Charles Aznavour, who plays a shifty financial whiz who keeps an S&M rumpus room on his palatial estate. He even boasts that he "negotiates some of his best deals" there.

How appropriate, then, that hero Dax (Bosnian matinee idol Bekim Fehmiu) and his loyal side kick Fat Cat (Ernest Borgnine) truss Aznavour up in his little shop of horrors after they learn he's double crossed them-- and leave him there to rot.

Of course, for a more detailed bad movie exploration of S&M hijinks, there is the would-be "adult" drama "91/2 Weeks" (1986), featuring Kim Basinger in what is surely her nuttiest career move outside of marrying Alec Baldwin.

Kimmie plays a recent divorcee who unwisely pursues a relationship with Mickey Rourke, a fellow who enjoys his off best stimulation just a little too much.

Like "50", "91/2 Weeks" demonstrates how an unsuspecting gal can fall under the sway of a whip-cracking sadist if she's not careful. It all begins so innocently, with Mickey blindfolding and force feeding his newest cuddlemate Jell-O, cough syrup and other goodies on the kitchen floor. Then they move on to dressing in drag and necking in public, all the better to pick fights with strangers and have sex on the sidewalk. Next Mickey takes Kimmie to shop for the latest S&M gear and begins purring such sweet nothings as, "Spread your legs for daddy." Slowly but surely, Kimmie begins to wonder if all this is good for her, especially when Mickey starts making her crawl on all fours to pick up money while he (yes) cracks a whip.

In the end, Kimmie is finally able to extricate herself from Mickey's increasingly dominating grasp, something that proved harder for her to do with Alec Baldwin.

Perhaps the most talked about aspect of "50 Shades" is heroine Anastasia Steele "surrendering" to the increasingly painful ministrations of Mr. Grey. Critics and social commentators have been real Gabby Gerties about this, as if this type of relationship had never been depicted before, which it has--at least in Junk Cinema. We will now consider the cheese-ball classics "Wild Orchid" (1989) and "Zandalee" (1991), where nice girls grapple with the psycho/sexual manipulations of rich men ( and its ALWAYS rich men. Nobody goes through this stuff for some p/t clerk at Wal-Mart).

The uproarious "Wild Orchid" stars--yes indeed!--Mickey Rourke as a rich, reclusive, bandanna wearin', Harley ridin' millionaire who sets his sights on naive lawyer Carre' Otis--a legal eagle so inept she makes Lionel Hutz from "The Simpson's" look like Clarence Darrow.

Dunked in Quick Tanning Syrup, possessing the biggest chipmunk cheeks this side of Pia Zadora and mumbling his lines with a mouth numbed up with Novocaine, Mickey first meets Carre' wearing a bear mask--and promptly bites her neck. This sets the tone of their relationship, which escalates to Mickey forcing Carre' to watch a bickering couple have make-up sex in their limo (egged on by Rourke). Later on, Mickey will get Carre' to vanquish her virginity to a stranger he picks out himself.

As events pick up steam, Carre' begins to wonder why Mickey likes to do all this weird stuff. See, Mickey doesn't like people to touch him. So, he manipulates people to "touch for him", thus allowing Mickey to get his kicks from a safe distance. And why does Mickey do this? Is he impotent? Afraid of germs? Worried his spray tan won't withstand the sweat generated during the heavy petting?

Uh, no. The reason Mickey must be this hands-off puppet master is because his pa deserted the family when he was a kid. This so shattered Mickey that he had to repeat the third grade...which led him to a life of manipulating people to have sex for him. You got to hand it to director Zalman King for coming up with the unusual correlation between grade retention and developing kinky sex habits later in life.( If I ever have a student who is considered for retention, I will definitely bring this up at the grade level meeting. "Are you sure repeating second grade is right for Johnny? We don't want him to end up like Mickey Rourke in "Wild Orchid").

Meanwhile, Otis, who stumbles through her movie debut as if someone had repeatedly struck her in the back of the head with a thick iron skillet, decides to help Mickey heal from his wounds. Her form of treatment is to open up her blouse, pop out her breasts and say, "Just reach out and touch me." Unconventional, but it works. The obligatory sex scene that follows has Carre' and Mickey moaning, groaning and sweating up a storm, so much so that it was rumored the co-stars were actually doin' The Nasty, something they both vigorously denied. Anyway, once the deed is done, the happy couple hop on Mickey's hog and ride off into the sunset.

Alas, Rourke and Otis, who became a couple during the shooting of this fateful flick, were not so lucky. They publicly fought and broke up, married and broke up, reconciled and broke up and filed restraining orders against each other. Eventually they learned to leave each other alone, to the relief of many. It is sad to think, though, that while Carre' and Mickey's love did not last the test of time, their movie did--just not the way the producer's intended. As they say, love fades, but bad movies never die.

Our next feature is also A Bad Movie That Won't Die, no matter how the participants may want it to. "Znadalee" (1991) features future Oscar winner Nicholas Cage as a ragin' Cajun love machine who takes it upon himself to reignite the pilot light of married gal Erika Anderson. Considering that Anderson is hitched to Judge Reinhold, who happens to be suffering through a bout of impotence, you might think that's not such a bad idea. However, once you've sampled the flick, I promise you will change your mind.

Anderson, who behaves like a model preparing for a Playboy audition, originally married Reinhold because "he was a poet." Yet when hubby starts spouting off like the most insufferable guy in your Lit 101 class, you can understand why he's working for the family business instead of head lining poetry slams. "I'm just paralyzed--a paraplegic of the soul," Judge sighs after another disappointment between the sheets.(If that's his idea of pillow talk, just think how rotten his poetry must be.)

As even the most patient of wives can only take so much, it's no wonder our heroine buckles at the knees when Cage pants, "We're inevitable. I want to shake you naked and eat you alive Zandalee!"

Before you know it, Cage and Anderson are whooping it up like there's no tomorrow, with Nicholas introducing his cuddlemate to a variety of new experiences. Perhaps the most novel involves Cage applying olive oil to Anderson's, um, lower body and then snorting coke off her. Smooth talker that he is, Cage is also never without some pithy remark to murmur in his lady love's ear, such as "When I go in my kitchen to make toast, I smell your skin."


Just like Anastasia Steele, Zandalee begins to have second thoughts about her extra marital squeeze and his increasingly bizarre behavior. Snorting coke off your body is one thing; having sex on top of the dryer while guests (including hubby) are in the next room is another. So Anderson breaks it off, hoping to repair her marriage. This leads to one of those spurned-lover-follows-couple-to-their-remote-cabin showdowns that are the staple of countless Lifetime movies and straight to video howlers like "Zandalee".

So you see, movie lovers, "50 Shades of Grey" is tiny taters compared to the glories of Junk Cinema. Just about every goofy, nutty, off the wall scenario you could possibly imagine has already been lovingly crafted into a piece of grade A cheese. Love lorn cross dressers? Watch "Glen or Glenda". Bobby soxers going bad? Catch "The Violent Years". Fear your PC might develop the hots for your spouse? Try "The Demon Seed". A musical featuring strippers and zombies? Been there and done that with "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies". Too scared to take an acid trip? Put "Lisztomania" in your VCR/DVD player, sit back and trip the light fantastic--it's totally legal and fun!

Accept no substitutes! The next time some over heated bestseller is bandied about as a cultural phenomenon, check with Junk Cinema first. Chances are there is an unjustly neglected bad movie classic waiting for you. To paraphrase Jonas Cord, "Junk Cinema is beautiful and no good and that makes it better!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I Sing Whenever I Sing Whenever I Sing

Do you have what it takes to be a professional singer?

Don't ask me. I'm too busy. Instead, why don't you audition for "American Idol"? If they give you a pass, you can always try out for "The X Factor". Still no luck? Why not hustle over to "The Voice", where the judges will listen to you sing...with their backs turned. Still coming up empty handed? See if "America's Got Talent", co-hosted by Mr. Class himself Howard Stern, has a slot available. Just make sure your bio is accurate, OK? Then there is that new show on ABC called "Duets", where unknown warblers get a chance to perform duets with "super stars like Robin Thicke."

Robin Thicke?

Who is Robin Thicke? And why are they calling him a "super star"? 

Robin Thicke is the son of Alan Thicke, a Canadian television fixture who unwisely chose to challenge Johnny Carson of "The Tonight Show" for late night viewers back in 1983. His show was called "Thicke of the Night" and it achieved Bad TV Immortality by earning a "0" Nielsen in certain places. According to the classic tome Bad TV by Craig Nelson, when Thicke watched a tape of his debut, he fainted (I'm not surprised). Later Alan redeemed himself a bit by playing the dad on the hit sitcom "Growing Pains", which featured Kirk Cameron as his girl crazy son. For a while the show featured a bratty kid played by one Leonardo DiCaprio.

Robin, meanwhile, is described as a song writer, singer, actor and record producer. For a while, he went by the moniker "Thicke". All of which is fine. However, I'd never heard of him until the "Duets" folks started beating the tom-toms for this show. And just because ABC calls Robin Thicke a super star doesn't mean he is one.

Anyway, what baffles me even more than calling Robin Thicke a super star, is the endless proliferation of singing shows on network television. Where once there were comedies, dramas, movies-of-the-week, mini-series, documentaries and variety shows, there is now singing, singing and more singing. People sing alone, in groups, with accompaniment, with no accompaniment, with Karaoke machines, with judges facing the wall. They may call themselves by different names, they may be hosted by different people, they may offer cash prizes or record contracts, but these shows ARE ALL THE SAME. And they follow the same format:

1) A trio of show business figures of dubious origin criss-cross this great nation of ours looking for undiscovered talent. In my opinion, they rarely find any.

2) The judges (and their chatty-Patty hosts) stop here and there, where crowds of hopefuls line up to receive an official audition number. These pit stops are ALWAYS accompanied by lots of time lapse photography of clouds parting, cars zooming by, day turning into night and into day again which I hate.

3) One by one, the judges are treated to starry-eyed hopefuls whose singing abilities range from actual potential to reasonable to OK for the church choir to can't carry a tune in a tin bucket.

4) If you pass muster, the judges will tell you "You're going to Vegas!" or "You're going to Hollywood!" or "You're going to New York!", which is where the show's principal set is. How you get there, who pays for stuff etc. is never explained.

5) When the show has its 10 or 15 or 20 finalists selected, the singers begin singing in front of a large audience on a gaudy set. The music is often unbearably loud, there are needless special effects (like dry ice and images of fire) and clumps of young people may be standing close to the stage waving their hands in air as if they are trying to catch the attention of a circling cargo plane. It's my sneaking suspicion that these "fans" are planted there by the producers and couldn't give two hoots about who wins these things. Also, if "celebrities" happen to be in the audience, it's my other sneaking suspicion that they have been asked to appear and are getting a nice check in return for doing so. They may also be affiliated in some way with the network. Again, I can't prove any of this, I just feel it in my gut. I feel this way because I am a deeply cynical person, my heart having been hardened by several tragic experiences. But I'm lots of fun at parties.

6) After the singer sings, the judges will critique the singer. They will offer up comments like "That was great!" or "You were a little flat" or "I didn't think you were feeling the lyrics, dawg." The singer, meanwhile, will try and stay composed during this part of the show and promise to take the judges' advice to heart.

7) The judges then decide who stays and who goes. The judges may base this on a numerical score they assign each singer or from the tallies culled from callers, texters and on-line voters. The judges' scores could also be combined with votes from callers, texters and on-line voters, a complex theorem that often leads to some head scratching results (i.e. like Bristol Palin's second place finish on "Dancing with the Stars").

8) As the weeks drag on and the herd thins, the singers are often asked to sing in various styles to show off their versatility. Whether they have the vocal range to manage this many song styles is often embarrassingly obvious (i.e. no).

9) When a contestant must be shown the door, the atmosphere of these shows takes on an ominous tone. The lights dim. A hush falls over the crowd. The host becomes very, very serious, as if he or she must tell a beloved family member that their favorite pet has just been devoured by rabid wolves. The judges look uneasy, even tearful. The contestants are brought up one by one, as if they were facing a parole board. The host says a few words. There is a dramatic pause. The host says a few more words. There is another dramatic pause. The contestants, meanwhile, look like they are about to faint dead or at least wet themselves. If a contestant is "saved" for another round, they nearly swoon with relief. When the unfortunate one is told they are out, a collective "oh-h-h" washes over the room. Then the audience applauds their encouragement, the singer tries to be brave and those "saved" until next week try to be gracious without gloating.

10) Repeat step 9 until there is no one left and crown your "winner". Whether that person goes on to have a professional career beyond playing at Bar Mitzvahs and the glories of dinner theater is anybody's guess. Besides, no sooner has the "winner" been crowned than the show's producers are out frantically resuming their search for the next winner.

Truly, these "reality show" competitions have got to stop. The mindless search for America's next top singing/dancing/modeling/weight loss/bachelor/bachlorette/cooking show host/design show host/fashion designer/ inventor has reduced the TV schedule to a Job Fair from Hell. I, for one, was not the least bit worried about who America's next (see list above) was going to be.Why? Because if there is one thing America has never been short of, it's B-grade celebrities. They've always managed to pop up in movies and TV shows and on the Top 40 without any outside help.The nice thing about them? They don't stay around for very long. Now, however, network television seems to have become obsessed with finding as many of these folks as possible and inflicting them on the public. Even worse, they expect us to watch them finding them. Enough!

Bring back my comedies, dramas, made-for-TV-movies, documentaries and mini-series! Stop subjecting the beleaguered American public to this endless amateur hour! And above all, stop calling Robin Thicke a super star!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Talk to Me!

Dear People of Earth,

Do you read this blog? Do you enjoy it? Do you find my writing witty, insightful, funny and knowledgeable? Do you learn new things about Bad Movies? Have I convinced you that Junk Cinema is a valuable part of our collective cinematic heritage and is worth saving? Have I begun to convince you that "Reality TV" is an evil that must be fought?

Do you like the layout of this blog? Can you suggest some pointers that might spiff it up a bit? More movie stills perhaps?

If you regularly browse this blog or are just a first timer, LET ME KNOW! Please leave me some comments! Show me some (bad movie) love! Keep things clean, courteous and helpful, because I aim to please, as well as save the movies.

I am currently putting the finishing touches on a post about the current infestation of singing competitions on TV, but I felt I had to make this plea to you readers out there. Thank you for your time and, above all, PLEASE TALK TO ME!


Beth "The Movie Maven" Arnold

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Junk Drawer: Spotlight on Joan Collins

In the super glitzy 1980's, the number one TV series in the world was "Dynasty".

A night time soap opera set in Denver, Colorado, "Dynasty" centered around the colorful Carrington clan, who spent their days plotting, scheming, manipulating and double dealing to their heartless hearts' content. Occasionally they showed up at the office and made a few phone calls, but these folks did their best work flat on their back, if you get my drift.

"Dynasty" was jam-packed with busybody no-good-nicks, but by far the busiest no-good-nick of them all was Blake Carrington's (John Forsythe) vengeful ex-wife Alexis.

As essayed by British actress Joan Collins, Alexis was a sinister glamour puss who never missed an opportunity to make life miserable for Blake and his current missus, the sweet natured Krystal (Linda Evans). When not trying to wreck their marriage or drive Blake's company into the ground, Alexis was marrying a chap on his death bed to get all his money or whopping it up with boy toys several years her junior. Never in the same outfit twice, Alexis wore power suits where the shoulder pads had the wingspan of a 747 and favored evening gowns so loaded down with bugle beads it's a wonder she could even walk upright.

Collins played her role with campy relish and she not only energized "Dynasty", but made herself an international sensation in the process. Junk Cinema fans were not at all surprised by her star turn. See, since the mid-1950's Joan had been perfecting her bitch goddess from Hell persona in a series of films that ranged from big budget studio productions to low rent garbage to quasi-porn, with occasional pit stops on TV.

Along with Yvonne DeCarlo, Beverly Garland and Mamie Van Doren, Joan Collins was one of the most prolific actresses in Junk movies. And while her stint on "Dynasty" remains her most famous credit, bad movie mavens know the bouffant haired vixen (and ex-cuddlemate of Warren Beatty) is capable of so much more. Lets now revisit some of the flicks that made Joan the ageless scene stealer she is today.

"Land of the Pharaohs"(1955) After spending some time at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and working for the Arthur J. Rank organization, Joan left Britain to sign a contract with 20th Century Fox Studios. This sword and sandals epic about the building of Egypt's mighty pyramids was her big screen debut in America, although she doesn't show up until half-way through the picture.

Pharaoh Jack Hawkins is so obsessed with building the mightiest pyramid of them all, he fails to realize that wife #2 Princess Nellifer (guess who?) is more interested in getting her hands on the truck loads of treasure he plans on taking to the after-life than in him. In a series of machinations that would no doubt do Alexis proud, Nellifer plans to only get rich quick, but become pharaoh, too. Phase One: she gives the Pharaoh's son a flute and teaches him a jaunty tune--neglecting to mention that the song attracts cobras. While the kid is playing away, a slithering cobra drops by. The Pharaoh's first wife saves the tot, but she's deader than a door nail herself. Mission accomplished.

Phase Two: Nellifer picks out a studly palace guard (Sydney Chaplin, another ex-cuddlemate), treats him to the best sex of his life and talks him into offing the Pharaoh for her. He ultimately botches the job, but Joanie has a few more tricks up her sleeve. She stage manages a sword flight between the Pharaoh and her paramour which ends with them both dying, but with her safely on the throne. However, the Pharaoh has a little surprise for Nellifer that she won't soon forget.

The ads for "Land of the Pharaohs" panted up a storm, promising viewers a sneak peek at "the barbarous love that left Egypt's greatest pyramid as its wondrous landmark!" Joan's character, meanwhile, was billed as the type of gal "for whom the seven sins are not enough" and whose "treachery stained every stone of the pyramids!" Alas, the flick was a flop, even though Howard Hawks directed it and William Faulkner (!) wrote the script. Joanie, only 22 at the time, shouldn't be held totally responsible for this dud. In fact, she's the only fun person in the movie, sashaying around the palace in chiffon and high heels, flaring her nostrils and playing every man who crosses her path for the sucker he is. Having proved herself such an adept Nile serpent, it should come as no surprise, then, that 20th Century Fox tested her for the lead in their proposed Cleopatra bio--a part that ultimately went to Elizabeth Taylor.

"The Sea Wife"(1957) Actresses who have reputations as "good girls" always yearn to play baddies to show off their range. Conversely, actresses who have reps as "bad girls" want to play sweetie pies in order to show off their range.

Joan was no different.

Set during the dark days of WW II, "The Sea Wife" finds Joan stranded on a desert island with a black man, a racist and a pre-Elizabeth Taylor Richard Burton. In what was clearly meant to be an allegory about how the will to survive can bring out the best and worst in people, the flick suffers from a bad case of tedium. The only real interest here is seeing Burton fall for the mysterious Joan, who fails to fully explain why she's not into dating at the moment.

Eventually the survivors are rescued and separated, but Burton diligently searches for Joan in post-war London, even leaving messages for her in the newspaper. Sadly, he never learns why they can't reconnect: she's a nun!

See, Sister Joan and a fellow Bride of Christ were shepherding some orphans out of Europe when their boat was hit. In the frenzy of abandoning ship, a tyke rips off Joan's habit to reveal her stylish coiffure. Sister Joan never thinks about re-covering her hair or telling Burton that she's a nun. It would have made things a lot easier, but, then, there would be no movie if she had.

"The Sea Wife" is just the latest in a series of films where nuns are presented as the world's least likely sex symbols. From "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" to "The Nun's Story" to "A Change of Habit" to "Two Mules for Sister Sarah", nuns drive men wild with desire (quite by accident, of course), yet the good sisters always manage to stay true to their vows. Ironically, while Joan was playing a nun on screen, she was known around Hollywood at this time by the nickname "The English Open" because of her frisky dating life. Along with Beatty and Chaplin, Collins also had affairs with Harry Belafonte, Nicky Hilton, Arthur Loew, Jr. and would collect five husbands.You go, girl!

"I Don't Want to be Born"(1975) Now we officially enter Joan's Down Years, where her star dimmed considerably and she was forced to toil in a series of schlock-u-dramas to pay the rent and keep her family afloat.

Cast as a sexy night club dancer who lands a wealthy Italian husband, Joan makes the fatal mistake of  spurning the sexual advances of a psychotic dwarf. Bent on revenge, the little fellow curses Joan with "a baby--a monster, an evil evil monster conceived in your womb as big as I am small and possessed by the devil himself!"

Because of "Born"s low budget, viewers don't actually SEE the little nipper in the flesh; you just have to take it from the increasingly stressed out Joan that Junior is unusually big and strong, frightens the neighbors and trashes his nursery. Later on, the tyke will kill his nanny, terrorize the housekeeper and strangle his pop. He also kills mama Joan, even as she pleads, "But I'm your mother!"

It's up to the devil baby's aunt, who happens to be a nun, to save the day. It's she (on a dark and stormy night) who performs the rites of exorcism (or something) on the tot. As she does this, the nasty dwarf who started all the trouble is performing a soft shoe routine. As the nun chants on, the camera cuts back and forth between the screaming baby and the dancing dwarf, who begins to suffer a heart attack. As soon as the evil spirits leave the baby, the dwarf drops dead. The flick ends with the aunt/nun walking into the sunset with the now devil-free baby to begin a new life as...a single mother?

Actors get through movies like "I Don't Want to be Born" thinking less about their character's motivations and more about the paycheck they will be receiving. Poor Joan doesn't get much of a chance to act, but she can take some satisfaction in knowing she contributed to the popular Junk Cinema sub-genre known as Devil Baby Movies. These flicks, which began popping up in the late 1960's, featured women who either gave birth to or unknowingly adopted evil babies who proceeded to wreck all kinds of lethal havoc. In titles like "It's Alive", "The Children", "The Omen" and "The Godsend", nasty tots slaughtered everybody from the delivery room medical staff to the milkman, never realizing that this kind of homicidal behavior is not only bad manners, but will ruin all their chances of getting into a decent preschool.

However, as wretched as "I Don't Want to be Born" is, it's not the worst film Joanie ever appeared in. That honor goes to our next cinematic offering, where the one-time student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art must run for her life from mutant, mind controlling super sized ants. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...

"Empire of the Ants"(1977) If every career must have a nadir, this is Joan's. Not only must she battle fiberglass and chicken wire "ants" (which are viciously thrust at her by off screen stage hands), she had to do her own stunts. This meant Joan had to swim in dirty water dodging real alligators and wound up with icky sores all over her legs. However, with kids to feed, no serious acting offers and husband #3 overly fond of Bolivian Marching Powder, Joan was no position to complain. Thus she gritted her teeth and signed on to Bert I. Gordon's big bug epic "Empire of the Ants"--and no doubt prayed for deliverance from the All Mighty.

Joan is cast in the familiar role of a man eating real estate mogul who bullies her staff and sleeps with boy toys for kicks. She's hoping to score a mega bucks deal hustling resort condos, but her plans are stymied by a bunch of ants the size of Buicks. In case you're curious, the insects got this way by slurping up some radioactive goop that washed up on the shore. Once the buggers reach their full height, they hypnotize the local yokels and force them to toil day and night in a sugar refinery in the service of their queen. "We can all do what the ants want us to do," yammers sheriff Albert Salme'. "Work for them, feed them, that's the way it should be. For the ants are superior."

Naturally, a few humans refuse to submit to this tyranny. They grab a flare from a nearby car and use it to light the ant queen on fire. Her fellow ants leap on top of her to put out the flames, but it's no good. While the smell of bar-b-que ant fills the air, the brain washed humans regain their freedom. Unfortunately, Joan isn't one of them, having received a fatal zap of mind dust and crumbling into a heap on the ground. The end.

Well, not quite. Joan's performance as the terrorized real estate lady from Hell would so impress the Brothers Medved that they would later award their Golden Turkey Award for "The Most Humiliating Performance By A Future TV Star" to Collins in their tome Son of Golden Turkey Awards. Interesting trivia note: Linda Evans, future "Dynasty" co-star, was also nominated in this category for her appearance as Sugar Kane in "Beach Blanket Bingo."

Sadly, "Empire of the Ants" did not revive Joan's flagging career. In fact, the one time 20th Century Fox starlet eventually had to apply for unemployment benefits from the state of California. Lucky for Joan, "Dynasty" was just around the corner, making her both deservedly rich and famous. Seizing upon her second act success with both hands, Joan starred in TV movies, hawked Scoundrel perfume, posed for Playboy magazine, penned romance novels, appeared on Broadway, collected husbands 4 and 5 and became a grandmother.

Joan Collins, Junk Cinema salutes you!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Think Your Life Sucks? Then Please Watch...

It never rains, but it pours, right bad movie lovers?

I mean, the economy still hasn't perked up enough. Iran and Israel are about to bomb each other back to the stone age over nuclear programs that they either A) deny having or B) insist are for peaceful purposes only. The Secret Service, The Secret Service! is mixed up in a hooker and alcohol scandal. Mitt Romney is the GOP nominee for President and the GOP is in tears over the prospect. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity don't want insurance plans to cover birth control because they insist life begins the minute a man has a woman's bra unhooked. Greece is about to sink like Atlantis under the weight of its debt. Spain may soon be joining her. Rupert Murdoch insists he's been hurt even more than all those famous people whose cell phones were hacked by his tabloid employees. The King of Spain, who heads his nation's World Wild Life charity, was caught shooting elephants. And Newsweek magazine proclaims on its latest cover that modern, empowered women just want to be...spanked?

Yes, life can suck at times, can't it? But please remember: while your life might be in the toilet right now, someone, somewhere has it even worse. Don't believe me? Then by all means, please take full advantage of this blog's regular self-help feature "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...

The Specialist."
This 1994 doozie features Sly Stallone as (how appropriate!) a bomb expert and Sharon Stone as the mysterious, panties-shunning gal who wants him to bump off the mobsters who tortured and killed her parents many years ago.

Of course, Sly isn't your typical, run-of-the-mill bomb expert. No way! He's an ex-CIA bomb expert. He's also very picky: he only takes the jobs he wants. Furthermore, he's very reclusive. In fact, even if he agrees to take your job, he will not meet you face to face and will only contact you through the Internet. Finally, Sly is the type of bomb expert that can shape or plant an explosive device so perfectly that only the intended targets are killed, not any innocent bystanders.

In short, he's a humane bomb expert-slash-hired killer. Good to know, in case you're in the market for that kind of thing and you don't want to rely solely on

Anyway, May Munro (Stone) was just a little girl when her parents were horribly tortured and killed by all purpose meanie Tomas Leon (portrayed by Eric Roberts) and two other goons from the notorious Leon Cuban-American mafia family. The notorious Leon mafia family is headed up by all purpose meanie Rod Steiger, who appears to be possessed by the spirit of Ricky Riccardo. Rounding things out is all purpose meanie James Woods, who plays the head of the Leon mafia family's security detail. You know Woods a real monster because he barks at a hapless car attendant, "Who gave you permission to smile! Shut up!" Later he will even push an old couple out of an elevator and insult the old pepper's choice of shirt.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that Woods and Stallone were once buddies and in the CIA together and had a falling out over a bombing that went badly and Woods has it in for Stallone and wants to kill him?

Stone has contacted Stallone (who's character's name is Ray Quick) and wants to do business. At first, Ray tries to talk her out of her plans, but when she vows to snuff the baddies out herself, he signs on. I'm sure Ray only wants to help poor May have some closure and isn't influenced one bit by those surveillance tapes that reveal her to be quite a looker who must spend hours in the gym in order to wear those hot mama outfits she has lining her closet. Or their periodic phone chats that feature May purring, "I heard that you control your explosions, that you shape your charges." How May supports herself, why the Leon mafia family killed her parents, how she escaped their detection, who raised her, or if she even went to college is never explained. I guess as long as his customers' checks clear or they pay up front in cash in unmarked bills Ray (and the filmmakers) are more than happy to let the rest slide.

And soon the game is afoot.While Ray dickers with his smart bombs,  May gets busy cozying up to Tomas who, naturally, never suspects that his new cuddlemate might have a grudge against him--or that, depending on May's age at the time of her parents' murder, Tomas might be too old for such frisky doings. Never the less, you know May really hates this charade because after Tomas brings her home, she staggers around her apartment and tosses her panties in the trash. The look on Stone's face can thus be interpreted two ways: as her character saying to herself, "God, I hate my job" while the actress no doubt is saying to herself, "I am so firing my agent for talking me into this movie."

Because nothing in "The Specialist" is what it appears to be, we soon learn May is in cahoots with meanie James Woods (who's character is named Ned). See, Ned wants Ray dead and he's using May to draw his ex-buddy out into the open. How did Ned and May meet? Is he blackmailing her? Does he know or care that May wants to kill his employers? Does he realize May is using a fake name (Adrian)? All of these queries soon pile up like unopened mail, but "The Specialist" doesn't bother much with them. Why care if your movie  makes sense or not, when all you have to do is have Sly set off one of his smart bombs? Presumably the audience will be so impressed with the explosions that they will more than compensate for the preposterous pot holes in the plot.

Well, for some viewers that may be a fair trade, but for anyone with an IQ that's an irritating ploy that grates more and more as the movie stumbles along.

Of course, the penultimate explosion in "The Specialist" is the much anticipated meeting of Stallone and Stone. Unfortunately, this close encounter fizzles out like those cheap fireworks your kid brother insists on purchasing at roadside stands during the 4th of July. As Sly and Shar eye each other up and down and slowly circle in for the kill, you can almost hear the two actors engaging in a telepathic "I'm hotter than you" competition:

HE: "I'm hotter than you."

SHE: "No, I'm hotter than you."

HE: "Oh, yeah? Check out my hinder! I can crack walnuts with my butt cheeks!"

SHE: "Oh, yeah? Check out my abs! I can flip a quarter off my gut!"

HE: "I don't need a jockstrap!"

SHE: "I don't wear panties!"

HE: "I once appeared in a porno movie!"

SHE: "I once flashed my beaver!"

After Stallone and Stone have finished their romantic interlude, we still have the rest of the film to endure.

Thinking that May had perished in one of Ray's earlier explosions, imagine Ned's surprise when he stumbles upon her in a hotel lobby. Like the meanie he is, Woods hustles Stone into a waiting car...for something. Then May announces she has to go potty, which gives her plenty of time to warn Ray via cell phone that trouble is brewing. When our trio finally meet in a heavily armed and booby-trapped bunker/warehouse/hideout, Woods has gone completely mental. He also steps on a bomb and is blown into itty bitty pieces. Ray and May escape without a scratch or attracting the attention of the cops, naturally.

Later, mafia don Rod Steiger opens up a parcel that contains a locket with pictures of May's murdered parents inside. Naturally, it explodes. Gotcha! From a distance, Ray and May smile contentedly and drive off into the sunset planning, no doubt, a lovely bomb free life together.

Now you are probably thinking, " But Auntie Beth, my life sucks! How could this turgid movie possibly help me feel better?"

Well, I'll tell you.

"The Specialist" was made during the height of Sharon Stone's "Basic Instinct" glory days. Before that, she spent about 10 years in B-Movie/Straight -to-Video Hell, appearing in such tripe as "Action Jackson", "Scissors" (as a virgin!), the remake of "King Solomon's Mines" (which Richard Chamberlain!) and TV movies like "The Calendar Girl Murders". When "Basic Instinct" became a hit, Sharon was catapulted into the big time. This, you would have thought, would have inspired Sharon to use her newly minted star power to find quality scripts for herself and star in some classy films that showed off her acting skills, not just her body.

But no. Instead, it can be argued that the films Sharon has chosen to make since her big break through ARE EVEN WORSE than the stuff she endured as a starlet nobody. "Intersection", "The Last Dance", "Gloria", "Sliver", "Sphere", "Cat Woman" and "Basic Instinct 2" are horrible, horrible movies. Sure, Sharon earned an Oscar nomination for "Casino", but that was a VERY SMALL blip on her other wise bad movie radar. In fact, "The Specialist" was such a stinker (and she was so stinky in it) that it earned Sharon a coveted Golden Raspberry Award as Worst Actress at 1994's Golden Raspberry Awards (beating out such worthy competition as Joan Chen in "On Deadly Ground" and Jane March in "The Color of Night"). "The Specialist" probably would have remained Sharon's worst film to date if she hadn't made "Basic Instinct 2" a few years later--yet another bad career move on her part.

The unbearable badness of Stone's cinematic cannon makes you wonder about her much lauded career instincts and killer IQ. If she's suppose to be so smart, wouldn't she of all people steer clear of cow pies like "The Specialist" just out of principal?

So, if you, too, are struggling under the weight of a dead end job or a career that just doesn't want to take off and are beating yourself up for still not having your student loans paid off, just watch "The Specialist" and see how sucky things are going for Sharon Stone--and have been for quite a while. You'll feel better, trust me.

Until next time, cheer up and save the movies!