Thursday, December 28, 2017

Here Comes The "Bride Of The Monster"!

Dr. Vornoff (Bela Lugosi) and his assistant Lobo (Tor Johnson) try to reassure reluctant bride of the monster Janet Lawton (Loretta King) in the Ed Wood MESS-terpiece "Bride of the Monster."

It's a dark and stormy night. Hunters Mac (Bud Osborne) and Jake (John Warren) are tramping around Lake Marsh, seeking shelter from the elements. They eventually reach "the old Willow's place", which is supposedly empty and haunted. Mac pounds on the front door and is greeted by Dr. Vornoff (Bela Lugosi). He refuses to give the men shelter and orders them away. Then the doctor's assistant Lobo (Tor Johnson) lunges at the men from behind the bushes. The terrified hunters race off into the night...

Tragedy strikes when Mac falls into a ravine and is attacked by an octopus. Yes, an octopus. Jake repeatedly shoots at the sea creature, but he fails to save his friend. Then Lobo suddenly reappears, over-powering Jake and dragging him off...

When Jake comes to, he realizes that he's been strapped to an operating table with a mixing bowl perched on his head. Dr. Vornoff, you see, has been trying to create a race of "super humans" by bombarding unwilling test subjects with "atom rays". Unfortunately, all of the doctor's previous "volunteers" have expired. Will Jake be any different? Uh, no. After Dr. Vornoff flips some switches and Jake screams bloody murder, the doctor checks his patent's pulse; Jake is dead. D'oh! Vornoff sighs a heavy sigh and tosses the poor hunter's body to his pet octopus for a midnight snack. Back to the drawing board!

OK, who would instruct an actor to pound on the front door of a supposedly abandoned house? Who would have an octopus, a deep sea critter, living in a swamp? And who would have Bela Lugosi play a mad scientist?

Ed Wood, that's who!

Director Ed Wood (in a favorite angora sweater) relaxes between takes.

Hello and welcome movie lovers to the wonderful, funderful world of "Bride of the Monster", an anti-nuke horror flick, written, produced and directed by Ed D. Wood, Jr, a true giant in the Junk Cinema Pantheon of Celluloid Suck.

 Released in 1955 and partially financed by a generous contribution from a wealthy Baptist businessman, "Bride of the Monster" (aka "Bride of the Atom") is Wood's highest budgeted (at $70,000) and best performing film, yet it still showcases all the cheap sets, stiff-as-starch acting, nutty special effects and off-the-wall dialogue that earned Ed the Lifetime Achievement Award as the Worst Director of All Time by the Golden Turkey Awards.

When the remains of Mac and Jake found, they bring the death toll around Marsh Lake to 12. This, in turn, snags the attention of Capt. Robbins, played by the full-figured, nine-fingered Harvey B. Dunn. A regular fixture in bad movies, Dunn's other credits include "The Sinister Urge", "Teenagers From Outer Space" and an uncredited role as an extra in the "The Ascot Opening Day" number in "My Fair Lady." As the head of the homicide division, Dunn spends most of his time in his office, reading the paper and fussing over his Tweetie bird. This might explain why so little progress has been made in "The Marsh Lake Murders".

Thank goodness peppy girl reporter Janet Lawton (Loretta King) is on the case! She knows SOMETHING is going on and she's determined to ferret it out.

"OK, let's have the story on Lake Marsh and the monster!" Janet declares, after pushing her way into Capt. Robbins office.

Capt. Robbins (Harvey B. Dunn) and his trusted companion, Tweetie Bird.

"There's no such thing as monsters," Dunn sputters. "This is the 20th century!"

"Don't bet on it!" Janet snaps back.

Besides being a hot shot reporter, Janet is engaged to Sgt. Dick Craig (Tony McCoy), who is also working on the Lake Marsh case--and refusing to cough up any details, either. So Janet announces, "I'll just have to go to Lake Marsh myself!"

"Over my dead body!" fiance' Dick screams.

"That can be arranged!" Janet declares before stomping off.

Hot-shot reporter girl Janet Lawton (Loretta King) wonders if her series on the Lake Marsh murders will earn her a Pulitzer Prize.


No sooner has the dust settled on that confrontation than "Bride of the Monster" introduces us to Prof. Strowski (George Becwar). He presents himself to Robbins and Craig as a tweedy expert on monsters. Our lawmen are a bit suspicious, mostly because Strowski keeps changing his accent...often in mid-sentence. Then he arranges to meet Lt. Craig the next morning so they can check out Lake Marsh together...and totally ditches him! Not good, not good.

It only gets worse.

Peppy Janet does indeed go over to Lake Marsh. Unfortunately, a storm whips up and she smashes her car. Staggering out of the wreckage, Janet screams and faints when she spies a large rubber snake casually draped over some tree limbs. Thank heavens Lobo shows up, although he's more interested in Janet's angora beret than the lady's safety. Eventually Lobo drags Janet off to Dr. Vornoff's lair, where the mad scientist makes her tea. He also decides the reporter girl will make a great mother for his future monsters.

But not right away! Remember Prof. Strowski? He's tramping around Lake Marsh, dressed like Captain Spaulding from "Animal Crackers." He quickly finds Vornoff's house and lets himself in. Turns out Robbins was right to be suspicious of the multi-accented monster expert. He's actually a secret agent from an unnamed Eastern European country on a mission to convince Lugosi to return to the Motherland.

"Dr. Vornoff, I presume?": Prof. Strowski (George Becwar) makes Bela Lugosi an offer he CAN refuse.


Twenty years earlier, Dr. V. was busy conducting experiments on how to make a race of atomic super people. At the time, his home land wasn't too keen on his theories; in fact, the government kicked Vornoff to the curb and he hasn't seen his wife or kid since. Now the powers in charge want the mad doc to come home and share his discoveries with the Mother Land--a change of heart that cuts no ice with Lugosi.

"I was classed as a madman, a charlatan, outlawed in a world which previously honored me as a genius!" Bela bellows. "I will perfect my own race of people! A race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world! Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

Refusing to take no for an answer, Strowski pulls a gun on Vornoff and demands he return to the Mother Land. Vornoff, in turn, sicks Lobo on Strowski, who tosses the spy to their pet octopus...who resembles as very big, very ugly and very slimy bean bag chair. While Strowski screams and flails about, the octopus remains inert, except for one tentacle that feebly sways back and forth...helped along by the unseen crew member who attached the limb to a fishing pole expressly for this purpose.

As our danse macabre totters along, it's clear director Wood is building up to an epic climax, where the forces of good and evil will duke it out for supremacy.

"Take This Job and Shove It!": Lobo reaches the end of his tether with Dr. Vornoff.

First, Dr. Vornoff hypnotizes Janet and puts her in a fancy wedding dress. She's duly strapped to the operating table and a bowl is put on her head. Lugosi then informs his test subject that the procedure he's going to subject her to "hurts just for a moment, but then you will emerge as a woman." Sounds just like losing your virginity, no?

Next, Lt. Craig arrives on the scene, only to be knocked on the noggin by Lobo. He's soon chained to the wall, all the better to watch his fiance' get fried by atomic rays.

Suddenly Lobo has a change of heart and can't bring himself to fry Janet. This upsets Vornoff, who starts whipping Lobo. The long suffering lab assistant decides he's had enough and pounds Vornhoff into pulp. He frees Janet, who, in turn, frees Lt. Craig. The down side? Lobo and Craig get into another fight and Lobo knocks the lawman unconscious, again.

While all this is going on, Capt. Robbins and a clutch of cops arrive at the Willow's place. They poke around upstairs, but basically are pretty ineffectual.

When we return to Dr. V's lab, it's the mad scientist  who is strapped to the operating table, while Janet and her fiance' cower in the corner. Turns out Lobo has been watching Dr. Vornoff VERY CAREFULLY and is now busy turning the dials and flipping the switches necessary to give his boss the shock of his life.

Bela Lugosi in a shocking portrayal.

Unlike the other poor saps subjected to this treatment, Dr. Vornoff (a body double in platform disco shoes) emerges as a "super man", not a stiff. The new and improved Dr. V. then proceeds to beat up Lobo and drag Janet off.  Fortunately, Lt. Craig finally snaps back into consciousness and chases after the duo.

Dr. Vornoff's lab has caught fire, forcing Capt. Robbins et. al. to vacate the premises. Then nerdy cop Kelton notices Lugosi's body double carrying Janet over to Lake Marsh. Everybody hot-foots it over there, guns a-blazin'.

The piece de resistance of "Bride of the Monster" is the film's final moments, where, in a flurry of cross-cut editing, Lt. Craig pushes a boulder the size of Jupiter on to Dr. Vornoff, who rolls down a ravine. Waiting for him down below is--say it isn't so!--the mad scientist's pet octopus, who proceeds to eat Dr. Vornoff for dinner. At that exact same moment, a lightening bolt hits the Willow's place and everything goes up in a mushroom cloud. As Janet and Lt. Craig hug each other tightly, Capt. Robbins wanders over and solemnly proclaims, "He tampered in God's domain."

Was he talking about Dr. Vornoff--or Ed Wood?

"An Octopus's Garden in the Shade": Bela Lugosi has a fatal encounter with his pet octopus.

Ah, Ed Wood.

I read a quote recently that said," The universe isn't made up of atoms. It is made up of tiny stories."

Since "Bride of the Monster" was originally named "Bride of the Atom", that seems a fitting way to end this post.

If you can think of a better one, have at it!


Saturday, December 23, 2017

"The Magnificent Seven" 2016 Or How The West Was Undone

Mr. Washington goes to Rose Creek: Bounty hunter Chisolm wonders what he's gotten himself into. The audience agrees.

Howdy, movie lovers.

The hard workin', God fearin', Bible readin', honest-as-the-day-is-long citizens of Rose Creek have found themselves in a heap o' trouble.

See, a zonked-out robber baron with a Snidly Whiplash 'stache named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) is intent on driving them off their land. To achieve this, Bogue has employed murder, threats, murder, poison, murder, arson, murder and murder.

Fed up, the beleaguered citizens hold a town meeting in the church, where they vent their frustrations. It's clear they'll get no help from the local law, as Sheriff Harp (Dane Rhodes) is completely in Bogue's hip pocket. Then Bogue suddenly waltzes in, pausing long enough to berate the assembly, torment a child, shoot a few folks and, just for kicks, set fire to the church.

After such a horrific display of bad manners, the citizens of Rose Creek must decide whether they'll stay and fight or leave while they still can.

"Born to be Bad": Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) in one of his more lucid moments.

Brave but bra-less widow Emma (Haley Bennett) makes it clear she intends to fight. However, she realizes her fellow yokel locals will need some help. With her pal Teddy Q (Luke Grimes) in tow, Emma ventures out to find the muscle who will rid her town of Bogue and his squinty-eye, tobacco-chewin' goons for good.

Of course, you know what happens next, because you've seen the Disney-Pixar feature "A Bug's Life". Ha, ha, just kidding! You know what happens next because you've seen "The Seven Samurai", the legendary classic co-written, produced, directed and edited by Akira Kurosawa.You also know what happens next because you've seen 1960's "The Magnificent Seven", an Americanized remake of "The Seven Samurai" and a classic in it's own right. Finally, you know what happens next because you've your ever lasting regret...2016's remake of "The Magnificent Seven", which sucks on toast. Big time.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: Junk Cinema is not ONLY made by earnest yet incompetent amateurs with more dreams than talent, money or brains--although it helps. Seasoned professionals, with unlimited funds, the best technology, an A-list cast and the best catering crews in the world can still conjure up a cinematic suppository even William "One Shot" Beaudine would blanch at.

Alas, that is exactly what director Antoine Fugua has done with "The Magnificent Seven" 2016. Despite corralling the services of Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D'Onofrio, among others, Fugua has created a truly wretched western, which begs the question: Antoine, sweetie, who hurt you?

For right now, though, let's get back to the movie.

Frontier widow Emma (Haley Bennet) takes aim at the baddies who shot her husband, burned her church, kicked her dog and cast her in this movie.

Emma and Teddy Q. find what they need in the form of Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a US Marshal warrant officer (and People magazine's "Sexist Man Alive" for 1997). When widow Emma first pleads her case, Chisolm isn't interested, remarking, "You seek revenge." To which she replies, "I seek righteousness. (Pause.) But I'll take revenge."

This impresses Chisolm, who takes the job. He then briskly goes about recruiting his team: a whiskey guzzlin' Irishman with an eye for the ladies (Chris Pratt); an outlaw named Vasquez (the hunky Manuel Garcia- Rulfo), who has an opening in his otherwise busy schedule; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, ex-cuddlemate of Uma Thurman), an old army buddy of Chisolm's who dresses like Buffalo Bill Cody and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a protege of Goodnight's who has a wicked way with a knife. Later, our happy campers will be joined by tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio), who is missing an ear--along with a good chunk of his sanity-- and Native American Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), an expert with a bow-and-arrow who sports impeccable face paint.

No sooner has this motley crew arrived in Rose Creek than they are called upon to do battle with a posse of Bogue's goons. This they do with deliberate skill (and great editing), earning the tense trust of the townspeople.

As Chisolm and his merry men whip the folks of Rose Creek into shape, the guns-for-hire come to know and respect the humble frontier folk--and vice versa. What was suppose to be just another "job" thus takes on unexpected meaning for everybody.

Or so it was in the first two films. In Fuqua's 2016 version, viewers have to assume this for themselves. That's because outside of colorful costumes, personality quirks and ethnic cliches, the hired guns are given no other opportunities to develop and explore their characters. No warnings about how short and miserable the life of a hired gun really is, no impassioned speeches about how bravery isn't always found at the barrel of a gun--scenes which gave the other two films their emotional heft. The exception is Denzel, whose Chisolm is quietly powerful and a natural leader. He also nurses a secret which explains why he took up the cause of Rose Creek in the first place. Masterful actor that he is, Washington doesn't reveal this until the very end, giving his performance a pathos and gravity the other actors are denied.

"The Sexiest Hired Guns of 1879": The cast of "The Magnificent Seven" 2016 strike a pose.

The long awaited confrontation between the citizens of Rose Creek and Bogue's army of thugs that is the centerpiece of "The Magnificent Seven" eventually arrives, with the hayseeds doing a right fine job. Trouble is, Bogue, that meanie, has a nasty surprise in the form of a Gatling Gun. Yet our unlikely heroes manage to triumph anyway. Or do they? Four of their buddies are dead. The remaining three will continue to hire themselves out until they either die or quit. Like the haunting refrain in "Desperado", they aren't free; "their prison is walking through this world all alone." As for the citizens of Rose Creek, they have their town back, but at what cost?

 Unlike Kurosawa or John Sturges, director Fuqua doesn't layer any of this into his film, which is a major, major problem. To quote the late, great Roger Ebert, Fuqua knows the words, but not the music. By leaving out the heart and the emotional complexities of the tale, "The Magnificent Seven" 2016 is just a paint-by-numbers exercise in...painting-by-the-numbers.

Now, I know this movie will have it's fans and some will feel discussing it on a blog dedicated to Godzilla movies and hysterical soap operas is unfair. Fine. To defend my decision, I hereby present seven points to buttress my conviction that this movie sucks on toast:

Point One-- When the original film is an influential classic (as "The Seven Samurai" is) and it's 1960 remake is a classic (which "The Magnificent Seven" is), there is no reason on God's green earth to make a third film! It's just that simple.

Point Two--You don't assemble a cast like this and then give them NOTHING to do. It's down right criminal.

"It's Miller Time--All The Time!": Chris Pratt enjoys an early morning nip of liquid encouragement.

Point Three--What  was Mr. Bogue's problem, exactly? Was he a drunk, an opium addict, suffering from a STD, hooked on snuff, experiencing a bowl blockage, battling the flu, or wearing tight under things? His bleary-eyed, sweaty continence and slightly slurred speech hints that something mighty peculiar is going on--why not clue the audience in?

Point Four--Why must the only consequential female in the movie be a budget Jennifer Lawrence who struggles to keep her breasts in her bra?

Point Five--If the hired guns in "The Magnificent Seven" 2016 were thumb-nail portraits at best, the citizens of Rose Creek were cardboard cut-outs. Shouldn't the film have taken the time to introduce us to these people, to explore their plight and show why they were willing to trust their lives to a bunch of mercenaries?

Point Six--It's hinted that Ethan Hawke's character suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome--the operative word here is hinted. Once again, the film completely bungles a chance to give a major character some depth and the plot a chance to explore the toll the life of a hired gun demands. Also, why must the Irishman always be a poetry spouting drunk? I am Irish myself , so, somebody, please, give this cliche' a rest.

Point Seven--If you're going to remake a classic that's a remake of a classic, you better have your cinematic ducks in a row. You cannot coast on the previous films' reputations or the good will of the films' many fans. Mr. Fuqua had every opportunity to make an excellent film. If or when he realized he could not bring anything new to this tale, he should have quit. Leaving movie lovers with "The Seven Samurai" and "The Magnificent Seven" is far more noble than presenting those same movie lovers with a watered-down western that wastes their time and money.

"There has got to be a cash machine around here somewhere...": The Magnificent Seven arrive on the scene.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, a classic film never ages and SAVE THE MOVIES.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

"The Bad Seed" Is Bad To The Bone--So Deal With It!

Sugar and spice and everything nice is not what this little girl is made of: Rhoda Penmark (Patty MacCormack) lays on the charm.

Hi Keebah and hello, movie lovers.

If you and your husband/wife/spouse/partner/significant other/whatever are planning on having a baby any time soon, please, PLEASE! watch 1956's "The Bad Seed" first. Even if you and your husband/wife/spouse/partner/significant other/whatever aren't planning on having a baby anytime soon, you should still watch 1956's "The Bad Seed."

Based on Maxwell Anderson's hit Broadway play (which was based on William March's hit novel), "The Bad Seed" is the Grand Dame of devil baby movies, a Junk Cinema genre where everyone from Mia Farrow to Joan Collins must face the fact that their little bundle of joy is in fact a nasty, blood thirsty, evil hell-beast.

The centerpiece of "The Bad Seed" is Rhoda Penmark (Patty MacCormick), a pig-tailed paragon of perfection who is twisted enough to freak out Hannibal Lector.

Whatever Rhoda wants, Rhoda gets, even if it means offing people in some pretty gruesome ways.

"My future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!": Rhoda shows off the lighter side of being a  sociopath.
Such as?

When an elderly neighbor hints that Rhoda will be left something fancy in her will, the old dear soon trips down a flight of stairs and breaks her neck.

Later, after a doltish handyman taunts Rhoda about the police coming to put her in the electric chair ("They got a little blue chair for little boys and a little pink chair for little girls!"), Rhoda sets him on fire while he's taking a nap.

Perhaps Rhoda's most unfortunate victim is Claude Daigle, a fellow student at her pricey private school. He had the nerve to win the penmanship medal Rhoda felt was hers. When the nerdy Claude refused to hand over the medal, Rhoda stalked him at the end-of-term picnic. Cajolery and threats failing to do the trick, Rhoda pounds on Claude with her shoe until he forks over the medal. She then chases poor Claude to near-by wharf where he drowns.

Rhoda's mom Christine (Nancy Kelly) is a posh housewife who vacuums in her pearls. However, even she is forced to admit that her beyond-perfect Rhoda isn't your typical kid: "There is a mature quality about her that is disturbing in a child."

Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) wonders why people die whenever her daughter is around.

No kidding! Is that why none of the other kids will play with her and she's eventually kicked out of her posh school?

The death of Claude and Rhoda's no-skin-off-my-nose reaction starts to unnerve Christine; in fact, she soon realizes wherever Rhoda goes, bodies start piling up. Then Rhoda lets it slip that she never dreams at night or "feels anything." Does this suggest Rhoda maybe disturbed in some way?

Oh, and another thing: doting mom Christine has been having these weird flashbacks about her own childhood. After she presses her dad for answers, Christine learns that she was adopted. That's fine-- until the gal learns her birth mother was Bessie Denker, a sweet-faced serial killer who dispatched her victims in ways granddaughter Rhoda would admire. Seeking reassurance that Rhoda is just, you know, maybe, going through a phase, Christine asks writer Reggie Tasker (Gage Clark) if kids born to killers can be saved by "by nice family surroundings and advantages".  He's not very encouraging: "They're just bad seeds. Plain bad from the beginning and nothing can change them."


Horrified that she's responsible for transferring "the bad seed" gene to her kid ("Poor deformed children, born without pity!" mom wails), Christine decides that the only thing to do is give Rhoda an over-dose of "vitamins" (actually sleeping pills) and then shoot herself. After all, if the police found out about Rhoda's crimes, they'd arrest her, lock her up in a mental ward, probe her psyche, experiment on her--and what would the neighbors say?! It was the the 1950's, remember, and people cared very much about their reputations back then. If word got out their daughter was a sociopath, the Penmark's would never be allowed to join any decent country club.

"I like you, mommy. That's why I'm going to kill you last."

Now, this is pretty intense stuff, especially for 1956. But have no fear. The Motion Picture Production Code wasn't about to let "The Bad Seed" go that far. Instead, director/producer Mervyn LeRoy had Christine survive her gunshot wounds. Rhoda also survives her "vitamin" over-dose, but she isn't spared--unlike the play, where mom dies and Rhoda lives. Instead, Rhoda sneaks out of her flat on "a dark and stormy night" to retrieve Claude's medal, which ma Christine found and returned to the wharf. While she's fishing the trinket out of the water, Rhoda is struck by lightening and instantly killed.

Karma, get it?

But that's not all! Two seconds later, the whole cast reappears and takes a bow. Then Kelly grabs MacCormick and gives her a spanking--as if to reassure the audience, "Hey, this was only movie!"

Thanks for reminding us!

I know "The Bad Seed" has its fans. It was a big hit at the box office and earned its principal stars Oscar nominations. But that doesn't mean that the flick can't be bad. Consider these points, if you will:

Leroy the handyman isn't nearly as scary as Rhoda Penmark.

*Nancy Kelly, as Rhoda's horrified mom, spends the entire movie either on the verge of a nervous breakdown or wetting her pants. You can appreciate her anguish, but after a while you start hoping someone will tell her to get a grip and call the police--at least take a chill pill.

*With her bone-white pigtails, frilly dresses and perfectly plucked brows, Patty MacCormack looks like she wandered off the set of "Children of the Damned". Even for the prissy '50's, Rhoda is such an over-the-top caricature of "a good little girl" that it's hard to believe people didn't think she was off her dot sooner than they did.

*Also in typical '50's fashion, the movie implies that the mothers are really to blame for all this mess. Christine's birth mother, Bessie Denker, was a serial killer. Christine, in turn, not only passed "the bad seed" on to her own kid--as if she had any control over that--she's guilty of trying cover up her child's crimes. Claude Daigle's mom (played by Eileen Heckart) is a smothering hysteric the flick hints was turning the kid into a wimp. The Penmark's landlady Monica is an annoying busybody who drops in anytime day or night. Finally, the head mistress Miss Fern at Rhoda's school is a hyper-rigid old maid who looks as if she was weaned on a pickle (to quote Alice Roosevelt). Looked at objectively from the distance of 61 years, this movie really hates women.

* And the men aren't any better! Christine's hubby is away on a business trip during these murderous events; Mr. Daigle (played by Frank Cady, best known as Sam the grocer in "Petticoat Junction") is clearly a hen-pecked husband; Christine's father, a respected journalist, won't even admit he knew his daughter's birth mother was a killer--he even threw away his research that proved it! None of them are any help.

*Then there is Henry Jones as Leroy the handyman. Landlady Monica admits that he's lazy and "mentally deficient", but somehow he managed to have kids, so she keeps him on the payroll. Is that a subtle hint that only people with certain IQs should be allowed to have kids? Or a dig about society's preconceptions over who makes the best parents? Author William March was single and childless himself, so maybe he wasn't the best person to write on this subject.

Even prissy Miss Fern is afraid of Rhoda.

In the final analysis, "The Bad Seed" is a preposterously bad movie that has long pretended to be a good movie, even a horror classic. However, just because a movie is a hit and earns itself some Oscar nominations doesn't mean it's good. Elizabeth Taylor won her first Best Actress Oscar playing an annoying, grating hooker/model in an otherwise crummy film ("Butterfield 8"). Irene Cara won an Oscar for writing the theme to "Flashdance", for pete's sake. Like little Rhoda herself, "The Bad Seed" has been pretending for far too long.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, don't judge a novel by its movie version, and, of course, SAVE THE MOVIES.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Land Of The Pharaohs" Is A Real Pyramid Scheme

"Land of the Pharaohs" German movie poster. As I've always said, "Trash is the universal language!"

Welcome, movie lovers.

I have a question for you.

How bad can a movie be if William Faulkner writes the script and Howard Hawks directs?

Bad. Very, very bad.

"Land of the Pharaohs" (1955) is a big, gaudy, silly, occasionally ponderous soap opera (in CinemaScope!) where the actors behave less like historical personages and more like participants in a hormone experiment.

Jack Hawkins is Egypt's mightiest pharaoh and most demanding client.

"The barbarous love that left Egypt's great pyramid as it's wondrous landmark!" screamed the movie's ads. "The world of  (a) king...crashing to bits on the soft lips of (a) concubine for whom the seven sins were not enough!"

See what I mean?

And what Hollywood hotsy-totsy would be playing this ancient Egyptian bad girl? Lana Turner? Ava Gardner? Vera Vague?

How about a 22-year old contract player (and Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts student) named Joan Collins, future star of "Dynasty" and Dame of the British Empire?

As the female lead in "Land of the Pharaohs", Joan sashays around like the diva she is, flaring her nostrils, arching her eyebrows, hissing like a snake and chewing the Grade A-fat with gusto. She's not only the movie's liveliest character, she appears to be the only one having any fun. Too bad she doesn't arrive on the scene until about 45 minutes into the picture.

The lead float in the Rose Bowl Parade? Nope, it's just Pharaoh Khufu vising the building site of his super pyramid.

Until then, viewers must make do with the gravel-voiced Jack Hawkins as Egypt's mightiest pharaoh, Khufu. Sure, he's rich and all-powerful, but is he satisfied? Of course not! All the pharaoh can do is obsess about building the world's greatest pyramid and stocking it with the world's greatest assortment of treasure, thus ensuring that his "after life" will be as lavish and comfy as his current one.

To achieve this, pharaoh strong arms various architects, builders, masons and slaves to toil away on his dream project. "Land of the Pharaohs" thus crawls at a snail's pace while Hawkins endlessly dickers with his staff over design plans, materials and safety features. He even complains about the sand. "Why can't we do away with the desert?!" Hawkins sputters. After enduring these tiresome vignettes, you begin think you've stumbled onto the most contentious "Property Brothers" episode ever.

Anyway, constructing the world's greatest pyramid doesn't come cheap, so the pharaoh demands various "tributes" from the lands he presides over. This, in turn, puts a considerable crimp on the already over-extended local populations responsible for these "tributes". This is when Joan shows up.

She's Princess Nellifer, ambassador from Cypress. Her initial introduction to the pharaoh and his court doesn't go well. See, when Nellifer's name is called, she's reapplying her lipstick and makes everyone wait. Then she declares that the "tribute" demanded of Cypress is too great--so her father has sent her as the replacement.

This cuts no ice with the pharaoh, who insists that Cypress fork over its assigned "tribute" AND allow him to keep Nellifer. Joan boldly tells Hawkins he can have one or the other, but NOT both. Unaccustomed to any back talk, pharaoh orders Joan to be whipped.

Joan Collins as Princess Nellifer, dressed to excess.

Bloodied but but unbowed, Joan is later dragged back to face Hawkins. "Education is painful, isn't it?" the pharaoh sneers. In response, Nellifer bites the king and seethes, "Don't ever touch me again!"

Despite their mutual antipathy, the pharaoh and the princess have a certain "chemistry" and soon all is forgotten. In fact, the pharaoh decides to marry Joan and make her his second string wife. This makes Nellifer pleased as punch--especially when she tours hubby's super deluxe pyramid and gets a gander at his golden goodies.

Boy, could Nellifer make use of all that treasure!

However, Hawkins makes it perfectly clear that the treasure glittering before wife number two is strictly for HIS benefit and no one else's. Hands off!

It's going to take more than a stern warning from Hawkins to keep Nellifer from getting what she wants. Eventually she realizes that the easiest path to the pharaoh's treasure is through his first wife and their pesky kid.

"I own this and this and this": Pharaoh Khufu believes in buying in bulk.

So Joan plays besties wife #1 and presents the heir to the throne with a cute flute. She even teaches him to play a sprightly tune...with attracts cobras. One evening junior is busy playing away and a nasty cobra slithers out from under the bushes. Luckily mom sees the snake and throws herself on top of it.

It's never explained if junior dies, too, but he disappears from the rest of the movie, so I guess that means he did. Or he went to camp. I don't know.

Now upgraded to #1 wife status, Nellifer begins working her wiles on palace flunky Treneh (Sydney Chaplin). Inviting him to her private chambers, Joan pours them wine and pouts about how even queens "can get lonely, too." As the screen goes dark, it's clear that Treneh will make sure this queen is never lonely again.

Totally besotted with Joan, Treneh is never the less horrified when she urges him to kill the pharaoh. He refuses, but Joan uses the old "You'd do it if you loved me..." line that never fails anyone, especially in movies like this. To make a very long story short, Nellifer sends her servant to kill the pharaoh, but he totally gums up the works, which really annoys Hawkins. Then the pharaoh stumbles into his wife's boudoir and over hears Nellifer and Treneh bickering over the bungled assassination attempt. That, in turn, sparks a sword fight between the two men which doesn't end well...for them.

Now elevated to queen in her own right, Nellifer proudly strolls into her late hubby's super deluxe pyramid, which features more glint and gold than Trump Tower. It's all hers now--or so she thinks. That's because palace aide to the pharaoh has a sneaky surprise in store for Queen Nellifer, which gives new meaning to the phrase "Always have an exit strategy."

Nellifer and her patsy Treneh (Sydney Chaplin) strike a pose.

Oh, before I forget, there is a subplot in "Land of the Pharaohs" about a builder named Vashtar (James Robertson Justice) and his son Senta (the heavily pompadoured Dewey Martin). They are promised their freedom once the pyramid is built; however, as the project drags on (much like the movie) Senta gets increasingly irritated (much like the audience) that their promised deliverence may never come. Worse, pop is slowly losing his eyesight. Will he finish the pyramid before he goes blind? Will he live long enough to experience freedom? Unfortunately, the Vahtar and Senta part isn't as much fun as Joan flaring her nostrils and snorting like a dragon, so I decided not to dwell on it. You can watch it yourself, though.

After enduring such a vast slog like "Land of the Pharaohs", sensitive viewers will be left with a few questions, such as:

*How come Dewey Martin can show his belly button, but Joan Collins couldn't?

*How come Joan appears to have endured the world's worst spray tan?

*How come all the good, noble people in this movie are boring old sticks and the only person with any pep is the villain?

"Navel Gazing": Dewey Martin's belly button peeks out to say hello.

*How could a movie written by William Faulkner and directed by Howard Hawks be so bad?

As I have often said, Junk Cinema isn't only made by earnest yet incompetent amateurs with little money and less talent--although it helps. Seasoned  professionals given scads of cash and the best of everything can--and often do--create cinematic stinkers that would make Coleman Francis or Ed Wood blush.

"Land of the Pharaohs" is proof of that. So is "One from the Heart", "The Great Gatsby", "Heaven's Gate", "1941" , "Town and Country" and countless other "A List" projects.

Despite a hefty (for the day) $6 million budget, "Land of the Pharaohs" only made back a third of its investment for Warner Brothers. The flick ended up being Howard Hawks' first commercial failure and he was so bummed out that he wouldn't make another movie until 1959's "Rio Lobo". Nobel Laureate Faulkner, meanwhile, admitted that his script tanked because he tried to make an Egyptian pharaoh "sound like a Kentucky colonel." And it turns out that watching a pyramid being built is about as exciting to movie-goers as sitting in traffic on a hot day with the AC on the fritz.

The only winner here--besides bad movie fanatics-- is Joan Collins as vamp camp tramp Princess Nellifer. In fact, Joan would play a variety of versions of Nellifer throughout her career, reaching her zenith on "Dynasty" as Alexis Carrington. After a long dry spell career-wise, watching Joan strut through the various Carrington properties, biting the heads off hapless co-stars and wearing designer duds with should pads that would allow her to play tackle football, brings back fond memories of her performance in "Land of the Pharaohs". Although it was Pharaoh Khufu who dreamed of immortality, it was Princess Nellifer who proved to be least for Joan Collins.

"Who's That Girl?": Princess Nellifer is ancient Egypt's answer to Alexis Carrington. Or is it the other way around?

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, nations rise and fall, money comes and goes, love fades and fame is fickle. But bad movies never die--SO SAVE THEM!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...Or, Rather, Please Read...

"You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover": HRH  is an unexpected royal hoot.

Hi Keebah and hello, movie lovers.

Are you in a funk? Has your "get up and go" gone up and went? Does the daily news make you want to alternately pull your hair out, sob hysterically or pray desperately? Do you feel your life is like a car stuck on a highway off-ramp, forever waiting to merge?

You're not alone. Junk Cinema understands life has a way of kicking you in the shins, the gut, the head and the hinder all at the same time. That's why this blog features a semi-regular feature called "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch...", which recommends a cinematic solution to lift your mood.

Only this time around, "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch..." has been temporarily renamed "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Read...HRH by Danielle Steel."

I stumbled upon this book when I was sick and it was so bat-shit crazy, I couldn't let it pass.

HRH Princess Christianna is just about as perfect as a princess could be.

Danielle Steel is one of the world's best-selling romance novelists. She's also a wonderfully terrible writer whose prose stylings and/or musings are so bad you will be shooting whole popcorn kernels through your nose with laughter--and I say that with all due respect.

Now, I know romance novels aren't known for their realism, but it's hard to believe even the most HOPELESS romantic could possibly stomach the sheer nuttiness that enfolds in this novel.

So, without further ado, let's begin HRH. 

HRH Christianna is the daughter of HRH Hans-Josef, the Prince of Liechtenstein. She's a delicate blond who is pretty, gracious, elegant, well-mannered, multi-lingual, smart, articulate, gentle, thoughtful, kind, responsible, dutiful, warm, generous, down to earth, a hard worker, a snappy dresser and completely and totally unsnobbish.

How do I know this? Because author Steel can't help but mention her heroine's fine qualities every chance she gets. If, by the time you have finished the book, you are not convinced that Christianna is just so darn wonderful, then author Steel has clearly failed to do her job. Or you are just a mean, mean person with a big black void where your heart should be.

If you don't think Princess Christianna is darling and wonderful, then you are a cold, evil, heartless person who will die alone.

As the novel begins, Christianna has just graduated from UC/Berkeley and, as Steel writes over and over and over again, she misses Berkeley. Oh, how she misses her time studying at Berkeley. The princess lived there in relative anonymity, in a small apartment with two bodyguards. The college administration kept her true identity secret and nobody, not even her friends, knew she was a royal and Christianna just LOVED that. In fact, Christianna was so quiet and private during her time at Berkeley that she only appeared in People magazine once--at a "football game with her British cousins." ( Could those "British cousins" be the ones who reside in Buckingham Palace? Of course! Christianna is "related to all the major houses in Europe.") Oh, and she was featured on the cover of Town and Country magazine in a ball gown, but that was the extent of it.

 Now Christianna is back in the principality and she is just totally bummed. Her days are filled with endless ribbon cuttings and tree plantings and hand shaking. When Christianna isn't doing all THAT, she's touring hospitals, visiting the elderly, reading to the blind and attending dull-as-dishwasher diplomatic dinners. Her older brother Frederick is the Crown Prince, the heir to the throne, but he's just a jerk playboy to busy bedding supermodels to help out.

What's more, Christianna's late mother (who died of cancer) extracted a promise from her princely hubby that their daughter would ONLY marry a royal. No commoners. It must be a royal or, in a pinch, an aristocrat, no lower than an Earl. Dad has steadfastly hued to this promise, which means poor Christianna can't even fall in love! Her whole life is planned out for her! What a drag!

See what I mean about Christianna's life sucking? It's just one parade of suckiness and there seems to be nothing she can do about it. Or can she?

After yet another round of ribbon cutting and hand shaking (which HRH performs with grace and loveliness and charm), our plucky heroine decides to plow through the suckiness. She knows there is more to life than wearing impeccable Chanel suits and popping out babies for her future royal spouse. Christianna wants to use her position to make life better for her fellow human beings. So she wrangles herself a stint as a Red Cross volunteer in Russia during a hostage crisis. Her identity kept secret (and with two body guards in tow), Christianna spends three days handing out water bottles and coffee, blankets and sandwiches, does a bit of translating and hugs and comforts the grieving families. When the crisis is over, the head of the Red Cross station tells Christianna "she has a gift" and encourages her to work for the Red Cross. The princess thus returns to the principality determined to strike out on her own.

"Deck the Halls? My Aunt Fanny!": Princess Christianna finds her royal duties taxing even at Christmas time.

Dad Hans Josef, fed up with his daughter's endless nagging, finally agrees to let her work for the Red Cross in Africa in an AIDS clinic for six months. After that, all bets are off and Christianna must become a full-time royal in service of the principality. 

Accompanied by two body guards (Max and Sam), Christianna, now called Cricky, heads off to Eritrea, in East Africa--although, it should be noted, that HRH flies in First Class, while her body guards languish in Business Class, proving there are perks even royals anxious to experience "ordinary life" won't give up. "Still looking fresh and beautiful after her long trip", Cricky meets her fellow Red Cross workers, who are some of the happiest, nicest, most selfless people ever to set foot on planet Earth. Soon enough, our under-cover royal has seamlessly meshed with her colleagues and is doing all her assigned tasks perfectly; Cricky even arranges hand-picked bouquets of wild flowers around the clinic and hospital to cheer the patients up. 

Unfortunately, there is one member of the Red Cross staff who doesn't like Cricky: a sour-puss French gal named Laure. How could anyone not like Cricky?! I mean, everybody else in the clinic agreed that "she was grace itself."  Turns out the poor dear was suffering from a broken heart. Her fiance left her at the alter and ran off with her maid-of-honor, who also happened to be pregnant with his baby. Cricky looks a bit like Laure's two-timing friend, so that might have made things tense. Yet, despite the rebuffs and scowls, Cricky reaches out to Laure and they eventually become friends. Once Cicky earns Laure's trust, and the French woman chokes out her tale of rejection and deceit, HRH offers her this bit of heart-felt wisdom: "All I can say about (that) is 'That sucks'."


HRH is a romance novel, remember, so author Steel quickly arranges for a Dr. McDreamy to arrive on the scene so Cricky can experience some sexual healing of her own. His name is Parker and he works for Doctors Without Borders. In Africa, the cuddlemates are allowed the luxury of falling in love and having safe, tasteful sex in privacy, but their love is doomed. Soon enough, Cricky will have to tell Parker the truth and return to Liechtenstein. There is no way her father will allow her to marry a doctor from Boston--even a rich and handsome one!--because he promised her late mother only a royal for their daughter. That sucks!

"Calling Dr. McDreamy, STAT!": Can a princess find true love with a doctor? If he looks like this guy, sure!

The royal shit eventually hits the fan when pesky paparazzi spot Cricky and Parker exiting a fancy hotel arm and arm. The photogs were originally there to stake out Madonna. However, the Material Girl never materialized, allowing HRH and Dr. McDreamy to innocently stumble onto the scene. Pictures of the cuddlemates are splashed all over The Daily Mail and now the whole world knows Christianna has a secret love. D'oh!

However, HRH's problems aren't over yet. In quick succession, her father gives a speech at the UN (or somewhere) that riles up a terrorist group, who install a bomb in big brother Frederick's fancy new sports car. The two princes go for a spin and are instantly killed. Liechtenstein does not allow for women to reign (they only got the vote in 1984) and the search for the principality's new leader moves into full swing panic mode. Who could ever replace Hans Josef?!

How about Christianna? To our heroine's surprise and shock, the nation's leaders believe she has all the qualities necessary to (symbolically) govern the principality. Why not give it a shot? HRH thinks about it and the once reluctant royal decides to mount the throne, so to speak.

The best part about becoming the Leading Lady of Liechtenstein is that Christianna can do away with her late father's "royal only" hubby decree and make it legal with Parker. She, Christianna, will do the ribbon cutting, while he, Parker, will continue to practice medicine and search for cures to tropical diseases. As Parker himself reflects at the end of HRH, "It still seemed like a fairy tale to him. He had fallen in love with a girl in braids and hiking boots in Africa. She turned out to be a princess who lived in a castle, and now the princess was his, and always would be. The story even had a fairy tale ending. And they lived happily ever after, he thought to himself, and grinned. And in the castle, the princess was smiling, too."

Now, I don't want to burst anyone's romantic bubble...OK, I do...but the chances of Christianna and Parker having a happy marriage are pretty slim. After all, Princess Margaret married commoner Anthony Armstrong-Jones and they got divorced. Prince Andrew married commoner Sarah Ferguson and they got divorced. Princess Anne married commoner Mark Philips and they got divorced. Prince Joachim of Denmark married a commoner and they got divorced. The prince later married another commoner, but they seem pretty happy. Just recently a prince in Luxembourg announced he was getting a divorce from a gal named Tessy, who is, you guessed it, a commoner. Author Steele has yet to write a sequel to HRH, so we'll never know if this royal/commoner match-up stood to the test time.

Will HRH Christianna and plain old Parker live happily ever after? Author Steele doesn't tell us (maybe that's a hint).

Of course, the over-riding reason I chose to spotlight HRH wasn't because of romantic complications, but the sheer unintentional nuttiness of Steele's writing. Here are a few of my favorite gems, written with brow-knitting seriousness by Danielle:

"Christianna had done everything she could to look plain."

"Together they were a force greater than the sum of their parts that could not be ignored or denied."

"It is about duty. honor and courage. Not about love...

"My God, that's sick," (Parker) said, looking outraged."

And the grand prize winner: "My heart is a virgin."

So movie lovers (and book lovers), please take stock. Your life may not be a bowl of cherries right now, but, given time, things will improve. If Danielle Steel can write a book about a princess who says stuff like "My heart is a virgin", and then goes on to publish even more purple prose, there is hope for all us.

And please SAVE THE MOVIES, too.

Countless innocent trees gave their lives so Danielle Steel (pictured here) could publish her books. Oh, the humanity!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Beverly Garland Rides The Range (With A Little Help From Roger Corman) In "Gunslinger"

 Graphics from opening credits of Roger Corman's wacky western "Gunslinger".

Morning dawns bright and early in Oracle, Texas. Birds are chirping and clouds are parting. Making her way to the sheriff's office is Rose Hood (Beverly Garland), happily delivering breakfast to her lawman hubby Scott (veteran character actor William Schallert). While the couple quietly discuss the events of the day, shots suddenly ring out and the sheriff falls to the floor. Rose quickly grabs a gun and gives chase, but the baddies ride away. Returning to her husband's side, Rose puts her head in her hands when she realizes he's dead.

What's a gal to do?

If that gal is Beverly Garland, she'll pin on her fallen husband's sheriff badge and bring her husband's killers to justice herself!

Welcome to "Gunslinger" (1956), a wild and woolly take on how the west was won, according to America's premiere "Budget Gourmet" filmmaker Roger Corman.

Utilizing four sets (which you might recognize from "The Undead"), employing his usual stock company of actors and shooting the entire thing in six days, "Gunslinger" is a tangled tale of revenge, ill-fated love, land speculation, murder-for-hire and a rowdy saloon that refuses to obey the curfew law. Anchoring the whole shootin' match is Beverly Garland, the blondest sheriff in the west.

 "She's the Sheriff": Beverly Garland as Rose Hood.

Although Mayor Polk (Martin Kingsley) has sent for "legendary lawman Sam Bass" to be Oracle's new sheriff, the widowed Rose feels his arrival will be too late to find her husband's killers. When all the able menfolk in town refuse to be sheriff in the interim, Rose takes the job.

"I think it's a wonderful idea!" meows Erica Paige (Allison Hays), owner of the randy Red Dog Saloon, which refuses to obey the curfew law. "Oracle will be the hit of the western dime novels! And what bad man would shoot a lady?!"

Meanwhile, Rose's dumber-than-dirt deputy Joshua (Chris Alcaide) has other worries.

"I reckon people won't think it proper for a new widow to go around in pants, even if they are black," he frets.

"Ever see a peace officer in a corset?" Rose replies, before adding, "Come on, Joshua! Let's start enforcing the law!"

"Closing Time": Rose Hood and Erica Paige (Allison Hays) disagree on how late the Red Dog saloon should stay open.

Their first stop is the Red Dog Saloon, the local dive where Erica Paige holds court. On this particular evening, Little Man (Jonathan Haze), Erica's devoted but demented lackey, is tending bar while a bevy of chorus girls shimmy for the excited male patrons. Meanwhile, Mayor Polk is playing cards and regaling his chums with stories about fighting alongside Bedford Forest. All this frenetic merrymaking comes to a screeching halt when sheriff Rose and deputy Joshua enter.

After reminding everyone Oracle has a 3 PM curfew law, Rose instructs Erica, "Empty your house and put out the lights."

"Put 'em out yourself!" Erica defiantly sniffs.

So Rose shoots out one of Erica's lights, which touches off a raucous hair pulling, chair smashing, table collapsing, face slapping fight between the sheriff and the saloon diva. Not to be left out, deputy Joshua and Little Man (also known as Jake) trade punches before the doughy Joshua throws Little Man over the saloon bar. Rose then levels Erica with a nasty right hook. While the stunned patrons look on, Rose barks, "Everybody who can walk get out!"

From then on, the Red Dog Saloon closes promptly at 3 PM, no questions asked.

Erica Paige and Sheriff Rose Hood come to blows over Erica's freewheeling management style.

While Little Man massages Erica's sore neck, the saloon diva decides she needs to take Rose out. So she sends her highly excitable lackey off to find a hired gun to do the job. In the meantime, Rose is busy cleaning up Oracle, busting bank robbers, detaining drunks and even ordering the Red Dog's showgirls out of town (they constitute "an immoral influence" on the town's young people). Law and order may have made Oracle safe for decent people, but it sure is dull for everybody else.

Then Mayor Polk waddles into into the Red Dog (after closing time, of course) to chat with Erica. In one of the "Gunslinger"s may sub-plots, the rail road is thinking of building a depot in town. Nobody knows for sure, of course, but that hasn't stopped crafty Erica  from buying up tracks of land--from owners who later wind up dead. Turns out Erica's property is where the railroad would lay its tracks. Mayor Polk cautions Erica that her tactics are "the height of speculative gambling" (and illegal).

"You're brilliant," she yawns.

The mayor also points out that the people of Oracle "won't take too kindly" to a saloon gal cleaning up from such dirty dealings.

"Sometimes I lay awake two or three seconds thinking about it," Erica sneers.

"I have a head for business and a bod for sin": Erica explains how to make a killing in real estate to Mayor Polk (hint: knock-off your competition).

Now, remember, the hired gun Erica sent Little Man to find? He arrives in the strutting form of Cane Muro (John Ireland). Before he and Erica agree to terms, Cane and Rose meet on the outskirts of Oracle, where Rose is tracking a baddie. The two hit it off and begin a tentative romance that is only slightly hampered by the fact that Cane has been hired to kill Rose.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Cane and Erica were once an item? Or that Cane only took the job to bump off Rose because it would lead him to Mayor Polk? Or that Cane blames the mayor for the death of his brothers and the loss of the Civil War? Or that Cane really wants to kill Mayor Polk and not Rose? And that the conflict between what he wants to do and what he's been hired to do is driving Cane to drink?

Are you keeping all this straight?

As a rule, westerns usually end with a big shoot out and "Gunslinger" does not disappoint. However, our featured flick may be the western in the history of the universe where an entire town is nearly killed. See if you can follow along:

Erica and Cane get up bright and early one morning to meet the Pony Express rider who is carrying the official document that states if the railroad is coming to Oracle. It's not. In a fit of pique, Erica shoots the rider. Then she and Cane head back to town.

"Partners in Crime": Cane Muro (John Ireland) and Erica prepare for a shoot-out.

Cane has declared his intention to shoot Mayor Polk, but the poor fellow has no gun at the moment. So the mayor's wife goes off to find him one. Instead, she returns with a pitchfork and is promptly shot dead. Cane then shoots to mayor, who finds a pitchfork little use against a gun.

On the streets of Oracle, Erica hunts down and is about to shoot Rose, but Cane shoots Erica instead. He then hops on his horse and heads to Nine Mile Canyon, with Rose in hot pursuit.

Hunkered down on opposite sides of the canyon, Rose and Cane shoot at each other, stopping long enough to reload and discuss their relationship.

"Was it a two-way thing?" Cane asks.

"Yes, it was a two-way thing," Rose reassures Cane, before she blows his brains out.

Ill-fated cuddlemates Rose and Cane.

Isn't it a total bummer when you meet a nice guy and you think 'maybe this will work out' and he turns out to be a hired gun sent to kill you? Don't you hate that?

The heartbroken Rose eventually drags Cane's body back to town. She tells deputy Joshua she's leaving, pronto, and asks him to put her trunks on the next stage coach. As Rose rides off into the sunset, Sam Bass arrives in town, marveling at how quiet--dead quiet--Oracle is.

The final body count: Sheriff Scott Hood? Dead. Mayor Polk? Dead. Mrs. Polk? Dead. Little Man? Dead. The Pony Express rider? Dead. Cane Muro? Dead. Erica Paige? Dead. The show girls? Relocated, but still alive. Rose Hood? Heartbroken, but still alive, too.


If you think the plot of "Gunslinger" sounds ridiculous and convoluted, that's because it is ridiculous and convoluted. However, the one thing this lump of Corman corn pone has in its favor is Beverly Garland.

Her work done, Sheriff Rose Hood decides to get out of Dodge (actually, Oracle).

As Sheriff Rose Hood, Bev is smart, capable and strong.She never buckles. Even in her love for Cane Muro, Rose knows the score. "You aren't bad," Rose tells him at one point. "You're just no good." Later, on the eve of their big shoot out, Rose informs Cane, "We're sworn enemies, you and I, and all the moonlight in heaven can't change that."

See, Rose has sworn to hold up the law. If that means gunning down her boyfriend, so be it. It won't be easy, but Rose Hood will do what's right, case closed.

Bev showed just as much grit behind the scenes of "Gunslinger" as she did on. When she was required to jump on her horse, Bev over-shot her mark and wrenched her ankle. The ankle swelled up, forcing the prop man to cut her boot apart and tape Bev's foot inside the shoe. Once shooting was done, Bev couldn't walk for two weeks.

The scene with Cane and Rose whispering sweet nothings in a tree also proved problematic. The scene was shot a six in the morning and, according to Beverly Garland, it was so cold she and John Ireland's teeth started to chatter. What's more, the tree was home to a nest of Fire Ants, who proceeded to bite and sting the actors throughout their takes. But troupers Bev and John made it work!

Although Roger Corman never met a shooting schedule he found too short, the director had a real reason to get "Gunslinger" in the can in six days. New union rules were about to go into effect that would have required actors to have a mandatory day off after five days of shooting. Cost cutting Corman, therefore, wanted his latest production finished before this happened. That meant filming went on despite rain, Fire Ants, mud, obvious tire tracks, Bev's swollen ankle and Allison Hays' broken arm (she fell off her horse, too).

Little Man (Jonathan Haze) and Rose engage in a staring contest.

Until next time movie lovers, please always remember that while it took our Lord God seven days to make the Earth and the Heavens, it only took Roger Corman six days to make a full length western. And please help me to SAVE THE MOVIES, too.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Size Matters In "War Of The Colossal Beast"

"Nuclear fallout makes you ugly": The unfortunate Glenn Manning in the unfortunate not-quite-a-sequel sequel "War of the Colossal Beast."

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the Amazing Colossal Man!


You mean you haven't heard of Glenn Manning, the Amazing Colossal Man? And you haven't seen "The Amazing Colossal Man", directed and produced by Junk Cinema's "Mr. Big" himself, Bert I. Gordon?

Good for you! "The Amazing Colossal Man" is a horrible movie. But that didn't stop Bert I. from writing, producing and directing a sequel titled "War of the Colossal Beast"(1958), which, by strange coincidence, is also a horrible movie!

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Why is the sequel to 'The Amazing Colossal Man' called 'War of the Colossal Beast'?" Well, Bert I. wanted to do a sequel that wouldn't appear to be a sequel. So he gave his movie a different title, hoping people wouldn't realize it was a sequel...until it was too late. Then he hired a different actor to play Col. Glenn Manning, the poor guy caught in an atomic bomb blast who shoots up 60 feet. Director Gordon had this actor plastered in ugly make-up, hoping that by doing so the audience wouldn't realize a different fellow was playing Glenn...until it was too late. That's why "War of the Colossal Beast" is called "War of the Colossal Beast" and not "The Amazing Colossal Man: Bigger, Badder and Balder Than Ever". Everybody understand? Good. Let's move on.

"I'm huge!": Dean Parkin strikes a pose as Glenn Manning, the amazing colossal man turned colossal beast. 

It's a bright sunny day near the Mexican/United States border and a delivery truck is flying along at a break-neck pace. The driver is a young man named Miguel and he's terrified out of his wits. Suddenly his truck crashes and Miguel stumbles from the wreckage. Then he screams and faints as the scene fades to black...

Several days later, hard-charging John Swanson (George Becwar) stomps into the police station of Miguel's home town of Guavas, Mexico. He had hired Miguel to drive a delivery truck full of supplies over to his hunting lodge, but the fellow has disappeared. What gives?

Kindly Sgt. Murillo (Rico Alaniz) informs Swanson that Miguel was found in a state of shock and brought to the near-by hospital. Unfortunately, the blustery gringo could care less about Miguel's mental health; he wants to know what happened to his truck. Alas, the Sargent found no evidence of such a vehicle, causing Swanson to leave in a huff--an ugly attitude that doesn't help anybody, by the way.

Meanwhile, along the US/Mexican border, delivery trucks are disappearing at an alarming rate. What's up with that?

News of the missing delivery trucks piques the interest of Joyce Manning (Sally Fraser). She's Glenn's kid sister and stubbornly refuses to believe he's dead. She arranges a meeting with both Swanson and the stolid Maj. Mark Baird (Roger Price) to see if they can help find her behemoth of a brother. Unfortunately, all Swanson wants to do is drink and bitch about how the insurance company won't reimburse him for his missing truck. Baird, on the other hand, seems more interested in scoring a date with Joyce (she wisely turns him down). After the gentlemen depart, Joyce heads down to Guavas to confer with kindly Sgt. Murillo.

Fortified by a generous supply of hooch, Sally Fraser (as Joyce Manning) summons the courage to beg her agent to get her out of "War of the Colossal Beast".

When Joyce arrives in town, poor Miguel is having one of his screaming fits. Kindly Sgt. Murillo recognizes the words "giant" and "ogre" in Miguel's rant, which means he spotted you-know-who. Together with Maj. Baird, specialist Dr. Carmichael (Russ Bender), Joyce and kindly Sgt. Murillo head to the hills in search of Glenn. When they find a huge footprint in the mud, Dr. Carmichael (a real wet blanket) surmises that such an imprint could only be made by someone "about 60 feet tall."

"Glenn is 60 feet tall!" Joyce exclaims.

In fact, when Maj. Baird and Joyce return to the mountains later, they not only find the remains of all the delivery trucks Glenn had been poaching, they find Glenn, too. He's still bald as a billiard ball, but one side of his face has caved in, exposing buck teeth and an eye-socket minus a peeper. His shoulder also sports a nasty scar. Psychologically, poor Glenn has been reduced to grunting and growling like a rabid Doberman to express his needs. On the plus side, his diet of delivery food has not played havoc with his figure and his sarong appears in good repair.

To capture the massive major, the military loads a truck with doped-up French bread. Kindly Sgt. Murillo drives the truck, with Baird and Carmichael riding shot-gun. When the doctor complains about his fast pace, kindly Sgt. Murillo reminds him, "Giants can run fast. They have long legs!"

And big feet. After the men bail out of the truck, Glenn appears and gobbles up the laced bread. Then he spots the trio hiding behind a rock. Glenn staggers off after them, squishing kindly Sgt. Murillo flat as a pancake (eww) before collapsing in a heap.

"Is this Glutton free?": Glenn gleefully attacks the decoy bread truck.

What follows next is a tiresome procedural where various branches of the US government bicker over who should take responsibility for the care and feeding of Glenn, currently residing chained up in an airplane hanger. It's eventually decided Glenn should be transported to a deserted island, where he will live out his days communing with nature and eating food sent over by the military. Sister Joyce, of course, is not happy about this. Maj. Baird, still trying to get to first base, reminds Miss Manning that her brother is now a huge, radiation-scarred hell beast not fit to live in polite society. She must understand that this is the only way.

Alas, Glenn proves this is the only way after he escapes from captivity and thrashes over to the Griffith Park Observatory. It's there he encounters a school bus filled with bratty junior high kids on a field trip. While crowds gasp, flood lights stream and cops shoot hails of bullets, Glenn grunts and shakes the bus in mid-air, furious that it's filled with screaming teenyboppers and not food.

Just when it looks like all is lost, Glenn has an epiphany. He puts the bus down. He realizes what he has become and he's ashamed. To ensure he will never harm another delivery truck again, Glenn electrocutes himself and falls with a big boom. The "War of the Colossal Beast" is finally over, except for the credits...and the blame.

And the blame for "War of the Colossal Beast" falls squarely on the shoulders of Bert I. himself.

Yes, the cast acted out their parts with all the enthusiasm of people waiting for anal probes. Yes, the F/X was rudimentary and fake. Yes, the stock footage and military mish-mash used to pad out the film was dull as dish water. And those bratty teenyboppers menaced by Glenn were annoying little jerks (and bad actors, too).

"The wheels on the bus go round and round...": Colossal Beast Glenn Manning gives some school kids a lift. Literally.

Taken individually, any one of these elements can wreck a movie.

Yet Bert I. was able to seamlessly blend them all into one souffle' of suckiness by adding one more vital element into the mix: incompetence!

Specifically, his incompetence.

And that's something you're born with; it can't be learned.

Bert I. made 21 movies in his fabled career and they all suck on toast. From "The Amazing Colossal Man" to "The Beginning of the End" to "Empire of the Ants", Bert's flicks were always about nuclear fall-out, big rogue critters, stock footage, military protocols and the eventual demise of a big thing-a-ma-bob. He never felt the need to branch out from beyond this self-imposed cinematic template and, if that made him happy, who are we to argue?

"Peek-A-Boo, Glenn sees you!": Joyce and Maj. Baird surprise Glenn during his lunch break.

So movie lovers, please eat your bread and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.