Sunday, July 25, 2021

And Now For Something Completely Different

 

Is it just me or has the world gone crazy?

Hi Keebah and hello, movie lovers.

Because the world seems to have gone completely topsy-turvy lately, I decided to spotlight a flick which takes place in a world that has also gone completely topsy-turvy.

Released in 1968 with a script by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, "Planet of the Apes" is a certified classic. It's also one of the few science fiction films I genuinely like. Forget all the remakes, reboots and "re-imaginings" that make up this "film franchise"; the original remains the best, even after 53 years.

Charlton Heston, in one of his best roles, is Taylor, an astronaut leading a special mission "in the not too distant future" (1972). Just before he joins his crew in hyper-sleep, Taylor makes his final log entry. He's been gone six months by normal calculations, but the team has actually been away 2,000 years-- if  Dr. Hasslein's theory their mission was sent to prove is correct. As they make their way back to Earth, Taylor hopes mankind has improved in their absence.

While on auto-pilot, the space ship gets off course or runs afoul of some unexplained phenomenon and crash lands on an uncharted planet in an unknown solar system. That's not all: the only female crew member is dead and their vessel is sinking into the ocean. Taylor, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) abandon ship and via rubber raft paddle ashore to safety. They hike for days on a rocky, barren and parched landscape, until they stumble upon what appear to be scarecrows--and a water fall. While the guys strip down and go swimming, they're observed by primitive humans. Mute, they roam around in herds looking for food and shelter. When the crew follows them to a green pasture, Landon remarks, "We got off at the wrong stop." Taylor, however, is more optimistic: "Relax, in six months we'll be running this place."

From left to right: Taylor (Chuck Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) survey the "Planet of the Apes."

Not so fast. Suddenly a huge army of hunters arrive and all hell breaks loose. As the humans scatter to avoid capture, guns are fired and clubs are used to bash in skulls. Leading the attack are gorillas--on horse back, no less.

Dodge is immediately killed. Landon and Taylor are separated in the melee. Trying to out run a gorilla with a net, Taylor is shot in the neck and falls off a cliff. His unconscious body is dumped in a cart alongside other captured humans.

When he wakes up, he's is in a lab staffed by walking, talking chimpanzees. Taylor's wounds have rendered him temporarily unable to speak, but he quickly realizes--to his disbelief--that on this planet, apes are the dominant species. Society is broken down like this: gorillas handle the military, chimpanzees are the professional class and orangutans head the government and church. Their main religious texts are "The Sacred Parchments", written by the Law Giver over a thousand years ago. Humans, on the other hand, are pesky beasts either to be hunted for sport or used for scientific experiments.

Because he's more advanced than his fellow captives, Taylor attracts the attention of Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), an animal psychologist and brain researcher. She nicknames him "Bright Eyes" and marvels at his eye-hand coordination. "I wonder how he'd score on a Hopkins Manual Dexterity Test!" she exclaims. Later on, Zira brings a female human (Linda Harrison, later dubbed Nova) into his cage, hoping the two will mate.

Less impressed is Dr. Zira's fiancee' Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), an anthropologist, and Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), head of the Science Academy and Defender of the Faith. After the humans get into a fight in their outside pen, Taylor is wounded again and taken inside. He grabs Zira's paper and pencil and writes her a message. Stunned by what she sees, the doctor takes Taylor to her home.

Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) debate evolutionary theory while Taylor looks on.

Taylor writes out his story to a shocked Zira and Cornelius. The couple have a hard time believing he's from another planet or that his crew walked across what they call "the Forbidden Zone", but Taylor persists. Zira then begins to wonder if Heston is "a missing link", causing Taylor to write, "I am NOT a missing link!"

"Touchy, isn't he?" Cornelius remarks.

Still, Zira thinks Taylor could help Cornelius prove his theory that apes developed from "a lower order of man." Her fiancee' isn't so sure; see, Cornelius recently headed a dig that went too far into the Forbidden Zone. That aroused the anger of the Science Academy and ever since the chimp anthropologist has tried to avoid controversy. Getting involved with Taylor or suggesting that a human culture could predate ape culture could cause them real trouble, as Cornelius reminds Zira: "We both have fine futures, marriage, stimulating careers. I'm up for a raise!" Then Dr. Zaius arrives and demands Taylor be sent back to his cage.

Soon after, two gorilla officers arrive to take Heston off to be gelded. Taylor manages to over power the guards and escape. In a chase through Ape City, he stumbles upon a funeral service where the minister says of the deceased, "He always said he never met an ape he didn't like." Later on, at a museum, Taylor finds Dodge stuff in an exhibit. In an outside market, he's pelted with vegetables by the horrified citizens while gorillas manage to string him up in a net. That's when he shocks the crowd by growling, "Get your stinkin' paws off me you damn dirty ape!"

A hearing is called. Presiding is James Whitmore as President of the Assembly and James Daly as Minister of Animal Affairs. Dr. Zaius is there, too, along with Cornelius and Zira. Taylor attempts to  defend himself, but the presiding judges dismiss him at every turn. They also refuse to allow Cornelius and Zira to explain their evolutionary theory, putting their hands over their eyes, ears and mouths in a "Hear no evil/Speak no evil/Say no evil" tableaux. The climax of the trial occurs when the humans captured at the same time as Taylor are reassembled. Taylor instantly recognizes Landon, but Landon has been lobotomized, reduced to a speechless, zombie state. Screaming "You bloody baboon!", a furious Taylor rushes to attack Dr. Zaius, but he's caught, bound and carted away.

The President of the Assembly (James Whitmore, center) and his justices refuse to monkey around with Cornelius' radical theories.

Things look pretty hopeless until Zira arranges for Taylor and Nova to escape. With the help of her nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner), a hippie chimp, Taylor over powers cigar smoking pen keeper Julius (Buck Kartalian, a former pro-wrestler). Later joined by Cornelius, they travel by caravan to the Forbidden Zone, where Taylor offers to help Cornelius identify the artifacts at his dig. A posse of gorilla soldiers and Dr. Zaius soon follow. After taking the doctor hostage, everybody goes into the cave, where Taylor identifies false teeth, glasses and a heart valve. The find that really clinches Cornelius' theory, however, is a talking doll. Dr. Zaius, of course, remains unmoved.

In return for releasing Dr. Zaius, Taylor demands horses, food and weapons; his plan is to "follow the shore line" and leave  Ape City far behind. Dr. Zaius warns Heston "he might not like what he finds" out in the Forbidden Zone--and, in one of the best endings in movie history, he doesn't. Falling to his knees in the surf, an anguished Taylor screams, "You finally did it! You blew it up! Damn you all to hell!"

"Planet of the Apes" was a critical and box office smash. It earned Oscar nominations for Morton Haack's costume design and Jerry Goldsmith's Best Original Score. John Chambers won a special Oscar for his make-up effects, which are better realized than any CGI. Four sequels followed, along with a TV series, a cartoon show and a comic book. "Mad Magazine" parodied the series in "The Milking of the Planet that Went Ape", with illustrations by Mort Drucker, my favorite of "Mad"s talented "usual gang of idiots".

What makes a movie a classic? The script and the direction must mesh. The casting and the acting have to be expert and compelling. If there are special effects, they must move the plot along, not over power it. Timing has a role, too. "Planet of the Apes" was released when Hollywood and the US were under-going great changes; had the flick been released earlier or later, its impact may have less powerful. It's an imperfect science at best, but it's clear "Planet of the Apes" had all the ingredients necessary, and then some, to achieve classic status.

Some more tidbits? "Planet of the Apes" was based on Pierre Boulle's novel Monkey Planet. In the novel, the apes are more technologically advanced than in the film. It was star Chuck Heston who suggested scaling back the tech stuff, which also made the film less expensive to shoot. Fans of the flick often sight the influence of "The Twilight Zone" episode "People Are Alike All Over" (where an astronaut from Earth is put in a zoo on Mars). One more side note: my mom hates "Planet of the Apes" and everything with it; she wouldn't even let my brother Joel get a "Planet of the Apes" mask! When I ask why she hates the series so much, she always says, "Because I just do!" 

A trio of gorilla soldiers smile for the camera.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, anything can happen in science fiction and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.

Monday, July 19, 2021

"The Other Side of Midnight" Or Love Stinks

 

"Ennui all?": Shop girl turned model turned movie star turned jet setter Noelle Page endures another high society 'do in "The Other Side of Midnight".

Hi ho, movie lovers. 

What do authors Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann and Sidney Sheldon have in common?

Quite a bit, actually.

All three are best selling novelists of dubious talent. All three authors detail the sex and shenanigans of the smart set. All three authors have seen their best sellers turned into movies--bad movies. In fact, if it's announced that a tome from one of these authors is about to hit the silver screen, you can guarantee it will be bad to the bone.

Which is exactly what "The Other Side of Midnight", based on the best seller by Sidney Sheldon, is: bad to the bone. How can we ever thank him?

Confused French gamine Noelle Page (Marie-France Pisier) arrives is Paris. 

Indeed, "The Other of Side of Midnight" has everything EVERYTHING! a bad movie fanatic could want and even more. 

I call this genre of Junk Cinema "Time Spanning Trash" because the authors need decades in order to cram in every possible preposterous event they can think of to befall their characters. Thus, in Time Spanning Trash, you'll see wars, revolutions and social upheavals; trite dialog spoken in a variety of accents (real and fake); fancy foreign locations; good looking people who are dumber than rocks; sleazy sex scenes; ham-bone acting; fictional characters based (very) thinly on real people; improbable plot twists; a throbbing musical score and plenty of opportunities for the female cast to strut around in furs, jewels and big hats.

"The Other Side of Midnight" begins before the dawn of WWII in France. Sweet young thing Noelle Page (Pisier) thinks her beloved daddy has arranged for her to work in a fancy dress shop. After a few weeks on the job, her boss Lanchon (Sorrell Booke, best known as the white suited Boss Hog from "The Dukes of Hazzard") tells her she can pick out a free dress. Delighted, Noelle is posing in front of a mirror when Lanchon begins groping her from behind and suggesting they hit the sheets. Horrified, Noelle runs home and learns dear old dad has actually sold her to Lanchon to be his live-in employee/mistress.

"France is about to go to war!" he exclaims. "Your beauty is your only weapon!" Besides, Lanchon paid a good price for Noelle; now dad has a new bike.

Heart broken, Noelle trudges back to the dress shop and climbs into bed with the portly Lanchon. While her boss pumps away on top of her (giving the audience a wide screen view of his hairy back), Noelle assumes the look of someone hit in the back of the head with a lead skillet. Hard. Get use to it; she assumes this expression a lot.

Noelle's dad explains why he sold his only child over to the hairy pig Lanchon: "I got a new bike!"

While her hairy pig/boss sleeps, Noelle packs up her things and heads for Paris. She isn't there 10 seconds when a nasty cab driver speeds away with her suitcase and all her money. Broke and exhausted, she sits down in a fancy hotel to rest and is picked up by flying ace Larry Douglas (Jeff Beck). When Noelle insists "I'm not a whore!", Larry replies, "You're kidding!" Then he sweeps her off to a charming little bistro and then to his flat, where they make whoopski and fall madly in love.

After three weeks for dining, dancing, strolling hand in hand, riding bikes and visiting the Eiffel Tower, Larry (who is an American serving in the Canadian Air Force) must leave. Noelle is distraught; when will she see him again? He tells her he'll be back on November 17th and to meet him at their favorite bistro. Larry also tells the tearful Noelle to buy a wedding dress because he plans to marry her when he returns.

Sure.

Well, Noelle does as she's told. She also manages to get a job as a house model for the kindly Madame Rosa (Josette Banzet). However, when November 17th comes around and Larry doesn't show up, Noelle is convinced he's dead. Then she learns she's pregnant. At first, Noelle is happy about the baby because she believes it's a sign Larry will come back to her. Then the poor dear meets up with a friend of Larry's and learns to her horror that her fly boy is not only back in the States, but he's gotten an English girl knocked up. When this friend counsels her "You're better off without him", Noelle runs away in tears.

Next we see our heroine sitting in her lonely room. She's drawn a hot bath and is toying with a wire hanger. Noelle then proceeds to end her pregnancy and nearly kills herself in the process. Luckily, kindly Madame Rosa is there to nurse her back to health and remind her that "life goes on." Well, not for Noelle. After all the betrayals she's suffered, our plucky French gamine becomes a hardened, calculating avenging angel bitch-shrew who plots to bring Larry down for good.

"EWWW!": Poor Noelle must endure the clammy advances of hairy pig/boss Lanchon (Sorrel Booke)--but at least her dad got a new bike.

How will she do that? By using her looks and her body to sleep her way to the top of the French film industry, of course. One of her conquests is casting director Armand Gautier (Christian Marquand, who will later direct "Candy", which is reviewed in this very blog). He takes Noelle back to his spacious flat to see if she has "talent". This leads to another of "The Other Side of Midnight"s shocking sex scenes: rolling around on a bear skin rug in front of a fire, Noelle brings Armand to pillow biting Nirvana with some strategically placed ice cubes (kids--don't try this at home). Marquand is so impressed by Noelle's, uh, "talent" that he vows to put her in as many movies as possible--provided their sheet burning sex doesn't "kill me first."

While Noelle is busy becoming one of Europe's hottest actresses, Larry is back in the USA and homing in on a new female pigeon: Catherine (Susan Sarandon), an earnest, plucky PR rep who works for the kindly Mr. Fraser (Clu Gulager, last seen as the most laid back airport security chief ever in "San Francisco International", which is also reviewed in this blog). Like Noelle, Cathy is inexperienced about life and men and Larry (who is appearing in a PR project she's producing) reels her in the same way he did Noelle: dinner, dancing, bike riding, holding hands as they stroll around the country side. At least Cath has the good sense to realize Larry is a player, at one point telling him, "If you don't love me, Larry, don't lay me." Of course, the jet jockey tells her he's madly in love with her and the duo finally do the deed. Laying in Larry's arms, buck naked, preparing to have sex for the first time, Cathy sighs, "I guess it's time to retire the trophy."

The only difference is Larry does marry Cathy, although he soon regrets it. So does the audience.

Meanwhile, back in France, Noelle is using her movie fame and money to hire private detectives to keep track of Larry's where-abouts. When she learns he's married Cathy, the diva makes sure he loses every job he applies for. Why? Because he'll get agitated and broke and will have no choice but to accept a position as the personal pilot of filthy rich, all-powerful Greek tycoon Constantin Demeris (Raf Vallone). Noelle, as it turns out, is now the cuddlemate of Constantin, and she presides over his private island like a queen.

Larry does accept the job and fails to recognize the couture-clad, jewel-dripping haughty Noelle as the sweet French gal he dated and dumped all those years ago...which is exactly what Noelle wants. As her personal pilot, Noelle treats Larry like dirt and even arranges for him to sleep in a hotel room the size of a closet. Furious, Larry charges up to Noelle's spacious hotel room, kicks in the door, grabs Noelle...and the two proceed to burn up the sheets. Finally, Larry realizes that Noelle is Noelle and the two declare they're madly in love with each other and never stopped loving each other and they vow to be together forever and stuff like that.

Greek tycoon Constantin Demeris (Raf Vallone) keeps his hands on his assets.

Are you keeping up with me? Good. Because the rekindled romance of our cuddlemates faces two very big hurdles: One, Cathy (who has turned into a lush--don't ask) and won't agree to a divorce and, two, Constantin, who would fly into a murderous rage if he learned his personal pilot was racking up  frequent flyer miles with his movie star mistress. So the enterprising Noelle cooks up a scheme where they murder the unstable Cathy during a lay over in Greece. When Larry balks at such a nasty idea, Noelle threatens to go to her Greek tycoon sugar daddy and tell him about their affair, which, of course, will mean curtains for Larry. And as if that wasn't enough to get Larry to get busy and off his wife, Noelle, in a dramatic flourish, hauls out the wedding dress Larry told her to buy way back when. The diva insists she's waited too long to wear this dress and she won't wait any longer! Kill Cathy or else!

What Larry doesn't realize (because he's really stupid) is that Noelle plans to frame him for Cathy's murder and testify against him and then sit back and smile as the man who ruined her life rots in jail.

Of course, even the best laid plans can go awry. Noelle doesn't figure on Larry chickening out on killing his wife or that the unhinged Cathy will overhear the duo arguing over how best to snuff her. Nor do our cuddlemates plan on a big storm engulfing Greece. However, all those things happen and Cathy, afraid for her life, writes a quick note before running out of her hotel room--clad in only a nightie!--and into the ensuing storm. Of course, Cathy didn't expect the boat she hopped into for cover would be washed out to sea, but that happens, too.

With his wife presumed dead, but her body nowhere to be found, Larry and Noelle are charged with murder. Constantin visits Noelle in prison and asks her if she murdered Cathy. Dragging on a cigarette, Noelle insists she's innocent. Then the Greek tycoon launches into a tortured monologue about how he misses Noelle and loves her and wants to help her. If his honeybunch will come back to him and never see Larry again, he, Constantin, will hire the best lawyer he knows to her set free. Noelle agrees. 

The trial gets loads of publicity and drags on and on. Then Constantin's pricey lawyer (Louis Zorch) suddenly suggests Noelle and Larry plead guilty to Cathy's murder. If they do, he promises Noelle will get, like, three months, tops, and Larry will be deported to America. Zorch insists this is the best thing to do and our cuddlemates stupidly follow his advice.

"Is 'Law and Order' on?": Love birds turned jail birds Noelle and Larry cool their heels in the slammer.

Throughout the trial, Noelle has noticed that Constantin has been absent from the sensational proceedings; however, on the day the judge is to pronounce his ruling, the Greek tycoon suddenly shows up. The judge's verdict? Guilty! Even worse, Larry and Noelle are to be shot by a firing squad! How could this happen?

Well, it turns out Noelle was so dead-bent on seeking revenge on Larry that she forgot to factor in Constantin. As an all powerful, filthy rich Greek tycoon, Constantin already knew about Noelle's affair with Larry and was already plotting some payback of his own when Cathy was washed away. So he tricked Noelle into confessing all, had his pricey lawyer pull a double cross and ensured the judge would find the duo guilty. As bad movie lovers know, Greek tycoons are always doing crazy shit like this because that's what all powerful, filthy rich Greek tycoons do! I mean, you can't spend all your time buying oil tankers and hammering out government contracts, can you?

So Noelle and Larry are duly executed--Noelle even wears her precious wedding dress for the occasion. But things ain't over yet. Next we see Constantin chatting with the Mother Superior of a tiny Greek convent. In exchange for a nice chunk of change, the nuns have agreed to care a mysterious patient who washed up on their shores after a violent storm. The patient, a female, has been suffering from shock and hasn't uttered a peep since the nuns found her. Who could that be? Come on, take a guess. I dare you! OK, it's Cathy, looking as if someone had hit her in the back of the head with a lead skillet. The triumphant Constantin kisses her hand as the music swells and the credits roll.

Whew!

Although the producers of this flick promised movie goers a sweeping saga of "power and passion", "The Other Side of Midnight" lumbers at the pace of a drugged ox. So much happens in this movie that as the plot points pile up, their accumulated weight begins to crush your skull. When the flick  finally ends, you're not so much relieved as exhausted.

"Come on, honey! The champagne's getting hot and I'm getting cold!": Noelle auditions for another movie role.

Although leading lady Marie-France Pisier was an award winning actress in her native France, something must have been lost in translation when she was cast as Noelle. Yes, Pisier can pout with the best of them, but she lacks the fire necessary to convince viewers she's calculating enough to hatch such an elaborate revenge plot against Larry.

And speaking of Larry: the producers of "The Other Side of Midnight" wanted this character to be "an Errol Flynn type." Unfortunately, that's not Jeff Beck. He might've been well cast as a high school football coach, but as as a devil-may-care ladies man with a string of broken hearts to his credit? Beck doesn't have the swashbuckling charisma reminiscent of a Flynn,  a Tyrone Power or even a Stewart Granger. Even the little mustache they give him fails to do the trick; it just becomes irritating after a while. Meanwhile, as the all powerful, filthy rich Greek tycoon Constantin, Raf Vallone hits all the usual marks these characters are suppose to hit, but he's basically just a walking cliche'.

The only cast member who came out of "The Other Side of Midnight" (relatively) unscathed was Susan Sarandon. Her character Cathy is the film's most likeable character, if only because she's an innocent ditz driven to drink by her faithless hubby.

Which brings us to Noelle's revenge scheme: isn't it a little extreme, even for a best selling pot boiler? Sure, millions of women can relate to the idea of getting even with the cad who seduced and abandoned you. But sleeping to the top of the French film industry, hiring detectives to keep tabs on your ex, ruining his job prospects, becoming the cuddlemate of a Greek tycoon, hiring him as your private pilot, and then frame him for the murder of his innocent--although stewed--wife? Wouldn't it have been easier if Noelle just slashed Larry's tires? Or egged his house? They don't execute you for that and it takes less time, too.

"The Other Side of Midnight" was suppose to be a blockbuster, but it tanked at the box office. This surprised 20th Century-Fox. In fact, they were so confident in their time spanning trash saga they forced participating theaters to show a companion feature: a low budget sci-fi flick with a largely unknown cast and a bunch of robots.

The Greek tycoon and his famous mistress. Who could they be based on?

The movie's name? "Star Wars."

So movie lovers, we come to the end of this post. What have learned? That revenge is a fool's errand? That giving your leading man a 'stache won't make him dashing? That acclaim in French films doesn't ensure fame elsewhere? That creative sci-fi will wins out over time spanning trash? Or if you want to spice things up in the bedroom, try some ice?

Perhaps the answer lies in this Greek proverb: "A curse is like a donkey; it returns to his master". In other words, you may end up suffering the ill fate you wish upon others.

So avoid needless revenge schemes and SAVE THE MOVIES.



Susan Sarandon hopes sailing away from "The Other Side of Midnight" set will save her career.









Friday, July 9, 2021

Cloris Leachmen Wonders If "Someone I Touched" Gave Her An STD



Cloris Leachman cringes in horror when she learns she's been cast in the VD TV movie "Someone I Touched"(1975).

Hello to you and yours, movie lovers.

Once upon a time, a married, slightly anxious book editor learns, after years of trying and many disappointments, that she has a bun in her oven.

Then her leisure suit wearing hubby bursts her bubble by announcing he has an STD--syphilis, to be exact.

Welcome to the wonderful, funderful world of made-for-TV-movies, circa 1975!

Today's presentation--"Someone I Touched"-- promoted itself as "The Powerful Story of Four People Whose Carefree Love Led to a Terrifying Epidemic". As all movies about carefree love must, the flick begins at the beach, where a bunch of carefree young people are playing volleyball. One of those carefree young people (Carrie, played by Glynnis O'Connor) becomes significantly less carefree when a County Health employee named Frank "like the city" Berlin informs her she has syphilis.

If Frank Berlin (Andrew Robinson) is looking for you, the news is never good.

How did Carrie get infected? Well, reason stands she did the nasty with someone who already had syphilis. But who could that be? Sam Hyatt (James Olson), who she met for a quickie after her shift at the grocery store? Obnoxious TV tech John? Perhaps that UCLA frosh named Tommy? Whoever it was, Mr. Berlin (Andrew Robinson) urges Carrie to list all her partners and hustle over to her doctor for treatment. 

 "If you don't get treated right away, it can be a bad scene," Berlin warns her.

Good to know.

Naturally, Carrie is, like, totally bummed that she has VD. She mopes around the house. She mopes around at work. Carrie mopes when TV tech John (Granville van Dunsen) loftily informs her HE COULD NOT have given her the pox because A) he's been on location and B) after location trips HE ALWAYS gets checked out by his doctor AND HE IS CLEAN! However, to prove he's not a total dick weed, John tells Carrie once she's VD free, she should get back in touch.

All this moping upsets Carrie's mom, Enid (Lenka Peteron, O'Connors real life ma). She's down in the dumps herself, and no wonder: her husband's left her, she's stuck in a lousy job, her kid doesn't pick up around the house and she's lost her looks. Enid nags Carrie to go to secretarial school so she can get an office job and meet a rich guy. Carrie, on the other hand, wants to stay at the grocery store because "it's union." Eventually Carrie breaks down and tells mom "she's in trouble", which Enid assumes is code for pregnant. Mom is surprisingly sympathetic--at first--until she learns Carrie has VD instead.

"I know what I am, but what are you?!": Carrie (Gylnnis O'Connor) tells John (Granville van Dunsen) that she's not a tramp, but he's definitely a jerk. Oh, and he has VD, too.

"Only tramps get VD!" Enid screams while furiously slapping her daughter silly.

"I am not a tramp!" Carrie sobs hysterically. "I'm not!"

Mr. Berlin, meanwhile, is busy tracking down Carrie's past partners; he arrives at Sam's office one sunny afternoon posing as a potential "client". Once told the news, Mr. Hyatt is less worried about himself and more concerned for wife Laura (Cloris Leachman). Remember, she's pregnant and she's suffered from infertility and "she's not very strong emotionally". The Hyatt's marriage has been strained as a result; in fact, it was during his separation from Laura that Sam impulsively hooked up with Carrie, explaining "I was looking down the barrel at 40" and, well, he had needs. As Sam tells it, he and Laura went on patch things up and she's now gotten pregnant but she's still tense AND HOW IN THE HELL CAN HE POSSIBLY TELL HIS WIFE HE HAS VD AFTER ALL THEY'VE BEEN THROUGH??!! Mr. Berlin is very understanding, but he insists Sam must tell Laura because her health and the health of their unborn baby depends on it.

Desperate to save Laura from heartache, Sam instead begs her doctor (Peggy Feury) to test and treat his wife secretly, without her knowledge. The doctor refuses, pointing out that's not only unethical and illegal, but batshit crazy, too. So Sam trudges over to Laura's office, which features a life-size, very scary clown doll--with a revolving head. Ignoring this truly freaky clown (no mean feat), Sam gathers up his courage to tell his wife the awful truth. Laura, meanwhile, thinks Sam is just there to weasel out of his impending fatherhood. So she launches into a long spiel about how she's always deferred to everybody else and put her needs aside and, well, she's fed up with it! While Laura yammers on and on, Sam suddenly grabs his wife by the shoulders and tells her he has VD.

How does Laura react? First, she freezes up like a popsicle. Then she narrows her eyes, twists her lips into a sneer and silently pulls herself from hubby's grip. Slowly stepping backwards, Laura looks as if Sam has just passed some really bad gas and she's about to barf as a result. Although she cannot articulate the words to express her revulsion, I think it would be along the line of this: "EWWWW!"

"Oh my God! Was that you?": Laura smells something icky coming from the direction of her husband.

Admittedly, the news that one's significant other has VD--and may have passed it on to you--is no laughing matter. It's clear the filmmaker intended this scene to be a dramatic high point, an important moment to drive home the gravity of the couple's situation--but that's not what happens.

Instead of sharing Leachman's horror and confusion, viewers are more likely to do a spit take or shoot popcorn kernels through their nose from laughing. Only Delores Fuller's reaction to Ed Wood's announcement in "Glen or Glenda?" that he wears women's clothes or Pia Zadora's "nervous breakdown" in "The Lonely Lady" match Cloris' reaction for unexpected zaniness. And remember: while Fuller and Zadora have the combined acting talents of a garden slug, Cloris was an Oscar winner (for "The Last Picture Show"), the recipient of eight Emmy awards, a member of the Actor's Studio--and her acting is worse than theirs! In fact, Leachman wouldn't embarrass herself this badly again until she appeared on "Dancing with the Stars" in 2008.

OK, so what happens next?

Laura hustles over to her doctor and gets tested. She's still in denial about what's swirling around her (and in her). Luckily, Mr. Berlin arrives to set her straight. See, according to the tests and blood work, Laura is the one with the more advanced case of VD--meaning she was the first member of the Hyatt duo to get infected. Therefore, she was the one who passed on the pox to hubby and started the "terrifying epidemic" the ads screamed about. Naturally, Laura is aghast at this news, which begs the question: who infected her?

Turns out while the Hyatt's were separated, Sam wasn't the only one hooking up: Laura enjoyed a brief tryst with her boss Paul (Kenneth Mars). Well, well, well! So off Laura marches to his swingin' bachelor pad and says, "We've always been able to talk. You find me attractive, intelligent, you even think I have talent. (Pause) So why didn't you tell me you had syphilis?!"

Laura Hyatt has reason to scream when she learns her boss gave her VD.

Paul is dumbfounded...or just maybe dumb. Anyway, he insists he meant Laura no harm: "I almost told you 100 times," Paul stammers. "I just couldn't get the words out..."

He also says he'd "read up" on VD and thought because Laura didn't mention she'd experienced any symptoms after their mattress marathon, "we were lucky". Besides, don't they test pregnant gals for that sort of thing?

Laura, concerned about her husband and unborn baby, isn't having any of this. Once she thought their brief fling was "was everything an affair should be", but "I feel so tacky now!" Even worse, Paul's silence about his condition might have caused Laura to give "birth to a baby with no arms!" Getting up to leave, Laura informs the still shaken Paul that she's told "the county health people" all about him and he'll have to to cough up a list of his past sexual contacts. Then she stalks out, slamming the door behind her.

It's an unwritten rule of the TV Movie Universe that no matter how serious the subject matter, you can't leave the audience in a blue funk. Therefore, in it's final moments "Someone I Touched" works furiously to end things on as positive a note as possible. Laura tells Sam about her affair with Paul and he forgives her. Paul goes to the county health department and informs them of all his past sexual partners. He later tells Laura and she praises his honesty; she also forgives him for giving her VD--but she still quits her job (and packs up that super creepy clown doll, too). Sam goes to the grocery store where Carrie works and apologizes for giving her the clap. Carrie, in turn, thanks Sam for taking the trouble to do so. Sitting in their car, ready to drive home, Laura feels her (healthy) baby stir. She and Sam put their hands on her tummy to share the moment. There's hope for the future, after all--as long as Laura doesn't put that super creepy clown doll in the baby's room.

So what have we learned from "Someone I Touched"?

The understated ad for "Someone I Touched" that appeared in TV Guide.

* The clothes, hair styles and home decor of the 1970's were ugly.

* There's nothing more entertaining than a good actor giving a bad performance.

* There's no such thing as "care free love"--even in the movies!

* Dolls in TV movies were always creepy and dangerous. Don't believe me? Check out Talky Tina in the 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone" and the Zuni doll from 1975's "Trilogy of Terror", which starred Karen Black. I'm old enough (sigh) the remember the commercials hawking that movie and they scare me to this day. 

* The vast majority of TV movies were primed to scare people. Have sex outside of marriage? You'll catch VD. Or get pregnant and run afoul of illegal baby sellers ("Black Market Baby", 1977). Slack off controlling the varmint population? You'll get bit by a rabies-infected raccoon ("A Cry in the Wilderness", 1974). Leave hearth and home to pursue an acting career? You'll end up broke, unemployed and forced to pose topless ("Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold", 1978). Want to be a model? You'll be exploited by vicious agents, vicious photographers and vicious stage mothers ("Paper Dolls", 1982). Want to restore an old Victorian house? Think again. Your dream house could be possessed by evil spirits and Bette Davis ("The Dark Secret of Harvest Home", 1978). Get the point?

"Isn't he cute?": Karen Black's latest Amazon purchase has scared the bejeezus out of people (including me) since 1975.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, protect yourself and those you love by practicing safe sex, avoiding show business, staying in the suburbs and updating your rabies vaccinations.

And SAVE THE MOVIES, too.








 




Saturday, May 29, 2021

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

Battle axe: Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford) takes a whack at her husband and his cuddlemate in "Strait Jacket". 

Welcome back, movie lovers.

The time: 1944.

The place: A small town on a hot summer night.

Frank Harbin (Lee Majors of "The Six Million Dollar Man" fame in his film debut), the young husband of land owner Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford), is out boozing in a speakeasy with a floozy. After getting all tanked up, the cuddlemates head over to the Harbin homestead. Lucy's out of town and what she doesn't know won't hurt her, right?

Then a lonesome train whistle blows. Off  steps Lucy ("very much a woman") arriving one day early to surprise hubby and their daughter, Carol. Wearing a tight dress, a bad wig and tinkling charm bracelets  in a misguided attempt to look "younger", Crawford stubs out a cigarette and sashays home. What she finds is hubby and his floozy asleep in bed. Horrified and distraught, Lucy spies an axe lying near by. In a moment of rage, Lucy proceeds to whack Frank and his floozy into bite size pieces. Watching in wide-eyed horror is three-year old Carol...


   "Serial Mom": Joan Crawford screaming bloody murder.

Cut to shots of Lucy trussed up in a strait jacket screaming, "Let me out! It was a mistake! I'm not guilty! Ahhhhh!"

And now it's time for another edition of "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch..." where a Junk Cinema Jewel is used to demonstrate how your life could be even worse if you were facing the dilemmas faced by the characters in today's flick, "Strait Jacket" (1964).

Lovingly produced, directed and promoted by schlock horror impresario William Castle, "Strait Jacket" (which was written by the same guy who wrote "Psycho" for Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Bloch) was advertised with posters declaring, "Warning! 'Strait Jacket' vividly depicts axe murders!"

Thanks for sharing!

Our flick resumes 20 years after the events described above. Lucy Harbin (once again played by Joan Crawford) is being released from the mental hospital. Her daughter Carol (Diane Baker, one of Crawford's co-stars in "The Best of Everything"), who has been raised by her aunt and uncle the Cutlers, is a little uneasy about seeing mom again. She's especially concerned what her bland-as-broth boyfriend Michael (John Anthony Hayes) will think; he comes from a well-to-do family, see, and his parents might be less-than-thrilled if their son tells them he's engaged to the daughter of an axe murderer.

"Have you met my mother the axe murderer?": Carol (Diane Baker) introduces her cuddlemate to mom.

For the record, Carol's Aunt Emily (Rochelle Hudson) thinks everything will be fine: "After all these years it will be like meeting a total stranger."

Finally Lucy arrives, wearing a dowdy dress, sensible shoes and a tightly wound bun. Aunt Emily pertly greets Lucy by declaring, "Come in! I know (Carol's) dying to see you!" The two women tentatively embrace and Lucy breaks down in tears. Her daughter is now 23 years old! How could that be?

Mother and daughter take a tour of the family's farm, but references to killing always seem to pop up. Checking out the chicken coop, Lucy remarks, "I just hate to see anything caged..."

"Oh, it's not for long!" Carol jumps in. "We butcher them..." Her voice trails off and she looks embarrassed.

Next they survey the pigs chowing down.

This is supposed to be symbolic, right?: Lucy identifies with the caged chicks.

"Not very tidy," Lucy observes.

"But necessary," Carol explains. "We fatten them up for the slaughter..." Oops, there it is again.

Then Carol shows her mom her art studio, built for her by Uncle Bill (Lief Erickson). Carol is a talented sculptor and has even sold some pieces. However, her biggest project to date is a bust of Lucy's head. When Carol unveils it to Lucy, she's taken aback.

"I'm so proud of you!" mom sobs.

However, Lucy becomes visibly agitated when Carol announces Michael's coming to dinner: "But I'm not ready to meet strangers!" Lucy cries. She also freaks out when Carol shows her a family photo album and a pair of jangly bracelets--the very bracelets Lucy was wearing when she chopped dad's block off. Slowly Lucy gets ahold of herself , but she remains flustered. When Michael arrives for dinner, Lucy is nowhere to be found. The couple check out the art studio, where they find the photo album with a knife through it--and pictures of Lucy's dad's head cut out! Who could have done such a thing? Meanwhile, skulking in the shadows, is a worried looking Lucy.

Lucy can't hide her horror that Carol can't properly accessorize.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard Lucy tries to fit in and act "normal", wacky stuff just keeps happening: like when Lucy gets ready to turn in for the night and finds two--count 'em two!--disembodied heads in her bed. She screams bloody murder and runs away for help; however, when the rest of the family checks out Lucy's room the heads are gone.

Or when Lucy and Carol go shopping and Lucy wigs out because she hears kids taunting her with nasty rhymes. Yet when Lucy and Carol run out of the store to confront them, they only find two girls jumping rope.

Or when Lucy buys a dress and makes herself up to look exactly like she did when she chopped her husband's noggin off. Michael comes to pick Carol up for a date and Lucy takes the opportunity to model her new threads--and proceeds to get totally stewed, too. Even worse, she drunkenly throws herself at Michael, leaving the dumb dweeb (and the audience) speechless.

All that, however, pales in comparison to what happens next.

Carol and Michael leave for their date. The ashamed, guilty Lucy is left alone, but not for long: up trots Dr. Anderson (Mitchell Cox), her psychiatrist from the mental hospital. Dr. Anderson didn't think his patient was "ready" for the outside world just yet, and, since he's in the neighborhood on a fishing trip, he's decided to check up on her.

Dr. Feel Good: Despite his smiling demeanor, Dr. Alexander (Mitchell Cox) pushes Lucy Harbin over the edge...and himself into an early grave.

This upsets the already upset Lucy--and no wonder: Dr. Anderson presses Crawford so hard, the poor dear unravels completely. In order to prove that she's OK, Lucy begins furiously knitting and knitting and knitting. It's all for naught, naturally, as Lucy manages to muck up her knitting project. Apparently satisfied with totally unhinging his patient, Dr. Anderson takes a stroll around the Cutler family farm. Checking out the barn, the doctor hears a tinkling sound in the distance. He turns around and WHACK! off goes his head.

Carol returns home and finds the dazed and confused Lucy sitting in the front room. Carol also notices that Dr. Anderson's car is still parked in the drive way, but he's nowhere in sight. "Dr. Anderson is gone," Lucy repeats over and over again. Fearing the worst, Carol rushes out and hides his car in the barn. However, the next morning she finds Leo, the Cutler's grumpy, sleazy hired hand ( the always charming George Kennedy) painting the doctor's car. He plans on keeping the wheels and tauntingly suggests Lucy had something to do with Anderson's sudden disappearance. Carol orders Leo to leave the farm, pronto. While he's gathering up his things, Leo hears tinkling sounds. He goes off to investigate and WHACK! off goes his head.

Meanwhile, Michael's wealthy parents, the Fields, have invited everybody over for dinner. Lucy is so nervous about making the right impression that she spills coffee all over her dress. Worse, she lets it slip that she's been in a mental hospital for 20 years AND that Carol and Michael are unofficially engaged. The Fields, especially Mrs. Fields (Edith Atwater), are aghast. There is no way they'll allow their only son to marry the daughter of an axe murderer--what would the neighbors say?! How could they face their friends at the country club? This makes Lucy furious and she insists the wedding will go forward, no matter what! When Carol, Michael and the Cutlers hear the arguing, they hurry into the drawing room to see what's the matter. Embarrassed and overwhelmed, Lucy races out of the Fields' front door. Aunt Emily and Carol sadly drive home, while Uncle Bill and Michael go out searching for Lucy. 

Wringing her hands and pacing madly, Mrs. Fields keeps wondering when Michael will get home. Mr. Fields, who is a bit of a dolt, has no such qualms. Fed up with his wife's nagging, he decides to turn in for the night. Mrs. Fields won't hear of it; she doesn't want to be "alone." So Mr. Fields says he'll back down stairs after he puts on his jammies. Once he's in his dressing room, however, Mr. Fields get an uneasy feeling. He looks around, but finds nothing suspicious. Then he hears some tinkling sounds. Seconds later, WHACK! off goes his head.

Wondering what's keeping hubby so long, Mrs. Fields charges up the stairs and marches into their dressing room. It's there she finds Mr. Fields lying on the floor minus his noggin. The horrified society matron puts her hands to her face and screams "Ahhhh!" before racing out of the room. Unfortunately, blocking her way is...Lucy Harbin wielding an axe! She swings at her target, but misses, sending Mrs. Fields running pell-mell yelling "Ahhh! Ahhh!"

"We are not amused": Mr. and Mrs. Fields are cool to the idea of their son marrying the daughter of an axe murderer.

Who then should suddenly walk into the Fields' foyer but...Lucy Harbin! The real Lucy Harbin! She rushes up the stairs to face the attacker Mrs. Fields is screaming about, leading us to the flick's zaniest highlight: seeing a gal in a Joan Crawford mask fighting Joan Crawford over an axe. No weak sister, Lucy wrestles the imposter onto a bed, knocks away the axe and rips off the mask to reveal...Carol! Say it isn't so! Sweet, supportive Carol is actually nuttier than a fruitcake and has been setting up her poor mom up all the time!

What could possibly happen after that? Plenty, sister, plenty.

Carol gets away from Lucy and rushes down stairs. It's there she meets dull-as-dish water Michael and hysterically explains why she's dressed up like her mom and grasping a Joan Crawford mask. See, Carol knew Michael's parents wouldn't approve of the daughter of an axe murderer joining their family, so when she found out Lucy was being released, she devised a cunning plan to make it look like mom was still had bats in her bellfry. While Michael stands there like a popsicle, Carol starts pounding her Joan Crawford mask into pulp, screeching, "I love her! I hate her! I love her! I hate her!! Ahhh!"

"Straight Jacket" ends with Lucy Harbin, dressed in a modest house dress, packing up Carol's things. The poor dear has been found insane and has been shipped off to the same mental hospital that mom recently left. Sighing heavy sighs, Lucy explains to the stunned Bill that it was Carol who created and left those fake heads in her bed; it was Carol who taped the kids singing taunting rhymes and hid the recording in her purse while they were shopping; it was Carol who killed Dr. Anderson, Leo and Mr. Fields and pinned it on her; it was Carol who hid her real feelings about Lucy while plotting her downfall. Who knew seeing mom chop dad and his honeybunch up 20 years ago would have such a traumatic effect on a kid? Oh, well, live and learn.

Although "Strait Jacket"s tag line was "Remember: it's only a movie...", producer/director William Castle didn't want patrons to exit his flick all shook up. A joker fond of campy gimmicks (who can forget "The Punishment Poll" at the end of "Mr. Sardonicus?"? Or his "Death by Fright" insurance policy?), the closing credits featured Columbia Studios' familiar torch carrying goddess... with her head chopped off and lying at her feet.

"He Almost Married an Axe Murderer": Carol freaks out while explaining to Michael why she had to kill all those people.

That William Castle! What a card!

When reviewing the long pageant of Joan Crawford's career (she made 83 films), it's interesting to note how many of her flicks dealt with, in one form or another, mental illness: "Humoresque" (1947), where Joan plays a good-time girl who drowns herself rather than damage her lover's musical career; "Possessed" (1947), where Joan's obsession with Van Heflin drives her not only insane but to murder; "Queen Bee" (1955), where Joan neglects her kids, drives her husband to drink and goads another gal to hang herself; "Autumn Leaves" (1956), where Joan marries the younger Cliff Robertson, unaware that seeing his dad (Lorne Greene) making whoopski with Vera Miles--who was Cliff's wife--has driven him secretly batty; "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962), where Joan was at the mercy of Bette Davis (an insane former child star); "The Caretakers" (also from '62), where Joan was the head nurse at a mental hospital; "I Saw What You Did" (1965), about a prank call gone bad; and "Berserk!" (1967), where Joan is the owner of a circus beset by a serial killer.

What does any of this mean? Perhaps Joan was really attracted to macabre, melodramatic stories. Or perhaps Joan was giving us an unintended peek at her own troubled pysche, which would be explored in greater detail in daughter Christina's memoir Mommie Dearest? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whatever the reason, "Strait Jacket" and Joan Crawford are a perfect fit. Although not a hit when it first came out, "Strait Jacket" has since become a "cult classic". But make no mistake: it's still about as subtle as a sledge hammer, it's depiction of mental illness is rather tasteless and Joan sashaying down the street pretending to be 20 years younger than she really was is really uncomfortable. However, you do get to see Crawford strike a match on a revolving record, which is kinda neat.

Therefore movie lovers, if you think your life is down in the dumps, watch "Strait Jacket". I'm sure you'll conclude that your life isn't so bad after all. I mean, Joan Crawford isn't your mother and your head is still on your shoulders, right?

Until next time, lay off the jangly jewelry and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.

"Don't lose your head": The closing credits of "Strait Jacket".




Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Tucker Carlson Bares His Claws Against Cat Cafes

 

"Are you kitten me right meow?": Tucker Carlson blames cat cafes for America's supposed decline.

 Tucker Carlson has announced via his perch on "Faux News" some pretty noxious stuff over the years: that white supremacy is a "hoax", that global warming is a joke, that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe, that parents who have their children wear face masks are abusive, that the mob who stormed the Capital on January 6th were "gentle patriots" and that large segments of the male population are turning to drink and drugs because women are developin' fancy airs and refusing to marry them.

No matter how outrageous or egregious Tucker's claims might be, his bosses at Faux are always happy to look the other way or stoutly defend their star from anyone who dares question his judgment, taste or sanity. After all, Tucker's ratings are through the roof and he's making the Murdoch family (who own Faux) rich, rich, rich.

However, Carlson crossed a line--A BIG ONE--when he declared that cat cafes were poisoning the soul of our nation, unlike, say, racism or white supremacy.

"Does anyone in power really believe something called 'white supremacy' is the single greatest threat America faces?" Tucker asked on his Tuesday, May 5th, show. "No, of course not, no one thinks that way."

(Actually, Tucker, the FBI thinks White Supremacists are pretty freakin' dangerous, but I digress.)

Snooty cat cafes (like this one) are a threat to the nation...according to Tucker Carlson.

Instead, Tucker insisted "decadent rich people" from former president Obama's Harvard law school class (!?), "the gender studies party" at Cornell University, editorial meetings at  Atlantic magazine and, yes, cat cafes were the real rotters.

"Those are the people who actually detest the country," Tucker proclaimed. "They're the ones working through the night to destroy it."

The owners of cat cafes are actively working to over throwing the government? Seriously? When would they have the time? After opening the cafe, serving the customers all day, tending to the cats, making the drinks and food, answering the phones, cleaning the johns, supervising the wait staff, making change, replenishing their supplies and balancing the payroll, you'd think the owners of cat cafes would be too bushed to over throw the government--I know I would.

Besides, the owners of cat cafes are like any other small business owner; they have to turn a profit if they want to stay open. Again, that leaves little time to agitate for revolution.

Since Tucker didn't provide any proof as to how cat cafes and/or their owners were undermining our government, you have to wonder if it's the people who patronize such establishments who are the real enemies in his book.

After all, according to the website PetPlan, people who favor cats tend to be more open minded and creative than others. They also "generally look down on those they (think) are narrow minded."

The website also included research from Carroll University in Wisconsin which suggested cat people are "generally more educated" and scored higher on intelligence tests than the owners of other pets.

Furthermore, the website reported that, generally speaking, cat owners tended to do things their own way and follow their own paths in life; granted, this can seem "eccentric" and threatening to others who harbor more rigid views.

Hmmm. I think they may be on to something...

Despite Tucker's frequent declarations of hating "cancel culture" and loving democracy and personal freedom, I submit that's just window dressing. To paraphrase Napoleon in Animal Farm, Carlson believes all people are equal, but some people are more equal than others.

"Cream or sugar?": Fluffy pours some radical tea.

In his daily rants on Faux, Carlson insists that only people who think like he does, live like he does, vote like he does  and above all look like he does (i.e. white) are true, loyal Americans. Everybody else is an untrustworthy undesirable who refuses to conform to "acceptable" modes of behavior and therefore must be "cancelled" for the good of the republic.

So no wonder Tucker has his knickers in a knot about cat cafes: they attract educated, open-minded people who think for themselves (and like cats). Or maybe they're just people who think it's fun sip their coffee or tea and watch cats being cats. Either way, you can see how this kind of quirky independence would set Carlson on edge.

And if there's one thing Tucker Carlson and Faux News can't stand, it's people thinking for themselves. 

After all, if people can think for themselves, there's no reason to watch Faux News, is there?

Meow.

Cats have a long history of inciting rebellion.



Comrade Lenin liked cats.



He wasn't restricted for nothin', baby!: "Fritz the Cat" (1972), the world's first R-rated cartoon, spoofed the radical 60's and '70's through a tom cat with a cheerful lack of morals.


FUR-menting revolution one soy latte at a time.







 




Sunday, April 25, 2021

Newlyweds Rue McClanahan and Ted Shackelford are Tormented by an Infestation of Children and Bad Jokes in "Baby of the Bride"

Being a mother is not for the faint of heart.

Hi-dee-ho, movie lovers.

Let's see: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, President's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Easter are just a few of the holidays that have come and gone. What's the next big celebration? Mother's Day! (May 9th in case you forgot.)

Therefore, I've decided it would be fun to spotlight an assortment of Junk Cinema Gems that focus on the vital role mothers play in our lives and in our movies.

The first entry in this multi-part series is from the Golden Age of TV Movies, where Tori Spelling, Jacklyn Smith, Susan Lucci and Jane Seymour (among others) churned out processed, small screen celluloid cheese at a breathless clip, facing off against crazed babysitters, the mob, stalkers, studly ghosts, wayward kids, cheating husbands and even Satan himself...seven days a week!

(That last reference is a nod to "Invitation to Hell", a TV-er starring Susan Lucci as Old Scratch masquerading as the sexy owner of a lavish country club...with a script by Wes Craven of "Nightmare on Elm Street" fame.)

Erica Kane moonlighting as Vampira? No, it's Susan Lucci as the Devil (yes, that Devil) in the TV Movie "Invitation to Hell".

Of course, not all Made-For-TV-Movies were doom and gloom; sometimes they tried their hand at romantic comedies, period pieces and love stories. Which is a neat way to cruise into today's feature presentation, which poses the immortal question: Thinking of getting married? 

Well, think again. Or remember this: You marry the whole family, not just your intended. 

That's something hapless John Hix (Ted Shackelford of "Dallas" and "Knot's Landing") might have wanted to consider before he married sexy older woman Margaret Becker ("The Golden Girls" Rue McClanahan), a long-time divorcee' with four--count 'em four!--grown kids.

Why?

Because, like the biblical Plagues of Egypt, these nippers bring a series of disasters that threaten the newlyweds' plans for happily ever after in "Baby of the Bride" (1991), a made-for-TV Christmas movie that attempts to mine holiday yucks out of unemployment, unplanned pregnancy, custody battles and divorce.

Frisky newlyweds John Hix (Ted Shackelford) and Margaret Becker (Rue McClananahan) enjoy married life in "Baby of the Bride."

The fun begins when newlyweds John and Margaret arrive home from their honeymoon. Margaret's spacious house is all theirs, allowing the cuddlemates to have sex whenever they want. In fact, John has figured out that if they "save for four years", they can both retire and travel the world, which will give them the opportunity to do the nasty in as many foreign countries as they want.

Suddenly arriving in this marital Garden of Eden is Margaret's fitfully employed son Andrew (Conor O'Farrell) and his standard-issue TV daughters, Jersey and Amy. Seems he and his ex--who have never bothered to marry, by the way--are having custody issues, even though he has custody. Andrew also mumbles a lot about "moving to Canada", although he doesn't say why. Because he and the kids need a place to stay, Andrew and the girls move in with John and Margaret. 

Next up is golden boy son Dennis (John Westley Shipp, two-time Day Time Emmy Winner and TV's "The Flash"). He's a hot-shot stockbroker who enjoys having sex with his female boss in his corner office. Rolling in money, belonging to a country club and living in a pricey condo, Dennis has the world on a string...until his female boss announces (post-coital) that the firm is making cut-backs and Dennis has to go. Then she hands him his severance check, straightens her skit and coolly leaves his office.

Unemployed and maxed out on his credit cards, Dennis is forced to sell his condo and--yes!--head over to mom's until he finds another job.

Which brings us to the sister act of the Becker family. TV veteran Kristy McNichol is Mary, a recent ex-nun who is now pregnant. How she found herself in this situation is apparently explained in "Children of the Bride", the first of three "Bride" movies made for TV; our current feature is the second entry in this trilogy of terror--did I forget to mention that? Well, know we all know. Anyway, Mary has moved in with sister Anne (Anne Bobby), an obnoxious loud-mouth who smokes and has been divorced twice--even though she doesn't look old enough to have graduated from college, let alone married and divorced (twice).

Cleanliness is next to Godliness?: Ex-nun (and mom-to-be) Mary (Kristy McNichol) and sister Anne (Anne Bobby) bicker over cleaning products and life choices.

Now is probably as good a time as any to mention that this family is Catholic. A very liberal Catholic family I'd say, since Margaret's first husband deserted her (and she in turn divorced him), Andrew has two kids with a woman he never married, Mary is expecting a child out of wedlock and Anne has been married and divorced twice. Nobody ever mentions getting or applying for an annulment and they still attend Mass. Since the movie doesn't make a big deal about any of this, why should we? Who says the Catholic church hasn't lightened up?

OK, back to the plot. All this familial Sturm Und Drang is wrecking havoc on John and Margaret's robust sex life, not to mention John's nerves. See, John could handle being a step-father to four kids because the kids were all grown up and didn't live with them. John could also handle being a "young grandfather" or "uncle" to moppets Jersey and Amy because they lived in Florida. He never bargained on the whole tribe moving back home and bringing their problems with them.

Nor was John ready for Margaret to announce that she, like Mary, is preggers. 

So what's a frazzled, overwhelmed, sex mad newlywed to do? 

Up and leave his new, pregnant wife, of course.

Caught in the act: Margaret's kids interrupt her and new hubby John's sex plans again.

See, John never thought he and Margaret would have kids because, well, she already has four and, well, she'd started "the change"...or so they thought...which is why they didn't bother to use birth control, and, well, wasn't all that behind them? Weren't they going to retire in four years and have sex all over the globe?!

Margaret is crushed, of course, that John isn't happy about their blessed event--or that he's moved into an apartment. She's also upset that hubby insists her pregnancy was "forced" on him, as if John had nothing to do with it. 

The kids aren't helping matters. Although Andrew has plenty of time to play basketball and dicker around with his truck, he hasn't made any moves to find a job. Poor Dennis is at least looking for work, but the best he can do is an offer to manage a jewelry store at the local mall. John agreed to hire Mary for his office, but she's soon on maternity leave. Andrew's ex then shows up with her rich new husband, who looks (and dresses) like a '70's porn star, complete with 'stache. Even though she ran out him and their girls, she now wants visitation. And loud mouth Anne has become involved in a push me--pull you romance with a cop named Nick (Greg Kean), who had the nerve to give her a ticket for driving past a four way stop.

The climax of all this frenzied activity takes place on (ho, ho, ho!) Christmas Eve, where the Becker-Hix family troops off to midnight Mass. John, conveniently enough, is helping to officiate when first Mary and then Margaret goes into labor. This, in turn, causes a disruption of the service, a mad dash to the hospital, dueling scenes of Mary and Margaret screaming in pain and the arrival of a healthy baby girl for Mary and a healthy baby boy for Margaret.

Best of all, John has changed his mind about being a dad and he and Margaret get back together. Dennis accepts the job at the mall. Andrew decides not to flee to Canada and instead work on visitation with his ex. Anne gets together with her cop beau. When her maternity leave is up, Mary will once again work at John's office. 

Who experienced more pain? Margaret in labor or the viewers watching the movie?

All's well that ends well?

Not when you remember there's one more flick in the series.

Watching "Baby of the Bride" reminds one how truly awful the vast majority of TV movies were. Stuck with small budgets and hemmed in by short shooting schedules, made-for-TV-movies didn't have the time to "finesse" their subject matter. Therefore, it's not surprising most were shlockwurst on a stick. In this light, it makes you wonder how TV films like "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman", "Brian's Song" and "Eleanor and Franklin" ever managed to get made.

Never the less, "The Baby of the Bride" sucks; this movie would suck under any circumstances, frankly. It's not that the basic premise isn't ripe with possibilities or that actors are flat-footed gargoyls who've never acted before. Rather, the characters--except for Margaret--simply aren't likeable: Andrew is a whiney dope; Dennis is a schmuck and harasser of women; Anne is a disagreeable loudmouth; Mary, the ex-nun, is a ditz and John leaves his wife when she needs him the most. Plus, he yammers endlessly about how unfair Margaret's pregnancy is as if he wasn't even in the room when junior was conceived--and this is from a guy who wanted to have sex in every country in Europe!

Meanwhile, the attempts at comedy--such as when Mary and Margaret go into labor at the same time--fall hopelessly, painfully flat--another surprise, considering the director (Bill Bixby) and the major cast members are veterans of TV comedy. Equally unfunny are such set pieces as Anne's attempts to "find" her sister a baby daddy by encouraging Mary to wear a tight red dress and join her at a swingin' night club. Soon enough, a guy comes over to Mary and suavely asks, "Wanna take a look at my Porsche?" 

"Are you talking to me?": Inexperienced dater Mary is surprised when a man hits on her when she visits a single bar.

 "Why? What's wrong with it?" she asks.

Get it? Mary the ex-nun is so out of the dating swim, she thinks if a guy asks if she wants to check out his fancy car, it means his car has engine trouble! Oh my sides!

Perhaps the most painful "comedic" scenes involve Anne and her would-be cop beau Nick trying some "Moonlighting"-style banter. For example, when Nick pays for Anne's drink at the swingin' club, she barks, "Are you trying to get on my good side?"

"Have one?" Nick zings back.

When he asks Anne to dance and she refuses, Mary jumps in: "Oh, Anne! He's not asking you to go look at his car! Go dance!"

"Baby, You Can Drive My Car": Anne and Nick "meet cute" when she's cited for driving while over acting.

Then Nick tries again and Anne replies, "I'll tell you what! Instead of dancing, you close your eyes and I'll hide. When you get to 10, you open your eyes and find me gone!"

"Is that a no?" Nick asks.

"You're good at this game!" Anne rejoins.

As one of the riffers on Rifftrax observed, "This is a Howard Hawks comedy for people who hate themselves."

So, kiddies, what does "Baby of the Bride" say about mothers and life in general?

"Can we stop smiling now? My face hurts!": The cast of "Baby of the Bride" face the cameras.

*No matter how old you are, children will always need their mom.

*If you have sex, there is a 99% chance you'll get pregnant. You have been warned.

*Women don't get pregnant on their own unless they visit a sperm bank. Therefore, guys, when your cuddlemate is visited by the stork, don't act as if you had nothing to do with it.

*Yes, even YOUR mom has had sex. She might have even enjoyed it. Once.

*You want to watch a Howard Hawks comedy with people who don't hate themselves? Try "Ball of Fire", "His Girl Friday" or "Bringing up Baby" (Baby is a leopard, by the way).

And, of course, help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

What "happily ever after" looks like for the rest of us.