Thursday, December 30, 2021

Learn How Decorating With Phones Can Save Your Marriage In "Once Upon A Honeymoon"


"We can still have sex at home, dear.": Mary comforts frustrated hubby Jeff when they learn their honeymoon must be canceled yet again in the musical short "Once Upon a Honeymoon"(1956).

Huzzah and welcome, movie lovers.

Recently, I posted a review of the award-winning documentary "Bathtubs Over Broadway" (2018), which lifted the lid on the wonderful, funderful world of industrial musicals: big, splashy Broadway style entertainments created to motivate/celebrate salespeople from the 1950's to the mid 1980's.

While most "industrials" were live shows, companies also commissioned short films for promotional and motivational purposes. The most famous (or notorious) of these was 1956's "Mr. B Natural", where hyper-perky Betty Luster gads about extoling the "spirit of fun in music" on behalf of Conn Instruments.

Another totally bonkers short from 1956 came via Bell Telephone. Titled "Once Upon a Honeymoon", it's a musical/fantasy/fever dream where angels and telephones save a married couple who keep having to postpone their honeymoon.

Directed by Broadway vet Gower Champion and filmed in blinding Technicolor, "Once Upon a Honeymoon" begins on "cloud seven" in heaven. The Head Angel (Russell Hicks) is furious that angel Wilbur (Chick Chandler) has not been doing enough to ensure the happiness of Jeff and Mary (Ward Ellis and Virginia Gibson). See, Jeff is a Broadway tunesmith and his latest project has been beset with problems. By far the biggest problem is temperamental ballerina/diva Sonya (Veronica Pataky), the star of the show. She keeps insisting that Jeff rewrite the song "Castle in the Sky" over and over and over again.

Angel Wilbur (left) has a performance review with the Head Angel (right). Notice the phone.

"I vant more vishing in the vishing song," Sonya demands (the flick never says where Sonja hails from, but Pataky was a native of Hungary, which explains why she sounds like Zsa Zsa Gabor).

Turning up invisible on Jeff and Mary's roof top, Wilbur arrives just as our cuddlemates learn their honeymoon plans have been foiled yet again. Jeff's boss Gordon (English actor Alan Mawbray) has phoned to report Sonya has rejected his latest rewrite and is threatening to walk if he doesn't send over another version--pronto!

"You said when I finished the score I could take Mary on our honeymoon!" an irritated Jeff retorts. "We've waited a year now and we're going!" (Author's note: My dad worked for Greyhound Bus Lines and he only got three days off for his honeymoon. Consequently, he also got no time off when my mom delivered me and my siblings. Instead, he tried to arrange his vacation time around her due dates, which didn't always work. I, for example, came early. But I digress...)

Gordon, surrounded by his suit-wearing, cigarette-smoking backers, insists Jeff has enough material at home to whip up another rewrite. Frustrated and disappointed, Jeff has no choice but to put down the phone, light up a cigarette and get back to work. In a trick that's suppose to show how much time has gone by, we see the ashtray on Jeff's piano is soon over flowing with cigarette butts (ewww). 

"No inspiration, dear?" Mary asks.

"Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?": Wilbur (Chick Chandler) phones home. 

"I couldn't write 'The Farmer in the Dell'," grouses Jeff.

Gathering up his uneaten lunch, Mary goes into the kitchen and begins singing. "I wish I had a castle in the sky," she trills. "Away up high, where blue birds like to fly! Just a cozy little castle, with a hundred rooms or more. With stars for windows, clouds for rugs and a rainbow for a door!" As she does this, Mary realizes that her fridge never closes properly, her faucet drips and her stove's pilot light must always be lighted when she wants to cook something or make coffee.

"I wish..." Mary warbles. "I wish... I just wish I had a decent kitchen!"

That's Wilbur's cue to start sprinkling angel dust (rim shot) over Mary, causing her to fantasize about a new kitchen that comes complete with "a bright red phone" that will come in handy when "friends call up to chat a bit!"

Still tripping out on Wilbur's angel dust (rim shot), Mary flounces into her living room and sings, "I wish my living room were all redone!" And PRESTO! Not only is Mary's living room redecorated, but Jeff has been put in white tie and ties and Mary is sporting a fluffy white gown. While hubby pounds away on the piano, Mary continues to sing, declaring, "It's nice to have a telephone to blend with my new drapes and rug--a living room that's all our own!"

Mary sings about the joys of having a phone that "matches my new drapes and rug."(Note the MST3K silhouettes in the frame.)

Mary and Jeff then have a dance break, where they twirl around like Bobby and Cissy from "The Lawrence Welk Show". When that's over, Mary flits off to the bedroom--which, this being 1956, features separate twin beds. 

"The bedroom should be changed completely, too," Mary warbles. "Perhaps a color scheme of gold and blue?"

As the bedroom magically changes, Mary pops her head up from behind a couch up and sings, "On second thought, I might try dusty rose..."

Then she runs over to one of the beds, flops on top of it, kicks up her heels and continues singing: "A lady likes to have a change her miiiind...just like a yellow room with turquoise and white...and maybe a telephone that lights up at night. I wish I may, I...wish...I...might."

Mary's reverie is broken by the sound of a ringing telephone. Racing to the hall way, she picks up the phone and finds the caller has hung up. Jeff, at wit's end, slams down on the piano keys and tells Mary to call Gordon; there's no way he'll have the rewrite Sonja wants today. Mary heaves a deep sigh and dials Gordon's number. Still on the roof, angel Wilbur throws down more angel dust (rim shot) on Mary and the phone.

Jeff and Mary tripping the light fantastic.

As Mary dials Gordon's number, the sound of the rotary dial sparks something in Jeff's imagination; he has Mary redial the number again and EUREKA! Jeff has the hook he needs to finish his song!

Soon Jeff and Mary are singing the new and improved "Castle in the Sky" together, even taking time to twirl around the front room. If you're wondering how the piano keeps playing while Jeff and Mary waltz around, invisible angel Wilbur has taken over the keyboards. But, wait! There's more! Boss Gordon suddenly rings in and our cuddlemates perform the updated version of the troublesome tune on the spot. Gordon, in fact, puts the call on speaker phone so Sonya (who happens to be in his office) can hear it, too. Needless to say, the rewrite a hit and Sonya declares, "I love it!" The show is saved!

Finally Jeff and Mary can go on their honeymoon. So our cuddlemates gather up their luggage, Jeff puts on a sport coat and Mary leaps into his arms. Out the door our smitten kittens glide, not even bothering to lock up. Wilbur, meanwhile, phones the Head Angel in heaven to triumphantly exclaim, "Mission accomplished!"


Like a Donald Trump press conference, "Once Upon a Honeymoon" is a weird, confusing yet oddly entertaining experience. Obviously a lot of money was spent on this and the performers on screen throw themselves 100% into the proceedings, even if the objectives of the flick remain unclear.

A transformed Mary marvels at her magically redecorated bedroom. Note the twin beds.

I mean, if this short was meant to sell phones, how come the phones play second fiddle to all the redecorating Mary sings so rhapsodically about? After all, Mary just wanted "a decent kitchen"--she never expressed any dissatisfaction with her phone or phone service. Likewise, if Sonya is such a pain-in-the-ass diva, how come we didn't see more of her? A few glimpses of Sonya's never-ending demands might have fleshed out this plot point. Finally, Jeff and Mary's marriage seems OK to me. Sure, they've had to put off their honeymoon for a year, but this doesn't seem to have caused any problems between them. In fact, Mary, the ideal '50's spouse, is nothing less than understanding about the situation.

The website for the National Film Preservation Foundation (!) asserts that "Once Upon a Honeymoon" "exemplifies the enthusiasm and excess of mid-1950's advertising." Indeed, Bell Telephone was so pleased with this flick, local phone companies were given free copies of the song "Castle in the Sky"!

So maybe I have it all wrong. Perhaps "Once Upon a Honeymoon" was just meant to be a fun, musical Technicolor diversion from the rigors of daily life. There was no grand statement, no deeper meaning intended. And if that's true, then, "Once Upon a Honeymoon" succeeded admirably.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, that while marriages are made in heaven, phones are made on Earth and some things are just meant to be crazy.

And SAVE THE MOVIES while you're at it.

You never know where inspiration might strike: A humble rotary phone helps songwriter Jeff finish his latest Broadway score.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Junk Cinema Salutes The Uniquely American World Of Industrial Theater In "Bathrooms Over Broadway"


All Singing! All dancing! All plumbing!: "Bathtubs Over Broadway"(2018) celebrates the over-looked world of industrial musicals.

Hi-dee-ho, movie lovers.

Do you have a favorite Broadway musical?

Is it "42 Street"? "Oklahoma!"? "West Side Story"? "The Sound of Music"?

Perhaps it's something from the oeuvre of the late Stephen Sondheim, such as "Company", "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", "Sweeney Todd" or "Into the Woods"?

Could it be "Hamilton" or "A Chorus Line"? Or maybe it's the melodious stains of " The Wonderful World of Chemistry" or "Diesel Dazzle" that gets your toes tapping?

"Take it from Here": A 1971 industrial musical that billed itself as "the rollicking story of how Charlie Powers of Xerox Data Systems (finds) out what the Xerox Corporation is all about!"

What? You've never heard of " The Wonderful World of Chemistry" or "Diesel Dazzle" or "The Bathrooms are Coming"?!

Guess what, you're not alone. Which is why you must watch the delightfully demented, feel-good documentary "Bathrooms Over Broadway" (2018), currently screening on Netflix.

A hit on the film festival circuit, the winner of numerous awards and the recipient of a 100% "Fresh" rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website, "Bathtubs Over Broadway" chronicles the world of "industrial musicals": big, splashy Broadway-inspired entertainments made exclusively for big business from the 1950's to the mid-1980's.

The point of industrial musicals was to hype new products, teach better sales techniques or celebrate a rise in profits with singers, dancers, elaborate sets and costumes and, of course, original musical scores that rivaled the best of Broadway.

However, unless you worked for General Motors, Xerox, GE, Sears or some other big corporation, you probably never saw one of these productions. That's because industrial musicals were conceived and designed as in-house entertainment only, to be shown exclusively at national and/or regional sales conventions or conferences.

 "The New Wide World of Ford"(1960) was made for the Tractor and Implement Division of Ford Motor. The program featured such hits as "Hayin' Line Ahead of its Time" and "More Power to You".

Yet no expense was spared in creating these shows, which often featured Broadway hopefuls like Martin Short, Hal Linden, Chita Rivera and Susan Stroman (a five-time Tony winning choreographer/director) in their cast and crews. Other big names included Bob Newhart, Florence Henderson and writers Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, who gave us "Fiddler on the Roof".

Who's idea was it to alert the American public to this secret stash of musical oddities?

The credit goes to Steve Young, a long serving comedy writer (and Larry "Bud" Melman look-alike) for "Late Night with David Letterman".

Young was given the task of finding weird music for a segment called "Dave's Record Collection." That's where he stumbled upon the soundtracks for industrial musicals. Before long, Young was hunting down these recordings for himself and linking up with fellow industrial musical fans, swapping stories and trading records. That lead to contacts and interviews with the performers and creators of these remarkable shows, including composers Sheldon Harnick, and Frank Beebe as well as singer/actors Peter Shawn, Sandi Freeman and Patt Stanton Gjonala (who warbled the dreamy "My Bathroom" for 1969's "The Bathrooms are Coming!").

When Letterman announced that his show was closing up shop in 1993, Steve, who had been with the program from its beginning, was at loose ends as to what to do next. His love of industrial musicals inspired him to write (with Sport Murphy) Everything's Coming Up Profits, the ultimate resource on "the golden age of industrial musicals". That, in turn, lead to the acclaimed documentary "Bathrooms Over Broadway"...and this blog post.

This record was given out to attendees of a cooler sales convention held in Miami...I think. If you know anything about this song or the production it was featured in, please contact me!

Examples of the crack pot creativity of industrial musicals can be seen in such extravaganzas as "The Wonderful World of Chemistry" (written by Michael Brown for the 1964 New York World's Fair), which sang the praises of such Du Pont products as nylon, mylar and corfam and featured the "Happy Plastic Family"; "Diesel Dazzle" (1966) about selling farm products and featuring the hit tunes "Sell the Truck" and "Reliabilt Hoedown"; "The Grip of Leadership" (1961) from the Coca Cola corporation, where songs such as "Packaging and Pricing", "Keep Things Jumping" and "I Hear America Singing" are found; and "The Bathrooms are Coming!" (1969) where ditties like "Bring Back Those Glorious Years", "Look at this Tub" and "My Bathroom" extol the genius of American-Standard bathroom fixtures.

Of course, "Bathrooms Over Broadway" does more than just illuminate the world of industrial musicals. It also subtly layers in the story of Steve Young and how becoming a fan of "industrials" opened him up to new friends and experiences. Especially moving are the bonds Young forms with the creators and performers of these shows, most of whom never got the recognition they deserved. That was especially true for composer Hank Beebe. Although he worked both on and Off Broadway, Beebe spent considerable time in the world of industrials, which disappointed his mother. She had higher aspirations for her son and dismissed his work there as "just commercials". 

Meanwhile, Young's book Everything's Coming Up Profits is an excellent companion piece to Ken Smith's beyond brilliant Mental Hygiene: Better Living Through Classroom Films. Published in 1999, Mental Hygiene explored the role educational films played in the social development of America's post-war youth. Both tomes focus on an industry that thrived under the radar for nearly 30 years, capturing our country in a more optimistic and forward-looking time. What's more, both authors were initially inspired to write about these entertainment curiosities in hopes of preserving them for future generations.

Junk Cinema, naturally, is an ideal venue for industrial musical appreciation as well. I was first introduced to the joys of industrials on MST3K, THE GREATEST TELEVISION SHOW OF ALL TIME. That's where I saw "Mr. B Natural", a musical short from 1956. Produced by Kling Films for CG Conn Instruments, MR. B Natural was portrayed by the ferociously perky Betty Luster, who is sent  to bring "the spirit of fun in music" to needy, nerdy kids--whether they want it or not. The attention MST3K gave "Mr. B Natural" bought it out of obscurity and gave it new life as "a prime example of period kitsch" (Wikipedia).

Another industrial musical spotlighted by MST3K was "Once Upon a Honeymoon" (1956). Made by Bell Telephone and directed by Gower Champion, this "musical fantasy" told the story of Jeff and Mary, a young couple who haven't been able to go on their honeymoon because of problems besetting Mike's latest Broadway show. The couple's guardian angel (named Wilbur) is dispatched to Earth to help Jeff finish his score, while Mary daydreams about a new house with a phone in every room. A telephone even helps Jeff finish his song "A Castle in the Sky"!

Yes, the gang on the SOL were mocking these industrials, but they were doing it with love. Even Steve Young at first thought industrial musicals were too nutty for words--until he dived deeper into this  secret world and found it a place of pure imagination worth celebrating.

"Go Fly a Kite" premiered at GE's fifth Electric Utility Executives Conference in 1966. The music and lyrics were written by the team of Kander and Ebb, who's next project was the musical "Cabaret". Valerie Harper, TV's "Rhoda", was in the cast. Song selections include "Atom and Evil", "Big, Fat Wife" and "Supermink."

"Bathtubs Over Broadway" ends with a splashy, colorful show stopper called "Take That Step". Co written by Young and Beebe, "Take That Step" features many of the performers and fans we've met in the course of the flick, singing and dancing about the joys of taking chances and following your own bliss: "Take that step/ Shine your light/That left turn/Might be right/Don't wait for the world/To say 'OK',/Find your own way!"

For someone who writes a blog dedicated to saving bad movies, I couldn't agree more!

Therefore, for shining a light on this unseen era of musical creativity, Steven Young, Sport Murphy, director Dava Whisenant and all the unsung heroes of industrial musicals, Junk Cinema salutes you!

Steve Young (center in suit and hat) belts out "Take That Step" with his new friends from the wonderful, funderful world of industrial musicals.


Sunday, December 26, 2021

"A Place for Lovers" Or "The Most Godawful Piece of Pseudo-Romantic Slop I've Ever Seen!"*

* Roger Ebert.

Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni are ill-fated cuddlemates in "A Place for Lovers" (1969), a flick dubbed "as exciting to watch as a game of Tiddly-Winks."

Che piacere vederti! (That's Italian for "How nice it is to see you".)

All the world loves a lover, right?

Well, not exactly.

When MGM released the romantic drama "A Place for Lovers" in 1969, the critical brickbats were especially fierce. Here's a sample:

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

Film critics reacting to the movie "A Place for Lovers."

"It gives me no pleasure whatever to report that Vittorio De Sica's 'A Place for Lovers' is the worst movie I have seen all year and possibly since 1926," Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times carped. "It is endlessly, interminably, paralyzingly, stupefying bad."

"A dismal mess," sniffed Roger Greenspun of The New York Times. "A Place for Lovers' involves Faye Dunaway, Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorio De Sica in what I sincerely hope will be the worst movie of their respective careers."

"Woefully inept," Time magazine marveled, adding, "The five scriptwriters who supposedly worked on the film must have spent enough time at the water cooler to flood a camel."

In the 52 years since its original release, the reputation of "A Place for Lovers" as a Junk Cinema Jewel of Godzilla-like stature has only grown. The film was featured in The Fifty Worst Films of all Time, the January 2019 edition of Italian Vanity Fair magazine included it on their list of the 20 worst films ever made (along side "The Room", "Stayin' Alive" and "Howard the Duck") and even Wikipedia states that the flick "is widely considered one of the worst films of all time."

What makes this romantic drama starring real life cuddlemates Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni so bad? Let's take a look.

Julia (Dunaway) and Valerio (Mastroianni) enjoying la dolce vita.

The Leads Are Nitwits.

Julia (Dunaway) is a fahionista from America. Valerio (Mastroianni) is an Italian engineer working on safety bags for race car drivers. They meet at the airport. 

"I don't even know myself, how, why, I presume to speak to you," Valerio stammers during their first encounter. "I don't have a good excuse. (Pause) But for two hours now, I've been watching you. Look, I'm not a playboy. This has never happened to me before. I don't even know--how--I'm just an engineer..."

Then he hands her his card and asks Julia to contact him if she's ever in Italy. As it turns out, Julia is staying in an Italian villa the size of a shopping mall. She switches the TV on one night and finds Valerio giving an interview about his airbags. She dials his number and Valerio zooms over.

"I see you like experiments," Julia says. "How would you like to experiment by staying with me for two days?"

Italian smoothie Valerio can't believe how easy it was to hook his latest catch, Julia.

"Why did you ask me for only two days?" the befuddled Valerio asks.

"So you can ask me for the next eight," she replies, fluttering her mascara-heavy eyelashes.

When Julia asks Valerio if he's married, he casually replies, "Just about" (I assume that means yes?). Unfortunately, Julia has Ali McGraw Disease, a mysterious yet fatal ailment where the afflicted remain dewy-fresh and fashion plate perfect at all times. No coughing, sneezing, chills or vomiting. Julia was being treated in a London clinic, but she slipped out and headed to Italy.

Julia never tells Valerio she's a goner. Why? Because she's in love! Really in love! For the first time ever! Can't anybody understand that?! Telling Valerio the truth would spoil everything! Julia just wants to live until she dies, is that so bad?

As I said, they're total nitwits.

The Plot Is Preposterous.

Julia is the most beautiful sick person you'll ever see.

Even though they barely know each other, Julia and Valerio decide to spend the next 10 days together. Our cuddlemates have sex, eat out, have sex, go sight seeing, have sex, shoot home movies, have sex, dance to gospel music, have sex, rent a cottage in the mountains, have sex and have sex. The only time they have a disagreement is when they return to Julia's villa and find a party in full swing. The party then morphs into an orgy, complete with a porno movie and couples swapping partners. Valerio finds this too much and stomps off. 

"But it's only a game!" Julia reminds him.

"Only a game?" Valerio huffs. "Some helluva a game!"

Have no fear: our cuddlemates meet later, patch things up and, of course, have make-up sex.

Hovering in the background is Julia's friend Maggie (Caroline Mortimer), a chain-smoking busybody who is mortified that her terminally ill buddy is shacking up with a semi-married gent in Italy. Doesn't he know Julia's dying? Maggie insists she return to her English hospital so she can die as painlessly as possible. But Julia won't hear of it. Why? Because she's in love! For the first time in her her life she's REALLY in love! Can't Maggie understand?! The Grim Reaper will have to wait because she's in love!

"Boogie Nights": Valerio and Julia enjoy a dance with death.

When Maggie tries and fails to get her bestie on a plane back to London, she stubs out her latest cancer stick and calls up the couple's ski chalet. She leaves a message for Valerio, telling him Julia is doomed and must return to her doctor's care before it's too late. Valerio's eyes pop when he learns the news; after all, Julia doesn't look sick, she doesn't act sick--how can this be? How can she be dying when they're in love? Really in love!

Needless to say, Valerio is horrified and angry. How could Julia forget to tell him she was dying?

"Don't look at me!" Julia sobs when Valerio confronts her about the reality of her condition. "I can't take anymore sad eyes! Everyone always gets those good, sad eyes! Yours weren't! Yours were honest! Now," she gasps, "They're like all the others!"

So Julia didn't want Valerio looking at her sadly. Well, OK. And Julia is tired of people feeling sorry for her. That's understandable. But didn't she think she owed Valerio the truth? After all, didn't she make him promise he would always tell her the truth?

 Now that Valerio knows she's a goner, Julia decides to kill herself. However, when the time comes, she can't do it. Then she and Valerio go for a drive and Julia drives like a maniac round the tight curves of the road. Just when you think--hope--the couple will do a "Thelma and Louise", Julia stops the car. Valerio gets behind the wheel and she takes the passenger's seat. He revs up the car and they drive off.

Marcello Mastroianni literally phones in his performance in "A Place for Lovers".

The end.

Which means what, exactly?

Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps the flick's scriptwriters and director wanted one of those ambiguous endings, where the fate of the characters was left to the viewers' imagination. Or maybe they just got tired of shooting this crazy, sloppy movie and decided, "That's it. Everybody's suffered enough. Lets call it a day and go home."

The Acting Is Bad

Both Mastroianni and Dunaway are attractive, talented performers, so it's surprising to see them slogging their way through this pretentious, tedious schmaltz. The critics of the day gave full vent to their frustration at having to watch this "Dumb Enchanted Evening", producing reviews that were more entertaining than the movie.

Charles Champlin snarked that Mastroianni looked "embarrassed and befuddled, also a bit puffy, as if he had his nap interrupted or had tarried too long at the pasta." Time stated that Marcello displayed "all the zest of a man summoned up for tax evasion." Meanwhile, Dunaway, never in the same outfit twice, staggers through her scenes with a preoccupied, far away expression reminiscent of people who can't remember if they turned the iron off. "The only smidgen of a plot is that Dunaway makes a late abortive attempt at suicide," Time remarked. "Something the film successfully achieves after about ten minutes."

"Afternoon Delight": Doomed cuddlemates Julia and Valerio enjoy the sunshine of their love. 

The bad acting of the principals was complimented nicely by "the truly bad script" (according to the Saturday Evening Post) that included five scriptwriters toiling away. Even the crew members realized the flick just wasn't jelling; the same SEP article made note of "the lower ranks" making "sick jokes about doomed, desperate ladies" to pass the time.

"They Do It In The Name Of Love!"

Although "A Place for Lovers" received brickbats from the critics, the producers still tried to get the public interested by focusing on the romantic nature of the story. 

"Wherever they meet, they make it A Place for Lovers!" the ads gushed.

When that didn't work, the promoters tried this: "They Do It In The Name of Love!"

No dice.

Even the real life romance of Mastroianni and Dunaway failed to do the trick. In the end, "A Place for Lovers" was the cinematic equivalent of a really bad blind date: long, slow, excruciating and best forgotten by everyone involved. 

Then a year later, the world witnessed the release of another bat-shit crazy love story about doomed cuddlemates called--what else?--"Love Story". That movie also featured a terminally ill heroine who looked like a Vogue cover model (and actually had been a Vogue cover model) but it made zillions at the box office. "Love Story" was just as bad as "A Place for Lovers", but the public embraced it, begging the question "How could a movie starring Ryan O'Neil and Ali McGraw be better than a movie starring Marcello Mastroianni and Faye Dunaway?"

The world may never know.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, love may mean never having to say your sorry, but when you appear in a stinker like "A Place for Lovers", you will be saying sorry a lot.

So why not help me SAVE THE MOVIES instead?

Monday, November 15, 2021

One Bald Tyrant, Two Princesses and Three Magic Rocks Are No Match Against the "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell"!


We don't need another hero...especially if it's this guy: John Allen Nelson as "Deathstalker".

Huzzah and welcome movie lovers.

I have a question for you.

What do you get when you mix a total jerk, the guy who played "Bird Man" on the "Buck Rodgers" TV series, some "dead warriors" who appear to be pan-fried in snot and our future ambassador to Denmark (!) as twin princesses, one nice, one bratty, cavorting in an ultra cheap "fantasy realm"?

Give up?

You have an incomprehensible hot mess AND "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" (1988), which is also an incomprehensible hot mess.

"I'm all...bat ears?": The head of tyrant Troxartas' security team.

Written by Howard Cohen and directed by Alfonso Corona, "Deathstalker and the Warriors form Hell" is the third-to-the last episode of this "Conan the Barbarian"-inspired series. (Ever hear of the other three? Me neither. Ever watch the other three? Me neither.) Taking place in an English/Middle Ages/Middle Earth-type realm that looks like a junior high Renaissance Festival, "Deathstalker" opens with its cast enjoying a village fete, complete with dancing, drinking, jousting and a fire breather (you can't have one of these 'do's without a fire breather).

Our hero Deathstalker (we're never told his real name) is happily partying like it's 1999. As portrayed by John Allen Nelson, he's an odd hero indeed: obnoxious, swaggering and self-centered. He's also extremely proud of his primary male accouterment and spends as much time chasing tail as he does fighting evil. Oh, and he's accompanied by a long-haired wizard named Nicias (Aaron Herman), who dresses like Cousin It and tells goat fortunes (hey, it's a living).

Amid all this strolls in Princess Carissa (Carla Herd, ambassador to Denmark from 2017-2021). She's the co-ruler of a people so down on their luck they don't even have a country. The lucky ones live in tents in the forests and the rest are stuck in packing crates. But plucky Princess Carissa has a plan: there's a secret city called Arandor that is just waiting to be inhabited. In order to reach Arandor, however, you have to connect two halves of a special rock--and as luck would have it, HRH has one of those special rocks. She believes Nicias has the other half because A) he is the last living resident of Arandor and B) he's a wizard and wizards are always carrying around crazy shit like that.

As it turns out, Nicias doesn't have the matching rock Carissa seeks, but he knows where she can find it. While they're conferring in a tent, a group of Black Knights arrive out of nowhere and start hacking people to death. Why? Because their boss--a tyrant named Troxartas--also wants to claim the city of Arandor for himself. AND he has one of those special rocks. AND he believes Nicias has its mate which, we have already established, he does not. Confused? Get use to it; it happens a lot in this movie.

Amid all the hacking and pillaging, Nicias tells Deathstalker to protect Carissa. He then makes himself invisible, leaving only his shoes behind. Deathstalker and Carissa meet up in the forest, but our hero doesn't seem very interested in helping her or her homeless people.

Down on his luck wizard Nicias (Aaron Hernan) works the fortune telling booth at the county fair.

"Why is it I always keep getting mixed up with princesses?" Deathstalker grumbles. "Riding hundreds of miles, fighting whole armies, up against magic, maybe? In the end all I get is flowers on my head and everyone telling me how wonderful I am!"

It never occurs to this jerk that he could go into another line of work, like, say, blacksmithing, which pays well and is always in demand. However, doing so might limit his nooky opportunities, which seems to be Deathstalker's real objective. That's obvious when Carissa decides to turn in and Deathstalker tries to lure her into his tent by saying, "I've got the warmest blankets over here."

"I'll be warm enough," Carissa insists.

Undaunted, Deathstalker keeps pushing, insisting, "I never saw a princess yet who liked to sleep alone!"

Deathstalker's prediction proves correct...up to a point. Carissa does come into his tent, but only to warn him that the Black Knights have come to kill her...which they promptly do. No worse for wear, DS (as I'll call him from now on) simply pockets the magic rock and goes on his merry way. What he doesn't realize is that he's being watched via Tyrant Cam by Troxartas himself.

He's bald and he's bad: Troxartas (Thom Christopher) plots his next move.

As played by Thom Christopher, Troxartas is a cold blooded, bald headed meanie who is absolutely obsessed with uncovering the hidden city of Arandor, to the point that it's really pissing off his cuddlemate Camisarde (Terri Treas) because it's totally lousing up their sex life.

"You own every inch of land and every peasant between here and the sea," Camisarde points out. "And me!" (Pause) "If you ever notice."

Troxartas doesn't. Instead, he proclaims, "That city is power!" and "With this (holding the magic rock aloft) I'll live forever!"

Fed up with his ranting, Camisarde rolls her eyes and flounces off to figure out new ways to spice things up in the bedroom.

Meanwhile, DS is roaming the countryside, having adventures--not that it really matters, but, as long as you're here, I'll recount them for you:

 Casisarde (Terri Treas) wonders when her cuddlemate Troxartas will stop fussing over those magic rocks and pay some attention to her.

 Adventure #1: DS hops a ship that looks like a bamboo duck and hob-nobs with some wandering workers. Then the bat-eared Black Knights arrive looking for him and DS runs for his life like the self-serving jerk he is.

 Adventure #2: DS stumbles upon the camp of bratty Princess Elizena (Carla Herd again), kid sister of the late, lamented Princess Carissa. In the never-ending quest to secure her people a homeland, Elizena has agreed to marry (sight unseen) baddie Troxartas. To avoid capture, DS slips into the princess's tent during a rest stop and threatens her with a stick. When he tries to slip out the back way, Elizena screams, "There he is!" and the Black Knights give chase. When they fail to catch DS, the Black Knights return and kill all of Elizena's guards in a fit of pique.

Adventure #3: Having outwitted the bat-eared Black Knights yet again, DS decides to steal a horse. He doesn't count on frizzy-haired hag Khorsa and her expert archer daughter Marinda (Claudia Inchaurregui) taking issue with this. When mom barks, "Search him!", poor, sheltered Marinda (who looks like she's just stepped out of a Whitesnake video) is so overwhelmed by DS and his manly package that she falls madly in love with him. As Miranda pats him down, DS smirks with delighted glee.

Adventure #4: Khorsa and Marinda allow DS to join them for a dinner of boiled potatoes. When DS objects to the menu, ma sputters, "Boiled potatoes is all we eat!" Khorsa then sends DS to sleep in the barn and warns her daughter, "Men like that only want one thing! Watch him carefully!"

 Marinda watches DS so carefully, in fact, that she runs off with him. See, those bat-eared Black Knights are on his trail again. Marinda leads DS through an isolated, rocky valley all the while begging him to take her with him; she wants to see the "outside world" (and maybe eat something more than boiled tatters). DS demurs, however, claiming Marinda will "loose her innocence" if she enters the outside world. Also, to show us how he's grown as a person, DS remarks that Marinda is the first gal whose "innocence" he hasn't "stolen", meaning, maybe, he likes and respects her? That would be a first. Anyway, even though DS leaves Marinda's "innocence" in tact, he does kiss the hell out of her before he leaves.

"The Man Who Came to Dinner": Deathstalker (center) enjoys a meal of boiled taters with Khorsa and future cuddlemate Marinda (on the left).

Meanwhile, the sub-plots just keep coming! DS runs into Princess Elizena again! Princess Elizena meets up with Troxartas! Troxartas learns there is a third magic rock he needs to uncover the city of Arandor! Troxartas plans to marry and then kill Princess Elizena! Troxartas has an army of dead warriors! He keeps their souls in a jar, so they have to do his bidding! Wizard Nicias gets captured by Troxartas, who forces him to reveal where the third magic rock is! DS gets captured by Camisarde and she tortures him with burning statement jewelry! She also threatens his manhood! DS manages to over power her and tie her up! DS frees the dead warriors' souls! The long oppressed villagers rise up against Troxartas! All hell breaks loose! Marinda appears out of nowhere, yells, "Deathstalker!" and tosses him a mighty sword! Marinda gets shot with an arrow and dies! Isn't that ironic, since Marinda was an expert archer?! No more boiled potatoes for her! A village boy later shoots Troxartas and his reign of terror is over! Freedom at last!


Finally, Nicias puts all three pieces of the magic rocks together (if you're wondering where the third magic rock was hidden, tough taters. You'll have to watch the movie yourself to find out) and the land of Arandor emerges from the protective mists of time. Queen Elizena's people now have a home of their own. However, poor DS is heartbroken; he must burry his beloved Marinda. Although Elizena asks DS to stay in Arandor, he says no. Instead, DS must fulfill his destiny by helping disadvantaged people everywhere--even though he complains endlessly about the low pay, poor working conditions and lack of sexual favors he has to endure in order to do so. Thus, with a heavy heart, DS mounts his horse and rides off into a golden sunset and on to the pages of Junk Cinema history.

Good riddance.

For a cheap rip-off of "Conan the Barbarian" that chokes on its own cheese, "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" has a very complicated plot. Perhaps only Frank Herbert or JRR Tolkien could appreciate the twists and turns of a story line involving a hidden city, magic rocks, twin princesses, the sexually frustrated wife of a power mad tyrant, a wizard who can disappear and turn into a bird, but can't fight off a mortal jerk, soldiers with bat-wing head gear terrorizing the countryside, dead warriors who want their souls back and mother/daughter horse breeders who eat nothing but boiled potatoes. As for me, even after multiple viewings of the flick, I still needed a score card to keep track of everything.

Rudolph Valentino? Nope, it's baddie Troxartas.

Besides the convoluted plot, the Deathstalker character isn't much of a hero.

This might be because the "Deathstalker" series came from the bowels of the beloved Roger Corman film factory, where cheapness and cheese are regularly pushed to the limit. According to the "TV Tropes" website, actor Rick Hall played the first DS "as a typical Barbarian hero minus the hero". This was primarily based on his yucky treatment of women (DS kills a beast man who attempted to rape a female, then turns right around and attempts to rape the gal himself.) In fact, MST3K was planning on showing the first "Deathstalker" movie, but after they edited out the violence and nudity, they realized they had only 30 minutes of film to mock!

The next DS was John Terlesky. Because of a short shooting schedule (two weeks) and other problems, director Jim Wynorski and Terlesky decided to improvise the film using "a broad outline of the original script and Bugs Bunny cartoons." This DS was suppose to be a "loveable rogue" who helps another princess. The second "Deathstalker" movie is considered the most light hearted of the bunch.

Which brings us to John Allen Nelson as DS number three. He decided to by-pass the "loveable rogue" stuff and instead gave viewers a DS that was "a jerk with a heart of gold mercenary". Unfortunately, as "TV Tropes" pointed out, Nelson "succeeds only in being a jerk." He also treats women yucky, too: he tries to get Princess Carissa into the sack, threatens Princess Elizena with a stick, thinks about assaulting Casisarde after he's tied her up and doesn't appreciate Khorsa's boiled potatoes. Sure, he doesn't take Marinda's "innocence", but that doesn't mean he didn't think about it.

John Terlesky returned for "Deathstalker IV: Match of the Titans", which was distinguished by a heavy use of stock footage. No word on the acting, but I'm sure DS was as unlikeable as ever.

"Look! We didn't shave out pits!": John Terlesky is the second actor to play the unlikable, self-serving Deathstalker character.

Suffice it to say, if your movie is based around an action hero, it helps if the action hero is actually a hero. Even if your flick is low-budget, how much does it cost to make your main character someone people will root for? Regardless of who had the title role, DS was always a self-serving jerk who treated women yucky and was only interested in himself.

The supporting cast matched DS in jerkiness and ham-bone acting.

The two prime offenders here are Thom Christopher as Troxartas and Carla Herd as Princesses Carissa and Elizena.

Christopher must have thought "Deathstalker and the Warriors of Hell" was an important movie, because he plays Troxartas as if he were Richard III. He takes himself soooo seriously you wonder if anybody had the heart to tell him this was a straight-to-video hack job and not an atypical episode of "Masterpiece Theater".

As for Carla Herd, she's the most famous gal to appear in the "Deathstalker" movies--after Barbi Benton, of course, who co-starred in the first "Deathstalker". The important stuff about Carla is she later quit acting (smart move), got a chiropractic degree (smart move) and then married a real estate tycoon named Fred Sands (a really smart move). He, in turn, died and left Herd (now using the name Sands) a fortune. She contributed to Donald Trump's presidential campaign and was rewarded with being appointed our ambassador to Denmark. During her tenure, Carla pushed for the Danes to spend more money on their military. Wanna bet when Carla presented her credentials to the Danish court, she left appearing in "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" off her official resume?

"Are we in Copenhagen yet?": Future Danish ambassador Carla Herd Sands has an appointment with Queen Margrethe 29 years.

Although "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" is in many ways an unpleasant, confusing movie, it's one of the reasons why Junk Cinema is so easy to love. Where else will you find a "Conan the Barbarian" rip-off set in "Europe" that was actually filmed in Mexico, with a jerk hero and the future ambassador to Denmark tagging along? And considering how violent and nudity-friendly the entire "Deathstalker" series is, this entry may be the best of the lot! And if "Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell" is the best of the lot, how bad could the other flicks be?!

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Well, it makes me wonder. Hmmm, I think I sense a future blog post...

Until next time, remember that boiled potatoes are a great side dish and help me SAVE THE MOVIES.

Deathstalker is bummed that he has to go back on the road after "The Warriors from Hell" ends.

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.


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.


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 them. 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.