Wednesday, June 17, 2015

All That Glitters is Not A Golden Globe: Pia Zadora IS "The Lonely Lady"

Pia Zadora in the role that made her shameless: aspiring screen writer Jerilee Randall in "The Lonely Lady." In a flashback Jerilee receives her "Most Promising English Major" award. Note the pigtails and gingham dress, a failed attempt to make the 30ish Zadora look like a teenager.

Greetings to you all, movie lovers.

Say, are you in the mood for a little time travel? Great! Let's all jump into the Way Back Machine to the year 1981.

A former B-movie actor from the '30's and '40's--Ronald Reagan--was sworn in as president.

While 700 million of their nearest and dearest watched, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer.

The Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl.

And during the annual Golden Globe Awards, an unknown starlet named Pia Zadora was named "Best New Star", beating out such candidates as Kathleen Turner and Elizabeth McGovern. What's more, the flick she won her Globe for--"Butterfly"--was a slimy box office bomb about possible father/daughter incest co-starring--I kid you not--Ed McMahon and Orson Welles.

Orson Welles started at the top with "Citizen Kane" and worked his way down to rock bottom, co-starring with Pia Zadora in 1981's "Butterfly."

No sooner had Pia's name been announced than Tinsel Town began buzzing that Zadora's win had been stage managed and bank rolled by her hubby, the very rich Meshulam Riklis.

Thus begins the tale of Pia Zadora, one of Junk Cinema's most beloved figures, and her ill-fated odyssey To Be Taken Seriously.

After her dubious Golden Globe win, Pia naturally thought long and hard about her next project. It obviously needed to be something intelligent and classy that would show off the pint-sized, chipmunk cheeked actress' dramatic depth and range--first glimpsed in her cinematic debut, 1964's "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians."

Hmmm. Medea, perhaps? Portia in Merchant of Venice? Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire?

No, no and no. Instead, Pia's handlers chose "The Lonely Lady", a tale of hope and heartache in Hollywood, written by the Sultan of Sleaze, Harold Robbins.

In this indescribably tacky turkey, Pia plays Jerilee Randall, an earnest young miss who dreams of becoming a writer--specifically, a screen writer. To each his own. Along the way to acclaim and riches, Jerilee will be assaulted, humiliated in a hot tub, develop a drinking problem, sample a bit too much Bolivian Marching Powder, undergo an abortion, date a variety of scumbags, suffer a nervous breakdown and wear a series of outfits of such astonishing ugliness that even a Kardashian would find them tasteless.

Open mouth, insert foot: Jerilee prepares to tell Hollywood off.

As all Hollywood sagas must, "The Lonely Lady" begins at the "Award Presentation Ceremony", Tinsel Town's biggest night--however, any resemblance to the Academy Awards is purely coincidental and probably illegal. Jerilee is up for Best Original Screenplay. While she waits for her category to come up, she wanders back into flashback land. Here we see Jerilee as a graduating senior, decked out in pigtails and a gingham dress a la' Ellie Mae Clampett. She's just been recognized as her school's "Most Promising English Major". While accepting her honor, Jerilee launches into an earnest speech about how writers must speak the truth and make their characters "honest", "open" and concerned about important "issues". The battleaxe running the ceremony rolls her eyes and quickly hustles her off stage--the first of many slights our heroine will endure while trying to articulate her personal voice.

Then Jerilee makes the first of many contrived mistakes meant to underscore her Loss Of Innocence as well as how dirty, scummy, rotten and just plain yucky the world is, at least according to Harold Robbins.

After her high school awards ceremony, Jerilee joins her needy, nerdy friend Bernie for a party "at Kim's". Jerilee is having such a great time dancing to awful disco music that she refuses Bernie's request that they leave. Instead, Jerilee accepts the invitation of Walter Thorton, Jr. to meet his famous screen writer pa, Walter Thorton (Lloyd Bochner). Joining then at Walt Jr.'s house is the future "Something Wild", "Field of Dreams" and "Goodfellas" star Ray Liotta. In his cinematic debut, Liotta plays "Joe" a rich, scummy pothead you just know is trouble. Yet even after he insults Jerilee's award ("It looks like a penis") and makes a grab for her breasts, "The Lonely Lady" producers felt the need to ramp up Joe's repulsion level even more. Thus, we have the scumbag sexually assaulting Zadora with a garden hose.


Back home in a catatonic state, Jerilee is tended by a doctor who doesn't even wipe the blood off her face. Even worse, Jerilee's ma Veronica (Bibi Besch) refuses to go to the police because EVERYBODY knows those rich Bel Air snoots never pay for their crimes and the justice system is rigged in their favor and she, a poor widow, doesn't have the money to hire lawyers and besides her daughter was "assaulted" not "raped" and, oh, let's just forget about the whole thing, OK?

I hope this wasn't meant symbolically: Jerilee is offered a hotdog at a wild party by Walter Thorton, Jr. Her date Bernie is not amused.

Believe it or not, the doctor agrees!

When next we see her, Jerilee is dressed in over-alls and pigtails, like an extra from "The Waltons". Walter Sr. has arrived with her English major award. Although he makes no amends for the the horrible attack on her person that took place at his house, Walter and Jerilee manage to become friends. They jog in the park, discuss Pushkin, go on dates and finally kiss. Then Jerilee announces that Walter--who is old enough to be her father--has proposed marriage. Mother Randall is aghast at such news, rolling herself up into fetal position  and screaming, "I'm not listening to this! I'm not listening to this!" And how does the teenage Jerilee articulate her deep love for Walter? "I want to go to bed with him!"

Jerilee and Walter do marry, but it's clear their love is doomed. It's not just their age difference or the fact that Walter turns out to be a controlling husband or that the famous screen writer is threatened by his wife's talent (Jerilee publishes an acclaimed collection of short stories. Did I forget to mention that?). No, it's because Walter is impotent and unable to satisfy his young, frisky wife. As Viagra is a good 10 to 12 years in the future, Jerilee and Walter find their relationship becoming increasingly tense.

After the success of her short story collection, Jerilee decides to write a screenplay. Hubby Walter isn't happy about this, but he agrees to allow Jerilee to handle rewrites on the set of his latest picture. This blockbuster, which appears to be set in 15th century Spain, has run aground because the leading lady can't play the graveyard scene Walter has penned. Jerilee rewrites the scene, replacing all of hubby's dialogue with the simple phrase, "Why?" Naturally, Walter is furious, but everybody else on the set loves it. The actress delivers a powerhouse performance, wailing, "Why? Whhhhiiii?" Later, the critics signal out that scene as one the movie's highlights. Much to his wife's dismay, Walter takes FULL CREDIT for Jerilee's work, shrugging, "In this business, you can't afford self respect."

Back home, Jerilee pleads with hubby to go to bed with her. Still unable to "perform", he refuses. She then begs him to come inside so they can "talk. We need to talk." Walter, however, is in no mood to talk. Instead he picks up a garden hose and sneers, "Is this more your kick?"

Divorced, Jerilee tries and fails to get her scripts sold. Just about every business meeting she attends results in some guy wanting to sleep with her in return for representation. Jerilee refuses such offers, determined to conquer Hollywood her way. Meanwhile, Pia begins an affair with a married movie star named George (Jared Martin). After all the complications with hubby Walter, Jerilee is "set free" having lots and lots of sex with her new cuddlemate. Of course, it's all fun and games until someone gets a bun in the oven. When Jerilee reveals her condition to George, he coldly rejects her--he's married, after all. So Jerilee is forced to call upon her disapproving ma for help, who, naturally, is less than supportive.

"Let's just be friends, OK?" Jerilee refuses the advances of yet another studio honcho.

Short on funds (and talent, I might add) Jerilee takes a job working as a hostess in Vinnie DaCosta (Josepth Calli)'s night club. Coincidentally, Calli is trying to break into the movie business and is looking for promising properties to "package." Jerilee believes this may be her big break; she's convinced Calli will sell her script "because he knows a lot of people." That causes one of Jerilee's friends to snort, "So does my garbage man!"

Eventually, Jerilee and Vinnie become couple. They engage in marathon sex sessions and Jerilee becomes so besotted with her boss she even lies nude on his pool table while he shoots a few rounds. They also consume a bit too much drink and drugs, but, hey, this is Hollywood, right? More to the point, this is Harold Robbins' Hollywood, so everybody and their brother is a degenerate, devil-worshipping coke head sleaze ball.

As for her languishing script, Calli finally comes through with some interested producers, an Italian couple, who visit his swingin' club. Vinnie is too busy to meet with them, so he sends Pia home with the duo to discuss the script. He also instructs her to "be nice." Hmmm. What could that mean? We soon find out: the wife is a bit AC/DC. "You have beautiful eyes..." she purrs to the dumbfounded Jerilee as she begins to undress her. The next morning, a disheveled Pia is escorted out the front door and is shocked SHOCKED! to learn the male half of the couple (a fat, balding, leering scumbag) who supposedly speaks little English, is, naturally, fluent.

Filled with righteous anger, Jerilee storms over to Calli's office, where she finds her erstwhile benefactor enjoying a coke-fueled double date with two giggling bimbos.

"Where's my script?!" Pia shrieks at the top of her lungs. Vinnie hurls it at her with a nasty smirk on his face.

Will she ever learn? Jerilee is taken in by the hand kissing smoothie Vinnie DaCosta.

Now we come to Pia's Tour de Farce showcase, the highlight of the flick--and, yes, it's as howlingly bad as you have heard. Now strap yourself in for Pia Zadora ACTING!

Finally realizing that everybody in the whole entire universe has used and abused her, Jerilee has an epic meltdown. First, she takes a shower with her clothes on. Next, she rampages through her flat, knocking over furniture, vases, books, knickknacks and rips her precious script into confetti. Then Jerilee stumbles upon her typewriter and begins madly hammering on the keys. Her delirium at a fever pitch, she hallucinates that all those who have wronged her have materialized out of thin air to taunt her. While her abusers distorted heads mouth their distorted lies, Jerilee manically swats at them as if under attack by a swarm of aggressive fruit flies. At the breaking point, poor pitiful Pia yanks at her hair, cups her face in her hands and shrieks like a dental drill.

But hold on! We're not done yet! After Pia emits her primal scream, the camera freezes and then the colors red and green are superimposed on her hilariously contorted mug.

Bravo! Bravo!

Now a patient at a pricey mental hospital (paid for by ex-hubby Walter. After all her put Jerilee through, it's the least he could do), Pia lies in a catatonic state. Arriving to offer her own unique brand of "tough love" is Mrs. Randall. "(Jerilee) was suffering from paranoia and hallucinations," the orderly explains, "induced by tranquilizers, cocaine, amphetamines and alcohol"--none of fazes her ma. "She's always been difficult," Mrs. Randall shrugs.

An example of the horrifying hallucinations that drove Pia Zadora's character--and the audience---over the edge in "The Lonely Lady."

Slowly but surely, Jerilee recovers. Part of her therapy is to write and soon enough she bats out a script titled "The Holdout". Meeting with a reputable director and studio head, Jerilee sells her script for "$75, 000 plus points." However, when she learns that ex-cuddlemate George is signed up for the male lead, Jerilee balks. She doesn't want that user/abuser in her movie. With the whole deal hanging in the balance, the sudio head changes Jerilee's mind with a bit of truly tasteless advice: "You've already had one abortion--don't have another!"

So off Jerilee goes to meet with the producers. Alone. They are a married couple. Hmmm. When Pia arrives at their estate, the hubby ushers her into their backyard. he hands her a drink. Then his hefty wife beckons Jerilee to join her in the hot tub. The camera zeroes in on our heroine's stunned face. Is history repeating itself? What will Jerilee do?

Suddenly we are back at the Oscar's--I mean the Award Presentation Ceremonies! As the host makes weak jokes about the importance of writers "to the industry", we wait on pins and needles for the name of the Best Original Screenplay winner to be read. To no one's surprise, it's Jerilee--after all, it's Pia's movie, so what did you expect? Anyway, Jerilee strides to the podium to accept her statuette. She dutifully thanks her producers, her director and even her leading man. In concluding her speech, Pia utters the words that are destined to be her epitaph: "I don't suppose I'm the only one here who's had to f*@&! her way to the top!"

While the glittering black-tie crowd gasps in horror, Jerilee grabs her award and purposefully strides off into the sun did Ms. Zadora herself, who never starred in a major motion picture ever again.

Uh, hooray for Hollywood?

Her 19th nervous breakdown? Jerilee reaches the breaking point.

"The Lonely Lady" has so many things wrong with every aspect of its being that it would take an encyclopedia to detail them all. Therefore, I will limit my discussion to the following items:

Location, Location, Location: Although "The Lonely Lady" is suppose to take place in California, it was actually shot in Italy. This explains why so much of the flick takes place indoors and in restaurants.

What's in a name? Plenty, apparently! "The Lonely Lady" had two characters named Walter, two characters named George and two characters named Jerilee.

A girl's best friend is not her mother. Jerilee's ma Bibi Besch is a truly hateful person. Not only did she refuse to contact the police when her daughter was raped, but she belittles her at every turn. She's awfully inconsistent: one minute she's appalled that her daughter would marry an older man, the next she's gleefully enjoying his wealth. At one point, Mrs. Randall appeared to be jealous that Walter, Sr. was interested in her daughter and not her. Not even Jan Brady had mood swings like this!

Location, Location, Location, part 2. Jerilee and Walter's wedding reception takes place in the exact same spot where the heroine was brutally assaulted. How could the director, cast and continuity person over look this detail? And did they really think the audience wouldn't notice, either? Dumb and tasteless.

Stand back! Pia Zadora is acting!

All in the family. What happened to Walter, Jr.? Although his pa said he was "in England visiting his mother", how does Walter, Jr. feel about having a stepmother the same age as himself?

Hair don'ts. You can amuse yourself for hours counting how many times Pia changes her hairstyle in this movie. From pigtails to ponytails to a bun to a pouf to long and shaggy to an up swept chignon--Pia has more hairstyles than facial expressions. For a performer trying to establish her dramatic credentials this is not good. 

Because of the cheap, shoddy, low rent, laughably awful quality of "The Lonely Lady", the flick became an instant bad movie classic, a certified Junk Cinema Jewel and one of the corner stones of annual Golden Raspberry Awards. In fact, "The Lonely Lady" made Razzie history by earning eleven nominations when there were only ten categories! The flick received six "wins", including Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director and Worst Original Song. When the Razzie's honored the worst cinematic achievements of the century, Pia was up for Worst Actress of the Century (she lost to Madonna). Talk about staying power!

Yes, many are called, but few reach the heights of true junkiness like "The Lonely Lady". It is an accomplishment everyone connected with this misbegotten mess-terpiece can take pride in.

So, until next time, remember that money can't buy you happiness, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Will Secret Agent Sam Casey Survive "Riding With Death"? Will the Audience? Part 3

On the road again: Super mellow, super groovy '70's secret agent Sam Casey is yet again "Riding With Death"--but at least he's wearing a helmet.

Welcome, movie lovers.

This blog has been shining the spotlight on the exploits of super mellow '70's secret agent Sam Casey (Ben Murphy) as showcased in "Riding With Death" (1976).

"Riding With Death" is two unrelated episodes of the cancelled TV series "Gemini Man" scotch-taped together, which explains why the review/discussion of the flick had to be a multi-parter. Nevertheless, "Riding With Death" has taken viewers on a thrill ride of suspense (?) where a Murray Slaughter-esque scientist faked a gasoline additive and folks learned that a "DNA stabilizer" allows ultra groovy secret agent Sam to turn invisible for 15 minutes a pop.

Then there was the scene where two big rigs looked as if they were engaging in an activity many GOP presidential hopefuls warn against even married people doing, but we won't dwell on that.

Moving on to the second half of "Riding With Death", the focus switches from baddie Arthur Hale to baddie Robert Denby and from long haul truckers to professional race car drivers.

B-movie regular Ed Nelson as "the elusive" Robert Denby...although here he looks more agitated than elusive.

"The elusive" Robert Denby (B-movie stalwart and Roger Corman regular Ed Nelson) is the manager/promoter of the professional racing team known as "The Baxter Special". Why is Denby considered so "elusive"? Actually, only INTERSECT honcho Leonard Driscoll seems to think Denby is so "elusive". In fact, he's down right obsessed about it. Why? Because Leonard is convinced Denby has been behind "every major act of military sabotage in the last five years."

That's a pretty serious charge to level at somebody. What proof does Driscoll have that Denby is guilty?

Well... none. He just has "a gut feeling" about it. And to prove his gut is right, Leonard has (according to INTERSECT employee Elliot) "spied on (Denby), bugged* him, illegally searched his premises (and) finally drove (Denby) into court" where "Judge Witherspoon" issued a restraining order against Leonard--and everybody at INTERSECT--to leave Denby alone.

*The flick never explains what 'bugged' means. Did Driscoll plant listening devices in Denby's house or did he behave like a jerk sibling who wags his fingers in your face and repeatedly says, "Does this bug you? I'm not touching you. Does this bug you?"

His hands tied, Leonard sends super mellow Sam Casey (who knows nothing about the restraining order) to get the goods on Denby for him. Lucky for Sam, old buddy Buffalo Billie Joe Hickens (Jim Stafford) has a job on the Baxter Special pit crew and was recently appointed relief driver. But it's a trap! Denby hand picked Buffalo to be his "patsy". Why? So Denby can lace the carburetor of the Baxter Special with something called "due-tree-um"(sic) and blow the vehicle to kingdom come via remote control.

In case you're wondering, the head of Baxter Electronics is in cahoots with Denby, so having the Baxter Special blown to smithereens is OK by him. However, it seems kinda counter-productive to go to all the trouble of sponsoring a professional racing team only to blow your prized car up. I guess some folks are just funny that way.    

INTERSECT boss Leonard Driscoll (and his mustache) contemplate how to apprehend "the elusive" Robert Denby.

Why does Denby blow stuff up with "due-tree-um"? The flick never says. While baddie Arthur Hale was out to snooker INTERSECT out of 10 million, Denby appears to have no specific aim. So why all the "military sabotage"? Is Denby out for revenge? Working for the Commies? Or is he doing this just for kicks? The answer, just like Robert Denby, remains elusive.

Anyway, Buffalo gets Sam a job on the Baxter Special crew and introduces him to his cuddlemate, "Cupcake" (Smith Evans. Yes, that's her real name.) Cupcake's name is actually Tina and she's The Baxter Cup promotion girl. To celebrate Sam's new job, the trio head over to the local watering hole where Buffalo plans to participate in its weekly amateur contest (no comment).

No doubt, Buffalo thinks Cupcake is "some gal", which makes us wonder what the original "some gal" Abby is up to.

Abby (and her expanding hair) are presumably at INTERSECT, where she drew the unfortunate assignment of monitoring Sam's whereabouts. This Abby does via a super-duper computer, although how this super-duper computer can track Sam's every twitch is never explained.

While Abby watches her monitor with an expression of relentless boredom, Buffalo mounts the stage to sing a song about "out running the revenue". Shortly thereafter, two patrons, obviously used to more sophisticated fare (like "Disco Duck" or "Muskrat Love", two current top-40 hits at the time) begin to heckle Stafford's performance. A bar-room brawl erupts and it's clear Buffalo needs some help. To save his dumb cracker friend's hinder, Sam turns himself invisible, which allows him punch out the hecklers to make it look as if Buffalo is the bruiser.

He don't like spiders and snakes: Buffalo Billie Joe Hickens (Jim Stafford).

"Go get 'em Sam!" Abby says is a voice-over. "Give it the old college try!"

The hecklers are duly vanquished and Buffalo is delighted, believing he really did kick those guys asses. "Dynamite!" Buffalo exclaims. "This fist packs pure dynamite! Wahoo!"

A few days later, Leonard arrives to speak to Denby. The two antagonists have a testy exchange where Denby accuses Driscoll of harassing him, which violates the restraining order. He also wonders if Driscoll of having a "conflict" over his "ethics".

"None, turkey!" Leonard spits back.

"You save your nicknames for your punks and muggers!" an angry Denby flares.

Ed Nelson phones his agent to see if he can get him out "Riding With Death".

The only witness to this heated exchange was Sam, who, naturally enough, was invisible.

Realizing that Denby plans to blow up the Baxter Special with Buffalo at the wheel, Sam tries to convince his cracker cohort not to drive the car. Of course, Sam can't tell Buffalo exactly why he can't drive the Baxter Special; that would blow his "cover" and secret agents are nothing without their cover. Buffalo refuses to heed Sam's warnings, which causes the friends get into a nasty snit-fit-- egged on by Cupcake, who accuses Sam of "wanting all the glory" of driving the Baxter Special "for himself."

What the ex-buddies don't know is that Cupcake/Tina is in cahoots with Denby as well. Cupcake was given the unappetizing assignment of snuggling up to Buffalo in order to keep tabs on Denby's chosen "patsy". Judging from how ga-ga Buffalo is over Cupcake, the conniving little minx did her job too well. Why, the dumb hick even proposes marriage and she accepts! Of course, the fact that Cupcake is counting on Buffalo biting the dust probably had everything to do with her saying yes, since no sane woman would marry such a putz.

As all secret agent sagas must, "Riding With Death" reaches its nail biting climax during a heavily populated event, in this case an important car rally. Unbeknownst to Buffalo, an invisible Sam has snuck into the Baxter Special, which allows the car to finish its race when Buffalo passes out from those fake "dehydration pills." Collapsed on a couch in Denby's trailer, Buffalo woozily tells Cupcake that Sam is "one of the good guys" and that he works for INTERSECT.

How did Buffalo discover this? Remember the snit-fit our two BFF's got into? Seconds later, Sam is getting beat up by some thugs in a parking lot and Stafford jumps in to help him. In the men's room washing off the blood, Sam tells Buffalo he's a secret agent. Buffalo, dumb as a post, has to be told what a secret agent is, but relaxes when he realizes it means Sam doesn't work for the IRS. That's  how Buffalo discovered the truth about Lazy Rider.

"I need to put in for a transfer": "Some gal" Abby (Katherine Crawford) is bored by her job monitoring Sam Casey's whereabouts--and who could blame her?

Meanwhile, Denby realizes he's been had and vows to blow up the Baxter Special before Driscoll can impound the card (observant readers will remember that Denby always planned to do this, so his sense of urgency is a bit misplaced). As the baddies bicker among themselves over who screwed up, Buffalo staggers off to find Sam.

For the second time in the flick, Sam must once again drive a motor vehicle tainted with explosives into an open field to avoid death and destruction. Only this time Buffalo is riding shot gun, presumably to give Sam the proper directions to the said open field before the Baxter Special goes boom, which it does.

"Riding With Death" finally (!) ends with "the elusive" Robert Denby arrested. When next we see him, Sam is enjoying a beverage at the local watering hole, where Buffalo is singing him a song of thanks. Abby watches the whole thing on her computer screen and tries not to throw up.

Some gal, indeed.

"Gemini Man", the TV series our feature film was culled from, was cancelled after 5 episodes. Frankly, I'm surprised it lasted that long. What may have doomed this series (and its TV movie sibling) to such a fate? Here are my observations:

Super mellow secret agent Sam Casey not only can turn invisible (for 15 minutes) he can also not breathe!

*The writers were boobs. Remember Sam's secret mission to transport Dr. Hale to the Federal Energy Commission's HQ before closing hours? INTERSECT HQ was located in Torrence, CA; their destination was Long Beach, CA.--which was at most 45 minutes away, depending on traffic. Even so, Sam Casey was given 13 hours to make to a 45 minute trip! The writers must not have figured the audience would pick up on this discrepancy--but they did. Many thanks to TV for pointing this out, too.

*The writers were boobs, part 2. At one point in the flick, Dr. Hale asks their location. Sam replies "Cedarville"--which is in northern California and 11 hours away from Long Beach. D'oh!

*Who is who? Crabby INTERSECT honcho and aggressive mustache wearer Leonard Driscoll was wrongly identified--even by me!--as played by Richard Dyshart. Wrong! William Sylvester actually played Driscoll until he was replaced by Dyshart. In the credits for "Riding With Death", Dyshart gets top billing over Sylvester, even though his part is smaller.

*You're some gal! You're fired! Poor Katherine Crawford and her out-of-control- hair were also let go, although her role wasn't recast.

*Let's do the Time Warp. "Riding With Death" was supposedly set "in the future"; 1983 to be exact
However, the producers of the show didn't even try to disguise the fashions, slang and hair-dos of 1976, the year the program was made.

*The writers were boobs, part 3. Sam supposedly earned a law degree from Harvard. This caused Mike on "MST3K" to crack that Casey was allowed into Harvard under a program called "Admit the Dumb."

*The writers were boobs, part 4. When Sam Casey is bandaged up in the hospital, nobody thought to give him nose or mouth holes. Sure, Casey was invisible, but he still had to breathe!

The "executive story consultant" for "Gemini Man"/"Riding With Death" was Steven "Golden Gut" Bochco, the man who gave TV "Hill Street Blues", "L.A. Law", "NYPD;Blue"...and "Cop Rock." You may recall that "Cop Rock" was a heavily hyped attempt to marry cops/robbers/lawyers story lines with musical numbers. The show was a delusional disaster of the highest order. Considering all the nutty mistakes Bochco allowed to slip through in "Riding With Death", no one should be surprised he would go on to make an even bigger mistakes with "Cop Rock".

Thirteen hours to get to Long Beach from Torrance? That's poor form for "an executive story consultant."

Until next time, watch your rear-view mirror when making a lane change, and SAVE THE MOVIES! EVEN THE TV MOVIES!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Will Secret Agent Sam Casey Survive "Riding With Death"? Will The Audience? Part 2

"Breaker! Breaker! Where is the road?" Secret agent Sam Casey (Ben Murphy) goes under cover as a long distance trucker in "Riding With Death", a TV movie culled from the cancelled TV series "Gemini Man."

Greetings and salutations, movie lovers!

We will now rejoin "Will Secret Agent Sam Casey Survive 'Riding With Death'?" already in progress.

Blissfully unaware that INTERSECT co-worker Abby is stuck in the back of his big rig with a lethal batch of Tripoladean (sic) OR that Tripoladean creator Dr. Hale is a baddie intent on killing him, ultra mellow secret agent Sam Casey is indeed riding with death.

Alerted by his new buddy Buffalo Billy Joe Hickens that there's "a bear in the air" (a helicopter) following him, Sam contracts boss Leonard Driscoll (who is NOT, strangely enough, cleaning his glasses at the moment) with the info. Turns out the chopper has been rented by one Luther Stark at the behest of Dr. Hale as "extra security" for his Tripoledean transport.

Hmmm. Sam finds all this a bit fishy. And Abby (whom Sam thinks is "some gal", remember) is still nowhere to be found. Putting two and two together (and getting five), Sam foolishly decides to continue his trek to Long Beach--never suspecting that friendly gas station attendant Carl his cut his break line on Dr. Hale's orders!

"Pay no attention to the men in the helicopter!" Dr. Hale and flunky Luther Hale hover above the action.

Traveling through a stretch of twisty mountain road, Sam soon finds himself with an out of control vehicle. By an amazing coincidence, Buffalo Billy Joe is just a few miles ahead. So when Sam comes upon Buffalo's "old iron horse", he drives his truck right up to the back of Billy Joe's truck. While Sam is doing this, Buffalo is slowly applying his breaks. The trucks nudge each other this way for several minutes. Although this "brilliant maneuver" saves the day, it looks as if the trucks do I put this tastefully...engaging in a VERY personal and INTIMATE encounter of a decidedly PHYSICAL NATURE that often results in babies being conceived...or once this EVENT is completed the participants often light up a smoke and enjoy the milky after-glow...if you get my drift.

Once Sam collects himself, he calls Dr. Hale on the rig's intercom to apologize for the close call. When the devious doctor suggests they go to the Val-Co station a few blocks away "to speed up the repairs", Sam realizes his "passenger" is not in the truck's safe room, but most likely in the helicopter hovering over head. So he borrows a handy blow-torch and cuts a hole in the safe-room door. There he finds a relieved Abby, who promptly informs Sam of Dr. Hale's evil intentions. Sam then calls Leonard and gives him the scoop.

Observing these events from his chopper, Dr. Hale realizes the jig is up. He then grabs a high powered rifle and orders Stark to give him "a clear view" of the truck's gas tank.

"The whole town will blow up," Stark warns his boss.

"So the whole town will blow up," Hale replies. "Ten million, Luther, ten mill." (referring to the amount of money they have embezzled from INTERSECT, no doubt).

"I love the smell of Tripoladean(sic) in the morning; it smells like victory!" Flunky Luther Stark and Dr. Hale survey their damage.

As soon as Dr. Hale starts shooting, Sam jumps back into the driver's seat and hits the gas peddle. Abby screams that Sam will get killed, which causes Sam to scream back, "If I don't get this rig out of town, there ain't gonna be no town!"

Dodging bullets (and, one presumes, other cars and pedestrians) Sam barrels into an open field and bails out of the truck. He also turns himself invisible. The rig explodes as predicted, but the explosion is not as deadly as feared. (Tom Servo from "MST3K" felt that the explosion might have "singed the side of a Bed and Breakfast", but certainly wouldn't have flattened the town and I have to agree.)

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Hale and henchman Stark land their whirlybird. They want to inspect the kill zone to make sure Sam is truly dead. To their mutual surprise, Sam materializes before them and promptly punches Luther out. This makes Dr. Hale go positively nutsy and he pulls a gun on Sam. Sam proceeds to turn himself invisible again, which doesn't stop the unhinged Dr. Hale from madly firing off the rounds of ammo into the air. His piece empty, Sam reappears, tisk-tisking Dr. Hale for his foolish scheme.

"Sorry, doctor," Sam tells him. "Bad guys finish last."

The police and INTERSECT arrive shortly. Being lead away in handcuffs, Dr. Hale excitedly tells Leonard Driscoll that Sam "isn't human." The exasperated INTERSECT head tells Dr. Hale "he's imagining things" and experiencing "the delusions of a guilty mind." While Abby and Sam laugh uproariously, Dr. Hale continues to rant and rave, causing Leonard to scream "OP-TIC-UL-ILL-LU-SION!" at the squad carrying Dr. Hale to the poky.

Sam and Abby share a laugh as Dr. Hale is carted off to jail; boss Leonard Driscoll is not amused.

But wait, there's more!

How much more?


See, Buffalo Billy Joe Hickens becomes a stock car racer! Leonard sends Sam after "the elusive" Robert Denby! Abby's hair gets bigger! Buffalo Billy Joe hooks up with a gal called "Cupcake"! And some awful stuff called "Duetreum"(sic) is causing stuff to blow up courtesy of "the elusive" Robert Denby!

Tune in for part 3 of "Riding With Death" coming to this blog very soon!


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Will Secret Agent Sam Casey Survive "Riding With Death"? Will The Audience? Part 1

Ben Murphy is super '70's secret agent Sam Casey in "Riding With Death" AKA "Gemini Man" AKA Steven Bochco's worst idea before and after "Cop Rock".

Greetings, movie lovers.

Today we revisit the secret agent/spy genre, where suave men of the world like Matt Helm, Bart Fargo and Secret Agent Super Dragon are called upon to save our collective skins from some meanie intent on ruling the world.

However, our latest secret agent man Sam Casey (Ben Murphy)--who works for the hush-hush organization INTERSECT--deviates from the standard globe-trotting, ladies man formula in significant ways.

First, "Riding With Death" (1976) was not a big budget feature film, but a TV movie stitched together from two (unrelated) episodes of the cancelled TV series "Gemini Man".

Second, Sam Casey is not a European smoothie, but a very mellow '70's guy who favors bell bottom jeans, rides a motor cycle and calls bad guys "turkeys" (the ultimate '70's insult).

Third, "Riding With Death" doesn't take place against the exotic backdrop of Monaco or Istanbul. It stays put in mid-sized California towns and later stock car race tracks.

"She's some gal !": Intersect agent/doctor/scientist Abby (Katherine Crawford) and her '70's hair.

Fourth, our villain isn't some velvet-voiced megalomaniac who strokes a cat and resides in some fortified castle. Instead, he's a con artist who looks like Gavin MacLeod from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Love Boat".

Fifth, Sam Casey's side-kick and comic relief is Jim "I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes" Stafford, who plays "Buffalo" Billy Joe Hickens, a (surprise, surprise) dumb cracker truck driver.

Sixth, you folks of the male gender will be disappointed that this spy caper doesn't have the regulation "Bond Girls" who lounge around in bikinis and ball gowns and have names like "Sparkle Badness" and "Pussy Galore". Instead, "Riding With Death" features female scientist/doctor Abby (Katherine Crawford) who is upstaged by her Dorothy Hamil-wedge cut and whom Sam thinks is "some gal." The other female cast member of note is named "Cupcake" and performs the herculean task of being Buffalo Billy Joe's cuddlemate.

However, Sam Casey does have one unique trait that sets him apart from other international men of mystery: he can turn invisible!

For 15 minutes, anyway.

See, he's fitted with a "DNA stabilizer" that allows him to disappear and reappear at will. But only for 15 minutes at a time. Any longer than that and Sam A) will stay invisible forever or B) die.

"The big hand tells the minutes and the little hand tells the hours..." Some gal Abby explains to Sam how his "DNA stabilizer" (disguised as a wrist watch!) works.

How Sam received his invisible powers is a rather long and preposterous story--which is why "Riding With Death" recounts it for us, even though the details are suppose to remain top secret and highly "classified." Suffice it to say, it involves a secret mission, an unidentified satellite on the ocean's floor, an explosion and Sam emerging unhurt from said explosion, but, as noted earlier, invisible. Thanks to highly experimental medical procedures and a "DNA Stabilizer", Sam Casey regains human form while retaining the ability to render himself invisible for 15 minutes at a pop. 

But, shush, don't tell anybody because it's top secret!

That tedious exposition all cleared up, "Riding With Death" settles down to business by introducing us to the ultra groovy, ultra mellow secret agent Sam Casey and his co-workers at INTERSECT: boss Leonard Driscoll (Richard Dysart), a short-tempered fellow who is ALWAYS cleaning his glasses, and the previously mentioned Abby, who's job description is kind of sketchy. 

Anyway, Sam learns his latest assignment is to protect Dr. Arthur Hale (Alan Oppenhiemer), a scientist who looks just like Murray Slaughter from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Dr. Hale has invented an additive/mixture called "Tripalodean"(sic) that supposedly triples gas mileage. However, baddies from "The International Oil Cartel" want to swipe the formula. In fact, when poor Dr. Hale arrives at INTERSECT for a meeting, two leisure suited goons ambush him and try to steal the formulas tucked in the doctor's briefcase. Lucky for him, Sam Casey was near by, turned himself invisible and saved the day.

"Relax! I'm one of the good guys!" Sam tells the flustered Dr. Hale. Gesturing at the retreating thugs he asks, "Any ideas who those turkeys were?"

In order for Dr. Hale to deliver his Tripoladean formulas to the Federal Energy Agency branch office in Long Beach safely, Sam will--please follow along carefully--disguise himself as a trucker and drive a carefully outfitted big rig. This carefully out fitted big rig contains a secret safe room where Dr. Hale will hide out--and this is very important, too--in case there is any trouble along the way.

Abby waits patiently for INTERSECT boss Leonard Dricoll (Richard Dysart) to finish cleaning his glasses. He cleans his glasses a lot.

Dressed in embroidered jeans, a muscle T-shirt and a trucker's hat, Sam meets Dr. Hale at his laboratory. Unfortunately, "a piece of equipment" that is "absolutely essential" has been left at Dr. Hale's other laboratory. A go-with-the-flow kind of guy, Sam tells the scientist that they can swing by his place and pick the missing equipment up and still stick to their time table.

But it's a trap! See, Abby arrived at Dr. Hale's lab ahead of Sam. It's there she discovers that Tripoladean is a fake. In fact, the additive's "molecular structure breaks down" and it becomes an explosive "more virulent than nitroglycerin". Abby was in the process of telling Driscoll all this info (and that ten million of INTERSECT's money has been embezzled to Switzerland) when minions in cahoots with Dr. Hale disconnect her phone. D'oh!

The baddies then stuff Abby in a laundry bag and toss her in the back of Sam's big rig. And that's a trap, too! See, crafty Dr. Hale has secretly slipped into another laundry bag, which his goons cart away because "this bag isn't even his!" Thus, Sam drives off thinking Dr. Hale is snuggled securely in the back of the rig when it's really Abby trapped in there! Meanwhile, nasty Dr. Hale has jumped into a helicopter and fiendishly awaits for the Tripoladean to explode due to the jostling from the truck!

As "Riding With Death" tightens the tension screws, cracker Jim Stafford makes his appearance as Buffalo Billy Joe Hickens. He sings a ditty over his CB about "bein' a truck drivin' man", which Sam (who calls himself "Lazy Rider") claims to actually like. The two banter back and forth in CB jargon, with Buffalo asking Sam (rather suggestively) "to keep the Black Barts off my mud flaps."

Meanwhile, Abby has managed to get her self un-stuffed from her laundry bag and is banging hysterically on the walls and doors of the truck's safe room to attract Sam's attention. No dice. So she does the next best thing, which is rip the laundry bag into strips and constructs a bouncy seat for the two gallons of Tripoladean locked away with her. Abby clearly hopes this contraption will minimize the bumps and jostling on the open road, although it does look rather flimsy to me.

Anything else?

Sam Casey and Buffalo Billy Joe Hickens (Jim Stafford) exchange a secret handshake before hitting the open road.

Oh, yes, Dr. Hale and one of his baddies are following Sam's rig in a helicopter. Through the magic of electronics, Dr. Hale can converse with Sam as if he's really in the truck's safe room! However, the evil doctor tells Sam that he's very busy filling out paper work and therefore has little time to chat--and Casey believes him!

Will Sam figure out that Dr. Hale is a fraud?

Will the Tripalodean explode as predicted?

Will Abby's whereabouts be discovered in time?

Will Buffalo Billy Joe sing another annoying track driver song?

Tune in for Part-Two of "Riding With Death"!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Do You Have "The Sinister Urge"?

Dino Fantini is Dirk the "psycho with the urge to kill" in Ed Wood's "The Sinister Urge".

Greetings, movie lovers.

When last we met, the topic explored was out of control teenagers and their clueless parents via Ed Wood's "The Violent Years."

Today, we shift our focus to the dangers of the smut picture racket via another Ed Wood gem, "The Sinister Urge" (1959/60).

Written and directed by Wood, "The Sinister Urge" is a series of inter-connected stories all linked by (you guessed it!) the horrors of the exploding smut picture racket. Before we delve into the plot (which is pretty straight forward by Ed Wood standards) let's meet the players:

Lt. Matt Carson (Kenne Duncan) and Sgt. Randy Stone (Duke Moore): Two of L.A.'s finest, trying to crack a smut ring from their cardboard office.

Lt. Matt Carson (Kenne Duncan) and Sgt. Randy Stone (Duke Moore) discuss their latest case.

Johnny Ryde (Carl Anthony): Once a "legitimate" filmmaker, he's now reduced to directing smut and scouting for, uh, "new talent". He works closely with photographer Jaffe (Harry Keaton), a balding elf who puts on a "foreign" accent to impress would-be smut models.

Gloria Henderson (Jean Fontaine): She's Johnny's boss and occasional cuddlemate. Hard, raspy and shrill, Gloria is the Martha Stewart of Smut, running her booming business from her suburban home--and never in the same outfit twice.

Mary (Jeanne Willardson): She's an innocent actress from the sticks who is "discovered" by Johnny and realizes too late that she's signed up with a smut producer.

Dirk (Dino Fantini): He's the "muscle" of Gloria's operation. Sporting an impossibly high hair-do, Dirk is also deeply attached to his pet knife, which he uses to cut up smut models. Gloria knows Dirk is off his dot, but keeps him around because "he's useful."

Minor characters worth keeping in mind include Janet and her booby socks-ers, who distribute Gloria's smut to the high school crowd (and rough up suppliers late on their payments) and Jake, who runs a popular pizza hang-out where the kids can pick up their porn. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows is "The Syndicate", a quasi-mafia group who are Gloria's higher-ups.

Gloria (Jean Fontaine) tells innocent Mary (Jeanne Willardson) she's employed in the smut racket--and there's nothing she can do about it!

Now that you know who's who, let's settle in for the plot.

An unidentified blond (dressed in a slip and high heels) runs down a dirt road. She spies a phone booth and frantically screams, "Operator! Operator!" Next we cut to the plywood office of Lt. Matt Carson (Kenne Duncan). It's he, along with Sgt. Randy Stone (Duke Moore), who take the victim's call and rush out to help. Alas, they are too late; the gal has become the latest victim of the crazed killer the duo have been tracking.

"Same age, same M.O., same everything!" Randy fumes.

"But with one difference," the more experienced Carson points out. "Her name is different."

Next we jump over to Jaffe's studio, where the porn pixie is putting three (rather butch) models through their porn paces. While his assistants fuss with the lights, Johnny Ryde shows up. He wants to make sure Jaffe finishes his session on time and that boss Gloria's smut stash is safe. No sooner does Johnny leave than Jaffe's studio is raided by Carson and Stone. It's there they find a secret room filled-to-the-gills with smut movies. The cops drag everyone off to jail; score one for law enforcement.

Now we meet "The Sinister Urge"s star attraction, Gloria Henderson (Jean Fontaine)!

Gloria gives a piece of her mind (but not too big a piece) to Johnny.

As I mentioned earlier, Gloria is the Martha Stewart of Smut. She runs her booming business from the comfort of her suburban home--and never in the same outfit twice. Gloria favors tight slacks, short-shorts, high heels and frilly prom dresses, accessorized by opera gloves and a rhinestone tiara. However, her most memorable feature is her voice: rough and gruff, it is the oral equivalent of a sandblaster. Whether she is barking orders ("And brother I mean hot!"), cracking wise ("Close the door; you're letting the flies out!") or just answering the phone, Gloria's raspy bark scorches everyone in sight.

From the profane we move to the innocent. Mary (Jeanne Wiilardson) is a young actress from the sticks who longs to be a star. Johnny spots her in the park and convinces her he is a real movie producer. Visiting his office, Mary notices the framed copies of Ed Wood movie posters on the wall--which should have been a clue that things weren't on the up and up. "Are gangster and horror pictures all you do?" she inquires. Reeling her in, Johnny puts Mary "under contract" and gives her money to buy new clothes and move into a better apartment. He also urges her to be "seen at all the right places." All this is fine with Mary, who later asks, "Don't you want me to start memorizing a script?" All in good time, dearie.

The moment of truth arrives when Mary finally meets Gloria.

"Let's see those legs!" Gloria barks. "And when I mean 'those legs', I mean from your toes to the top of your hat!"

When Mary balks at exposing herself, Gloria informs her that all the money Johnny Ryde has been giving her has gotten the actress deep in debt--to her! Then she threatens to call Mary's parents and tell them their daughter has signed on with a smut producer. Defeated, Mary starts hiking up her skirt.

Starlet Mary shows some leg. Note the posters for Ed Wood's own movies on the wall.

Alas, there is more humiliation to follow. After hiking up her skirt, Mary is posing for Jaffe in a baggy swimsuit and a sheer wrap. Could things get any worse?  Of course they can! Dirk the psycho breaks into Gloria's house and finds Mary's racy pictures. Later he tracks the starlet down at the local park, where she's feeding the ducks. Dirk leaps out from behind a tree. The two fall into the water and thrash around. Mary screams and the ducks scatter, but it's all over very quickly...for Mary.

This latest smut-inspired murder gets Lt. Carson hot under the collar. He knows Dirk is carving up these smut models, but how can they catch him in the act--without anyone else becoming a victim? Suddenly Carson comes up with a brilliant plan. Well, it's not that brilliant, but it is a plan: have a male police officer dress up as a woman to trap Dirk! Sgt. Stone is floored by the idea. "What did you have for coffee this morning?!" he demands. Never the less, the plan just might work.

Next we see an (obviously) male police officer in a smart two-piece suit, pearls and heels trudging along a wooded path. Dirk, who has a second sense about these things, is hiding near by. He ambushes the decoy, only to have the copy toss him over his shoulder. While they tussle, a shadowy figure emerges to conk the cop on the head. It's Johnny! He hands Dirk a set of car keys and orders him to deliver a smut shipment out of town.

But it's a trap! See, Dirk has killed too many smut models for the Syndicate's taste and they want him gone. So Johnny rigs the breaks on an old car and sends Dirk on his fatal errand. Of course, Gloria approves.

Johnny and Gloria discuss their mutual interest in smut.

Now "The Sinister Urge" really starts cooking. The breaks on his car do indeed fail, but Dirk survives the crash. He then high tails it over to Gloria's, where he confronts Johnny. Johnny tells Dirk it was Gloria who wanted him out of the way. To prove it, Johnny tells Dirk to confront Gloria, while he  hides in the bushes off the patio. Naturally, Gloria over hears everything. To make a long story short, Gloria plans to shoot Johnny and blame it on Dirk. And Gloria does indeed shoot someone , but the dusk of early evening obscures just who that someone is. No matter. Gloria calls the cops and Carson, Stone and deputies drop by. To Gloria's horror, she learns she has shot Dirk--D'oh! What's more, Dirk managed to kill Johnny before Gloria killed him!

Even when faced with the evidence, however, Gloria refuses to believe what has transpired.

"Dirk! Nuh!" she rasps. "That can't be Dirk! Uh-uh. Nah, that's not Dirk! Nuh!"

Then Gloria makes a grab for her gun--which she had conveniently placed under her sofa cushion--but Lt. Carson stops her. It's still smoking and Gloria's finger prints are all over it! The Martha Stewart of Smut is lead away in handcuffs, guilty as charged.

In the Wood cinematic cannon, "The Sinister Urge" is a endless salad bar of incompetence.

Smut maven Gloria Henderson relaxes at home. Scary!

There is the stiff, awkward acting of the principals, especially Carl Anthony as Johnny Ryde, the ex-Hollywood hotshot now reduced to smut purveyor. In real life, Anthony was a commercial pilot who once flew a plane blindfolded. He also appeared on the TV show "You Asked For It." His other credits include "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Kung-Fu Cannibals".

Duke Moore (Randy Stone) has the dubious distinction of only appearing in Ed Wood movies. Along with "The Sinister Urge", Moore showed up in two Ed Wood TV projects ("Crossroads of Laredo" and "Final Curtain") as well as "Plan 9", "Night of the Ghouls" and "Take It Out In Trade." Kenne Duncan, on the other hand, began acting in silent films and accumulated over 200 film credits. Most of his work was in B-pictures and Poverty Row westerns, usually as a heavy. Duncan was also known by two nicknames "The Meanest Man In Movies" and "Horsecock" (the later reflecting his serial womanizing).

There are the continuity gaffes, such as the boom mike hovering above Duncan and Moore as they discuss their case in their plywood office; the unrelated footage of "Rock and Roll Hell" (made in 1956) that Wood snuck in to pad out the flick's running time; the fact that stunt double Conrad Brooks took Dino Fantini's place in Dirk's ill-fated car wreck; and the timely tidbit that Wood's director of photography (William C. Thompson) was blind in one eye! Sort sort of pulls everything together, doesn't it?

"The Sinister Urge" also has a very heavy handed message about the dangers of smut. That's fine in and of itself, but bitterly ironic when you consider that Wood would soon be toiling in the porn trenches because nobody else would hire him.

Then there is Gloria Henderson.

In my research, I could find only two other credits for this gal. Jean apparently had a rich hubby and pursued show-biz only as a hobby. Ed discovered her singing in a night club and hired her to play Gloria. She even supplied her own wardrobe! Although Fontaine had no previous acting experience, her role as the tight-clothes loving smut maven with a voice you could shave with, left an indelible impression on viewers for years to come. You can bet people like Gloria really do exist in the fringe-netherworld of smut that Ed Wood sought to portray.

And if they don't, they should.

So you see, movie lovers, for all its faults and failures, "The Sinister Urge" just might be Ed Wood's best film. It's bad in all the right places and features a cracker-jack performance from a tough broad who could give Bette Davis and/or Joan Crawford a run for their money.

Jean Fontaine, wherever you are, Junk Cinema salutes you!

Friday, April 24, 2015

"The Violent Years": Girls Gone Wild With A Little Help From Ed Wood

"Parents, do you know where your daughters are?" A poster for the Ed Wood-scripted but William Morgan-directed "The Violent Years".

Greetings to you all, movie lovers.

I want to introduce you to Paula Parkins. Paula (Jean Moorhead) is the most privileged bobby socks-er on the planet. Her indulgent parents have given Paula everything she's ever wanted--except, of course, their time and attention. As well as boundaries, discipline, chores and a good dollop of religion, come to think of it.

So is it any wonder, then, that sweet little Paula becomes the head of a gun totin', tobacco puffin', booze chuggin' girl gang?

"The Violent Years" (1956) may have been directed by William Morgan, but it's an Ed Wood movie through and through. You can feel The Master of Disaster's presence in every frame of the film, from its cheap sets to its stiff as starch actors to its heavy handed moralizing to its incredibly daffy dialogue.

Clearly, "The Violent Years" wanted to be another "Rebel Without A Cause" or "Blackboard Jungle", but under the combined touch of Ed Wood and William Morgan this tale of "Untamed Girls Of The Pack Gang!" who take "Their Thrills Unashamed!" ended up becoming the goofiest "message" flick this side of Juvie Hall.

"Stick 'em up!" Gang leader Paula pulls off her latest heist.

Paula looks like an angel, but she's the devil in disguise. Along with her fellow bad seeds Georgia, Geraldine and Phyllis, she has master minded a string of 17 (!) gas station robberies. They also fence stolen goods for a small time crook named Shelia (Lee Constant).


"It's the thrill that gets me! The thrill of the chase!" Paula declares.

Naturally, Paula's utterly clueless parents suspect nothing is amiss. But how would they know? Ma (Barbara Weeks) is a country club gad-about and pa (Art Millan) is obsessed with publishing his newspaper. In fact, on Paula's 18th birthday, pops is so busy that he has his star reporter Barney (Glenn Corbet) deliver his kid's gift! (Mom, meanwhile, is at a charity bazaar.)

Her father's newspaper connection does give Paula the inside track on how the police are progressing on tracking her gang. (The verdict: not well.) When she learns that under cover cops will be posted at all gas stations from now on, Paula realizes they need a new game plan. That's when the gals take to sticking up couples in Lovers Lane. This leads to "The Violent Years" most notorious scene--a scene only Ed Wood could dream up.

Female Trouble: "The Violent Years" most infamous scene.

The gals pounce on an unsuspecting couple necking in a convertible. At gun point they force the girl to strip to her skivvies. Then they rip her skirt into strips and tie her up. That done, they turn their attention to the male half of the duo.

The girls take his watch, his ring and his money (eleven dollars). Then they drag him off to a secluded spot. Paula gives him an evil smirk, yanks off her sweater and strides purposefully over to their captive...

Of course, viewers never see Paula and her pals assault the poor fellow, but that is clearly what transpired. Meanwhile, the victim's date has freed herself and runs off screaming for help.

When we next catch up with Paula, she's throwing a "pajama party." With typical cluelessness, Paula's ma thinks her daughter's party is an innocent little frolic "where the girls talk and play games in their pajamas." Ha! Instead of playing Twister or Charades, the gals listen to rock 'n roll, belt back booze, smoke and make out with JD's in their pajamas! Always ahead of the curve, Paula slinks around in a shiny, strapless jumpsuit and tongues an older man in a sport coat named Manny. When star reporter Barney arrives to give Paula her father's present, her "date" threatens to rearrange his face. Barney blasts him into the middle of next week (actually, the couch). He then warns Paula about the rough company she's keeping--but doesn't even think to tell her father!

Not the type of boy to bring home to mother: Paula and Manny.

It probably wouldn't make any difference. Paula and her pals think they are invincible. Thus the girls jump at the chance to accept a more lucrative assignment from Shelia: trashing a classroom at their high school and desecrating the flag. See, Shelia's "clients" are "foreigners" (Commies) who have a strong anti-American bent. Butch Phyllis is mad at her math teacher, so that's the room they hit.

As the girls knock over chairs, mess up the teacher's desk, erase her lesson plans from the blackboard(!) and toss a globe out the window, the cops arrive. Gun play ensues; Phyllis cackles, "Look at 'em jump! Just like rabbits!" Then she's shot. "This ain't the way it's suppose to be..." Phyllis whispers before keeling over. The remaining girls make a run for their car; as they do, another one bites the dust. That leaves just Paula and Geraldine. They head over to Shelia's place to hide out. However, when their fence learns that the job has been botched and a cop has been killed, Shelia decides to call the police. Paula plugs her full of lead before she can.

Dressed up in Shelia's duds, the girls try to sneak out of town, but they are spotted by the cops. A high speed chase unfolds and Paula dives into a store's plate glass window. Is this the end? No. Paula survives (with out a scratch on her) only to wake up in the hospital ward of Juvie Hall--pregnant!

Is this the end? No way! Paula must stand trial for her crimes. She's remanded to Juvie Hall until she's 21 and then Paula will be transferred to The Big House, Ladies Division, for the rest of her life.

OK, justice is served, so is that  the end?

Pregnant Paula ponders her fate. The anti-heroine's final thoughts? "So what!"

Of course not! Paula has to give birth, remember. In due time the junior jail bird delivers a baby girl, but promptly dies. That's the end, right?


You see, Paula's parents want custody of their grandchild. Being the tot's next of kin, you'd think they'd be a shoo-ins. Not so fast. Presiding Judge Clara eventually deliver his verdict, which he does in a long, slow, disjointed, rambling, tour de farce that will leave you scratching your head and/or screaming for him to get to the point. First, he hammers the Parkins' for their simultaneous neglect and indulgence of their daughter. Next, the judge laments the lack of parental control and the permissiveness of (1956) society. Then he sounds off on the "back to God movement" and his hope that "the world's religions" might help reign in society's trouble makers. Just when you are about to scream, "Will you cut to the chase?! We're burnin' daylight here!" Judge Clara tells the stunned Parkins that, no, they will not get custody of their granddaughter. She will remain "a ward of the state" until a "suitable" family adopts her.

NOW "The Violent Years" ends, with the Parkins' heads bowed in shame.


Paula and Geraldine shoot first and ask questions later.

They say the road to ruin is paved with good intentions, which also sums up Ed Wood's entire career.

Obviously, in his own blinkered way, Ed Wood wanted to sound off on neglectful parents and the dangers of letting young people run wild. He just didn't know how. Or, rather, Ed didn't know how to fashion a script that would convincingly parlay that message. I don't know why Wood didn't direct this flick himself, but William Morgan was the perfect stand-in. In other words, Morgan's directing skills were as inept as Wood's. In fact, he even managed to committed several cinematic faux pas that would make Wood proud. To wit:

*When Paula's gang arrives at the high school to trash it, it's night. When they drive past the cops, it's day.

*Everyone in the courtroom scenes wear the same outfits, even though the hearings supposedly take place on different days. The curtain behind the judge appears to be a shower curtain.

*Although Paula shoots Shelia in the gut, her victim never bleeds and the bullet doesn't leave a mark on her sweater.

*The footage of Paula's car driving down a stretch of road and making a right turn is used twice.

*All the girls wear angora sweaters, an Ed Wood favorite.

*The scene where the assault victim's girlfriend runs screaming for help in her slip was repeated in the opening of Ed Wood's "The Sinister Urge", where a gal runs screaming for help in her slip. 

When parents are away, the teenagers will play: Paula entertains at home.

However, Ed Wood's own inimitable Junk Cinema genius shines through best in "The Violent Years" daffy dialogue, which includes some real pearls of Wood Wisdom.

For example, when Paula asks her mom if they can chat for a minute, Mrs. Parkins replies, "Good gracious, no! Besides, what can be so important in your young life as to warrant my attention so drastically?"

Later, when Paula and her pack ambush the couple in Lovers Lane, this transpires:

Girl: "What's going on?"

Mean Girl: "Stop asking questions and you may get some answers!"

This racy exchange occurs when Paula and her gang are deciding what to do with their male captive:

Mean Girl: "Maybe he's got more to offer than his money."

Other Mean Girl: "Yeah, under conventional circumstances he could be interesting."

Paula: "Why wait for conventional circumstances?"

After Paula has dies, her mom laments that she and her hubby gave their daughter "everything but love". Specifically "a new dress instead of a caress."

Best of all is the policeman discussing JDs: "These aren't teenagers! These are morons!"

Only in the wonderful, funderful world of Junk Cinema could a hard-drinking cross dresser with a thing for angora (and female bondage scenes) pen a script that champions a return to family values. In 1956, mind you.

Ed Wood strikes again!

Until next time, hug your kids, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Put On Your Haz-Mat Suits! "Grace of Monaco" Is A Real Bio-Hazard

Princess Grace (Nicole Kidman) attends yet another royal function in "Grace of Monaco", a fictional film inspired by real events that pretends to be about Grace Kelly's life but really isn't.

Once upon a time (actually, 1956), an American movie star married a European prince. The bride wore a fabulous wedding dress and the couple enjoyed a 6-week honeymoon cruise. Then they returned to their principality (called Monaco), where they lived happily ever after.


Kind of.

Well, they worked it out.

When considering the life of Grace Patricia, Her Serene Highness, the Princess-Consort of Monaco, any intelligent filmmaker could see there was enough material for several movies, a couple of multi-part mini-series and maybe even a Netflix show.

Unfortunately, NO intelligent filmmakers appeared interested. That's why movie goers had to contend with Olivier Dahan's "Grace of Monaco", a production that admits "This film is fiction inspired by real events" (translation: some stuff is real, some stuff is made-up and you'll have to figure out which is which) that plays out like the most elaborate episode of "The Bold and the Beautiful" ever.

Nicole Kidman as Princess Grace or as Princess Grace's wax effigy--you decide.

The setting is the principality of Monaco, the world's tiniest (2.02 km squared or 0.78 square miles) independent nation. It's the early 1960's. The frozen-faced Nicole Kidman (Mrs. Keith Urban to you) is Princess Grace. Poor dear, the bloom if off the marital rose. Princely hubby Rainier (the chain smoking Tim Roth) is always "busy" and "in a meeting." The rank and file of Monaco still haven't embraced "this American movie star" as their princess. The high society snoots of Monaco and Europe haven't been too welcoming, either. In fact, the ladies of The Red Cross would rather gossip and gab than go along with Grace's plans to modernize the local hospital or improve the children's home! Even worse, the palace staff snickers behind Grace's back and her chief lading-in-waiting Madge (Parker Posey, who appears to have been sucking lemons between takes) bullies and belittles the hell out of her.

Of course, the outside world thinks Grace's life is "a fairy tale" and one long swan to charity balls, royal galas, state visits, Paris shopping trips and skiing holidays in Switzerland. Even Grace's mother refuses to believe her daughter's life is anything but perfect.

 If they only knew...

Is it any wonder, then, when old pal Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) waddles into town, he finds his most alluring leading lady tired, nursing a scotch and slightly depressed?

Lucky for her, Hitch wants Grace to star in his new film "Marnie", a thriller about a frigid, compulsive thief. Her leading man will be some Scottish chap recently hired to play James Bond (I think his name is Sean something). To sweeten the deal, Hitch offers Grace a million dollar fee.

Grace jumps at the chance to act again, but this really isn't the best time to go to Hollywood. See, France and Monaco are having a bit of a tiff. France is bogged down in North Africa and its economy isn't doing so good. Monaco, on the other hand, is becoming rich, rich, rich. Well, it was always rich, but lately it's becoming richer. Turns out French citizens and their businesses are the source of this richness. These folks are relocating to Monaco, where they can stash their cash and avoid paying French taxes.

Tim Roth as Prince Rainier: He smokes more than Edward R. Murrow, Lillian Hellman and Rod Serling combined.

President Gen. de Gaulle (Andre' Penvern) wants this to stop maintenant (right now). Prince Rainier, anxious to diversify his economy beyond gambling revenues, says no dice (rim shot). The imperious General threatens to cut Monaco off and then absorb it into the French republic if the Grimaldi prince doesn't cry uncle.

Obviously, the French/Monaco stand-off wasn't in the same league as, say, when Bismarck wrenched the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein from Denmark or when the Commies rolled their tanks into Hungary, Prague, Poland or Afghanistan. So a bunch of wealthy French businessmen will have to pay their fair share of taxes? Big deal. Monaco relies on France for its security, France relies on Monaco as a place to park its yachts, so can't you guys work something out?

However, "Grace of Monaco" plays this out as if the very sanctity of national sovereignty world wide was at stake.

The French/Monaco crisis awakens Grace from her torpor; HSH thus rolls up her royal sleeves and begins to fight for her adopted country. Does she rally the citizens with passionate speeches in the public square? Uh, no. Does she plead her country's case at the UN? Uh, no. Does she confront the French troops amassing on Monaco's boarders? Yes...but only to drop off gift baskets of bread and cheese and to wish them a happy day.

But wait! There's more! Grace then plans a big splashy royal gala and even invites de Gaulle! And he even accepts! Dressed in her princess-y best, Grace mounts the stage and gives an impassioned speech about love and sharing. She tells the assembled throng that what unites us as human beings is greater than what divides us. That ours is a world of laughter and a world of tears; a world of hopes and a world of fears. There's so much that we share, that it's time we're aware, it's a small world after all.

Grace and Hitch: "Remember, dear, it's only a movie."

And in Monaco's case, it's a really small world.

The grandees are so moved by her speech that they give Grace a standing ovation. Her hubby whispers, "I love you" in her ear. Gen. de Gaulle is so impressed, he drops all his nasty threats. Monaco is saved! Vive Monaco! Vive la princesse!

Reaction in the real world was less, shall we say, enthusiastic.

Princess Grace's children pitched a fit about "Grace of Monaco" and refused to let the filmmakers shoot in the principality. The director, meanwhile, got into a very public squabble with the flick's distributor over the picture's final cut. When "Grace of Monaco" bowed at the splashy Cannes Film Festival, it received lousy reviews...all of which were deserved.

Unfortunately for everyone involved in front of and behind the scenes, "Grace of Monaco" proved yet again that Junk Cinema is not always made on shoe string budgets with earnest yet incompetent hacks at the helm. Talented, well-financed individuals are just as capable of gumming up the works to rival any Ed Wood or Coleman Francis.

In the end, Nicole Kidman's zombie imitation in royal drag now joins Rod Steiger as W.C. Fields, Jack Palance as Fidel Castro (!), Carroll Baker as Jean Harlow, James Brolin as Clark Gable (!), Misty Rowe as Marilyn Monroe, Richard Burton as Trotsky and Liz Taylor as Cleopatra in The Celebrity Wax Works Hall of Shame.

So,until next time, remember the original is always the best, and SAVE THE MOVIES!