Friday, November 27, 2015

Let's Watch "The Day The Earth Froze" In Glorious "SovoColor"!

"Peek-a-boo-I-see-you!" Nature girl Anniki frolics in the forest before the big chill arrives in the Finnish-Russian epic "The Day the Earth Froze".

Tervehdys, elokuvan ystaville! That's "Greetings, movie lovers!" in Finnish (Thank you, ImTranslator).

Today we travel to the ancient shores of (yes!) Finland, to the town of Kalevala to be exact, where true love, magic, trolls, an evil witch and the timeless allure of a Sampo take center stage in "The Day the Earth Froze" (1959).

A joint Finnish-Soviet Russia production photographed in glorious "SovoColor" (whatever the hell that is), "The Day the Earth Froze" is based on the Finnish epic Kalevaia , sort of their version of The Odyssey. No doubt this is indeed a stirring tale, and perhaps someday it will be captured in the cinematic glory it deserves. Until then, movie fans will have to suffer through the badly dubbed and totally nutsy "The Day the Earth Froze" instead.

Also known under the title of "Sampo" upon its release, our feature presentation takes us to the aforementioned Kalevala, a prosperous town where the hard working citizens are either employed in the fishing, lumber or goat herding industries. Legend has it that if the people of Kalevala stay honest, humble and true, they will someday receive a Sampo.

What, pray tell, is a Sampo? Well, it is a cross between a slot machine and a water fountain. It gives forth salt, grain and gold, so you can see why they are a big deal. What's more, Sampos are very hard to come by, so you can understand why the town of Kalevala would be delighted to have one on the premises.

Prince Valiant out pole vaulting? No, it's our hero Lemminkainen (Andris Oshin).

Also coveting a Sampo is the witch Louhi (Anna Orochko). She has an army of scruffy trolls working over time to produce one, but, unfortunately, these dopes are just not up to the task. So when the witch learns super blacksmith Ilmarinen could make her a Sampo, she connives to kidnap his sister Anniki (Eve Kivi) and then force him to make her the contraption.

Anniki is no ordinary girl, of course. That's because on the day she was born the angels got together and decided to make a dream come true. So they sprinkled moon dust in her hair and starlight in her eyes of blue. That's why all the boys in town follow her around, because they long to be close to Anniki*.  Anniki, however, is a picky girl and she refuses to come across to just anybody until she meets Lemminkainen (Andreas Oshkin).

Lemminkainen is a lumberjack who stumbles upon Anniki when she's out doing the laundry. Of course, it's love at first sight and their first exchange plays like Dumb Enchanted Evening, except it's taking place in broad daylight.

"Who's gold is that?" Lemminkainen asks. "Can this be the daughter of the rosy dawn? Or the radiance of the moon?"

"It's not the moon! Nor is it the sun! I am just a simple maiden," twitters Anniki.

"Call Me Maybe?" Heroine Anniki shortly after meeting Lemminkainen.

Having met Mr. Right at last, Anniki scampers home to tell her bro and exclaim about her true love, "His eyes sparkle like the sun light glittering on the sea foam!" Delighted his kid sister will finally be off his hands at last, Ilmarinen agrees to the marriage. However, before the happy couple can make it legal, witch Louhi kidnaps Anniki and locks her in a cave.

Lemminkainen and his soon-to-be-in-law go off to rescue her, but first they seek the advice from wise old sage Vainamoinen. It is he who tells the guys they must fashion a special boat out of a special tree to survive the voyage to save Anniki. Lem and Ilm dutifully cut down the tree and carve out their vessel. They then sail off for Louhi's place, which is a cold and dark wasteland way off the bus line.

Being a crafty old blister, Louhi isn't about to hand over Anniki without forging the best deal for herself. Thus, she insists that Lem plow a field of snakes. To do this, Ilmarien crafts a horse out of metal. Soon the field is plowed. In the mean time, Louhi's evil Smurfs have smashed the guys' boat to bits. Not to worry; Ilm simply makes another boat out of steel (which has a moose figure at its prow). Then witchie-poo plays her trump card: she wants her visitors to make her a Sampo.

By this time you'd think Lem and Ilm would have had enough to Louhi's nonsensical demands. But no. True to their basic decency, Lem and Ilm (with the help of the trolls) do indeed make a Sampo. To do so, the blacksmith needed some special ingredients: "a wisp of lambs wool, a feather from a swan and a barley of corn." Once all that is rounded up, the blacksmith and the lumberjack get to work and in due time the Sampo is created. The contraption starts gushing salt, grain and gold right on cue. so the witch is finally satisfied. Anniki, Lem and Ilm are soon on their way home.

End of story? Not quite. You see, Anniki remembers that the Sampo was promised to their village as a reward for their piety. The bride-to-be feels guilty that Lem and Ilm had to build a Sampo for Louhi in order to rescue her. Anniki feels--and quite rightly so--that the mean old crone won't share the bounty of her Sampo fairly. In fact, when Louhi catches one of her trolls pocketing some gold coins, she sends the poor bastard off to the snake pits for punishment.

"Let's Make A Deal": Evil witch Louhi lists her demands to Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen

So Lem decides to swim back to Louhi's and steal the Sampo for the village. This leads to all sorts of complications and the end result is Lemminkainen is believed to be dead. This totally bums out Lemminkainen's ma (Ada Vojtsik), which is completely understandable. However, Ada is a plucky Finnish gal and refuses to give in to her despair.

Soon enough she's traveling all over town asking for help to find her son. First Ada asks a birch tree if she has any news about Lem. Unfortunately, the birch tree is only interested in discussing her own problems, which includes people stripping off her bark and kids snipping off her branches to make brooms. OK. Moving right along, Ada next asks the road for some info on locating her son. The road, frankly, could care less about Lem's where-abouts. In fact, the road is supremely pissed off that people are constantly trampling on him day and night. However, what really makes the road mad is all the horses shitting on him and their owners not cleaning up after their nags. OK. Sorry to have bothered you! Finally, Ada asks the sun for help in locating Lem and the sun comes through. Lem is indeed found safe and sound, but the Sampo is toast.

The news that Lem is alive so delights the village of Kalevala that nobody gives two hoots that the all important Sampo is wrecked. Instead, the happy Finns join together to throw Lemminkainen and Anniki a grand wedding. This features much dancing, singing and merry-making and everybody does indeed seem happy. Not so happy is witch Louhi. Whether that is because she wasn't invited to the wedding or because the groom stole (and ruined) her Sampo is anyone's guess. It could just be Louhi is a mean old blister who likes to stir up trouble. Anyway, while the citizens of Kalevala are partying like its 1099, Louhi steals the sun and locks it up in her cave.

This plunges the world into total darkness, of course, as well as perpetual snow and wind. Even for a people used to a harsh climate, this deep freeze is too much. Things get so dark and dismal, in fact, Lem can't tell what color his wife's eyes are anymore! So he decides to gather an army and march on Louhi to free the sun.

That's when old sage Vainamoinen steps in. he tells Lem that fighting witchie-poo with swords won't work. Instead, he orders the young men of the village to chop down a bunch of trees in order to make a passel of Kanteles, a string instrument that is plucked, much like a Dulcimer or a Zither. The women, meanwhile, were asked to give up all their jewelry to be melted down to make the Kanteleses strings. When the instruments are finished (no pun intended!) and tuned, the army marches to Louhi's lair.

"May the road rise up to meet you..." The Road gives grieving mother Ada an earful of complaints when she asks for help in finding her son Lem.

"The Day the Earth Froze" climaxes with Lemminkainen's army playing their Kanteles en masse. Their music puts the trolls to sleep. Louhi, getting desperate, sends her cloak over to strangle Lem. It's pulled off and drowned in the water. Then Lem marches up to Louhi and cuts her in half. The sun is promptly set free and the citizens of Kalevala rejoice and begin to thaw out. Lemminkainen and Anniki, meanwhile, go on to live happily ever after. The movie doesn't say this; I'm just assuming it happens. After all, there is no reason to think these two crazy kids wouldn't have a long, happy life together. They seem well suited to me, and even their hair colors match! Huzzah!

Despite its poor dubbing, moments of nutty surrealism and my good natured ribbing, there is much to admire about "The Day the Earth Froze": its bright use of color, its imaginative special effects, the spirit of cooperation that exists among the people of Kalevala, the chance to learn about another country's literary heroes.

Indeed, "The Day the Earth Froze" is a rare example of "artistic detente": during the dark days of The Cold War, the East (in this case Russia) and the West (Finland) would get together on some cultural project to show how the world's super powers could cooperate for the betterment of mankind. The results were often mixed, yet these periodic exchanges did provide a glimpse of hope that peaceful coexistence was possible.

Although the Soviet Union routinely gave America a severe pounding in their media, the Commie big-wigs really liked Hollywood movies and admired tinsel town's technical know-how. Naturally, they longed to prove Soviet movies could be just as good or even better than the ones churned out by the Capitalists.

The problem in meeting this challenge was the iron hand of censorship. Russian and Eastern Bloc artists had to repeatedly prove their fealty to Communism and The State before they create anything. Shortages, bureaucracy and government interference stifled creativity and production even further. That's why the best examples of Soviet-era film making were flicks based on fairy tales, epic poems and classic children's stories. The subject matter was safely apolitical and drew inspiration from the country's cherished traditions, thus they created fewer problems for both the film makers and the state authorities.

The movie poster for "The Day the Earth Froze" doesn't accurately reflect the film's subject matter.

With its arms always wide open to the weird and wonderful, Junk Cinema is the ideal place for finding flicks like "The Day the Earth Froze"--you won't find this picture on Netflix or Red Box or even on late-night cable. In fact, I only learned about our feature presentation from watching MST3K--yet another example of the pure genius of the folks at Best Brains. This just proves once again how Junk Cinema is a valuable part of our collective cinematic heritage. Where else will you find a movie based on the Finnish national epic, made with the cooperation of the now defunct USSR, shot in "SovoColor", sharing the mystic delights of the Sampo? Junk Cinema rules!

Until next time, keep your Kanteles in tune and SAVE THE MOVIES!

* Yes, these are the lyrics of the song "Close to You" by The Carpenters. Needless to say, I hate the song.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Huzzah! It's "Jack the Giant Killer"!

The opening credits for "Jack the Giant Killer": What could possibly go wrong?

Hey, kids! Are you in the mood for a whimsical adventure in a far-away land with giants, wizards, monsters and a princess who finds true love with simple country lad? Then watch "The Princess Bride"! However, if you are in the mood for a tale about witches, wizards and cheesey special effects, seek out and find "Jack the Giant Killer", an obscure family flick that proves kiddie entertainment was just as nutty in 1962 as it is today!

Our tale begins in "the kingdom of Cornwall", where heiress-to-the-throne Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) is celebrating her birthday. Among her many gifts is a music box shaped like a castle that houses a dancing Harlequin. A dancing Harlequin that looks like Ernest Borgnine, by the way.

Turns out the mysterious chap who gave HRH the music box is the ultra meanie Pendragon (Torin Thatcher), better known as "The King of the Witches." You see, many years ago, an ancestor of the current King Mark banished Pendragon and all of his ghoulies and ghosties to a creepy, fog shrouded castle way off the bus line. Pendragon, don't you know, was seriously miffed about this turn of events and has spent the intervening years plotting and scheming his revenge.

And what is Pendragon's revenge, you ask? Well, that music box with the dancing Ernest Borgnine? When Princess Elaine goes to bed at night, the claymation Harlequin turns into a horned giant that crashes through the palace roof. The giant then snatches up the screaming princess and heads for the hills. The King of the Witches wants to be the King of Cornwall and he needs Princess Elaine to achieve his goal. Realizing that he's not "a people person" and that the citizens of Cornwall would never accept him as their monarch, Pendragon decides to kidnap Elaine in order to A) turn her into a witch, B) force her pa King Mark into exile, C) plant Elaine on the throne and then D) rule through her as an evil puppet-master.

Hey! That sounds just like what Dick Cheney did in the last Bush administration--except instead of turning W into a witch, he had to settle for a court jester (rim shot!).

Princess Elaine busts a move with a "magical" Harlequin. Little does she know her partner is an ugly giant in disguise.

Now imagine the surprise of simple country lad Jack (Kerwin Matthews), going about his daily chores, looking up and seeing a claymation giant stomping through his farmland with a shrieking girl in his paw. A quick thinker, Jack realizes the giant is taking poor Elaine (he doesn't know she's a princess yet) to a boat manned by Pendragon's flunky Garna (Walter Burke). By using an axe, some rope and a handful of cornmeal, Jack manages to save Elaine, kill the giant AND push Garna into the drink. His bravery wins Elaine's heart and she thanks Jack profusely.

"It was nothing," Jack jokes modestly. "I always kill a giant before breakfast. Starts my day off right!"

King Mark and his posse arrive a short time later. For his bravery, the king upgrades Jack to Sir Jack and Elaine gives him a kiss. The nobles throw Jack a party at the palace and it looks like happy days are here again at Cornwall. Unfortunately, the palace historian throws cold water on the celebrations by discovering that the recently deceased giant was the handiwork of witch king Pendragon, whom everyone believed was dead or at least no longer in the business of being evil. Realizing that his daughter is not safe in town, King Mark decides to send her to a convent for safekeeping. Disguised as simple peasant folk, Jack will escort Elaine to her new home.

This plan seems like a winner, except, unbeknownst to anyone else, sweet Lady Constance (Anna Lee, best known to "General Hospital" fans as Lila Quartermain) has been bewitched by Pendragon. When this happened is anybody's guess. After waiving Jack and Elaine off, Lady Constance excuses herself and releases Gaunt the raven with all the details of HRH's where-abouts. The baddie Pendragon receives the message and begins scheming up a new plan.

Meanwhile, Jack and Elaine are totally enjoying their boat ride to the convent. The captain of the vessel has a young son named Peter (Roger Mobley), who, he brags, "is smart as paint."( Personally, I have never thought of paint as smart, so where the proud father came up with this idea is beyond me. Paint can be many things, such as bright and colorful, but it's not smart because paint can't think. Dad must have been unduly influenced by Mitt Romney, who lectured that "corporations are people my friends." That always made me want to lecture Mitt in return that, no, corporations are not people; they are staffed and run by people which is not the same as actually being a person. But I digress). Nobody except Jack knows Elaine is a royal, which gives the couple privacy to get all kissy-face without anyone altering the tabloids or TMZ.

Princess Elaine and the newly created Sir Jack party like it's 1499.

 The cuddlemates romantic interlude is dashed, however, when Pendragon sends over a fleet of ghosts in molting Halloween costumes. The ghosts kick up a nasty wind storm that allows them to fly off with Elaine. When Jack insists the ship must sail on to rescue the princess, the crew mutinies. In fact, they refuse to believe Elaine is their princess and even throw Jack overboard! Young Peter dives in after him--his pa died in the wind storm, so there is no reason for him to stick around.

In due time, Jack and Peter are fished out of the sea by a friendly Viking (!) named Sigurd (Berry Kelley). It's on Sigurd's tug that we are introduced to The Imp (Don Beddoe), a lively leprechaun who talks in rhyme. The Imp has been imprisoned in a Chianti bottle by the King of the Leprechauns as punishment for dabbling in "the black arts." The only way he can be freed is if he performs three good deeds for a nice person. How will The Imp know if a person is truly nice? If a person is bad, the Chianti bottle will burn their hand if they touch it. Sigurd, for example, has done plenty of carousing in his day, so he's out. Jack, on the other hand, passes the bottle test with flying colors.

While all this is going on, poor Princess Elaine has been turned into a witch. Now sporting yellow eyes, lilac skin and fingernails as long as skateboards, the perky princess looks like Lady Gaga's kid sister. His job done, Pendragon informs King Mark that he has one week to vacate the throne or else.

His Majesty is heart broken, of course, and can't figure out who for the life of him spilled the beans to evil Pendragon. Then he spies Lady Constance sneaking out of the throne room. Traitor! King Mark orders his guards to tackle the Lady and drag her in front of a mirror. By doing so, Lady Constance's evil reflection will appear. In order to break the spell, a guard breaks the mirror; there is a puff of green smoke, and Lady Constance is back to her old self. The noble woman breaks down and begs the king's forgiveness, which is granted, no hard feelings, and she excuses herself to go take a nap.

With the help of Sigurd, Peter and The Imp, Jack eventually arrives at Pendragon's castle. There he is confronted by a troop of warriors so bow-legged they could walk over a barrel and so stiff it appears they have yardsticks rammed up their collective hinders. The Imp's magic helps Jack defeat these baddies, as well as thwart Pendragon's plans to turn Jack into a rat. He also manages to rescue the grateful Princess Elaine and race off to the safety of Sigurd's boat.

"I Was Not Born This Way": Princess Elaine (with Pendragon) gets a wicked make-over.

If this all sounds a little too easy, that's because it was meant to be too easy. Elaine is a witch now, remember? When Jack's not looking, she drugs his drink and soon enough they are back at Pendragon's castle, only this time Jack is chained up and poor Sigurd and Peter have been captured as well. Pendragon realizes The Imp is the source of Jack's power and he wants the little guy for himself. When Jack refuses to tell where The Imp is, the King of the Witches turns Sigurd into a dog and Peter into a thong-wearing chimp. Still, Jack won't budge. So Pendragon gives Jack until the sands of an hour-glass run through to cough up The Imp or die. Shortly thereafter, Elaine reveals her own witchy transformation, which horrifies her boyfriend. Just when things seem pretty hopeless, Peter (now a chimp, don't forget) unlocks his cage and sets Jack free. This allows Jack to drag Elaine in front of a mirror and shatter her she-devil reflection, which returns HRH back to her normal perky self. Then the gang of four race out of Pendragon's castle again, this time for real.

Furious that his prisoners have escaped, Pendragon does what any witch king would do: he turns himself into a claymation bird-type critters and flies after them. This leads to the flick's epic final battle, with a claymation Jack jumping on the Pendragon/bird-type critter's back and repeatedly stabbing him in the neck. After about, oh, 100 jabs, the Pendragon/bird-type critter dies and falls into the sea. The witch king's death not only lifts the curses off Sigurd and Peter, it causes Pendragon's creepy castle to collapse into dust as well. Now the Kingdom of Cornwall is truly free at last.

Oh, about The Imp. He has completed his required three good deeds and is thus freed by Jack. Before the leprechaun leaves for Ireland, he advises Princess Elaine to marry Jack. HRH whole-heartily agrees to do so, although whether Jack actually planned to propose is another matter entirely. It is on this happy (?) note that "Jack the Giant Killer" ends. Huzzah!

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Auntie Beth," you say. "This is a kid's movie! It doesn't seem so bad! Why must you bee so hard on a kid's movie!? That's not nice!"

Your point is well taken. And this is my answer: Please, A) Watch the movie yourself, B) I am an equal opportunity offender and C) I never said I was nice! Once you get an eye-full of "Jack"s wacky costumes, cheesy F/X, Peter the chimp's thong and the hero's plastic hair, you might just think differently. And simply because a movie is made for kids doesn't mean it can't be bad. "Santa Claus Conquers the Martins" was made for kids and it's VERY bad. "The Blue Bird" was made for kids, too, and it's also very bad. In fact, one film critic of the day even suggested making bratty kids watch "The Blue Bird" was fitting punishment for their misbehaving. The same for the musical "Dr. Dolittle." And while we're at it, all the Pokeman movies and the Ninja Turtle movies are BAD, too...and not just for kids! For anybody that loves movies, these flicks are toxic waste dumps on film stock. The difference is you can have fun watching the badness of "Jack the Giant Killer", while all the previous flicks just suck up your hard earned cash.

"Here's Johnny (actually Pendragon)!" The King of the Witches takes to the unfriendly skies as a rogue flying critter.

Therefore, movie lovers, remember that badness has no age limit, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"The Thomas Crown Affair": A Hip Drip On An Ego Trip

"I'll drink to that": Perfect-at-everything Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) toasts his own brilliance.

Greetings to you, movie lovers.

Say, have you met Thomas Crown? No? Well, let me introduce you!

Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a lean, ruggedly handsome, old-money Boston aristocrat with piercing blue eyes. Not only was Crown born rich, he's a super-successful business tycoon, which has allowed him to become even richer and he resides in an historic Back Bay mansion with an elevator.

But that's not all! Tommy Crown also plays polo, pilots a glider, drives a dune buggy, is a whiz on the golf course and has a sexy cuddlemate named Gwen (Astrid Hereen) up in Geneva, Switzerland.

Yes, sir, Thomas Crown is the perfect man living the perfect life. Which explains why he is perfectly...bored. Suffering from the blahs. So what does he do to get out of his perfect rut?

Vickie Anderson (Faye Dunaway) wonders why her head hurts. Could it be that massive stone cinnamon roll on her head?

Hmmm. Take up church work? Get into league bowling? Start square dancing? Mastermind bank robberies on the side?

Hey, that's the ticket!

Thus begins "The Thomas Crown Affair", a thick slice of self-satisfied '60's cinema at its worst. With its nonsense theme song ("The Windmills of Your Mind"), split screens, fancy dissolves, open-ended dialogue and a mod, sexually liberated female lead (Faye Dunaway), "The Thomas Crown Affair" is so hip, it watch. The principals, meanwhile, are so self-involved they don't care.

But they should care--especially Ms. Dunaway as the chic insurance investigator Vickie Anderson. Why? Because Dunaway sports some of the WORST get-ups in movie history AND some of the MOST complicated hairstyles imaginable. In fact, Faye's frocks end up upstaging her--certainly not the result notorious perfectionist Dunaway would have wanted.

Coincidentally, my own mother was a hip and happenin' chick in 1968 (the year "Thomas Crown" was released). So I asked her to watch the flick for the express purpose of putting Dunaway's wacky wardrobe in historical context. Mom said Faye's clothes were "just ugly" regardless of what era the movie was made in. She also dismissed Dunaway's hairstyles as the work of a stylist who might have been a little too "baked" (i.e. stoned). Mom also added Dunaway herself might have "gone a little crazy with the falls."

Jane Fonda in "Barbarella"? No, it's just another fashion-fail from "The Thomas Crown Affair".

Anyhooo, "The Thomas Crown Affair" begins with a long, drawn-out, split-screened bank robbery Crown has planned for (his) fun and profit. The gents involved all wear identical dark suits, dark sun glasses and pork-pie hats. They include veteran character actors Jack Weston and Yaphet Kotto. Because Crown assembled his cohorts independently, they don't know each other and meet for the first and only time at the heist ( a tactic also used in "Reservoir Dogs").

The robbery goes off as planned and soon Crown is jetting off to Switzerland with all the loot--and to meet up with cuddlemate Hereen (a Vogue cover girl making her film debut and farewell)--as if nothing were a-miss. His take? Over two million.

Particularly frustrated and embarrassed by the caper is police investigator Eddie Malone (Paul Burke, last seen trying to get into the drawers of Barbara Parkins in "Valley of the Dolls"). Because Eddie is a stuffed shirt, by-the-book, law and order middle class square, he's the movie's default villain. When the police can't crack the case ("We're Boston's finest!"), he's forced to accept the help of ultra mod, totally liberated Vickie Anderson (Dunaway). Vickie's personal motto is "Think Dirty" and she's not above, for example, stealing a car, kidnapping a child or blackmailing accomplice Jack Warden to get him to 'fess up.

Because Vickie gets 10% of everything recovered, her methods and morals not only disgust Eddie, but bring out his sneering sexism. When Vickie explains that "every crime has a personality", Burke cracks, "Oh, that's clever, very clever." That causes Faye to sigh and say, "OK, you work your way and I'll work mine." That, in turn, makes Eddie blow a gasket. "Hold it right there, baby!" Burke blusters. "You wanted in, remember? You get ten percent. So you better earn your keep! Earn it!"

While this battle of the sexes is taking place, Thomas is in Switzerland with Gwen flying his glider.

Former (and future) fashion model Astrid Hereen asks, "Have you seen my acting career?"

"I vish you vouldn't over shoot the vield like dat," Gwen pouts.

"It would solve all my worries," Thomas replies.

"Vhat have you got to vorry about?" Gwen cries.

"Who I want to be tomorrow," Crown states.

Back in the States, Eddie and Vickie have compiled a frequent flyer list of businessmen who have made repeated trips to Switzerland since the robbery took place. See, Vickie believes that the heist was based on "pure geometry" and that the master mind organized it so the robbers would A) never meet and B) would be payed in installments at a later date. Of the five suspects, Vickie zeroes in on Thomas and makes no secret of the fact she thinks he's cute. Later on, as part of her surveillance, she films him playing polo and practically leaps out of her chair to declare to Eddie, "I just know he's the one!" Although Vickie has no concrete evidence against Crown yet, her "instincts" (and other body parts) insist he's the man. Unimpressed, Eddie tells her, "Prove it."

"Hungry Like The (She) Wolf"? Thomas Crown and Vickie Anderson size each other up.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" then switches to a high society charity auction, where Thomas and Vickie meet and begin round one of their flirtation.

"Who do you work for? Bazaar? Vogue? World Wide Polo ?" Thomas inquires.

"Insurance," Vickie replies.

"I'm covered," Crown rejoins.

"I certainly hope so," Vickie says, taking a sip of champagne.

Then the smitten kittens stare out the window a bit and begin round two.

"Is that a king sized cinnamon roll on your head or are you just happy to see me?" Eddie Malone and Vickie discuss strategies.

"I investigate," Vickie explains.

"Anything in particular?" Crown asks, trying to be casual.

"The bank, Mr. Crown. The caper," Vickie parries. "You don't expect us to take the loss of two million dollars lying down, do you?"

"That's an interesting picture," Thomas replies, before asking, "Pays well though?"--guessing that Vickie's ghastly dress must cost a bundle.

"Depends on the return," she admits.

Slight pause. Now we move to round three.

Strike two! Dunaway models yet another fashion fail.

"Sort of an American head-hunter," Crown muses.

"You could put it that way," Vickie replies.

"Who's head are you after?" Thomas asks.

Moving in for the kill, Vickie announces, "Yours!"

Once Vickie declares to Thomas that he's her prime suspect and that she believes he's guilty, our feature presentation kicks into high gear. Thomas is put on alert that the law is on to him, but he's also intrigued on a personal level. Ugly clothes aside, Dunaway is a looker, after all. Crown wants to know what Vickie may or may not have on him--which is exactly the reaction she hoped for. Thus begins a tedious, back-and-forth battle of (t)wits, where our two stars test the audience's patience as they try and out cool each other.

"I'm stealing the movie." "No, I'm stealing the movie." Vickie and Thomas eye each other suspiciously.

"What a funny, dirty little mind," says he.

"It's a funny, dirty little job. So shoot me in the leg," says she.

See what I mean?

With the game now a-foot, Vickie tries to bug Thomas' house by sending over a troop of bogus wall-to-wall carpet fitters. Crown thwarts this plan because NO historic Back Bay mansion would EVER lower itself to having wall-to-wall carpet installed. Undaunted, Vickie then puts Thomas in the same room at the police station with Jack Warden--but Warden doesn't recognize Crown because he flashed lights in his face and distorted his voice during their pre-robbery job interview. Later on, Vickie sicks the IRS on Crown--and tells him all about it! Finally, the flick's most famous sequence arrives: a game of chess between the principals that doubles very unsubtly as foreplay (and was clearly ripped off from "Tom Jones"). While you roll your eyes at Dunaway and McQueen's smug cleverness, the actors smile coyly, touch themselves, suck their fingers, stroke their arms, bite their lips and just stop short of licking their chess pieces. Then McQueen suddenly grabs Dunaway and kisses the hell out of her.

Uh, check mate?

A bird's eye view of Vickie and Thomas' symbolic chess match. What would Bobby Fisher say?

The fact that Vickie and Crown are now sleeping together makes poor Eddie's blood boil. "I'm running a sex orgy for two freaks!" he sputters. Dunaway sees things differently, of course. "OK, I'm immoral," she admits. "So is the world." Later she looks up from underneath a hideous floppy hat and cautions Eddie, "I know what I am. Don't put your labels on me."

Naturally Vickie thinks she can bed Thomas and bust him at the same time. Eddie isn't so sure. At lunch one day, he gleefully shows her photos of Crown squiring another gal on the town. "That's the third time this week," Eddie crows. "You're being had Vickie-girl." Sure enough, totally liberated Vickie becomes visibly jealous--perhaps she's not as in control of the situation as she thought she was? Could it even be possible that she's fallen for the guy?

Meanwhile, Thomas Crown is feeling the squeeze, too. Sitting in his prize dune buggy and savoring a cigar, Crown decides to make his move before Vickie (and the law) make theirs. So he organizes another heist--"I did it before, I can do it again"--and tells Vickie all about it. Crown leaves it up to his cuddlemate to either rat him out or join him. True to form, Dunaway hopes to do a little of both. What she doesn't count on is Thomas assuming that's just what she'd do. So at the last possible moment, McQueen pulls a fast one: just as Vickie and the feds surround his car as it drives up to the pre-arranged drop-off site, they find a Crown employee in the driver's seat instead of the man himself. The flummoxed employee hands Vickie a telegram which reads, "Left early. Take the money and join me later or you keep the car. Love Tommy."

Heartbroken and realizing she's been played for a sucker, Vickie tears up the message and bursts into tears. As she throws the scraps of paper into the air, Thomas is jetting off to some exotic location where he can avoid extradition.Vickie may have the money, but she's lost her man--or perhaps she never had Mr. Crown at all?

Admittedly, certain movie fans may have fond memories of the oh-so-with-it "The Thomas Crown Affair"--just as I have fond memories of high school...if you discount my bad hair, low self-esteem, social anxiety, poor fashion sense, inability to tan, small breasts, stumbling awkwardness in gym and total lack of dates, of course. Other than that, it was swell. Same with "The Thomas Crown Affair": if you take away all of the in-your-face-we're-so-cool stuff, you have a good movie...except you don't. Take away all the chichi stuff and you have no movie. Period.

Strike three and you're out! Another ugly frock courtesy of Theodora van Runkle.

It's no mean feat to be miscast and still be the best part of a movie, yet somehow Steve McQueen pulls it off. Although director Norman Jewison reportedly told Steve to "act like Cary Grant!" during the filming, he's too rough around the edges to be truly suave. However, McQueen is so charismatic that you're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. (I like Steve a lot or, rather, I like Steve the movie star. The real Steve McQueen was a nasty piece of work.)

Now we come to poor Ms. Dunaway. It's hard to say which is worse: her clothes or her character. In Faye's defense, the script is clearly stacked in McQueen's favor from the get-go. Vickie hasn't even appeared on screen yet and another character warns Eddie Malone, "You won't like her." True, Vickie is an unabashed ruler breaker and is in it for a big pay day, but how is that worse than Mr. Crown, who stole money that didn't belong to him?

Furthermore, "The Thomas Crown Affair" presents Tommy's little caper as a protest against "the System"--an interesting idea, since one could easily conclude that "the System" has worked very well for an old money type like Crown. Does this mean he feels trapped? Stifled? Bored with keeping up appearance? The movie never explores this theme in any depth, yet it clearly approves of (or is at least is highly amused by) Thomas' actions.

Not so with Vickie. She rebels against "the System", too, but unlike Crown, she's scolded for it. Plus she has to wear ugly, ugly clothes.

In the end, everybody in "The Thomas Crown Affair" gets what they were after: Tommy pulls off his robberies, escapes the law and gets to live happily ever after abroad somewhere; Vickie gets her money; and Eddie Malone will have plenty of opportunities to scold Vickie, Jeb Bush-style, about how her loose morals and unlady-like behavior allowed a major criminal to get away Scot-free.

Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown: A rebel with a cause...namely, himself.

The ticket buying public, on the other hand, were the ones who got screwed.

Until next time, please keep your money in a safe place, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Escape 2000" Shows You How To "Leave The Bronx" From Italy

All the fire power in the world can't force citizens to "Leave The Bronx"--or watch the movie!

Howdy, movie lovers.

Sorry for the long lag time between articles. So let's get right to work, OK?

Some call New York "The Big Apple" or "The City That Never Sleeps". Sane people call New York a mess.

New York is loud, crowded and dirty. Space is tight, traffic is clogged and parking is non-existent. The people are rude. Everything is over-priced. There are alligators in the sewers, bed bugs in the mattresses, cockroaches on the floors and rats everywhere.

In the summer New York is hot, sticky and smelly. In the winter New York is freezing, windy and smelly.

However, New York has a very active theater community and the musical "Cats" is probably still running!

"Who you callin' Trash?": Mark Gregory in the role that made him shameless.

You'd think if people had the chance to leave New York--or one of its outlying areas, like, perhaps, the Bronx--they's jump at it.

Not according to "Escape 2000" aka "Leave the Bronx", a cascading cheese fountain from Italy circa 1983, where hardcore citizens wage war against an evil corporation that wants to clear out the Bronx BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY in order to build "the city of the future."

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari and starring a would-be action hero named "Trash" (NEVER trust a movie hero named Trash), "Leave the Bronx" also features a down-on-his-luck Henry Silva as the nutsy prison warden Floyd Wangler and the irrepressible Antonio Sabato as Toblerone--more about them later.

The plot goes like this: the super evil, money-grubbing General Construction Corporation (GC for short) wants to build "the city of the future" on what is currently the Bronx. To do this, the GC people have been offering Bronx residents financial compensation, new homes and "and a higher standard of living" in New Mexico. Quite a few folks have pulled up stakes and left, but others stubbornly refuse to budge. To convince the hold-outs to leave, the GC Corporation has engaged "Dis-Infestation Squads" to round up and kill citizens via flame throwers, bombs and showers of bullets.

Violent, sure, but effective.

The head of these Dis-infestation Squads is the previously mentioned Floyd Wangler, a dedicated sadist who refers to the hapless Bronx residents as "rats" and screams all of his commands at the top of his lungs.

"I love my job!" Smiling sadist Floyd Wangler (Henry Silva) uses his own form of persuasion to get people to leave the Bronx.

"Move your butts!" goes one typical Floyd exchange.

"No sugar!" he hollers after being given his cup of morning joe. "Sugar makes me crazy!"

Meanwhile, two very different men are defying the GC Corporation: Toblerone, who dresses like a pirate and laughs hysterically at everything he says ("Look who's talking! Superman! Ha, ha, ha, ha!") and Trash (Mark Gregory), a chap who looks like the unholy result of a three-way between Valerie Bertinelli, Gino Vannelli and Kenny G.

While Toblerone lives underground with an army of followers who dress like extras from "Solid Gold", Trash resides above ground with his bickering parents. Trash also runs ammo for Toblerone, which has made him a target for the GC baddies. Unlike Toblerone, Trash is a man of few words. Literally. He barely utters a peep through out the whole flick and he's the movie's "break out" star!

Then one day the GC Dis-Infestation Squads barge into Trash's family apartment. Not only do the DS-ers fry Trash's parents to a crisp with their flame throwers, they also rig the building with explosives. Earlier Trash had refused to join Toblerone's gang; however, after the murder of his parents and the demolition of his flat (which Trash survives without a scratch), our hero changes his mind.

When we next see the Dis-infestation Squads, they are solemnly marching a rag-tag band of homeless people off to...somewhere. Little do these creeps know, Toblerone's gang is preparing an ambush. That ambush includes Trash, who is hiding under a blanket. When a Dis-Infestater(?) pulls the blankie off, Trash shoots him in the face. That's the signal to unleash hell. Or, rather, that's the signal to unleash a slo-mo hell, as if the Bronx existed in zero gravity. That's the only way to explain why the blood squirts like molasses in January and people crumple to the ground v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y during the ensuing fight.

The General Construction Corporation's Dis-Infestation Squad's outfits are fitted with a breathable cotton panel.

Watching this horrific sight (from a safe distance) is plucky "reporter girl" Moon Grey (Valeria D'Obici). Born and raised in the Bronx, Moon has been dedicated to exposing the GC's evil deeds. She (along with her photographer friend Jay) even crash a GC press conference to declare, "The GC Corporation sucks!"

At Moon's urging, she and Jay plan to release pictures of the Dis-Infestation Squads in action. "OK," Jay says. "But remember: if they catch us, we've had it."

Truer words were never spoken. After snapping a series of incriminating photos, Jay turns around to find a DS goon right behind him, his flame thrower poised and ready. Although Moon manages to escape, shutterbug Jay is toast. Burnt toast. Seriously burnt toast.

Lucky for Ms. Grey, Trash finds her hiding and takes her down to Toblerone's lair. While the pirate king's followers scurry around reinforcing the barricades, Moon tries to convince Toblerone that his flashy troops are no match for the DS' fire power. Instead, she urges him to kidnap the GC Corporation head, known as President Clark (Ennio Girolami), and negotiate a cease-fire.

"I like it! Ha, ha,ha,ha!" Toblerone exclaims.

In order to nab President Clark, however, Toblerone and Trash will need some help. This comes in the form of Strike (Timothy Brent), a volatile demolition expert and master criminal who successfully cleared out "the First National Bank." Since the GC "Leave the Bronx" crack-down, Strike has been living under the sewers of NY with his young son, Strike Jr. This tyke, who dresses like Che Guevara, helps dad with all his robbery and explosive work.

Strike and Trash form "a team of rivals" to save the Bronx.

With this crack team in place, our rebels journey out into the open to kidnap President Clark, who is conveniently appearing at a ground breaking ceremony for "the new children's hospital"--a pr stunt meant to distract folks from the DS carnage. Despite a heavy police presence, Strike easily nabs President Clark after Moon creates a distracting scene that, sadly, gets her killed.

What follows next is a tedious slog through the sewers of New York, with Strike and Trash jabbing Clark in the hinder with their rifles and ordering him to stop complaining and to get a move on. Meanwhile, the DS are hampered in their rescue attempts by Strike, Jr.'s cleverly placed bombs. Without fail, the DS goons constantly trip wires which cause their silver jump suited bodies to either fly through the air or burst into flames. After that gets old, Strike, Jr. then picks off  assorted DS-ers like fish in a barrel with his handy gun. From the smug smile of satisfaction on his face, it's clear dad has trained junior well.

Judging from their extremely high body count, one could conclude that the Dis-Infestation Squads need better training to be a really effective tactical unit. However, other issues may be at the root of their inept performance. See, in a shocking plot twist NOBODY SAW COMING, President Clark's second in command (Paolo Malco) is found to be in cahoots with (gasp!) Floyd Wangler. They don't want President Clark rescued--and if Toblerone's flashy followers don't dispense with Mr. Clark, they will.

Finally our conquering heroes return to Toblerone. Sizing up their captive, Toblerone declares in his own inimitable way, "He's got two arms! He's got two legs! He's just like us! Ha, ha, ha, ha!" However, the laughter stops when Floyd Wangler and the DS burst in. Spraying tear gas and bullets in equal measure, they cause a hysterical stampede that allows President Clark to escape...right into the arms of Mr. Wangler.

"Boy, am I glad to see you!" President Clark exclaims.

"So am I Mr. President," Floyd grins before sending the embattled GC Corporation head to meet his maker.

A rare shot of Toblerone (Antonio Sabato) not laughing.

While all of this is going on, the battle for the Bronx is raging in the streets. Toblerone's forces and the DS are shooting, punching, stabbing and basically offing each other in a frenzy not seen since the Army of the Dead attacked the Wildlings at the end of season 5 of "Game of Thrones". Also joining in on the fun is Floyd Wangler, driving his white van at warp speed and mowing people down left and right. He takes the occasional pot shot out his window, too. However, when he crashes his van and gets out into the open, Floyd comes face to face with avenging hero Trash. Naturally, it doesn't take long for Trash to send Wangler bye-bye for good.

Then, as quickly as it began, the battle for the Bronx is over. The Dis-Infestation Squads have beat a hasty retreat. An eerie silence descends. The bodies of the dead and wounded litter the streets. Crashed cars smolder in heaps. Smoke wafts from burning tires and bombed-out buildings. Emerging from the rubble is Trash, shaken, but alive. The expression on his face seems to ask, "Will all this humidity frizz out my hair?" Before that can be answered, Strike and his son appear. Surveying the damage, they conclude their work is done and prepare to head for in the sewers.

"Hey, Trash!" Strike, Jr. happily calls out. "Come with us!"

But no. Trash merely shakes his head and waves them goodbye. The sewers are no place for him. With his parents gone, his home gone and his bike gone, Trash understands he must make a new life for himself. Perhaps he will go somewhere far away, beyond the mean streets of the Bronx and New York in general. Some place, say, New Mexico. He's heard there's lots of housing available.

In case your wondering, the uncut version of "Leave the Bronx" boasts 174 deaths in its running time. According to the IMDb, the break down goes something like this: 110 shootings; 40 explosions; 9 deaths via flame throwers; 1 stabbing; 4 deaths called "unknown"; 6 electrocutions; 2 faces bashed in and one poor sap who meets his end with the help of a rifle butt.

Someone also dies "off screen".

Novice actor Mark Gregory runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.


Despite its "futuristic" urban setting, "Escape 2000" aka "Leave the Bronx" was no box office champ. Part of the problem might have been the flimsy script, the spotty dubbing, the crazy costumes and the obviously bogus "New York" setting. Even if the closest you've been to New York and its environs is watching "Annie Hall", you know this movie was not shot anywhere in the United States, let alone the Bronx.

Another problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the flick's "discovery" Mark Gregory. Born Marco Di Gregorio in Rome, "Mark" was a motorcycle junkie and an "expertly trained Greco-Roman school wrestler" who was working in a shoe store when he was "discovered". He had never acted before and proved to have all the charisma of a crash test dummy fitted with a fright wig. Gregory allegedly beat out 2,000 other hopefuls for the coveted role of Trash--which makes you wonder how awful those other actors must have been if Gregory was the best of the bunch.

Sadly, after brief brush with fame, Mark Gregory drifted off into well deserved obscurity. He is not known to have made any other films, under his stage name or his real one. Perhaps like his on-screen alter ego, Mark wants to leave all memories of the Bronx--and this movie--behind. Let's all respect his wishes.

Until next time, Save The Movies!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Do You Know The Way To "Pompeii"?

2014's schlock-buster "Pompeii" was a failure of epic proportions. The movie wasn't very good, either.

Greetings to you all, movie lovers.

Today I'm going to share a sure fire recipe for disaster so you, too, can create your own epic (failure) like 2014's "Pompeii" (3-D not included).

First, hack off big, meaty chunks of the movie "Gladiator", especially the parts where the main character wants to avenge the brutal slaying of his family. Chop them up into bite-size pieces and toss them in a mixing bowl.

Next, grind up an entire episode of the glitzy soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful". Place in the mixing bowl.


"I'm sexy and I know It": The Celt (Kit Harington) is ripped and ready for action.

Now you are ready to add in your hero, a totally ripped dude if possible. In the case of "Pompeii" that honor goes to Kit Harington, best known for his role in "Game of Thrones". Here he is cast as "The Celt", a slave forced to be a gladiator, who wants nothing more than to avenge the needless slaughter of his family.

Once you've got your hero, you must mix in your heroine. For our purposes, that is Lady Cassia (Emily Browning), an actress who looks like Kate Moss' kid sister. Kate Moss' kid sister who has clearly over-done the lip-fillers, to be exact.

Never mind if the hero and heroine's romance and/or personalities don't jell or if the script writers haven't bothered to develop this crucial aspect of the flick beyond a few Meaningful Stares and a couple of lip locks. Just keep stirring!

Next you should toss in the following Stock Characters to round out the cast and pad out the film: the Doomed Friend (here played by Adewale Akinnieaye-Aglaje, a fellow gladiator who needs just one more victory in the arena to earn his freedom and return to his family); the slave girl/lady-in-waiting (Jessica Lucas) who is besties with her boss; and the devious, greedy gladiator promoter (Joe Pringue) who will get his Divine Come-Uppance when the volcano towering over the city of Pompeii finally blows its stack.

Last, but not least, you must plop in your villain. That brings us to Kiefer Sutherland (son of actor Donald and ex-cuddlemate of Julia Roberts), who essays Roman Gen. Corvus in the best tradition of Snidely Whiplash and Ming the Merciless. General Corvus not only offed the Celt's entire family, but he's been lusting after Lady Cassia, too. Naturally, Corvus can't for the life of him figure out why Cassia would prefer the ultra-ripped Celt to him, completely ignoring the fact that Harington is on the mega-hit "Game of Thrones", while his show "24" is now in reruns. Conversely, Corvus makes a real pest of himself trying to A) knock off the Celt and B) force Cassia to marry him.

"I'm Back in the Saddle Again": cuddlemates Cassia and the Celt round up some romance.

Alright, once these key ingredients have been thoroughly stirred, you can set your mixture aside for a moment and let it settle for a bit.

Now please take out a much much smaller bowl and your handy cheese grater. One by one, grate these lumps of cliche's into a fine powder: hostility between the Roman bigwigs and the small town citizens of Pompeii; Lady Cassia's father trying to hustle new development plans with the sneering Gen. Corvus; the Celt revealing his true name to his fellow gladiator pals; several rigged, slo-mo battles in the gladiatorial arena where the hero defies all the known laws of physics when he leaps out of nowhere to spear some baddie; and one huge CGI volcano that rumbles, grumbles and belches out more noxious fumes than your drunk Uncle Louie on Thanksgiving.

After your cliche's have been grated into cheese dust, sprinkle half of them on top of your settled mixture.

Next find the biggest, deepest baking pan you own. Pour your mixture into the pan; smooth out the top with a spatula. Then sprinkle the rest of your cheese dust on the goo, making sure every square inch of the pan is covered.

Slide the pan into your oven. Crank up the heat as high as it can go. Inside, the soupy mixture will bubble, boil, churn and pop as all the various elements coalesce into a mushrooming mess of underdeveloped storytelling, scanty character development, dull cliches, plot points ticked off like items on a grocery list and Keifer Sutherland's epic sneering and ludicrous British accent.

"I guess trying to out run a lava flow was a bad idea!" Cassia and her Celt make a mad dash to safety.

Wait for smoke to start gushing out of your oven. Then stand back as the whole sorry CGI mess explodes like a potato in the microwave and you are done.

Don't preview for critics.

Open cold on a Friday to gather in all the box office cash you can before word-of-mouth sinks in and your MESSterpiece ends up on home video, cable and dubbed on YouTube.

For more tasty recipes for disaster, please return to this blog at regular intervals.

And remember, Save The Movies!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Introducing Glenn Beck's Ass-Kicking, Wolf-Slaying, Kung-Fu Fighting Santa Claus!

"Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!": The fur promises to fly in Glenn Beck's upcoming Christmas movie "The Immortal."

Greetings, movie lovers.

If you are a regular follower of The Wild World of Weird News, then you already know that professional talking head Glenn Beck has released a list of 15 cities "you should avoid like the plague" as we approach The End Times--an event Glenn has been avidly waiting for for years.

The city that topped this list was not Vegas (AKA "Sin City") or New York or even Amsterdam (with all that weed and deluge of hookers). No, the honor went to Portland, Oregon, home of micro-brews, tree huggers and all those delightful Made In Oregon shops.

As a native Oregonian who's forebears homesteaded in "The Beaver State" before it was even a state, I was NOT pleased to hear this.

However, my anger lessened when I learned Beck was going to make a Christmas movie that would totally revolutionize everything you thought you knew about Kris Kringle and save Christmas, too.

In other words, forget Kirk Cameron saving Christmas! Glenn Beck is going to save Christmas! Huzzah!

Glenn Beck's new Santa Claus movie promises to be an antidote to our children's unhinged materialism at Christmas time...according to Beck, anyway.

How did all this come about, you ask?

Well, it's very simple, really.

One day Glenn overheard his kids talking about how excited they were for Christmas to come. Unfortunately, the Beck children were mostly interested in the toys and stuff they anticipated getting, while completely over looking the importance of celebrating Christ's birth and the promise of salvation and all that jazz.

Glenn being Glenn, he was down-hearted about this until he got a brain wave: because kids today wrongly see Santa as merely a toy giver who upstages Jesus, it was time to end this unbalance once and for creating a NEW Santa Claus that would turn the traditional jolly old St. Nicholas pap right on its head!

 Introducing "The Immortal", a two-fisted, wolf-slaying, ass-kicking enforcer-type who works part-time as Jesus' body guard before he becomes Santa!

Only from the feverish mind of Glenn Beck-- who sees Commie art hanging in Rockefeller Center, urges people to hoard food and is discomforted by Ruebens' nudes (he even dismissed the artist as "Butt Boy")--could such a crazy idea spring. Yet, it's just so crazy it might work! Dig this:

An example of the "boar puppets" Santa uses to slaughter wolves?

When we first meet him, Santa is widower with a young son and a champion wolf hunter too boot. His success at wolf hunting comes from the fact that Santa uses LIFE SIZE BOAR PUPPETS to lull the wolves into complacency before before he slaughters them. Neat, huh?

Then one day, Santa's son--we'll call him Timmy--gets torn limb from bloody limb by the very wolves Santa hunts. Well, as you can imagine, Santa just TOTALLY looses it when he sees Timmy has bit the dust; he then pitches a MAJOR fit and cries and wets himself (you can't have a Glenn Beck program and not have crying).

After wandering around half dead, Santa meets up with these wise men. These gents are following a tip that away in a manger (no crib for a bed), the little lord Jesus lays down his sweet head. This baby is rumored to be the Messiah. What's more, some angels said if you followed a certain star, the wise men would find the tyke wrapped in swaddling clothes in the little town of Bethlehem. 

Because Santa has nothing better to do, he decides to join the wise men's posse. Sure enough, he meets the Christ Child, thinks he's cute, but isn't 100% sure he's The Man Upstairs' only begotten son.
Never the less, Santa hangs around the kid as an informal body guard for the next, oh, 30 years.

Then Jesus gives his historic Sermon on the Mount. Hearing the words "Blessed are the peace makers" SO IMPRESSES Santa that he FINALLY realizes Jesus is indeed The Chosen One, the Son of God, the spiritual head cheese we've all been waiting for. How could Santa have been so stupid?

Glenn Beck's "Immortal" (AKA Santa Claus!) performing one of his many bodyguarding chores for Jesus. So much for turning the other cheek!

Because he's appearing in a movie dreamed up by Glenn Beck, that's how!

Anyway, now that Santa has finally seen the light, the Romans up and arrest Jesus and later crucify him. Because Santa can't stop the crucifixion, he feels terrible, but he also understands that Jesus' Resurrection promises salvation and eternal life for all who believe.

That all cleared up, Santa does what any good. God-fearing, Catholic-turned-Mormon would do: he high tails it up to the North Pole, opens a toy factory, hires a bunch of elves, raises flying reindeer and, well, you know the rest. Christmas is saved! Huzzah!

This plot is so bat-shit crazy it's perfect. Only Glenn Beck could take a benevolent figure like Santa Claus and turn him into a violent, wolf-killing ninja in order to deter kids from their misguided materialism. And this anti-materialism message comes from a guy who urges people to buy gold, has his own line of designer jeans and offers "college courses" from his own on-line "university"!

Simply put, "The Immortal" promises to be a real corker and I can't wait for it to come out...if indeed it ever does.

Jolly old St. Nicholas as you've never seen him before!

You see, Beck has a strange habit of announcing grandiose projects and then forgetting all about them.

For instance, Beck was just horrified by the show "Glee", which he said was inundating America's young people with sex soaked peons about diversity, anti-bullying, LBGT rights etc, etc. So Beck proclaimed that he was going to produce his own hip 'n happenin' teen musical that would deliver the conservative, moral message that "Glee" did not.

Which is fine. But Beck didn't stop there. Instead, he went on to brag that he was in negotiations "with a rapper" and that HIS anti-"Glee" would even impress jaded liberals. Furthermore, Glenn also promised that the music on his show would be good music, not "Lee Greenwood-type music"--a nasty swipe at a gent who's biggest hit is "God Bless the USA."

However, after announcing his plans with much fanfare, Beck's anti-"Glee" has yet to air. Anywhere. Meanwhile, the very program Glenn hoped to show no longer in production.

Because of this, I am concerned that "The Immortal" may just remain a fever dream of Beck's and never see the light of day. After all, the sight of Santa inhabiting life-size boar puppets in order to slaughter wolves sounds like just the thing to inspire the Christmas spirit in all of us.

Until then, you have 127 shopping days (as of 8/19/2015) until Christmas!

They have no moral values, but they sure can sing! Glenn Beck's worst enemy is (was?) the cast of "Glee".

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Have No Fear! Radar Is Here!

Guns, gangsters, girls and...radar? The exciting poster for the "forgotten noir" flick "Radar Secret Service".

Hi Keeba and hello, movie lovers.

Have you ever wondered what the greatest discovery in the history of mankind is?

Fire, the wheel, the harness, the printing press, the microscope? Perhaps Penicillin, the Polio vaccine, the Small Pox vaccine, artificial heart valves? Maybe Novocaine, the Pill, air conditioning, the steam engine or Chap Stick?

Wrong on all counts, movie lovers.

The greatest invention in the history of inventions is radar.

Ever hear of G-Men? Well, these are R-Men! Bill Travis (John Howard) and Static (Ralph Byrd) are agents for the Radar Secret Service--and don't you forget it!

Yes, radar.

Who says?

The producers of "Radar Secret Service", that's who!

Released in 1950, produced by Robert "Stock Footage Is My Middle Name" Lippert, directed by Sam Newfield (who gave us "I Accuse My Parents", among other gems), starring no one in particular and featuring more men in suits and fedoras than you can shake a stick at, "Radar Secret Service" relentlessly hammers the theory that without radar, mankind would be lost, utterly lost.

Why, I bet you didn't know that radar can monitor criminals, find stolen goods, uncover hidden mineral deposits, locate icebergs and discover schools of fish fishermen didn't even know about!

"I'm Radioactive": Predatory female Lila shows off her spots.

Yes, radar can do all this AND more. Too bad radar couldn't make "Radar Secret Service" a better flick--but if it had, Junk Cinema wouldn't be interested!

Our story begins in Washington, DC, in the offices that house the Radar Secret Service. An elderly gentleman named Mr. Hamilton (Pierre Watkins) is the the boss of the place. His day consists of barging in and out of his office to see what the radar scanners have picked up or barking orders to his underlings. The star agents of the RSS are Bill Travis (John Howard, who looks like Gilbert Roland crossed with Cesare Romero) and Ralph Byrd as "Static". In a scene of gripping intensity, we watch Bill and Static drive aimlessly around country roads using their radar equipment to find the gun "used in the Anderson case." Sure enough, the agents uncover the shooter and the newspaper trumpets their discovery in bold headlines: "Radar Agent Locates Missing Murder Gun." The sub-head reads, "Evidence Clinches Case For Prosecution."

See how valuable radar is? Well, do you?

The action then shifts to a cafe', where blond femme fatale Lila (Adele Jergens) swishes in for lunch. Her waitress is another blond femme fatale called Marge (Myrna Dee). Marge slips Lila a note that a special shipment of uranium is headed their way. Lila, it turns out, is the moll of hood Mickey Moran (Tom Neal), who is part of the gang assembled by hood Michael (Tristam Coffin). Michael plans on ambushing that shipment and, thanks to Lila's inside info, the gang does just that.

Other members of the gang include comic relief Pill Box (Sid Melton), who fusses endlessly about his health, and Blackie. Blackie, see, is in love with waitress Marge. The smitten kittens plan to marry and "blow this town" after Blackie completes the uranium job and collects his pay. Lila, meanwhile, is snuggling with both Mickey and  Michael.

An underling to RSS boss Mr. Hamilton: "My face hurts."

As mentioned earlier, Michael's gang high-jacks the shipment or uranium. However, because of the wonders of radar, Bill and Static are on their tail. Unfortunately, while dumping the bodies of the saps driving the uranium shipment, Blackie is ditched by his partner; he's quickly punched out and arrested by our trusty RSS agents. Because there is no honor among thieves, Michael and the other hoods are happy to let Blackie rot in jail. When Marge pleads with Mickey to spring her fiance', the crumb orders the waitress to button her lip--if she values her and  her cuddlemate's life.

Determined to find that uranium shipment, the RSS agents seek out Marge for questioning. Static enjoys this part of his job because he fancies himself quite a ladies man. Luckily, savvy Marge can handle him.

Static: (leering at Marge as she hands him his menu) "I know what I want."

Marge: "If it's not on the menu, we aren't serving it."

You tell him, honey!

"Radar Secret Service" movie poster in Spanish (psst, don't tell Donald Trump).

Later, Bill runs into Marge after he's roughed up by one of Michael's goons. He promises to help Blackie if Marge will cooperate with the RSS. "I'll think about it," Marge tersely replies.

By about now, "Radar Secret Service" begins to resemble the John Huston movie "The Asphalt Jungle", the classic crime drama where a bunch of hoods easily pull off a robbery only to start turning on each other...except "Radar Secret Service" isn't very good. Michael's thugs do try to cut each other out of the expected big pay off. Lila continues to play Mickey and Michael off each other. This really gets Mickey's goat. "I want you to comb lover boy out of your hair with a fine tooth comb!" he snarls to his lady love. Blackie continues (unseen) to cool his heels in jail. And Marge continues to keep her own counsel.

Aware that things are dragging a bit, "Radar Secret Service" tries to jump start the flick with a chase scene. Unfortunately, "Radar Secret Service" features what must be the slowest, goofiest, least involving "race against time" EVER. Even though our RSS agents are tracking "a speeding car" carrying uranium and they are flying in a helicopter, the scene is as pokier than grandma at the mall. The audience is treated to endless back-and-forth shots of the hoods driving their car, of the RSS agents following above in their helicopter, another shot of the hoods driving, then another shot of the RSS agents flying their chopper until you want to scream, "I get it! The RSS agents are tailing the hoods! Would you please cut to something else?! Or at least blow up a car?! I don't have all day!"

 Later, Mickey (who has been shot) will surprise Michael and Lila at their love nest. That leads to a double cross/shoot out where poor Mickey (who was bleeding to death) bleeds even more to death. Then, just as fun couple Michael and Lila were about to split, Marge barges in packing heat. The plucky waitress backs her prey into a corner...and marches over to the phone to call the cops. She foolishly turns her back for one second, which allows Michael just enough time to clip her with his pistol.

But wait, there's more! Mere seconds after poor Marge takes her slug, RSS agents burst in, arrest everybody and call for an ambulance. Whew!

"Shhh, I think my boyfriend is beginning to suspect that I have a boyfriend": Mickey catches Michael and Lila in the act.

"Radar Secret Service"ends with Bill and Static lounging in Mr. Hamilton's office. While their boss puffs on a cigar, the RSS agents congratulate each other on a job well done. "But remember, it wouldn't have happened without radar!" Bill exclaims.

So true, so true. Without radar, NONE of this would have happened. The uranium wouldn't have been found. Michael and Lila wouldn't have been caught. This movie wouldn't have been made. Radar is the MAN. Bow down before radar! Worship radar! Name your first born after radar! All hail radar! Huzzah!

I kid, but "Radar Secret Service" really does seem to think that radar is the wonder of wonders. I even suspect the producers hoped "Radar Secret Service" might lead to a series about films detailing the exploits of RSS agents. No soap, as Philip Marlowe would say.

Of course, Junk Cinema is a magnet for unconventional story ideas. After all, who can forget the movie "Dreamer", about a guy who yearns to join the pro bowlers tour? Or "The Little Covered Wagon", a western boasting an all-chimp cast? Or "The Cobweb", a drama set in a mental hospital where all hell breaks loose when the patients want to choose the hospital's new drapes? Honest! These are real movies! So it's easy to see why the producer's hope that "Radar Secret Service" would electrify the country wasn't that far-fetched...for them.

Official hat of the band Radar Secret Service...yes, they're a real group!

So movie lovers, the next time you are at home, snug as bug in a rug, enjoying all the benefits of living in a democracy, take a moment to thank radar, which made every good thing in your life possible.

Good night, God bless and Save The Movies!