Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cabot! Cabot! Cabot! All Hail Cabot In "The Outlaw Of Gor"...Featuring Jack Palance


Jack Palance as the shifty "high priest" Xenos, modeling one of his nifty costumes in "The Outlaw of Gor".

Hey movie lovers! Have you heard the news? Cabot has returned to Koruba! Aren't you psyched?

Who is Cabot you ask?

Poncy Philistine! 

Cabot is Professor Tarl Cabot (Urbano Barberini), a guy with extremely '80's hair, who is the savior of the mythical kingdom of Koruba in the parallel world of Gor in the partially dubbed, filmed in South Africa, straight to video turkey trot called "The Outlaw of Gor" or "The Outlaw" or "Gor ll" (1989).

Admittedly, you have to wade very, very deep into the backwash of Junk Cinema to wrangle a golden gobbler like this, but it's worth it. That's because "The Outlaw of Gor" is a deluxe cheese combo platter piled high with frizzed-out '80's hair, laughable F/X, men in short skirts, a brave midget that looks like Edgar Winter and, best of all, Jack Palance as the shifty priest Xenos, parading around in a series of outre' caftans and goofy hats. 

Cabot! Cabot! Cabot! It's Cabot! ( Actually, it's Urbano Barberini).

"The Outlaw of Gor" is in fact the sequel of  the movie "Gor", but you needn't worry. Director John "Bud" Cardos (Never trust a filmmaker who identifies himself like this. After all, do you think John Ford would allow himself to be called John "Bud" Ford? Or that Alfred Hitchcock would call himself Alfred "Tubby" Hitchcock? Not on your tin-type!) helpfully supplies viewers with some disjointed flashbacks to ensure we're all on the same page.

"Gor" begins in the present (well, 1989) at a disco/night club/single-mingle place called "The Pullman". Professor Tarl Cabot (Barberini) is glumly sitting at the bar watching his supremely annoying co-worker Watney Smith (Russel Savarolier) harass and molest the female patrons. Then the red mood ring Cabot wears begins to flash. Through the magic of special effects ( really just flashing lights and some stage hands shaking Cabot's car off screen) Cabot and Watney find themselves in Koruba, "a savage land" made up of sand, deserts and false front housing.

Cabot, you see, has visited this place before and is quite the local hero. That is made unflinchingly clear when Cabot enters Koruba's capital city and main shopping district and all the extras scream "Cabot! Cabot! Cabot!" at the top of their lungs. Of course, it's not just the lowly towns people who are thrilled to see their local hero; King Marlenus (Larry Taylor) is just as delighted, exclaiming, "Cabot! Cabot has returned my darling!" to his much younger (and obviously evil) wife Queen Lara (Donna Denton).

Also thrilled by the Cabot's arrival is Princess Talena (Rebecca Feratti), Marlenus' daughter and Cabot's great love. HRH looks like Jennifer Beals from "Flashdance" with enormous pouffed out hair and a wardrobe clearly pinched from "Solid Gold". Over hearing the commotion associated with Cabot's arrival, she runs to her window and shrieks, "Cabot! Cabot! Cabot, you've returned!" and rushes outside to embrace him.

Evil Queen Lara clearly believes her hubby King Marlenus is too old for such flashy head gear.

The great and the good of Koruba throw Cabot a huge welcome party and later Cabot decides to ask Marlenus for Talena's hand in marriage. Before he can do that, however, evil Queen Lara slips the king a Mickey (concocted by Xenos) and stabs him. Even worse, she says Cabot killed the king---and so-called friend Watney (promised lots of sex from Lara) provides her an alibi. So poor Cabot and his midget friend Hupp (Nigel Chipps) are forced to make a run for it. Princess Talena, meanwhile, is dragged off to prison, as is stooge Watney.

Wandering around the vast territories of Koruba, Cabot is disgusted to learn that slavery--which King Marlenus had outlawed--was making a comeback under the rule of Queen Lara. In fact, Cabot is so disgusted by the reintroduction of slavery that he rescues a scantily clad slave girl who looks quite a bit like Talena. Later that evening, the unnamed slave girl snuggles up to Cabot and pants, "Master, allow me to pleasure you."

Cabot, remember, is madly in love with Talena, so he begs off the gal's generous offer. When she looks confused, Cabot realizes that this is a "teachable moment" and thus patiently explains to the ex-slave that he's "a free man" who is in love with "a free woman" and because of that freedom he and his freely chosen cuddlemate are "free to give themselves to each other freely" (i.e. whenever they want to). What's more, Cabot informs the gal that she is a free woman, too, and is now free to give herself freely when she falls in love with the right man, provided that he is free also, but don't worry, because he, Cabot, will make sure everybody in Koruba (and the surrounding areas) are free, too.

After Cabot's speech, the newly freed slave gal still looks confused, so everybody goes to sleep.

Unfortunately, the newly freed slave girl has little time to savor her freedom. That's because Queen Lara has sent "a hunter" out to catch Cabot and his gang. Sure enough, the hunter tacks Cabot down in record time and marches everybody back to Koruba.

Queen Lara tries to get Cabot to join her on the dark side. (Note Mike and the 'bots silhouettes in the picture.)

Before tossing him in a jail cell, Queen Lara tries to entice Cabot into ruling with her and sweetens the deal by promising him oodles of sex. Cabot is no Watney, however, and he refuses to buckle under. So he's sent into the bowels of the castle to be whipped and force-fed guacamole (but no chips), dished up by Xenos himself.

Sensing that the people of Koruba don't accept her as their rightful queen, Lara decrees that Cabot, Hupp and Watney must fight to the death in the arena. Before the festivities begin, Xenos asks Lara to drink a "toast to their gods." The mean monarch has come to believe that Xenos is disloyal and thus plots to do him in. When Palance hands Queen Lara her goblet, she in turn stabs him in the gut and tosses her drink over her shoulder. That bit of business taken care of, Lara settles into her chair and orders that the games begin.

In front of a crowd of cheering extras, Cabot, Hupp and Watney must fend off several brigades of fat, scantily clad "warriors" who have clearly seen better days. Of the three, Cabot fares the best, mainly because Urbano's thinly disguised stunt double is doing all the dirty work.

Believe it or not, it is stooge Watney who stops this violent spectacle. In front of everybody, he confesses that Queen Lara killed King Marlenus--not Cabot--and that he, promised mountains of sex, agreed to help her. The citizens of Koruba, delighted to learn that Cabot is every inch the hero they believe him to be, suddenly turn on their queen. In fact, one of Lara's own guards lobs a spear into her gut, killing her instantly. Freedom has returned to Koruba! Huzzah!

Now installed as king, and married to Princess Talena, Cabot relaxes in bed, finishing a bowl of dip. Royal cuddlemate Talena asks what has happened to Watney. King Cabot assures her that the annoying little jerk has indeed been sent packing. Sure enough, there is Watney, still in his mini-toga, back on Earth, wandering around in traffic yelling, "Cabot! Cabot! C'mon Cabot! Where are you?" Later, two police officers drag Watney away--and although the sniveling little jerk is suppose to be in the USA, viewers can clearly see the South African license plates of the cars zooming past.

Cabot and friend Hupp plot their next move. Of course, they get captured anyway.

A movie as sublimely stupid as "The Outlaw of Gor" could, in retrospect, ONLY be directed by a fellow who styled himself as John "Bud" Cardos. The only other person who could do an even worse job behind camera would be "Letterman" sidekick Larry "Bud" Melman who is, alas, no longer with us.

The basic conceit of "The Outlaw of Gor" is how a needy, nerdy guy in OUR world can becomes a hunky hero in ANOTHER world (which is similar to the female dream of an ordinary gal discovering she is a secret princess or a regular girl becoming a princess). In our feature presentation, Cabot's geekiness is accomplished by having leading man Urbano wear glasses in the opening scenes. Unfortunately, since our hero is a nice looking fellow and fairly ripped in his own right, attempts to make him look geeky and gawky fall pretty flat. Pal Watney, on the other hand, is every bit as unappealing as the director intended him to be.

The big name in the cast is Jack Palance, here experiencing some serious bad luck in his career. As noted in my earlier post on "The Silver Chalice" (which has only received 8 page views!!), Jack's Xenos character is an exact replica of his Simon the Magician from 1954. Both parts required Palance to wear zany caftans, kooky hats and make those signature pauses he's so famous for. Everything but act, come to think of it. While making "Gor", you have to wonder if Jack was aware of the similarities, too--or if he was just grateful for the check and got on with it.

Which allows us to segue into other aspects of "The Outlaw of Gor" which suggest the filmmakers were not exactly thrilled with their assignment, either.

1) There is some confusion over the main character's name. In the credit list he's called "Tarl", but in the movie Watney calls him "Kevin" twice. 

No, Jack Palance doesn't wear this in "The Outlaw of Gor", but it's not any goofier than what he does wear.

2) In the film's first ten minutes, the name "Cabot!" is uttered FIFTY-FIVE!! times (courtesy of IMDb).

3) The men in this movie wear shorter skirts than the women and we are treated to many hinder and/or manly package shots. Whether this was intentional or the film makers just weren't paying attention, who can say, but thanks anyway guys.

4) "Gor" and its sequel "The Outlaw of Gor" were shot simultaneously. How the producers ever thought the world would be crying out for two "Gor" epics is beyond me. Put together, these flicks offer an embarrassment of bad movie riches--provided you have the stomach strong enough to endure them. As for me, I freely admit I need the soothing presence of Mike and the 'bots from "MST3K" to help me through this cinematic sewer. Others clearly agree, because the episode where the gang riffs on "The Outlaw of Gor" is a fan favorite.

In final analysis, Cabot and "The Outlaw of Gor" fits nicely into a genre I call "Super Zeros": men who posses big hair, big muscles but little brains; who have vaguely defined powers; and who enjoy strutting around in a G-string or a thong while furthering the cause of freedom and justice. Ator, the star of "Cave Dwellers" and Yor "The Hunter from the Future" are two other examples of this noble breed. I would also pencil in "The Paper Chase Guy" (Robert Ginty) from "Warrior of the Lost World" and The Prince of Space from "The Prince of Space", although these two remain fully clothed at all times.

Therefore, movie lovers, remember it's not the size of a man's loin cloth, but what's inside that counts, and, as always, SAVE THE MOVIES!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Junk Cinema Salutes The Hilarious Debut Of Paul Newman In "The Silver Chalice" Or "Lord, What Have I Done To Deserve This?"

Paul Newman is more life-like in "The Silver Chalice"s movie poster than he is in the actual movie.

Greetings, movie lovers.

Paul Newman was the real deal: handsome, smart, talented, faithful, progressive, persistent, creative, honest, generous. As an actor, producer, director and philanthropist, he had few equals.

But even the greatest (and best looking) among us can have humble beginnings.

And none were humbler or more hilarious than Paul's cinematic debut in 1954's "The Silver Chalice", a thick slice of biblical baloney where Paul cavorts with the likes of Jack Palance, E.G. Marshall, Lorne Greene, a young Natalie Wood and the irrepressible Virginia Mayo--who gets top billing!

Our tale begins in Antioch, where the rich but childless E. G. Marshall (in King Tut's beard) adopts a poor pal's youngest son. He renames the boy Basil, which supremely pisses off E. G.'s kid brother Linus.

While enjoying the comforts of his new home, Basil falls for teen slave Helena (Natalie Wood in an awful blond dye-job). Helena yearns to be free and to become "a great lady", so she decides to runaway. This breaks the young Basil's heart, but he still gives her money and an ugly ring as parting gifts. After vowing eternal love and sucking a bit of face, Basil and Helena bid each other a sad Au revoir.

"We'll meet again/don't know where/don't know when..." A pre-Paul Newman Basil bids his favorite slave Helena (Natalie Wood) goodbye.

Several years pass and E.G. Marshall drops dead. Still pissed off Uncle Linus then sells the grown up Basil (Paul Newman) into slavery as a silver smith. Paul being Paul, he hates being a slave and chained to a wall, but his silver pieces are the best to be found.

Out of the crowded market place swishes the adult Helena. She's come to warn Basil that his uncle plans to snuff him. Paul is astonished to see Helena--and so will you. Basil's childhood sweetie (now played by Virginia Mayo) has morphed into a later-day Zsa Zsa Gabor, flaunting blinding blond hair, outre' jewelry, chiffon gowns, bat-wing eyebrows and floorescent eye shadow. Since escaping to freedom, Helena has become the side-kick/assistant/hostess/cuddlemate of the one and only Jack Palance. He is known as Simon the Magician and he regularly dazzles the great and good with his amazing feats of prestidigitation--such as pulling bunnies out of helmets and pretending to chop off Helena's head.

Relaxing after one such show, Simon is visited by Mijamin (Joseph Wiseman). This fellow wants to hire Simon to become "the new messiah" who will convince the rubes of Jerusalem to stop following that other messiah (AKA Jesus). Then, Mijamin hopes, they will sign up for his secret army and help kick the Romans back to Rome.

Because Simon harbors a messianic complex of his own AND has long nursed a grudge against the disciple Peter (don't ask), the wily magician agrees to Mijamin's somewhat convoluted plan.

Meanwhile, Basil has another visitor: Luke the Physician (Alexander Scourby). He has come to set Basil free so he can fashion a silver chalice to hold the cup Jesus used in The Last Supper. At first Basil is skeptical of Luke's intentions, but when Uncle Linus arrives to kill him, Paul decides to follow Luke.

Adult Helena warns the adult (and very bored) Basil (guess who!) that his life (and possibly his future career) are in danger.

They travel to Jerusalem and decamp at the house of Joseph of Arimathea, an elderly chap who plans to foot the bill for Basil's services. Also present is Joseph's grand daughter Deborah (Pier Angeli), whose Audrey Hepburn-ness contrasts sharply with Helena's Zsa Zsa Gabor-ness. Deb falls for Basil right away, but the silver smith (having reunited with Helena) can't choose between these polar opposite cuddlemates.

What follows next is a lot of tedious back-and-forth with A) Basil having to decide between Deb and Helena, B) Basil trying and failing to capture Jesus' likeness, C) the Christ Cup and its silver chalice being stolen and then recovered, like, 100 times and D) the whole cast winding up in Rome where a foppish Nero holds his over-the-top court. Oh, yes, and there is another subplot about Basil/Paul finding a living witness to his adoption, which brings him into contact with the future St. Peter (Lorne Greene). However, since the movie drops this plot point like a dead weight, I wouldn't fuss over it too much.

Jack Palance, meanwhile, is enjoying his fame as "the new messiah" just a little too much and its gone to his head. In his on going quest to diss Peter, Simon proposes a fancy-pants trick where he will fly off a tower--aided by secret wires and pulleys, of course. What's more, the master showman will present this feat of daring-do in the Coliseum, in front of thousands, with Nero in attendance. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, I don't know, maybe, like, Simon going batty and believing that he is a messiah and possesses of divine powers and therefore believes he can fly on his own accord without all that secret elaborate rigging he has strung up?

While Helena and a lackey try to stop him, Simon emerges at the top of his especially constructed tower. He's wearing red long johns decorated with large, black squiggly designs that resemble sperm. To the roar of the crowd, Simon jumps off the tower intending to fly...only to go SPLAT! on the ground below.

Ewwww, gross!

"I believe I can fly!" Simon the Magician (Jack Palance) prepares to meet his doom. 

Horrified by the gory spectacle, and fearful that the citizens of Rome will begin to doubt his own divinity, a panicky Nero insists that Simon's sidekick Helena be shoved off the tower as punishment for her part in deceiving Cesar. 

Now, you might be wondering if Basil saves the day and rushes to Helena's side and saves her. Sorry, he does no such thing because Basil knows nothing about her role in Simon's ill-fated splatter-fest. See, Paul has been dragooned into being Nero's new in-house sculptor. He's stuck in a room and forced to carve Cesar's new bust. Then in strolls the head of Nero's kitchen (a secret Christian), who helps Basil to escape. This is accomplished when the crowds go berserk over Simon and Helena's double-death dive and start rioting and looting; Basil/Paul merely slips out among them and returns home to Deb, whom he finally realizes he loves. 

Alas, when Basil gets home, Deb is in tears because someone has stolen the Christ Cup and the silver chalice again, this time for good. There is nothing for these poor kids to do but declare their undying love for each other and leave Rome, which they do. The End.

As biblical epics go, "The Silver Chalice" might have sunk into well deserved obscurity under the weight of its own tedium and bad taste (especially in costumes!). However, because Paul Newman is our hero Basil and this is his cinematic debut and he would soon become the highly respected performer of stage and screen we all know and love, "The Silver Chalice" would persistently delight legions of bad movie fans for decades to come.

And make no mistake: Paul had every reason to be embarrassed about his dismal debut. For instance, the tunic he is forced to wear showcased his bony knees. The experimental sets used in the flick caused The New Yorker magazine to sneer that they resembled "an igloo community (crossed with) one of Frank Lloyd Wright's more advanced designs." The script, penned by one Lesser Samuel's (yes, that's his real name!) forced Paul to call a fellow cast member "a sniveling toady!", while a Roman solider lobs this memorable insult at some hapless jerk: "Head of mutton!"

Yet another poster for "The Silver Chalice"...which is more exciting than the flick!

Meanwhile, poor Virginia Mayo has to blather these endearments to her many male admirers as she pours them wine: "My curly headed ram", "my little vestal virgin in armor" and (my fave) "fear not, my little eaglet of Rome!"

I believe the Greeks have a word for such goofy mutterings and the word is... "Yeech!"

Paul, who called "The Silver Chalice" the "worst movie of the 1950's", wasn't spared when critics got a look at the picture. New Yorker magazine declared that Paul "deliverers his lines with the emotional fervor of a Putnam Division conductor announcing stops." The New York Times, on the other hand, dismissed the future super star as "rarely better than wooden."

Perhaps Paul's stolid demeanor in the flick is understandable in light of this info: he had just lost the role of Cal in "East of Eden" to James Dean when he was cast as Basil. Having missed out on such a great part only to have to appear in "The Silver Chalice" would be enough to make ANY talented actor sulk, at least in my opinion.

Of course, as we all know, Paul would ultimately triumph over his dismal debut and quickly establish himself as one of Hollywood's finest, classiest and most versatile talents.

"East of Eden": The movie Paul Newman wanted to star in...and who could blame him!

Such would not be the case for Newman's higher billed co-star Jack Palance. Although he, too, would eventually win an Oscar (for "City Slickers"), Jack would toil for many years in such turkeys as "Che!" (as Castro, no less), "Angels Revenge" (a "Charlie's Angel's" rip-off featuring Alan "Skipper" Hale and a barely coherent Peter Lawford) and 1989's "The Outlaw of Gor", a straight-to-video dubbed Italian cheapie that was lovingly lampooned on "MST3K".

In fact, Jack's role in "The Outlaw of Gor" was eerily reminiscent of his part in "The Silver Chalice": he's again cast as a shifty magician (this time called "Xenos") who parades around in some outlandish costumes and goofy hats--one of which resembles a loaf of buttered split-top bread.

In conclusion, as bad as "The Silver Chalice" was, quite a few cast members did manage to rise above it's biblical bunk and do well for themselves. Besides Newman and Palance, E.G. Marshall would appear on "The Bold Ones", Lorne Greene could look forward to a long run on "Bonanza", Natalie Wood (the young Helena) would star in such films as "West Side Story" and "Splendor in the Grass" (to name two) and Alexander Scourby (Luke) would be the first actor to record the whole Bible on tape.

Which just goes to prove that the Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Until next time, keep your toga clean and pressed and help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Gideon Drew Loses His Head In "The Thing That Couldn't Die".

"The Thing That Couldn't Die"...except at the box office! 

Happy summer, movie lovers!

Summer, you know, has become the film industry's biggest season, where the studios unleash their "blockbusters" in hope vacationers and kids on summer break will drop lots of coin on movies that feature explosions, car crashes, huge rouge critters, aliens, massive fire balls, tidal waves and even the occasional plot point and realistic conversation.

Lots of "blockbusters", of course, are about "super heroes" who posses "super powers". Which begs the question: What kind of super powers would you like have? Which begs another question: is having super powers--or even "special powers"--really all it's cracked up to be?

We explore this issue in today's feature "The Thing That Couldn't Die" (1958), where a Cindy Brady-ish young woman named Jessica (Carolyn Kearney) can "find things", yet it's clear her "psychic abilities" are more a pain than a pleasure--unlike the movie, which is just a pain (rim shot).

The flick opens with Jessica using a divining rod to locate a spring for her annoyingly shrill Aunt Flavia (Peggy Converse). This is about the time that I should explain that Jessica's diving abilities are a bit haphazard. See, she can't locate something unless it's of her own free will and there is no monetary gain in it for her or anybody else. This kinda puts a crimp in Jessica's "psychic powers", but it does ensure that her talents will be used for good and not evil. Or so she thinks.

While Jessica tries to find her aunt's spring, up cantors guests Gordon Hawthorne (William Reynolds), an anthropology/history professor, Hank (Jeffery Stone), a beatnik painter, and Linda (Andra Martin), Hank's cuddlemate and muse (who looks like a cross between Liz Taylor and Suzanne Phesette).

Psychic farm girl Jessica (Caroline Kearney) in action.

Gordon is a rather tepid fellow who dresses in business casual even when he's on vacation. He's been a guest on Flavia's ranch for many years and has obviously developed an fixation on the perky new breasts Jessica has spouted. However, the egg-head prof is a skeptic about Jessica's "psychic" abilities--even after she tells him where Linda's missing watch can be found (in a trade rat's nest under an old oak tree). It's in that same nest that Gordon finds an old fleur-de-lis amulet. He polishes it up and gives it to Jessica, which allows him another chance to peek down her blouse.

Of much more consequence than Linda's watch is the treasure chest Jessica's diving rod leads her to. Originally Jessica thought she had found Aunt Flavia's spring when her rod magically pointed straight down--and, no, I am NOT going to indulge in any childish jokes comparing Jessica's diving stick to a certain sensitive part of the male anatomy that is known to point upward if aroused and hang limp as a noodle if, you know, it's not working properly. Let's all try and be mature, OK?

Ranch hands Boyd (who is sneaky and mean) and Mike (who is simple and slow, but very strong), dig up the chest, despite Jessica's hysterical pleas that it's "evil". Aunt Flavia is about to crack it open when Gordon stops her. The chest comes with an inscription "in old English" that warns opening it will cause grave harm to "your immortal soul." Besides, the chest, in its natural state, could be worth "thousands". Aunt Flavia, always on the look out to make a fast buck, agrees to leave the chest as-is and locks it up in her sewing room for safe keeping. Gordon then scampers off to fetch an antiquities professor who lives near by.

Jessica refuses to stay under the same roof as the "evil chest", so she bunks with Linda for the night. Linda and Hank, meanwhile, head off to the local square dance. With Aunt Flavia asleep, Boyd leaves Mike to guard the sewing room so he can go peep on Jessica. This proves to be a futile quest, as Jessica is covered in enough frilly under things to douse the fire of the most patient pervert.

Gordon admires the view as he gives Jessica a magical amulet.

Later that evening, Boyd steals Flavia's key to the sewing room and convinces Mike to break the chest open. This Mike does, only to find not gold or treasure, but the disembodied head of one Gideon Drew (Robin Hughes), which is still alive!

Who is Gideon Drew? He was a nasty piece of work who worshipped Satan. When the English explorers Gideon worked with discovered his evil ways, they decreed that his head should be chopped off and placed in a chest--the very chest Jessica uncovered. Drew's body, on the other hand, was placed in a coffin and buried "far away". This arrangement would supposedly ensure that the baddie would never "die" and thus suffer for all eternity--as will anyone who watches the movie (rim shot!).

Oh, and that fleur-de-lis amulet Gordon gave Jessica? It's the only thing that can kill Gideon AND protect people from his "evil eye". See, if you look into Drew's peepers, you become "his slave" and will do his bidding and your personality will change and you will become bad, too.

How do I know all of this? Because I watched the movie! And this is what transpired:

First, Mike opens the chest and sees Gideon's disembodied noggin, which appears covered in paper mache'. The simple fellow looks into Drew's evil eyes and becomes his slave.

The nasty noggin of Gideon Drew claims its first victims: bad Boyd and the bewitched Mike.

Then Boyd shows up. He berates Mike for opening up the chest and Mike promptly kills him (on Drew's orders). Cradling Drew in the crook of his arm, Mike pulls Boyd's body along as they disappear into the darkness.

At the same time, Aunt Flavia hears Mike kill Boyd and screams like a dental drill until Jessica comes running to save her.

Seconds later, Gordon and the antiquities professor (a rather tweedy fellow named Dr. Ash) arrive at the ranch. Aunt Flavia calls the police. While Gordon and Dr. Ash fuss with the chest, Jessica dips her diving rod into Boyd's blood and goes off in search of his body. Out diving in her frilly nightie, Jessica suddenly stops, faints and has one of those weird flashbacks where we see Gideon Drew beheaded and condemned to his headless "living death".

Snapping out of her fainting spell, Jessica find's Boyd's body and shrieks like a car alarm. She then runs pell-mell back to the house, her nightie trailing behind her.

Skulking around the ranch is poor slave Mike and Gideon's head. Watching the action from a safe distance, dastardly Drew realizes that Jessica can find the coffin holding his body. However, as long as she's wearing that amulet, Jessica will never fall under the spell of his evil eyes. So the crafty cranium begins figuring out how to separate Jessica from her jewelry.

Heads up! It's Gideon Drew and his evil eyes.

Simpleton Mike having served his purpose, Gideon next sets his sights on Linda. After bewitching the model, Gideon's head orders her to snatch Jessica's amulet. This proves hard to do, as Gordon had told Jessica the necklace would protect her and that she should never take it off. Totally over the moon about Gordon, Jessica complies. Even when Linda offers Jessica one of her fancy frocks in return for the necklace, Jessica makes pouting faces and refuses to relinquish it. However, when Gordon asks Jessica for the necklace (so he can make a cast of it), she willingly hands it over. As every horror fan knows, this is a big mistake.

Now unprotected from Gideon's evil eyes, the nasty noggin is ready to bewitch Jessica. Under the guise of giving her a fancy hat, Jessica opens Linda's hat box and comes peeper to peeper with Gideon. Now under his spell, the normally prim Jessica puts on a low cut black dress and agrees to find Gideon's body.

Of course, Jessica's dress sense isn't the only thing that has changed. She's become more assertive and sexually aggressive--especially towards the tepid Gordon. While taking a break from digging up Drew's coffin, Jessica plants a big, open-mouthed kiss on the befuddled professor. After Gordon comes up for air, Jessica then pushes him away and barks, "Now, get back to work!" Totally confused, Gordon does as he's told.

Ready for a super scary reveal? Then watch Vera Miles finding Mother's corpse in "Psycho". "The Thing That Couldn't Die" has an all together nuttier climax.

OK, the coffin is found and duly dug up. Our happy campers then cart it back to Flavia's front room. Gordon and Professor Ash fiddle with the coffin's hinges when Gasp! Shock! Horror! the headless body of Gideon Drew pushes his way out of the casket. While Aunt Flavia screams, Gordon and the rest of the cast react in horror as Jessica places Gideon's head on his severed neck stump. Presto! Gideon Drew is back in one piece and ready to rumble!

"Let me help you on with that..." The bewitched Jessica reunites Gideon's head with his body.

As all baddies do, the first thing Gideon wants is to drink human blood. Like a satanic Goldilocks, Drew judge's Linda's blood to be "too cold" and Aunt Flavis's to be "too dry" and Hank's blood to be "tainted" by "the vile" hooch he drinks. If you think Gideon will find Jessica's blood "just right", well, think again! Satan's minion actually prefers GORDON'S BLOOD! In fact, Drew is about to move in for the kill when his intended victim flashes Jessica's amulet in his face.

Cowering in horror, Gideon is eventually pushed back into his coffin; Gordon tosses the necklace in for good measure. When the gang reopens the casket seconds later, they find that the evil Gideon Drew is now nothing more than a collection of dry, dusty bones. The thing that couldn't die is now finally dead--and for good, too.

With Gideon now a skeleton, Linda and Jessica are freed from his evil spell. Linda embraces Hank; Jessica embraces Gordon. All is forgiven. Don't you love a happy ending?

Well, that's that. I've worked hard to end this post, but I can't come up with a suitable conclusion. To be fair, I just finished teaching elementary summer school and I may need to recharge before I can come up with a bang-up finish worthy of the goofily obscure flick. Therefore, enjoy what I have written, seek out the flick and check in later to see if inspiration strikes and I can end this post properly. Also, SAVE THE MOVIES!

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"!