June 8, 2017 at 2:38 pm #17554June 8, 2017 at 2:39 pm #17555
“PLAYERS” (1979) dir – Anthony Harvey
rated: not bad.
After the success of “The Longest Yard” and “Rocky” , in the seventies, almost every sport got a Hollywood movie made about it. Basketball – “Fastbreak” and “One on one” and “The Fish that saved Pittsburgh”, hockey – “Slap Shot”, marathon running – “Running”, bowling – “Dreamer” , pinball – “Tilt”, skateboarding – “Skateboard”. Well Anthony Harvey’s “Players” is the Hollywood tennis movie. It’s the story of a tennis bum/hustler Chris ( Dean Paul Martin) who meets the lonely wife (Ali MacGraw) of a tycoon Maxamillon Schell , who inspires him ( sort of) to become a real tennis pro ( though why she’s lonely isn’t clear since her tycoon husband seems devoted to her). Harvey’s film was ridiculed by crittics and dismissed by audiences when it came out back in 1979. But as a Hollywood tennis sports movie it’s pretty good. The movie starts with a terrific sequence of two players waiting for three minutes in the waiting room where players cool their heels before a match at Wimbledon. It’s a great opening scene for a sports movie. And Arnold Schulman’s script has a neat idea of structuring the whole film around Chris’ championship match at Wimbledon. We watch the different sets of the match as real life tennis pros of the era (Conners & McEnroe) sit in the stands and watch. In between the sets, we watch flashbacks that tell us how Chris got there. Dean Martin’s son Dean Paul Martin, in his only feature film lead, is pretty good as the tennis bum turned tennis star. His tennis is terrific, and while I didn’t necessarily hafta’ see him in anything else, as a tennis pro he’s pretty fucking convincing ( he looks far more like a Van Patten then a Martin). The glitzy ritzy Jett setting love story between him and MacGraw isn’t very believable, and by the end doesn’t make much sense. In fact the whole third act of the love story seems left on the cutting room floor, with the film makers hopeful audiences wouldn’t notice. Yet even while the love story collapses by the end, in it’s own “Greek Tycoon”-like soap opera opulence, it’s still kind of fun. But the films best moments are Dean Paul Martin training with his coach real life tennis giant Poncho Gonzales ( playing himself), including a must in a sports movie, a great training montage.
SPECIAL NOTE: Dean Paul Martin ( who is now deceased) back when he was fifteen was a pop star as one member of the 60’s teeny bopper trio “Dino, Desi & Billy”, who’s most memorable hit was the catchy “I’m a fool”.June 8, 2017 at 2:39 pm #17556
“SHOWDOWN” (1973) dir – George Seaton
George Seaton’s last film falls into that category of 70’s westerns that acted as a dated counterpoint to the rough violent anti-westerns of its era (“Cheyenne Social Club”, “Chisum” , “Cahill:U.S.Marshall”, “The Good Guys & The Bad Guys”, and “Rio Lobo”). As well as that interesting list of last films during the 70’s of once popular directors of earlier eras ( Hawk’s Rio Lobo, Wyler’s L.B. Jones, Jerry Lewis’ Which Way To the Front, George Stevens The Only Game In Town). However when it comes to that cluster of films, “Showdown” is a very likable entry. The story of this western is nothing new. Two former friends, Rock Hudson & Dean Martin, are pitted against each other when Martin robs a train, unaware that his old buddy Hudson has been elected sheriff. Since it’s Seaton’s follow up to his massive hit “Airport”, and his penchant for over ambitious projects ( “The Hook” , The Confederate Traitor” , “What’s so bad about feeling good”), the slightness of the whole project is surprising. But along with the pairing of Hudson & Martin, who share the screen for the first time, it’s the films low key modesty that ends up being one of its most charming features. In my opinion of all the fifties he man leading men that were still starring in movies in the seventies (Kirk Douglass, Burt Lancaster, Glen Ford, Yul Brenner, Robert Mitchum) Rock Hudson was hands down the hippest (Tony Curtis with his paisley scarfs and new flamboyant attitude was second). Check out Hudson in Vadim’s “Pretty Maids All in a Row”, Karelson’s “Hornets Nest”. And while “Showdown” is defiantly anti hip, Hudson is touchingly solid in his role. Once Rock moved to TV to do “McMillin & Wife” he turned bland. But before that, in all of his 70’s movies, Maids, Nest, Darling Lilli, Embryo, and the mini series Wheels ( which paired him with Fred The Hammer Williamson) he’s terrific. Dean Martin, on the other hand, by the time of “Showdown” had become a joke. After watching a drunk Dean stumble through the Matt Helm movies or leering at The Golddiggers on his tv show, you really couldn’t take him serious anymore. Making his performances, especially in westerns of that era, “5 Card Stud”, “Rough Night in Jericho” , “Bandelero”, and “Something Big”, slightly ridiculous. However even though his performance is his usual light comic touch, Martin blends in better here then he does in those other westerns. Possibly because he’s too old for his role, there’s a touch of pathos in watching him try to do what he use to ten years earlier. But also there’s genuine sweetness in the chemistry between Hudson & Martin. And while it’s a light western, it’s not necessarily a comedy. Yet Seaton has always had a talent for injecting high comedy into his movies. And in “Showdown” a comedy scene smack dab in the middle between Martin & Hudson & a better then usual Susan Clark brings the whole film up to another level. And the way you feel about Hudson & Martin at the end might even rise it a touch higher then that. My review might be a touch generous. Yet Seaton’, Hudson, Martin and the whole film “Showdown” possess a sweetness that inspires generosity.June 8, 2017 at 2:41 pm #17557
ULZANA’S RAID (1972) dir – Robert Aldrich
“Ulzana’s Raid” is hands down Aldrich’s best films of the seventies, as well as being one of the greatest westerns of the seventies. One of the things that makes the movie so remarkable is it isn’t just a western; it combines the two genres that Aldrich was most known for, westerns and war films. Many movies have been made about the conflict between the Apaches and the American Calvary. But only Aldrich’s film dealt with the Apache wars as a genuine military conflict. Or more to the point, a war film about a giant nationalistic military machine battling a guerrilla army it can’t comprehend. At this point in time Aldrich seemed obsessed with Vietnam. Overtones of it show up in “The Dirty Dozen”, everything about “Too Late The Hero” seems designed to invoke it. , and “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” seemed to be made so Aldrich could voice his opinion about it .
But before Hollywood finally turned it’s camera towards it in the late seventies (“Boys in Company C” & “Go Tell the Spartans”), Vietnam allegories were the only avenue of expression. Now in a world where hundreds of Vietnam movies exists (Philippine filmmaker Ciro H. Santiago has made over ten. Not to mention all the Italian Rambo rip offs that clogged the arteries of video stores all through the eighties), these allegories can’t help but seem quaint at best, and naive at worst. But not “Ulzana’s Raid”. Because it’s examination of the U.S. Military involvement with the Apache wars is a compelling enough subject on its own. As is the attention to the strategy of warfare on both sides of the conflict. The legendary writer Alvin Sharp’s screenplay offers no easy interpretation of either events or character motivation. The reasons that led Ulzana to run off the reservation with twenty men and engage in brutal bloody slaughter of all who lay in his path, is only vaguely hinted at (being short changed by the man who sells beef to the reservation). It would of been very easy to lay the blame on some pigheaded Indian hating white officer ( like Fonda’s Col.Thursday in Fords “Fort Apache”), so we could be frustrated by the unfairness of it all. Or to romanticize Ulzana by casting a young good looking dark haired actor like Robert Blake in “Tell ’em Willie Boys Here” or Robert Forster in “The Stalking Moon” . Or illustrate the events leading up to the raid, and show how events just spiraled out of control ( like in Robert Young’s “The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez”). But neither Sharp or Aldrich engage in such dramatization niceties. Joaquin Martinez, who plays Ulzana is pug ugly perfect, and aside from some ritualistic singing has no lines in the film. Yet he’s not the monster in a monster movie that killer Indian Salvaje is in another Sharp screenplay “Stalking Moon”. He’s a partisan, fighting a occupying army. His goal isn’t to win, it’s to spill as much of the occupiers blood as possible. Yet while the film makes no attempt to make Ulzana sympathetic, he gets our and Aldrich’s sympathy anyway. It’s easy for audiences to root for the Indians in westerns now, no matter what they do. But Aldrich and Sharp make it difficult, but we still root for them none the less. I feel this is stars Burt Lancasters best performance of his later years. The character of the old white Indian scout, who’s seen it all, and understands the nature of the native people in ways that no one who wears a blue uniform ever will, is a staple of Alvin Sharp western screenplays. Gregory Peck played that character in Sharps screenplay in “The Stalking Moon” , and even though he wasn’t a Indian scout, played it again in the Sharp scripted “Billy Two Hats”. As is the old white mans Indian or half breed sidekick, Robert Forster in “Stalking Moon” or Desi Arnez .Jr in “Billy Two Hats”. In “Ulzana’a Raid” that part, “Ke-Ni-Tay , is played by Jorge Luke, and he owns the picture. When white wet behind the ears West Point Lt. DeBuin (Bruce Davidson) asks Luke’s Ke-Ni-Tay why his people are so cruel, he answers without any Indian mystic mumbo jumbo, or a shred of political correctness; “That’s just the way they are. They’ve always been that way”. Slowly, during the course of the movie, Luke’s Ke-Ni-Tay, little by little, takes center stage. So much so that despite all the cruel killings Ulzana and his men commit, audiences feel more hostility towards Bruce Davidson’s Lt.DeBuin , for how he treats Ke-Ni-Tay, then anybody else in the film ( Aldrich didn’t hate Davidson’s West Pointer, “He doesn’t know shit”) . To me the Indian scout working with the white mans military against his own people, is the most despicable character in the conflict. Yet by films end it’s Luke, not Lancaster, that emerges as the closest thing the movie has to a hero, without avoiding the troubling aspects of his character , or his position.June 8, 2017 at 2:41 pm #17558
The MUTHERS (1976) dir- Cirio H. SANTIAGO
Now while it’s true I have a soft spot in my heart for Phillipino cinema in general, and director Cirio Santiago ( my late friend) in particular. My affection for his 1976 women in prison ( sorta ) flick “The MUTHERS” has grown over the years, till this cruddy little grindhouse cheapie has actually become one of my favorite movies. Jeannie Bell (from Santiago’s “T.N.T. Jackson”) & Rosanne Katon ( Ebony from Santiago’s “Ebony, Ivory & Jade”) play modern day pirates in the South China Sea. Bell is the Cap’t , and Katon is the 2nd Lt, and a whole boat full of male Philippinos are the pirate crew. They sort of operate like Modesty Blaze and Willie Garvin use to operate back when they were smugglers, with Bell as Modesty and Katon as Willie. Bell learns her little sister got thrown into a Banana Republic women’s prison ( Santiago’s female action hero’s always get into trouble looking for their damn little sisters, Bell’s “T.N.T. Jackson” , Jullian Kessler’s “Firecracker” and Kat Sassoon’s “Angel Fist”). And then Bell and Katon get themselves thrown into same prison in a effort to find and rescue her. So why is this cruddy little flick one of my favorite movies? It’s the playful execution of a preposterous story that’s the key to the films charm. A friend once made the observation that if you were to watch three children play act a scene from “”Starsky & Hutch” that they’d seen on tv the night before, say Starsky and Hutch interrogating a prisoner, the children’s level of intensity and commitment to what they were doing would be both more charming and sincere then the same scene played by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul. Well both Bell’s and Katon’s performance achieve this kids-at-play quality. They could very well be two little girls playing pirate in their backyard. Add that to the Modesty Blaze meets Pippi Longstocking conception of their characters, and the genuine commradire the two women share, maybe only The Little Rascal’s could of packed more charm into its 88 minutes. Considering how many movies Santiago made, it’s a damn shame he didn’t make one more Bell & Katon pirate adventure. Katon who was a charmer in all of her drive-in movies (including Jack Hill’s “The Swinging Cheerleaders”) , as well being my favorite Afro Sheen Commercial Girl (“Ya’ stopped me, didja’? “) is even better here as the more wisecracking, constantly bemused member of the team. And unlike Bell, does most of her own fighting in the martial art scenes. Now while she might not be Angela Mao, in the world of sloppy Phillipino Kung fu fights, she ain’t bad. And her line about costar, Jayne Kennedy’s Serrena , “I’ve kissed a lot of ass in my day, but I’ll be dammed before I kiss that bitches ass” , is a guaranteed grindhouse audience chortler. Jeannie Bell ( the assumed name that D.i.V.A.S. member ” Copperhead ” was living under when “Black Mamba” found her) isn’t quite in on the joke as her costar Katon, but her straight self seriousness pays off in the films second half. Bell, who wasn’t much of a fighter (in both this and “T.N.T Jackson” the petite femme is doubled by a rather tall and obviously male fighter in a ratty afro wig), was , alongside Pam Grier and Brenda Sykes, the most beautiful of the eboy goddesses that graced the genre ( the perfect Jeannie Bell double feature would be “The MUTHERS” paired alongside, not “T.N.T. Jackson” , but Lee Frost’s slightly wonderful “Policewomen”) . But “The MUTHERS” has two other black female leads. Trina Parks , who was the star of the late great William Witney’s last feature “Darktown Strutters” , as well as the black half of the Bambi & Thumper duo in “Diamonds are Forever” , plays another prisoner who fills Bell & Katon in on the lay of the land at the prison, and joins them in there escape attempt. Parks proves to be quite a naturalistic actress, and has no problem with the films playfully serious tone. She also has a great bring the house down laugh line that I won’t spoil here. But it’s the too beautiful for words Jayne Kennedy, as the cruel wardens kept concubine , that’s the real surprise, with a performance that’s neither playful or self serious but utterly sincere. Miss Kennedy obviously wanted to prove to the world she could act, and in “The MUTHERS” tackles her first lead role with everything shes got. It’s the best acting performance by a American actor in a Santiago production. The stunning Kennedy might of very well been the real deal, it’s a damn shame she never got more opportunity’s to find out ( Cirio must of thought so, he cast her in his very next production “Death Force” (theatrical title) “Fighting Mad” ( Continental Home Video title), my second favorite Santiago feature). And like Michael Weldon wrote in his “Psychotronic” review; “how often do you get to see a film with four beautiful black women in the leads ?” Let me close this review with a line director Joe Dante once said about one of his similar favorite movies, Albert Zugsmith’s “Confessions of an Opium Eater”; “Is it a good film? Well….who knows….and what does that mean anyway? But is it a GREAT FILM? Absolutely, positively unequivocally, YES!”.June 8, 2017 at 2:42 pm #17559
SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU (1977) dir – HWA YI HUNG
rated : excellent
For lovers of the genre, one of the all time favorites. Along with Yuen Wo Ping’s “Snakefist In Eagles Shadow” , Cheung Sum’s “Snakefist in Monkey’s Shadow” and “Soul Brothers” director Hwa Yi Hung’s Billy Chong vehicle “Jade Claw”, this is one of the best HK releases of the late seventies/early eighties to get theatrical exposure in this country. As well as stars Bruce Li’s finest hour and a half. It’s a classic tale of friendship, betrayal, and revenge that always manages to be more engaging and involving then it has any right to be. The story starts with our three hero’s , two guys and a girl, adrift out to sea on a raft, refuges from some unnamed freedomless country.
The guys are Wong Li Yung ( Bruce Li, here billed in the opening titles under his real name Ho Chung Tao) and “Deadly Venoms” Team Member (“The Toad”) Lo Meng (here billed as Kuan Lun) as So San. Their mutual gal pal Chi Yung is played by Cuyang Pei San. While Lo Mang’s San has given up hope, and intends to toss himself into the sea, a blistered lip Wong (Bruce Li) convinces San to hang on a little longer. Good thing too. No sooner do we witness this scene , then we cut to all three smiling, eating rice and drinking tea, rescued by a boat heading to Hong Kong. And by the time Bill Conti’s Theme from “Rocky” finishes over the opening credits, all three are living the illegal immigrant life in the big city.
The boys hustle day worker jobs as best they can, Wong driving a forklift, San welding, and every chance they get….fighting bullies.
One of the victims they save from a beating is a black American teenage Tony ( Carl Scott), the “Soul Brothers” (sic) of the title,
who becomes Wong’s student, friend, and all around towel boy.
A charmingly played Hawksian rivalry over the affections of Chi develops between Wong and San, but is cut short when Chi makes it clear she prefers Li’s Wong. San, while disappointed, is still their friend, and bows out graciously ( Watch for a sweet scene between Wong and San and a ring they bought for Chi). However this is just the start of the more morally relaxed San’s troubles. Soon after, the night life loving San has run afoul of the local casino owning gangster Chin See Po , favorite genre heavy Ku (“Avenging Eagle”) Feng. Chin sends goon after goon to ambush Wong and San, all to no avail.
In fact Wong gets so good at beating up Chin’s men, he gets the bright idea that if he turned pro he could make some real money. Well no sooner then you can cut to stock footage of Madison Square Garden, Wong has become a professional boxer. Not only does he win all of his fights, he (apparently) becomes both rich and world famous in the process. But just when it seems Wong and Chi have achieved the HK dream, Chin’s men show up committing a surprising mid film tragedy. Wong voiws vengeance against Chin, and so begins one of the best modern day training / recovery montages in the genre. It seems Wong has a trick up his sleeve. Not only can he fight like Bruce Lee, he has a secret fighting technique, called “The Steel Finger”, which allows possessors to stick their fingers through opponents as if they were butter (his electrical Kung fu dummy, with two red testicales that pop out when goosed, is audience pleasing hoot).
Meanwhile poor San has gone from bad to worse. Gambling losses put him more and more in the crafty Chin’s debt. With Chin closing in for the kill by sending his mistress Dora (played by Dana Lei, that little scene stealer from Bruce Li’s “The Image of Bruce Lee”, here billed under the pretty name of Shao Yin Yin) , to sink her claws into poor San. The audience knows it’s only a matter of time before the good man turns bad. Inevitably leading to San being forced by the gangsters to go up against his old friend Wong.
The story in the first half, and the training / recovery sequence in the middle , and revenge-a-matic slaughter in the end, is not only giddily satisfying , but for fans of the genre, the whole film achieves a effortless purity of purpose. When the machine works, this is what it looks like. Hwa Yi Hung, here billed as Hwa I Hung, who directed Li in his superior vehicle “Dynamo”, as well as most of Billy Chong’s early starring vehicles , does a super job in both the action and composition department (there’s a beautifully composed shot early on of Lo Meng working at a logging camp, which consists of him eating a sack lunch as forty giant trees float behind him in the sea).
The films only negative is the useless presence of Rodney Allen Rippy lookalike Carl Scott, who’s only purpose was to justify American Distributor, Cinema Shares Int, ebony audience pandering title “Soul Brothers of Kung Fu” (How it escaped being called “Soul Brothers of Bruce Lee” is anybody’s guess).
By 1977 the Kung fu film craze, like the spaghetti western before it, had come and gone in America as far as mainstream popularity was concerned. But while the spaghetti western truly died once it’s pop bubble burst, the Kung fu flick manage to cling to survival, due to it’s still popular presence in the black community. By that time in America Kung fu flicks played almost exclusively in black theaters in black neighborhoods, downtown all night Grindhouses , and the third title of a drive in’s triple feature. And as the seventies came to a close, before the emergence of Jacky Chan, Bruce Li was the only Kung fu performer who ment anything box office wise in the states. Over half the martial arts films released during this period, that received legitimate theatrical engagements accompanied by newspaper advertisement support, star’ed Bruce Li ( By the time I saw this at The Carson Twin Cinema the week it came out ,I had already seen many many flicks starring Bruce Li). And while I dig a bunch of them, “Soul brothers of Kung fu” is the one I love. The whole film rests, not on the brutal Kung fu fights, but how we feel about Wong (Bruce Li) and San (Lo Meng). The two men prove to be a terrific team and they bring out a depth of feeling from their characters that accumulates power as the film goes on. Lo Meng’s sad moral decline as San might be more painful to watch then your ready for. As is the two former friends inevitable conclusion combat. Like the final fight to the death between Lace and Maggie in Jack Hill’s “Switchblade Sisters” , you may be caught off guard by the poignancy of their sad dilemma.June 8, 2017 at 2:45 pm #17560
“The IMAGE OF BRUCE LEE” (1978) dir – Kuen Yeung
rated : fair
Bruce Li and 21st Century Distribution Company strikes again. Both Bruce Li and 21st Century kept kung fu flicks alive in the waning days of the genre before the emergence of Jacky Chan. What sets this one apart is this time Bruce Li is joined by John Chang star of “Snake in Monkey’s Shadow” (one of my all time favorite kung fu flicks and one of my most treasured 35mm film prints), as a antagonist co-lead.
A shipment of counterfeit U.S. Currency has flooded Hong Kong . The authorities believe the culprits behind the bogus bills are The Han Family, lead by the Father (Yin-Chieh Han) and his son Steven (John Chang, not wearing his usual bangs, and practically unrecognizable due to that fact). As well as a out of town gang of Japanese counterfeiters led by Bolo (“Chinese Hercules”) Yung, in one of his better roles, as the amusingly nicknamed “The Hakido Bear”.
Hi Chi (Bruce Li) a cop for special squad and his mustache wearing partner Lai (Chang Lei), affectionately called “Mustache” , are sent to tail the gangsters in hopes of them leading them to the counterfeit plates. Well, if by tail, you mean start a fight with them every chance they get, Chi & Mustache get right to work.
Meanwhile The Han’s niece Donna (Dana Lei), who lives in Japan, has flown to Hong Kong carrying with her the paper needed to print a new batch of bills. But when negotiations between the two different gangster clans become heated, Donna, “Fistfull of Dollars” style, begins playing one group against the other.
The story is divided between the machinations involved in The Han’s printing a new batch of bills, and the two cops tailing, chasing, and fighting them. Like many a Hong Kong movie, the cops come off more brutal then the crooks. Mustache even threatens to burn down a crowded night club unless the owner supplies him with Information. And since there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the cops investigation, our interest and sympathy moves to the more interesting Han Family of counterfeiters. Especially Donna, who emerges as one of martial art films rare femme fatales. This Veronica Lake inspired creation has all the best dialog, weather she’s double crossing the two counterfeit gangs, wrapping Bolo Yung around her little finger, seducing cousin Steven into her bed, or flirting with Chi and Mustache (it’s her that dubs Lai Mustache). Dana Lei dominates the film with her attitude, outlandish wardrobe, and generous helping of full frontal female nudity ( not so usual in a kung fu flick).
While it maybe lacking in the script department , and the fights, though good, are usually unprovoked and undramatic, the cast is good. John Chang has about as much screen time as Bruce Li and comes across as a legitimate co-lead. Raising the stakes when the two finally face off for a final showdown on a beach. Both Bruce and his partner Chang Lei match up well, and they even try and develop a Hawksian rivalry over Donna that if more time was spent on the cop story could of payed off more. Bruce doesn’t have much of a character this time around, but he fights good and looks sensational in his seventies fashions. In fact the whole film sports better seventies style fashions then usual in a Hong Kong film.
And just as the unmotivated fights begin to become tedious, a terrific end fight between Bruce and Old Man Han caps the film off excitingly. The film also starts with a funny little scene ( gallows humor) of Bruce trying to save a man from jumping off a building, that I’ve never forgotten since I saw the film in 1978. The rest of the film I forgot, but not that opening grim joke. Even Keven Thomas of The Los Angles Times mentioned it in his review. Oh btw, the film, as per usual, has nothing to do with Bruce Lee.June 8, 2017 at 2:45 pm #17561
The BEGUILED (1971) dir – Don Siegel
rated : Good
This somber story set during the Civil War deals with a wounded Yankee solder (Clint Eastwood), who’s found and given shelter by the young students of a southern girls finishing school.
As the females hide the bed ridden enemy solder from patrolling bands of rebels, the sexy enemy begins to become a catalyst for the women and girls different desires. “The Beguiled” was the closest Siegel ever came to making a art film ( it was his favorite of all his pictures), and truth be told, as good as it is, as it’s director, he’s miscast. While the off beat film is ultimately successful, it does bring out Siegel’s worst stylistic impulses. His fondness for Freudian imagery, his literalness in a tale that screams for ambiguity (A dream sequence in the middle makes explicit everything that had only been suggested). However once Siegel settles down and focuses on Eastwood the film comes alive. “The Beguiled” deals with its gothic Ambrose Bierce Americana in a decidedly Gallic way. In a lot of ways it could be a same era Rene Clement film, with Eastwood playing the Alain Delon male sex object part ( Siegel’s first choice for the headmistress was Jeannie Moreau, though it’s hard to imagine bettering Geraldine Page’s portrayal).
Because of the choice of subject matter, tone, approach, and especially Bruce Surtees cinematography, it’s the most like a later day Eastwood directed picture.June 8, 2017 at 2:46 pm #17562
BIG WEDNESDAY (1978) dir – John Milius
rated : very good
While all in all I prefer Milius’ directorial debut “Dillinger” , it’s hard to argue against the idea that his surfer epic “Big Wednesday” isn’t his classic. The film revolves around three surfer buddies in the sixties, Matt (Jan Michael Vincent) , Barlow ( William Katt), and Leroy the Masochist (Gary Busey) – all perfectly cast – Who in their day riding the waves on the beaches of Southern California, were gods.
But then, as is the case with most Milius characters, their day passes and their forced back down to earth to live among the mortals. Milius takes his story from his own surfer youth during the same time period. Yet Milius doesn’t strive for realism in his depiction of the trio. Instead he presents it just short of Arthurian Legend. It treats these guys ( Who Milius later quipped, “All became drug dealers”) as both mystic knights and over-the-hill Wild Bunch Bastreds. Men who got what it takes at the moment of reckoning to distinguish themselves. Be it a hundred man army of Mexican soldiers or the sky scraper like swells of Big Wednesday.
Except for “Big Wednesday” none of Milius’ directed films have a satisfying conclusion. And the climatic showdown between the heroic trio and the monster waves is so good it makes up for the rest (The trio’s “Wild Bunch” inspired walk to destiny is by far Milius finest cinematic moment). Before that moment arrives the film offers a rather oddball structure. Yet for the most part every oddball thing Milius throws in the movie works despite itself. A lengthy episode in Tijuana , that has nothing to do with the theme, is still exciting. A long interlude about the death of a secondary character, Waxer ( Darrell Fetty), ends up moving even though nobody in the audience gives a shit about that guy.
More then any other movie Milius directed, “Big Wednesday” contains the joy of filmmaking ( he’s waited his whole career to make this movie). It also illustrates the problems with many of his other movies. Which by contrast seem to contain the frustration of filmmaking. In it’s day “Big Wednesday” never found it’s audience during its original release (it was one of three beach movies that came out the same year, “California Dreaming” with Dennis Chirstopher & Crown International’s “Malibu Beach”). After the film opened soft Milius even considered going back in to reediting it (as if that would help). Only later, in The Eighties , via surfer screenings and midnight shows, from California’s Hermosa Beach to Australia’s Palm Beach, becoming one of the most beloved films by the sub culture it sought to depict. Back when I worked at the beach community video store Video Archives, “Big Wednesday” was the most requested film not released on home video ( Led Zeppelins “The Song Remains the Same” was the second).June 8, 2017 at 2:47 pm #17563
A MAN CALLED TIGER (1973) dir – Lo Wei
At one time before Bruce Lee decided to go his own way with the self directed “Way of the Dragon” (U.S. Title : “Return of the Dragon”) , “A Man Called Tiger” was to be the third Bruce Lee / Lo Wei vehicle after “The Big Boss” & “Fist of Fury”. However except for the opportunity it would of allowed Bruce to wear the snazzy garish seventies fashions he seemed to prefer in real life, this doesn’t seem like a natural fit for The Little Dragon. But as the Wang Yu vehicle it became, it’s one of the stars most beloved films (At least in the west due to it’s theatrical release by World Northal and the early Embassy Home Video release), and one of his most violent movies (and for Wang Yu, that’s saying something).
Wang Yu plays a Chinese stranger in Tokyo , who Tony Montanna – style , moves his way up the Japanese Yakuza ladder. The reason he does this isn’t to be a successful gangster. It’s to find out who’s responsible for his fathers murder. However Wang Yu doesn’t fake being a gangster. He IS a gangster, shaking down stores for protection money, beating up people, and moving up the ladder by being more ruthless and violent then anybody else.
After becoming China’s first action hero with the seminal “The One Armed Swordsman” , and even starring and directing Hong Kong’s first fist fight film, the great “Chinese Boxer” ( no Wu Xui swords , only fists), by the early seventies Wang Yu’s popularity was beginning to decline. Mostly because Wang Yu wasn’t a real martial artist ( he was just a actor) and he was starting to be surpassed by men ( and women) who could fight better. Namely Bruce Lee. Wang Yu responded by subtly making his movies alittle more action oriented, and alittle less martial art specific. Turning himself into “The Steve McQueen of Asia” as he was dubbed at the time. In the film “The Dragon Flies” , his only English language western set picture , he was rechristened Jimmy Wang Yu, which admittedly is more fun to say.
The movies in this Steve McQueen phase of his career pretty much all consist of Wang Yu, acting cocky, talking shit, and kicking a lot of dudes asses. Which, minus all the intrigue , ( At one point Wang Yu has four different women working for him, none of which know about the other), is a pretty good description of this film. But part of this Steve McQueen persona was the complete ditching of the almost pious characters he played in his earlier pictures. Not to mention his wonderful innocence in the first “One Armed Swordsman” film that deservedly made him a superstar.
To be replaced by a arrogant son of a bitch, who talks shit to your face, in front of your minions, as he pops peanuts in his mouth, before he slaps you across the room. A basterd who makes such a impression kicking your ass, your boss not only doesn’t avenge your treatment, he hires Wang Yu, and makes him your boss. And no film better demonstrates this Jimmy Wang McQueen style then “A Man Called Tiger (naturally there’s nobody in the movie called Tiger).
The film is only okay, but a real good okay. And it has a lot of attractive elements. Chief amongst them being it’s Japanese Yakuza milieu, which gives it a very different look then any other Hong Kong martial art film of this period. Wang Yu doesn’t go into full on Chinese avenger mode till about half way through the picture. So the whole first half is a straight up Chinese made Japanese Yakuza flick. In fact with its Yakuza setting, Wang Yu’s bounding performance, and fights that turn into bloody mayhem, it’s much closer to a Sonny Chiba picture of the era. I bring up Sonny Chiba because the number Wang Yu does on both rival Yakuza gangs, all to clear his fathers name, is as bad as if Sonny Chiba’s Terry Tsurugi (his great anti hero character from “The Streetfighter” movies) had been hired to break up both gangs.
The whole revenge for my father routine is a soft cock idea, only put there so Wang Yu’s unlikeable character seems more sympathetic . But there’s nothing sympathetic at all about this guy, he’s a real fuckin’ basterd. In one scene Wang Yu , in a “Mean Streets” – like red lit bar, busts a bottle on the bar and grinds the broken end in one of the gangs face, as he lays out his threats. And like Chiba’s Terry Tsurugi what we ( the audience) like about him , is we don’t like him. In fact in his ruthlessness, if not his wit, he actually reminds you of the savage plots Simon Templar would hatch in Leslie Charters The Saint novels, especially “The Saint in New York” ( always more of a basterd, and more deadly in the novels then in other media interpretations). Also with its emphasis on the crime film aspect, it can’t help but bring to mind Italian Sergio Martino’s directed Luc Mirenda policer/mafia pictures. It even has a half hearted Martino-like car chase ( a rarity in Kung fu flicks of the day).
For most of the movie it looks like a Japanese Yakuza film, plays like a Italian gangster film, and has the fight every ten minutes pace of a Hong Kong chop socky pic, until suddenly, without any proper set up, we find ourselves into the beginning of the films extended climax. The climax revolves around a gambling table sequence, involving the same dice game they play in “God of Gamblers” ( with a lot of the same fancy dice in cup flair), between the two different set of villains and a high roller played ( very well) by director Lo Wei. Wang Yu sits back as a spectator for most of the game. Having the films two villains face off against each other in a suspenseful gambling scene is a fresh idea. And Lo Wei commits to staging this sequence for all it’s worth. You actually feel the pace of the film shift from a fight every ten minutes chop socky flick, to a slower, more serious dramatic storytelling rhythm. This gambling scene ( which at one point actually manages to get all the films characters into the same room) eventually, after much suspenseful intrigue, leads to the films bloody climax, where a bunch of goons attack Wang Yu with axes and hatchets. And as opposed to most films, the axes often times hit their target, spraying blood all over the screen, the set, and Wang Yu’s wardrobe. All ending with a magnificent slow motion final kick to head, that’s as good as I’ve ever seen. When it comes to bloody mayhem, it’s on par with the climax of DePalma’s “Scarface” and the Candyland shoot out in my “Django Unchained”.June 8, 2017 at 2:49 pm #17564
The SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNAN (1979)
HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (1980)
dir – Jerry Schatzberg
As both a friend and a fan of New York filmmaker and photographer Jerry Schatzberg, I decided to finally see two of his films that until now had eluded me. Willie Nelson’s first starring vehicle “Honeysuckle Rose”, and Alan Alda’s first feature film after his Hawkeye stardom, “The Seduction of Joe Tynan”. Only to realize, more or less, their both the same movie.
Both films are about public figures, in Willie Nelson’s case country and western superstar Buck Bonham, and in Alda’s case a liberal senator Joe Tynan. The story of both films is a public figure, who are both in loving marriages with wonderful wives, Dyan Cannon in “Honeysuckle Rose” , and Barbara Harris’ in “Tynan”. In both films, the public figure goes out on the road, in Nelson’s case literally on a concert tour, in “Tynan’s case figuratively on business trips looking for damming evidence to use against a possible Supreme Court Judge appointee. And in both films, drifts into a affair with a younger, sexy, business associate, Amy Irving’s background singer in the music movie, and Meryl Streep’s political operative in the Beltway film.
In both films, the wife finds out about the relationship in a public setting. In “Honeysuckle Rose” Cannon watches backstage as Nelson & Irving share a passionate kiss on stage in front of a arena of fans. In “Tynan” , Harris’ wife figures it out while sitting on a diasis , in front of a audience, during a dinner honoring her senator husband, by witnessing her husbands body language when he interacts with Streep. Both wives confront their partners , in “Tynan” being a proper political wife, that night in the privacy of their bedroom. In “Honeysuckle Rose” , being the bad ass cowboy hat wearing Texas babe Cannon is, right that minute on stage in front of the whole arena crowd ( In one of the films best scenes). In both films, the wives give the hubby the heave-ho, thus ruining the affair with the younger piece of strange.
And both films end (Literally the last scene of both films) with the public figure (Joe & Buck) on stage, in front of his adoring fans, beseeching a silent sign of forgiveness from their scorned partner. As similar as their stories are, what I find the most interestingly insightful about comparing the two, is seeing where their different. “Tynan” which was written by Alda himself, was the better script. Yet “Honeysuckle Rose” is the better movie, and especially the better Schatzberg movie. The opening scene of the country & western opus, is Willie Nelson hitting golf balls on the side of the road at dawn, while his band mates in the tour bus sleep. This opening sequence immediately lures you into Schatzberg’s photographic gaze. While “Tynan” (Which looks a little drab by comparison) most involving section is a B storyline of old slightly demented senator Melvyn Douglass ( terrific) trying to push through a racist Supreme Court Candidate, and Tynan’s opportunistic betrayal of the old colleague. The “Seduction” of the title doesn’t refer to Streep & Alda’s philandering, but Tynan’s realization of his own opportunism. “Honeysuckle Rose” doesn’t even have a B storyline. Yet Tynan was written by a man (Alda) for himself to play. Where “Honeysuckle” was written by a woman Carol Sobieski ( yes there were many hands on this script, but it was originally Sobieski’s script, and not written for Willie Nelson, but for Hyott Axton). And the way the female and male writer deal with the infidelity is where the two films part company. The way most male centric movies deal with a husbands infidelity, is to bury excuses for their actions inside of dramatic scenes.( Blake Edwards “Mikki & Maude” for example). Implying that the wife, wonderful as she is, is unknowingly pushing her husband in the arms of another woman. And the character of the other woman is usually younger, sexier, and professionally more impressive.
I mean how can he resist, he’s only human?
And naturally writer Alda starts stacking the chips against Barbara Harris’ wife right from the start. Reveling to both him and the audience that she resents the life of a political wife, and has a distaste for politics in general. She even implies that while she supported his campaigns, she never really thought he’d win. And now she resents the political life she’s been forced to live, and that he’s become a stranger to their children by always being in Washington. Where naturally the sexy Streep is a natural born political animal, who not only shares the same goals as the husband, but speaks his language as well. Thus giving a logical and emotional basis for the attraction and eventual affair ( I mean it’s okay for a woman to not like football, but not if she’s married to a football player).
On the other hand “Honeysuckle Rose” is surprisingly free of these dramatic justifications . Dyan Cannon’s wife is pushed such power in the script she could almost be it’s hero, and by the time she storms the stage, she is. She’s presented from the beginning and to the end as the perfect woman for Nelson’s superstar turubadore. And Irving is presented as who she is, a young sexy star struck neophyte who seduces the older man into bed because she can. But in “Honeysuckle Rose” it’s not even like she’s particularly talented, or the two share a special chemistry on stage that bleeds into real life. On the contrary, earlier in the film Nelson and Cannon share a duet of Kris Kristofferson’s “Loving her was easier then anything I’ll ever do again”, that brings down the house and illustrates the couples bond (It’s one of the best music scenes ever in a singing star’s movie vehicle). As opposed to Alda, Sobieski not only does not let Nelson off the hook, she has multiple hooks. Amy Irving’s character isn’t just some back up singer hired randomly to go on the road. She’s the young daughter of Willie’s old band mate (seemingly) best friend Slim Pickins ( Irving doesn’t look like she even knows Slim Pickins, forget about being his daughter). So the entire story doubles down on Buck’s betrayal. Sobieski offers Nelson’s character no excuses other then the lure of young poontang when away from home. Both Willie Nelson & Alan Alda would go on to do many more movies. After “The Seduction of Joe Tynan” , all of Alda’s other scripts would be directed by Alda himself, and become a important writer- director – actor in the eighties. Willie Nelson would make many more movies as well. With this and Alan Rudolph’ s stoned companion piece “Songwriter” being the best.
The Seduction of Joe Tynan rated : good
Honeysuckle Rose rated: very good.June 8, 2017 at 2:50 pm #17565
The SHOOTIST (1976). Part 1 of review.
dir – Don Siegel
rated : Fair
When it comes to who was chosen to helm John Wayne’s final western/film, Don Siegel is a bit of a odd choice. While Siegel was one of the best genre filmmakers who ever lived, and during his career he made his share of westerns, he didn’t make nearly as many his closest contemporaries Aldrich, Karelson, Fuller, Witney, Jack Arnold, and Gordon Douglass, nor did he make them as good. In fact if it wasn’t for the inclusion of his Elvis Presley western “Flaming Star” ( a truly great fifties western, and maybe the most brutally violent American western of its era), his western filmography wouldn’t be impressive at all. His first western, the Audie Murphy quickie, “The Duel at Silver Creek” , is a very well conceived and executed picture, as well as being obviously a Siegel picture. One of Siegel’s most interesting story telling tactics is audience misdirection. It’s in his first film “The Verdict”, “Flaming Star”, “Charley Varrick”, even in his Burt Reynolds caper comedy “Rough Cut”. And it’s used to a really dramatic effect in “The Duel of Silver Creek”. Within the films first twelve minutes, Faith Domergue is introduced as the least interesting character in a fifties western, the pretty lady love interest of the sheriff (complete with silk dress, fancy hat, and parasol ). Only to shockingly revel that Miss Domergue is in cahoots with films villainous claim jumpers by strangling a wounded man to death. This sudden dramatic revelation snaps your attention into focus for the rest of the picture. It also colors your perception of, not only Miss Domergue, but practically every character she comes in contact with, especially the stuck on her sheriff ( Stephen McNally), who from that moment on looks like a complete fool. And while the film has it’s silly moments – usually involving a ridiculous character named Johnny Sombrero (Eugene Iglesias) – aside from señor Sombrero, the films villains aren’t a joke. One of my favorite heavies of the era, the Bogart like Gerald Mohr ( check him out as the villain in the William Witney and John English serial “Jungle Girl” . His Cheshire Cat smile hides a shark bite), leads a evil bunch of Cliamjumpers , dirty dogs who force gold prospectors to sign over their claims to them at the barrel of a gun, then savagely murders them. There’s even a faint hint of the Klue Klux Klan about the jumpers, since some of them are respected members of the community, they operate a bit like a secret society. It’s definitely a fun Audie Murphy western of that Universal period, but it’s not the class act. Those bragging rights belong to Jack Arnold and his Murphy mystery western “No Name on the Bullet” ( Siegel did two films with Audie Murphy and considered casting him as Scorpio in “Dirty Harry”).
His last western before “The Shootist” was the least of his Eastwood colobrations , the wannabe spaghetti western “Two Mules for Sister Sara” which paired Clint with a very funny Shirley MacLaine (easily the best thing in the film, aside from a really memorable Ennio Moricone score). While the photography by legendary Mexican cinematographer Gabreala Figeruoa ended Siegel’s shitty looking tv quality slump that had effected his work for his last six movies, the flick is still a half hearted half assed attempt to do a Corbucci like western , mixed in with a bit of “African Queen” style battle of the sexes.
When it’s just Eastwood & MacLane out in the desert by themselves, the film is lightly amusing. But it’s lack of commitment, mediocre premiiss , script, action, and outcome, not to mention Eastwood’s silly looking leather hat ultimately do it in. Fact of the matter, after “Flaming Star” , Siegel’s best western is his TV movie “Stranger on the Run”. Which even though it has the Universal tv look of a ” Virginian” episode, it has , after Andy Robinson’s performance as Scorpio in “Dirty Harry”, the best performance in a Siegel film. Michael Parks as corrupt, walrus mustached sheriff John McKay.
Which brings us to “The Shootist”. There’s nothing in “The Shootist” you haven’t seen done many times before and done better. Including a few years earlier by Richard Flescher in “The Spikes Gang” ( which also shares young actor Ron Howard) , and a few years later by Lamount Johnson in “Cattle Annie & Little Britches”. But what you haven’t seen before is a dying John Wayne give his last performance. And its Wayne’s performance, and the performances of some of the surrounding characters ( Howard, Richard Boone, Harry Morgan, and Sheree North), that make “The Shootist” , not the classic it wants to be, but memorable nonetheless. The film really only has one purpose, to be a cinematic eulogy to Wayne’s career ( “On Golden Pond” served the same function for Henry Fonda).
Not only is that a dubious reason to make a film, the maudlinness inherently involved in such a endeavor, seems a dishonorable pursuit for any serious artist ( Though there are some successful examples, Peter Bogdonovich’s swan song to Boris Karloff “Targets” being one of them). But as suspicious as I am when a director tries to tug on my heart strings, even I think John Wayne ending his career with “Rooster Cogburn & The Lady” would be a damn shame. The fact that “The Shootist” is a good film at all, is all due to Wayne, which in it’s own way, is perfectly fitting for the big man. Like many a star at the twilight of their career, who have actually managed to remain stars, the last ten years of their career usually falls into a pattern. Gedatric versions of the movies that they use to make, usually featuring a few young performers, and many familiar faces from the old days.
Usually directed by one or two directors that the aging star is comfortable with. This describes the last ten years of Bob Hope’s movie career, Jerry Lewis’ twilight starring career, Glen Ford’s last decade staring in westerns, and Charles Bronson’s last ten years at Cannon Pictures. And this describes Wayne’s last decade to a tee. Aside from crazy experiments like “McQ” ( no good, but I kinda like it anyway, if for nothing else that amazing gun that McQ shoots), and “Brannigan” ( silly, but that’s what’s enjoyable about it) , during the last decade of John Wayne’s career he made John Wayne Movies.
Well, didn’t he always, I hear you ask.
Well yeah, but not like in the seventies.
“Chisum” , “Big Jake”, “Rio Lobo” , ” Cahill : U.S. Marshall” , ” The Train Robbers” didn’t need titles, even as generic as those titles were. They could of just been issued numbers, Andrew MacLaghlin Wayne western number 4, Burt Kennedy Wayne western number 3 , Howard Hawks “Rio Bravo” redo number 3.
Now while I’m being a smart ass, these pictures are all pretty watchable. Compared to the last ten years of Bob Hope’s movie career, their one classic after another. “Cahill” is pretty solid, “The Train Robbers” is so light it’s barley a movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s not amusing, and “Big Jake ” is downright good. But they are what they are, a last decade John Wayne western. Weather his name is Cahill, Jake McCandles, John Chisum, or John T. Chance the third, Wayne is the same, his costumes are the same, and the people acting in the scenes with Wayne are the same. With two exceptions, Mark Rydell’s “The Cowboys” and Siegel’s “The Shootist”.
End end part one of this reviewJune 8, 2017 at 2:51 pm #17566
The SHOOTIST (1976). Part 2
dir – Don Siegel
rated : Fair
And just the sheer fact that with these two films Wayne breaks the mold, makes them kind of exciting. There not John Wayne Movies, but real movies ( shades of Siegel’s work with Elvis). He’s not Cahill, or Chisum , or McClintok, which is to say he’s not just the persona that the actor has grown into, he’s a character. Watching “The Cowboys” again, I was surprised how old he played the character ( though apparently nobody could talk him out of that rug he wore). Even his wife didn’t look like a Maureen O’ Hara or a Yvonne DeCarlo type, but a worn out old lady. And when he’s killed, by Bruce Dern playing a character named Long Hair (Hippy), with the film having twenty minutes to go, your flabbergasted. Now of the two “The Cowboys” is the better movie, and is better directed (When we showed it recently at The New Beverly a very old Mark Rydell with his kids and grandkids showed up to watch it). But “The Shootist” is by far the better performance. It’s a little funny , while Wayne preferred working with with the same group of group of guys, MacLauglin, Kennedy, Hathaway, Hawks, George Sherman, when he worked outside of the regular corral, he seemed to respect the directors more. He gave a different kind of performance, he didn’t try and direct the picture (like apparently he did with Andy & Burt) , he didn’t just act with the usual suspects (Ben Johnson, Forrest Tucker, Maureen O’Hara, his son, Robert Mitchum’s son) , and he really seemed to care.
So basically Don Siegel’s job was to not be Burt Kennedy. Well he wasn’t , and he cast the film well, but he wasn’t Don Siegel either. There’s a sense of vision to “The Cowboys” . The movie isn’t really all that., but Rydell thinks it is, and by the time the children bust open that box of weapons to kill that basterd Dern, you agree. Other then your last time watching John Wayne , “The Shootist” is so devoid of vision the credits could have been printed in Braille. Siegel doesn’t even do what Siegel does best action (aka VIOLENCE). Almost all of Wayne’s movies of this time introduce the big man to the picture by having him take out some big mouth minor heavy, with a witty sarcastic line, a faster then you draw, or one of Wayne’s wild haymaker punches. And all of them are better then the one that starts “The Shootist” ( “Big Jakes” the best of them, “Not you, you scare me”). And the final climatic shoot out with Richard Boone, Hugh O’Brian, and Bill Mickenny is awful ( the worst staged action of Siegel’s career), and it doesn’t make a lick of sense. About the only Siegel-like talent that Don demonstrates other then the casting and directing of actors (not to imply that’s nothing) , is his talent at directing comedy scenes inside of his action movies (“Coogan’s Bluff” & “Dirty Harry”). Wayne naturally gets every laugh he wants. Harry Morgan is a hoot and a half ( he gets the movies biggest laughs), and Siegel regular Sheree North shares one of Wayne’s best scenes of the last decade of his career as a former flame with a agenda. And maybe the only genuine Siegel touch in the whole film is the entrance of hillbilly mad dog killer Richard Boone , riding a fancy horseless carriage ( a car). A dandifying touch that’s pure Siegel ( By this time in Wayne’s career , Richard Boone was the only actor left on earth who could threaten The Duke , and he and the audience could take it seriously). Unfortunately, any time any one gets any comic juices flowing, Lauren Bacall shows up and throws a wet blanket on the scene ( Bacall wears a hair bun like its a chastity belt). Still Siegel guided Wayne through not only his last western , but if not his best performance, maybe his most dignified. And The Duke ending his long reign with dignity ( least we forget “Rooster Cogburn & the Lady” ) , what more can you ask?
Is “The Shootist” good? Well, let’s just say, it’s good enough.June 8, 2017 at 3:08 pm #17567
“The LORDS OF FLATBUSH (1974)
dir – Martin Davidson & Stephen Verona.
rated : Very Good
The first time movie audiences got a taste of Sylvester Stallone’s voice as artist (writer/actor), wasn’t 1976’s “Rocky” , but 1974’s “The Lords of Flatbush”. A low budget New York independent film directed by Martin Davidson, who would go on to have a nice little filmography that would include , the like minded “Eddie & The Cruisers” , “Hero At Large” (my favorite) , “Almost Summer” ( which enjoys a very very small cult following amongst devotees who saw it when it came out) , and the William Petersen & Sissy Spacek nineties romantic comedy “Hard Promises” ( which apparently, only I alone like), and his co director Stephen Verona , who would go on to direct the Ill fated Gladys Knight starring feature film vehicle “Pipe Dreams” , which co stared her predator ex husband (any interview Ms.Knight gives, goes over her trails and tribulations with her “Pipe Dreams” co star named Barry Wilksomethingorother.).
“The Lords” of the title, are a (very small) group of four Brooklyn street toughs, Stallone’s” Stanley” (Hands down the biggest and the meanest), Perry King’s ” Chico “( the motorcycle riding Casanova of the crew), Henry Winkler’s” Butchie ” (the smart aleck of the group , and the one Jew amongst three Italian’s) , & Paul Mace’s “Wimpy ” ( the little guy and the most authentically New Yorker of the group. You can spot Mace hanging around with the other junkies in Jerry Scattsberg’s “Panic in Needle Park”). The film follows their lives and loves ( really only Chico & Stanley ) in Doo Wop era fifties New York. The film was made for nothing, but then (miraculously ) picked up for distribution by Columbia Pictures, where it was paired with the fifties time capsule wonder, “Let The Good Times Roll” ( one hellva’ concert film, and apparently 70mm prints of it exist ). The reason Columbia picked up this obviously shoe string New York production, and slapped their grand lady with the torch logo on the front of it was, it was a pretty good film. The success of ” American Graffiti” persepatated a large wave of unfounded romanized fifties nostalgia, that at one point threatened to ingulf the entire decade, and that I , as a little boy who didn’t know any better, was especially susceptible to ( back then I loved anything fifties, and prided myself on my fifties trivia knowledge). During this tsunami like wave of nostalgia came, “Oldies” based radio stations, the “Oldies But Goodies” series of albums, other fifties hit collection records sold on tv (most people my age first learned who Chubby Checker was from these commercials), James Dean was reintroduced to the pop culture zeitgeist , I.e. you could buy his posters in head shops again, right next to Tim Curry’s Frank N’ Furter (after a fall from grace during the hippy sixties), “The Wild One” replaced both “On the Waterfront” & “Streetcar named Desire” as the seminal Brando film ( again, those were the pictures and posters they sold in head shops). And on tv, the “American Graffiti” inspired situation comedy ” Happy Days” ( least we forget Ron Howard stared in both), and then later it’s feminine opposite number “Laverne & Shirley”. And last but certainly not least, the ascendency of Henry Winkler’s “Fonzie” to the school yard pop culture stratosphere ( to this day his black leather jacket hangs in the Smithsonian). Well some sly shrewd fox over at Columbia noticed that not only was “The Lords of Flatbush” fifties based like “American Graffiti” , but it also had “Fonzie” in the cast, before the industry knew that was a big deal, but us school kids knew that was a very big deal. So even though Henry Winkler didn’t really have a tremendous amount of screen time, Columbia Pictures cut together a terrific tv spot that featured Henry Winkler’s footage (“Fonzie’s” drawing power among young school kids was no joke), and THE BEST and MOST CATCHY commercial jingle ever written for a movie tv spot (while the original song score by disgraced song writer – movie director Joseph Brooks is fantastic, the tv spot theme is no where to be found in the movie) , that I can sing perfectly to this day. All this made the movie both a hit and a very fondly remembered artifact of its era ( both the era it depicted the fifties, and when the movie came out and later played on The ABC MONDAY NIGHT MOVIE, the seventies). And like “American Graffiti” before it, and “Dazed & Confused” after it, it had a cast of young actors of its era, who would go on to distinguish themselves in the future. Obviously both Stallone & Winkler, but also the lovely and talented Susan Blakley (who was almost unbelievably beautiful back then) who starred with Nick Nolte & Peter Strauss in the first of the official novels for television “Rich man, Poor Man”, and in my opinion the better Francis Farmer movie. And Perry King, who for awhile had a string of feature film leads in interesting movies like “Mandingo” & “The Possession of Jole Delahnny ” & “The Chiorboys” & “A Different Story”, till by the eighties he was wearing Hawaiian shirts and drinking out of coconuts on Tv’s “RipTide” . Actually, the story goes, King was a replacement for the role of Chico. Originally Chico was played by a young Richard Gere, three years before his breakout role in “Looking for Mr.Goodbar”. And, apparently, Stallone & Gere hated each other so much that Stallone kicked his ass, and then Gere either quit or was fired. Not only that, the grudge between the two carries on to this day, to the point some speculate it may have been Stallone behind the famous Gerbil Rumor that painted Richard Gere a laughing stock for over a decade. Another humorous element of Stallone’s “Lord’s Legacy” , after super producers Chartoff & Winkler (no relation to Henry) read the “Rocky” script and fell in love and wanted to do it, they were told they had to do it with the author as the lead. Which they said; “Well, what has he done before?” Stallone’s agent said, he’s the lead in “The Lords of Flatbush”. So naturally they screen “The Lords of Flatbush” and are completely besides themselves with excitement about the actor and his potential to play a great Rocky…….because they think Perry King is Sylvester Stallone !
Now watching “The Lords of Flatbush” when it came out was a interesting ( in retrospective ) experience. Not least of which because it was the first time I was introduced to the New York independent low budget film esthetic. Before I saw “Mean Streets” , I saw “The Lords….” ( and gritty as it was, “Mean Streets” had a bit of Warner Brothers gloss, even if it was just they could pay for Rolling Stones songs). Before I saw Claudia Weil’s “Girlfriends” , I saw “The Lords….” , before I saw Jim Jarmuch movies, I saw “The Lords” , before I saw “Smithereens” , I saw “The Lords”. And I liked it, and my friends liked it. Though we all felt a little gypped that “Fonzie” didn’t have more to do.
But the films cast was excellent, along with who I’ve already mentioned , their was DISCO’s court jester Paul (“Thank God it’s Friday” ) Jabbara, the beautifully annoying Renne Paris as Chico’s disposable sex partner ( even that’s too romantic a description for what she is), and best of all the GREAT MARIA SMITH as Stanley’s long time, long suffering, but ultimately triumphant girlfriend , Franny. And in many ways to this day, Smith remains Stallone’s best screen partner. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find out he originally wrote the role of Adrian in “Rocky” for Smith. As good as everybody is ( and like I said, Joe Brooks faux fifties song score is dynamite), it’s Stallone & Smith who dominate the movie. Stallone not only dominates the screen as Stanley, he wrote or rewrote many of the scenes he’s in, earning him that long ago banished from The Writers Guild credit Additional Dialogue. And frankly anyone familiar with Stallone’s witty street smart dialogue can tell. Especially the films two best scenes. One, a very Brandoesque scene by a roof top pigeon coup between Stanley & Chico. And the other , a scene that is not only the best scene in the film, but a classic scene in early seventies cinema. Stanley’s (Stallone) fiancée Franny (Smith) lures him into a jewelry store to purchase a engagement ring for her , the poor slob clearly can’t afford. What follows is a scene so real & so hilarious, and so obviously has Stallone’s writing finger prints all over it, it could charm the pants even off of a eighties left wing Rambo-hater.June 8, 2017 at 3:09 pm #17568
ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979) dir – Don Siegel
“Escape from Alcatraz” a film I didn’t like when it came out — I’m sure it was just too dry for the seventeen year old me — proved both fascinating and exhilarating on few years ago re-view. Cinematically speaking, its Siegel’s most expressive film. During his days in New Hollywood, while no Corbucci or Peckinpah , Siegel shot some terrific action scenes. The final fatal shootout for Richard Wydmark’s “Madigan”. The pool hall fight ( a real showstopper) in “Coogan’s Bluff”. The entire school bus sequence in “Dirty Harry”, as well as that films action introduction of hot dog Harry vs. The Black Panthers ( the scene suffers a little now due to its obvious back lot quality. Are they in San Francisco or Hazzard County?).
The machine gun shootout in “The BlackWindmill” (explosions of muzzle flash, bullet casings, and splintered wood). The actual action part of the bank robbery in “Charley Varrick”. The attack of Henry Bascomb of Bascomb auto repair (Siegel regular John Mitchum), the first of the sleeper agents that Donald Plesance wakes up in “Telefone”. Yet unlike Leone, Peckinpah, Hymas , & DePalma, Siegel never engaged in cinematic set pieces, until the beautiful, practically wordless opening sequence of “Escape from Alcatraz”. The sequence not only takes its time, it seems to go back in time. On one hand, it feels like the no nonsense fifties Siegel of “Baby Face Nelson” & “Crime in the Streets” — though tellingly, not like the docco-style of “Riot in Cell Block 11”.
But on the other hand, never before, or never again, would Siegel engage in this type of cinematic bravura. From Eastwood’s first appearance as Frank Morris, being led off the ferry, in the pouring rain, on to the isolated island in his raincoat. To the older but still viral Eastwood (who looks as if he’s been chipped from granite rock as much as the pennitenarary), being walked into processing in his old school grey suit (back in the day when people went to prison in suits and it wasn’t a statement), being made to strip while the prison doctor examines his mouth like livestock. To being marched naked through the cell block ( brilliant ), the sound of his bare feet slapping out a rhythm against the cold concrete floor that echoes against the stone walls of The Rock. To the final moment when Morris is placed in his cage, the cell door is slammed shut, and the guard says the first real line in the film; “Welcome to Alcatraz” , punctuated by a Mario Bava – like thunder clap and lightning bolt.
end of part one
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