Criminals and Their Code

100As I peck this out, it’s July 1. In two days, I’ll clock in for the most grueling day on my Day Job, covering the City’s July 3 Independence Day parade. Thankfully, this has gotten a little easier over the years, as the move to a location at the Stafford Centre provides better access to a place to get out of the Texas heat (and worse, the murderous humidity hereabouts) than was formerly the case. We used to set up in a field opposite the school complex, where there was a tree or two you could rest under. That field is now a parking lot.

So what I’m saying is I should bang something out before I die of heatstroke on Friday.

Poster - Monsieur Verdoux_01Continuing on with Chaplin’s later career, I watched Monsieur Verdoux last week, and I was more struck by the general oddness of tone than the controversial subject matter. This is, of course, the movie based on the career of Henri Landru, a notorious “Bluebeard” guillotined for the murder of ten women and a boy in 1922. Chaplin, as the title character, is a bank clerk who loses his job during a recession, and turns to the much more lucrative trade of wooing elderly women, gaining control of their assets, and then killing them. Oh yes, this is subtitled “A Comedy of Murders”.

Verdoux rationalizes that this is all business, so he is not necessarily a murderer. He has a wife, dating back to his bank clerk days; she is confined to a wheelchair, and some of his ill-gotten loot goes toward caring for her and his son. The rest is invested in the stock market, and as this is set in France in the early 30s, you know that is not going to turn out well at all. Verdoux is an ardent vegetarian, and lectures his son about not being cruel to animals – in fact, like a Buddhist monk, at one point Verdoux gently picks up a caterpillar from a garden path so it won’t be stepped on. You reflect upon the fact that a scene in the later French horror movie, Eyes Without A Face, had a scene excised in America showing its main villain caring for a child in his clinic with great care and empathy; we like our villains in starkest black and white, but this is only one of the reasons Verdoux was a failure in its US release in 1947.

2013-10-20The movie’s episodic nature works for it; its length ultimately works against it. Martha Raye has an extended role as a brassy lottery winner whose amazing luck means that she is the one victim Verdoux never quite manages to kill (as the French critic Andre Bezin points out, this is the one murder we want to succeed). Marilyn Nash similarly has a recurring role as a vagrant girl Verdoux picks up to test a new poison upon, then changes his mind after finding out she, too, once had an invalid spouse. Nash turns up one last time, her fortunes reversed since she has taken up with a munitions manufacturer who is making out like a bandit in Europe’s ramping up to WWII. “That’s the business I should have gone into,” moans a sad, diminished Verdoux.

Therein lies another reason the movie failed for an America coming off the Other Great War: in his trial, Verdoux does not necessarily defend himself, but he points out that his sins pale in comparison to the wholesale slaughter taking place every day in the political arena. “Numbers sanctify,” he tells a reporter seeking a moral to his story.

Intro_largeThe ultimate reason for Verdoux‘ box office failure on these shores: Chaplin was not playing the tramp. He had theoretically left the character behind in The Great Dictator, but the Jewish Barber is, essentially the Tramp with an actual profession. A desperate ad campaign with the tagline “Chaplin Changes! Can YOU?” didn’t turn the tide. It was a tide that had been flowing against Chaplin, seemingly orchestrated by J. Edgar Hoover, who was suspicious of Chaplin’s political views. Trials accusing Chaplin of violating the Mann Act (dismissed after two weeks and months of breathless media coverage) and a paternity suit in 1945 had tarnished his image. Honestly, as announcement to the world that there would be no more Little Tramp movies, Monsieur Verdoux is sterling. As a middle finger to that world, it’s even better.

This trailer doesn’t help the cause much, starting with a silhouette of the Tramp – but watch how Verdoux counts money. It’s inhuman, and I wonder how long it took Chaplin to master it – it’s a trick that’s pulled (with comic exactitude) three times during the movie. Also note the interplay between Raye and Chaplin, two old vaudeville pros who know exactly how to play off each other.

c7cdd1c5_CriminalCode-1931-Columbia-oneBEver since I’d re-watched Targets, I’d had a hankering to see the other movie quoted in it besides The Terror: The Criminal Code. It’s a lovely scene in Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff)’s hotel room, when the drunken director (Peter Bogdanovich) spots The Criminal Code playing on the TV. “That’s The Criminal Code!” says Bogdanovich. “I know,” replies Karloff. “Howard Hawks directed this!” “I know.

It’s a climactic scene playing out on the TV: the typically gaunt, menacing, knife-wielding Karloff stalking a cowering prison inmate. Good enough to file the title away for later seeking.

Not so easy, these days. Not for a 1931 penitentiary flick, in black and white and actually starring a bunch of people the average joe on the street would identify as “Who?” (The average joe on the street is a moron) Semi-luckily for me, Turner Classic Movies put out a box set of three movies Karloff made on the cusp of his sudden fame for Frankenstein. Luckily because I wanted to see The Criminal Code. Semi because I also had to buy The Guilty Generation and Behind the Mask. Maybe I’ll watch those some day.

Anyway, Criminal Code paints a pretty wide canvas. A young kid (Philips Holmes) kills a man in an incident District Attorney Mark Brady (Walter Huston) points out could easily be dismissed on extenuating circumstances, but he is bound by the Criminal Code (thumps law book) to try the kid for manslaughter. The kid’s lawyer, used to financial cases, is overwhelmed and the kid gets put away for ten years.

huston-in-yardAfter six years of working in the jute mill, the kid is about to break, although his two cellmates (one of whom is Karloff, playing a hardcase named Galloway) are oldtimers trying to help him cope. Brady, having lost an election for Governor, becomes warden of the prison as a consolation prize, and actually sets out to improve things somewhat. The Kid is rescued from the jute mill and made a trustee – Brady’s chauffeur, no less, which puts him in a prime position to fall in love with Brady’s daughter (Constance Cummings) and vice versa. The Kid’s third cellmate is killed in an escape attempt, and the blame for that death falls on the snitch Runch (Clark Marshall), whom Galloway knifes during a riot – the scene excerpted in Targets. The Kid sees Galloway leave the scene, then refuses to tell Brady anything, adhering to the Criminal Code of the inmates (ha! See what they did there?), even though his parole is on Brady’s desk, ready to be signed.

the-criminal-codeIt’s melodrama, but pretty decent melodrama. Hawks keeps thing moving even though the plot threatens to turn back and start eating itself a couple of times. This is Karloff’s first really significant film role, and he got it mainly because it’s based on a play that was having a successful run in Los Angeles when MGM had a surprise hit with The Big House. Columbia, considered a second-rate studio at best, scrambled for something to ride on its coattails, and here was a script already written (Hawks had it re-written at least four times, though). Karloff had played Galloway in that production, and was carried over to the movie. Karloff said in later years if a more prestigious studio had produced the movie, the role would have gone to an actor with a bigger name. It’s a supporting role, but vital.

Should you also seek out Criminal Code? If you’re a Karloff or Hawks completist, sure. Otherwise, you’ll sleep just fine tonight without having watched it. Here’s that scene used in Targets, if that helps you sleep better:

 

Comin’ On Like A… MEGA POST!

100June 16, 2015

So if you watch TV at all, you might be aware that, as I write this, Tropical Storm Bill has made landfall somewhere south of me in Texas, an event that the local media has been trumpeting as if it were the vengeful return of Hurricane Ike, attended by flesh-eating zombies, who were themselves on fire. Grocery stores were emptied out, schools were closed, and I couldn’t go to work. Couldn’t even work on this blog, because my Verizon DSL craps out when it rains. Even the infinitesimal amount of precipitation I’ve gotten so far.

Well, this is what word processors are for, yes? Eventually my Internet has to come back. Eventually my teenage son has to stop barging into my office, demanding I reset “the router” “just in case that might help.” I’ve stopped correcting him that the router and the modem are separate creatures. I just grumble and do it.

In the course of all this madness, as I fall farther and farther behind in everything else, I might as well say, hey, I watched some movies.

THE-INNOCENTS-1961For instance, I watched The Innocents for the first time in, ooooh, maybe 50 years? I didn’t like it back then, but, you know, I was just a kid and all that. I bring entirely new sensibilities to the table. Surely now I will experience it as the classic it truly is!

Nope. I’m going to have to admit that most ghost stories simply do not do it for me, no matter how well made they are, and make no mistake – The Innocents is a well-made movie. Deborah Kerr, as a first-time governess who finds herself in a battle for her charges’ souls against the ghosts of two former servants, felt this was her best role. That’s quite possible. As a child I did not care for the downbeat ending. As an adult I appreciate that Kerr and director Jack Clayton leave the possibility open that this ghost business may all be in the governess’ troubled mind.

Or, if you're Amurrican, you saw this movie.

Or, if you’re Amurrican, you saw this movie.

Well, on then to stuff I appreciated more. Last week we lost a bunch of cool people, the biggest splash belonging to Sir Christopher Lee. I’ve said many times I found him to be an actor of limited range, but he had more presence and gravitas than ten normal actors, and when you put him in the right role, damn but he was unstoppable. One of those right roles was the Duc de Richelieu in The Devil Rides Out, Hammer’s movie version of the Dennis Wheatley novel of the same name (the credits remind us it is a “classic novel”).

Richelieu, along with his two-fisted pal Rex (Leon Green) are determined to free the son of their deceased comrade, Simon (Patrick Mower) from the insidious control of Mocata (Charles Gray at his villainous best), a Satanist of incredible power. Fortunately for the good guys, de Richelieu is himself knowledgeable in the ways of magic, and is  able to protect his friends – if just barely – from the black magic onslaught that comes. The story meanders a bit, but there’s hypnotism, spirit mediums, giant spiders, the Angel of Death and Satan Himself (a guy with a goat’s head. It’s 1968, after all, and for that, it’s not bad).

There’s a fair amount of action and derring-do – I seem to remember the novel having a lot more, but then, I read it uhhhh forty-something years ago. A lot of movies about Satanism are pretty dull, but this is not one of them. It really needs a quality video release in the U.S., but I say that about most Hammer movies.

vlcsnap-2015-04-06-15h33m46s97

70s, you have so much to answer for.

Then I went to Rick’s for our monthly watching of movies. We had our three movies all picked out, and our pattern of late was two acknowledged classics and one lamentable piece of crap, usually sandwiched between the two classics as a palette cleanser. This time we decided to forego the “shit sandwich” model and start with the non-classic: in this case, the recently-revived Supersoul Brother, which goes by an *ahem* much vulgar title in actuality.

This is the star vehicle for Wildman Steve, a minor league Rudy Ray Moore (who was himself in Petey Wheatstraw as a character named Steve), who plays a wino -named Steve – picked by two thugs to be the guinea pig for a super-strength potion they’ve bankrolled to the tune of six thousand dollars (geddit? Geddit?). The plan is for Steve to carry out a safe from a jewelry store, then the hoods will plug him and make off with the diamonds. They figure this will be a mercy because, unknown to Steve, the formula will kill him in six days. Well, the formula also makes him bulletproof, so he makes off with the diamonds and tries to find an antidote.

supersoul6bigNow that is almost the plot to a decent movie. Unfortunately, this is a Wildman Steve movie, which means it’s a Dolemite movie without the budget, wit or charm.

I’m going let that statement sink in on you for a while. As Rick so very succinctly put it, “This movie makes you re-calibrate your opinion of the Dolemite movies.”

I managed one intentional laugh during the movie. There is also one point during which we said, “You know, this was an okay movie until these white women showed up,” so there are degrees of bad. Predictably, although a derelict wino, Steve has no problem getting women into bed. The mad scientist, Doctor Dippy (Peter Conrad) has a girlfriend played by the magically named Wild Savage, who seemingly took acting lessons from Dolores Fuller, but again, without the budget, wit or charm of an Ed Wood movie.

vlcsnap-2015-04-15-19h33m18s228This was directed by Miami filmmaker Rene Martinez, Jr., whose other big claim to fame is The Guy From Harlem, which, dammit, I own, so someday I have to watch it. At one point we spotted a triple-beam scale in Dr. Dippy’s office and Rick said, “That’s how they measured out the payroll every week.”

Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD is mainly clear and deceptively beautiful, but it has enough missing frames and streaking to really bring home the seedy grindhouse experience. I can’t recommend it, but I also cannot wait to force it on my friends.

Well, I see Everything is Terrible has edited it down to two minutes. Be aware this only gives you the smallest inkling of it’s… uh… quality:

So to soothe our bruised sensibilities, we slipped in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

The_Great_Dictator-335887708-largeChaplin’s first all-sound movie still has stretches of silent comedy (or scenes that would play as well silently), but suffers from some tonal problems. It’s the tale of a Jewish barber who spends years in a hospital, suffering amnesia from injuries in a World War I-style war between the countries of Tomania and Bacteria. Thus he misses the rise of dictator Adenoid Hynkel, his Double Cross party, and his anti-Jewish agenda. Both men are played by Chaplin.

Chaplin’s Hitler manque is justly famous – he spent hours watching footage of Hitler and knows exactly how to puncture the dictator, right down to his adjutants, rechristened Herring (Billy Gilbert) and Garbitsch (Henry Daniell). The Hynkel scenes are so exacting, so precise, that the parallel storyline with the barber seem scattered and happenstance – the Barber isn’t even given a name – until the two switch places, more by accident than anything.

Charlie-Chaplin-in-The-Gr-004It was, in fact, a matter of some curiosity to me that nobody notices the two men are identical. In retrospect, that is absolutely the right way to approach it; as one of the Juden, the Barber is considered by the stormtroopers to be subhuman, and therefore no notice is given to him as a person; it isn’t until the Barber escapes from a concentration camp and is found in a stolen uniform that it is assumed he is Hynkel, just as Der Fooey, taking a pre-invasion vacation in an Alpine costume, is mistaken for a common man.

This is all leading up to the Barber giving a speech when everyone assumes he is Hynkel, to celebrate his conquering of another fictional country; the speech is, instead, one advocating peace and brotherhood, and you have no doubt had it posted to your various timelines more than once, captioned as “The Greatest Speech Ever Made” (and here it is with some Hans Zimmer music, for  extra chills):

Please note that this speech is also one of the pieces of evidence given for branding Chaplin a Communist. Why? Because fuck the world, that’s why.

As I said, I don’t feel the two storylines mesh ideally, but who cares when the two resulting movies are this good? Chaplin was very nervous about his first talkie, so much so that the movie pretty much ruined his relationship with Paulette Goddard, radiant as always as the Barber’s girlfriend, Hannah. He needed not have worried so much, even if in later years he had misgivings about taking a relatively lighthearted approach when the true horrors of Nazi Germany began to come to light. But The Great Dictator had such value as a propaganda tool in the early days of World War II, it cannot be discarded as misguided. Hell, it’s even recorded that Hitler himself had a copy smuggled in so he could watch it. Apparently he did so twice.

mononcle-posterSo, excellent movie, even though I could not, in all conscience, give it the full five stars. Unlike the movie which ended our evening, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.

Several years back, when I decided that I wasn’t getting any younger and needed to start experiencing a higher quality of film, this is precisely the sort of movie I suspected I was missing out on. I don’t even know how to begin to talk about it, as the examination of even one of the many wonderful bits of imagery that run throughout the movie leads to the temptation to talk about all of them.

But let’s try. In the introduction to Tati’s Monsieur Hulot character, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, one of the many plot threads concerned a young boy, whose businessman father was too occupied with important phone calls to pay attention to his son (much less enjoy his own vacation), who began to emulate Hulot. In Mon Oncle, Tati makes that connection a familial one.

Mononcle houseGerard (Alain Becourt) is the son of the Arpels; Mr. Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zola) is the manager of a successful plastic hose company; Mrs. Arpel (Adrienne Servantie) busies herself with caring for their ultra-modern and extremely ugly house. Hulot (Tati, as always) is Madame Arpel’s brother, living in a strange apartment building requiring an almost Escher-like path to get to his room, at the very top. Hulot lives in a older, rundown suburb that might as well be the rustic village in Jour de Fête; the heartbeat of life there is much slower and more erratic than in the contained and regimented world of the Arpels.

hqdefaultThus, Gerard looks forward to his outings with his uncle – they promise and provide more adventure and actual living than in his nightmare Tex Avery Home of the Future (at one point the Arpels quite literally become prisoners of their own technology). The Arpels, of course, keep trying to cram Hulot into the pegboard of their lives – Arpel gets him a job in the plastics factory (which goes about as well as you’d expect), while his sister attempts to set him up with their next-door neighbor, a bizarre scarecrow given to wearing Andean rugs as a cape.

Mon_Oncle_Hulot_Arpel-Large1Tati isn’t really against the modernity of the Arpel’s house, he’s more against the fact that it’s a house to be shown, not a house to be lived in – there is not a single comfortable chair in the joint, they are all plastic monstrosities that theoretically double as pieces of art. Even then, Tati is never truly vicious in his portrayal of the nouveau riche couple. Even when the father, tired of his son’s admiration for Hulot, packs him off to the provinces – a rather downbeat ending, in my estimation – Tati manages to wring a bit of sweetness from the proceedings, a reconciliation between father and son that shows the father may not have been totally despising his brother-in-law all this time.

Wow, we just hit 2000 words on this, but I managed to be kind of brief about Mon Oncle, so let’s try to get one more movie in here, continuing the comedy vein with Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night.

smiles-of-a-summer-night-movie-poster-1955-1020235556This was the movie that made Bergman’s bones, make no mistake. He was terribly depressed, and his producer telling him if his next picture didn’t make some money, they wouldn’t be letting him make any more probably didn’t help. Then they entered Smiles into Cannes without telling him, it was a major hit, and suddenly they had to let him make his dream project, The Seventh Seal, which cemented the whole “genius” thing for him. Smiles also inspired Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, but that’s not as much fun as imagining he based Sweeney Todd on Bloodthirsty Butchers.

Smiles is one of those mannered comedies about relationships concerning six couples, most of whom are entangled with the wrong people, and the conniving actress who gathers them all at a country estate so that everybody can get with the right person. Bergman regular Gunnar Björnstrad is Egermann, a middle-aged lawyer married to a 20 year old girl, who is still a virgin (also, his depressive adult son, the same age as the bride, is in love with her). The conniving actress is Egermann’s former mistress, who may have had his illegitimate son (which is a surprise to Egermann). She is currently the mistress of Count Carl Magnus Malcolm, a martinet who would allow his own wife to have affairs, if that just didn’t make him so jealous.

smileshaAnd just to add a little spice to the proceedings, there’s the child bride’s saucy maid, played by Harriet Andersson (who blew me away so completely in Through a Glass Darkly), who is herself looking for love. Bergman had apparently been having a love affair with Andersson prior to this movie, but it was over by this point – another reason for his profound depression during shooting.

It’s a complex plot, but Bergman keeps a bunch of balls in the air and brings it all to a satisfying conclusion. The main thrust of the story is that men are are a bunch of idiots and women can make them do anything they want, and I’d argue with that if I could. I was confused through the opening half of Smiles, because Egermann’s relation with his second wife – who he finally admits loves him more like a father than a mate – bears more than a slight resemblance to the life of Moliere, the French playwright who lends much inspiration to this script.

charlottefredrik360Moliere was similarly married to a much younger woman, even more unhappily than Egermann. Back when I was an actor, I played Moliere in a repertory project that alternated Mikail Bulgakov’s biographical The Cabal of Hypocrites with The Imaginary Invalid. In preparation, I read Bulgakov’s excellent biography of Moliere, along with the playwright’s works, and the most revelatory experience was reading The School for Wives, which is about… an older man married to a much younger woman. The final scene is basically a duel of romantic pronouncements between Moliere’s character and his wife’s younger lover. Contemporary reviews of the play mention Moliere’s hilarious puncturing of overwrought romantic plays and their actors in that scene, but knowing the man’s life, you are struck by how easily it could be played as bleakest tragedy, without changing a single word.

There’s quite a bit of that vibe in the opening act of Smiles of a Summer Night. By the third act, I was pretty certain it was a comedy, though, largely thanks to Andersson’s maid and her earthy major domo boyfriend, played by another repertory company member , Åke Fridell. And if nothing else, I liked it a whole lot more than the similarly-themed Rules of the Game.

It’s now June 22, and I have written 2725 words. Good God, I have work to do. Here, take this.

Oh Hai

I said in a post to the Letterboxd social site that my work duties lessen during the Summer. The Universe has proceeded to punish me for that statement.

A Writing Project that is currently keeping a roof over my head had entered its next phase, which I have been champing at the bit to start since about January – be careful what you wish for. 80,000 words due August 1.

The lessened workload I was bragging about has concentrated itself in this week and the next. We had a rain non-event last Tuesday that shut everything down, thanks to Tropical Storm Bill. Nervousness over the floods of Memorial Day, fed by local news media. You’d think these people had never been through a hurricane. Anyway, that means the day off (admittedly, I really needed the rest) jams everything that needs to be done in the remaining time.

Speaking of hubris (see opening statement), there’s that list of 100 movies I swore to watch this year. It is nearly July and as of this writing, I’ve only watched 35. There is something about having to watch them that kicks off my procrastination circuit something fierce. Then, like the Riddler, I have some sort of compulsion to actually write about the experience of watching them.

That post is getting longer and longer. Yes, I am still writing it. When I have the time.

One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn't belong...

One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn’t belong…

I direct you to the page about it – sometimes I just wrote a few paragraphs (if that) on Letterboxd instead of my usual lengthy blithering here. That page has links to those.

The first week in July my job will do its annual job of attempting to murder me as we cover the City’s Fourth of July parade, which is held on July 3. Don’t get me started.

I have a family which requires some attention. I cook. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who knows how to use the dishwasher. We go this Sunday to visit my Dad. All these things take time.

And oh yeah, the show every Friday and Saturday night, scooping out my life from 5:00 – Midnight. Prime movie-watching and writing time.

Well, this is the life I chose (and as the meme goes, also chose me), and I better get to living it.

Lengthy review-centered post, soon-ish. When I get the time.

mr-t-time-meme-generator-get-back-to-work-fool-fc0cc7

Through A Glass Darkly (1961)

100I’ve been told all my life how good Ingmar Bergman movies are. It’s practically a joke; no, it’s more than that, his movies were of such a quality that it was expected jokes about Bergman movies would be understood. I don’t think that, culturally, this is quite so true, anymore.

But that’s beside the point. I’ve just watched Through A Glass Darkly and I am blown away all over again.

b70-16549This is the first movie of a film trilogy which is apparently called, with admirable economy, The Ingmar Bergman Film Trilogy, consisting of this, Winter Light and The Silence. With my usual ass-backwards methodology, I watched Winter Light a year ago, because I was still in the honeymoon phase of my man-crush on Gunnar Björnstrand from The Seventh Seal, and I couldn’t resist the idea of watching him play a priest who had lost his faith. Was this an error? Have I sacrificed an arc that runs through this trilogy? I have no idea, I haven’t watched The Silence yet.

Through-a-Glass-Darkly-1961-movie-Ingmar-Bergman-2-450x315Speaking of admirable economy, Through A Glass Darkly eschews the larger population of most of Bergman’s other films, and rests its story on only four characters: David, a writer (Björnstrand), his adult daughter, Karin (Harriet Andersson) and teenage son, Minus (Lars Passgård), and Karin’s husband, Martin (Max von Sydow). All four are having a bit of a holiday in an old, isolated farmhouse on the coast.

From a very simple beginning, things begins to complexify: David is a very remote father, frequently traveling, ostensibly for his novels, and there is a fair amount of resentment that he’s about to set out again. Minus wishes only that he could speak with his father, but the few opportunities that present themselves fall into the typical, stilted, jokey conversations that any boy growing into manhood will find only too familiar. Martin is a medical doctor, which is a good thing because what will hang over the entire movie is Karin’s “illness”, often alluded to, never named.

through_a_glass_darkly_rgbKarin is schizophrenic. She has just returned from a lengthy stay in a hospital; she refers lightly to electro-shock therapy. While David and Martin are alone, Martin confides to her father that Karin’s situation is incurable; a cure is not totally unheard of, but the best he can hope for is longer stretches of normalcy between episodes. At the beginning of one such episode, Karin finds and reads her father’s diary. In the honesty writers practice with themselves, by themselves, David talks about her incurable state and his temptation – which he rightly feels is horrific – to write about her condition and deterioration.

The attempt to function as a normal family under this stress is heartbreaking. During a boat trip to get supplies, the two men have it out in civil discourse. Martin feels David has failed as a father, and David agrees – he also admits to a suicide attempt just prior to returning to his family, which failed only because the car he was driving seized up inches from a precipice. This incident has driven him back to Karin and Minus, his love for them now drawn in sharp relief, even if it is a love he has no idea how to demonstrate.

ThroughGlass01While they are gone, Karin has another episode, and in the lucidity that follows, reconciles with her father somewhat and decides that she should now return to the hospital forever, tired of pretending or even hoping that normalcy is a possibility. “You can’t live in two worlds. You have to choose one.” But the worst is yet to come, and every man in her family can only witness helplessly her madness.

It takes true master storytellers to relate a compelling story that consists largely of people talking in rooms, and Bergman certainly qualifies. Each of the men is excellent in their roles, but there is no doubt that this movie belongs to Harriet Andersson, with her stunning portrayal of Karin. She plays out the entirety of human emotion in her performance, and her schizophrenic episodes, never overplayed, have the terrible ring of truth. The fact that she not only holds her own against von Sydow and Björnstrand, but carries the whole picture with their able support, cannot be overstated.

tumblr_lb4idlm4Ab1qzzxybo1_500Additional praise must be given for cinematographer Sven Nykvist, in his second outing with Bergman. The black and white palette of Glass is incredibly varied, and the austere landscape and textures of the farmhouse and other settings are so precise, so gorgeously detailed, it is as if Ansel Adams had decided to take up a movie camera, it is that astonishing. I am told that Bergman was truly impressed by Nykvist’s outdoor photography on The Virgin Spring; I’m scheduled to watch that later in the year, I’ll let you know.

To hear me talk about it, one would think that Through A Glass Darkly is depressing – it’s not. It’s frequently harrowing, but as the movie ends – simply, with no Fin or end credits – the feeling is one of exhilaration. The exhilaration that comes of spending an hour and a half in a room with people who are very good at their jobs, and being privileged to see that work.

 

Iconoclash!

100In the pattern we’ve established, about every six weeks I go over to Rick’s and we just sit and watch movies on his finely-calibrated plasma set (this time I got to drive through a monsoon, which is about as much fun as you’d expect). We’re both cinematic omnivores, but Rick’s a better omnivore than me, by which I mean he’s more open to new experiences, which I sometimes approach with a sense of dread.

51MNM0KJHVLThis time, we had lucked upon a theme for our choices: Cinematic icons at war with each other (that two of the movies were on my 100 list for this year was certainly a bonus). To set the groundwork for this, we began with Werner Herzog’s sublime documentary on his fractious relationship with Klaus Kinski, My Best Fiend.

Kinski’s on-set tantrums were the stuff of legend, and Herzog was frequently the focus of those screaming fits; somehow they still managed to make five movies together that stand as classics of modern cinema. Herzog reveals that he met Kinski while the director was still a child; they both lived for a time in a boarding house, and found Kinski  absolutely terrifying (but admittedly memorable). He then leads us through their movies and times together, revisiting locations and interviewing people years after the fact. Eva Mattes, his co-star in Woyzeck, and Claudia Cardinale, ditto for Fitzcarraldo, seem to be the only people who have nice things to say about Kinski. Apparently this is the sort of thing that happens when one fires a rifle into a hut full of extras.

cobra-verde-1987-007-werner-herzog-and-klaus-kinski-hug-on-location-1000x750Herzog, I think, has the proper range to gauge the truth about Kinski – a self-aggrandizing egomaniac who used his rages to make sure he was the center of attention at all times. Even then, Herzog continues, once his rage was spent, Kinski was capable of genius, and his hair-trigger temper kept everyone very professional, lest they trigger another outburst. Other footage, at festivals and behind the scenes, confirm Mattes and Cardinale’s tales that he was capable of great charm and warmth. My Best Fiend is an amazing odyssey, and if nothing else, it makes you want to watch these movies all over again.

Uh, about that "Tobe Hooper"...

Uh, about that “Tobe Hooper”…

The thing is, this was actually homework. Rick had been doing one of those falling-down-the-wikipedia rabbit hole affairs, checking for details on his new favorite actor, Oliver Reed, when he discovered that Reed had made a movie with Kinski in 1981 – Venom – and the idea of trying to keep those two in control during production led to us seeking it out. At the very least, I thought, Reed would eventually drink himself into unconsciousness…

Venom is one of those movies where you suspect the making would have made a better movie than what wound up onscreen. Based on a fairly successful suspense novel by South African writer Alan Scholefield, it was originally going to be directed by Tobe Hooper, who left over “creative differences” (by some reports, a nervous breakdown). Kinski apparently later crowed at a premiere party that he and the other actors ganged up on the Texan to make him quit. Director Piers Haggard replaced him (best known in these parts for Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Quatermass Conclusion), who later opined that the nicest person on the set was the black mamba snake.

venom6The story concerns the kidnapping of a motel magnate’s son which goes rapidly south when one of the conspirators, the family’s chauffeur (Reed), panics and shoots a police officer, killing him. The officer was there to alert the family that the son – who has quite the menagerie in his room – accidentally picked up the black mamba from the pet store instead of a harmless African house snake. Now the snake is loose in the house, which is surrounded by the Police, and it’s in a nastier mood than the kidnappers.

0_109542_bf120f53_origKinski plays Jaclen, the mastermind behind the crime. Susan George is his girlfriend, who’s worked in the household for eight weeks as a maid. Sterling Hayden, in his penultimate role, looks incredibly out-of-place as the boy’s grandfather, a retired big game hunter. Sarah Miles is a herpetologist whose major jobs are to A) tell us how deadly black mambas are, and how they can do everything except teleport through walls (and the jury is out on that one) and B) get taken hostage by Jaclen. All good actors (each with their own varying reputations for being difficult) that put in acceptable jobs, but the one I enjoyed was Nicol Williamson as the Police Inspector who gets saddled with this mess.

But Rick and I were there to watch the fireworks between Kinski and Reed. There aren’t many visible, which is remarkable considering that Reed basically spent the entire shoot annoying Kinski to make him blow. What shows up in the movie belies that, with Reed playing an increasingly desperate everyman who is in way, way over his head, and Kinski playing the calmest man in the house. There is one scene, when Reed makes one of his many trips to the liquor cabinet, and Kinski grabs his hand, stopping him – there is a true flash of hatred, and it looks like the split second before a massive bar brawl starts.

"You are about to lose that f*cking Nazi hand."

“You are about to lose that f*cking Nazi hand.”

“Acceptable” is a fair adjective to use on Venom. You won’t begrudge its 90 minutes, but you probably won’t care to revisit it, either. The best illustration for its problems is the scene where Kinski forces Hayden to search a room for the snake (since he has experience with the nasty things), and as constructed, it should be very suspenseful – or it would be if it hadn’t been established in the previous scene that the snake has already slithered into the ventilating system. We know it’s not in that room. Still, Haggard should be commended for producing a movie that’s at least watchable, given that he had absolutely no prep time, a script that was already locked down, and a cast that wanted to murder each other on the good days.

Poster - Whatever Happened to Baby Jane_01All this was mere preparation, though, for the main event. A movie which Rick and I had managed to get through our entire lives without seeing, setting two screens icons against each other: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

If, like Rick, you’re familiar with the title but have no idea what the movie’s about: Baby Jane is a vaudeville singing sensation whose ignored sister Blanche becomes a beloved movie star in the 30s while Jane’s movies are… struggling. One night, there is an auto accident involving the two, resulting in Blanche confined to a wheelchair. Fast forward to the 60s, where Jane and Blanche have aged into Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Jane is taking care of Blanche, but is becoming increasingly unstable and abusive. Emphasis on the abusive, as during the course of the picture, Jane will cut Blanche off from the outside world and proceed to torment her.

b050cf939aca4acd88a502737100efa2Movies like this – psychological horror/hostage dramas -have never been my cup of tea, which is why I’ve avoided the movie all this time, but now I’ve seen it. And I can say I’ve seen it. It is a well-made movie, and it broke box office records at the time. Director Robert Aldrich (who has quite the varied and interesting filmography) uses the open enmity between Davis and Crawford for all its worth, but this isn’t just a carnival gladiator match, like Reed and Kinski; there is some real depth and acting here using all that hate.

bette-baby-janeCrawford does a marvelous job – audience sympathy obviously goes out to her, but she never quite makes Blanche likable, a choice that pays off on repeat viewings – but there is never any doubt that Davis owns this picture. She takes possession of the character of Jane and positively nails every single frame she is in to a wall. Davis had a great degree of leeway from Aldrich in designing Jane’s appearance, reasoning, among other things, that Jane never washed her face, just applied more makeup. Roger Ebert once wrote that the canniest career move Bette Davis ever made was growing older. He was talking about All About Eve, but the same reasoning holds here, The incredible grotesquerie that Davis breathes life and malevolence into is not to be missed (even if this type of movie is not your cup of tea). This is what total commitment looks like. Davis was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar that year, but it went to Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker.

whatever-aldrich-directingIf more motivation to watch is needed, you can also toss in Victor Buono’s debut role as an unemployed musician desperate for the gig playing for Baby Jane’s fantasy comeback; their first scene together is like a miniature acting school, sidewise glances that tell us everything we need to know about what is going on in the characters’ minds.

This rather marks a high point for both actresses at this stage in their careers; the shelf life for Hollywood actresses is depressingly, frustratingly short, and for them the future held more of the same, but lesser. Davis in Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (which I prefer quite a bit over Jane) and The Nanny, Crawford in Straitjacket and Trog. This was a high point, as sad as that might seem.

 

The Color of Horror

100Tim Lucas starts out his typically excellent audio commentary for the recent Arrow Films restoration of Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace with an anecdote about Ernst Lubitsch. Apparently the director told a visitor to the set of Heaven Can Wait that Technicolor worked best with musicals and comedy, and should never be used for drama or mysteries. Lucas presents Blood and Black Lace as the prime exhibit that Lubitsch’s reasoning is incorrect. With the synchronicity that runs my life at this juncture, I watched another movie afterwards that also contested it, only earlier.

babl2Blood and Black Lace has followed me around all my life, it seems. It was released in the US in 1965, which would put me at eight years of age, already a veteran reader of Famous Monsters of Filmland; it made enough of a splash that I determined that this was something I needed to see. A bit of confusion led me, a few years later, to watch a late night TV showing of Blood and Roses (and talk about being even more confused later – I was much too young for Vadim, even edited for TV). So it’s actually taken me something like half a century to see this movie, and watching just the opening credits unfurl, all ravishing color and dark wit, lets me know the wait for this version was worth it. (This sequence was replaced for the American release with one by Filmation, included on the disc as an extra. Macabre, but much less colorful. Much.)

I almost didn’t get to see it. This was supposed to be a high profile release from the new Arrow Video USA branch, but apparently the rights weren’t cleared up before the release was announced, and the title is on the “Indefinitely Delayed” list. Possibly as a cost-saving measure, though, the concurrent British release of the blu-ray was pressed for both Regions A & B, and I have this account with Amazon UK that proves very useful at times like this…

I think the difference in cost was like three bucks. The extra dough and extra wait were proven to be worthwhile in the first five seconds of the menu, which quotes the above-mentioned title sequence.

blood-and-black-lace-09Blood and Black Lace involves a series of murders decimating the models of a high fashion house in Rome. This may not be the first giallo movie (that title usually goes to director Mario Bava’s earlier, black-and-white The Girl Who Knew Too Much), but it is the one that codifies much of what would become the hallmarks of giallo: a series of sadistic murders, a black-gloved (and in this case, literally faceless) murderer, and innovative and stylish camerawork.

The murders are extremely sadistic, though we don’t see a lot of gore; the victims are models, and the killer always seems to take special care to disfigure his victims. Bava started out as a lighting cameraman, and his ingenuity shines through, especially for such a low-budget movie. Unable to afford an expensive camera dolly and track, his artful, sweeping moves are accomplished with a child’s toy wagon. And the color! The phrase “color you could eat with a spoon” is a silly metaphor, but amazingly apt for this picture. It’s been plagued with substandard video releases to date, and small wonder, as the reds Bava employs would eat its way through any standard VHS tape.

blood-and-black-lace-stillLest one should think the color is a gimmick, Bava cagily uses the lack of it in his daytime scenes, always involving the police, who (as they must be in any giallo) are of very little help, hidebound in their dull little colorless world of procedures and guesswork. Killers and victims exist in a darker yet brighter world, candy-colored and fluorescent. Color is the province of the flamboyant, be they artists or madmen, and both revel in the night.

Blood-and-Black-Lace-8Bava’s casting is also magnificent; Cameron Mitchell (who seems unrealistically young, at this far remove!), Eva Bartok, Luciano Pigozzi (whose full name should really be “Luciano Pigozzi, the Italian Peter Lorre”) and a number of remarkable women as the models, like Mary Arden (who had a remarkable life after), and my favorite, Harriet Medin, whose even more remarkable life Lucas expounds upon in the commentary. Here, she plays a housekeeper with some important red herring information. I instantly recognized her as Thomasina Paine in Death Race 2000.

The mystery itself plays fair with the viewer for the most part, although there is one bit when a character does something so inexplicable, it is almost certainly something Bava threw in to muddy the waters for the viewer. It’s not just a red herring (appropriate in this brightly colored milieu), it’s a big slab of what the hell that still leads to one of the most effective scenes, so we’ll just let it lie. Pondering the movie afterwards does provide a rationale for it, but it does require pondering. A very minor quibble to have this movie in such a bewitching presentation.

This is a very good disc, is what I’m saying. I’ve watched it twice so far, once to experience the movie, once to listen to Lucas’ commentary, and I’m trying to find time for a third run, this time with the English dub so I can enjoy Paul Frees being all the male characters. Does he voice Luciano Pigozzi The Italian Peter Lorre with an actual Peter Lorre? I need to know.

So I followed Blood and Black Lace up with another movie about sadistic murders, Peeping Tom, which could not be more different in tone, but no less artistic.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREPeeping Tom is largely famous for completely destroying the already sinking career of director Michael Powell, who is justly famous for movies like Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. These are all amazing, well-loved movies (and some would point out, made during his fruitful partnership with Emeric Pressburger). Peeping Tom is such an about-face from this earlier material, it seems almost an act of madness itself; that its initial withering critical reception and failure would, decades later, turn into rediscovery and reverence, is now a familiar, tragic tale.

In a reverse from Blood and Black Lace, we know who the killer is from the start: it’s Mark (Carl Boehm), a camera-obsessed, soft-spoken young man who A) works as a cameraman in a movie studio (giving Powell a chance to lampoon some of his friends/enemies over the years); B) Shoots pornographic photos, or in the parlance of the time, “views”, for a local newsagent; C) Rents out the rooms of his father’s spacious home; D) kills prostitutes while filming their death throes, using a camera tripod leg with a knife at the tip.

peeping-tom2There’s one facet of the murders that Powell hides from us until the very end, relying only on the police exclaiming over the look of extreme terror on the victims’ faces; we will see Mark is obsessed with fear, as he shows the nice young girl on the first floor, Helen (Anna Massey), the films his own father made of him when he was a child – his father awakening him in the middle of the night with lizards or bright lights, or forcing him to stand next to the dead body of his mother. This has created the monster he is today, watching the movies of his victims dying late at night, the footage he’s taken surreptitiously of the police investigations.

The repulsion of the public to the movie may zero in on Boehm’s portrayal of Mark – though not wholly sympathetic, it is a quiet acting job, a damaged individual moving through a world that still confuses him on many levels. Anna Massey is quite remarkable as Helen, refreshingly unglamorous and real; her growing relationship with Mark offers an impossible rehabilitation, a normalcy he can hope for, but never truly achieve. When, after spending time with the bubbly Helen, we encounter more typical, idealistically beautiful movie women (and Mark’s chosen victims), they seem alien creatures, rare birds flitting through his world.

Peeping TomOne of these is Vivian, the stand-in for the vacuous star of the vapid comedy movie Mark is working on, who stays after hours to do a bit of film with the cameraman that she hopes will finally garner her the attention she needs to progress beyond stand-in work. Vivian is played by Moira Shearer, the star of Powell’s earlier The Red Shoes, and it’s hard not to read into her subsequent death the possibility of Powell murdering his own career. But that’s the sound of a guy putting way too much thought into his movie watching.

peep-killPeeping Tom, in keeping with its themes of voyeurism, is also one of the, if not the, first movie to give the audience the killer’s Point Of View during the murder scenes. They are seen, as by Mark, through the viewfinder of a camera, but that is not a fourth wall audiences of the time were expecting to crumble, or even wanted.

Peeping Tom opened in 1960, a few months before Psycho, a similar movie which is no less disturbing (and yes, there are parts of Peeping Tom that are legitimately hard to watch). Hitchcock recieved no such blowback from his seedy little horror movie. Is it because he was Hitchcock, a director who had never made a movie like Tales of Hoffman or A Matter of Life and Death? Or was it because Psycho was in black and white?

2043_597bLike Blood and Black LacePeeping Tom is in Eastmancolor, and though not as lurid as the op-art palette of Bava, this is still the director who manipulated color so brilliantly in Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. The color here is lush and realistic, giving the world an unmistakable texture; it is no mistake that Mark’s murder movies are shot in black and white. Realistically, it’s a process he can perform in his own home darkroom, but in the world of this disturbed young man, it is also easily managed, stark. It allows him to concentrate on the fear of his victims, undistracted. And as I believe Hitchcock himself once stated about Psycho, black and white can be distancing, a reminder it’s only a movie. Or maybe it was Kubrick, talking about shooting Lolita in monochrome.

I think Lubitsch’s point was Technicolor (or as seen here, Eastmancolor) is actually a hyperreal process; the colors it produces are gorgeous, but unrealistically vibrant, a method put to good use in lighthearted fare, fantasy. That is true for the most part, certainly true for Lubitsch and his works; but it is the role of artists to ignore such strictures. Without that defiance, we would never have any art at all.

The real kicker is neither of these movies is really available (in the forms I viewed) in the US. Blood and Black Lace for the reasons I mentioned above, and Peeping Tom… well, the rights currently belong to Studio/Canal, and all Amazon offers are Marketplace links to a Chinese blu-ray. A sad state of affairs for lovers of the beautiful… and the horrible.

The Memorial Crapfest

It had been six months since the last Crapfest. There are many reasons for that. The holidays, certainly. There was also the fact that I was really tired of the cat-herding involved with setting a date that everyone was available. It was just much easier to find a day to meet with Rick, or Dave, or both, and just quietly watch some movies.

Life, though, has a way of forcing our hands.

A couple of weeks ago, in my semi-annual bitching about my life post, I mentioned that I skipped out on the memorial service of an acquaintance because that evening was the only chance I had to rest, recoup and heal in a physically grueling week. The deceased was Mark, who was responsible for such Crapfest entries as Skyscraper, The Black 6, and Evil Town. It wasn’t a memorial service, but a Celebration of Life (Mark would not have appreciated a moribund memorial service, not at all) and it was apparently crowded, which is to the good.

I’m a simple man, and I memorialized Mark the best way I knew: by inflicting terrible movies upon my fellow man, as he would.

The evening began with host Dave testing out his new AV setup with the first 20 minutes of Pacific Rim. Now, Pacific Rim is not crap. It is, however, quite loud. I sat and stewed that every time I tried to start things out nicely with some vintage Rolling Stones or Tom Jones, I get castigated for daring to put some “quality” into everybody’s precious crap. No one understands that this only makes the scalpel cut deeper. Yet here is Dave, receiving no such complaints while he projects giant robots punching kaiju.

maxresdefault

NOT. CRAP.

When you’re the host, you get to do stuff like this.

But you know when nobody complains about “quality” in a Crapfest? When that quality is in the form of cartoons. I curated another set of cartoons, if only because Mark had really enjoyed the Halloween set at the last Crapfest. We start off easy with Feed the Kitty, one of Chuck Jones’ best, followed by Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie, which is its polar opposite: in the first, a bulldog adores a little kitten; in the other, a bulldog continually tries to kill a little kitten.

Tom & Jerry were actually the worst about this.

Tom & Jerry were actually the worst about this.

The next section grew out of a discussion that Dave, Rick and I had after watching Diplomaniacs, about what Dave termed “blackface dynamite” (a scholarly term, to be sure) in cartoons, where an explosion turns everyone onscreen into minstrel show participants. The one instance he could recall with certainty was in Droopy’s Good Deed, which I surprisingly had in its uncensored form… but I still started off with Chew Chew Baby, a 1958 Harveytoon that played semi-regularly in the weekday morning cartoon slot, alongside the Bugs Bunny and Sylvester the Cat cartoons. It terrified me, and in short screwed me up for some time. It was a horrible thing to show a 5 year-old, and once again it is temporarily on YouTube, so look quick:

Oh, all right, here’s the censored Droopy scene in Japanese, which doesn’t make it any better:

Surprisingly, there are some (pretty awful quality) examples of the Betty Boop cartoon I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You, featuring Bimbo and Koko being chased by the giant flying head of Louis Armstrong:

Again, I fully expect all of these to be purged from YouTube in the next week.

I laid out my usual four movies to be voted on. Dave was having none of this voting crap, however (the fascist), and snatched up the recently-released Sorceress DVD. I have gone into Sorceress in far too much detail elsewhere, so let me be brief, and you can visit me twenty years ago at your leisure.

Sorceress is yet another Roger Corman-produced New World Pictures attempt to cash in on the sword and sorcery fad. It was directed by Jack Hill, who has a bunch of good, influential cinema under his belt, like Coffy and Switchblade Sisters. He asked that his name be removed from the movie. It is an intriguing script, full of amazing effects that Corman was not willing to pay for, so what you’re actually watching is a cheap piece of junk. It does feature the Harris twins (Playboy Playmates) and their nudity, Frampton the Barbarian, and for some reason, a Viking and his traveling companion, a satyr. I’m usually pretty forgiving about the acting in these things, but in this one it gets pretty dire.

Viking

“And my axe! …except I don’t have one.”

The major heartbreak in all this: Jack Hill wanted Sid Haig to play Pando, the satyr, but Corman wouldn’t pay for that, either. I weep over the loss of this portrayal. And you know what else is not in Sorceress? A sorceress! None. Zip. Zero. Corman apparently took a list of possible titles to a local high school and asked them which movie they’d go see. “Why, the one that gives me a chance to see boobies,” they replied, and so it was.

After this, Alan had brought something. When Alan brings something, it is always horrific. This time, it was, at least, horrific and short. It was the premiere episode of the shortest-lived M*A*S*H* spin-off ever, W*A*L*T*E*R*. Yes, Gary Burghoff’s shot at a show featuring his Radar O’Reilly character.

There are a few points of interest: using one of the best episodes of M*A*S*H* as a springboard – the one featuring a TV crew filming a documentary of the 4077th – a “Where are they now?” special catches us up on what happened to Radar – excuse me, Walter – in the intervening years. He lost the family farm and got abandoned on his wedding day, among other things. So now he is a beat cop in St. Louis.

walter2Now, Walter using his Radar O’Reilly powers to solve crimes is the series I would have tuned in to every week. Instead, what we have here is some gently uplifting comedy about how being a nice guy and having an affinity for animals makes Walter a good cop. Any warm feelings toward the show engendered by having Dick Miller crop up as the manager of a burlesque house besieged by warring strippers is wasted by the fact that Walter’s eventual love interest is played by Victoria Jackson. Possibly before she went insane, but still.

You know what? Screw you. Why should I be the only one to suffer?

There needed to be some filler while dinner was grilled (We were too wrapped up in W*A*L*T*E*R* to attend to such things, it seems), and this fell to me. I had two trailer compilations, labeled “Adventure” and “Satanism” “Satan!” chose Paul, enthusiastically. He would regret that.

There are a lot of movies with “Satan” and “The Devil” in their titles, and the most amazing thing about this is that most of these movies are boring. How is this even possible? They don’t even have enough good stuff in them to make a good trailer, and this is sad.

fitnessRick had prepared a ton of hamburger patties. Dave imperiously strode through the kitchen, proclaiming, “You will have double cheeseburgers! This is the LAW!!!” In a rare gesture of restraint, I only had two double cheeseburgers. I miss those double cheeseburgers. They were good double cheeseburgers.

(Why yes, I did just have my semi-annual visit to my doctor, during which we discussed my weight gain. I told her it was all Rick’s fault. She sighed and scribbled something in the TO BE KILLED column.)

lost planetThen Dave put on his choice. It was a choice that would make us miss boring old Satan. Like many of Dave’s choices, it had more names than a petition against closing a local community center. The name it had chosen for the evening was Galaxy Destroyer, but it is apparently better known as simply Galaxy or Battle for the Lost Planet (“uncensored TV version of Kampf um den verlorenen Planeten”) or “Do you even watch these fucking things before you show them?”

SO there’s this thief named Harry Trent (Matt Mitler) who has stolen a very valuable data tape, and hijacks a space shuttle to escape the security guards chasing him. First problem: he damaged the shuttle and can’t maneuver it, so he has to take a comet’s route back to Earth, which will take five years. Luckily (if not realistically) , there is sufficient fuel and food for this. Second problem: he passed a fleet of wannabe Vogons who reduce the Earth to a scorched black ball.

So after five years of komedy, like discovering he also broke the ship’s stove so that the food is crap and drawing a naked woman on a pillow to seduce, Trent returns to an Earth that has regrown into a bunch of B-movie communes, and discovers he has become a legend, because the data tape he stole will operate a mega-weapon that will destroy the pig-faced aliens. He picks up a feisty liberated woman (Denise Coward), runs into space crabs, has to deal with Mad Dog Kelly, the Maddest Mad Man on the Q Morning Zoo… no I’m sorry, he’s Joe Genitissi in a role that should have gone to Frank Stallone, a Mad Max wannabe who thinks all women should willingly be in his harem and Trent fights him to the death AND OH MY GOD WILL YOU JUST END I REALLY MISS BORING SATAN.

semistalloneSemi-Stallone gets Trent into the Mega-weapon complex and finds out it can kill anybody or anything just as long as the particulars can be programmed into it. Even with the data tape, the surviving scientist (Bill MacGlaughlin) can’t figure out how to program it to kill the aliens. Semi-Stallone says that’s because he’s “too cordial” and he just has to program in human beings and tell the machine to kill everything else. Congratulations, asshole, you just destroyed the biosphere, animals, insects, bacteria and all.

But no, this works, and the aliens dissolve like the demons at the end of the original Evil Dead, but this is deemed so cool that they show many, many instances of it until even that becomes boring. Gaaaah.

This is the work of Brett Piper, who some of you will know from A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, and you are nodding sagely right now.  Some fair stop-motion animation, almost nudity (“MY movie had boobies,” I once again entoned from the back), komedy, and some tiresome social commentary.

Dave sneered that we had lost our “bad movie legs”. See for yourself, the three minutes where the movie almost got exciting:

And lest that make you think you might actually want to watch this, here’s the actual trailer:

The only comment on YouTube:

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.31.32 PM

And you know what else wasn’t in Galaxy Destroyer, besides entertainment value? A galaxy, being destroyed or not.

Sometime during this Paul scapered off into the night, claiming work the next morning (he was lying, he wanted to watch the Rockets game in peace. Incidentally, they lost that night.) and also Erik, claiming a hangover (the veracity of this is unknown). This left Dave, Rick, Alan and myself. “What else you got?” asked Dave. I presented two discs which I knew to be around an hour long. “What else you got?” he asked again, and I realized I was the only person in the room who had to get up for work the next day.

Short sleep rations are a fact of my life. You don’t scare me.

Can-que_e39fe8ffI presented two more movies. And with some sort of hell-spawned wisdom, Dave chose the movie that would be of a fit with the rest of the evening: The Return of the Five Deadly Venoms, which has nothing to do with the earlier movie, Five Deadly Venoms. It is, in fact, a re-titling of Crippled Avengers, because people are idiots.

Chan Kuan-Tai plays To, a famous kung fu hero, whose wife and child are hideously mangled by enemies (To then kills the scumbags with one tiger blow each). His son survives, though his arms have been cut off, and To raises him to be a great fighter with iron arms that have some proto-Tony Stark weaponry in them. They also become colossal jerks, ruling the local village with an iron (ha!) fist, and crippling most of the cast of Five Deadly Venoms for various minor infractions, like talking back or bumping into them on the street.

So, a newly blind man, a deaf-mute, a legless guy, and a brain-damaged hero who tried to help them (but still has excellent kung fu skills in his muscle memory), learn kung fu and come back to rid the world of To and his iron-fisted son. If you need more details, once again you can commune with my younger self.

Chang Cheh’s Venom movies (as they are known) tend to end in spectacular fight scenes that rely more on acrobatic skills than martial artistry, but the fights are so dizzying, like a gymnastic tournament gone ballistic, that it is damned near impossible not be sucked in. Another special shout out goes to Wang Lung Wei as To’s second-in-command, whose battle cry of “Let’s go!” whenever his men were losing, became the quote of the evening.

It washed away the Boring Satan and Boring-er Galaxy Destroyers and ended the night on an up-beat. Nyah nyah on Erik and Paul who have to nurse their delicate psyches through horrid memories of Galaxy Destroyer when they think of this night, and not the exhausting final fight of Crippled Avengers or the ta-tas of the Harris Twins (“My movie had boobies!”)

And rest assured that Mark is laughing at us all, and probably making a joke about an obscure Richard Burton movie.

Looks like I’m back to my cat-herding duties.

 

 

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