There’s always a hangover after challenges like Hubrisween, where no matter how much you may like movies, you have to avoid them for a while. Listen to some music, read a book. Clean your bathroom. Then one night you finally watch a movie again, and you discover why you liked them all along.
Let’s see if I can be brief. This is a busy week, and time is at a premium, especially since I’m watching movies again.
The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968)
I figured to start out with some cinematic comfort food. This one I remembered playing on CBS back in the day, say ’69 or ’70, and though it didn’t introduce me to Raquel Welch (that was probably Fantastic Voyage or Fathom), she was certainly the reason I watched it. Well, it was also a caper comedy, very popular at the time, and I also loved their complex plots.
(Slight digression: when the soundtrack album cropped up in my local Woolworth’s for 99 cents in the early 70s, I grabbed it quickly. Not only did it have a reproduction of that gorgeous poster art, but the score by Riz Ortolani – unknown to me at the time – and songs by Johnny Mathis and Eric Burdon & The Animals was really good)
The movie takes place in Italy, opening at the funeral of a respected mafioso. His old compatriot, played by Vittorio De Sica, is kidnapped by a gang headed up by Robert Wagner and including Godfrey Cambridge, Davey Kaye and Francisco Mulé, representing England and Italy, respectively. (Raquel is Wagner’s girlfriend, looking forward to all the dancing she’ll be doing in exotic climes once Wagner’s schemes pay off)
This scheme doesn’t, though: they find out De Sica’s gangland star has diminished so thoroughly that no one will pay his ransom. De Sica has a plan, however: a heist of a platinum ingot shipment plotted out by his old friend, Professor Samuels (Edward G. Robinson). The catch: to buy the equipment necessary to pull it off, they have to raise $3000 within a week, and so begins a twisting tale of amateurs attempting to become master criminals.
The movie definitely has its good points. De Sica, interviewing each member of the gang, is despondent to find out they are just common joes with money problems – a musician, a chef and a mechanic. When he turns to Wagner and asks, “And what do you do for a living?” Wagner’s response is an indignant, “Nothing!” “At last! “says De Sica. “A professional!”
Where the movie begins to wear on me is the tortured trail of trying to steal the three grand; if you thought cringe comedy was a modern invention, this will disavail you of that notion. The final heist is pretty good, though ($3000 went a long way in late 60s Italy, it seems). The one failing here is common to most, if not all, caper comedies – crime cannot be allowed to pay, and something stupid has to happen so our heroes get away with nothing. Expected, but still…
And what of Raquel, who was so popular at the time that the Spanish title translates to Raquel and Some Knaves? Story-wise, Raquel’s purpose is to vixen out the identity of the mysterious fence in Morocco who will buy all that platinum, to the tune of five million dollars. She will also become the unexpected moral compass at the movie’s climax, when Wagner finally makes good on his long-promised double cross of De Sica.
Who am I kidding? Raquel’s purpose in this movie is to make the El Kabong sound go off in my head whenever she makes an entrance. And since we are led to believe that in her very first scene, she is dancing naked on a rooftop, that sound got deafening.
No trailer, but here’s Raquel in a bikini. KA-BONNNNG!!!
Deadly Eyes (1982)
I think I caught the very end of Deadly Eyes on HBO back in the day, and that was the end of my involvement with it until Scream Factory put it out on blu-ray recently. Even when it was playing in theaters, it was fairly infamous for that central conceit. The plot involves some rats that have been feasting on poorly-stored grain that’s been treated with steroids, When a health inspector (Sara Botsford) condemns the grain and has it burned, the now king-sized rats have to find a new home and food source, and the city of Toronto is on the menu. The close-ups are of puppets, of course, but group scenes involving big-ass rats running around and chasing people: the aforementioned dachshunds, and an occasional terrier when they needed the rats to jump on something. (Dachshunds are not the greatest leapers of the canine world).
Outside of the occasional rat attack, the movie is largely concerned with divorced high school teacher Sam Groom, who meets cute with Botsford and they bond and have R-rated sex. This gets him involved with the whole rat thing, and allows him to play hero when Botsford and his son from the previous marriage wind up in the subways that the rats have decided to make their new burrow (I will give the filmmakers credit for not going for the obvious “We can’t close the subways! It’s the Fourth of July!” route). The balance of the story is rather off, in that respect, taking time to build up the relationship and then put it in jeopardy while the average audience member wistfully recalls when the movie had big-ass rats running around and biting people.
Robert Clouse directs, which explains why the annoying high school students wind up at a Bruce Lee retrospective, where they all die, in a sequence that has some of the most brazen grab-the-monster-and-pull-it-to-you action I have seen since Bride of the Monster. The direction and acting are professional, at least. Though based on a James Herbert novel – well, actually, based on a screenplay that was based on the novel – everybody in the supplemental interviews are pretty upfront about having never read that novel. Writer and co-producer Charles H. Eglee, in fact points out that he based the movie on Joe Dante’s Piranha by and large, and once he makes that admission, everything clicks into place.
I’ve read James Herbert. This was probably wise. Fun, but not a milestone or anything. Still, if you only see one movie with dachshunds dressed as rats swarming over Scatman Crothers, it should be this one.
Well, I wasn’t brief enough. Time to go to press, and I still have more movies to talk about. Maybe next time.