Going Dark for the Holidays

Today is the last day of the Thanksgiving Holiday, the second weekend in a row I’ve had off. I have done nothing except cook. eat, sleep and play stupid puzzle games. It has been remarkably renewing. The opposite of profitable, but renewing. Which brings me to this entry.

December begins tomorrow. That is usually a busy month for me; hopefully the last two weeks are not an indicator of how busy I’ll be this year. I need to wrap up phase one of a writing project by the end of the month, and there is a personal writing project I’ve been putting off far too long.

So what I’m saying is, I’m going to stop pretending and simply announce that, likely, this space is going dark for the rest of the year. This downtime has been nice, but I need more. I haven’t watched a movie in more than a week, because – and I find this hilarious – if I watched any more, I’d have to write about them, and this entry was getting ungainly long already. That’s the epitome of putting the cart before the horse. So, before I close this tab on my browser, here’s a shorter version of that ever-growing blog post:

ghost-catchers-1Ghost Catchers (1944) is Olsen and Johnson’s third movie for Universal, the first being Hellzapoppin’, which I raved about last time. Fortunately, it’s up on Vimeo in its entirety, as is their second movie, Crazy House.

Studio execs had ground them way down by this time (it is probably telling that their last picture is titled See My Lawyer, and reportedly has very little Olsen and Johnson in it), to the point that once more we have two movies occupying the same space, but there isn’t even the uneasy truce between them that made Hellzapoppin’ great. Olsen and Johnson find themselves in an Abbott & Costello knockoff (typically, they make a meta joke about it), and the best sequence involves a jitterbug exorcism to cast out the one actual ghost in the whole thing. Mel Torme is supposedly in that, and so is Morton Downey Sr., providing far more entertainment value in five minutes than his son did in an entire career. Chic Johnson seems to be on nitrous, so constant is his giggling. I should have watched Hellzapoppin’ again.

downloadI went over to Rick’s to watch more movies; now, normally, Rick and I, during these outings, watch a better quality of film. During the last sojourn at Dave’s, however, when I showed Wheeler and Woolsey’s Diplomaniacs, Rick became a hardcore convert to the cause of W&W. We had been interested in So This Is Africa, their sole movie for Columbia (during a contract dispute with RKO), and reportedly one of their most heavily censored. Alas, my suspicions were correct, as not only does this movie suffer from the lack of Joe Mankiewicz’s lunatic scripting, but the print is pretty heavily and obviously cut, so much so that Rick and I took to marking each instant with scissor motions in the hour while hissing, “Filth!”

The best bit is an out-of-left-field riff on Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude, which would have been brilliant had the Marx Brothers not done it three years before in Animal Crackers.

CTA1113_originalWe next watched what is the best thing I’ve seen all week, which is the recent Criterion blu-ray of A Hard Day’s Night. The image is a crisp, clean black-and-white and the sound features a lovely 5.1 remix that serves the songs well. The movie stands as a milestone for any number of reasons, but mainly as a testament to letting creative types have their head, and how important is good timing. The Beatles occupied one of those rare intersections where talent and desire were in the right place at the right time, and it was amazing that Richard Lester and writer Alun Owen could break the precedent of other rock musicals to actually allow their stars to show their differing personalities, to be themselves by playing larger versions of themselves.

I hadn’t seen this movie since 1975, when a local theater ran a midnight movie marathon of this, Help!, Yellow Submarine, and Let It Be. Some of the ladies in the college crowd were game enough to scream during the appropriate parts. But what I had forgotten was how claustrophobic this picture was, that it showed how trapped the Beatles were inside their own success. There’s always a smile or a joke, sure, but their faces do not truly light up until they’re playing their music.

Hard2For some reason I truly appreciate that in the final concert segment of the movie, you are able to see that the Beatles are sweating under the stage lights. People tend to forget how much actual work is involved in performing, and it is good to see that paid tribute.

It took me two more nights to get through all the supplements. That’s a great disc, is what I’m saying.

I1Ww9Rick is a recent convert to the cult of Oliver Reed; he arrived there by watching Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen, followed by my insistence that he watch Richard Lester’s (there he is again) Three Musketeers, where Reed rather steals the show as Athos. So I brought my old disc of The Assassination Bureau (1969) (Warner Archive recently re-issued it).

This movie is what we used to call a “romp”. In pre-World War I England, a young suffragette journalist (played by Diana Rigg) discovers the existence of the title organization, run by the son of its founder, Ivan Dragamiloff (Oliver Reed). She contracts the Bureau to kill Dragamiloff himself, which the young idealist accepts – he feels the organization has grown too complacent and greedy, accepting hits for their monetary value, not the moral killing of deserving targets his father had insisted upon. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse chase throughout Europe, with Rigg unknowingly reporting to the Vice Chairman of the Bureau (Telly Savalas), who wants that World War, because all his money is tied up in munitions factories.

Oliver Reed & Diana RiggThis is light (despite the subject matter), frequently silly comedy-adventure, with a final fight scene aboard a zeppelin loaded down with a prototype blockbuster bomb bearing down on a castle housing a peace conference between all the crowned heads of Europe and Russia. I wanted Rick to see it because I think it proves that Reed could have been a credible James Bond… were it not for, you know, all the drinking and punching people.

For our follow-up, we’ll be watching The Devils, as soon as I figure how to play my Region 2 DVD on his system (really, Warner Brothers, what the hell).

I should close by mentioning that Rick, in retribution for my constant bad-mouthing of and cock-blocking a re-showing of Evilspeak at Crapfest, had re-named his wi-fi router so this was showing on my phone and iPad:

ClintBut this scheme, twisted genius that it is, has backfired upon him, as my phone now displays this comforting message:

No Clint

Nyeah, nyeah.

If I don’t have a chance to see you before then, have a Merry Christmas, or whatever your inclination is this time of year. Be safe, and watch good movies. It won’t kill ya.


Recharging with Movies

The end of August moving into September is always a stone drag, man. Trying to get to sleep last night, I read over some old columns, and this became distressingly clear. Mainly, it is the cusp of fiscal years and budgets for the City meetings for which I run audio support – this means more meetings, jammed closer together, and more complicated remote broadcasts. At least that means more money.

dma-funny-photos-38Then there is the writing contract that went into hiatus for focus groups (give me a moment to grind my teeth, please), and though my part of the project didn’t pass muster, it was returned to my hands with an order to carry on, as it was deemed useful, and this time without too much interference. That also meant more money.

What none of that generates, though, is more time. I’m finishing up two stories I’ve worked on for the last month, and then I switch to the story-a-week format that will rule my life through Christmas. So I had a lot on my plate.

Therefore, it was only logical, that I take a day off and go over to Rick’s to watch movies.

Rick, as we know from the Crapfest articles, is not shy about proclaiming his love for such questionable fare as Evilspeak and Skatetown USA. Well, you might say I have equally gory skeletons in my closet, but I also enjoy things that the mundane world point out as good movies.. So does Rick. Rick was also smart enough to wait until plasma screen TVs became the Betamax of the HDTV world, and scarfed up a decent one at a reasonable price, had it professionally installed, then researched how to calibrate it himself to outstanding result. I love my Samsung LCD, but daaaaaamn Rick’s plasma is pretty. We torture-tested it with Samsara, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Rick and I don’t see eye-to-eye on all movies, but we are in agreement about Stephen Chow), and The Holy Mountain.

That was a good, low-impact day. I needed another, so I went over with a bag of movies and a bag of Muddy Buddies, which Chex should really be marketing under the name “Satan’s Crack Cocaine”.

Sorcerer_(1977)Just two days before I had finally – finally! – gotten a copy of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, which I had not seen since its theatrical release back in – God help me – 1977. Rick had never heard of it, and the movie really had vanished for a number of years. It was a commercial failure for many reasons. Friedkin’s previous movie was, of course, The Exorcist, so people went to a movie titled Sorcerer expecting to see, at the very least, a sorcerer of some sort (spoiler: it’s the name of a truck). There was also the problem of another little movie that had premiered a few weeks before, something called Star Wars.

At some point the plan was to call the movie The Wages of Fear, which is the title of the Georges Arnaud novel that is the basis of this and the equally essential Henri-Georges Clouzot movie. Friedkin gets grumbly if you accuse Sorcerer of being a remake, though, which probably led to the name change.

So Roy Scheider – cast after every star in Hollywood turned it down, or were turned down by the studio – is a low-level criminal lying low in a pit of a village in some unnamed South American country, along with several other men from various countries on the run from various crimes. An oil well fire in a remote part of the country calls for the transport of six boxes of dynamite, all sweating nitroglycerine, over mountainous terrain and roads that hardly even deserve the name. The boxes are split between two trucks, with two drivers each, with the hopes that at least one truck will survive the trip. Our four expatriates are desperate enough to accept the assignment for the high pay.

sorcerer2Now once we get past the question of why the oil company doesn’t fly in some much more stable explosive to blow the well, we get to the actual trip through the mountains, 218 miles of potentially deadly potholes and at least one rickety bridge that doesn’t look like it will support one man, let alone a massive truck (the bridge, incidentally, cost over a million bucks, and had to be moved at least once when the river it was built over dried up). This journey doesn’t start until the halfway point of the movie, but it delivers enough tension and suspense for three movies. I wore out the Tangerine Dream soundtrack album in college. The Friedkin-supervised blu-ray is gorgeous, and I’m glad to see the movie back in the public eye.

High_Time_1960Now, in our attempt to give ourselves brain cramps, we went immediately to the 1960 Bing Crosby comedy, High Time. Well, we thought it was a hilarious contrast, anyway.

As downbeat and grim as Sorcerer was, this Blake Edwards comedy is the polar opposite. Bing is Harvey Howard, widower and owner of a highly successful chain of restaurants. Over the protests of his adult children, Harvey decides to do what he didn’t have time for while establishing his hamburger empire: go to college. Demanding no special treatment, he becomes a freshman at age 51, and there you have the thrust of our story.

I first saw this movie on TV sometime in the late 60s, then again – on TV – when I was in college myself. The major thing I take away from High Time is this movie totally lied to me about college.

Bing’s dorm roommates include Fabian, future Twin Peaks hotelier Richard Beymer, and an Indian student played by Patrick Adiarte, to prove how liberal everyone is (we do not see a single black student on campus until the closing graduation scene, and it is, indeed, a single student). Bing has many adventures of a zany college sort (Bing in drag for a fraternity hazing stunt is particularly scarring) and falls in love with the widowed French professor (Nicole Maurey). His kids attempt to sabotage the romance by getting her fired, which we figure was the root cause of the accusations of child beatings leveled by one of Crosby’s actual kids (and disputed by Crosby’s other kids, but we’re not going to let that get in the way of our snark).

6a00e5523026f58834017d3beea3e7970cGavin MacLeod is on hand as the Odious Comic Relief Professor Thayer, an inept science teacher who I’m pretty sure manages to kill himself in Bing’s freshman year and it’s just his hapless ghost haunting the campus for the rest of the movie. On hand to take our minds off MacLeod are an incredibly young Tuesday Weld (17 years old!) and Yvonne Craig (still only 23). We may have overused the sad trombone sound effect, but it was enjoyable, if slight in that typical 1960 family entertainment way.

YouTube doesn’t have a trailer, but here, have a coffin-boxed five minutes:

Three_Musketeers_1974For the last movie of the evening, we split the difference, because I discovered that I had brought another movie Rick had never heard if, and I could not let that stand: Richard Lester’s 1973 version of The Three Musketeers. This and its sequel (The Four Musketeers, duh) are two of my very favorite movies, and I find they were very formative for me: the movies are a very faithful adaptation of Dumas’ novel, but we are never far away from a sly wink, a pratfall, or any other form of piss-taking. It is respectful and entertaining, and a hell of a swashbuckler, to boot, with fights choreographed by the legendary William Hobbs. I am disgruntled that I had to turn to Amazon UK for an all-region blu-ray.

Stunning cast: Michael York as D’Artagnan, Oliver Reed as Athos, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis, and Frank Findlay (truly the Rosetta Stone of British cinema) as Porthos. Suitable villainy with Christopher Lee as Rochefort, Charlton Heston as Cardinal Richelieu, and Faye Dunaway – yet another touchstone of 70s cinema – as Milady DeWinter, the prototype for every ice-cold, manipulative, brilliant femme fatale in film noir. Raquel Welch as D’Artagnan’s love Constance (okay, making Constance a comedic klutz was a bit much… still funny, though). Able support by Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear, Simon Ward… hell, Sybil Danning’s in there, too.

FILM  THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1974) OLIVER REED, RICHARD CHAMBERLAI(Rather more infamously, these two movies led to the “Salkind Clause” in contracts, which stated that you couldn’t film one big movie, split it into two, and then pay your cast and crew for only one. Not that this stopped them from trying it again with Superman and Superman II…)

What I’m saying is there is no reason these movies should be so obscure, and they are the reason I spat upon the Disney “Young Swords” version, ptui ptui. (The Paul W.S. Anderson was horrible, too, but horrible in a way I can enjoy)

I gladly left the blu-ray set with Rick so he could finish the story with The Four Musketeers. I went home and was asleep within the hour, and actually awoke refreshed and ready to face the turmoil of the week.

Such is the magic of cinema, Oliver Reed, Muddy Buddies, and totally disrespecting Bing Crosby.