Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This is not the book. In Stephen King’s Children of the Corn , a short story, Burt Stanton and Vicky Baxter are driving cross-country between corn fields through Nebraska when the car runs over a child in the road. The movie, contrary to custom, provides additional background and depth. This came out in 1984 from Angeles Entertainment Group, among others. Peter Horton is Burt. Linda Hamilton is Vicky. It was recently available on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes in the movie show a peaceful Sunday morning in Gatlin, Nebraska, some time previous. The townspeople leave morning church and many head for the local diner. It is then the evil Isaac Chroner (John Franklin), outside on the sidewalk, gives a signal through the window. The children in the diner begin to massacre the adults. Some are poisoned with coffee, others are cut down by sharp weapons. We later learn Isaac is the leader of a religious cult based on corn, hence the title.

Back to the present, a young boy attempts to leave the cult. With his suitcase he makes his dash toward freedom among the rows of corn. But he is waylaid by Malachai Boardman (Courtney Gains) and stabbed with a kitchen knife. He makes it to the road. That is when Burt hits him with the car.

Seeking help, Burt and Vicky stop at Diehl’s (R. G. Armstrong) shop. Diehl advises Burt and Vicky to go on to the next town, and he is subsequently killed by Malachai. Burt and Vicky attempt to make it to the next town, but their car ends up on a dirt path between rows of corn.

Going back to Gatlin, Burt and Vicky encounter Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy). She and her brother Job (Robby Kiger) are not part of the cult. They can only give clues as to what is going on and what will happen. The town is apparently abandoned, all adults having previously been killed by the children, and cult member roam the town, stalking Burt and Vicky.

Vicky gets taken by the cult and posted on a cross among the corn as a sacrifice. A conflict ensues within the cult, and Malachai usurps Isaac, posting him on the cross in place of Vicky.

Burt works with Job and Sarah as the cult members attempt to trap Burt, using Vicky as bait.

The movie culminates in a showdown among the corn, as an evil entity moves beneath the fertile ground, carrying doom to all it encounters. Burt and Job defeat the evil and the cult by setting the corn ablaze.

Horton and Hamilton are the front-line players in the production, both turning in lackluster performances. Hamilton is mainly good looking throughout. She turned in a significantly better performance as Sarah Conner in The Terminator the same year. The plot has a lot to ask for, as well.

Gatlin, Nebraska—the children kill all adults in the town except Diehl. And nobody notices. Storms of state cops are not all over the place wanting to know what went on. Fortunately this was before cell phones became prolific. Else, Burt would have merely dialed 911 when he found the murdered kid on the road, and that would have been the end of the story.

Viewers of my ilk will experience long stretches of frustration as Burt and Vicky become needless mired in the children’s plot. Viewers obviously know what is going on in the background, but any reasonable person would have dumped all that naiveté after a couple of minutes. Makes the thing agonizing  to watch.

While there is a smidgen of reality with the children cooking up a religious cult and committing murder, the thing beneath the ground in the corn field is pure fantasy. All of Stephen King’s stories seem to have a load of supernatural, but this is a corn crib too much—not essential to the plot and becoming manifest only in the final minutes. In the book the hidden force plays a pivotal role.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This has to be the worst Steve McQueen movie ever, maybe after The Blob, which was his first starring role. This came out in 1959, probably a good reason I missed it until it came up on Amazon Prime Video. It’s The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery from Charles Guggenheim & Associates and distributed by United Artists. Details are from Wikipedia and IMDb.

If you think the title gives the plot away, your’re right. It’s about an actual bank robbery that occurred in St. Louis, Missouri six years earlier. In fact, opening credits announce, “This story is based on a true incident. Men in the St. Louis Police Department play the same parts they did in the actual crime.” The Southwest Bank in the movie appears to be the same bank involved in the original crime.

Opening scenes show three cars trailing in-line across the bridge from Illinois. Nothing like three cars moving in  concert to arouse suspicion, but none is aroused. The three park across from the bank and scope it out.

Later they gangsters drive to a park to discuss the plan. McQueen is George Fowler, scheduled to be the designated driver. He has no criminal record, but he does need the cash. The others are Crahan Denton as John Egan, the boss; David Clarke as Gino; James Dukas as Willie, a gangster upshot who vies to be the driver; and Larry Gerst as Eddie.

Here’s a problem. These hot shot gangsters are mostly broke, further evidence crime does not pay. Egan has some money, and he can bankroll his friend Willie. But George is down to his last two dollars, and Gino, a friend of George’s, is running on fumes. Somehow George and Gino are going to need to get some cash. Gino has an idea. George is an ex-boyfriend of Gino’s sister Ann (Mollie McCarthy). Gino coerces George into hitting Ann up for a loan. George can’t let on that Gino put him up to it.

George gets the money muffs the con. Ann figures it’s Gino who wants the money, and George tells her Gino is in Chicago and needs money for airfare to St. Louis. He will pay her back. That backfires when Ann spots Gino coming out of a diner, where he has been conferring with George. Ann is bound to crack the operation wide open.

Egan gets wise that the plan has been compromised. He figures to silence Ann, but he cant’ let on to George and Gino. He pretends he’s going to take Ann to the airport to  get her out of town, but he pushes her down a fire escape to her death, instead.

Yeah, the carefully-timed heist quickly goes sour. Two cops are at a donut shop nearby when the bank alarm comes in. One cop is wounded in an initial exchange. As Egan attempts to skedaddle with a hostage a cop puts one in  him.

Gino, figuring to never go back to the slammer, retreats to the bank basement and puts the muzzle of his pistol into his mouth. In the meantime, Willie, who has wormed his way into the job of designated driver, scoots in the getaway car. George makes a go of taking a hostage, but he does not have the ruthless instincts of his cohorts. He gets shot and hauled off by the cops.

Acting is barely par for this production. McQueen is his laconic self, And McCarthy just gets by. This was shot a few months before McQueen started appearing on our TV screens in Wanted, Dead or Alive, which shot him to the big time.

Examining the actual history of the robbery reveals correlation in some details. History does not mention Ann, sister of one of the robbers. The shooting of the robber by a policeman is real, and the actor playing the cop in  the screen shot above is Officer Melburn Stein, who died last year. From IMDb:

Policeman Mel Stein, a hero for shooting a bank robber and saving a woman hostage, only just died in 2016 at the age of 102. He retired to St. Louis County near Creve Coeur where he took long walks each morning and enjoyed martinis reminiscing with their neighbors including of his WWII experiences in the Pacific as a Marine, which contributed to his ability to remain cool under fire the day of the bank robbery.

Something about the movie that did not seem true to life was the number of shots fired by the police and the manner of the shooting. With Gino dead in the basement, Egan fatally wounded and carted away, and with Willie absconded with the getaway car, George is flat out of luck on the bank lobby floor. And the cops continue to pour lead through the bank windows. Did cops ever do this? No return fire. Bank crowded with civilians, and no target visible, the cops are shooting up the place. Reports from the actual even have it the police fired 40 rounds in  the one-sided exchange.

News reporters of the day were quick to respond, and Jack January, of the Post-Dispatch caught the following of the action:

The getaway driver was captured three days later, and the two surviving robbers received long prison sentences. IMDb notes “The movie American Heist (2014) is based on The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.”

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

I caught this on Hulu—Transporter 3. That’s a curious title. I gave it a look. For sure. Bad Movie of the Week.

It’s the third installment of the Transporter series. It stars Jason Statham as Frank Martin the guy who will transport anything anywhere, no questions asked. This came out in 2008 from EuropaCorpTF1 Films Production, and others. Details are from Wikipedia. It doesn’t take long to figure this is all about gimmicks and no plot. I’m going to hit the FX high points and summarize.

It  starts out ominously enough. A container ship plows the Mediterranean, while down below two of the crew decide to  get personal with what they suppose to be some valuable cargo. The cargo turns out to be deadly, and they are the first to exit the plot. Their bodies are dumped overboard in bags.

Next we see a black Audi arriving at a ferry port. There is a driver and a passed out passenger, Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) in the front seat. The driver seems nervous. The passenger seems sexy. When the customs people get curious and demand both exit the car and come up to the office, the driver bolts. Police pursue. We eventually learn why. Neither the driver nor the passenger may step away from the car without attached bombs exploding.

The Audi plows into Martin’s living room. The driver is working for Martin. When an ambulance takes the driver away his bomb explodes. The people behind the plot introduce themselves and force Martin to take the job. He introduces himself to Valentina.

Frank stops by the shop of a friend, who figures out what the mechanism of the bomb is, but he can’t deactivate the system. The bad guys show up, and Martin lays some serious kick ass on them before continuing his mission.

It’s a chase. If either Frank or Valentina separate from the car the bomb attached to their wrist will go off. The chase gets serious, and there is some spectacular FX, including the usual with some bad guys flying off a cliff and their car exploding in a massive fire ball.

Frank is supremely frustrated. He figures out the “package” he is supposed to deliver is Valentina, daughter of a powerful trade commissioner. If the father does not sign off on unfettered delivery of the previously mentioned ship’s cargo (plus more), then the daughter will be killed. While Frank vents, Valentina gets horny. Frank has to put out to keep Valentina from canceling the game then and there.

Spectacular FX. Hemmed in on a bridge, with Valentina safely delivered to the bad guys and her bomb deactivated, Frank escapes by plunging  the Audi off the bridge and into the lake. The car is sprayed with machine gun fire and sinks to the bottom, but Frank succeeds in floating it to the top, and the police assist in getting it running again.

Frank must catch up with Valentina, being taken away aboard a train, but without leaving  the Audi. He jumps the car from a railroad overpass and onto the top of the speeding  train. Whoopee!

That’s not the end of it. After separating cars from the train, Frank jumps the Audi into the back of the remaining car with Valentina in it. With the Audi lodged inside the speeding railway car, Frank defeats the bad guys and rescues Valentina, who is  going to  be grateful in the best way possible.

And that’s all there  is to the movie. 94 minutes of running excitement and not much else. Absolutely unbelievable. Really a BMotW.

The movie has some serious continuity issues. The Audi has taken a nasty ride, sprayed with gunfire, jumped into a lake (crashing through the bridge railing), rescued from the lake, crashed on top of a moving train. And it still looks showroom fresh. It’s an amazing car. Too amazing. Give your credulity a break. And I’m not reviewing any more of these Transporter movies.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This one is really bad, especially for a comparatively modern production. It came out in 1977 and went under a number of titles. This is Warhead, starring David Janssen as Lt. Col. Tony Stevens, United States Air Force. The titles do not show the production company. I watched this on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes show Stevens in what appears to be Jerusalem, at the Wailing Wall. Jews are praying, and Stevens is just observing. Then a car drives up. He is needed immediately. An American nuclear weapon has been jettisoned in Jordanian territory, close by the Israeli border. Stevens must parachute in and deactivate the warhead. Hence the title.

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Meanwhile the bad Palestinians ambush a school bus, blowing it up and killing all inside. Except for Lt. Liora (Karin Dor). She survives and kills all the attackers, except one. That one is Malouf (David Semadar), the leader. The Israelis mount a reprisal raid to kill Malouf. Lt. Liora is to go along, because she has just laid eyes on  Malouf and can identify him.

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The raiding party includes a sniper named Namoi (Joan Freeman) and Captain Ben-David (Christopher Stone), who is to lead the mission.

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Stevens parachutes into Jordanian territory and proceeds to disarm the bomb, still attached to its own parachute. He is surprised by a Palestinian band led by Malouf, who decides the PLO can make better use of the device.

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Surprise, surprise! These festivities are interrupted by the Israeli raiding party, who kill much of the band of Palestinians and take charge of the bomb and also Stevens. Malouf gets away again and regroups with the aim to  ambush the Israelis before they can return to the homeland.

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And that’s the core of the movie. Layer by layer the Israelis and the Palestinians whittle down each other’s forces, often by inventive and gruesome means until there is a final showdown at an abandoned fort in the desert. In a final battle all are killed, except Stevens, who travels back to Jerusalem and to the Wailing Wall, to ponder.

There is a lot of action: running gun battles, sneak attacks, blazing .50 caliber machine gun fire, gruesome death. All for nothing. Reality is tossed out the window.

Take a look at the nuclear device. Its front sports a transparent window and a light inside that pulses to the sound of something that brings to mind a reciprocating  water pump. Can anybody believe that? The thing is still pulsing at the end of the movie.

And get this. They are in Jordan. Malouf discusses tactics. The Israelis’ movements are restricted, he explains. There is the sea to one side and mine fields to the other. Only, Jordan does not have a coast line. Despite this, views at the abandoned fort show the sea in the background.

Forget about seeing this, that is, unless you are 15 years old and always wanted to see a war movie of some sort.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Last week  this column featured The Shadow Strikes, featuring Rod La Rocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.  This is Behind the Mask, another in the five or so featuring The Shadow. It stars Kane Richmond as Lamont Cranston (The Shadow) and Barbara Read as Margo Lane, Cranston’s main squeeze. The Shadow Strikes came out in 1937, and this one followed in 1946. The big difference is in the improvement in cinematography and acting, but not much else. The story is still lame, a comedy of murder and mayhem. We are going to see people dropping dead all over accompanied by loads of laughs.

This is from Monogram Pictures (what else). Details are from Wikipedia and IMDb.

Opening scenes show shady reporter Jeff Mann (James Cardwell) making the rounds for his sideline operation (blackmail). A hundred here, a few hundred there, and people’s names won’t appear in his column. Here he muscles sumptuous gambling operator Mae Bishop (Marjorie Hoshelle). With each visit the eager Mr. Mann drops word that his fees are going up.

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And that’s the end of the sleazy reporter. Back at his office at the newspaper a shadowy figure comes in through the window behind him. The first his co-workers notice anything wrong they see an ominous silhouette on Mann’s office window. It’s The Shadow, they are sure of it.

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Meanwhile, the real Shadow, Lamont Cranston, is making cuddle bunnies with his fiancée, Margo Lane. They are going to be married the next day.

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It goes downhill from  there. This has nothing to offer by way of a plot. Cranston, both as himself and as The Shadow, bumbles his way through the case of mounting bodies. Here he deals with some officers of the law.

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Here Cranston has lured Edith Merrill (June Clyde) up to his place, the idea being to schmooze her and get her to lead him to an important source of evidence. Unfortunately girlfriend Margo and girlfriend’s girlfriend arrive first, and Cranston’s butler, Shrevvie  (George Chandler), hides them behind the couch just in time as Miss Merrill arrives. Here the two are listening with increasing agitation as Cranston makes progress of various kinds.

It’s all very comical, but that’s the last we see of the lovely Edith. As she exits and takes the elevator down a shadowy figure is waiting and grabs her from behind.

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On another occasion The Shadow attempts to penetrate a suspect’s fortified position and tangles with three of his henchmen. He defeats the three through the application of John Barrymore gymnastics and Shrevvie wielding a pair of Indian clubs (they are in a gymnasium).

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Of course it all comes to an end when Cranston gets the host of suspects together at the newspaper office and reveals the mystery killer.

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What this has over and beyond last Sunday’s bad movie is a hint at direction and cinematography. Settings and shots are more realistic, and the action moves, comparatively. Vis, the stiffness rampant last Sunday:

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Some of these movies are available to watch free on YouTube:

The Shadow Strikes

The Shadow Returns

But I’m guessing not this one. I will have a review of The Shadow Returns some Sunday in the future. Not soon.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows…

Those are the words I heard on the radio, growing up before television. The Shadow had “the power to cloud men’s minds so they cannot see him.” I remembered well. So well, in fact, that years later when  I met a couple, and they introduced themselves as Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane I knew right off they were fakes. I never let them know that I knew.

The character was originally developed as a “mysterious radio narrator who hosted a program designed to promote magazine sales for Street and Smith Publications.” In 1931 Walter B. Gibson expanded the character into pulp literature. The Shadow was “[o]ne of the most famous adventure heroes of the 20th century United States.” The Wikipedia entry mentions five movies, but I never saw any of these until February, when a collection showed up on Amazon Prime Video.

Here is The Shadow Strikes, starring “Rod La Rocque as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow.” It came out in 1937 from Grand National Pictures, which is probably why I didn’t catch it at the neighborhood theater. Margo Lane is not in this one. She probably came along later. We shall see. Cranston doesn’t have a main squeeze in this flick, but he does develop an itch for leading lady Marcia Delthern, played by Agnes Anderson.

For all its drama (people getting killed), this is played for fun. It starts with a big mix up. Cranston is examining the bullet that killed his father (obviously another story). Then, for reasons unclear to me on first viewing, he goes to the offices of Chester Randall, Attorney at Law. Whether he intended to crack Randall’s safe for some documents, or not, it  turns out that when he gets there two safe crackers are a few minutes ahead of him. They have the safe open and are looking for the “affidavit” in question. Cranston enters as The Shadow, wearing his black overcoat and hat and a black cloth mask. He gets the drop on  the crooks and phones the police.

Just before the cops arrive, Cranston steps into Randall’s private office and waits for the police to take the crooks away. When all leave, he goes to the safe and pilfers the items he was looking for. Surprise, surprise! Police Captain Breen (Kenneth Harlan) returns to check on things and discovers Cranston en flagrante. Cranston’s only way out is to assume the identity of the attorney Randall, and things go down hill from there. It’s pure comedy, with bodies piling up.

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Before they can leave Randall’s office, Randall gets a phone call. Cranston continues to play the part and goes to the desperate client’s home to review and to  rewrite the man’s will. We know what’s going to happen. While the two are sitting there discussing  Mr. Caleb Delthern’s (John St. Polis ) family matters, somebody shoots Delthern dead. No point  in changing the will now. Rather than exit stage right, Cranston continues to play the part in order to solve the crime.

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A key villain is arch criminal Barney Grossett (Cy Kendall), who runs an apparently illegal  gambling operation, where Delthern’s son Jasper (James Blakeley) has run up a tab of $11,000.

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And on. Guess what? It was the butler all along. He didn’t want Delthern to change his will and cut out his son, who has plans to marry Marcia.

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It’s all as flat and dry as the West Texas plains. Acting is not up to par with 1930s’ level, and cinematography is uninspired. Look at the image at the top of this post, where Cranston and Breen are having a pow-wow. The director’s instruction manual says the audience wants to see the front of people doing the talking, so both actors are turned just enough so the audience can see the fronts of their jackets. It’s drained of all drama. Compare that to just about any image from a modern film or even a TV production. Here’s a screen shot from Lethal Weapon. Modern directors get the viewer right into the action.

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Dialog is uninspiring:

Breen: What’s up?

Cranston: I don’t know. Well thanks again, Captain. If you need me for anything, I’m at your service.

Breen: I think I’d better go along with you.

Cranston, Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.

Breen: Well, you don’t seem to know what they want with you, and perhaps… Yeah, I think I’d better go along.

The story lurches along. Cranston wants to get the goods on Grossett. So he barges into  Grossett’s office, a couple of times, eventually leaving a hidden microphone. About as clumsy a maneuver as ever unwound on the big screen. Not spoiling the plot, but Grossett follows Cranston to his place. The evil  butler Wellington (Wilson Benge) is there with a gun. See the above screen shot. Grossett barges in and discovers Cranston is The Shadow. Grossett fires. Wellington fires. Both are dead. And Marcia marries he fiancée. Cranston compares a bullet from Grossett’s gun with the bullet that killed his father. That’s end of the movie.

Up next Sunday: another movie with The Shadow. A comparison between the two is worth a look.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This came out in 2001, and I didn’t see it then. What happened was Barbara Jean went to Best Buy without me, and she came home with some great DVD movies that were on sale. One of them was Pearl Harbor. Being a movie snob, I sniffed at this, which resulted in Barbara Jean taking it right back to Best Buy and getting her money back. Which meant I wasn’t able to watch it until I caught it on Hulu in February. Here are some details from Wikipedia.

This stars Ben Affleck as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Rafe McCawley, Josh Hartnett as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Daniel “Danny” Walker, and Kate Beckinsale as Lieutenant Evelyn Johnson McCawley. What happens is Rafe and Danny grow up on neighboring farms in Tennessee, and Danny’s father is a crop duster. Both boys want to  fly. What happens next is a story about America’s entry into World War Two, as it must have happened on another planet.

So they grow up and join the Army, which is what was the United States Air Force in those days. Rafe meets good looking nurse Evelyn when she sticks him in the butt with needles. A great romance is formed, and they meet again in New York, where Rafe is due to be shipped out to England to contribute to the Battle of Britain as a volunteer. This is 1940, and America is not yet in the war. Rafe decides not to consummate their relationship before shipping out, because he doesn’t want their romance to look like a one-time fling.

The movie shows some great air battle scenes as Rafe makes a name for himself as a fighter ace, but all this ends with his plane going down in the Channel. In the meantime Danny and Evelyn get shipped off to Hawaii, about as far as you  can get from the war (heh heh). Word comes that Rafe is dead, and Danny and Evelyn get a thing going that terminates in the base parachute loft one night. Then Evelyn discovers:

  • Rafe is still alive and is coming to Hawaii.
  • She is pregnant.

This does not go well, Evelyn keeps her pregnancy secret from Danny, but Rafe is pissed his best buddy has been making time with his best girl while he was dead. It leads to fisticuffs. That’s Saturday night, 6 December 1941. The next morning the bad old Japanese attack the base.

Danny and Rafe make heroes of themselves, commandeering two fighters and annihilating six Zeroes (Zekes). The movie displays a protracted depiction of the Pearl Harbor attack. Then Rafe and Danny are summoned stateside to join up with their old boss, Jimmy Doolittle.

The two become B-25 pilots and join in on the  18 April 1942 raid on the Japanese mainland. All the planes have been forced to launch 200 miles too far from the mainland. Rafe makes a hard landing in a rice paddy, right in the midst of a detachment of occupying Japanese. With one crew member already dead, the survivors fight the Japanese to their last ammunition. Danny’s B-25 appears, and strafes the Japanese before, itself crash landing.

More Japanese come, and Danny is killed. Before Danny dies Rafe informs him that he is going to be a father. Then Rafe is repatriated and meets up with Evelyn. Then end shows the two of them married and  raising Danny’s son.

It’s about three hours of pure syrup, with some battle action thrown in. Treatment of historical events makes a mockery of a serious episode in our past. Start with the opening scene.

This is Tennessee, 1923. Danny’s dad is dusting crops from a bi-plane. Call me a stickler for facts, but commercial crop dusting from planes didn’t get under way until 1924.

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The boys want to fly when they grow up.

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About the best part of the movie is Beckinsale. Absolutely stunning. Here Affleck has his drawers down, trying to make time with her while she doubles the number of jabs, just for fun.

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The last night in New York shows Rafe and Evelyn taking an unauthorized tour of the Queen Mary. Beyond absurd. The ship was being used for troop transport during the war, and it would have been impossible to get this close without getting your ass shot off.

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Rafe, has to leave. We thought he was going on the Queen Mary, but he boards a train and watches through the window as Evelyn searches for him to say goodbye. Wait, isn’t the Queen Mary docked in New York. Where’s the train going?

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The raid on Pearl Harbor is loaded with drama, some imagined. Historically, the battleship Arizona was destroyed by a bomb that penetrated to an ammunition magazine and exploded. The movie shows the bomb barreling down from the sky toward the ship’s deck, penetrating several levels before coming to rest among some warheads. The arming propeller on  the bomb continues to spin for a while, then the bomb explodes.

Not really. These propellers spin in the air stream as the bomb drops free, arming the bomb. Once the propeller rotates a defined number of times, the bomb is armed. The bomb fuse then responds to impact. Armor-piercing fuses detect the first impact, starting a timing fuse, which then detonates the bomb on the order of a few milliseconds after  the first impact. The movie over-dramatized this action twice for effect.

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The recreation  of the attack is maybe the most elaborate ever depicted. Planes fly in, drop torpedoes, strafe ships and shore facilities, drop aerial bombs. Ships blow up, capsize. Men die horrible deaths by the thousands. Some of it is true to life.

A real character is Navy Messman Third Class Doris Miller, depicted here by Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Petty Officer Second Class Dorie Miller aboard the battleship West Virginia. The movie gives him a promotion and alters his heroics only slightly. As a black man, he had limited options. Mess cook was one such. However, aboard ships at general quarters, everybody is assigned a combat or damage control position. Miller’s was ammunition handler for an anti-aircraft gun. When the ammunition locker was destroyed he was ordered first to assist the ship’s dying captain and then to help man an anti-aircraft gun. He stepped into command of a gun and engaged enemy aircraft until his ammunition ran out For his action he was awarded the Navy Cross, the first for a person of color. In 1943 he was killed when the escort carrier Liscome Bay was sunk by enemy action.

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Rafe and Danny recreate the exploits of Second Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor, with emphasis on the term recreate. The two had P-40 aircraft stashed at a remote field and drove there after the attack started. They got into the air and claimed six Japanese plane between the two of them. The two were the only American air defense in the engagement.

The movie over dramatizes the action of the two pilots, shown here playing a convoluted game of cat and mouse with the six Japanese pilots. The sequence consumes several minutes of celluloid and depicts some improbable combat tactics:

Taylor, who died in November 2006, called the film adaptation “a piece of trash… over-sensationalized and distorted.

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Piled-on drama includes Japanese fighters strafing random people on the ground. Does not make sense, and never happened. Here’s a dose of reality. You mount a top secret mission. Sail 4000 miles, deep into enemy territory to strike a knockout blow against a powerful enemy. You launch two waves of aircraft to destroy the enemy fleet anchored in its harbor. At that distance from your carrier base your planes have limited time over target. And you spend some of that time and risk valuable aircraft strafing random targets? This fallacy was seen previously. In Harm’s Way stars John WayneKirk Douglas, and Patricia Neal, and it features the Pearl Harbor attack. One scene shows a Japanese fighter strafing and killing Kirk Douglas’ unfaithful wife and her lover along a beach road. Clue-deprived script writers flourish in Hollywood.

The immediate assignment of Rafe and Danny to Doolittle’s operation is highly unrealistic. When the Doolittle raid was conceived a few days after the attack, well-trained B-25 crews were already available for the job. The transition from single-engine fighters to twin-engine bombers would have required weeks of training  for Rafe and Danny. However, the show needed go on.

The raid on the Japanese mainland is completely cross ways with the actual events. The movie shows Doolittle’s raiders heading in for the attack in formation. In reality the bombers flew their missions individually, making a pass back over the flight deck after take off to get their headings. They seldom caught sight of each other after leaving the carrier Hornet.

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All 16 planes of  the Doolittle raid were lost, being shot down, abandoned or crash landed in China, or interred for the duration after landing in the Soviet Union. Doolittle and his crew bailed in the dark over China and were repatriated. Doolittle thought the debacle would result in a court martial for himself, but he was awarded the Medal of Honor and flew combat missions over Europe. Forty-five at the time of the raid, he survived past the fiftieth anniversary.

Nothing like the episode in the rice paddy happened. It was night by the time the raiders reached China, and there was no way one crew would have been able to assist another, already down. It’s pure melodrama.

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One thing accurate is Evelyn’s narration at the end. Until the Doolittle raid, America knew only defeat. Afterward, only victory. The Japanese Empire was crushed by annihilation bombing in 1945 and surrendered on 2 September 1945. Today the democratic nation of Japan is America’s strongest business and military partner in the region.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Continuing with the 1940s movie series featuring master detective Charlie Chan, here is one produced after the time lead actor Sidney Toler acquired the theme from Twentieth Century Fox. Opening credits list United Artists, but that’s just the video, which I’m watching on Amazon Prime Video. Once the film credits start rolling we see “Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors (Ltd).” I’m getting details from Wikipedia, which lists the production company as Monogram Pictures. Monogram was famous at the time (1945) for low-budget entertainment. Toler was the second actor having no Chinese ancestry to play the detective. Since the original was released without a copyright notice, it has fallen into the public domain and can be viewed for free on YouTube. The MGM Lion appears first, followed by the United Artists logo.

This production is characteristic of movies produced during World War Two. Viewers will find it loaded with patriotic references. The theme is wartime, and it involves a spy ring attempting to steal radar secrets being developed at a laboratory located in the same building with a radio/television studio.

Opening scenes show police following a suspect. He stalks a fog-bound waterfront street, doubling back, hiding momentarily inside a parked car, then taking refuge aboard a docked boat. Charlie Chan appears and meets Captain Flynn (Robert Homans). Chan has instructed Flynn and his men to keep an eye on the culprit, and he is dismayed to see they are about to apprehend him. Chan only wanted to follow the person, hoping he would lead to bigger fish.

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Too late on multiple levels. The suspect is found to have been eliminated by a person unknown. Meanwhile, the killer has escaped in the car previously mentioned. But Chan has noted the plate number, and it tracks to a radio actor. They will turn their investigation toward the radio/television studio.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Chan’s son, Tommy Chan (Benson Fong), and recurring character Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland). They are at the police station, poring over mug shots, where Brown’s photo shows up unexpectedly.

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Arriving at the radio studio, Chan meets the cast of characters:

It was Diane Hall’s car that was mysteriously borrowed to commit the killing.

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Mrs. Marsh is indignant at the interruption and stalks off.

Meanwhile, the killer makes an odd phone call, and immediately a teletype machine responds with instructions from the ring leader, unknown to  all.thescarletclue-04

Levity is introduced when Birmingham meets up with Ben Carter, playing himself.

Carter appeared in Gone With the Wind (1939) as well as casting all the other African American actors and actresses in it, Maryland (1940) and Tin Pan Alley (1940). Carter often performed in comic roles and in scenes which allowed him to display his singing ability such as in The Harvey Girls (1946) and A Day at the Races (1937). Among his most prominent roles were in the Charlie Chan movies The Scarlet Clue (1945) and Dark Alibi (1946).

The two play a comedy skit that involves each finishing the other’s line of thinking. This is one of those funny movies where lots of people die.

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The Hamilton Laboratory, where secret radar technology is being developed.

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At this point Gloria drops in to pay a visit on Ralph Brett (I. Stanford Jolley), her boss and also the killer. She announces she knows Brett is the one who “borrowed” Diane’s car for the previous night. She wants more significant roles in the radio show and more money. She is signing her own death warrant.

Brett makes the mysterious phone call and receives a teletype response to not worry about Gloria.

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And that’s the end of Gloria. She sniffs something suspicious during a radio performance, asks for a cigarette, collapses and dies. Very strange.

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Brett eventually outlives his usefulness. He receives a teletype to take the elevator, check for anything at the seventh floor, then proceed to the tenth floor. A mysterious hand throws a switch, and the elevator floor swings open, dropping the unfortunate Mr. Brett down the shaft. The only dramatic special effect in the movie.

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A laboratory connects the mysterious odor and cigarette smoke with a deadly poison thus generated, which killed Gloria and subsequently another member of the radio cast. This before the unfortunate is able to tell Charlie Chan critical information about the case.

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In the end the spy mastermind is undone by the trick elevator. It’s a playback from a Sherlock Holmes movie that has Holmes’ nemesis falling for his own dead fall trap.

In this case, the kingpin turns out to be the disagreeable Mrs. Marsh, and the cleaning woman, Hulda Swenson, turns out to be Janet Carter (Victoria Faust), a counter-espionage agent working with Chan. They examine the remains of the unfortunate Mrs. Marsh.

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And that’s the end of the movie.

You saw they only real drama with the trick elevator. All the rest is fairly routine movie whodunit routine. Which gets this the Bad Movie of the Week award. Watch it for free. Slightly over an hour run time. A one-bagger.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Here’s one more of the Bulldog Drummond series. I don’t know when the supply is going to run out, but when it does I’m proposing a Bulldog Drummond binging party. Stay alert.

This came out in 1939, so I missed it by a year. Even a couple of years later it would have been wasted on my, the plot being too convoluted. Then, maybe not. It’s Bulldog Drummond’s Bride, featuring John Howard as Captain Hugh Chesterton ‘Bulldog’ Drummond and that good looking Heather Angel as Phyllis Clavering, Bulldog Drummond’s bride.

Wikipedia, from which I am drawing technical details, lists Paramount Pictures as the production company, but opening credits show, first, The Criterion Collection, followed by a splash screen proclaiming “A Janus Films Presentation,” then (from the film itself) “Congress Films, Inc. Presents,” and finally the title credits and the movie. I watched this on Amazon Prime Video, but you can also catch it on YouTube:

It’s a crashing opening. A London postman is collecting from a box in front of a bank when he is suddenly bowled over by a massive explosion from inside. Out runs a bank robber, loot in hand, and off down the street. A painter named Garvey (Gerald Hamer), working in an apartment nearby, is alerted by the explosion, and presently the robber, Henri Armides (Eduardo Ciannelli), climbs in through the window. The two are in cahoots.

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Enter Drummond and bride-to-be Phyllis. They are making their way to their new apartment, which takes them right past the bank while police are throwing up a cordon around the neighborhood. The two cannot proceed further, and embrace amidst the hubbub.

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It will turn out eventually, that the new Drummonds’ future apartment is exactly the one where Armides has taken refuge. He changes painter’s rags with his partner in crime and casts about for a place to stash the swag. He finds a place in what will later turn out to be Phyllis’ portable radio.

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Then, when Drummond’s friend and cohort, Algy Longworth (Reginald Denny), drops by, Armides pretends to have gone bonkers from lead poisoning (paint), and smears himself, and also Algy. It’s his plan to escape the police cordon in disguise. The swag remains in the radio.

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But the radio winds up in France. A telegram from Phyllis instructs Drummond to ship the radio forthwith by air.

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Armides escapes from the mental hospital where he has been taken and reunites with Garvey. They search Drummond’s digs for the radio, seeing instead a telegram from Phyllis being slipped under the door. It advises Drummond that the radio has arrived safely in France. The crooks decide to waylay Drummond with that old fishing line-pistol trap, set to spring when Drummond opens the door.

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Of course that doesn’t work. It never does. But Drummond gets wise. The crooks have taken the telegram, but they leave the envelope behind. Drummond contacts the telegraph office and gets a repeat of the message, concluding the crooks are on their way to France and sweet Phyllis. Drummond and Algy speed away by air to France to save Phyllis.

But Drummond’s affectionate prior supervisor, Col. J.A. Nielson (H.B. Warner), takes it upon himself to waylay Drummond and dissuade him from interfering with police matters. He fakes a message to French police, and Drummond is thrown into a French jail when he arrives. As luck would have it, Garvey is in the same cell, having been nabbed by the police in his attempt to hoax Phyllis out of the radio.

Dinner for Garvey arrives. It has been sent by persons unknown, but we soon figure out who sent the snack. The dinner includes a note instructing Garvey to break the wine bottle, which he does, after sharing the wine with Drummond. Garvey does not know Drummond and supposes him to be a master criminal, which he admires.

Inside the bottle is an explosive device that Garvey uses to blow a hole in the wall, enabling the pair to escape.

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But Drummond’s friends have caught up with the situation, and Mayor Jean Philippe Napoleon Dupres (Louis Mercier) insists on performing the marriage ceremony right on the spot.

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That doesn’t happen, because Drummond is hot on Armides’ trail, and there is a protracted fight on the rooftops. Drummond retrieves the radio and the money, but Armides escapes.

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The wedding is concluded, and a bottle of wine is sent in. Drummond recognizes Armides’ work and tosses the bottle with the explosive into a well, where Armides has taken refuge. Poetic justice.

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It’s a farce of crime and romance, where the audience laughs while multiple people die. Without the screen presence of Ms. Angel this might not be worth seeing. Too bad there are no nude scenes.

The description I have just laid on should explain why this comes in as the week’s bad movie. Contact me if you need more.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

I have had feedback from readers. Charlie Chan movies are not Bad Movie of the Week. I admit I was a great fan of Charlie Chan movies, although I never saw one on the big screen. They came and went before my time. Today I am a pretend movie critic, so I have to judge these on their technical and artistic merits. Hence, this week’s Bad Movie of the Week.

It’s Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, starring Sidney Toler in the title role, as most often. Toler, a boy from Missouri, played the Chinese detective from the death of Warner Oland in 1938 through the remaining 11 releases. My guess is there was a scarcity of Chinese in California, forcing studios to dip into the pool of European stock. This production does feature two actors of Chinese ancestry: Marianne Quon as Iris Chan and Benson Fong as Tommy Chan, two  of Detective Chan’s grown children. By the time this was made Twentieth Century Fox had dropped this and other low-budget work, due partly to a paucity of available talent during the war years. Toler picked up the rights and continued the series with Monogram Pictures, culminating in 1944. He died in 1947. Readers of these reviews will recognize Monogram as the king of low-budget films during the time.

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Police Detective Chan was typically with a metropolitan police force, but for the war effort he now joins the Secret Service. Opening scenes show two Secret Service agents, Inspector Jones (Arthur Loft) and Inspector Lewis (Eddy Chandler), doing personal security for George Melton (John Elliott), inventor of an advanced torpedo. Does anybody  beside me notice two grown men wearing hats inside a building?

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Melton excuses himself and tells the Secret Service to mind their own business while he attends a gala for some acquaintances downstairs. Within seconds Melton is dead. The Secret Service arrives, stunned, as the guests look on.

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Charlie Chan is called in. He must take over the case.

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Shortly, a copy of the secret plans for the torpedo are discovered. Melton had the only copy in his pocket when he left to greet his guests. Now detectives have found it stuck inside a book on a shelf in the room where Melton died. It’s an obvious hoax. Even movie goers in 1944 would realize you cannot represent a serious torpedo design in such a lame fashion.

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Chan’s two children show up, uninvited. They want to help with the investigation. Already present is a character named Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland). Brown is a recurring presence in Charlie Chan movies, previously in the role as an employee of Chan’s. Here he is a limo driver who happened to be present and got caught in the crime scene clamp down. He and the two Chan children are injected into the plot for comic relief.

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After that it’s an Agatha Christie plot. One more person gets killed, it’s one of the spies. What remains is for Chan to gather all suspects (all the guests) into one room and play out a charade before revealing the remaining culprit, also the one who killed the other spy.

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Not a lot of dramatic staging was wasted on this production. Charlie Chan leaves the Secret Service office in Washington D.C., gets in the cab, goes to the Melton mansion, gets out of the cab, and walks inside. The movie shows him walking out of the office, getting into the cab, getting out of the cab, and walking up to the front door of the Melton mansion. I could have done that.

There’s an outside shot of the Secret Service offices. In front flies the California state flag. Little effort was wasted on continuity, either.

Chan’s two children are his number three son and his number two daughter. My knowledge of Chinese culture is hazy, but I recall that the sons of your wife are your number one sons. Your number two sons are your nephews. Similarly with daughters.

This print is in excellent shape. See it if you can. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video, but you can also catch it free on YouTube: