The 6th Of June

Continuing from the 5th of June

The invasion of Normandy in 1944 was originally scheduled for 5 June. However, bad weather forced a one-day postponement. The HBO series Band of Brothers is based on the book by Stephen Ambrose. The series begins on 4 June 1944, and we see American troops of the 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division, preparing to board their planes for the jump into France. Here is one getting a Mohawk haircut. They are scared but definitely in a fighting spirit.

One plays with his combat knife, twirling it about. He figures when he needs to use it some valuable instincts will kick in.

But Easy Company Commander First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan calls the men together and tells them to stand down for 24 hours.

The plot flashes back to 1942, when Easy Company forms up in basic training. One of the men from Easy Company, interviewed for the series, explains that bunches of people were signing up for military duty following our entry into the war, and nobody wanted any part of the Airborne when it was explained they would have to jump out of airplanes. But then it was explained there was $50 per month extra, and people clamored to get in. It has been explained the intense training was also a draw. People knew they were going into deadly combat and everybody wanted to know the person fighting beside him was trained and highly motivated.

But first they had to get past Lieutenant Sobel. The word martinet was coined for Sobel. Airborne troops needed tougher training and stricter standards, but we see Sobel applying discipline and retribution unnecessarily. He is shown as petty and vengeful. The men come to despise him.

He tricks his men into thinking they will have a day off, and he orders up a sumptuous meal. Halfway through the meal he orders the company to run the Currahee course, three miles up Currahee Hill and three miles back. A smudge on a gun sight costs a soldier his weekend pass. In fact, passes are canceled for entire company.

The men come out of training hating Sobel, but hardened. They make the required five jumps in one day and pin on their Airborne badges.

During field exercises Sobel’s lack of leadership ability shines through. He ignores the advice of cooler heads, such as Lieutenant Richard Winters, and orders his men forward, out of a concealed position. They are immediately confronted by “enemy” troops in ambush.

Then it’s to New York, where the men board a troop ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yards. At sea the men continue to discuss Sobel, and one observes Sobel is a Jew. Private Liebgott objects, noting that he is himself a Jew. The men of Easy Company are going to need to learn to get along.

In England intense combat training commences. The men are learning to kill.

Sobel, now a captain, continues to fail as a leader. Here the squad he is leading encounters a fence that is not supposed to be there. He is one grid square off his position. One of his men plays a cruel joke and shouts from concealment, imitating the voice of a commanding major. He orders Sobel to cut the fence, which Sobel does.

Winters’ squad reaches the the problem objective first, a T intersection in a road. Sobel’s squad comes trotting up late.

Sobel is reprimanded for cutting the fence. He is also informed the supposed major was in London at the time. His response is to take it out on Lieutenant Winters. He issues a change in schedule for a meeting, which change Winters does not receive. Then he prepares to discipline Winters for disobeying the order. Winters can lose a 48-hour pass in lieu of a court martial. Winters calls his bluff and prepares to confront Sobel in a military courtroom.

Non-commissioned officers in Easy Company rebel at this treatment, and they resign their ranks. It is an action that can earn them a firing squad. The 506th commanding officer, Colonel Sink, disciplines the rebels and expels one from the regiment.

But justice comes down like a hammer. Sink calls Sobel in and tells him he is being assigned to a jump training school.

Lieutenant Meehan assumes command of Easy Company, and jump training in England resumes. Winters returns from an exercise and brings Meehan into his confidence. He took a compass along in the previous exercise, and together the two plot the course of the flight. They figure the target, just a few days off, will be Normandy.

Sergeant Guarnere’s brother has been killed in fighting in Italy, and he learns about it on the night of 4 June. He develops an intense hatred for the enemy soldiers, a hatred that will spell out on invasion night.

It is the 5th of June, and in the fading light Lieutenant Winters helps each of his men in turn to their feet as they board the transport plane.

The sun sets late in England in June, and it is still daylight as the planes climb toward France.

Episode two of the series tells the story of the night parachute drop and the 6th of June. It begins with an interview with Richard Winters.

In the fading light the planes cross the Channel and into clouds over the target area. The men will jump just past midnight. Men who have never seen a shot fired in anger begin to witness shellfire coming up into the clouds.

Planes are hit and men die. Lieutenant Meehan’s plane is seen crashing into a hedgerow. There were no survivors.

We see Winters’ plane also hit, and the pilot switches on the green jump light to get the men out.

THEY JUMPED MUCH TOO LOW from planes that were flying much too fast. They were carrying far too much equipment and using an untested technique that turned out to be a major mistake. As they left the plane, the leg bags tore loose and hurtled to the ground, in nearly every case never to be seen again. Simultaneously, the prop blast tossed them this way and that. With all the extra weight and all the extra speed, when the chutes opened, the shock was more than they had ever experienced. Jumping at 500 feet, and even less, they hit the ground within seconds of the opening of the chute, so they hit hard. The men were black and blue for a week or more afterward as a result.

In a diary entry written a few days later, Lieutenant Winters tried to re-create his thoughts in those few seconds he was in the air: “We’re doing 150 MPH. O.K., let’s go. G-D, there goes my leg pack and every bit of equipment I have. Watch it, boy! Watch it! J-C, they’re trying to pick me up with those machine-guns. Slip, slip, try and keep close to that leg pack. There it lands beside the hedge. G-D that machine-gun. There’s a road, trees— hope I don’t [hit] them. Thump, well that wasn’t too bad, now let’s get out of this chute.”

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 95-96). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The first person Winters encounters on the ground is someone from another company.

Winters had come down on the edge of Ste. Mère-Eglise. He could see the big fire near the church, hear the church bell calling out the citizens to fight the fire. He could not find his leg bag. The only weapon he had was his bayonet, stuck into his boot. His first thought was to get away from the machine-gun and small arms fire in the church square. Just as he started off, a trooper landed close by. Winters helped him out of his chute, got a grenade from him, and said, “Let’s go back and find my leg bag.” The trooper hesitated. “Follow me,” Winters ordered and started off. A machine-gun opened up on them. “To hell with the bag,” Winters said. He set out to the north to bypass Ste. Mère-Eglise before turning east to the coast. In a few minutes, he saw some figures and used his cricket. He got a reassuring double click-clack from Sergeant Lipton.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 103). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Slowly the men of Easy Company come together. In the darkness they hear German soldiers approaching in a column with four horse-drawn wagons. Winters orders an ambush. But Guarnere, consumed by hatred, does not wait for the order to open fire. He rips into the unsuspecting Germans with his Thompson machine gun, and there is a melee of gunfire. No American troops are lost, but the attack takes a grim toll on the Germans.

“Good,” Winters answered. “I know where that is. I can take it from here.” He set out at the head of the group, objective Ste. Marie-du-Mont. They joined a bunch from the 502d. About 0300 hours they spotted a German patrol, four wagons coming down the road. They set up an ambush, and there Guarnere got his first revenge for his brother, as he blasted the lead wagons. The other two got away, but E Company took a few prisoners.

A German machine-gun opened fire on the group. When it did, the prisoners tried to jump the Americans. Guarnere shot them with his pistol. “No remorse,” he said when describing the incident forty-seven years later. “No pity. It was as easy as stepping on a bug.” After a pause, he added, “We are different people now than we were then.”

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 104-105). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The 6th of June was like any other day. Eventually the dawn breaks, and we see the men of Easy Company scouting about, dodging Germans, and looking to hook up.

The grim side of war comes to them, as they encounter the first dead American soldiers. There is no hesitating. They loot the bodies of weapons and ammunition, leaving the rest for graves registration.

We hear what sounds like freight trains passing overhead. These are shells from ships in the Channel. The beach invasion has started.

German soldiers are taken prisoner. One is from Eugene, Oregon. Don Malarkey is thunderstruck. He is from Astoria, about 100 miles away. How did a boy from Eugene wind up in the Wehrmacht? His family moved back to Germany, and he joined up in 1941.

Later we see Lieutenant Speirs walking back to where the prisoners were being held, and we hear machine gun fire. This is not something that is in the book.

With Meehan presumed dead, Winters takes over Easy company. We hear the sounds of heavy guns nearby. Just 200 yards away a German gun emplacement is pounding American troops on Utah Beach. Winters is to take a contingent and neutralize the guns.

It is an intense battle, and the first thing viewers are going to wonder is what was going on. Sixty Germans are manning a gun emplacement, gunners plus solders to mount guard. And nobody is sending out scouts to see if a company of American paratroopers is just beyond the trees? Anyhow, Winters positions his men, and they prepare to give the Germans a nasty surprise.

It is several intense minutes of close-quarter fighting. Americans are firing from behind bushes and from perches in trees, and machine gun fire from the Germans is stripping bark and twigs off the trees and kicking up dirt around the attackers. Winters draws first blood.

Winters placed his machine-guns (manned by Pvts. John Plesha and Walter Hendrix on one gun, Cleveland Petty and Joe Liebgott on the other) along the hedge leading up to the objective, with instructions to lay down covering fire. As Winters crawled forward to the jump-off position, he spotted a German helmet— the man was moving down the trench, crouched over, with only his head above ground. Winters took aim with his M-1 and squeezed off two shots, killing the Jerry.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 109). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Here the training paid off. “We fought as a team without standout stars,” Lipton said. “We were like a machine. We didn’t have anyone who leaped up and charged a machine-gun. We knocked it out or made it withdraw by maneuver and teamwork or mortar fire. We were smart; there weren’t many flashy heroics. We had learned that heroics was the way to get killed without getting the job done, and getting the job done was more important.”

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 110). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

But we see Malarkey in search of a Luger pistol. With bullets flying all over the place he dashes into open where a German soldier lies dead. No Luger. He makes it back to safety with bullets kicking up dirt around him.

It was here Winters lost his first man:

Pvt. John D. Hall of A Company joined the group. Winters ordered a charge on the third gun. Hall led the way, and got killed, but the gun was taken. Winters had three of his men secure it. With eleven men, he now controlled three 105s.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 115). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

We see one of the unfathomable events that happen in combat. In the middle of the raging gunfight a luckless Andrew Hill stopped to ask directions.

Warrant Officer Andrew Hill, from regimental HQ, came up behind Lipton. “Where’s regimental HQ?” he shouted. “Back that way,” Lipton said, pointing to the rear. Hill raised his head to look. A bullet hit him in the forehead and came out behind his ear, killing him instantly.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 113-114). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The 6th of June was like any other day. The sun came up, and the sun went down. The planet continued to spin on its axis oblivious of human foibles. That evening Lieutenant Winters gathered with some of his men in the back of a truck.

Utah Beach, unlike Omaha Beach, had seen few American casualties, less than 200. Shortly tanks, Jeeps, and trucks were rolling through. The fighting had just begun.

The series has ten episodes. Here are links to previous reviews:

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 261 of a series

Continuing my reviews of gems out of Amazon Prime Video, this is Giant From the Unknown from 1958, when studios must have put on a second shift to turn these out, because there are so many from that year. Details are from Wikipedia.

The main characters are:

I’m making no attempt to analyze this critically. Take that it is bad. Just bad. Here’s what happens.

This is Pine Ridge, presumably in California. People gathered in the main street (could be the only street), and they have troubling issues on their minds. Something has been killing and mutilating live stock. The conversation is standard: “I’m telling you there’s something mighty strange going on around here.” Satisfied?

The sheriff rolls up in a pickup truck. He’s been out to investigate, and a man is dead, brutally savaged, if that’s not redundant. About this time Wayne Brooks strolls into town. He’s been shifting in the boondocks for several days, and he’s not up on the recent happenings. His friends, Anne and Charlie bring him up to speed. We suspect Anne is sweet on Wayne, but be prepared. She will not survive the movie.

The sheriff instructs Wayne in no uncertain terms he is supposed to stay away from Devil’s Canyon, the apparent trouble spot. There is tension between the two.

Next to arrive are Dr. Cleveland and his striking daughter, Janet. Wayne fixes on Janet, and the two hit it off. Too bad for Anne. Dr. Cleveland is doing archeology in the region, and that’s an interest of Wayne’s. He shows the Clevelands his collection. Janet is horrified at the lizard Wayne keeps in a box. Wayne found it encased in a rock up in the danger region, now alive and free after millions of years. Things are getting interesting.

Wayne and the Clevelands go on an expedition in the Devil’s Canyon area. A local character named Indian Joe fires a shot from his rifle over Wayne’s head. The two are friends, but Joe wants to remind Wayne and his friends to steer clear of Indian burial sites. Joe is kind of weird, living alone in a cabin, speaking fractured English. He recalls the Injun Joe character in Tom Sawyer, but without the sinister streak.

Dr. Cleveland is looking for the remains of a Spanish expedition that was suspected of taking a sweep through the region in the days of the conquistadors. A particular character in the expedition was Vargas the Giant, giving title to this movie. Searching for metal (Spanish armor), the three find Spanish helmets and a breast plate that is large enough to fit the legendary Vargas. They leave, and a large hand, then the rest of the body, emerge from the ground. Vargas has been resurrected from his grave.

A bunch of stuff goes on that I will not get into. Suffice that Vargas is huge and deadly, and sweet Anne is alone when Vargas comes upon her. She is too frightened to run, and that’s the end of her. Do you notice that when encountering frightening threats, the victims in these movies are always too frightened to run? They just scream and throw up their arms in a futile attempt to ward off the inevitable. It’s a formula.

They find Joe murdered in his cabin. Vargas kidnaps Janet. Why Janet doesn’t go the same way as Anne we never come to know. Anyhow, that launches a massive search for Vargas.

Janet is rescued, and there begins a protracted fight to hunt down and subdue Vargas. Here is a good shot of his face.

Wayne becomes the hero of the day when he goes one-on-one with Vargas. Vargas swings and misses, crashing through the railing on the bridge above the falls.

Directing is not so bad. Acting is amateurish. The plot is juvenile. Look at this:

Charlie is despondent at the death of his sister, but he joins in the hunt. Since he’s a kid he isn’t allowed to go on the hunt, but he is assigned to bring food from the town. He arrives at the camp having forgotten to bring the food.

Charlie feels he is being treated like a kid, and he toes looking for Vargas on his own. He comes upon “Bill,” who is apparently standing sentry duty. Bill falls over dead. Nothing more is said about Bill’s death.

Janet is taken. Wayne and Dr. Cleveland drive the Jeep into town, where the sheriff is organizing a posse to hunt down Wayne, suspected of Anne’s killing. Wayne and Dr. Cleveland don’t tell the sheriff about Janet. They simply take the sheriff’s car and drive off, knowing the posse will follow them. The sheriff commandeers the Jeep and gives chase, firing his pistol at his own car.

They corner Vargas and do battle. They fire their guns. Vargas throws rocks. They give it up and call it a night. The fight will resume in the morning.

Well into the movie, while everybody is trying to figure out what’s killing the livestock and the people, we see Vargas emerge from his grave. Who was doing all that mischief while Vargas was buried underground?

A lot of the plot is like that.

You can watch a trailer on YouTube.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 260 of a series

I was shopping around Amazon Prime Video for a new Bad Movie of the Week, and I spotted this one. The title is Frankenstein’s Daughter, and for some reason I figured this has to be bad. It’s from 1958. I will provide a few details and let readers decide for themselves. Technical details are from Wikipedia. It’s in black and white, by the way.

Even before the titles roll we see some action. We see a teen couple getting it on hot and heavy. They are Suzie Lawler (Sally Todd) and Don (Harold Lloyd Jr.). Suzie has enough of Don’s ham-fisted approach to seduction and brushes him off. He drives off in a huff, actually he’s driving a convertible of some brand, but he is in a huff.

Then Suzie turns and sees the monster coming down the street.

And then the titles roll.

The monster turns out to be Suzie’s friend, the absolutely smashing Trudy Morton (Sandra Knight), who lives with her scientist uncle, Carter Morgan (Felix Locher), She has been transmogrified unknowingly by her uncle’s lab assistant, Oliver Frank (Donald Murphy). Trudy wakes in the morning thinking the business of the night was just a bad dream.

Oliver Frank is really Oliver Frankenstein, a descendant of the infamous Viktor Frankenstein. He is supposed to be working for Dr. Morgan on a serious development program, but he’s using his position at the lab, in Morgan’s basement, to rekindle the legendary Frankenstein creation of homan life.

Frank/Frankenstein crudely puts the move on the comely Ms. Morton and is rebuffed. There is a lot of advance rebuffing in this movie. When he fails at foreplay he administers another dose of his formula to Trudy. She again roams the streets as a hideous monster, this time wearing a bathing suit and attracting the attention of the authorities. Police Lieutenant Boyd (John Zaremba) and Police Detective Bill Dillon (Robert Dix) investigate. They spot the monster—Trudy—and open fire. They miss, and she escapes. She racks it up as another bad dream.

Frank is disgusted with the efforts of his lab gnome, Elsu the gardener (Wolfe Barzell). Elsu was the previous Frankenstein assistant, and once again he has brought the wrong head. Frank must have a new head.

He finds one on the body of Suzie. He takes her out on a date, and they park in a secluded place, where he has another go at love-making. She is repulsed, and he gets hostile. She flees, and he runs her down with his car. This is classic horror movie shtick. Young, lovely, sexy female, all alone, fleeing down a road. Much pathos. If you are like me you wonder why people in these movies always run down the center strip when being chased by a car with intent to do bodily harm. See the scene from Mad Max.

Suzie’s head on the body, and the sparks begin to fly. This is classic mad scientist stuff.

She’s alive! She escapes and roams the streets. Two warehouse men working a late shift are finishing up when one goes to investigate. He cannot escape. She closes a warehouse door on him, pinning him and crushing him to death. Once again I have to wonder. What ever happened to turn and run like hell when confronted with a slow-lurching monster?

There is an interlude. Trudy’s uncle suggest she have some fun—she should invite some of her teenage friends over for a cookout on the patio. We are treated to a few musical numbers to stretch the length of the movie past 90 minutes. Suzie is sorely missed. Nobody knows what happened to her.

But matters in Morton’s lab are coming to a crashing conclusion. He has been stealing a vital component from his previous employer, Rockwell Labs. The police get on his tail and arrest him. He has already suffered a heart attack, and he dies in police custody. The cops come to investigate the goings-on at the Morton residence. Boyd returns to the station, leaving Dillon to take care of matters. The monster kills Dillon. Frank grabs Trudy and places her on the lab table. Elsu objects, and Frank orders the monster to kill him. Johnny arrives. Together, he and Trudy battle the monster in the lab. Boyd returns as the fight winds down. Johnny splashes acid in Frank’s face and throws flammable liquid on the monster, who catches fire and burns to death.

Yeah, this movie is the real thing.

And yes, Harold Lloyd, Jr. was the son of Harold Lloyd. The teenage band is Page Cavanaugh and His Trio

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Amazon is getting to be a treasure chest of watchable movies, and I much appreciate it. We picked up the service three years ago when cable TV started to become unreasonable, and Amazon is one of several pay-for items we subscribed. A recent news item that flashed by me recently noted that Amazon has five times as many movies as Netflix, but that likely includes Amazon’s pay for play selections. For the coming seasons I will not be purchasing any movies and for this series will be reviewing only theatrical productions I have already paid for on the streaming services.

That said, be advised the Wednesday series does not consist of purely bad movies. Wednesday’s movies tend to be recent productions, and especially they are ones with some redeeming qualities. However, every movie has some plot seepage, some faulty directing, that I will point out, just in case you might be thinking of investing your time with one.

This is Shattered from 2007, and it stars:

Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening sequence shows the happy Randall family, Neil, Abby, and their cute daughter Sophie in their happy home in suburban Chicago. It also shows that producers William Vince, William Morrissey, and Pierce Brosnan spent all the money on top talent, leaving little to hire a top agency to do the titles. Apparently, as the final cuts were being made, somebody told the second under secretary to the producer to get hold of the IT geek and have him type up the lettering. Arial narrow was good enough.

Anyhow, the Randall’s are preparing for separate outings, and a super sitter for Sophie has been arranged. Neil goes off to work at his downtown Chicago advertising job as Shifty Tom Ryan watches from a roof top.

Neil may be Mr. Nice Guy at home, but at work he is a shark. In short years at the firm he has worked his way upward through hook and through crook, weaseling out the rewards for the contributions of others. Here he almost gloats as he is assigned the final presentation to a client while a co-worker looks on in disgust.

After work Neil and Abby head off from the house in their Land Rover. Suddenly shifty tom Ryan appears in the back seat, and he points a pistol at them. Sofie is in the care of a phony sitter, and she will be killed if they don’t follow his advise.

He first advises them to withdraw all their money, $142,000, from the bank and to return to the car with the cash in a valise he has provided. They do that, but after the car gets going Tom opens the valise, withdraws some of the cash, and sets it on fire. Then he throws the valise bull of burning cash into the Chicago river as they cross a bridge.

There begins a sequence of humiliating performances the Randalls must execute, else Sophie will die. Tom hands Abby an envelope and directs her to take it to the office of one of Neil’s clients. Then he forces Neil to drive to a parking garage, where they watch as Abby hands over the envelope to the client. Tom has revealed to Neil the envelope contains evidence he pilfered the client’s information to gain a contract. With the envelope passing into the client’s hands, Neils career is finished, and he will likely go to jail.

Tom tricks Neil and Abby into breaking into a hotel room, thinking that Sophie is being held there. But Tom is there before them, and he forces Abby to undress and to put on a slinky red dress. Then she leaves with Tom after he gives directions for Neil to go to the top of a nearby building. There Neil observes as Tom forces Abby leave with him in the car.

But it is yet another ruse perpetrated by Tom. He forces Neil to drive to a remote cabin, where Neil’s mistress, Judy, has been waiting for his arrival. That had been Neil’s plan for the night while Abby was out on her own. Tom gives the pistol to Neil and instructs him to go inside and shoot Judy.

But Neil notices a photo of Tom on the fireplace mantel, and Judy tells him that Tom is her husband. Neil is being forced to murder Tom’s wife to save his daughter. Neil is reluctant, but Tom walks in and delivers a final ultimatum. Neil points the pistol at Judy’s head and pulls the trigger. Click!

It was a final trick. Tom had unloaded the gun. Now Tom reveals his scheme. He found out Neil had been punching Judy’s ticket, and this is his revenge on Neil and Judy. He allows Neil to leave with Abby, who has remained in the car all the time.

On the way home Abby demands an explanation, and Neil blames the whole thing on his bos, who, he claims, has been having an affair with Tom’s wife. Only it has all been a mistake. Tom had the wrong person.

Back at the house they find that Sofie is safe in bed. There never was any abduction. The sitter was legitimate. Abby knows this, because she carefully chose the sitter. It has been a plot cooked up with Tom after she discovered Neil had been screwing around.

And that’s the end of the movie, except it is now revealed that Tom did nor burn all the money, because Abby did not withdraw it from the bank. Tom burned some fakes and threw the evidence off the bridge.

The evidence Abby handed over to the client was a folder of blank pages. Neils’s career is not ended, and he will not go to jail. He still has his money. He still has his job. He still has his daughter. But, Abby asks, “Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?” I found that last line to be cryptic. Wikipedia has the answer. Butterfly on a Wheel is the original title of the movie:

The film’s title is an allusion to a line of Alexander Pope‘s poem “Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot“: “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” The line is usually interpreted as questioning why someone would put great effort into achieving something minor or unimportant, or who would punish a minor offender with a disproportional punishment.

The weakness in the plot is that events must thread the needle so finely and so often that there is not a lot to believe Neil could have unraveled the whole thing any number of times by calling Tom’s bluff. Abby and Tom counted simultaneously on Neil’s perfidy and his humanity, seemingly contradictory impulses.

On a final note…

This blog draws maybe 150 hits per day. Granted, some items, e.g., “Food Babe,” have pulled 1500 reads in a single day, but movie reviews are not a main interest of Skeptical Analysis.

On the other hand, the Specular Photo blog has over 100 followers, and routinely pulls a chunk of readers every time I post something—anything. As long as people are reading I should start providing more stuff to read. There is a passel of classic movies out there, and they deserve serious review. I will also be reviewing TV content and non-theatrical movies, e.g., Amazon productions. Click on over to the photo blog and start following. I promise some serious reviews starting soon. As soon as I catch up on the reading assignments for the philosophy course I am auditing.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 259 of a series

Thank God for Amazon Prime Video, repository for a treasure of old science fiction films. From 1958 this is The Astounding She-Monster. Without a lot of elaboration, here is a summary of the plot and a list of acting credits. Details are from Wikipedia.

As the movie opens a young, rich, and beautiful heiress ,Margaret, leaves her palatial home for another boring afternoon schmoozing with her rich friends. She does not get very far. Two rough characters, Nat and Brad, waylay her and take her away in their car. The object is ransom.

They are really bad. While poor Margaret sits trussed up and gagged in the back seat, the mobsters moll, Esther, drinks from a bottle and tosses the empty out the window onto the pavement. They are litterbugs, besides.

They are headed for the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. Meanwhile, geologist Dick Cutler is out walking his dog when he spots a meteorite landing with a loud crash.. He and the dog return and settle in, not realizing what the night holds for them.

Brad, driving the mobsters’ car, encounters the Astounding She-Monster in the middle of the traffic lane. She is clothed in a skin-tight, shimmering body suit and is wearing spiked heels. We used to call these FMN shoes. He swerves and clips a tree. The car is disabled. The mobsters make it to Dick’s cabin. Nat goes in first to check it out and threatens Dick with a gun. The mobsters move in.

Brad goes outside to check on what’s raising a ruckus. He encounters the Astounding She-Monster and fires several rounds into her from his pistol. It does not phase her, and she kills him by touching him, giving him a fatal dose of radium poisoning.

Nat goes out to investigate what happened to Brad, and he encounters the Astounding She-Monster. At a certain point in the plot she comes at him and backs him against a precipitous drop-off. She lunges at him, and he steps aside. She plunges to the bottom and lies still. He returns to the cabin and announces he has killed the Astounding She-Monster.

But no. She is alive. She re-appears outside the cabin, and the Earth people prepare a scheme to roast her alive with gasoline. Before they are ready she crashes through the window and menaces them.

They flee outside, where she follows. The gasoline bomb attack fails, and she kills Nat and Esther. She has already killed the dog. She later kills a bear that’s been prowling around the cabin.

Dick has an idea that she is wearing a layer of platinum for protection. He prepares a solution of aqua regia to douse on her.

That works. When the Astounding She-Monster enters the cabin, Dick hits her with a flask of aqua regia, and she succumbs immediately, completely vanishing, even her spiked heels. Dick and Margaret recover the medallion she has been wearing around her neck. They open it and find a note, in English, that describes the purpose of her mission to Earth. She has come to invite Earth to join a league of planets for peace. And they have killed the ambassador.  Things are not looking good for Earth.

Do a search on YouTube. All or parts of the movie are available for watching.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Films that came out last year are streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. This is The Commuter, starring Liam Neeson in the title role as Michael MacCauley, former NYPD detective, more recently selling life insurance. Details are from Wikipedia.

This is going to be another of those Liam Neeson thrillers with any number of improbable connections, but it is intriguing to watch. When you think it might finally be over, it’s not. It’s not over until it’s over.

Life for Michael MacCauley is a tightly-lace routine. His clock radio comes on with today’s news. It’s the time of economic melt-down, and Michael is sailing right into it.

Morning after morning he rises, goes through the morning routine with his delightful wife in his delightful home in his delightful neighborhood north of New York City. The seasons come and go as Michael catches the same train into work.

On this day his employer hands him his walking papers. The economy will no longer support his expense. He is 60 years old, and his world is crashing down. He does not tell his wife he has been fired as he meets an old NYPD buddy, Patrick Wilson as Detective Lieutenant Alex Murphy, at a bar for a beer. He discusses his situation with Alex before heading out to catch his usual train back home.

Then, on this day of days, things begin to really go wrong. He bumps into a stranger, who walks away with his phone as the train doors close. A woman, Vera Farmiga as Joanna, sits down and tells him he is being given a great offer. There is $25,000 in cash hidden in the restroom, and if he takes the cash he will agree to locate another passenger on the train and mark that passenger with a tracking device. He will get an extra $75,000 if he completes the assignment. Then she gets off the train.

He finds the money and is naturally suspicious. He quickly learns he is up against an incredibly adept agency, as all his efforts to counter the scheme fail. He passes a written note to a fellow passenger, then watches in horror as the man is pushed in front of a bus before he can talk to the police.

Things get crazy. The person Michael is supposed to identify is not one of the usual passengers. That narrows things down. He suspects the man carrying a guitar case. He confronts the man. The case carries a guitar. But it is a left-handed guitar, and the man points a pistol at Michael using his right hand. Michael kills the man in a struggle, clubbing with the guitar, rather what remains of the guitar after the struggle. Michael recovers the pistol. But he subsequently discovers the body of a police agent stashed in a compartment beneath the floor of a train car.

The person Michael is supposed to tag, “Prynne” (real name: Sophia), is scheduled to get off at the Cold Springs station. FBI agents are waiting there to meet the targeted person to obtain critical evidence of a major crime. Joanna keeps in contact with Michael by phone, anticipating his every move. She says her group has his family, and if he kills Prynne his family will be spared. Else they will die.

Before the train arrives at Cold Springs Michael identifies Prynne, a young woman who witnessed a murder carried out by New York police officers. Michael attempts to stop the train, and forces the conductor to pull the emergency switch. But that just sets off an explosion that kills the motorman and prevents the train from stopping. Michael has moved all passengers into the last car in the train, and he and a conductor decouple the car from the train as it roars through Cold Springs without stopping. We are treated to a prolonged train wreck, as cars slide and tumble along the tracks.

Police have been told that Michael is holding hostages inside the car, and Detective Murphy comes aboard to negotiate his surrender. While negotiating, Murphy uses language Prynne recognizes as identical to that used by the police officer who murdered her cousin.

Murphy is killed, FBI agents obtain the girl and the evidence. Some time later Joanna is aboard a train and Michael confronts her.

He is once again an NYPD detective and is about to arrest her.

What’s wrong with this plot is what’s wrong with so many. The scheme is overly complex, really outlandish. The bad guys know a person will be on the train and getting off at Cold Springs. In order to kill this witness and keep the key evidence (turns out to be a computer disk drive), they involve a multitude of people and a chain of action, any broken link of which would foil their plot. Their plot goes so far as to rigging a bomb that will go off if the emergency stop is activated. People, if you are going to that much trouble, why don’t you just firebomb the train, kill everybody aboard, and destroy the evidence? Then, who would watch the movie?

Neeson is famous for the Taken series, all involving highly improbable plots and famous for the “I will find you” threat.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 258 of a series

Where else? Amazon Prime Video is the source for this Bad Movie of the Week. It’s Devil Girl from Mars, from 1954 out of England. Details are from Wikipedia. Watch it if you get a chance. Here’s a summary.

A meteorite lands near Inverness, Scotland, and Professor Arnold Hennessey (Joseph Tomelty) and newspaper reporter Michael Carter (Hugh McDermott) drive up from London to investigate. They stop at The Bonnie Prince Charlie inn, where all the action takes place. Also at the inn are fashion model Ellen Prestwick (Hazel Court), bar tender and waitress Doris (Adrienne Corri), proprietor Mrs. Jamieson (Sophie Stewart), and her husband (John Laurie). Not seen here is the Jamieson nephew Tommy and escaped convict Albert Simpson (Peter Reynolds).

Albert is Doris’s lover, and she has stashed him in a spare room.

With a loud rush in the sky, a spacecraft from Mars appears and lands nearby. The Devil Woman exits. She is played by Patricia Laffan.

Her first task on exiting the spacecraft is to encounter and annihilate a crippled handyman with her ray gun.

She confronts the residents of the inn and announces the intention of Mars to get rid of the useless people on Earth, taking back robust men to replace Martian men annihilated in a battle between the sexes.

Tommy escapes the inn by way of an adjacent tree, and Albert joins him. The Devil Girl discovers them, paralyzes Albert, and takes Tommy aboard the spacecraft.

Professor Hennessey offers a trade, himself for Tommy, and he uses his visit to the spacecraft to discover its weaknesses.

Tommy describes his adventures aboard the spacecraft.

The Devil Girl makes one final demand. She will take one of them with her as a guide when she attacks London, and she will obliterate the inn and all inside.

Albert learns of these plans, and when the Devil Girl returns to take the one chosen by the group, Albert is alone to meet her. The spacecraft takes off with Albert aboard, and explodes.

And that’s the end of the story. Neat, what?

One thing I did not mention is the robot. Whenever the Devil Girl really wants to bring the hammer down she summons the robot, which has tremendous power. We see it vaporize somebody’s house. Here’s an image.

You can watch the trailer on Youtube:

Don’t have an Amazon Prime Video account? Watch the movie on YouTube.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I saw the play at the St. James Theater in New York when it ran there, and I must have seen the movie version later, because the movie had Nancy Kwan, and I remember her. It’s Flower Drum Song from 1961, and here is a screen shot of the title sequence from Amazon Prime Video. I’m showing this, because it’s by Pacific Title, and I was a fan for their stuff for decades. Pacific Title was practically all Saul Bass, and I will have more about that later.

Let’s take as a given that this is little more than a vehicle to showcase musical scoring by Richard Rogers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, so I’m going to show some visuals and skim the plot. Details are from Wikipedia.

The title sequence, some animated water colors, depict a cargo ship leaving Hong Kong and entering San Francisco bay. We see a Chinese girl and her father lurking in the cargo hold, taking refuge inside some shipping crates when a crewman comes below to check out things. The crates get stashed on the dock, and when nobody is around the two emerge. They have made it to America.

Not only to America, but Chinatown in San Francisco. For this I give them much credit, because when I was in San Francisco I needed a map to find Chinatown. Anyhow, broke and alone, illegally, in the USA, they decide to pick up some money with a street performance. Dr. Han Li  (Kam Tong) tells the gathering crowd that his daughter, Mei Li (Miyoshi Umeki) will perform a flower drum song. It’s A Hundred Million Miracles. They pick up some small change, but little help from the crowd. They have directions to the their intended destination, one Samuel Adams “Sammy” Fong (Jack Soo), but the directions are in Chinese, and nobody reads Chinese. Up comes a cop, also Chinese, and he wants to know why the two don’t have a license to perform on the streets. The cop quickly figures out their situation and asks the crowd for somebody who reads Chinese.

With the help of a woman from the crowd, they learn that Sammy Fong can be found at his night club, called Celestial Gardens. They go there straight away, to Sammy’s discomfort. Sammy’s mother has contracted a marriage for him to the shy Mei Li. She may be cute, but she is painfully flat-chested, not Sammy’s type. Besides, Sammy has a thing going with one of his cabaret performers, Linda Low (Nancy Kwan). That is a dilemma.

Another family comes into the picture. It is the family wealthy widower Wang Chi-Lang (Benson Fong), whose oldest son, Wang Ta (James Shigeta), is graduating from college and is unmarried.

This is the opening for another R&H musical dance sequence, featuring the younger Wang siblings.

But Wang Ta has latched his eyes on Linda Low, who is tired of getting the runaround from Sammy. Sammy has been stringing her along for five years with no signs of a marriage proposal. When Wang Ta phones asking her out on a date, she responds, visions of marriage to a wealthy heir swirling in her head. Another R&H number, as the scantly-clad Linda prances in front of her dressing mirror. It’s a magical piece of cinematography as the images take on lives of their own—different poses, different costumes. In a rebuff to the coming feminist wave, she sings”I Enjoy Being a Girl.” Fun to watch.

Linda goes after Wang Ta with a full-court press, rushing him, as it were, toward the alter. There are multiple love triangles. Helen Chao (Reiko Sato) has the hots for Wang Ta, but he never figures it out. She exits with unrequited love.

New Year’s in Chinatown is the excuse for a parade and another musical dance number featuring Nancy Kwan.

Sammy, seeing his favorite girl slipping away, sabotages her romance with Wang Ta. He invites the Wang family to a front-row table at his night club, where Linda is scheduled to perform a risqué number. Wang Chi-Yang is incensed. Wang Ta is humiliated. The romance with Linda is off.

Wang Ta goes out and gets plastered. Helen takes him back to her place, where he sleeps it off. She dreams of a love that will not be. It’s the occasion for another R&H musical dance number.

Sammy proposes marriage to Linda. They imagine married life. “Sunday,” with nothing to do. Kids play, friends call, people come and go from the Fong residence. The children watch TV on a huge black and white screen. A cowboy and an Indian are doing battle. They are interrupted by one of the children shooting at them with his toy pistol. They crash through the glass and enter into the ruckus going on in the Fong residence.

Sammy’s mother insists the marriage contract she negotiated be honored. A three-family council agrees. Sammy must marry Mei Li. Sammy sings to Mei Li on the street, advising he is not the right husband for her. He sings “Don’t Marry Me.” They see no way out. The wedding is scheduled for tomorrow. Sammy urges Mei Li to “think of something.”

She does. Watching a B&W movie on TV she sees a dark-haired woman telling the sheriff that she can’t marry so and so. She came into the USA illegally across the Rio Grande. She is a “wetback.”

And that does it. Next day, at the alter with Sammy, Mei Li lifts her veil and says to all she cannot marry Sammy because she came to the country illegally. Her back is wet. Now it’s Sammy’s mother’s turn to be incensed. She declares the marriage is off. Immediately there is a double wedding, Sammy marrying Linda and Wang Ta marrying Mei Li. And that’s the end of the movie.

So, Charlie Chan aside, this was a Hollywood breakthrough with a nearly totally Chinese cast. It may have marked the end of having British actor Sidney Toler playing a Chinese detective or Hungarian actor Peter Lorre playing a Japanese detective. Except for the obviously European mugger who robs Wang Chi-Yang in an early scene and the B&W actors on various TV sets, everybody is Chinese. Except…

Except that the requirements to perform in this production included:

  • Be Chinese
  • Be able to act
  • Be able to dance and sing
  • Fit the role of one of the characters

Not many people available at the time possessed all these attributes. That is one reason a number of the performers are Japanese substituting for Chinese (westerners can’t tell them apart). Soo, Shigeta, and Sato are obviously Japanese names. Jack Soo became famous as Detective Nick Yemana on the Barney Miller TV series. James Shigeta later was Vice Adm. Chūichi Nagumo in the movie Midway.

Singing was also problematic.  B.J. Baker dubbed for Nancy Kwan., John Dodson) dubbed for Kam Tong, and Marilyn Horne sang for Reiko Sato.

Saul Bass is famous for a host of imaginative movie title sequences, notably The Man with the Golden ArmAround the World in Eighty DaysCowboy, Vertigo, and North by Northwest.


Before posting this to Facebook and elsewhere I need to add some comment. A key feature of the story is the cultural clash between Old World Chinese and their American counterparts.

First is the previously mentioned observation that Mei Li and her father need to scrap for somebody in San Francisco’s Chinatown who can read Chinese. This despite all the store signs obviously in Chinese.

Of course, the main theme of the story is the Chinese custom of arranged marriage versus the American custom of shopping cafeteria style.

And we see the woman of the house ordering groceries on the telephone. She wants this and that, and she wants 1000-year eggs. “And make sure they are fresh.” Yes, that’s funny.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 257 of a series

This is a spectacular 1985 production that blew right by me when it came out. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s Lifeforce, based on The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. It features:

The acting and dialog are not up to the level of the story line (most interesting) and the effects by John Dykstra. I collected a number of interesting scenes to show off Dykstra’s efforts and also to give male readers a look at Space Girl. Here is the story line much condensed.

An American space craft, the Churchill, explores Halley’s Comet. Get a look at the crew, because everybody is going to die, except Colonel Tom Carlsen.

At the comet they discover a 150-mile-long craft, devoid of life except for three humanoid creatures entombed in mysterious casings. There are two males and one female, dubbed Space Girl.

They pack the containers into the Churchill and head back to Earth. When the craft arrives back to Earth orbit there is no communication, and when the shuttle Columbia goes to investigate the interior is charred, and only charred bodies are found, plus the three containers. The containers are brought back to Earth (in England) and examined. Without warning one of the containers opens, and Space Girl sits up. She is ravishing.

But she is deadly—a space vampire. Without explaining, she sucks the life force out of those who fall into her deadly embrace. Some of Dykstra’s work.

The Churchill escape pod returns to Earth with Colonel Carlsen inside. He tells of the mysterious deaths of the crew and his destruction of Churchill and his escape. The girl has a powerful sexual appeal, and she is dangerous.

Space Girl escapes, and in a dream Carlsen realizes he can channel her mind. Space Girl attacks others in London and enters their bodies. One is a comely wench who hitches a ride and seduces the driver.

Carlsen and others get on the trail of Space Girl and are led to an institution for the criminally insane. They get the cooperation of Dr. Armstrong, but he turns out to be infected. They grab him and drug him, extracting details of an alien invasion.

London is overrun by the infected and quarantined. Nielsen drives into the city to locate and neutralize Space Girl. It’s like a zombie apocalypse in there.

He spots the life force of millions of people shooting into space from what appears to be St. Paul’s

Dr. Fallada  follows, and he comes upon a male vampire and runs him through with a sword of leaded iron. The vampire dies spectacularly.

And turns into a leather-winged dragon man.

Fallada comes upon a hole in the floor of the sanctuary, where the life force of victims is shooting toward the roof in a brilliant stream.

Carlsen has located Space Girl, and they are locked in a passionate embrace. Carlsen cries out to Fallada for help.

Fallada tosses down the lead iron sword, and Carlsen runs it through Space Girl’s back and through his own body.

They ascend together to the space vampire ship, which departs Earth forever.

And that’s the end of the movie.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

If you arrived at this review by way if my Facebook feed, then you need to click the link above to get last week;s review. The reason I did not link to True Confessions on Facebook is because Facebook insisted on selecting an NSFW image. Enjoy.

This Wednesday’s movie comes by way of a different route—it’s not streaming on one of my Internet services. I recorded it a few years ago from Turner Classic Movies, and I feel the need to feature it now, because its 70th anniversary is drawing nigh, and the anniversary of the events has arrived. From 1950 it’s The Big Lift, a story based on the Berlin Airlift at the onset of the Cold War. Some history is necessary.

After French and British forces in Europe were defeated by the invading German army in 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused Adolf Hitler’s demands for a cessation of hostilities. Hitler began to make plans for the invasion of the British Isles, and the Battle of Britain began—an air war. German planes began to bomb British airbases, and the inadvertent bombing of London initiated retaliation by the British on Berlin. The bombing of the German capital by allied forces continued up to the Russian assault on the city in 1945. The Russian battle to defeat Berlin’s defenses completed the almost total destruction of the city. Berlin had a population of 4.3 million at the start of the war in 1939. At the cessation of hostilities the population was 2.8 million, and that increased to over 3.1 million by 1947 due to the influx of returning civilians. And that was the setting at the time of the events in this movie.

The Wikipedia entry for this film states that all remote scenes were filmed in occupied Berlin, including in all four of the zones of occupation. All American soldiers appearing in the movie are active duty personnel, except for lead actors Montgomery Clift as T/Sgt. Danny MacCullough and Paul Douglas as M/Sgt. Hank Kowalski. Details are from Wikipedia.

Following their victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945, the four conquering powers, France, Great Britain, the USA, and the USSR, divided the country into four zones of occupation. Separately Berlin was, itself, divided into four zones. The city was entirely within the Soviet zone of occupation. Shortly the alliance with the Soviet Union broke down, as Stalin made increasingly overbearing demands, initiating the Cold War. The first crisis of the Cold War came in 1948, when the Soviets, seeking to wrest control. blockaded highways, railways, and canals connecting Berlin to the other zones of occupation, leaving the Soviet-occupied zone as the only source of supply for the city. The plan was obviously to starve the city into submission and to take complete control. Here we see a (possibly dramatized) barrier being lowered over a road, blocking a supply truck into the Soviet zone.

American response was immediate. We next see American armed forces personnel at movies, parties, and elsewhere being interrupted by orders to report immediately. They are briefed on the operation to supply Berlin by air, the only channel the Soviets failed to block.

Air crews begin to arrive for duty.

In Berlin Sergeant MacCullough participates in a staged presentation as the first supply planes land. He is presented with a loving thank you from Frau Frederica Burkhardt (Cornell Borchers), a war widow. She is delicious.

Sergeant MacCullough participates in other staged displays of friendship between the Americans and the German civilians. It was important to win the hearts and minds of people who might want to accept Soviet rule.

But MacCullough is intrigued by the comely Frau Burkhardt, and he goes searching. He finds her at working loading debris into a bin. All between 18 and 55 are required to work on the reconstruction. In an early communique after Germany’s defeat General Dwight Eisenhower told the Germans they had created this situation, and Americans would not help them to clean it up.

It is likely this is actual footage of Germans working to clear the rubble. Americans came to admire their defeated enemy. Of all the ravaged countries in Europe, the Germans seemed most eager to get to it and to clean up the mess they had brought on themselves.

Romance develops.

I saw this in my home town movie theater when it first came out, and two scenes stuck in my mind during the past 69 years. One is this. There was food and other stuff to be had in the American sector. People would travel from the Soviet sector and bring back daily necessities and some treasures, one being coffee. The Soviets objected to this, and they confiscated this contraband when they could. MacCullough and Frau Burkhardt are traveling on the subway into the Soviet zone, where she lives. At the border the train stops while East German soldiers search for contraband. The woman on the left has a packet of coffee, which she intends to exchange for coal when she gets home. The “fat” man on the right advises her to hide it in her hat, and she does. But when the soldiers come, they can smell coffee, and they demand to know who has the coffee. The fat man tells them the woman has it, and the soldiers seize it, and they leave. The others are totally pissed at the fat man, but after the soldiers leave he reveals his own stash, which the soldiers would have found if he had not given up the woman’s coffee. He shares his largess with the others.

The other scene that stuck with me is this. Sergeant Kowalski was a prisoner of the Germans during the war, and he spies his former guard and corners him on a lonely street. He recalls how the guard used to give him German lessons, using the butt of his rifle to discipline Kowalski when he was too slow to learn. Now Kowalski turns the tables on the German, who is not allowed to fight back.

All this does not go well with the authorities, however, and there is a mad scene as Kowalski’s friends help him elude the police.

There is also the debacle involving Frau Burkhardt over which sector she is in and in which sector she belongs. There is a tussle at a place where an imaginary line on the ground demarks the boundary.

The romance with Frau Burkhardt falls apart spectacularly. She has been coaxing MacCullough to marry her and to take her to the United States.. But she has an ongoing liaison with another American soldier, now repatriated. Her plan was to marry MacCullough and then divorce him once she got to America. And that’s the end of the story.

There were three air routes into Berlin, and the airlift kept all of them busy to the extent possible. A continuous train of cargo flights followed each route into the city, leaving no room for mistakes. If a plane missed its landing it had to fly back with its load and get back into line.

Immediately after the Soviets lifted the blockade, Allied forces started running trucks into Berlin by way of the Autoban. In the meantime Seventeen American and eight British aircraft was lost, with 101 crew casualties, mostly due to non-flying incidents.

In 1961 the East German government erected a wall to separate their sector (inherited from the Soviets). That wall came down in 1989, and the divided German state was made whole again.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Patience has its rewards. Amazon Prime Video is streaming this, giving me a second look at it in decades. But first some background:

True Confessions is a confession magazine targeted at young women readers. It was originally published by Fawcett Publications, beginning in 1922.

I recall reading articles back when I lived with my parents in Granbury, and it didn’t take me long to realize that the “confessions” were not actually true. They were made up stories by professional writers, but written in the manner of somebody confessing to past transgressions, consistently salacious. And that was the inspiration for this movie, True Confessions,

True Confessions is a 1981 crime film directed by Ulu Grosbard and starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall as the brothers Spellacy, a priest and police detective. Produced by Chartoff-Winkler Productions, it is adapted from the novel of the same name by John Gregory Dunne, loosely based on the Black Dahlia murder case of 1947. Dunne wrote the screenplay with his wife, novelist Joan Didion.

What gets this to the title is the involvement of a Catholic priest who hears episodic “confessions” throughout the plot. This came out in 1981, and it features brothers Msgr. Desmond Spellacy (Robert De Niro) and LAPD Tom Spellacy (Robert Duvall). Details are from Wikipedia.

This is a low key police procedural with emphasis placed on the interaction between the two brothers and how this rolls out in an atmosphere of church politics and a high-flying gangster. The opening scene shows Detective Tom Spellacy driving through the Mojave Desert, and we know the date is in the early 1960s, because Tom is listening to the car radio, and the news announcer is talking about President Kennedy planning to fly back to Washington.

Tom arrives at a desolate parish church where his brother is the priest. They have not spoken for some time, and the bad news is that Desmond is dying. How Father Desmond came to be here is the subject of the story.

Time shifts back to just after WWII in Los Angeles, and Tom arrives at a scene requiring investigating. His 1940s car is overheating, and he raises the hood to allow the radiator to boil over. People who did not live in this time may need to be reminded that following December 7, 1941 the government took over the American automobile industry, and no personal vehicles were produced again until 1945. Tom does not have one of these.

Tom and his partner, Detective Frank Crotty (Kenneth McMillan), walk up a few flights to where a parish priest has died in bed with a prostitute. They know him.

The madame is Brenda (Rose Gregorio). She called the police in to help keep the story about the priest quiet. Tom also forces the prostitute to hand back money she took from the priest’s wallet. Brenda and Tom have some history. They previously handled payoffs from gangster Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning). When the jig was crashed, Brenda took the fall and did time, while Tom stayed free and went straight(er).

Now Jack is dying, and, seeking absolution, he is generous toward the church. Here he is dancing an Irish gig at a wedding. They’re all Irish here.

Inspired by the Black Dahlia case from 1947, a woman, likely a prostitute, is found murdered. Her body was cut in two and dumped in a vacant lot. Tom zeros in on the case while others in position attempt to get him to let it slide. Tom suspects corruption.

Meanwhile, Jack Amsterdam’s largess is roiling the diocese. Burgess Meredith  is Monsignor Fargo, nominally in charge of building projects. Money is flowing in from criminal sources, and he is noticing shortages on the projects. The Cardinal (Cyril Cusack) wants Fargo banished to a desert parish, and he orders Desmond to do it.

Tom becomes incensed at the coddling being lavished on Amsterdam, and he crashes a lunch between Desmond and Amsterdam. An iconic quote comes from this scene, where Amsterdam asks whether he and Tom ever met previously, and Tom reminds him that he was once his bag man when he was running prostitutes.

The two detectives watch a stag film (porn) that involved the dead woman. Tom identifies one of the other prostitutes in the film as the one that was in bed when the priest died.

The two brother visit their mother in a nursing home.

The church awards Jack Amsterdam “Layman of the Year” and adorn him with a red sash. Tom is present at the festivities, and he is galled at the hypocrisy. He attacks Amsterdam and rips of the red sash, cursing Amsterdam and calling out his criminal past. He suspects Amsterdam’s complicity in the murder.

Following the trail of the porn film, Tom identifies the man who made the film. That man is now dead, but the trail leads to an abandoned military base. Investigation leads to discovery of a make shift film studio and a bloody murder scene. Tom suspects the film producer murdered the woman on orders from Amsterdam, who then had the man killed.

But it becomes known that Monsignor Desmond and a prominent politician gave the dead woman a ride when she was hitch-hiking, and the politician had an extended sexual liaison with her before Amsterdam took charge. The monsignor’s downfall is depicted as newsmen question him about his relationship with the dead woman.

It’s back to 1963 again, and ‘Desmond tells his brother his heart is giving out, and he has less than a year to live.

The thing that strikes me is this is Los Angeles and not Boston, and all the church people are Irish and not Hispanic. And Monsignor Desmond is played by Robert DeNero, who I always figured to be Italian, but who cracks Irish jokes with a brogue in the movie. But careful reading reveals that DeNero’s (di Nero) mother was Irish.

Robert Duvall first caught our attention as autistic “Boo” Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 255 of a series

The title says it all. Any movie advertised as Mars Attacks! has got to be bad, even if it sports a top tier cast that includes

Yeah, this flick features Tom Jones performing the supremely ironic It’s Not Unusual.

It’s from 1996 and is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Talk about a spoof of a spoof! Here’s the plot. The opening is a bucolic scene of a farmer stopping by to visit his neighbor and commenting on his Filipino barbecue. Only it’s not a barbecue he smells. Its a herd of horses on fire running down the road. A flying saucer from Mars rises above the horizon. This gets the show off to a roaring start.

Hordes of Martian flying saucers approach the Earth.

The president (Nicholson) takes the news in stride. His generals want to nuke them.

Supercilious Professor Donald Kessler (Brosnan) pontificates and recommends a more nuanced response.

A meeting is arranged in the Nevada desert.

Things go well at first.

Then somebody releases a white dove of peace, and the Martian ambassador is shocked. He whips out his nifty proton disintegrator and blasts the lovely creature. Then most everybody else.

Things go downhill from there. A meeting between the ambassador and a joint session of Congress turns out to be a ruse. The ambassador pulls out his blaster and nukes the Congress.

The movie then follows the formula, with world landmarks coming under attack. Bunches of people get vaporized.

When Richie Norris’s (Haas) trailer home is attacked, he hops into the pickup truck and rushes to the side of his grandmother Florence (Sylvia Sydney), just in time. The Martians are menacing her as she listens to Slim Whitman‘s “Indian Love Call” on her ear buds. When the ear bud cable gets yanked out of the jack, the music goes to the speakers, and it shatters the Martians.

And that’s the secret to defeating the Martians, and humanity is saved. People come out from where they have been hiding into a safer and better world.

Yeah, it’s corny, but it was nice to see and hear Tom Jones.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Spoiler alert. This review is going to reveal the ultimate twist to the plot, so stop reading now if you plan to watch the movie. Of course this one has been around since 1997, so if you haven’t seen it by now, then it’s your own fault. It’s The Game, featuring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn and now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the source of the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s a tale of convoluted deception. We see the early life of Nicholas van Orton (Douglas). He has grown up among wealth and privilege, but his father killed himself early in life by taking a dive from the top of the family mansion. Nick has grown to become a person of great wealth of his own making, and he is as hard as granite. Divorced, he lives alone in the mansion. He runs his investment banking business with machine precision and without warmth.

Come his birthday, and Nicholas receives a message that his brother Conrad (Penn) wants a lunch meeting. It is short and cold, Conrad leaves him the gift of a game hosted by a concern named Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). He advises Nick to take advantage. It will be a life-changing exercise.

Nick has the intention of blowing it off, but he spies the offices of CRS and becomes intrigued.

Stopping in, he finds a concern in flux. The offices are being fleshed out, but he presents his gift card, and is interviewed by CRS representative Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn). Nick has accustomed himself to being treated with considerable sufferance, but Fiengold is detached and somewhat dismissive. He fakes Nick into undergoing a lengthy and tedious interview process. Nick is then shown the door and told he will be contacted. He subsequently receives a call on his private number telling him he has not been selected to participate in the game.

But that was only a ruse. Coming home that night, Nick discovers a clown mannequin in the driveway, at the spot where his father’s body came to rest decades before. He takes the dummy inside and eats his dinner. The newscaster on TV is Daniel Schorr (played by himself), who on occasion interrupts his business reporting to speak straight to Nick. Nick discovers the dummy contains a camera that is transmitting video from the room. The game is on.

At a business conference where Nick is in the process of dismissing a key employee for lackluster performance, he attempts to pull the requisite documents from his briefcase. However, he cannot open the briefcase, and he storms out of the meeting. Things have begun to go sour in Nicks life of domination over events and other people.

At a restaurant a waitress, Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) spills a drink on him and initiates a nasty confrontation. She is fired from her job, but Nick follows her out, and they encounter a man collapsing on the street, and they come to his aid. The police arrive and require that Nick and Christine ride in the ambulance with the victim, but when they get to the emergency entry garage, the victim is taken away, leaving the two alone in the garage. Then the lights go out, and the real adventure starts.

There are flights from the police, shootings, discovery, and a penultimate confrontation between Nick and Christine. He discovers she is working for CRS. Then he blacks out from the drink she has given him, and he wakes up in a cemetery in Mexico, no money, no passport. He is forced to use his survival skills to get back home.

It all comes to a head, as Nick figures it’s a scheme to gain access to his accounts and steal all his money. He returns to CRS and confronts the people there, and now he has a gun he obtained when a mugger attempted to hold him up. When CRS men pull weapons, Nick takes Christine hostage on the roof of the building.

Now it’s Christine’s turn to be alarmed. It has all been part of the game, but Nick was supposed to have a fake semiautomatic pistol. She sees he has obtained a real gun (from the mugger), and she tries to warn the CRS people, who are in the process of breaking through the door to the roof. Nick takes aim and shoots the first person to come through the door. It’s Conrad. The game has gone horribly wrong.

Nick realizes what he has done, and he ends it by stepping off the roof of the building.

But many floors down he crashes through the fake glass roof of the restaurant and onto an air cushion. It has all been part of the game. Conrad is not dead, and he holds up a tee shirt with the logo, “I was drugged and left for dead in Mexico, and all I got was this stupid shirt.” Everybody wishes Nick a happy birthday.

Everybody is happy, and as they start to leave Nick follows Christina out to her car. She is going to the airport. She invites Nick to have coffee with her at the airport.

Complaint number one: most of the scenes were shot so dark that it was difficult to pick up on a lot of the action. I had to use Corel PaintShop to brighten up many of the scenes before posting them.

Much of this is highly improbable. A lot of stuff had to go right, or somebody was going to get killed. Worth a watch, however, provided you are not already reading this.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 254 of a series

This came out in 1962 when I was deadly serious about college and probably missed it. I must have seen it first on TV, and I have some history with it. I worked with a guy named Mike, and I was doing an impersonation of some sort, and he called me the terrible triffid. Now others use the appellation. This is The Day of the Triffids, a classic and a really bad one. It’s one of that bag of down-market features currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

This is London. A brilliant meteor display lights up the sky, and inside a botanical section of the Christal Palace, triffids attack and kill the security guard. The meteor display has triggered them to go rogue. They can kill and devour animals, and they are not rooted to the ground. They roam and multiply.

Merchant naval officer Bill Masen (Howard Keel) misses out on meteor display, because he is laid up with eye surgery and has his eyes bandaged. The doctor promises that tomorrow at 0800 the bandages will come off and Masen will be able to see again. He hopes to see pretty Nurse Jamieson (Colette Wilde), but he never does.

Comes morning, and Masen is sleeping in bed when hears Big Ben strike nine. It’s 0900, and the doctor has not come to remove the bandages. Calling out, Masen receives no response, so he removes the bandages and goes looking. He finds the doctor, blind. Everybody who looked at the meteor display has gone blind. The doctor commits suicide by jumping out the window.

Meanwhile, drunkard scientist Tom Goodwin (Kieron Moore) and his wife Karen (Janette Scott) work on research at a lighthouse on a spit of rock off the coast of Cornwall. They, too, missed the display, and they have not been blinded. Tom waits for the resupply boat that will bring him another bottle of scotch. It never arrives. Neither does radio contact work very well. They are puzzled, but they soon learn the fate of the rest of the world.

Masen goes hunting through the streets of London. The few people he comes across are blind.

At the train station a train thunders in, apparently operated by a blind engineer, because it crashes into the platform. A survivor is school girl Susan (Janina Faye), who can see. They team up and go to Masen’s ship.

Masen uses the ship’s radio to gain information of the catastrophe. He and Susan listen in as an airliner, everybody aboard blind, crashes. Coincidentally the crash is near where the ship is docked.

Masen and Susan make it to France, where they meet other survivors at a château. One is Christine Durant (Nicole Maurey).

Escaped criminals invade the château. They, being in prison, avoided the light show and are not blind. They take over and turn the château into a debauchery. Triffids invade and kill everybody except Masen, Susan, and Christine.

The three make it to Cadiz in Spain, where Susan discovers an ice cream truck that plays music over speakers. They take the truck to an estate in the country near Alicante, where a submarine is available to take on survivors.

There they are menaced by triffids. They discover that sound attracts the triffids, and they use the music from the truck to distract the triffids.

When triffids attack, they encounter an electrified fence that Masen has constructed.

But the fence will not hold them, so Masen employs the hose from a fuel truck and sprays fire onto the triffids. Then, while Susan and Christine get away in a car, Masen decoys the triffids with the sound truck.

Susan and Christine make it to the submarine and are taken aboard. As they watch, Masen reaches the bluff above the water, and he dives in to be picked up by crew members from the submarine.

Meanwhile, at the light house, the triffids multiply and break in. As a last resort, Tom sprays them with a fire hose. But the fire hose uses sea water, and the sea water melts the triffids. They have discovered how to defeat the triffids, and humanity is saved.

I don’t think I have to explain why this movie is bad. For one, it is massively disjoint. The Odyssey of Masen and Susan comprises the bulk of the plot. It’s a chain of unrelated episodes without cohesion.

The bit about the convicts at the château breaks up the flow of the action, seeming to have been inserted as a distraction, perhaps to burn off some celluloid.

From France they go to Cadiz. That is way south on the Atlantic coast. From there they drive in a few hours to Alicante, which is on the Mediterranean coast, hundreds of miles away. Really?

The movie is based on the novel of the same name by John Wyndham. The Kindle edition is available on Amazon for $6 ($5.99 plus tax), and I obtained a copy for comparison. There is none. About the only similarity between the two is Masen and the matter of the triffids. There is a Susan character, as well, but no Christine. No lighthouse, either.

So we have to wonder what inspired screen writers Bernard Gordon and Philip Yordan to stretch Wyndham’s apocalyptic yarn into such a pot boiler. The book appears to have promise. There is a strong parallel to The Death of Grass (No Blade of Grass) by Samuel Youd (John Christopher), that came out five years after this book. Recommended reading. There is also a movie, but it’s not currently streaming on Prime, so I will watch for it and catch it when it does.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Everything comes to those who wait. I have been looking for Cujo to stream, and it’s on Hulu starting this month, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s based on the Stephen King novel, but I am not prepared to review the book. Rest assured, however, that there will be differences between the book and the movie.

The intro sequence shows a cute bunny rabbit, could be Marlon Bundo. Anyhow, the cute bunny rabbit is stalked by a giant St. Bernard dog named Cujo, hence the title.

Cujo chases the rabbit down a hole, and when he sticks his nose into the hole a rabid bat bites him on the nose, setting the plot for the movie.

Next we see the Trenton family, Donna (Dee Wallace), young Tad (Danny Pintauro), and husband Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly). Vic is a high-pressure advertising genius.

But Vic has trouble with his Jaguar sports car, and he is advised to take it to mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter), who lives out in the country. Out in the sticks, really, but I’m being polite and saying “country.” Two different worlds meet here. Donna meets Joe’s repressed wife Charity (Kaiulani Lee).

She also meets Cujo, the family dog.

The scene shifts back to the suburbs, where Donna is having a fling with family friend Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone). She tries to break off the liaison, but Steve resists. He comes to the house and tries to force himself on Donna. Vic comes in. Things get tense.

Back at the Camber estate, the effects of the rabies virus become manifest. Joe’s neighbor Gary Pervier (Mills Watson) is the first to take note. He is outside pilling some trash onto the pile that is already there when Cujo approaches menacingly. Cujo attacks and kills Gary.

This is an interesting point of the plot. Joe and Gary are depicted as country bumpkins with all the expected bumpkin traits. They are coarse, slovenly, and disrespectful of women. Charity has won $5000 in the lottery, and she takes her son to visit her sister for a few days, clearing the deck for the remainder of the plot.

Cujo next kills Joe. Vic leaves on a business trip, leaving Donna with their broken down Pinto. It has trouble, and Vic has instructed her to take it to Joe to be fixed. When Donna arrives, with Tad in the car, Cujo attacks, and the two become trapped inside their car. The car takes this opportunity to go belly up, so Donna cannot simply drive away. This was in the days before cell phones, so the remainder of the plot involves Donna and Tad trapped inside the sweltering car while Cujo attempts to get at them. It’s the entire plot.

Two days pass. Vic tries to phone home (before cell phones) and gets no answer. Steve tries to phone Donna and gets no answer. Steve comes to the house, and finding Donna gone, trashes it and leaves. Vic comes home to find Donna and Tad gone, the house trashed. He has learned about Donna’s liaison with Steve, and he informs the police. Nobody has yet brought the Camber estate into the picture.

When they do, the sheriff (Sandy Ward) drives out to investigates. He fails to notice Donna and Tad trapped in the Pinto, and he fails to notice Cujo until too late. He becomes Cujo’s third victim.

Now Donna becomes desperate. Tad is having an asthma attack and is near death. She exits the car and does battle with Cujo, using a baseball bat that has been left lying in the yard. She breaks the bat on Cujo, and Cujo impales himself on the splintered handle.

Donna rushes Tad into the house and revives him in the kitchen with water. Cujo comes around and crashes through a window, spraying broken glass all over. For some reason Donna has brought the sheriff’s pistol with her, and the reaches for it, lying on the table. Exit Cujo. We weep.

About this time Vic drives up in his Jaguar, and the Trenton family is united again, and that is the end of the movie.

Yeah, there’s a bunch to look sideways at. The entire plot is about the mother and son trapped for two days by a large, rabid dog. The business with Steve is a side show to give the plot some human interest.

We see the sheriff, a professional lawman, drive up at the Camber place and fail to notice two people trapped inside a car that has blood smeared all over the windows.

We see Donna club Cujo with a baseball bat and gore him with the broken handle. She grabs the sheriff’s gun, but she does not shoot the dog. Do you believe that?

Yes, this is late 20th century America, and we see Tad driving around in a nifty Jaguar, while his loving (?) wife is forced to get around in a Pinto on its last legs. If I did that kind of shit with Barbara Jean I would be out the door before I could get a last word in.

The part of Cujo was played by Moe.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 253 of a series

Bonanza! I struck the mother lode. Amazon Prime Video is streaming a truck load of these, so be prepared for the worst for weeks to come. I didn’t even have to click on the link to know this one was going to be bad. With a name like Island Claws, will there be any doubt? It’s from 1980.

Wikipedia does not have an entry for this, and the one on IMDb is devoid of a plot narration, so I’m just going to wing it with the plot outline.

There’s a marine biological lab, and they are studying crabs and how to grow them faster and maybe larger. Do you suspect danger? There is a nuclear power plant nearby, and it has discharged radioactive water. Do you suspect danger?

Here we see happy workers at the lab with the news lady (long blond hair), discussing the research. She is doing a write-up. Her father runs the power plant. There turns out to be no connection.

Just to be sure what this movie is all about.

The setting is a Florida island, and the crowd is very home-spun. Night life is the local crab shack, and a feature is the guy playing the banjo. The crab shack is owned by Moody (Robert Lansing).

The guy playing the banjo is going to be the first to die.

Meanwhile some Haitian refugees land on the island in a boat, and they hide out in the forest. If you are like me you are wondering why they landed on the island, because now they have to get off the island and make it to the mainland.

The banjo player goes home drunk after an evening of playing and drinking at the crab shack. Alone in his trailer home in the woods, he hears the crabs menacing outside. He opens the door and sees a sea of crabs. He closes the door, but it is no use. They come in through the windows. Panicked, he knocks over a kerosene lantern and sets the trailer on fire. It burns with him inside, and something unseen topples it on its side.

The news lady strikes up a romance with the young researcher hunk at the biology lab, and she heads toward home on her bike, through the woods. She encounters a swarm of crabs blocking the trail and dumps her bike. She makes it back to her boyfriend at the crab shack and gets her injured arm attended. People begin to wonder about the crabs.

Two other workers at the lab are romantically involved. When the guy proposes marriage, the girl rebuffs him, and they go for a drive in his jeep. After discussing the matter, she elects to walk home alone, through the woods. This does not look good.

She is attacked by something in the woods, and her friends, hearing her screams, run to her rescue. She is taken to the hospital with serious injuries to her arm and is delirious, saying something about a claw.

Meanwhile, the Haitians are hiding out in the woods and are foraging for food on the island. A young Haitian girl wanders off from the camp. Moody’s dog follows her. She encounters something horrible in the woods, and the dog attacks it. She is injured, and the dog returns to Moody and dies.

The death of the dog angers one local yokel, and he organizes a posse to hunt down the Haitians. They charge off into the woods. Nothing ever comes from it. They return without finding the Haitians or the crabs.

You know how this is going to end. A giant crab wreaks havoc on the island, destroying Moody’s house and a bunch of other stuff. People at the lab prepare tranquilizers to neutralize the crab. Eventually the islanders and the Haitians team to confront and kill the crab.

And that’s the end of the movie. It brings to mind an old song title that somebody made up—the title, not the song. “Don’t watch for the shrimp boats, honey. I’m coming home with the crabs.”

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Thanks to Ana for lending me the DVD. This one has become a cult classic and also, unaccountably, a Christmas icon. It’s Die Hard, from 30 years ago and starring Bruce Willis. as New York City cop John McClane in Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). As the 747 lands a seat mate observes that McClane has a fear of flying, and he advises how to unwind. It involves bare feet on the carpet and making fists with his toes. This is critical to the plot, as will be seen.

Holly has left John stranded in New York to follow her career to the West Coast. Her company, Nakatomi  Corp., is holding a Christmas party. It’s Christmas eve, which is how this became a Christmas movie. Here is Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta), head of the American division, addressing his staff and telling them to have a good time. He has arranged for a limousine to pick up John at the airport.

Meanwhile we meet the jerk of the ensemble, Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner) who puts the move on Holly in the most crass and inept way. It’s obvious he will not last the length of the movie.

The Limo driver is Argyle (De’voreaux White), who will play a pivotal role.

The setting has been established, now the drama begins. As twilight dims the city a box truck rolls into view, its headlights signaling the coming of doom.

Here is where the conversation with the seat mate comes to play. John joins Holly at the party while Argyle parks the limo in the Nakatomi Plaza garage and waits for his next bit in the movie. John and Holly retire to Holly’s plush office, where John freshens up. He takes off his shoes and lets them munch on the deep-pile carpet. Holly rejoins the party, expecting John to come down.

The bad guys arrive. The truck pulls into the garage and parks. A gang of really mean characters unload, and they carry their bags, loaded with weapons and explosives. The leader is Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). They are up to no good.

Meanwhile, two others arrive in a sedan at the front entrance, and they enter nonchalantly, almost playfully, distracting the security guy at the front desk and shooting him point blank. The gang quickly moves to take over the Nakatomi high-rise. The only other occupants are the holiday party, and much of the building is still under construction. We quickly come to dislike these people, and we wish them a horrid future.

Shooting wildly, the bad guys barge in on the party, and Gruber takes Takagi to his office to coerce him to cough up a security code. Takagi either does not have the code, or else he lies about not not knowing the code. Anyhow, Gruber always intended to kill Takagi, and he shoots him in the head.

Meanwhile, alerted by the commotion, John has crept close, and he observes this deadly scene. Significantly, he is barefoot, dressed in pants and tank top. But he has his pistol.

John launches a campaign to unravel the scheme. First he pulls a fire alarm to bring fire trucks. That fails when the crooks phone 911 to announce it’s a false alarm. Gruber’s men go in search of the person causing the trouble, and John begins his process of eliminating Gruber’s people in ones and twos.

Here is where I have my first issue with the plot. John knows he is vastly outnumbered, and he does not adopt a winning strategy. What to do if you ever find yourself in this kind of situation is to lie low, let the enemy come to you, and rub them out as efficiently as possible. Instead, John’s police instinct kicks in, and he attempts to subdue his first encounter without spilling blood. He eventually kills the guy by throwing him down the stairs. Anyhow, he winds up with the man’s machine gun, so he’s up for the encounter.

Enter the second key component of the plot. It’s LAPD Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). He is desk-bound after serving a term on the streets. He has sidelined himself after he accidentally shot an unarmed teenager and decided that if the time came, he would be unable to use his weapon.

Anyhow, he’s shopping for pastries when he gets the call to investigate John’s radio call for help.

The crooks wait for Powell to arrive, and they lie low while he checks out the building. The crook posing as security at the front desk convinces Powell that all is well, but during this time John kills another of Gruber’s men, and he tosses the body out a window onto the hood of the police car.

All hell breaks loose. High volume fire from inside the building shreds the police car as Powell backs it feverishly into a ditch and calls for backup.

And the remainder of the plot is police arriving and making stupid decisions and grandstanding, all the while Powell’s very sound advice is ignored. The crooks solidify their scheme to loot a vault of millions in bonds and to ambush police helicopters landing on the roof by setting off charges they have planted.

Prime jerk Harry Ellis seizes the opportunity for self-advancement and intrudes himself into negotiations with the crooks, falsely promising to be able to obtain missing detonators that John has snatched. Gruber quickly sees through Harry’s usefulness and dispenses karma with a bullet.

All this commotion alerts Argyl, who has until now been unaware, listening to tunes on his headphones. When he sees a van emerge from the box truck and hears all the gunfire, he springs into action. He plows the limo into the side of the van and cold cocks the driver.

But John has figured out the plot, and he herds the surviving members of the holiday party down from the roof, where they had been scheduled for sacrifice by the crooks. The explosives destroy the top floors of the building, killing the uppity FBI agents attempting to execute an ill-advised assault.

When the surviving crooks attempt to exit the building by way of the van, John is there waiting. But Gruber has taken Holly hostage. And it doesn’t work. John has anticipated the standoff, and when he surrenders his pistol he waits to catch Gruber off guard before pulling the weapon he has hidden behind his back.

Gruber’s henchman dies on the spot, and Gruber gets shot and is ejected, still alive, through a window. But he has hold of Holly’s arm, threatening to drag her down with him. That doesn’t work, as Gruber loses his grip and plummets multiple floors.

Outside, John and Holly emerge, reunited again. Everybody is congratulating each other when a surviving crook emerges from the building, menacing with a machine gun. Powell’s reluctance to shoot disappears in a flash, as he fires multiple rounds into the gunman.

And that’s the end of the movie.

There was no doubt at the time this came out that the title was inspired by Die Hard batteries, a brand marketed by Sears. Sears had a long-running and intense TV ad campaign that gained the term notoriety and likely gave a boost to the movie.

Once the plot is established by the takeover of Nakatomi Square it is straight-line from there. It’s a battle between good an evil, with additional characters thrown in to flesh out toward a climax. Characters are stereotyped for the amusement of the audience. News reporters are crass and uncaring in their pursuit of audience dominance. Powell is the one other sensible person intruding into the crooked scheme. The local police are career-advancing maladroits, continually making the very the decisions most likely to bring failure. The FBI rides in like The Valkyrie, lording it over the local police, aimed at stealing thunder, suffering thunder in their due.

We see John’s signals for help being ignored by the police. He gets on an “emergency channel” radio, and the police respond by telling him to quit abusing communications protocol.

From the get-go John goes around barefoot, never retrieving his shoes after he hears the first sounds of gunfire. This leads to an encounter where the crooks blast a bunch of glass partitioning, forcing John to walk through broken glass. He spends the remainder of the movie with bloody feet. Wouldn’t your first impulse on sensing an impending battle be to retrieve your shoes?

Lots of other stuff doesn’t make sense. After John kills the first of the crooks, he confiscates the sought-after detonators from the man’s bag. Wait! Gruber sent the man off to hunt down John, and this person set off on the mission with the detonators in his bag. Who does stupid shit like that? In a well-run operation the detonators would have been stashed in a safe place until needed. But nobody listens to me.

This is the film that made Bruce Willis. Many famous names were considered for the role before he was selected.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 252 of a series

It’s getting to where I have to hunt these down on Amazon Prime Video. My only comfort is in knowing that back during my youth there was a machine somewhere in Hollywood cranking these out several a day. From 1958 this is The Hideous Sun Demon, and the title just about tells the whole plot. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening shot shows an alarm going off at an atomic research center, and we see two emergency medical workers carrying off the victim of an accident.

The victim is Dr. Gilbert McKenna (Robert Clarke), and he has been exposed to an unknown form of radiation. His colleagues, Ann Russell (Patricia Manning) and Dr. Frederick Buckell (Patrick Whyte), confer with Dr. Stern (Robert Garry). The doctor tells them he will keep McKenna in the hospital for several days for observation. The effects of this new form of radiation are unknown, and they will need to see what develops.

McKenna takes on some sun on the roof, and the effect is to transform him into a hideous creature. When they take him back inside, out of the sun, he returns to normal. Sun exposure is the key, so they drive him to a remote cabin near Los Angeles, where he can safely recuperate while his condition is studied. He must stay out of the sun. Each exposure to the sun becomes more critical than the previous, and recovery will take longer.

Alone in the cabin, McKenna gets restless. He takes his car, an open-air Austin Healey, for a drive at night. Stopping into a bar to purchase some cigarettes, he spies an interesting cabaret singer, Trudy Osborne (Nan Peterson), and buys her a drink. Her gangster boyfriend intrudes, and McKenna beats him up.  The two leave in McKenna’s car.

They spend a romantic night on the beach while her clothes dry from a dip in the surf. Come morning, and McKenna wakes up on the sand with the sun shining. He abandons Trudy and races back to the cabin, in the open car.

It’s too late. Before he can recover the shelter of the cabin he turns into the hideous sun demon. Ann arrives to find him cowering in a closet. He is strongly advised to stay out of the sun.

Does he head that advice? Of course not, else this would be a very uninteresting movie. He gets lonely that night and drives back to the bar to find Trudy. She is there, and so is her hoodlum boyfriend and one of the boyfriend’s chums. They are hot over the idea the McKenna left Trudy stranded on the beach. The two hoods beat McKenna up, and Trudy takes him away, ostensibly to a hospital. Actually, she takes him back to her place to recover, where the boyfriend finds them the next day. The boyfriend is not amused, and he pulls a gun.

The confrontation moves outside, where McKenna reverts to the son demon and kills the boyfriend.

Quickly the entire countryside is searching for McKenna. The plot has devolved to Hunt the Man Down. McKenna takes refuge in a shed in an oil field. A young girl befriends him and attempts to bring him cookies from home.

That ends up with the girl’s mother figuring out McKenna is hiding in the oil field, and she phones the police. Emerging from the shed, McKenna reverts for the final time to the sun demon and gives battle with the police.

The end comes climatically at the top of a storage tank.

A decidedly low-budget production, with actors facing each other on the screen and speaking their lines. It is obvious from the sound track that filming took place in a low-rent setting. Voices have the sound of being spoken in somebody’s living room. From Wikipedia, “The film’s crew consisted of students from the University of Southern California.”

Budget for the production was $50,000, and it was a financial success (???). This was a follow-on from  The Astounding She-Monster, which also features Clarke. A review is promised if I can get a copy. From Wikipedia:

Clarke initially had no distribution deals set up for the film. Clarke’s brother – a sales manager at an Amarillo, Texas, television station – put him into contact with the owner of several local drive-in theaters. Clarke agreed to premiere his film in Amarillo, and it played on a double bill with the Roger Corman film Attack of the Crab Monsters, under the alternate title The Sun Demon, on August 29, 1958.[14] Peterson and Clarke appeared at the premiere, and, after the film, performed an interview together. While the audience was distracted, Clarke changed into his costume and made an appearance as the Sun Demon.[14] After this success, Clarke declined a distribution deal with American International Pictures and instead chose a competitor, Miller-Consolidated Pictures, who distributed it across the US and UK in December 1959. Clarke made additional personal appearances as the Sun Demon. However, 18 months after the company started distributing the film, it went bankrupt. Because of this, Clarke never saw any income from the deal.[1][27] Clarke later sold off the films rights to various distributors.[1] In the United Kingdom, the film was distributed by D.U.K. and released with the title Blood on His Lips.[28][29] The film was released to US television in the early 1960s.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Full disclosure: I post this Wednesday series as a way to keep ahead of the volume of movies to be reviewed. Generally the Wednesday posts are not bad movies, not really bad. But I manage to find flaw with every movie I watch. This one is It’s a Wonderful Life, from 1946. That makes it about 72 years old and also the first time I have seen it streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

I watched it through on my computer, finding it irresistible to pass up so many shots that I wound up with 110 by the time I was finished. I will recap the plot, which everybody should know by now, and I will provide some background.

This film belongs to the late actor James “Jimmy” Stewart. It’s his film more than it belongs to costar Donna Reed or director Frank Capra. Prior to World War Two Jimmy Stewart was a top Hollywood star, headlining famous works, living the life of a film colony playboy, and bedding down with some of the choicest babes on the screen at the time. When the war came he chucked it all, paid for his own flying lessons, and went down to the local recruiting office, where he signed up as a private in the Army. From there he worked his was up to flight leader and led deadly combat missions in B-24 bombers over Europe. He saw many of his command die in those days, but when it was all over he came home and attempted to restart his career. This is his first film after the war.

All right, everybody is aware this is a fairy tail about good over evil, and it’s pure corn. It’s centered in the mythical town of Bedford Falls, which appears to be somewhere in New York. It’s winter, and it’s Christmas Eve. This is a Christmas story.

We see small town Bedford Falls as small towns existed in those days.

But in the distant heavens there is trouble. We see stars wink as angels converse. There is trouble in Bedford Falls, and two angels summon Angel 2nd Class Clarence (Henry Travers), who has yet to earn his wings. Did I mention corn? Clarence must do a good deed to get his wings, and the trouble in Bedford Falls is just the package.

But first the background must be explained to Clarence, and also the the viewers. We start back when George Bailey (Stewart) was 12 years old. It’s winter again, and the gang is having winter fun. Here George prepares to shoot down a snowy slope riding a coal scoop onto a frozen pond.

George’s brother Harry (Todd Karns) goes next, and he outdoes them all, sliding out onto the pond where the ice is deadly thin. He breaks through, and George saves his life. But a result is George loses hearing in one ear, dooming him to a lifetime of partial deafness.

Of course the movie needs to have an odious character, and this has one in the form of Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who makes up for having too much money by having absolutely no morals. He’s riding in a horse-drawn carriage, because this is 1919, when the story begins.

We see more of George’s early life in Bedford Falls. That’s young George (Bobby Anderson) working as a soda jerk at Gower’s drug store. Who remembers what a soda jerk was? The blond is Violet Bick (Jeanine Ann Roose), who’s pretty, and she knows it. She is going to grow up to be Gloria Grahame. The girl on the right is Mary Hatch (Jean Gale), who’s going to grow up to be Donna Reed. both girls are trying to charm young George.

Then drama! One of George’s tasks at Gower’s drug store is to deliver prescriptions. But on this day George discovers a telegram relating the death of Mr. Gower’s (H. B. Warner) son. He sees that Mr. Gower is drinking liquor from a bottle. He also notices a bottle containing a poisonous substance, and he becomes disturbed.

George tries to warn Mr. Gower, but Gower tells him to deliver the prescription and to not bother him. George attempts to speak to his father (Samuel S. Hinds), but his uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) tells George that his father is busy with a problem at the Building and Loan that he runs.

The Building and Loan is in financial straits, and they need financial support from Potter. Potter is gleeful at their problems, because he would like the company to go away. Potter wants to lend money at exorbitant rates.

George returns to the drug store without delivering the tainted prescription, and Gower boxes his ear (the bad one) before George is able to explain. When Gower realizes George has saved him from committing negligent homicide, he becomes a George Bailey supporter for life. This is key to the plot.

The two angels bring Clarence forward to 1928, and George Baily has grown up. He’s preparing to leave Bedford Falls, to see the world. He is in a store to purchase a valise, and he shows the clerk just how big. At this point the director freezes the frame so Clarence can get a good look at the subject of his target subject. Here is the frozen frame.

At this point viewers should take a look. Two years before this was taken, Jimmy Stewart was deep into the horrors of war, in combat that took the lives of 50,000 American air crew. What is remarkable is how little time he had to put all that behind him and stand before the cameras for this photo.

The clerk pulls out a large case, and George determines it is just the right size. The clerk tells George the price is right, as well, because Mr. Gower is picking up the tab.

George prepares to leave Bedford Falls and to see the world.

He spies Violet, who really has grown up.

At the Bailey dinner table the talk turns to the need for George to stay on and take over running the Building and Loan. Standard for movies of this era is Lillian Randolph as Annie, a black maid. Yeah, black people still occupied the lower rung, and movies of the time keep us reminded.

George persists in his plan to leave Bedford, and he gives his mother (Beulah Bondi) a playful whirl.

Pa Bailey is disheartened at George’s decision.

Annie butts in.

But George is off to the school reunion dance.

Violet is there, and she still has the hots for George. Truth is, she has the hots for lots of guys.

Old school chums say goodbye to George.

Mary is there, and has she ever grown up. George is captivated to the core.

They dance, and love blossoms.

They participate in the Charleston contest.

George has captured Mary’s heart, and a jealous rival gets exacts some payback. He and a friend activate a switch, which rolls back the dance floor. There is a swimming pool below. George and Mary are the first to splash. The rest, sensing great fun, join in.

George and Mary walk home, singing “Buffalo Gals,” a tune that was popular when I was young.

They pause by the abandoned house to toss rocks at the windows.

Devastation. Word comes that Pa Bailey has died of a stroke. George must stay and take over the Building and Loan.

Harry returns from college with a new bride and a job offer from his father-in-law. George is stuck running the Building and Loan.

George mulls at the cruel blows that have befallen him. In those days everybody smoked in the movies.

But Mary has waited for him. They are deeply in love, and they marry.

And they are off on their honeymoon.

But not so fast. It’s the Great Depression, and there is a run on the local bank.

Trouble stalks the Building and Loan, as well, as depositors line up to withdraw their savings. The B&L cannot repay all depositors’ savings, because the money is lent out.

Potter puts through a phone call to the B&L warning George that if the B&L closes before the scheduled hour it will not be able to open the next day.

Mary shows up with the money they had saved for the honeymoon, and that saves the day as the B&L ends the day with $2 remaining.

Mary leaves George a note to meet her at a certain address. It’s the abandoned house. They are moving in there.

They raise a family, George runs the Building and Loan, and he develops a low-cost housing development called “Bailey Park” for the town’s working class.

George introduces new homeowners to their prospective homes.

Potter finds the B&L a thorn in his side, offering low-cost loans and undercutting his loan shark rates.

Potter calls George in and offers him a job. But George sees through Potter’s scheme and turns down the offer.

At first George shakes Potter’s hand.

Then he realizes that some of that stuff may have rubbed off.

He attempts to remove the stain.

Back home he starts up the stairs, grabbing the wooden knob at the bottom of the banister. It comes off in his hand. This business with the knob is never fixed, and it becomes a link that ties segments of the plot together for the remainder of the movie.

War, and George takes over draft registration for the town. Harry goes off to war.

Other of Georges school chums go off to war, one taking part in seizing the Bridge at Remagen.

Harry becomes a combat pilot, taking part in the war in the Pacific.

George runs commodities rationing for the government.

The war ends.

Harry comes home a hero.

It’s the day before Christmas. Recall, this is a Christmas story. Billy is jubilant. He takes $8000 from the B&L to deposit at the bank and shows the news headlines to Potter.

But Billy has tucked the money inside the newspaper he gave to Potter, and Potter keeps the money. Billy cannot recall what he did with the money.

It’s devastating to the B&L. They are responsible for the loss, and they cannot personally cover it. An audit is scheduled. The B&L will be ruined. The Bailey’s will be prosecuted for theft.

At home George is mean-spirited to his family. They do not know why.

The knob again.

George’s young daughter Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) is sick.

George goes to Potter for financial help. Potter greets him with threats.

George gets drunk at a bar.

He smashes his car into a tree.

He goes to a bridge that crosses the river. Suicide is tempting.

Clarence is watching. He jumps in first.

George jumps in to save Clarence.

Maybe this is a drawbridge, because there seems to be a bridge keeper’s shack. George and Clarence dry off in the shack.

Clarence explains his heavenly mission. George and the bridge keeper are dubious, to say the least.

George tells Clarence he wishes he had never been born.

Clarence grant’s George’s wish. George was never born.

Clarence is going to take George to see how the would would be if he had never been born.

They tour the town.

People on the street do not recognize George. He was never born.

He goes back to the familiar bar. It’s no longer friendly. It’s a real dive.

Mr. Gower shows up. He is the town drunk, just out of prison for manslaughter. George was not there to prevent the tragic poisoning.

The town George sees is low-class.

It is named after Potter, who has taken control.

He runs into Mary. She is a lonely old maid. She has never married. George frightens her.

George gets into a fight with a cop he knew in his life. The cop draws his pistol as George makes a getaway.

George regrets his wish that he was never born.

Clarence undoes the curse, and George is returned to his present life. The cop asks George if he needs help. The episode with the fight never happened.

George is gleeful to be alive.

When he gets home to face his family, the bank examiners are there. There will be a reckoning.

But George does not care. He’s alive.

The knob.

George embraces his children.

George, Mary, the children, embrace.

Townspeople have learned of George’s predicament. They show up en masse, and they bring money. They are bailing out the B&L.

Annie pitches in.

The family is joyful again.

Harry arrives. He has commandeered a plane and flown to Bedford Falls to be with his brother.

Under the Christmas tree are presents. One is a copy of “Tom Sawyer,” a book that Clarence showed to George. Clarence was real.

Zuzu reminds us that when you hear a bell ring, that means an angel has gotten his wings.

Forget about Tiny Tim. God bless us, everyone.

Before I ever saw this movie I was familiar with the plot. In those days before my family had television, there was radio. And there was this program that featured audio enactments of movies, and when I saw the movie I recognized pieces of the plot. Some things were different.

In the radio program we hear George recount how he is alone in the darkened town, in the cold and the snow. He comes upon a friendly dog. When he reaches to pet the dog, the dog bites him.

Of course the part about seeing how the world would be is central to the plot, and that was the part most familiar from the radio program. The movie is based on The Greatest Gift, a 1943 short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. Of course, the revision carries the time frame forward to after the war to get Harry’s heroics in.

I most recall the part about the deadly prescription. That haunted me long after I listened to the program.

Of course there is stuff in this movie that does not ring true. For one, the plot ignores what we now call the “butterfly effect.” The universe is a complex system that responds non-linearly to the smallest input. The absence of a single character in the town would have produced a highly-divergent line of development. What the movie shows is rigid universe with one component unplugged.

The case that struck me most watching the movie is George’s wife Mary. Without George, she never marries, and grows old alone. This is absurd beyond all reason. She is Donna freaking Reed. A babe of this caliber would have been snapped up by any of several hundred eager suiters. Actually, in Stern’s book, George finds that Mary has married another man.

Donna Reed went on to further greatness. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of a Honolulu prostitute in From Here to Eternity. Her TV show The Donna Reed Show ran from 1958 to 1966.

Stewart’s career soared in the 1950s, where he appeared in a number of Alfred Hitchcock movies.