Bad Movie of the Week

Number 245 of a series

I don’t know why these are sometimes hard to find on Amazon Prime Video. Amazon knows I like to review bad movies, but often they hide them way down in the listings. This is Vengeance Valley from 1951, and I swear I never saw it when it came out. It’s based on the Luke Short novel of the same name, and I acquired a Kindle edition for comparison. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

The story is told by Hewie (Carleton Carpenter) a young cowpoke who works at the ranch. Looking at the scenery I got the idea the setting is Wyoming, but Wikipedia says Colorado. Anyhow, two cowpokes come riding in from the winter range. Before heading to the ranch house they stop at the saloon for something to warm their bellies. They are Owen Daybright (Burt Lancaster), the ranch foreman, and Lee Strobie (Robert Walker), misfit son of the ranch owner, Arch Strobie (Ray Collins).

There’s word floating around the saloon, and it filters to the two cowpokes. Apparently there has been a new arrival in the valley since the two ranchers left back in the fall, and the addition is the result of some shenanigans between Lee and a comely restaurant waitress named Lily Fasken (Sally Forrest). Only this last information is, for the time being, a matter of conjecture.

Lee shrugs off his situation and sits at the card table to gamble away some of his money while his own bride Jen (Joanne Dru) pines for his return back at the ranch house.

Since Lee won’t soldier up, Owen stops by the widow’s ranch where Lily and the new addition are convalescing. He lays $500 on her, since he figures his boss’s son is not going to step up.

Also at the widow’s house is Jen, who Owen is thinking made a mistake marrying Lee. Something is happening here.

Lily has two brothers, Hub (John Ireland) and Dick (Hugh O’Brian), and they consider the dishonor of their sister a matter they need to handle. The second brother arrives by train, telling Sheriff Con Alvis (Jim Hayward) they plan to kill somebody.

Meanwhile Lee shows his true colors as he goes about breaking a new horse. All cowboy fans know that a horse, no matter what his lineage, is born with an instinct to buck off anything that crawls onto its back. The way to make a horse ridable is to “break” it by letting it buck until it realizes that bucking won’t work. Often the rider doing the breaking gets thrown several times before the horse finally caves in.

The horse bucks Lee into the dirt, and Lee takes it in true character. He grabs a whip and lashes the horse with it. This elicits a strong reaction from the other cowboys, and Lee’s stock takes a nosedive. He will never be accepted at the ranch again.

Even Lee’s pretty new bride starts to see through him, especially when it becomes he is the one who humped Lily.

Anyhow, the Fasken brothers confront Owen and Hewie. They have guns, and the cowpokes are unarmed. Nevertheless, Owen gains the upper hand in a fight, and the Faskens wind up in the sheriff’s jail for a week.

Meanwhile, things begin to unravel at the ranch. Lee sees his days are numbered. His father recognizes his son’s failings, but tries to overlook them. This leniency is stretching thin, and Lee looks for a way out. He convinces Arch to deed over half the ranch to him before the cattle drive, and he plots to dispose of Owen out on the trail. He enlists the aid of two rustlers, and when the sheriff ships the Laskens out on the train, one of the rustlers is there to advise them of the plan. They get off the train, pick up three waiting horses, and join the cattle drive in a scheme cooked up by Lee.

Lee hooks up with another rancher on the drive and strikes a deal to sell his father’s cattle. Then he arranges an ambush for Owen. The two Laskens are waiting when Lee and Owen ride toward the telegraph station, supposedly to head off the rancher who purchased the cattle.

The shooting starts. Lee skedaddles, and Owen picks off one of the Laskens. The cowboys, hearing the gunshots, ride to the rescue. They pick off the remaining Lasken brother. Own rides down and kills Lee in a duel by the creek.

Back at the ranch, Owen explains to Arch what happened, and Arch agrees it was a thing that needed doing.

About that time Jen arrives in a buckboard, and Owen has the happy duty of telling her she is no longer a married woman. Not shown is Hewie and Lily getting together.

This is not all that bad a movie. It’s well-photographed, and the dialog is realistic. The director has put in a lot of stuff about life on the ranch not strictly required by the storyline. There are interchanges between the characters that can be counted as great additions to the color but providing nothing to advance the story. That business of Owen chasing Lee across the badlands is overdrawn, much as is done in about half the westerns I ever viewed. We see Lee riding. We see Owen riding. We see Lee riding. And on and on. We see pokes firing off their pistols at impossible distances and getting unlikely hits.

A comparison with the book shows that, contrary to many book conversions, character names are generally preserved. Interestingly, Wikipedia uses “Strobie,” and the book shows “Stobie.” Could be Wikipedia’s reviewer didn’t have access to the full credits and didn’t hear the name correctly.

It’s apparent some of the action in the movie is made up, so we can assume a lot of it is. The duel between Owen and Lee never happened—there was more of a free-wheeling gunfight. From the book:

A close bellow of gun behind him swiveled his head. He saw Mead Calhan lowering his gun, and then he saw that Lee was down, gone from his horse which was bucking wildly now.

Short, Luke. Vengeance Valley (Kindle Locations 2544-2545). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Truth be known, the book is much better than the movie. Although Luke Short was never known for deep character development, his depictions of rough and ready action are legend. And knee-deep.

Sullenly, then, Dick Fasken holstered his gun. As soon as he did, Mead Calhan stepped up to him, yanked the gun from the holster, and hit Dick Fasken in the face with all the strength in his squat and powerful body. Dick fell flat on his back, and did a somersault before the force of the blow was spent.

Short, Luke. Vengeance Valley (Kindle Locations 659-662). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Good news to all Burt Lancaster fans. MGM failed to renew the copyright, and the picture entered the public domain in 1979. You can watch it for free on YouTube:

 

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Here’s another one I never heard of until it started streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Gardens of Stone, from 1987 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Details are from Wikipedia.

This is a story about the Army in peacetime, only it’s not peacetime, it’s 1968 to 1970, at the height of the war in Vietnam, and these are soldiers doing stateside duty while others die. Except for the dying part, this one makes me recall Soldier in the Rain. It opens up the grim reality of day to day soldiering.

These soldiers are the Old Guard, the 1st battalion 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Virginia. They are the unit that conducts military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The opening scene depicts the ritual of such an event.

The alternate name of this unit might be “spit and polish,” because spiff is front and center. Into the Old Guard comes Jack Willow (D. B. Sweeney), possibly the spiffiest of them all.

He serves under Sergeant First Class Clell Hazard (James Caan), who serves under Sergeant Major “Goody” Nelson (James Earl Jones). To add drama, we see Sergeant Hazard meeting and wooing Washington Post reporter Samantha “Sam” Davis (Anjelica Huston).


Inspections are the order of the day in the Old Guard, and Willow is a master of the inspection. Humor is introduced when Sergeant Major Nelson challenges Willow in a duel of wits during barracks inspection.

Nelson: How do worms reproduce?

Willow: They reproduce asexually.

Nelson: And who came up with that idea?

Willow: Your wife?

We see a lot of pomp and circumstance throughout, but an underlying theme is Willow’s goal to get into the war and to earn a CIB, a Combat Infantryman Badge. Hazard wants to go to Fort Benning to teach soldiers how to fight an unconventional war.

In a dramatic interlude in the film, members of the Old Guard are ordered to participate in a field exercise, posing as Viet Cong fighters. Hazard employs his ideas concerning asymmetrical warfare, and embarrasses the opposing commander.

Willow’s spiff and rectitude pay off for him, as he obtains acceptance into Officer’s Candidate School and an assignment to Vietnam. After a year in-country his body comes home.

The final scene shows Willow’s coffin being laid at the National Cemetery and his young wife receiving the ceremonial flag.

Truth be told, “glacial” is an understatement of this plot’s movement. Go see Soldier in the Rain first, then come back and see this. The story contains much stereotypical conversation about the anti-war movement of the time and the militarists standard position. Hazard, a combat-hardened veteran of Korea, sees the war as the wrong war, for the wrong reasons, being prosecuted the wrong way. He sees it as a futile quest, producing only a steady supply of bodies for the Old Guard to process. The general theme is anti-war, particularly this war.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It’s one of the few movies I have seen in a theater in the past 40 years, and I saw this one because my daughter wanted me to take her. It’s Pet Sematary from 1989, and I will get to the spelling of that last word in the title shortly. This is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. I don’t have a copy of the book, not even the Kindle edition, so I have no way of comparing this movie with the book. In fact, I didn’t watch the movie through again. I pulled the video up on Amazon Prime Video and grabbed these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The setting is in Maine, Stephen King’s home ground and where the location scenes were shot. The opening sequence sets the ominous mood. A massive tanker truck comes barreling down a country road, past a neat home that has just sold.

Right behind comes the Creed family, moving in, not realizing the nightmare that is to unfold here.

They meet their curmudgeonly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne). He needs to be in this plot for the city slicker Creeds to play off against. He also needs to be the voice of a dark and foreboding wisdom.

Jud takes the Creed family to a place in the woods where apparently children have brought defunct pets and named it Pet Sematary, using second-grader spelling.

Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) is a doctor, and one of his patients is a jogger who has been struck and killed. Before he dies the patient warns Louis about the Pet Sematary, calling him by name, although the two had never met before.

When the family cat comes a cropper to traffic in front of their home, Louis takes the animal to the Pet Sematary. The cat comes back as a demon possessed.

Repeat that opening sequence, if you please. The truck driver picks up his load of fuel at the depot and sets off along the highway of death, not a care in the world. His music is playing, it’s a bright and sunny day, the truck is humming along without missing a beat. He adds weight to the pedal.

Meanwhile the Creeds are enjoying an outing on the front lawn. The truck is coming nearer. Little Gage (Miko Hughes) is doing what doomed toddlers are always doing. he is seeking death in his merry way. Too late, the family notices Gage is headed toward the highway.

You knew all along what was going to happen. The truck ends up on its side, and little Gage has proved to be no match. To shorten my recap, Louis takes Gage’s body to the Pet Sematary. Horror of horrors! He comes back as evil personified.

Jud seeks the demon Gage, searching into his own home. A small hand wielding a surgeon’s scalpel strikes like a snake from under the bed, expertly severing Jud’s Achilles tendon. Jud goes down, and Gage is on top of him to finish him off with the scalpel.

Next to go is Gage’s mother Rachel (Denise Crosby). Louis goes looking, and her body, hung by the neck, drops from above.

Louis cannot escape his fate. He takes Rachel’s body to the Pet Sematary, and later she returns for him to love into eternity.

Yes, this is a very scary film. King, if this is his plot, has put together all the standard components for classic horror. And that’s what is much about the plot. It’s formula without an underlying story of great interest.

None of the other players tug at my memory, but Fred Gwynne does stand out. He kept us entertained as Officer Francis Muldoon in the TV series Car 54, Where Are You and also as Herman Munster in The Munsters. I most recently saw him as the curmudgeonly Judge Chamberlain Haller in My Cousin Vinny. I’m keeping an eye open for that one to come to Prime Video. A review will be forthwith.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 242 of a series

I need to check on this. Yes, it was on Wednesday I posted a review of Ghostbusters from 1984. Of course there needed to be a sequel, and there was. Here it is. From 1989, here is Ghostbusters II, with much of the same cast and crew.

Like its predecessor, this is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the source of these screen shots. It’s from Columbia Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening title shot tells this is “5 years later.” There is a crack in a New York City sidewalk, and a slimy ooze emerges and spreads. Along comes the enchanting Ms. Barrett, since married, since divorced, not arriving at her apartment, carrying her groceries, pushing her new baby, Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf and Hank J. Deutschendorf II) in a carriage. There is a special place in hell for parents who name a child Oscar, but that’s another matter. Anyhow, the carriage wheels roll through the ooze, and as Dana engages with the building superintendent, the carriage starts to roll away. Not just roll away, but on and into Midtown traffic while the frantic mother chases after it. It rolls and dodges traffic, as if by luck (or magic) and finally stops. Dana is curious, and she considers calling her old friends with the Ghostbusters.

And we see the new logo. Number 2.

The five years have not been good for the Ghostbusters. The luster has come off the business, and they are reduced to doing birthday parties. Even the sixth graders think this stuff is a big hoax.

Dana stops by Spengler’s research lab to try to get some answers. She does not want Peter involved, since she wound up marrying a musician instead of him (he never asked her).

She is now working as an art restorer at a museum, under the direction of Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol). He’s the nerd’s definition of a nerd, and his attempts at cozying up to Dana are brutally inept.

But in the museum is a painting of Vigo the Carpathian, a European tyrant from centuries past. Alone in the museum, Janosz is accosted by the spirit of Vigo coming out of the painting. He is commanded to obtain a baby to enable his rebirth. We know which baby this is going to be.

The Ghostbusters, following up on Dana’s request, check out her apartment. Peter checks out Dana. He is enchanted by the baby he figures should have been his. Then the team moves to the sidewalk, where they discover a sinister presence underground. Bypassing the city’s permit process, they set themselves up as a repair crew and proceed to punch a hole in the street to locate the sinister force.

They are successful in the first part. They find beneath a river of ooze and recover a sample. In the second part they sever a main power cable and punch the Big Apple into darkness, leading to a criminal trial. As evidence, the police bring along stuff they found in the Ghostbusters wagon, including a beaker full of the ooze.

The ooze is strange stuff. It reacts to human emotion, and as the judge starts to pronounce sentence he becomes more enraged, and the beaker becomes more volatile, finally erupting into the ghosts of the Scaleri Brothers, the pair of which the judge previously sent to the electric chair.

Anyhow, the Ghostbusters are (temporarily) vindicated, but things are not going well for Dana. Mysteriously, Oscar climbs out on the building ledge, where an apparition, apparently in the employ of Vigo, snatches him and carries him away.

I won’t stretch out a deconstruction of the plot, but suffice it to say the Ghostbusters figure the mysterious ooze can be turned around and made to work for them. They accumulate a boatload of the stuff and apply it to the Statue of Liberty, and they activate it with soothing vibes. This animates the statue, which wades the Hudson and comes to Manhattan to do battle with Vigo.

The Ghostbusters triumph. End of movie.

Five years after the original, much of the charm had worn off the concept, but this production still earned $112.5 million in the American market and $215.4 million world wide. It was the eighth best grossing movie of that year.

The script is by Aykroyd and Ramis, those two in the middle above. We saw a lot more of Peter McNicol later, as he played Professor Larry Fleinhardt for six seasons of Numb3rs. Also, he was a camp supervisor in Addams Family Values.

I’m not going to review any additional Ghostbuster sequels.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is one that completely blind-sided me. I moved back to Texas in 1984 and was working for a defense contractor. A group in my section was working on a project called “Tankbreaker.” It was a little missile that would home in on a tank and wipe it out. Anyhow, we were called to a section meeting, and two of the executive assistants had composed this cute presentation. It was a slide show accompanied by music, and there was a cute tune. The graphics showed a Soviet tank superimposed with a crossed-out circle, “no tanks.” And the tune played, and when it got around to the part where it said, “Who’re you gonna call?” they substituted in “Tankbreaker.”

So I told one of the gals who did this that it was a nice tune, but where did it come from. Did I ever get a roasting. Had I never heard of Ghostbusters?

Anyhow, I subsequently caught the movie when it came on TV, and it’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. Here’s a rundown of the plot.

The opening sequence has a prim lady librarian in the New York City Public Library, and she is moving with a measured pace among the stacks. She has a cart, and she is reshelving books. Behind her back books start moving themselves from one shelf to another. She doesn’t notice at first. Then in the card file system (they don’t have these anymore), the drawers start opening by themselves, and presently cards are flying out of the drawers and spraying amongst the rows. The noise alerts the librarian, and she turns around and sees the chaos. She screams and runs in panic. Then comes on the title graphic and the theme music starts to play.

Only, at this point in the movie there is (are) no Ghostbusters. There are three odd-ball researchers living off grants at Columbia University.  Two are doing research into supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts. The other, is Professor Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), who is conducting research into psychic abilities. Here he has hired two students to participate in his work, which is to explore whether negative feedback can bring out latent abilities. He has two students, one a nerdy guy, and the other a comely coed, and it’s obvious he’s making a play at the girl. He has a set of Zenner cards, of which there are five kinds, each with a different symbol. He alternates between the boy and the girl, and when the boy guesses wrong he throws a switch, delivering a painful shock to the boy. The girl never gets it right, but Venkman conceals this and always rewards her with praise.

The boy quits in disgust and charges out of the room. Venkman tells the girl they need to do more research after hours.

Then Venkman’s two friends charge in with a report from the library. They have their instruments, and they want Venkman to come with them to look for a ghost in the library. The two friends are Dan Aykroyd as Raymond “Ray” Stantz and Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler. It’s during this sequence we get to hear Venkman utter those immortal words, “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”

Presently they spot the ghost, a wisp of vapor in the form of a lady librarian left over from the 19th century. They initially draw back, but then they decide to approach her. She shows her true nature, and they flee into the street.

Meanwhile, Columbia has become fed up the three hangers on and has withdrawn their grants, closed their facilities, and banished them from the campus. Staring unemployment in the face, they decide to go private. They form Ghostbusters, adopting the logo shown above. They move into an unused firehouse, and they hire a woman to answer the phone. Then they wait for the phone to ring. And they wait.

Enter Dana Barrett played by Sigourney Weaver, a sharp contrast from Warrant Officer Ripley of the space tug Nostromo. Now she’s a concert cellist, returning to her Central Park West apartment by cab with a load of groceries. When she enters her apartment, the TV is mysteriously on, and a commercial for the newly-minted Ghostbusters is playing. She looks. She think’s that’s strange. She starts putting away the food stocks, when mysteriously the egg carton springs open, and eggs start exploding and cooking themselves on the counter top. She hears a noise coming from the refrigerator. She cautiously approaches it. People in the audience are screaming at her, “No, no! Don”t open that door!” She opens the door and is greeted by hideous monster, which description and background I won’t get into.

We next see Dana showing up at the Ghostbusters store seeking resolution. Peter, still pining for the days of coeds gone by, leaps into the breech. He insists on coming by Dana’s apartment to check out things. He gets nowhere with Dana.

The phone actually rings. The manager of a swank hotel has a ghost problem. Can Ghostbusters help? They come charging, arriving in their Ghostbusters wagon, lights flashing and sirens blaring. They approach the assignment like a squad of Navy SEALs.

The first encounter—not so good. Peter comes, Peter sees, Peter gets slimed. Get ready for it. Here it comes. “He slimed me.”

But there is success, and the team departs the hotel with the bad fellow locked safely in an apparition-restraining box. More good news. Peter gets a date with Dana. Before he can arrive she encounters difficulties. It turns out her upscale apartment building was originally constructed as a conduit to an ancient goblin. As she sits in a chair, hands come out through the fabric and restrain her, and the chair slides into her bedroom, from which emanates an unearthly light.

Peter arrives for the date to find Dana much transformed.

He coaxes her to bed, but that only reveals additional surprises.

To cut to the conclusion, a smart aleck EPA official orders Ghost busters to cease operations forthwith, and he commands a technician to shut off the power to the goblin containment facility. All hell breaks loose, and goblins run rampant through midtown Manhattan. The Park West building erupts, spewing lightning and masonry.

When the ghost busters arrive they find Dana and her nerdy neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) transformed into manifestations of the evil goblin. It’s a great opportunity to show off Weaver’s fantastic legs.

You guessed it. The ghost busters are triumphant, and they deploy their proton pack weapons to defeat the demigod Zuul and save the day.

They are heroes (for the moment) and Peter and Dana are a couple (for the moment). We see in the sequel that the moment has come and gone, and I will be posting a review of the sequel on Sunday. Keep reading.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 1975, and I watched it once before on TV. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. It’s The Stepford Wives, and if you never heard of it, then you’ve been vacationing on the moon. In the intervening 43 years this film has added to our lexicon. A Stepford Wife is the ultimate subservient domestic partner. In modern terms, this is The Handmaid’s Tale writ small, as though Gilead were shrunk into the tight (presumably) Connecticut village of Stepford.

For those just back from the moon, here is a sketch of the plot with a lot omitted. First we see the Eberharts leaving their Manhattan digs and moving to Stepford, where husband Walter (Peter Masterson) hopes to get away from the clamorous city life to a place where he feels more in charge. Joanna (Katharine Ross) has not been consulted on the move, and she is not thrilled.

It definitely is a change of pace. Joanna takes some time getting used to the new digs.

She takes a lot of time getting used to the stiffness of Stepford society. The wives mainly walk around like robots, always immaculately dressed, always soft spoken, always polite, always stiff. Then Joanna meets a kindred soul in Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) a free spirit, also new to Stepford. Together they decide to take Stepford society head on and turn it around. They fail absolutely. Something sinister is in complete control.

What they observe is breathtaking. Exemplifying Stepford women is Carol van Sant (Nanette Newman). She is the complete domestic, and almost totally mindless. She goes off kilter and has to be carted away in an ambulance after a small bump car event at a shopping center. Joanna notices with alarm that the ambulance does not take Carol in the direction of the hospital. Suspicions grow.

Later at a party Joanna and Bobbie become alarmed at Carol’s actions. She walks around with a blank expression saying to each person she meets, “I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe.”

Joanna gets ever closer to the truth. When Carol and her husband go away for a weekend, she comes back much changed. Now she’s glassy-eyed like all the rest, she is fashionably dressed, even in her own kitchen, and her house is spotless. Nothing is out of place.

Joanna guesses what has happened. She grabs a kitchen knife and plunges it into Carol’s abdomen. Carol’s only response is to pull it out, wipe it off, and replace it on the rack. Then she starts to go bonkers, moving and speaking in a loop, taking a cups from the shelf and dropping them on the floor.

In the end Joanna confronts the mastermind of the scheme, Dale “Diz” Coba (Patrick O’Neal) in a mansion used by the Men’s Associatoin. There she enters a room that’s a mock-up of her own bedroom, and she meets her artificial replacement, wearing a blank stare and a see-through nightgown. Every husband’s dream woman. The replacement Joanna advances on her holding a nylon stocking, presumably to be employed as a garrote.

The final scene shows the Stepford Wives, Joanna included, shopping in a grocery market. They are all dressed to perfection, and they move slowly with grace, speaking in soft tones, staring blankly.

Fade to black.

It was a scary movie. The implication is these men are bringing their wives to Stepford, there to have them disposed of and replaced by complacent automatons. Once you get over that hurdle there are more mundane considerations to ponder.

  • Hundreds of men are having their wives murdered, and nobody is getting wise?
  • The children are growing up in this society. What’s going to happen to them?
  • Here is a conspiracy theory on a grand scale, historically a recipe for disaster. A quote from the Russian revolution goes, “When three men sit at a table to plot revolution, two of them are fools, and the third is a police spy.” That has not changed in 100 years.
  • The Eberharts have a runty little dog, and we see him in a cage in the back of a truck, driven supposedly out of town. Where does this fit into the plot?
  • What kind of person wants a wife like that, anyhow?

Before you are too quick to dismiss this kind of attitude, let me tell you that I knew such a person. I worked with him, and once on lunch break we went to where he was purchasing some art. The artist was a woman who worked at home, producing pieces out of copper. One of our party remarked on leaving how amazing it was she was able to do that. My friend remarked he would prefer a clean house.

The same friend watched this movie, rather part of it. He said he quit watching, because it became apparent Joanna was planning on having an affair. He never caught on to the plot that involved men having their wives killed.

Prior to this Ross made a big splash in The Graduate and later in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her most recent movie was The Hero, released last year.

Unlikely Hero

Yesterday I posted a review of Sergeant York, a movie from 1941 based on the life and war exploits of American soldier Alvin York. The battle action of that film is based on events of 8 October 1918, in the closing days of World War One. During the same week another drama of courage under battle was playing out, and the episode became know as the story of The Lost Battalion. A 2001 TV movie based on this story recounts the events of that horrific week. This is being posted on the 100th anniversary of these events.

The movie played on The History Channel a few years back, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes show battalion commander Major Charles White Whittlesey (Rick Schroder), a former New York lawyer now turned soldier. And he is every bit the picture of a New York lawyer. A more stiff and up-tight prig you might never expect to see in the trenches of the Great War. Here is inspecting his troops on the front lines, determination etched in his face. Above ground the war is taking lives. A soldier arriving from no man’s land, wounded and apparently blinded, is shot by a sniper as he steps to the edge of the trench. He falls dead at Whittlesey’s feet. The Major orders others to attend to the body, and he resumes his inspection. He is the picture of unflappability.

Major Whittlesey’s battalion comprises nine companies of the 77th Division, approximately 554 men. They are ordered to advance into the Argonne Forest against unseen German forces. They are supported on the right by two units of the 92nd Infantry Division and on the left by a contingent of French troops. The advance encounters German resistance, and shortly the French and those from the 92nd withdraw, leaving Whittlesey’s men isolated in the woods. Due to lack of communication with the command structure it is some time before Whittlesey finds out they are alone in the woods and completely surrounded by German forces.

His men may have originally been dismissive of Whittlesey, for all his bookish ways, but that presumption quickly vanishes as he remains calm and in complete control throughout the five-day ordeal that is to ensue. Whittlesey and his men engage the Germans and prevent them from taking this critical area in the center.

The Germans are stymied and a bit confused. They cannot figure out why this isolated group of American soldiers does not recognize the inevitable and surrender. They know they must dislodge Whittlesey’s troops or else lose this section of the front.

Attempts to establish communications are unsuccessful. Messengers sent back to the rear are captured or killed by the Germans. Whittlesey’s men are pinned down on an uphill slope facing the Germans. The Germans enjoy the advantage of grazing fire, meaning their guns are able to fire flat from protected positions. Anything a distance above the ground will catch a bullet.

Attempts to obtain water from a stream only result in soldiers getting killed. From time to time the Germans assault Whittlesey’s position, and there is close-quarter fighting. American artillery fire falls on the American position, and the Americans send a critical plea by carrier pigeon telling them to stop firing.

The Germans capture two American soldiers. The German major entices Lieutenant Leak with offers of food and water. The Lieutenant lies to his face, claiming he has no need of such. There was plenty of food and water where he just came from. The German expresses puzzlement at the Americans’ resistance. Leak tells the German what he is dealing with. “What you’re up against, Major, is a bunch of Mick, Dago, Polack and Jew-boy gangsters from New York city: They’ll never surrender.” The German major is left in amazement. His troops are not up against soldiers they are accustomed to fighting. They are up against New York City gangsters.

The American command is unable to locate Whittlesey’s position, and they send a scout plane out to search the woods. The Germans don’t fire on the plane at first, because they don’t want to signal the battle situation to the American command. Whittlesey’s men catch the attention of the pilot, who circles their position on his map. The Germans realize he has located the American troops, so they open fire on the plane. The pilot lands and dies, but his map shows Whittlesey’s location.

The Germans attempt a final assault, using flame throwers. We see close quarter combat as Whittlesey fires his pistol into the face of a German soldier.

After five days the Lost Battalion is relieved with only 194 remaining. The others have been killed or else captured by the Germans. Offered a ride back, Whittlesey declines. He is furious at the lack of support his battalion received, and he responds, “That’s not acceptable, sir. I’ll stay with my men.”

Whittlesey and Captain Nelson M. Holderman were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor. However, the lingering effects of the ordeal never left Whittlesey. Three years after the ordeal he disappeared and was presumed lost on a ship from New York to Havana.

The line about New York gangsters plays out in another film about another war. In Casablanca Major Heinrich Strasser asks Rick Blaine how he would feel to see German troops in New York. Rick reminds him there are parts of New York City he would not recommend the Germans attempt to invade.

All was for naught. Days after these events the Germans capitulated and the insanity that was the Great War came to an end. It was 100 years ago.

Sergeant York

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I’m posting this on the 100th anniversary of the critical events. On 8 October 1918 Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin York’s heroic actions and spectacular feats of arms earned him the highest military awards of any American soldier in what is now called World War One. Alvin York never wrote a book, but 22 years later consented to having his story made into a film:

The film was based on the diary of Sergeant Alvin York, as edited by Tom Skeyhill, and adapted by Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard Koch, and Sam Cowan (uncredited). York refused, several times, to authorize a film version of his life story, but finally yielded to persistent efforts in order to finance the creation of an interdenominational Bible school. The story that York insisted on Gary Cooper for the title role derives from the fact that producer Jesse L. Lasky recruited Cooper by writing a plea that he accept the role and then signed York’s name to the telegram.

Cooper went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal. The film also won for Best Film Editing and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Picture, Director (Hawks), Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan), and Supporting Actress (Margaret Wycherly). The American Film Institute ranked the film 57th in the its 100 most inspirational American movies. It also rated Alvin York 35th in its list of the top 50 heroes in American cinema.

And the only parts of the story that closely match reality are the battle scenes.

If it’s local color you want, this picture has it. Alvin York was a true hill billy, living in the back woods of Tennessee. We see him first as a hell raising bachelor, riding hard on moonshine and shooting up the countryside. He is nearly 30 years as the movie begins and war comes to the United States. Here we see the mail carrier arriving at Rosier Pile’s country store on a mule singing this:

Froggie went to see the mouse,
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.
From the well into the house.
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.

Chorus: Ky-mo nee-ro captain kee-ro bom-a-nishy ky-mo,
Semma nicka bomma nicka flata bony rig
Domma rig tum clatta bona ky-mo.

He took Miss Mousie on his knee,
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo,
And says, “Miss Mouse, will you marry me?”
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.

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It’s a great rendition. The character’s name is Luke, but I can’t find any credits for him in the movie.

He brings the mail and also the newspaper. There’s a war in Europe, and American is about to get in it.

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The movie shows Alvin York’s path to redemption that begins here at a local target shoot, where he scores spectacularly to win the main prize of a “beef critter.” We see everybody shooting muzzle loading rifles. They also melt the lead and pour their own bullets.

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When a local land owner reneges on a deal York gets drunk and rides through a storm, armed and with murder on his mind. A lightening bolt knocks him down without killing him, and he wanders into a church meeting, where his friend Rosier Pile (Brennan) is the pastor. He makes a religious conversion and adopts strict non-violence.

Non-violence comes into conflict when York is drafted. Pile helps York apply for conscientious exemption status, but the draft board does not recognize York’s status, and he is inducted into the Army. Then the fun begins.

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But first there’s the scene where Alvin York rides off to the induction center on a mule, along with his brother, George (Dickie Moore), leaving his mother (Wycherly) and sister (June Lockhart) behind, wondering what it’s all about.

Sister: Ma, what are they a-fightin’ fer?

Mother York: I don’t rightly know, child.

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And neither does anybody else. The Great War was started for no good reason and grew disproportionately for the worth of those involved.

We see Alvin York saying before he rides off, “I’ll be comin’ back.” If you didn’t already know the outcome of the story, you would be wondering at this time.

We see the Army suspicious of York as a new recruit. His record shows his application for conscientious objector status. They figure him for a weak sister.

Things change when the recruits are issued their rifles. York is a crack shot with a muzzle loader, but the Army doesn’t know this. He marvels at the repeating rifle (likely an Enfield M1917). First time out on the firing range all the recruits are getting their first target practice. His buddy “Pusher” Ross (George Tobias) misses completely with his first shot. Then York takes his first shot, as his instructor looks on with skepticism.

The target markers call York’s shot a miss, as well. York expresses great surprise. The instructor requests a remark. the markers examine the target again and notice a hole in the black circle. The instructor gives York a full clip and York puts the remaining shots close to the center of the ball.

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York attains considerable respect and is employed assisting the other recruits in rifle training. He’s offered a promotion to corporal, but he declines. His captain offers him a week’s leave to reconsider his religious opposition to the war. He takes that and returns with a commitment to fight when necessary. He accepts promotion to corporal, and then he goes to war.

The movie shows little of Yorks early weeks in the war zone (France). We do see the new recruits coming to terms with trench warfare. A buddy, Bert Thomas (David Bruce), is killed by a shell fragment.

Comes the crucial day, 8 October 1918. The Germans will be conceding defeat in 34 days, but they don’t know it yet. On that day his unit goes “over the top,” out of their trenches to attack German positions near “Hill 223.” It’s the classic World War One charge across no-man’s land. American troops are advancing through shell holes and among broken trees. German machine guns are chugging relentlessly. German shells are falling around the advancing American. Men are dying right and left.

Ultimately the charging Americans reach a crisis. Their advance is stopped. They are pinned down among the shell craters. York’s sergeant is ordered to take his platoon and work their way up and knock out the machine gun positions.

The Americans infiltrate into a German trench and kill enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand fighting. Bayonets and hand grenades are the weapons of choice. They realize they have not advanced far enough, and they continue until they are behind the enemy positions. Two German soldiers discover the Americans and alert the others on the front line. It’s too late. By then the Americans are above and behind the German firing positions. They have the drop on a large group of Germans and force them to surrender, including their commander, a major.

After the Americans occupy the German line with their prisoners they are detected by German machine gunners farther up the hill. The machine gunners open up, killing many of the Americans and pinning the rest down. With York’s sergeant badly wounded York becomes the lead NCO. He tells the remaining Americans to guard the prisoners, and he works his way, under fire from the machine guns, to a point where he can out flank the enemy positions.

It’s at this point that York’s marksmanship comes into play. Whenever he can see a German he kills him with a well-placed shot. A scene that is right out of York’s diary shows him taking out a squad of charging Germans with only a pistol. He fires six times and kills all of them.

There’s a small bit of artistic license here. The movie shows York using a captured Luger. Actually he used an Army issue .45 Colt. The problem is the Colt could not handle blank ammunition, but the Luger could. Using rifles and captured pistols, York lays waste to the German positions.

In one instance he positions himself in line with a German trench position and kills them one after the other as each falls in front of him. After many of them have been killed, the Germans lie low while a sharpshooter attempts to get a shot at York. York kills the sharpshooter. They all give up.

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York leads the remainder of the German detachment down the hill to join the other prisoners. He and eight others are the only Americans left standing. Then a German prisoner pulls a grenade and kills “Pusher” Ross. The Americans gun down the prisoner and march the survivors back toward American lines.

Along the way they spot more Germans along a ridge line, and York orders the German major to command them to surrender. He has a pistol pointed at the major. The major tells his bugler to sound the retreat call, and all the Germans on the ridge throw down their weapons and join the parade back to American lines.

I’ve tried to figure out the Germans’ willingness to surrender in this kind of situation, but a look at the back side of the war during this time shows a considerable dip in morale among German troops about this time. They have mostly had their fill of this war. By 11 November it will all be over, and those still alive will be able to go back home.

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Back behind American lines with 132 prisoners, York and his men are greeted with amazement. Eight men bringing in a full company of combat infantry. The word begins to get around. York becomes the talk of the war zone.

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We see General John Pershing awarding now Sergeant York the Medal of Honor. Sergeant York has picked up a number of other awards along the way.

Back home he gets a hero’s welcome and prepares to marry his sweetheart, Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). Gracie was by then 19 years old. Joan Leslie was 16 years old when she played the part, making her about the age as Gracie at the start of the movie. York insisted the part of Gracie be played by a non-smoking, non-drinking girl, and pickings for this profile were scarce in Hollywood.

Contrary to the movie, Alvin York did not come to religion from an epiphany along a mountain trail. Rather, his conversion began years before the first scenes.

The movie also features Ward BondNoah Beery Jr. and Gig Young as an uncredited marching soldier. Margaret Wycherly started in movies in 1915 and would eight years later play the villainous Ma Jarrett with James Cagney in White Heat. Walter Brennan actually fought in World War One. A gas attack left him with a scratchy voice, and he played codgers of various stripes throughout his acting career. He finished up with how own TV show, a codger to the end.

At the same time Alvin York was involved in the action that earned him the Medal of Honor, Major Charles White Whittlesey, Captain George G. McMurtry, and Captain Nelson M. Holderman were concluding the siege of The Lost Battalion. A TV movie of this World War One drama depicts the five-day ordeal. Today I’m also posting a review of this movie and a recount of this critical battle in the Argonne Forest.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is a strange, but intriguing film. It came out last year, and it’s already streaming on Hulu, where I watched it and obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The plot centers on a character named Dylan Branson (Michiel Huisman), who lives in Manhattan and works as an air traffic controller at JFK Airport. He bikes to Grand Central Station and takes the train to work at the airport each day. Dylan’s father was an airline pilot, but Dylan ever made that move, because he’s afraid of flying. But one thing about Dylan is that he continually sees patterns in things. He looks to the sky and sees patterns in the stars. Each day, on his way to work, for example, he sees things happing, things repeating from the previous day.

In particular he daily sees people greeting and acting out in the train station, again repeats from before. In particular, when the ornamental clock in the station advances to 2:22, time seems to freeze and strange events take place. Hence the name of the movie, 2:22.

One day while Dylan is at work directing the takeoffs and landings of jet airliners, the time advances to 2:22. For a minute Dylan zones out, and he allows an airliner to clear for takeoff across a runway where another is landing. A co-worker brings him out of it in time for Dylan to instruct the take-off pilot to “Punch it.” A collision is avoided by scant feet.

Aboard the landing aircraft is Sarah (Teresa Palmer), coming to work for an art gallery in Manhattan.

Dylan gets fired from his job, and he meets Susan at a ballet performance. A scorching romance develops.

Jonas (Sam Reid) is Sarah’s ex-boyfriend and also New York City’s rising art star. Dylan attends the opening of Jonas’ hologram presentation, and to his horror the sequence depicts the Grand Central Station scene in his dream. He attacks Jonas, causing Sarah to attempt some distance.

The holograph sequence depicts a triple homicide that occurred years before.

But Sarah can’t let go of her true love for Dylan. In the meantime, Dylan discovers letters hidden in the rafters of his apartment. They are from one of the homicide victims. Dylan tracks down letters from another victim. The two were lovers who were killed in a shootout that also took the life of a police officer.

Jonas is shown as having an unhealthy fascination for Sarah, and he convinces her to go away with him for the weekend. Dylan grows suspicious, and he breaks into Jonas’ apartment and discovers ominous signs in some of his work. He becomes convinced that Jonas is a dangerous character.

Dylan rushes to head off Jonas and Sarah, but his bizarre behavior attracts the attention of the police, who pursue him to the train station. At the train station Jonas orders tickets for the Millhurst Express, leaving at 2:22. It’s a run that was in play at the time of the triple homicide, but which has been discontinued for 30 years.

Sarah grows suspicious, and Jonas reacts menacingly. Dylan arrives and shouts out to Sarah. Jonas pulls out a pistol and aims it at Sarah. Dylan steps in between and takes the bullet. The clock reaches 2:22. The cops arrive and finish off Jonas.

The final scene shows Sarah with their baby watching Dylan head off to work wearing an airline pilot’s uniform.

Yes, it’s a tale told beautifully and dramatically, and it’s a fun watch. But it’s the dictionary definition of “fanciful.” Also there are superfluous plot contrivances that lead nowhere. For example, Dylan takes a cab. He wants to go to Grand Central Station, but the driver becomes flustered by the city’s erratic traffic. Dylan observes the driver is taking them down a path that brings back memories of disaster. He orders the driver to stop, and the driver does. Along comes another car that slams into the side of the cab, upending it. It’s a significant event does not lead to a significant consequence. A total mismatch.

Watch it, anyhow.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one came out in 2016 from Universal Pictures and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. It’s Snowden, about the short, eventful, career of Edward Snowden. Details are from Wikipedia. The opening scene shows the closing days of the drama, as renegade NSA contractor Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) approaches Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), a journalist for The Guardian, and documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) in an upscale shopping mall in Hong Kong. Snowden is carrying a Rubics cube, by which I interpret he was to be identified. Snowden has left his contract job in Hawaii, taking with him a micro SD card of stolen data. He intends to release it to the world.
There follows a flashback of Snowden’s previous life, beginning with his abortive military career. He trains at Fort Benning, but washes out after breaking both legs.
He finds his niche in the CIA, which takes him on after he demonstrates extraordinary skills in qualifying exams.
From that point through 2012 Snowden moves from working for the CIA to working for Dell on an NSA contract. During this time he becomes aware of computer surveillance of such power it has the ability to snoop on anybody and to ruin peoples lives. Additionally he becomes disenchanted while observing the nonchalance with which combat drone operators accept collateral damage as part of the way of doing business.
Finally, he leaves Dell to work for an NSA contractor in Hawaii, and he uses his access there to load a micro SD card with pilfered data. He smuggles the card out of the facility by hiding it in the Rubics cube.
After the Guardian and Wikileaks publish the data, Snowden becomes a hero to many and a pariah to those who have the power to crush him.
From Hong Kong, Snowden makes his way to Russia, where he remains to this day, unable to travel without a passport that will protect him from the United States Government. Oliver Stone directed this, and he also directed JFK, which famously portrayed the murder of President Kennedy as a vast conspiracy. By that measure we expect to see some of the same kind of treatment here, and we are not disappointed. Snowden is depicted as an earnest and conflicted individual, and there is no doubt that is how he sees himself. A turning point for him, also depicted in the movie, is NSA Director James Clapper’s skirting the issue of gathering data on American citizens. I have previously addressed this:
When all committee members had used their allotted five minutes, Chairman Feinstein opened for a second round of questions on camera before we’d adjourn to the closed hearing. Only Senators Feinstein, Angus King, and Ron Wyden had “round two” questions, hers on Hezbollah and Senator King’s on extremism in North Africa. Senator Wyden’s seemed to come out of left field: And this is for you, Director Clapper—again, on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer, because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘‘The story that we have millions, or hundreds of millions, of dossiers on people is completely false.’’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans?   Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 207). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The movie depicts Snowden as a prime mover and shaker in the cyber intelligence business, and indications are that he had some credible chops. Wikipedia indicates he tested about a 145 IQ, which is about par for a Ph.D. candidate, but not stratospheric. The movie shows him stealing his trove of data while working in Hawaii, but indications are he obtained the major part of his load before going there. I watched this drama play out five years ago and saw (still do) Snowden as a self-appointed majority of one. Nothing much has come down the pike since to dispel my notion.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

First the TV series, then the movie, then the book, and now the actual movie, one of several based on the book. It’s The Count of Monte Cristo, starring Richard Chamberlain and Tony Curtis, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The book, by Alexandre Dumas, was published serially from 1844 to 1845, and there are multiple motion picture adaptations, this one being made for TV in 1975. Apparently NBC made two versions, one running 119 minutes for the European market and the other running 105 minutes for the American market. I seem to have the European version, and for that we need to be thankful, because additional compression of Dumas’ 601 pages would have invited additional ruin. Here’s my assessment.

If you have ever seen photos of the wreckage of a long railroad train, one where the train collides with something, causing a massive pileup, then you get the picture. The cars are not compressed end-to-end, but they pile one onto the other, and they get reversed end-to-end and turned upside down. There is scant semblance of the order that was. That is what happened when movie producers attempted to fit Dumas’ potboiler of a plot into less than two hours. I will explain and in doing so will recap the plot in comparison to the book.

The movie starts exactly as the book, as exactly as artistic freedom and presentation constraints allow. Commercial sailor Edmond Dantes (Chamberlain) returns from a successful  Mediterranean voyage, as successful as could be expected seeing that his captain has died and was buried at sea, leaving 19-year-old Dantes in charge. In the port of Marseilles he is welcomed by the lovely Mercedes (Kate Nelligan), a Catalan girl who is to be his bride the following day.

But Edmond has rivals. One is a M. Danglars (Donald Pleasence), the supercargo (person responsible for the shipper’s goods), who considers he should have been promoted to captain instead of Edmond. Also there is Fernand Mondego (Tony Curtis), a local Catalan, supposedly a cousin of Mercedes and a rival suitor to Edmond. Here is a meeting at a place where wine is served close by the home of Edmond.  The third person at the table is a neighbor of Desmond, a M. Caderousse (Alessio Orano). He is not a party to the scheme to frame Edmond—he’s so drunk (in the book) to hardly know what is going on. His initial crime is one of omission. He knows of the scheme, but he allows Edmond to be framed and does nothing, at first.

In the book, Danglars proposes to write a phony note, saying what a great joke it would be if this note were discovered and if it pointed to Edmond as a Bonaparte collaborator. The setting is the time Napoleon escaped from his Elba prison and sought to overthrow the monarchy. Danglars has his joke (in the book) and discards the crumpled note, leaving for Fernand to retrieve the note and to take it to the authorities as real.

Edmond and Mercedes are about to be married when the police rush up to arrest him. He is taken to a local official, Gérard de Villefort (Louis Jourdan), who sees that Edmond is falsely accused. But the note refers to a letter Edmond is supposed to deliver. Edmond hands over the letter, never having read it. Villefort unseals the letter. It implicates his father, Noirtier de Villefort in the Napoleonic plot, naming many others, besides. This knowledge has the power to immensely elevate de Villefort’s career, but only if its existence is kept secret. The way to keep the secret is to tuck Edmond away for life in a place where the sun does not shine. He burns the incriminating letter and prepares to execute Edmond’s doom.

Only after he has been carted away does Edmond discover he is being sent to his doom in the scurrilous prison Château d’If in the Marseilles harbor. And behold, the producers used actual footage of the infamous place.

Edmond spends 14 years there, the first few in solitary. Eventually he detects another prisoner chiseling at the stone works. Eventually the two connect up, and the two spend the remaining years of Edmond’s imprisonment collaborating on a plan to escape. The other prisoner is a priest, Abbé Faria (Trevor Howard). The character was apparently a real person, but not the priest in prison with Edmond Dantes. Anyhow, the priest, before he was carted off to the Château d’If for being a royalist, discovered the location of a papal treasure of vast proportions and hidden away for centuries. He promises Edmond to share it with him after they escape. He also uses their time together to teach the simple sailor all the wisdom of the world. Then he dies.

Edmond, thinking quickly, waits for the jailers to sew the body into a bag. Then he switches places with the corpse, stowing it in his cell. The high point of the plot is here, when the guards throw the sack, with Edmond inside, into the sea. Edmond cuts his way out of the bag and is picked up by some smugglers.

He throws his lot in with them, and is readily accepted, since he is a first rate navigator. His travels eventually take him to Montecristo, an Italian island between Corsica and the mainland. There Edmond recovers the vast treasure and uses a small part of it to purchase the island, having himself declared the Count of Monte Cristo.

From Google maps, here is the island of Montecristo.

Edmond uses the ensuing ten years establishing himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and setting up his revenge on his betrayers. For the first time in his life he comes to Paris, where all of them now live, having used the intervening 24 years elevating themselves to great wealth and power, mostly by nefarious means.

The book explains that Mercedes waited 18 months before giving up on Edmond and marrying Fernand. They have a son. In the meantime Fernand has gone to the Battle of Waterloo with Napoleon, only to sell out to the British for a healthy sum. He has continued his double-dealing, next with the Spaniards and finally, as a French officer, betraying an eastern prince for a healthy sum.

Villefort has risen to position of the king’s procurer, and Danglars has become a prominent banker. Not shown in the movie is the life trajectory of the sodden Caderousse. Dumas has the count visiting this wretch, now an innkeeper on the road to the Pont du Gard, in disguise. He gives Caderousse a chance to redeem himself, giving him two large diamonds, supposedly from an unknown benefactor. Caderousse shows his true character when a Jewish dealer comes to the inn to purchase one of the stones. Caderousse and his wife murder the Jew and keep the stone, but the wife is killed in the fracas. Caderousse is caught and imprisoned, ultimately to be redeemed by the count in a scheme to employ him in the further destruction of his enemies.

Here the count arrives at the office of Danglars the banker, where he opens a stately account. He eyes his enemy, undetected, and schemes his revenge.

The count goes to one of the telegraph stations of a system that was established in France at the time, shortly before it was superseded by electric telegraphy. The stations use a system of semaphores to relay messages from one station to the next station down the line. He bribes the operator to send a false message, telling of the return of King Carlos to Spain.

Danglars has arranged for himself to have privy to these messages ahead of authorized parties, and he uses this information to make shrewd bets on the markets. The false message causes Danglars to short the Spanish bonds, and his major clients follow the lead. When the message is revealed to be bogus all his clients demand repayment, and Dalglars is ruined.

Hint: in the book Danglars flies the coop with five millions in cash and heads for Italy. There the count tracks him down and has some bandits kidnap him and hold him for ransom until almost all his money is gone. Then Danglars is left to live the remainder of his life. In the movie the banker puts a bullet through his head.

Villefort’s life, since his betrayal of Edmond, has been one of shady dealing and sordid misdeeds. He has gotten a woman pregnant and has arranged for her to give delivery in secret. Then he took the child and buried it in the garden behind the house, telling the woman the child had died. The movie has the woman dying, as well. Only, one of the count’s smuggler friends was a witness to the deed, and he rescued the baby. The baby was ultimately lodged with an unfortunate couple, growing up to become a pathological criminal who murdered his adoptive mother. He has subsequently been imprisoned with Caderousse. Apparently in their escape Caderousse had double crossed this son of Villefort, and the count works to bring the two into meeting one another. He watches as Caderousse is murdered and the son of Villefort is arrested.

At the trial, the son of Villefort uses information supplied to him by the count to disgrace Villefort, who is the prosecutor.

The count next contrives to make public Fernand’s betrayal of his charge and the murder of the prince he was sworn to protect. He also sold the prince’s wife and daughter into slavery, where the mother died. The count since purchased the daughter in a slave market and made her his ward.

Mercedes’ son, Albert, swears to fight the count in a duel with pistols. Mercedes knows Albert will be killed, and she convinces Albert of his father’s duplicity. the two men meet in the Field of Mars (in the movie only), where each party fires harmlessly, signifying the matter is settled.

Fernand is brought to answer charges, and at the hearing he presents testimonials to his loyalty in the affair. Then the princess, Haidee (Isabelle De Valvert), comes forward and attests to seeing Fernand murder her father and of his selling her and her mother into slavery. She presents documents of the transactions.

Fernand challenges the count to a duel right there in the chamber and is defeated, being forced to yield or die. He is taken off in disgrace to face charges. In the book he puts a bullet through his head.

As each of his enemies is destroyed Edmond counts, “One… Two…” I watched for this in the book but I saw it only at the time of Caderousse’s death. Maybe a closer look will reveal the movie is true.

Both the book and the movie show Mercedes leaving Marseilles to join Albert, serving in the military in Africa. In the book there is an outlandish episode involving Maximillian, son of Morrel, and the daughter of Villefort. Her stepmother has attempted to poison her, and the count has secretly intervened, faking her death until the final three pages of the book, where she and Maximillian are re-united in the grotto on Montecristo. The count sails off from the island with Princess Haidee, apparently to be his wife.

The moral is made that revenge is double-edged. Edmond has exacted it to its fullest, and it has brought him down, as well.

Wikipedia notes that cutting the plot to 119 minutes required leaving many of the book’s characters out. See the item for a complete listing. Read the book if you have the time. It’s a bucket list item. Gone there, read that.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is a new one, out this year. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, whence the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s Beirut, and there’s not much I can tell you about it, as my first run through I spent most of my time trying to figure out who was who. It’s 1972, and we know what was going on in 1972. We see American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) hosting a party at his residence in Beirut, Lebanon. He’s explaining to the uninitiated that for 2000 years Beirut has been like a boarding house with no landlord. People who don’t necessary like each other, Christians, Jews, Muslims, keep to themselves. More recently they decided to let the Palestinians in, because those folks had nowhere else to go. Each faction figured they could co-opt the loyalty of the Palestinians and gain some advantage, but the Palestinians were the PLO, and all they wanted to do was to destroy the Jews.

Mason’s CIA friend Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino) arrives, with a crew. They want a word with Karim (Idir Chender), a Palestinian boy that Mason and his Lebanese wife Nadia (Leïla Bekhti) have been fostering. Mason says to hold off. Cal says Karim must go with them right now. He is Karim Abu Rajal, and his brother was involved in the Munich Olympics attack earlier that year.

Inside the house gunfire breaks out, as Karim’s brother comes to take him. Nadia is killed.

Ten years later Mason is on the bottle and running a private negotiating firm in America. Here we see him striving with no success to arbitrate between two recalcitrant parties in a labor dispute.

The government contacts Mason with an urgent demand. Cal has been taken hostage in Lebanon, and the kidnappers want him to negotiate. Back in country, Mason finds Beirut much changed.

He teams with CIA agent Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike).

It becomes apparent how disintegrated things have become. Mason meets with the kidnappers and is confronted by a fanatic whose purpose in life appears to be one of screaming anti-American rhetoric in his face. This is cut short when he is shot in the back of the head by a cohort. It is Karim, now grown up.

Karim wants to trade Cal for his brother, Rami, who has been taken prisoner, by whom it is not clear.

Mason’s cover for the trip to Lebanon is to give a lecture at the University. As his talks wanders into the matter of mutually assured destruction, a bomb planted under a chair in the audience goes off.

They think the Israeli intelligence organization Mossad is holding Rami. This turns out to be a dead end. They discover the PLO has him, and arrangements are made to throw in $3.9 million to get the PLO to cooperate.

As the hand-over takes place a Mossad sniper kills Rami. There is a bunch of shooting.

In the background all the time is treachery within the ranks. CIA station chief Donald Gaines (Dean Norris) has been siphoning money out of the till, and Cal knows about it. Gaines schemes to ensure Cal is not repatriated.

Mason has been winged in the fracas, and he and Cal recall their past friendship as they part company on the beach.

And that’s all I’m going to tell about the movie. Critical scenes are staged using dim lighting, making it difficult to figure out who is who. Dialog in Arabic is handled through subtitles, so it was necessary for me to switch between watching the action and following the conversation.

This is a thriller of a movie, and you may want to watch through it a second time to keep up with the plot.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one is nearly 30 years old, coming out in 1989. It’s Fat Man and Little Boy, and before you start thinking it’s about The Maltese Falcon I need to remind you these are not characters in the movie. These are the names given to the first and only two atomic bombs used in warfare. This is going to be about the development of the atomic bomb in the final years of World War II. The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

We all know the story about how General Leslie Groves supervised the construction of the Pentagon Building and commanded the Manhattan Project to develop the bomb. The opening scene shows General Groves (Paul Newman) receiving a birthday cake in the shape of the building. Next we see him blowing his top and tossing the cake after being told he would not get a combat assignment, but would, instead, be in charge of shepherding a gaggle of scientists.

When he calms down, the general stops by in Chicago to visit refugee Hungarian scientist Leo Szilard in his bath. Szilard first thought of the idea of an atomic bomb while crossing a London street. By the time he had reached the opposite curb he realized that a critical mass of fissile material would spontaneously split all its atoms and release the potential energy within. The relation between the amount of material and the amount of energy was determined 50 years before by German scientist Albert Einstein:

E = mC2

Since C is such a large number, that’s a lot of energy for any amount of matter. An interesting historical note is that the inventor of the atomic bomb refused to participate in its development.

Groves sees the light. This is the way to win the war, and he is the man to do it. He recruits maverick scientist Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz in his first leading role), because Oppenheimer is the best man for the job. History has demonstrated this conjecture was correct. The Army evicts a private boy’s school from a mesa top in New Mexico, and they construct a secret base there, hauling in all the top scientists they can scrape up to work on the project. Here Oppenheimer explains the game plan.

A big part of the game plan is secrecy. Nobody is to talk to anybody about anything outside of work. No wives, no children, no priests. The lid is really tight. As history has shown, this part of the plan was successful, because nobody outside the project knew about it, except the Soviets, who had planted two spies. But that’s not in the movie.

The ideal approach is to use plutonium, an artificial element. You have to make it in a nuclear reactor, but once you’ve made it, then it’s easy to extract plutonium from the uranium in the reactor due to the different chemical properties of the two metals. Atomic bombs can be made of uranium, also, but only U235 is usable, and it is remarkably difficult to separate that isotope from the bulk of native uranium.

But plutonium has a problem. The principle of all fission bombs is to start with to non-critical masses of the material and then to combine them rapidly into a critical mass. If you attempt to shoot a pellet of plutonium into a non-critical mass of plutonium, then you have to fire the pellet at tremendous speed, else the reaction will start too early, and the whole thing will blow itself apart before much of the material has reacted.

They solve the problem by using shaped charges of TNT to compress a hollow sphere of plutonium, lending some drama to the plot. Here a charge goes off prematurely, gravely injuring one of the experimenters.

Oppenheimer has calculated that he will soon gain the upper hand over Groves in the project, but he has figured wrong. With all the security investigation going on it does not take long to discover that the married Oppenheimer has been (still is) getting some on the side. Not only is the romance sub rosa, but the girlfriend is a communist, Natasha Richardson as Jean Tatlock. Groves forces Oppenheimer to break off the relationship, and he does, leaving her while two FBI agents observe from a a distance. This is related in The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Shortly after the breakup Tatlock is found dead by suicide.

The day of the first test is 16 July 1945. A plutonium bomb is to be detonated atop a tower on the desert flats near Alamogordo, New Mexico. but first the Army has to deal with a herd of cattle that keeps disrupting the experiment, trampling the bomb’s control wires. The local ranchers refuse to corral their livestock, so the Army handles the matter in the way the Army is trained to handle situations. They shoot the cattle.

Meanwhile there is a faction in Chicago (where the first controlled nuclear fission was obtained) that opposes the use, even the completion, of the bomb. Germany has surrendered, and many contend use of the bomb is overreach. The plot of the movie is narrated through a diary kept by scientist Michael Merriman (John Cusack). Following the accident previously described, he meets and has an affair with pretty nurse Kathleen Robinson (Laura Dern), both fictional characters.

The romance ends when Merriman is involved in an accident in the lab. The researchers are measuring radiation from a near critical mass of plutonium. Two hemispheres of beryllium are brought together around the plutonium, reflecting neutrons back into the mass. Distracted, Merriman twists a control knob, bringing the hemispheres too close and initiating a violent release of radiation. He dies horribly a few days later.

Both a uranium bomb (little boy) and a plutonium bomb (fat man) are designed. Nobody figures they need to test the uranium bomb, since it uses the pellet mechanism, but correctly crushing a hollow sphere of plutonium is considered dicey, since any asymmetry in the implosion will squirt plutonium out to one side. The cattle disposed of, Oppenheimer watches in the pre-dawn of 16 July as the clock counts down, and a blinding flash rends the desert landscape.

And that’s the end of the story. The bomb testers arrive back at Los Alamos to cheers, and three weeks later the city of Hiroshima is leveled by a single uranium bomb, never before tested. Three days after that a plutonium bomb is exploded over Nagasaki, and Japan surrenders a few days after that.

Nobody gets off scott free. Groves leaves the Manhattan Project, and Oppenheimer protests the development of the hydrogen bomb and loses his security clearance. The world changed forever on 16 July 1945.

There is a bunch of fiction, one part being that of Michael Merriman. There was such an accident at Los Alamos, but it was after the Trinity test, and there was another one after that.

A scene in the movie has General Groves on a train crossing the country, when the train is flagged down by an Army motorcycle messenger. I find this a bit hard to believe. An Army general, the man with arguably the most critical mission in the war, is on a train, and the train driver is willing to stop the train out in the middle of nowhere when a person carrying a gun, on a motorcycle, and wearing an Army uniform signals it to stop. That has all the appearances of a plot to assassinate the general.

Characters in the movie, as did real scientists at the time, object to the development of the atomic bomb. Of course, this never made a lot of sense. The thinking seems to be that if these guys did not develop the bomb, then we would all be a lot safer now. People, if North Korea can develop an atomic bomb, then nobody else is safe unless somebody with some sense has atomic bombs. It’s not as though scientists created something that was not there before. It was always there, and sooner or later somebody was going to turn over the rock and find it. There have been no world-wide wars since 1945.

This appears to be the first Paul Newman movie I have reviewed. Hopefully there will be more.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 1984, and I didn’t catch it in the theaters. It ran on HBO, back when I had cable TV in Dallas, and I never got to watch it again. Since I signed up for streaming video I’ve been waiting for it to pop up, and there it was this morning, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s Runaway, starring Tom Selleck as Sergeant Jack R. Ramsay of some police department in the future. He’s part of a unit assigned to handle cases of runaway robots, hence the title. This is a time when we have turned critical, and not so critical, aspects of our work and our lives over to robots, more properly called automatons. As luck would have it for the sake of the plot, these robots sometimes go haywire, and the police need to be called in to corral them. We see Ramsay getting a new partner. She’s Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), fresh from the traffic division, and is she ever good looking.

Immediately the two are directed to helicopter out to a cornfield where a robot has run amuck among the rows. This movie is beginning to look like a comedy, as Officer Thompson plunges into the corn and snares the miscreant machine, right before its circuits blow in a fiery display.

Then the plot turns serious, as Ramsay and Thompson are called to a residence where a domestic servant robot has murdered two family members and is inside the house holding off the police with a pistol. More people die, as a cowboy news cinematographer follows Ramsay into the house and gets killed by the robot.

Investigation reveals the robot was altered, and the altering was done by the man of the house, a Mr. David Johnson (Chris Mulkey), who works for a high-tech company. Meanwhile, Thompson visits Ramsay at home, presenting us with this cute domestic scene with widower Ramsay, his son Bobby (Joey Cramer), and the new woman in Jack’s life.

Apparently in this modern age it is illegal to modify a robot without authorization, and Johnson goes on the run. Ramsay chases him down, but another person, Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons), cannot have Johnson telling what he knows. Luther unleashes a guided bullet at Johnson, which follows him down alleys and around corners before making a turn-around and impacting with an explosive charge. This is getting serious. Some crooks have devised a new generation sinister weapon, and the police need to put the kibosh on the operation.

Jack and his partner make a call on the tech company, and while they are there they take another runaway assignment, inside the company. Luther’s secretary (and girlfriend) Jackie Rogers (Kirstie Alley) is trapped on her desk by a security robot that keeps zapping her when she tries to leave.

Ramsay destroys the robot, rescues the comely Ms. Rogers, and gets out of her that Luther is behind the scheme to develop the deadly technology. That leads Ramsay and Thompson to track down Luther, and they sneak into where Luther’s gang is holed up. This gives the producers the opportunity to spice up the video with some gratuitous nudity.

But the bust goes wrong, and Luther points a gun at Jackie’s head, and makes his escape. Thompson is wounded, and two other cops are killed. Also Luther’s two Italian mobster friends.

The microchips required for the smart weapon have been encoded onto templates, preparatory to producing them on an industrial scale. The police come out of the fracas with the templates.  Ramsay uses Jackie as bait, and they lure Luther after them on the freeway. Luther unleashes a succession of surface-skimming robots, armed with bombs. Ramsay and Thomson defeat the scheme by decoying the robots with an empty, self-driving, police car.

But Luther is ahead of the game, having planted an undetected tracking device on Jackie. At an arranged meeting Luther grabs Thompson, and agrees to exchange her for Jackie and the templates. He gets only half of the templates, and he murders Jackie and escapes.

Next he kidnaps Bobby, and he arranges for Ramsay to meet him in the upper levels of a high rise under construction. This is ideal for Luther, since Ramsay has a deathly fear of heights. At the site Luther deploys his own invention, mechanized spiders that track down their prey and inject poison into them before exploding. The spiders have been programmed to attack the first person who comes down from the building.

Of course there is a mighty struggle, and Ramsay kicks Luther off the elevator right before it reaches ground level. The spiders attack.

Ramsay and Thomson are going to get it together.

The story is by Michael Crichton,, who also directed, and it’s a fairly lame science fiction plot. The robots are totally unrealistic, for one. We see an agricultural robot, whose sole task appears to be to travel among rows of corn and pick off insects. And this robot is going to run amok and start charging through the field, mowing down rows of corn? The reality is we have modern robots that work to make our lives easier. I have a clothes washer with a computer inside that lets me select from a menu of wash processes. It automatically detects the load level and recommends the amount of detergent to add. Similarly for my clothes dryer and my dishwasher. These robots just work, and when they fail they just stop working. We don’t have to call the police to run them down.

People watching this may be reminded of our current fascination with self-driving cars. This parallels the plot of this movie—turning over to machines the responsibility of getting passengers safely to their destinations and avoiding accidents on public roads. The salient failure mode of these cars is that there is a traffic accident, and we are then faced with determining who was responsible, the non-driver or the software engineer. Some people need to watch the movie.

Tom Selleck rose to fame playing the title role in Magnum, P.I. . We previously saw him in Three Men and a Baby.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one actually took me by surprise. The name kept popping up, more recently on Hulu, where it’s streaming and from where I obtained these screen shots. From 1996 it’s The Rock, and I decided to give it a look. Burned through 136 minutes. Whew!

Title credits are impressive:

  • Sean Connery as Captain John Patrick Mason, Special Air Service (Rtd.)
  • Nicolas Cage as FBI Special Agent Dr. Stanley Goodspeed
  • Ed Harris as Brigadier General Francis X. “Frank” Hummel, USMC Force Recon
  • John Spencer as FBI Director James Womack

My expectations soared.

Background to the sequence depicts tense radio traffic as a mission goes badly and people get left behind. Apparently that is ancient history and sets up the plot theme. Action begins in the rain in a cemetery as General Hummel, all alone, converses with his wife’s grave. He begs for forgiveness for what he is about to do, and he leaves his Medal of Honor on the headstone.

Back at FBI headquarters somewhere Dr. Goodspeed’s workday boredom is punctuated by an emergency arising out of a suspicious crate. He and an associate, new to the job, don protective suits and enter a sealed area to unpack. It turns out to be a trap, releasing deadly gas and initiating the timer of an explosive device. Goodspeed, cool to the core, defuses the device and saves everybody plus the remainder of the movie plot.

Back with his girlfriend later he speaks of a rough day at work. She has more bad (and good) news. She’s pregnant.

Meanwhile Hummel has recruited a cadre of Marine professionals, and they assault a weapons depot, making off with 15 armed chemical weapon missiles. They intended for 16, but an accident activates one, and the team loses a member trapped inside the sealed magazine with the poison gas.

We next see them at Alcatraz Island, where they interrupt a tour group and take hostages. Alcatraz, originally a Civil War fort, is affectionately known as The Rock, hence the movie title.

The renegades demand $100 million ransom, to be used to indemnify the sacrificed troops previously mentioned and also to pay $1 million to each of the group. Else the missiles will be launched, blanketing San Francisco and bringing about nearly total annihilation. The deadline is set at 48 hours.

The feds figure they need to act quickly and decisively, and Director Womack pulls out an ace he’s been keeping in the hole for decades. It’s Mason, who previously stole microfilm chronicling this country’s deadly misdeeds from three decades previously. Mason has been languishing in a federal lockup pending his disclosure of the whereabouts of the sacred film. In that time his foliage has grown impressively. Mason is the only person known for sure to have escaped from The Rock, and Womack intends to use his expertise to reverse the escape and to infiltrate the former prison.

The bargain is struck, and the government promises a full pardon. Womack tears up the paper after Mason hands it over, and Mason is pulled out to a luxurious hotel suite in San Francisco.

But he does it again. Mason escapes from captivity and leads Agent Goodspeed and otherd in a wild chase, setting the theme for the remainder of the movie. Nothing but impressive FX and lots of lead flying.

Yes, Goodspeed, with Mason and a team of Navy Seals, steals into an underwater entrance and penetrates the fortress. But a trap set up by the renegades leads to a horrific firefight that leaves all the government forces dead, except for Goodspeed and Mason. And the plot waxes even more bizarre. Here the two, desperately eluding their pursuers in the labyrinth beneath the prison, recapitulate the runaway mine car sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Goodspeed manages to disable all but three of the missiles. One is fired at the city, but Hummel deflects it. He has no inclination to become a mass murderer. It’s all a bluff. Onshore, the feds, believing all is lost, revert to Plan B. It’s to be an attack by F/A-18 fighters launching thermite plasma bombs on the island, sure to blanket the area and obliterate the chemical agent. Also all living things, including the hostages. We are treated to some great footage, possibly CGI, of a flight of fighters skimming the surface beneath the Golden Gate bridge.

But Goodspeed neutralizes the remaining missiles and eliminates the last of the renegade Marines, and he gets off two green smoke flares, signaling that all is clear. Too late, a thermite bomb is launched, but it strikes a remote part of the island, doing no damage.

Goodspeed lies and claims the bomb vaporized Mason, who escapes the island using SCUBA gear left over from the raid. Goodspeed retains a note from Mason, detailing the location of the microfilm. The movie ends with Goodspeed and his new bride stealing the film from the country Iowa church where they just got married and where Mason had left the film in hiding. As his sweetheart drives he inspects a piece of the film and announces he now knows who killed President Kennedy.

Yes, the movie is that silly.

  • There is no such thing as a thermite plasma process.
  • Mention of crashed aliens at Roswell and the Kennedy murder is laughable.
  • The chemical agent missiles are absurd. No such ordnance would ever be assembled, much less designed.

It was good to see John Spencer again, after watching him for six seasons of The West Wing. He died before the seventh season, and the plot featured the death of vice presidential candidate  Leo McGarry. Ed Harris was the German master sniper in Enemy at the Gates. We also saw him in A History of Violence, The Truman Show, and The Firm. Cage featured in Snake Eyes. He also appears in the Left Behind movies. Sean Connery was an Irish cop in The Untouchables, a Russian sub captain in The Hunt for Red October, a tough military cop in The Presidio, and a space cop in Outland. He was Major-General Robert Elliott “Roy” Urquhart in A Bridge Too Far. He was an Irish soldier storming the Normandy beaches in The Longest Day. And I didn’t mention any of his James Bond roles or A Fine Madness, which I will review if I can get hold of a copy.

Criminal Empire

The DVD has been on my shelf for several weeks, and today I got around to watching. Worth the investment—this is a compelling story. Screen shots are from the DVD. Details and quotes are from Wikipedia.

Spotlight was (is?) the name of an investigative team at The Boston Globe. The 2015 movie is about their investigation into corruption in the local diocese of the Catholic Church. Priests were sexually molesting (raping) children, boys and girls, and the Church was covering it up. The relevance of this film has gained monumental strength with additional revelations earlier this month.

The movie opens with a scene in a Boston precinct station, where a priest, Father John Geoghan, is the subject of an investigation. A young policeman converses with the desk sergeant about the matter, and he is assured that the matter is going to be handled in the usual way. It’s 1976.

A young prosecuting assistant district attorney exits the interview and tells the sergeant to keep the matter quiet. The priest is hustled out of the station and driven away.

In 2001 The Boston Globe hires a new editor. He is Marty Baron , played by Liev Schreiber. He is a Jew. The previous editor was Catholic, as are about half the population of Boston. This is significant, because the previous editor was reluctant to publicize Catholic Church misdeeds. Here Baron discusses strategy with “Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor of the newspaper’s “Spotlight” team,” played by Michael Keaton.

The Globe was acquired by The New York Times in 1993, losing some of its independence. Also, the newly surging Internet is draining readership from print media. The newspaper has to win back readership by providing insight not available to thinly sourced Internet sites. Baron tasks the Spotlight team with investigating and reporting on Church corruption. Here Robby strategizes with the team.

Reporter Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) holds a conference over lunch with Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a lawyer for several victims of Church abuse. Garabedian tells him there are documents under seal that can be made public. Abuse by diocese priests has been ongoing for decades and Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) has been covering it up. Priests have been shuffled from place to place as they continue to molest children. We learn from psychotherapist Richard Sipe (Richard Jenkins) that 6% of Catholic priests are guilty of child molestation. With 1000 priests, that means approximately 60 Boston priests are involved.

The newspaper has in its library records of Boston priests—their tenure in the diocese, reasons for leaving.

Rather than search for victims, the reporters decide to identify guilty priests. Many have been reassigned for other than legitimate reasons.

“Unassigned.” “Sick Leave.”

Reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) digs into the “morgue” files and hands Robby a story from years back. The newspaper has been party to the cover-up.

Sacha tracks down priests they have identified and interviews one at his house. As described by Sipe, this one has the maturity of a child and fails to recognize he did anything wrong. His sister interrupts the interview and orders Sacha to leave.

Disaster! As Garabedian prepares to file the motion that will unseal the critical documents, the terror attacks of 11 September disrupt air travel and all news reporting. The documents remain public for weeks before Rezendes can get access to them and bribe a clerk to make copies. There is much resistance all along to allowing the documents into the open.

The air clears, the paper waits until after the Christmas holidays to print the lead story, and the presses roll. All great newspaper-themed dramas have these scenes. Miles of newsprint churning through the presses and the folding machines.

Bundled by automatic machinery.

Loaded onto trucks and driven into the streets for delivery.

A reporter places a copy on a critical doorstep.

The reporters go into work the following day, their day off. The news story carried the phone number (and URL) for the Spotlight hotline. The phones ring continuously as victims and others contact the paper.

The closing credits tell the horrific details that came to light as a consequence of The Globe‘s revelations.

That was 17 years ago. Earlier this month it became apparent that the Boston episode had no impact on the Church’s corrupt practices.

Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says

Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a searing report issued by a grand jury on Tuesday.

The report, which covered six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report said there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward.

It catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.

The sexual abuse scandal has shaken the Catholic Church for more than 15 years, ever since explosive allegations emerged out of Boston in 2002. But even after paying billions of dollars in settlements and adding new prevention programs, the church has been dogged by a scandal that is now reaching its highest ranks. The Pennsylvania report comes soon after the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who is accused of sexually abusing young priests and seminarians, as well as minors.

There is much more I could mention here, but it has become no longer necessary. The implications and the remedy must by now be manifest to all—all but a few in a small enclave in Rome.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 233 of a series

The plot is so well-stitched, earning this one its place as BMotW. From 1978, it’s Jaws 2, with Roy Scheider reprising his role as as Police Chief Martin Brody of the friendly resort of Amity Island. It follows by three years the original shark movie, based on a book by Peter Benchley. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. If you saw the original, you know the plot.

Two divers discover the sunken fishing boat from the earlier movie. So does yet another great white shark, who eats both, but only after one of them gets some photos.

When the divers go missing the chief begins to resurrect his old suspicions. Next we see two women on a water ski outing. One is driving the boat. The shark stalks the skier, and while the driver is not looking the shark takes the bait. When the driver sees what’s going on she panics, and, attempting to counter the shark, she explodes a gasoline can on the boat. No live witnesses.

Suspicions throbbing, the chief constructs some cyanide-tipped bullets for his revolver. They never get used in the movie.

Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), left over from the first movie, is showing potential investors around the community. A major annoyance is Brody, embarrassing them all by sitting in his shark observation tower while tourists enjoy the beach, unaware. This reprises the original theme. A concerned and vigilant chief of police pitted against a town council that is more concerned about scaring away tourists and investors.

When the photos taken by the deceased divers are recovered, the town council refuses to believe they show a shark. They act to rid themselves of this troublesome priest, and Brody is out of a job. At this point the plot devolves into teenagers (plus one juvenile) putting themselves into harm’s way as a festive rollick on the water begins. Also, under the water.

The shark attacks the party crowd out of sight of land, and the remaining 30+ minutes of the film is consumed by screaming teenagers, fighting off the shark, falling out of boats, getting eaten, desperately seeking help. A harbor patrol helicopter lands to rescue them, but the shark attacks and sinks the helicopter.

Of course, Brody sails to the rescue. The final shark attack comes as the group is about to be rescued at Cable Junction, a small spit of rock that houses power and communications hookups. Brody accidentally pulls up a power cable with the anchor of the police boat, but he feeds it to the shark.

The shark takes the bait, and we watch a glorious minute of the shark being fried.

And that’s the end of the movie. We only imagine Brody will get his job back. We do see the mayor eating a small serving of crow when others report the shark attack. We know from history this meal will not stick, because there is going to be a sequel, and we need somebody to play the doubter against all evidence that a shark is on the prowl.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Ha! I boast. I never saw this in the theaters. I bought a VHS shortly after it came out in 1990, and it sizzled. With Julia Roberts as a Hollywood street walker and Richard Gere as a multi-millionaire corporate takeover specialist, you know there’s going to be some sex. This is definitely not suitable for small children. It’s streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

With a title inspired by Roy Orbison, it’s Pretty Woman, and that’s what the story is all about. It’s a story about a very pretty woman and her romantic relationship with an iron-fisted tycoon. The movie opens with Vivian Ward (Roberts) and her cohort in crime Kit De Luca (Laura San Giacomo) cruising the bricks on a fine evening. A Lotus 1989.5 Esprit SE comes sailing down the street driven by Edward Lewis (Gere). He’s not looking for a ride, but he is having trouble with the stick shift on the Lotus. Sweet Vivian offers to help out and, for and extra $100, more.

They wind up in Edward’s penthouse lodgings, where the $100 gets extended into a one-week dalliance. Edward is in town to take over a local company, and he needs a sidekick so he doesn’t show up for business dinners looking like some jerk who can’t get a date.

The first assignment is dinner with the top executives of the target company, a wizened CEO (Ralph Bellamy) and his grandson (Alex Hyde-White). But first Vivian must head out to Rodeo Drive to hunt down a proper cocktail dress. Here’s one of the great scenes. The snooty sales clerks don’t want trampy Vivian in their store, and she returns to the hotel humiliated.

There she has a conversation with the worldly hotel manager Barney Thompson (Héctor Elizondo). He recognizes the business that is transpiring in his hotel, and he only asks that Vivian identify herself as Edward’s niece. Then he arranges for her to be received at a local fashion house where she purchases the required cocktail dress.

And she is absolutely stunning at the dinner with the CEO and grandson.

When Edward learns of the way Vivian was treated out on Rodeo Drive, he tags along with her on a shopping expedition, where he demonstrate that even here money doesn’t only talk, it swears. He shows Vivian that the right amount will get any and all to “suck up.”

And she is an absolute smash. I once visited Rodeo Drive as a tourist, and I can vouch that if anybody can add some class to this strip it’s Julia Roberts. This stroll is to the accompaniment of Oh, Pretty Woman.

Of course everything does not go smoothly, else there would be no movie. Edward’s experience with Vivian softens his heart, and he decides not to break up the target company and sell off the parts. He agrees with the CEO they will continue to build ships, except the company will be operating with improved liquidity.

This pisses off Edward’s lawyer and partner Phillip Stuckey (Jason Alexander). I’m guessing Danny DeVito was unavailable at the time of filming, else he would have been cast for the part. Anyhow, Phillip sees Vivian as the fly in the ointment that’s costing him an expected $multi-million payout, and he pays her a visit, calls her a whore, and assaults her. Edward breaks up the love fest, and the partnership is ended.

The week also comes to an end, and Vivian goes back to her digs with Kit and makes preparations to renew her life in faraway Georgia. Edward prepares to ride to the airport in a limo, but the limo driver knows where Vivian lives. We see Edward coming astride a white limo with flowers to rescue Cinderella from a mundane existence.

And it is a fairytale ending.

I previously reviewed Roberts in Notting HillErin BrockovichConspiracy Theory, and The Pelican Brief.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

From 2004 it’s Suspect Zero, featuring Aaron Eckhart as FBI Agent Thomas Mackelway and Ben Kingsley as Benjamin O’Ryan. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening shows traveling salesman Harold Speck (Kevin Chamberlin) enjoying coffee and a newspaper at a diner beside the highway. It’s raining outside, and in walks a mysterious stranger, who sits himself across from Harold, and accosts him. The stranger speaks probing suggestions into Harold’s life on the road, what Harold does when his wife is at home alone. Harold gets nervous and leaves. He ends up dead in his car exactly on the Arizona-New Mexico line. There is a reason for this. That makes the killing FBI jurisdiction.

We find out later the stranger is Benjamin O’Ryan, and he has stalked and killed Harold. We also learn later that Harold was a serial killer.

Meanwhile FBI Agent Mackelway arrives at his new posting in Albuquerque, supposedly the armpit of FBI postings. He was previously at the Dallas office, but he once pursued a suspect across the Mexican border and kidnapped him. After six months of psychological observation he has been allowed to go back to work. There is something troubling the mind of Agent Mackelway,

Meanwhile, O’Ryan has visions, and he sketches them. He mails some to Mackelway, along with cryptic notes. They relate to serial killers.

A mysterious truck stalks two young boys riding their bicycles. One of the boys disappears and is later presumed dead.

A hot young thing is celebrating her sexuality at a roadside bar. When the bartender insists she show ID to order a drink, she goes out to her car, in the dark, to retrieve it. We know exactly what is going to happen. A nefarious character follows her out.

The man grabs miss hot body in the parking lot and drags her to his vehicle, where he rapes her. But a mysterious stranger appears, breaks through a window, and drags the attacker out. It is later revealed the rapist is a wanted serial killer, and he is now dead on the pavement.

Mackelway goes to visit Professor Dates (Robert Towne) who reveals the identity of Benjamin O’Ryan, formerly a secret FBI agent who participated in remote viewing experiments. It becomes apparent O’Ryan is seeing at a distance and is stalking and killing serial killers. Mackelway has similar visions.

Mackelway and O’Ryan team up and track a graveyard of victims they have visualized to a desert homestead. A field contains dozens of graves. When the mysterious truck appears, the two give chase. The chase ends in a crash alongside a desert road, and the culprit attempts a getaway across the hellish landscape.

Mackelway phones the situation in to the authorities, who come rushing to the scene. Mackelway’s partner Fran Kluck (Carrie-Anne Moss) rescues a young boy from the truck, then she takes out after Mackelway and the killer.

Mackelway catches and subdues the killer. O’Ryan appears and insists that Mackelway kill him (O’Ryan). He hold’s Mackleway’s pistol to his own forehead.

But Mackelway will not, so O’Ryan pulls out his knife and menaces Mackelway. Fran shoots O’Ryan dead. The two stand over O’Ryan’s body and stare down at it.

It’s the same scene depicted in one of O’Ryan’s drawings.

Yes, the bit about remote viewing is preposterous.

In the early 1970s, Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ joined the Electronics and Bioengineering Laboratory at Stanford Research Institute (SRI, now SRI International) where they initiated studies of the paranormal that were, at first, supported with private funding from the Parapsychology Foundation and the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

I was once called in to do a TV interview and explain what was wrong with remote viewing tests that purported to show positive results. There is more available from the North Texas Skeptics. More recently Harold Puthoff was doing edgy research in Austin.

Ben Kingsley is always worth a watch. We have already seen him in Shutter Island and also Sneakers.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one caught my attention when it first screened in 1995, but I never saw it. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s Dead Man Walking, based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, who is the subject of the story. Details are from Wikipedia.

Here is Sister Prejean as a young girl, shown in flashbacks from home video, at I presume to be her confirmation. Sister Prejean as a young girl is played by Eva Amurri Martino, daughter of Susan Sarandon, who plays the grown-up Sister Helen.

Sean Penn is Matthew Poncelet, a piece of Louisiana white trash, who six years previous teamed up with a buddy to murder a young couple at night out by the swamp. Both Matthew and his partner raped the girl, and Matthew shot the boy in the back of the head with a .22 rifle. Now Matthew faces death by lethal injection at what, in another movie, came to be called Louisiana’s Green Mile. Peen is perfectly cast for this role. Nobody else can project worthless humanity with aplomb as Penn does. Wait. Note the facial hair. I imagine the prison barber asking him, “Matthew, what do you want to look like?” and Matthew flashes a big smirk and tells him, “Make me look like a don’t-give-a-damn punk killer.”

So, Sister Helen takes on the chore of being Matthew’s moral counselor, and that’s what the story is all about. The matter is, the Catholic church is dead set against the death penalty, and they want to stop any and all executions. So, how does Sister Helen and her pro-bono defense lawyer attack the case? By demonstrating to the appeals board that the death penalty is in violation of the Constitution or is otherwise inappropriate? Of course not. They attack the ruling of Matthew’s guilt, something that is, in reality, unassailable.

Here is Sister Helen exiting the clemency hearing and running into parents of the two dead victims. The person on the right is R. Lee Ermey as Clyde Percy, father of girl who was raped and killed.

Of course all attempts to forestall the inevitable are to naught, and the execution goes off on schedule. I’m posting two shots from the execution, because I find them worth noting.

The first shows preparations for lethal injection. They are going to stick a needle in Matthew’s arm. And, yes, the person doing the sticking first sanitizes the area with an alcohol patch. The person who is seconds  from death needs to be protected from infection.

Now they strap Matthew to the gurney. You see that? yes, it’s almost a perfect crucifix. Jesus Christ, they want to call attention to his martyrdom.

And that’s the movie. No real action except flashbacks of the crime. Nobody falls in love. Nothing of any interest happens to anybody except for Matthew. Sarandon spends a lot of the movie listening to other people talk.

Amazon Video’s X-ray feature makes some interesting points.

  • In real life the killer got the chair.
  • In the movie, Sister Helen gets pulled over by a Louisiana trooper for speeding. This happened after the movie started filming, so they added that scene to the movie.
  • Louisiana now uses injection, but they strap the convict to the gurney after laying it flat.
  • This is one of several movies where Sarandon’s character as a child is played by her daughter.

R. Lee Ermey is famous for portraying Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, eight years prior to this one. More recently I watched him almost daily as a military interpreter in various shows on The History Channel. He died April 15 from pneumonia, in Santa Monica, California.