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 of the Week

Number 244 of a series

This came out in 1987, and I never heard of it. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video until November, so I watched it and grabbed some screen shots. It’s The Monster Squad, and you know it’s going to be fun, but not so good. Details are from Wikipedia.

I watched this through once, and it appears to be a kind of monster movie spoof, featuring all your favorite monsters. It starts with Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr), apparently in the 19th century, based on the technology. With torches and pitchforks the people are coming after Dracula. They use a bundle of dynamite (19th century technology) to blast open the portcullis of Dracula’s castle. Then they enter and encounter all the horrors. Challenged by Dracula, they proceed to have a virgin (a mere child) to read an incantation, but she continues to be distracted by Dracula’s threats and is never able to finish and thereby to invoke the edict. The people, including the virgin, are sucked up into a vortex, and Dracula prevails for another hundred years.

Forward a hundred years, and some children have formed a Monster Squad, studying up on all the classic monster lore, and conducting monster proficiency examinations to induct new members. Meanwhile, a vintage B-25 bomber is flying a cargo that includes boxes of ancient corpses. The pilot hears a noise in the back, and he leaves the first officer in charge while he goes to investigate. Dracula is on the loose, and he surprises the pilot, who trips the control and opens the bomb bay doors. Dracula merely reverts to a bat, drops through the opening, and flies away to do his deadly business. The Frankenstein monster’s body, in a wooden crate, falls into a pond.

The father of one of the Monster Squad is a policeman (Stephen Macht), so action shifts to the local police station, where strange stuff begins to manifest. A wild guy (Jonathan Gries ) claims he’s a werewolf and demands to be locked up so he can’t hurt anybody. Too late, he views the full moon through a window and begins to transform, grabbing a cop’s pistol and shooting into the ceiling. A cop puts three bullets (not silver) into him, and they cart away the body.

But in the wagon on the way to the morgue, the Wolfman comes around and disposes of the driver, escaping.

Dracula gathers his monster minions in the swamp. They include the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and a mummy. In the box is the body of the Frankenstein monster, soon to be resurrected.

The Monster Squad meets in their tree house to discuss strategy for combating the influx of monsters.

A wannabe member is little Phoebe Crenshaw (Ashley Bank), who recapitulates the iconic scene from Frankenstein, the movie, dabbling beside the water as the monster comes up behind her. Unlike in the 1931 movie, Phoebe’s little body is not found floating in the water. She and the monster bond, and he becomes her protector and subsequently a protector of the boys.

The Monster Squad boys know their stuff, and they fashion sharpened wooden stakes (for Dracula) in the woodworking shop, and stolen silverware is melted down and molded into bullets (for the Wolfman). In a final showdown the Squad saves the world. Patrick (Robby Kiger) shoots Dracula’s consorts with special arrows, and Phoebe, the nearest available virgin, reads the incantation, allowing the vortex to suck up all the monsters, including the Frankenstein creature.

When the military arrives to do battle, the Monster Squad tells them it’s all over but the shouting.

High quality cinematography and some good directing. Definitely a kid movie, PG-13.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 243 of a series

I’ve been to Tombstone a few times, and I can attest to the realistic scenery. This is Hour of the Gun from 1967 and starring James Garner as Wyatt EarpJason Robards as Doc Holliday, and Robert Ryan as Ike Clanton. The screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

Yes, this is about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but the gunfight is only the beginning. Here we see the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday walking out to meet some of the Clanton gang in the streets of Tumbstone, 26 October 1881. There are five of the Clantons, including Billy Clanton, son of leader Ike Clanton. The four lawmen demand the Clanton people give up their weapons. The Clantons had a recent history of death threats toward the Earps.

The Clantons refuse to disarm, and they open fire. Holliday plus Virgil and Morgan Earp take hits, but after 30 seconds of firing three of the Clantons, including Billy Clanton, lie in the dust and never get up.

There is a power struggle in the town, that region of the country for that matter, with Ike Clanton hosting a collection of gunslingers to assist in opposing the onslaught of civilization. The four lawmen face trail for murder, but the judge decides they were acting within their duties as law officers, and therefore there was not crime.

Ike Clanton is not satisfied, and he launches a campaign of vengeance. First Virgil Earp is shot from ambush in the streets of the town. He survives as a cripple.

There is an election for a new city sheriff, and Morgan Earp is winning it, but a shotgun blast through the pool hall door kills him. His opposition in the election, Pete Spence (Michael Tolan) is given the job. Now it’s Wyatt who’s on a mission for revenge.

Wyatt takes his brother’s body to Tucson by train, and Clanton’s men follow. A planned ambush at the train station goes badly, and two of the Clanton assassins are killed by Wyatt and Doc.

Clanton’s gang begins to disintegrate. Clanton dismisses Spence and orders him to leave the area. Spence and others rob a stage coach for the mine payroll and kill three. Wyatt tracks Spence down and catches him with some of the loot. He notices Spence’s shotgun is nearby, and he turns his back for a moment. Spence seizes the opportunity and blazes away. But Wyatt has set him up, and he ducks behind a doorway, emerging to waste him with a volley from his pistol.

A similar fate awaits another ex-Clanton gangster. Wyatt elicits his confession to complicity in the shootings of his brothers and allows the man to go for his pistol before shooting him multiple times.

Meanwhile, Doc, suffering from tuberculosis, goes to Colorado for convalescence. He and Wyatt make the trip twice, and on the second trip Doc remains there to die.

Wyatt traces Ike to Mexico, where his gang is caught stealing cattle. The Mexican Federales are unable to prosecute Ike after their two witnesses, Clanton gang members, are murdered in their jail cells. Wyatt finally confronts Ike in a church courtyard and waits for him to go for his gun before killing him.

Wyatt leaves Arizona and never returns.

So, that was all about 137 years ago this month, plus some. Obviously the story begins on 26 October 1881 and goes forward from there. Despite the promise of the opening credits, little of the movie matches written records. In fact, few of the written records match anything. For example, I can find no record that Wyatt Earp killed Ike Clanton:

Clanton and his brother Phineas were charged with cattle-rustling and pursued by detective Jonas V. Brighton. On June 1, 1887, at Jim Wilson’s Ranch on Eagle Creek, south of Springerville, Arizona, Phin Clanton surrendered, but Ike resisted and was shot dead.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the most notorious of the Old West shootouts, but it was hardly known until 1931, two years after Wyatt died. Wyatt Earp retired with his family to Los Angeles, where he cavorted with western movie actors.

This came out the year after Garner made a big splash as a race car driver in Grand Prix.

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 of the Week

Number 241 of a series

You knew eventually I would get around to this one. Here it is. Burt Reynolds died recently, and this was one of his more notorious movies. He met Sally Field here, and the two enjoyed one of those brief Hollywood marriages. That was 41 years ago. Now it’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The title is Smokey and the Bandit, and that’s about the most excitement you’re going to get out of it. This was back in the days when trucker lore was the big rage, and everybody had a CB radio and knew all the highway jargon. “Smokey,” of course is the police, particularly the highway police, because they might be seen wearing these hats likes forest rangers wear, like Smokey the Bear wears. Get it? There used to be a thing called the Gum Ball Rally, and it was an off the books cross-country race engaged by those rich enough to have the fast cars and bold enough to defy the law. The story went that in Ohio if you got on your CB and asked for a smokey alert some patrol officer would come back that there were no smokeys here. This was not to be believed, because the reality was that “Ohio is wall-to-wall Smokey Bears.” Those were the legends of the times. Wait. In case you need further explanation, it was called the Gum Ball Rally, because of the lights on the top of cop cars that looked like gum ball machines.

Reynolds is “Bandit.” That’s his handle. His birth name is Bo Darville, another reason to use “Bandit” for a handle. He is so famous, so popular, he is paid by truck rally promoters just to show up and be there. At this one he accepts the proposition, for much cash, to drive to Texarkana (from Atlanta) and bring back a load of Coors. Some history is involved here.

In those days Coors was strictly from Golden, Colorado, and they limited distribution of their product, because it was not pasteurized, and they did not want to suffer quality defects from long transport times. In the late ’60s I lived in Austin, and you couldn’t get Coors that far east, but you could get it in west Texas, where I sometimes worked at the McDonald Observatory. People would take the charter flight out to Alpine, and they would sometimes bring back a shipment of Coors. We called it something like the Coors Express.

Eventually politically conservative commentator Ronald Reagan weighed in on the matter, because the FTC sued Coors for restraint of trade, and Reagan considered that companies should be allowed to restrain trade to any extent they desired.

So the opening scene shows a trucker being busted for transporting contraband, a load of Coors, east of Texas. The basis of this movie is no Coors east of Texas.

Bandit elicits some up-front for the run, an item of which is the star of the show, this 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. Fact is, this plot is so thin, and the dialog so weak, this car is the move.

The scheme, which does not make any sense, is for Bandit to drive point in the Trans Am in order to smoke out all the mounties while his buddy Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed) keeps a low profile and mothers the cargo.

On the trip back from Texarkana Bandit picks up runaway bride Carrie (Field). That adds romance to the movie and also to Reynolds’ private life.

Interest in the plot is introduced by way of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), whose son is the stranded groom. Sheriff Justice is, of course, relentless in his pursuit of Bandit in the Trans Am, having no clue as to the existence of the contraband Coors.

Of course, Bandit meets multiple smokeys along the way, allowing stunt driver Hal Needham, also the film’s director, to show us what the car can do. Here’s the Trans Am displaying considerable over-steer in the dirt.

To be sure, the plot involves destruction of multiple police cars, as they variously roll over, t-bone, or go into the drink.

Needham made this jump with Lada St. Edmund in the car, standing in for Field. Truth be told, if I were director Needham I would have used a mannequin and saved a movie credit and also an insurance premium.

I won’t leave readers hanging. This cop car eventually does go into the water.

And Bandit makes it back with the load, with Sheriff Justice close behind, by now his sheriff’s car missing both doors and the roof, that courtesy of a steel cable stretched across his path. Bandit and Frog (Carrie) taunt him on the CB from a few feet away as they head off on another exciting run, this time to bring clam chowder back from Boston.

To add edge to the plot, Bandit is required to make the Atlanta-Texarkana and back run in 28 hours., which leaves me in mystery. I’ve made the Dallas-Tucson run, about the same distance, in 15 hours, and that’s while keeping within the posted speed. OK, 85 mph in West Texas. To be sure, this movie was in the days when double-nickels was imposed by federal mandate.

My inclination was to be sorely offended by the bland dialog in this production. Here are some quotes, courtesy of IMDB:

  • Sheriff Branford: The fact that you are a sheriff is not germane to the situation.
  • Buford T. Justice: The god damn Germans got nothin’ to do with it.
  • Junior: What did he say?
  • Buford T. Justice: SHUT UP! ONE SHIT AT A TIME!
  • Junior: All right.


  • Junior: My hat blew off, daddy.
  • Buford T. Justice: I hope your goddamn head was in it.


  • Carrie: You have a great profile.
  • Bandit: Yeah, I do, don’t I? Especially from the side.
  • Carrie: Well, at least we agree on something.
  • Bandit: Yeah. We both like half of my face.

Wikipedia reports that the dialog was scripted on the set.

This has to be the worst movie I have reviewed that contained this much star power. Field came to the production with a best actress Oscar from Norma Rae, and Gleason had been nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for The Hustler. This was the second highest grossing film for 1977, after the Star Wars debut.

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.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 240 of a series

Another selection from movies filmed in (near) Sedona, Arizona. I was out there last month and picked up on a list of films that used the location. This production made ample use of the famous Red Rock scenery and apparently Oak Creek, that runs through the canyon. Other than that, this is about somewhere out west where mining is a prime industry, and pioneering is a way of life. It’s Johnny Guitar from 1954 out of Republic Pictures. It stars Sterling Hayden as Johnny Guitar (Johnny Logan) and Joan Crawford as Vienna (no last name given). It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. We are also treated to Mercedes McCambridge as hard as nails Emma Small and Ernest Borgnine as badman Bart Lonergan. Ward Bond you will recognize as John McIvers. Details are from Wikipedia.

Speaking of the famous Red Rock country, the film opens with cowpoke Johnny Guitar riding through some of that. I use the term “cowpoke” loosely, because there is no evidence Johnny has ever poked, pushed, prodded, or even touched a cow. First he experiences some blasting, as miners scratch for gold and silver. Only the blasts appear to be somewhere besides Sedona, because the geology is totally unlike the region. Likely the locals and the Bureau of Land Management would not allow blasting away at some scenery that today rakes in millions of tourist dollars each year. Anyhow, Johnny also hears some gunshots, and he looks down.

He sees some men robbing a stage coach and killing somebody. He rides on.

He comes to Vienna’s place, definitely a cut above your typical frontier saloon. The place is up class, and Vienna is something to look at as well. She has hired Johnny to come out to the rough country to work in her establishment, ostensibly to play the guitar. We later learn there’s a flame going between the two, one that’s unquenched since they parted ways five years previous.

Only, Emma and her followers resent Vienna and her upstart ways, and Emma leads a brigade that charges into Vienna’s place to blame the holdup, and the killing of Emma’s brother, on Vienna and the four pieces of loose change that hang around her place. Emma demands the local authorities force Vienna to close her place by the next day. Things are going to get tense.

The four unsettled hombres decide they need to clear out of the territory. Accused of being robbers, they always assert they grub a living from a silver mine they have. Fact is, the mine has run dry, and they need to move on. To get traveling money they decide to pull a bank heist. They barge in and do the deed while Johnny and Vienna are there to close her account so she can pay off her staff and close her place.

Emma places the bank job on Vienna’s head, and she leads a posse to Vienna’s place to string everybody up. Meanwhile, one of the robbers has gotten separated from the others and has made his way to Vienna’s place, where she has hidden him beneath a table.

He is Turkey Ralston (Ben Cooper), and Emma threatens to hang him outright unless he implicates Vienna. He does, and they hang him forthwith. After dragging Vienna and Turkey out to be hanged, Emma takes down the chandelier with a shotgun blast, burning the place to the ground.

After Turkey has been well and properly hung from the local bridge, only Vienna is left. Nobody will whip the horse out from under her, so it’s left to Emma to do it. It’s something she relishes.

But Johnny has made his way in the dark onto the bridge, and he cuts the rope and rescues Vienna. They escape in the darkness, and they make their way to the robber’s secret hideout by way of a tunnel behind a waterfall.

But Turkey’s horse gets restless and heads for the hideout, leading the posse there. Emma meets secretly with Lonergan and arranges a double cross. When the scheme comes to light there is turmoil within the gang, and eventually the remaining three are killed. Emma faces Vienna for a fight to the death. Emma fires first, but a wounded Vienna blasts Emma onto the world beyond.

The posse has come to see this was a feud between Emma and Vienna, and they no longer want any part of it. They turn around and head back home.

Johnny and Vienna come down from the robbers roost to start a new life together.

Hold it right there. This has the basis of a good plot, but some (a lot) of the dialog is junior high. Here is an exchange between Johnny and The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady), a rival for Vienna’s affections:

Kid: All of a sudden I don’t like you, mister.

Johnny: Now that makes me real sad. I always hate to lose a friend.

Vienna: That’s the way it goes. Win some, lose some.

There’s a lot of that in this movie.

It’s possible some of the lame dialog can be laid to Roy Chanslor, who wrote the book and also The Ballad of Cat Ballou. Wikipedia claims that “Philip Yordan rewrote the script on location.”

There’s a lot in this movie that doesn’t fit. Who was responsible for continuity, anyhow. We see Emma gun down the chandelier and quickly the two-story edifice is totally engulfed. Later we see the posse ride past the conflagration. And later we see them riding past. And later we see them riding past. And later we see them riding past. Get the picture?

The posse figures to block the bandits’ escape by blasting away various parts of the mountain. We see explosion after explosion, apparently with nobody around setting off the charges. You have to ask, with the bandits heading hell bent for leather to escape, how did the posse get ahead of them to plant all those charges?

Look at the final scene. These four high plains drifters discovered a silver lode in the mountains, and they worked it by themselves to keep the location secret. In the meantime they built this place, apparently designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, all by themselves, as a temporary place to bunk while they worked the mine. And nobody noticed them trucking all this building material up the trail and through the waterfall. When did they have time to work the mine? Maybe I’m being too picky.

Joan Crawford subsequently became even more famous through the memoirs of her stepdaughter. Her nature was manifest during this production, as Hayden and McCambridge found her disagreeable to work with. Sterling Hayden was a real hero in World War II, earning a Silver Medal. He ot his big role as Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove.

I recall Mercedes McCambridge as Rock Hudson’s tough-hided sister in Giant. It seemed to me, watching her in my youth, that casting directors had her number on their speed dial, labeled “Masculine Woman.”

This was three years after the start of Ernest Borgnine’s career. I previously saw him in The Whistle at Eaton Falls, a film that is currently withheld from the public. His major break was as a shy butcher in Marty, where he played the title role and won an Oscar for best actor. The real money was McHale’s Navy, which ran on TV for four years. He was a real Navy vet, re-enlisting after the United Stated enter World War II and finishing as a Gunner’s Mate First Class. I previously reviewed Bad Day at Black Rock, RED, and Escape from New York.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book. Posts follow by 80 years the time line of events.

From August to October 1938 Hitler’s demands on Czechoslovakia became increasingly bellicose. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave the appearance of willing to commit to any of Hitler’s demands in order to stave off another European war. Hitler read the tea leaves correctly, and he played the Allied Powers as dupes to his designs. Excerpts from Shirer’s diary during this period give insight into the developing events.

PRAGUE, August 4

Lord Runciman arrived today to gum up the works and sell the Czechs short if he can. He and his Lady and staff, with piles of baggage, proceeded to the town’s swankiest hotel, the Alcron, where they have almost a whole floor. Later Runciman, a taciturn thin-lipped little man with a bald head so round it looks like a mis-shapen egg, received us— about three hundred Czech and foreign reporters— in the reception hall. I thought he went out of his way to thank the Sudeten leaders, who, along with Czech Cabinet members, turned out to meet him at the station, for their presence.

Runciman’s whole mission smells. He says he has come here to mediate between the Czech government and the Sudeten party of Konrad Henlein. But Henlein is not a free agent. He cannot negotiate. He is completely under the orders of Hitler. The dispute is between Prague and Berlin. The Czechs know that Chamberlain personally wants Czechoslovakia to give in to Hitler’s wishes. These wishes we know: incorporation of all Germans within the Greater Reich. Someone tonight— Walter Kerr, I think, of the Herald Tribune, produced a clipping from his paper of a dispatch written by its London correspondent, Joseph Driscoll, after he had participated in a luncheon with Chamberlain given by Lady Astor. It dates back to last May, but makes it clear that the Tory government goes so far as to favour Czecho ceding the Sudetenland outright to Germany. Before the Czechs do this,

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 120-121). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The involvement of Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford is recounted in an item posted to Wikipedia:

Runciman returned to public life when, at the beginning of August 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sent him on a mission to Czechoslovakia to mediate in a dispute between the Government of Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten German Party (SdP), the latter representing the ethnic German population of the border regions, known as the Sudetenland. Unknown to Runciman, the SdP, although it was ostensibly calling for autonomy for the Sudetenland, had instructions from Nazi Germany not to reach any agreement on the matter and so attempts at mediation failed. With international tension rising in Central Europe, Runciman was recalled to London on 16 September 1938.

His controversial report provided support for British policy towards Czechoslovakia, which culminated in the dismembering of the country under the terms of the Munich Agreement.

Further controversy arose from Runciman’s use of his leisure time in Czechoslovakia spent mostly in the company of Hitler’s Jewish spy and erstwhile lover of Lord Rothermere, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, and the pro-SdP aristocracy. Maria Dowling claims that Runciman spent most of his time in Czechoslovakia being entertained by German aristocrats and listening to complaints from Germans that had suffered from the 1920s land reform.

It is clear that Shirer’s assessment of Runciman’s mission is spot-on. With people such as Runciman dealing for Britain, there would be scant chance that Czechoslovakia’s interests would be protected. As close to the events as he was, Shirer often misread the action.

BERLIN, August 25

Some of the American correspondents, more friendly than others to the Nazis, laughed at me at the Taverne tonight when I maintained the Czechs would fight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 123). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In the end, the Czechs did not fight. Shirer saw, as did most others, the threat of war was real.

GENEVA, September 9

One last fleeting visit with the family before the war clouds break. In Berlin the best opinion is that Hitler has made up his mind for war if it is necessary to get back his Sudetens. I doubt it for two reasons: first, the German army is not ready; secondly, the people are dead against war. The radio has been saying all day that Great Britain has told Germany she will fight if Czecho is invaded. Perhaps so, but you cannot forget the Times leader of three days ago inviting the Czechs to become a more “homogeneous state” by handing the Sudetens over to Hitler.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 124). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer put down his musings at the time.

PRAGUE, September 10

All Europe waiting for Hitler’s final word to be pronounced at the wind-up of the Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg day after tomorrow. In the meantime we had two speeches today, one by President Beneš here; the other by Göring at Nuremberg, where all week the Nazis have been thundering threats against Czechoslovakia. Beneš, who spoke from the studio of the Czech Broadcasting System, was calm and reasonable—reasonable— too much so, I thought, though he was obviously trying to please the British. He said: “I firmly believe that nothing other than moral force, goodwill, and mutual trust will be needed…. Should we, in peace, solve our nationality affairs… our country will be one of the most beautiful, best administered, worthiest, and most equitable countries in the world….

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 125). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

That same day the Nazis were playing their propaganda game to the hilt

The other speech, Göring’s, as given out by Reuter’s here: “A petty segment of Europe is harassing human beings…. This miserable pygmy race [the Czechs] without culture— no one knows where it came from— is oppressing a cultured people and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew devil….”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 126). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

This day shows Hitler at his most Hitler:

PRAGUE, September 12

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 126). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

I have never heard the Adolf quite so full of hate, his audience quite so on the borders of bedlam. What poison in his voice when at the beginning of his long recital of alleged wrongs to the Sudeteners he paused: “Ich spreche von der Czechoslovakei!” His words, his tone, dripping with venom.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 127). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer reports as events follow a pattern that was to become familiar.

PRAGUE, September 13– 14 (3 a.m.)

War very near, and since midnight we’ve been waiting for the German bombers, but so far no sign. Much shooting up in the Sudetenland, at Eger, Elbogen, Falkenau, Habersbirk. A few Sudeteners and Czechs killed and the Germans have been plundering Czech and Jewish shops.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 128). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Runciman’s swan song.

PRAGUE, September 16

LATER.— Hoorah! Heard New York perfectly on the feedback tonight and they heard me equally well. After four days of being blotted out, and these four days! Runciman has left for London, skipping out very quietly, unloved, unhonoured, unsung.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 133). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Here is what a government can do when it controls the press and suppresses opposing speech.

BERLIN, September 19

The Nazis, and quite rightly too, are jubilant over what they consider Hitler’s greatest triumph up to date. “And without bloodshed, like all the others,” they kept rubbing it in to me today. As for the good people in the street, they’re immensely relieved. They do not want war. The Nazi press full of hysterical headlines. All lies. Some examples: WOMEN AND CHILDREN MOWED DOWN BY CZECH ARMOURED CARS, or BLOODY REGIME— NEW CZECH MURDERS OF GERMANS. The Börsen Zeitung takes the prize: POISON-GAS ATTACK ON AUSSIG? The Hamburger Zeitung is pretty good: EXTORTION, PLUNDERING, SHOOTING— CZECH TERROR IN SUDETEN GERMAN LAND GROWS WORSE FROM DAY TO DAY!

[Emphasis in the original]

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 134-135). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Czechoslovakia’s neighbors were eager to join the feast, not realizing they were next on the menu.


But there were no American correspondents. The platform was empty. At ten I started to chat away ad lib. The only news I had was that the Hungarians and the Poles had been down to Berchtesgaden during the day to demand, like jackals, their share of the Czech spoils.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 136). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Nazi fervor reaches a crescendo.

BERLIN, September 26

Hitler has finally burned his last bridges. Shouting and shrieking in the worst state of excitement I’ve ever seen him in, he stated in the Sportpalast tonight that he would have his Sudetenland by October 1— next Saturday, today being Monday. If Beneš doesn’t hand it over to him he will go to war, this Saturday. Curious audience, the fifteen thousand party Bonzen packed into the hall. They applauded his words with the usual enthusiasm. Yet there was no war fever. The crowd was good-natured, as if it didn’t realize what his words meant. The old man full of more venom than even he has ever shown, hurling personal insults at Beneš. Twice Hitler screamed that this is absolutely his last territorial demand in Europe.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 141). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And more from the same day.

I broadcast the scene from a seat in the balcony just above Hitler. He’s still got that nervous tic. All during his speech he kept cocking his shoulder, and the opposite leg from the knee down would bounce up. Audience couldn’t see it, but I could. As a matter of fact, for the first time in all the years I’ve observed him he seemed tonight to have completely lost control of himself. When he sat down after his talk, Goebbels sprang up and shouted: “One thing is sure: 1918 will never be repeated!” Hitler looked up to him, a wild, eager expression in his eyes, as if those were the words which he had been searching for all evening and hadn’t quite found. He leaped to his feet and with a fanatical fire in his eyes that I shall never forget brought his right hand, after a grand sweep, pounding down on the table and yelled with all the power in his mighty lungs: “Ja!” Then he slumped into his chair exhausted.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 142). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There are rumblings of war, but there would be no war for another year.

BERLIN, September 27 A motorized division rolled through the city’s streets just at dusk this evening in the direction of the Czech frontier. I went out to the corner of the Linden where the column was turning down the Wilhelmstrasse, expecting to see a tremendous demonstration. I pictured the scenes I had read of in 1914 when the cheering throngs on this same street tossed flowers at the marching soldiers, and the girls ran up and kissed them. The hour was undoubtedly chosen today to catch the hundreds of thousands of Berliners pouring out of their offices at the end of the day’s work. But they ducked into the subways, refused to look on, and the handful that did stood at the curb in utter silence unable to find a word of cheer for the flower of their youth going away to the glorious war. It has been the most striking demonstration against war I’ve ever seen. Hitler himself reported furious. I had not been standing long at the corner when a policeman came up the Wilhelmstrasse from the direction of the Chancellery and shouted to the few of us standing at the curb that the Führer was on his balcony reviewing the troops. Few moved. I went down to have a look. Hitler stood there, and there weren’t two hundred people in the street or the great square of the Wilhelmsplatz. Hitler looked grim, then angry, and soon went inside, leaving his troops to parade by unreviewed. What I’ve seen tonight almost rekindles a little faith in the German people. They are dead set against war.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 142-143). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Allied Powers ended up selling out Czechoslovakia for false promises of peace. Notably, Winston Churchill stood alone against the tide.

MUNICH, September 30

Only Winston Churchill, a voice in the wilderness all these years, will say, addressing the Commons: “We have sustained a total, unmitigated defeat…. Do not let us blind ourselves. We must expect that all the countries of central and eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power…. The road down the Danube… the road to the Black Sea and Turkey, has been broken. It seems to me that all the countries of Mittel Europa and the Danube Valley, one after the other, will be drawn into the vast system of Nazi politics, not only power military politics, but power economic

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 147-148). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Czechoslovakia was sacrificed, ultimately for nothing. At Hitler’s direction, Europe slid relentlessly toward war during the following 11 months.

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 of the Week

Number 239 of a series

This title shot explains how I came to review this movie. The name of the movie is Albuquerque, which is the most prominent city in New Mexico. But the scenery is nowhere near Albuquerque; rather it’s in another state, Arizona. Specifically the scenery is from Sedona, where I was all of last week. In the town there is a series of plaques along a scenic walk, each one explaining something of the local culture. One plaque lists all the movies filmed in the region, and one of these is this, based on a book by Luke Short. The movie came out in 1948 and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The film stars Randolph Scott as Cole Armin, a former Texas Ranger, coming to Albuquerque to work for his uncle, John Armin (George Cleveland). That’s where the story gets interesting.

But first viewers are treated to more of that famous Red Rock scenery, for which Sedona is famous. This is Bell Rock, a sandstone formation, several hundred feet tall, which stands alongside Highway 179. A few years ago Jim Eng and I went about 200 feet up, where we obtained some fantastic photos.

More of the Red Rock scenery as we see a stage coach heading toward Sedona, rather, towards Albuquerque.

The opening scene introduces one of the most colorful characters to grace western movies during my childhood. Here is George “Gabby” Hayes as Juke, the driver and also a top notch mule skinner. For the uninformed, “mule skinner” means driver of mule teams.

Tragedy strikes quickly as three gunmen stage a holdup. Cole has been entertaining fellow passengers, including the striking Celia Wallace (Catherine Craig). But Cole is without his weapon, and he has to surrender meekly as the bandits take Celia’s money ($20,000) and shoot one of the passengers. There follows a dramatic scene where the flurry of gunfire spooks the horses, and the coach goes tearing off along the desert road with a young girl, Karolyn Grimes as Myrtle Walton, trapped inside. Cole borrows a loose horse and overtakes the coach, saving the day for all but the dead passenger.

Cole’s life as a hero is short. When the remains of the stage coach run arrives in Albuquerque, and Cole discloses his kinship with John Armin, a decided chill sets in. John Armin has a reputation as a ruthless, even criminal, businessman. When the local sheriff, Ed Linton (Bernard Nedell) shows a lack of interest in catching the culprits, Cole’s suspicion grows. It turns out the sheriff works for John Armin.

John Armin is an old man, confined to a wheel chair, and needing a younger man, such as his nephew, to take over and run his freight hauling business. Also working for Armin is the brutish gun slinger Steve Murkil (Lon Chaney, Jr.), billed as “Lon Chaney” in the titles.

Cole quickly figures out he does not want to work for his uncle, and he throws in his lot with sweet Celia’s brother, Ted Wallace (Russell Hayden), who runs a rival freight business. When the Wallace freight business begins to show some competition, John Armin brings in outside help in the form of the smashing Letty Tyler (Barbara Britton). Letty arrives on the coach and proceeds immediately to the offices of the Wallace freight company, where she comes upon Ted being robbed by a masked man with a gun. Letty immediately whips her own weapon from her handy purse, and gets off two shots, scaring the bandit away. She is awarded with a job at the Wallace company. Not known, but ultimately suspected by Cole, is that Letty’s pistol was loaded with blanks.

As a plant for Armin, Letty brings him inside information on his competition.

But one part of that information leads to an attempt to bushwhack Ted, who suffers a disabling wound to the leg. Letty has gone sweet on Ted, and she ultimately unloads the details to Cole. I’m cutting out a chunk of plot detail and getting to the crux.

The Wallace company bids on a contract to carry ore from an isolated mine in them there mountains, and Armin sends along one of his plants as one of the drivers. The shipment comprises ten loads and ten drivers, and when the Armin guy arrives at the mine he hightails it back to town on a horse, previously stashed for the purpose. Cole must take the place of the absent driver, and he is not actually a mule skinner.

The route down the mountain is treacherous, and Cole’s wagon has been sabotaged. On the steep road the brake must be applied constantly, and somebody has cut partly through the brake lever with a saw. When Cole pulls harder on the brake lanyard, the lever snaps, and there are tense moments before Cole hauls out his trusty bull whip to snag the remaining part of the lever and apply the brake.

Getting down from the mountain is only part of the hazard. Armin prepares his cadre of gunslingers to ambush and annihilate the Wallace company when the wagons arrive in town. Letty gets wise to the scheme, and she makes Armin a deal he cannot refuse. She comes behind him as he prepares to watch the shootout from his office window, and she places her pistol, now with live ammunition, at the back of his head. The moment the shooting starts she is going to pull the trigger.

But Letty has alerted Ted and Cole of the ambush, and the drivers arrive in town with their load and also with their own men hidden in one of the wagons. There is one massive shootout in the streets of Albuquerque, and the Armin gang is wiped out. After the smoke clears they find Armin slumped in his wheelchair with a hole in his head.

It’s wedding bells for two of the couples, and the movie ends happily, along with this improbable plot.

Big complaint: Amazon’s copy of this video does not play well. Inadequate rendering of the video stream results in low quality video. Most apparent is the smearing of images containing motion.

It’s interesting to compare a move with the book that was its basis. The book is Luke Short’s Dead Freight for Piute, and I obtained a copy for comparison. Nowhere in the book does the word “Albuquerque” appear. So much for realism. Of course, the book does not mention Sedona.

A practice I have observed previously involves a movie studio acquiring the rights to a book, throwing away the plot, and retaining the title. This may not be the case here. I have not read the book, but the opening pages are encouraging. The book starts with Cole and Celia on the coach to somewhere, and bandits rob Celia of her money. We can suspect there will be a close parallel between the book plot and the movie.

Most disturbing of all is the huge gunfight scene. A contingent of seasoned gunmen ambushs a wagon train as it pulls into town, and they are completely defeated by the freight men. The outcome of the battle is grotesquely lopsided. How much of that are we supposed to believe?

Lon Chaney, Jr. was the son of the more famous Lon Chaney, known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Four years after this release Lon Chaney, Jr. appeared as a washed up gunfighter in High Noon with Gary Cooper.

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 of the Week

Number 238 of a series

This came out in 1999, and somewhere I watched it through. Anyhow, it’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and I brought it up on my computer to capture some screen shots. It’s The Blair Witch Project. Details are from Wikipedia.
The big deal about the plot is the footage was supposedly found a year after the characters went missing in the Maryland outback. It’s a scary movie where everybody dies, so you know that catastrophe is always about to strike, and you sit on the edge of your chair waiting for doom. To keep up the appearance of authenticity, the producers have left in what are the supposedly unclipped ends of the video clips. Such as this:
The problem is, many sequences have the appearance of having been clipped, removing blurry and off-subject frames, which normally appear when you pick up the camera and hit the record button before you bring the view finder up to your eye, but when it suits the whim of the editor. Here are a few more frames to illustrate. We see the recording started when the subject is not ready, and the camera is not centered.
But this sequence, showing the guy saying goodbye to his mom, seems orchestrated. We do not see the mom, nor do we hear her. No need for another actor on the payroll.
And they are on their way to oblivion.
Camera starting up, they guy is not yet ready to speak his part.
There is a story. The guys have to admit to the girl they forgot to bring the map. It is the prelude to the tragedy that is beginning to unfold.
The final scenes show the three, individually, at odds with something unseen. We watch the rambling video as the three seek out their nemesis. We hear a noise and watch the scene blur as a camera falls.
Fade to black. Of course.

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 of the Week

Number 237 of a series

This one came out in 2001, and you don’t need to expect an in-depth review. It’s Evolution, and it’s currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s a science fiction film and also a comedy. Think of it as Ghost Busters done small. You’r going to see some parallels.

As with all good sci-fi flicks, this starts with an asteroid hurtling towards the earth. Here it comes.

Meanwhile, out in the Arizona desert, a nefarious character is unloading a body from the trunk of his car. He drags it to an abandoned shed, and pours gasoline around the outside. Then he sets it afire. By now you’ve figured out this is only a dummy, and we see this is wannabe fire fighter Wayne Grey (Seann William Scott), practicing the art of rescuing a buxom blond from a burning shed out in the desert.

Wayne rescues the victim, and begins to apply mouth-to-mouth. A miracle. She is recovering. He looks to the sky. He sees the asteroid coming straight at him. He runs. Just in time. The asteroid obliterates the burning shack and flips his car into the air.

Meanwhile, back at Glen Canyon Community College, geology Professor Harry Phineas Block (Orlando Jones) is discussing her academic future with a comely student. It’s hard to miss the parallel with Bill Murray. The phone rings. They want him to go check out the meteorite.

He and biology Professor Ira Kane (David Duchovny) head out. The space rock has penetrated the ground and lodged itself inside an cave beneath. They get  samples of the gooey stuff clinging to the meteorite and take them back to the college where they observe the stuff grows and evolves, hence the title.

Back at the site for more research the two are stymied by Kayne’s nemesis from his days as an Army colonel, Brigadier General Russell Goodman (Ted Levine). Kane also meets up with Dr. Allison Reed (Julianne Moore). There’s obviously going to be some sex in this movie.

Attraction grows.

Yes, you knew it was coming. The junior college scientists figure out the stuff on the meteorite is evolving at break-neck speed, especially when exposed to heat, such as flame. The Army is aiming to eradicate the menace with Napalm. We know where this is headed.

But the scientists have figured out the chemical basis for this new life form, and they determine that selenium is the antithesis to this kind of life. Where to get the selenium? They scoop up stocks of Head and Shoulders shampoo and load up a fire engine.

As the Army applies the Napalm, and as he critter grows out of control, the intrepid scientists, plus Wayne, charge in and hose down the critter’s innards with H&S, saving the world and all mankind. Then Kane and Reed rush off screen to make whoopee.

The closing credits kick off with a salute to H&S shampoo.

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 of the Week

Number 236 of a series

If you think this movie is going to be about Italy, then you’re going to need to wrap your head around a bit of culture shock. The title is Once Upon a Tim in Venice, and it’s Venice, California. Big difference. It came out last year, and you may ask yourself why it’s already streaming on Hulu (whence the screen shots), and then you’re going to say, “Oh, right. This film sucks.” Details are from Wikipedia.

Hey, the movie features Bruce Willis and John Goodman, so you may wonder where they went wrong on this. That’s going to become apparent. This is what you might get if Quentin Tarantino and the Cohen brothers took a lunch break, and the Cullen brothers happened by and found some of their loose stuff lying around, and they said to each other, “Why don’t we steal this stuff and make our own movie—something like Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski combined. With Willis and Goodman we’re halfway there.” And that’s my explanation of how this came about.

The story is told by John (Thomas Middleditch), an assistant to Steve Ford (Willis), a Venice, CA, private detective. In fact, Steve is the only P.I. in all of Venice. Anyhow, John has to track down the wayward sister, Nola (Jessica Gomes), of two really rough characters. As the movie opens, John has tracked Nola to where she is attending a group therapy session for sex addicts. He pretends to join the group, posing as a crazed sex fiend who is unable to pause his rambunctious (and phony) sexual encounters.

When Nola exits the session, John approaches and convinces her to come with him. He takes her to Steve’s place and leaves her there. We next see Steve working madly to extinguish Nola’s sexual fire.

Then Nola’s brutish brothers show up, and we shortly see Steve skateboarding naked along Venice streets at night. He has his pistol, and when a cop stops him for skating while nude, Steve hides the gun in the crack of his ass while he identifies himself to the friendly cop, who knows him. Maybe the funniest line in the film is when Steve retrieves his gun and remarks, “Now I know what that feels like.”

The brothers of Nola.

Channeling The Big Lebowski, Steve gets crossways with a gang lord, who steals Steve’s stuff, including his dog. That’s the dog. You need to get a good look, because the rest of the movie is going to be about getting the dog back, again channeling The Big Lebowski.

Yeah, there’s gang lord, Spyder (Jason Momoa) with the elusive dog. We’re going to see Steve negotiate a convoluted maze of schemes to get the dog, and that’s the rest of the movie.

Yes, Venice Beach. Nothing much like it.

Of course, Steve and his friend Dave (Goodman) arm up and go after the gang. Makes for lots of spray and pray.

And it all ends well.

Check out Venice Beach if you have not. For those local (San Antonio and abouts), the way to get there is to get on Interstate 10 and head west. When the freeway runs dry, get off and find a place to park. You’re at Santa Monica Pier. Follow the beach in the direction of Mexico about 300 yards and be prepared for a new world of experience. Go on Saturday (maybe Sunday, too), when the vendors and the performers set up their stalls on the sidewalk.

Walking in a winter wonderland

What you see is what you get.

We’re getting used to seeing Bruce Willis’s ass, first noticed in 12 Monkeys. I have reviewed  Acts of Violence, RED, and Fire with Fire.