Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This was Stephen King‘s big breakthrough. Before there was The Green Mile, before there was Pet Sematary, before there was The Shining, there was Carrie, a notable piece of horror. This came out in  1976, and I don’t remember where I saw it  the time before. I just now viewed it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is shy and unremarkable. She is maladroit and poor at sports. She fumbles a critical play, and her team loses a volleyball match. Back in the locker room the other girls taunt her or ignore her completely. Steve, here’s your chance to see naked teenage girls in the locker room.

Carrie is dangerously unworldly. Her mother is a religious psychopath and has not informed Carrie on basic feminine development. When Carrie’s first menstrual period is manifest in the shower, she panics and turns to the girls for help. Instead, they taunt her, chase her into the shower and throw towels at her.

Back home, Carries mother, Margaret White (Piper Laurie) is worse than the girls. She screams at Carrie that she is living in sin and must repeat that aloud.

In class, Carrie is the only one to respond after the teacher reads Tommy Ross’s (William Katt) poem. Tommy, with long, blond hair, is a certified hunk.

The girls who taunted Carrie are severely punished. Their gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) manages their detention, forcing them to do rigorous exercises.

The girls complain. One, Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), drops out, forfeiting her ticket to  the senior prom. Another, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) doesn’t drop out. She stays in. And plots revenge.

Meanwhile, Carrie has grown  angry, particularly when Principal Morton (Stefan Gierasch) persists in calling her “Cathy.” Objects move on his desk. Carrie investigates, pulling books from  the library. She comes across the concept of telekinesis. She can do it.

Sue works her revenge on Carrie. She connives to have her boyfriend Ross take Carry to the prom. She also connives to have the voting compromised so that Carrie and Ross are elected queen and king of the prom. She has set Carrie up, bringing her to the high point in her life.

Then Sue unleashes her plot. She has incorporated other students, including Billy Nolan (John Travolta) to slaughter some pigs and collect a bucket of blood. The bucket is rigged, and a pull at a rope dumps the blood on Carrie as she stands in her place of honor. Additionally, the bucket falls on Ross, knocking him out.

Carrie unleashes her fury on everybody. She leaves the auditorium engulfed in fire with everybody locked inside. Everybody, that is, except for the perpetrators. As Carrie walks home in her blood-drenched dress, she encounters Billy Nolan and Chris Hargensen, who attempt to run over her with the car. The car veers to one side and overturns. The two die in the burning car.

Carrie has defied her mother by going to the prom. Back home her mother embraces Carrie, then stabs her in the back with a kitchen knife. Carrie responds. Knives and other objects fly from the kitchen and pin her evil mother to a door frame.

Their house dissolves in flame.

Afterward, Sue is the sole survivor of prom night. She has a dream. She is placing flowers at the site of Carrie’s burned  house. There is a cross, really a for sale sign. On it are painted the words “Carrie White burns in Hell.” An arrow points down.

A bloody hand comes up from the ground to drag Sue down.

And that was our introduction  to the mind of Stephen King. He has taken our worst experiences of high school and amplified on them. You want to see how nasty high school girls can be? Come see this movie and be glad you have moved on.

Since this is a work of fantasy, there is not much that can be argued against the plot. If you want any of it to make sense, then you have to make sense of somebody setting an auditorium on fire and killing everybody through mind power alone. Beyond that there are some stretches of imagination.

Sue thinks she is going to pull of this business with the bucket of blood and then ever graduate from high school? Or live in this town?

Yeah, high school kids have done stupid things, thinking about five seconds into the future, but breaking into somebody’s pig business and killing some pigs is something that’s going to earn time in the clink, and screw all thought of going to college. Example: About the time I was starting at the University of Texas, some frat kids thought it would be cute to kidnap the Baylor bear mascot. They wound up killing  the bear (a cub). End of college for those guys.

Stephen King is an excellent writer, and his stories have enough reality to ground them while the remainder of his plots fly off into the stratosphere. If you can stretch your mind enough, you can appreciate a vicarious journey into the netherworld.

If I can obtain a copy, I hope to review Cujo.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I watched this back in January, courtesy of Amazon Prime Video. I should have saved it for Christmas. But, no. It’s Midnight Clear. If the title sounds familiar, recall this:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Yes, that’s what this is all about. There is no Wikipedia entry, so I’m getting details from IMDb. The production company is listed as Jenkins Entertainment. My early guess was the setting is Houston, but filming actually took place in Dallas. The scenery just looks Texas, not to mention car license plates. It’s Christmas eve. It’s grim.

This movie is drama as a morality play. We are going to get lessons in life before the 95 minutes run time is up.

The opening scene shows Lefty (Stephen Baldwinabout to lose his job. He’s a demonstrated loser. There must be a badge for demonstrated losers, but Lefty seems to have lost his. He’s sleeping in his car because he’s homeless. A co-worker is coming to wake him and tell him he’s late for work. It’s a good way to keep your demonstrated loser badge.

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Yes, Lefty does lose his job. Reporting for work he is told by his boss that his days with the company are over. Goodbye. On his way out Lefty steals some stuff from the company and takes it to sell.

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We meet a host of other characters facing life crises. Here is Kirk (Kirk B.R. Woller). He runs a convenience store/gas station. He has become embittered with life.

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Here is Eva. Elderly, living alone, planning to  end her life. Her plan to take all her medication at one time is thwarted by the arrival of a visitor.

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Things get worse for Lefty. His wife has divorced him, and he is unable to get visitation rights for his son. At a meeting with his ex-wife’s lawyer he explains why he is called Lefty. He is actually right-handed, but when he was growing  up his family didn’t have much money, so when  he played baseball he had to borrow his brother’s baseball glove. His brother was left handed and others called him Lefty, because he fielded left handed.

At the meeting he is asked if his current address is still as listed. He attempts to flummox the lawyers by claiming he has just received a promotion at work, but the extra money hasn’t come through yet, so he doesn’t actually have a place to live. That ends the meeting. No court is going to grant visitation if you don’t have a home.

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Lefty’s next move is typical of him. He goes to a shop across the street from his ex-wife’s house and bums a cell phone from a customer, telling him he has to make an important business call. Then he phones his ex-wife Heather (Faline England) and cusses her out, falsely telling  her that her freaking lawyers screwed him over because she and her dorky boyfriend don’t want him to visit his kid. The shop owner comes out with a baseball bat and forces Lefty to return the phone to its owner.

Mary (Mary Thornton) takes her son Jacob (Dominic Scott Kay) to visit her husband Rick (Kevin Downes). He is in a perpetual care facility, having received irreparable injuries in an automobile accident. He doesn’t speak. Things are grim for Mary.

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Lefty steals more stuff from his former employer. He trades it for a pistol and some ammunition. His plan to use the gun to rob Kirk is aborted, and he leaves. His plan to kill himself with the pistol is called off, as well.

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Mary is going to visit relatives for Christmas. Her car encounters trouble, and she pulls in at Kirk’s station. He fixes the car for her. Kirk and Mary get something going.

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Eva turns out to be Lefty’s mother. They share dinner, and things begin to come together for everybody. Lefty and his mother go to church together.

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This movie has no great plot. It’s a story of Christian redemption, loaded with syrup. Acting is par for a modern film. Contrast it with standard fare from 70 to 80 years ago. And nobody dies. Watch it when you are feeling down and need a lift.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I’m seeing this the first time, and it’s about time I did. It came out in  1974, and it’s been on the edge of my radar, but I always seemed to miss it. It’s Mr. Majestyk, starring Charles Bronson as Vincent “Vince” Majestyk. The production company (from Wikipedia) is The Mirisch Corporation,  which I never heard of, and it was distributed by United Artists. When it showed up on Amazon Prime Video the title screen showed the MGM logo.  This is obviously going to be  another tough guy movie.

Vince is ex-Special Services, ex-con, ex-family man. He now runs solo and has a melon farm in Colorado, where the filming took place. We see him trying to corral a team of workers to pick his crop of watermelons, about 160 acres. Little luck, and when he shows up at his field with a skeleton crew some interlopers try to buffalo him into using their crew, instead. He has an encounter with one of the wise guys named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo).

That little kerfuffle lands him an  arrest warrant sworn by Mr. Kopas, and soon we see him being transported by prison bus to the county law center. One of the prisoners is highly-touted mob hit man Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). Outside the courthouse the law caravan is bushwhacked by mobsters set on freeing Renda. There’s a firefight straight out of the Battle of the Bulge, with many casualties, and Vince makes a getaway in the bus, with Renda in tow, handcuffed.

Vince takes Renda to his hunting cabin in the boondocks, where he is offered $25,000 for Renda’s freedom.

Vince pretends to take the offer, but phones the police, instead. The police decline Vince’s offer of Renda in exchange for a clean slate, so Vince hands Renda over to his girlfriend Wiley (Lee Purcell). Vince still intends to take Renda to the cops, and this enrages Renda, who pulls a gun from Wiley’s purse. Vince escapes into the woods. Unfortunately, the only witness the state of Colorado had against Renda was a cop who got killed in the courthouse shootout, so the cops have to  drop the the murder charge against him. They release him on bail, and he immediately goes on a quest for vengeance against Vince. (???)

It’s complicated. Many bad things happen. Not finding Vince at his farm, Renda and his gang run off Vince’s skeleton  crew of pickers Then they machine gun the load of watermelons already picked. Some really bad asses.

Seeking retribution, Vince and his girlfriend Nancy Chavez (Linda Cristal) initiate a plan to turn the tables on the hoods. They decoy the convoy of crooks into a chase into the wilderness, Vince’s very capable F-150 Ford pickup truck showing its stuff.

Vince’s ploy is simple at the outset. He gets behind the crook’s convoy and forces two of the cars in turn off the road. Here the second one goes over the edge, with the predictable endo and the car dissolving into a ball of fire. Much poetic justice going on here.

You know what. I think I have driven through here. The wife and I took the Camry down a dirt road (showed the shortest route on the map) and through these tunnels. Creepy enough.

The surviving three crooks, including Renda and Copas, plus Wiley, retreat to their resort hideaway in the woods. Vince and Nancy stake the place out and Wiley is coaxed to desert the gang when she is sent out to negotiate.

Vince uses his Special Forces skills to take out Lundy (Taylor Lacher) and then Renda, shown here receiving a shotgun blast to the chest. Copas is spared, as he has volunteered as bait while Vince goes after Renda.

The police then arrive and politely request that Vince come down to the station and explain things. We assume Vince and Nancy are about to team up to grow melons, and more.

I have seen a collection of movies in  which nearly every frame can be pulled from the move, printed, and hung up on the wall in an art gallery. This is not one of them. The camera work is somewhat above point and shoot. Neither is the acting likely to attract the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. Nor the plot logic:

  • Frank Renda is a professional killer working for “the mob” with seven kills to his credit. And for that the mob is willing to take on the county police force in a blazing gun battle, incurring casualties on both sides. Really?
  • Renda’s murder charge is dropped after the only witness, a cop, is killed in the shootout. If the mob wanted to spring Renda, all they had to do was to ambush the cop some dark night, and much excitement could have been avoided.
  • The crooks surround Vince’s house and wait. Vince drives up and gets out of his truck. Then he vanishes from view. While the crooks watch Vince sneaks among them, lying low, checking out their number and location. Then he sneaks back into the house and finds Nancy has been there all the time. They hatch a plan to wait for Renda to arrive the following morning before they unroll their scheme to draw the crooks into a road battle. Yes, that makes a lot of sense.
  • The character of Wiley seems to have been miscast. Quiet of demeanor and lacking a great set of tits, we wonder what a scumbag like Renda sees in her.

Yes, you know where you’ve seen Al Lettieri before. He was the murderous, double-crossing Rudy Butler in The Getaway, previously reviewed. He was drug kingpin Manny Santiago in McQ, also previously reviewed. He died the year after this movie came out.

As mentioned, the truck chase gets our attention. From Wikipedia:

The Ford Motor Company used scenes licensed from the movie showing extreme driving of Majestyk’s Ford Pickup truck during commercials for its 1974 F-150 model.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dialog is uninspiring:

Breen: What’s up?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

About the time this came out in  1974 I worked for a company that had some installations in New York City, so I was spending some time there. There were movie posters featuring the movie, and it  may have been up on one of the theaters in Times Square. I am sure I never saw all of it until this March, when it came available on Amazon Prime Video. It’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, also known as The Taking of Pelham 123. There’s also a book, available in Kindle, but I don’t promise to do a review.

It’s a crime thriller, set in Manhattan, and Pelham 123 is a subway train on the IRT (Interurban Rapid Transit) line. Pelham 123 is the  name of the train—final stop Pelham, starting out at 1:23 p.m., hence the title. The movie involves four criminals who hijack the train to extract $1 million dollars  ransom from the city. The production company is Palomar Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening scene shows Harold Longman a.k.a. Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) getting out of a taxi in mid-town Manhattan and getting on the train. He carries a package. We can guess what’s in the package. Get set for some action.

Others get on the train at different stations, each carrying a package. All are obviously wearing fake mustaches. All are wearing trench coats and hats. The last aboard is Bernard Ryder a.k.a. Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw). He kicks things off by thrusting a gun in the conductor’s face and taking over the train.

An interesting note is that Mr. Green has a bad cold and is always sniffling and sneezing. This is going to prove pivotal.

Walter Matthau is Lt. Zachary Garber of the transit police, who is in the process of escorting some gentlemen from the Tokyo subway system, here to see how the Americans do it. The New York City system is the largest in the world. The meeting with the Japanese executives ends abruptly when it becomes apparent a train has been hijacked.

These are four very desperate men. They want a million dollars within one hour, or they will start killing hostages. The mayor (Lee Wallace) must be brought into the picture, because he has to authorize payment of the money. Although Ed Koch did not become mayor of New York City until four years later, the mayor immediately reminds viewers of Mr. Koch.

There is gripping drama, as the crooks hurl threats and emphasize their demands.

The fire power is impressive. The four carry automatic weapons, and they fire them off when they feel it’s necessary. When negotiations falter, Mr. Blue puts the conductor off the train and shoots him.

Another criminal is Giuseppe Benvenuto a.k.a. Mr. Grey (Héctor Elizondo). He’s a loose cannon, eager to do damage, in need of anger management.

The police figure their only recourse is to pay the million dollars, and scenes show the frantic effort to get the bills counted and packaged as demanded.

Then the bills have to be brought to the 23rd Street station, and wouldn’t you know it, the cop car bringing the loot crashes. Motorcycle cops complete the delivery, and the crooks begin to put into motion their escape plane, which involves setting the train, by now down to a single car, loose heading south while they attempt to sneak topside through an emergency exit to a sidewalk grate.

That’s the point at which everything falls apart for the crooks. Mr. Grey refuses to ditch his weapon as part of the plan for the crooks to blend in with street traffic. Mr. Blue shoots him down on the steps leading to the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, all this time there has been a cop aboard the car in plain clothes, and he has been waiting for a chance to make his move. He guns down George Steever a.k.a. Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), leaving only two of the original four alive.

Finally the cops have figured out what’s going on, and Garber confronts Mr. Blue in the tunnel. With no escape and no plan B, Mr. Blue takes the easy way out and steps on the line’s third rail. Mr. Green makes his escape, and a subsequent scene shows him rolling in cash on his bed.

To bad for Mr. Green. The cops have figured that one of the crooks must be a cashiered subway employee, because somebody was needed who knew how to operate the train. Garber and another cop go from door to door with a list of ex train drivers and end up knocking on Mr. Green’s door. He hides the cash, and brushes off the cops. As they are about to leave, Mr. Green sneezes. The jig is up.

It’s a tense but uneven plot. Four heavily-armed thugs take of a train and start killing people, demanding a million dollars. And bits of humor are sprinkled here and there.

Viewers’ credulity is stretched in places. The line apparently runs north and south approximately under Park Avenue, terminating at the south end of Manhattan Island. The cops concentrate their efforts on where the train car is and where they suspect the cooks must be. I’ve seen more police presence involved in a police car chase on Los Angeles streets than in this movie. It is never made clear why the cops don’t blanket all exits up and down the line. As it is, they get decoyed away from the 23rd street exit, giving the crooks a way out, although only Mr. Green takes advantage of the opportunity.

The final hunt for the escaped train man is unrealistic and lackadaisical. The most wanted man in the country is loose, and only two cops go door to door looking for him. The Constitution be damned, but any police force in the country would have hauled all suspects down to the station for questioning. Garber and the other cop ask Green a few questions and are satisfied with his answer, “I was here all day,” and they start to leave. Nah!

The cops believe the crooks must still be on the train car, because a dead man switch in the cab would prevent the train from moving without the operator present. And they don’t figure out what every train driver in the country has already figured out, that there is always a way to defeat these safeguards.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The boys want to fly when they grow up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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