So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star: The Idolmaker, Breaking Glass, That’ll Be The Day, Stardust


So, you want to be a rock and roll star?  Then listen now to what I say: just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play.  And when your hair’s combed right and your pants fit tight, it’s gonna be all right.

If you need any more help, try watching these four films:

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The Idolmaker (1980, directed by Taylor Hackford)

The Idolmaker is a movie that asks the question, “What does it take to be a star?  Who is more interesting, the Svengalis or the Trilbys?”  The year is 1959 and Vinny Vacari (Ray Sharkey, who won a Golden Globe for his performance but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing the movie) is a local kid from New Jersey who dreams of being a star.  He has got the talent.  He has got the ambition and he has got the media savvy.  He also has a receding hairline and a face like a porcupine.

Realizing that someone who looks like him is never going to make hundreds of teenage girls all scream at once, Vinny instead becomes a starmaker.  With the help of his girlfriend, teen mag editor Brenda (Tovah Feldshuh) and a little payola, he turns saxophone player Tomaso DeLorussa into teen idol Tommy Dee.  When Tommy Dee becomes a star and leaves his mentor, Vinny takes a shy waiter named Guido (Peter Gallagher) and turns him into a Neil Diamond-style crooner named Cesare.  Destined to always be  abandoned by the stars that he creates, Vinny continually ends up back in the same Jersey dive, performing his own songs with piano accompaniment.

The Idolmaker is a nostalgic look at rock and roll in the years between Elvis’s induction into the Army and the British invasion.  The Idolmaker has some slow spots but Ray Sharkey is great in the role of Vinny and the film’s look at what goes on behind the scenes of stardom is always interesting.  In the movie’s best scene, Tommy performs in front of an audience of screaming teenagers while Vinny mimics his exact moments backstage.

Vinny was based on real-life rock promoter and manager, Bob Marcucci.  Marcucci was responsible for launching the careers of both Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte.  Marcucci served as an executive producer on The Idolmaker, which probably explains why this is the rare rock film in which the manager is more sympathetic than the musicians.

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Breaking Glass (1980, directed by Brian Gibson)

At the same time that The Idolmaker was providing American audiences with a look at life behind-the-scenes of music stardom, Breaking Glass was doing the same thing for British audiences.

In Breaking Glass, the idolmaker is Danny (Phil Daniels, who also starred in Quadrophenia) and his star is an angry New Wave singer named Kate (Hazel O’Connor).  Danny first spots Kate while she is putting up flyers promoting herself and her band and talks her into allowing him to mange her.  At first, Kate refuses to compromise either her beliefs or her lyrics but that is before she starts to get famous.  The bigger a star she becomes, the more distant she becomes from Danny and her old life and the less control she has over what her music says.  While her new fans scare her by all trying to dress and look like her, Kate’s old fans accuse her of selling out.

As a performer, Hazel O’Connor can be an acquired taste and how you feel about Breaking Glass will depend on how much tolerance you have for her and her music.  (She wrote and composed all of the songs here.)  Breaking Glass does provide an interesting look at post-punk London and Jonathan Pryce gives a good performance as a sax player with a heroin addiction.

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That’ll Be The Day (1973, directed by Claude Whatham)

Real-life teen idol David Essex plays Jim MacClaine, a teenager in 1958 who blows off his university exams and runs away to the Isle of Wright.  He goes from renting deckchairs at a resort to being a barman to working as a carny.  He lives in squalor, has lots of sex, and constantly listens to rock and roll.  Eventually, when he has no other choice, he does return home and works in his mother’s shop.  He gets married and has a son but still finds himself tempted to abandon his family (just as his father previously abandoned him) and pursue his dreams of stardom.

David Essex and Ringo Starr

Based loosely on the early life of John Lennon, the tough and gritty That’ll Be The Day is more of a British kitchen sink character study than a traditional rock and roll film but rock fans will still find the film interesting because of its great soundtrack of late 50s rock and roll and a cast that is full of musical luminaries who actually lived through and survived the era.  Billy Fury and the Who’s Keith Moon both appear in small roles.  Mike, Jim’s mentor and best friend, is played by Ringo Starr who, of all the Beatles, was always the best actor.

That’ll Be The Day ends on a downbeat note but it does leave the story open for a sequel.

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Stardust (1974, directed by Michael Apted)

Stardust continues the story of Jim MacClaine.  Jim hires his old friend Mike (Adam Faith, replacing Ringo Starr) to manage a band that he is in, The Straycats (which includes Keith Moon, playing a far more prominent role here than in That’ll Be the Day).  With the help of Mike’s business savvy, The Stray Cats find early success and are signed to a record deal by eccentric Texas millionaire, Porter Lee Austin (Larry Hagman, playing an early version of J.R. Ewing).

When he becomes the breakout star of the group, Jim starts to overindulge in drugs, groupies, and everything that goes with being a superstar.  Having alienated both Mike and the rest of the group, Jim ends up as a recluse living in a Spanish castle.  Even worse, he gives into his own ego and writes a rock opera, Dea Sancta, which is reminiscent of the absolute worst of progressive rock.  Watching Jim perform Dea Sancta, you understand why, just a few years later, Johnny Rotten would be wearing a homemade “Pink Floyd Sucks” t-shirt.

Stardust works best as a sad-eyed look back at the lost promise of the 1960s and its music.  Watch the movie and then ask yourself, “So, do you really want to be a rock and roll star?”

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Film Review: Supermen Against the Orient (1973, dir. Bitto Albertini)


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Forgive me, but I watched this last week. I may have some trouble remembering the complex storyline. Good thing I have the movie right here. Let me just turn it on.

“I smack ’em! I whack ’em! I scratch ’em! I bash ’em! I cream ’em! I ream ’em! And then I redeem them!”

Ah, it’s all coming back to me now!

First off, me being half Italian, I can assure you that title translates to Knockoff Burt Lancaster, Harpo, and Rick Wright Rob a Safe in the Orient. The alternate tile being Supermen Against the Orient. By the way, the opening song is awesome!

The movie opens up on a deal gone wrong between criminals after two guys pop out of boxes with guns.

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There is more talent on display here in this opening scene than in all of Superdragon vs. Superman. Just the fact that they have two fights going on during this scene on two different boats in the same frame is incredible. They even have the courtesy to make sure the bad guys were in black and blue while the other guys were in white. It’s small, but it makes fights easier to follow. Being confused about who is who gets in the way of enjoying fight scenes.

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Oh, and it’s clearly done by people who are fans of 60’s crime and western films. A lot of style on display here.

After torturing the two guys who popped out of the boxes, the bad guys find out about something in Bangkok. Cut to a boardroom meeting and who cares. All you need to know is that they need Captain Wallace. They describe him like they are going to bring in Peter Sellers or something.

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Here is Captain Wallace played by Robert Malcolm. He’s pretty funny in this movie. He’s here to finally get married. It’s the third time he’s tried.

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Boy, the guy singing over the opening credits wasn’t kidding when he said he reams ’em.

Anyways, people show up to drag him away to serve his country of America. Yeah, he’s actually supposed to be from America in this Italian film. He goes to Bangkok.

After calling for a taxi, this guy pops out to look at our hero.

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Clearly, he wants to check out our hero’s awesome mustache!

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He also follows him in his car. Then a car chase ensues that lasts the enormous time of…

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a few seconds. After Superdragon vs. Superman I expected this to go on for 7 minutes at least.

He now checks in at the hotel where he bumps into this lady.

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She will be our Supergirl later on. Yes, I know she looks blind in that screenshot, but she isn’t.

Now the movie goes on Thailand vacation.

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It’s like these scenes are here not only to add some realism, but as if the filmmakers cut a deal with the tourism board. You can shoot here, but show off some of the sights please!

After going to the pool and a kickboxing match for reasons that don’t matter, the film has fulfilled it’s Thai quota for the movie so it’s off to Hong Kong. He needs to find the “kung fu expert”. Although Jackie Chan is supposed to be in this movie, he’s just an extra and not the man he is looking for.

Wallace goes to the American embassy, which is run by an Italian character actor sitting in front of a picture of Nixon.

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He’s a cryptic prick who says he has some sort of secret weapon that is so secret that he can’t tell Wallace about it even though he is supposed to use it to protect Wallace. No joke. He says all that crap along with a bunch more. He’s quite annoying in this movie. So is what should have been a subplot behind Wallace (the safe) under the painting that is next to the cover of Radiohead’s Kid A album. Wallace actually does guess at what this super secret thing could be. He says he thinks it may be a Buck Rogers Ray Gun. He’s in the wrong decade for that kind of a guess. That’s Reagan era stuff. It’s long johns. In other words, it’s a full body suit that makes you invulnerable to projectiles. Oh, and character actor farts before saying that kung fu is like a laxative because everything comes from inside. If he had only waited four more years, then a film a man like him would go see could have taught him how to solve his little problem.

Not going to say till I review it. If you know, then don't tell. It's a surprise!

Not going to say till I review it. If you know, then don’t tell. It’s a surprise!

Now we are off to continue the search for Jackie Chan in this movie at a kung fu competition.

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He’s probably in this crowd somewhere just like Phil Collins in A Hard Day’s Night (1964).

We also meet Harpo (Salvatore Borghese), and who I like to call Rick Wright (Antonio Cantafora) even if he isn’t nearly as short as Larry Manetti.

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Super Stache is called out to fight the kung fu champion. After a good old ass kickery. This happens.

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Then we are in the hospital.

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There had to be an easier way to meet the champ. Don’t worry about him. A good acupuncture treatment and he’s back in business. By that I mean it’s time for training. Such as punching hot coals.

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I’m sorry, but Cüneyt Arkin punches rocks to train.

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Now their palms are as strong as steel! They can kill a horse with one hand.

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That’s all well and good, but Chuin can finger punch a nail.

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Next we get a scene to remind me how much I like traditional Asian dresses/tops, that same guy from earlier is still watching Super Stache, and…

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Supergirl, whose pink top I would take off of her cold dead body, tells him to watch out for people who are keeping their eyes on him. Particularly the guy under his table. Then we go back to stick feet into fire followed by a joke about donkeys and ointment for the ass. Moving on.

After ridiculously going around pretending he is Chinese, which no one believes, Wallace runs into Supergirl.

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Blah, blah, blah, their kung fu means that bullets don’t work, blah, blah, blah, watch out, blah, blah, blah.

Now Super Stache goes out on the street to get his ass kicked again.

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Luckily, Supergirl comes to his rescue and deals with them.

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Now Super Stache meets with his friends to ask for their help.

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They say they’ll help, but only if he helps them rob the safe at the embassy. After he is initially offended at the prospect, he agrees. The movie is at the halfway point. It’s a heist movie now. Seriously! It now carries on primarily with robbing the safe for about 30 minutes. No joke. 30 minutes! We get a few things in here like this.

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This too.

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It goes so off track that there is a scene where Super Stache runs to a library to find out when Abraham Lincoln was born and died in order to figure out the safe combination. The movie eventually gets back on track for the last 15 minutes or so of the film.

Finally, here are the Supermen and Supergirl vs. the dudes in black. I really don’t know what the deal with with these guys is, but after they attacked random business owners in the street I knew they had to be stopped.

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With masks they can completely withstand bullets.

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Except that guy in the front. He has to use his arms. Oh, and this guy jumps in the air.

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Somedays you just gotta do midair splits.

There are a few goodbyes and the embassy guy does more of his comedy shtick, but that’s it! It was way better than Superdragon vs. Superman, but why did it have to go into that whole rob the safe thing? It had a good setup. I liked the actors. Them being Supermen and having a Supergirl too is fun. It could have worked better if they had stuck with it, but the safe thing is really boring and takes over the movie.

I’d still recommend this if only for Super Stache. He really is funny. It’s a shame that according to IMDb he only made two other films the same year as this one called Sinbad and the Caliph of Baghdad as well as And They Smelled the Strange, Exciting, Dangerous Scent of Dollars. In the first, he played Simbad. In the second, he played Butch ‘Charity’ Jenkins. Maybe someday I’ll see them.

In the meantime, I’ll pull out my complete series box set of The Greatest American Hero when I need my fix of comedians in red suits.

Pounded to Death by Gorillas: HIS KIND OF WOMAN (RKO 1951)


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People don’t go to the movies to see how miserable the world is; they go there to eat popcorn, be happy“- Wynton (Jim Backus) in HIS KIND OF WOMAN

Right you are, Mr. Howell, err Backus. There’s an abundance of fun to be had in HIS KIND OF WOMAN, the quintessential RKO/Robert Mitchum movie. Big Bob costars with sexy Jane Russell in a convoluted tale that’s part film noir, part Monty Python, with an outstanding all-star cast led by Vincent Price serving up big slices of ham as a self-obsessed movie star. And the backstory behind HIS KIND OF WOMAN is as entertaining as the picture itself!

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But we’ll go behind the scenes later. First, let’s look at the movie’s plot. We meet down on his luck gambler Dan Milner (Mitchum) in a bar…. drinking milk! Dan just got done doing a 30 day stretch in a Palm Springs jail…

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