A Movie A Day #143: The Bull of the West (1972, directed by Jerry Hopper and Paul Stanley)

Welcome to the American frontier.  The time is the 1880s and men and women everywhere are heading out west in search of their fortune.  While stowing away on a train, veteran cowboy Johnny Wade (Brian Keith) meets the naive Steve Hill (Gary Clarke) and becomes a mentor to the younger man.  Johnny teaches Steve how to shoot a gun and, when they get off the train at Medicine Bow, Wyoming, they get jobs working on the ranch of Georgia Price (Geraldine Brooks).  When Georgia and Johnny plot to overgraze the land, Steve must decide whether he’s with them or with a rival rancher, Judge Garth (Lee J. Cobb).

At the same time, Ben Justin (Charles Bronson) has arrived in town with his son, Will (Robert Random), and his new wife (Lois Nettleton).  Ben is determined to start his own ranch but, because of his taciturn and stubborn personality, he alienates the Cattleman’s Association, which led by Judge Garth and Bear Suchette (George Kennedy).  Will wants to help his father but Ben keeps pushing him away.  It’s up to Judge Garth’s foreman, the Virginian (James Drury), to bring the family together.

Just like The Meanest Men In The West, The Bull of the West was created by editing together footage from two unrelated episodes of The Virginian.  It works better for the Bull of the West because the two episodes had similar themes and the footage mixes together less awkwardly than it did in The Meanest Men In The West.  But Bull of the West is still just a TV show edited into a movie.  The main reason to see it is because of all the familiar western faces in the cast.  Along with Bronson, Keith, Cobb, and Kennedy, keep an eye out for Ben Johnson, DeForest Kelley, and Clu Gulager.

A Malignant Odor: SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (United Artists 1957)

cracked rear viewer

Watching SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is like taking a slog through a sludge-filled, rat infested sewer. It’s “a cookie full of arsenic”, with two of the most repellant characters to ever worm their way across the silver screen. It’s also a brilliant film, with superb performances from stars Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, wonderfully quotable dialog by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, tense direction by Alexander Mackendrick, and stunning black and white photography by James Wong Howe . It’s a movie that demands repeated viewings; just make sure to take a shower after each one!

Powerful Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker is dead set on destroying the relationship between his kid sister Susie and up-and-coming jazz guitarist Steve Dallas. To achieve this goal, he uses his toady, press agent Sidney Falco. Sidney, forever trying to curry favor with the great Hunsecker, pimps out cigarette girl Rita to rival columnist Otis Elwell, in exchange for…

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Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Fathom (dir by Leslie H. Martinson)

(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s going to take her forever but, with the help of Dexedrine and energy drinks, she is determined to get it done!  She recorded 1967’s Fathom off of FXM on April 3rd of this year!)

Fathom is a spy spoof, one that was made the height of the initial James Bond craze.  It’s very much a late 60s film, in everything from the way the film looks to the overly complicated storyline to the film’s cultural attitudes.  This is one of those films that you know was probably considered to be “naughty” when it was released but, seen today, it’s all rather quaint.  There’s no nudity, there’s no cursing, and there’s very little violence.  However, it does feature in Raquel Welch in a lime green bikini and you just know that, when this film came out, there were probably people bemoaning it as the end of civilization.  “What happened to the movies that you could take the entire family too!?” they probably wailed.  That’s the way history works.  What was once daring now seems remarkably innocent.

I watched the film last night but I’d be lying if I said I could follow the plot.  I think that was intentional on the part of the filmmakers.  Fathom satirizes the spy films of the late 60s by taking all of their familiar elements to their logical extreme.  Spy thrillers feature unexpected twists and turns.  Fathom has a new twist every 10 minutes or so.  Spy thrillers feature sudden betrayal and double agents.  With the exception of Raquel Welch, literally no one in Fathom is who they initially claim to be.  It becomes exhausting to try to keep up.  In many ways, Fathom plays out like an old serial.  Every few minutes or so, there’s another cliffhanger.  Oh no, Raquel Welch is on an out-of-control motorboat!  Oh no, the bad guys have got Raquel Welch on an airplane!  Oh no, Raquel Welch is being chased by a bull and she’s wearing a red dress!  ¡Olé!

Raquel plays Fathom Harvill, who works as a dental hygienist except for when she’s touring Europe as a member of the U.S. parachute team.  She’s recruited by some spies to help track down a nuclear triggering mechanism, one that is being hidden somewhere in Spain.  The Scottish secret service just wants her to parachute into a villa owned by a mysterious American named Peter Meriweather (Anthony Franciosa) and plant a recording device.  Things don’t go quite as smoothly as they should and soon, Fathom’s going from one extreme situation to another.

(Even though Peter is supposed to be a suave, James Bond-type, Franciosa gives such an oddly intense performance that it feels like a dry run for his later work in Dario Argento’s Tenebrae.  Interestingly enough, in Argento’s film, Franciosa’s character is named Peter Neal.  Is it possible that Peter Meriweather changed his last name?)

But really, the entire plot is just an excuse to get Raquel into that lime green bikini and she totally owns the moment.  Raquel Welch is one of my favorite of the old film stars because she never apologized for who she was.  She had the body, she was sexy, she knew it, and she used it to her advantage.  Of course, when seen today, it’s disappointing that Fathom spends the entire movie being rescued by men but then again, I imagine that just the idea of a woman being a secret agent was revolutionary in 1967.  Actually allowing her to get out of situations on her own might have made heads explode.  If Fathom were made today, Fathom would at least get one scene where she gets to kick some ass, Angelina Jolie-style.

Anyway, Fathom is an enjoyably silly spy film.  Don’t worry about trying to follow the plot and, instead, just enjoy it as an over-the-top time capsule.  It doesn’t get more 1967 than Fathom.

Music Video of the Day: Rock ‘n’ Roll Children by Dio (1985, dir. Daniel Kleinman)

Since I started with Rainbow, I might as well do a video by Dio next.

This video is bizarre. Not only because of Ronnie James Dio watching children through a crystal ball…

but because this music video seems to exist in a universe parallel to Young Turks by Rod Stewart where the kids happen to be metal-heads.

Unlike a lot of the videos I do on here, this one comes with info from the book I Want My MTV. The following is from the director Daniel Kleinman about Ronnie James Dio and this video:

Ronnie Dio was a funny little guy. I made a video called “Rock n’ Roll Children” for him. He had two huge minders with him. Because Ronnie was very short–about five-foot-four–they told us we weren’t allowed to allude to his height. But there’s a type of spotlight in America called a “midget.” It’s a very small spotlight, and it has a different name in England. We were getting ready to do a take and the gaffer shouted, “All right, bring on the midget!” The minders thought we were referring to Dio. They went out of their minds.

The video starts with a couple of young lovers who are on the outs that decide to take refuge from the rain in a shop. What they didn’t know is that the shop is Dio’s. I like to think that he waits in there in the dark for runaway metal-heads.

The kids spot someone with a cop looking for them so they go hide in Dio’s closet. This transports them inside Dio’s crystal ball. Dio flips his “Open” sign and pulls down the blinds. Two are his max for a trip through the maze of conformation confrontations.

Inside, we get a far-shot of the maze.

After getting separated, we get the first confrontation. It’s Christmas time, or the time when parents get you things they want you to wear instead of letting you be yourself.

Inside is a sweater that is a far cry from the kind of thing she wants to wear.

Then we get a nice little touch that Kleinman didn’t have to do, but I’m glad he did. The mirror not only has lets her see the sweater over her, but it changes her appearance in general to the established norm that these kids don’t fit into.

Next we cut back to the other kid who has to face the double whammy of a We’re Not Gonna Take It reference by Twisted Sister after he picks up his guitar on the bed and a Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper reference in the form of an abusive looking version of “Captain Lou” Albano.

Jeez! I’ve lost count of the number of 80’s music videos that seem to be inspired by German Expressionism.

You’re not welcome here.

Now she faces a teacher because if you’ve already referenced We’re Not Gonna Take It, then why not I Wanna Rock.

Sorry kid, you’re not the kind of help we want at our store.

Metal-heads don’t play basketball. Get out here!

Get out of here wannabe T-Bird.

I’ll kick you out of my home if you don’t cut that hair!

The kids are finally reunited and get ambushed by actors from the previous scenes, so Dio smashes his crystal ball to let them out.

They leave Dio’s shop and seem to be reunited to fight for their right to be themselves.

Then Dio flips the “Closed” sign back to “Open.”

I’m a little confused here. Does that mean Dio has a supply of crystal balls in there in case more kids wander in? Does he magically repair the ones he breaks? Did Dio cause the rain in the first place to rescue the kids? Was he invisible in there or was he really just cloaked in darkness? Also, again, why does this feel like the dark metal version of Young Turks? So many questions!

The video was produced by Simon Fields who there are some stories about in the book I Want My MTV. In particular, the ones that involve Madonna. I’ll just quote the one from director Daniel Kleinman about him in general.

Simon Fields and I used to share a house together. Simon has an edge of the wheeler-dealer about him, but he’s also the most charming man in the world, which is quite a quality for a producer. I had the looks and no charm, and he had the charm and no looks. I thought he had a face like the back of a bus. I mean, how he got Janice Dickinson into bed, I do not know.

I know these aren’t the best pictures, but here’s a comparison between Daniel Kleinman and Simon Fields as they appeared in Billboard magazine back then.

Daniel Kleinman

Simon Fields

Simon Fields

Simon may or may not have slept with Madonna as well. I’ll include those quotes when I do one of her videos where he was involved.

Crystal Lujan was the casting director for the video. She’s worked on at least 100 music videos. She’s also worked in casting in related fields like feature films and television.


30 Days Of Surrealism:

  1. Street Of Dreams by Rainbow (1983, dir. Storm Thorgerson)