A Movie A Day #144: The Incredible Hulk (1977, directed by Kenneth Johnson)

It may seem hard to believe now but there was a time when comic book adaptations were considered to be a risky bet at best.  In 1977, Marvel Comics sold the television rights for four of their characters to Universal Productions. This led to three unsuccessful pilots (one for Dr. Strange and two for Captain America), a Spider-Man series that lasted for two seasons, and The Incredible Hulk.  As opposed to the other Marvel adaptations, The Incredible Hulk series was popular with fans and (some) critics and ultimately lasted for four seasons.

It all started with a 90 minute pilot that aired in 1977.  Haunted by the car accident that caused the death of his wife and his inability to rescue her, Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) is researching why, in times of extreme stress, ordinary people can suddenly experience moments of super human strength.  What he theorizes is that it is a combination of body chemistry and gamma radiation caused by sun spots.  Eager to test his theory, David straps himself into a chair and zaps himself with gamma radiation.  At first, it seems as if nothing has changed.  But when David’s driving home, he gets a flat tire.  When he struggles to change the tire, in the middle of a hurricane nonetheless, David gets mad.  Suddenly, his eyes turn green and soon so does the rest of him as David Banner is transformed into the Incredible Hulk (Lou Ferrigno, except for one shot where the Hulk is played by Richard Kiel).  The Hulk runs through the woods, accidentally scaring a girl and getting shot by a hunter.  When the Hulk falls asleep, he transforms back into David, who has no memories of what he did while he was the Hulk.  While David and his colleague, Elaina Marks (Susan Sullivan), investigate what happened to him, tabloid reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) tries to uncover the results of David and Elaina’s research.

Other than introducing the Hulk and giving Banner a backstory, the pilot didn’t have much in common with the series that followed.  Along with being a comic book adaptation, the series was also a remake of The Fugitive.  With everyone convinced that the Hulk had murdered both him and Elaina, David was always on the run and trying to find a way to cure his condition.  Every episode would begin with David working a new odd job and getting involved in a new situation and almost every episode ended with David hitchhiking while the show’s famous piano theme played over the final credits.  Because David was always either getting beaten up or tangled in barbed wire, the Hulk would show up twice an episode.  David Banner just couldn’t catch a break.

The pilot seems to take forever to get going, devoting a lot of time to David and Elaina doing research.  In those days before the success of The Dark Knight and the MCU legitimized comic books as a cultural force, The Incredible Hulk was determined to show that it was not just a show for kids.  Today, the pilot is too slow-paced and self-consciously serious but still contains the elements that made the show itself became a success.  Bill Bixby takes his role seriously and Lou Ferrigno is the perfect choice for the Hulk.  Decades after they first aired, the Hulk-transformation scenes are still undeniably cool.  It was also during the pilot that Dr. Banner uttered those famous and oft-parodied words: “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

As of this week, reruns of The Incredible Hulk are now being shown, daily, on both H&I and the El Rey network.  I will be watching.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: Separate Tables (dir by Delbert Mann)

As some of you may know, I have been on a mission for a while now.  My goal is to see and review every single film that has been nominated for best picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  (Of course, with the 1928 nominee, The Patriot, being a lost film, that may seem like an impossible mission.  No matter!  For me, nothing is impossible.  What Lisa wants, Lisa gets.)  For that reason, I spent part of last night watching the 1958 best picture nominee, Separate Tables, on TCM.

Separate Tables is one of the more forgotten of the best picture nominees but then again, the 50s were not the greatest decade as far as the Academy was concerned.  Consider some of the other films released in 1958: Big Deal on Madonna Street, High School Confidential, Indiscreet, The Last Hurrah, Machine-Gun Kelly, The Fly, The Blob, The Horror of Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein, Some Came Running, Thunder Road, A Touch Of Evil, and Vertigo!  The thing they all have in common is that none of them were nominated for best picture but Separate Tables was.

That’s not to say that Separate Tables was, in any way, a bad film.  Actually, it’s a pretty good film and I’m glad that I watched it.  It’s not bad at all.  However, it is … what’s the right term to use here?  Stately perhaps?  Maybe stagey.  Separate Tables is based on two one-act plays and, though it’s obvious that some effort was made to open up the material, it still feels undeniably stage-bound.  Separate Tables was directed by Delbert Mann, who had previously won an Oscar for his lively direction of Marty.  With Separate Tables, his direction is far less lively.  Watching it, you get the feeling that he was not only straight-jacketed by the theatrical origins of the material but also by the fact that the film was clearly made to win Academy Awards.

So, ignore the direction and pay attention to the performances.  Separate Tables works best as a tribute to good acting.  The film follows the lives of several guests at an English seaside hotel.  Some people are just staying for a few days.  Some people live at the hotel.  John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster) is a moody writer, a recovering alcoholic who is planning on asking the hotel’s manager, the level-headed Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller), to marry him.  Of course, then his ex-wife, Anne (Rita Hayworth), shows up.  As quickly becomes obvious, John and Anne may hate each other but they also love each other.  Neither one is particularly sympathetic but, in their scenes together, Lancaster and Hayworth do create a fascinating portrait of mutual self-destruction.  Ultimately, you’re left with the impression that both of them are so self-destructive that they belong together, if just to keep from drawing anyone else into their messed up orbit.

And then there’s Major Pollock (David Niven).  David Niven won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Major Pollock and he does give an excellent performance.  Major Pollock is one of those roles that often seems to attract comedic actors looking for a chance to prove their dramatic abilities.  When he first appears, he seems to be a bit of a joke but then, as the film progresses, we learn that he’s actually struggling with his own demons.  In the case of Major Pollock, those demons are more hinted at than defined.  As we learn at the start of the film, Pollock was convicted of “harassing” several “young women” at a movie theater.  Separate Tables does not make clear how young or, for that matter, the exact details of the harassment.  Some residents of the hotel want Major Pollock to be kicked out of the hotel.  Some residents say that it is none of their business and that everyone deserves a second chance.  John Malcolm is in the latter group, though he’s more concerned with his ex-wife than with the scandalous Major (who, to no one’s great surprise, isn’t actually a major and whose war stories have all largely been lies).  Also seeking to defend Major Pollock is the shy Sibyl (Deborah Kerr, playing against type).  Sibyl’s mother (Gladys Cooper) is among those most determined to exile Pollock.

And really, the only reason this plotline works is because of the performances of Niven and Kerr.  As written, it’s way too vague about the exact details of what it was that Pollock did.  We’re just told that he was caught “behaving immorally.”  (According to Wikipedia, Pollock was originally written as being gay but, apparently, that was considered to be too controversial for 1958, hence the mention that Pollock’s crime involved “young women.”)  But Niven gives such a soulful and wounded performance that, much like Sibyl, you want to believe the best about him.  You want to give him a second chance, even though you know he’s going to let you down.  As Major Pollock, David Niven uses his trademark charm to paint a portrait of a man who is painfully aware that he has little to offer beyond charm.

At the same time, I was surprised by how little screen time Niven actually had in Separate Tables.  The majority of the film is taken up with Lancaster and Hayworth.  Niven definitely deserved some consideration for best supporting actor but best actor?  Not in the year that saw Orson Welles in Touch of Evil and James Stewart in Vertigo.

Separate Tables is not a great film, at least not in the way that we might wish that a film nominated for best picture would be.  It’s way too stagey and vague.  But, with all that in mind, it’s still wonderfully acted and always watchable.  It may not be great but it is very, very good.

Separate Tables was nominated for best picture but lost to Gigi.

Music Video of the Day: The Thin Wall by Ultravox (1981, dir. Russell Mulcahy)

It was practically unavoidable to do at least one, if not more Russell Mulcahy videos on here during this run of surreal/weird music videos. I could probably fill all 30 days by just doing Russell Mulcahy, Anton Corbijn, Steve Barron, and Richard Casey videos.

I have no idea what to say about this one. I knew the name Ultravox, but this is probably my first song of there’s that I’ve listened to. This video seems to have just about everything Mulcahy could of thrown into it.

Hands reaching out to grab you through the walls.

A giant fan.

A disorienting floor.

Frightened bisected swimmers in sand.

Playing with gravity.

Seeing as it is Russell Mulcahy, there’s liquids.

Lots of liquid.

Just watch it. There’s other stuff in it as well.

Lexi Godfrey produced the video. Godfrey seems to have only produced about 15 videos. The ones we’ve done so far are pretty good. She also produced A View To A Kill by Duran Duran, Rockit by Herbie Hancock, this one, Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles, and one of the versions of Bohemian Rhapsody.


30 Days Of Surrealism:

  1. Street Of Dreams by Rainbow (1983, dir. Storm Thorgerson)
  2. Rock ‘n’ Roll Children by Dio (1985, dir. Daniel Kleinman)