Go Buy “Go-Bots”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Even by the low standards of licensed toy properties, the Go-Bots don’t get much respect. Yeah, sure, they’ve had some animation revivals (even, I think, a feature-length film or two of the straight-to-video variety) and some comic books here and there, but a lot of that — while no doubt making their diminished fan base happy —was probably more about keeping IP rights semi-active on the part of Hasbro. No billion-dollar live action blockbusters for these guys. What can you get from them that you can’t get from the Transformers, right?

Leave it to Tom Scioli, one of the most innovative and distinctive cartoonists working today, to give the best answer as to what makes the Go-Bots different from their more celebrated —- uhhmmm — peers : “The Go-Bots bleed,” Scioli tells us on this month’s IDW promotional blurb page. And if you need any more reason than that to…

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30 Days of Noir #21: For You I Die (dir by John Reinhardt)

The 1947 film, For You I Did, opens with what would be the finale of many other crime movies, a daring prison break.

The psychotic Matt Guber (Don C. Harvey) has managed to escape from prison, along with a younger prisoner named Johnny Coulter (Paul Langton).  From listening to their dialogue as they flee the cops, it quickly becomes obvious that the escape was Guber’s idea and that Johnny is something of an unwilling accomplice.  Johnny only had a year left in his sentence but now, thanks to Guber, he’s a wanted man.  Making matters even worse is the fact that Guber killed a guard during the escape.  Johnny knows that if he turns himself in or if he’s captured, he’ll be considered an accessory to murder.

Guber tells Johnny to go to a nearby roadside diner and deliver a message to his girlfriend, Hope (Cathy Downs).  Guber says that he’ll come to the diner in a week to get them.  Johnny follows Guber’s orders but, when he reaches the diner, he discovers that Hope has changed her ways and no longer wants anything to do with Guber.  Using an assumed name, Johnny gets a job at the diner and soon, he and Hope are falling love.

Johnny gets to know the other workers and customers at the diner.  They include Hope’s kind but no-nonsense aunt, Maggie (Marion Kerby), and Hope’s flirtatious cousin, Georgie (Jane Weeks).  Working in the kitchen is Smitty (Roman Bohnen), an alcoholic with a tragic backstory.  There’s also Alec Shaw (Mischa Auer), a flamboyant con man, and two slow-witted cops (Charles Waldron, Jr. and Rory Mallinson) who always mention that Johnny looks familiar but they just can’t figure out where they’ve seen him before.  Johnny gets to know all of them as, for the first time in his life, he finds himself accepted as a part of a community.  However, even as Johnny finds happiness, he knows that the clock is ticking.  There’s only so long that he can hide his identity and Guber is due to show up at any moment….

Poverty Row is a term that was often used to describe the low-budget B-movies of the 40s and 50s and it’s certainly an apt description of For You I Die.  It’s not just the fact that the film is about poor and often desperate characters.  It’s also that the film itself looks like it was made for next to nothing.  However, the film’s cheap look is actually one of its greatest strengths.  Visually, the grainy black-and-white lends the film a gritty atmosphere and the limited and sparsely decorated sets serve to play up not only Johnny’s claustrophobia but to also remind us that, even if Johnny does find some temporary happiness, he still has nowhere to go.  That diner is both the beginning and the end of Johnny’s freedom.

Character actor Mischa Auer was probably the biggest name in the cast.  He was a well-known screen comedian, one who specialized in playing over-the-top eccentrics.  His comedic presence in this relatively somber film feels rather odd.  As well, Paul Langton is convincingly sullen in the role of Johnny but he’s not particularly compelling.  Far more impressive are Marian Kerby, Cathy Downs, and especially Jane Weeks.  As the gleefully amoral Georgie, Weeks steals almost every scene in which she appears while Marion Kerby is everyone’s ideal aunt.  Finally, Cathy Downs plays Hope and brings a poignant sense of regret to a role that, as written, could have just been a stereotypical “good girl.”  Hope is someone who has made her mistakes but who refuses to be defined for them.  In the end, Hope epitomizes …. well, hope.

For You I Die is a taunt and effective film noir and a reminder not to dismiss a film just because it came from Poverty Row.

Music Video of the Day: Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads (1981, directed by David Byrne and Toni Basil)

Once In A Lifetime has since become one of the signature tunes of the ’80s but, when the song was first released in 1981, it didn’t even manage to break the top 100 on the US charts, peaking at 103.  (The song did find more success in the UK, where it reached #13.)  At the time, the song was not considered to be “radio friendly.”  Not even the fact that the video was put into heavy rotation during the early days of MTV could change the minds of stubborn programmers who were convinced that the sound of David Byrne considering his life would lead to listeners switching the channel.

The video, which features multiple David Byrnes performing against a white backdrop, was directed by Byrne and the famous dancer/choreographer Toni Basil.  (Basil, of course, had her own hit around the same time with her video for Mickey.)  In the book, MTV Ruled the World – The Early Years of Music Video, Basil discussed making the video with Byrne:

“He wanted to research movement, but he wanted to research movement more as an actor, as does David Bowie, as does Mick Jagger. They come to movement in another way, not as a trained dancer. Or not really interested in dance steps. He wanted to research people in trances – different trances in church and different trances with snakes. So we went over to UCLA and USC, and we viewed a lot of footage of documentaries on that subject. And then he took the ideas, and he ‘physicalized’ the ideas from these documentary-style films … David kind of choreographed himself. I set up the camera, put him in front of it and asked him to absorb those ideas. Then I left the room so he could be alone with himself. I came back, looked at the videotape, and we chose physical moves that worked with the music. I just helped to stylize his moves a little.”

As for the song, Byrne has said that he came up with most of the lyrics while listening to radio evangelists and the song’s plaintive cry of “How did I get here?” should sound familiar to anyone who has ever heard any of the old style preachers going at it.  The song’s signature bassline was developed by Tina Weymouth, who has said that she based it on the sound of her husband (and Talking Heads drummer) Chris Frantz yelling.

As for the song, it may not have charted but it has gone on to become one of the defining songs of the 80s.  The song would also be one of the highlights of the greatest concert film ever made, Stop Making Sense.