Off-Brand Spaghetti: MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE (United Artists 1969)


cracked rear viewer

It’s hanging day at a remote Arizona prison outpost, and four men are scheduled to swing from the gallows. After they’re executed, the four pine boxes pop open, and outlaw Luke Santee and his gang commence firing, their six-guns blazing, as they try to free Luke’s baby brother. The escape attempt is an epic fail as ‘Killer’ Cain, a prisoner for 18 years now up for parole, stops the brother from leaving his cell and getting slaughtered, with Luke vowing revenge…

That opening scene, a violent, gory bloodbath, makes one think MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE is going to be a Sergio Leone-inspired American Spaghetti Western. It even stars a former TV Western hero named Clint – big Clint (CHEYENNE) Walker ! But the episodic nature of George Schenck’s script kills that idea, as the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Spaghetti or Traditional Western? Character study, comedy…

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Film Review: Cocaine and Blue Eyes (1983, directed by E.W. Swackhamer)


When San Francisco-based private investigator Michael Brennen (O.J. Simpson) gives a ride to Joey Crawford (John Spencer) on Christmas Eve, he doesn’t know that it’s going to lead to the biggest case of his career.  When Joey asks Michael to help him track down his ex-girlfriend, Michael assumes that Joey would never be able to pay for his investigative services.  But one week later, Michael gets something in the mail from Joey.  Inside the envelope, there’s a picture of both Joey’s ex and a thousand dollar bill.  Ever after he discovers that Joey was mysteriously killed the night before, Michael decides to take on the case.  His investigation will take him not only to Joey’s ex but it will also lead to him uncovering a drug ring that involves one of San Francisco’s most prominent families.

Simpson not only starred in this made-for-TV movie but he also served as executive producer.  Watching the movie, it’s obvious that it was meant to serve as a pilot for a Michael Brennen TV series and it’s also just as obvious why that series never happened.  O.J. Simpson was not a terrible actor but, ironically for someone who set records as an NFL player, there was nothing tough about him.  Simpson may be playing a two-fisted, cash-strapped P.I. but, in every scene, he comes across like he can’t wait to hit the golf course.  Simpson’s pleasant demeanor may have served him well in other areas of his life but it didn’t help him with this role.  Whenever Simpson has to share a scene with John Spencer, Candy Clark, Cliff Gorman, or any of the other members of this film’s surprisingly talented supporting cast, Simpson’s bland screen presence and lack of gravitas becomes all the more apparent.

Of course, when seen today, the main problem with Cocaine and Blue Eyes is that it’s impossible to watch without thinking, “Hey, didn’t the star of this movie get away with killing his wife and an innocent bystander?”  Even the most innocuous  of lines take on a double meaning when they’re uttered by O.J. Simpson.  It doesn’t help that the movie opens with Michael visiting his estranged wife and their children on Christmas Eve and getting chased around the neighborhood by a guard dog.  When the movie was made, this scene was probably included so that O.J. could show off some of the moves that made him a star at UCLA and with the Bills.  Seen today, the scene takes on a whole different meaning.

Without O.J. Simpson, Cocaine and Blue Eyes could easily pass for being an extended episode of Magnum P.I., Simon and Simon, or any other detective show from the 80s.  With Simpson, it becomes a pop cultural relic.  I don’t think it’s ever been released on DVD but it is available on YouTube, where it can be viewed by O.J. Simpson completists everywhere.

Music Video of the Day: Vallotte by Julian Lennon (1984, directed by Sam Peckinpah)


I am as shocked as anyone to discover that this sedate video was directed by the director who was known (affectionately or not) as Bloody Sam but indeed it was.

Valotte was the first U.S. single from Julian Lennon, a musician whose talent was often overshadowed by the fact that he was the son of John and Cynthia Lennon.  John divorced Cynthia, leaving her for Yoko Ono, when Julian was only five years old and, by his own admission, Julian’s feelings towards his father have often been mixed.  (Paul McCartney reportedly wrote what would become Hey Jude in an attempt to console Julian after the divorce.)  When Julian Lennon pursued his own musical career, many reviewers spent more time discussing Julian’s physical and vocal resemblance to his father than his music.

As for the song, it was a ballad about finding love and not, as many have incorrectly assumed, a song about Julian’s relationship with John.  The song was initially written at a French chateau known as the Manor de Valotte, which is how the song got its name.  The single was subsequently recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.  The line, “Sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar” is a reference to the location of the studio.

As for Sam Peckinpah, both his career and his health were in decline when he directed this video.  Peckinpah made a huge impression in the late 60s and early 70s with films like The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs but, by the time the 80s came around, the critics had turned on him and his abuse of drugs and alcohol had become so notorious that he couldn’t get a job in Hollywood.  Peckinpah directed both this video and Lennon’s follow-up, Too Late For Goodbyes.  His work on the videos was critically acclaimed but unfortunately, Peckinpah would pass away shortly after they were released.

Enjoy!