The Biggest Bundle Of Them All (1968, directed by Ken Annakin)

Harry Price (Robert Wagner) is a small-time tough guy with big plans.  He and his gang of accomplices fly over to Italy and plot to kidnap Cesare Celli (Vittorio De Sica), a retired mafia don who is reputed to be worth millions.  However, after snatching Celli from a wedding, Harry discovers that Celli is actually flat broke.  Trying to be helpful, Celli suggests that Harry call up the local gangsters and demand that they pay a ransom for Celli’s release.  When everyone refuses to pay, Celli comes up with another plan.  Celli takes over Harry’s gang and, with the help of Celli’s old friend, Prof. Samuels (Edward G. Robinson), plots to steal $5,000,000 worth of platinum ingots from a train.

Complicating matters is that Harry and his gang are not exactly master criminals.  Benny (Godfrey Cambridge) is a violinist who has moral objections to carrying a gun and who also refuses to cross a picket line, even in the course of a robbery.  (“I’m a union man!”)  Tozzi (Francesco Mule) is more interested in having a good dinner than pulling off the perfect heist.  Davey (Davy Kaye) is short, which is apparently a problem for some reason.  Finally, Harry’s girlfriend, Juliana (Raquel Welch), is more interested in dancing than in committing crimes.  Still, Celli is determined to use them to pull off the heist of the century and, even more importantly, to help prove that this old criminal has still got what it takes.

The Biggest Bundle of Them All was an attempt at a wacky heist film.  Unfortunately, at the time that the film was made, Robert Wagner and “wacky” didn’t belong anywhere near each other.  Wagner stiffly delivers lines like, “I’ve had it, baby.  Can you dig it?” and looks thoroughly out-of-place.  Godfrey Cambridge and Edward G. Robinson have a few funny scenes but both Kaye and Mule are wasted in one-note role while De Sica looks like he’s trying to figure out how he went from Bicycle Thieves to this.  Everyone in the movie just goes through the motions.  Even while they’re robbing the train, the cast seems to be indifferent.

It almost doesn’t matter, though, because this is a Raquel Welch film.  Welch doesn’t have much of a character to play but she looks amazing while doing it and that really is the appeal of any film that Welch made in the late 60s and early 70s.  Welch spends a good deal of the film in a bikini and is undeniably sexy, particularly in the scene where Wagner sends her to seduce De Sica.  She also gets to share a dance with Edward G. Robinson, which is such a goofy and fun scene that it’s almost worth the price of admission.  (Regardless of what fun they may have been having on-screen, Robert Wagner later wrote in his autobiography that, off-screen, Robinson grew so annoyed with Welch’s chronic lateness on the set that he yelled at her until she was in tears.)

Even Raquel Welch in a bikini can only carry a film so far and The Biggest Bundle of Them All is ultimately too disjointed to work.  Director Ken Annakin tries to recreate the same sort of frantic comedy that was at the heart of his previous film, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, but the end result falls flatter than 5 million dollars worth of platinum ingots sliding out of an airplane.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: In the Heat of the Night (dir by Norman Jewison)

The 1967 film, In the Heat of the Night, tells the story of two very different men.

Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) is the police chief of the small town of Sparta, Mississippi.  In many ways, Gillespie appears to the epitome of the bigoted Southern cop.  He’s overweight.  He loses his temper easily.  He chews a lot of gum.  He knows everyone in town and automatically distrusts anyone who he hasn’t seen before, especially if that person happens to be a black man or from the north.

Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) is a black man from the north.  He’s a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department and he’s as cool and controlled as Gillespie is temperamental and uncouth.  Tibbs has no patience for the casual racism that is epitomized by lawmen like Chief Gillespie.  When Gillespie says that Virgil is a “fancy name” for a black and asks what people call Virgil in Philadelphia, Virgil declares, “They call me Mister Tibbs!,” with an authority that leaves no doubt that he expects Gillespie to do the same.


For once, that old joke is correct.  When a Chicago industrialist named Phillip Colbert is discover murdered in Sparta, Chief Gillespie heads up the investigation and, assuming that the murderer must be an outsider, orders Deputy Wood (Warren Oates) to check out the train station for any suspicious characters.  When Wood arrives at the station, he discovers Virgil standing on the platform.  Virgil is simply waiting for his train so that he can get back home to Philadelphia.  However, Wood promptly arrests him.  Gilespie accuses him of murdering Colbert, just to discover that Virgil’s a police detective from Philadelphia.

Though neither wants to work with the other, that’s exactly what Gillespie and Virgil are forced to do as they investigate Colbert’s murder.  Colbert was planning on building a factory in Sparta and his wife (Lee Grant) makes it clear that, if Sparta wants the factory and the money that comes with it, Virgil must be kept on the case.  Over the course of the investigation, Gillespie and Virgil come to a weary understanding as both of them are forced to confront their own preconceived notions about both the murder and life in Sparta.  In the end, if it’s impossible for them to truly become friends, they do develop a weary respect for each other.  That is perhaps the best that one could have hoped for in 1967.

I have to admit that it took me a few viewings before I really appreciated In the Heat of the Night.  Though this film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1967, it’s always suffered when compared to some of the films that it beat.  One can certainly see that the film was superior to Doctor Dolittle and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  But was it a better film than The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde?  Did Rod Steiger really deserve to win Best Actor over Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty?  (Amazingly, Poitier wasn’t even nominated.)

To be honest, I still feel that In The Heat of the Night was probably the 3rd best of the 5 films nominated that year, superior to the condescending Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner but nowhere near as groundbreaking as Bonnie and Clyde or The Graduate.  The first time I watched In the Heat of the Night, I thought Steiger blustered a bit too much and the film’s central mystery didn’t really hold together and, to a large extent, I still feel like that.

But, at the same time, there’s a lot to appreciate about In the Heat of the Night.  On subsequent viewings, I came to better appreciate the way that director Norman Jewison, editor Hal Ashby, and cinematographer Haskwell Wexler created and maintained an atmosphere that was so thick that you can literally feel the Mississippi humidity while watching the film.  I came to appreciate the supporting cast, especially Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Scott Wilson, Anthony James, and Larry Gates.  (Gates especially makes an impression in his one scene, playing an outwardly genteel racist who nearly cries when Tibbs reacts to his slap by slapping him back.)  I also came to appreciate the fact that, while the white cop/black cop partnership has subsequently become a bit of a cliche, it was new and even controversial concept in 1967.

And finally, I came to better appreciate Sidney Poitier’s performance as Virgil.  Poitier underplays Virgil, giving a performance of tightly controlled rage.  While Steiger yells his way through the film, Poitier emphasizes that Virgil is always thinking.  As in the same year’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Poitier plays a dignified character but, here, that dignity is Virgil’s way of defying the demands and expectations of men like Gillespie.  When Virgil does strike back, it’s a cathartic moment because we understand how many times he’s had to hold back.

In the Heat of the Night may not have been the best film of 1967 but it’s still one worth watching.

The Covers of Jungle Stories

Unknown Artist

Published by Fiction House, Jungle Stories ran from 1938 to 1950, for a total of 59 issues.  Judging from the covers below (and, of course, the title of the magazine), Jungle Stories dealt with the adventurous of life in the jungle.  It appears that several issues featured the adventures of Ki-Gor, the lord of the jungle.  I haven’t read any of them but I’m sure Ki-Gor was probably a totally original creation and had nothing in common with Tarzan.  There’s probably a world of difference between being the king of the jungle and being the lord of the jungle.

Here are a few covers from Jungle Stories.  Where known, the artist has been credited.

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

by George Gross

by George Gross

by George Gross

by George Gross

by George Gross

by George Gross

Unknown Artist

Music Video Of The Day: Try It Out by Skrillex feat. Alvin Risk (2014, dir by Tony T. Datis)

Tuesday was a very, very long day and you’ll have to excuse me if my brain is a little bit flat right now.

Instead of my usual explanation about why I like the apocalyptic tone of this video, I’m just going to share it and wish a happy birthday to the one and only Skrillex.  Sonny John Moore, the music genius who is also known as Skrillex and whose music has been a consistent soundtrack to every worthwhile event of the past 16 years, is 32 years old today!

I’m also going to point out that this song features the amazing Alvin Risk.  Love you, Alvin!

I’m also going to wish all of you a good and happy Wednesday!  I’m about to pass out here but hopefully, I will wake up in a few hours and I’ll be prepared to basically conquer Wednesday and use it as a base camp for the rest of the week.  Sorry if my metaphors are lacking in coherence.  I haven’t had much sleep.

And, finally, I’m going to invite all of you to …. enjoy!