Panic in Echo Park (1977, directed by John Llewellyn Moxey)


Dr. Michael Stoner (Dorian Harewood) is a young, black doctor who works in a hospital located in a poverty-stricken Los Angeles neighborhood that has a high crime rate.  Stoner’s got the education and the talent to be working in an upscale hospital and making a lot of money but it’s more important to Stoner that he give something back to the community.  Stoner is a doctor who cares and he has no hesitation letting everyone know it.  When he meets a wealthy plastic surgeon at a party, he tells him that he should come down to Stoner’s hospital and try his hand at fixing up bullet holes.  The plastic surgeon doesn’t react well to the suggestion.

Stoner is convinced that there’s an epidemic breaking out in the Echo Park neighborhood but he can’t get anyone to listen to him.  No one cares about what happens in Echo Park.  When Stoner deduces that the illness is being caused by dirty tap water, he still can’t get anyone to listen to him.  He yells at people at parties and everyone ignores him.  He goes to the press and the media refuses to cover the story.  The corporate weasels who are responsible for poisoning the water don’t care about anything other than money.  Stoner talks about his problems to a young man who is in a coma and he gets no response.

Finally, Stoner is forced to enlist the help of a group of local teenagers who are making a documentary about life in their neighborhood.  Dr. Stoner may not always be polite but he gets results.

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, Panic In Echo Park is a made-for-TV movie and much like Where Have All The People Gone? (which was also directed by Moxey), it seems like it was probably envisioned as being a pilot for a weekly series.  Watching the film, it’s easy to imagine Dr. Stoner getting mad on a weekly basis.  Like most made-for-TV movies, it’s predictable and the characters are all either too obviously good or too obviously evil.  However, Dorian Harewood (who is probably best known for getting shot over and over again in Full Metal Jacket) gives a good performance as Dr. Stoner.  He doesn’t get to do much other than yell at people but Harewood does it well.  Today, a story involving people getting sick from dirty tap water does not seem far fetched (do they have clean water in Flint, yet?) and the scenes where Dr. Stoner orders people to be put into “quarantine” feel disturbingly like the evening news.

18 Days of Paranoia #3: The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (dir by Larry Cohen)


The 1977 film, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, opens in 1972.

J. Edgar Hoover, the much-feared and long-serving director of the FBI, has just been found dead at his home and it seems like the entire city of Washington, D.C. is scrambling.  Not only are people jockeying for Hoover’s job but they’re also wondering what might be found in his secret files.  As quickly becomes apparent, Hoover had a file on everyone.  While Presidents lauded him and the press portrayed him as hero, Hoover spent nearly 50 years building up a surveillance state.  Hoover said it was to fight criminals and subversives but mostly, it was just to hold onto his own power.  Even President Nixon is heard, in the Oval Office, ordering his men to get those files.

Hoover may have known everyone’s secrets but, the film suggests, very few people knew his.  The film is narrated by a former FBI agent named Dwight Webb (Rip Torn).  Dwight talks about how he was kicked out of the FBI because it was discovered that he not only smoked but that he was having an adulterous affair with a secretary.  “You know how Hoover was about that sex stuff,” he says, his tone suggesting that there’s more to the story than just Hoover being a bit of a puritan.

We flash back to the 1920s.  We see a young Hoover (James Wainwright) as a part of the infamous Palmer Raids, an early effort by the Justice Department to track down and deport communist subversives.  Though Hoover disagrees with the legality of the Palmer Raids, he still plays his part and that loyalty is enough to eventually get him appointed, at the age of 29, to be the head of the agency that would eventually become the FBI.  Hoover may start out as a relatively idealistic man but it doesn’t take long for the fame and the power to go to his head.

Hoover (now played by Broderick Crawford) serves a number of Presidents, each one worse the one who proceeded him.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Howard Da Silva) is an avuncular despot while the Kennedy brothers (William Jordan as John and Michael Parks as Bobby) are two rich brats who think that they can control Hoover but who soon discover that Hoover is far more clever than they realize.  Hoover finds himself a man out-of-place in the 60s and the 70s,  Suddenly, he’s no longer everyone’s hero and people are starting to view the FBI as being not a force for law enforcement but instead an instrument of oppression.

Through it all, Hoover remains an enigma.  He demands a lot of from his agents but he resents them if they’re too successful.  Melvin Purvis (Michael Sacks) might find fame for leading the manhunt that took down Dillinger but he’s driven to suicide by Hoover’s cruel treatment.  Unlike Clint Eastwood’s film about Hoover, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover suggests that Hoover was not gay but that instead, that he was so repressed that he was essentially asexual.  When one woman throws herself at him, he accuses her of being a subversive and demands to know how anyone could find him attractive.  He’s closest to his mother and when she dies, he shuts off his emotions.  His own power, for better and worse, becomes the one thing that he loves.  He’s married to the FBI and he often behaves like an abusive spouse.

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is an interesting film.  It’s an attempt to do a huge American epic on a less than epic budget.  At the start of the film, the low budget is undeniably distracting.  The 1920s are essentially represented by a back lot and two old cars.  The scenes of the FBI dealing with gangsters like Dillinger and Creepy Karpis feel awkward and slapdash.  But, as the film’s timeline gets closer to what was then the modern era, the film’s story tightens up and so does Larry Cohen’s direction.  (One get the feeling that Cohen was, perhaps understandably, more interested in the Hoover of the 60s and the 70s than the Hoover of the 20s and 30s.  There’s a sharpness to the second half of the movie that is just missing from the first half.)  Broderick Crawford gives a chilling performance as a man who is determined to hold onto his power, just for the sake of having it.  The scenes were Hoover and Bobby Kennedy snap at each other have a charge that’s missing from the first half of the film.  Michael Parks does a great job portraying RFK as basically being a spoiled jerk while Crawford seems to relish the chance to play up the resentful, bitter old man aspects of Hoover’s personality.  The film ultimately suggests that whether the audience previously admired RFK or whether they previously admired Hoover, they were all essentially duped.

Though the film never quite overcomes the limits of its low budget, it works well as a secret history of the United States.  In 1977, it undoubtedly took guts to make a film that portrayed Roosevelt and Kennedy as being as bad as Nixon and Johnson.  (It would probably even take guts today.  One need only rewatch something like The Butler or Hyde Park on Hudson to see the ludicrous lengths Hollywood will go to idealize presidents like Kennedy and dictators like FDR.)  While this film certainly doesn’t defend J. Edgar Hoover’s excesses, it often suggests that the president he served under were just as bad, if not even worse.  In the end, it becomes a portrait of not only how power corrupts but also why things don’t change, regardless of who is nominally in charge.  In the end the film’s villain is not J. Edgar Hoover.  Instead, the film’s villain is the system that created and then enabled him.  The man may be dead but the system remains.

Previous entries in the 18 Days of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau

 

What Lisa Watched Last Night #208: Into The Arms Of Danger (dir by Jeff Hare)


Last night, I watched the latest Lifetime premiere, Into the Arms of Danger!

Why Was I Watching?

The obvious answer is that I was watching it because it was on Lifetime.  However, I was also watching because I absolutely loved the title.  Into the Arms of Danger is just so wonderfully overdramatic that there was no way I could resist it.

What Was It About?

Basically, it’s a Lifetime version of the classic 1980 grindhouse film, Mother’s Day.  Two weird brothers pretend to be EMTs and kidnap young women, forcing them to go home and pretend to be a member of their family.  They do it all to keep their crazy mother (Cathy Moriarty) happy.

In this film, their latest victim is Jenny (AlexAnn Hopkins), who is kidnapped after she wrecks her car and makes the mistake of calling 911.  (The brothers basically intercept 911 calls, which was kind of weird.)  Jenny just wanted to go to college and get away from her overprotective mother, Laura (Laurie Fortier).  Instead, she’s now being held prisoner and is forced to wear an explosive ankle bracelet.  It kind of sucks.

Laura knows that her daughter has been kidnapped but she can’t get the police to take her seriously.  They think that Jenny has either just run away or maybe she’s gotten involved with drugs.  Either way, they’re attitude is, “Don’t bother us with their domestic problems.”  So, it’s up to Laura to figure out what has happened to her daughter and to rescue her from the …. ARMS OF DANGER!

What Worked?

AlexAnn Hopkins and Laurie Fortier were believable as mother and daughter.  You believed that they not only cared about each other but that they also frequently got annoyed with each other.  That’s the secret to realistically portraying a mother/daughter relationship on film.  You have to capture both the love and the annoyance.

Cathy Moriarty gave a good performance as the demented mother.  For film buffs, Moriarty is a bit of a legendary figure.  She made her film debut in Raging Bull and received an Oscar nomination. She was incredible in Raging Bull and still is a great actress.  Unfortunately, shortly after making her debut, Moriarty was in a serious car accident and spent several years recovering.  As a result, when she returned to films, she rarely got the type of huge roles that she undoubtedly deserved.  She’s still one of those actresses who, when you see her name in the credits, you know that she’s going to give a good performance.

In fact, the whole crazy family dynamic was well-done.  They reminded me a bit of the family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, just with less blood and cannibalism.

What Did Not Work?

Usually, I can suspend my disbelief when it comes to Lifetime films.  I mean, we don’t watch these films because we’re expecting them to be a 100% realistic.  But the whole thing with the brothers pretending to be EMTs was just a bit too much for me to buy.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

More like, “Oh my God!  Just like my mom!” moments.  As soon as Laura jumped in her car and drove all the way out to a party just to keep Jenny from accepting help from a strange boy, I was like, “Oh my God, I know just how Jenny feels!”  Myself, I would always very dramatically roll my eyes and go, “Mom!” whenever stuff like that happened.  Looking back, my mom was usually right, though.

Lessons Learned

If you wreck your car, never call 911.

Music Video of the Day: Locked In by Judas Priest (1986, directed by Wayne Isham)


Since we’re all locked in for the time being, it makes sense that today’s music video of the day should be for Judas Priest’s Locked In.

This video makes about as much sense as any heavy metal band from the 80s did.  Rob Halford is being held prisoner in a medieval castle where he is apparently being tortured by a bunch of living skeletons.  The other members of Judas Priest decide to ride their motorcycles over to the castle and then break in so that they can save him.  Heavy metal videos of the 80s often feel like what you would get if the members of Monty Python had decided to follow up The Meaning of Life with Monty Python’s Mad Max.  That certainly seems to be the case here and the members of the band spend so much time mugging to the camera that there is little doubt that they were in on the joke.  David Coverdale would have taken this seriously but not the members of Judas Priest.

This video was one of the many to be directed by Wayne Isham.  According to his entry at IMDb, Wayne’s motto is “No Wayne, no pain!”

Enjoy!