Sahara (1983, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen)

The year is 1927 and famed automobile designer R.J. Gordon (Steve Forrest) dies before he can enter his latest creation into the Trans-African Auto Race across the Sahara Desert.  Wishing to keep her father’s dream alive and prove that she’s just as good a driver as the boys, R.J.’s daughter, Dale (Brooke Shields), enters the race in his place.  Since women are not legally allowed to compete, Dale has to pretend to be a man.  She does this by wearing a fake mustache, which she tosses off as soon she drives over the start line.  It has to be seen to be believed.

Dale and her team set out on the race and they quickly get caught up in a tribal war between two separate factions of Bedouins.  Dale is captured by the lascivious Rasoul (John Rhys-Davies), who attempts to have his way with her.  Fortunately, Dale is rescued by Rasoul’s nephew, Sheikh Jafar (Lambert Wilson).  Jafar is enchanted by Dale’s beauty and wants her to marry him.  Dale eventually agrees but, the morning after the wedding, she sneaks out of Jafar’s tent, jumps back in her car, and rejoins the race.  When she gets captured by the other Bedouins, they force her to stand on a rock while surrounded by panthers.  Like Brooke with a mustache, it has to be seen to be believed.

Sahara was produced by Cannon Pictures.  Menahem Golan, who gets a story credit along with his usual producers credit on this film, was a self-described fan of Rudolph Valentino and Sahara was his attempt to pay homage to Valentino’s performance in The Sheik, as well as cashing in on the adventure zeitgeist that had been launched by the box office success of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  With a budget of $15 million, Sahara was one of Cannon’s most expensive films and the end result was a mix of high production values and typical Golan-Globus goofiness.  The desert cinematography may be impressive but this is still a strangely old-fashioned movie starring Brooke Shields as a race car driver who speeds through the desert without once getting a hair out of place.  As attractive as she was, Brooke was never much of an actress and requiring her to show more than one emotion at a time, as Sahara often does, seems like the ultimate act of hubris.  Say what you will about the films that Cannon made with Bronson and Norris, the two Chucks always seemed like they were perfectly cast.  Shields also has no chemistry with Lambert Wilson, who looks embarrassed at having to pretend to be Rudolph Valentino.  On the plus side, Raiders of the Lost Ark alumni Rhys-Davies and Ronald Lacey are both present in the film and seem to know better than to take any of it seriously.  Rhys-Davies especially always seems to be on the verge of laughing at his terrible dialogue.

Though the view may be impressive, the script is bad and the lead actors are lost.  Avoid Sahara at all costs.

18 Days of Paranoia #17: Walk East On Beacon! (dir by Alfred L. Werker)

From 1952 comes Walk East On Beacon, a mix of spy thriller and film noir that highlights the efforts of the FBI to expose and take down a communist sleeper cell working right in the United States of America!  (Cue the dramatic music.)

One need only check out the opening credits to see what type of film Walk East On Beacon is going to be.  We’re told early on that the film was “suggested” by a Reader’s Digest article that was written by none other than the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. The title of that article was “The Crime of the Century: The Case of A-Bomb Spies” and it dealt with the FBI investigation that led to the arrest, conviction, and controversial execution of two Russian spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  I haven’t read the article but judging by the fact that it was written by Hoover and published in Reader’s Digest, I think it’s fairly safe to guess that it wasn’t particularly concerned with things like protecting the First Amendment, civil rights, or the freedom to hold any ideological belief regardless of how unpopular it may be with the general public.  (Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that most historians now agree that, despite what many on the Left claimed over the decades, the Rosenbergs were indeed guilty of being spies and they played a very central role in the Russians discovering the secret to making atomic bombs.)

In the film, George Murphy plays an FBI agent named Jim Belden.  According to J. Hoberman’s book, An Army of Phantoms, the FBI specifically requested that Murphy be cast in the lead role because Murphy was an outspoken anti-communist.  (Murphy would also later be elected to the U.S. Senate.)  Project Falcon, a super-secret U.S. program, has been infiltrated by spies and Belden has been assigned to track down and capture their ringleader.  He does this by using a number of techniques that were probably considered pretty high tech back in 1952, stuff like hidden cameras and secret microphones.  He even brings in a group of lip readers to watch silent footage of two possible spies speaking so that they can tell him what the spies are talking about.  You don’t have to worry about a thing with Jim Belden on the case!

As for the members of the spy ring, they’re a mixed bunch.  Some of them are just bad people who have betrayed their country just because it’s the evil thing to do.  Others are people who idealistically joined the Communist Party years ago because they wanted to help their fellow man and, instead, they’ve now found themselves forced to spy against their country.  Prof. Albert Kafer (Finlay Currie) doesn’t want to betray America but he’s been told that his son will be executed if he doesn’t cooperate.  Kafer goes to the FBI.

As you can probably guess, this is not a particularly subtle film.  The communists are all evil and the FBI is doing its best to protect the loyal citizens of America and, if you’re going to question the legality or the ethics of their methods …. well, why don’t you just move to Russia and tell Stalin about it, okay!?  Interestingly enough, the film is shot like a film noir, with an emphasis on shadows and dark streets and desperate men trying to escape their fate.  But it has none of the moral ambiguity that one usually expects to find in a film noir.  Instead, it presents a thoroughly black-and-white view of the world.  All of the communists are either neurotic or cruelly evil while the FBI is professional, bland, and rather humorless.  There’s really only one moment — where a blackmailed spy admits to his wife that he’s been trapped into betraying his country — where the film seems to come to life.  Otherwise, this is a rather dry film, one that even comes with officious voice over narration.

While the film may not work as a thriller, it is somewhat fascinating as a historical document.  The film was shot on location in Boston and, while I realize this may just be the history nerd in me talking, it’s still somewhat interesting to see what an major American city looked like in 1952.  (It looks remarkably clean.)  As well, the film really delves into the minutia of stuff that today seems mundane but which probably took audiences by surprise in 1952, stuff like wiretapping, drop points, and how even a condolence card could be used to send a secret message.  If nothing else, the film’s portrait of a world where anyone — from a cab driver to an atomic scientist — could be a spy certainly provides a interesting snapshot of 1950s paranoia.

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller
  13. They Call Me Mister Tibbs
  14. The Organization
  15. Marie: A True Story
  16. Lost Girls

What Lisa Watched Last Night #211: Remember Me, Mommy? (dir by Michelle Ouellet)

Last night, I watched the premiere of one of the greatest Lifetime films of all time, Remember Me, Mommy?

Why Was I Watching It?

It was on Lifetime.  I’ve been ordered to shelter in place.  What else could I do?

Then again, even if I wasn’t on lockdown, I probably still would have watched it because this is one of those Lifetime films that takes place at a private school and features a teacher with a secret in her past and those are typically my favorite Lifetime films.  There’s just something irresistible about the mix of super snobs and dark secrets!

What Was It About?

Elena Walker (Sydney Meyer) is the newest student at Clark Academy!  She’s a scholarship student, which means that she has to deal with a lot of hazing from all of the rich kids.  It turns out that most of the students at Clark Academy have known each other for their entire lives so Elena is definitely an outsider.

However, fear not!  Elena loves to write and the school’s creative writing teacher, Rebecca (Natalie Brown), is a former scholarship student herself.  In fact, Rebecca is so impressed with Elena’s essays that she even arranges for Elena to meet with an Ivy League recruiter.  So …. yay for the scholarship students, I guess.

Except …. well, Elena may not be who she claims.  In fact, it turns out that Elena has a bad habit of killing people who get on her nerves.  It also turns out that it’s not just a coincidence that Elena showed up at Clark Academy and immediately went out of her way to bond with Rebecca.

What is Elena’s plan?  What is Rebecca’s secret?  I’m not going to spoil anything, especially since the title of the film already does that.

What Worked?

It all worked!

Seriously, this is one of the best Lifetime films that I’ve seen in a while.  Though you’ll probably guess Rebecca’s secret long before the film actually reveals it, Remember Me, Mommy? is still a lot of fun.  In the tradition of the best Lifetime films, Remember Me, Mommy? fully embraces the melodrama.  Elena never stops plotting, Rebecca never stops teaching, and the pace never slackens.

And I have to admit that, as evil as Elena was, it was hard not to like her.  She was an agent of chaos, dropped in the middle of a bunch of complacent snobs and she reacted by disrupting the status quo.  Of course, it would have been nice if she could have resisted the temptation to kill but still….

What Did Not Work?

It all worked!

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Like Elena, I always got along with my creative writing teachers.  They were some of my favorite people.

At one point in the film, Elena is accused of plagiarism and I have to admit that brought back some memories of high school math class.  I’ve always sucked at math.  It’s just not my thing.  Fortunately, I had an older sister who had taken the class a year before me and who had saved all of her tests so, whenever I had to take a test, I would just copy all the answers and …. well, technically, I guess I was cheating.  My plan, if I was ever caught, was to argue that I wasn’t so much cheating as I was just plagiarizing my sister’s answers.  Fortunately, I never got caught so I didn’t actually have to find out whether or not that argument would have worked.

Lessons Learned

Be nice to scholarship students!

Music Video Of The Day: I Love Rock N Roll by Arrows (1976, directed by ????)

Though everyone is probably most familiar with Joan Jett’s cover of the song, I Love Rock N Roll was originally recorded by a London-based group called Arrows.

Though Arrows were only together for three years (from 1974 to 1977), they were popular with British teenagers and they even had their own TV show on Granada Television, where they would play their own songs and introduce other acts.  This video for I Love Rock N Roll comes from that television show.  This is probably from the same episode of the show that Joan Jett saw in 1976 while she and the Runaways were on tour in the UK.  She liked the song so much that she covered it when she made her first solo album.  Her version, of course, went on to become a huge hit.

(As popular as they were in the UK, Arrows were basically unknown in the United States.  During the time they were together, they only performed in the U.S. once and that was for an episode of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1975.  When Jett released her version of I Love Rock N Roll, most American listeners were unaware that it was a cover.)

The song was written by Alan Merrill, who was the lead singer for Arrows.  Sadly, Merrill, who was sick with COVID-19, died on Sunday.  Today’s music video of the day is dedicated to his memory.