Moonrunners (1975, directed by Gy Waldron)

Does this sound familiar?

Grady and Bobby Lee Hagg (played by Kiel Martin and Jame Mitchum) are just some good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm, but they’ve still been in trouble with the law since they day they were born.  They live in rural Georgia, on a farm owned by their Uncle Jesse (Arthur Hunnicutt).  Uncle Jesse’s an expert on two things: the Bible and how to brew the best whiskey.  Uncle Jesse is moonshiner with integrity.  No one knows his formula and he won’t sell his moonshine to just anyone.  He doesn’t want anything to do with the New York mob and their efforts to move in on the moonshine racket.

Uncle Jesse’s main rival is Jake Rainey (George Ellis), the corpulent county commissioner who used to be Jesse’s business partner but who now is in league with the Mafia.  Jake and the Hagg boys have a rivalry that is sometimes friendly but still dangerous.  Helping Jake control the county is a formerly honest lawman named Rosco P. Coltrane (Bruce Atkins).

The Hagg boys are on probation so they can’t leave the county and they can’t carry guns.  Instead, they hunt with bow and arrow.  They drive a fast car that they’ve named Traveller (after General Lee’s horse).  Grady dreams of going to Nashville with Beth Anne Eubanks (Chris Forbes) and becoming a country music star.  Bobby is a laid back race car driver who is having an affair with Jake Rainey’s wife.

The film follows the Hagg boys as they transport moonshine, outrun the police, and occasionally get into bar fights.  The movie was shot on location on Georgia, features several car chases, and it’s narrated by country singer Waylon Jennings.

Moonrunners was filmed in 1973 but not released until 1975.  It didn’t get much attention when it was released but it did go on to inspire a television series called The Dukes of Hazzard.   Even considering the show’s popular success and current cult status, Moonrunners is still a largely unknown film.  (It’s so obscure that Warner Bros. was reportedly shocked to discover that they were required to pay several million in royalties to the film’s producers before they could move ahead with their own film adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard.)  However, Moonrunners is superior to The Dukes of Hazzard in every way.

Of course, being better than The Dukes of Hazzard may seem like a low bar to clear but Moonrunners is still one of the better moonshiner films out there.  The car chases are genuinely exciting and well-filmed and the cast feels authentic.  Arthur Hunnicutt and George Ellis both seem like they naturally belong next to a still while James Mitchum and Kiel Martin are well-paired as Grady and Bobby Lee.  Mitchum, in particular, channels the laconic charisma of his father, Robert.  Not surprisingly, Moonracers is far rougher and has more of an edge than The Dukes of Hazzard.  The TV show may have been for kids but the movie is not.

It’s a B-movie, of course.  The soundtrack, which is full of outlaw country, is sometimes obtrusive.  I burst out laughing at the film’s most dramatic moment because Waylon Jennings suddenly started singing a song called “Whiskey Man.”  The DVD release appears to have been copied straight from a VHS tape so the images were often grainy.  It’s not a perfect movie but I still enjoyed Moonrunners for what it was, a celebration of fast cars, pretty girls, and rebellious attitudes.  Your collection of car chase films is incomplete without it!

TV Review: Night Gallery 1.1 “The Dead Man/The Housekeeper” (dir by Douglas Heyes and John Meredyth Lucas)

As I wrote yesterday, I recently decided to sit down and watch every episode of the horror anthology series, Night Gallery.  Yesterday, I watched and reviewed the pilot movie.  Tonight, I watched the first episode of the weekly series.

Though the pilot originally aired in 1969, Night Gallery did not start to air as a regular series until December of 1970.  The first episode of season one was broadcast on December 16th, 1970.  As all of the episodes did, it stated with Rod Serling walking through a dimly lit museum and inviting the audience to look at a macabre painting.  Each painting was inspired by a different story.  Or were the stories inspired by the paintings?  To be honest, I don’t think the show ever made that clear.

The first episode featured two stories, both of which dealt with mad scientists.

The Dead Man (written and directed by Douglas Heyes)

The first segment was The Dead Man, an enjoyably atmospheric if somewhat difficult-to-follow story about a scientist, a young man with an amazing ability, and the woman who is torn between the two of them.

Carl Betz plays Max Redford, a doctor who has discovered that, under hypnotic suggestion, John Michael Fearing (Michael Blodgett) can simulate any medical condition, no matter how severe.  When Max reveals his discovery to his associate, Dr. Talmadge (Jeff Corey), Talmadge is concerned that Fearing will suffer permanent damage as a result of Max’s experiments.  Nonsense! Max explains.  All he has to do is give Fearing the proper signal and he’ll pop right out of his condition, as good as new.

Max decides to put Fearing to the ultimate test by having him simulate death.  However, when Fearing goes under, he dies for real.  Was it just an accident or did Max — who suspects that Fearing was having an affair with his wife (Louise Sorel) — secretly mean for Fearing to die?

The Dead Man raises some intriguing questions about life, death, and medical ethics.  It also has a quartet of good performances with Carl Betz doing an especially good job as Max.  Michael Blodgett showed up in a lot of early 70s films and TV shows and he was always convincing as a decadent hedonist.  The entire segment is full of creepy atmosphere but the ending is a bit of a let down.  After a great set-up, the segment just kind of fizzles out.

The Housekeeper (written by Heyes, directed by John Meredyth Lucas)

In the second segment, our mad scientist is named Cedric Acton (Larry Hagman).  Whereas Max Redford, in the previous segment, was misguided, Cedric Acton is just crazy.  Through the use of black magic (it involves a frog), Cedric has been experimenting with soul and brain transference.  (There’s an oinking chicken and a clucking pig in his laboratory, just in case anyone’s wondering how the experiments are going.)

Because Cedric loves his wife’s body but hates her personality, he wants to put the soul of his kindly housekeeper (Jeanette Nolan) into the body of his wife, Carlotta (Suzy Parker).  At first, the experiment is a success but things get complicated and …. well, I’m not really sure what it all leads to because this is one of those stories that just kind of ends without really offering up any type of resolution.

The Housekeeper is meant to be a comedy but it’s a bit too mean-spirited to really work.  This segment really calls out for karma to intervene and for Cedric’s soul to end up in something else’s body but instead it just ends with Cedric continuing his experiments.  It’s more than a little dissatisfying.  Larry Hagman does a good job playing Cedric, though.  He’s convincingly crazy.

Especially after the pilot, it’s hard not to be disappointed by the first episode of Night Gallery.  Both stories had potential but they were let down by weak endings.  Oh well.  Hopefully, tomorrow’s episode will be an improvement!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Peter Cushing Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is a very special day for fans of horror cinema.  It’s Peter Cushing’s birthday!  Peter Cushing was born 107 years ago today, in Surrey.  As an actor, Cushing appeared in a wide variety films but he’s probably destined to be forever remembered for playing Baron Frankenstein and Prof. Van Helsing in several Hammer films.  (He also apparently played a villain in an obscure sci-fi film in the 70s.)

By most accounts, Cushing was the kindest of men and quite a contrast to the villains that he often played.  My favorite Peter Cushing performance is his definitive interpretation of Van Helsing in The Horror of Dracula.  Cushing brought so much authority to the role that he not only made you believe in vampires but he also made you believe that he was the only person who could possibly defeat them.

One final nice note: Cushing and Christopher Lee were often at odds on screen but they were the best of friends in real life.  Lee, in fact, often said that he never recovered emotionally from Cushing’s death in 1994.

In honor of Peter Cushing, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Hamlet (1948, dir by Laurence Olivier)

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957, dir by Terence Fisher)

The Horror of Dracula (1958, dir by Terence Fisher)

Scream and Scream Again (1970, dir by Gordon Hessler)

Scenes That I Love: The Steak Scene From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Since today is the 113th anniversary of the birth of John Wayne, I decided to watch the 1962 classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance!  And then I decided to share a scene that I love from the film.

The famous steak scene features three of the greatest screen icons of Hollywood’s golden age: James Stewart, John Wayne, and Lee Marvin.  Lee Marvin is the bully who is terrorizing the entire town.  James Stewart is the idealist who thinks that the law, and not violence, is the answer.  And John Wayne is …. well, he’s John Wayne.  He’s the only man in town who can stand up to Lee Marvin but, at the same time, he’s also aware that his time is coming to a close.  In the scene below, all three of the characters display their different approaches to life and a disagreement with steak nearly leads to violence.

This scene — and really, the entire film — features these three actors at their best.  John Wayne is an actor who is often described as having “just played himself” but that’s really not quite fair.  While Wayne’s outsized persona definitely does influence how the audience reacts to any character that he plays, he was a better actor than he’s often given credit for being.  That’s especially evident in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which Wayne plays a confident man’s man who knows that fate is closing in on him.  The coming of civilization (represented by James Stewart) will be great for the town of Shinbone but it will also leave men like Wayne’s Ton Doniphon with nowhere to go.  The coming of civilization means that the heroes of the past are destined to become obsolete.

Enjoy this scene from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:

Music Video of the Day: Take A Picture by Filter (1999, dir. by Dave Meyers)

I like this song because photography has always been my thing so when I hear “Take a picture,” that’s the same thought that I usually have in my head.

When I first saw this video, I thought that all the things that happened in it were things that the singer wished he could take a picture of.  Plus, because the band was called Filter, I really did think that this entire song was about someone who loved taking pictures.  Later I found out that the song was actually about getting drunk and needing someone to take a picture so you would be able to remember what you did in the morning.  I like my version better.