30 More Days of Noir #3: Guns, Girls, and Gangsters (dir by Edward L. Cahn)

Guns, Girls, and Gangsters!  The title of this 1958 film pretty much sums it all up.

Now, technically, I guess you could debate whether or not the criminals in this film really qualify as gangsters.  When I hear the term “gangster,” I tend to think of the big Mafia chieftains, like Al Capone and the Kennedys.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen The Godfather too many times but I always associate gangsters with wealth, big mansions, elaborate weddings, and aging crooners who need someone to chop off a horse’s head in order to get a role in From Here To Eternity.  However, the gangsters in this film are all basically small-time criminals.  One of them does own a nightclub but it’s not a very impressive nightclub.  If anything, they’re wannabe gangsters.  However, Guns, Girls, and Wannabes just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Chuck Wheeler (Gerald Mohr) has a plan.  He wants to rob an armored car.  It’s a Vegas armored car, so of course it’s going to be full of money and since Michael Corleone killed Moe Greene three years before, there shouldn’t be too many repercussions from hijacking it.  (Sorry, I’m still thinking about The Godfather.)  To enlist the aid of a nightclub owner, he enlists the aid of a singer named Vi (Mamie Van Doren).  Vi just happens to be the wife of Chuck’s former prison cellmate, Mike (Lee Van Cleef).  Vi has been demanding a divorce for a while but Mike won’t grant it because he’s insanely jealous.  He probably wouldn’t be happy to find out that Chuck and Vi are now a couple but, fortunately, he’s locked up.

Except, of course, Mike escapes from prison around the same time that Chuck and the gang manage to hijack that armored car.  As you can guess, this leads to mayhem and havoc.  That’s where the guns of the title come into play….

Guns, Girls, and Gangsters is an entertaining little B-noir.  It’s only 70 minutes long so the film doesn’t waste any time getting to the action.  (There’s also a narrator who serves to fill in any plot holes and to keep the audience entertained with his rather self-important delivery.)  Gerald Mohr is a bit on the dull side as Chuck but you better believe that Lee Van Cleef is 100% menacing and oddly charismatic as the as the always angry Mike.  Van Cleef brings a charge of very real danger to the film.  (Perhaps he’s the gangster that the title was referring to, though I would still think of him as being more of an outlaw than a gangster.)  And, of course, you’ve got Mamie Van Doren, playing yet another tough dame in dangerous circumstances.  Van Doren gets to perform two musical numbers in Guns, Girls, and Gangsters and they both have a low-rent Vegas charm to them.  Watching this film, it occurred to me that Van Doren may not have been a great actress but she had the perfect attitude for films like this.  She played characters who did what they had to to do survive and who made no apologies for it and it’s impossible not to be on her side when she’s having to deal with creeps like Chuck or sociopaths like Mike.

Guns, Girls, and Gangsters is an entertaining B-noir.  There’s enough tough talk, cynical scheming, and deadly double crosses to keep noir fans happy.

Porky’s (1981, directed by Bob Clark)


On the one hand, it’s a crude, juvenile, and raunchy sex comedy where a bunch of teenagers in 1960s Florida think that it’s a hoot and not at all problematic to spy on the girls shower and to hire a black man to scare all of their (white) friends.

On the other hand, it’s a heartfelt plea for tolerance where Tim (Cyril O’Reilly) finally stands up to his abusive father (Wayne Maunder) and makes friends with Brian Schwartz (Scott Colomby), who is apparently the only Jewish person living in Angel Beach, Florida.

What’s strange about Porky’s is that everyone knows it for being the template for almost every bad high school film that followed, with tons of nudity, jokes about sex, and characters with names like Pee Wee, Miss Honeywell, Cherry Forever, and Porky.  But, when you sit down and watch the movie, you discover that, for all the raunchiness, it actually devotes even more time to Brian Schwartz dealing with the local bigots than it does to any of the things that it’s known for.  Everyone remembers the shower scene but it’s obvious the film’s heart is with Brian and his attempts to make the world a better place.  Porky’s is a sex comedy with a conscience.

Porky’s is an episodic film about a group of teenage boys trying to get laid and also trying to get revenge on the owner of the local brothel.  There’s a lot of characters but I’d dare anyone to tell me the difference between Billy, Tommy, and Mickey.  I went through the entire movie thinking that Billy was Mickey until I turned on the subtitles and discovered who was who.  Porky’s has a reputation for being a terrible movie but it’s actually a pretty accurate depiction of the way that most men like to imagine how their high school years went.  It captures the atmosphere of good-spirited teenage hijinks if not the reality.

One of the interesting things about Porky’s is that Bob Clark went from directing this to directing A Christmas Story.  The innocence of A Christmas Story might seem like it has nothing in common with raunchiness of Porky’s but, actually, they’re both nostalgic films that are set in an idealized past.  (If you still think A Christmas Story has nothing in common with Porky’s, just remember that Ralphie didn’t actually say “fudge.”)  Of course, A Christmas Story struggled at the box office and only became a hit when it was released on video while Porky’s is still the most successful Canadian film to ever be released in the U.S.  Sex sells.  As cool as it was to see Brian Schwartz stand up for himself, I doubt the people who made Porky’s a monster hit were buying their tickets because they had heard the film struck a blow against anti-Semitism.  They were going because they knew there was a shower scene.

Porky’s deserves its reputation for being a not-so great movie but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t laugh more than once while watching it.  (Of course, I still didn’t laugh as much as the characters in the films laughed.  I’ve never seen a cast that was as apparently amused with themselves as the cast of Porky’s.)  There’s a lot of bad moments but it’s hard not to crack a smile when Miss Honeywell demonstrates why she’s known as Lassie or when one of the coaches suggests that wanted posters can be hung around the school to help catch the shower voyeur.  Plus, everyone learns an important lesson about tolerance and how to destroy a brothel.  As bad as it is, it’s hard to really dislike Porky’s.

Ralph Gibson: Photographer/Book Artist (2002, dir. by Paula Herdia)

Photographer Ralph Gibson is one of the most important photographers of the last century and, in this documentary, he discusses both his life and his work.  An independent iconoclast, Gibson went from serving in the Navy to working as an assistant to Dorothea Lange to eventually publishing his own very influential books of photographs.  Gibson’s work is fascinating, sensuous, and frequently surreal and helped to change the public perception about whether or not photography can also be art.

Here’s just a few examples of Gibson’s work:

In the documentary Ralph Gibson: Photographer/Book Artist, Gibson tells his own story of how he became both a photographer and a publisher.  It’s interesting to listen to him as he explains how he first came to realize that how a picture is placed on a page (especially when compared to the placement of the picture on the facing page) can make as much of an artistic statement as the pictures themselves.  The documentary also features interviews with several of Gibson’s contemporaries and also with critics who attempt to analyze what makes Gibson’s work so effective.

The only problem with this documentary is that it’s too short.  It’s only 30 minutes long so sometimes, like when Gibson is talking about his childhood and his time in the Navy, it feels rushed.  The best thing about the documentary though is that it features many of Gibson’s photographs and also Gibson himself.  Listening to Gibson talk will make you want to pick up a real camera and start capturing the world around you.

This documentary is on Prime and if you’re an artist looking for inspiration, I recommend it.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014, dir. by Chapman Way and Maclain Way)

If you’re like me and you’re already missing baseball, I recommend watching a documentary called The Battered Bastards of Baseball.

In 1972, Portland, Oregon lost their minor league baseball team when the Portland Beavers abandoned the city in order to become the Spokane Indians.  At the same time, actor Bing Russell, a former minor leaguer and the father of Kurt Russell, had grown tired of Hollywood and was looking to get back into baseball.  Relocating to Portland, Russell announced that he was going to start his own independent minor league team, the Portland Mavericks.

At first, no one took the Mavericks seriously.  Because they weren’t affiliated with a major league team, the Mavericks roster was largely made up of misfits and rulebreakers, many of whom had been released from other organizations and who had been blacklisted from the major leagues.  On average, most of the Mavericks players were older than the average major leaguer.  Many of them were players who were looking for one last shot at glory and Bing refused to cut any of them because he felt that that they deserved that chance.  When the skeptical media asked Bing what the Mavericks were going to offer that other baseball teams couldn’t, he replied, “Fun.”

And he delivered.  From 1973 to 1977, the Mavericks played exciting baseball, won divisional and league titles, and, most importantly, they put on a good show.  Playing mostly for the love of the game (because Russell never had much money to spend on salaries), the Mavericks reminded people of what baseball was all about.  They pulled off amazing plays on the field while their off-field antics were legendary.  The Mavericks played baseball the way that people wanted to see baseball played, with one manager living every fan’s dream by punching an umpire.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball tells the story of the Mavericks and Bing Russell.  It features archival footage of the Mavericks at play, along with interviews with people like Kurt Russell, who briefly played for the Mavericks and then served as one of their vice presidents.   The documentary pays tribute to the players who never gave up, the fans who eventually welcomed them to a new town, and most of all to the vision and determination of Bing Russell.  Even while Bing was bringing the fun back to baseball, he was also breaking down other barriers by hiring professional baseball’s first female general manager, as well as the first Asian American general manager.

Most importantly, though, The Battered Bastards of Baseball reminds us of why people love baseball in the first place.  It celebrates the game, the players, and most of all the fans.  It’s a documentary that will just leave you in a good mood.  That’s something we all could use!

Kurt Russell as a Maverick

Charlie’s Angels (2019, dir. by Elizabeth Banks)

In the latest version of Charlie’s Angels, the Angels have become an elite force of international super spies and there are now hundreds of Angels instead of just three.  There’s also more than one Bosley as this movie establishes that Bosley is actually a codename that’s given to Charlie’s lieutenants.  Djimon Hounsou is a Bosley and Patrick Stewart is a Bosely and Elizabeth Banks is a Bosley.

Two Angels, Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska), are assigned to protect a corporate whistleblower named Elena (Naomi Scott) because Elena has discovered that Callisto, a renewable energy device, can also be used to trigger fatal seizures in selected targets.  When an assassin attempts to take out Elena, he kills one of the Bosleys and Elena becomes an Angel.  What I don’t get is why the assassin would try to shoot Elena in public when he could have just used the Callisto device to give her a seizure.

I wanted to like Charlie’s Angels because “Girl power!” but I got bored pretty quickly.  All of the action scenes were done better in the last Mission Impossible and most of the jokes fell flat.  Too much of the humor was built around someone saying something awkward and then everyone else standing around with a confused look on their face.  For a movie that’s supposedly about celebrating girl power, I noticed that the Angels made a lot of stupid mistakes.  It also bothered me that we were expected to laugh when an innocent security guard was killed by the Callisto but it was supposed to be a big emotional moment when one of the Bosleys died.  It’s also supposed to be a big emotional moment when Jane thanks Sabina for teaching her that it’s okay to work with other people but since Jane never seemed like she had a problem working with other people, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about or why I should care.

Elena learns how to stick up for herself, Jane learns how to trust other people, and Sabina doesn’t learn anything but at least Kristen Stewart finally gets to smile.  None of them can hold a candle to Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu in the first Charlie’s Angels movie, which was both fun and empowering.  This new version just can’t compete.

Music Video of the Day: Vote Or Don’t by They Might Be Giants (2012, dir. by ????)

I went looking for an election day music video and this is what I found.  This song first came out in 2008 but the video was released in 2012, a week before the election between Obama and Romney.  I think the song is saying that you should vote and you should also convince your friend not to vote because they might vote for someone different from you and cancel out your vote.  For instance, I voted last week just to make sure that I canceled out the vote of the one communist in the neighborhood.

There she is.

By the way, did you know that some people claim that St. Chad is the patron saint of disputed elections because of the grace and humility he showed in 669 when he was ordered to step down from his disputed role of Bishop of York?  That’s not an official designation, of course but it is something to remember in case things get weird tonight.

St. Chad says, “Behave!”

Back to the video.  The creepy mannequins in this video reside at The Royal de Luxe in Nantes, France.  The Royal de Luxe is a French mechanical marionette street theatre company that is well-known for performances involving giant puppets.  They’ve performed in France, Belgium, England, Germany, Iceland, Chile, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands and Ireland.