The Bravos (1972, directed by Ted Post)


Major John David Harkness (George Peppard) is the commander of Fort Bravo, a small and ill-equipped frontier fort.  Despite having only 77 soldiers and not many supplies, Harkness has managed to keep an uneasy peace between the local Indian tribes and the settlers who move through the area.  The peace, however, is disturbed when an arrogant wagon master (Pernell Roberts) kills the son of the tribal chief.

That’s not all that Harkness has to worry about.  A German outlaw (Bo Svenson) is hiding out at the camp.  His head scout (L.Q. Jones) suspects that something is forcing the local tribes out of the area.  Two settlers from Missouri (played by Barry Brown and Belinda Montgomery) are at the fort and trying to decide whether they should continue westward or return to Missouri.  Finally, Harkness’s 12 year-old son, Peter (Vincent Van Patten), has been expelled from his New England boarding school and is being sent to Fort Bravo to live with his father.  When Major Harkness refuses to turn the wagon master over to the Indians, they kidnap his son instead.

The Bravos was made for television and originally aired on ABC in 1972.  It was apparently meant to serve as the pilot for a television series, one that would have followed the daily adventures of the Major, his son, and all of the men at Fort Bravo (who were played by television mainstays like Dana Elcar, Randolph Mantooth, and George Murdock.)  For all intents and purposes, Pernell Roberts, Bo Svenson, Belinda Montgomery, and Barry Brown are all “special guest stars” and are meant to serve as examples of the type of television-friendly actors who would visit Fort Bravo on a weekly basis.  That the pilot didn’t lead to a series isn’t surprising.  TV westerns may have dominated the ratings in the 50s and the 60s but they quickly went out of fashion in the 70s as networks realized that they could make more money selling ad space for Norman Lear sitcoms and cop shows.  In the 70s, the people that advertisers were wanting to reach were watching Archie Bunker and Starsky and Hutch, not George Peppard.

Because of its TV origins, The Bravos is a fairly bland western.  It would be a few years before George Peppard would reinvent himself as a grizzled character actor and he’s sincere but fairly dull here.  Pernell Roberts is more effective as the headstrong wagon master and perhaps The Bravos would have worked better if Roberts and Peppard had switched roles.  In the end, the main reason to see the film is for the chance to see L.Q. Jones play a heroic role for once.  A member of Sam Peckinpah’s stock company, Jones brings some authentic grit to his role as the fort’s only scout.  Jones played a lot of villains but I always preferred him as one of the good guys.

The Bravos ends with a few major subplots unresolved.  Maybe they would have been resolved during the show’s first season but it was not to be.

Novel Review: Scarface by Armitage Trail


First published in 1930, Scarface tells the story of Tony Guarino.  Tony was an 18 year-old hoodlum, working his way through the Chicago rackets.  Unfortunately, for Tony, he started to draw too much attention from the cops and his gangster boss told Tony to stop hanging around so much.  Miffed, Tony decided to join the Army.

Tony served with a valor in World War I.  He was natural leader and had no hesitation when it came to killing people.  He was “a good soldier,” as the novel puts it.  When he’s wounded in battle, he’s left with a facial scar that changes his appearance to the extent that even his own family doesn’t recognize him when he returns to Chicago.  Of course, due to a clerical mistake, they also think that Tony’s dead.  After killing his former mistress and her new lover, Tony somewhat randomly decides to change his name to Tony Camonte and take over the Chicago underworld.

He gets a job working for Johnny Love.  Scarface Tony, as he is called now, works his way up.  Soon, Tony is in charge of the Lovo mob and he even has a girlfriend, a former “gun girl” named Jane.  Unfortunately, Tony also has a lot of enemies.  Captain Flanagan may take Tony’s money but he still wants to put Tony behind bars.  The DA may take Tony’s money but he still wants to put Tony behind bars.  The cops way take Tony’s money but …. well, okay, you get the idea.  Tony can’t trust anyone.  Complicating things is that his older brother is moving his way up in the police force and his younger sister has been hanging out with Tony’s main gunman.  And there’s a new gang boss in town.  His nickname is Schemer.  You know he has to be bad with a nickname like that!

I read Scarface yesterday.  It’s only 181 pages long and it’s a quick read.  It’s also not a particularly well-written book.  The prose is often clunky.  The dialogue is awkward.  Tony really doesn’t have any motivation beyond the fact that he’s a jerk.  We’re continually told that Tony has become one of the most powerful gangsters in the country but we don’t really see any evidence of it.  One of the basic rules is that it’s better to show than to tell and this novel is all about telling instead of showing.  What there is of a plot feels like it was made up on the spot.  For instance, with the exception of an off-hand mention of her in the first chapter, the character of Tony’s sister doesn’t even figure into the story until it is nearly done and, yet, the story’s conclusion pretty much hinges on her existence.  Though not as well-written, Scarface is still a bit like The Epic of Gilgamesh.  Writer Armitage Trail just kept coming up with complications until he finally ran out of tablets and had no choice but to abruptly end things.

That said, the book is notable in that it served as the inspiration for Howard Hawks’s 1932 film, Scarface.  The Hawks film, which only loosely follows the plot of Trail’s book and which wisely abandons some of the less credible plot points, would later be remade by Brian De Palma, with Al Pacino stepping into the role of Tony.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Film Review: Assault on VA-33 (dir by Christopher Ray)


Adrian (Weston Cage Coppola) is an international criminal and terrorist, a man who isn’t going to let a little thing like being wanted by the FBI prevent him from getting what he wants.  Adrian wants his brother to be freed from prison.  He wants money.  He wants a plane that he and his criminal associates can use to get out of the country.  His plan is to take over a veteran’s hospital and hold the patients and the doctors hostage until he gets what he wants.  Among the hostages is General Welch (Gerald Webb) of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Also inside of VA-33 is Jason Hill (Sean Patrick Flannery).  Jason is a decorated veteran who is struggling with PTSD and a bad leg.  Jason’s wife, Jennifer (Gina Holden), is a doctor at the hospital and also one of the hostages.  With his 14 year-old daughter waiting for him outside and the initially skeptical police chief Malone (Michael Jai White) providing as much support as he can, Jason must take out of the terrorists and liberate VA-33.

Assault on VA-33 is an entertaining action film.  The film was directed by Christopher Ray, the son of Fred Olen Ray.  From his father, Christopher Ray obviously picked up the ability to make an enjoyable film on a low budget.  However, Ray also served, for seven years, in the U.S. Navy and there’s a deep respect for veterans that runs throughout Assault on VA-33, a respect that sets this film apart from many of the other Die Hard-inspired action films that have come out over the years.  For me, the film’s key scene is not any of the many action sequences but instead it’s when Jason first attempts to call the police and finds himself being dismissed because the man on the other end, upon hearing that Jason is at the VA, just assumes that Jason is suffering from paranoid hallucinations.  “Thank you for your service,” the voice at the other end of the line says somewhat condescendingly as Jason struggles to get the police to understand that this is all really happening.  The consequences of war is a theme that runs through the entire film as both Jason and the General struggle to deal with the physical and mental scars with which they’ve been afflicted.

Sean Patrick Flannery is a good action hero, playing Jason not as being superhuman but instead as just being a tough but weary man who, due to his past injuries, doesn’t move quite as fast as he used to but who is still trying to do the right thing and protect innocent people, including his wife and his daughter.  Adrian’s henchmen are all properly memorable and menacing.  I especially liked Tim McKiernan as the terrorist who is left in charge of the front desk.  Rob Van Dam has some good moments as the terrorist who has been assigned to wait outside in the van and who keeps reminding everyone that his name is Zero.

Assault on VA-33 is a fun and quickly paced action movie.  Flannery is an effective hero and the villains are all properly evil.  I would also suggest sticking around through the end credits, just so you can enjoy the film’s musical score, which is definitely a bit better than the music that we typically associate with indie action films.  It’s an enjoyable movie and a good way to spend 88 minutes of your life.

Music Video of the Day: Cruisin’, covered by Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow (2000, dir by Bruce Paltrow)


Does anyone remember that film Duets?

It came out in 2000 and it was a film about the cutthroat world of karaoke competitions.  If you don’t remember it, that’s okay.  It’s not like it’s some sort of lost classic or something.  I saw it a few years ago and my main impression was that whoever made it was so fascinated by the world of karaoke that he never considered that not everyone else would be.

Anyway, when the movie came out, the main thing that everyone knew about it was that it featured a scene where Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis sang a song together.  That song was a cover of Smokey Robinson’s Cruisin‘ and even though the movie was never a big hit, the song was on the radio all through 2000 and 2001.  Some people thought it was weird that they were singing a somewhat romantic song when they were playing father and daughter.  Well, maybe so.  But let me tell you something about karaoke — you go with whatever song you can sing.  My sisters and I used to sing karaoke all the time.  We would embarrass the Hell out of my mom and we once had a DJ yell at us because one of us very dramatically dropped the microphone on the stage after we finished our song.  (Yes, it was me.)  Now, my sisters all have good singing voice.  Me, I can barely carry a tune.  I can dance but I can’t sing.  However, I did discover that I could sing backup on Love Shack so every time my sisters and I hit karaoke night at Grandpa Tony’s, the first thing that we would do would be find some guy drunk enough to sing Love Shack while Erin and I provided backup.  As long as I got to yell “Rusted!” after Erin said, “Tin roof!,” I was happy.  Grandpa Tony’s, by the way, was a nice little restaurant that was near the airport.  It was owned by an ex-boxer who always came out to flirt with mom.  They had the best chips and queso and, every Friday night, there would be a lot of drunk pilots and flight attendants singing Love Shack along with us.  Unfortunately, the place has since closed down.

Where as I?  Oh yeah, today’s music video of the day is Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis covering Crusin.  Enjoy!

Baby, let’s cruise away from here
Don’t be confused, the way is clear
And if you want it, you got it forever
This is not a one-night stand, baby, yeah
So, let the music take your mind
Ooh, just release and you will find

You gonna fly away, glad you’re goin’ my way
I love it when we’re cruisin’ together
The music is played for love, cruisin’ is made for love
I love it when we’re cruisin’ together

Baby, tonight belongs to us
Everything’s right, do what you must
And inch by inch we get closer and closer
To every little part of each other
Let the music take your mind
Just release and you will find, baby

You gonna fly away, glad you’re goin’ my way
I love it when we’re cruising together
The music is played for love, cruisin’ is made for love
I love it when we’re cruisin’ together

Cruise with me, baby
Cruise with me, baby

Cruise
Ooh, ooh, baby, yeah
Oh, baby
Oh, oh, ah, baby
So good to cruise with you, baby
So good to cruise with you, baby
Ooh, yeah, you and me, baby

Oh, baby, let’s cruise
Let’s flow, let’s glide
Ooh, let’s open up, and go inside
And if you want, it you got it forever
I can just stay there inside you
And love you, baby, oh…
Let the music take your mind
Just release and you will find, baby

You gonna fly away, glad you’re goin’ my way
I love it when we’re cruising together
The music is played for love, cruisin’ is made for love
I love it when we’re cruisin’ together

You gonna fly away, glad you’re goin’ my way
I love it when we’re cruising together
The music is played for love, cruisin’ is made for love
I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it…