City of Bad Men (1953, directed by Harmon Jones)

In the year 1897, an outlaw gang led by brothers Brett (Dale Robertson) and Gar (Lloyd Bridges) ride into the frontier town of Carson City, Nevada.  Brett and Gar remember Carson City as being a sleepy town where not much happens but, when they arrive, they discover that a carnival-like atmosphere has broken out in the streets.  A heavyweight fight between “Gentleman Jim” Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons is scheduled to take place in Carson City and the once sleepy little town has become the center of the old west.

Sheriff Bill Gifford (Hugh Sanders) already knows that he’s going to have his hands full with all of the people coming to town for the fight so he’s not happy to see that Brett and Gar have returned.  When the notorious outlaw Johnny Ringo (Richard Boone) also shows up for the fight, Gifford realizes that he’s going to have to do something unheard of.  He deputizes the three outlaws, assigning them to keep the peace.

Even as deputies, the outlaws scheme to steal the money that’s raised by the fight.  However, Brett is actually more interested in getting back together with his former girlfriend, Linda (Jeanne Crain).  When Gar and Ringo realize that Brett might be backing away from the plan, it leads to a climatic showdown in Carson City.

This B-western tells a semi-true story.  Corbett and Fitzsimmons did fight a match in Carson City in 1897.  The fight lasted for over 90 minutes and ended with an upset victory for Fitzsimmons.  It was the first boxing match to be filmed and it was later released into cinemas as The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight.  It was the first film to last over an hour and it is considered to be the first feature film.  It’s also considered to be the first pay-per-view event because the film of the fight made the boxers more money than the fight itself.  The rest of the film is pure fiction.  (The infamous outlaw Johnny Ringo had been dead for five years by the time of the Corbett/Fitzsimmons fight.)  But even if there wasn’t an attempt to rob the Corbett/Fitzsimmons Fight, the use of the actual fight and the publicity surrounding it serves to remind the audience that the modern world is coming to the frontier.

For most, the main appeal of this film will be to see Dale Robertson, Richard Boone, and Lloyd Bridges acting opposite each other.  All three are well known to western fans.  Boone would later star in Have Gun Will Travel while Robertson appeared in Tales of Wells Fargo, Iron Horse, and Death Valley Days.  Lloyd Bridges previously played the resentful deputy in High Noon.  The three of them are in top form in City of Bad Men, with Bridges especially making an impression as the less honest of the two outlaw brothers.  The three of them play outlaws who know that the era of the lawless west is coming to an end and all three of them have to decide whether they want to go straight or if they want to go out with a bang (some more literally than others).  With the fast-paced script and a dedicated cast, City of Bad Men is a film that will be appreciated by anyone who likes a good western tale.

Retro Television Review: The Love Boat 1.4 “Message for Maureen / Gotcha / Acapulco Connection”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Wednesdays, I will be reviewing the original Love Boat, which aired on ABC from 1977 to 1986!  The series can be streamed on Paramount Plus!

Welcome aboard, it’s love!

Episode 1.4 “Message for Maureen / Gotcha / Acapulco Connection”

(Directed by Stuart Margolin, Richard Kinon, and Peter Baldwin, originally aired on October 15th, 1977)

Oh no!  It’s a stowaway!  I guess any television show that took place on a cruise ship would have to feature at least one storyline featuring a stowaway.  It’s a bit disconcerting that The Love Boat couldn’t make it for more than four episodes before using the most obvious plotline but then again, the show ended up running for 9 seasons and a movie.  So, apparently, audiences didn’t mind and I have a feeling that there will probably be many more stowaway stories to come.

The stowaway in this episode is April Lopez (played by Charo).  Apparently, April became a recurring character, one who appeared in almost every season.  In this, her first appearance, she sneaks onto the boat in Acapulco.  The captain is not happy when she’s discovered hiding in a laundry hamper but everyone else is charmed by just how loud and talkative she is.  Because there’s no available rooms, April is housed with Doc Bricker until she can be dropped off at the next port.  Of course, Doc falls in love because Doc fell in love with everyone who came into his exam room.  Seriously, Doc was an HR nightmare waiting to happen.

Of course, April is not the only exhausting person to be on the ship.  There’s also Cyril Wolfe (Milton Berle), a nonstop practical joker whose wife (Audra Lindley) is getting sick of dealing with him and really, who can blame her?  Cyril greets a total stranger with a joy buzzer.  He carries around a fake, detachable hand so that he can freak people out.  Cyril can’t even give it a rest during their vacation!  Pretty soon, not only his wife but the crew are pretty sick of him.  (Most of the people watching the show will be sick of him, too.)  Do they conspire to toss Cyril overboard?  They could probably get away with it, seeing as how all of the ship’s nominal authority figures are busy dealing with a stowaway who loves to sing.  Somehow, Cyril survives his trip and he and his wife end up more in love than ever.

Finally, Maureen Mitchell (Brenda Benet) is a former tennis player who is now in a wheelchair.  All she wants is a few days of vacation before she meets with a surgeon who might be able to help her walk again.  Unfortunately, she discovers that an arrogant sportswriter named John (Bill Bixby) is also on the cruise!  At first, she wants nothing to do with him but when John injures his knee and has to use a wheelchair for the rest of the cruise, the two of them fall in love….

Hold on.  You know what just occurred to me?  Last week’s episode featured Robert Reed and Loretta Swit as two people who don’t like each other but just happen to end up on the same cruise.  This episode featured Brenda Benet and Bill Bixby as two people who don’t like each other but just happen to end up on the same cruise …. how long did The Love Boat writers last before they said, “Okay, we’re out of stories.  Let’s start repeating ourselves?”

Anyway, this episode was a mixed bag.  Charo and Milton Berle were not particularly subtle performers and their storylines felt as if they were designed to invite them to indulge in their worst impulses as performers.  But Bill Bixby and Brenda Benet had a lot of chemistry as John and Maureen and their story actually worked as a result.  (Bixby and Benet were married at the time they appeared in this episode.)  Plus, the ship looked lovely.  So did the ocean.  That’s what really matters.

Book Review: Chiefs by Stuart Woods

First published in 1981, Chiefs follows the town of Delano, Georgia over the course of five decades.

Delano starts out as a small, rural town, one that sit uneasily on the dividing line between the old and the new South.  Under the leadership of forward-thinking civic leaders like Hugh Holmes, the town starts to grow.  And, like any growing town, it needs a chief of police to maintain the peace.  In 1919, a simple but honest farmer named Will Henry Lee is selected as the town’s first chief of police.  Not selected is the wealthy Foxy Funderburke.  That’s probably for the best because Will Lee is determined to do a good job and fairly treat all of the town’s citizens, regardless of their race or their economic class.  Foxy, meanwhile, is a serial killer who has been killing young men and dumping their bodies all over the county.

Chiefs tells the story of three men who serve as Chief of Police while Delano grows and Foxy continues to murder anyone that he can get his hands on.  Will Henry Lee is followed by Sonny Butts, a war hero who soon turns out to be a corrupt and racist psychopath.  Sonny is eventually followed by Tucker Watts.  As the town’s first black police chief, Tucker has to deal with both racism and Foxy Funderburke’s murders.  However, Tucker himself has a secret of his own, one that links him back to the very first chief of police.

Chiefs is kind of all over the place.  Not only does the novel follow the growth of Delano and the decades-long investigation into all of Foxy Funderburke’s murders but it also finds time for appearances from Franklin D. Roosevelt and a subplot about Billy Lee, Will Henry Lee’s son, running for governor of Georgia and potentially replacing LBJ as Kennedy’s running mate in 1964.  (The President, of course, explains that he’ll make his decision after returning from Dallas.)  At times, it gets to be a bit too much.  The mystery of the Delano murders too often gets pushed aside for the far less interesting political stuff.  Chiefs was Stuart Woods’s first novel and he makes the common first-timers mistake of trying to cram too much into his story.

The book is at its best when it just sticks to Delano.  Foxy Funderburke is not just a murderer but also a symbol of the times when there law was only arbitrarily enforced in the former Confederacy and wealthy, white landowners could pretty much do whatever they wanted without having to worry about the consequences.  Foxy represents the old ways and each chief, even the evil Sonny Butts, represents just a little bit of progress towards the new way.  Though his prose is rarely memorable, Stuart Woods was a good storyteller and Foxy Funderburke is a memorable villain.  (And, to be honest, Foxy Funderburke is a brilliant name.)  Even if their characterizations aren’t particularly deep (Will Lee is honest, Sonny is narcissistic, Tucker is determined to prove himself), the three men who oppose him are all worthy adversaries and it’s interesting see how, over several decades, the three of them each finds a different piece of the puzzle until Foxy’s true nature is finally exposed.  Will Henry Lee may not have known Sonny Butts and Sonny certainly would never have even spoken to Tucker Watts but, in a way, the three of them work together to solve the town’s greatest mystery.

In the end, the book appealed to the side of me that loves a mystery and it also appealed to my dedicated history nerd side.  Chiefs is flawed but compelling.

The Covers of La Paree

1935, by Earle Bergey

La Paree was published from 1930 to 1938.  Each issue featured stories about living and loving in the City of Lights, Paris!  Today, it’s mostly just remembered for its covers.

Here’s a sampling of the covers of La Paree:

1930, by Worth Carnahan

1932, by Raymond Albert Burley

1933, by Earle Bergey

1934, by Earle Bergey

1935, by Earle Bergey

1936, by Earle Bergey

1936, by Peter Driben

1937, by Peter Driben

1937, by Peter Driben

1937, by Peter Driben

Film Review: Corrective Measures (dir by Sean O’Reilly)

Welcome to the future!

War is raging.  Food is scarce.  At the start of the film, a newscaster officially says farewell to Australia as it’s swallowed by the ocean.  Due to some sort of vaguely defined cosmic event, certain citizens have developed super powers.  Normally, you might think that would be a good thing.  Maybe someone can use their super strength to save Australia.  Instead, it’s led to a rise in supervillains.  People with names like The Conductor and the Lobe are terrorizing the world.  Fortunately (or not), a prison has been designed to hold all of these super villains.

Running that prison is Overseer Devlin (Michael Rooker).  Devlin is quick to correct anyone who calls him a warden.  That said, Devlin runs his prison with a firm and sometimes cruel hand.  All of the inmates are forced to wear a leg brace that neutralizes their powers.  They’re at Devlin’s mercy and Devlin knows it.  A sentence to San Tiburon prison is a life sentence, regardless of what the courts may say.  No one gets parole unless Devlin wants them too and Devlin’s not in the business of giving people freedom.

Corrective Measures follows four inmates in particular.  Diego Diaz (Brennan Meija) is an empath, a super power that will be of little help in a prison where empathy is seen as a weakness.  Gordon Tweedy (Tom Cavanagh) is also known as the Conductor because he can control electricity.  Payback (Dan Payne) is a self-styled vigilante who killed evildoers on the outside and who looks forward to killing more on the inside.  Finally, there’s the Lobe (Bruce Willis), who is the most feared supervillain of all.  The Lobe can control minds, but only if his leg brace is removed.  While the Warden prepares for his retirement and considers who among his staff he should name as a his replacement, the inmates simply try to survive from one day to the next.

Corrective Measures is an episodic film, with the focus continually shifting from one character to another.  When the film begins, Payback seems like he’s going to be the main character but then the focus shifts to Diego and The Conductor.  Towards the end of the film, the focus switches once again and it becomes about The Lobe and his schemes.  The one theme running through the entire film is the struggle to maintain one’s freedom and dignity in even the most difficult of circumstances.  Yes, Corrective Measures might be a low-budget super hero film and yes, it was based on a graphic novel but it’s also a mediation on what it means to be free in a society that persecutes anyone who is perceived as failing to conform.  That theme elevates the film, making it more than just a B-movie.  If Sam Fuller directed a comic book movie, it would probably look something like Corrective Measures.

The actors also do wonders with the material, with Michael Rooker giving an entertainingly evil performance as Warden Devlin and Tom Cavanagh turning The Conductor into a surprisingly poignant character.  That said, I imagine most people will be watching this film because it was one of the final films that Bruce Willis worked on before announcing his retirement from acting.  It is true that Willis does spend the majority of this film in his cell.  It’s rare that he’s ever actually seen in a shot with any of the other actors, leading me to suspect that Willis probably shot all of his scenes in a day or two.  Despite that, Willis is well-cast as The Lobe and there’s even a few scenes where he seems like the Willis of old, smirking at his opponents and dismissing them with a well-timed insult.  While it’s obvious that Willis was not in the best shape when he shot his scenes, Corrective Measures still feels like a better closing act than something like American Siege.

Corrective Measures is a far better film than I think anyone would have expected it to be.  It’s a celebration of freedom that understands why it’s worth celebrating.

Miniseries Review: Mike (dir by Craig Gillespie, Tiffany Johnson, and Director X)

“Who is Mike Tyson?” is question that’s asked by the new Hulu miniseries, Mike.

The answer to that question is that he’s a boring guy who did some interesting things.

For instance, he became a boxer and was briefly the world champion before he was brought down by his own hubris.  That’s interesting, largely because it’s something that seems to happen to quite a few people who suddenly find themselves on top of the world but don’t have the maturity necessary to handle it.  However, that, in itself, does not Mike Tyson an interesting human being.  It just makes him an example of how history repeats itself.

He bit off an opponent’s ear during a boxing match.  That’s interesting because it was such a savage act and it scandalized people who otherwise have no problem watching two men beat each other until one loses consciousness.  Causing brain damage is okay but God forbid you bite off a piece of someone’s ear.  But the fact that Mike bit off the guy’s ear does not, in itself, make Mike Tyson interesting.  It just makes him a jerk.

Mike Tyson has a facial tattoo that doesn’t really mean anything.  A lot of people have stupid tattoos.

Mike Tyson has a distinctive way of speaking.  So do a lot of other people.

Mike Tyson spent three years in prison after being convicted of raping a contestant in a beauty pageant.  Tyson was and is certainly more famous than the typical convict and, somehow, that conviction has not prevented him from becoming a beloved cultural institution in the United States.  The hypocrisy is interesting.  Mike Tyson is not.

At least, that’s the impression that I got from this 8-episode miniseries.  Seven of the episodes feature Tyson (played by Trevante Rhodes) performing a one-man show in front of an audience in Indiana.  Believe it or not, this is based on fact.  Apparently, Mike Tyson did have a one-man show, in which he would discuss his career and his life.  (Jeff even wrote a review of it for this very site!)  We watch flashbacks as the show’s version of Tyson provides a self-serving narration and, to be honest, it seems like it would be the most boring one-man show ever.  Tyson talks about growing up poor and with a mother who alternated between hating and loving him.  He talks about his first trainer (played by Harvey Keitel, who often seems to be channeling Jonathan Banks) and his first marriage.  Mostly he talks about how he feels that almost everyone in his life betrayed him.  The first two episodes, which deal with Tyson’s youth, are effective because they examine how a childhood of mental and physical abuse can set the course of someone’s entire life.  However, once adult Tyson shows up, Mike becomes far less compelling.  It’s hard not to get tired of listening to him blame everyone else for his own increasingly poor decisions.

The one exception to the show’s format is episode 5, which is told from the point of view of Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks), the woman who Tyson was convicted of raping.  This is a powerful stand-alone episode, both because of Eubanks’s performance and because it’s the only episode to not be seen through Tyson’s eyes.  It’s the episode that allows the viewer to see Tyson the way the rest of the world saw Tyson.  And yet it’s difficult to feel that, when viewed in the context of the entire miniseries, this episode is a bit of a cop-out.  It’s the only episode to focus on someone who was hurt by Tyson but it’s surrounded by episodes that once again portray Tyson as being a victim of his managers, his fans, and society at large.  Desiree is given one episode and then disappears from the narrative whereas the show’s version of Tyson is given seven episodes to justify himself.  One gets the feeling that the show’s producers knew that they had to include Desiree but they also knew that revealing Tyson’s version of the events would have also meant revealing that he continues to insist that he was the victim and that would have totally messed up the show’s final redemption arc.  And so, the narrative burden is temporarily placed on Desiree and Tyson only returns once it is time to discuss what it was like being in prison.

Mike was produced by Craig Gillespie, who also directed I, Tonya.  Like I, Tonya, Mike features characters frequently breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to the audience.  In fact, it happens so frequently that it gets to be kind of annoying.  Breaking the fourth wall really wasn’t even that original when it happened in I, Tonya.  In Mike, it becomes a trick that’s used to try to make Mike Tyson into a more interesting character than he is.  But it feels empty, largely because it doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know or couldn’t have guessed on our own.

The miniseries itself was made without the participation of the real-life Mike Tyson.  Tyson condemned the show as being an attempt to make money off of his life and he actually does have a point.  Unfortunately, the miniseries itself doesn’t have anything new to add to the story of Tyson.  It’s an 8 episode Wikipedia entry.  At some point, the streaming services may need to realize that not every celeb needs to be the subject of a miniseries.  Simply being famous does not always make for a compelling story.

Music Video of the Day: Couple Days Off by Huey Lewis and the News (1991, directed by Jim Yukich)

Everyone needs a couple of days off, even Huey Lewis and the News!

This song was the final single from Huey to chart in the Billboard Top 20.  For better or worse (I would say “better”), Huey Lewis and the News were the epitome of a mid 80s band.  They worked hard and they made videos that celebrated having a good time.  They were never as obnoxious or openly hedonistic as the hair bands of era but they were also out-of-place in the angst-filled 90s.  But while everyone else continues to pay thousands to see Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis and the News will always be the blue collar bar band for me.

This video was directed by Jim Yuckich, who has directed videos for everyone.