The Dawn Rider (1935, directed by Robert N. Bradbury)

Cowboy John Mason (John Wayne) rides into a frontier town.  He is planning on working with his father, rancher Dad Mason (Joseph De Grasse).  Unfortunately, John arrives just in time to witness his father being killed by a gang of thieves.  John is wounded while chasing the thieves but, once he recovers, he’s determined to get vengeance against the man who killed his father.  That man is Rudd Gordon (Dennis Gordon), who is also the brother of Alice Gordon (Marion Burns), the woman who nursed John back to health and who is also engages to marry John’s best friend, Ben McLure (Reed Howes).

There is a little deliberate humor to be found in The Dawn Rider.  Every time someone is shot, the undertaker (Nelson McDowell) steps out of his office and measures the body while the town doctor celebrates having some business coming his way.  Otherwise, this is one of the most serious films that John Wayne made in the years before Stagecoach made him a star.  John Mason is determined to get revenge, even if his obsession means hurting his best friend’s fiancé.  (Though John Mason is less fanatical, it is easy to imagine him growing up to be The Searchers‘s Ethan Edwards.)  Ben has to decide whether to support his friend or the woman that he loves.  (Complicating matters is that John is in love with Alice, too.)  John Wayne and Reed Howes are a good team and Dennis Gordon is a convincing villain.  There’s a good action scene involving John protecting a gold shipment from the gang and the final shootout is handled well.  This 55-minute programmer undoubtedly taught many young viewers about frontier justice, even if they didn’t pick up on the film’s ambiguity.  The Dawn Rider is one of the more mature of John Wayne’s early films and offers hints of the actor that John Wayne would eventually become.

Retro Television Reviews: Hang Time 4.3 “Let Them Play” and 4.4 “Lend A Helping Hammer”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Mondays, I will be reviewing Hang Time, which ran on NBC from 1995 to 2000.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

Season 4 continues!  Will Coach K ever figure out how to step into Coach Fuller’s shoes?  Will the team ever come together?  Will Julie and Mary Beth ever graduate?  Let’s find out!

Episode 4.3 “Let Them Play”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on September 19th, 1998)

Another big game is coming up but the majority of the team doesn’t want to play it!  It turns out that one of their rival teammates is HIV+ and, as a result, high schools across Indiana have been refusing to play them.  When Coach K puts it to a team vote, only Michael argues that they shouldn’t cancel their upcoming game.  Even St. Julie votes to cancel the game.

However, Michael then brings the HIV+ positive player down to The Stadium, the oddly sterile restaurant where everyone hangs out.  The team discovers that their rival is just like them and almost all of them change their minds about playing.  The only one who doesn’t now want to play is …. JULIE!  Julie tells Michael that she doesn’t feel safe playing against a player with HIV, especially since she’ll be the one guarding him in the game.  “C’mon, Julie,”  Michael says, “we need you in this game!”  And Michael’s correct because, if there’s anything we’ve learned from Hang Time, it’s that Julie is the only good basketball player in Indiana.  Maybe that’s why she’s been allowed to stay at the high school for an extra year….

Despite the players changing their minds, the school board says that the game still cannot be played.  As a way to protest, the teams decide to play an “unofficial” game.  When a member of the school board comes by the gym to complain, Julie sees that it’s the same member of the board who always says that a girl shouldn’t be allowed to play basketball!  Julie decides that she will play, once again proving that the best way to get Julie to do anything is to make it all about Julie.

This is one of those episodes that probably would have worked much better with the “old” cast.  I imagine if this episode had aired during the previous season, Danny would have been the one arguing that the team should play and that would have been totally in character for him.  Turning Michael into a social crusader with a conscience goes against everything that we’ve learned about Michael up until this point.  As well, we still don’t know any of the new players so it’s a bit hard to know how to react to their feelings about playing against someone who is HIV positive.  Are they prejudiced or are they just worried?  Are they homophobic or are they just uneducated about how HIV is transmitted?  And, finally, it’s hard not to notice that Dick Butkus has a bit less gravitas than Reggie Theus when it comes to discussing whether or not HIV can be transmitted through playing basketball.  This episode came across as being well-intentioned but heavy-handed.

The B-plot features Mary Beth encouraging Kristy to write an angry letter to the art teacher who gave her a C on an assignment. As played by Amber Baretto, Kristy put so much joy into writing her letter that it was fun to watch.  I laughed

Episode 4.4 “Lend A Helping Hammer”

(Dir by Patrick Maloney, originally aired on September 19th, 1998)

Nick Hammer gets his first storyline as a member of the Tornadoes!  When he falls for Taylor, the new waitress at the Stadium, he’s shocked to discover that she and her family live at a homeless shelter.  On Saved By The Bell, when Zack liked a girl who was without a home, he arranged for her and her father to live at his house.  (And, much like the tenants of H.H. Holmes, they were never seen, heard from, or mentioned again….)  Nick, however, convinces the Coach that, instead of using the money raised at the school dance to buy new uniforms, the money should be donated to Taylor and her family.  Of course,  Nick also accidentally announces that Taylor is homeless to the entire school.

This was another episode that probably would have worked better with the old cast.  It’s easy to imagine it as being another Danny storyline.  Nick goes out of his way to help someone in need, which is nice, but we don’t really know Nick so we don’t know if his behavior is unusual or if he just does this for everyone that he meets.  It was a well-intentioned episode but it did seem to suggest that the best way to deal with homelessness is to have a bunch of wealthy friends.  Everyone goes out of their way to help Taylor but everyone else at the shelter just kind of gets ignored.

In the B-plot, Kristy is using a lot of slang.  Julie says that it’s because Kristy recently read a book by Queen Latifah.  In the C-plot, the Coach makes the team take a ballet lesson to make them more flexible.  “Ballet!” I excitedly exclaimed, when the idea was first brought up.  Unfortunately, the ballet scene is really short and the entire team has terrible form.

So far, Hang Time Season 4 has yet to escape the shadow of the past.  Hopefully, next week will be better for the Tornadoes and their new coach.

Film Review: Heroes (dir by Jeremy Kagan)

The 1977 film, Heroes, tells the story of Jack Dunne (a young Henry Winkler).

Jack spent four years fighting in Vietnam.  Since returning to America, he has struggled to adjust to civilian life.  Though he’s mentally blocked out much of what happened in Vietnam, he’s haunted by nightmares,  When we first meet him, he’s a patient at a mental health facility in New York City.  He has big plans, though.  He wants to open up a worm farm in Eureka, California.  He’s convinced that he can make a ton of money selling worms to fisherman and he wants all of the old members of his unit to join him in the venture.  After Jack escapes from the hospital, he boards a bus heading for California.

He also meets Carol (Sally Field), who is supposed to be getting married in four days but who has decided to board a bus and take an impromptu vacation instead.  When Carol is told that the bus is already full and she’ll have to wait for the next one, Jack bribes the ticket agent to get Carol on the bus.  Once on the bus, Jack makes himself into a nuisance, continually bothering the driver (Val Avery) and embarrassing Carol.  (In the film’s defense, it’s later established that Jack isn’t just being a jerk for fun.  The driver’s uniform makes Jack nervous.  That said, it’s hard not to feel bad for the driver, who is just doing his stressful job to the best of his ability.)  Carol and Jack do eventually strike a tentative friendship.  They’re linked by the fact that they’re both trying to escape from something.

At a diner, Jack tells her that he served in Vietnam.

“I protested the war,” Carol says.

“I fought it,” he replies.

Carol eventually joins with Jack in his quest to track down the three people who he expects to go into business with.  One of them is missing.  One of them never returned home from the war.  And the third, Ken (Harrison Ford), is living in a trailer and raising rabbits for a living.  Ken is also a stock car racer, though he eventually admits that he rarely wins.  In fact, he seems to spend most of his time drinking and shooting off the M16 that he keeps in his car’s trunk.  Meeting Ken sends Jack spiraling into depression but, with Carol’s help, Jack is finally starts to come to terms with the reality of what happened to him and his friends in Vietnam.

Heroes was one of the first films to sympathetically portray the plight of Vietnam veterans struggling to adjust to life back in the United States and it certainly deserves a lot of credit for its good intentions.  (Indeed, it’s implied that a part of Carol’s concern from Jack comes from her own guilt over how the anti-war movement treated the returning soldiers.)  That said, the film itself is an awkward mix of drama and comedy.  The first half of the film, in which Henry Winkler comes across like he’s doing a manic Al Pacino impersonation, is especially uneven.  Winkler and Field are both naturally likable enough that the film remains watchable but, during the first half of the film, most viewers will never buy their relationship for a second.  It’s hard to believe that the driver wouldn’t have kicked Jack off the bus as soon as he started to cause trouble and the other passengers often seem to be unrealistically charmed by Jack’s behavior.  If I’m on a crowded bus and some dude insists on walking up and down the aisle and taunting the driver, I’m probably going to get off at the first stop and refuse to get back on.  Traveling with a bunch of strangers is already nerve-wracking enough without having to deal with all of that.

Not surprisingly, things improve once Harrison Ford shows up.  This was one of Ford’s last character parts before he was cast as Han Solo in Star Wars.  (Heroes, however, was released after Star Wars, which explains why Ford is mentioned prominently in the trailer despite having a relatively small role.)  Ford gives a strong performance as the amiable but ultimately self-destructive Ken.  Ford plays Ken as someone whose quick smile is a cover for the fact that his entire life is a mess.  Whereas Jack wears his emotions on his sleeve (and Winkler never stops projecting those emotions), Ken is someone who has repressed his anger and his sadness and Ford gives an internalized and controlled performance.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Winkler calms down a bit when he’s acting opposite Ford and, as a result, his own performance starts to improve.

After the meeting with Ken, Jack starts to realize that it’s not going to be as easy to start his business as he thought.  Jack starts to come down from his manic high and, even more importantly, Henry Winkler stops overacting and instead, starts to dig into the sadness at the heart of Jack’s life.  During its second half, the film finally settles on being a drama and Heroes becomes a much stronger story as a result.  Even Jack and Carol’s relationship seems to make more sense during the second half of the film.  Things end on a note of cautious optimism, which also acknowledging that life can never go back to what it was before the war.

Today, if anyone watches Heroes, it’s probably going to be for Harrison Ford.  (I imagine the presence of Harrison Ford is the reason why it’s currently available on Netflix.)  It’s a bit of an uneven film, one that feels as if it should have been stronger than it actually was.  Still, it’s a worthwhile time capsule of 1977 and America’s struggle to come to terms with the Vietnam War.  Today, we’re still struggling to come to terms with what happened in Iraq and with the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and, again, it seems like the country is too busy trying to move on to take the time to take care of its veterans.  It’s sad that so many people only seem to care about the soldiers who fight in popular wars.  Heroes was a plea to America not to forget its veterans.  It’s a plea that still needs to be heard.

Monday Live Tweet Alert: Join Us For Warrior of the Lost World and Copycat!

As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in hosting a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, for #MondayActionMovie, the film will be 1983’s Warrior of the Lost World!  Selected and hosted by me, this film features car motorcycles, explosions, Donald Pleasence, and a timely message about creeping authoritarianism!  The movie starts at 8 pm et!  Here’s the playlist!

Following #MondayActionMovie, Brad and Sierra will be hosting the #MondayMuggers live tweet.  They will be watching Sigourney Weaver in 1995’s Copycat!  Check the hosts’s twitter accounts for a link to the film!

It should make for a night of fun viewing and I invite all of you to join in.  If you want to join the live tweets, just hop onto twitter, start the Warrior of the Lost World playlist  at 8 pm et, and use the #MondayActionMovie hashtag!  Then, at 10 pm et, start Copycat, and use the #MondayMuggers hashtag!  The live tweet community is a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.    

Hope to see you there!

Music Video of the Day: If You Come To Me by Atomic Kitten (2003, dir by Si & Ad)

The next time someone tells you that music was generic and predictable in the early aughts …. well, don’t try to refute their case with Atomic Kitten.

This video was shot in front of a greenscreen.  There’s no plot but there is a lot of dancing and personally, I think that’s a good thing.  Back in 2003, there was really no need to pretend that the song and the video were meant to do anything other than sell the group and score a spot on the soundtrack of the next Lizzie McGuire movie.

Personally, I like Atomic Kitten because of their name.