Sagebrush Trail (1933, directed by Armand Schaefer)

Accused and convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit, John Brant (John Wayne) breaks out of prison in Maryland and, following the advice of Horace Greeley, he goes west.  After making a narrow escape from the authorities, he meets and befriends Joseph Conlan (Lane Chandler).  Conlan brings Brant into his gang, where Brant starts out as a cook but is soon being assigned to help rob stores and stagecoaches.  Despite his time in prison, Brant is no criminal and he secretly thwarts every robbery that the gang tries to pull off.  When the gang starts to suspect that Brant might be an undercover cop, Conlan is the only one willing to stand up for him and help him.  Conlan is also responsible for the murder that Brant was accused of committing.

John Wayne as a hardened escaped convict?  Maybe the older John Wayne could have pulled that off but, in 1933, Wayne was still too cheerful and easy going to be believable as someone who had spent the last few months doing hard time.  Fortunately, even early in his career, Wayne was convincing when riding a horse or shooting a gun and that’s probably all that the audience for these short programmers demanded.  There’s also an exciting scene where Wayne is forced to swim across a pond while his pursuers shoot at him.  As the criminal with a conscience, Lane Chandler steals the film.

Fans of westerns will want to keep an eye out for legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt, playing yet another outlaw gang leader.  Yakima Canutt started out his career risking his life as a rodeo rider and then went on to risk his life ever more as Hollywood’s most daring stunt performer.  When he got too old to continue doing stunt work, he became a second unit director, for John Ford and others.  He staged Ben-Hur‘s famous chariot race and was credited with making sure that not a single horse was hurt and not a single human was seriously injured during filming.  Yakima Canutt lived to be 90 years old, outliving most of the actors from whom he doubled as a stuntman.

Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.14 “Séance/The Treasure”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, Eve Plumb and Leslie Nielsen visit Fantasy Island!

Episode 2.14 “Séance/The Treasure”

(Dir by Larry Stewart, originally aired on January 13th, 1979)

Tattoo is a horse thief!  He claims that he just found the horse while wandering around the island but later, he comes across a wanted poster that has his picture on it and the declaration that Tattoo is wanted dead or alive.  Mr. Roarke gets a good laugh out of that and even repeats the words, “Dead or alive,” as if he’s realizing that he’s finally found a way to get rid of his assistant.  Fortunately, Mr. Roarke has a change of heart and, at the end of the episode, buys the horse for Tattoo.  Awwwww!

As for this week’s guests, Joe Capos (George Maharis) is a fisherman who has always wondered what it would be like to be a millionaire.  Joe and his wife, Eva (Shelley Fabares), come to the island and find themselves set up in a house that looks exactly like the one where Joe grew up.  One day, Joe goes out fishing and what should he find in his net but a gold statue of Triton blowing his horn!  It’s a valuable artifact, one that could make Joe a millionaire if it is found to be authentic.  Soon, Joe is surrounded by a bunch of people who are hoping to be on his good side when he becomes rich.  He’s the most popular man on the island!  Unfortunately, Joe is having so much fun being rich and popular that his neglected wife leaves him.  Joe knows that the only way to get Eva back is to return the statue to the ocean but will he have the courage to give up wealth and fame for love?

Meanwhile, Eve Plumb plays — wait a minute, Eve Plumb?  Just last week, Robert Reed was on the show, playing a method actor who thought he was a vampire.  Now, the original Jan Brady has come to the island.  I wonder if the entire Brady Bunch will eventually make it to Fantasy Island?

Plumb is playing Clare Conti, a young woman who suspects that her twin brother was murdered.  In order to prove it, her fantasy is to have a séance and contact him.  Her entire family comes to the Island for the séance, including Uncle Victor (Leslie Nielsen).  This episode is Neilsen’s second appearance on the Fantasy Island and, again, he’s playing a very serious and a very somber character but, because he’s so deadpan about it, it’s hard not hear everything that he says as being a joke.  It’s always great fun to see Nielsen playing humorless authority figures in the days before he became a comedy superstar.  The only thing that would make this episode better would be if Nielsen turned out to be the murderer but sadly, he’s not.  As for the rest of the fantasy, the séance scenes manage to strike the right balance between being creepy and being campy.  Clare’s dead brother yells a lot but I guess that’s what you do when you’re trying to communicate from the beyond.

This was an enjoyable episode, featuring good performances from the guest stars and fantasies that were intriguing without demanding too much from the audience.  This trip to Fantasy Island was more than worth it.

Film Review: Warrior of the Lost World (dir by David Worth)

The 1983 Italian film, Warrior of the Lost World, opens with a long title card that explains that society has collapsed, due to radiation, disease, wars, and multiple bank bail-outs.  The world of the future is a dangerous place, where the roads are ruled by dangerous scavengers.  It’s a world where survival is not guaranteed and only those who are willing to fight will live to see another day and….

Well, look, I’ll be honest.  It was a really long title card and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I don’t have a particularly long attention span.  I read about the radiation and the diseases and then I kind of zoned out.  The important thing to know is that the film takes place in the future and that the film was made in the wake of the international success of The Road Warrior.  In the early 80s, the Italian film industry briefly abandoned zombies to make movies about people driving cars through a post-apocalyptic landscape.  In fact, I initially assumed that David Worth was a pseudonym for someone like Enzo Castelleri or even Umberto Lenzi.  David Worth is actually a cinematographer who worked on a few Clint Eastwood films and who went to Italy to make his directorial debut with Warrior of the Lost World.  After this film, Worth went on to direct Kickboxer and handful of others.

(One thing that’s always interesting about watching these films is discovering that people were speculating about the collapse of society long before 2023.  It’s kind of nice to be reminded that people have always been panicking about something, even while society itself continued to survive and grow.)

Robert Ginty stars as The Rider, a man so tough that he doesn’t even need a name.  The Rider and his motorcycle travel across the country.  The Motorcycle can talk, though it’s screechy voice might make you wish that it couldn’t.  It warns The Rider whenever there’s danger nearby.  When a bunch of punk rock rejects attempt to attack the Rider, his motorcycle identifies them as being “dorks.”  Later, when the Rider is looking at a woman who he has just saved from death, the Motorcycle orders, “Kiss the girl!”  The Motorcycle has a weird quirk where it says everything three times.  The Rider talks back to the Motorcycle but he always mumbles all of his lines, to the extent that it’s often difficult to really understand what he’s saying.  It’s hard not to get the feeling that Robert Ginty couldn’t believe that he was actually having to pretend as if he was a heart-to-heart with a motorcycle.

(The Rider’s bike is actually named Einstein but, to me, it will always by The Motorcycle.)

After the Rider crashes into a wall, he’s nursed back to health by a bunch of old people who are trying to organize a rebellion against the evil Prossor (Donald Pleasence), who rules the State of Omega.  Prossor has kidnapped the rebellion’s leader, Prof. McWayne (Harrison Muller, Jr).  The old people want The Rider to accompany McWayne’s daughter, Natasia (Persis Khambatta), to Prossor’s city.  The Rider whines about being asked but eventually agrees to do so.  I’m not sure why The Rider agrees to help because The Rider seriously never stops complaining about how inconvenient the whole journey is.  While The Rider does manage to rescue McWayne, Natasia gets left behind so, of course, the Rider has to do it all over again.  Fortunately, it turns out that the Omega army isn’t quite as competent as everyone claims that they are.  In fact, outsmarting Prosser is so easy that you can’t help but wonder why no one bothered to it before.

Warrior of the Lost World is not necessarily a good movie but, when watched with a group of friends and with the right snarky attitude, it is a fun movie.  The action and the plotting is just so over-the-top and ridiculous that it’s hard to look away from the screen and Robert Ginty seems so genuinely annoyed by every little thing that happens that it’s hard not to wonder if maybe The Rider read the script before heading off to confront Prossor.  An extended sequence is devoted to everyone singing the Rebellion’s national anthem, the great Donald Pleasence rants like a pro, Fred Williamson has a largely pointless cameo, and the film features what appears to be a 20-minute kiss between The Rider and Natasia.  (The Motorcycle watches.)  If you can’t have fun while watching Warrior of the Lost World, I just don’t know what to tell you.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Russ Meyer Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More 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!

101 years ago, on the very day, Russ Meyer was born in San Leandro, California.  Meyer would get his start filming newsreels during World War II, with much of his newsreel footage later showing up in films like the 1970 Oscar winner, Patton.  When he returned to the United States, he continued to make films, though the subject matter changed a bit.  Meyer was one of the pioneers of the adult film industry, though his once controversial films now seem rather quaint and innocent when compared to the industry’s later films.  Meyer’s strong visual sense and his intentionally over-the-top plots made him a favorite amongst underground critics.  In the 70s, he was briefly embraced by mainstream Hollywood but, unhappy with having to deal with the studio bosses, Meyer returned to making the type of independent, grindhouse films that made him famous.

Russ Meyer was 82 years old when he died in 2004.  He was acclaimed as one of America’s first and most iconic independent filmmakers.

Here are 4 Safe-For-Work Shots From 4 Russ Meyer Films.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Walter Schenk)

Motorpsycho (1965, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Russ Meyer)

Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Fred J. Koenekamp)

The Seven Minutes (1971, dir by Russ Meyer, DP: Fred Mandl)

Scenes That I Love: George Smiley Confronts Bill Haydon In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Today is Gary Oldman’s 65th birthday and, in honor of the occasion, here’s a scene from one of my favorite Oldman films, 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

In this scene, British intelligence officer George Smiley (Gary Oldman) confronts his colleague and Russian mole Bill Haydon (Colin Firth).  This scene is a masterclass of good acting, put on by both Firth and Oldman.  As Haydon tries to justify his behavior, Smiley listens with deceptive calmness.  When I first saw this film, Oldman suddenly raising his voice made the entire audience jump.

Music Video of the Day: River by Miley Cyrus (2023, dir by Jacob Bixenman)

Today’s music video of the day comes to us from Miley Cyrus.  It pretty much looks and sounds like almost every other music video that’s come out over the past few months but the familiarity is the point.  We’re not living in an age of risk takers, especially when it comes to music.