Gun Brothers (1956, directed by Sidney Salkow)


In this western, Buster Crabbe plays Chad Santee, a former Calvary officer who has traveled to Wyoming so he can visit his brother Jubal (Neville Brand) and see Jubal’s ranch.  Traveling by stagecoach, Chad meets and falls in love with a saloon singer named Rose Fargo (Ann Robinson).  When the stagecoach is held up by outlaws and one of them steals Rose’s broach, Chad decides to track the outlaws down.  What Chad doesn’t know is that Jubal is one of those outlaws.

Gun Brothers is an entertaining B-western.  There’s nothing surprising about the story but Buster Crabbe is a believable hero and Ann Robinson gets a chance to show off her saloon singing skills.  Neville Brand steals the film as Jubal.  Before going into acting, Brand was a highly decorated World War II combat officer and he brought his real-life toughness to every role that he played.  He could throw a punch and shoot a gun with an authority that few other actors could match.  Jubal, like Brand, has obviously seen and experienced things that his self-righteous brother will never be able to understand and, as a result, he’s not as tied down to the laws of society as everyone else.   Also turning in good performances are Michael Ansara as an outlaw and Lita Milan, as a Native American woman who is involved with the gang.

Not surprisingly, for a B-western, Gun Brothers is full of characters with names like Shawnee Jack, Yellowstone Kelly, Blackjack Silk, and Moose McClain.  It’s a simple movie but one that will be enjoyed by fans of old fashioned western action.

Doctor Who (1996, directed by Geoffrey Sax)


Paul McGann had the potential to be a great Doctor.

There’s a lot of negative things that can be said about the controversial 1996 attempt to reboot Doctor Who but I don’t think anyone can dispute that Paul McGann gave it his best.  Released during the period between the end of the original series and the 2005 revival, the 1996 version of Doctor Who features Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor getting gunned down by a San Francisco street gang and regenerating into Paul McGann.  McGann was a youthful Doctor, in the spirit of Peter Davison’s take on the character.  He played the role with a lot of enthusiasm and optimism.  If the 1996 film had led to the series getting revived, it’s easy to imagine Paul McGann making the role his own and becoming as identified with the Doctor as David Tennant and Matt Smith.

The presence of Sylvester McCoy was another praiseworthy aspect of the television film.  Though the TV movie is rightfully criticized for rewriting a good deal of the show’s continuity, it was still smart enough to bring back both McCoy and the TARDIS.  I wish McCoy had gotten a a more heroic death, though getting gunned down by a street gang is still more exciting than the bump on the head that led to Colin Baker turning into Sylvester McCoy in the first place.

The film features the newly regenerated Doctor trying to stop The Master (Eric Roberts) from using an artificial black hole known as the Eye of Harmony to destroy the Earth.  For some reason, the Eye of Harmony is located inside of the Doctor’s TARDIS and the Master needs to access the TARDIS so he can access the eye.  Meanwhile, the Doctor has just regenerated and doesn’t have all of his memories yet so he’s only fighting at half-strength.  Actually, the less said about the plot, the better.  The plot doesn’t make much sense.  Though Eric Roberts might seem like the perfect choice to play The Master, he doesn’t bring much to the role.  Roberts plays The Master as just being another generic villain, with none of the wit that Roger Delgado, Anthony Ainsley, or even Derek Jacobi brought to the role.

The most controversial part of the movie comes when the Master discovers that the Doctor is half-human, which is something that feels like it was forced on the production by an American television executive.  They probably thought that the audience wouldn’t be able to relate to the Doctor unless he has some human blood but it actually robs the character of the mystery that made him so popular.  Part of the Doctor’s appeal is that he’s an enigma but the television movie gives him an origin that seems like it was lifted from a comic book.  I guess we should just be happy that the people who made the film understood that Doctor Who wasn’t actually the character’s name.

Doctor Who was meant to be a pilot for a revival of the show, one that would have been an American/British co-production.  It didn’t lead to a reboot and I guess we should be happy about that because the weakest moments of the movie are the moments that were obviously designed to appeal to an American television audience, like the Doctor dealing with a very 90s street gang or sharing a kiss with an ER doctor.  It’s easy to imagine that the film would have led to a series that would have had more in common with The X-Files than the original Doctor Who.  With the film not leading to a series, Doctor Who would have to wait another 9 years before finally getting rebooted.

Still, it’s hard not to regret that Paul McGann didn’t get more opportunities to play the Doctor.  With a better script, he could have been one of the great ones.

 

Draw! (1984, directed by Steven Hilliard Stern)


Harry Holland (Kirk Douglas) is an aging cowboy who used to be one of the old west’s more fearsome outlaws.  When the newly reformed Harry wins $200 in a poker game, local weasel Reggie Bell (Derek McGrath) tries to get out of paying him by accusing Harry of cheating.  A gunfight leads to Harry getting wounded, the sheriff accidentally getting killed, and Harry locking himself away in a hotel room with a Shakespearean actress, Bess (Alexandra Bastedo).

Unsure of how to get Harry to leave the hotel room and surrender himself, the townspeople send meek Deputy Wally Boldgett (Graham Jarvis) to track down the legendary lawman Sam Sterrett (James Coburn).  Like Harry, Sam is a veteran gunfighter and if anyone can face down Harry Holland, it’s him!  Unfortunately, as Wally soon discovers, Sam is now an alcoholic who no longer has much interest in enforcing the law on the frontier.

While Wally tries to sober up Sam and deliver him to the town, Harry and Bess remain in the hotel room and fall in love.

Draw! is a light-hearted western comedy.  Though it deals with the classic western theme of aging outlaws trying to find their place in a changing society, Draw! is more interested in laughs than pathos.  Reggie Bell, for instance, is such a weasel that he’s never a credible villain, despite all of the times that he tries to be.  Even once he’s trapped in the hotel room, Harry is never really worried.  Even when the gallows start to go up in the towns square, it’s mostly played for laughs.

The main appeal of this film is to watch two genre vets act opposite of each other and both Kirk Douglas and James Coburn deliver.  The film is split almost evenly between the two actors, with Coburn especially digging into his role.  When he’s first introduced, Sam is so drunk that he can barely see straight and it’s not until he actually reaches the town and pins on his old sheriff’s badge that he starts to straighten up and become the cool and confident James Coburn that we all know.  Coburn does a great job of showing Sam gradually starting to once again care about things like justice and doing the right thing (regardless of what the law says).  Coburn’s laid back style compliments Douglas’s natural intensity.  When Sam and Harry finally speak to each other, their shared history as friends and competitors comes across naturally.

Draw! is both a good western and a showcase for two iconic actors.

Music Video of the Day: The Sun & the Rain (1983, directed by ????)


This is a very British video but then again, Madness is a very British band.

They are also a very underrated band, even in the UK where they’ve been consistently popular since before I was born.  Because the members of Madness often seemed to be having so much fun playing around in their videos and their performances, it was often overlooked just how musically gifted they actually were.  Though the video may feature all of the usual silliness that people had come to expect from Madness, the lyrics of the song are anything but silly.

I have not been able to find a credited director for this video.  Even at the imdb, no one is credited.  I do know that most of Madness’s videos from the early 80s were directed by Dave Robinson and this video looks like his work.  But, until I know for sure, this video was directed by the four question marks.

Enjoy!

Man From Del Rio (1956, directed by Harry Horner)


In this western, Anthony Quinn plays Dave Robles, a Mexican gunslinger who rides into the town of Mesa, searching for an outlaw named Dan Ritchey (Barry Atwater).  When Dave finds Ritchey, he discovers that Ritchey has been invited to Mesa by one of the town’s richest men.  Dave doesn’t let that stop him from gunning Ritchey down in the street.

No one in town is upset that Ritchey’s dead.  Instead, they’re impressed with how quick Dave is on the draw.  When Dave runs another group of outlaws out of town, the townspeople decide to hire him as their new sheriff.  Reluctantly, Dave agrees.  At first, saloon keeper Ed Bannister (Peter Whitney) thinks that Dave will be easy to control but Dave surprises him by taking his new position seriously.  Soon, Dave is having to fight off all sorts of bad guys.  Meanwhile, Estella (Katy Jurado), the town’s nurse, goes from distrusting Dave to falling in love with him and begging him to set down his guns and join her in a peaceful life.

Man From Del Rio is a surprisingly good and intelligent B-western.  Anthony Quinn gives a brooding performance as Dave, who is a far cry from the type of upright lawmen who typically appeared in the westerns of the period.  As played by Quinn, Dave Robles is a brute who becomes the film’s default hero just because everyone else is even worse than he is.  Dave may be an outlaw and a killer but he’s neither dishonest nor a sadist, which is what sets him apart from the other bad men who ride through Mesa.  Dave only kills when he feels that he has to and he doesn’t do it for pleasure.  Because he’s inarticulate and uncomfortable with the trappings of civilization, men like Bannister assume that Robles will be easy to control but he proves them wrong.  Quinn’s outstanding performance sets the stage for the type of morally ambiguous western heroes who would become prominent in the late 60s and the 70s.  He gets good support from Katy Jurado and, in the role of the town’s previous sheriff, Douglas Spencer.

Along with an interesting plot, Man From Del Rio also has all of the gunfights and tough talk that a western fan could hope for.  Capped off by Anthony’s Quinn’s star turn, it’s a superb B-western.

Cinemax Friday: City Limits (1984, directed by Aaron Lipstadt)


Fifteen years into the future, a plague has wiped out almost everyone legally old enough to drink and it has instead left behind a post-apocalyptic hellscape dominated by teenagers.  Tired of living in the boring desert, Lee (John Stockwell) hops on his motorcycle, puts on a skull mask, and drives to a nearby city.  He hopes to join the Clippers, one of the two gangs that is fighting for control of the city.  However, the Clippers aren’t as easy to join as Lee thought they would be.  As well, an evil corporation (led by Robby Benson of all people) is manipulating the two gangs as a part of a plan to take over the city and also the world.

City Limits is one of those films that would probably be totally forgotten if it hadn’t been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It’s a good episode but, unfortunately, it’s also led to City Limits getting a reputation for worse than it actually is.

City Limits is a dumb, low-budget movie that was made to capitalize on the success of films like Mad Max.  The plot is impossible to follow, too many scenes are shot in the middle of the night, and Robby Benson is somehow even less intimidating as the villain as you would expect him to be.  (All of Benson’s scenes take place in the same bare office and feature him sitting at a desk.  It probably took a day at most for Benson to do all of his scenes.)  Even with all that in mind, though, City Limits is a fun movie, especially if you can turn off your mind, just relax, and not worry about trying to make it all make sense.  John Stockwell is a likably goofy hero and, Benson aside, the film has got a surprisingly good supporting cast, including Rae Dawn Chong, Kim Cattrall, Tony Plana, Darrell Larson, and even Kane Hodder in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him type of role.  James Earl Jones wears a big fur coat and blows people up.  He also narrates the film, which automatically elevates everything that happens.  Some of the action scenes are exciting.  Fans of people shouting insults while riding motorcycles will find a lot to enjoy in City Limits.  And, finally, there are a few genuinely funny moments.  I loved that the gangs borrowed all of their plans for old comic books.

City Limits is stupid but entertaining, whether you’re watching it on your own or with Joel and the Bots.

 

Music Video of the Day: Metal Head by Blotto (1982, directed by ????)


Could this video be more 80s?

Blotto followed up the success of I Wanna Be A Lifeguard with this song, which poked fun at the heavy metal bands that were, at that time, popular on MTV.  In the video, lead singer Sarge Blotto finds himself turning into a metal head, which means wearing a bandana and a denim jacket and owning a van.  I wonder how MTV felt about this video, which was essentially a good-natured parody of everything that the channel was about in the 80s.

Hailing form Albany, New York, Blotto was a band that never quite hit it big despite having a fervent cult following.  An oft-repeated story about the band is that they turned down a major recording contract because they would have had to surrender creative control of their music.  Instead, they released their own albums on Blotto Records, which meant less exposure but also more freedom to record what they wanted.  Today, a band like Blotto can take their music directly to the people on any number of platforms but, in the early 80s, signing with a major label was the only way to get national exposure.

Blotto disbanded in 1984, though they have occasionally reunited over the years.  Unfortunately, Sarge Blotto died on April 10th, 2019.  In real life, Sarge Blotto was named Greg Haymes and was a widely respected music journalist.

RIP, Sarge.

Jack McCall, Desperado (1953, directed by Sidney Saklow)


On August 2nd, 1876, the legendary western lawman “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot and killed while playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota Territory.  His murderer, who shot Hickok in the back, was Jack McCall.  McCall was known for being a local drunk and it is believed he shot Hickok because he had lost money to him in a previous game.  After shooting Hickok, McCall attempted to flee but ended up falling off of his horse.  When McCall was put on trial for Hickock’s murder, he clamed that it was revenge for Hickok having murdered his brother in Kansas.  Since no one knew much about McCall’s past, he was acquitted.  (Modern historians believe that McCall grew up in Kentucky and never had a brother.)

Unfortunately, for McCall, it was later determined that the Deadwood courts didn’t have legal authority to try anyone and he was hauled into federal court.  After first claiming that he had been too drunk to remember why he shot Hickok, McCall then claimed that he was actually wasn’t Jack McCall at all and that the wrong man had been arrested.  The judge didn’t believe either one of McCall’s claims and Jack McCall was subsequently hanged on March 1st, 1877.  It’s believed that he was 24 years old.

The life and murder of Wild Bill Hickok has been the subject of many books and films, the majority of which have portrayed Hickok in a heroic light while Jack McCall has typically been portrayed as being a low-life coward.  Jack McCall, Desperado, however, takes the opposite approach.  In this film, George Montgomery plays McCall as being an upstanding hero while Douglas Kennedy portrays Hickok as being a cruel and sociopathic murderer.

Jack McCall, Desperado comes up with a backstory for McCall and Hickok, one that I don’t think has ever been suggested by any of the many books written about Hickok’s life and death.  The movie portrays McCall as being a Southerner who, during the Civil War, joined the Union Army.  Because of his Southern heritage, he is distrusted by most of the other men in his unit.  When a group of rebel spies trick McCall into revealing the location of the Union army’s headquarters, McCall is accused of treason and sentenced to death.  McCall manages to escape but, upon returning to his family’s plantation, he discovers that both his mother and his father have been killed by Hickok and Jack’s cousin, Bat (James Seay).  When McCall discovers that Wild Bill and Bat have headed up to the Deadwood, plotting to swindle the Native Americans out of a gold mine, and that they’re accompanied by a former Confederate who can clear Jack’s name, Jack purses them, intent on getting revenge for his family and justice for himself.

It’s a pretty standard western, one that is notable mostly for its portrayal of Wild Bill Hickok as being a bloodthirsty outlaw.  While Hickok may not have been the hero that he was often made out to be (and let’s not even talk about the reality of Wyatt Earp), he probably wasn’t the mustache-twirling villain that he’s portrayed to be here.  Still, Douglas Kennedy is an effectively dastardly villain and George Montgomery is an adequate hero.  Even if it’s in no way based on fact, the Civil War subplot, with Jack supporting the Union cause despite his Southern heritage, is occasionally interesting.  If you’re already a fan of B-westerns and not a stickler for historical accuracy, Jack McCall, Desperado is a decent enough way to pass the time.

Music Video of the Day: Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) by Madness (1983, directed by Dave Robinson)


Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) appeared on Madness’s fourth album, The Rise & Fall.  It spent 9 weeks on the British charts, peaking at #8.  Like a lot of Madness songs, it didn’t get as much play in the United States as it did in the UK.  In fact, in the States, Madness was often incorrectly described as being a one-hit wonder by people who were only familiar with Our House.  In fact, Madness is one of the most successful and popular bands to come out of the UK and they’re still performing with six of the seven members of the original line-up.  When you consider the number of line-up changes that most bands go through, that’s more than a little amazing.

Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) opens with a scene that feels like vintage Madness as two end-of-the-world prophets confront each other on a street corner.  It then segues into several different scenes.  Madness is in jail.  Suggs is trying to get into his house.  At one point, it appears that band is in danger of turning into Alex and his Droogs from A Clockwork Orange.  Suggs has said that, “Madness videos were seven extroverts all mucking about trying to outdo each other,” and that is a good description of what’s going on in a video like this one.

This video was directed by Dave Robinson, who directed several videos for the band.

Enjoy!

Experiment Alcatraz (1950, directed by Edward L. Cahn)


Dr. Ross Williams (John Howard) has a theory that injecting patients with a radioactive isotope can be used to treat a serious blood disease.  However, he needs people on which to test his theory and, since it involves radiation, volunteers aren’t exactly lining up.  Finally, five prisoners at Alcatraz agree to be used as test subjects in return for early parole.  The prisoners are whisked off to a military where Williams and nurse Joan McKenna (Joan Dixon) oversee the experiment.  Joan has her own reasons for hoping that Williams’s treatment is a success.  Her own brother is currently dying of the disease.

Unfortunately, things go terribly wrong when one of the convicts, Barry Morgan (Robert Shayne), grabs a pair of scissors and stabs another prisoner to death.  Morgan claims that he was driven mad by the treatment and, as a result, the experiments are canceled.  Both Joan and Dr. Williams are convinced that Morgan had another reason for killing the prisoner.  With Morgan and his cronies now free, Williams launches his own investigation into what happened.

Experiment Alcatraz starts out with an intriguing premise but then settles into being a typical B-crime film.  Robert Shayne does a good job playing the viscous criminal but Morgan’s motives for committing the murder turn out to be fairly predictable and the story’s conclusion won’t take anyone by surprise.  Howard and Dixon are competent leads but both are playing dull characters and too much of the film’s story depends on getting the audience to believe that a potentially revolutionary medical treatment would be tested in a thoroughly haphazard manner.  Worst of all, despite the title, there’s very little Alcatraz to be found in Experiment Alcatraz.  The prisoner leaves the prison early and never look back.

Experiment Alcatraz is one of the many films to be directed by the incredibly prolific and fast-working Edward L. Cahn.  Between 1931 and 1962, Cahn is credited as having directed 127 movies.  In 1961 alone, he directed 11 feature films!  1950 was actually a slow year for Cahn.  Including Experiment Alcatraz, he only directed 5 films that year.  As you can guess with that many movies, Cahn’s output was uneven.  For every Experiment Alcatraz, there was an It!  The Terror From Beyond Space.  Despite a promising premise, Experiment Alcatraz is one of Cahn’s more forgettable films.