The Dollars Trilogy Pt 2: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (United Artists 1965)


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After the huge international success of his A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS , Sergio Leone was red hot. Another Spaghetti Western was hastily written by Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni (and an uncredited assist from Sergio Donati), but FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is pure Leone, from the visual style to the bits of humor interspersed between the violence. Clint Eastwood returned as The Man With No Name, paired this time with veteran Western heavy Lee Van Cleef as the beady-eyed Colonel Mortimer.

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Eastwood’s character (briefly referred to as ‘Manco”) is a fast-drawing bounty hunter. He’s interested in the $10,000 reward for escaped killer/outlaw Indio. Mortimer is also interested in Indio, but has another motive: a young Indio raped his sister, resulting in her suicide during the act. The two meet up in El Paso, where Indio plans to rob the bank’s estimated one million dollars, kept in a secret cabinet. Manco and Mortimer engage in pissing contest…

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A Movie A Day #54: Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 (1966, directed by Gordon Flemyng)


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When London Special Constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins) spots a robbery at a jewelry store, he runs into a police box to call for backup.  But this is no ordinary blue police call box.  Not only is there no phone but it’s bigger on the outside than on the inside and it’s inhabited by Dr. Who (Peter Cushing), an eccentric inventor, and his niece, Louise (Jill Curzon) and his granddaughter, Susan (Roberta Tovey).  The call box is a time machine that’s known as a TARDIS and Tom just happens to stumble in at the exact moment that the Doctor and his family are heading into the future.  When they arrive in London in 2150, they discover that Earth has been conquered by the Daleks.

Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 was the second and last Doctor Who film to be produced by Amicus Pictures.  As both a sequel to Dr. Who and the Dalekand an adaptation of the televisions serial The Daleks Invasion of Earth, Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 shares many of the same flaws as the first movie.  Of course, the main one is that, as any true Whovian can tell you, the Doctor was not named Dr. Who, he was not human, and he did not invent the TARDIS.  He also never had a niece, at least not one named Louise.  Hearing the Doctor introduce himself as “Dr. Who” just sounds wrong.  The comedic relief also feels as out of place here as it did in Dr. Who and the Daleks but at least Bernard Cribbins’s Tom isn’t as annoying as Roy Castle’s Ian.

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Even taking all of that into consideration, Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 is still a clear improvement over the first film.  The futuristic location, with a London made up of the ruins of recognizable landmarks, is well-realized and far superior to the cardboard sets of the Dr. Who and the Daleks.  The moment when the Daleks first appear, rising out of the Thames, is a great Dr. Who moment and, for once, the Daleks comes across like a real threat instead of just oversized salt and pepper shakers with attitude.  Unlike the first film, the Daleks use their “EXTERMINATE” war cry and they exterminate almost everyone that the Doctor and his companions meet.  Since the Daleks are killing Brits instead of Thals, the stakes are higher in Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150.

Even though he was playing a human version of the character and therefore, cannot be considered canonical, I have always liked Peter Cushing’s interpretation of the character.  Cushing’s firm but grandfatherly Doctor was quite a contrast to William Hartnell’s strict and abrupt version.  (Cushing’s Doctor has always reminded me more of a combination of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee than William Hartnell.)

Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 may have been far better than the first film but it was also a flop at the box office, ending plans for any further Dr. Who movies.

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Lisa Reviews an Oscar Nominee: Roman Holiday (dir by William Wyler)


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The 1953 film Roman Holiday is one that I’ve watched quite a few times.  If you know anything about the film and/or me, you won’t be surprised by that.  I love Audrey Hepburn.  I love Rome.  I love romance.  And I love bittersweet endings.  And Roman Holiday has all four of those!

Speaking of Audrey Hepburn, I’ve shared this picture before but I’m going to share it again:

Audrey Hepburn 1954 Roman HolidayThat is Audrey Hepburn, the morning after she won the Best Actress Oscar for Roman Holiday.  Roman Holiday was Audrey Hepburn’s motion picture debut and it continues to hold up as one of the greatest film debuts of all time.  Watching how easily she controls and dominates the screen in Roman Holiday, you would think that she had made over a 100 films previously.

The film tells a simple story, really.  Audrey plays Ann, the crown princess of an unnamed country.  Princess Ann is touring the world.  The press is following her every move.  Her royal handlers are carefully choreographing every event.  Her ever-present bodyguards are always present to make sure that no one gets too close to her.  In public, Ann is the epitome of royal discretion, smiling politely and always being careful to say exactly the right thing.  But, in private, Ann is restless.  Ann knows that she has never been allowed to see the real world and yearns to escape, if just for one night, and live a normal life.  So far, her handlers have managed to keep her under control but then she arrives in Rome and…

…well, who can resist Rome?

Despite having been given a sedative earlier, Ann stays awake long enough to sneak out of her hotel room and see the enchanting Rome night life.  Of course, the sedative does eventually kick in and she ends up falling asleep on a bench.  It’s there that she’s discovered by an American, a cynical reporter named Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck).  Not realizing who she is and, instead, assuming she’s just a tourist who has been overwhelmed by Rome, Joe allows her to spend the night at his apartment.

The next morning, Joe finds out who Ann actually is.  Realizing that getting an exclusive interview with Ann could be his ticket to the big time, Joe and his photographer, Irving (Eddie Albert), rush back to Joe’s apartment.  Joe doesn’t tell her that he’s a reporter.  He just offers to take her on a tour of Rome.  Ann, however, wants to experience Rome on her own.

What follows is a wonderful and romantic travelogue of the glory of Rome.  Though Ann does explore on her own for a while, she eventually does meet back up with Joe and Irving.  Whenever I watch Roman Holiday, I always try to put myself in the shoes of someone in 1953, sitting in the audience during the film’s first week of release.  For many of them, this film may have been their first chance to ever see Rome.  (The opening credits of Roman Holiday proudly announce that the entire film was shot on location, properly acknowledging the Rome is as much a star of this film as Hepburn, Peck, and Albert.)  If you’re not already in love with Rome (and I fell in love with the city — and really, the entire country of Italy — the summer after I graduated high school), you will be after watching Roman Holiday.

(If you truly want to have a wonderful double feature, follow-up Roman Holiday with La Dolce Vita.)

The film’s most famous scene occurs at the Mouth of Truth and… well, just watch…

This scene was improvised, on the spot, by Gregory Peck.  Audrey Hepburn’s scream was very much real as Peck didn’t tell her what he was planning on doing.  As great as this scene is, it’s even better after you’ve actually been to Rome and put your own hand in the Mouth of Truth.

It’s a very sweet movie, one that stands as both a tribute to romance but also proof of what pure movie star charisma can accomplish.  It’s not just that Audrey Hepburn gives a great performance as Princess Ann.  It’s that Gregory Peck gives one of his most natural and surprisingly playful performance as well.  It’s that Peck and Hepburn have an amazing chemistry.  By the end of the film, you know that they deserve Rome and Rome deserves them.

And then there’s that ending, that bittersweet ending that always brings tears my mismatched eyes.  It’s a sad (though not depressing) little ending but somehow, it’s also the only ending that would work.

Roman Holiday was nominated for best picture but it lost to From Here To Eternity.

That’s right — Roman Holiday and From Here To Eternity were released one after another.

1953 was a very good year.

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A Movie A Day #53: Ghost Town Renegades (1947, directed by Ray Taylor)


gtrWhen a federal surveyor disappears while checking out the ghost town of Waterhole, the U.S. Marshall sends Cheyenne Davis (Lash La Rue) and Fuzzy Jones (Al “Fuzzy” St. John) to investigate.  It turns out that gold has been discovered around Waterhole, on land owned by the Trent Family.  Bad guy Vance Sharpe (Jack Ingram) is trying to kill the last remaining Trents — Rodney (Steve Frost) and his daughter, Diane (Jennifer Holt) — so that he can claim the land as his own.  As Cheyenne and Fuzzy investigate, there are plenty of shootouts, fist fights, and an out of control stagecoach.  Since this is a Lash LaRue film, there is also a lot of exciting bullwhip action.

If you’re like me, the name Lash La Rue immediately makes you think of Pulp Fiction and Harvey Keitel asking John Travolta, “What about you, Lash La Rue, can you keep your spurs from jingling and jangling?”  But, long before Quentin Tarantino ever came up with that line of dialogue, Lash La Rue was a legitimate Western star, starring in several B-westerns in the 1940s and 50s.  What set Lash apart from other western stars was that he looked like he could have been Humphrey Bogart’s younger brother, he always wore black, and he often used a bullwhip instead of a gun.  In fact, when Harrison Ford needed someone to train him how to use a bullwhip for Raiders of the Lost Ark, 65 year-old Lash La Rue was the man that they called.

I have read that Ghost Town Renegades is considered to be the best of La Rue’s movies.  I haven’t seen enough of them to say whether it’s the best but Ghost Town Renegades is an entertaining and fast-paced B-western.  Lash La Rue is good with a whip, Jennifer Holt is beautiful, and not even the broad comedy of Fuzzy St. John detracts.

Interesting to note: Jennifer Holt, who co-starred in several of La Rue’s movies, was the daughter of Jack Holt and the sister of Tim Holt, both of whom were prominent western stars themselves.

A Movie A Day #52: Overexposed (1990, directed by Larry Brand)


overexposedSomeone is stalking soap opera star, Kristin (Catherine Oxenberg).  She is receiving frightening notes and her coworkers are dying.  Who is after her and what does it have to do with a tragic fire at a birthday party?  Is it one of her jealous co-stars?  Is it her duplicitous boyfriend (David Naughton)?  Is it the stranger (William Bumiller) that she’s having an affair with?  Or is it the obsessed fan (Karen Black)?  Detective Morrison (Larry Brand) is on the case!

The return of Detective Morrison (played, again, by the film’s director) makes Overexposed a sequel to The Drifter.  (Both films were directed by Brand and executive produced by Roger Corman).  Morrison has much more to do in Overexposed than he did in The Drifter so maybe the plan was to launch a low-budget franchise of Detective Morrison movies.  It didn’t happen, because Overexposed is much less interesting than The Drifter.  The spoiled and rich Kristin is never a likable character and the movie’s real star was Oxenberg’s busy body double, Shelley Michelle.

Overexposed does have a few good scenes, including death-by-acidic-facial-cream.  The best thing about movie is Karen Black, who brilliantly delivered a monologue about why she loves television.  It doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the movie but Karen Black knocked it out of the park.  The monologue ends with Karen Black paying homage to The Mod Squad by shouting out, “Solid!”

Overexposed was forgettable but Karen Black?

Karen Black was solid.

The Dollars Trilogy Pt 1: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (United Artists 1964)


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If the American Western film wasn’t completely dead in 1964, it was surely on life support. Television had saturated the market with weekly oaters to the point of overkill. John Wayne’s starring vehicles were still making money, but the rest of Hollywood’s big screen Westerns were mainly made to fill the bottom half of double feature bills, from Audie Murphy outings to the low budget, veteran laden films of producer A.C. Lyles.

Meanwhile in Italy, writer/director Sergio Leone was as tired of the sword & sandal films he was making as was his audience. He had a notion to revitalize the failing western genre by giving it a new, European perspective. Leone grew up on Hollywood westerns, and wanted to turn them on their ear by showing a more realistic, grittier version of the Old West. Searched high and low for an American name actor to star, Leone was turned down by the likes of Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Rory Calhoun…

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The TSL’s Grindhouse: The Year of the Yahoo! (dir by Herschell Gordon Lewis)


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At the time of his death last year, Herschell Gordon Lewis was credited with having directed 38 films.  Though he’s best known for ground-breaking gore films like Blood Feast and The Gore Gore Girls, Lewis actually dabbled in several different genres.  For instance, he made one of the first psychedelic drug films when he directed Something Weird.  And, as a public service, he warned us all of the dangers of smut peddlers with Scum of the Earth.

And, of course, there was that political films he made…

WHAT!?  A political film directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis!?

Yes, it’s true!  The man who helped to give birth to modern horror also directed one of the most prophetic films ever made.  The Year of the Yahoo! came out in 1972 but it feels even more relevant today.  The Year of the Yahoo! not only predicted the rise of Donald Trump but also predicted the rise of Barack Obama as well, making it one of the few truly bipartisan satires ever made.  That’s not bad for an obscure film directed by a man who was never given much respect from mainstream critics.

The Year of the Yahoo! opens in Texas.  It’s an election year.  The governor (Jeffrey Allen) would love to get rid of liberal U.S. Senator Fred Burwell (Robert Swain) and he thinks that he’s found the candidate to do it.  The Governor wants to nominate an unimpressive congressman, someone who will be easy to control.  However, the President disagrees.  The President (who is obviously meant to be Richard Nixon, even if his name is never specifically mentioned) has decided that the man to defeat Sen. Burwell is a country singer named Hank Jackson (real-life country singer Claude King).

Hank Jackson has a television show, one that he hosts with his girlfriend, Tammy (Ronna Riddle).  Hank sings songs about how America needs to return to traditional values and how people just need to come together and help each other out.  He may be old-fashioned but he’s okay with the counter-culture.  In fact, when we first meet him, he’s at a hippie party.  He turns down an offer of marijuana but he does so with a hearty laugh.  He’s a traditional guy but he’s got no issues with the long hairs.  Not our Hank!  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Dallas oilman, an Austin hippie, an El Paso policeman, or a Galveston fisherman.  Everyone in Texas loves Hank!

When Sid Angelo (Ray Sager, the star of Lewis’s Wizard of Gore), a political consultant with White House connections, approaches Hank about running against that lefty traitor, Sen. Burwell, Hank is skeptical but intrigued.  Once Sid get Hank to agree, Sid starts to shape Hank’s message.  As a disgusted Tammy watches, Hank starts to sell out.  Soon, Hank is making jokes about people on welfare.  He’s defending law and order.  He’s taking the side of the landlords against the rent strikers.  Everything from his campaign announcement to interviews with the local media is precisely choreographed by Sid.

Hank’s message starts to resonate with the voters.  This is largely because he doesn’t have a message.  Instead, he just has a bunch of empty slogans and coded phrases.  Hank’s campaign commercial features him riding on a horse while the word “Hope” appears on the screen.  (I mean, who could possibly vote against hope?)  What’s going to happen when Hank’s elected?  Well, as he explains in the film’s theme song, we’re going to run the nation “like a country store.”  Just vote for Hank and “you’ll see how everyone relaxes.”

(At times, The Year of the Yahoo! almost feels like a musical.  The majority of the songs were written by Lewis, who was a legendary figure in the advertising industry before and after his career as a grindhouse filmmaker, and Claude King had a nice voice.  The songs are surprisingly catchy, even if they often are a bit too on the nose in their satire.)

Now, make no mistake about it.  This is definitely a Herschell Gordon Lewis film, which means that it often appears to have been made with more enthusiasm than skill.  At times, The Year of the Yahoo! moves way too slowly.  There’s a riot scene that is embarrassingly filmed.  The action stops for a stomach-churning sex scene between the hairy Ray Sager and a campaign volunteer.  The entire film, in fact, is full of actors who appeared in Lewis’s other films and it’s a bit weird to see familiar grindhouse performers cast as governors and campaign aides.  This is a Herschell Gordon Lewis production, with everything that implies.  While Lewis’s style was perfect for his semi-comedic gore films (Who can forget the “Have you ever had …. AN EGYPTIAN FEAST!?” scene from Blood Feast?), it feels a bit out of place in a film that is attempting to comment on reality.

And yet, it’s hard not to appreciate and kind of resoect just how serious the film’s intent seems to be.  Watching The Year of the Yahoo!, you get the feeling that Lewis actually was trying to say something important.  In The Year of the Yahoo!, Lewis not only attempted to make an important point but it was a valid point as well.  He may not have had the resources to really pull it off but consider this:

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a candidate could shoot the top of the polls by enticing voters with vague promises of hope.

In 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted that a wealthy TV celebrity, one that claimed to speak for the common man, could be packaged as a populist and sold to angry voters.

The Year of the Yahoo! was incredibly ahead of its time.  Say what you will about the film’s production values but you can’t deny this.  Everything that Herschell Gordon Lewis predicted came true.  That’s quite an accomplishment for someone often dismissed as merely being a gore director.

In fact, it’s such an accomplishment that it should give us all one thing for the future:

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