A Movie A Day #193: The O.J. Simpson Story (1995, directed by Alan Smithee)


Long before O.J.: Made In America

Before The People vs. O.J. Simpson

Before American Tragedy

Before today’s live, televised parole hearing…

There was The O.J. Simpson Story.

In 1994, shortly after O.J. Simpson was charged with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, Fox rushed The O.J. Simpson Story into production.  It was one of many “true life” stories that showed up as television movies during the 90s.  There was a movie about Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s divorce.  There was a movie about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, which actually aired while the siege in Waco was still ongoing.  There were three movies about Amy Fisher.  So, of course, O.J. would get a movie.

Though the movie was produced in 1994, it was not allowed to air in 1995 so that it would not prejudice any of the jurors in the case.  (After all, they might have done something crazy like ignore all of the DNA evidence and let O.J. go free.)  I think the legal authorities may have been giving The O.J. Simpson Story too much credit.  There were many bad made-for-TV movies made in the 90s but The O.J. Simpson Story may very well be the worst.  The only thing it could prejudice some against is television.

Opening with the discovery of the murders in Brentwood, The O.J. Simpson Story mixes scenes of O.J. (played by Bobby Hosea, who shows not a hint of O.J.s famous charisma) talking to the police and his lawyer, Bob Shapiro (Bruce Weitz, slightly more credible than John Travolta was in The People vs. O.J. Simpson) with flashbacks to O.J.’s youth, first marriage, and his relationship with Nicole (blandly played by Jessica Tuck, who, beyond the color of her hair, looked nothing like Nicole).  The film also devotes some time to O.J.’s friendship with A.C. Cowlings, who, as a young man, is played by Terrence Howard.

Several of the famous incidents of the case are wanly recreated.  The famous bronco chase is there, of course.  O.J. is shown beating Nicole in the infamous 1989 incident, which the movie suggests was triggered by Nicole telling O.J. that he would never win an Oscar for appearing in The Naked Gun.  But, since the movie was rushed into production before the trial even began, it is remarkable how much is left out.  There’s no Mark Furhman finding the black glove.  There’s no Kate Kaelin, Faye Resnick, Johnnie Cochran, or even Marcia Clark.  Because the movie was made before the trial had even begun, it does not even take a stand on whether or not O.J.’s guilty.  Narratively, it is an incomplete movie and evidence of why movies that claim to tell true stories should not be rushed into production before the story itself has been completed.

As for the film’s dialogue, when O.J. first meets Nicole, he asks her, “Any problem with going out with a brother?”

“Yeah,” Nicole says with a smile, “I’m in the Ku Klux Klan.”

Not surprisingly, The O.J. Simpson Story was directed by Alan Smithee, which was the pseudonym used by directors who felt that their movie has been so butchered by outside interference that they should not even be credited with the final result.  The O.J. Simpson Story is one of the worst Smithee films that I have ever seen.  Compared to The O.J. Simpson Story, Smithee’s work on Let’s Get Harry was Oscar-worthy.

As for the real life O.J. Simpson, earlier today, he was granted parole from the Nevada Parole Board.  He will be released from prison on October 1st.  He has said that he hope to be allowed to move to Florida after being released.  The real-life O.J. Simpson story continues.

When it comes to the long saga of O.J. Simpson, it seems appropriate to give the last word to MAD Magazine:

A Movie A Day #192: Betrayal of the Dove (1993, directed by Strathford Hamilton)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Ellie West (Helen Slater) has a 7 year-old daughter (Heather Lind), a sleazy ex-husband (Alan Thicke), a vampy best friend (Kelly LeBrock), and a pair of inflamed tonsils that need to come out.  When she goes in the hospital for what should be a routine procedure, she nearly dies on the operation table.  Something went wrong with the anaesthesia.  But what, why, and how?  Fortunately, Doctor Jesse Peters (Billy Zane) was there to save Ellie’s life.  Even as Ellie, with the encouragement of her best friend, starts to go out with Jesse, she still suspects that someone is trying to kill both her and her daughter.

While the title may sounds like an early 90s Merchant Ivory production, Betrayal of the Dove is actually just another “erotic” thriller, the type that used to show up exclusively on late night Cinemax.  The only thing that distinguished Betrayal of the Dove was the cast, which mixed B-movie stalwarts like Kelly LeBrock and Billy Zane with actors who usually did not appear in movies like this.  Alan Thicke was surprisingly good as a sleazy, abusive alcoholic and both Stuart Pankin and David L. Lander were cast in serious roles.

Perhaps the most surprising casting was that of veteran television comedian and Mel Brooks regular, Harvey Korman.  In the role of Ellie’s boss, Harvey not only played a serious role here but, at the end of the movie, he also got to save the day.  I’m not sure if Harvey did his own stunt work but if you have ever wanted to see Harvey Korman as an action hero, Betrayal of the Dove is as close as you’re going to get.

Or you could just watch Blazing Saddles again.

 

Structural Failure: THE BIG STREET (RKO 1942)


cracked rear viewer

When I hear the word “Runyonesque”, I think about racetrack touts, colorful Broadway denizens, dames with hearts of gold, and the like. If you want to make a Runyonesque movie, what better way than to have author Damon Runyon himself produce it, as RKO did for 1942’s THE BIG STREET. All the elements are there, the jargon, the characters, but the film suffers from abrupt shifts in tone from comedy to drama, and a totally unpleasant role for Lucille Ball . The result is an uneven movie with a real downer of an ending.

Based on Runyon’s short story “Little Pinks”, it follows the unrequited love of bus boy Augustus “Little Pinks” Pinkerton for torch singing gold digger Gloria Lyons, dubbed “Her Highness” by Pinks. Henry Fonda plays Pinks as  lovestruck, spineless sad sack, dubbing Lucy Her Highness, even though she’s thoroughly rotten to him. When she’s smacked by her gangster boyfriend Case Ables ( Barton MacLane )…

View original post 380 more words

A Movie A Day #191: Blue City (1986, directed by Michelle Manning)


Billy Turner (Judd Nelson) has always been the bad boy but now he just wants to return to his Florida hometown and reconnect with his estranged father.  As soon as he rolls into town, Billy gets into a bar brawl and is arrested.  The chief of police (Paul Winfield) informs Billy that his father has been murdered and that his stepmother has since married the local gangster, Perry Kerch (Scott Wilson).  Everyone knows that Perry murdered Billy’s father but no one can prove it.  He is told to get out-of-town but Billy’s not going out like that.  Instead, he gets together with his childhood friends, gimpy legged Joey (David Caruso) and Annie (Ally Sheedy), and seeks his revenge.

No, it’s not a picture of Judd Nelson hanging out with the a member of the Heaven’s Gate cult.  It’s the DVD cover for Blue City.

An infamous flop, Blue City was meant to show that the members of the infamous Brat Pack could play serious, adult roles.  Unfortunately, Blue City was released right at a time when everyone was starting to get sick of the Brat Pack.  (Even John Hughes had moved on, casting Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, instead of Anthony Michael Hall.)  After countless magazine covers and the monster success of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, a backlash was brewing and Blue City walked (or, in Joey’s case, limped) straight into it.

It also did not help the film’s prospects that it matched up the least interesting Brat Packer, Judd Nelson, with the member of the Brat Pack most likely to take herself too seriously, Ally Sheedy.  Playing roles that would have been played by Alan Ladd an Veronica Lake in the 40s, both Nelson and Sheedy are miscast and, strangely considering this was their third film together, have no chemistry.  Nelson, in particular, gives one of the most annoying performances in film history.  He never stops smirking, even when there is no reason for Billy Turner to be smirking.  With his wide-eyed stare and his attempts to speak like a tough guy, Nelson comes across like John Bender auditioning for West Side Story.  The scene where he manages to floor Tiny Lister with one punch is simply beyond belief.

When Judd Nelson can beat you up, there is only one thing left to do:

Thanks, Duke.

On a more positive note, David Caruso, long before he could usher in the Who by simply putting on his sunglasses, is better cast as Joey but there is nothing surprising about what eventually happens to him.  The best performance is from Scott Wilson, showing why he used to always play villains before reinventing himself as Herschel on The Walking Dead.  Wilson was so good that I realized, halfway through Blue City, that I actually would not have minded if he succeeded in killing Billy.

The most disappointing thing about Blue City is that it is a Florida noir from the 80s that somehow does not feature even a cameo appearance by Burt Reynolds.  Couldn’t Judd have taken just a few seconds during the filming of Shattered: If Your Kid’s On Drugs to convince Burt to drop by Blue City?

They could have used the help.

Short Film Review: Girl and a Scar (dir by David Cave)


I always enjoy watching and reviewing short films.

The short film format challenges both the filmmaker and the viewer.  For the filmmaker, the challenge is to take the audience on a full cinematic journey in a limited amount of time.  It’s one thing when you have two hours to tell a story, it’s something entirely different when you’ve only got 15 minutes.  As a result, the visuals and the acting become even more important.  You can’t have one wasted shot or one performance that feels out-of-place.  For the viewer (and the reviewer, for that matter), the challenge is to relearn how to watch a movie.  Short films force you to pay attention to every single detail because, often times, it’s only through catching those details that you’ll be able to understand what you’ve just seen.  In short films, there’s no time for the director or screenwriter to come back, take you by the hand, and say, “This is what it all means.”  Instead, it’s up to you to figure it out.  I love a challenge and that’s why I always appreciate and enjoy the chance to watch and review a short film.

For instance, I recently had a chance to watch Girl and a Scar, a 15-minute film from moviemaker David Cave.  It’s a challenging film, one that is full of surreal imagery and haunting atmosphere.  While the ever-present wind howls on the soundtrack, we find ourselves looking at an isolated house, one that would not be out-of-place in a Jean Rollin vampire film.  Inside the house, the Girl (Ileana Cardy) cuts herself with a razor blade.  Throughout the movie, the wound grows, almost as if it has a mind of its own.  We see the Girl outside, standing in front of what appears to be an industrial park and watching as a young man walks away from her and then as a man in a … well, I’m not going to spoil the details.  Let’s just say that she’s approached by a man in a very memorable costume.  In between the scenes of the Girl walking along the beach and stumbling through her isolated home, there are snippets of animation.  We see the girl in the forest, a cartoon that is occasionally eating and occasionally throwing up.  Connecting it all is the sound of that howling wind and that ever-growing wound on the Girl’s stomach.

The imagery is frequently shocking and disturbing and yet, because Cave does such a good job framing his images and maintaining the film’s atmosphere, the film is always watchable.  It helps that Ileana Cardy, though having no dialogue, gives a good and empathetic performance as the Girl.  You may not always understand what is happening to here but you want to understand and that’s the important thing.  From the minute it opens, Girl and a Scar invites you to investigate and try to solve its mysteries.  With the mix of body horror and animation, Girl and a Scar at times feels like a fairy tale told by David Cronenberg.

Short films are not necessarily easy to track down but I do recommend making the effort.  Hopefully, this one will soon start making the festival circuit.

 

A Move A Day #190: The Contender (1944, directed by Sam Newfield)


Gary Farrell (Buster Crabbe) is a widowed truck driver who wants his son to have a better life than his old man.  Good luck pulling that off on a salary of $45 a week.  Gary enters a boxing tournament, just hoping to win enough money to pay for his son to go to military school.  But, under the tutelage of veteran trainer Pop Turner (Milton Kibbee), Gary becomes a real contender.  He also becomes a first class heel, turning his back on his old, honest lifestyle and getting involved with fast-living socialite, Rita London (Julie Gibson).  Can Gary’s friends and newspaper reporter Linda Martin (Arline Judge) get Gary to see the error of his ways?

The Contender, which is in the public domain and can be viewed at the Internet archive, is a typical poverty row production, with all the expected boxing clichés.  Gary’s initial rise is just as predictable as his downfall and eventual redemption.  For fans of Buster Crabbe, though, it is a chance to see Crabbe playing someone other than Tarzan, Flash Gordon, or Buck Rogers.  (Crabbe was the only actor to play all three of these roles over the course of his long career.  He also appeared as Billy the Kid in several westerns.)  Though he was a swimmer and not a boxer, Crabbe’s natural athleticism made him a good pick for the role of Gary.  Julie Gibson is sexy and fun as the bad girl and be sure to keep an eye out for Glenn Strange, who plays Gary’s best friend.  Just as Crabbe was forever typecast as Flash Gordon, Strange will always be remembered for replacing Boris Karloff in the role of Frankenstein’s Monster.

A Movie A Day #189: Knock On Any Door (1949, directed by Nicholas Ray)


Knock On Any Door opens with the murder of a policeman in New York City. Nick Romano (John Derek) is arrested for the crime. Nick is a troubled young man who has grown up in the slums and is fond of saying that his goal is to “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.” Now on trial for his very life, Nick reaches out to lawyer Andrew Morton (Humphrey Bogart), who once unsuccessfully defended Nick’s father in a similar criminal trial. At first, Morton wants nothing to do with Nick but he changes his mind, partially out of guilt over Nick’s father and partially because Morton himself came from the same slums that produced Nick. Even as the district attorney (George Macready) goes for blood, Morton argues that Nick isn’t a menace but instead a victim of a society that left him with little choice but to become a criminal.

Knock Any Door is heavy-handed but, for fans of Humphrey Bogart and Nicholas Ray, this is an essential film. Bogart produced this film himself and the subject matter was very important to him.  Bogart, the classic tough guy with a heart of gold, gives one of his best performances, delivering his closing statement with such conviction that it is impossible not to be moved.  Though Ray’s direction is often heavy-handed and the courtroom scenes are sometimes too stagey, Knock On Any Door sees him exploring the same themes that he would later explore in Rebel Without a Cause and with the empathy that made that later film a classic.