Well-Structured Destruction: Clint Eastwood in THE GAUNTLET (Warner Brothers 1977)


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(First off, feast your eyes on the incredibly cool Frank Frazetta poster! Then read on… )

Clint Eastwood’s  directorial credits include some impressive films: THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, PALE RIDER, UNFORGIVEN, MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY. While 1977’s THE GAUNTLET may not belong on that list, I feel it’s a very underrated movie deserving a second look. Clint and his lady love at the time Sondra Locke star in this character study of two damaged people disguised as an action comedy, essentially a chase film loaded with dark humor.

Clint plays Ben Shockley, an alcoholic Phoenix cop sent to Las Vegas to extradite Gus Mally, “a nothing witness in a nothing trial”. Gus turns out to be a woman, a hooker in fact, set to testify against a Phoenix mobster. Ben’s suspicions are roused when he learns Vegas oddsmakers are giving 50-1 they don’t make it to Phoenix alive, confirmed…

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Movie A Day #333: Beyond Valkyrie: Dawn of the Fourth Reich (2016, directed by Claudio Fah)


The year is 1944 and a group of Germany officials and military officers, all of whom are secretly opposed to the Nazi regime, are plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  A group of American and British operatives, led by Captain Evan Blackburn (Sean Patrick Flannery), have been dropped behind enemy lines.  Their mission is to protect the man who has been chosen to lead Germany after Hitler’s death but, after the assassination fails, Blackburn and his men find themselves with a new mission.  Working with a group of Russian soldiers, Blackburn tries to prevent a group of Nazis from fleeing to Argentina with a cache of stolen good.

The plot of Beyond Valkyrie is rooted in fact.  In June of 1944, Hitler was nearly assassinated by a group of high-ranking Germans who hoped to replace him with a more moderate leader.  (Historically, it’s questionable whether the majority of the conspirators were truly anti-Nazi or if they just felt that Hitler was mismanaging the war.)  At the same time, as it became evident that Germany was going to lose the war, many Nazi war criminals did escape to Argentina, where the government of Juan Peron provided them with sanctuary from prosecution.  Some of the most notorious Nazis reinvented themselves as businessmen in both South America and the Middle East.  (Others, like Klaus Barbie and Reinhard Gehlen, offered their services to any government that would accept them.)

The true story is so interesting that it’s unfortunate that Beyond Valkyrie is such a bad movie.  Basically, consider it to be Inglourious Basterds with none of Tarantino’s style or Christoph Waltz’s smiling menace.  Beyond Valkyrie is a war epic on a budget, a very low budget.  Neither the weak script nor the cheap-looking CGI does much to add authenticity to the movie.  There are a few familiar faces in the cast, though none of them are onscreen for long.  Rutger Hauer provides what little dignity Beyond Valkyrie has.  Tom Sizemore looks like he’s still recovering from the weekend.  Stephen Lang picks up his paycheck.  Sean Patrick Flanery does the best he can but he’s stuck with all the worst lines.

One final note: One of the Russian soldiers, played by Andrew Byron, is actually named Tolstoy.  I waited for Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, and Dostoevsky to show up but they never came.

A Movie A Day #332: Surviving The Game (1994, directed by Ernest R. Dickerson)


Jack Mason (Ice-T) has been living on the streets of Seattle ever since the death of his wife and daughter.  When Cole (Charles S. Dutton), the friendly man at the soup kitchen, tells Mason that he can get him a job, the suicidal Mason accepts.  It turns out that a group of wealthy men are going on a hunting trip and they need a guide to lead them through the wilderness.  Mason accepts but, upon arriving, he discovers that the men (who are played by Rutger Hauer, F. Murray Abraham, William McNamara, John C. McGinley, and, of course, Gary Busey) are actually planning on playing the most dangerous game and hunting him for the weekend.

There are definitely better versions out there of Richard Connell’s famous short story.  One of the best, John Woo’s Hard Target, was released a year before Surviving the Game.  Both films share the idea of rich men hunting down the homeless for fun.  Surprisingly, it is Woo’s film that seems to take the idea, with all of its societal implications, more seriously.  Surviving the Game may present Jack Mason as being a suicidal homeless man but there is never any doubt that he is actually Ice-T, everyone’s favorite rapper and all-around badass.  But it’s precisely because Ice-T has such a recognizable persona that Surviving the Game is a guilty pleasure.  There is never any doubt that Ice-T can survive the game because Ice-T is the fucking game.  Matching Ice-T every step of the way is a rogue’s gallery of recognizable character actors, all of whom bring a different type of crazy to the proceedings.  When a movie delivers the spectacle of Ice-T being hunted by and then hunting Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer, it is easy to forgive whatever plot holes might be present in the script.

One final note: Surviving the Game was directed by Ernest R. Dickerson.  Dickerson got his start of Spike Lee’s cinematographer so it’s not surprising that Surviving the Game looks great.

 

A Movie A Day #331: The Soldier (1982, directed by James Glickenhaus)


The Soldier is really only remembered for one scene.  The Soldier (Ken Wahl) is being chased, on skis, across the Austrian Alps by two KGB agents, who are also on skis.  The Soldier is in Austria to track down a KGB agent named Dracha (Klaus Kinski, who only has a few minutes of screen time and who is rumored to have turned down a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark so he could appear in this movie).  The Russians want the Soldier dead because they’re evil commies.  While being chased, the Soldier goes over a ski slope and, while in the air, executes a perfect 360° turn while firing a machine gun at the men behind him.  It’s pretty fucking cool.

The Soldier, who name is never revealed, works for the CIA.  He leads a team of special agents.  None of them get a name either, though one of them is played by the great Steve James.  When a shipment of Plutonium is hijacked so that it can be used it to contaminate half of the world’s supply of oil, The Soldier is assigned to figure out who is behind it.  Because terrorists are demanding that Israel withdraw from the West Bank, Mossad assigns an agent (Alberta Watson) to help out The Soldier.  She gets a name, Susan Goodman.  She sleeps with The Soldier because, she puts it, the world is about to end anyway.

The Soldier was obviously meant to be an American James Bond but Ken Wahl did not really have the screen charisma necessary to launch a franchise.  He is convincing in the action scenes but when he has to deliver his lines, he is as stiff as a board.  Fortunately, the majority of the movie is made up of action scenes.  From the minute this briskly paced movie starts, people are either getting shot or blown up.  Imagine a James Bond film where, instead of tricking the bad guys into explaining their plan, Bond just shot anyone who looked at him funny.  That’s The Soldier, a film that is mindless but entertaining.

Ken Wahl may have been stiff and Klaus Kinski may have been wasted but there are still some interesting faces in the cast.  Keep an eye out for William Prince as the President, Ron Harper as the director of the CIA, Zeljko Ivanek as a bombmaker, Jeffrey Jones as the assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense, and George Straight performing in a redneck bar.  Best of all, one of the Soldier’s men is played by Steve James, who will be recognized by any Cannon Films aficionado.

Surprisingly, The Solider is not a Cannon film.  It certainly feels like one.

A Movie A Day #330: The Banker (1989, directed by William Webb)


It’s hard out here for a pimp and even worse for a banker.

Spaulding Osborne (Duncan Regehr) is a successful banker at the height of the 80s but handling all that money can be stressful.  Everyone needs a way to relax.  Osborne unwinds by painting his face like a tiger and murdering prostitutes with a laser sighted crossbow.  A worshipper of the ancient Gods, Osborne believes himself to be immortal and sees his murder spree as a way to collect souls.  Two pimps (Leif Garrett and Jeff Conaway) keep Osborne supplied with victims.  When Osborne suspects that one of the pimps has betrayed him, he demands that the pimp name all of the seven dwarves if he wants to live.  It pays to know your Disney.

What Osborne didn’t count on was that the chief of police (Richard Roundtree) would assign one of his weariest detectives, Dan (Robert Forster), to the case or that the detective’s TV reporter ex-wife (Shanna Reed) would get promoted to the anchor desk and start a crusade to have him captured.  Can Detective Dan capture Osborne before Osborne kills every prostitute in the city?  Will Dan be able to protect his ex-wife from the banker?

A film about a greedy banker who kills poor people on the side?  The Banker was released twenty years too early.  If it had been released in 2009, it probably would have an Oscar.  Instead, it was released straight-to-video in 1989 and exiled to late night Cinemax.  Unfortunately, the idea behind The Banker is more interesting than the execution, with most of the kills happening offscreen and any social commentary being rushed through so that the movie can get to the next nude scene.  Not surprisingly, the best thing about The Banker is Robert Forster, who is at his world-weary best.  Forster went through some tough times before Quentin Tarantino resurrected his career with Jackie Brown but movies like The Banker show that Forster never stopped giving good performances.

 

A Movie A Day #329: The Fourth War (1990, directed by John Frankenheimer)


The year is 1989 and the Cold War is coming to an end.  Colonel Jack Knowles (Roy Scheider) was a hero in Vietnam but now, years later, his eagerness to fight has made him an outsider in the U.S. Army.  Most people would rather that Knowles simply retire but, as long as there are wars to be fought, Knowles will be there.  His only friend, General Hackworth (Harry Dean Stanton), arranges for Knowles to be assigned to an outpost on the  West German-Czechoslovakia border.  As soon as he arrives, Knowles starts to annoy his superior officer, Lt. Col. Clark (Tim Reid).  When Knowles sees a Czech refugee gunned down by the Soviets while making a run for the border, he unleashes his frustration by throwing a snowball at his Russian counterpart.  Like Knowles, Col. Valachev (Jurgen Prochnow) is a decorated veteran who feels lost without a war to fight.  Knowles and Valachev are soon fighting their own personal war, even at the risk of starting a full-scale conflict between their two nations.

The Fourth War was one of the handful of films that John Frankenheimer directed for Cannon Films.  Much as he did with The Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer mixes serious thrills with dark satire in The Fourth War.  Frankenheimer gets good performances from the entire cast, especially Scheider and Prochnow.  The real star of the movie is the snow-covered landscape, which Frankenheimer turns into a metaphor for the entire Cold War.  When Knowles and Valachev end up throwing punches on a frozen lake that’s breaking apart underneath their feet, it is not hard to see what Frankenheimer’s going for with this film.  Released shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Fourth War is an underrated thriller that deserves to be rediscovered.

All for One, Fun for All: AT SWORD’S POINT (RKO 1952)


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France in 1648 is in upheaval: Cardinal Richelieu has passed away, the Queen is ill, and evil Duc de Lavelle is plotting to usurp the crown by forcing a marriage to Princess Henriette and murder young Prince Louis. The Queen summons the only persons that can help: her trusted Musketeers! But the quartet have either grown old or died, and in their stead come their equal-to-the-task children, Cornel Wilde (D’Artagnon Jr.), Dan O’Herlihy (Aramis Jr.), Alan Hale Jr (Porthos Jr.), and – Maureen O’Hara , daughter of Athos!!

AT SWORD’S PONT isn’t a great movie, but it is a fairly entertaining one, with lots of flashing swordplay, leaping about, cliffhanging perils, and narrow escapes. It kind of plays like a Saturday matinee serial, and there’s a lot of fun to be had, with Cornel Wilde a dashing D’Artagnon Jr, O’Herlihy a competent second fiddle, and Hale doing his usual good-natured…

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