Music Video of the Day: Destroyer by Saint Motel (2017, dir by Alan Smithee)


Much as I do with the video for their song My Type, I love the retro feel of this video for Saint Motel’s Destroyer.

The credited director is Alan Smithee.  Mr. Smithee has had quite a career in the world of music videos.  He has been credited with directing 73 videos and editing 19 more.  He also has 8 cinematography credits and 2 writing credits.  That’s quite prolific!

Of course, Alan Smithee doesn’t actually exist.  Historically, the Smithee named was used by film directors who felt that their creative vision had been fatally compromised by philistine producers.  Though it’s been a while since Alan Smithee directed a film, it appears that he’s found a second life in the music industry.

Good for him!

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #244: Death of a Gunfighter (1969, directed by Allen Smithee)


At the turn of the 20th century, the mayor and the business community of Cottonwood Springs, Texas are determined to bring their small town into the modern era.  The Mayor (Larry Gates) has even purchased one of those newfangled automobiles that have been taking the country by storm.  However, the marshal of Cottonwood Spings, Frank Patch (Richard Widmark), is considered to be an embarrassing relic of the past.  Patch has served as marshal for 20 years but now, his old west style of justice is seen as being detrimental to the town’s development.  When Patch shoots a drunk in self-defense, the town leaders use it as an excuse to demand Patch’s resignation.  When Patch refuses to quit and points out that he knows all of the secrets of what everyone did before they became respectable, the business community responds by bringing in their own gunfighters to kill the old marshal.

Death of a Gunfighter is historically significant because it was the very first film to ever be credited to Allen Smithee.  The movie was actually started by TV director Robert Totten and, after Widmark demanded that Totten be fired, completed by the legendary Don Siegel.  Since Totten worked for 25 days on the film while Siegel was only on set for 9, Siegel refused to take credit for the film.  When Widmark protested against Totten receiving credit, the Director’s Guild of America compromised by allowing the film to be credited to the fictitious Allen Smithee.

In the years after the release of Death of a Gunfighter, the Allen (or, more often, Alan) Smithee name would be used for films on which the director felt that he had not been allowed to exercise creative control over the final product.  The Smithee credit became associated with bad films like The O.J. Simpson Story and Let’s Get Harry which makes it ironic that Death of a Gunfighter is not bad at all.  It’s an elegiac and intelligent film about the death of the old west and the coming of the modern era.  It also features not only one of Richard Widmark’s best performances but an interracial love story between the marshal and a brothel madame played by Lena Horne.  The supporting cast is full of familiar western actors, with Royal Dano, Harry Carey, Jr., Larry Gates, Dub Taylor, and Kent Smith all making an impression.  Even the great John Saxon has a small role.  Though it may be best known for its “director,” Death of a Gunfighter is a film that will be enjoyed by any good western fan.

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 #37: The Challenge (1970, directed by Alan Smithee)


A U.S. spy satellite has crashed onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean.  Both the United States and an unnamed communist country (described as being “a fifth-rate China,” but obviously meant as a stand-in for not only China but North Korea and North Vietnam as well) have both lay claim to the satellite.  To prevent a possible war, the two countries agree to a compromise.  One American and one communist will be dropped off on the island and will fight to the death.  The survivor gets the satellite.  The communists send the disciplined Yuro (Mako).  The American select Jacob Galley (Darren McGavin), a grizzled Vietnam veteran-turned-mercenary.  Jacob is armed with the latest advancements in weaponry, including a double-barreled sub-machine gun.  Yuro is armed mostly with his wits and an endless supply of booby traps.  Jacob and Yuro fight to a stand still, growing to respect each other even as each tries to kill the other.  However, both countries are willing to cheat to win the challenge.

Originally made for television, this is one of the many films to have been credited to Alan Smithee, the pseudonym that directors used to use whenever they felt that the finished film, usually because of studio interference, did not properly represent their vision.  According to the imdb, The Challenge was actually directed by veteran television directed George McGowan, whose other credits includes episodes of shows like Fantasy Island, Starsky and Hutch, and Charlie’s Angels.  I am surprised that McGowan chose to take his name off of The Challenge because, for a television movie, it’s not bad.  The Vietnam analogy is laid on a little thick but the action is exciting and both McGavin and Mako give excellent performances as the two very different combatants.

The Challenge can be viewed on YouTube.  Keep an eye out for a very young Sam Elliott, in the role of America’s insurance policy.

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Pure 80s Hokum: Let’s Get Harry (1986, directed by Alan Smithee)


Lets-get-harry-movie-poster-1986-1020362350Let’s Get Harry opens deep in the jungles of Columbia.  The newly appointed American Ambassador (Bruce Gray) is touring a newly constructed water pipeline when suddenly, terrorist drug smugglers attack!  The Ambassador, along with chief engineer Harry Burck (Mark Harmon, long before NCIS), is taken hostage.  Drug Lord Carlos Ochobar announces that both the Ambassador and Harry will be executed unless the U.S. government immediately releases Ochobar’s men.  However, the policy of the U.S. government is to not negotiate with terrorists.  As grizzled mercenary Norman Shrike (Robert Duvall) explains it, nobody gives a damn about a minor ambassador.

Nobody in a small blue-collar town in Illinois gives a damn about the ambassador either.  But they do give a damn about their friend Harry!  When its obvious that the bureaucrats up in Washington are not going to do anything, Harry’s younger brother, Corey (Michael Shoeffling, Sixteen Candles), decides that he and his friends are going to go to Columbia themselves and get Harry!  Helping him out are Bob (Thomas F. Wilson, Back to the Future), Kurt (Rick Rossovich, Top Gun), Spence (Glenn Frey!), and Jack (Gary Busey).  If Jake Ryan, Biff Tannen, Slider, Buddy Holly, and the guy from the Eagles who wasn’t Don Henley can’t get Harry, then who can!?

There were a lot of these “American rescue mission” movies made in the 80s, everything from Uncommon Valor to The Delta Force to the Rambo films.  Plotwise, Let’s Get Harry adds little to the genre.  It’s about as simplistic and implausible as a Donald Trump campaign speech.  A bunch of terrorists are holding American hostages and making us all look bad while the establishment refuses to do anything about it?  Don’t worry!  Here come a bunch of heavily armed, no-nonsense American citizens to save the day and make America great again!

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There are two things that distinguish Let’s Get Harry.  First, Let’s Get Harry is one of the many films to have been credited to Alan Smithee.  From 1968 to 2000, Alan Smithee was the official pseudonym used by directors who wanted to disown a project.  Smithee has been credited as directing everything from Solar Crisis to Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home to The O.J. Simpson Story.  In the case of Let’s Get Harry, Smithee was standing in for veteran director Stuart Rosenberg (probably best known for Cool Hand Luke).  Rosenberg originally only planned for Mark Harmon to be seen only at the end of the film, much like Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan.  When TriStar Pictures demanded extra scenes featuring Harmon being taken and held hostage, Rosenberg took his name off the film.

(Before Rosenberg signed on to direct, Let’s Get Harry started out as a Sam Fuller project and he received a story credit on the film.  With the exception of some of the scenes with Harmon, which may have been shot by a different director, Rosenberg’s direction was adequate but Let’s Get Harry really does cry out for a director like Sam Fuller.)

Secondly, there is the cast, which is a lot more interesting than would be typically found in a low-budget, 80s action film.  Not surprisingly, by respectively underplaying and overplaying, Duvall and Busy give the two best performances.  Meanwhile, lightweight Mark Harmon gives the worst.  Perhaps because of the conflict between Rosenberg and the studio over his character, Harmon spends the entire movie looking lost.

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As an exercise in patriotic wish fulfillment, Let’s Get Harry is pure 80s hokum.  It may be dumb but it is also entertaining.  After all, any film that features not only Robert Duvall, Gary Busey, and Ben Johnson, but also Glenn Frey is going to be worth watching.  Let’s Get Harry has never been released on DVD and is currently only available on VHS.  Somebody needs to do something about this.

Let’s get Harry on DVD!

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