Six Other Films From Crown International Pictures That Deserved An Oscar Nomination!


An hour ago, I told you about the only Oscar nomination that was ever received by Crown International Pictures, one of the most prolific B-movie distributors of the 70s and 80s.  That nomination was for Best Original Song for Crown’s 1972 film, The Stepmother.

Here are 6 more films from Crown International Pictures that I think deserved some Oscar consideration:

The Teacher (1974)

“She corrupted the youthful morality of the entire school!” the poster screamed but actually, The Teacher was a surprisingly sensitive coming-of-age story about a relationship between a younger man and an older woman.  Jay North and Angel Tompkins both give excellent performances and Anthony James shows why he was one of the busiest character actors of the 70s.

2. The Sister In Law (1974)

John Savage has been acting for several decades.  He’s appeared in a number of acclaimed films but he’s never received an Oscar nomination.  One of his best performances was in this melancholy look at love, betrayal, and ennui in the early 70s.

3. Best Friends (1975)

One of the strangest films ever released by Crown International, Best Friends is also one of the best.  A road trip between two old friends goes terribly wrong when one of the friends turns out to be a total psycho.  This well-acted and rather sad film definitely deserves to be better-known than it is.

4. Trip With The Teacher (1975)

Zalman King for Best Supporting Actor?  Hell yeah!

5. Malibu High (1979)

Surely Kim Bentley’s performance as a high school student-turned-professional assassin deserved some sort of consideration!

6. Don’t Answer The Phone (1980)

Don’t Answer The Phone is not a particularly good movie but it certainly is effective.  It made me want to go out and get a derringer or some other cute little gun that I could carry in my purse.  That’s largely because of the performance of Nicholas Worth.  Worth plays one of the most perverse and frightening murderers of all time and Worth throws himself into the role.  It’s one of the best psycho performances of all time and certainly worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

A Movie A Day #320: Dangerously Close (1986, directed by Albert Pyun)


Vista Verde, an exclusive suburban high school in California, has a problem.  Some of the students have a bad attitude.  Some of them are experimenting with drugs.  Graffiti is showing up all over the school.  What better way to return peace to Vista Verde than for a bunch of WASPy rich kids and other jocks to organize into a secret vigilante force?  The headmaster thinks that it’s a great idea and soon “The Sentinels” are holding mock trials and shooting the other students with paintball guns.  One bad kid even turns up dead.  Graffiti is no joke.

The leader of the Sentinels is a rich kid named Randy (John Stockwell, who also co-wrote the script).  Randy knows the importance of good PR so he befriend the editor of the school newspaper, Donny (J. Eddie Peck).  Donny may not be rich but, because of his amazing journalism skills, he has been allowed to attend Vista Verde as a magnet student.  At first, Donny is skeptical of The Sentinels but he soon finds himself seduced by not only Randy’s wealthy lifestyle but also by Randy’s beautiful girlfriend (Carey Lowell).  Meanwhile, Donny’s friend Krooger (Bradford Bancroft) not only listens to punk music but also has a mohawk so he naturally becomes the latest target of the Sentinels.

A teen film with a conscience, Dangerously Close was one of the better films to come out of the Cannon Group in the mid-80s.  The script is smarter than the average 80s teen film and Albert Pyun’s slick direction captures the appeal of being young and rich in the suburbs.  Stockwell, Peck, and Lowell all give better than average performances  and there is actually some unexpected depth to Stockwell and Peck’s friendship.  Stockwell does not play Randy as just being a typical rich villain.  Instead, he is someone who thinks he’s doing the right thing even when he’s not.

The cast is full of faces that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been a fan of 80s high school films.  Keep an eye out for Thom Matthews, Don Michael Paul, Gerard Christopher, Miguel Nunez, Jr., and DeeDee Pfeiffer, all doing their part to keep the halls of Vista Verde safe.

 

A Movie A Day #177: Murphy’s Law (1986, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


What is Murphy’s Law?

Let’s ask LAPD Detective Jack Murphy.

“Don’t fuck with Jack Murphy.”

Normally, having a law named after you would be pretty cool but it appears that this is just a law that Jack came up with himself.  Having to come up with your own law is kind of like having to come up with your own nickname.  Dude, it’s just lame.  Since Jack Murphy is played Charles Bronson, we can cut him some slack.

Murphy’s Law was one of the many film that, towards the end of his career, Bronson made for Cannon Films.  He played a detective in almost all of them.  Jack Murphy is Dirty Harry without the fashion sense.  He is also an alcoholic who cannot get over his ex-wife (Angel Tompkins) and her decision to become a stripper.  Not only has Murphy managed to piss off his superiors with his bad attitude but the mob is out to get him.  Everyone has forgotten Murphy’s Law.  Everyone is fucking with Jack Murphy.

Jack’s main problem, though, is Joan Freeman (Carrie Snodgress).  Years ago, Murphy sent Joan to prison for murder but, because it’s California and Jerry Brown appointed all of the judges, Joan gets out after just a few years.  Joan starts to systematically murder everyone that Murphy knows, framing Murphy for the murders.  Murphy’s arrested by his fellow cops, all of whom need a refresher on Murphy’s Law.  Though handcuffed to a young thief (Kathleen Wilhoite), Murphy escapes from jail and set off to remind everyone why you don’t fuck with Jack Murphy.

Murphy’s Law is a typical Cannon Bronson film: low-budget, ludicrously violent, borderline incoherent, so reactionary than it makes the Dirty Harry films look liberal, and, if you’re a fan of Charles Bronson, wildly entertaining.  Bronson was 65 years old when he played Jack Murphy so he cannot be blamed for letting his stunt double do most of the work in this movie.  What’s interesting is that, for once, Bronson is not the one doing most of the killing.  Instead, it is Carrie Snodgress, in the role of Joan Freeman, who gets to murder nearly the entire cast.  There is nothing subtle about Snodgress’s demonic performance, which makes it perfect for a Cannon-era Bronson film.  In fact, Carrie Snodgress gives one of the best villainous performances in the entire Bronson filmography.  There is never any doubt that Snodgress is capable of killing even the mighty Charles Bronson, which makes Murphy’s Law a little more suspenseful than most of the movies that Bronson made in the 80s.

Whatever else can be said about Murphy’s Law, it does feature one of Bronson’s best one liners.  When Joan threatens to send him to Hell, Murphy replies, without missing a beat, “Ladies first.”  Only Bronson could make a line like that sound cool.  That’s Bronson’s Law.

A Movie A Day #39: Prime Cut (1972, directed by Michael Ritchie)


primecutNick Devlin (Lee Marvin) is a veteran enforcer for the Chicago mob.  His latest assignment has taken him out of the city and sent him to the farmlands of Kansas.  Nick is the third enforcer to be sent to Kansas, all to collect a $500,000 debt from a local crime boss named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman).  The first one ended up floating face down in the Missouri River.  The second was chopped up into sausages at the local slaughterhouse.  Nick might have better luck because he once had an affair with Mary Ann’s wife, Clarabelle (Angel Tompkins).

When Nick tracks down Mary Ann to demand the money, he discovers that Mary Ann and his brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott, best remembered for his starring role in Plan 9 From Outer Space) are running a white slavery ring.  Kidnapping girls from a nearby orphanage, Mary Ann and Weenie keep them naked and doped up in a barn.  One of the girls, Poppy (Sissy Spacek, in her film debut), looks up at Nick and says, “Help me.”  Nick takes Poppy with him, claiming that he’s holding her for collateral until he gets the money.

The main attraction here is to see two iconic tough guys — Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman — fighting over Sissy Spacek, who is only slightly less spacey here than in her breakthrough role in Badlands.  In Prime Cut, the ruthless Chicago mobster turns out to have more of a conscience than the rural good old boys who work for Mary Ann and Weenie.  Nothing sums up Prime Cut better than the scene where Lee Marvin, wearing a black suit, and Sissy Spacek are pursued through a wheat field by a thrasher that’s being driven by a roly-poly farmer wearing overalls.  Prime Cut is both an exciting crime film and a trenchant satire of both the American heartland and the type of gangster movies that made Lee Marvin famous.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #51: Walking Tall Part 2 (dir by Earl Bellamy)


Film_Poster_for_Walking_Tall_Part_2The 1975 southern melodrama Walking Tall Part 2 opens with a voice over telling us that we’re about to see more of the true of story Sheriff Buford Pusser, the Tennessee lawman who carried a big stick, battled the Dixie Mafia, and whose wife was killed in an ambush.  Pusser, we learn, died under suspicious circumstances shortly after the release of the film Walking Tall.

Mere hours before he died, Pusser had signed a contract to play himself in Walking Tall Part 2.  As a result of Pusser’s car “accident,” the film’s producers were forced to cast an actor as the lawman.  Now, it would have made sense to, once again, give the role to Joe Don Baker.  After all, he played the role in Walking Tall and I imagine that to most audiences at that time, he was Buford Pusser.  However, for whatever reason, Baker was not given the role for a second time.  Instead, the role was given to Bo Svenson and, while Svenson does not necessarily do a bad job in the role, he’s still no Joe Don Baker.  The difference between Baker and Svenson is the difference between someone being a redneck and someone just pretending.

The film opens almost immediately where Walking Tall ended.  Terribly wounded in the ambush that took his wife’s life, Buford is in the hospital and his face is covered in bandages.  Townspeople gather outside both his room and his farm and they wonder whether he’ll run for reelection as sheriff.  Someone else mentions that Buford has had massive facial reconstructive surgery.

Finally, the bandages are removed and we discover that Buford has turned into Bo Svenson.  Now, Svenson and Baker do have enough facial similarities that you can force yourself to believe that surgery could lead to Baker having Svenson’s features.  I mean, this isn’t like Mark Ruffalo taking over the role of Bruce Banner from Edward Norton.  At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder how reconstructive surgery could have led to Buford Pusser becoming a blonde or, for that matter, apparently growing by 5 inches between Walking Tall and Walking Tall Part 2.

Anyway, Buford’s out of the hospital and, of course, he’s reelected as sheriff.  One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that everyone in the world totally loves Buford Pusser.  I lost track of how many characters specifically walked up to Buford to tell him that he was a great man and a great sheriff.  Nobody complains about Buford’s habit of ignoring civil liberties while enforcing the law.  Instead, everyone cheers for him.

(And, just in case the viewer is uncomfortable with the sight of the very white Buford taunting the mostly black moonshiners that he spends the film arresting, Buford’s black deputy constantly says stuff like, “Buford, you’re my kind of sheriff!”)

The only people who don’t like Buford are the local crime lords.  They still want Buford dead so they hire a race car driver (Richard Jaeckel) to kill him.  The race car driver’s girlfriend (Angel Tompkins) attempts to hit on Buford but Buford has no interest in her.  Buford’s about enforcing the law and avenging his wife…

Walking Tall Part 2 is a pretty standard film.  Whereas the original Walking Tall had a raw and unpredictable vibe to it, the sequel is predictable and boring.  On the plus side, the film was made on location in rural Tennesee and some of the countryside is nice to look at.

As for Buford Pusser, he died before Part Two was released but the character would return in Walking Tall — The Final Chapter.

Back to School #14: The Teacher (dir by Howard Avedis)


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“She Corrupted The Youthful Morality of an Entire School!” the tagline for the 1974 film The Teacher screams out.

Uhmmm, no.

In fact, that’s probably one of the most deceptive taglines in the history of film advertising.  However, we shouldn’t be surprised that it was used.  Like The Young Graduates, The Teacher was produced by Crown International Pictures.  Crown International was all about getting people to buy tickets and they probably figured that more people would pay to see a movie about a teacher corrupting “an entire school” than they would for a film about a 28 year-old teacher having an affair with one (and only one) 18 year-old who has recently graduated high school.

The relationship is between Diane (Angel Tompkins) and Sean (Jay North).  Diane lives next door to Sean’s family.  She’s married to a man who spends most of his time on the road, racing motorcycles and only occasionally calling his wife.  Diane is a teacher but we only briefly see her standing outside of the local high school.  While Sean admits that he has always had a crush on her and, at the start of the movie, even spies on her while she’s sunbathing, it’s never made clear whether or not Sean was ever actually in any of her classes.  In fact, the only thing controversial about their eventual relationship is that there’s a 10 year age difference between them.  But that really doesn’t seem to bother anyone, with the exception of two old women who happen to see Diane and Sean out on a date.

Teacher and Not A Student

Teacher and Not A Student

That, of course, doesn’t mean that Diane doesn’t have anything to teach Sean.  As the film’s theme song tells us, “Every boy needs a teacher, to help show him the way…”

But here’s the thing.  Considering how tawdry one would naturally expect a film like The Teacher to be, it’s actually treats Diane and Sean’s relationship with a lot of sensitivity.  Tompkins and North have a lot of chemistry together and both of them give natural and believable performances.  In many ways, this film is a sincere attempt to explore an unlikely relationship.  I’ve always felt that in almost every 70s exploitation film, there’s an art film waiting to break out.  That’s certainly the case with The Teacher.

However, The Teacher isn’t just about Diane “teaching” Sean.  It’s also about a guy named Ralph, who also happens to be obsessed with Diane.  (When, at the start of the film, Sean is spying on Diane, little does he suspect that Ralph is spying on him.)  We know Ralph is a bit off because he’s always talking to himself, he drives a hearse, and he’s played by Anthony James.  You may not recognize his name but if you’re a fan of 70s and 80s exploitation cinema, you know who Anthony James is.  He’s one of those very intense, very creepy-looking character actors who would always show up playing psychos and evil henchmen.

Anthony James

Anthony James

Ralph is not only obsessed with Diane but he also blames Sean for the death of his younger brother.  It seems that Sean and Ralph’s brother were spying on Diane when, somehow, Ralph’s brother ended up falling to his death.  (If you get the feeling that literally every male in this film appears to spend the majority of his time watching Diane — well, you’re right.)  Ralph wants vengeance and, in his defense, Sean never really does seem to be that upset about the death of his best friend.

Because this film was made in the 70s, it all leads to surprisingly somber ending that will probably inspire you to reconsider any belief you may have in a benevolent God.

I have to admit that, out of all the Crown International films that I’ve recently watched, The Teacher was a favorite of mine.  Watching the film — with its constantly shifting tone and it’s mix of arthouse pretension and grindhouse melodrama — is an odd experience that epitomizes everything that I love about old exploitation films.

Thank you, Crown International, for always being you.

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