The Love War (1970, directed by George McCowan)


 

Two warring alien races are settling their conflict in California.  Two teams of three have been sent down to Earth.  Though they may appear to be human, their true form is revealed whenever anyone looks at them while wearing a special pair of glasses.  (Yes, just like in They Live.)  Kyle (Lloyd Bridges) is the last surviving member of his team but, even if his side has lost two battles, Kyle is still determined to win the war.

After killing one of his opponents in Los Angeles, Kyle hops on a bus and heads to a small town.  While he’s on the bus, he’s approached by Sandy (Angie Dickinson).  Though Kyle tries to avoid talking to her, Sandy manages to break down his defenses because she’s Angie Dickinson.  If 70s era Angie Dickinson started talking to you on a bus, would you be able to ignore her?  When Kyle reaches his destination and gets off the bus, Sandy decides to follow him.  Even after Kyle explains that he’s an alien and allows her to see his true form, Sandy says that she’s in love with him.  Kyle starts to fall in love with her too but what will he do when the other aliens show up in the town, looking to kill him?

Even though this made-for-TV movie’s 70 minute runtime makes it feel more like an extended episode of The Outer Limits than an actual movie, The Love War makes good use of both its intriguing premise and its two lead actors.  Lloyd Bridges and Angie Dickinson might not be the first two actors who come to mind you think about who could credibly play an alien and the woman in love with him but they both pull it off.  The Love War works because it takes its premise seriously.  I can only imagine how audiences in 1970 reacted the film’s ending, which is hardly typical of the type of feel-good stuff that we usually associate with 70s television.

The Love War has never officially been released on DVD but it can be viewed on YouTube.

You Have To Pay The Bills Somehow: The Maddening (1995, directed by Danny Huston)


Because her husband’s a dick who spends too much time working and not enough time taking the day off, Cassie (Mia Sara) grabs her five year-old daughter, Samantha (Kayla Buglewicz) and heads off for her sister’s house.  When Cassie stops at a gas station to fill up the car, she’s spotted by seedy Roy Scudder (Burt Reynolds!).  Roy puts down his cigar long enough to tamper with her car.  When it breaks down a few miles down the role, Roy drives up and offers Cassie and Samantha a ride back to his place, where he can fix her car or where she can at least call for hep.  Not realizing that she’s in a direct-to-video horror movie, Cassie accepts.

Big mistake!  Roy’s wife, Georgina (Angie Dickinson!), has not been the same since the mysterious death of her son and Georgina and Roy’s other child, Jill (Candace Huston, daughter of the film’s director and granddaughter of John Huston), needs a playmate.  Roy has decided that Samantha fits the bill.  Cassie is locked in a room while Samantha is turned into Jill’s slave and Roy deals with the angry ghost of his abusive father (William Hickey!).

You have to feel bad for Burt Reynolds.  He made this film at a time when his career was in decline.  His TV show was no longer on the air.  Boogie Nights was still two years away.  The man had bills to pay.  Can you blame Burt for accepting any role that came his way, especially if it meant a chance to co-star with Angie Dickinson and be directed by the son of John Huston?  Reynolds was famous for hating even his good films so you can only imagine what he must have thought about The Maddening.  Fortunately, since Burt was playing a total psycho in The Maddening, he could at least channel his feeling into the role.  Throughout ever minute of The Maddening, Burt is totally and thoroughly unhinged and angry in the way that only the former number one star in America could be upon having to settle for a role in a direct-to-video horror film.  He yells at his ghost father.  He slits throats.  He beats people into unconsciousness.  He does everything that a normal movie psycho does but, when he does it, it’s even more memorable because he’s Burt Reynolds.  Burt and Angie Dickinson playing the type of role that Bette Davis would have played for Robert Aldrich in the 60s are not just the main reasons to watch this movie.  They’re the only reasons.

This was Burt’s only horror film and it’s too bad that it couldn’t have been a better one.  But if it helped Burt keep the lights on during the lean years of the early 90s, good.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 23: Spring Cleaning Edition


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Continuing my quest to watch all these movies sitting in my DVR (so I can record more movies!), here are six more capsule reviews for you Dear Readers:

FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (RKO 1939; D: Gregory LaCava) – A minor but entertaining bit of screwball froth revolving around rich old Walter Connolly , who’s got  problems galore: his wife (the criminally underrated Veree Teasdale) is cheating on him, his son (Tim Holt in a rare comedy role) is a polo-playing twit, his daughter (Kathryn Adams) in love with the socialism-spouting chauffer (James Ellison ), and his business is facing bankruptcy because of labor union troubles. On top of all that, no one remembers his birthday! The downcast Connolly wanders around Central Park, where he meets jobless, penniless, and practically homeless Ginger Rogers, and soon life on 5th Avenue gets turned upside-down! Ellison’s in rare form as the proletariat Marxist driver, 

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Captain Kirk vs. Sheriff Taylor: Pray For The Wildcats (1974, directed by Robert Michael Lewis)


The year is 1974 and there’s nothing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California.  That’s because psychotic business Sam Farragutt (played by Andy Griffith!) is on the loose.  Sam likes to describe himself as being a hippie himself.  “A hippie with money,” Sam puts it as he waves a hundred dollar bill in the face of a hippie without money,

Actually, there is one thing more dangerous than being a hippie in Baja California and that’s being an ad executive.  Once again, Sam Farragutt is to blame.  He’s willing to give his business to three ad execs but first they have to agree to go down to Baja and ride around with him on their motorcycles.  The three ad execs are Terry Maxon (former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner!), Paul McIllvain (former Brady Bunch star Robert Reed!), and suicidal burn-out Warren Summerfield (William Shatner!).  Warren is having an affair with Paul’s wife (Angie Dickinson!) but he’s still planning on committing suicide in Mexico.

However, going to Mexico gives Warren a new lease on life.  After Warren discovers that Farragutt is responsible for the death of two hippies, he becomes determined to make sure that justice is served.  Soon, Andy Griffith (!) is chasing William Shatner (!) across the Mexican desert.  Someone’s going to die.  Is it going to be Sheriff Taylor or Captain Kirk?

Pray For The Wildcats was a made-for-TV movie that aired the same year as Savages.  Both movies were a part of Andy Griffith’s attempt to change his image after playing the folksy Sheriff Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show.  Griffith is a good villain but the main appeal of Pray for the Wildcats is the chance to see William Shatner doing his thing.  Shatner has a juicy role here, playing a man who is at first suicidal and then righteously indignant.  He overemotes with the self-serious intensity that was Shatner’s trademark in the years before he finally developed a sense of humor about himself.  The movie itself gets bogged down with unnecessary flashbacks and dated dialogue but the spectacle of Griffith vs. Shatner makes it all worth it.

Slashed To Thrill: Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (Filmways 1980)


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Brian De Palma was a big deal back in the 70’s and 80’s, and his films like CARRIE, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES are still discussed. Yet works such as SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, OBSESSION, BLOW OUT, and BODY DOUBLE seem unjustly neglected today, and some critics deride him for his over the top sex and violence. DRESSED TO KILL finds De Palma in full Hitchcock mode, an homage to PSYCHO that The Master of Suspense himself cited as more like a “fromage”, but one I find still entertaining.

The film begins with a sizzling hot shower scene with Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller, remarried mother of  science nerd Peter  (Keith Gordon, CHRISTINE ). Kate has problems in her marriage and with her own mom,  not to mention being a nymphomaniac! She’s seeing psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine ), but seemingly getting nowhere. We follow her to  New York’s…

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Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)


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Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!

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All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder…

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Bravo for RIO BRAVO (Warner Brothers 1959)


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If there’s such a thing as the quintessential “John Wayne Movie”, RIO BRAVO may very well be it. Producer/director Howard Hawks created the perfect blend of action and humor, leading an all-star cast through this tale of a stand-off between the good guys and the bad guys. RIO BRAVO’s theme has been done over many times, most notably by John Carpenter in 1976’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. Hawks himself remade the film, with Wayne again starring, as EL DORADO and RIO LOBO, but the original remains the best of the bunch.

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The plot itself is pretty basic. When disgraced deputy Dude (called Borrachon, Spanish for ‘big drunk’) walks into a saloon looking for booze, no-good Joe Burdette tosses a silver dollar into a spittoon for kicks. Sheriff John T. Chance stops Dude from embarrassing himself, only to receive a whack in the head for his efforts. Dude goes after Joe and a fight breaks out, and Joe kills…

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Let’s Get Physical: Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK (MGM 1967)


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Lee Marvin  was one tough son of a bitch both onscreen and off, awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by a machine gun blast in WWII.  The ex-Marine stumbled into acting post-war, and Hollywood beckoned in the 1950’s. His imposing presence typecast him as a villain in films like HANGMAN’S KNOT, THE BIG HEAT , and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. A three season stint in TV’s M SQUAD brought Marvin more acclaim, and he solidified that with his Oscar-winning role in CAT BALLOU, parodying his own tough-guy image. Marvin was now a star that could call his own shots, and used that clout in POINT BLANK, throwing out the script and collaborating with a young director he had faith in, John Boorman.

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POINT BLANK is a highly stylized revenge drama centering on Marvin’s character of Walker. The nightmarish opening sequence shows how Walker was left for dead on deserted Alcatraz Island by…

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Horror on the Lens: The Norliss Tapes (dir by Dan Curtis)


Today’s Horror on the Lens is The Norliss Tapes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie that was also a pilot for a television series that, unfortunately, was never put into productions.

Reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) has disappeared.  His friend and publisher, Stanford Evans (Don Porter), listens to the tapes that Norliss recorded before vanishing.  Each tape details yet another paranormal investigation.  (Presumably, had the series been picked up, each tape would have been a different episode.)  The first tape tells how Norliss investigated the mysterious death of an artist who apparently returned from the grave.

For a made-for-TV movie, The Norliss Tapes is pretty good.  It’s full of atmosphere and features a genuinely menaching yellow-eyed zombie monster.

Enjoy!

 

Film Review: Big Bad Mama (1974, directed by Steve Carver)


Big_bad_mama_movie_posterToday is Angie Dickinson’s 84th birthday.  One of Angie’s best remembered films is Big Bad Mama, an entertaining and fast-paced gangster film that was produced by Roger Corman.

The year is 1932 and the setting is Texas.  Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) is a poor single mother with two teenage daughters (Susan Sennett and Robbie Lee) to support.  When Wilma’s bootlegger lover, Barney (Noble Willingham), is killed by the FBI, Wilma takes over his route.  Wilma wants her daughters to be rich like “Rockefeller and Capone” and soon, they graduate from bootlegging to bank robbery.  During one robbery, they meet and team up with Fred (Tom Skerritt).  Wilma and Fred are lovers until Wilma meets alcoholic con man, Baxter (William Shatner).  With Fred and Baxter competing for her affections and her youngest daughter pregnant, Wilma plans one final job, the kidnapping of a spoiled heiress (Joan Prather).

Big Bad Mama is one of the many Bonnie and Clyde rip-offs that Roger Corman produced in the 70s.  (Corman also gave us Bloody Mama and Crazy Mama.)  Big Bad Mama is a typical Corman gangster film, with fast cars, blazing tommy guns, Dick Miller, and plenty of nudity.  Angie was in her 40s at the time and, justifiably proud of her body, her full frontal nude scenes created a lot of publicity for the film.  William Shatner also strips down for the film and his sex scene with Angie is just as weird to watch as you would expect it to be.

The whole film changes as soon as William Shatner makes his first appearance.  He may be speaking with a Southern accent and he may be playing a sniveling coward but he is still William Shatner, with all that implies.  Watching Shatner, it is hard not to imagine that Big Bad Mama is actually a lost Star Trek episode where Kirk goes back in the past and meets special guest star Angie Dickinson.  Far more effective is Tom Skerritt, who is thoroughly believable as a Dillinger-style bank robber.

In the style of Bonnie and Clyde, Big Bad Mama presents its outlaws as being counter-culture rebels.  Every authority figure that Wilma meets — from a preacher played by Royal Dano to a corrupt sheriff to Dick Miller’s incompetent FBI agent — is presented as being hypocritical and arrogant.  Angie plays Wilma as a strong-willed and sexually liberated woman who refuses to allow anyone to tell her how to live her life or raise her daughters.  In the gang, both Fred and Baxter are subservient to her.  Big Bad Mama’s tag line was “Hot lead!  Hot legs!  Hot damn!” and that is a perfect description of Angie Dickinson’s performance.

Happy birthday, Angie Dickinson!

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