Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 2.4 “Best Seller/The Tomb”


Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

Fantasy Island has a desert?  Read on to find out more.

Episode 2.4 “Best Seller/The Tomb”

(Dir by George McCowan, originally aired on October 14th, 1978)

Fantasy Island can be a strange place.

Just consider the fantasy of Neville Marlowe (Barry Sullivan).  Marlowe is an archeologist who has devoted his life to seeking the tomb of a lost Egyptian pharaoh who is believed to have been King Tut’s twin brother.  His fantasy is to finally find the tomb and to explore it with his wife (Shelley Fabares) and his associate (David Opatoshu).  He wants to do this even though the tomb, if it does exist, is said to be cursed.

Mr. Roarke informs Marlowe that he’s in luck.  There’s an archeological dig currently taking place on the island and there’s a good chance that it might finally lead to the discovery of the tomb….

Now, this brings up some interesting issues.  First off, the dig is taking place in the desert.  Since when has Fantasy Island, a tropical paradise, had a desert?  Secondly, even if you accept that idea that Fantasy Island is home to a large desert, why exactly would it also be home to the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh?  Though the show always kept it a bit vague as to just where exactly the island was located, it’s always been suggested that it’s near Hawaii.  The actual natives of the island (as opposed to Mr. Roarke and Tattoo) all appear to be Polynesian.  When the guests get off the plane at the start of each episode, they’re given a lei and a tropical drink.  My point is that there’s never been anything about the show that would suggest that Fantasy Island is anywhere near Egypt.  Certainly, it’s possible that an Egyptian ship may have landed at Fantasy Island at some point in the past, just as it’s possible that ancient Egyptians also landed in South America.  But still, there’s no reason why a pharaoh would be buried on Fantasy Island as opposed to along the banks of the Nile.

It makes no sense but, for whatever reason, the tomb is indeed on Fantasy Island.  Entering the tomb leads to Marlowe’s wife having several nightmares about being wrapped up like a mummy.  It’s nicely creepy but it doesn’t lead to anything.  Because Marlowe decides to send the artifacts to Egypt as opposed to sending them to a British museum. he is spared the curse.

Meanwhile, Barney Hunter (Desi Arnaz, Jr.) is a bookstore clerk who suffers from crippling shyness.  His fantasy is to be a best selling author so Mr. Roarke informs him that he is now the author of the world’s most popular book about sex and, as a result, hundreds of his fans are coming to the island to meet him.  The problem with that, of course, is that Barney is a virgin.  So, you have to wonder why Mr. Roarke would make Barney the world’s leading expert on sex when he doesn’t know anything about it.  My guess is that Mr. Roarke thought it would be funny but it’s actually kind of mean-spirited.  Anyway, Barney meets Angela (Maureen McCormick), who is also a virgin.  They fall in love but Angela’s mother (Gloria DeHaven) refuses to allow Angela to see a man who has written a “filthy book.”  Again, it’s hard not to feel that Roarke is having a little fun at Barney’s expense.  Fortunately, things work out in the end and that’s good.  Arnaz and McCormick were a cute couple.

Finally, Tattoo entered a jingle contest and won!  Unfortunately, it turned out that first prize was a trip to Fantasy Island.  Mr. Roarke had a good laugh about that one and I have to admit that I did too.  Fantasy Island just has a way of sweeping you up in all of its silliness. 

Cleaning Out The DVR: An American Dream (dir by Robert Gist)


Loosely based on a novel by Norman Mailer, the 1966 film, An American Dream, tells the story of Stephen Rojack (Stuart Whitman).  Rojack’s a war hero, a man who has several medals of valor to his credit.  He’s married to Deborah (Eleanor Parker), the daughter of one of the richest men in the country.  He’s an acclaimed writer.  He’s got his own television talk show in New York.  He’s been crusading against not only the Mafia but also against corruption in the police department.  He has powerful friends and powerful enemies.  You get the idea.

He’s also got a marriage that’s on the verge of collapse.  Deborah calls Rojack’s show and taunts him while he’s on the air.  When Rojack goes to her apartment to demand a divorce, the two of them get into an argument.  Deborah tells him that he’s not a hero.  She says he only married her for the money and that she only married him for the prestige.  She tells him that he’s a lousy lover.  Being a character in an adaptation of a Norman Mailer novel, the “lousy lay” crack causes Rojack to snap.  He attacks Deborah.  The two of them fight.  Deborah stumbles out to the balcony of her apartment and it appears that she’s on the verge of jumping.  Rojack follows her.  At first, he tries to save her but then he lets her fall.  She crashes down to the street, where she’s promptly run over by several cars.  The cars then all run into each other while Rojack stands on the balcony and wails.  There’s nothing subtle about the first 15 minutes of An American Dream.

Actually, there’s nothing subtle about any minute of An American Dream.  It’s a film where everything, from the acting to the melodrama, is so over-the-top and portentous that it actually gets a bit boring.  There’s no relief from the screeching and the inauthentic hard-boiled dialogue.  When a crazed Rojack starts to laugh uncontrollably, he doesn’t just laugh.  Instead, he laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs and …. well, let’s just say it goes on for a bit.  It’s like a 60s version of one of those terrible Family Guy jokes.

Anyway, the police don’t believe that Deborah committed suicide but they also can’t prove that Rojack killed her.  Meanwhile, within hours of his wife’s death, Rojack meets his ex-girlfriend, a singer named Cherry (Janet Leigh).  Rojack is still in love with Cherry but Cherry is also connected to the same mobsters who want to kill Rojack.  Meanwhile, Deborah’s superrich father (Lloyd Nolan) is also on his way to New York City, looking for answer of his own.

An American Dream is a very familiar type of mid-60s film.  It’s a trashy story and it’s obvious that the director was trying to be as risqué as the competition in Europe while also trying to not offend mainstream American audiences.  As such, the film has hints of nudity but not too much nudity.  There’s some profanity but not too much profanity.  Rojack, Deborah, and Cherry may curse more than Mary Poppins but they’re rank amateurs compared to the cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  It’s an unabashedly melodramatic film but it doesn’t seem to be sure just how far it can go in embracing the melodrama with alienating its target audience so, as a result, the entire film feels somewhat off.  Some scenes go on forever.  Some scenes feel too short.  The whole thing has the washed-out look of an old cop show.

All of that perhaps wouldn’t matter if Stephen Rojack was a compelling character.  In theory, Rojack should have been compelling but, because he’s played by the reliably boring Stuart Whitman, Rojack instead just comes across as being a bit of a dullard.  He’s supposed to be a charismatic, two-fisted Norman Mailer-type but instead, as played by Whitman, Rojack comes across like an accountant who is looking forward to retirement but only if he can balance the books one last time.  There’s no spark of madness or imagination to be found in Whitman’s performance and, as a result, the viewer never really cares about Rojack or his problems.

Noman Mailer reportedly never saw An American Dream, saying that it would be too painful to a bad version of his favorite novel.  In this case, Mailer made the right decision.

Yuma (1971, directed by Ted Post)


At the start of this made-for-TV western, experienced lawman Dave Harmon (Clint Walker) has just been appointed the new marshal of Yuma.  He’s served as the marshal of several towns, all of which were near rowdy army bases.  He’s a laconic, no-nonsense lawman who is quick with a gun and smart enough to negotiate with the local Indian tribes.

As soon as Harmon rides into town, he comes across the King Brothers (Bruce Glover and Bing Russell) making trouble.  He kills one of the brothers in a saloon and then takes the other one to jail, where he’s mysteriously gunned down during a midnight jailbreak.  It turns out that there’s a third Harmon brother, cattle baron Arch King (Morgan Woodward), and he rides into town looking for revenge.  He gives Harmon a set amount of time to find and arrest his brother’s killer or Arch and his men are going to return to town and kill Harmon.

Fortunately, Harmon has a witness to the jailbreak murder.  Andres (Miguel Alejandro) is a young, Mexican orphan who sleeps at the jail.  He witnessed the murder but he only saw that the killer was wearing what appeared to be army boots.  Harmon’s investigation brings him into conflict with the local army base’s commandant (Peter Mark Richman) and also leads to the discovery of a plot to defraud the local Indians.

The main problem with Yuma is that it was clearly designed to be a pilot for a weekly television series and, as a result, it introduces a lot of characters who don’t get much to do.  There’s a lot of talk about how Harmon is searching for the men who earlier killed his family but that subplot is never resolved.  (If Yuma had been picked up as a weekly show, maybe it would have been.)  Yuma has to set up the premise for a potential show and tell a complete story in just 70 minutes.  That’s a lot to handle and Yuma ends up feeling rushed and incomplete.

As a B-western for undemanding fans of the genre, it’s acceptable.  Clint Walker was a convincing lawman and the film was directed by Ted Post, who knew how to stage a gunfight.  But it’s not really a western that you’re going to remember for long after you watch it.

Hurricane (1974, directed by Jerry Jameson)


Hurricane Hilda is crashing down on the Gulf Coast and everyone in its path is about to get all wet.  While Will Geer and Michael Learned try to warn everyone about the approaching hurricane, coast guard pilot Martin Milner observes the storm from the air and tires to rescue everyone in its path.  Some people listen and some people don’t.  Milner’s own father, played by Barry Sullivan, ends up getting stranded in a cabin while Larry Hagman and Jessica Walter play a married couple on a boat who find themselves sailing straight into the storm.  On temporarily dry land, Frank Sutton (a.k.a. Gomer Pyle’s Sgt. Carter) plays a homeowner who refuses to evacuate because he’s convinced that he knows everything there is to know about hurricanes.  He and the neighbors have a drunken party while waiting for the storm.  When Patrick Duffy and his wife announce that they’re heading for safety, Sutton demands that they come in and have a beer with him.  When Hilda finally makes landfall, some survive and some don’t.

Hurricane is a by-the-numbers disaster movie.  It was made after The Poseidon Adventure and during the same year as The Towering Inferno and it hits all the usual disaster movie beats.  Survival is determined by karma, with Hilda going after anyone who was too big of a jerk during the first half of the movie.  It’s predictable stuff but it does feature footage from an actual hurricane so it’s at least not too dragged down by any of the bad special effects that always show up in made-for-TV disaster films.

This is one of those films where the cast was probably described as being all-star, even though most of them were just TV actors who needed a quick paycheck.  Seen today, the film feels like a MeTV reunion special.  Years before they played brothers in Dallas, both Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy appeared in Hurricane, though neither of them shares any scenes.  Will Geer and Michael Learned were starring on The Waltons when they appeared in this movie and they’re in so few scenes that they probably shot their scenes over a weekend before returning to Walton’s Mountain.  The best performance is from Frank Sutton, who died of a heart attack just a few weeks after this movie aired.  He’s a convincing hothead, even if he doesn’t have Gomer around to yell at.

Hurricane may be bad but it’s still not as terrible as most made-for-TV disaster movies.  People who enjoy watching TV actors pretending to stare at a tidal wave of water about to crash down on them will find this film to be an adequate time waster.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #3: The Purple Gang (dir by Frank McDonald)


The 1960 gangster film, The Purple Gang, really took me by surprise.

The film opens with U.S. Rep. James Roosevelt standing in front of his desk.  James Roosevelt was the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He was a notoriously shady businessman who, before entering politics, dabbled a bit in Hollywood.  That probably explains how he eventually came to be standing in his congressional office, filming the introduction for a low-budget B-movie about Detroit gangsters.  Roosevelt tells us that he’s already watched the movie that we’re about to see and that he can assure us that it is an accurate portrayal of not just the history of The Purple Gang but also of how 1920s bootlegging led to a host of other crimes.  Roosevelt goes on to compare bootleggers to modern day drug pushers.  The most interesting thing about the speech is that it almost sounds like a defense of prohibition, the law that FDR famously opposed.

To use a term from the film’s era, it’s kind of a square opening.  James Roosevelt comes across as being so vacuously earnest that it’s almost as if Beto O’Rourke got his hands on a time machine and went back to 1960.  At the same time, there’s something oddly charming about how awkward it is.  One can only imagine how audiences would react if a film today opened with a speech from a congressperson.  I guess some parts of the country would love it.  Down here in Texas, the theater would probably get set on fire.

Now, based on that less than edgy opening, you might be justified in expecting that The Purple Gang will just be your standard 1960s crime thriller but it most definitely is not.  The Purple Gang is a tough and violet movie, one that is full of shadowy and sometimes disturbing imagery.  A very young Robert Blake plays Honeyboy Willard, a teenage hoodlum who, through pure sociopathic ruthlessness, takes over the rackets in Detroit.  Barry Sullivan is Lt. Harley, the police detective whose quest to bring down the Purple Gang leads to him losing almost everything that was important to him.

Our first impression of Lt. Harley comes when he skeptically listens to a liberal social worker, Joan McNamara (Jody Lawrance), explain that criminals are not born but are instead made by their circumstances.  Harley obviously doesn’t agree.  Later, while Joan is walking around Detroit at night, she is attacked, rape,d and then murdered by the same criminals that she was earlier defending.  With the city outraged over Joan’s murder, Lt. Harley steps up his efforts to bring down the gang so Honeyboy murders Harley’s pregnant wife.

While Harley seeks revenge, Honeyboy is busy making deals with Canadian liquor distributors and building the Purple Gang into the biggest criminal enterprise in the northern midwest.  When a group of distraught businessmen, upset at being extorted by the Purple Gang, turns to the Mafia for help, Honeyboy declares war….

Of course, despite James Roosevelt’s assurance at the start of the film and the semi-documentary approach that director Frank McDonald takes to the material, the truth is far different from the movie.   In real life, The Purple Gang was predominantly made up of the children of recent immigrants from Russia and Poland.  It was run not by Honeyboy Willard but by the four Bernstein brothers.  The Purple Gang did not go to war with the Mafia but instead, they were allied with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky in their attempts to create a national crime syndicate.  They were also closely allied with Al Capone, to the extent that it’s been suggested that Capone used Purple Gang gunmen to carry out the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The Purple Gang eventually fell apart due to infighting and the end of prohibition, with the majority of the members who weren’t in jail simply joining other gangs.

So, no, The Purple Gang is not historically accurate but it’s still an effective and surprisingly brutal gangster film.  The noirish photography makes certain scenes seem almost as if they’ve been lifted straight out of a nightmare and, historically accurate or not, the film does do a good job of showing how organized crime came to exist in the United States.  It’s a quick-paced and energetic film and it features a great performance from Robert Blake as the chillingly sociopathic Honeyboy.  The Purple Gang is a low-budget B-movie that packs a punch.

Plus, James Roosevelt did ask you to watch.  Are you going to say no to James Roosevelt?

James Roosevelt, film critic

Previous Offers You Can’t Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface

Film Review: Night Gallery (dir by Boris Sagal, Barry Shear, and Steven Spielberg)


Night Gallery was a horror anthology series that aired on NBC in the early 70s.  Each episode featured Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, serving as the curator of a museum where all of the paintings have a somewhat macabre theme.  (One could even say that the museum was a …. wait for it …. night gallery!)  Serling would give each painting a properly pithy introduction and then the audience would see the story behind the artwork.  It was a bit like the Twilight Zone, except the Night Gallery episodes were in color, they were all horror-themed, and, for the most part, they steered away from social commentary.  The series ran from 1970 and 1973 and it still airs in syndication and on some of the retro stations.  (I believe it currently airs on Comet TV.)  Even if it wasn’t as consistently good as Twilight Zone, it’s still a pretty fun little series.

Two Christmases ago, I was gifted  Night Gallery: The Complete Series on DVD.  Though I’ve watched several episodes from the DVD, I recently realized that I have never actually sat down and watched every episode in order.  With the world currently shut down due to the pandemic (a development that, if we’re going to be honest, sounds like something Rod Serling would have used on the Twilight Zone), I figured what better time to watch the entire series then now?

I started out by watching the Night Gallery pilot film.  This originally aired on November 8th, 1969, a full year before Night Gallery became a weekly series.  It features three different stories (all written by Rod Serling) of the macabre.  As with every episode of the subsequent series, each story is introduced by Serling standing in front of a painting.  In the pilot, though, the museum is rather bare and the painting’s are a bit minimalist.  I have to admit that, as a lover of the baroque, I was a bit disappointed in that aspect of the pilot.

But what about the stories themselves?  Read on!

The Cemetery (dir by Boris Sagal)

The first story was The Cemetery, a cheerfully gruesome little tale that featured Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis.  McDowall plays Jeremy, a spoiled young man who murders his uncle so that he might inherit the dead man’s estate.  At first, it looks like McDowall’s plot is a complete success but then McDowall notices a painting of the family graveyard hanging above a staircase.  (To be honest, it seems odd to hang a painting of a graveyard in the foyer but I guess that’s something old rich people do.)  The painting keeps changing.  One minute, the painting looks normal.  The next minute, it features a newly dug grave.  And then something emerging grave.  And then something heading towards the house….

Is Jeremy losing his mind or is the painting warning him that his uncle has risen from the dead and is seeking revenge!?  You’ll probably be able to guess the answer long before poor Jeremy but no matter.  This is a fun little horror story and it benefits from two enjoyably arch performances, from McDowall and, in the role of a butler who may have an agenda of his own, Ossie Davis.

Eyes (dir by Steven Spielberg)

Of the three stories presented in the pilot, Eyes probably gets the most attention from critics because it not only stars Joan Crawford in one of her final performances but it was the professional directorial debut (if you don’t count Amblin’) of 22 year-old Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg apparently had some issues dealing with the veteran crew members, many of whom didn’t like the idea of taking orders from a 22 year-old.  (It probably didn’t help that pictures from that era suggest that Spielberg looked several years younger than his age.  Let’s just say that it’s easy to understand why he eventually grew that beard.)  I’d like to think that Joan Crawford yelled at everyone and defended Spielberg and maybe even Rod Serling came down with Luca Brasi and said, “You’re going to the give this kid the respect he deserves or your brains are going to be all over that union contract.”  I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a nice thought.

That said, Eyes is pretty good.  Even if the crew doubted him, Spielberg proved himself as a director with this story.  It’s about a hateful and selfish woman (Joan Crawford) who happens to be both rich and blind.  She has manipulated a doctor into performing an experimental operation that will allow her to see.  The only catch is that the operation will only be good for 22 hours and a donor (Tom Bosley, as a bookie who is in trouble with the mob) will be required to give up his eyes so that Crawford can have those 22 hours.

On the one hand, this is very-much a Rod Serling-type tale.  It’s easy to imagine Eyes, with its belief in karma and its final macabre twist, as a Twilight Zone episode.  At the same time, Spielberg very much brings his own signature style to the film, livening up dialogue-heavy scenes with interesting camera angles and getting good performances from Crawford, Barry Sullivan, and Tom Bosley.  Eyes is a clever story but, for modern viewers, the most interesting thing about it will be discovering that, even at the age of 22, Spielberg already had a clear directorial style.

The Escape Route (dir by Barry Shear)

The Escape Route is about an Nazi war criminal named Joseph Strobe (played by Richard Kiley) who is hiding out in South America and spending all of his time nervously looking over his shoulder.  One day, he enters a museum where he finds himself drawn to two paintings.  One painting features a man who has been crucified in a concentration camp, which we learn was Strobe’s trademark back when he, himself, was a camp commandant.  The other painting features a fisherman in a peaceful setting.  Even though Strobe imagines himself as the peaceful fisherman, his attention keeps getting redirected to the painting of the concentration camp.  Soon, Strobe realizes that a survivor of the camp (played by Sam Jaffe) is also in the museum and that he is studying the painting as well.

Compared to Eyes and especially The Cemetery, The Escape Route may seem like a rather low-key story but it has a power that sneaks up on you.  Hiding out (as many real-life Nazi war criminals did) in South America, Strobe is full of excuses for his past and he may indeed be sincere in his wish that he had just become a fisherman as opposed to a brutal Nazi.  But, in the end, Strobe can neither escape his past nor his final punishment.  Justice cannot be escaped, no matter how hard Strobe tries to outrun it.  In the end, there is no escape for the wicked.  Richard Kiley and Sam Jaffe both give excellent performances.  The Escape Route will stick with you.

As a series, Night Gallery was a bit uneven but the pilot stands as a classic of its type, featuring three short films that all deserve to be remembered.

As for me, I’m going to try to watch an episode or two a day.  I may review a few more Night Gallery episodes here on the Shattered Lens.  As I said, the series itself was a bit uneven and not every episode is as good as the pilot.  Still, there’s definitely some gems to be found in the Night Gallery and I’ll share them as I come across them.

Film Review: L.A. 2017 (dir by Steven Spielberg)


L.A. 2017 is the Steven Spielberg film about which you’ve probably never heard.

To a certain extent, that’s understandable.  Spielberg was only 24 when, in 1971, he directed L.A. 2017.  It was a film that he directed for television.  In fact, it was only his third directorial assignment.  As opposed to the huge budgets that we tend to associate with a typical Spielberg production, L.A. 2017 was made for about $300,000.  The entire film was shot in about 12 days.  In fact, with a running time of only a scant 69 minutes, L.A. 2017 hardly qualifies as a feature-length film.  L.A. 2017 has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, making it a true oddity in Spielberg’s filmography.  Despite the fact that Spielberg has credited L.A. 2017 with opening a lot of doors for him, it’s an almost totally forgotten film.

Of course, some of that is because L.A. 2017 really isn’t a film at all.  Instead, it was an episode of a television show called The Name of the Game.  The show was about Glenn Howard (Gene Barry), a magazine publisher, and the reporters who worked for him.  L.A. 2017 was unique in that it was the show’s only excursion into science fiction.  In fact, from everything that I’ve read about the show, it appears that L.A. 2017 was nothing like any of the other episodes of The Name of the Game.  This episode was also unique because Spielberg directed it as if he was making a feature, as opposed to just another installment in a weekly series.  If not for the opening credits (which announce, among other things, that we’re watching a Robert Stack Production), one could easily imagine watching L.A. 2017 in a movie theater, perhaps as a double feature with Beneath The Planet Of The Apes.

L.A. 2017 opens with Glenn driving down a mountain road in California.  He’s heading to a pollution summit and, as he drives along, he awkwardly dictates an editorial into a tape recorder.  Glenn worries that society may have already ruined the environment to such an extent that the Earth cannot be saved.  As if to prove his point, Glenn starts to cough as he’s overcome by all of the smog in the air.  His car swerves into a ditch and Glenn is knocked unconscious.

Welcome to the future

When he wakes up, he finds himself being rescued by men wearing wearing protective suits and masks.  The sky is a sickly orange and an ominous wind howls in the background.  Glenn’s rescuers take him to an underground city where he discovers that, somehow, he has traveled through time.  The year is now 2017, which in this film looks a lot like the 70s except that everyone’s now underground and the landline phones are extra bulky.  (Needless to say, watching 1971’s version of 2017 in 2019 is an interesting experience.)  It turns out that the pollution got so bad that the surface of the planet became uninhabitable.  The U.S. is now run by a corporation that is headquartered in Detroit.  (Presumably, the Corporation is a former car company.)  The U.S. is also at war with England, for some reason.  No mention is made about what’s happened to Canada but, if Detroit’s still around, I assume at least some of Canada managed to survive as well.

The …. uh, Future.

Everyone in the future drinks a lot of milk and, when they’re not listening to cheerful announcements, they’re listening to the soothing music that the Corporation provides for them.  Everyone in the future is also very friendly.  We know this because everyone keeps assuring Glenn that he’s surrounded by friends.  In fact, everyone in the future refers to one another by their first name because “it’s friendlier.”  It’s also the law.  It turns out that there’s a lot of laws in the future.  In fact, the underground cities are pretty fascist in the way that they handle things.  There are constant announcements encouraging people to pursue a career in law enforcement and anyone who disagrees with the Corporation ends up in a straight jacket.  Glenn feels that maybe he’s been brought to the future so he can start a new magazine and challenge the status quo.  The Corporation disagrees….

This is what happens when you don’t go underground in the future.

Okay, so there’s nothing subtle about L.A. 2017.  From the villainous corporation to the heavy-handed environmental message, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in dozens of other sci-fi films.  But the lack of subtlety doesn’t matter, largely because Spielberg directs with so much energy and with such an eye to detail that it’s impossible not to get sucked into the story.  As opposed to the somewhat complacent Spielberg who has recently given us rather bland and safe blockbusters like Lincoln, The BFG, and The Post, the Spielberg who directed L.A. 2017 was young and obviously eager to show off what he could do with even a low budget and that enthusiasm is present in every frame, from the wide-angle shots of Glenn driving his car to the scenes of Glenn looking up at the shadowy executives and scientists who are staring down at him when he’s first brought to the underground city.  As opposed to the sterile vision of so many other future-set films, Spielberg’s future feels as if it’s actually been lived in.  When Glenn finds himself in a new world, it comes across as being a real world as opposed to just a narrative contrivance.

Of course, because L.A. 2017 was just one episode in a weekly series, Glenn couldn’t remain in the future and L.A. 2017 returns Glenn to the present in the most contrived and predictable way possible.  Still, L.A. 2017 remains an entertaining example of what a young and talented director can do when he’s determined to be recognized.  Watching the film, it’s easy to draw a straight line from Spielberg doing L.A. 2017 to doing Duel and then subsequently being hired for Jaws.

Incidentally, Joan Crawford is somewhere in this film.  Crawford worked with Spielberg when he directed her in the pilot for Night Gallery and she was one of his first major supporters in Hollywood.  Apparently, in L.A. 2017, she plays one of the people staring down at Glenn when he’s first brought into the underground city.  I haven’t found her yet but she’s apparently there somewhere.

Unfortunately, L.A. 2017 has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray but it is currently available on YouTube.

Snap! Crackle! Pop!: TENSION (MGM 1949)


cracked rear viewer

The best films noir deal with post-WWII disillusionment, and that’s exactly what drives Richard Basehart’s sad sack Warren Quimby in TENSION. This cynical, downbeat, and downright sordid little tale of infidelity and murder is  boosted by first-rate performances from Basehart and scorchingly hot Audrey Totter as his manipulative bimbo of a wife, with a taut screenplay by Allen Rivkin and solid direction by John Berry. It may not make anyone’s top ten list (or even top thirty), but it’s one of those ‘B’ films that really works, provided you’re willing to suspend disbelief for an hour and a half.

Mild mannered pharmacist Quimby met and married Claire while stationed in San Diego during the war. He, like many others, hopes to someday live the American Dream: house, kids, the whole nine yards. Trampy Claire doesn’t give a crap about that; she prefers excitement, the high life. Claire is messing around…

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30 Days of Noir #23: Framed (dir by Richard Wallace)


The 1947 film noir, Framed, is the story of a loser.

That, in itself, is not a surprise.  The loser who finds himself stranded in a strange place where he’s manipulated by nearly everyone he meets is a film noir archetype.  This is especially true when it comes to movies about men who end up getting manipulated by another film noir archetype, the femme fatale.  I mean, let’s be honest.  Most film noir “heroes” fall victim to their own desperation.  If they weren’t so obviously desperate to find money or sex, they probably wouldn’t end up in the trouble that always seems to follow them around.

Framed tells the story of Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford).  When we first meet Mike, he’s sitting behind the wheel of an out-of-control truck.  While the truck recklessly speeds down a steep hill, Mike desperately tries to keep from crashing.  It’s not until Mike pulls into a small town that he finally gets the truck to stop.  Of course, in the process of stopping, he also dings the back of someone else’s pickup truck.

It turns out that, until recently, Mike was a mining engineer.  After he lost his job, he found temporary employment as a truck driver.  He needed the money so he didn’t bother to find out what he was hauling or even if the truck had working brakes.  When Mike calls up the man who hired him and tells him that the owner of the pickup is demanding that Mike’s employer pay for the damage, the man hangs up on him.  To recap, before we’re even 10 minutes into the movie, we’ve seen that Mike can be tricked into driving a truck with no brakes and that he can’t even convince his employer to help pay for the damage caused by those faulty brakes.  In other words: Loser!

Anyway, the local cops are planning on tossing Mike in jail for reckless driving but fortunately, a local waitress, Paula Craig (Janis Carter), is willing to pay Mike’s fine.  She even helps a drunken Mike find a hotel room.  Is Paula doing all of this out of the goodness of her heart or is it all just a part of an elaborate scheme?  While Mike is getting a job with a local prospector (Edgar Buchanan), Paula is meeting with her married boyfriend, Steve Price (Barry Sullivan), and bragging about how she’s finally found the perfect patsy.

Yes, to no one’s surprise, Paula and Steve have hatched a nefarious scheme and Mike is about to find himself stuck right in the middle of it.  Of course, since this is a film noir, it should come as no surprise to learn that Paula and Steve are just as willing to double cross each other as they are Mike….

Framed is an entertaining if slightly predictable noir.  From the minute that Paula first appears, we know that she’s not to be trusted but part of the fun of the film is that those of us in the audience are always a step or two ahead of poor Mike.  You watch Mike in amazement that someone could be so dense but, at the same time, Glenn Ford is likable enough that you do hope that everything will turn out okay for him.  As for the film’s main villains, Barry Sullivan is perfectly slick and sleazy as Steve Price but the film is really stolen by Janis Carter, who plays Paula as if she were a panther waiting to pounce on her prey.

Framed is a film that will definitely be enjoyed by those who appreciate the shadowy landscape of an old school film noir.  It may not rewrite the rules of genre but it’s still an undeniably entertaining film about a loser and the people who use him.

Insomnia File #28: The Arrangement (dir by Elia Kazan)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, on Saturday you were having trouble sleeping at three in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1969 film, The Arrangement.

The Arrangement is one of those films where a rich guy gets hit by a sudden case of ennui and, as a result, spends the entire movie acting like a jackass.  However, as often happens in films like this, The Arrangement makes sure that we understand that it’s not the guy’s fault.  Instead, it’s his wife’s fault for not being as much fun as his mistress.

In this case, the guy is an ad executive who goes by the name of Eddie Anderson (Kirk Douglas).  His original name was Evangelos Arness but he changed his name when he was younger because he apparently didn’t want anyone to know that he came from a Greek family.  When we first meet Eddie, he’s attempting to commit suicide by driving his car into an 18 wheeler.  If he had died, the movie could have ended quickly.  However, since Eddie survived, the audience is now required to spend two hours watching Eddie as he tries to figure out what it all means.

Eddie’s father (Richard Boone) is dying.  His long-suffering wife (Deborah Kerr) just doesn’t understand that Eddie needs more than a big house and a nice pool to feel like a man.  Eddie’s mistress is Gwen (Faye Dunaway), whose new baby may or may not be Eddie’s.  Who could blame Eddie, the film demands to know, for being disillusioned with his comfortable life?

The Arrangement was one of the last films to be directed by Elia Kazan, who was a big deal in the 40s and the 50s and whose goal with The Arrangement was apparently to prove that he should still have been a big deal in the 60s and 70s.  Kazan’s way of doing this is to fill The Arrangement with all types of tricks that were designed to make young filmgoers say, “Man, that Eliza Kazan may be old but he’s one of us!”

Freeze frames?  Kazan’s got them!  Flashback after flashback?  Kazan spreads them all throughout the movie, even when they don’t really have anything to show us.  Scenes where the action is sped up for no identifiable reason?  Just watch Kirk Douglas trot down that hallway!  Rack focus shots?  Zoom shots?  A scene where the young Kirk Douglas argues with the old Kirk Douglas?  Casual nudity that’s still filmed in such a way that it feels oddly reticent, as if the filmmaker was just including it to try to establish his rebel credentials?  The Arrangement has it all!

It also has a lot of close-ups of Kirk Douglas.  In far too many scenes, he’s just sitting around with this blank look on his face and it doesn’t quite work because, as an actor, Douglas has never exactly come across as the type to get trapped in an existential crisis.  We’re supposed to view Kirk as being depressed and conflicted but, in all of his films, Kirk has always come across as someone who hasn’t known a day of insecurity in his entire life.

There are also a few scenes of Kirk just laughing and laughing.  For some reason, movies in the late 60s and early 70s always seemed to feature at least a handful of closeups of people laughing uncontrollably.  I’m not sure why.  (If you want to see the most extreme example of this, check out Getting Straight.)  These scenes are always kind of annoying because there’s only so much time you can spend watching someone laugh at the absurdity of it all before you want them to just close their damn mouth.  Especially when the person in question is a middle-aged man.  I mean, shouldn’t have Kirk figured out that the world is absurd before his 50th birthday?

Anyway, The Arrangement is a pretentious mess.  Of course, most films from the 60s are pretentious.  The problem with The Arrangement is that it’s also boring.  If you’re going to be pretentious, at least have some fun with it, like The Graduate did.  The Arrangement goes on forever and it’s never quite as profound as it seems to think that it is.  I once read a short story that a former friend of mine wrote.  She explained that writing the story had caused her to realize that, the longer you know someone, the more likely your initial impression of that person is going to change.  “You had to write an entire short story to figure that out?” I replied.  (That’s one reason why she’s a former friend.)  But that’s kind of how The Arrangement is.  For all the drama and the technique and the pretension, it has nothing to teach us that we shouldn’t already know.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name