Happy Noir Year!: THE BIG COMBO (United Artists 1955)


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(ATTENTION: There’s a surprise waiting for you at the end of this post, so read on…)

Joseph H. Lewis started his directing career with low-budget Westerns starring singing cowboy Bob Baker and East Side Kids programmers, and ended it back on the range doing epsiodes of THE RIFLEMAN, GUNSMOKE, and THE BIG VALLEY. In between, he created some of the finest films noir the genre has to offer: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS , SO DARK THE NIGHT, THE UNDERCOVER MAN, and especially GUN CRAZY . His last big screen noir outing is the culmination of his work in the genre, 1955’s THE BIG COMBO.

The plot is fairly simple: Police Lt. Leonard Diamond is out to crack gangster Mr. Brown’s “combination”, which controls crime in the city. But Philip Yordan’s screenplay takes that plot and adds exciting twists and turns, indelible characters, and a level of violence audiences weren’t…

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New Recipe: HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (AIP 1965)


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HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI, the sixth entry in American-International’s “Beach Party” series, attempts to breathe new life into the tried-and-true  formula of sun, sand, surf, songs, and corny jokes. Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are still around as Frankie and Dee Dee, but in this go-round they’re separated; he’s in the Navy stationed on the tropical island of Goona-Goona, while Annette has to contend with the romantic enticements of Dwayne Hickman .

Frankie’s part amounts to a cameo, enlisting local witch doctor Buster Keaton (!!) to keep those girl-hungry beach bums away from Dee Dee (while he frolics unfettered with lovely Irene Tsu !). Keaton’s magic ain’t what it used to be, so he has his daughter conjure up a knockout named Cassandra, who first appears on the beach as an animated bikini. All the boys go ga-ga for Cassandra, including a go-go ad man named Peachy Keane…

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Fool’s Gold: BARBARY COAST (United Artists 1935)


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BARBARY COAST probably would’ve been better had it been made during the Pre-Code era. Don’t misunderstand; I liked the film. It’s an entertaining period piece directed by Howard Hawks , with his trademark overlapping dialog and perfect eye for composition, rivaled by only a handful (Ford and Hitchcock spring immediately to mind). But for me, this tale of rowdy San Francisco during California’s Gold Rush was too sanitized by Hays Code enforcer Joseph Breen, who demanded major script changes by screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.

The result is a film that’s just misses the classic status mark. It’s 1849, and Susan Rutledge arrives in Frisco to marry her rich boyfriend, who has struck it rich in the gold strike. When she finds out he’s been killed by gambling czar Luis Chandalis, owner of the Bella Donna saloon, avaricious Susan sets her sights on him. Chandalis becomes enamored of her…

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Horror On The Lens: Gammera The Invincible (dir by Noriaki Yuasu and Sandy Howard)


Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that 1966’s Gammera The Invincible is not really a horror film.  Maybe there was a time when people found the idea of a giant, fire-breathing turtle to be scary but I kind of doubt it.

But let’s think about this!  What better time is there to watch a movie about giant, fire-breathing turtle than in October?

Seriously, this is a fun movie and if you’ve got some time to kill this morning, I guarantee this movie will make you smile.

As I wrote in my 2014 review of this film, Gammera is one hell of a turtle.

Enjoy!

Strange Bedfellows: THE GLASS KEY (Paramount 1942)


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Anyone who watches television, reads a newspaper, or surfs the Internet today knows the axiom “Politics is a dirty business” is dead on point. The mudslinging and brickbats are being tossed at record rates, and it just keeps escalating. Here at Cracked Rear Viewer, we’re just plain tired of all the nonsense. Ah, for the old days, when politics was much more genteel and civil, right? Wrong! Politics has always been a dirty business, proving another old adage, “There’s nothing new under the sun”. Case in point: the 1942 film THE GLASS KEY.

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The story’s based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, and was filmed once before in 1935 with George Raft, Edward Arnold, and Claire Dodd. In this version, Paramount chose to star their red-hot team of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, fresh off their hit THIS GUN FOR HIRE. Brian Donlevy takes the Arnold role as Paul Madvig, a…

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Saddle Sore: BILLY THE KID (MGM 1941)


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What kind of topsy-turvy world is this? Perennial bad guy Brian Donlevy is on the side of the law, loveable Gene Lockhart is the villain, and almost 30 Robert Taylor is BILLY THE KID. This 1941 Technicolor horse opera has only a passing resemblance to reality, and was actually a remake of a 1930 film starring Wallace Beery and Johnny Mack Brown, which depicted the outlaw’s legend a bit more truthfully… but not much!

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In this version, Billy joins up with ruthless cattleman Hickey, who’s out to takeover Lincoln County. They start a stampede of rival Keating’s cattle, and during the commotion Billy encounters childhood friend Jim Sherwood, now working for Keating. Billy and his pal Pedro switch sides, and Pedro takes a bullet for it. The Kid is out for revenge, but Keating’s cooler head prevails, and he sets out to seek help from the territorial governor.

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But Keating doesn’t make it, as we…

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Shattered Politics #6: The Great McGinty (dir by Preston Sturges)


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 “This is the story of two men who met in a banana republic. One of them never did anything dishonest in his life except for one crazy minute. The other never did anything honest in his life except for one crazy minute. They both had to get out of the country.”

— The Great McGinty (1940)

For today’s final entry in Shattered Politics, we take a look at how elections are won north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The Great McGinty begins in a bar located in an unnamed country in South America.  Tommy Thompson (Louis John Heydt) attempts to shoot himself but is stopped by philosophical bartender Dan McGinty (Brian Donlevy).  Tommy explains that he can never return to the United States because, in one moment of weakness, he stole some money.  McGinty replies that he can never return to the U.S. either.  Why?  “I was the Governor of a state, baby…” McGinty replies.

In flashback, McGinty explains how he came to power.  One day, while standing in a soup line, the homeless McGinty was approached by a local political operative (William Demarest) and offered $2.00 on the condition that he vote for a certain mayoral candidate.  McGinty agrees and then proceeds to vote 37 times.  When McGinty demands $74.00 for his efforts, he’s taken to the headquarters of the Boss (Akim Tamiroff, giving a wonderfully comedic performance).

The Boss is impressed with McGinty and, despite the fact that the two of them are constantly getting into fights with each other, he employs McGinty as a collector.  Eventually, he also arranges for McGinty to be elected alderman and then, running as a reform candidate, mayor.

Along the way, the Boss arranges for McGinty to get married.  McGinty’s wife (Muriel Angelus) originally has little respect for McGinty but, after they marry, she starts to realize that McGinty is not quite as bad as she originally assumed.  Eventually, she’s even impressed enough that she even stops seeing her boyfriend, George (Allyn Joslyn).

Meanwhile, the Boss arranges for McGinty to be elected governor.  However, once McGinty has won the election, he declares that he’s going to run an honest administration.  How does that turn out?  Well, it should be noted that the film opens with McGinty tending bar in South America…

The Great McGinty is a lot of fun and it’s interesting to think that this unapologetically sardonic look at American politics came out just a year after Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  Imagine if Mr. Smith Goes To Washington had been told from the point of view of Edward Arnold’s Boss Taylor and you can guess what The Great McGinty is like.

If nothing else, The Great McGinty serves as a great reminder that political cynicism existed long before any of us cast our first vote.