Film Review: Angel, Angel, Down We Go (dir by Robert Thom)

Oh dear Lord.

Listen, I’ve seen some bad movies before.  I’ve seen some annoying films before.  I’ve seen some pretentious movies before.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie as dedicated to being all three of them as 1969’s Angel, Angel, Down We Go appears to be.

Yes, this movie came out in 1969 and it’s one of those late 60s, counter culture films that’s so intent on impressing you by being daring that it doesn’t bother to actually come up with an interesting story or anything like that.  It’s a film that talks a lot but has nothing to say.  It’s a film that’s obviously meant to be very counter cultural and left-wing but it has a streak of such cruel misogyny running through it that it’s nearly impossible to watch certain scenes.

Singer Holly Near stars as Tara Steele, the teenage daughter of two wealthy parents.  Tara’s mother (Jennifer Jones) is a former actress who brags about having starred in over a hundred stag film without ever “faking an orgasm.”  Tara’s father (Charles Aidman) is a former military man who knew Douglas MacArthur and who is gay but closeted.  (The film handles the issue of his sexuality with all of the sensitivity that you would expect from an episode of the 700 Club.)  Tara is insecure because she’s overweight and her family doesn’t show her any love.  The film, it should be said, doesn’t really show her any love either.  Whether its the close-ups of her messily eating with food smeared across her face or the scenes in which other characters casually insult her, the film seems to have little sympathy for her.

Tara meets a rock singer named …. seriously, this is his fucking name …. Bogart Peter Stuyvesant (Jordan Christopher).  With his tight leather pants and his shirtless performances, Bogie (yes, he’s called Bogie) is supposed to be a Jim Morrison-style sex symbol.  Unfortunately, Jordan Christopher doesn’t have enough screen presence to pull off the role.  Bogie pretends to be in love with Tara (“Your breath stinks!” he shouts, “I dig it!”) but it’s just so he can seduce her mother and her father and make off with all of their money.  It’s supposed to have something to do with the hypocrisy of the American establishment or something but …. oh, who cares?

So, this movie is annoying for any number of reasons.  Robert Thom directs as if he was getting paid extra for every time he used a zoom lens or tossed in a jump cut.  Yet, despite all of the camera trickery, the story drags like you wouldn’t believe.  The walls of Jordan’s pad are decorated with a collage of American icons like Humphrey Bogart and Dwight Eisenhower and Thom often pointlessly zooms into the collage whenever he thinks it will help him make his point but since the film doesn’t really seem to have a point, the collage itself gets as boring as Bogie playing a harp.  Yes, Bogie does play a harp.  It goes over forever.

As I watched the film, I found myself growing more and more pissed off.  Every pretentious line of dialogue and arty camera angle just made me angrier and angrier.  Didn’t Jennifer Jones and Holly Near deserve better than this?  Who the Hell decided to cast bland, doughy Jordan Christopher as a sex symbol?  WHY WAS RODDY MCDOWALL IN THIS MOVIE!?  WHY CAST RODDY MCDOWALL AND THEN NOT HAVE HIM DO ANYTHING!?  Why did every scene have to drag on?  Why couldn’t the film just get to the freaking point!?  WHY WERE THEY SKY DIVING!?  WHY DID WE HAVE TO SIT THROUGH FIVE SONGS FROM JORDAN CHRISTOPHER!?  WHY?  WHY?  WHY!?

Anyway, I don’t really recommend this one.

Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.2 “The Zombie” (dir by Alexander Grasshoff)

Tonight, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:

Chicago gangsters are turning up dead!  Is it a mob war or is it something else?  Kolchak suspects the latter and, as you can guess from this episode’s title, he’s right.  This episode features gangsters, numbers runners, and voodoo!

It originally aired on September 20th, 1974!


Horror on TV: The Twilight Zone 1.23 “Shadow Play” (dir by Paul Lynch)

For tonight’s trip into the world of televised horror, we have an episode from a 1986 attempt to revive The Twilight Zone.

This episode is a remake of one of my favorite episodes of the original series, Shadow Play.  That’s the one where the guy is on death row but he says he’s not worried about being executed because he knows he’s just having a reoccuring nightmare.  Of course, this kind of freaks out some of the people around him because, if he’s just having a dream, what happens to them when the dream ends?

While the remake is nowhere near as good as the original, it’s still fairly well done.  Plus, it’s on YouTube and the original isn’t.

This episode was directed by Paul Lynch, the Canadian director who also directed the original Prom Night.


A Movie A Day #235: Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977, directed by Robert Aldrich)

In Montana, four men have infiltrated and taken over a top-secret ICBM complex.  Three of the men, Hoxey (William Smith), Garvas (Burt Young), and Powell (Paul Winfield) are considered to be common criminals but their leader is something much different.  Until he was court-martialed and sentenced to a military prison, Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) was a respected Air Force general.  He even designed the complex that he has now taken over.  Dell calls the White House and makes his demands known: he wants ten million dollars and for the President (Charles Durning) to go on television and read the contents of top secret dossier, one that reveals the real reason behind the war in Vietnam.  Dell also demands that the President surrender himself so that he can be used as a human shield while Dell and his men make their escape.

Until Dell made his demands known, the President did not even know of the dossier’s existence.  His cabinet (made up of distinguished and venerable character actors like Joseph Cotten and Melvyn Douglas) did and some of them are willing to sacrifice the President to keep that information from getting out.

Robert Aldrich specialized in insightful genre films and Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a typical example: aggressive, violent, sometimes crass, and unexpectedly intelligent.  At two hours and 30 minutes, Twilight’s Last Gleaming is overlong and Aldrich’s frequent use of split screens is sometimes distracting but Twilight’s Last Gleaming is still a thought-provoking film.  The large cast does a good job, with Lancaster and Durning as clear stand-outs.  I also liked Richard Widmark as a general with his own agenda and, of course, any movie that features Joseph Cotten is good in my book!  Best of all, Twilight’s Last Gleaming‘s theory about the reason why America stayed in Vietnam is entirely credible.

The Vietnam angle may be one of the reasons why Twilight’s Last Gleaming was one of the biggest flops of Aldrich’s career.  In 1977, audiences had a choice of thrilling to Star Wars, falling in love with Annie Hall, or watching a two and a half hour history lesson about Vietnam.  Not surprisingly, a nation that yearned for escape did just that and Twilight’s Last Gleaming flopped in America but found success in Europe.  Box office success or not, Twilight’s Last Gleaming is an intelligent political thriller that is ripe for rediscovery.

Film Review: Countdown (dir by Robert Altman)


Earlier tonight, on TCM, I watched the 1968 science fiction film, Countdown.

Who will be the first man to walk on the moon?  Will it be Chiz (Robert Duvall), who is a colonel in the Air Force and who has been training for years and who really should get the chance just because he has a really cool name like Chiz?  Or will it be Chiz’s best friend, Lee (James Caan)?  Lee may not have Chiz’s experience but he’s a scientist and selecting him would allow NASA to portray the mission of being one of peace as opposed to one of war.  Add to that, Lee has a full head of hair and he looks like a young James Caan, who was an undeniably handsome man back in his younger days!  I mean, seriously — who would you rather have as the face of the space program: Tom Hagen or Sonny Corleone?

Of course, it might not really matter who NASA picks because the Russians are determined to get to the moon as well.  And you know what that means!  If the Russians land on the moon first, they’ll turn it into a Socialist utopia and that’ll mean ugly architecture, bread lines, and a three-month wait for toilet paper.  The stakes have never been higher!

Countdown was made and released at the height of the space race, at a time when Americans really did feel that they were competing with the Russians to be the first to reach the moon.  (Of course later, it would be learned that the Russian space program actually managed to kill far more cosmonauts than it successfully sent into orbit.)  It came out a year before Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong became the first Earthling since Stanley Kubrick to ever step on the lunar surface.  As such, it’s interesting to see how Countdown imagines the experience of exploring the moon.  I won’t spoil who reaches the moon first but I will say that he moves remarkably quickly and with great ease for someone in a gravity-free environment.

Countdown is a good example of what I like to call a “time capsule” film.  Seen today, it’s kinda slow and a bit predictable.  For all the time that is spent on getting the astronauts ready to go into space, very little time is actually spent in orbit.  This is a very Earth-bound film.  And yet, if you’re a history nerd like me, it’s hard not to be a little bit fascinated by a movie like this.  In everything, from its fashions to its dialogue to its cultural outlook, this is very much a document of its time.  It may be a while until we have the technology necessary to travel through time.  Until then, watching a film like this might be as close as I’ll ever get to experiencing what the straight, non-Hippie crowd was doing in 1968.

If you’re a student of film history, Countdown is significant for being one of the first films to be directed by Robert Altman.  To be honest, if not for his name in the opening credits, you would probably never guess that Countdown was directed by one of America’s most influential and iconic directors.  Altman specialized in making film that were almost defiantly iconaclastic and there’s very little of that to be found in Countdown.  Admittedly, there are a few scenes that make use of overlapping dialogue and there’s a party scene that’s definitely Altmanesque.  However, the only reason I really noticed that party scene is because I was specifically looking for evidence of Altman’s style.  For the most part, the most identifiably Altmanesque element of Countdown is the casting of Michael Murphy in a small role.

The film is dominated by Robert Duvall and James Caan and, especially if you’re a fan of The Godfather, it’s undeniably fun to see these two acting opposite each other in something other than an epic gangster film.  (Duvall and Caan also acted together in The Rain People and The Killer Elite and were reportedly great friends off-camera as well.)  Duvall is especially good in Countdown, playing Chiz as a man torn between an innate sense of loyalty and his own competitive nature.  The scenes between Duvall and Caan have a charge to them that occasionally bring some much-needed life to this film.

In the end, Countdown is a fairly forgettable film but it’s worth seeing as a piece of history.