The Baron and the Kid (1984, directed by Gary Nelson)


Ever wonder what The Color of Money would have been like if it starred Johnny Cash and featured less Eric Clapton but more country and western on the soundtrack?  The Baron and the Kid is here to satisfy your curiosity.

Johnny Cash is Will Addington, better known as The Baron.  Back in the day, The Baron was the meanest and the most ruthless pool hustler around.  He’d cheat people out of their money without even giving it a second thought.  He drank.  He doped.  He womanized.  He abused his wife, Dee Dee (June Carter Cash).  After the Baron became the 9-ball world champion, Dee Dee left him and the Baron changed his ways.  Now, years later, he only plays exhibition games for charity and the strongest thing that he drinks is grapefruit juice.

When a young hustler who calls himself the Cajun Kid (Greg Webb) challenges the Baron to a game, the Baron wins easily but he still recognizes that the Kid has a natural talent.  When the Cajun Kid attempts to put up his mother’s wedding ring as stakes for another game, the Baron recognizes the ring as the one that Dee Dee used to wear on her finger.  After talking to Dee Dee, the Baron discovers that the Kid is actually his son.

The Baron takes the Kid under his wing, hoping to train him to become a champion while, at the same time, getting to know his son.  The Kid proves to be a difficult student.  He’s cocky and, like the Baron did in his youth, he has a temper.  He also has a manager, a good-for-nothing con artist named Jack Steamer (Darren McGavin).  Steamer doesn’t want to lose the money that the Kid brings in and he plots to to keep him away from his father.  The Baron, though, is determined to prevent the Kid from making the same mistakes that he made.  However, when the Baron and the Kid both find themselves competing in the same championship, the Baron finds himself being tempted by his old demons.

The Baron and the Kid is okay for a made-for-tv movie.  It’s predictable but Johnny Cash has such a formidable screen presence that it doesn’t matter that he was sometimes a stiff actor.  The Baron’s past of booze and drugs mirrors Cash’s own past and when Cash, as the Baron, talks about how he’s trying to keep the Kid from making the sames mistakes, there’s little doubt that he knows what he’s talking about.  Some of the pool sequences are creatively shot and Richard Roundtree has a great cameo as a cocaine dealer named Frosty.  There’s nothing surprising about The Baron and the Kid but fans of Cash and the game of pool should enjoy it.

Italian Horror Showcase: Tentacles (dir by Ovidio G. Assonitis)


Okay, tell me if this sounds familiar.

There’s a beachside resort town, one whose survival is pretty much dependent upon tourists and big business.  If you give the tourists a reason to not show up, the town dies.  If you give big business a reason to build their factories and their underground tunnels somewhere else, the town dies.

Unfortunately, something bad is happening in this little town.  People are going in the water and they’re never returning.  It appears that they’re being killed by some sort of giant sea monster, even though the authorities swear that it’s simply impossible.  The town’s leaders are putting pressure on the sheriff to cover up the crimes.  A scientist shows up and thinks that everyone he meets is an idiot.

It’s not safe to go in the water but people keep doing it!

Now, you may be thinking that it sounds like I’m describing the plot of Jaws but actually, I’m talking about an Italian film called Tentacles.  Released in 1977, Tentacles was one of the many films that was directly inspired by the success of Spielberg’s film.  Jaws was such a phenomenal success that it was ripped off by filmmakers across the world.  That said, of all the people ripping off Spielberg’s film, the Italians brought an undeniable and frequently shameless flair to the Jaws knockoffs.

Tentacles is a bit different from other Italian Jaws films in that, this time, the threat does not come from a shark.  Instead, it comes from a giant octopus!  That’s actually a pretty good twist because, in real life, an octopus is actually more dangerous than a shark.  Not only are they bigger and considerably smarter than most sharks but if they get enough of their eight arms around you, they can literally squeeze you to death!  I mean …. agck!  Say what you will about sharks, I imagine getting eaten by one would suck but at least it wouldn’t take long to die.  Whereas if an octopus gets you, you would actually be aware of it squeezing you to death and oh my God, I’m never getting in the water.

Anyway, in Tentacles, the octopus is snatching babies off of piers and sailors off of boats and it’s using its octopus powers to rip their skin from their bones.  It also attack scuba divers by firing ink at them.  The sheriff (Claude Akins) says that it’s nothing to worry about but Ned Turner (John Huston), a hard-boiled reporter, thinks that there’s a story here.  Ned’s in town visiting his sister (Shelley Winters).  She has a ten year-old son who enjoys sailing.  Uh-oh….

Henry Fonda shows up for a few very brief scenes, playing the head of a company that built the underwater tunnel that somehow mutated the octopus.  Fonda looks incredibly frail in his scenes (and apparently, he filmed his part while recovering from heart surgery) but his performance in Tentacles still isn’t as cringe-inducing as his performance in The Swarm.

Also showing up is a marine biologist named Will Gleason (Bo Hokpkins).  Fortunately, Gleason owns two killer whales so, after the octopus kills his wife, Gleason sends out the orcas to track it down.  Before doing so, he gives them a pep talk.  Apparently, killer whales respond to positive reinforcement.

Tentacles is unique in that it’s an Italian production that managed to rope in a few well-known American actors.  It’s an odd film to watch because, on the one hand, the film is full of risible dialogue and it’s painfully slow whenever the octopus isn’t attacking anyone and no one really seems to be that invested in any of their characters.  (When the octopus kills a baby, the actress playing the baby’s mother underacts to such an extent that the scene becomes almost surreal.)  This isn’t like Jaws, where you actually care about Brody, Quint, Hooper, and the Kintner boy.  On the other hand, the octopus itself is actually kind of frightening so, on that very basic level, the film works.

In the end, Tentacles is one of the lesser Jaws rip-offs but you’ll never forget that octopus.

 

Lonely As The Night: Randolph Scott in COMANCHE STATION (Columbia 1960)


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COMANCHE STATION was the final entry in the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy series of Westerns, and in many ways a fitting ending. The loneliness of the Westerner is again a key theme as the film begins with the solitary figure of Scott as Jefferson Cody, riding across that rocky, barren, now mighty familiar Lone Pine terrain. He bargains with hostile Comanches for a captive white woman named Nancy Lowe, wife of a wealthy rancher. Stopping at Comanche Station, Cody and Mrs. Lowe encounter three men being chased by the tribe.

We learn one of these men is Ben Lane, a bounty hunter who shares a dark past with Cody. The two were formerly in the Army together, where then-Major Cody busted Lane out of the service for the slaughter of a village of friendly Indians. We also learn Mrs. Lowe’s husband is offering a five thousand dollar reward for her…

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Special Memorial Day Edition: THE DEVIL’S BRIGADE (United Artists 1968)


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In the wake of 1967’s THE DRITY DOZEN came a plethora of all-star, similarly themed films. THE DEVIL’S BRIGADE is one of those, though just a bit different: it’s based on the true-life exploits of the First Special Service Force, a collection of American misfits straight from the stockades and the crack, highly disciplined Canadian military, forging them into one cohesive fighting unit.

William Holden  heads the cast as Lt. Col. Robert Frederick, tasked with putting the units together. His seconds-in-command are the cigar chomping American Major Brecker (Vince Edwards) and proud Canadian Major Crown (Cliff Robertson). The Americans, as rowdy a bunch of reprobates as there ever was, include Claude Akins , Luke Askew, Richard Jaeckel, and Tom Troupe, while the Canadians are represented by the likes of Richard Dawson, Jeremy Slate, and Jack Watson , war movie vets all.  Andrew Prine is also aboard as an AWOL…

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Horror on the Lens: The Night Stalker (dir by John Llewelyn Moxey)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a real treat!  (We’ll get to the tricks later…)

Long before he achieved holiday immortality by playing the father in A Christmas Story, Darren McGavin played journalist Carl Kolchak in the 1972 made-for-TV movie, The Night Stalker.  Kolchak is investigating a series of murders in Las Vegas, all of which involve victims being drained of their blood.  Kolchak thinks that the murderer might be a vampire.  Everyone else thinks that he’s crazy.

When this movie first aired, it was the highest rated made-for-TV movie of all time.  Eventually, it led to a weekly TV series in which Kolchak investigated various paranormal happenings.  Though the TV series did not last long, it’s still regularly cited as one of the most influential shows ever made.

Anyway, The Night Stalker is an effective little vampire movie and Darren McGavin gives a great performance as Carl Kolchak.

Enjoy!

Little Tin God: SHIELD FOR MURDER (United Artists 1954)


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Edmond O’Brien  is big, burly, and brutal in 1954’s SHIELD FOR MURDER, a grim film noir about a killer cop trapped in that ol’ inevitable downward spiral. It’s a good (though not great) crime drama that gave the actor a seat in the director’s chair, sharing credit with another first timer, Howard W. Koch. The film, coming at the end of the first noir cycle, strives for realism, but almost blows it in the very first scene when the shadow of a boom mike appears on an alley fence! Chalk it up to first-timer’s jitters, and a budget that probably couldn’t afford retakes.

O’Brien, noted for such noir thrillers as THE KILLERS , WHITE HEAT, and DOA, stars as crooked cop Barney Nolan, who murders a bookie in that alley I just mentioned and rips him off for 25 grand. Apartently, this isn’t the first time Nolan’s killed, with the…

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Horror on the Lens: The Curse (dir by David Keith)


Today’s horror on the lens is 1987’s The Curse!

This slice of rural horror is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour From Outer Space and, somewhat oddly, it was produced by Lucio Fulci.  The Curse, in this case, is a meteorite the lands near a farm and poisons all the crops.  Mayhem follows.

Seriously, country livin’ sucks.  That’s why I’m glad to live in the suburbs, away from all the aliens and the poisoned meteorites.

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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Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Caine Mutiny (dir by Edward Dmytryk)


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It’s the 1940s and World War II is raging.  The U.S. Navy is model of military discipline and efficiency.  Well, except for the U.S.S. Caine, that is.  The Caine is something of a disorganized mess, where no one takes his job seriously and sailors have names like Meatball (Lee Marvin) and Horrible (Claude Akins).  The men love Lt. Commander DeVriess (Tom Tully), largely because he has given up on trying to enforce any sort of discipline.  However, DeVriess has recently been relieved of his command.  As he leaves, Meatball gives him a new watch, a gift from all the men.  DeVriess admonishes them, snapping that the gift is violation of Naval regulations.  He then puts the watch on his wrist and leaves the ship.

DeVriess’s replacement is Captain Francis Queeg and, at first, we have reason to be hopeful because Captain Queeg is being played by Humphrey Bogart.  Surely, if anyone can get this ship into shape, it’ll be Humphrey Bogart!  From the moment he arrives, Queeg announces that he’s going to enforce discipline on the Caine and if that means spending hours yelling at a man for not having his shirt tucked in, that’s exactly what Queeg is prepared to do.  However, it also quickly becomes apparent that the awkward Queeg has no idea how to talk to people.  He is also overly sensitive and quick to take offense.  Whenever Queeg makes a mistake (and he does make a few), he’s quick to blame everyone else.

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Realizing that the men are turning against him, Queeg even begs his officers for their help.  He asks them if they have any suggestions.  They all sit silently, their heads bowed as Queeg somewhat poignantly rambles on about how his wife and his dog both like him but the crew of the Caine does not.

Queeg’s officers are a diverse bunch, none of whom are quite sure what to make of Queeg or the state of the Caine.  Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis) is a wealthy graduate of Princeton University who, at first, likes Queeg but quickly comes to doubt his abilities.  On the other hand, Lt. Steve Marsyk (Van Johnson) has doubts about Queeg from the start but, as a career Navy man, his natural instinct is to respect the chain of command above all else.

And then there’s Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray).  Keefer is a self-styled intellectual, a novelist who is always quick with a snarky comment and a cynical observation.  (If The Caine Mutiny were remade as a B-horror film, Lt. Keefer’s name would probably be Lt. Sardonicus.)  From the minute the viewers meet Lt. Keefer, our inclination is to like him.  After all, he seems to be the only person in the film who has a sense of humor.  If we had to pick someone to have dinner with, most of us would definitely pick the erudite Tom Keefer over the humorless and socially awkward Francis Queeg.  As such, when Keefer starts to suggest that Queeg might be mentally unstable, our natural impulse is to agree with him.

It’s Tom Keefer who first suggests that it may be necessary to take the command away from Queeg.  And yet, when it comes time to take action, it’s Keith and Marsyk who do so while Keefer stands to the side and quietly watches.  And, once the Caine arrives back in the U.S., it Keith and Marsyk who are court martialed.  Will they be found guilty of treason or will their lawyer, Lt. Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer), prove that Queeg was unfit for command?

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Made in 1954 and based on a novel by Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny is one of those big and glossy 1950s productions that holds up a lot better than you might expect.  The film has its flaws.  In the role of Keith, Robert Francis is a bit on the dull side and a subplot in which he courts May Wynn feels unneccessary and only serves to distract from the main story.  But, for the most part, it’s an intelligent and well-directed film.  Humphrey Bogart turns Queeg into a pathetic and lonely figure and you can’t help but feel sorry for him when he talks about how his dog loves him.  Van Johnson also does well as Marsyk, effectively portraying a well-meaning character who is in over his head.  Jose Ferrer gets a great drunk scene at the end of the film and, of course, you can’t go wrong with Lee Marvin as a smirking sailor, even if Marvin only appears for a handful of minutes.

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But for me, my favorite character (and performance) was Fred MacMurray’s Tom Keefer.  Technically, Keefer is not meant to be a likable character.  He’s totally passive aggressive.  He’s pretentious.  He’s smug.  At times, he’s rather cowardly.  And yet, Tom Keefer remains the most memorable and interesting character in the entire film.  He gets all of the good one-lines and MacMurray delivers them with just the right amount of barely concealed venom.  (“If only the strawberries were poisoned…” he says as he considers dinner aboard the Caine.)  It’s a great role and Fred MacMurray gives a great performance.  And you know what?  I don’t care how bad a character he may have been.  I still want to read Tom Keefer’s book!

The Caine Mutiny was nominated for best picture of 1954.  However, it lost to On The Waterfront.

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!