Murder Me, Murder You (1983, directed by Gary Nelson)


When two employees of an all-female courier service are murdered, Private Investigator Mike Hammer (Stacy Keach) is on the case.  The service was owned by his ex-girlfriend, Chris (Michelle Phillips), and she wants him to protect her while she testifies in front of a grand jury.  It turns out that her courier service has gotten involved in some shady business, transporting deliveries between a helicopter company and a South American dictator.  Chris fears that she’ll be murdered to keep her from testifying.  Hammer agrees to protect her and she tells him that he has a 19 year-old daughter who he’s never met.

While Chris is testifying, she suddenly dies on the stand.  The doctors say that it was a heart attack but Hammer knows that it was murder.  Hammer sets out to not only get revenge for Chris but also to find his daughter, who has disappeared into the world of underground pornography.  It’s all connected though, as is traditional with Mike Hammer, it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with how.

Murder Me, Murder You was a pilot film for a brief-lived but fondly-remembered Mike Hammer TV series that aired in the 80s.  Murder Me, Murder You takes Mickey Spillane’s famous detective into what was then the modern age but it allows him to remain a man of the hard-boiled noir era.  Hammer’s narration is tougher than leather, he’s more interested in listening to swing music than new wave, and he still dresses like an old-fashioned private eye, complete with a fedora on his head.  As played by Stacy Keach, he’s also just as dangerous and quick to kill as Hammer was in Spillane’s original novels.  In the novels, Hammer was an unapologetic brute who often bragged about how much he enjoyed killing criminals and communist spies and whose closest associate was his gun, which he nicknamed Betsy.  When Spillane’s novels were filmed, the violence of Hammer’s character was often downplayed.  (A notable exception was Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, which suggested that Hammer was such a fascist that he would eventually be responsible for the end of the world.  The Mike Hammer of Spillane’s novels would probably dismiss Kiss Me Deadly as being red propaganda and set out to deliver American justice to the Hollywood communists who wrote it.)  In Murder Me, Murder You, Mike Hammer is just as brutal an avenger as Spillane originally imagined him to be.  With his hulking frame, grim eyes, and his surly manner, Stacy Keach is the perfect Mike Hammer.

Murder Me, Murder You is a convoluted and often difficult-to-follow murder mystery but with Keach’s bravura lead performance, a strong supporting cast (including notable tough guys Tom Atkins and Jonathan Banks) and good direction from TV movie vet Gary Nelson, this movie comes about as close as any to capturing the feel of Mickey Spillane’s original novels.  Murder Me, Murder You was released on DVD fourteen years ago.  Though it is now out-of-print, copies are still available on Amazon.

Roger of the Skies: VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN (United Artists 1971)


cracked rear viewer

Producer/director Roger Corman finally cut ties with American-International Pictures after they butchered his apocalyptic satire GAS-S-S! Striking out on his own, Corman’s next movie was VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN, a World War I epic about famed German aerial ace The Red Baron and the Canadian pilot who shoots his down Roy Brown. There are grand themes, as Corman sought to make a statement on the futility of war, the end of chivalry, and the mechanized savagery of what was to be “the last war”. The film looks good, shot in Ireland, with exciting aerial footage, but despite all the outer trappings VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN is still a Corman drive-in movie.

John Philip Law also looks good as Baron Manfred von Richtofen, the aristocrat/warrior who became the feared Red Baron. Law was always great to watch, whether as the blind angel in BARBARELLA, the black-clad supervillain in DANGER: DIABOLIK, sexy Robin Stone in…

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A Movie A Day #224: Armed and Dangerous (1986, directed by Mark L. Lester)


John Candy and Eugene Levy make a great team in the underrated comedy, Armed and Dangerous.

John Candy plays Frank Dooley, a member of the LAPD.  One of the first scenes of the movie is Frank climbing up a tree to save a little boy’s kitten and then getting stuck in the tree himself.  When Frank discovers two corrupt detectives stealing televisions, Frank is framed for the theft and kicked off the force.

Eugene Levy plays Norman Kane, a lawyer whose latest client is a Charles Manson-style cult leader who has a swastika carved into his head.  After being repeatedly threatened with murder, Norman asks for a sidebar and requests that the judge sentence his client to life in prison.  The judge agrees on the condition that Norman, whom he describes as being “the worst attorney to ever appear before me,” find a new line of work.

Frank and Norman end up taking a one day training course to act as security guards and are assigned to work together by their tough by sympathetic supervisor (Meg Ryan!).  Assigned to guard a pharmaceutical warehouse, Frank and Norman stumble across a robbery.  The robbery leads them to corruption inside their own union and, before you can say 80s cop movie, Frank and Norman are ignoring the orders of their supervisors and investigating a crime that nobody wants solved.

Armed and Dangerous was one of the many comedy/cop hybrid films of the 1980s.  Like Beverly Hills Cop, it features Jonathan Banks as a bad guy.  Like the recruits in Police Academy, all of Frank and Norman’s fellow security guards are societal misfits who are distinguished by one or two eccentricities.  There is nothing ground-breaking about Armed and Dangerous but Mark Lester did a good job directing the movie and the team of Candy and Levy (who has previously worked together on SCTV) made me laugh more than a few times.

Armed and Dangerous was originally written to be a vehicle for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.  It’s easy to imagine Belushi and Aykroyd in the lead roles but I think the movie actually works better with Candy and Levy, whose comedic style was similar to but far less aggressive than that of Belushi and Aykroyd.  One of the reasons that Armed and Dangerous works is because John Candy and Eugene Levy seem like the two last people to ever find themselves in a shootout or a car chase.  With Belushi and Aykroyd, it would have been expected.  After all, everyone’s seen The Blues Brothers.

 

A Movie A Day #123: Dillinger and Capone (1995, directed by Jon Purdy)


1934.  Chicago.  The FBI guns down a man outside of a movie theater and announces that they have finally killed John Dillinger.  What the FBI doesn’t realize it that they didn’t get Dillinger.  Instead they killed Dillinger’s look-alike brother.  The real John Dillinger (played by Martin Sheen) has escaped.  Over the next five years, under an assumed name, Dillinger goes straight, gets married, starts a farm, and lives an upstanding life. Only a few people know his secret and, unfortunately, one of them is Al Capone (F. Murray Abraham).  Only recently released from prison and being driven mad by syphilis, Capone demands that Dillinger come out of retirement and pull one last job.  Capone has millions of dollars stashed away in a hotel vault and he wants Dillinger to steal it for him.  Just to make sure that Dillinger comes through for him, Capone is holding Dillinger’s family hostage.

This film, which was produced by Roger Corman, combines two popular but probably untrue rumors, that Dillinger faked his own death and that Al Capone had millions of dollars stashed somewhere in Chicago.  Though the two never met in real life (and moved in very different criminal circles), the idea of bringing Dillinger and Capone together sounds like a good one.  Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  Sheen and Murray are both miscast in the lead roles, with Sheen especially being too old to be believable as the 40 something Dillinger, and the script never takes advantage of their notoriety.  In this movie, Dillinger could just as easily be any retired bank robber while Capone could just as easily be any unstable mob boss.  In classic Corman fashion, more thought was given to the title than to the story.

One things that does work about the movie is the supporting cast, which is full of familiar faces.  Clint Howard, Don Stroud, Bert Remsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Catherine Hicks, Maria Ford, and Martin Sheen’s brother, Joe Estevez, are all present and accounted for.  Especially be sure to keep an eye out for Jeffrey Combs, playing an FBI agent who suspects that Dillinger may still be alive.  He may not get to do much but he’s still Jeffrey Combs.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #24: Bloody Mama (dir by Roger Corman)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

BloodyMama

The 24th film on my DVR was the 1970 Roger Corman-directed gangster film, Bloody Mama.  I recorded it off of TCM on May 27th.

Bloody Mama opens with a cheerful song that goes, “Maaaaaama…Bloody maaaaama….” and it’s such an unapolegetically over the top song that it perfectly sets the tone for what’s to follow.  Bloody Mama is violent, occasionally perverse, and totally unashamed.  It doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t.  It’s bloody and it’s about a mother and, in the best Corman tradition, it makes no apologies!

The film tells the heavily fictionalized story of the Barkers, a group of brothers who robbed banks and killed people in the 1920s and 30s.  The majority of them were killed in a gunfight with the FBI.  Also killed in the gunfight was their mother, Kate Barker.  Always aware of the danger of bad publicity, the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, announced that Ma Barker was actually the mastermind of the Barker gang and that she was even more dangerous than her sons.  Ever since, historians have debated whether Ma Barker was the criminal mastermind described by Hoover or if she was just the innocent woman described by … well, by everyone who actually knew her.

Bloody Mama, of course, leaves no doubt.  From the minute that we discover that Shelley Winters will be playing Ma Barker, we know that she’s the most dangerous woman alive.  As played by Winters, Ma Barker is a ruthless bank robber, one who has no fear of gunning down innocent bystanders and who never lets her love for her sons get in the way of ordering them to kill a witness.  As opposed to a lot of gangster films made in the late 60s and early 70s, the film never attempts to portray its title character as being a heroic or particularly sympathetic character.  Instead, what makes the character compelling is just how thoroughly Winters commits to the role.  It doesn’t matter what Ma Barker is doing or saying, Shelley Winters totally sells it.  When the gang is cornered by the police and one associate makes the mistake of yelling that he’s not a Barker, Ma reacts by gunning him down herself and you can’t help but appreciate the lengths that Ma will go to defend her family’s name.

As for her sons, they are an interesting group of perverts and drug addicts and they’re played some of the best character actors of the 1970s.

Herman Barker (Don Stroud) is a sadist but he’s also one of Ma’s favorites.  He travels with a prostitute (played by Diane Varsi), who quickly tires of the Barkers’s violent way of life.

Arthur Barker (Clint Kimbrough) is the most practical of the Barkers and therefore, he’s also the least interesting.

Fred Barker (Robert Walden) is bisexual, which is a fact that the film handles with all the sensitivity that we’ve come to expect from a film made in 1970 (which is to say, not much at all).  Fortunately, Fred’s lover is Kevin and Kevin is played by Bruce Dern and Bruce Dern is always a lot of fun to watch, especially when he’s appearing in a Corman film.

And then there’s Lloyd who sniffs glue and shoots heroin and who is played by an obscure young actor named Robert De Niro and … wait, Robert De Niro!  That’s right!  One of the pleasures of Bloody Mama is getting to see De Niro at the start of his career.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get to do much, though he does occasionally flash the same unhinged smile that would later show up in Taxi Driver.

Roger Corman has repeatedly cited Bloody Mama as being one of his favorites of the many movies that he directed over the course of his long career.  I don’t blame him.  It’s a thoroughly shameless and totally entertaining film!

Keep an eye out for Bloody Mama!

Just remember, the real-life Ma Barker was probably innocent.