Dead Man Walking: Clint Eastwood in HANG ‘EM HIGH (United Artists 1968)


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Clint Eastwood  returned to America after his amazing success in Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy as a star to be reckoned with, forming his own production company (Malpaso) and filming HANG ‘EM HIGH, a Spaghetti-flavored Western in theme and construction. Clint was taking no chances here, surrounding himself with an all-star cast of character actors and a director he trusted, and the result was box office gold, cementing his status as a top star.

Clint plays ex-lawman Jed Cooper, who we meet driving a herd of cattle he just purchased (reminding us of his days on TV’s RAWHIDE). A posse of nine men ride up on him and accuse him of rustling and murder, appointing themselves judge, jury, and executioner, and hang him. He’s left for dead, until Marshal Dave Bliss comes along and cuts him down, taking Jed prisoner and transporting him to nearby Ft. Grant. Evidence…

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Blues On The Downbeat: ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (United Artists 1959)


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Desperate men commit desperate acts, and the three protagonists of ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW are desperate indeed in this late entry in the film noir cycle. This is a powerful film that adds social commentary to the usual crime and it’s consequences plot by tainting one of the protagonists with the brush of racism. Robert Wise, who sharpened his skills in the RKO editing room, directs the film in a neo-realistic style, leaving the studio confines for the most part behind, and the result is a starkly lit film where the shadows of noir only dominate at night.

But more on Wise later… first, let’s meet our three anti-heroes. We see Earle Slater (Robert Ryan ) walking down a New York street bathed in an eerie white glow (Wise used infra-red film to achieve the effect). Slater’s a fish out of water, a transplanted Southerner drifted North, a loser and loose cannon…

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Halloween Havoc!: THE DUNWICH HORROR (AIP 1970)


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THE DUNWICH HORROR is another film I saw when it was first released, on a double bill with the Spaghetti Western GOD FORGIVES, I DON’T. Unfortunately, this one fails to stand the test of time, with it’s trippy special effects and a somnambulant performance by Dean Stockwell , who was pretty obviously stoned out of his gourd during the shooting.

Professor of the occult Henry Armitage is lecturing on the Necronomicon, a book said to hold the key to the gate to another dimension, where a race of monsters known as “the old ones” dwell. Creepy Wilbur Whateley, great grandson of occultist Oliver, shows an abonrmal interest in the book. In fact, Wilbur wants to possess the Necronomicon to bring “the old ones” back to rule the Earth once again. To achieve this, he pretty much kidnaps and drugs student Nancy Wagner, hoping to use her in a bizarre sex…

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Rockin’ in the Film World #4: WILD IN THE STREETS (AIP 1968)


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If you think today’s political climate is tumultuous and crazy, wait’ll you get a load of WILD IN THE STREETS. Filmed in the chaotic year 1968, this satirical look at the counter-culture vs the establishment revolves around a power-mad rock star whose call to lower the voting age to 14 results in him becoming President of the good ol’ USA, and sticking it to the over 30 crowd by interring them in concentration camps loaded with LSD-spiked water supplies!

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Christopher Jones is Max Frost, née Flatow, the charismatic leader of rock band Max Frost and the Troopers. Pre-credits flashbacks show Max’s unhappy childhood with an overbearing mother (Shelley Winters at her over-the-top best) and abrasive dad (Bert Freed). Max learns to hate all adults and dabbles in making LSD and bombs. After he blows up dad’s car, the rebellious Max leaves home and winds up becoming a mega rock star rivaling the…

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The Fabulous Forties #49: Tulsa (dir by Stuart Heisler)


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The 49th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1949 “epic” Tulsa!

I put epic in quotation marks because Tulsa is only 90 minutes long and I personally don’t think you can really have an epic unless you also have epic length.  Giant is an epic, whereas Tulsa is an “epic.”  That said, Tulsa does have a goal worthy of an epic.  Tulsa is about oil and the men and women who sacrifice so much to get that oil out of the ground.  Some of them lose their lives, some of them lose their happiness, and some of them make a lot of money.  I know that makes this film sound a lot like There Will Be Blood but it’s really not.  There Will Be Blood is an epic.  Tulsa is an “epic.”

I have to admit that I was intrigued by this film, just because my family lived in Tulsa for a handful of months, way back when I was 9 years old.  That said, I did groan a little bit when the film opened with a folksy guy named Pinky Jimpson (Chill Wills) standing in front of a white fence and staring straight at the camera.  “Howdy, cousins,” Pinky says, before launching into a monologue about how Oklahoma is the greatest place on Earth.  As a Texan, I was legally required to roll my eyes at Pinky’s claims but, to be honest, Oklahoma’s a pretty nice place.  It’s certainly better than Vermont.

(Take that, Vermont!)

Anyway, once the story gets started, we discover that it’s about Cherokee Lansing (Susan Hayward).  After Cherokee’s rancher father is killed when an oil derrick falls over on him, she decides to get her revenge by entering the oil business herself.  At first, everyone is doubtful that a woman — especially a woman whose only apparent friend is a Native American named Jim Redbird (Pedro Armendariz) — can succeed in a man’s world.  But she proves them wrong by befriending eccentric oilman John Brady (Ed Begley).  After Johnny is killed in a bar fight (because Tulsa is a dangerous place), he leaves all of his land and drilling rights to Cherokee.  He also leaves behind a far more sober-minded son, Brad (Robert Preston), who goes into business with Cherokee.

Soon, Cherokee and Jim Redbird are rich and powerful.  But, as often happens, they are in danger of losing sight of why they wanted to become rich and powerful in the first place.  Jim, in particular, turns out to be a big ol’ sellout.  Brad is disgusted with all of them but then, fortunately, there’s a big oil fire which leads to a lot of stuff blowing up and everyone learning an important lesson…

Or, at the very least, Pinky assures us that they all learned a lesson.  He also talks about how everything in the world now runs on oil.  He mentions that you can get oil from other parts of the world but the best oil comes from Tulsa.

(And again, as a Texan, I am contractually obligated to roll my eyes while noting that people from Oklahoma are some of the nicest folks that you’ll ever meet…)

Anyway, as a film, Tulsa never quite works.  90 minutes isn’t enough time to tell the story that it’s trying to tell and some of the acting is rather inconsistent.  However, the fire at the end is still impressive (Tulsa’s special effects received an Oscar nomination.) and I enjoyed watching Susan Hayward go totally over-the-top in role of Cherokee.  Compared to her subtle and kind of depressing performance in Smash-Up, Hayward actually appears to be having fun in Tulsa and good for her!

Tulsa was the 2nd to last film in the Fabulous Forties box set.  In my next review, I will conclude this series by taking a look at Lady of Burlesque!

Shattered Politics #26: Wild In The Streets (dir by Barry Shear)


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I am really not looking forward to turning 30.

Seriously, the great thing about being in your 20s is that everything is set up to specifically appeal to you.  Everyone wants your attention, your money, your tweets, your ideas, you love, and everything else.  And, yes, I understand that most people neither like nor respect my generation but oh well and whatever.  Trust me, the generation coming up behind mine is a hundred times worse.

2008 was a great time to be a politically knowledgeable millennial.  Everyone running for President was desperate to get our vote and they were willing to promise us anything.  And, since my age group voted overwhelmingly for Obama, all of the old elitists in the national media briefly fell in love with us.  (The genius of Obama’s 2008 campaign was to tell us that we were the people that we were waiting for.  Technically, it’s a bit nonsensical but never doubt what you can accomplish by appealing to the ego of the electorate.)

Of course, over the past few years, my generation has essentially been fucked over by both political parties and, since we dared to complain about it, nobody likes us anymore.  But, oh well and whatever.  American culture is basically built around our whims so we really don’t need anyone else’s love.

And, if all this sounds a little bitter or angry, I would point that young people and old people have been at war since time began.  Generational conflict is nothing new.  And if you need proof of that, I suggest watching a film from 1968 called Wild In The Streets.

Wild in the Streets tells the story of Max Frost (Christopher Jones), a rock star who lives in a gigantic mansion with his band and his groupies.   When Max is asked to perform at a campaign appearance for senate candidate Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook), he agrees to do so because Fergus supports lowering the voting age.  (When Wild In The Streets was made, you had to be 21 to vote.  So, if your birthday fell on election day, you could cast your first vote and then go have your first legal drink.)  However, at the rally, Max announces that he wants 14 year-olds to have the vote and then performs a song called “14 or fight!”

Max’s song is such a sensation and leads to so many protests that, in a compromise, the voting age is lowered to 15.  Johnny Fergus is elected to the Senate and, before you can say “Blue dog,” promptly starts to ignore the will of the people who supported him.  So, Max arranges for his girlfriend Sally (Diane Varsi) to be elected to the U.S. House.  After spiking the water supply of Washington D.C. with LSD, Sally gets a bill passed and the age requirement for holding political office is lowered to 14!

Of course, in the next election, 24 year-old Max Frost is elected President of the United States.  Soon, anyone over the age of 35 is being sent to re-education camps where they are force-fed LSD.  Max is so ruthless that he even sends his own mother (Shelley Winters) off to re-education.

And, with all the old people gone, everything is perfect for Max.  Except for that fact that 10 year-olds are now demanding the vote…

In many ways, Wild in the Streets feels like a film that could have only been made in 1968.  From the psychedelic direction to the costumes to the hair to music, everything about this movie screams late 60s.  But, at the same time, it’s still a genuinely amusing satire, largely because generational conflict is timeless.  We all think that those older than us are clueless and that those younger are spoiled.  There’s a lot of things in your life that can control.  Sadly enough, getting older is not one of them.

Wild in the Streets is a fun and amusing time capsule.  See it now before the younger generation comes of age and totally fucks up the world.

12 Reasons To Love 12 Angry Men


Everyone already knows that the 1957 Best Picture nominee 12 Angry Men is a classic.  We all know the film’s story — a teenage boy is on trial for murdering his family.  11 jurors want to convict.  1 juror doesn’t.  Over the next few hours, that one juror tries to change 11 minds.  Some of the jurors are prejudiced, some of them are bored, and some of them just want to go home.  And, as the film reminds us, all 12 of them have a huge  responsibility.  You don’t need me to tell you that this is a great movie.  Therefore, consider this to be less of a review and more of an appreciation of one of the best movies ever made.

1) The film is the feature debut of director Sidney Lumet.  As any student of American film can tell you, Sidney Lumet was one of the most important directors in the history of cinema.  After beginning his career in television, Lumet made his film directing debut with 12 Angry Men and he was rewarded with a much deserved Oscar nomination for best director.

2) The film’s story is actually a lot more complex than you might think.  12 Angry Men is such an influential film and its story has been imitated so many times that it’s easy to forget that the film’s plot is a lot more nuanced than you might think.  Despite what many people seem to think, Juror Number 8 never argues that the defendant is innocent.  Instead, he argues that the state has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt and, as a result, the defendant cannot be convicted.  That’s an important lesson that is too often forgotten.

3) The movie celebrates the power of one person determined to do the right thing.  Again, that’s a lesson that remains very relevant today.

4) As Juror Number Eight, Henry Fonda makes human decency believable.

5) As the angry and bullying Juror Number Three, Lee J. Cobb is the perfect antagonist.

6) As Juror Number Ten, Ed Begley makes Cobb seem almost reasonable.  To be honest, the scene where Begley’s racist ranting causes all of the other jurors to stand up and turn their back on him feels a bit too theatrical.  But it’s still undeniably effective.  Alone among the jurors, Juror Number Ten is the only one without any hope of redemption.  It’s a bit of a thankless role but Begley does what he has to do to make the character believable.

7) E.G. Marshall makes the wealthy Juror Number Four into a worthy opponent of Fonda without crossing the line into prejudice like Cobb and Begley.  In many ways, Marshall’s role is almost as important as Fonda’s because Marshall’s performance reminds us that not all disagreements are the product of ignorance or anger.

8) As the Jury Foreman, Martin Balsam is the epitome of every ineffectual authority figure.

9) As Juror Number Seven, Jack Warden is hilariously sleazy.

10) As Juror Number Nine, Joseph Sweeney grows on you.  The first time I saw the film I thought that Sweeney went a bit overboard but, on more recent viewings, I’ve come to appreciate Sweeney’s performance.

11) As Juror Number Twelve, Robert Webber is hilariously shallow.  Juror Number Twelve is in advertising and Webber seems like he was right at home on Mad Men.

12)  Though they don’t get as much of a chance to make an impression, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, and George Voskovec all do good work as the other jurors.  If there’s ever been a film that proves the value of a great ensemble, it’s 12 Angry Men.