The Take (1974, directed by Robert Hartford-Davis)


Lt. Terrence Sneed (Billy Dee Williams), a tough and suave cop from San Francisco, is sent to New Mexico to help Police Chief Berrigan (Eddie Albert) take down the local crime syndicate.  No sooner has Sneed arrived in town than he’s helping to prevent a prison break and killing gangsters.  Berrigan is impressed and explains to Sneed that the local crime boss is Victor Manso (Vic Morrow).  Even though everyone knows that Manso is crooked, the police haven’t ever been able to put together a case that will stand up in court.  Maybe Sneed is the man who can do it.

What Berrigan doesn’t know is that Sneed is a crooked cop, himself.  As soon as Sneed leaves his meeting with Berrigan, he goes over to Manso’s office and collects his money.  Manso assigns Sneed to work with another crooked cop, Captain Dollek (Albert Salmi).  However, it turns out that Sneed has plans of his own.  While still on Manso’s payroll, Sneed starts to put together a case that might finally take Manso down.

The Take is full of good actors in small roles.  If you have ever wanted to see Billy Dee Williams share a scene with Frankie Avalon, The Take is the film for you.  Avalon plays Danny James, a small-time hood who is arrested and interrogated by Sneed.  At first, Danny is cocky and arrogant but, as soon as Sneed removes his jacket and his watch and makes a fist, Danny starts crying and begging Sneed not to beat him.  Danny is soon turned into an informant and then disappears from the movie.  The beautiful model Kathirine Baumann plays Danny’s girlfriend.  While only wearing a towel, she gives Capt. Dollek the finger and looks amazing doing it.  Sorrell Brooke, who later found fame as Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard, also has a few good scenes as Sneed’s deceptively respectable money launderer.

The Take can be a confusing film to watch because it’s never firmly established just how corrupt Sneed actually is.  Sometimes, Sneed just seems like he’s trying to make a little extra money and then, other times, he comes across as being a full-blown gangster.  Despite being on Manso’s payroll, Sneed seems to be determined to take him down and the film never makes clear why.  Billy Dee Williams is his usual supremely cool self but he seems almost too cool to play a morally ambivalent cop.  More impressive are Vic Morrow and Eddie Albert, who both shamelessly chew the scenery as two leaders on opposite sides of the law.

The Take is often mistakenly referred to as being a blaxploitation film but it’s really just a cop film with a lead actor who happens to be black.  Unlike the best blaxploitation films, there’s no political subtext to be found in the movie.  Sneed could just as easily be a corrupt white detective and, with the exception of one throwaway line, race is never mentioned.  While this is a minor cop film, it features a few good action scenes and, again, it’s your only chance to see two very different pop cultural icons, Billy Dee Williams and Frankie Avalon, acting opposite of each other.  That’s not a bad pay-off for 91 minutes of your life.

Drive-In Saturday Night 2: BIKINI BEACH (AIP 1964) & PAJAMA PARTY (AIP 1964)


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Welcome back to Drive-In Saturday Night! Summer’s here, and the time is right for a double dose of American-International teen flicks, so pull in, pull up a speaker to hang on your car window, and enjoy our first feature, 1964’s BIKINI BEACH, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello:

BIKINI BEACH is the third of AIP’s ‘Beach Party’ movies, and this one’s a typical hodgepodge of music, comedy, and the usual teenage shenanigans. The gang’s all here, heading to the beach on spring break for surfing and swinging. This time around, there’s a newcomer on the sand, British rock star The Potato Bug, with Frankie playing a dual role. Potato Bug is an obvious spoof of the big Beatlemania fever sweeping the country, with all the beach chicks (or “birds”, as he calls ’em) screaming whenever PB starts singing one of his songs, complete with Lennon/McCartney-esque “Wooos” and “Yeah, yeah, yeahs”…

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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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Drive-In Saturday Night: DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE (AIP 1965) & DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS (AIP 1966)


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American-International Pictures, never ones to shy away from jumping on a trend, released a pair of secret agent spoofs starring the one and only Vincent Price as the evil supervillain Dr. Goldfoot. AIP president James H. Nicholson himself allegedly came up with the story, wanting to use the film as a showcase for wife Susan Hart, a beautiful woman of limited talent. The first was DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, an endearingly goofy little movie co-starring SKI PARTY’s Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman. The two even use the same character names from that previous film, Tod Armstrong and Craig Gamble – only reversed, with Frankie as Craig and Dwayne as Tod!

Mad scientist Goldfoot, an obvious cross between James Bond nemeses Dr. No and Goldfinger, is Price at his campy best, carving up large slices of ham as the malevolent meanie. His fiendish plot is creating an army of…

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Rockin’ in the Film World #14: SKI PARTY (AIP 1965)


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American-International Pictures takes the “Beach Party ” concept to the slopes in 1965’s SKI PARTY, an endearingly goofy ball of fluff headlining Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Deborah Walley , and a pre-‘Batgirl’ Yvonne Craig . It sells itself with a sly wink to the audience that says, “We know the whole thing’s absurd, and we don’t care”! Besides the off-the-wall comedy, the film features above average musical interludes by guests Lesley Gore and the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown.

Frankie and Dwayne play a pair of slightly overage college students (Avalon was 25, Hickman 31!) trying to woo Deborah and Yvonne. The two knuckleheads can’t figure out why they can’t get to first base, while college Romeo Aron Kincaid scores with every babe on campus. When the whole gang (including Beach movie regulars Luree Holmes, Michael Nader, Salli Sachsee , and surfing champ Mickey Dora) go on a…

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A Movie A Day #328: Panic in Year Zero! (1962, directed by Ray Milland)


The year is 1962.  Lights flash over California and the news on the radio is bad.  What everyone feared has happened.  Atomic war has broken out and the world is about to end.  Refugees clog the highways as a mushroom cloud sprouts over Los Angeles.  This is year zero, the year that humanity will either cease to exist or try to begin again.

Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland) and his family were among the lucky ones.  They were camping in the mountains when the war broke out.  Harry does not hesitate to do what he has to do to make sure that his family survives.  Harry alone understand that this is a brand new world.  When a local storekeeper refuses to allow Harry to take any goods back to his family, Harry takes them by force.  While his wife (Jean Hagen) worries about whether or not her mother has survived in Los Angeles, Harry’s teenage son and daughter (Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel) try to adjust to the harshness of their new situation.  Harry may now run his family like a dictator but his instincts are proven correct when the Baldwins find themselves being hunted by three murderous, wannabe gangsters (Richard Bakalyan, Rex Holman, and Neil Nephew).  This is year zero.

As both a director and an actor, Ray Milland does a good job of showing what would be necessary for a family to survive in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse.  Milland doesn’t shy away from showing Harry as being harsh and violent but he also makes a good case that Harry has no other choice.  Everyone who tries to hold on to their humanity is either killed or sold into slavery.  What sets Panic In Year Zero! apart from so many of the other nuclear war films that came out in the 60s is that, instead of focusing on an anti-war message or calling for disarmament, Panic In Year Zero! seems to argue that end of the world is inevitable and only those who prepare ahead of time are going to survive.  Get a gun and make sure you know how to use it before it is too late to learn, the movie seems to be saying.  That the movie is probably correct in its pessimistic view of humanity makes it all the more powerful.  Panic in Year Zero! is a little-known but gritty and effective film about the end of the world

 

Fun in the Sun: BEACH BLANKET BINGO (AIP 1965)


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You’d think by the fourth entry in American-International’s ‘Beach Party’ series, 1965’s BEACH BLANKET BINGO, the formula would be wearing a bit thin. Frankie and Annette are still trying to make each other jealous, Eric Von Zipper and his Rats are still comic menaces, and the gang’s into yet another new kick (skydiving this time around). But thanks to a top-notch supporting cast of characters, a sweet subplot involving a mermaid, and the genius of comedy legend Buster Keaton , BEACH BLANKET BINGO is loads of fun!

Aspiring singer Sugar Kane skydives from a plan into the middle of the ocean and is “rescued” by surfer Frankie. But not really… it’s all been a publicity stunt by her PR agent ‘Bullets’. Sugar is played by lovely Linda Evans, right before she landed on TV’s THE BIG VALLEY, and ‘Bullets’ is none other than the fantastically sarcastic Paul Lynde. But wait… Eric Von Zipper…

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Back to the Beach: MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (AIP 1964)


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The “Beach Party ” gang’s back and so’s the familiar formula in MUSCLE BEACH PARTY, second in the American-International series. It’s Easter vacation and Frankie Avalon is still horny, Annette Funicello’s still waiting for marriage, and a beautiful foreign woman is again coming between them. This time it’s Lucianna Paluzzi as Countess Julie, a rich heiress who wants to make Frankie a singing star and her personal property.

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Eric Von Zipper and his Rats aren’t around this time, replaced by a bunch of bodybuilders led by trainer Jack Fanny (the inimitable Don Rickles). Julie first sets her sights on “Mr. Galaxy” Flex Martian, but dumps him when she spies Frankie. This leads to war between the surfers and the musclemen, with the inevitable slapstick melee. Flex is played by Rock Stevens, a real-life bodybuilder who muscled his way through a few Italian peplum films before reverting to his real name of Peter Lupus and…

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Back to School Part II #10: Grease (dir by Randal Kleiser)


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When it comes to reviewing Grease on this site, the film and I have a long and twisted history.  There have been several times when I was tempted to review Grease but one thing has always stopped me:

I absolutely hate this film.

Grease is one of my least favorite films and, to be honest, just thinking about it causes me pain.  Just about everyone that I know loves Grease.  They love the songs.  They love the music.  They love the performances.  They want to see it on stage.  They want to see it on the big screen.  They watch every time it pops up on AMC.

Growing up as a theater nerd means being surrounded by people who love Grease.  I cannot begin to count the number of times that I forced to watch this movie in school.  So many theater teachers seemed to feel that showing Grease in class was some sort of reward but, for me, it was pure torture.  And the fact that I was usually the only one who disliked the film made the experience all the more unbearable.

Back in 2014, when I was doing the first set of Back To School reviews, I was planning on reviewing Grease.  But I just could not bring myself to voluntarily relive the film.  Instead of putting myself through that misery, I decided to watch and review Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instead.  It was the right decision and I stand by it.

Jump forward two years and here I am doing Back to School again.  And again, for some reason, I had put Grease down as a film to review.  It’s just a movie, right?  And yet, after I finished writing my excellent review of Animal House, I again found myself dreading the idea of having to even think about Grease.

So, I said, “Fuck this,” and I promptly erased Grease from the list and I replaced it with Skatetown USA.  Then I watched Skatetown and I’m glad that I did because that was an experience that I can’t wait to write about!  And yet, I still had this nagging voice in the back of my mind.

“You’re going to have to review Grease at some point,” it said, “If not now, when?”

The voice had a point.  However, I was soon reminded that there was an even more important reason to review Grease.  A little further down on my list of Back to School films to review was a little film called Grease 2.  How could I possibly review Grease 2 if I hadn’t already reviewed Grease?  My OCD would not allow it!

And so, here I am, reviewing Grease.

Grease, of course, is a musical about teenagers in 1958.  Danny (John Travolta) is in love with Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Sandy is in love with Danny.  But Danny’s a greaser and Sandy’s Australian!  Will they be able to work it out, despite coming from different worlds?  Of course they will!  Danny’s willing to dress up like a jock in order to impress Sandy while Sandy’s willing to wear black leather to impress Danny!  Yay!  They go together!  And they’ve got a flying car, too!  YAY!

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And then Satan arrived…

Of course, there’s other subplots as well.  For instance, Frenchy (Didi Conn) nearly drops out of school but she’s visited by Satan (Frankie Avalon) and he manages to change her mind.  And Rizzo (Stockard Channing) might be pregnant because Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) hasn’t bought any new condoms since the 8th grade.  Comparing the sensitive way that teen pregnancy was handled on a show like Degrassi: The Next Generation with the way it’s handled in Grease is enough to make you want to sing “O Canada” every day for the rest of your life.

Here’s what I do like about Grease: Stockard Channing is great as Rizzo, though it’s hard not to feel that she deserves better than a doofus boyfriend like Kenickie and a boring bestie like Sandy.  I also like You’re The One That I Want.  That’s a fun song.

But as for the rest of the movie … BLEH!  I mean, it is so BORING!  It takes them forever to get to You’re The One That I Want.  Olivia Newton-John is so wholesome that she literally makes you want to tear your hair out while John Travolta pretty much acts on auto pilot.  As for the supporting cast, most of them appeared in the stage production of Grease and they still seem to be giving stage performances as opposed to film performances.  They’re still projecting their lines to the back of the house.  Worst of all, it’s obvious that director Randal Kleiser had no idea how to film a musical because the dance numbers are so ineptly staged and framed that, half the time, you can’t even see what anyone’s doing with their feet.  If you can’t see the feet, it defeats the whole purpose of having an elaborate dance number in the first place!

So, no, I don’t like Grease.

Sorry, everyone.

However, I’m sure I’ll enjoy Grease 2….

Love you, Canada!

Love you, Canada!

Rockin’ in the Film World #3: BEACH PARTY (AIP 1963)


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Finally! The weather here in New England has begun to break, and we’re heading into summer. I even managed to get some beach time in today. TCM beat me to the punch when they aired BEACH PARTY as part of their month-long salute to American International Pictures, a blast from the past filled with sand, surf, teenage sex, and plenty of good ol’ rock’n’roll! BEACH PARTY spawned a series of films and a whole slew of imitators , but AIP did ’em first and best.

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Teen idol Frankie Avalon and ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello starred in most of the AIP’s, using the same plot over and over. Frankie wants sex, but Annette wants to wait for marriage. They fight, and try to make each other jealous by dating someone new, but wind up together by film’s end. Simple, and rehashed using gimmicks like bodybuilding, drag racing, sky diving, and skiing to make things seem fresh…

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