Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (RKO 1950)


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Looking for a tough, no-frills ‘B’ crime drama? Look no further than ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, which is just what it says it is, the planning, execution, and aftermath of said dirty deed, with a cast of rugged mugs and hard-hearted dames directed by Richard Fleischer during his salad days at RKO. The movie echoes Robert Siodmak’s CRISS CROSS in its heist scene, and I’m sure Stanley Kubrick watched and remembered it when he made his film noir  masterpiece THE KILLING .

Make no mistake, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY isn’t on a par with those two films. It is, however, an enjoyable little 67 minutes of cops vs crooks. Criminal mastermind Dave Purvis assembles a gang of low-lives to pull the caper off, killing a cop in the process. The cop’s partner, Lt. Jim Cordell, is now determined to hunt the crooks down and avenge him. One of the participants, Benny McBride…

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Halloween Havoc!: DONOVAN’S BRAIN (United Artists 1953)


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No, this is not a movie about the mind of the 60’s Scottish folk singer responsible for “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow”. DONOVAN’S BRAIN is a sci-fi/horror hybrid based on the 1942 novel by Curt Siodmak, responsible for THE WOLF MAN and other Universal monster hits. It was first made as a 1944  Republic Pictures effort titled THE LADY AND THE MONSTER with Erich Von Stroheim (why Universal didn’t buy the rights is a mystery to me). This is one of those rare cases where the remake is better than the original!

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The story concerns Dr. Pat Cory, a scientist experimenting with keeping the brain of a monkey alive without a body. After several failures, Cory and his assistant, alcoholic Dr. Frank Schratt, have finally succeeded. A nearby plane crash leaves three dead, and multi-millionaire Warren H. Donovan in critical condition. Donovan dies on the table, but his brain is still registering…

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On Willis O’Brien and THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (Allied Artists 1959)


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Willis O’Brien was the pioneer stop-motion animation wizard who fathered the immortal KING KONG . For that alone, he will be remembered as one of Hollywood’s giants. O’Brien started at the dawn of film, working for the Thomas Edison Company. He created an early dinosaur movie THE GHOST OF SLUMBER MOUNTAIN, which was cut down to eleven minutes by one Herbert Dowley, who took credit for O’Brien’s work. His crowning silent achievement was 1925’s THE LOST WORLD, an adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle adventure story that astounded filmgoers of the era.

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That same year, O’Brien married Hazel Collette, who bore him two sons. The O’Brien’s marriage was not a happy one, and they divorced in 1930. Hazel was mentally unstable, and diagnosed with tuberculosis the following year. Willis, whose drinking and philandering contributed to the marriage’s deterioration, remained devoted to his boys, especially young Willis Jr., who was born tubercular, and eventually lost his eyesight. After…

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The Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Devil Times Five (dir by Sean MacGregor and David Sheldon)


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Initially released in 1974 and also known as Peopletoys, Tantrums, and The Horrible House on the Hill, Devil Times Five is one of a handful of films made about murderous children targeting and killing adults.  In the case of Devil Times Five, the children are five escapees from a mental hospital and the adults are a group of largely unlikable people who have gotten snowed in at a ski lodge.

(In a film like this, it helps that the victims are all too unlikable to really care about.)

When watching Devil Times Five, it helps to know a little something about what went on behind the scenes.  Apparently, original director Sean McGregor was fired when it turned out that, after several weeks of filming, he only had 38 minutes of usable footage.  Several weeks later, a second director, David Sheldon, was brought in to reshoot a good deal of the movie.  Unfortunately, by the time that Sheldon arrived, the majority of the cast had moved onto other projects and the main killer kid (Leif Garrett) had gotten his hair cut for another movie, meaning that he had to wear an ill-fitting wig for the reshoots.

And the end result is a truly weird movie, one that is full of odd continuity errors and strange scenes that were obviously only included to pad out the film’s running time.  Among the most obvious of the continuity errors is the insistence that the characters are snowed in despite the fact that there appears to be hardly any snow on the ground outside.  (This, of course, was largely due to the fact that the reshoots were done in sunny California.)  As for the padding, perhaps the most infamous example is the scene where the five children attack and beat to death their doctor.  This entire scene is shown in slow motion.  It lasts five minutes.

Seriously — and if you doubt me on this, be sure to read Stacie Ponder’s review of the film over on Final Girl — five minutes is a really long time.  It’s certainly a long time to watch someone get beat to death, especially when the scene is underlit and sepia-toned.  It starts out as disturbing but, after the 2nd minute or so, it just gets boring.  And then about 4 minutes in, you start to laugh because you’re just like, “How much longer can this crap go on?”  And then, at the 4:30 mark, you start to get bored again.  Around the 4:55 mark, I realized that I had forgotten who they were killing or why.  And then it was finally over.  Yay!

Incidentally, this is one of those films where, whenever one of the kids is going to kill someone, the kid suddenly starts moving in slow motion.  It was kind of like the music in Jaws.  If the kid picked up an axe but was still moving at normal speed, you knew not to worry.  But the minute that slow-mo started, you knew someone was about to die.

Of course, it takes a while to get around to the killings.  Devil Times Five clocked in at about 88 minutes.  I would guess that roughly 65 of those minutes were pure filler.  We spend a lot of time getting to know the adults at that ski lodge and, for the most part, they’re loathsome.  The oldest and grumpiest of them is even called Papa Doc, perhaps after the infamous Haitian dictator. (And let’s not even start on the film’s nominal hero, Rick, who has a pornstache, a comb over, and an extended nude scene.)  All of the adults spend a lot of time talking about their crumbling marriages and their dying dreams and it’s all very angsty for slasher film about a bunch of killer kids.  There’s even an extended cat fight between Julie (Joan McCall) and Lovely (Carolyn Staller), which involves a lot of rolling around on the floor while the 70s “wah wah” soundtrack plays in the background.

Once the killings do start, however, Devil Times Five actually starts to live up to its potential.  These are some mean little kids!  Once they start their rampage, we get axes in the back, spears to the throat, immolation, death by swing, and one really disturbing scene involving a bunch of bear traps. However, Devil Times Five is probably best known for the piranha scene.  You can legitimately wonder why someone would keep piranhas at a ski lodge but there’s still no denying that you don’t want to take a bath with them.

(Making the piranha scene all the more icky that the victim in the bathtub is played by the mother of two of the actors who played the killers.)

Devil Times Five makes for a strange viewing experience.  It starts out as nothing but filler and then suddenly, almost out of nowhere, the entire film goes batshit crazy.  Devil Times Five has slipped into the public domain, so you can watch it for free on YouTube if you want.  But I suggest tracking down the Code Red DVD, which comes with a fascinating commentary track and an entertaining and candid interview with several members of the cast.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #46: Walking Tall (dir by Phil Karlson)


Walking_Tall_(1973_film)About 50 minutes into the 1973 film Walking Tall (not to be confused with the 2005 version that starred Dwayne Johnson), there’s a scene in which newly elected sheriff Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) gives a speech to his deputies.  As the deputies stand at attention and as Pusser announces that he’s not going to tolerate any of his men taking bribes from the Dixie Mafia, the observant viewer will notice something out-of-place about the scene.

Hovering directly above Baker’s head is a big, black, almost phallic boom mic.  It stays up there throughout the entire scene, a sudden and unexpected reminder that — though the film opens with a message that we’re about to see the true story of “an American hero” and though it was filmed on location in rural Tennessee — Walking Tall is ultimately a movie.

And yet, somehow, that phallic boom mic feels oddly appropriate.  First off, Walking Tall is an almost deliberately messy film.  That boom mic tells us that Walking Tall was not a slick studio production.  Instead, much like Phil Karlson’s previous The Phenix City Story, it was a low-budget and violent film that was filmed on location in the south, miles away from the corrupting influence of mainstream, yankee-dominated Hollywood.  Secondly, the phallic implications of the boom mic erases any doubt that Walking Tall is a film about men doing manly things, like shooting each other and beating people up.  Buford does have a wife (Elizabeth Hartman) who begs him to avoid violence and set a good example of his children.  However, she eventually gets shot in the back of the head, which frees Buford up to kill.

As I said earlier, Walking Tall opens with a message telling us that we’re about to watch a true story.  Buford Pusser is a former football player and professional wrestler who, after retiring, returns to his hometown in Tennessee.  He quickly discovers that his town is controlled by criminals and moonshiners.  When he goes to a local bar called The Lucky Spot, he is unlucky enough to discover that the bar’s patrons cheat at cards.  Buford is nearly beaten to death and dumped on the side of the road.  As Buford begs for help, several motorists slow down to stare at him before then driving on.

Obviously, if anyone’s going to change this town, it’s going to have to be Buford Pusser.

Once he recovers from his beating, Buford makes himself a wooden club and then goes back to the Lucky Spot.  After beating everyone up with his club, Buford takes back the money that he lost while playing cards and $50.00 to cover his medical bills.  When Buford is put on trial for armed robbery, he takes the stand, rips off his shirt, and shows the jury his scars.  Buford is acquitted.

Over his wife’s objections, Buford decides to run for sheriff.  The old sheriff, not appreciating the competition, attempts to assassinate Buford but, instead, ends up dying himself.  Buford is charged with murder.  Buford is acquitted.  Buford is elected sheriff.  Buford sets out to clean up his little section of Tennessee.  Violence follows…

On the one hand, it’s easy to be snarky about a film like Walking Tall.  This is one of those films that operates on a strictly black-and-white world view.  Anyone who supports Buford is good.  Anyone who opposes Buford is totally evil.  Buford is a redneck saint.  It’s a film fueled by testosterone and it’s not at all subtle…

But dangit, I liked Walking Tall.  It’s a bit like a right-wing version of Billy Jack, in that it’s so sincere that you can forgive the film’s technical faults and frequent lapses in logic.  Walking Tall was filmed on location in Tennessee and director Phil Karlson makes good use of the rural locations.  And, most importantly, Joe Don Baker was the perfect actor to play Buford Pusser.  As played by Baker, Pusser is something of renaissance redneck.  He’s a smart family man who knows how to kick ass and how to make his own weapons.  What more could you ask for out of a small town sheriff?

In real life, Buford Pusser died in a mysterious car accident shortly after the release of Walking Tall.  Cinematically, the character of Buford Pusser went on to star in two more films.