Cinemax Memories: Raw Nerve (1991, directed by David A. Prior)


Raw Nerve opens with a serial killer haunting Mobile, Alabama, using a pump action shotgun to shoot women in the face while they’re wearing red high heels.  Race car driver Jimmy Clayton (Ted Prior, brother of this film’s director) has been having visions of the murders so he goes to the police and offers to help them out.  Unfortunately for Jimmy, neither Detective Ellis (Jan-Michael Vincent!) nor Captain Gavin (Glenn Ford!!) believe in psychic phenomena so they toss Jimmy’s ass in jail.  While Ellis’s ex-wife, Gloria (Sandahl Bergman!!!), tries to prove that Jimmy’s innocent, Jimmy’s mechanic (Randall “Tex” Cobb!!!!), takes an unhealthy interest in Jimmy’s teenage sister, Gina (TRACI LORDS!!!!!).

As you can tell from reading the paragraph above, the main thing that this film has going for it is a cast full of recognizable B-actors.  Though none of them are really at their best, Raw Nerve is still your only chance to see Glenn Ford, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Sandahl Bergman all sharing scenes together.  Unfortunately, despite all of the famous names in the cast, Ted Prior got the most screen time and he really didn’t have the screen presence to pull off either the role or the film’s loony final twist.

The best thing about Raw Nerve is that it features both Randall “Tex” Cobb and Traci Lords.  Lords was a legitimately good actress, even if her past as a pornographic actress made it impossible for her to get the type of roles that she really deserved.  Lords doesn’t get to do much in Raw Nerve but she does her best to make Gina into a real character instead of just a generic victim.  Meanwhile, Randall “Tex” Cobb is a marvel as a biker who is never seen without a beer in his hand.  When Cobb eventually leaves the movie, you miss him.

Raw Nerve was one of the many low-budget thrillers that came out in the 90s.  Like many of these films, Raw Nerve was directed by David A. Prior and released by Action International Pictures, which shared both an acronym and a sensibility with American International Pictures.  Though films like Raw Nerve may not have been great art, they were entertaining if you came across one of them on Cinemax.  Where else were you going to see Tex Cobb and Jan-Michael Vincent battle it out at two in the morning?

Dark Valentine: THE LOVES OF CARMEN (Columbia 1948)


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Love takes many strange forms, none more strange than the obsessive love Don Jose has for the Gypsy temptress Carmen in THE LOVES OF CARMEN, Columbia Pictures’ biggest hit of 1948. The film, based on Prosper Merimee’s 1845 novella and Georges Bizet’s famous opera, reunites GILDA stars Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford with director Charles Vidor, and though it’s in glorious Technicolor and set in 1800’s Spain, it’s got a lot of film noir elements going for it: there’s the protagonist caught in a rapidly moving downward spiral, the amoral femme fatale, crime, murder, and a bleak, downbeat ending. Think I’m stretching a bit? Let’s take a look…

Young nobleman Don Jose arrives in Seville with a dragoon squadron, a corporal with political ambitions and a bright future ahead of him… until he meets Carmen, a gorgeous red-haired Gypsy who is an expert manipulator. Jose is enchanted by this free-spirited…

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40 Years of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (Warner Brothers 1978)


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Unlike today, when superheroes dominate at the box office and your local multiplex, costumed crusaders were dead as the proverbial doornail in theaters of the 1970’s. The last was 1966’s BATMAN, at the height of the camp craze, but after that zer0… zilch… nada. I didn’t care; my comic book reading days were pretty much at an end by 1978, driven away by other distractions, like making money, girls, beer, and girls. I had moved on.

But when Warner Brothers announced they were making a new, big budget Superman movie, I was intrigued. I’d always loved the old 50’s TV series starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, corny as it was, and with a cast featuring Marlon Brando , Gene Hackman , and Glenn Ford , not to mention that girl from Brian DePalma’s SISTERS as Lois Lane, I wanted to see this new version. I also wanted…

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30 Days of Noir #23: Framed (dir by Richard Wallace)


The 1947 film noir, Framed, is the story of a loser.

That, in itself, is not a surprise.  The loser who finds himself stranded in a strange place where he’s manipulated by nearly everyone he meets is a film noir archetype.  This is especially true when it comes to movies about men who end up getting manipulated by another film noir archetype, the femme fatale.  I mean, let’s be honest.  Most film noir “heroes” fall victim to their own desperation.  If they weren’t so obviously desperate to find money or sex, they probably wouldn’t end up in the trouble that always seems to follow them around.

Framed tells the story of Mike Lambert (Glenn Ford).  When we first meet Mike, he’s sitting behind the wheel of an out-of-control truck.  While the truck recklessly speeds down a steep hill, Mike desperately tries to keep from crashing.  It’s not until Mike pulls into a small town that he finally gets the truck to stop.  Of course, in the process of stopping, he also dings the back of someone else’s pickup truck.

It turns out that, until recently, Mike was a mining engineer.  After he lost his job, he found temporary employment as a truck driver.  He needed the money so he didn’t bother to find out what he was hauling or even if the truck had working brakes.  When Mike calls up the man who hired him and tells him that the owner of the pickup is demanding that Mike’s employer pay for the damage, the man hangs up on him.  To recap, before we’re even 10 minutes into the movie, we’ve seen that Mike can be tricked into driving a truck with no brakes and that he can’t even convince his employer to help pay for the damage caused by those faulty brakes.  In other words: Loser!

Anyway, the local cops are planning on tossing Mike in jail for reckless driving but fortunately, a local waitress, Paula Craig (Janis Carter), is willing to pay Mike’s fine.  She even helps a drunken Mike find a hotel room.  Is Paula doing all of this out of the goodness of her heart or is it all just a part of an elaborate scheme?  While Mike is getting a job with a local prospector (Edgar Buchanan), Paula is meeting with her married boyfriend, Steve Price (Barry Sullivan), and bragging about how she’s finally found the perfect patsy.

Yes, to no one’s surprise, Paula and Steve have hatched a nefarious scheme and Mike is about to find himself stuck right in the middle of it.  Of course, since this is a film noir, it should come as no surprise to learn that Paula and Steve are just as willing to double cross each other as they are Mike….

Framed is an entertaining if slightly predictable noir.  From the minute that Paula first appears, we know that she’s not to be trusted but part of the fun of the film is that those of us in the audience are always a step or two ahead of poor Mike.  You watch Mike in amazement that someone could be so dense but, at the same time, Glenn Ford is likable enough that you do hope that everything will turn out okay for him.  As for the film’s main villains, Barry Sullivan is perfectly slick and sleazy as Steve Price but the film is really stolen by Janis Carter, who plays Paula as if she were a panther waiting to pounce on her prey.

Framed is a film that will definitely be enjoyed by those who appreciate the shadowy landscape of an old school film noir.  It may not rewrite the rules of genre but it’s still an undeniably entertaining film about a loser and the people who use him.

Horror Film Review: Happy Birthday To Me (dir by J. Lee Thompson)


“John will never eat shish kebab again!” announces the poster for the 1981 Canadian slasher film, Happy Birthday To Me.  

Happy Birthday To Me is famous for three things.  One of those things is the poster above, which was apparently so controversial that it actually led to the film being banned in some countries.  That said, it’s a brilliant poster, one that probably belongs in the Film Poster Hall of Fame.  If I had been alive and old enough to sneak into the movies in 1981, that poster would have drawn me into the theater.

The other interesting thing about the poster is that no one in the movie is named John.  There is a shish kebab scene, of course.  But it happens to a guy named Steven, not to anyone named John.  Of course, the poster also says that Steven likes to ride a motorcycle but, in the movie, the motorcycle rider is a pervy French-Canadian named Etienne.  Maybe the film’s producers feared that American audiences would not be willing to watch a movie featuring a character named Etienne.  (They were probably right, by the way.  Happy Birthday To Me came out decades before Degrassi: The Next Generation taught America that it has nothing to fear from the Canadians.)

As for what else Happy Birthday To Me is famous for — well, first of all, there’s the actual shish kebab scene itself.  As cringe-inducing as it may appear to be on the poster, it’s even more disturbing in the actual film.  Interestingly enough, there’s not a lot of blood in the scene.  In fact, it’s one of the few scenes in Happy Birthday To Me to not be drenched in blood.  However, there is a lot of gagging and gurgling and the sounds are all the more disturbing because they’re taking place off-camera.  Making it even more unsettling is that Steven (played by Matt Craven, who has since become a distinguished character actor) is one of the few likable characters in the movie.  In a movie full of snobs, pervs, and weirdos, Steven is the guy who is always encouraging people to stop fighting, make love, and gamble.

Finally, Happy Birthday To Me is famous for not making a damn bit of sense.

Actually, to be fair, the movie does make sense up until the final ten minutes or so.  Up until that point, it’s simply been a well-made slasher film, albeit an above average example of the genre.  There’s a killer on the loose, killing students at Crawford Academy.  All of the victims are members of the Top Ten, an exclusive clique of rich and spoiled teens.  (Interestingly enough, not every member of the Top Ten is killed.  In fact, some of the people who you are sure are due to be killed somehow manage to survive.)  One member of the Top Ten, Ginny (Melissa Sue Anderson), should be excited about her upcoming birthday party but instead, she is haunted by flashbacks to a car accident and the brain surgery that she was forced to undergo afterward.  (Footage of actual brain surgery was used in the film.)  Her father (Lawrence Dane) is clueless.  Her therapist (Glenn Ford) insists that Ginny needs to move on with her life.  But Ginny can’t escape the feeling that something is not right, especially when all of her friends start to disappear.

As I said, it all makes sense up until the final ten minutes or so of the film.  That’s when the film produces a twist that is so out-of-nowhere and nonsensical that you cannot help but admire the film’s audacity.  I’m not going to spoil the twist, other than to say that it makes no sense and I absolutely loved it.  From what I’ve read, it appears that the twist ending was almost literally made up on the spot and it’s just so weird that it elevates the entire movie.

Of the many slasher films that came out in the early 1980s, Happy Birthday To Me is one of the best.  It’s a classic that need not ever be remade.  (I doubt any remake could match the audacity of the original’s finale.)  Nicely acted, intelligently directed, and batshit insane when it needed to be, Happy Birthday To Me is an October essential!

Hot in Argentina: Rita Hayworth in GILDA (Columbia 1946)


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If COVER GIRL made Rita Hayworth a star, then GILDA propelled her into the stratosphere. This 1946 film noir cast Rita at her smoking hot best as the femme fatale to end ’em all. Surrounded by a Grade A cast and sumptuous sets, GILDA gives us the dark side of CASABLANCA , moved to Buenos Aires and featuring star-crossed lovers who are at lot less noble than Rick and Ilsa ever were.

“Every man I knew went to bed with Gilda… and woke up with me”, Hayworth is famously quoted as saying. Who could blame them, as Rita is absolutely stunning in this film. From our first glimpse of her, popping into view with that iconic hair flip…

…to her sultry faux striptease singing “Put the Blame on Mame”, Rita burns up the screen with her smoldering sexuality. Lines like “If I’d been a ranch,  they’d’ve named me the Bar Nothing” leave no doubt…

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A Movie A Day #128: Ransom! (1956, directed by Alex Segal)


What would you do if your child was kidnapped?

That’s the question asked in this unjustly obscure film from 1956.  Dave Stannard (Glenn Ford) is a wealthy businessman, with a beautiful wife (Donna Reed), a big suburban home, and a butler named Chapman (the great Puerto Rican actor Juano Hernandez).  One day, his son Andy (Bobby Clark) does not come home from school.  The school says that a nurse showed up to pick Andy up for a doctor’s appointment but neither Dave nor his wife know about any appointment and their family doctor says that he would never send a nurse to pick up a patient.

Andy has been kidnapped.  When the kidnappers call, they tell Dave that they want half a million dollars in ransom.  Dave gets the money together but is then told, by reporter Charlie Telfer (Leslie Nielsen), that, once the kidnappers have the money, they will have no incentive to return Andy.  Since Andy is the only person who could identity them to the police, they may very well kill Andy after getting the money.  By paying the ransom, Dave will also be encouraging other kidnappers.

The next morning, Dave goes on television and announces that he will not be paying the ransom.  Instead, he announces that if the kidnappers do not immediately return his son, the money will be given as a reward to anyone who helps to track them down.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Ransom! was later remade by Ron Howard, with Mel Gibson as the father and Gary Sinise as the kidnapper.  (Ransom! itself was a remake of a live television drama that aired in 1954.)  As opposed to the Howard film, the original Ransom! is a low-key character piece, one that takes place almost entirely in the Stannard home and in which the kidnappers remain largely unseen.  Almost the entire movie focuses on Dave, his decision, and his struggle to come to terms with that decision.  Was Dave right or was he wrong?  Ransom! is stagey but thought-provoking with excellent performances from the entire cast.  Even Leslie Nielsen, making his film debut, does well in the type of dramatic role that defined his career until he reinvented himself as a masterful comedic actor.

They don’t make them like this anyone and that is too bad.

 

Hittin’ the Dusty Trail with THE DESPERADOES (Columbia 1943)


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There’s a lot to like about THE DESPERADOES. Not that it’s anything groundbreaking; it’s your standard Western outing with all the standard clichés. you’ve got your two pals, one the sheriff (Randolph Scott ), the other an outlaw (Glenn Ford ). You’ve got your gambling hall dame (Claire Trevor ) and sweet young thing (Evelyn Keyes) vying for the good/bad guy’s attention. You’ve got your goofy comical sidekick (Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams). You’ve got your  supposedly respectable heavy (Porter Hall ), a mean heavy (Bernard Nedell), and a heavy who has a change of heart (Edgar Buchanan). What makes this one different is the movie seems to know it’s clichéd, giving a nod and a wink to its audience as it merrily makes its way down that familiar dusty trail.

Based on a novel by pulp writer Max Brand (who also created the Dr. Kildare series), this was one of Columbia’s big releases of the year, and…

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Happy 100th Birthday Glenn Ford: 3:10 TO YUMA (Columbia 1957)


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Actor Glenn Ford was born 100 years ago today in Sainte-Christine-d’Auergne, Quebec, Canada. Yes, the All-American star was actually Canadian, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1939. That same year, Ford signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and began a long, prosperous career with the studio. After getting noticed in films like HEAVEN WITH A BARBED WIRE FENCE, SO ENDS OUR NIGHT, and TEXAS (his first Western), Ford took a break from acting and joined the Marine Corps to serve in World War II.

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After the war, Glenn Ford was one of Hollywood’s top leading men. He hit it big with 1946’s GILDA, co-starring Rita Hayworth in what may very well be the first true film noir. Soon he found himself the hero in a string of successes: FRAMED, MAN FROM THE ALAMO, THE BIG HEAT , BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, JUBAL, and TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON. But my favorite Ford role casts him…

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Surely, Leslie Nielsen can’t be the bad guy: The Sheepman (1958, directed by George Marshall)


Thesheepman At the start of The Sheepman, reformed gambler and gunslinger Jason Sweet (Glenn Ford) shows up in the middle of cattle country. He has won a herd of sheep in a poker game and he is planning on grazing them on the nearby public land. Knowing that he will face opposition from the local cattle ranchers, Jason asks the local towns people to direct him to the town bully. After Jason beats up Jumbo (Mickey Shaughnessy), Jason is invited to meet Jumbo’s boss, Col. Stephen Bedford (Leslie Nielsen).

As soon as Jason meets Bedford, he realizes that he is not a colonel and his name is not Bedford. Instead, he is an old friend from Texas, a former gambler and outlaw named Johnny Bledsoe. Like Jason, Bledsoe has also gone straight and is now the most powerful man in town. He is also engaged to marry a local girl named Dell Payton (Shirley MacClaine), to whom Jason has taken a liking.  Bledsoe tells Jason to take his sheep somewhere else and when Jason refuses, Bledsoe threatens to have him, Dell, and his sheep killed.

Wait a minute, Leslie Nielsen is playing a bad guy?

Surely, you can’t be serious!

I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.

(Sorry, had to do it.)

Leslie Nielsen is best remembered for being the deadpan comedian who could deliver the most ridiculous of lines with a totally straight face and who helped to make Airplane one of the funniest movies ever made. But before Nielsen recreated himself as a comedic actor, he was a dependably stiff supporting player and occasional leading man who appeared in nearly 100 dramatic pictures. The Sheepman is one of his “serious” roles.

Today, it is always strange to see one of Nielsen’s dramatic performances. Johnny Bledsoe is a standard western villain and Nielsen does okay with the role but, because his serious performances shared the same style as his comedic performances, it was impossible not to think of Dr. Rumack saying, “I just want to tell you both good luck. We’re all counting on you,” even while Johnny Bledsoe was offering to pay the outlaw Chocktaw (Pernell Roberts) to track down and kill Jason and his sheep.

The Sheepman is an average western and, as always, Glenn Ford is a good hero. But ultimately, the most interesting thing about it and the main reason to see it is to witness Leslie Nielsen doing his thing before he officially became the funniest man in the world.  Leslie Nielsen was not a terrible dramatic actor but watching The Sheepman made me all the happier that he eventually got to show the world his true calling.

Leslie Nielsen in The Sheepman (1958)