30 Days of Noir #24: Fourteen Hours (dir by Henry Hathaway)


As a genre, film noir has always been associated with crime: murder, brutish gangsters, seductive femme fatales, and occasionally a cynical private detective doing the right thing almost despite himself.  However, not all film noirs are about criminals.  Some are just about desperate characters who have found themselves on the fringes, living in a shadow-filled world that appears to be monstrously indifferent to all human suffering.

That’s certainly the case with the 1951 noir, 14 Hours.  The film centers around Robert Cosick (Richard Basehart, who previously played a murderer in another classic noir, He Walked By Night).  Robert isn’t a gangster.  He’s not a private detective.  He doesn’t carry a gun and he doesn’t provide any sort of hard-boiled narration.  In fact, for the majority of the film, Robert is defined by less who he is and more by what he’s doing.  Robert Cosick, having earlier checked into a room on the 15th floor of a New York hotel, has climbed out of a window and is now standing on a ledge.  Robert says that he’s going to jump.

What has driven Robert Cosik to consider such an extreme action?  The film never settles on any one reason, though it gives us several clues.  When his father (Robert Keith) and his mother (Agnes Moorehead) show up at the scene, they immediately start bickering about old family dramas.  When Robert’s ex-fiancee (Barbara Bel Geddes) begs him to step in from the ledge, he listens a bit more to her than he did to his parents but he still refuses to come in from the ledge.

But perhaps the real reason that Robert Cosick is out on that ledge can be found in the film’s shadowy visuals.  Directed in a semi-documentary fashion by Henry Hathaway and featuring harsh, black-and-white cinematography that’s credited to Joe MacDonald, Fourteen Hours emphasizes the indifference of the city.  From the menacing landscape of concrete buildings to the crowds gathering below the ledge to see if Robert lives or dies,  New York City is as much as a character in this film as Robert, his family, or the cop (played by Paul Douglas) who finds himself trying to talk Robert into reentering his hotel room.  When night falls, the city may light up but it does nothing to alleviate the shadows that seem to be wrapping themselves around Robert.  For the fourteen hours that Robert is on that ledge, he may be the center of the world but the film leaves little doubt that New York City will continue to exist in all of its glory and its horror regardless of how Robert’s drama plays out.  Whether he lives or dies, Robert appears to be destined to be forgotten.

When the film isn’t concentrating on the cops trying to talk Robert into getting back in the hotel room, it shows us the reactions of the people who see him standing out on that ledge.  (If this film were made today, everyone would be holding up their phones and uploading Robert’s plight to social media.)  Some people are moved by Robert’s struggle.  For instance, a young woman played by Grace Kelly (in her film debut) reaches a decision on whether or not to get a divorce based on what she sees happening on the ledge.  Two office workers (played by Jeffrey Hunter and Debra Paget) even strike up a romance as they wait to see what will happen.  Some people view Robert as being a madman.  Others see him as being a victim.  And then there’s the many others who view him as being either a minor distraction or a piece of entertainment.  For them, it’s less important why Robert’s on the ledge or even who Robert is.  What’s important to them is how the story is going to end.

It’s not a particularly happy film but it’s made watchable by Hathaway’s intelligent direction and the performances of Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart.  With its theme of instant fame and hollow indifference, it’s a film that remains as relevant today as when it was initially released.

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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A Movie A Day #338: Raid on Entebbe (1977, directed by Irvin Kershner)


On June 27th, 1976, four terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe Airport in Uganda.  With the blessing of dictator Idi Amin and with the help of a deployment of Ugandan soldiers, the terrorists held all of the Israeli passengers hostage while allowing the non-Jewish passengers to leave.  The terrorists issued the usual set of demands.  The Israelis responded with Operation Thunderbolt, a daring July 4th raid on the airport that led to death of all the terrorists and the rescue of the hostages.  Three hostages were killed in the firefight and a fourth — Dora Bloch — was subsequently murdered in a Ugandan hospital by Idi Amin’s secret police.  Only one commando — Yonatan Netanyahu — was lost during the raid.  His younger brother, Benjamin, would later become Prime Minister of Israel.

Raid on Entebbe, a docudrama about the operation, was originally produced for NBC though it subsequently received an overseas theatrical release as well.  It’s an exciting tribute to the bravery of both the hostages and the commandos who rescued them.  Director Irvin Kershner directs in a documentary fashion and gets good performances from a cast full of familiar faces.  Charles Bronson, James Woods, Peter Finch, Martin Balsam, Stephen Macht, Horst Buchholz, Sylvia Sidney, Allan Arbus, Jack Warden, John Saxon, and Robert Loggia show up as politicians, commandos, terrorists, and hostages and all of them bring a sense of reality and humanity to their roles.

The film’s best performance comes from Yaphet Kotto, who plays Idi Amin as a strutting buffoon, quick to smile but always watching out for himself.  In the film, Amin often pays unannounced visits to the airport, where he lies and tells the hostages that he is doing his best to broker an agreement between the terrorists and Israel.  The hostages are forced to applaud Amin’s empty promises and Amin soaks it all up with a huge grin on his face.  Forest Whitaker may have won the Oscar for Last King of Scotland but, for me, Yaphet Kotto will always be the definitive Idi Amin.

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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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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Life Is A Beach #1: Beach Party (dir by William Asher)


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It seems a little bit strange that today was, for many people, the first day of Spring Break.

First off, it was cold and rainy today and, whenever I found myself glancing out a window and being confronted by the gray weather, it was very hard for me to imagine having any fun on a beach.

Secondly, for reasons that I never quite understood, the University of North Texas’s Spring Break was always a week after everyone else’s.  As a result, I’ve been conditioned to think of Spring Break as starting during the third week of March.

I always looked forward to Spring Break, despite the fact that we always got out a week late.  In fact, it was kind of nice to know that, when my friends and I got down to that year’s beach, the most obnoxious of the alcoholic frat boys would already be back in Oklahoma.  I’ve always loved the beach, which is odd because I’m scared of drowning.  Fortunately, you don’t have to swim to look good in a bikini.

Now, of course, I’m an adult and I don’t get a Spring Break.  But that doesn’t mean that I can’t relive the fun of it all by spending the next few days watching and reviewing beach movies!

For instance, earlier today, I discovered that the 1963 film Beach Party was available on Netflix.   I watched the first 40 minutes during my lunch and then, as the day progressed, I watched the rest of it in bits and pieces until finally, nearly 8 hours after starting the film, I finished it.  Needless to say, this is absolutely the worst way to watch a film like Beach Party.  Beach Party was designed to be a film to be enjoyed but not thought about.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of fast food.  Watching Beach Party in increments of 2 or 3 minutes at a time is a bit like buying a Wendy’s bacon cheeseburger and not eating it until the next day.

(Or so I assume.  I would never do that because, seriously, Wendy’s makes the best bacon cheeseburgers!)

It feels kind of silly to try to describe the plot of something like Beach Party but here goes: Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and Delores (Annette Funicello) are two teenagers in love.  Or, at the very least, Delores is in love.  Frankie, however, has a hard time saying it.  Frankie and Delores are planning on spending the weekend at a beach house where, Frankie tells her, it will be just like they’re married.  Though it’s never explicitly stated (like many films from the early 60s, Beach Party is all about the euphemisms), Frankie is obviously expecting that he and Delores will finally be having sex in that beach house.  However, Delores had the same idea so she invited all of their friends to stay at the beach house as well, specifically to keep her from giving in during a moment of weakness.

Meanwhile, Prof. Robert Sutwell (Robert Cummings) is also hanging out on the beach.  He’s an anthropologist who has a rather prominent beard.  He’s studying the sex lives of teenagers.  Since they’re adults, Robert and his assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone) are actually allowed to say the word “sex.”

Speaking of which, that’s one thing that nobody on the beach seems to be doing.  Robert is too obsessed with his work, Marianne is too frustrated with his lack of interest, Frankie is too busy surfing and singing, and Delores says she’s not interesting in “being a woman” until she’s married.  There’s constant flirting going on, of course but, for the most part, these teenagers make the spring breakers from From Justin To Kelly look wild.  (One can only guess what would happen if any of them ever ran into the spring breakers from Spring Breakers….)

That said, I do think that I did spot Frankie and his friends passing around a joint during one scene.  According to some comments at the imdb, it was probably meant to be a cigarette that Frankie was sharing with his friends Ken (John Ashley) and Deadhead (Jody McCrea) but it sure looked like a joint to me.  Plus, Frankie was listening to beatnik poetry at the time and we all know those crazy kids loved the poetry and loved the marijuana.

Oh!  And did I mention that there’s a motorcycle gang in this film?  Because there so totally is.  The Rat Pack is led by a guy named Erich Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and they pretty much show up whenever the film starts to run out of ideas…

Now, it may sound like I’m being pretty critical of Beach Party but actually, I thought it was fun in a time capsule sort of way.  This is one of those films that is so obviously a product of the time in which it was made that watching it is a bit like getting to take a ride in a time machine.  Everything about this film — from the dialogue to the cultural attitudes to the clean-cut teenagers to the music to the bizarrely modest bikinis — practically screams 1963.  As a secret history nerd, I loved the part of Beach Party.

Add to that, Vincent Price has a cameo!  That’s always fun.

Anyway, Beach Party is currently available to be watched on Netflix and Hulu.  If you can’t get to the beach this year, you can always watch Frankie Avalon getting high in Beach Party.