Hanging By A Thread (1979, directed by Georg Fenady)


A group of old friend who call themselves the Uptowners’ Club (yes, really) want to go on a picnic on top of a remote mountain.  The only problem is that they have to ride a cable car up to the mountain and there are reports of potentially bad weather.  It’s not safe to ride in a cable car during a thunderstorm.  Drunken ne’er-do-well Alan (Bert Convy) doesn’t care and, since his family owns both the mountain and the tramway, his demands that he and his friends be allowed to ride the cable car are met.  One lightning strike later and the members of the Uptowners’ Club are stranded in a cable car that is perilously suspended, by only a frayed wire, over treacherous mountain valley.

With no place to go, there’s not much left for the members of the Uptowners’ Club to do but bicker amongst themselves and have lengthy flashbacks that reveal every detail of their own sordid history.  Paul (Sam Groom) is angry with Alan because Alan is now engaged to his ex-wife (Donna Mills).  Sue Grainger (Patty Duke) is angry with everyone else because they don’t want to admit how their old friend Bobby Graham (Doug Llewellyn) actually died.  The other members of the Uptowners’ Club are angry because there’s not much for them to do other than watch Duke and Convy chew on the scenery.  Because of the supposedly fierce winds, someone is going to have to climb out on top of the cable car and repair it themselves.  Will it be Paul or will it be cowardly drunk Alan?  On top of everything else, Paul is set to enter the witness protection program and has got hitmen who want to kill him.

This made-for-TV disaster movie was produced by Irwin Allen.  Are you surprised?  It’s also three hours long and amazingly, Leslie Nielsen is not in it.  It’s hard to understand how anyone could have produced a cable car disaster film and not given a role to Leslie Nielsen.  Cameron Mitchell’s in the film but he’s not actually in the cable car so it’s a missed opportunity.  Any film that features Patty Duke detailing how her friends got so drunk that they ended up killing the future host of The People’s Court is going to at least have some curiosity value but, for the most part, Hanging By A Thread gets bogged down by its own excessive runtime and lack of convincing effects.  Hanging By A Thread came out at the tail end of the 70s disaster boom and it shows why the boom didn’t continue into the 80s.

The Night the Bridge Fell Down (1983, directed by Georg Fenady)


When civil engineer Carl Miller (James MacArthur) discovers that the Madison Bridge is on the verge of collapsing, he goes to his superior (Philip Baker Hall!) and explains that the bridge has to be closed down or people could die.  Since there wouldn’t be a movie if anyone listened to Carl’s concerns, he’s ignored.

No sooner has Carl been told that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about than the bridge suddenly starts to collapse.  With both ends of the bridge collapsing into the river below, a diverse group of people find themselves stranded in the middle.  The group is made up of the usual group of disaster movie characters and, of course, one of them is played by Leslie Nielsen.  This time, Nielsen is a crooked businessman with a mistress (played by Barbara Rush) and a baby to worry about.  Eve Plumb (who was a member of the original Brady Bunch) is a nun.  Richard Gilliland is a wounded cop.  Gregory Sierra is a landscaper.  Perhaps most improbably, clean-cut Desi Arnaz Jr. is a bank robber who keeps losing his temper and pointing a gun at everyone.  Carl has to figure out how to get everyone off of the bridge before the entire things collapses.  This leads to many shots of chunks of concrete falling off what’s left of the bridge, as if we need to be reminded that it’s dangerous to be on a bridge that’s in the process of very slowly collapsing.

After finding success making movies about fires, overturned ocean liners, volcanoes, cave-ins, and killer bees, I guess it only makes sense that Irwin Allen would finally get around the producing a movie about a collapsing bridge.  The Night The Bridge Fell Down was filmed in 1980 but it wasn’t aired until 1983.  When it did air, it played opposite the series finale of M*A*S*H, which remains one of the highest rated single episodes of television ever aired.  It’s obvious that no one had much faith in a three hour film about a collapsing bridge and it only aired because NBC needed something — anything — to air at a time when they knew no one would be watching.

Because of the lengthy amount of time between the film’s production and it’s airing, The Night The Bridge Fell Down is the type of serious and plodding disaster film that was popular in the 70s but, by the time 1983 rolled around, had been rendered obsolete by the satiric bards of Airplane!  Airplane‘s Leslie Nielsen even appears here, giving the type of serious performance that he specialized in before people discovered that he was actually a very funny man.  Nielsen doesn’t give a bad performance but everything he says is thoroughly undercut by how difficult it is to take Leslie Nielsen seriously.  No matter what Nielsen says, it always seems like he’s on the verge of adding, “And don’t call me Shirley.”

The main problem with The Night The Bridge Fell Down is that it’s a three-hour movie and that’s a long time to spend with a group of thinly characterized people on a bridge.  I guess the film does feature an important message about maintaining roads and bridges.  Watch it next Infrastructure Week.

Cave-In! (1983, directed by Georg Fenady)


Sen. Kate Lassiter (Susan Sullivan) is visiting a cave in order to determine whether it’s safe to leave it open to the public.  Giving the senator and her group the grand tour is Gene Pearson (Dennis Cole), who is not only a park ranger but who is also Kate’s ex-boyfriend.  The question as to whether or not the cave is safe for the general public is answered by a sudden cave-in, which leaves Kate, Gene, and the others trapped.  Now, Gene has to lead the group across often dangerous terrain to safety.

Along with Kate, the group includes a bitter cop named Joe Johnson (Leslie Nielsen!), his wife Liz (Julie Sommars), arrogant Prof. Harrison Soames (Ray Milland), and the professor’s shy daughter, Ann (Sheila Larkin).  Joe and Liz are struggling to keep their marriage together.  Prof. Soames refuses to allow his daughter to have a life of her own.  The six of them are going to have to somehow work together if they’re going to survive this cave-in!  Of course, they’re not alone.  There’s a seventh person in the cave.  Tom Arlen (James Olson) is a dangerous convict who was in the cave hiding out from the police.  Now, he’s trapped along with everyone else.

Cave-In is a pretty standard disaster movie.  Produced by Irwin Allen, it was originally filmed in 1979 but it didn’t air on NBC until 1983.  By that time, Airplane! had pretty much reduced the disaster genre to a joke.  Ironically, Leslie Nielsen himself has a starring role in Cave-In, playing exactly the type of character that he parodied in both Airplane! and Police Squad.  At the time he filmed Cave-In, Neilsen was still a dramatic actor but by the time the movie aired, his deadpan style was firmly associated with comedy.  Even when his dialogue is serious, the natural instinct is to laugh.

Cave-In gets bogged down by flashbacks.  Even though everyone should be concentrating on making their way to safety, it instead seems that they’re too busy obsessing on their backstory.  Since no one’s backstory is that interesting, the flashbacks don’t do much to liven up the film and, unfortunately, a cave-in just isn’t as compelling as a fire in skyscraper or an upside down boat.

On the plus side, every disaster movie needs an arrogant bastard who makes escape unnecessarily difficult and, in the 70s, no one played a better arrogant bastard Ray Milland.  Otherwise, Cave-In is a forgettable entry from the final days of the disaster genre.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Olivia De Havilland Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, I’m thrilled to wish a happy birthday to two of my favorite people!

First off, let’s all wish a happy birthday to Patrick Smith!  Along with being a contributor here on the Shattered Lens, Patrick is also a Snarkalec in good standing and one of the founders of the Late Night Movie Gang!  I’ve been happy to call Patrick a friend for several years now and I’m thankful to have him as part of a team here on the Shattered Lens!  Happy birthday, Pat!

Also born on this day was the one and only Olivia de Havilland.  Olivia is 104 years old today, one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s golden age.  Olivia de Havilland, whose career spanned 53 years and who co-starred with everyone from Errol Flynn to James Stewart to Michael Caine, currently lives in Paris and I can’t wait to celebrate her 105th birthday next year.

In honor of a legendary career and life, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, dir by Michael Curtiz)

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

The Snake Pit (1948, dir by Anatole Litvak)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

Confessions of a TV Addict #9: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 2


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Last week, I did an overview of producer Irwin Allen’s first two sci-fi shows, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and LOST IN SPACE. Today, Allen’s final shows in the quartet, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS! 

Where Allen’s LOST IN SPACE was juvenile fantasy, his next series THE TIME TUNNEL (ABC, 1966-67) took a more serious tone. Scientists Dr. Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert ) and Dr. Tony Newman (James Darren), working on the top-secret government Project Tic-Toc, become “lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages… (and) tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time” (at least according to the opening narration!). Project director Lt. Gen. Kirk (Whit Bissell ), ‘electrobiologist’ Dr. Ann McGregor (Lee Meriwether), and electronic genius Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba) track the pair through those “infinite corridors” and try to assist in navigating them…

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Confessions of a TV Addict #8: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 1


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Irwin Allen  (1916-1991) wore many different hats during his long career: magazine editor, gossip columnist, documentarian, producer, director. He helped usher in the Age of the Disaster Movie with such 70’s hits as THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO, but before that he was best known as the producer of a quartet of sci-fi series from the Swingin’ 60’s. From 1964 to 1970 he had at least one sci-fi show airing in prime time… during the 1966-67 season, he had three, all complete with cheezy-looking monsters, campy humor, stock footage, guest stars (some on their way up… some down!), special effects by Oscar winner L.B. Abbott, and music by John Williams (who later scored a little thing called STAR WARS )! Here’s a look at the Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen:

Allen’s first foray into sci-fi TV was VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (ABC, 1964-68), based…

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Recipe for Disaster: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (20th Century-Fox 1972)


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Although 1970’s AIRPORT is generally credited as the first “disaster movie”, it was 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE that made the biggest splash for the genre. Producer Irwin Allen loaded up his cast with five- count ’em!- Academy Award winners, including the previous year’s winner Gene Hackman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION ). The special effects laden extravaganza wound up nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2, and was the second highest grossing film of the year, behind only THE GODFATHER!

And unlike many of the “disasters” that followed in its wake, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE holds up surprisingly well. The story serves as an instruction manual for all disaster movies to come. First, introduce your premise: The S.S. Poseidon is sailing on its final voyage, and Captain Leslie Nielsen is ordered by the new ownership to go full steam ahead, despite the ship no longer being in ship-shape. (You won’t be able to take…

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Jurassic Joke: THE LOST WORLD (20th Century Fox 1960)


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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure novel THE LOST WORLD was first filmed in 1925 with special effects by the legendary Willis O’Brien  . O’Brien gets a technical credit in Irwin Allen’s 1960 remake, but his wizardry is nowhere to be found, replaced with dolled-up lizards and iguanas designed to frighten absolutely no one. This one’s strictly for the Saturday matinee kiddie crowd, and though it boasts a high profile cast, it’s ultimately disappointing.

Genre fans will appreciate the presence of The Invisible Man himself, Claude Rains , in the role of expedition leader Professor Challenger. The 71 year old Rains is full of ham here, playing to the balcony, and still managing to command the screen with his sheer talent. Challenger claims to have discovered “live dinosaurs” in the remote Amazon rainforest, a claim scoffed at by the scientific community, especially rival Professor Summerlee (the equally hammy Richard Hayden). The crusty Challenger…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Gone With The Wind, The Snake Pit, Lady In A Cage, The Swarm


Olivia De Havilland and Friends

Olivia De Havilland and Friends

I hope that you will join us all in wishing a happy birthday to the wonderful and legendary Olivia De Havilland, who turns 100 years old today!  Not only is Olivia the last surviving cast member of Gone With The Wind but she’s also one of the last surviving stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age!  Not only was she a wonderful actress but Olivia’s rivalry with sister Joan Fontaine continues to be one of the legendary moments of Oscar history!

This edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films features four movies that starred the one and only, Olivia De Havilland!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

Gone With The Wind (1939, dir by Victor Fleming)

The Snake Pit (1948, dirby Anatole Litvak)

The Snake Pit (1948, dir by Anatole Litvak)

Lady in a Cage (1964, dir by Walter Grauman)

Lady in a Cage (1964, dir by Walter Grauman)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

The Swarm (1978, dir by Irwin Allen)

By the way, do you know who shares a birthday with Olivia De Havilland?  OUR VERY OWN PATRICK SMITH!  Happy birthday, Pat!!!!!!

Insomnia File #1: The Story of Mankind (dir by Irwin Allen)


Story of Mankind

What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, last night, you were suffering from insomnia at 3 in the morning, you could have turned on TCM and watched the 1957 faux epic, The Story of Mankind.

I call The Story of Mankind a faux epic because it’s an outwardly big film that turns out to be remarkably small on closer inspection.  First off, it claims to the tell the story of Mankind but it only has a running time of 100 minutes so, as you can imagine, a lot of the story gets left out.  (I was annoyed that neither my favorite social reformer, Victoria C. Woodhull, nor my favorite president, Rutherford B. Hayes, made an appearance.)  It’s a film that follow Vincent Price and Ronald Colman as they stroll through history but it turns out that “history” is largely made up of stock footage taken from other movies.  The film’s cast is full of actors who will be familiar to lovers of classic cinema and yet, few of them really have more than a few minutes of screen time.  In fact, it only takes a little bit of research on the imdb to discover that most of the film’s cast was made up of performers who were on the verge of ending their careers.

The Story of Mankind opens with two angels noticing that mankind has apparently invented the “Super H-Bomb,” ten years ahead of schedule.  It appears that mankind is on the verge of destroying itself and soon, both Heaven and Hell will be full of new arrivals.  One of the angels exclaims that there’s already a housing shortage!

A celestial court, overseen by a stern judge (Cedric Hardwicke) is convened in outer space.  The court must decide whether to intervene and prevent mankind from destroying itself.  Speaking on behalf on humanity is the Spirit of Man.  The Spirit of Man is played by Ronald Colman.  This was Colman’s final film.  In his heyday, he was such a popular star that he was Margaret Mitchell’s first choice to play Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind.  However, in The Story of Mankind, Colman comes across as being a bit bored with it all and you start to get worried that he might not be the best attorney that mankind could have hired.

Even more worrisome, as  far as the future of mankind is concerned, is that the prosecutor, Mr. Scratch, is being played by Vincent Price.  Making his case with his trademark theatrics and delivering every snaky line with a self-satisfied yet likable smirk on his face, Vincent Price is so much fun to watch that it was impossible not to agree with him.  Destroy mankind, Mr. Scratch?  Sure, why not?  Mankind had a good run, after all…

In order to make their cases, Mr. Scratch and the Spirit of Man take a tour through history.  Mr. Scratch reminds us of villains like the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (John Carradine) and the Roman Emperor Nero (Peter Lorre, of course).  He shows how Joan of Arc (Hedy Lamarr) was burned at the stake.  The Spirit of Man argues that, despite all of that, man is still capable of doing good things, like inventing the printing press.

And really, the whole point of the film is to see who is playing which historical figure.  The film features a huge cast of classic film actors.  If you watch TCM on a semi-regular basis, you’ll recognize a good deal of the cast.  The fun comes from seeing who tried to give a memorable performance and who just showed up to collect a paycheck.  For instance, a very young Dennis Hopper gives a bizarre method interpretation of Napoleon and it’s one of those things that simply has to be seen.

And then the Marx Brothers show up!

They don’t share any scenes together, unfortunately.  But three of them are present!  (No, Zeppo does not make an appearance but I imagine that’s just because Jim Ameche was already cast in the role of Alexander Graham Bell.)  Chico is a monk who tells Christopher Columbus not to waste his time looking for a quicker way to reach India.  Harpo Marx is Sir Isaac Newton, who plays a harp and discovers gravity when a hundred apples smash down on his head.  And Groucho Marx plays Peter Miniut, tricking a Native American chief into selling Manhattan Island while leering at the chief’s daughter.

And the good thing about the Marx Brothers is that their presence makes a strong argument that humanity deserves another chance.  A world that produced the Marx Brothers can’t be all bad, right?

Anyway, Story of Mankind is one of those films that seems like it would be a good cure for insomnia but then you start watching it and it’s just such a weird movie that you simply have to watch it all the way to the end.  It’s not a good movie but it is flamboyantly bad and, as a result, everyone should see it at least once.