Film Review: Palm Springs Weekend (dir by Norman Taurog)


The 1963 film Palm Springs Weekend asks the question, “When is a beach film not a beach film?”

When it takes place in the freaking desert!

That’s right, Palm Springs Weekend takes place in the middle of the California desert.  There’s no ocean in sight nor are there any beaches on which to frolic.  Instead, there’s just a cheap motel and a swimming pool.  That said, Palm Springs Weekend pretty much follows the same formula as all of the beach films that were released in the early 60s.  A group of college students hop on a bus and head off for the weekend.  One student is wacky.  One student is rich, wild, and dangerous to know.  And, of course, one student is clean-cut, responsible, boring, asexual, and studious and all about doing the right thing.

Troy Donahue, the blandest teen idol of all time, plays the clean-cut student.  His name is Jim and he’s a college basketball star.  Even when he’s on the bus traveling to Palm Springs, he’s still got a book to study.  Jim’s the type who wears a suit and a tie to the pool.  He ends up falling in love with Bunny Dixon (Stefanie Powers) and the two of them spend a lot of time talking about sex in the most chaste way possible.  Bunny’s father (played by Andrew Duggan) is the chief of police and he doesn’t want any crazy college kids causing trouble in his town!  Well, it’s a pretty good thing that all he has to worry about is Troy Donaue asking his daughter if she wants to take a moonlight stroll in the middle of the desert.

(Trust me.  I’ve spent enough time in the desert to know that the last thing you want to do when you live near rattlesnakes is take a moonlight stroll.)

Jim’s best friend is Biff (Jerry Van Dyke).  Biff is the wacky college student, which means that he plays the ukulele and he gets all the comedic moments.  In this film, that amounts to getting babysitting an annoying boy and, at one point, falling into an extremely sudsy pool.  Luckily, Jim’s there to deliver CPR, which leads to soap bubbles floating out of Biff’s mouth and …. you know what?  I’m tired of writing about Biff.

Anyway, Biff and Jim really aren’t that important.  The entire film pretty much belongs to Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens, largely because they’re the only two actors who are allowed to break out of the trap of always either being bumbling and innocent or dramatic and self-righteous.  Robert Conrad plays Eric Dean, who is a spoiled rich kid who owns an expensive and fast car and who is basically a fun-loving sociopath.  Meanwhile, Connie Stevens plays Gail, who is a high senior and who is pretending to be a college student.  And while the film insists that we should somehow be disappointed in Gail because she’s acting wild and breaking curfew and doing more than just talking about whether or not it’s appropriate to kiss on the first date, she’s actually the most compelling character in the film because, at the very least, she’s actually setting her own rules and making her own decisions.  Since Palm Springs Weekend was made in 1963, it ultimately feels the need to try to punish Gail for thinking for herself but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s still a far more interesting character than the blandly innocent Bunny.  Gail’s a rebel.  Gail’s the future.  All hail Gail!

Anyway, Palm Springs Weekend is pretty forgettable and it’s never as much fun as any of AIP’s old Beach Party films.  That said, I’d still recommend it if you’re a history nerd like me.  It’s definitely a film of its time, a time capsule of an era.

A Movie A Day #212: Fuzz (1972, directed by Richard A. Colla)


Detective Eileen McHenry (Raquel Welch) has just been given her new assignment and she is about to find out that there is never a dull day in the 87th Precinct.  How could there be when the precinct’s top detectives are played by Burt Reynolds, Tom Skerritt, and Jack Weston?  Or when Boston’s top criminal mastermind is played by Yul Brynner?  There is always something happening in the 8th Precinct.  Someone is stealing stuff from the precinct house.  Someone else is attacking the city’s homeless.  Even worse, Brynner is assassinating public officials and will not stop until he is paid a hefty ransom!

Based on the famous 87th Precinct novels that Evan Hunter wrote under the name Ed McBain, Fuzz has more in common with Robert Altman’s MASH than The French Connection.  (Skerritt and Bert Remsen, who plays a policeman in Fuzz, were both members of Altman’s stock company.)  Much like Altman’s best-regarded films, Fuzz is an ensemble piece, one that mixes comedy with tragedy and which features several different storylines playing out at once.  Scenes of homeless men being set on fire are mixed with scenes of Reynolds and Weston going undercover as nuns.  (Of course, Burt does not shave his mustache.)  Since it was written by Hunter, the film’s script comes close to duplicating the feel of the 87th Precinct novels.  Unfortunately, Richard A. Colla was a television director and Fuzz feels more like an extended episode of Police Story or Hill Street Blues than a movie.  Unlike Altman’s best films, Fuzz‘s constantly shifting tone and the mix of comedy and drama often feels awkward.  Fortunately, Fuzz does feature good performances from Reynolds, Westin, Skerritt, and Brynner, along with a great 70s score from Dave Grusin.  Raquel Welch is never believable as cop but she’s Raquel Welch so who cares?

A Movie A Day #9: Gator (1976, directed by Burt Reynolds)


gatorposterGator McClusky is back!

Since the events in White Lightning, Gator (Burt Reynolds) has been released from prison and he’s now living in the Okefenokee Swamp.  Other than running moonshine, Gator is laying low and keeping to himself.  Gator may be done with the feds but the feds are not done with him.

Gator’s old friend, Bama McCall (Jerry Reed), is now unofficial boss of Dunston County and both the Department of Justice and the Governor of Georgia (played by talk show host Mike Douglas) are determined to take him down.  Federal agent Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston) is convinced that he can get Bama on charges of tax evasion.  But Irving’s from New York and he does not know how to talk to the good ol’ boys.  He needs someone on the inside and that’s where Gator comes in.

Gator not only starred Burt Reynolds but it was his directorial debut as well.  Though it’s a sequel to White Lightning, Gator feels like a very different movie.  Whereas Joseph Sargent kept White Lightning relatively serious, Reynolds take a more jokey approach with Gator.  Reynolds has his famous mustache and his hairpiece in Gator and the self-amused attitude that went along with them.  Gator is full of car chases, fist fights, willing women, and corny jokes.  It also has Lauren Hutton, playing a familiar character who would appear in all of Reynolds’s movies, the sophisticate who cannot resist Burt’s good ol’ boy, country charm.  In the 1970s, audiences couldn’t resist Burt’s good old boy charm, either.  Critics hated Gator but it made a lot of money.

Gator is dumb but fun.  The most interesting part of the movie is seeing Jerry Reed playing a ruthless villain.  Reed is thoroughly convincing as a Dixie Mafia crime boss, the type of redneck who earlier inspired Buford Pusser to pick up a baseball bat and destroy pool halls.  One year later, Jerry would play Burt Reynolds’s best friend in Smoky and the Bandit so it’s interesting to see them playing deadly rivals in Gator.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, Burt’s a football player in jail in The Longest Yard.

I Wish I Were A Fish: Don Knotts in THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET (Warner Brothers 1964)


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Don Knotts’ popularity as Deputy Barney Fife on TV’s THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW led to his first starring feature role in THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET. Knotts plays milquetoast Henry Limpet, a hen-pecked hubby and military 4-F who longs to be a fish and magically gets his wish. This Disneyesque fantasy-comedy benefits greatly from Knotts’ vocal talents and the animation of “Looney Tunes” vet Robert McKimson. In fact, the whole film would’ve been better off as a complete cartoon, because the live-action segments directed by Arthur Lubin distract from the aquatic antics of Limpet as an animated fish.

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Lubin was a former Universal contract director noted for five Abbott & Costello films (including their first, BUCK PRIVATES), the Francis the Talking Mule series, and TV’s MR. ED. You’d expect lots of slapstick with a resume like that, but no such luck. Instead, Knotts is put through some domestic paces with shrewish wife Carole Cook…

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Horror On TV: Twilight Zone 1.22 “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”


 

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As Halloween comes to a close, so does both horror month here at the Shattered Lens and our series of televised horrors. What better way to finish out this feature than with one of the best known and most popular episodes of The Twilight Zone?

There’s a lot I could say about The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street but really, all that needs to be acknowledged is that it’s a classic and it features one of the best endings ever. As well, it also contains an important message about paranoia and conformity that remains as relevant today as when the episode was first broadcast.

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street was written by Rod Serling and directed by Ron Winston. The episode was originally broadcast on March 4th, 1960.