From The Cinemax Vault: Hidden Obsession (1993, directed by John Stewart)


Hidden Obsession comes to us from the glorious days of late night 90s Cinemax. 

Ellen Carlyle (Heather Thomas) is a TV anchorwoman who is looking forward to taking some time off.  The only problem is that everyone — from a crazed homeless man to an escaped convict that she helped put behind bars — wants to kill her.  She assumes that she’ll be safe if she just spends her vacation in a remote cabin in the mountains.  Fortunately, she’s got Deputy Ben Scanlon to look after her and keep her company in bed.  Unfortunately, Deputy Scanlon is played by Jan-Michael Vincent and Jan-Michael Vincent in a 90s direct-to-video flick is always bad news.  Ellen’s cameraman (Nick Celozzi) discovers that Scanlon is not really who he says he is but will he be able to warn Ellen in time?

By the standards of late night Cinemax, Hidden Obsession is tame.  Ellen Carlye is a role that Shannon Tweed could have worked wonders with but instead, television actress Heather Thomas gives a flat, listless, and usually clothed performance in the starring role.  Fortunately, this movie was made just before Jan-Michael Vincent started his final decline so, even though it is obvious that he had seen better days by the time he got around to playing Ben Scanlon, Vincent is still capable of giving a halfway decent performance.  Vincent throws himself into playing the psycho and he shows that, if not for the liquor and the drugs, he could have had a long and decent career as a B-movie villain.  Imagine if Vincent had been sober enough for Quentin Tarantino to give him the opportunities that he gave to Robert Forster and Michael Parks.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.

“Love hurts!” Ellen says.  It would be easy to say that this film hurts too but it’s really not memorable enough to be so bad that it’s good.  Like Witchtrap and Deadly Compansion, this film’s main appeal is to nostalgia.  These are the type of films that not only used to show up on late night Cinemax but which also lined the walls of your local Blockbuster.  These are movies of a bygone era.  Watch while you still can.

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?

Drive-In Saturday Night 4: WHITE LINE FEVER (Columbia 1975) & HIGH-BALLIN’ (AIP 1978)


cracked rear viewer

Breaker One-Nine, Breaker One-Nine, it’s time to put the hammer down with a pair of Trucksploitation flicks from the sensational 70’s! The CB/Trucker Craze came to be because of two things: the gas crisis of 1973 and the implementation of the new 55 MPH highway speed limit imposed by Big Brother your friendly Federal government. Long-haul truckers used Citizen’s Band radios to give each other updates on nearby fueling stations and speed traps set up by “Smokeys” (aka cops), and the rest of America followed suit.

Country singer C.W. McCall had a massive #1 hit based on CB/trucker lingo with “Convoy”, and the trucker fad was in full swing. There had been trucker movies made before – THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, THIEVES’ HIGHWAY, HELL DRIVERS, and THE WAGES OF FEAR come to mind – but Jonathan Kaplan’s 1975 WHITE LINE FEVER was the first to piggy-back on the new gearjammer…

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A Herman Wouk Double Feature: The Winds of War (1983, directed by Dan Curtis) and War and Remembrance (1988, directed by Dan Curtis)


When the great American novelist Herman Wouk passed away earlier this month at the age of 103, he left behind a rich and varied literary legacy.  From 1947, the year that his first novel was published to 2016, the year that he published his memoirs, Wouk wrote about religion, history, science, and even the movies.  However, Wouk will probably always be best remembered for the three novels that he wrote about World War II.

Based on his own Naval service during World War II, The Caine Mutiny was published in 1951 and was later adapted into both a successful stage play and an Oscar-nominated film.  It also won Wouk a Pulitzer Prize and established him as a major American writer.  Nearly 20 years later, Wouk would return to the history of the Second World War with two of his greatest literary works, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.  (Originally, Wouk was only planning on writing one book about the entire war but when it took him nearly a thousand pages to reach Pearl Harbor, he decided to split the story in two.)  Beginning in 1939 and proceeding all the way through to the end of the war, the two books followed two families, the Henrys and the Jastrows, as they watched the world descend into war. Along the way, the book’s fictional characters rub shoulders with historical characters like Hitler, Churchill, FDR, and even Stalin.  Carefully researched and meticulously detailed, the books were both critically acclaimed and popular with readers and, despite some soapy elements, they both hold up well today.

Given their success, it’s not a surprise that both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance were adapted for television.  Today, HBO would probably give the books the Game of Thrones treatment, with 8 seasons of war, tragedy, romance, and Emmys.  However, this was the 1980s.  This was the age of of the big-budget, all-star cast network miniseries.  Wouk’s epic history of World War II was coming to prime time.

With a total running times of 15 hours, The Winds of War originally aired over seven evenings in 1983.  Produced and directed for ABC by Dan Curtis, The Winds of War had a 962-page script, a 200-day shooting schedule, 285 speaking parts, and a then-record budget of $35,000,000.  It also had Robert Mitchum, starring as Victor “Pug” Henry, an ambitious naval officer who somehow always managed to be in the right place to witness almost all of the events leading up to America’s entry into World War II.  Jan-Michael Vincent played Pug’s son, Byron, while John Houseman took on the pivotal role Aaron Jastrow, a Jewish scholar though whose eyes the home audience would witness the rise of fascism in Europe.  Terribly miscast as Natalie, Aaron’s niece and Byron’s lover, was 44 year-old Ali MacGraw.  Among those playing historical figures were Ralph Bellamy as FDR, Howard Lang as Churchill, and Gunter Meisner as Hitler.

I recently watched The Winds of War on DVD and, despite some glaring flaws that I’ll get to later, it holds up well as both a history of World War II and a tribute to those who battled Hitler’s evil.  Like Wouk’s novels, the miniseries does a good job of breaking down not only how Hitler came to power but also why the rest of the world was often in denial about what was happening.  Watching the entire miniseries in one setting can be overwhelming.  It’s a big production and it is also unmistakably a product of a time when the major networks didn’t have to worry about competition from cable.  It takes its time but, in the end, you’re glad that it did.  All of the little details can get exhausting but they’re important to understanding just how Hitler was able to catch the world off-guard.

Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali MacGraw in The Winds of War

The miniseries does suffer due to the miscasting of some key roles.  Both Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali MacGraw were far too old for their roles.  Vincent was 38 and MacGraw was 44 when they were cast as naive and idealistic lovers trying to find themselves in Europe.  It’s perhaps less of a problem for Vincent, who had yet to lose his looks to alcoholism and who looked enough like Robert Mitchum that he could pass as Mitchum’s son.  But MacGraw is simply terrible in her role, flatly delivering her lines and looking more like Vincent’s mother than his lover.  It’s particularly jarring when she mockingly calls diplomat Leslie Sloat “Old Sloat,” because Sloat was played by David Dukes, who was six years younger than MacGraw.

67 year-old Robert Mitchum was also much too old to play an ambitious junior officer, one whose main goal in life is still to ultimately become an admiral.  When he ends up having an affair with a younger British journalist played by 30ish Victoria Tennant, the difference in their ages is even more pronounced than in Wouk’s novel.  (Pug was in his 40s in The Winds of War.)  However, Mitchum overcomes his miscasting by virtue of his natural gravitas.  With his weary presence and authoritative voice, Mitchum simply is Pug.

A ratings hit and a multiple Emmy nominee, The Winds of War was followed up five years later by War and Remembrance.  Like its predecessor, War and Remembrance set records.  The script ran 1,492 pages and featured 356 speaking parts.  The production employed 44,000 extras and filming took nearly two years, from January of 1986 to September of 1987.  With a budget of $104 million, it was the most expensive television production to date.  The final miniseries had a 30-hour running time, which was divided over 12 nights.  War and Remembrance not only made history because of its cost and length but also as the first major production to be allowed to film on location at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  For many members of the generation born after the end of World War II, War and Remembrance would serve as their first introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Director Dan Curtis returned and with him came Robert Mitchum, now in his 70s and still playing a junior naval officer.  David Dukes once again played the hapless diplomat, Leslie Sloat.  Ralph Bellamy also returned as FDR as did Victoria Tennant as Mitchum’s lover, Polly Bergen as Mitchum’s wife, and Peter Graves as Bergen’s lover.  However, they were the exception.  The majority of the original cast was replaced for the sequel, in most cases for the better.  With John Houseman too ill to reprise his role, John Gielgud took over the role of Aaron Jastrow while Hart Bochner replaced the famously troubled Jan-Michael Vincent.  Robert Hardy took over the role of Churchill while Hitler was recast with Steven Berkoff.  Best of all, Jane Seymour replaced Ali MacGraw in the role of Natalie and gave the best performance of her career.  Other characters were played by a mix of up-and-comers to tv veterans, with the cast eventually including everyone from Barry Bostwick and Sharon Stone to E.G. Marshall and Ian McShane.

Jane Seymour and John Gielgud

With a stronger cast and (ironically, considering the running length) a more focused storyline, War and Remembrance is superior to The Winds of War in every way.  That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, of course.  The scenes featuring Barry Bostwick as a submarine commander feel as if they go on forever and Robert Mitchum still seems like he should be preparing for retirement instead of angling for a promotion.  But none of that matters when the miniseries focuses on Aaron and Natalie Jastrow and their struggle to survive life in the Theresienstadt Ghetto and eventually Auschwitz.  At the time that War and Remembrance was initially broadcast, the concentration camp scenes were considered to be highly controversial and many viewers complained that they were so disturbing that they should not have been aired during prime time.  (This was four years before Schindler’s List.)  Seen today, those scenes are the most important part of the film.  Not only do they show why the war had to be fought but they also demand that the world never allow such a thing to happen again.

Though it was considered by a rating disappointment when compared to its predecessor, War and Remembrance was still a multiple-Emmy nominee.  Controversially, it defeated Lonesome Dove for Best Miniseries.  Both Winds of War and War and Remembrance have been released on DVD and, like the books that inspired them, they both hold up well.  They pay tribute to not only those who fought the Nazis but also to the humanistic vision of Herman Wouk.

Herman Wouk (1915-2019)

All Hail Jan-Michael Vincent: Red Line (1996, directed by John Sjogren)


Jan-Michael Vincent, back in the day

When Jan-Michael Vincent died on February 10th, we lost a legend.

For obvious reasons, the life and career of Jan-Michael Vincent is often held up as a cautionary tale.  Vincent went from being a rising star in the 70s to being nearly unemployable in the 90s.  When you watch Vincent in one of his early film, like The Mechanic or Big Wednesday, you see an actor who had both the talent and the looks to be a major star.  He was such a natural and deceptively low-key performer that it is not a surprise that he was twice cast as Robert Mitchum’s son.  He could play everyone from a hippie to a cowboy to a surfer to an assassin.  Unfortunately, once the 80s rolled around, Vincent became better known for his struggles with drugs and alcohol than for his talent.  After a brief but profitable stint starring in Airwolf, Jan-Michael Vincent found himself appearing mostly in straight-to-video action films.  By the mid-90s, he was a mainstay on late night Cinemax.  Even though the films had gotten smaller and his famous good looks had been ravaged by years of hard living, Vincent was still capable of giving a good performance.

It is impossible to talk about the legend of Jan-Michael Vincent without talking about Red Line.  In this direct-to-video car chase film, Vincent was cast as a gangster named Keller.  When an auto mechanic named Jim (Chad “Son of Steve” McQueen) makes the mistake of taking one of Keller’s cars for a joyride, Keller blackmails Jim into stealing a corvette from a police impound lot.  Red Line was typical of the type of films that Vincent was usually offered in the 90s, an action-filled crime film with a handful of recognizable faces.

It was also a film that Vincent nearly didn’t live to make.  Two days before filming was to begin, Jan-Michael Vincent was nearly killed when he crashed his motorcycle.  Vincent suffered severe facial lacerations and he would later tell Howard Stern that his eye was nearly popped out of his head as a result of the accident.  Vincent was rushed to the hospital and put in intensive care.

However, Jan-Michael Vincent still had a movie to make.  So, what did he do?  Two days after his accident, he checked himself out of the hospital and, unexpectedly, showed up on set.  With his face noticeable bruised and swollen and with the stitches and sutures still visible, Vincent played the role of Keller.  If you watch carefully, you can even spot his hospital ID, still hanging around his wrist.  The script was hastily rewritten to explain Vincent’s injuries and, though he could barely speak or walk, he still delivered his lines and filmed his scenes.  And goddamn if Jan-Michael Vincent didn’t steal the entire movie.  Even after years of hard-living (not to mention just two days after nearly dying), Jan-Michael Vincent still had it.  Even though he had to whisper his lines and film most of his scenes sitting down, Vincent was still credibly threatening in the role of Keller. He even points out his own injuries, saying, “I’m sick of looking like Frankenstein!”

Jan-Michael Vincent in Red Line

The rest of the cast was made up of an eclectic collection of familiar faces.  Dom DeLuise played Chad McQueen’s boss.  Michael Madsen and Corey Feldman (!) both played rival gangsters while Roxanna Zal played the young woman who becomes McQueen’s partner in crime.  B-movie fans will want to keep an eye out for Julie Strain, Robert Z’Dar, and Chuck Zito.  None of them make as much of an impression as Vincent, though.

Red Line was meant to be an homage to the type of car chase films that Steve McQueen made famous.  Chad McQueen even gets to drive a replica of the car that his father drove in Bullitt.  Some of the chase scenes are exciting but Chad doesn’t have his father’s screen presence and the film never overcomes its low-budget.  Watching the movie is a lot like watching someone else play Grand Theft Auto.  Red Line is a forgettable movie but it will always be remembered as an important chapter in the legend of Jan-Michael Vincent.

Jan-Michael Vincnet, RIP

RIP Jan-Michael Vincent: A Pictorial Tribute


Because ‘4 Shots’ just weren’t enough…

cracked rear viewer

Jan-Michael Vincent has passed away at age 74. Though the actor suffered many trials and tribulations in his personal life, there’s no doubt his onscreen presence connected with audiences of the 70’s and 80’s. In his honor, we present ten shots from the film and TV career of Jan-Michael Vincent:

Tribes (TV-Movie 1970; D: Joseph Sargent)

Going Home (1971; D: Herbert B. Leonard)

The Mechanic (1972; D: Michael Winner)

The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973; D: Robert Scheerer)

White Line Fever (1975; D: Jonathan Kaplan)

Damnation Alley (1977; D: Jack Smight)

Big Wednesday (1978; D: John Milius)

Defiance (1980; D: John Flynn)

The Winds of War (TV-Miniseries 1983; D: Dan Curtis)

Airwolf (TV Series, 1984-87)

Rest in peace, Jan-Michael Vincent (1944-2019)

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The Conquering Hero: Baby Blue Marine (1976, directed by John D. Hancock)


The year is 1943 and America is at war.  All young men are expected to join the Marines and fight for their country but the Corps is not willing to accept just anyone.  Marion (Jan-Michael Vincent) wants to continue a family tradition of service but, as his drill sergeant (Michael Conrad) puts it, Marion just is not pissed off enough to be a Marine.  Marion is kicked out basic training and told to go home.  He is given a blue uniform to wear on his jury so that anyone who sees him will know that he couldn’t cut it.

Ashamed of his failure and in no hurry to confront his family, Marion takes the long route home.   While having a drink in California, he meets a Marine (Richard Gere) who did not get kicked out of basic training.  Though not yet 30, this shell-shocked Marine already has a head of gray hair, which he says he got from the horrors of war.  The Marine is due to return to the fighting in Europe but, upon meeting Marion, he sees a way out. When Marion gets drunk, the Marine knocks him out, switches uniforms with him, and goes AWOL.

When Marion comes to, he discovers that everyone that he meets now judges him by his new uniform.  Strangers buy him drinks.  Other servicemen try to pick fights with him.  When he stops off in a small Colorado town, a local waitress (Glynnis O’Connor) falls in love with him and nearly everyone that he meets assumes that he must be a hero.  Marion doesn’t exactly lie about his past.  Instead, he simply allows people to believe whatever they want to believe about him.  It seems like an idyllic situation until three prisoners from a nearby Japanese internment camp escape and the towns people expect Marion to help capture them.

Loosely plotted and sentimental, Baby Blue Marine is a dramatic version of Preston Sturges’s Hail The Conquering Hero.  Though the film has a gentle anti-war message, it’s actually more about nostalgia for a simpler and more innocent time.  If the film had been made at height of the Vietnam War, it might have been more angrier and more cynical.  But, instead, this is one of the many post-Watergate films that wistfully looked back upon the past.  When Marion settles into the town, he finds what appears to be a perfect and friendly home.  Only the nearby internment camp and the town’s hysteria over the escape prisoners serve as reminders that things are never as ideal as they seem.  Jan-Michael Vincent gives one of his best performances as the well-meaning Marion and actors like Richard Gere, Bert Remsen, Katherine Helmond, Dana Elcar, Michael Conrad, Bruno Kirby, and Art Lund all make strong impressions in small roles.

One of the few films to be produced by television mogul Aaron Spelling, Baby Blue Marine is not easy to find but worth the search.