All That Glitters Is Not Gold: Jane Russell in THE LAS VEGAS STORY (RKO 1952)

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Jane Russell’s  sexy as always, but THE LAS VEGAS STORY falls flatter than the proverbial pancake. This dull little crime drama boasts a good cast and some good moments, but on the whole doesn’t satisfy. One of the problems is Jane’s co-star Victor Mature, who tries but can’t match the cynicism frequent Russell co-star Robert Mitchum would’ve brought to the role of Jane’s jilted ex-lover, now a cop in the City of Sin. The most interesting thing about THE LAS VEGAS STORY is it’s screenplay credits, which we’ll get to later.


When ex-lounge singer Linda Rollins (Russell) returns to Vegas with husband Lloyd (a subdued but still sarcastic Vincent Price ), she visits her old stomping ground the Last Chance, where she’s greeted by piano player Happy (Hoagy Carmichael) and former boss Mike Fogarty (Will Wright), who’s been bought out by new owner Clayton (Robert J. Wilke). Police lieutenant Dave Andrews (Mature)…

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The Origin of Billy Jack: BORN LOSERS (AIP 1967)

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The character Billy Jack, star of the wildly popular 1971 film (and its two sequels), made his debut in this 1967 exploitation flick about a sociopathic biker gang and the lone man who stands up to them. Tom Laughlin, a minor figure in Hollywood at the time who had appeared in GIDGET and THE DELINQUENTS, conceived the character way back in 1954. Unable to get his original screenplay produced, he and co-star Elizabeth James banged out this motorcycle drama and he was given the opportunity to direct by American International Pictures, always on the lookout to make a quick exploitation buck.


The Born Losers are a degenerate gang of outlaw bikers terrorizing the small town of Big Rock. Ex-Green Beret Billy Jack, a half-breed Indian back from ‘Nam, saves a local kid from getting an ass kicking by breaking out his rifle, winds up the one locked up and given 120 days in jail or $1,000…

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Double Dynamite: Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell in MACAO (RKO 1952)

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Even though 1951’s HIS KIND OF WOMAN lost money (mainly due to studio boss Howard Hughes’ meddling), Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell were reteamed the following year in MACAO. The film was actually sitting on the RKO shelf, having been completed in 1950. Once again, the autocratic Hughes wasn’t pleased with the original version, and fired credited director Josef von Sternberg, replacing him with Nicholas Ray. Mitchum himself even contributed to rewriting some scenes. The result is an entertaining noir that, while not quite as good as HIS KIND OF WOMAN, still manages to hold your interest.


On a boat from Hong Kong, drifter Nick Cochran (Mitchum) meets grifter Julie Benson (Russell), who lifts his wallet. The pair also meet Lawrence C. Trumble (William Bendix), a salesman specializing in “nylons, pearl buttons, coconut oil, and fertilizer”.  The three are headed to Macao, “The Monte Carlo of the Orient” (actually the RKO backlot), for various reasons…

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Pounded to Death by Gorillas: HIS KIND OF WOMAN (RKO 1951)

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People don’t go to the movies to see how miserable the world is; they go there to eat popcorn, be happy“- Wynton (Jim Backus) in HIS KIND OF WOMAN

Right you are, Mr. Howell, err Backus. There’s an abundance of fun to be had in HIS KIND OF WOMAN, the quintessential RKO/Robert Mitchum movie. Big Bob costars with sexy Jane Russell in a convoluted tale that’s part film noir, part Monty Python, with an outstanding all-star cast led by Vincent Price serving up big slices of ham as a self-obsessed movie star. And the backstory behind HIS KIND OF WOMAN is as entertaining as the picture itself!


But we’ll go behind the scenes later. First, let’s look at the movie’s plot. We meet down on his luck gambler Dan Milner (Mitchum) in a bar…. drinking milk! Dan just got done doing a 30 day stretch in a Palm Springs jail…

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Shattered Politics #24: The Born Losers (dir by Tom Laughlin)

Born Losers

For the past few days, I’ve been in the process of reviewing 94 films about politics and politicians.  With that in mind, you may be wondering why, after reviewing films like The Last Hurrah, Sunrise at Campobello, and Advise & Consent, I am now reviewing a 1967 biker film called The Born Losers.

It all comes down to Billy Jack.  In the 70s, Tom Laughlin would write, direct, and star in two hit films — Billy Jack and The Trial of Billy Jack.  In these films, Laughlin played the title character.  Billy Jack was everything that you could hope for in a counter-culture hero.  First off, as an American Indian, he was an authentic American as opposed to just another European intruder.  He was a war hero, who had served as a Green Beret in Vietnam.  He often carried a gun with him, which meant that he understood and supported the 2nd Amendment and good for him!  Billy Jack was also a master of hapkido, which meant that he could kick ass in the most visually appealing way possible.

Even more importantly, Billy Jack called the Man out on his racism and his intolerance.  Billy Jack was an environmental activist before anyone else.  Billy Jack went on vision quests.  Billy Jack was anti-war.  Billy Jack was a pacifist.  And, of course, Billy Jack ended up killing a lot of people but they were all bad guys.

By making and distributing Billy Jack himself, Laughlin became an independent film pioneer and made history.  He also became a counter-culture hero and Billy Jack remains a cult figure even today.  But what a lot of people don’t realize is that Billy Jack first appeared in Born Losers and that, in the little seen Billy Jack Goes To Washington, he eventually ended up serving in the U.S. Senate.

When you consider that Billy Jack would eventually be Sen. Jack, that means the Born Losers isn’t just a low-budget, violent biker film.  Instead, it’s the exploitation version of Young Mr. Lincoln.  It’s a chance to see what Billy Jack was doing before he became a statesman.

(And rest assured, the other three Billy Jack films will be reviewed before Shattered Politics ends.)

As we discover at the start of Born Losers, pre-politics Billy Jack was just an enigmatic veteran who lived in the mountains of California.  When we first see Billy, he’s walking along a grassy hill.  A deer safely runs by the camera.  A rabbit pops its head out of a hole in the ground and looks relieved to see Billy.  If I’m being a little bit snarky, it’s because I’ve seen all of the Billy Jack films and I know how often this exact scene is played out over the course of the franchise.  But, in all fairness, it’s actually a fairly well-done and visually appealing scene and, as an actor, Laughlin had the presence to pull it off.

A far less pretty scene is occurring in the town of Big Rock, where teenagers are showing up to hang out on the beach and are being harassed by a group of bikers, the Born Losers of the title.  The Born Losers are an odd collection of bikers, with half of them looking like extras from Sons of Anarchy and the other half looking like the type of hipsters that I always see whenever I go to a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse.  Their leader (Jeremy Slate) is named Danny but the rest of the gang are known by their nicknames.

(For instance, there’s Crabs.  Why is he called Crabs?  “Because he’s got them!” Danny helpfully explains.)

After the Born Losers rape four girls, they launch a campaign of violence and intimidation to keep the girls from testifying in court.  Billy comes to the aid of one of the girls, Vicky (Elizabeth James, who also wrote the script).  I related to Vicky, largely because she does things like ride a motorcycle while wearing a white bikini, which is exactly the sort of thing that I would do if I lived in California.

Now, there’s a lot of negative things that I could say about Born Losers.  It’s talky.  With the exception of Laughlin and Slate, it’s obvious that the majority of the cast was made up of amateurs.  The final half of the film drags as you wait for an ending that you have probably already predicted.

But you know what?

I actually like The Born Losers.  Hidden underneath all of the exploitation trappings and heavy-handed moralizing, this is a very sincere film.  Whatever they may have lacked in budget or subtlety, Laughlin’s films made up for in sincerity.  And, as strange as it may be to say about a film that features four rapes and is padded out with a thoroughly gratuitous striptease, The Born Losers is not a misogynistic film.  Both Laughlin the director and Billy Jack the character are on the side of the victims of the Born Losers and when the film calls out society for blaming the victims instead of the rapists, it does so with a fury that elevates the entire film above your typical 1967 biker film.

And, while I don’t know if I’d ever vote for Billy Jack, there’s nobody I’d rather have on my side.