Under the Sea: Goliath Awaits (1981, directed by Kevin Connor)


1939.  War is breaking out across Europe.  The British luxury liner Goliath is torpedoed by a German U-boat.  Presumed to be lost with the ship are a swashbuckling film star, Ronald Bentley (John Carradine), and U.S. Senator Oliver Barthowlemew (John McIntire), who may have been carrying a forged letter from Hitler to Roosevelt when the boat went down.

1981.  Oceanographer Peter Cabot (Mark Harmon, with a mustache) comes across the sunken wreck of the Goliath.  When he dives to check out his discovery, he is shocked to hear big band music coming from inside the ship.  He also thinks that he can hear someone tapping out an S.O.S. signal.  When he looks into a porthole, he is stunned to discover a beautiful young woman (Emma Samms) staring back at him.

Under the command of Admiral Sloan (Eddie Albert), who wants to retrieve the forged letter before it does any damage to the NATO alliance, Cabot and Command Jeff Selkirk (Robert Forster) are assigned to head an expedition to explore Goliath.  What they discover is that, for 40 years, the passengers and crew have survived within an air bubble.  Under the leadership of Captain John McKenzie (Christopher Lee), they have created a new, apparently perfect society within the sunken ship.  Cabot discovers that the woman that he saw was McKenzie’s daughter, Lea.

McKenzie is friendly to Cabot and his crew, explaining to them the scientific developments that have allowed the passengers and crew to not only survive but thrive underwater.  The only problems are a group of outcasts — the Bow People — who refuse to follow McKenzie’s orders and Palmer’s Disease, an infection that only seems to infect people who are no longer strong enough to perform the daily tasks necessary to keep McKenzie’s utopia functioning.   Even when people on the boat die, they continue to play their part by being cremated in Goliath’s engine room and helping to power the ship.

Everything seems perfect until Cabot announces that he has come to rescue the survivors of the Goliath.  Even though Goliath is starting to decay and will soon no longer be safe, McKenzie is not ready to give up the perfect society that he’s created.  McKenzie sets out to prevent anyone from escaping the Goliath.

Goliath Awaits is a massive, 3-hour production that was made for television and originally aired over two nights.  (The entire 200-minute production has been uploaded to YouTube.  Avoid the heavily edited, 91-minute version that was released on VHS in the 90s.)  It’s surprisingly good for a made-for-TV movie.  Because a large portion of the film was shot on the RMS Queen Mary, a retired cruise ship that was moored in Long Beach, California, Goliath looks luxurious enough that you understand why some of the passengers might want to stay there instead of returning to the surface.  Beyond that, Goliath Awaits takes the time to fully explore the society that McKenzie has created and what it’s like to live on the ship.  McKenzie may not be as benevolent as he first appears to be but neither is he a one-dimensional villain.

Mark Harmon is a dull lead but Robert Forster is just as cool as always and Christopher Lee is perfect for the role of misguided Capt. McKenzie.  The movie is really stolen by Frank Gorshin, who is coldly sinister as Dan Wesker, the Goliath’s head of security.  McKenzie may by Goliath’s leader but Wesker is the one who does the dirty work necessary to keep the society running.

Goliath Awaits also features several character actors in small roles, with John Carradine, Duncan Regehr, Jean Marsh, John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Alex Cord, Emma Samms, and John Ratzenberger all getting to make a good impression.  (Ignore, if you can, a very young Kirk Cameron as one of the children born on the Goliath.)

Goliath Awaits is far better than your average made-for-TV movie from the 80s.  With any luck, it will someday get the home video release that it deserves.

 

Cold in Them Thar Hills: THE FAR COUNTRY (Universal-International 1955)


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James Stewart and Anthony Mann’s  fourth Western together, 1955’s THE FAR COUNTRY, takes them due North to the Klondike during the Gold Rush of 1896. It’s a bit more formulaic than other Stewart/Mann collaborations, but a strong cast and some gorgeous Technicolor photography by William H. Daniels more than make up for it. The film is definitely worth watching for Western fans, but I’d rank it lowest on the Stewart/Mann totem pole.

Jimmy is Jeff Webster, a headstrong cattleman who drives his herd from Wyoming to Seattle to ship up north to the beef-starved gold miners for a huge profit. Webster killed two men along the way who tried to desert the drive, and barely escapes Seattle before arriving in Skagway, Alaska. There, he unintentionally interrupts a hanging being conducted by crooked town boss ‘Judge’ Gannon, who confiscates Webster’s herd as a fine for spoiling his fun. Webster and his two…

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Dark Western Sky: James Stewart in WINCHESTER ’73 (Universal-International 1950)


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James Stewart  and Anthony Mann made the first of their eight collaborations together with the Western WINCHESTER ’73, a film that helped change both their careers. Nice guy Stewart, Hollywood’s Everyman in Frank Capra movies like MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, took on a more mature, harder-edged persona as Lin McAdam, hunting down the man who killed his father, Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally ). As for Mann, after years of grinding out B-movie noir masterpieces (T-MEN, RAW DEAL ), WINCHESTER ’73 put him on the map as one of the 1950’s top-drawer directors.

The rifle of the title is the movie’s McGuffin, a tool to hold the story together. When McAdam and his friend High Spade (the always welcome character actor Millard Mitchell) track Dutch Henry to Dodge City, the two mortal enemies engage in a shooting contest judged by none other than Wyatt Earp (Will Geer)…

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Shattered Politics #11: The Phenix City Story (dir by Phil Karlson)


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If A Man Called Peter was the epitome of a stereotypical 1950s film, The Phenix City Story is the exact opposite.  Like A Man Called Peter, The Phenix City Story was released in 1955.  And like A Man Called Peter, The Phenix City Story is based on a true story.  However, beyond that, A Man Called Peter and The Phenix City Story might as well have been taking place on different planets.

And, in many ways, they were.  The Phenix City Story not only takes place in Phenix City, Alabama but it was filmed there as well and featured a few actual citizens in the cast.  Not only was The Phenix City Story telling a true story but the story was being told by some of the same people who actually lived through it.  That makes The Phenix City Story brutally realistic, with brutal being the key word.

And, just in case we have any doubt about the film’s authenticity, it actually opens with a 15 minute documentary in which Clete Roberts (who was an actual news reporter) interviews several citizens of the town.  All of them, speaking in thick Alabama accents and nervously eyeing the camera, assure us that what we are about to see is true.  Quite a few of them also tells us that they still live in fear of losing their lives as a result of everything that happened.

What’s amazing is that, once the actual film does get started, it manages to live up to all of that build up.  The Phenix City Story is a shocking film that remains powerful even 60 years after it was initially released.

As the film opens, we’re informed that Phenix City, Alabama is home to some of the most dangerous and violent criminals in the state.  From his club, crime boss Rhett Tanner (Edward Andrews) runs a shadowy organization that not only controls Phenix City but the entire state of Alabama as well.  The police ignore his crimes.  The majority of the town’s citizens are too scared to stand up to him.  When a returning veteran of the Korean War, John Patterson (Richard Kiley), tries to stand up to Tanner, the result is even more violence.  A young black girl is kidnapped and murdered, her body tossed on John’s front lawn as a warning.  John’s best friend is killed but Tanner uses his influence to have the death ruled accidental.

Finally, John and a group of other reformers convince John’s father — Albert Patterson (John McIntire) — to run for Attorney General.  Albert runs on a reform platform and exposes both the corruption of Phenix City and how Tanner’s power extends through the rest of the state as well.  When Albert wins the Democratic primary, he’s gunned down in the street and it’s up to John to avenge his death…

To say that The Phenix City Story is intense would be an understatement.  As directed by Phil Karlson, there’s not a single frame of The Phenix City Story that’s not full of menace and danger.  The stark black-and-white cinematography is full of shadows and the camera moves almost frantically from scene to scene, occasionally catching glimpses of dark figures committing acts of violence and cars speeding away from who knows what outage.  It’s a dark film but, ultimately, it’s also a hopeful one.  It suggests that evil will triumph when good men do nothing but that sometimes you can depend on good men — like Albert and John Patterson — to actually step up.

The Phenix City Story shows up on TCM occasionally and you should keep an eye out for it.  It’s one of the best B-movies ever made.