An Offer You Can’t Refuse #6: King of the Roaring 20s: The Story of Arnold Rothstein (dir by Joseph M. Newman)


The 1961 gangster biopic, King of the Roaring ’20s: The Story of Arnold Rothstein, tells the story of two men.

David Janssen is Arnold Rothstein, the gambler-turned-millionaire crime lord who, in the early years of the 20th Century, was one of the dominant figures in American organized crime.  Though he may be best-remembered for his alleged role in fixing the 1918 World Series, Rothstein also served as a mentor to men like Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Bugsy Siegel.  Rothstein was perhaps the first gangster to to treat crime like a business.

Mickey Rooney is Johnny Burke, Arnold’s best friend from childhood who grows up to be a low-level hood and notoriously unsuccessful gambler.  Whereas Arnold is intelligent, cunning, and always calm, Johnny always seems to be a desperate.  Whereas Arnold’s success is due to his ability to keep a secret, Johnny simply can’t stop talking.

Together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  They both commit crimes, sometimes together and sometimes apart.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Arnold turns out to be a better criminal than Johnny.  In fact, Johnny is always in over his head.  He often has to go to his friend Arnold and beg him for his help.  Johnny does this even though Arnold continually tells him, “I only care about myself and money.”

The friendship between Arnold and Johnny is at the heart of King of the Roaring 20s, though it’s not much of a heart since every conversation they have begins with Johnny begging Arnold for help and ends with Arnold declaring that he only cares about money.  At a certain point, it’s hard not to feel that Johnny is bringing a lot of this trouble on himself by consistently seeking help from someone who brags about not helping anyone.  From the minute that the film begins, Arnold Rothstein’s mantra is that he only cares about money, gambling, and winning a poker game with a royal flush.  Everything else — from his friendship to Johnny to his marriage to former showgirl Carolyn Green (Dianne Foster) to even his violent rivalry with crooked cop Phil Butler (Dan O’Herlihy) — comes second to his own greed.  The film’s portrayal of Rothstein as being a single-minded and heartless sociopath may be a convincing portrait of the type of mindset necessary to be a successful crime lord but it hardly makes for a compelling protagonist.

Oddly enough, the film leaves out a lot of the things that the real-life Arnold Rothstein was best known for.  There’s no real mention of Rothstein fixing the World Series. His mentorship to Luciano, Lansky, and Seigel is not depicted.  The fact that Rothstein was reportedly the first gangster to realize how much money could be made off of bootlegging goes unacknowledged.  By most reports, Arnold Rothstein was a flamboyant figure.  (Meyer Wolfsheim, the uncouth gangster from The Great Gatsby, was reportedly based on him.)   There’s nothing flamboyant about David Janssen’s performance in this film.  He plays Rothstein as being a tightly-wound and rather unemotional businessman.  It’s not a bad performance as much as it just doesn’t feel right for a character who, according to the film’s title, was the King of the Roaring 20s.

That said, there are still enough pleasures to be found in this film to make it worth watching.  As if to make up for Janssen’s subdued performance, everyone else in the cast attacks the scenery with gusto.  Mickey Rooney does a good job acting desperate and Dan O’Herlihy is effectively villainous as the crooked cop.  Jack Carson has a few good scenes as a corrupt political fixer and Dianne Foster does the best that she can with the somewhat thankless role of Rothstein’s wife.  The film moves quickly and, even if it’s not as violent as the typical gangster film, it does make a relevant point about how organized crime became a big business.

It’s not a great gangster film by any stretch of the imagination and the lead role is miscast but there’s still enough about this film that works to make it worth a watch for gangster movie fans.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening

Hijack! (1973, directed by Leonard Horn)


Jake (David Janssen) is a down-on-his-luck trucker who is offered job by a mysterious man named Kleiner (WIlliam Schallert).  If Jake agrees to transport a cargo across the country, he will get not only $6,000 but Kleiner will also pull some strings get Jake back in the good graces of the trucking company.  If Jake takes the job, he will be given a slip of paper with a phone number on it and, according to Kleiner, that piece of paper will get him out of any trouble that he runs into along the way.  The only condition is that Jake is not allowed to know what he’ll be transporting.  Jake agrees and soon, he and his partner Donny (Keenan Wynn) are driving the truck through the desert.  They are also being followed by a group of men who will stop at nothing to steal the cargo.

This made-for-TV movie is called Hijack! but no one ever gets hijacked.  Instead, with the exception of a brief romantic interlude between Jake and a truck stop waitress (Lee Purcell), this is a nonstop chase movie but the chase itself is never exciting enough to justify that exclamation mark in the title.  It was probably made to capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg’s made-for-TV classic, Duel, but it never come close to capturing the nerve or intensity of that film.  There’s one good scene where the bad guys come after the truck in a helicopter but otherwise, this is a pretty anemic stuff.  Even the eventual reveal of what Jake and Donny are hauling across the desert is a let down.

David Janssen specialized in playing grizzled loners and Keenan Wynn specialized in playing eccentric old coots so both of them are adequate in the main roles.  The bad guys are largely forgettable and, as she did in so many other TV movies in the 70s, Lee Purcell brings what life that she can to an underwritten role.

Horror on TV: Kolchak 1.16 “Demon In Lace” (dir by Don Weis)


Tonight, on Kolchak….

Young college students are dying of heart attacks and Carl Kolchak is on the case!  Could it be just a coincidence?  Could it be drugs?  Could it be anything other than a Sumerian demon?  Well, if you know Kolchak, you already know the answer to that question!

This episode originally aired on February 7th, 1975.

Enjoy!

Horror On TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.9 “The Spanish Moss Murders” (dir by Gordon Hessler)


Tonight, on Kolchak….

People are turning up dead.  Well, what else is new?  That’s pretty much been the plot of every Kolchak episode so far.  However, this time, they’re turning up dead while covered with Spanish moss!

Oh my God, could it be the Cajuns?

Well, as a matter of fact, it is.  As Kolchak discovers when he investigates, all of the dead people were somehow connected to a comatose Cajun….

Richard Kiel, who played the monster in the previous episode of Kolchak, returns here to play yet another monster.

The episode originally aired on December 6th, 1974!

Drive-In Saturday Night 2: BIKINI BEACH (AIP 1964) & PAJAMA PARTY (AIP 1964)


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Welcome back to Drive-In Saturday Night! Summer’s here, and the time is right for a double dose of American-International teen flicks, so pull in, pull up a speaker to hang on your car window, and enjoy our first feature, 1964’s BIKINI BEACH, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello:

BIKINI BEACH is the third of AIP’s ‘Beach Party’ movies, and this one’s a typical hodgepodge of music, comedy, and the usual teenage shenanigans. The gang’s all here, heading to the beach on spring break for surfing and swinging. This time around, there’s a newcomer on the sand, British rock star The Potato Bug, with Frankie playing a dual role. Potato Bug is an obvious spoof of the big Beatlemania fever sweeping the country, with all the beach chicks (or “birds”, as he calls ’em) screaming whenever PB starts singing one of his songs, complete with Lennon/McCartney-esque “Wooos” and “Yeah, yeah, yeahs”…

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Stone Cold: Charles Bronson in THE MECHANIC (United Artists 1972)


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Stone-faced Charles Bronson is perfect as an ice-cold, classical music loving hit man who mentors young Jan-Michael Vincent in 1972’s THE MECHANIC. I’d say this is one of Charlie’s best 70’s actioners, but let’s be serious – they’re ALL damn entertaining!

Arthur Bishop (Bronson) takes his work seriously, meticulously planning every assignment he receives from his Mafia boss (Frank De Kova ). Given a job to kill family friend Big Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynn), Bishop does the deed with chilling precision. McKenna’s son Steve (Vincent) is a stone-cold sociopath himself, and soon worms his way into becoming Bishop’s apprentice. Their first caper together goes sour, bringing Bishop’s boss much displeasure. Bishop’s next hit takes the two overseas to Naples, where they’re set up to be killed themselves, resulting in a violent conclusion and a deliciously deadly twist ending.

Bronson, after over twenty years and 50 plus movie roles, became…

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The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Dark (dir by John “Bud” Cardos)


Some of y’all may have noticed that, whenever I don’t have much to say about a movie, I’ll usually start things about be praising either the film’s title or its poster art.

With that in mind, the 1979 film The Dark has got a great title.  I mean, what self-respecting horror film could actually resist a movie called The Dark?  It’s a title that promises horror and blood and no holds barred morbidity!  And really, the title is so brilliant that it almost doesn’t matter that the film itself come no where close to delivering.

And finally, just check out the poster art!

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Seriously, that’s a great poster!  If I had been alive in 1979, I totally would have wanted to see this movie just because of the poster.  Not only is the film called The Dark but the poster literally promises that this movie is going to be — and I quote — “A chilling tale of alien terror!”

Woo hoo!

Of course, The Dark didn’t start out as a chilling tale of alien terror.  The Dark is one of those films where what happened behind the camera is far more interesting than what was actually filmed.  The story behind The Dark is a classic tale of low-budget, exploitation filmmaking:

Originally, The Dark was going to be a story about a zombie decapitating people in Los Angeles.  The zombie had once been a Confederate soldier who ended up resorting to cannibalism.  As originally envisioned, the Dark would feature numerous scenes of that dead Confederate wandering around with a big axe that it would use to chop off heads.

Tobe Hooper, who was hot as a result of having directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was brought in to direct.  However, after just a few days of shooting, he was replaced.  Depending on which version you read, Hooper was either fired or he walked off the set.  Either way, all accounts seem to agree that Hooper didn’t see eye-to-eye with the film’s producers.  (One of those producers was Dick Clark, the same guy who always used to host ABC’s New Year’s special.)

With Hooper gone, a new director was brought in.  That director was John “Bud” Cardos, who had previously had a drive-in hit with Kingdom of the Spiders.  Cardos finished the film but he had no emotional investment in it and that’s obvious when you watch The Dark today.  Visually, The Dark looks and feels like an old cop show, the type that you might expect to turn up on a cable station that is specifically programmed to appeal to the elderly.

The film that Cardos completed featured a Confederate zombie with an axe.  However, the producers showed that film to a preview audience and quickly discovered that nobody cared about a Confederate with an axe.

So, they made some changes.

At the time, Alien was the most popular film at the box office so the producers thought, “Why not add some special effects, redub some dialogue, and make our Confederate zombie into an alien?”  Sure, why not?

Hastily, The Dark was reedited.  All shots featuring the zombie with an axe were removed from the film.  Instead, whenever the monster attacked, the film now featured a freeze frame of the monster’s face with some hastily added laser beams shooting out of his eyes.  This would be followed by a freeze frame of the victim and stock footage of an explosion….

(That said, there’s still plenty of references to the alien removing people’s heads…)

Interestingly, there’s still a scene in the film in which a police detective suggests that the creature might be a zombie.  “Zom-bies!?” his superior yells, “I don’t want to hear those two words again!”  Well, don’t worry.  It’s not a zombie!  It’s an alien!

(You do have to wonder why an alien would be wearing jeans and flannel shirt but, then again, why would a Confederate zombie be wearing jeans and a flannel shirt?  It’s a strange world.)

As you’ve probably already guessed, The Dark is a bit of a mess.  The alien is going around Los Angeles and blowing people up.  (Though a few times, he also rips off their heads because … well, we already went into that.)  The father of one of the victims is a burned out writer and he’s played by William Devane.  (This is the same William Devane who has played the President in nearly every movie and TV show ever made.  Words cannot begin to express how bored Devane appears to be in this movie.  Oddly, with his hair long and graying, Devane bears an uncanny resemblance to Law & Order SVU‘s Richard Belzer.)  The father is investigating, even though the lead detective (played by Richard Jaeckel) tells him not to.  A reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby) is also investigating.  And then there’s a psychic (Jacquelyne Hyde) and the psychic somehow knows what the monster is and who is going to die next.

The characters do eventually cross paths.  When the detective meets the reporter, the detective announces that he’s going to kill the killer.  “38 caliber justice?” the reporter replies.  “If he’s dead, he can’t kill again!” the detective explains and he kind of has a point.

(Making it even stranger is that, while the detective and the reporter talk, there’s a political protest gong on behind them.  The protest consists of people jumping up and down.)

It’s all really messy because, while watching the movie, you get the feeling that none of the actors knew what anyone else was filming.  It’s like six different films with six different tones and they’ve all been smashed together.  It’s also not particularly scary because ultimately, the zombie alien is just a freeze frame with some hastily added laser beams.  (It doesn’t help that the lasers occasionally go “pew pew” when they’re fired.)

But still, The Dark is a great title for a movie.

Boldly Going Indeed! : PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW (MGM 1971)


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Gene Roddenberry’s post-STAR TREK career  had pretty much gone down the tubes. The sci-fi series had been a money loser, and Roddenberry wasn’t getting many offers. Not wanting to be pigeonholed in the science fiction ghetto, he produced and wrote the screenplay for PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a black comedy skewering the sexual revolution, with French New Wave director Roger Vadim making his first American movie. The result was an uneven yet entertaining film that would never get the green light today with its theme of horny teachers having sex with horny high school students!

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All-American hunk Rock Hudson was in the middle of a career crisis himself. After spending years as Doris Day’s paramour in a series of fluffy comedies, his box office clout was at an all-time low. Taking the role of Tiger McGrew, the guidance counselor/football coach whose dalliances with the cheerleading squad leads to murder…

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Let’s Get Physical: Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK (MGM 1967)


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Lee Marvin  was one tough son of a bitch both onscreen and off, awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded by a machine gun blast in WWII.  The ex-Marine stumbled into acting post-war, and Hollywood beckoned in the 1950’s. His imposing presence typecast him as a villain in films like HANGMAN’S KNOT, THE BIG HEAT , and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK. A three season stint in TV’s M SQUAD brought Marvin more acclaim, and he solidified that with his Oscar-winning role in CAT BALLOU, parodying his own tough-guy image. Marvin was now a star that could call his own shots, and used that clout in POINT BLANK, throwing out the script and collaborating with a young director he had faith in, John Boorman.

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POINT BLANK is a highly stylized revenge drama centering on Marvin’s character of Walker. The nightmarish opening sequence shows how Walker was left for dead on deserted Alcatraz Island by…

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The Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Manipulator (dir by Yabo Yablonsky)


Mickey Rooney is ... THE MANIPULATOR!

Mickey Rooney is … THE MANIPULATOR!

Up until recently, I firmly believed that Love and Other Drugs was the most annoying movie ever made.  But then, a few nights ago, I cracked open my Mill Creek 50 Drive In Movie Classic box set and I watched a little film from 1971.  I was just looking for a horror film to review for October.  Little did I know that I would soon be watching the most annoying movie ever made!

The name of that movie?

The Manipulator.

The star of that movie?

Mickey Freaking Rooney.

In The Manipulator, Mickey plays B.J. Lang, a former Hollywood makeup artist who has had a mental breakdown.  He now lives in a dusty warehouse, surrounded by old movie props and mannequins.  B.J. spends a lot of time talking to himself and trying on makeup.  Sometimes, he wears a fake nose and pretends that he’s Cyrano de Bergerac.  And then, at other times, he imagines all of his mannequins coming to life and taunting him.  (It’s kind of like the final scene of Maniac, except nobody’s head gets ripped off.)  Occasionally, he has weird flashbacks, which are all about giving the filmmaker an excuse to utilize the fish-eye lens and psychedelic lighting.

Eventually, we learn that BJ (and, as I watched the film, I kept wondering if his name was supposed to make viewers think about oral sex) is not alone in his warehouse.  There’s a woman (Luana Anders) who is being held prisoner.  He has her tied up in a chair and, whenever she begs to eat, he feeds her baby food.  BJ calls her Carlotta, though that’s apparently not actually her name.  The woman yells a lot.  Her first five minutes of screen time consist of her repeating, “MR. LAAAAAAAAAANG” over and over again.

BJ spends most of his time delivering monologues about how Hollywood used to be and occasionally, he demands that Carlotta help him put on a play.  At one point, BJ appears to have a heart attack and this leads to Carlotta going, “DON’T DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEE, MR. LAAAAAAAAANG” over and over again.

And then a homeless bum (Keenan Wynn) shows up and wanders about for five minutes before dying.

The problem with writing about a film like The Manipulator is that, just by describing the plot, you make it sound more interesting than it actually is.  You’re probably reading this and thinking, “Wow, this sounds really weird!  I need to see it at least once…”

No, you don’t.  It may sound weird but ultimately, it’s more emptily pretentious than anything else.  This was both director Yabo Yablonsky’s first and final film and there is not a single camera trick that he does not employ.  We get the weird angles, the random moments of slow motion, the even more random moments when the film is suddenly sped up, the extreme close-ups, the sudden blackouts, the ragged jump cuts, and, of course, lots of rack focus and zoom lens use.  Compared to The Manipulator, the direction of Getting Straight appears to be mild and conventional!  The film does feature three talented performers but none of them seem to have the slightest idea what the movie is about or who they are supposed to be playing.  In particular, both Rooney and Wynn seem to be making up their dialogue as they go along.

And really, that’s why The Manipulator is so annoying.  It should have, at the very least, been an insane misfire.  Instead, it’s just boring.

Sorry, Mickey.

Mickey Rooney Again