An Offer You Can Refuse #5: The Happening (dir by Elliot Silverstein)


The 1967 film, The Happening, opens with two “young” people — Sureshot (Michael Parks) and Sandy (Faye Dunaway) — waking up on a Florida beach.  The previous night, they attended a party so wild that the beach is full of passed out people, one of whom apparently fell asleep while standing on his head.  (It’s a happening!)  From the dialogue, we discover that, despite their impeccably clean-cut appearances, both Sureshot and Sandy are meant to be hippies.

After trying to remember whether or not they “made love” the previous night (wow, how edgy!), Sandy and Sureshot attempt to find their way off of the beach.  As they walk along, they’re joined by two other partygoers.  Taurus is played by George Maharis, who was 38 when this film was shot and looked about ten years older.  Taurus is a tough guy who carries a gun and dreams of being a revolutionary and who says stuff like, “Bam!  Et cetera!”  Herbie is eccentric, thin, and neurotic and, presumably because Roddy McDowall wanted too much money, he’s played by Robert Walker, Jr.

Anyway, the four of them end up stealing a boat and talking about how life is a drag, man.  Eventually, they end up breaking into a mansion and threatening the owner and his wife.  Since this movie was made before the Manson murders, this is all played for laughs.  The owner of the mansion is Roc Delmonico (Anthony Quinn).  Roc used to be a gangster but now he’s a legitimate businessman.  The “hippies” decide to kidnap Roc because they assume they’ll be able to get a lot of money for him.

The only problem is that no one is willing to pay the ransom!

Not Roc’s wife (Martha Hyer)!

Not Roc’s best friend (Milton Berle), who happens to be sleeping with Roc’s wife!

Not Roc’s former mob boss (Oscar Homolka)!

Roc gets so angry when he find out that no one wants to pay that he decides to take control of the kidnapping,  He announces that he knows secrets about everyone who refused to pay any money for him and unless they do pay the ransom, he’s going to reveal them.  We’ve gone from kidnapping to blackmail.

Along the way, Roc bonds with his kidnappers.  He teaches them how to commit crimes and they teach him how to be anti-establishment or something.  Actually, I’m not sure what they were supposed to have taught him.  The Happening is a comedy that I guess was trying to say something about the divide between the young and the middle-aged but it doesn’t really have much of a message beyond that the middle-aged could stand to laugh a little more and that the young are just silly and kind of useless.  Of course, the whole young/old divide would probably work better if all of the young hippies weren’t played by actors who were all either in their 30 or close enough to 30 to make their dorm room angst seem a bit silly.

It’s an odd film.  The tone is all over the place and everyone seems to be acting in a different movie.  Anthony Quinn actually gives a pretty good dramatic performance but his good performance only serves to highlight how miscast almost everyone else in the film is.  Michael Parks comes across like he would rather be beating up hippies than hanging out with them while Faye Dunaway seems to be bored with the entire film.  George Maharis, meanwhile, goes overboard on the Brando impersonation while Robert Walker, Jr. seems like he just needs someone to tell him to calm down.

But even beyond the weird mix of acting style, the film’s message is a mess.  On the one hand, the “hippies” are presented as being right about the establishment being full of hypocritical phonies.  On the other hand, the establishment is proven to be correct about the “hippies” being a bunch of easily distracted idiots.  This is one of those films that wants to have it both ways, kind of like an old episode of Saved By The Bell where Mr. Belding learns to loosen up while Zack learns to respect authority.  This is an offer that you can refuse.

And that’s what’s happening!

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

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


cracked rear viewer

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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A Movie A Day #215: Crossplot (1969, directed by Alvin Rakoff)


In swinging London, Roger Moore is ordered by Bernard Lee to track down a model  who is connected to an international conspiracy.

If you think that sounds like a James Bond movie, you’re close.  In Crossplot, which was released four years before Roger Moore took over the role of 007 in Live and Let Die, Moore plays Gary Fenn and Bernard Lee is Mr. Chilmore.  Gary is a playboy and an advertising executive while Mr. Chilmore is his latest client.  Mr. Chilmore has ordered Gary to find a model who can serve as the new “Miss Swing,” but actually, the bad guys are using Gary to try track down a beautiful Hungarian named Marla Kugash (Claudie Lange).  Kugash, the ex-girlfriend of a radical political activist, has knowledge about a conspiracy to assassinate a visiting African president.  It leads to car chases, shoot outs, and a wedding that is ruined when Gary and Marla take refuge in a church.

Crossplot was an obvious attempt to cash in on the popularity of the James Bond films.  At the time that Crossplot came out, Moore was best known for playing The Saint on television.  Crossplot was the first film that Moore made after signing a three-movie contract with United Artists and, had the film been a success, Moore would have returned in the role of Gary Fenn and it is totally possible that he would not have been available to step into Sean Connery’s shoes when Connery announced that he was finished with the role of James Bond.

However, Crossplot was not a success and it is easy to see why.  The plot was overly convoluted and it’s emphasis on “swinging” London (complete with wacky hippies) probably made Crossplot seem dated before it was even released.  It is interesting today mostly as Moore’s “audition” for the role of Bond.  Moore gives a very Bondish performance, complete with arched eyebrows and one liners.  Moore is the best thing about the movie but it is also interesting to see Bernard Lee playing a character far less savory than M.  This was also one of the many 60s Bond rip-offs to feature the beautiful Claudie Lange.  Lange, who would have made a great Bond girl if she’d been given the opportunity, retired from acting in 1973, the same year that Moore appeared in Live and Let Die.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #28: The Carpetbaggers (dir by Edward Dmytryk)


The_Carpetbaggers_1964_poster

The 1960s was apparently a bad time for talented old school Hollywood filmmakers getting sucked into making big budget, excessively lengthy films.  Joseph L. Mankiewicz spent most of his career making movies like All About Eve and then, in 1963, he ended up directing Cleopatra.  Elia Kazan went from A Face In The Crowd to The Arrangement.  John Huston went from Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen to directing not only The Bible but Reflections in a Golden Eye as well.

And then there’s Edward Dmytryk.  Dmytryk may not be as highly regarded by modern critics as Mankiewicz and Huston but he still directed some of the best film noirs of the 1940s.  His 1947 film Crossfire was nominated for best picture and probably should have won.  In 1952, he directed one of the first true crime procedural films, The Sniper.  His 1954 best picture nominee, The Caine Mutiny, featured one of Humphrey Bogart’s best and most unusual performances.

And yet, in 1964, he somehow found himself directing The Carpetbaggers.

The Carpetbaggers tells the story of Jonas Cord (George Peppard).  Jonas is the son of the fabulously wealthy Jonas Cord, Sr. (Leif Erickson).  At the start of the film, father and son do not get along.  Senior resents that Junior is more interested in piloting airplanes than in learning the family business.  Junior is angry that Senior has married Jonas’s ex-girlfriend, actress Rina Marlowe (Carroll Baker).  In fact, as far as Jonas, Jr. is concerned, Nevada Smith (Alan Ladd) is more of a father to him than his actual father.

Nevada Smith is Jonas, Sr.’s best friend and occasional business partner.  He’s a former cowboy who, we are told in a lengthy bit of exposition, is legendary for tracking down and killing the three men who killed his parents.  (As we listen to Jonas, Jr. tell the entire lengthy story, we find ourselves thinking, “Okay, so why not make a movie out of that story?”  Well, they did.  Two years after the release of The Carpetbaggers, Steve McQueen starred in Nevada Smith.)  Nevada’s also a film star whose career is in deep decline.

Speaking of deep decline, Jonas, Sr. ends up having a heart attack and dramatically dropping dead before he can get a chance to disinherit his son.  Jonas, Jr. inherits the Cord fortune and the Cord business and proceed to spend the next two and a half hours abusing everyone who gets close to him.  He even mistreats his loving and neurotic wife, Monica (Elizabeth Ashley, giving the only really memorable performance in the entire film).

Yes, there’s really no reason to have any sympathy at all for Jonas Cord, Jr. but the film insists that we should because he’s the main character and he’s played by the top-billed star.  We’re also told that he’s a brilliant aviation engineer and I guess we’re supposed to admire him for being good at what does.  We also discover that Jonas believes that his mother was insane and that she passed down her insanity to him.  He fears that he’ll pass the crazy gene to any of children that he might have so that’s why he pushes everyone away.  Just in case we don’t understand how big a deal this is to him, the camera zooms in for a closeup whenever Jonas is reminded of his mother.

(In the 60s, all mental instability was represented via zoom lens.)

However, Jonas isn’t just into airplanes!  He also buys a movie studio, specifically because Rina Marlowe is under contract.  Soon, Jonas is directing movies his way.  Jonas also finds himself falling in love with another actress (Martha Hyer) so, of course, he starts treating her badly in an effort to push her away.

What can be done to save the tortured soul of Jonas Cord?  Maybe he just need to get beaten up by Nevada Smith…

The Carpetbaggers was based on a novel by Harold Robbins.  The novel was apparently quite a scandal when it was originally published.  People read it and they wondered, “Who was based on who?”  Well, if you’ve ever seen The Aviator, it’s not that difficult to figure out.  Jonas Cord, eccentric movie mogul and obsessive pilot, was obviously meant to be Howard Hughes.  Rina Marlowe was meant to be Jean Harlow, a fact that can be guessed just by looking at the last names.  And I’m guessing that Nevada Smith was probably based on former President Warren G. Harding because … well, why not?

I suppose that, by the standards of 1964, the film version of The Carpetbaggers would have been considered risqué.  For a modern audience, the main appeal of something like The Carpetbaggers is to see what was once considered to be shocking.  The film is overlong, George Peppard doesn’t exactly figure out how to make Jonas into the compelling  rogue that he needs to be, the clothes and the sets are a lot more interesting than any of the dialogue (but not interesting enough to carry a nearly 3 hour movie), and the film’s pacing is so off that some scenes seem to go on forever while others are way too short.  But, as a cultural and historical artifact, The Carpetbaggers does hold some interest.

The Carpetbaggers was made at a time when Hollywood felt it was under attack from both television and European cinema.  With a film like The Carpetbaggers, the studios were saying, “See!?  Television will never be able to make a film this long and big!  And those Europeans aren’t the only ones who can make a movie about sex!”  Of course, as so often happened during this time, the studios failed to take into account that size and length don’t always equal quality (and ain’t that the truth?).  As for the sex — well, we hear a lot more than we actually see.  The Carpetbaggers is one of those films where everyone talks about sex, largely because showing sex wasn’t really an option.  (And it should be noted that most of the sex talk is delivered in the language of euphemism.)  As a result, The Carpetbaggers feels incredibly tame by today’s standards.  As a result, your main reaction to The Carpetbaggers will probably be to marvel at what was considered daring and shocking 50 years ago.

(And before we get too cocky and quick to dismiss those who came before us, let’s consider how our current films will look to movie audiences five decades from now…)

As far as biopics of Howard Hughes are concerned, The Carpetbaggers in no Aviator.  However, it is an occasionally interesting historical artifact.