Off-Brand Spaghetti: MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE (United Artists 1969)


cracked rear viewer

It’s hanging day at a remote Arizona prison outpost, and four men are scheduled to swing from the gallows. After they’re executed, the four pine boxes pop open, and outlaw Luke Santee and his gang commence firing, their six-guns blazing, as they try to free Luke’s baby brother. The escape attempt is an epic fail as ‘Killer’ Cain, a prisoner for 18 years now up for parole, stops the brother from leaving his cell and getting slaughtered, with Luke vowing revenge…

That opening scene, a violent, gory bloodbath, makes one think MORE DEAD THAN ALIVE is going to be a Sergio Leone-inspired American Spaghetti Western. It even stars a former TV Western hero named Clint – big Clint (CHEYENNE) Walker ! But the episodic nature of George Schenck’s script kills that idea, as the film doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Spaghetti or Traditional Western? Character study, comedy…

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The TSL’s Grindhouse: No Way Back (dir by Fred Williamson)


Jesse Crowder’s back!

You may remember Jesse Crowder as the super cool and unflappable private detective from Death Journey.  Jesse was a Los Angeles cop but now he works independently.  There’s literally nothing that Jesse can’t do.  Ride a horse?  Ride a motorcycle?  Slow motion kung fu?  Jesse can do it all and he usually do it without bothering to button up his shirt.  Jesse is such a badass that he can kill more people in the time it takes for him to light a cigar than most people will kill in their entire lifetime.

The 1976 film No Way Back is the second Jesse Crowder film.  Once again, Fred Williamson both directs and stars as Jesse.  Williamson is in almost every scene of the film and when he’s not killing bad guys or having sex or just posing with his shirt off, he’s listening to people talk about what a badass he is.  In short, No Way Back is a vanity project but it’s a vanity project with a sense of humor.  Watching the film, you get the feeling that Williamson knows that No Way Back is kind of silly but, at the same time, he’s having fun and he wants everyone watching to have fun too.

No Way Back‘s plot involves a missing man and a lot of money.  Henry Pickens (Charles Woolf) worked at a bank but, one day, he grabbed a briefcase full of money, jumped in a car driven by his girlfriend (Tracy Reed), and disappeared.  Everyone was shocked but you know who was really shocked?  His wife!  Mildred Pickens (Virginia Gregg) and Henry’s brother both want to know to where Henry has vanished.  They hire Jesse, perhaps finding solace in his catch phrase: “You pay the bill, I’ll deliver it.  Legal, illegal, moral or otherwise.”

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for Jesse to figure out that Perkins is in San Francisco.  Jesse lights his cigar and heads for the Bay City.  However, Jesse isn’t the only one looking for Henry Pickens.  There’s also a gangster named Bernie (Stack Pierce) who is determined to get the money for himself.  Much as in Death Journey, it doesn’t matter where Jesse goes or how he gets there.  As soon as he arrives, he people are trying to kill him.  Unfortunately, for them, no one can kill Jesse Crowder.

It all leads to a savage gun battle in the desert.  Fred Williamson jumps up on a horse, unbuttons his shirt, and rides across the screen.  People are betrayed.  People get shot.  Fortunately, no one can touch Jesse Crowder…

Anyway, No Way Back doesn’t really make any sense.  If you happen to watch this film (and I saw it on YouTube), just try to keep track of why Henry stole all of that money in the first place.  However, the plot isn’t really that important.  This film is all about Fred Williamson beating up gangsters and walking around without a shirt on.  It’s a dumb action movie but it never pretends to be anything different and the film’s total lack of pretension is enjoyable.  That’s always a good thing.

A Movie A Day #10: The Longest Yard (1974, directed by Robert Aldrich)


longest-yard-burt-reynolds

Once, Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Burt Reynolds) was a superstar NFL quarterback.  That was until he was caught up in a point-shaving scandal and kicked out of the league.  When a drunk Crewe steals his girlfriend’s car, gets into a high-speed police chase, and throws a punch at a cop, he ends up sentenced to 18 months at Citrus State Prison.

The warden of the prison, Rudolph Hazen (Eddie Albert), is a football fanatic who, at first, is excited to have Crewe as an inmate.  The prison guards have a semi-pro football game and Hazen wants Crewe to coach the team and help them win a national championship.  Though initially reluctant and just wanting to do his time, Crewe relents after witnessing and experiencing the cruelty of the prison system.  Crewe forms The Mean Machine, a team made up of prisoners, and agrees to play an exhibition game against the guards.

At first, the members of the Mean Machine are just looking for an excuse to hit the guards without being punished but soon, they realize that they have a chance to win both the game and their dignity.  But Hazen is not above blackmailing Crewe to throw the game.

When it comes to understanding the Tao of Burt, The Longest Yard is the place to start.  Starting with a car chase and ending with near martyrdom, The Longest Yard is the ultimate Burt Reynolds film.  Paul Crewe ranks alongside Deliverance’s Lewis Medlock and Boogie Night‘s Jack Horner as Reynolds’s best performance.  Before injuries ended his athletic career, Reynolds was a college football star and, on the prison’s playing field, he holds his own with the large group of former professional football players who were cast to play the guards and the prisoners.  The Longest Yard’s climatic football game takes up over an hour of screen time and reportedly, the action was largely improvised during shooting.  Unlike most movie football games, the one in The Longest Yard looks and feels like a real game.

The Longest Yard was directed by Robert Aldrich, who specialized in making movies about anti-authoritarians fighting the system.  The scenes of Crewe recruiting and training The Mean Machine are very reminiscent of Aldrich’s best-known movie, The Dirty Dozen.  With its combination of dark humor, graphic violence, rebellious spirit, and Southern-friend melodrama, The Longest Yard is a movie that could only have worked in the 1970s.  The Adam Sandler remake may have made a lot of money at the box office but it still comes nowhere close to matching the original.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, it’s the best film of 2016, which also happens to be about a football player in prison.

thelongestyard