A Movie A Day #79: Blindman (1971, directed by Ferdinando Baldi)

In the old west, a professional gunman (played by Tony Anthony) has been hired to escort 50 women to a Texas mining town.  The gunman is known as Blindman, precisely because he is a blind man.  He is also a fast and deadly with a gun and has an apparent psychic connection with his horse.  Unfortunately, for Blindman, it turns out that his partners double crossed him and sold the 50 women to a Mexican bandit.  Blindman must go to Mexico to rescue the women from the ruthless Domingo (Lloyd Battista) and his crazy younger brother, Candy (Ringo Starr).

You read that correctly.  This is not only a Spaghetti western about a blind gunslinger who owns a seeing-eye horse.  It’s also a Spaghetti western that co-stars the man who replaced Pete Best.  Of the four Beatles, Ringo was always the best actor and he is surprisingly convincing as a psychotic Mexican bandit.  As for the rest of Blindman, it can not compare to the best Spaghetti westerns but there’s enough novelty in the idea of a blind gunman that it is still interesting to watch.  Tony Anthony may have been one of the lesser known Spaghetti western stars but he probably gave the best performance of his career as Blindman.  Along with being a violent, bloody, and nudity-filled western, Blindman is also a comedy.  Most of the jokes are delivered by Tony Anthony, who spends a lot of time talking to himself and who, despite being blind, stares straight at the camera while doing so.  (Most of the jokes were also written by Tony Anthony.  He’s one of the credited screenwriters.)

Why does Blindman do what he does?  As he puts it in the movie, “To be blind, with no money, now that’s a bitch!”


A Movie A Day #78: Future War (1997, directed by Anthony Doublin)

“Four days ago, a fire fell from the sky.”

So says Sister Ann (Travis Brooks Stewart), the former prostitute junkie turned nun who narrates Future War.  She says it at least three times.

But what was in that fire?

Was it The Runaway (Daniel Bernhardt), the Swiss kickboxer who was kidnapped by intergalactic slave traders shortly after the writing of the King James’s Bible and who, when he finally escapes, somehow finds himself in 20th Century Los Angeles?

Was it the dinosaurs that were sent down to purse him?

Was it the Cyborg Master (played by Maniac Cop himself, Robert Z’Dar)?

Or was the fire from the sky any hope that Future War would feature consistent continuity and narrative logic crashing down to the Earth and burning up in the atmosphere?

Future War is one of the worst films ever made, which is the main reason to watch it.

Watch as The Runaway points up at the sky and proves incapable of speaking until it is convenient for him to do so!

Thrill to countless fights that take place in warehouses that appear to be full of empty boxes!

Listen as multiple plot holes and inconsistencies are explained away by Sister Ann’s voice over!

Gasp at the sight of The Runaway and The Cyborg Master having a showdown in a church, John Woo-style!

Scream as dinosaur puppets are held really close to the camera in an effort to make them look bigger!

Laugh as the late Forrest J Ackerman makes a cameo, reading Famous Monsters of Filmland before getting eaten!

Wonder why The Runaway’s chest is bloody and injured in one shot but not the next!

Future War has it all!

A Movie A Day #77: On Any Sunday (1971, directed by Bruce Brown)

Why pay money to see CHiPs in the theaters when you can watch On Any Sunday, the greatest motorcycle movie of all time, on YouTube for free?

Directed and narrated by Bruce Brown (of Endless Summer fame), On Any Sunday is a documentary about motorcycle racing.  Brown profiles several professional racers and takes a look at the different types of racing, everything from desert racing to street racing to ice racing.  In On Any Sunday, Brown makes riding a motorcycle look just as exciting as he made surfing look in Endless Summer.  Brown’s racing footage is often amazing and left me wondering how he got some of his shots.

Throughout the documentary, Brown emphasizes both the dedication and the humanity of the racers.  The racers are seen obsessively working on their motorcycles but Brown also points out that, in order to be successful, the racers have to trust each other.  They have to know that, if they crash during the race, the other racers will be alert and quick enough to avoid running them down.

Why, Brown asks, do they do it?  Brown says that most of the racers can’t tell you why they race.  They just enjoy it.  But, with the footage Brown shows us, we can guess why they do it.  Through the use of helmet cams, Brown puts us right on the motorcycle, tearing down a track at over 100 mph and allows us to get as close as we can to feeling the thrill of the race without actually being in the race ourselves.  Brown also makes good use of slow motion to show the skill necessary to avoid crashing and he shows us enough crashes that we understand the risk that comes with racing.  Brown emphasizes that every racer crashes and that the best of them can just brush it off.

On Any Sunday was co-produced by actor and racing enthusiast Steve McQueen.  Towards the end of the documentary, McQueen is interviewed about why he races.  McQueen, a man of few words, says that he enjoys being on the track with the other racers.  They lift him up when he’s feeling down.

On Any Sunday is 46 years old but it will still make you want to get on a motorcycle and ride like a champion.

A Movie A Day #76: Harry Tracy, Desperado (1982, directed by William A. Graham)

The year is 1902.  The old west is coming to an end.  Almost all of the famous outlaws are either dead or imprisoned.  Only a few, like Harry Tracy (Bruce Dern), continue to make a living by robbing banks and trains.  Though he is often captured and even sentenced to death a few times, Harry is always able to escape.  His latest escape, from a prison in Washington, has led to the largest manhunt in American history.  Harry is being pursued by a trigger-happy army, led by U.S. Marshal Morrie Nathan (played by singer Gordon Lightfoot).  Harry has been in this situation before but this time, things are different.  Harry is traveling with Catherine Tuttle (Helen Shaver), the daughter of a local judge.  Harry and Catherine are in love but that does not matter to the men with the guns.

Harry Tracy is a sadly overlooked and elegiac western from Canada.  It is based on a true story.  Outlaw Harry Tracy really did escape from several prisons and he eventually was the target of the largest manhunt in U.S. history.  (His relationship with Catherine was apparently created for the film.)  In real life, Harry was reportedly considered to be more ruthless than Jesse James and he killed not only members of law enforcement but also members of his own gang.  The movie’s Harry is a much more gentle character.  In the film, Harry only kills in self-defense and he robs banks not because he’s greedy but because it’s the only life that he has ever known.  Harry is a relic of a time that it coming to a close.  In one scene, he is shocked to come across a man driving a car.  For an outlaw who usually makes his escape on horseback, the new century does not hold much promise.

In the tradition of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Harry Tracy mixes comedy with tragedy.  The film’s defining image is Harry fleeing from his latest robbery and dropping most of the money in the process.  Harry often seems to be bewildered by all the fuss that people are making over him.  Bruce Dern and Helen Shaver are great as Harry and Catherine.  Even the casting of Gordon Lightfoot works.  (Lightfoot also wrote the movie’s theme song.)

Harry Tracy is an overlooked classic about the end of the old west and the beginning of the modern era.

A Movie A Day #75: Wanted: The Sundance Woman (1976, directed by Lee Philips)

This made-for-TV sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens several years after the death of Butch and Sundance in Bolivia.  Etta Pace (Katharine Ross, reprising her role from the original film) is now a wanted woman.  Hiding out in Arizona, she does her best to keep a low profile.  But when Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo (Steve Forrest) comes to town and one of Etta’s friends (Michael Constantine) is arrested, Etta knows that she’s going to need help to survive.  Crossing the border into Mexico, she teams up with revolutionary Pancho Vila (Hector Elizondo).  In return for helping him get his hands on a shipment of guns, Vila agrees to protect Etta.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman was ABC’s second pilot for a possible television series about Etta Pace’s adventures at the turn of the century.  The first pilot starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Etta and directly dealt with Etta’s attempts to come to terms with the death of Butch and Sundance.  While Katharine Ross returned to the role for the second pilot, Wanted: The Sundance Woman does not actually have much of a connection to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  Katharine Ross could have just as easily been playing Etta Smith as Etta Pace.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman is held back by its origins as a TV movie and a rather silly romance between Etta and Pancho Vila.  Hector Elizondo is hardly convincing as a fiery revolutionary and Steve Forrest is reliably dull as Siringo.  It is not really surprising that this pilot didn’t lead to a weekly series.  On the positive side, the film does feature an exciting train robbery and Katharine Ross is just as good in this sequel as she was in the original.  Even though she was talented, beautiful, and had important roles in two of the most successful films of the 60s (The Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Hollywood never seemed to know what do with Katharine Ross.  While she did have a starring role in The Stepford Wives, Katharine Ross spent most of the 70s appearing in stuff like The Swarm, They Only Kill Their Masters, and The Betsy.  It’s unfortunate that Hollywood apparently did not want Katharine Ross as much Pancho Vila wanted the Sundance Woman.

A Movie A Day #74: The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (1981, directed by Robert Gunette)

If you have ever wanted to witness the sad fate that awaits most geniuses who challenge the system, you could not do any worse than to watch The Man Who Saw Tomorrow.

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow is a low-budget “documentary” about Nostradamus, the 16th century French alchemist who some people consider to be a prophet and others consider to be a charlatan.  Nostradamus has been credited with predicting everything from the rise of Napoleon and Hitler to the 9-11 terror attacks.  Others argue that the writings of Nostradamus were so obscure and prone to mistranslation that they could be interpreted in just about any way.  While he did write about an evil dictator that he called “Hister,” he was also widely credited with predicting an atomic war in 1999.

The Man Who Saw Tomorrow argues that Nostradamus was indeed a prophet and it makes its case through cheap historical reenactments and a lot of stock footage.  The Zapruder film is used.  So is footage from A Tale of Two Cities, War and Peace, Earthquake, and Waterloo (Be sure to keep an eye out for Rod Steiger).  Some of the predictions, like Edward Kennedy becoming President and World War III starting in 1986, are easy to laugh at.  Others, like conflict in the Middle East leading to a nuclear war, would be frighteningly credible if the film wasn’t so obviously made on the cheap.  No skepticism of Nostradamus is implicitly acknowledged but there are interviews with a few believers, including psychic Jeane Dixon (whose first name the film misspells).

And narrating it all is none other than one of the most important filmmakers of all time, Orson Welles.  Sitting at a desk in front of a bookcase and occasionally puffing on a cigar, the director of Citizen Kane lends his deep and recognizable voice to the film’s narration but also adds just a touch of sarcasm to his tone.  The movie may believe that Nostradamus saw the future but Welles is going to damn well make sure that everyone understands that he does not.  When Welles talks about Nostradamus’s predictions for the future, he says, “But before continuing, let me warn you now that these predictions of the future are not at all comforting – and I might go on to add that these visions of the past, these warnings of the future, are not the opinions of the producers of this film. They’re certainly not my opinions.”  He really emphasizes that last sentence, as if he had already grown weary of people approaching him in the streets and asking him if he thought Nostradamus had predicted Watergate.

Sadly, Welles spent a good deal of his career doing jobs like this.  The films and the roles were often beneath his talent but they provided Welles with the money that he needed to pursue his own projects, many of which were never to be completed.  At the time he did The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, Welles was trying to raise the money to complete post production on his final film, The Other Side of The Wind.  The Other Side of The Wind would remain unfinished at the time of Welles’s death but it now appears that, 41 years after principal photography was completed, the film may finally see the light of day thanks to Netflix.

As for The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, it seems only fair to give Orson Welles the final word.  When asked about the film and Nostradamus on The Merv Griffin Show, Welles replied, “”One might as well make predictions based on random passages from the phone book.”

Well said, Orson.  Well said.


A Movie A Day #73: Bitter Harvest (1993, directed by Duane Clark)

Travis Graham (Stephen Baldwin, before he found God) is a doofus who owns a farm.  His late father sent all of the family’s money to a crooked televangelist but he did leave Travis a valuable coin collection.  But then two blondes enter his life.  Kelly Ann (Jennifer Rubin) is a penniless hitchhiker who needs a place to stay and a bed to sleep in.  Jolene (Patsy Kensit) is a British realtor who says she wants to help Travis sell his farm.  Faster than you can say “I don’t know the exact pronunciation but I believe it’s ménage à trois,” that’s exactly what happens.  Travis can’t believe his luck but it turns out that Kelly Ann and Jolene have plans of their own.  Then, in a strangely unrelated subplot, a banker robber who shot the local sheriff (M. Emmett Walsh) shows up at the farm.  Travis kills the bank robber but then Kelly Ann and Jolene start pressuring him to use the robber’s plan to rob a bank himself.

This is one of the many strange movies from the increasingly strange career of Stephen Baldwin.  Now that he’s best known for evangelizing and appearing in celebrity-themed reality shows (including, most infamously, two seasons of The Celebrity Apprentice), it is easy to forget that Stephen Baldwin was once a good character actor who, with the exception of The Usual Suspects, apparently could not pick a good script if his life depended upon it.  His performance as the socially backward Travis is often strange (at times, he seems to be channeling Lenny from Of Mice and Men) but always interesting.  Fans of 90s neo-noir will also be happy to see Delusion’s Jennifer Rubin, playing yet another mysterious and dangerous temptress.  Unfortunately, Bitter Harvest falls apart because of an implausible script and too many loose ends but, until it does, the sultry combination of Jennifer Rubin and Patsky Kensit keeps things watchable.

One final note: The sheriff’s son is played by Adam Baldwin.  Even though the two are not actually related, everyone in the 90s assumed that they were and this makes Bitter Harvest a double Baldwin film.