Cave-In! (1983, directed by Georg Fenady)


Sen. Kate Lassiter (Susan Sullivan) is visiting a cave in order to determine whether it’s safe to leave it open to the public.  Giving the senator and her group the grand tour is Gene Pearson (Dennis Cole), who is not only a park ranger but who is also Kate’s ex-boyfriend.  The question as to whether or not the cave is safe for the general public is answered by a sudden cave-in, which leaves Kate, Gene, and the others trapped.  Now, Gene has to lead the group across often dangerous terrain to safety.

Along with Kate, the group includes a bitter cop named Joe Johnson (Leslie Nielsen!), his wife Liz (Julie Sommars), arrogant Prof. Harrison Soames (Ray Milland), and the professor’s shy daughter, Ann (Sheila Larkin).  Joe and Liz are struggling to keep their marriage together.  Prof. Soames refuses to allow his daughter to have a life of her own.  The six of them are going to have to somehow work together if they’re going to survive this cave-in!  Of course, they’re not alone.  There’s a seventh person in the cave.  Tom Arlen (James Olson) is a dangerous convict who was in the cave hiding out from the police.  Now, he’s trapped along with everyone else.

Cave-In is a pretty standard disaster movie.  Produced by Irwin Allen, it was originally filmed in 1979 but it didn’t air on NBC until 1983.  By that time, Airplane! had pretty much reduced the disaster genre to a joke.  Ironically, Leslie Nielsen himself has a starring role in Cave-In, playing exactly the type of character that he parodied in both Airplane! and Police Squad.  At the time he filmed Cave-In, Neilsen was still a dramatic actor but by the time the movie aired, his deadpan style was firmly associated with comedy.  Even when his dialogue is serious, the natural instinct is to laugh.

Cave-In gets bogged down by flashbacks.  Even though everyone should be concentrating on making their way to safety, it instead seems that they’re too busy obsessing on their backstory.  Since no one’s backstory is that interesting, the flashbacks don’t do much to liven up the film and, unfortunately, a cave-in just isn’t as compelling as a fire in skyscraper or an upside down boat.

On the plus side, every disaster movie needs an arrogant bastard who makes escape unnecessarily difficult and, in the 70s, no one played a better arrogant bastard Ray Milland.  Otherwise, Cave-In is a forgettable entry from the final days of the disaster genre.

TV Review: Night Gallery 2.1 “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes/Miss Lovecraft Sent Me/The Hand of Borgus Weems/Phantom of What Opera?”


The second season of Night Gallery premiered on September 15th, 1971.  Once again, Rod Serling led viewers through a darkened museum, inviting them to look upon macabre paintings and imagine the story behind image.

The first episode had four — that’s right, four! — different stories!  Apparently, the show’s producers demanded that, for the 2nd season, each episode feature shorter stories along with some light-heated segments.  From what I’ve read, Rod Serling was not particularly happy with the directive and it’s perhaps significant that, after writing every story featured in Night Gallery‘s first season, he only wrote one of the stories featured in the second season premiere.

The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes (dir by John Badham, written by Rod Serling)

Herbie (played by 12 year-old Clint Howard, younger brother of Ron) is a little boy with a very special gift.  He can see the future.  He seems like a normal child, the type who rambles about random subjects except that, at random, he’ll suddenly stop and ominously predict the future.  After Herbie correctly predicts both the rescue of a missing girl and an earthquake, Herbie is given his own TV show.  For a year, Herbie makes predictions, all of which come true.  Then, suddenly, Herbie refuses to shares his latest prediction and says that he doesn’t want to do the show anymore.  What has Herbie seen and is it a good thing or a bad thing?

The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes gets the second season of Night Gallery off to a good start.  Centered by a natural performance from Clint Howard, The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes is an intelligently written and thought-provoking story.  Not only does it examine the burden of being able to see the future but it’s also a provocative look at how society exploits the gifted.  With the exception of Herbie’s grandfather (William Hansen), the people around Herbie are less concerned with what he predicts than that people keep watching.  The segment ends on an appropriately dark note, one that will keep the viewer thinking.

Miss Lovecraft Sent Me (dir by Gene Kearney, written by Jack Laird)

A gum-chewing babysitter (Sue Lyon) show up for her latest job.  It’s at a castle!  And the owner of the castle (played by Joseph Campanella) has gray skin, is wearing a cape, and has a Transylvanian accent!  What could it all mean?

This is a short comedic segment.  Apparently, the producer of Night Gallery, Jack Laird, had the idea to liven things up with sketches like this one.  Serling was apparently not a fan of the idea but Miss Lovecraft Sent Me isn’t that bad.  It’s silly and insubstantial because Joseph Campanella and Sue Lyon handled their roles well.  It’s impossible not to laugh when the babysitter reads aloud the names of the books that Campanella has sitting on his bookshelf.

The Hand of Borgus Weems (dir by John M. Lucas, written by Alvin Sapinsley)

Peter Lacland (George Maharis) sits in a doctor’s office and asks Dr. Ravadon (Ray Milland) to remoe his right hand.  Peter explains that his right hand has a mind of its own and that it keeps trying to kill everyone who Peter comes into contact with.  Peter explains that his hand has been possessed!

There’s a surprisingly large number of stories out there about possessed hands.  The Hand of Borgus Weems doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre and it gets a bit bogged down with its flashback structure but it’s still an enjoyably creepy little segment, featuring good performances from George Maharis and Ray Milland.  Possessed hands are also creepy, no matter what.  Like The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes, it also has an effective ending, which is quite a contrast to the often insubstantial conclusions of Night Gallery’s first season.

Phantom Of What Opera?  (written and dir by Gene Kearney)

This is a short, 4-minute comedic story — a skit really — featuring Leslie Nielsen as the Phantom of the Opera and Mary Ann Beck as Christine. This version starts out like a typical Phantom segment, with the Phantom kidnapping Christine, taking her down to the dungeon, and telling her never to remove his mask.  Christine, of course, removes his mask while he’s playing the organ just for him to then discover that she’s also wearing a mask.  It all leads to love and a happy ending!  It’s kind of a sweet segment, actually.

So the 2nd season of Night Gallery got off to a pretty good start!  Would future episodes continue the trend?  We’ll find out soon as I continue to watch Night Gallery.

Previous Night Gallery Reviews:

  1. The Pilot
  2. The Dead Man/The Housekeeper
  3. Room With A View/The Little Black Bag/The Nature of the Enemy
  4. The House/Certain Shadows on the Wall
  5. Make Me Laugh/Clean Kills And Other Trophies
  6. Pamela’s Voice/Lone Survivor/The Doll
  7. They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar/The Last Laurel

Film Review: King of Kings (dir by Nicholas Ray)


The 1961 film, King of Kings, was the final biblical film that I watched on Easter.  Like The Greatest Story Ever Told, it tells the story of Jesus from the Nativity to the Ascension.  Like The Greatest Story Ever Told, it’s an epic film that was directed by a renowned director.  (In this case, Nicholas Ray.)  Like The Greatest Story Ever Told, King of Kings also has a huge cast and there’s a few familiar faces to be seen, though it doesn’t really take the all-star approach that George Stevens did with his telling of the story.

Probably the biggest star in King of Kings was Jeffrey Hunter, who played Jesus.  Hunter was in his 30s at the time but he still looked young enough that the film was nicknamed I Was A Teenage Jesus.  (Some of that also probably had to do with the fact that Nicholas Ray was best known for directing Rebel Without A Cause.)  But then again, for a man who had so many followers, Jesus was young.  He hadn’t even reached his 40th birthday before he was crucified.  As well, his followers were also young while his many opponents were representatives of the establishment and the old way of doing things.  It makes perfect sense that Jesus should be played by a young man and Hunter gives a good performance.  As opposed to so many of the other actors who have played Jesus in the movies, Jeffrey Hunter is credible as someone who could convince fishermen to throw down their nets and follow him.  He’s passionate without being fanatical and serious without being grim.  He’s a leader even before he performs his first miracle.

King of Kings is one of the better films that I’ve seen about the life of Jesus.  While remaining respectful of its subject, it also feels alive in the way that so many other biblical films don’t.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Nicholas Ray focuses on the idea of Jesus as a rebel against the establishment.  Ray emphasizes the casual cruelty of the Romans and their collaborators.  When John the Baptist (Robert Ryan) is arrested by Herod (Frank Thring), it’s not just so the filmmakers can have an excuse to work Salome (Brigid Bazlen) in the film.  It’s also to show what will happen to anyone who dares to challenge the establishment.  When Jesus visits John the Baptist in his cell, it’s a summit between two rebels who know that they’re both destined to die for the greater good.  When Pilate (Hurd Hatfield) makes his appearance, he’s smug and rather complacent in his power.  He’s not the quasi-sympathetic figure who appears in so many other biblical films.  Instead, he’s the epitome of establishment arrogance.

As a director, Nicholas Ray keeps things simple.  This isn’t Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments.  The emphasis is not on grandeur.  Instead, the film is about common people trying to improve the world in which they’re living, while also preparing for the next.  Jeffrey Hunter gives an excellent performance as Jesus and, all in all, this is one of the better and more relatable biblical films out there.

The Swiss Conspiracy (1976, directed by Jack Arnold)


In The Swiss Conspiracy, David Janssen growls his way through another international crime thriller.

Janssen plays David Christopher, a former Treasury agent who is now living in Geneva.  When a Swiss bank is contacted by blackmailers who threaten to reveal the secret account numbers of some of its most prominent and unsavory clients, the bank’s president, Johann Hurtill (Ray Milland), hires Christopher to find out who is behind the plot.  Unfortunately, one of the account holders is a U.S. gangster named Robert Hayes (John Saxon, naturally) and he’s not happy about having to work with a former fed.

With The Swiss Conspiracy, you know what you’re getting into the minute that the film opens with a narrator giving a lengthy explanation about how Swiss bank accounts work.  This is one of those 70s thriller where the budget is low, the plot is often nonsense, and the entire cast seems to be more interested in hitting the slopes than actually making a convincing movie.  The cast is full of familiar actors who, at the time of filming, had seen better days.  Along with Ray Milland, John Ireland, Anton Diffring, and Elke Sommer all have small roles while “German screen sensation” Senta Berger is cast as the woman who might be in love with David Christopher.  Martin Landau is not in this movie but it certainly feels like he should have been.

David Janssen made a lot of movies like this in the 70s.  Janssen was a good actor and he was especially skilled at playing grizzled tough guys but in The Swiss Conspiracy, he seems to be more interested in checking out the sights than in anything else.  You can’t really blame him because the film was shot on location in Zurich and the local scenery is always more interesting than anything else that’s happening on screen.

The Swiss Conspiracy was directed by Jack Arnold, a veteran B-movie director who was also did The Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man.  His direction in The Swiss Conspiracy is workmanlike and undistinguished but he does make great use of the locations.  The Swiss Conspiracy may not be a great movie but I’ll damned if I don’t want to hop on the next plane and head to Switzerland for the week.

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 22: Winter Under the Stars


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I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, and since my DVR is heading towards max capacity, I’m way overdue! Everyone out there in classic film fan land knows about TCM’s annual “Summer Under the Stars”, right? Well, consider this my Winter version, containing a half-dozen capsule reviews of some Hollywood star-filled films of the past!

PLAYMATES (RKO 1941; D: David Butler ) – That great thespian John Barrymore’s press agent (Patsy Kelly) schemes with swing band leader Kay Kyser’s press agent (Peter Lind Hayes) to team the two in a Shakespearean  festival! Most critics bemoan the fact that this was Barrymore’s final film, satirizing himself and hamming it up mercilessly, but The Great Profile, though bloated from years of alcohol abuse and hard living, seems to be enjoying himself in this fairly funny but minor screwball comedy with music. Lupe Velez livens things up as Barrymore’s spitfire…

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Horror On TV: Thriller 1.28 — Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper (dir by Ray Milland)


Since I reviewed Robert Bloch’s novel, The Night of the Ripper, earlier today, it seems only appropriate that tonight’s excursion into televised horror should be based on another Robert Bloch story about Jack the Ripper!

Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper is a classic episode of the 60s anthology series, Thiller.  This episode aired on April 11th, 1961 and it was directed by the Oscar-winning actor, Ray Milland!

Enjoy!

 

Games People Play: Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (Warner Brothers 1954)


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Alfred Hitchcock  wasn’t afraid to take chances. When the 3-D craze hit in the 1950’s, the innovative director jumped on the new technology to make DIAL M FOR MURDER, based on Frederick Knott’s hit play. The film is full of suspense, and contains many of The Master’s signature touches, but on the whole I consider it to be lesser Hitchcock… which is certainly better than most working in the genre, but still not up to par for Hitch.

Knott adapted his play for the screen, and keeps the tension mounting throughout. The story is set in London, and revolves around ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice, whose wife Margot is having an affair with American mystery writer Mark Halliday. Tony comes up with an elaborate plot to have her murdered by stealing a love letter Mark has written and blackmailing her, then setting up his old school acquaintance C.A. Swann, a man…

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A Movie A Day #328: Panic in Year Zero! (1962, directed by Ray Milland)


The year is 1962.  Lights flash over California and the news on the radio is bad.  What everyone feared has happened.  Atomic war has broken out and the world is about to end.  Refugees clog the highways as a mushroom cloud sprouts over Los Angeles.  This is year zero, the year that humanity will either cease to exist or try to begin again.

Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland) and his family were among the lucky ones.  They were camping in the mountains when the war broke out.  Harry does not hesitate to do what he has to do to make sure that his family survives.  Harry alone understand that this is a brand new world.  When a local storekeeper refuses to allow Harry to take any goods back to his family, Harry takes them by force.  While his wife (Jean Hagen) worries about whether or not her mother has survived in Los Angeles, Harry’s teenage son and daughter (Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel) try to adjust to the harshness of their new situation.  Harry may now run his family like a dictator but his instincts are proven correct when the Baldwins find themselves being hunted by three murderous, wannabe gangsters (Richard Bakalyan, Rex Holman, and Neil Nephew).  This is year zero.

As both a director and an actor, Ray Milland does a good job of showing what would be necessary for a family to survive in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse.  Milland doesn’t shy away from showing Harry as being harsh and violent but he also makes a good case that Harry has no other choice.  Everyone who tries to hold on to their humanity is either killed or sold into slavery.  What sets Panic In Year Zero! apart from so many of the other nuclear war films that came out in the 60s is that, instead of focusing on an anti-war message or calling for disarmament, Panic In Year Zero! seems to argue that end of the world is inevitable and only those who prepare ahead of time are going to survive.  Get a gun and make sure you know how to use it before it is too late to learn, the movie seems to be saying.  That the movie is probably correct in its pessimistic view of humanity makes it all the more powerful.  Panic in Year Zero! is a little-known but gritty and effective film about the end of the world

 

Halloween Havoc!: ALIAS NICK BEAL (Paramount 1949)


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The worlds of supernatural horror and film noir collided to great effect in ALIAS NICK BEAL, John Farrow’s 1949 updated take on the Faust legend. The film wasn’t seen for decades due to legal complications, but last August the good folks at TCM broadcast it for the first time. I have been wanting to see this one for years, and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s loaded with dark atmosphere, a taut screenplay by hardboiled writer/noir vet Jonathan Latimer , and a cast of pros led by a ‘devilish’ turn from Ray Milland as Nick Beal.

The Faust character this time around is Joseph Foster, played by veteran Thomas Mitchell . Foster is an honest, crusading DA with political ambitions. When he says aloud he’d “give my soul” to convict racketeer Hanson, Foster receives a message to meet a man who claims he can help. Summoned to a seedy tavern on…

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Horror On The Lens: The Dead Don’t Die (dir by Curtis Harrington)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a 1975 made-for-television movie called The Dead Don’t Die!

The Dead Don’t Die takes place in Chicago during the 1930s.  George Hamilton is a sailor who comes home just in time to witness his brother being executed for a crime that he swears he didn’t commit.  Hamilton is convinced that his brother was innocent so he decides to launch an investigation of his own.  This eventually leads to Hamilton not only being attacked by dead people but also discovering a plot involving a mysterious voodoo priest!

Featuring atmospheric direction for Curtis Harrington and a witty script by Robert Bloch, The Dead Don’t Die is an enjoyable horror mystery.  Along with George Hamilton, the cast includes such luminaries of “old” Hollywood as Ray Milland, Ralph Meeker, Reggie Nalder, and Joan Blondell.  (Admittedly, George Hamilton is not the most convincing sailor to ever appear in a movie but even his miscasting seems to work in a strange way.)

And you can watch it below!

Enjoy!