Young Frontier: John Wayne in THE COWBOYS (Warner Brothers 1972)

cracked rear viewer

THE COWBOYS is not just another ‘John Wayne Movie’ from the latter part of his career. Not by a long shot. Duke had read the script and coveted the part of Wil Andersen, who’s forced to hire a bunch of wet behind the ears adolescents for a 400 mile cattle drive across the rugged Montana territory. Director Mark Rydell wanted George C. Scott for the role, but when John Wayne set his sights on something, he usually got what he wanted. The two men were at polar opposites of the political spectrum, and the Sanford Meisner-trained Rydell and Old Hollywood Wayne were expected to clash. They didn’t; putting their differences aside, they collaborated and cooperated  to make one of the best Westerns of the 70’s.

Andersen’s regular hands have all deserted him when gold is discovered nearby, leaving the aging rancher in the lurch. He heads for Boseman to look…

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A Movie A Day #308: Number One With A Bullet (1987, directed by Jack Smight)

Number One With A Bullet is the story of two cops.  Nick Barzack (Robert Carradine) is so crazy that the all criminals have nicknamed “Beserk.”  (Who says criminals aren’t clever?)  Nick’s partner, Frank Hazeltine (Billy Dee Williams) is so smooth that jazz starts to play whenever he steps into a room.  Nick keeps a motorcycle in his living room, wants to get back together with his wife (Valerie Bertinelli), and has an overprotective mother (Doris Roberts).  Hazeltine is Billy Dee Williams so all he has to worry about is being the coolest man on Earth.  Their captain (Peter Graves!) may want them to do things by the book but Nick and Hazeltine are willing to throw the book out if it means taking down DaCosta, a so-called respectable citizen who they think is actually the city’s biggest drug lord.

It is natural to assume that, because of the whole crazy white cop/centered black cop storyline, this movie was meant to be a rip-off of a well-known film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but actually, Number One With A Bullet was released a week before Lethal Weapon.  As well, while Carradine’s Nick is almost as crazy as Mel Gibson’s Riggs, it is impossible to imagine Billy Dee Williams ever saying that he’s “too old for this shit.”  Williams is having too good a time listening to jazz and picking up women.  Whenever Hazeltine shows up, Number One With A Bullet feels like a Colt 45 commercial that somehow costars Robert Carradine.  Whenever the film is just Carradine, it feels like an unauthorized sequel to Revenge of the Nerds where Lewis gets really, really pissed off.

Number One With A Bullet is a Cannon film and entertaining in the way that most late 80s Cannon films are.  There is a lot of action, a little skin, and some dated comedy, much of it featuring Robert Carradine having to dress in drag.  There is also a mud wrestling scene because I guess mud wrestling was extremely popular back in the 80s.  They may not be Gibson and Glover but Carradine and Williams still make a good team and they both seem to be having a ball.  For fans of cheap 80s action films, there is a lot to enjoy in Number One With A Bullet.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Illusions (dir by Victor Kulle)

(Lisa is currently cleaning out her DVR.  It’s taking forever and she’s loving every minute of it.  This is almost as fun as a Degrassi marathon.  Lisa recorded the 1992 psychological thriller, Illusions, off of Indieplex on March 1st.)

Illusions gets off to a pretty good start.  In a blue-tinted room, a man and a woman make out, with the whispered dialogue suggesting that they’re doing something that they’ve specifically been told not to do.  The woman is worried when an older woman opens the door but the man assures her that the older woman can’t see.  Soon, the film is switching back and forth, from the forbidden lovers to the old woman chopping up a huge chunk of meat.  The opening reminded me of the classic Italian horror film, Beyond The Darkness.

It’s an enjoyably surreal scene, one of many to be found in Illusions.  When we first meet Jan Sanderson (Heather Locklear), she’s waking up from a nightmare.  She’s in a hospital, recovering from some sort of earlier breakdown.  Her doctor (Susannah York) doesn’t think that Jan is ready to leave the hospital but Jan disagrees.  Jan can’t wait to rejoin her husband.

Her husband is Greg Sanderson (Robert Carradine), an archeologist who is currently working at a dig and who doesn’t appear to have much in common with Indiana Jones.  When Jan leaves the hospital, she moves into a house near the dig, one that Greg is renting.  As soon as Jan moves into the house, strange things start to happen.

For instance, she meets the caretaker, George (Ned Beatty).  George is an alcoholic, one who has recently been abandoned by his wife and his children.  According to Greg, George has a skill for telling scary stories.  For instance, there’s the one that he tells Jan about a murder that occurred in the house years ago.  Maybe George isn’t exactly the guy you want to have talking to someone who is recovering from a nervous breakdown?

However, before Jan can spend too much time getting freaked out about George, something else happens.  Greg’s sister arrives.  From the minute that Laura (Emma Samms) arrives, it’s obvious that she and Jan don’t like each other.  That Jan is nervous around her sister-in-law is understandable.  I love my future sister-in-law and I still spend hours worrying about whether or not she thinks I’m as cool as I think I am.  What’s strange is that Laura seems to view Jan as almost being a romantic rival.  From the minute that Laura arrives, she and Greg are whispering to each other and sharing flirtatious jokes.

(The fact that Greg and Laura were the couple in the film’s opening scene certainly doesn’t do anything to make them any less creepy.)

Jan finds herself suspecting that Laura may be conspiring against her.  When she orders Greg to tell his sister to go home, Greg says that he will.  When Jan wakes up the next morning, Laura’s gone.  Greg says that he kicked her out.  But Jan is haunted by a nightmare in which she murdered her sister-in-law and Greg helped to cover it up…


Well, you probably already know.  You’ve seen Gaslight, right?  You’ve seen Diabolique.  Maybe you’ve even seen a few Lifetime films.  You know how this stuff works.  Illusions is not exactly a surprising film and the movie itself occasionally feels disjointed.  The use of body doubles during the nude scenes is jarringly obvious and Jan’s narration was supplied by an actress who clearly wasn’t Heather Locklear.  Locklear, Beatty, and Samms all gave good performances but Robert Carradine was oddly cast.  His presence in the film made me think of Illusions as being Sam McGuire: The Early Years.

And yet, I still kinda liked Illusions.  It’s got just enough weird dream sequences for me to enjoy it.  You know me.  There’s nothing I love more than a weird dream sequence.  Many a mediocre film has been saved by blue mood lighting.



Back to School #19: The Pom Pom Girls (dir by Joseph Ruben)

The Pom Pom Girls was released in 1976, the same year as Massacre at Central High.  It also features two actors who made quite an impression in Central High — Robert Carradine and Rainbeaux Smith.  However, that is where the similarities end because, whereas Central High was a political allegory disguised as an exploitation film, The Pom Pom Girls is an almost prototypical 70s teen comedy.  Whereas Central High was all about subtext, The Pom Pom Girls has no subtext.  Try to look between the lines of The Pom Pom Girls and all you’ll find is blank space.  And, finally, while Central High remains a difficult film to see, I’ve lost track of how many of my Mill Creek box sets include The Pom Pom Girls.


The Pom Pom Girls is about … well, close to nothing.  Johnnie (Robert Carradine) and Jesse (Michael Mullins) are students at Rosewood High School in California.  Because the film was made in 1976, they spend most of their time driving around in a van and listening to MOR radio stations.  Johnnie and Jesse are also star football players, which is one of the odd things about the film because, while Carradine is genuinely likeable and Mullins makes for a plausible sullen high school student, neither one of them comes across as if they could be football players.  The big game comes up against rival Hardin High, so there’s a prank war that involves a little more nudity than the ones on Saved By The Bell ever did.  Johnnie and Jesse also have girlfriends, both of whom are cheerleaders.  Jesse cheats on his girlfriend but apparently, the audience is supposed to sympathize with him because she refused to go to the beach with him.  Johnnie, meanwhile, has a leather jacket-wearing nemesis named Duane (Bill Adler), who is upset because Johnnie is dating his ex.  As often happens, it all ends with a recreation of the famous “chicken run” from Rebel Without A Cause.  We watch a car explode from three different angles. In order to leave you with some suspense, I will not mention whether anyone was in the car.

You’re welcome.

And a fun time was by all...

And a fun time was by all…

One of the strange things about The Pom Pom Girls is that while the two main characters and their girlfriends are all presented as being rebels, they’re also presented as being the most popular kids in school.  Johnnie and Jesse are the captains of the football team.  They’re dating the captains of the cheerleading squad.  Despite the movie’s attempts to convince us otherwise, these people are not rebels fighting the establishment.  Instead, they are the establishment.  This is actually something that The Pom Pom Girls has in common with Richard Linklater’s far superior Dazed and Confused.  The difference, however, is that Dazed and Confused actually calls its character out on the hypocricy of their posturing while The Pom Pom Girls just tries to have the best of both worlds.  Johnnie is both a star football player and the class clown who breaks the rules.  Jesse is both a great team player and an angry individualist.  I guess that’s the 70s for you.

He owns a van.  It has shag carpeting and a strobe light.

He owns a van. It has shag carpeting and a strobe light.

Back in high school, I was often asked to try out for cheerleading but I never did.  For one thing, I didn’t see why I should have to try out when they could have just easily approached me and said, “Hi, will you please be the new head cheerleader?”  Even beyond that, I couldn’t stand the idea of always having to be happy.  And, perhaps most importantly, my sister was already a cheerleader and I wanted to establish my own thing.  However, I still made Erin watch The Pom Pom Girls with me and I asked her if the film was a realistic portrait of high school cheerleading.  In response, she rolled her eyes which I believe was her way of saying no.

But, even if it isn’t exactly Bring It On, The Pom Pom Girls still does have some worth as a time capsule of the clothing, attitudes, and vans of the 70s.  To be honest, that’s probably the only thing of value that The Pom Pom Girls has to offer because, otherwise, it’s basically a film about a likable guy who spends all of his time hanging out with a guy who will literally not stop whining about being a football player and how nobody is willing to go to the beach with him.

Incidentally, The Pom Pom Girls was released by Crown International Pictures.  Much like the company’s previous film, The Young Graduates, the main message here appears to be that the 70s kind of sucked.


Back to School #18: Massacre At Central High (dir by Rene Daalder)

With a title like Massacre at Central High, you probably think that this 1976 film is a low-budget slasher film.  However, you’re totally wrong.  Instead of being a low-budget slasher film, Massacre at Central High is a low-budget political allegory and it’s a pretty good one at that.  It’s also not exactly an easy film to see (I had to watch it off of a scratchy, old VHS tape), which is unfortunate because it’s probably one of the best exploitation films of the 1970s.

Massacre at Central High takes place at a high school in Southern California.  The first thing that you notice about Central High is that there aren’t any adults around.  The students don’t ever appear to go to class.  Instead, they spend their time roaming the halls.  The school is run by four wealthy jocks who enforce order, repress independent thought, and spend most of their time hanging out in an exclusive lounge.  Of the four ruling jocks, Mark (Andrew Stevens) is the most sensitive, an overall nice guy who doesn’t approve of the excesses of the others but, at the same time, isn’t willing to stand up to them either.

The Ruling Clique

The Ruling Clique

As for the other students, they spend their time being alternatively harassed and cared for by the jocks.  They’re told, of course, that everything is for their own good and that their survival depends on the survival of Central High.  Spoony (Robert Carradine) is caught and punished for spraying political graffiti on the lockers.  Oscar (Jeffrey Winner) is regularly bullied by the jocks on account of his weight.  School librarian Arthur (Dennis Kort) is attacked for being an intellectual.  When Rodney (Rex Steven Sikes) makes the mistake of parking his car in one of the jock’s space, they react by stealing and wrecking his car.

Things start to change when track star David (Derrel Maury) transfers to Central High.  David is an old friend of Mark’s and, at first, Mark attempts to get him to join the ruling clique.  However, David is disgusted by the other jocks and starts to stand up for the oppressed students.  The jocks (with the exception of Mark) respond by lowering a car down on David’s leg, crushing it.

No longer able to run track and now moving with a permanent limp, David refuses to tell anyone the truth about how he injured his leg.  Instead, he returns to school and gets his revenge, methodically murdering all of the jocks except for Mark.  Mark and his girlfriend Theresa (Kimberly Beck) now find themselves transformed into societal pariahs within the halls of Central High.  Meanwhile, the formerly oppressed students step up to fill the power vacuum and, to David’s disgust, they quickly turn out to be just as bad as their now deceased oppressors.

David Is Disappointed

David Is Disappointed

Now realizing that most revolutions are waged by the lower class against the upper class for the sole benefit of the middle class and that there’s absolutely no way to bring any real change to Central High, David instead makes plans to destroy the entire high school…

Surreal and dream-like, Massacre at Central High is a potent allegory that takes the concept of absolute power corrupting absolutely to its logical extreme.  It’s a film that celebrates revolution while, at the same time, asking, “What’s the point?”  It’s a film that looks at politics, society, and culture and actually has the courage to suggest that it might be better just to give up on all of it.  Featuring excellent performances from Maury, Beck, and Stevens and wonderfully off-center direction from Rene Daalder, Massacre at Central High is not an easy film to track down but it’s definitely one worth seeing.

Massacre At Central High

Embracing the Melodrama #27: Go Ask Alice (dir by John Korty)

Go Ask Alice

Earlier today, I took a look at The People Next Doora film about a family torn apart by the discovery that their teenage daughter is taking drugs.  For all of that film’s melodrama and over-the-top moments, it still worked.  It may have felt like it was taking place on a plane of heightened reality but it still felt real nonetheless.  Among the many films in the drugs-in-the-suburbs genre, that general feeling of reality made The People Next Door unique.  Far more typical of the genre is the 1973 made-for-TV movie, Go Ask Alice.

Go Ask Alice is based on a YA book that’s been in print for 43 years now.  (I can still remember spending an afternoon reading it in a Barnes and Noble when I was 14 years old.)  The book claims to be the diary of a  teenage girl who ended up getting addicted to drugs and sex.  She runs away from home for a bit and, even when she does manage to stop using drugs, her friends still insist on secretly slipping her acid.  She goes crazy and ends up spending some time in a mental asylum.  Eventually, she’s released and moves to a new town with her family.  She end the diary saying that she’s looking forward to the future and then, in the afterward, we’re told that she died three weeks later of an overdose and this diary has been published so that we can all learn from her story.

Now, oddly enough, when Go Ask Alice was originally published, it was apparently sold as being an authentic diary of an anonymous teenage girl who had been a patient of the book’s “editor”, Dr. Beatrice Sparks.  However, if you actually read the book, it’s pretty obvious that, while Dr. Sparks may have indeed used some of her patients’ real-life experiences, Go Ask Alice is in no way authentic.  Instead, it’s a classic example of the type of cautionary tale in which a character makes one mistake (in this case, the girl drinks a soda that’s been spiked with LSD) and, immediately afterwards, everything bad thing that possibly could happen does happen.  The purpose of the book is to shock and titillate, to make us wonder how this girl can go from being the sweet optimist who bought a diary because she feels that she finally has something to say to being so jaded that she casually says stuff like, “Another day, another blowjob.”  And, of course, the answer is that she didn’t because the whole thing is totally made up.

But that still didn’t stop anyone from making a movie out of the book and informing us, at the start of the movie, that the story we are about to watch is true and only the names and certain details have been changed to protect everyone’s privacy.  Our diarist (who is now definitely named Alice) is played by a young actress named Jamie Smith-Jackson, who is sympathetic and pretty.  Alice’s mother (Ruth Roman) is too repressed and uptight to provide any guidance to her rapidly maturing daughter.  Meanwhile, Alice’s father is played by William Shatner, so we know he’s not going to be able to do any good either.

Much as in the original book, Alice goes to one party, drinks on LSD-spiked soda, and her life is never the same.  Soon, she’s spending all of her time doing drugs and, as she informs us, having a “monthly pregnancy scare.”  She’s no longer hanging out with her smart, nerdy friends.  Instead, she spends all of her time with a bunch of petty criminals who recruit Alice to help deliver drugs to the students at the junior high.  (“I push at the elementary school!” one junior high kid snarls).  Eventually, Alice runs away from home and lives on the streets.  Fortunately, she runs into a liberal Catholic priest (played by Andy Griffith and yes, you read that right) and starts trying to get her life straight…

Go Ask Alice is no The People Next Door but it’s no Reefer Madness either.  What it gets wrong about teenage drug use, it gets right about just how confusing and alienating it can be to be 15 years old.  At the same time, I’d be lying if I said that this film did not have some camp appeal.  How can it not when it features not only Andy Griffith talking tough but also William Shatner with a bushy mustache?

And guess what?

You can watch it below!