Live Tweet Alert: Join #FridayNightFlix for Laserblast!

As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, at 10 pm et, I will be hosting #FridayNightFlix!  The movie? 1978’s Laserblast!

Which film has Kim Milford, Roddy McDowall, Eddie Deezen, Keenan Wynn, Rainbeaux Smith, Gianni Russo, Dennis Burkley, and two Claymation aliens!?  This film!

If you want to join us this Friday, just hop onto twitter, start the movie at 10 pm et, and use the #FridayNightFlix hashtag!  I’ll be there tweeting and I imagine some other members of the TSL Crew will be there as well.  It’s a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.

Laserblast is available on Prime, Tubi, YouTube, Pluto, and almost every other streaming service!  On twitter, I’ll be sharing a commercial-free link for the film begins.

See you there!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Cutting Class (dir by Raspo Pallenberg)

Someone is murdering the students and the teachers at the local high school and it’s up to Paula Carson (Jill Schoelen), the studious daughter of the local DA (Martin Mull), to figure out who is responsible!

Though the principal (Roddy McDowall, who seemed to be cast as a lot of bizarre school employees during the latter half of his career) is a perv and the janitor (Robert Glaudini) fancies himself as being some sort of bizarre ninja with a mop, it soon becomes apparent that there’s really only two viable suspects. One of them is Brian Woods (Donavon Leitch), who has just returned home after spending several months in a mental hospital where he was regularly given electroshock therapy. The other is Dwight Ingalls (Brad Pitt), the alcoholic jock who is under tremendous pressure to win a basketball scholarship and who also happens to be Paula’s boyfriend! Brian and Dwight were friends when they were younger. Now, Dwight spends all of his time bullying Brian and Brian spends all of his time staring at Paula. Who could the murderer be!?

Actually, you won’t be surprised at all when the identity of the murderer is revealed. You’ve probably already guessed who the killer is. A campy slasher film from 1989, Cutting Class doesn’t exactly win any points for originality. If Cutting Class is remembered for anything, it’s for providing Brad Pitt with an early leading role. Pitt, it should be said, is totally convincing as Dwight. On the one hand, he’s such a jerk that it’s difficult to really like him but, on the other hand, he looks like Brad Pitt so you totally can’t blame Paula for putting up with him. For that matter, both Leitch and Schoelen give convincing performances as well. When you’ve got a trio as talented as these three, it’s kind of a shame that Cutting Class wasn’t a better film.

Cutting Class tries to mix horror and comedy but the comedy is too broad (Roddy McDowall leers like a cartoon wolf) while the horror is not quite horrific enough and, as such, the film never really settles on a consistent or an interesting tone. Whenever the film starts to get into a horror grove, Martin Mull shows up like a character in an overplayed Saturday Night Live skit. Whenever the film starts to find itself as a comedy, someone is horribly murdered and you’re totally taken out of the mood. This is also another one of those films where the characters randomly switch from being ludicrously stupid to unnaturally intelligent from scene-to-scene. The killer, for instance, is diabolically clever until the film’s final moments, at which point the murderer suddenly gets very talky and very easily fooled.

Cutting Class is occasionally interesting as a time capsule. It’s from 1989, after all. And it’s interesting to see Brad Pitt playing the type of character one would more likely expect to see on a very special episode of Saved By The Bell. Otherwise, this one is fairly forgettable.

Spring Break on the Lens: Laserblast (dir by Michael Rae)

Before I say anything else, I should admit that I fully understand why some of you are going to say that the 1978 science fiction film, Laserblast, is not a spring break film.

First off, it takes place not on the beach but in the desert.  There is a scene that takes place at a pool but it’s one of those cheap pools that all of the desert towns have.

Secondly, the film itself doesn’t take place during the spring.  It takes place during the summer, when the sun is bright and harsh.  The teenagers in the film might not be in school but that’s just because it’s their summer vacation.

I get it.

But, as far as I’m concerned, Laserblast is spiritually a spring break film, even if it isn’t technically one.  I mean, just look at the film’s hero, Billy.  As played by the very handsome Kim Milford, Billy is a mellow guy with blonde hair, stoned eyes, and the attitude of someone who can say, “Right on!” and make you believe that everything will be right and on.  Billy even drives a totally 70s van.  Everything about Billy and his girlfriend, Kathy Farley (Rainbeaux Smith), screams Malibu.  Even in the desert and in the summer, they are the ideal spring break couple.

Billy, of course, gets in some trouble over the course of the film.  He stumbles across a space gun in the desert.  Billy doesn’t know what we know, that the space gun was accidentally left there by two adorable claymation aliens who previously visited Earth so that they could kill the gun’s owner.  Billy just thinks it’s a cool gun.  Soon, Billy is blowing up the town and turning into a green-skinned monster.  Billy even blows up a sign that’s advertising Star Wars, which is made doubly interesting by how much Kim Milford resembles Mark Hamill.  (The same year that Laserblast came out, Hamill and Milford acted opposite each other in Corvette Summer, with Milford’s mellow confidence providing a nice counter to Hamill’s somewhat hyperactive earnestness.)  Much like a drunk spring breaker who ends up vomiting into the ocean, Billy has found something that he enjoys and he’s allowing it to take over his life.  The space gun represents every vice and addiction that’s out there to tempt people into risking their lives and their sanity and their totally 70s van.  (We don’t see much of the inside of the van but I’m willing to bet that it has shag carpeting and a strobe light.)  The spring breakers in The Real Cancun spent their week drinking themselves into a stupor.  Billy, on the other hand, spends a week blowing stuff up and turning into a monster.  Of course, that’s the great thing about spring break.  How you spend your time is your business.

Laserblast is a low-budget film, one that is often listed as being one of the worst films ever made.  Myself, I love the film because I think the aliens are cute and I enjoy Kim Milford’s performance as Billy.  Actually, for a film that didn’t cost much to make, Laserblast has a surprisingly impressive cast.  Technically, it’s not a shock to see Roddy McDowall in the film, since McDowall apparently accepted every role that he was offered in the 70s.  But Roddy’s trademark neurotic eccentricity is still welcome in the small role of Billy’s doctor.  The great character actor Dennis Burkley shows up as a fascist deputy.  Gianni Russo, who played Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather, plays a government agent who shows up from out of nowhere and who wears a cream-colored suit that makes him look like a wedding DJ.  Keenan Wynn, who also apparently accepted any role he was offered in the 70s, plays Rainbeaux Smith’s drunk grandfather.  Best of all, Eddie Deezen, who was best known for playing stereotypical nerd characters in films like Grease, shows up as a bully named Froggy!  After getting bullied by Eddie Deezen, who wouldn’t pick up the first space gun they found and start blasting rocks?

Laserblast is fun, just like spring break.  I like it, just like spring break.  So does Arleigh so be sure to check out his review, as well!

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, directed by John Huston)

During the lawless day of the old west, a drifter named Roy Bean (Paul Newman) wanders into the desolate town of Vinegaroon, Texas.  When he enters the local saloon, he meets the vagrants who run the town.  They beat him, they rob him, and they tie him to the back of his horse and leave him to die.

Bean, however, does not die.  Instead, he’s nursed back to health by a beautiful young woman named Maria Elena (Victoria Principal).  Carrying a gun, Bean reenters the saloon and promptly kills nearly everyone who previously attacked him.  (“I’m not done killing you yet!” Bean yells at one fleeing woman.)  Bean sits down in front of the saloon and waits for justice.  Instead, he’s visited by a lecherous traveling preacher (Anthony Perkins), who buries the dead and gives Bean absolution.  Bean declares that he is now the “law of the West Pecos.”  As the preacher leaves, he looks at the audience and says that he never visited Bean again and later died of dysentery in Mexico.  He hasn’t seen Bean since dying so the preacher is sure that, wherever Bean went, it wasn’t Heaven.

Judge Roy Bean dispenses rough and hard justice from his saloon and renames the town Langtry, after the actress Lillie Langtry.  Bean has never met Langtry or even seen her perform but he writes to her regularly and pictures of her decorate the walls of his saloon.  Bean hires outlaws to serve as his town marshals and sentences prostitutes to remain in town and marry the citizens.  Lawbreakers are left hanging outside of the saloon.  Bean enters into a common law marriage with Maria and, for a while, they even own a bear, who drinks beer and helps Bean maintain order in the court.  Bean may be crazy but his methods clean up the town and Langtry starts to grow.  As Langtry becomes more civilized and an attorney named Arthur Gass (Roddy McDowall) grows more powerful, it starts to become apparent that there may no longer be a place for a man like Judge Roy Bean.

The real-life Judge Roy Bean did hold court in a saloon and he did name the town after Lilly Langtry.  It’s debatable whether or not he was really a hanging judge.  Because he didn’t have a jail, the maximum punishment that he could hand out was a fine and usually that fine was the same amount of however much money the accused had on him at the time of his arrest.  Because of his eccentricities and his reputation for being the “only law west of the Pecos,” Roy Bean became a legendary figure.  The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean acknowledges from the start that it’s not a historically accurate, with a title card that reads, “Maybe this isn’t the way it was… it’s the way it should have been.”

Based on a script by John Milius and directed by Hollywood veteran John Huston, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is one of the strangest westerns to ever be released by a major studio.  Featuring multiple narrators who occasionally speak directly to the camera, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is an episodic mix of low comedy, graphic violence, and syrupy romance.  (The film’s sole Oscar nomination was for the song that played over scenes of Bean and Maria going on a romantic picnic with their pet bear.)  Familiar faces show up in small roles.  Along with Perkins and McDowall, Tab Hunter, Ned Beatty, Jacqueline Bissett, Ava Gardner, and Anthony Zerbe all play supporting roles.  Even a heavily made-up Stacy Keach makes an appearance as an albino outlaw named Bad Bob.

Jacqueline Bisset in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

Milius has gone on the record as calling The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean a “Beverly Hills western” and he has a point.  He envisioned the script as starring Warren Oates as a less likable and much more morally ambiguous version of Judge Roy Bean and he was not happy that his original ending was replaced by a more showy pyrotechnic spectacle.  Milius envisioned the film as a low-budget spaghetti western but Huston instead made a Hollywood epic, complete with celebrity cameos and a theme song from Maurice Jarre and Marilyn Bergman.  Milius said that his experience with The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is what led to him deciding to direct his own films.

Again, Milius has a point but John Huston’s version of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean has its strengths as well.  Though he may not be the madman that Milius originally envisioned, Paul Newman gives a good, grizzled performance as Roy Bean and the role served as a precursor for the type of aging but determined characters that Newman would specialize in during the final phase of his career.  Due to its episodic structure, the film is uneven but it works more often than it doesn’t.  The chaotic early scenes reflect a time when the west was actually wild while the later scenes are more cohesive, as society moves into Langtry and threatens to make formerly indispensable men like Roy Ban obsolete.  Even the cameo performances fit in well with the film’s overall scheme, with Anthony Perkins standing out as the odd preacher.  Finally, the young Victoria Principal is perfectly cast as the only woman that Roy Bean loved as much as Lily Langtry.

Though it’s impossible not to wonder what Warren Oates would have done with the title role, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a good end-of-the-west western.

The Martian Chronicles: Episode 3: The Martians (1980, directed by Michael Anderson)

Episode 2 of The Martian Chronicles ended with Sam Parkhill (Darren McGavin) helplessly watching as Earth was consumed by nuclear fire.  Episode 3 opens with Col. John Wilder (Rock Hudson) returning to Earth in 2006 and discovered that the entire planet is dead.  He had hoped to find his brother and rescue him but instead, all Wilder finds is a video of his brother being vaporized by an atomic blast.

Back on Mars, the planet is nearly deserted.  Most of the human colonizers were ordered to return to Earth before the war broke out and, as a result, they died in the atomic inferno.  Only a few humans remain on Mars.  One of them, Ben Driscoll (Christopher Connelly), is excited to discover another survivor named Genevieve (Bernadette Peters) but he abandons her when he discovers that she’s too high-maintenance for him.  He decides he’d rather live alone.  (Too mean-spirited to really be funny, this was the weakest short story in Rad Bradbury’s collection and it’s also the weakest segment of the miniseries.)  Wilder and Father Stone (Roddy McDowall) visit another survivor, a scientist named Peter Hathaway (Barry Morse).  Peter lives with his devoted wife and daughter but when he dies of heart attack, they barely notice because they’re robots.

The first hour of the final episode of The Martian Chronicles is considerably weaker than the two episodes that proceeded it.  After the effective scenes of Wilder exploring Earth, the series is suddenly taken over by Christopher Connelly, playing a character that we’ve never seen before and who isn’t very likable.  The Ben and Genevieve sequence is weak and never that funny, despite Peters’s skill with comedy.  The sequence with Dr. Hathaway and the robots feels like a dry run for something Ray Bradbury would have written for The Twilight Zone.

Fortunately, the final segment of The Martian Chronicles swoops in to save the series.  Col. Wilder and his family spend the day camping at the same ancient Martian city where, during the first episode, Spender tried to convince Wilder not to allow Mars to be colonized.  While walking around the ruins of the city, Wilder meets what is either the ghost or the future projection of a Martian.  They have a friendly and philosophical conversation.  They talk about how The Martian doesn’t know if he’s from the past or if he’s from the future but it doesn’t matter.  Returning to his family, Wilder looks at their reflection in Briggs Canal and he say that, with Earth gone, they are now the Martians.  With Earth in ruins and only a few humans left, it’s up to the survivors to combine the ways of Earth with the ways of Mars and create a new world.  Though Hudson is usually held up as being the epitome of a stuff actor, when he made The Martian Chronicles, he had the right amount of gravitas to make the final scenes work.

The Martian Chronicles is an uneven miniseries.  The first episode is so good that the two that follow struggle to keep up.  But just, as in Bradbury’s book, the ending is perfectly realized and it still work, ever after all these years later.

The Martian Chronicles: Episode 2: The Settlers (1980, directed by Michael Anderson)

The first episode of The Martian Chronicles ended with a dying Jeff Spender (Bernie Casey) warning John Wilder (Rock Hudson) that humans settling on Mars would be the worst thing that could ever happen to the once powerful red planet.

The second episode, called The Settlers, sets about to prove Spender right.  By 2004, humans are desperately leaving the war-torn Earth for a new home on Mars.  They rename all of the Martian landmarks, honoring the men who died exploring the planet.  In one of the few deliberately funny moments of this entire miniseries, it’s revealed that the canal that Briggs threw his beer cans in was eventually named Briggs Canal.  There’s one unfortunate shot of a line of miniature space ships that are supposed to be orbiting Mars and waiting for their chance to land.  The episode then gets down to showing what the settlers do to Mars.

It’s nothing good.  The main town looks like a traveling carnival, full of bars and crime.  Many of the people who come to Mars are people who are fleeing something on Earth and Col. Wilder has his hands full trying to keep the peace.  All of the Martians are believed to be dead but it turns out that there are still a few out there.  Using their mental powers, they disguise themselves as humans.  A large part of the second episode deals with a Martian who approached an elderly couple, disguised as their dead son.  Even though they know that he’s not really their son, they allow him to live in their home.  But, when the Martian goes to the city, he becomes overwhelmed by all the thoughts that bombard his mind.  Everyone sees him as being someone that they care about.  Even the local priest, Father Peregrine (Fritz Weaver), sees the Martian as being Jesus.  (That’s no big deal today but that had to have been controversial in 1980.)  Eventually, the Martian becomes so overwhelmed that he dies while a group of humans gawk at him.

As for Father Peregrine and Father Stone (Roddy McDowall, who spent most of his later years appearing in miniseries like this one), they explore the Martian mountains, searching for three lights that have been reported as hovering in the sky.  When they find the lights, the lights explain that they are ancient Martians who long ago abandoned their corporeal bodies.  They also somewhat implausibly say that they worship the same God as the two priests.  In a departure from Bradbury’s original short stories (in which Bradbury was skeptical about the idea of bringing religion to the Mars), Father Peregrine commits to building a church so that, even on the Red Planet, people can worship.

Finally, Sam Parkhill (Darren McGavin) has achieved his dream of building a restaurant on Mars.  He says that, as soon as more Earthlings arrive, he’ll be rich because every trucker will stop off at his place for a bite to eat.  When a Martian suddenly shows up in the diner, Parkhill panics and shoots him.  When more Martians show up, Parkhill flees.  It’s only when the Martians catch up to him does he learn that they’re giving him a grant for half the land on Mars.  “Tonight’s the night,” they tell him, “Prepare.”  Old Sam Parkhill’s pretty excited until he looks through a space telescope and sees that Earth, the home of his future customers, is now glowing with the sure sign of nuclear fire.  I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw this episode on late night Baltimore TV but I do remember being thoroughly freaked out by the scene where Sam watches as a fiery glow encircles the Earth and the planet’s green surface turns brown.  It’s the most powerful moment in the miniseries and a fitting visualization of Bradbury’s concerns about the nuclear age.

As for the rest of The Settlers, it’s good but it’s not as strong or as cohesive as the first episode.  The Martin shapeshifter story is good but the two priests in the mountains felt like they were included to keep religious viewers happy and their segment takes too many liberties with Bradbury’s original material.  Then, Darren McGavin returns to the story. dressed like a cowboy and getting chased by a Martian sandship and The Martian Chronicles goes back to being one of the coolest miniseries to ever be broadcast.

With Earth dead, would Mars follow?  That was the theme of the next episode of The Martian Chronicles, which we’ll look at tomorrow.

Film Review: Night Gallery (dir by Boris Sagal, Barry Shear, and Steven Spielberg)

Night Gallery was a horror anthology series that aired on NBC in the early 70s.  Each episode featured Rod Serling, of Twilight Zone fame, serving as the curator of a museum where all of the paintings have a somewhat macabre theme.  (One could even say that the museum was a …. wait for it …. night gallery!)  Serling would give each painting a properly pithy introduction and then the audience would see the story behind the artwork.  It was a bit like the Twilight Zone, except the Night Gallery episodes were in color, they were all horror-themed, and, for the most part, they steered away from social commentary.  The series ran from 1970 and 1973 and it still airs in syndication and on some of the retro stations.  (I believe it currently airs on Comet TV.)  Even if it wasn’t as consistently good as Twilight Zone, it’s still a pretty fun little series.

Two Christmases ago, I was gifted  Night Gallery: The Complete Series on DVD.  Though I’ve watched several episodes from the DVD, I recently realized that I have never actually sat down and watched every episode in order.  With the world currently shut down due to the pandemic (a development that, if we’re going to be honest, sounds like something Rod Serling would have used on the Twilight Zone), I figured what better time to watch the entire series then now?

I started out by watching the Night Gallery pilot film.  This originally aired on November 8th, 1969, a full year before Night Gallery became a weekly series.  It features three different stories (all written by Rod Serling) of the macabre.  As with every episode of the subsequent series, each story is introduced by Serling standing in front of a painting.  In the pilot, though, the museum is rather bare and the painting’s are a bit minimalist.  I have to admit that, as a lover of the baroque, I was a bit disappointed in that aspect of the pilot.

But what about the stories themselves?  Read on!

The Cemetery (dir by Boris Sagal)

The first story was The Cemetery, a cheerfully gruesome little tale that featured Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis.  McDowall plays Jeremy, a spoiled young man who murders his uncle so that he might inherit the dead man’s estate.  At first, it looks like McDowall’s plot is a complete success but then McDowall notices a painting of the family graveyard hanging above a staircase.  (To be honest, it seems odd to hang a painting of a graveyard in the foyer but I guess that’s something old rich people do.)  The painting keeps changing.  One minute, the painting looks normal.  The next minute, it features a newly dug grave.  And then something emerging grave.  And then something heading towards the house….

Is Jeremy losing his mind or is the painting warning him that his uncle has risen from the dead and is seeking revenge!?  You’ll probably be able to guess the answer long before poor Jeremy but no matter.  This is a fun little horror story and it benefits from two enjoyably arch performances, from McDowall and, in the role of a butler who may have an agenda of his own, Ossie Davis.

Eyes (dir by Steven Spielberg)

Of the three stories presented in the pilot, Eyes probably gets the most attention from critics because it not only stars Joan Crawford in one of her final performances but it was the professional directorial debut (if you don’t count Amblin’) of 22 year-old Steven Spielberg.  Spielberg apparently had some issues dealing with the veteran crew members, many of whom didn’t like the idea of taking orders from a 22 year-old.  (It probably didn’t help that pictures from that era suggest that Spielberg looked several years younger than his age.  Let’s just say that it’s easy to understand why he eventually grew that beard.)  I’d like to think that Joan Crawford yelled at everyone and defended Spielberg and maybe even Rod Serling came down with Luca Brasi and said, “You’re going to the give this kid the respect he deserves or your brains are going to be all over that union contract.”  I don’t know if that’s true but it’s a nice thought.

That said, Eyes is pretty good.  Even if the crew doubted him, Spielberg proved himself as a director with this story.  It’s about a hateful and selfish woman (Joan Crawford) who happens to be both rich and blind.  She has manipulated a doctor into performing an experimental operation that will allow her to see.  The only catch is that the operation will only be good for 22 hours and a donor (Tom Bosley, as a bookie who is in trouble with the mob) will be required to give up his eyes so that Crawford can have those 22 hours.

On the one hand, this is very-much a Rod Serling-type tale.  It’s easy to imagine Eyes, with its belief in karma and its final macabre twist, as a Twilight Zone episode.  At the same time, Spielberg very much brings his own signature style to the film, livening up dialogue-heavy scenes with interesting camera angles and getting good performances from Crawford, Barry Sullivan, and Tom Bosley.  Eyes is a clever story but, for modern viewers, the most interesting thing about it will be discovering that, even at the age of 22, Spielberg already had a clear directorial style.

The Escape Route (dir by Barry Shear)

The Escape Route is about an Nazi war criminal named Joseph Strobe (played by Richard Kiley) who is hiding out in South America and spending all of his time nervously looking over his shoulder.  One day, he enters a museum where he finds himself drawn to two paintings.  One painting features a man who has been crucified in a concentration camp, which we learn was Strobe’s trademark back when he, himself, was a camp commandant.  The other painting features a fisherman in a peaceful setting.  Even though Strobe imagines himself as the peaceful fisherman, his attention keeps getting redirected to the painting of the concentration camp.  Soon, Strobe realizes that a survivor of the camp (played by Sam Jaffe) is also in the museum and that he is studying the painting as well.

Compared to Eyes and especially The Cemetery, The Escape Route may seem like a rather low-key story but it has a power that sneaks up on you.  Hiding out (as many real-life Nazi war criminals did) in South America, Strobe is full of excuses for his past and he may indeed be sincere in his wish that he had just become a fisherman as opposed to a brutal Nazi.  But, in the end, Strobe can neither escape his past nor his final punishment.  Justice cannot be escaped, no matter how hard Strobe tries to outrun it.  In the end, there is no escape for the wicked.  Richard Kiley and Sam Jaffe both give excellent performances.  The Escape Route will stick with you.

As a series, Night Gallery was a bit uneven but the pilot stands as a classic of its type, featuring three short films that all deserve to be remembered.

As for me, I’m going to try to watch an episode or two a day.  I may review a few more Night Gallery episodes here on the Shattered Lens.  As I said, the series itself was a bit uneven and not every episode is as good as the pilot.  Still, there’s definitely some gems to be found in the Night Gallery and I’ll share them as I come across them.

Film Review: The Cool Ones (dir by Gene Nelson)

The year is 1967 and who are The Cool Ones?

They’re the kids, of course!  They’re the wild and crazy kids who go to Palm Beach and who listen to rock music and who wear open vests and short skirts and who are all doing the latest dance!  You may see that this movie was made in 1967 and you might assume that this is going to be a film about hippies, like Psych-Out.  But no, these kids aren’t hippies.  Instead, they’re the 1967 equivalent of the clean-cut teens who used to appear in beach party movies and 1950s rock and roll films.

The kids are all dancing the Tantrum!  What’s the Tantrum?  It’s a dance that was created by accident.  Hallie Rogers (Debbie Watson) was a dancer on an American Bandstand-style show but, when she realized that the show’s producers lied to her about eventually allowing her to sing on the show, she threw a fit.  She grabbed the microphone of special musical guest Glen Campbell and attempted to turn his performance into a duet.  When security showed up to drag her off the set, she struggled with them.  Those watching the show assumed that Hallie had just created a new dance called The Tantrum.

After getting fired from the show, Hallie goes to a club, where she witnesses a performance by a former teen idol named Cliff Donner (Gil Peterson).  After Hallie fights off an obnoxious wannabe beatnik who refuses to accept that she doesn’t want to dance with him (Go, Hallie!), Cliff immediately recognizes her as the creator of the Tantrum.  Hallie wants to be a star.  Cliff once was a star.  Maybe they can work together!

Fortunately, the owner of club, Herbert Krum (Robert Coote), just happens to be the older brother of Tony Krum (Roddy McDowall), a notoriously egocentric rock promoter.  How egocentric is Tony?  Well, he’s played by Roddy McDowall and, even by the standards of a typical Roddy McDowall character, Tony is eccentric.  Tony demands that Herbert prove that they’re actually brothers.  He cries when he discovers that his psychiatrist is pregnant.  He’s given too sudden moods swing and sudden bursts of inspiration, the majority of which involve Tony holding up his finger and shouting, “Ah ha!”  Tony has a plan.  He can make Cliff and Hallie into superstars by convincing the world that they’re in love with each other!  He can even get them their own TV show!

However …. what if Cliff and Hallie actually are in love?  Unfortunately, Cliff has some paranoia issues of his own and he’s convinced that Hallie is only pretending to love him so that she can become a star.  Will Cliff and Hallie finally end up together and free from the manipulative hand of Tony Krum?

As you may be able to guess just from reading the plot description, The Cool Ones is an extremely silly film.  The plot makes little sense and Tony Krum is such an over-the-top character that it becomes impossible to take anything involving him seriously.  That said, The Cool Ones is also an incredibly fun movie and it’s obvious that Roddy McDowall had so much fun playing Tony that it’s impossible not to enjoy watching him dig into the role.  The Cool Ones is a big, flamboyant, and colorful film, the type of movie that represents less what the 60s were and more what we wish they were.  Admittedly, Gil Peterson is a bit of stiff in the role of the self-righteous Cliff but Roddy McDowall and Debbie Watson bring so much energy to the film that it doesn’t matter that Cliff doesn’t seem like he would be a cool one is real life.  The music is airy and fun, the dance scenes are entertaining and energetic, and the whole film is just like a pop art time capsule.  The Cool Ones is a cool way to spend 90 minutes.

Film Review: Angel, Angel, Down We Go (dir by Robert Thom)

Oh dear Lord.

Listen, I’ve seen some bad movies before.  I’ve seen some annoying films before.  I’ve seen some pretentious movies before.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie as dedicated to being all three of them as 1969’s Angel, Angel, Down We Go appears to be.

Yes, this movie came out in 1969 and it’s one of those late 60s, counter culture films that’s so intent on impressing you by being daring that it doesn’t bother to actually come up with an interesting story or anything like that.  It’s a film that talks a lot but has nothing to say.  It’s a film that’s obviously meant to be very counter cultural and left-wing but it has a streak of such cruel misogyny running through it that it’s nearly impossible to watch certain scenes.

Singer Holly Near stars as Tara Steele, the teenage daughter of two wealthy parents.  Tara’s mother (Jennifer Jones) is a former actress who brags about having starred in over a hundred stag film without ever “faking an orgasm.”  Tara’s father (Charles Aidman) is a former military man who knew Douglas MacArthur and who is gay but closeted.  (The film handles the issue of his sexuality with all of the sensitivity that you would expect from an episode of the 700 Club.)  Tara is insecure because she’s overweight and her family doesn’t show her any love.  The film, it should be said, doesn’t really show her any love either.  Whether its the close-ups of her messily eating with food smeared across her face or the scenes in which other characters casually insult her, the film seems to have little sympathy for her.

Tara meets a rock singer named …. seriously, this is his fucking name …. Bogart Peter Stuyvesant (Jordan Christopher).  With his tight leather pants and his shirtless performances, Bogie (yes, he’s called Bogie) is supposed to be a Jim Morrison-style sex symbol.  Unfortunately, Jordan Christopher doesn’t have enough screen presence to pull off the role.  Bogie pretends to be in love with Tara (“Your breath stinks!” he shouts, “I dig it!”) but it’s just so he can seduce her mother and her father and make off with all of their money.  It’s supposed to have something to do with the hypocrisy of the American establishment or something but …. oh, who cares?

So, this movie is annoying for any number of reasons.  Robert Thom directs as if he was getting paid extra for every time he used a zoom lens or tossed in a jump cut.  Yet, despite all of the camera trickery, the story drags like you wouldn’t believe.  The walls of Jordan’s pad are decorated with a collage of American icons like Humphrey Bogart and Dwight Eisenhower and Thom often pointlessly zooms into the collage whenever he thinks it will help him make his point but since the film doesn’t really seem to have a point, the collage itself gets as boring as Bogie playing a harp.  Yes, Bogie does play a harp.  It goes over forever.

As I watched the film, I found myself growing more and more pissed off.  Every pretentious line of dialogue and arty camera angle just made me angrier and angrier.  Didn’t Jennifer Jones and Holly Near deserve better than this?  Who the Hell decided to cast bland, doughy Jordan Christopher as a sex symbol?  WHY WAS RODDY MCDOWALL IN THIS MOVIE!?  WHY CAST RODDY MCDOWALL AND THEN NOT HAVE HIM DO ANYTHING!?  Why did every scene have to drag on?  Why couldn’t the film just get to the freaking point!?  WHY WERE THEY SKY DIVING!?  WHY DID WE HAVE TO SIT THROUGH FIVE SONGS FROM JORDAN CHRISTOPHER!?  WHY?  WHY?  WHY!?

Anyway, I don’t really recommend this one.

Film Review: The Greatest Story Ever Told (dir by George Stevens)

The 1965 biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told, tells the story of the life of Jesus, from the Nativity to the Ascension.  It’s probably the most complete telling of the story that you’ll ever find.  It’s hard to think of a single details that’s left out and, as a result, the film has a four hour running time.  Whether you’re a believer or not, that’s a really long time to watch a reverent film that doesn’t even feature the campy excesses of something like The Ten Commandments.

(There’s actually several different version of The Greatest Story Ever Told floating around.  There’s a version that’s a little over two hours.  There’s a version that’s close to four hours.  Reportedly, the uncut version of the film ran for four hour and 20 minutes.)

Max von Sydow plays Jesus.  On the one hand, that seems like that should work because Max von Sydow was a great actor who gave off an otherworldly air.  On the other hand, it totally doesn’t work because von Sydow gives an oddly detached performance.  The Greatest Story Ever Told was von Sydow’s first American film and, at no point, does he seem particularly happy about being involved with it.  von Sydow is a very cerebral and rather reserved Jesus, one who makes his points without a hint of passion or charisma.  When he’s being friendly, he offers up a half-smile.  When he has to rebuke his disciples for their doubt, he sounds more annoyed than anything else.  He’s Jesus if Jesus was a community college philosophy professor.

The rest of the huge cast is populated with familiar faces.  The Greatest Story Ever Told takes the all-star approach to heart and, as a result, even the minor roles are played by actors who will be familiar to anyone who has spent more than a few hours watching TCM.  Many of them are on screen for only a few seconds, which makes their presence all the more distracting.  Sidney Poitier shows up as Simon of Cyrene.  Pat Boone is an angel.  Roddy McDowall is Matthew and Sal Mineo is Uriah and John Wayne shows up as a centurion and delivers his one line in his trademark drawl.

A few of the actors do manage to stand out and make a good impression.  Telly Savalas is a credible Pilate, playing him as being neither smug nor overly sympathetic but instead as a bureaucrat who can’t understand why he’s being forced to deal with all of this.  Charlton Heston has just the right intensity for the role of John the Baptist while Jose Ferrer is properly sleazy as Herod.  In the role Judas, David McCallum looks at the world through suspicious eyes and does little to disguise his irritation with the rest of the world.  The Greatest Story Ever Told does not sentimentalize Judas or his role in Jesus’s arrest.  For the most part, he’s just a jerk.  Finally, it’s not exactly surprising when Donald Pleasence shows up as Satan but Pleasence still gives a properly evil performance, giving all of his lines a mocking and often sarcastic bite.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was directed by George Stevens, a legitimately great director who struggles to maintain any sort of narrative momentum in this film.  Watching The Greatest Story Ever Told, it occurred to me that the best biblical films are the ones like Ben-Hur and The Robe, which both largely keep Jesus off-screen and instead focus on how his life and teachings and the reports of his resurrection effected other people.  Stevens approaches the film’s subject with such reverence that the film becomes boring and that’s something that should never happen when you’re making a film set in Judea during the Roman era.

I do have to admit that, despite all of my criticism of the film, I do actually kind of like The Greatest Story Ever Told.  It’s just such a big production that it’s hard not to be a little awed by it all.  That huge cast may be distracting but it’s still a little bit fun to sit there and go, “There’s Shelley Winters!  There’s John Wayne!  There’s Robert Blake and Martin Landau!”  That said, as far as biblical films are concerned, you’re still better off sticking with Jesus Christ Superstar.