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.

A Movie A Day #296: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, directed by Jack Clayton)


Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my favorite films.

The place is Green Town, Illinois.  The time is the 1920s.  The carnival has come to town but this is no normal carnival.  Led by the sinister, Mr. Dark (Jonathan Pryce), this carnival promises to fulfill everyone’s dreams but at what cost?  Double amputee Ed (James Stacy) gets his arm and his leg back.  The lonely teacher, Miss Foley (Mary Grace Canfield), is young and beautiful once again.  Mr. Dark may bring people what they want but he gives nothing away for free.  Only two young boys, Will (Vidal Peterson) and Jim (Shawn Carson), realize the truth about the carnival but no one in town will listen to them.  Mr. Dark wants Jim to be his successor and Will’s only ally is his elderly father, the town librarian (Jason Robards).

As much a coming of age story as a horror film, Something Wicked This Way Comes takes the time to establish Green Town and to make it feel like a real place and its inhabitants seem like real people.  When Mr. Dark shows up, he is not just a supernatural trickster.  He is not just stealing the souls of Green Town.  He is also destroying the innocence of childhood.  Jonathan Pryce is both charismatic and menacing as Mr. Dark while Jason Robards matches him as the infirm librarian who must find the strength to save his son.  The confrontation between Pryce and Robards, where Pryce tears flaming pages out of a book, is the best part of the movie.  Along with Robards and Pryce, the entire cast is excellent.  Be sure to keep an eye out for familiar faces like Royal Dano, Jack Dodson, Angelo Rossitto, and especially Pam Grier, playing the “Dust Witch,” the most beautiful woman in the world.

Based on a classic novel by Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the only Bradbury adaptations to do justice to its source material.

A Movie A Day #259: Take This Job And Shove It (1981, directed by Gus Trikonis)


Originally from a small town in Iowa, Frank Macklin (Robert Hays) is a hotshot young executive with The Ellison Group.  When Frank is assigned to manage and revitalize a failing brewery in his hometown, it is a chance for Frank to rediscover his roots.  His childhood friends (played by actors like David Keith, Tim Thomerson, and Art Carney) may no longer trust him now that Frank wears a tie but it only takes a few monster truck rallies and a football game in a bar for Frank to show that he is still one of them.  However, Frank discovers that the only reason that he was sent to make the brewery profitable was so that his bosses could sell it to a buffoonish millionaire who doesn’t know the first thing about how to run a business.  Will Frank stand by while his bosses screw over the hardworking men and women of the heartland?  Or will he say, “You can take this job and shove it?”

Named after a country music song and taking place almost entirely in places stocked with beer, Take This Job And Shove It is a celebration of all things redneck.  This movie is so redneck in nature that a major subplot involves monster trucks.  Bigfoot, one of the first monster trucks, gets plenty of screen time and, in some advertisements, was given higher billing than Art Carney.

A mix of low comedy and sentimental drama, Take This Job And Shove It is better than it sounds.  In some ways, it is a prescient movie: the working class frustrations and the anger at being forgotten in a “booming economy” is the same anger that, 35 years later, would be on display during the election of 2016.  Take This Job And Shove It also has an interesting and talented cast, most of whom rise above the thinly written dialogue.  Along with Hays, Keith, Thomerson, Bigfoot, and Carney, keep an eye out for: Eddie Albert, Royal Dano, James Karen, Penelope Milford, Virgil Frye, George “Goober” Lindsey, and Barbara Hershey (who, as usual, is a hundred times better than the material she has to work with).

One final note: Martin Mull plays Hays’s corporate rival.  His character is named Dick Ebersol.  Was that meant to be an inside joke at the expense of the real Dick Ebersol, who has the executive producer of Saturday Night Live when Take This Job and Shove It was filmed and who later became the president of NBC Sports?

A Movie A Day #244: Death of a Gunfighter (1969, directed by Allen Smithee)


At the turn of the 20th century, the mayor and the business community of Cottonwood Springs, Texas are determined to bring their small town into the modern era.  The Mayor (Larry Gates) has even purchased one of those newfangled automobiles that have been taking the country by storm.  However, the marshal of Cottonwood Spings, Frank Patch (Richard Widmark), is considered to be an embarrassing relic of the past.  Patch has served as marshal for 20 years but now, his old west style of justice is seen as being detrimental to the town’s development.  When Patch shoots a drunk in self-defense, the town leaders use it as an excuse to demand Patch’s resignation.  When Patch refuses to quit and points out that he knows all of the secrets of what everyone did before they became respectable, the business community responds by bringing in their own gunfighters to kill the old marshal.

Death of a Gunfighter is historically significant because it was the very first film to ever be credited to Allen Smithee.  The movie was actually started by TV director Robert Totten and, after Widmark demanded that Totten be fired, completed by the legendary Don Siegel.  Since Totten worked for 25 days on the film while Siegel was only on set for 9, Siegel refused to take credit for the film.  When Widmark protested against Totten receiving credit, the Director’s Guild of America compromised by allowing the film to be credited to the fictitious Allen Smithee.

In the years after the release of Death of a Gunfighter, the Allen (or, more often, Alan) Smithee name would be used for films on which the director felt that he had not been allowed to exercise creative control over the final product.  The Smithee credit became associated with bad films like The O.J. Simpson Story and Let’s Get Harry which makes it ironic that Death of a Gunfighter is not bad at all.  It’s an elegiac and intelligent film about the death of the old west and the coming of the modern era.  It also features not only one of Richard Widmark’s best performances but an interracial love story between the marshal and a brothel madame played by Lena Horne.  The supporting cast is full of familiar western actors, with Royal Dano, Harry Carey, Jr., Larry Gates, Dub Taylor, and Kent Smith all making an impression.  Even the great John Saxon has a small role.  Though it may be best known for its “director,” Death of a Gunfighter is a film that will be enjoyed by any good western fan.

A Movie A Day #160: Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies (1973, directed by John Erman as “Bill Sampson”)


Sometimes, the story behind a movie is more interesting than the movie itself.

A young Steven Spielberg received a “story by” credit for Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies but, at one time, he was going to be credited with much more.  Spielberg wrote the treatment for Ace Eli and sold it to 20th Century Fox because he was hoping to make his directorial debut with the film.  However, shortly after selling the story, there was an executive shakeup at the studio.  Spielberg’s supporters were out and the men who replaced them gave the treatment to another screenwriter and director.  Spielberg was so angered by his treatment that it would be close to thirty years before he ever again worked with 20th Century Fox.  (In 2002, 20th Century Fox co-produced Minority Report with Dreamworks.)  Ace Eli ended up being directed by television veteran John Erman, who was so upset by the studio’s final edit of the film that he demanded to be credited under a pseudonym.

The plot of Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies is recognizably Spielbergian.  Ace Eli (Cliff Robertson, who was a pilot in real life and who, after he won his Oscar of Charly, was involved in several flying films) is a stunt pilot in the 1920s.  After his wife is killed in a crash, Eli and his 11 year-old son, Rodger (Eric Shea), set off on a barnstorming tour.  Going from small town to small town, Eli deals with his pain through nonstop womanaizer.  With Eli refusing to take any responsibility for his actions, Rodger is forced to grow up quickly.  It is a typical Spielberg coming of age story, combining a nostalgia for the past with a clear-eyed portrayal of irresponsible adulthood.

In fact, it is easy to imagine the approach the Spielberg would have taken if he had been allowed to direct his story.  Unfortunately, Spielberg did not get to direct the film and John Erman takes an impersonal approach to the material.  Whereas Spielberg would have captured the excitement of both flying and life on the road, Erman keeps the audience at a distance.  An underrated actor, Cliff Robertson is still miscast as the irresponsible Ace Eli.  The reason why Cliff Robertson was perfect for the role of Uncle Ben in Spider-Man is the same reason why he feels all wrong as Ace Eli.  He is just too upstanding a citizen to be as impulsive as Eli often is.  An actor like Warren Oates would have been perfect for the role.

Steven Spielberg directing Warren Oates in Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies?  That would have been something worth seeing!

TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.5 “The Orchid’s Curse” (dir by Graeme Clifford)


(This Good Friday review of the fifth episode of the 2nd season of Twin Peaks is dedicated to my mom, Gloria Elena Marchi, who would have been 59 years old today.  So, it better be a good episode, right?)

This episode of Twin Peaks was directed by Graeme Clifford, an Australian filmmaker who has several films and tv shows to his credit.  As an editor, Clifford worked on some of the best films of the 70s, several of which share the surrealistic vision of David Lynch.  Among the films that Clifford worked on: Robert Altman’s Images, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth, and the ultimate cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Orchid’s Curse (and, as I pointed out yesterday, I love the pulpiness of that title) is the only episode of Twin Peaks that he directed.  It’s also the first of four episodes to be credited to writer Barry Pullman.

Let’s take a look at The Orchid’s Curse!

Following the haunting opening credits, we get Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).  Dale is waking up in bed and, as always, talking into his tape recorder.  He had a dream that he was eating a tasteless gum drop, just to wake up and discover that he was chewing on one of his ear plugs.  As I listened to Dale speak, I breathed a sigh of relief.  After the previous episode had him acting all out-of-character, it was nice to have the old Dale back.

Dale notices an envelope taped underneath his bed.  It’s a note from Audrey, telling Dale that she’s gone up to One-Eyed Jack’s.  Okay, Dale — now you know where Audrey is!  GO RESCUE HER!

At the police station, Deputy Hawk (Michael Horse) comes in and wow, is he mad!  Oh wait — he just has to go to the bathroom.  As he explains to Harry (Michael Ontkean), two retired school teachers live in the house next to the Palmer summer home.  Neither of them have ever seen BOB before but apparently, they made him drink two pots of tea before telling him that.

Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) tells Harry that she’s going to down to Tacoma to see her sister, who has just had a baby.  She offers to stick around long enough to show the temp how to do everything.  Harry tells her that they’ve got it covered but Lucy obviously knows better.  As an administrative professional, I related so much to Lucy in this scene.

At the Johnson house, a salesman named Mr. Pinkle (David Lander) is showing Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) and Shelly (Madchen Amick) a product that he calls “porto-patient.”  Basically, it’s a harness and crane that allows you to drag around a comatose person  Shelly and Bobby are obviously planning on having some fun with Leo.  Sure, how could that backfire?  Bobby does worry that porto-patient appears to be a death trap and that they don’t want to kill Leo because then they won’t get his disability checks.  Pinkle explains that it’s either porto-patient or a wheelbarrow.

Meanwhile, Judge Sternwood (Royal Dano) is holding court at the Roadhouse, for some reason.  In my last review, I forgot to mention that Judge Sternwood travels with a much younger “law clerk.”  I’m going to guess that the character of Judge Sternwood was based on Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.

William O. Douglas

Anyway, it’s time for Leland Plamer’s arraignment.  Prosecutor Lodwick (Ritch Brinkley) argues that Leland (Ray Wise) should not be given bail because of the seriousness of the crime and “the oft-witnessed instability of Mr. Palmer after the death of his daughter.”  Harry speaks on Leland’s behalf.  Harry says that Leland is a well-respected member of the community.

(Meanwhile, Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz) gets even more adorable by doing courtroom sketches, all of which are pictures of the back of Leland’s head.)

Judge Sternwood released Leland on his own recognizance, a ruling that will prove to be so ill-thought that it actually could have been issued by William O. Douglas.  (But I kid the late Judge Douglas!)

At the Harold Smith House, Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) shows up with another Meals on Wheels tray.  Harold (Lenny von Dohlen) is waiting for her, a glass of wine in his hand.

“What’s behind those deep blue eyes today?” Harold asks.  Oh, Harold!

Donna says that she’ll share her life with Harold, as a part of his “living novel,” but only if he lets her read Laura’s secret diary.  Harold offers to read the diary to her but he emphasizes that the diary must not leave his living room.

Donna starts telling Harold about her life but quickly turns things on him, asking where he’s from and where he grew up.  Harold’s from Boston and he says he grew up in books.  As I watched this scene, I found myself marveling at Lenny von Dohlen’s wonderful performance.  Harold is definitely creepy but von Dohlen still brought a definite sweetness to the character.  I actually found myself starting to get a little bit mad at the way that Donna was manipulating him.

Seriously, Donna, don’t hurt Harold!

Donna, apparently, was not listening to me because she snatched Laura’s diary and, teasingly, used it to lead Harold outside.  Harold immediately had a panic attack, which should teach Donna an important lesson about trying to act like Audrey.

Back at the Road House, Judge Sternwood rules on Leo’s competency.  Leo’s lawyer is played by songwriter Van Dyke Parks and, as I watched this scene, I found myself wondering why every lawyer and judge in Twin Peaks — with the exception Leland Palmer — insisted on dressing like an extra in a 1950s western.  I mean, it kind of works and I guess you could make the argument that Judge Sternwood holding court in the Roadhouse is meant to pay homage to Judge Roy Bean.

In other words, Roy Bean + William O. Douglas = Judge Sternwood.

Judge Sternwood summons Cooper and Harry to the bar so that he can deliberate on Leo’s competency while his “law clerk” serves up drinks.  Sternwood drinks something called a Black Yukon Sucker Punch.  Yuck.

Anyway, because he’s not a very good judge, Sternwood rules that Leo is not competent to stand trail and sends him home with Shelly.

At the Hurley house, Big Ed (Everett McGill) and James (James Marshall) attempt to adjust to a new life in which one-eyed, middle-aged Nadine (Wendy Robie) thinks that she’s a teenager.  Nadine goes to get a drink and rips off the refrigerator door.  Apparently, that’s something that’s going to be happening from now on.

At the Great Northern, Ben (Richard Beymer) enters his all-wood office and is informed that a Mr. Tojamura is here to see him.  Mr. Tojamura is the Japanese man that Ben saw last night, the one who smart viewers will have already figured out is actually Catherine (Piper Laurie) in a not very convincing disguise.  Anyway, Tojamura says that he represents an investment firm that wants to invest in the Ghostwood Project and Ben gets all excited and…

WHY ISN’T BEN WORRIED ABOUT AUDREY!?

See, this is one thing that bothers me about season 2 of Twin Peaks.  During season 1, Ben was greedy and amoral.  He wasn’t a great father but, at the same time, he did love his daughter.  That was what made Ben an interesting character.  But, in season 2, Ben is just a caricature of an evil businessmen.  Reportedly, after not interfering during season 1, ABC interfered a lot in season 2 and it’s obvious when you see how a character like Ben has been robbed of all his nuance.

Ben gets rid of Mr. Tojamura and then suddenly, Hank (Chris Mulkey) pops out of a secret passage and informs Ben that Cooper is on his way.  On schedule, Cooper enters the office and Jean Renault (Michael Parks) calls from Canada.  Jean wants Cooper to drop off a briefcase full of money at a merry-go-round, at midnight.  “Leave it by the horse’s head.”

After Cooper gets the briefcase and leaves, Hank once again pops out of the secret passage.  Ben tells Hank to follow Cooper, to make sure the money is delivered, and to bring back Audrey.  Hank is confused.  Shouldn’t Cooper bring back Audrey?  No, Ben explains, Cooper isn’t coming back.  Also, because Ben is cartoonishly evil now, he tells Hank to try to bring back both Audrey and the money.

That night, at the Hayward House, Donna and Maddy (Sheryl Lee) are conspiring on a way to ruin Harold’s life.  Donna will distract Harold and Maddy will sneak into Harold’s house and steal the diary.  Maddy, who tends to jump at her own shadow, seems like the worst possible person to use in a situation like this but then again, maybe that’s exactly why Donna’s using her.

See, this what I think is going on in Donna’s head: Maddy gets caught, Harold kills her, and then Donna gets James to herself.  Donna has crossed into the dark side!

At One-Eyed Jacks, Jean and Blackie (Victoria Catlin) are rehearsing how Jean will get the briefcase and then kill Cooper with a blade that he has hidden underneath his sleeve.  Can Jean and Blackie just die now?  They’re kind of boring as villains.  And every minute they’re alive, that’s another minute wasted on this stupid Audrey-bring-held-hostage subplot.

At the police station, Andy is struggling to figure out how to answer the phone and transfer calls.  That’s right!  Nobody appreciates a good administrative professional until she’s gone!  Anyway, Andy calls the lab and discovers that he’s no longer sterile.  As Doc Hayward puts it, “They’re not just three men on a fishing trip.  They’re a whole damn town.”  So, Andy could be the father of Lucy’s baby!  Woo hoo!  Excited, Andy calls Lucy in Tacoma and is shocked to learn that Lucy is not visiting her sister.  Instead, she’s at Adams Abortion Clinic.  “OH MY GOD!” Andy say.

In Harry’s office, Harry and Cooper are planning a raid on One-Eyed Jack’s.  Hopefully, it won’t take them as long to attack as it took Rick to stand up to Negan on The Walking Dead.  (Rick Grimes and Sheriff Truman have a lot in common but that’ll have to wait for a future post.)

Deputy Hawk comes in and says that he found out that the One-Armed Man has been staying at a motel but nobody’s seen him in a while.  Hawk found a hypodermic needle and a weird drug in the motel room.  “Weird, deep smell,” Hawk says.  Harry sends Hawk home, apparently forgetting that Hawk is a member of the Book House Boys and, therefore, there’s no reason to leave him out of the planning of the raid.

At the Double R Diner, Maddy rushes in and asks for a cup of coffee to go.  She doesn’t even notice that James is sitting at the counter.  James looked a little offended and I was worried he was going to get all weepy but instead, he just said, “Hi.”  Maddy says that she can’t talk now and, under Donna’s bad influence, she lies and says that she’s going back home.

At the Harold Smith House, Donna is talking to Harold.  Donna tells Harold about the time that she and Laura went down to the Roadhouse to meet boys.  The story starts with Laura talking Donna into wearing a short skirt and ends, as these often do, with skinny dipping.  Harold, who would have loved Twitter, says that the story was beautiful.  Meanwhile, Maddy lurks around outside.

At One-Eyed Jack’s, Cooper and Harry are also sneaking around outside.  They’re both dressed in black, like Daniel Craig in the poster for SPECTRE, so we know that it’s commando time!  As an owl — “The Owls are not what they seem,” — watches, Harry takes out one of the guards.  They sneak through the backdoor and find themselves in the brothel section of One-Eyed Jacks, which is full of young women in lingerie and middle-aged men who all give off a “Ted-Kennedy-About-To-Drive-Mary-Jo-Kopechne-Home” sort of vibe.

Outside the Harold Smith House, Maddy drinks the coffee that she got at the Double R.  Meanwhile, inside the house, Harold is telling Donna about orchids.  Harold and Donna finally kiss and, overwhelmed, Harold has to leave the room.  This is Maddy’s cue to break into the house and help Donna ruin the man’s life.

As Maddy lurks towards the house, Cooper is busy lurking around One-Eyed Jacks.  “Hi,” Cooper says, grabbing Jean’s main lackey, “would you take me to Audrey Horne please?”  Cooper is led to a bedroom, where an unconcious Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) is tied up.  After punching out Jean’s main henchwoman, Cooper untied Audrey.

Meanwhile, Harry is watching Jean and Blackie talking in another room when, suddenly, Jean stabs Blackie to death.  Well, that one down.  Jean spots Harry and runs off.  At the same time, Cooper runs up, carrying Audrey over her shoulder.  Cooper and Harry start to run for the exit when they run into a bald man holding a gun.

“Goddammit,” I yelled, “I thought this stupid kidnapping plot was finally over!”

Suddenly, the bald man falls dead.  There’s a knife on his back.  It turns out that Deputy Hawk not only followed Harry and Cooper to One-Eyed Jack’s but he’s totally cool with killing people.  Hawk’s a badass, y’all.

Outside One-Eyed Jack’s, Hank watches as Cooper, Harry, Audrey, and Hawk run off.  He calls Ben but is then grabbed from behind by Jean.

At the Harold Smith House, Maddy is looking for the diary but, because Maddy is generally incompetent and no longer wearing her big red glasses, she is struggling to find it.  Donna, who is in the greenhouse and waiting for Harold to return, tries to direct her.  You can tell Donna’s thinking, “Why couldn’t it have been me and Laura looking for Maddy’s secret diary instead?  That would have been so much easier!”

Suddenly, Harold’s back!  He’s brought Donna big flower!  Harold’s so sweet.

Despite Donna’s efforts to distract him, Harold sees Maddy stealing Laura’s diary.  Cornering Maddy and Laura and holding a scary-looking gardening tool, Harold shouts, “Are you looking for secrets!?  Do you know what the ultimate secret is!?”

At this point, I was hoping Harold would quote Jean Renior’s The Rules of the Game and say that the ultimate secret is that everyone has their own good reasons.  Instead, Harold says that it’s “the secret of knowing who killed you,” and proceeds to use the tool to cut open his face!

NO, HAROLD!

Maddy screams, as well she should.  Way to destroy someone’s life, Maddy.  I realize that it was Donna’s plan but Maddy’s the one who took too long to find the diary.

Plus, I just don’t like Maddy.

Cooper to the rescue! Yesssssssss!

Anyway, that’s it for The Orchid’s Secret.  This was a definite improvement over the previous episode, even with the kidnapping subplot.  The performances of Lara Flynn Boyle and Lenny von Dohlen elevated this entire episode while Pullman and Clifford did a pretty decent job recreating the unique style of Lynch and Frost.

All in all, a worthy episode.

Previous Entries in The TSL’s Look At Twin Peaks:

  1. Twin Peaks: In the Beginning by Jedadiah Leland
  2. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.1 — The Pilot (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  3. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.2 — Traces To Nowhere (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  4. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.3 — Zen, or the Skill To Catch A Killer (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  5. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.4 “Rest in Pain” (dir by Tina Rathbone) by Leonard Wilson
  6. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.5 “The One-Armed Man” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Jedadiah Leland
  7. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.6 “Cooper’s Dreams” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  8. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.7 “Realization Time” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  9. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.8 “The Last Evening” (directed by Mark Frost) by Leonard Wilson
  10. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.1 “May the Giant Be With You” (dir by David Lynch) by Leonard Wilson
  11. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.2 “Coma” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  12. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.3 “The Man Behind The Glass” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Jedadiah Leland
  13. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.4 “Laura’s Secret Diary” (dir by Todd Holland) by Lisa Marie Bowman

Film Review: Big Bad Mama (1974, directed by Steve Carver)


Big_bad_mama_movie_posterToday is Angie Dickinson’s 84th birthday.  One of Angie’s best remembered films is Big Bad Mama, an entertaining and fast-paced gangster film that was produced by Roger Corman.

The year is 1932 and the setting is Texas.  Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) is a poor single mother with two teenage daughters (Susan Sennett and Robbie Lee) to support.  When Wilma’s bootlegger lover, Barney (Noble Willingham), is killed by the FBI, Wilma takes over his route.  Wilma wants her daughters to be rich like “Rockefeller and Capone” and soon, they graduate from bootlegging to bank robbery.  During one robbery, they meet and team up with Fred (Tom Skerritt).  Wilma and Fred are lovers until Wilma meets alcoholic con man, Baxter (William Shatner).  With Fred and Baxter competing for her affections and her youngest daughter pregnant, Wilma plans one final job, the kidnapping of a spoiled heiress (Joan Prather).

Big Bad Mama is one of the many Bonnie and Clyde rip-offs that Roger Corman produced in the 70s.  (Corman also gave us Bloody Mama and Crazy Mama.)  Big Bad Mama is a typical Corman gangster film, with fast cars, blazing tommy guns, Dick Miller, and plenty of nudity.  Angie was in her 40s at the time and, justifiably proud of her body, her full frontal nude scenes created a lot of publicity for the film.  William Shatner also strips down for the film and his sex scene with Angie is just as weird to watch as you would expect it to be.

The whole film changes as soon as William Shatner makes his first appearance.  He may be speaking with a Southern accent and he may be playing a sniveling coward but he is still William Shatner, with all that implies.  Watching Shatner, it is hard not to imagine that Big Bad Mama is actually a lost Star Trek episode where Kirk goes back in the past and meets special guest star Angie Dickinson.  Far more effective is Tom Skerritt, who is thoroughly believable as a Dillinger-style bank robber.

In the style of Bonnie and Clyde, Big Bad Mama presents its outlaws as being counter-culture rebels.  Every authority figure that Wilma meets — from a preacher played by Royal Dano to a corrupt sheriff to Dick Miller’s incompetent FBI agent — is presented as being hypocritical and arrogant.  Angie plays Wilma as a strong-willed and sexually liberated woman who refuses to allow anyone to tell her how to live her life or raise her daughters.  In the gang, both Fred and Baxter are subservient to her.  Big Bad Mama’s tag line was “Hot lead!  Hot legs!  Hot damn!” and that is a perfect description of Angie Dickinson’s performance.

Happy birthday, Angie Dickinson!

Angie and Shatner