Special Memorial Day Edition: Randolph Scott in GUNG HO! (Universal 1943)


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Duke Wayne wasn’t the only movie cowboy who fought WWII in Hollywood. Randolph Scott battled fascism in quite a few war dramas, and one of his best is 1943’s GUNG HO! (currently streaming on The Film Detective ). The rock-solid Mr. Scott plays tough-as-nails Col. Thorwald, an expert in guerilla warfare thanks to his experience with the Chinese army, who whips a diverse crew of Marines into fighting shape to launch the first American ground offensive against the Japanese on Makin Island.

Scott and his second-in-command, the versatile character actor J. Carrol Naish (playing a Marine of Greek descent this time around), gather up a motley crew of misfits and reprobates ala THE DIRTY DOZEN:  there’s battling stepbrothers Noah Beery Jr. and David Bruce (who’re also rivals for the affections of pretty Grace McDonald in a subplot), hillbilly farmboy Rod Cameron, murderous minister Alan Curtis , “no good kid” Harold…

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A Hidden ‘Poil’: THREE MEN ON A HORSE (Warner Brothers 1936)


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Frank McHugh got a rare starring role in the comedy THREE MEN ON A HORSE, based on the hit Broadway play by George Abbott and John Cecil Holmes. McHugh was usually cast as the funny friend of fellow members of “Hollywood’s Irish Mafia “ James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, but here he takes center stage as a meek, hen-pecked type who has an uncanny knack for picking winning horses – as long as he doesn’t bet on them!

Greeting card writer Erwin Trowbridge is beset by a whiney wife, obnoxious brother-in-law, and bullying boss. After a row with wifey brought on by meddling bro-in-law, Erwin leaves his humble Ozone Park, Queens abode and decides to skip work and get sloshed. Stumbling into a seedy hotel bar frequented by Runyonesque gamblers, Erwin gives them a winning pony – then passes out. The three mugs, Patsy, Charlie, and Frankie, bring him up…

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Structural Failure: THE BIG STREET (RKO 1942)


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When I hear the word “Runyonesque”, I think about racetrack touts, colorful Broadway denizens, dames with hearts of gold, and the like. If you want to make a Runyonesque movie, what better way than to have author Damon Runyon himself produce it, as RKO did for 1942’s THE BIG STREET. All the elements are there, the jargon, the characters, but the film suffers from abrupt shifts in tone from comedy to drama, and a totally unpleasant role for Lucille Ball . The result is an uneven movie with a real downer of an ending.

Based on Runyon’s short story “Little Pinks”, it follows the unrequited love of bus boy Augustus “Little Pinks” Pinkerton for torch singing gold digger Gloria Lyons, dubbed “Her Highness” by Pinks. Henry Fonda plays Pinks as  lovestruck, spineless sad sack, dubbing Lucy Her Highness, even though she’s thoroughly rotten to him. When she’s smacked by her gangster boyfriend Case Ables ( Barton MacLane )…

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A Malignant Odor: SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (United Artists 1957)


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Watching SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is like taking a slog through a sludge-filled, rat infested sewer. It’s “a cookie full of arsenic”, with two of the most repellant characters to ever worm their way across the silver screen. It’s also a brilliant film, with superb performances from stars Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, wonderfully quotable dialog by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, tense direction by Alexander Mackendrick, and stunning black and white photography by James Wong Howe . It’s a movie that demands repeated viewings; just make sure to take a shower after each one!

Powerful Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker is dead set on destroying the relationship between his kid sister Susie and up-and-coming jazz guitarist Steve Dallas. To achieve this goal, he uses his toady, press agent Sidney Falco. Sidney, forever trying to curry favor with the great Hunsecker, pimps out cigarette girl Rita to rival columnist Otis Elwell, in exchange for…

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Halloween Havoc!: GOD TOLD ME TO (New World 1976)


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God Told Me To (1976) aka Demon Directed by Larry Cohen Shown: Poster Art

Last year during “Halloween Havoc!”, I took a look at writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’s cult classic IT’S ALIVE . This time around, it’s GOD TOLD ME TO, a  creepily twisted tale tackling mass murder, aliens, Catholicism, and the nature of God himself that could’ve only been made in the paranoiac 70’s, and may be Cohen’s best film.

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There’s a sniper on a rampage in New York City perched atop a water tower. Fourteen people are dead, and police have the scene surrounded. Det. Lt. Peter Nicholas, a devout Catholic who was orphaned as a child and goes to confession daily,  climbs the ladder in hopes of engaging the shooter before he kills again. When Nicholas asks the killer why he’s caused all this carnage, the man simply replies, “God told me to”, then jumps off the tower, plunging to his doom.

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This stage the stage for more bizarre mayhem, starting with a…

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The Fabulous Forties #17: Gung Ho! (dir by Ray Enright)


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The 17th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties Box Set was the 1943 war film, Gung Ho!

Gung Ho!, which is filmed in a documentary style and features a narrator, opens with a series of job interviews.  A tough lieutenant (J. Carrol Naish) is recruiting Marines to serves in a special unit, one which will only take on the most hazardous of assignments.  The narrator reminds us that the interviews are taking place just a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and we listen as each interviewee is asked whether or not he is okay with killing members of the Japanese army.

Some of the interviewees hesitate and some don’t but ultimately, all of them are okay with killing.  One (Rod Cameron) explains that he’s already a murderer, having killed someone back in Kentucky.  Another says that he fought in the Spanish Civil War and that he sees his service as being a continuation of the fight against fascism.  Another Marine (Alvan Curtis) says that he’s an ordained minister but he’s willing to do what has to be done.  A Marine named Pig Iron shows up and, since he’s played by a young Robert Mitchum, we know that he’ll get things taken care of.

And then we get to the final interviewee.  He doesn’t have a big role in the film but his one line makes a big impression.  When asked why he doesn’t mind the idea of killing, he replies, “I just don’t like Japs.”

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That’s a line that would definitely not make it into a modern version of Gung Ho!  Or, if it did, it would be followed by the interviewee being admonished and then kicked out of the office.  But Gung Ho! was made in 1943, at the height of World War II and in the shadow of Peal Harbor.  As uncomfortable as it may make us today, “I just don’t like Japs,” was probably Gung Ho‘s big applause line when it was originally released.

And really, that’s the main value of a film like Gung Ho!  It’s a well-made but predictable war film but ultimately, it’s most important as a time capsule.  If you want to know the truth about an era’s culture, as opposed to what you may want the truth to be, look at the art.  Read the books.  Watch the movies.  You may not always like what you find but you owe it to yourself to do so.

Anyway, as far the rest of Gung Ho!, it plays out exactly as you would expect.  Under the eye of Lt. Commander Thornwald (Randolph Scott), the men train for combat.  They visit Pearl Harbor and see the sunken remains of ships that are still smoking after being bombed.  And finally, the men fight the Japanese on an island.  Some survive.  Many more of them die.  And the fight continues.

Gung Ho! will probably be best appreciated by fans of war films, which admittedly I am not.  That said, it is an interesting time capsule of 1943 America.  Plus, it features Robert Mitchum!  Admittedly, it’s a small role but he does get two great scenes and … well, he’s Robert Mitchum!  How can you not enjoy watching Robert Mitchum?

And guess what?  You can watch Gung Ho! below!