Film Review: L.A. 2017 (dir by Steven Spielberg)


L.A. 2017 is the Steven Spielberg film about which you’ve probably never heard.

To a certain extent, that’s understandable.  Spielberg was only 24 when, in 1971, he directed L.A. 2017.  It was a film that he directed for television.  In fact, it was only his third directorial assignment.  As opposed to the huge budgets that we tend to associate with a typical Spielberg production, L.A. 2017 was made for about $300,000.  The entire film was shot in about 12 days.  In fact, with a running time of only a scant 69 minutes, L.A. 2017 hardly qualifies as a feature-length film.  L.A. 2017 has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray, making it a true oddity in Spielberg’s filmography.  Despite the fact that Spielberg has credited L.A. 2017 with opening a lot of doors for him, it’s an almost totally forgotten film.

Of course, some of that is because L.A. 2017 really isn’t a film at all.  Instead, it was an episode of a television show called The Name of the Game.  The show was about Glenn Howard (Gene Barry), a magazine publisher, and the reporters who worked for him.  L.A. 2017 was unique in that it was the show’s only excursion into science fiction.  In fact, from everything that I’ve read about the show, it appears that L.A. 2017 was nothing like any of the other episodes of The Name of the Game.  This episode was also unique because Spielberg directed it as if he was making a feature, as opposed to just another installment in a weekly series.  If not for the opening credits (which announce, among other things, that we’re watching a Robert Stack Production), one could easily imagine watching L.A. 2017 in a movie theater, perhaps as a double feature with Beneath The Planet Of The Apes.

L.A. 2017 opens with Glenn driving down a mountain road in California.  He’s heading to a pollution summit and, as he drives along, he awkwardly dictates an editorial into a tape recorder.  Glenn worries that society may have already ruined the environment to such an extent that the Earth cannot be saved.  As if to prove his point, Glenn starts to cough as he’s overcome by all of the smog in the air.  His car swerves into a ditch and Glenn is knocked unconscious.

Welcome to the future

When he wakes up, he finds himself being rescued by men wearing wearing protective suits and masks.  The sky is a sickly orange and an ominous wind howls in the background.  Glenn’s rescuers take him to an underground city where he discovers that, somehow, he has traveled through time.  The year is now 2017, which in this film looks a lot like the 70s except that everyone’s now underground and the landline phones are extra bulky.  (Needless to say, watching 1971’s version of 2017 in 2019 is an interesting experience.)  It turns out that the pollution got so bad that the surface of the planet became uninhabitable.  The U.S. is now run by a corporation that is headquartered in Detroit.  (Presumably, the Corporation is a former car company.)  The U.S. is also at war with England, for some reason.  No mention is made about what’s happened to Canada but, if Detroit’s still around, I assume at least some of Canada managed to survive as well.

The …. uh, Future.

Everyone in the future drinks a lot of milk and, when they’re not listening to cheerful announcements, they’re listening to the soothing music that the Corporation provides for them.  Everyone in the future is also very friendly.  We know this because everyone keeps assuring Glenn that he’s surrounded by friends.  In fact, everyone in the future refers to one another by their first name because “it’s friendlier.”  It’s also the law.  It turns out that there’s a lot of laws in the future.  In fact, the underground cities are pretty fascist in the way that they handle things.  There are constant announcements encouraging people to pursue a career in law enforcement and anyone who disagrees with the Corporation ends up in a straight jacket.  Glenn feels that maybe he’s been brought to the future so he can start a new magazine and challenge the status quo.  The Corporation disagrees….

This is what happens when you don’t go underground in the future.

Okay, so there’s nothing subtle about L.A. 2017.  From the villainous corporation to the heavy-handed environmental message, there’s nothing here that you haven’t seen in dozens of other sci-fi films.  But the lack of subtlety doesn’t matter, largely because Spielberg directs with so much energy and with such an eye to detail that it’s impossible not to get sucked into the story.  As opposed to the somewhat complacent Spielberg who has recently given us rather bland and safe blockbusters like Lincoln, The BFG, and The Post, the Spielberg who directed L.A. 2017 was young and obviously eager to show off what he could do with even a low budget and that enthusiasm is present in every frame, from the wide-angle shots of Glenn driving his car to the scenes of Glenn looking up at the shadowy executives and scientists who are staring down at him when he’s first brought to the underground city.  As opposed to the sterile vision of so many other future-set films, Spielberg’s future feels as if it’s actually been lived in.  When Glenn finds himself in a new world, it comes across as being a real world as opposed to just a narrative contrivance.

Of course, because L.A. 2017 was just one episode in a weekly series, Glenn couldn’t remain in the future and L.A. 2017 returns Glenn to the present in the most contrived and predictable way possible.  Still, L.A. 2017 remains an entertaining example of what a young and talented director can do when he’s determined to be recognized.  Watching the film, it’s easy to draw a straight line from Spielberg doing L.A. 2017 to doing Duel and then subsequently being hired for Jaws.

Incidentally, Joan Crawford is somewhere in this film.  Crawford worked with Spielberg when he directed her in the pilot for Night Gallery and she was one of his first major supporters in Hollywood.  Apparently, in L.A. 2017, she plays one of the people staring down at Glenn when he’s first brought into the underground city.  I haven’t found her yet but she’s apparently there somewhere.

Unfortunately, L.A. 2017 has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray but it is currently available on YouTube.

Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.15 “Chopper” (dir by Bruce Kessler)


Tonight on Kolchak….

There’s a headless man riding a motorcycle, using a sword to behead members of a rival motorcycle gang!  And …. well, really what else do you need to know?  When a headless cyclists start killing people, you don’t worry about why.  There is a reason however and everyone’s favorite nervous journalist is going to find out what it is!

This episode originally aired on January 31st, 1975!

Enjoy!

Horror On The Lens: The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer (dir by Lela Swift)


Today’s horror on the lens is 1974’s The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer.

This short but entertaining sci-fi film may be a bit obscure but it’s a personal favorite of mine.  Check out my review here and then be sure to enjoy the show!

A Movie A Day #313: Lone Wolf McQuade (1983, directed by Steve Carver)


Chuck Norris is J.J. McQuade, Texas Ranger!

J.J. McQuade is a former Marine who keeps the peace in El Paso through a combination of karate and machine guns.  McQuade lives in a house in the desert, with only a wolf and refrigerator full of beer to provide companionship.  He prefers to work alone, even though his captain (R.G. Armstrong) insists that McQuade partner up with a rookie named Kayo Ramos (Robert Beltran).  Ramos is eager to prove himself but Lone Wolf McQuade has to work alone.  Otherwise, his nickname would not make any sense.

Things change when McQuade’s teenage daughter (Dana Kimmel) is put in the hospital by an arrogant and sleazy arms dealer named Rawley Wilkes (David Carradine).  McQuade is out for both justice and revenge and Ramos’s knowledge of how to turn on a computer proves to be helpful.  Also teaming up with McQuade: an FBI agent (Leon Isaac Kennedy), a retired Ranger named Dakota (L.Q. Jones), and Rawley’s former lover (Barbara Carrera), who now happens to be McQuade’s current lover.

The predictable storyline is not what makes Lone Wolf McQuade a classic. Instead, it’s that this movie features both Chuck Norris and David Carradine at the height of their abilities.    The whole film is directed like a grand western, with Norris and Carradine taking the roles that would usually go to Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef.  The plot may be full of holes but when these two face off, none of that matters.  Neither Carradine nor Norris used stunt doubles for their fight scenes and it makes all the difference.

This was one of the first movies to feature Chuck Norris with the beard that’s become his trademark.  Wisely, Chuck doesn’t say much in the movie and leaves most of the heavy-duty acting to his co-stars.  (Though he may be an icon of cool, Chuck has never been anyone’s idea of a great actor.)  Carradine’s performance as Rawley feels like an early version of his best known role, Bill in Kill Bill.  L.Q. Jones and R.G. Armstrong both bring their own history as members of the Sam Peckinpah stock company to the film while Barbara Carrera livens up her part with a sultry spark.  Keep an eye out for both William Sanderson and Sharon Farrell in small roles.  Speaking of small roles, Daniel Frishman almost steals the entire damn movie as a rival arms dealer.

Though it wasn’t produced by Cannon, Lone Wolf McQuade is an essential for fans of Chuck Norris.

Back to School Part II #24: Can’t Buy Me Love (dir by Steve Rash)


220px-cant_buy_me_love_movie_poster

For some reason, the 1987 comedy Can’t Buy Me Love is really beloved by clickbait headline writers.  I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve seen headlines like “Why We Still Love Can’t Buy My Love” or “See What The Cast Of Can’t Buy Me Love Looks Like Today!”

Why is it that the worst movies always seem to have the most rabid fan bases?  Actually, to be fair, Can’t Buy Me Love is not one of the worst movies of all time.  I watched it on Netflix a few nights ago and it wasn’t terrible.  But, at the same time, it was hardly the classic that so many articles have made it out to be.  Maybe the people writing about Can’t Buy Me Love are viewing it through the lens of nostalgia.  Who knows?  Maybe my future children will think I’m a weirdo for loving Easy A.

(They better not!  Easy A is the best!)

Anyway, Can’t Buy Me Love takes place in the same upper class suburb in which all teen films from the 80s take place.  Nerdy Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) has spent the summer mowing lawns and he’s raised enough money that he can finally afford to buy a super telescope.  However, as Ronald is walking through the mall, he sees the girl that he’s been crushing on, Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson).  Disobeying her mother, Cindy borrowed a suede outfit without asking.  She wore it to a party, the outfit got ruined, and now Cindy desperately needs a replacement.  The leads to Ronald getting an idea.  Who needs a telescope when he can use his money to pay Cindy to be his girlfriend for a month?  Cindy can buy a new outfit and Ronald can date the most popular girl in school and become popular himself!

School begins and Ronald’s plan seems to work.  With Cindy’s help, Ronald goes from being a nottie to being a hottie!  (Yes, that’s a reference to the infamous Paris Hilton film from 2008, The Hottie and the Nottie.)  Of course, it’s a very 80s transformation.  Ronald learns about the importance of sungalsses, vests, and going sleeveless.  Along the way, Cindy falls in love with Ronald and comes to realize that her friends are all a bunch of followers.  When Ronald starts to do a spastic dance, Cindy can only watch in shock as all of her friends starts to the same dance, convinced that it has to be cool if Ronald is doing it!

Meanwhile, Ronald changes.  Being popular goes to his head.  He rejects his old friends.  He becomes a jerk.  It’s only when he discovers that his oldest friend, Kenneth (Courtney Gains, who appears in hundreds of these films), is being targeted by the popular kids that Ronald is forced to confront the type of person he has become and hopefully realize that you can’t buy love…

It’s always weird to see Patrick Dempsey in these old high school movies.  Some of that is because he was so scrawny that it’s hard to believe that he’s the same actor who made McDreamy into a household word.  Add to that, Patrick Dempsey is a good actor now.  Judging from this film, he wasn’t necessarily a good actor in the 80s.  At times, Dempsey seems to be trying so hard that it’s actually uncomfortable to watch.  Amanda Peterson, who tragically passed away last year, is a lot more natural as Cindy.

Anyway, Can’t Buy Me Love was apparently a huge hit back when it was released and it appears that a lot of people have good memories of watching it.  I thought it was kind of bland and poorly acted.  I’ll stick with Easy A.

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #64: Out of the Blue (dir by Dennis Hopper)


Out_of_the_Blue_Film“Subvert normality.”

— Cebe (Linda Manz) in Out of the Blue (1980)

The 1980 Canadian film Out of the Blue opens with a terrifying scene.  Don Barnes (Dennis Hopper), drinking a beer and playing with his daughter while driving a truck, crashes into a school bus.  The bus is full of children, many of whom are seen being thrown into the air as the truck literally splits the bus in half.

Don is sent to prison.  His wife, Kathy (Sharon Farrell), becomes a drug addict.  His daughter, Cebe (Linda Manz), grows up to be an angry and alienated teenager.  Cebe spends her time either aimlessly wandering around her economically depressed hometown or else ranting about the phoniness of society to anyone who will listen (and quite a few who won’t).  Much like the killer cops in Magnum Force, all of her heroes are dead.  Occasionally, she sees a pompous therapist (Raymond Burr) whose liberal humanism turns out to be just as empty as the reactionary society that Cebe is striking out against.  Cebe’s heroes are Elvis, Sid Vicious, and her father.

When Don is finally released from prison, he returns home and he announces that he’s straightened out his life.  He promises that he’ll stay sober and he’ll be a good father.  That, of course, is all bullshit.  Soon, Don is struggling to hold down a job and spending his time drinking with his friend Charlie (Don Gordon).  Anyone who has ever had to deal with an alcoholic father will be able to painfully relate to the scenes where Don goes from being kind and loving to demonic in a matter of seconds.

Eventually, it all leads to a violent ending, one that is powerful precisely because it is so inevitable.

Out of the Blue is one of my favorite films, one that I relate to more than I really like to admit.  Directed in a raw and uncompromising manner by Dennis Hopper, Out of the Blue is a look at life on the margins of society.  And while some would argue that not much happens in the film between the explosive opening and the equally explosive ending, nothing needs to happen.  The power of the film comes not from its plot and instead from the perfect performances of Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farrell, and Don Gordon.  Only Raymond Burr feels out of place but there’s a reason for that.

As much as I love Out of the Blue as a movie, I love the story of its production as well.  Originally, Out of the Blue was to be your typical movie about a rebellious teen who is saved by a patient and compassionate counselor.  Dennis Hopper was originally just supposed to co-star.  However, after the shooting started to run behind schedule, the film’s original director was fired.  Hopper talked the producers into letting him take over as a director.

This was the first film that Hopper was allowed to direct since the 1971 release of the infamous flop, The Last Movie.  Hopper, who was then best known for his drug use and his alcoholism, promised to be on his best behavior.  However, he then proceeded to secretly rewrite the entire film.

When Raymond Burr showed up to shoot his scenes, he was under the impression that he was still the star of the film.  Hopper essentially proceeded to shoot two separate films.  One film followed the original script and starred Raymond Burr.  The other was Hopper’s vision.  When it came time to take all of the footage and edit together the film that would be called Out of Blue, only two of Burr’s scenes made it into final cut and, in both of those scenes, Burr’s character is portrayed as being clueless.

Out of the Blue is not a happy film but it’s a good one.  More people need to see it.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer (dir. by Lela Swift)


Last night, I watched an obscure science fiction film, 1974’s The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer.

Why Was I Watching It?

It was nearly four in the morning and I couldn’t sleep.  So, I turned on the TV, checked the guide, and I saw that something called The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer was about to start on the Fox Movie Channel.  Pushing the info button on my remote control, revealed only that the film was made in 1974 and that “No cast information is available.”  Well, after seeing that, how couldn’t I have curled up on the couch and watched?

What Was It About?

Clifford Swimmer (Peter Haskell) is perhaps the least likable human being ever.  He’s an angry alcoholic who abuses his wife (Sheree North) and son (Lance Kerwin) and who has somehow managed to get into debt to the local loan shark (played by William Bassett, who is better known for playing the Sheriff in House of a 1,000 Corpses and doing the voice overs for those annoying Whataburger commercials).  Clifford hates his life and dreams of running off with his mistress and living on a boat.  If only he were free of his “responsibilities…”

Fortunately, he just happens to know the local mad scientist (Keene Curtis) who clones Clifford, using cells taken from Clifford’s tongue.  Once the clone takes his place at home and word, Clifford runs off with his mistress.  Fortunately, the Clone turns out to be the nicest, most gentle guy in the world and both his wife and son are overjoyed at the sudden change in personality that appear to have occurred within “Clifford.”  The real Clifford Swimmer, however, soon becomes disillusioned with life on a boat and decides to return to his old life.  Unfortunately, his old life doesn’t really want him back.  It all leads to violence, several murders, and a surprise twist at the end.

What Worked?

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer.  Smartly written (and as melodramatic as any film called The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer should have been), this was a surprisingly thought-provoking little film and the “surprise” ending was executed very well and even came close to bringing tears to my sleep-deprived eyes.

Considering the film’s origins (which are discussed down below), this was a surprisingly well-acted film that is dominated by an excellent performance from Peter Haskell as Clifford Swimmer and this clone.  After I watched the film, I checked with imdb and I discovered that Peter Haskell (who passed away in 2010) was apparently a pretty busy television actor and he definitely had the looks of someone you would expect to find playing a doctor in a soap opera.  On the basis of his performance here, he was also apparently a pretty versatile actor.

What Did Not Work?

According to imdb, The Cloning of Clifford Swimmer was originally an episode of something called The Wide World Of Mystery which used to air on ABC back in the 70s.  However, even if I hadn’t done that bit of research, the film was obviously made for television.  By that, I mean that it has the flat, stagey look of a three camera sitcom.  As well, the fact that every climatic scene fades to black (for a commercial break) definitely disrupts the rhythm of the show.

That said, I have to also say that — last night at least — these “flaws” actually added to the film’s charm.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

If I were ever the type to be a home wrecker, I hope I’d be as stylish a one as Clifford’s mistress, Madeline Rivera (played by Sharon Farrell, who is also in one of my favorite movies of all time, Out of the Blue).  Seriously, her clothes were to die for.  That said, I would also hope that I would have better taste in men.

Lessons Learned

Sometimes, it’s not a bad idea to just stay up late and just watch whatever happens to come on.