The Hanged Man (1974, directed by Michael Caffey)


In this made-for-TV western, Steve Forrest stars as James Devlin.  A hired killer and a notorious outlaw, Devlin has finally been captured and is sent to the gallows.  At first, it seems as if the hanging’s been a success and Devlin’s life has been extinguished at the end of the rope.  But then, while his body is at the funeral home and is being prepared for burial, Devlin suddenly opens his eyes and reveals that he’s alive.

No one can figure out how Devlin manage to survive being hung, especially not Devlin.  However, Devlin is now alive and free to leave town.  Has Devlin been sent back to Earth to serve God or did he just get lucky?  Devlin may not be sure himself but he is determined to turn around his old ways.  That starts with protecting a widow (Sharon Acker) and her son (Bobby Eilbacher) from Lew Halleck (Cameron Mitchell), a greedy businessman who wants their land and is prepared to go to any lengths to get it.  Devlin is not only still as good with a gun as he was before his execution but, having survived his hanging, he can now read minds!

The Hanged Man was designed to be a pilot for a weekly TV series and watching it, it’s easy to imagine how the show would have developed.  Devlin would have traveled around the old west, helping out a new guest star every episode and presumably trying to discover why he had been returned to life.  It’s not a bad idea for a show, though the pilot film doesn’t do enough with it.  Despite the fact that Devlin might be undead and that he now has the power to read minds, it really is just a conventional western, featuring the saintly widow and the evil land baron and all of the other familiar tropes of the genre.  It may begin with Devlin coming back to life but it ends with a shoot-out that could have been lifted from any number of old TV shows.

Still, as far as made-for-TV westerns are concerned, this one is entertaining enough.  Steve Forrest is a good hero and, as always, Cameron Mitchell is a good villain.  I wish they had done more with the supernatural aspects of the story but The Hanged Man is good enough for undemanding fans of the genre.

Sahara (1983, directed by Andrew V. McLaglen)


The year is 1927 and famed automobile designer R.J. Gordon (Steve Forrest) dies before he can enter his latest creation into the Trans-African Auto Race across the Sahara Desert.  Wishing to keep her father’s dream alive and prove that she’s just as good a driver as the boys, R.J.’s daughter, Dale (Brooke Shields), enters the race in his place.  Since women are not legally allowed to compete, Dale has to pretend to be a man.  She does this by wearing a fake mustache, which she tosses off as soon she drives over the start line.  It has to be seen to be believed.

Dale and her team set out on the race and they quickly get caught up in a tribal war between two separate factions of Bedouins.  Dale is captured by the lascivious Rasoul (John Rhys-Davies), who attempts to have his way with her.  Fortunately, Dale is rescued by Rasoul’s nephew, Sheikh Jafar (Lambert Wilson).  Jafar is enchanted by Dale’s beauty and wants her to marry him.  Dale eventually agrees but, the morning after the wedding, she sneaks out of Jafar’s tent, jumps back in her car, and rejoins the race.  When she gets captured by the other Bedouins, they force her to stand on a rock while surrounded by panthers.  Like Brooke with a mustache, it has to be seen to be believed.

Sahara was produced by Cannon Pictures.  Menahem Golan, who gets a story credit along with his usual producers credit on this film, was a self-described fan of Rudolph Valentino and Sahara was his attempt to pay homage to Valentino’s performance in The Sheik, as well as cashing in on the adventure zeitgeist that had been launched by the box office success of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  With a budget of $15 million, Sahara was one of Cannon’s most expensive films and the end result was a mix of high production values and typical Golan-Globus goofiness.  The desert cinematography may be impressive but this is still a strangely old-fashioned movie starring Brooke Shields as a race car driver who speeds through the desert without once getting a hair out of place.  As attractive as she was, Brooke was never much of an actress and requiring her to show more than one emotion at a time, as Sahara often does, seems like the ultimate act of hubris.  Say what you will about the films that Cannon made with Bronson and Norris, the two Chucks always seemed like they were perfectly cast.  Shields also has no chemistry with Lambert Wilson, who looks embarrassed at having to pretend to be Rudolph Valentino.  On the plus side, Raiders of the Lost Ark alumni Rhys-Davies and Ronald Lacey are both present in the film and seem to know better than to take any of it seriously.  Rhys-Davies especially always seems to be on the verge of laughing at his terrible dialogue.

Though the view may be impressive, the script is bad and the lead actors are lost.  Avoid Sahara at all costs.

North Dallas Forty (1979, directed by Ted Kotcheff)


Pete Gent was a college basketball star at Michigan State University who, in 1964, received a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys.  Intrigued by the $500 that the team was offering to any player who attended training camp that summer, Gent accepted.  Despite the fact that Gent had never before played football, the Cowboys were impressed with his athleticism and they signed him to the team.

For five seasons, Gent played wide receiver.  During that time, he caught a lot of balls, became close friends (or so he claimed) with quarterback Don Meredith, and got under the skin of Coach Tom Landry with his nonconformist attitude.  After several injuries kept him off the field during the 1968 season, Gent was traded to the Giants who waived him before the next regular season began.

Out of work and with no other team wanting to sign him, Gent wrote a thinly veiled autobiographical novel about his time with the Cowboys.  North Dallas Forty was published in 1973 and it immediately shot up the best seller charts.  When the book was published, football players were still regularly portrayed as being wholesome, all-American athletes and the Dallas Cowboys were still known as America’s Team.  North Dallas Forty shocked readers with its details about groupies, drugs, racism, and gruesome injuries.  The NFL, of course, claimed that Gent was just a disgruntled former player who was looking to get back at the league.  When asked about the book (which portrayed him as being a marijuana-loving good old boy), Don Meredith was reported to have said, “If I’d known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more.”

Meredith had a point, of course.  In the book, Pete Gent portrays himself as not only being the smartest man in football but also as having the best hands in the league.  Men want to be him.  Women want to be with him.  And the North Dallas Bulls (which is the book’s version of the Dallas Cowboys) don’t know what they’re losing when they release him for violating the league’s drug policy.  Today, when you read it and you’re no longer shocked by all of the drugs and the sex, North Dallas Forty comes across as mostly being a case of very sour grapes.

Luckily, the film version is better.

Nick Notle plays Phil Elliott, a broken-down receiver who wakes up most mornings with a bloody nose and who can barely walk without first popping a hundred pills.  Phil is a nonconformist and a rebel.  He loves to play the game but he hates how it’s become a business.  Mac Davis plays Seth Maxwell, the team’s quarterback and Phil’s best friend.  Seth is just as cynical as Phil but he’s better at playing politics.  G.D. Spradlin is B.A. Strother, the cold head coach who is a thinly disguised version of the legendary Tom Landry.  In the novel, B.A. Strother was portrayed as being a hypocritical dictator.  The film’s version is more sympathetic with Strother being portrayed as stern but not cruel.  Strother even tells Phil that he “can catch anything.”

Both the film and the book take place over the course of one week leading to a big game against Chicago.  In the book, Phil says that he and Seth don’t care about whether or not they win.  In the movie, they much do care but, at the same time, they know that they’re being held back by a system that cares more about whether or not they follow the rules than if they win the game.  While Phil’s teammates (including Bo Svenson as Joe Bob Priddy and John Mantuszak as O.W. Shaddock) behave like animals, Phil falls in love with Charlotte Caulder (Dayle Haddon), who doesn’t care about football.

Pete Gent was originally hired to write the film’s screenplay but left after several disagreements with producer Frank Yablans.  (The screenplay was completed by Yablans, directed Ted Kotcheff, and an uncredited Nancy Dowd.)  The movie loosely follows the novel while dropping some of its weaker plot points.  As a result, the film version has everything that made the novel memorable but without any of Gent’s lingering bitterness over how his career ended.  The novel used football as a metaphor for everything that was going wrong in America in the 60s and 70s but the movie is more of a dark comedy about one man rebelling against the system.

There’s only a few minutes of game footage but North Dallas Forty is still one of the best football movies ever made, mostly because Nick Nolte is absolutely believable as an aging wide receiver.  He’s convincing as someone who can still make all the plays even though he’s usually in so much pain that it’s a struggle for him to get out of bed every morning.  He’s also convincing as someone who loves the game but who won’t give up his freedom just to play it.  This is a definite improvement on the novel, in which Phil seemed to hate football so much that it was hard not to wonder why he was even wasting his time with it.  Country-and-western signer Mac Davis is also convincing as Seth Maxwell and fans of great character actors will be happy to see both Charles Durning and Dabney Coleman in small roles.

Whether you’re a football fan or not, North Dallas Forty is a great film.  Coming at the tail end of the 70s, it’s a character study as much as its a sports film.  It’s also one of the few cinematic adaptations to improve on its source material.  As a book, North Dallas Forty may no longer be shocking but the movie will be scoring touchdowns forever.

Horror on the Lens: Hotline (dir by Jerry Jameson)


Yay!  Brianne O’Neill (Lynda Carter) has a got a new job, working at a crisis hotline!

Boooo!  The serial called known as the Barber is now obsessed with calling her!

The Barber is known as the Barber because he cuts his victims’s hair before killing them, which as far as I’m concerned, make him even worse than a normal serial killer.  You have to wonder if he resents being known as the Barber as opposed to The Stylist.

Anyway, it’s up to Brianne to figure out why The Barber keeps calling her and to hopefully discover his identity.  For whatever reason, no one else seems to be that concerned about it.

That’s the plot of Hotline, a 1982 made-for-TV movie that is today’s horror on the lens.  It’s not a bad film, though it does inspire a certain amount of snarkiness while you’re watching it.  For the most part, though, it’s well-acted and effectively directed.  If you’ve got 95 minutes to kill, why not kill them with Lynda Carter, The Barber, and Frank Stallone?

A Movie A Day #162: Captain America (1979, directed by Rod Holcomb)


Captain America drives a Chevy Van!

In this attempt to turn one of Marvel’s first heroes into a weekly television star, Steve Rogers (Reb Brown) is a laid back 70s dude who has just gotten out of the Marines.  He owns a van (“a mellow set of wheels”) and he just wants to drive around America, drawing pictures, and doing his own thing.  Doctors Simon Mills (Len Birman) and Wendy Day (Heather Menzies) want Steve to follow in his father’s footsteps and get injected with the super powered FLAG formula.  Steve is just not interested.  The only Captain America that he’s interested in emulating is Peter Fonda in Easy Rider.  “I just want to kick back and find out who I am,” Steve says.

Steve does not really have a choice, though.  Evil billionaire Lou Brackett (Steve Forrest) wants the FLAG formula and attempts to have Steve killed.  In order to save Steve’s life, Dr. Mills injects Steve with the FLAG formula.  Not only does Steve now have super strength but, in the style of Col. Steve Austin, he now has super vision and super hearing.  To help Steve in his new life as crime-fighting super hero who will “stand up for the little guy,” Dr. Mills modifies both Steve’s Chevy Van and his motorcycle.  He also gives Steve a bulletproof shield.  Vibrainium is never mentioned and, for some reason, the shield is transparent, which makes it look like its made out of plastic.  At first, Steve wears his father’s old costume but then he designs a new one.  A super hero has to have super threads.

This was the first of two pilots for a proposed Captain America television series.  Unlike both The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America never made it past the pilot stage.  Like many early comic book adaptations, Captain America‘s first pilot makes the mistake of straying too far from its comic book origins.  Instead of being an almost comically old-fashioned, straight arrow patriot, this Steve Rogers is a beach bum who gets his own groovy, bass-heavy soundtrack while riding his motorcycle up and down the coast.  Forget about the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, the Secret Empire, the Serpent Squad, or any of Captain America’s other regular enemies.  This Captain America specializes in more conventional, less interesting menaces.

Reb Brown is okay as this film’s version of Steve Rogers but there is nothing that makes the character special.  He’s just a big guy wearing a silly costume and carrying a transparent shield.  With his new origin story and his modified powers, this Captain America has more in common with The Bionic Man than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s original character.

The van’s cool, though.

Captain America’s Bitchin’ Van

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Longest Day (dir by Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald, and Darryl F. Zanuck)


As my sister has already pointed out, today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.  With that in mind, and as a part of my ongoing mission to see and review every single film ever nominated for best picture, I decided to watch the 1962 film, The Longest Day!

The Longest Day is a pain-staking and meticulous recreation of invasion of Normandy, much of it filmed on location.  It was reportedly something of a dream project for the head of the 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck set out to make both the ultimate tribute to the Allied forces and the greatest war movie ever.  Based on a best seller, The Longest Day has five credited screenwriters and three credited directors.  (Ken Annakin was credited with “British and French exteriors,” Andrew Marton did “American exteriors,” and the German scenes were credited to Bernhard Wicki.  Oddly, Gerd Oswald was not credited for his work on the parachuting scenes, even though those were some of the strongest scenes in the film.)  Even though he was not credited as either a screenwriter or a director, it is generally agreed that the film ultimately reflected the vision of Darryl F. Zanuck.  Zanuck not only rewrote the script but he also directed a few scenes as well.  The film had a budget of 7.75 million dollars, which was a huge amount in 1962.  (Until Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, The Longest Day was the most expensive black-and-white film ever made.)  Not only did the film tell an epic story, but it also had an epic length.  Clocking in at 3 hours, The Longest Day was also one of the longest movies to ever be nominated for best picture.

The Longest Day also had an epic cast.  Zanuck assembled an all-star cast for his recreation of D-Day.  If you’re like me and you love watching old movies on TCM, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces go rushing by during the course of The Longest Day.  American generals were played by actors like Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, and John Wayne.  Peter Lawford, then the brother-in-law of the President of the United States, had a memorable role as the Scottish Lord Lovat, who marched through D-Day to the sounds of bagpipes.  When the Allied troops storm the beach, everyone from Roddy McDowall to Sal Mineo to Robert Wagner to singer Paul Anka can be seen dodging bullets.  Sean Connery pops up, speaking in his Scottish accent and providing comic relief.  When a group of paratroopers parachute into an occupied village, comedian Red Buttons ends up hanging from the steeple of a church.  When Richard Beymer (who is currently playing Ben Horne on Twin Peaks) gets separated from his squad, he stumbles across Richard Burton.  Among those representing the French are Arletty and Christian Marquand.  (Ironically, after World War II, Arletty was convicted of collaborating with the Germans and spent 18 months under house arrest.  Her crime was having a romantic relationship with a German soldier.  It is said that, in response to the charges, Arletty said, “My heart is French but my ass is international.”)  Meanwhile, among the Germans, one can find three future Bond villains: Gert Frobe, Curt Jurgens, and Walter Gotell.

It’s a big film and, to be honest, it’s too big.  It’s hard to keep track of everyone and, even though the battle scenes are probably about an intense as one could get away with in 1962 (though it’s nowhere near as effective as the famous opening of Saving Private Ryan, I still felt bad when Jeffrey Hunter and Eddie Albert were gunned down), their effectiveness is compromised by the film’s all-star approach.  Often times, the action threatens to come to a halt so that everyone can get their close-up.  Unfortunately, most of those famous faces don’t really get much of a chance to make an impression.  Even as the battle rages, you keep getting distracted by questions like, “Was that guy famous or was he just an extra?”

Among the big stars, most of them play to their personas.  John Wayne, for instance, may have been cast as General Benjamin Vandervoort but there’s never any doubt that he’s playing John Wayne.  When he tells his troops to “send them to Hell,” it’s not Vandervoort giving orders.  It’s John Wayne representing America.  Henry Fonda may be identified as being General Theodore Roosevelt II but, ultimately, you react to him because he’s Henry Fonda, a symbol of middle-American decency.  Neither Wayne nor Fonda gives a bad performance but you never forget that you’re watching Fonda and Wayne.

Throughout this huge film, there are bits and pieces that work so well that you wish the film had just concentrated on them as opposed to trying to tell every single story that occurred during D-Day.  I liked Robert Mitchum as a tough but caring general who, in the midst of battle, gives a speech that inspires his troops to keep fighting.  The scenes of Peter Lawford marching with a bagpiper at his side were nicely surreal.  Finally, there’s Richard Beymer, wandering around the French countryside and going through the entire day without firing his gun once.  Beymer gets the best line of the film when he says, “I wonder if we won.”  It’s such a modest line but it’s probably the most powerful line in the film.  I wish The Longest Day had more scenes like that.

The Longest Day was nominated for best picture of 1962 but it lost to an even longer film, Lawrence of Arabia.

A Movie A Day #75: Wanted: The Sundance Woman (1976, directed by Lee Philips)


This made-for-TV sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens several years after the death of Butch and Sundance in Bolivia.  Etta Pace (Katharine Ross, reprising her role from the original film) is now a wanted woman.  Hiding out in Arizona, she does her best to keep a low profile.  But when Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo (Steve Forrest) comes to town and one of Etta’s friends (Michael Constantine) is arrested, Etta knows that she’s going to need help to survive.  Crossing the border into Mexico, she teams up with revolutionary Pancho Vila (Hector Elizondo).  In return for helping him get his hands on a shipment of guns, Vila agrees to protect Etta.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman was ABC’s second pilot for a possible television series about Etta Pace’s adventures at the turn of the century.  The first pilot starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Etta and directly dealt with Etta’s attempts to come to terms with the death of Butch and Sundance.  While Katharine Ross returned to the role for the second pilot, Wanted: The Sundance Woman does not actually have much of a connection to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.  Katharine Ross could have just as easily been playing Etta Smith as Etta Pace.

Wanted: The Sundance Woman is held back by its origins as a TV movie and a rather silly romance between Etta and Pancho Vila.  Hector Elizondo is hardly convincing as a fiery revolutionary and Steve Forrest is reliably dull as Siringo.  It is not really surprising that this pilot didn’t lead to a weekly series.  On the positive side, the film does feature an exciting train robbery and Katharine Ross is just as good in this sequel as she was in the original.  Even though she was talented, beautiful, and had important roles in two of the most successful films of the 60s (The Graduate and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Hollywood never seemed to know what do with Katharine Ross.  While she did have a starring role in The Stepford Wives, Katharine Ross spent most of the 70s appearing in stuff like The Swarm, They Only Kill Their Masters, and The Betsy.  It’s unfortunate that Hollywood apparently did not want Katharine Ross as much Pancho Vila wanted the Sundance Woman.