Tarzan in Manhattan (1989, directed by Michael Schultz)


An evil businessman named Brightmore (Jan-Michael Vincent) abducts Cheetah the Chimpanzee from Africa and takes him back to Manhattan.  It’s up to Cheetah’s best friend, Tarzan (Joe Lara), to rescue him.  Tarzan goes to New York where he meets a cabbie named Jane (Kim Crosby) and her father, a tough private investigator named Archimedes (Tony Curtis).  Tarzan is also briefly detained for being in the country illegally but he pulls the bars out of his cell window and escapes.  Presumably, so does everyone else in the jail.  Way to go, Tarzan.

Lisa and I discovered this playing on the Z-Living Channel last night and we watched it because it was either watch this or start binging the Police Academy films on Netflix.  That’s what this damn pandemic is leading to.  We know we’re probably going to have to watch the entire Police Academy franchise at some point but we’re trying to put it off.  So, we watched Tarzan in Manhattan.  Damn you, COVID-19!

It was bad.  It was really, really bad.  It was obviously meant to be a pilot for television series but I guess it didn’t happen.  The timing was off.  If Tarzan in Manhattan had been made in the 90s, it probably would have led to a syndicated series that would currently be airing on H&I, next to episodes of Renegade and Sheena.  It came out in 1989, though, too early to cash in on the wave of syndicated crap that was unleashed after the success of Baywatch proved that you didn’t have to produce a quality show to find success in syndication.  Because it came out too early, we were spared annual Tarzan in Manhattan conventions.  Let that sink in and be happy.

Plus, it’s just really, really bad.  Did I say that already?  It’s true.  There’s nothing consistent about Tarzan in Manhattan.  It wants to be a comedy, it wants to be a drama.  It wants to be an updated version of Tarzan but it still wants him to be confused by the modern world.  The movie also doesn’t seem to know if Tarzan is famous or not.  It seems like he must be because Brightmore went through a lot of trouble to kidnap his chimpanzee.  But, in Manhattan, no one seems to know who he is.  The movie also doesn’t get Tarzan’s famous jungle call right, either.  This Tarzan just yells, without any special inflection to let the world know that he’s Tarzan.  Instead of It’s like he’s not Tarzan at all.  Jan-Michael Vincent and Tony Curtis both seem bored while Joe Lara has the right look for Tarzan but not much else to recommend him.  The chimpanzee survives without being used to test makeup or whatever it was Brightmore was planning on doing with him so at least the movie has that going for it.

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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A Bout De Souffle: Robert Siodmak’s CRISS CROSS (Universal-International 1949)


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CRISS CROSS hits you like a sucker punch to the gut, delivered hard and swift, followed by a non-stop pummeling that doesn’t let up until the final, fatal shot. Things kick right in as we find clandestine lovers Steve Thompson and Anna Dundee going at it hot’n’heavy in a nightclub parking lot. They go inside, and Steve gets into it with Anna’s husband, the gangster Slim Dundee, who pulls a knife, but the fight’s interrupted by Lt. Pete Rameriz, Steve’s boyhood pal. What Pete doesn’t know is the fight was staged for his benefit: Steve is the inside man on a planned armored car heist Dundee’s gang is pulling off.

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Flashbacks tell us how Steve got here: he was once married to Anna, and after the volatile couple divorced left L.A., drifting across country picking up odd jobs along the way. Returning to the City of Angels, he finds himself…

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Horror Film Review: Rosemary’s Baby (dir by Roman Polanski)


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“This is no dream!  This is really happening!”

— Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Yes, Rosemary, it is.

The classic 1968 horror movie Rosemary’s Baby is probably best remembered for a lengthy and wonderfully surreal “dream” sequence in which naive newlywed Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) is raped by the Devil while a bunch of naked old people stand around her and chant.  At one point, she sees her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), saying that she’s awake and that she knows what’s going on.  Their neighbor, Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon), tells him that Rosemary can’t hear anything and that it’s like she’s dead and then snaps at him, “Now, sing!”  It’s a great sequence, one of the greatest of Roman Polanski’s career, a perfect blending of horror and dark comedy.

For me, the most interesting part of that dream sequence comes at the start.  Rosemary envisions herself naked on a boat and, as she tries to cover herself, who is sitting next to her?  None other than John F. Kennedy!  Suddenly, Rosemary is wearing a bikini and she’s relaxing out on the deck with a glamorous group of people who I assume were meant to be Kennedy relatives.  As the boat leaves the dock, Rosemary sees that her friend and protector, Hutch (Maurice Evans), is standing on the dock.

“Isn’t Hutch coming with us?” Rosemary asks.

“Catholics only,” John F. Kennedy hisses in that famous accent, “I’m afraid we are bound by these prejudices.”

“I understand,” a dazed Rosemary replies.

And it’s a wonderful little moment, though I have to wonder if I’d react as strong if my own background wasn’t Irish Catholic.  But still, there’s something so wonderfully subversive about a bunch of elderly Satanists pretending to be the Kennedys.

And really, Rosemary’s Baby is a wonderfully subversive film.  I imagine it was even more subversive when it was first released back in 1968.  It’s been ripped off and imitated so many times that it has undoubtedly lost some of its impact.  (That’s one reason why I wish I had a time machine, so I could go back in the past and see it was truly like to see a classic film for the first time.)  But still, 47 years after it was initially released, Rosemary’s Baby is still a surprisingly effective horror film.

The film opens with newlyweds Rosemary and Guy moving into the Bramford, an exclusive New York apartment building.  Guy is an actor who, despite having appeared in two off-Broadway shows (one of which was entitled Nobody Likes An Albatross and really, that is so true) and a few motorcycle commercials, is still waiting for his big break.  There are hints that, before she married Guy, Rosemary had a very active and interesting life (when we briefly meet her old friends, they all seem to be a lot more exciting than boring old Guy) but, when we meet her, Rosemary appears to have happily settled into a life of domesticity.

Life at the Bramford is strange.  For one thing, Guy and Rosemary appear to be the only young people living in the entire building.  (There is a young woman named Terry but she ends up jumping out of a window.)  The Woodhouses befriend elderly Minnie Castevet and her husband, Roman (Sidney Blackmer.)  Roman claims to have traveled all over the world and embarrasses the Catholic Rosemary by criticizing the Pope.  Minnie, meanwhile, is the noisiest person in the world.  Guy makes fun of both of them and, yet, he still decides to spend his free time with Roman.

One day, Guy gets a role that he had previously lost.  Why?  Because another actor is struck by a sudden case of blindness.  Shortly afterward, Rosemary has her “dream.”  She wakes up and discovers that her body is covered with red scratches.  Guy claims that he had sex with her while she was asleep and promises to cut his fingernails.

Soon, Rosemary is pregnant but the Castevets insist that she use their doctor, the firm and sinister Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy, who just 8 year earlier had played FDR in Sunrise at Campobello).  Rosemary knows that something is wrong with the baby but she can’t get anyone to listen to her.  It all leads to one of the best and most iconic endings in the history of horror cinema.

Rosemary’s Baby is a classic of fear and paranoia and it holds up surprisingly well.  See it this October, whether you’re Catholic or not.

(However, do not see the needless 2014 remake.  Seriously, what the Hell was up with that?)

(By the way, is anyone else amazed that I made it through this entire review without making a single joke about either Ronan Farrow or Mia’s lame Sharknado live tweet?  I am shocked.)

 

4 Shots from 4 Films: Beantown Crime Wave!


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking. After watching Black Mass last night, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at some other Boston-based crime films from over the years. So here are four scenes from four wicked cool films:

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Mystery Street (1950)

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The Boston Strangler (1968)

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

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The Boondock Saints (1999) 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #23: The Defiant Ones (dir by Stanley Kramer)


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Stanley Kramer is one of those old school filmmakers who directed several films that were acclaimed when they were originally released but who tends to be dismissed by contemporary film critics.  Kramer specialized in making films about social issues and he deserves to be applauded for attempting to look at issues that Hollywood, at that time, would have preferred to ignore.  However, as Mark Harris points out in his excellent book Pictures At A Revolution, Kramer started out as a producer and, even after he started directing, he never lost his producer sensibility.  As a result, a Kramer film would typically address issues that were guaranteed to generate a lot of free publicity but, at the same time, Kramer would never run the risk of truly alienating his audience by digging too deeply into those issues.  As a result, Kramer’s films have come to represent a very safe and middlebrow version of 50s and early 60s style liberalism.

Now, I have previously reviewed 4 Stanley Kramer films on this site and I have to admit that I was somewhat dismissive of most of them.  I felt that Ship of Fools was shallow.  I thought that Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner collapsed under the combined weight of a self-satisfied script and Kramer’s refusal to let Sidney Poitier’s character be anything other than idealized perfection.  R.P.M. is a guilty pleasure, specifically because Kramer was so out-of-touch with the film’s subject matter.  I did give Judgment at Nuremberg a good review, describing it as one of Kramer’s rare films that still holds up today.

And now, I’m going to give another Kramer film a good review.

Kramer’s 1958 film The Defiant Ones features a classic Kramer situation.  White Joker (Tony Curtis) and black Noah (Sidney Poitier) are both prisoners in the deep south.  Joker is an unrepentant and violent racist while Noah … well, Noah is Sidney Poitier.  He’s determined, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, and most of all, he’s dignified.  That’s not meant to be a complaint about Poitier’s performance in The Defiant Ones.  In the role of Noah, Poitier has a great screen presence and it’s impossible not to root for him.  Whereas Curtis tends to chew up every piece of scenery that he gets nears (and, again, that’s not really a complaint because Curtis’s overacting is totally appropriate for his character), Poitier keeps the film grounded.

When the prison bus that is transporting them crashes, Joker and Noah are able to escape.  Fleeing on foot, they make their way through the wilderness and attempt to hide from the police.  As quickly becomes obvious, Joker and Noah hate each other but, because the sheriff had a sense of humor, they have also been chained together.  In other words, they’re stuck with each other and, in order to survive, they’re going to have to learn to coexist.

No, it’s not exactly subtle but it works.

As a filmmaker, Kramer was never known for being visually inventive and, as a result, his films often had to resort to heavy-handed monologues to make their point.  But, in The Defiant Ones, the chains act as a great visual symbol for race relations in America.  Joker and Noah literally can’t escape from each other and they have to work together if they’re going to survive.  The chains make that obvious and, as a result, this is the rare Kramer film where nobody has to give a big speech to get across Kramer’s message.  As a result, The Defiant Ones preaches without ever getting preachy.

Though the film is dominated by Poitier and Curtis, it also features some excellent supporting work.  Lon Chaney, Jr, for instance, has a great cameo as world-weary man who helps the two convicts in their flight.  Cara Williams is surprisingly poignant as a lonely, unnamed woman who tries to both protect Joker and get rid of Noah.  And finally, there’s Theodore Bikel, playing the role of Sheriff Max Muller.  Max is the most surprising character in the film, the head of a posse that’s set out to recapture Noah and Joker.  As opposed to most of his men, Max is a humane and caring man who struggles to control the more bloodthirsty men who are serving under him.

Message films tend to get dated rather quickly but The Defiant Ones holds up surprisingly well.