Gun Street (1961, directed by Edward L. Cahn)


During the closing days of the Old West (people ride horses and form posses but they also use hand-crank telephones), a notorious bank robber (played by Warren J. Kemmerling) escapes from prison.  Everyone fears that the outlaw is heading for his home town, where he’s sworn that he’s going to get revenge on all of the people who he blames for his imprisonment.  It’s up to Sheriff Chuck Morton (James Brown, not that James Brown) and Deputy Sam Freed (John Clarke) to alert all of the outlaw’s potential victims and to put together a posse to ride into the desert and hopefully end his reign of terror once and for all.  Complicating matters (though only slighly) is that the sheriff and the outlaw grew up together and used to be friends.

Yet another B-feature from the very active director Edward L. Cahn (he was credited with having directed 127 films, 11 in 1961 alone!), Gun Street plays out like a lesser episode of Gunsmoke.  Imagine High Noon, just without the red scare subtext and no Gary Cooper.  James Brown and John Clarke are both believable as western lawman and they have a good rapport.  Sandra Stone plays the outlaw’s sister, who now owns the local “dance hall” and, in her scenes with Brown, I thought it seemed as if the film was suggesting that she and the sheriff were once more than just friends.  Unfortunately, that’s one of many potentially intriguing subplots that the film suggests without bothering to explore.  Obviously made to be a second feature on a double bill, Gun Street is barely over an hour long, which doesn’t leave much time for anyone else in the film to make much of an impression.  The short running time also means that the film moves so quickly that certain plot points go unexplained.  Probably the most disappointing thing about Gun Street is that, after all of the build-up about how tough and dangerous this outlaw is, the film ends not with a bang but with an anti-climatic whimper.  Did they run out of money during filming?  Did Edward L. Cahn have to leave so he could go direct another film?  We may never know.

If you’re looking for a good western about one town awaiting the arrival of an outlaw, rewatch High Noon.

Framed (1975, directed by Phil Karlson)


Revenge can be brutal, especially when you’ve been framed.

Joe Don Baker plays Ron Lewis, a surly nightclub owner and gambler who wins a small fortune, witnesses a crime, and nearly gets shot all in the same night.  When he reaches his house, he’s planning on calling the police but he’s confronted in his own garage by a sheriff’s deputy who tries to kill him!  In a lengthy and brutal scene, Ron beats the deputy to death and gouges out his eyes.  Even though Ron was only acting in self-defense, he’s charged with murder.  Told that there is no way that he’ll be able to win an acquittal, Ron pleads guilty to a lesser charge and is sent to prison for four years.

While he’s in prison, Ron befriends a mob boss (John Marley, who famously woke up with a horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather) and the boss’s number one hitman, Vince (Gabriel Dell).  While Ron is in prison, a group of men assault his girlfriend (country singer Conny Van Dyke) and tell her not to ask any questions about the events that led to Ron being framed.

After serving his sentence and getting into numerous fights with the guards, Ron is finally released.  When Vince shows up and tells Ron that he’s been hired to kill him, the two of them team up with an honest deputy (Brock Peters) and set out to find out why Ron was set up and to get revenge.

Framed is a brutal movie, Ron and his friends hold nothing back in their quest to get revenge.  Whether he’s shooting a man in cold blood or hooking someone up to a car battery in order to get information out of him, there’s little that Ron won’t do and the movie lingers over every act of violence.  Several pounds overweight and snarling out of his lines, Joe Don Baker may not be a conventional action hero but he’s believable in his rage.  He’s the ultimate country boy who has been pushed too far and now he doesn’t care how much blood he has to get on his hands.  However, because Baker does seem more like an ordinary person than a Clint Eastwood or a Charles Bronson-type, he retains the audience’s sympathy even as he splashes blood all over the screen.  As violent as his action may be, they always feel justified.

Baker’s performance and the believable violence are the film’s biggest strengths.  It’s biggest weakness is a plot that revolves around an elaborate conspiracy that doesn’t always make sense and some notably weak supporting performances.  Ron’s revenge may be brutal but it takes a while to get there and the first hour gets bogged down with Ron’s struggle to adjust to life in prison.  John Marley does a good job as Ron’s prison mentor but then he abruptly disappears from the movie.

Before making Framed, Baker and director Phil Karlson previously collaborated on Walking Tall.  Framed is far more violent than that film was but its plot doesn’t hold together as well.  However, if you’re just looking for a violent action film that features Joe Don Baker doing what he does best, Framed delivers.

A Movie A Day #142: The Meanest Men In The West (1978, directed by Sam Fuller and Charles S. Dubin)


The Meanest Men In The West may “star” Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin and Sam Fuller may be credited as being one of the film’s two directors but don’t make the same mistake that I made.  Don’t get too excited.

There was once a TV western called The Virginian.  Starring James Drury as a ranch foreman, The Virginian ran for nine seasons on NBC.  A 1962 episode, which was written and directed by Sam Fuller, featured Lee Marvin as a sadistic outlaw who kidnapped The Virginian’s employer, a judge played by Lee J. Cobb.  Five years later, another episode features Charles Bronson as a less sadistic outlaw who kidnapped the Judge’s daughter.

The Meanest Men In The West mixes scenes from those two episode with western stock footage, a bank robbery that originally appeared in The Return of Frank James, an intrusive voice-over, and an almost incoherent prologue, all in order to tell an entirely new story.  Now, Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin are brothers and rivals.  After Marvin snitches on Bronson’s plan to rob a bank, Bronson blames his former friend, The Virginian.  In order to get the Virginian to come to his hideout, Bronson kidnaps Cobb’s daughter.  The Virginian manages to convince Bronson that he didn’t betray him, just to arrive back at the ranch and discover that Cobb has been kidnapped.  Meanwhile, Bronson and his gang set off after Marvin and his gang.  It ends with Charles Bronson, in 1967, shooting at Lee Marvin, who is still in 1962.

The Meanest Men In The West is so clumsily edited that the same shot of Charles Bronson holding a gun is spliced into a dozen different scenes.  Filmed on different film stocks, the Bronson scenes and the Marvin scenes look nothing alike and, since the two episodes were filmed five years apart, James Drury literally ages backwards over the course of the film.

The Meanest Men In The West is for Charles Bronson and Lee Marvin completists only.  I think Bronson and Marvin are two of the coolest individuals who ever existed and even I had a hard time making it through this one.  If you do watch it, keep an eye out for a young Charles Grodin, thoroughly miscast as a tough outlaw.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The Dark (dir by John “Bud” Cardos)


Some of y’all may have noticed that, whenever I don’t have much to say about a movie, I’ll usually start things about be praising either the film’s title or its poster art.

With that in mind, the 1979 film The Dark has got a great title.  I mean, what self-respecting horror film could actually resist a movie called The Dark?  It’s a title that promises horror and blood and no holds barred morbidity!  And really, the title is so brilliant that it almost doesn’t matter that the film itself come no where close to delivering.

And finally, just check out the poster art!

the-dark

Seriously, that’s a great poster!  If I had been alive in 1979, I totally would have wanted to see this movie just because of the poster.  Not only is the film called The Dark but the poster literally promises that this movie is going to be — and I quote — “A chilling tale of alien terror!”

Woo hoo!

Of course, The Dark didn’t start out as a chilling tale of alien terror.  The Dark is one of those films where what happened behind the camera is far more interesting than what was actually filmed.  The story behind The Dark is a classic tale of low-budget, exploitation filmmaking:

Originally, The Dark was going to be a story about a zombie decapitating people in Los Angeles.  The zombie had once been a Confederate soldier who ended up resorting to cannibalism.  As originally envisioned, the Dark would feature numerous scenes of that dead Confederate wandering around with a big axe that it would use to chop off heads.

Tobe Hooper, who was hot as a result of having directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was brought in to direct.  However, after just a few days of shooting, he was replaced.  Depending on which version you read, Hooper was either fired or he walked off the set.  Either way, all accounts seem to agree that Hooper didn’t see eye-to-eye with the film’s producers.  (One of those producers was Dick Clark, the same guy who always used to host ABC’s New Year’s special.)

With Hooper gone, a new director was brought in.  That director was John “Bud” Cardos, who had previously had a drive-in hit with Kingdom of the Spiders.  Cardos finished the film but he had no emotional investment in it and that’s obvious when you watch The Dark today.  Visually, The Dark looks and feels like an old cop show, the type that you might expect to turn up on a cable station that is specifically programmed to appeal to the elderly.

The film that Cardos completed featured a Confederate zombie with an axe.  However, the producers showed that film to a preview audience and quickly discovered that nobody cared about a Confederate with an axe.

So, they made some changes.

At the time, Alien was the most popular film at the box office so the producers thought, “Why not add some special effects, redub some dialogue, and make our Confederate zombie into an alien?”  Sure, why not?

Hastily, The Dark was reedited.  All shots featuring the zombie with an axe were removed from the film.  Instead, whenever the monster attacked, the film now featured a freeze frame of the monster’s face with some hastily added laser beams shooting out of his eyes.  This would be followed by a freeze frame of the victim and stock footage of an explosion….

(That said, there’s still plenty of references to the alien removing people’s heads…)

Interestingly, there’s still a scene in the film in which a police detective suggests that the creature might be a zombie.  “Zom-bies!?” his superior yells, “I don’t want to hear those two words again!”  Well, don’t worry.  It’s not a zombie!  It’s an alien!

(You do have to wonder why an alien would be wearing jeans and flannel shirt but, then again, why would a Confederate zombie be wearing jeans and a flannel shirt?  It’s a strange world.)

As you’ve probably already guessed, The Dark is a bit of a mess.  The alien is going around Los Angeles and blowing people up.  (Though a few times, he also rips off their heads because … well, we already went into that.)  The father of one of the victims is a burned out writer and he’s played by William Devane.  (This is the same William Devane who has played the President in nearly every movie and TV show ever made.  Words cannot begin to express how bored Devane appears to be in this movie.  Oddly, with his hair long and graying, Devane bears an uncanny resemblance to Law & Order SVU‘s Richard Belzer.)  The father is investigating, even though the lead detective (played by Richard Jaeckel) tells him not to.  A reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby) is also investigating.  And then there’s a psychic (Jacquelyne Hyde) and the psychic somehow knows what the monster is and who is going to die next.

The characters do eventually cross paths.  When the detective meets the reporter, the detective announces that he’s going to kill the killer.  “38 caliber justice?” the reporter replies.  “If he’s dead, he can’t kill again!” the detective explains and he kind of has a point.

(Making it even stranger is that, while the detective and the reporter talk, there’s a political protest gong on behind them.  The protest consists of people jumping up and down.)

It’s all really messy because, while watching the movie, you get the feeling that none of the actors knew what anyone else was filming.  It’s like six different films with six different tones and they’ve all been smashed together.  It’s also not particularly scary because ultimately, the zombie alien is just a freeze frame with some hastily added laser beams.  (It doesn’t help that the lasers occasionally go “pew pew” when they’re fired.)

But still, The Dark is a great title for a movie.