Hit Lady (1974, directed by Tracy Keenan Wynn)

Beautiful blonde Angela de Vries (Yvette Mimieux) shows up at a Texas barbecue and starts to chat up over-the-hill but very wealthy cowboy Buddy McCormick (Keenan Wynn).  Buddy thinks that he has hit the jackpot and when Angela suggests that they go off together for some alone time, he doesn’t turn her down.  Unfortunately for Buddy, the only reason Angela was talking to him was so she could get him alone and kill him with no witnesses!

(Buddy is played by Keenan Wynn because his son, screenwriter Tracy Keenan Wynn, directed this made-for-TV movie.  Angela is played by Yvette Mimieux because she got tired of only being cast in bland roles so she wrote a script with a juicy lead role for herself.)

Angela is a contract killer but she wants to get out of the business so that she can settle down with her seemingly oblivious boyfriend, a photographer named Doug (Dack Rambo).  Angela’s boss, Roarke (Clu Gulager), insists that Angela carry out one last hit.  He wants her to take down labor leader Jeffrey Baine (Joseph Campanella).  Angela really needs the money so she eventually accepts the job.  Roarke wants Baine’s death to look like an accident so that means Angela is going to have to learn everything that she can about Baine and his life.  When she learns that Baine loves Mozart, she decides to arrange an “accidental” meeting with him at a concert.  Is Angela the only contract killer in Los Angeles?  Couldn’t Roarke have found someone willing to do the job without so many preconditions?

Angela does meet Baine and, of course, the two of them start to fall in love.  Is Angela willing to both betray her boss and her boyfriend or will she carry out the hit?

Hit Lady is very much a product of the 70s, with one scene actually taking place at a disco.  Mimieux gives a good performance in a part that she wrote for herself and I’m sure many viewers will appreciate the lengthy amount of time she spends wearing just a bikini.  Mimieux gets to do most of the action movie things that, at the time, only men were usually allowed to do and she looks both good and convincing doing them.  Unfortunately, the love story with Jeffrey Baine does not work because the rough-hewn Campanella is not convincing as a Mozart-loving romantic lead and he and Mimieux never seem as if they really have any deep feelings for each other.  It’s easier to understand why Campanella would be attracted to Mimieux but than why she would be attracted to him.  That storyline probably would have worked better if Campanella had switched roles with Clu Gulager.  Hit Lady ends with an obvious twist but fans of 70s cheese and Yvette Mimieux should enjoy it.

Disaster on the Coastliner (1980, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)

A completely computerized passenger train is traveling across the country, with the Vice President’s wife as one of the passengers.  When Jim Waterman (Paul L. Smith), a man who blames the railroad for the death of his family, manages to hijack the train he plans to ram into a locomotive until his demands a met.  He wants railroad president Estes Hill (Raymond Burr) to take responsibility for the crash that killed his wife and children.  With Waterman determined to crash the two trains, it falls to dispatchers Al Mitchell (Lloyd Bridges) and Roy Snyder (E.G. Marshall) to try to figure out a way to stop the collision.  Helping them out on the train is a con artist named Stuart Peters (William Shatner!) who may be wanted by the police but who is still willing to do whatever it takes to save his fellow passengers.

Disaster on the Coastliner is an above-average made-for-TV disaster movie.  Even though it was obviously made for a low-budget and that the majority of the money was probably spent on securing the B-list cast, there are enough shots of the train careening on the tracks to bring happiness to the hearts of most disaster movie fans.  The cast is full of the type of people who you would typically expect to find in a movie like this, people like Raymond Burr, Lloyd Bridges, and William Shatner.  Bridges, interestingly enough, gives the same performance here that he gave in Airplane! and when he starts ranting about how everything’s computerized, he sounds like he could be reciting dialogue from that film.  The only difference is that Airplane! was a comedy while Disaster On The Coastliner is meant to be a drama.  Raymond Burr also does a good job hamming it up as the president of the railroad.  He spends most of the movie sitting behind his desk and looking annoyed, which was pretty typical of Burr in the years after Perry Mason and Ironside. 

For a lot of people, the main appeal of this film will be seeing what William Shatner was doing in between Star Trek movies.  This is a typical early 80s Shatner performance, when he was still trying too hard to win that first Emmy but also when he had just starting to develop the self-awareness necessary to poke fun at his own image.  Shatner really digs into the role of a conman with a heart of gold.  He delivers his lines in his trademark overdramatic style but, in scenes like the one where he sheepishly discovers that a door that he’s been pounding on was unlocked all the time, Shatner actually seems to be in on the joke.  Shatner also did his own stunts in this film, including one where he had stand on top of a speeding train.  In his autobiography, Shatner wrote that he wasn’t even wearing a safety harness in the scene so give it up for Bill Shatner.  That took guts!

Fast-paced and agreeably unpretentious, Disaster On The Coastliner is an enjoyable runaway train movie.


Sundance Film Review: Circle of Power (dir by Bobby Roth)

With the Sundance Film festival currently taking place in Utah, I am currently reviewing films that originally made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival!

(a.k.a. Circle of Power, Mystique, Naked Weekend, and probably a handful of other titles)

The Sundance Film Festival wasn’t always the Sundance Film Festival.

Up until 1984, it was known as the US Film Festival.  Because of the involvement of Robert Redford, it was something of a big deal but still nowhere as big a deal as it is today.  In fact, many of the films that were showcased and celebrated at the US Film Festival have slipped into obscurity.  While winning an award at the US Film Festival may have been nice a ego boost for an independent filmmaker, it certainly didn’t bring a film anywhere near the amount of attention that winning at Sundance does now.

Take the long and strange saga of Circle of Power, for instance.

From my own research, it appears that Circle of Power was originally filmed in 1980.  At that time, it was called Mystique.  It premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1981.  A year later, under the title Circle of Power, it played at the US Film Festival.  It was awarded the Dramatic prize (which was the forerunner for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize).

After that, it still took Circle of Power two years to achieve national distribution.  In 1984, when it was reviewed by Roger Ebert, the film had been released as Naked Weekend, a title that was as commercial as it was misleading.  (There is nudity in the film but probably not the type of nudity that Naked Weekend‘s audience was expecting.)  By the time the film was finally released on VHS, it had picked up yet another title: Brainwash.

That’s the poster for Brainwash at the top of this video.  There are two images on that poster.  One is of a woman holding a riding crop and showing off her bra.  The other is of a naked man in a cage.  Only the latter image actually appears in the movie.

The film’s distributors were obviously trying to sell Circle of Power as an exploitation film.  Actually, it’s not.  It’s … well, it’s hard to describe what exactly it is.  It starts out with a title card, informing us that what we’re about to see is based on a true story.  The rest of the film deals with a group of executives and their wives who are required to spend the weekend attending a “training course” at a beautiful hotel.  The weekend gets off to a good start, with lots of dancing and laughing.  Of course, none of the executives seem to notice that the hotel staff is watching them with a mix of scorn and pity.

(The film continually contrasts the privileged white executives with the largely black and Hispanic hotel staff.)

Before the training sessions begin, all of the executives and their wives are forced to sign a paper that states they understand that they will be psychologically and physically abused over the weekend.  Only one executive objects and he is quickly bullied into signing by his co-workers.  Apparently, they can’t do the training unless everyone agrees to sign.

The men and the women are separated.  (Interestingly, all of the executives are men.)  The men are “trained” by Bianca Ray (Yvete Mimieux, who is chilling in her final performance to date) while the women are left with Jordan Carelli (John Considine).  The training turns out to be a combination of ego stripping and physical abuse.  One overweight executive (Walter Olkewicz) is ordered to strip naked and is then locked in a cage, where food is dumped on him.  An alcoholic is forced to lay down in a coffin.  Soon, everyone is covered in bruises.  What’s remarkable is that only one executive and his wife actually seems to find any of this to be objectionable.  In fact, everyone else reacts to the abuse by hugging their abusers and crying for joy.

It’s a strange little film, one that often seems to be unsure of what it’s saying but which, at the same time, still possesses an undeniable power.  The film may be 38 years old but brainwashing is a timeless subject.  One need only spend an hour or two on twitter to see how easily people can be brainwashed.  While the film probably disappointed those seeking a naked weekend, it’s still an undeniably watchable oddity.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #39: Where The Boys Are (dir by Henry Levin)

(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of 2017!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)


Before I talk about the 1960 film Where The Boys Are, I’m going to admit something.  Nearly a month ago, I started this mission to clean out my DVR.  I had 52 films to review and I said that I’d have it all done by Thanksgiving.  Of course, I failed to take into account that Thanksgiving is a holiday and, when you’re celebrating a holiday, that doesn’t always leave time to write 52 reviews.  So, I gave myself until the end of the first week of December.  And that’s when I realized that 52 reviews is not a small amount of work.  Especially if you want to make them decent reviews, as opposed to just posting a few sentences.  So, I’m abandoning all of my arbitrary deadlines.  I’ve got 14 more movies to review and I really hope that I’ll be done by the end of the year.  Maybe I will be, maybe I won’t…

But, seriously, I really hope that I am!

Anyway, now that I’ve cleared that up, let’s go to Where The Boys Are!

Released in 1960, Where The Boys Are was one of the first spring break films and it set the template for many films that would follow.  Because it is a piece of history, it’s one of those films that seems to regularly pop up on TCM.  It last aired on TCM on November 13th.  That’s when I recorded it.

Where The Boys Are tells the story of four girls who go to college in Maryland.  When we first see them, they are trudging across a snowed-in campus and there’s a distinct lack of handsome men around.  We listen as Merritt Andrews (Delores Hart) debates her far older professor about whether or not a girl should be “experienced” before getting married.  The professor thinks that all girls should wait for marriage.  Merritt disagrees.  What makes this scene interesting is that it’s almost totally done in euphemism.  Merritt never says sex.  Instead, she says making out and the professor has to ask her to explain what that means.

I mean …. 1960, amirite?

Anyway, it’s spring break so Merritt and her friends go down to Ft. Lauderdale.  After all … that’s where the boys are!  All of the girls have their own defining characteristic.  Merritt is the leader of the group, an intellectual with an I.Q. of 138.  Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) is smart and no-nonsense.  She’s a self-described “good girl” and her hope is to be a “baby-making machine.”  She intimidates some men because she stands 5’10.  Angie (Connie Francis) is athletic and naive.  And then there’s Melanie (Yvette Mimieux), who overcomes her insecurity and loses her virginity as soon as they arrive in Florida (though, of course, this is all handled via euphemism).

Over the course of spring break, all four of the girls meet a man or two.  Merritt meets Ryder (George Hamilton), who is not only an Ivy League student but has a tan to die for.  Ryder it turns out is very experienced (the film doesn’t seem to have the same issue with men being experienced as it does with women) and Merritt is forced to consider whether she’s really as ready for sex as she claims.  Melanie also hooks up with an Ivy Leaguer but it quickly becomes obvious that, despite going to Yale, Franklin (Rory Harrity) is a total heel.  (Oh, how you will hate Franklin.)  Tuggle finds herself competing for the attention of TV (Jim Hutton).  And Angie falls for a myopic jazz musician, Basil (Frank Gorshin).

Watching Where The Boys Are was an odd experience.  It’s an extremely dated film and it’s hard to believe that its euphemistic sex talk and extremely modest swimsuits were ever considered to be controversial.  There’s a hilarious scene where the girls are getting ready for their dates by changing into dresses that look more appropriate for cotillion than a night in Ft Lauderdale.  Needless to say, nobody is seen smoking weed or skinny dipping or doing any of the other stuff that we’ve come to take for granted as far as spring break films are concerned.  (That said, I get the feeling that both TV and Basil may have been stoned.  But definitely not Ryder.  From the minute Ryder shows up, you know he’s going to end up running a successful business and probably serving as an advisor in the Trump White House.)

There are a lot of jokes about people getting drunk, however.  It’s nice to see that, even in 1960, college students on Spring Break couldn’t hold their liquor.  I also found it interesting that not only did almost everyone in Where The Boys Are smoked but most of them looked really cool doing it.  In fact, I’d say that this film was probably the best advertising for cigarettes that I’ve ever seen.

For the most part, Where The Boys Are is a hit-or-miss comedy that’s distinguished by perfect casting.  Even though the film itself was dated, I felt that I could relate, in one way or another, to all of the girls.  Hart, Prentiss, Mimeux, and even Francis captured universal emotions and feelings in their performances and their friendship felt very true.

About 70 minutes into the film, Where The Boys Are takes a very serious turn and the film actually ends on a rather melancholy note, a reminder that not even a somewhat light weight comedy could escape the harshly judgmental morality of the time.  The sudden shift in tone took me by surprise but the film actually handled it well.  I just wish that it didn’t feel as if the filmmakers were punishing our characters for questioning the dictates of society.

On a final note, it’s interesting to note that Delores Hart, who played the sexually free thinking Merritt, later gave up her film career and became a nun.

So much for where the boys are.

Horror on TV: One Step Beyond 2.27 “The Clown” (dir by John Newland)

For tonight’s excursion into televised horror, I want to change things up.  Tales From The Crypt will return on Monday but, for the next three days, I want to take a look at some different show.

Like One Step Beyond, for example!

Now, I have to admit that I don’t know much about One Step Beyond.  I came across several episodes on YouTube while I was searching for any Twilight Zone episodes.  Apparently, One Step Beyond was an anthology series that aired from 1957 to 1960.  (It actually predated the Twilight Zone.)  One Step Beyond often claimed that its stories were meant to be dramatizations of actual events.

The episode below is from the 2nd season.  It originally aired on March 22nd, 1960.  The title of this episode?

The Clown.

Scared yet?

You should be.  Clowns are creepy!

Watch the episode below and find out just how creepy!