Archive for April 2015
Jan-Michael Vincent jumps his motorcycle over giant desert lobsters. Need I say more?
A nuclear holocaust wipes out all but a platoon of Air Force officers and men stationed at a remote desert missile silo. The men go on with their lives and search for other survivors by monitoring radio signals.
“Gee Major, what do you want to do tonight?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky, uh Tanner…”
Two years go by and then a mundane (compared to a nuclear blast) fire kills all but four of the men. The small band of survivors heads east in twin Oscar Mayer Weinermobiles looking for the promised land in, wait for it…Albany.
“I love it when a plan comes together.”
Well, that’s where I’d go. George Peppard, Paul Winfield, and Kip Niven join Jan-Michael Vincent in this cross-country adventure.
“99 bottles of beer on the wall…”
Along the way, the foursome encounter cataclysmic storms brought on by the earth’s tilting on its axis. The bad weather culls the herd a bit and we’re left with fewer people and one RV. While stopped in Las Vegas to look for supplies, the trio meet Dominique Sanda, an aspiring singer who happened to be in Vegas when the bombs hit. She’s been completely alone for almost the whole two years and she’s thrilled to see the men. After she tells her story, the men ask her to join them as they do their opposite Horace Greeley thing. At another town in search of fuel and food, they find one of the two things that can survive a nuclear blast. Hint: it’s not a giant Twinkie. Soon, they come upon Jackie Earle Haley, a teenager who’s lost both his parents. Haley lives a nomadic life. He forages for food and squats in cabins and caves. Wary of the travelers at first, Haley warms to them and begins to trust them. Soon, Haley joins them too.
“What have you done with Buttermaker?”
The crew meet up with less friendly people in another town, but they prevail and can continue their trek. Once again storms strike, but this one seems to right the earth and for the first time, we see a beautiful blue sky and happy, puffy clouds. Things are looking up! Hey! Did you hear the call sign for Albany?
Produced by 20th Century Fox in the same year as a little film called STAR WARS, DAMNATION ALLEY was the studio’s big-budget science fiction film for 1977. Fox had no faith in Lucas’ film and thought DAMNATION ALLEY would be their big hit that year. So much for tea leaves. Director Jack Smight also directed HARPER and AIRPORT 75 and a bunch of television, including Columbo and Banacek. Jerry Goldsmith composed the score to DAMNATION ALLEY. Alan Sharpe and Lukas Heller wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Roger Zelazny, who hated the film by the way. I didn’t. It’s an interesting story directed capably and acted well. The cast doesn’t overdo it. OK, the giant desert lobsters I mentioned earlier were less than realistic and actually desert scorpions, but when I Iook at giant desert arthropods, I’m less concerned with realism and more with screen time. Also, I think they were hybrids.
“Quick! Get some drawn butter!”
The characters worked too. I believe Peppard as an Air Force officer and I find his character along with the rest of the main characters easy to watch and easy to like. Dominique Sanda, as the lone female in a group of strong men, does not make the typical adventure film moves. She doesn’t lose her head or fall in love with the first guy she sees. She also doesn’t fight with Peppard, the leader. She thinks logically and does what makes sense. It’s great to see such an empathetic and logical female character. Paul Winfield wins my ‘favorite character of the film’ award.
As an Air Force officer with a flair for art and a dry wit, Winfield defies you not to love him.
DAMNATION ALLEY has some memorable scenes as well. The one I like the best takes place in a Las Vegas casino where Winfield, Vincent, and Peppard play with the slot machines.
This game’s rigged.
As the men play and start to win money they can’t possibly use, we hear the sounds change. At first we hear the sounds of the one-armed bandits and the men and then we hear the sounds of a normal casino; clinking glasses, conversation, and laughter. The change is subtle at first, but as the scene continues, it becomes louder. We’re inside the heads of these guys who’ve been alone so long that they imagine they’re in a room crowded with people. It’s a compelling scene. Even the effects, which border on cheesy, don’t make me cringe. They used lasers to create cool sky colors that almost look like the northern lights. They also used a lot of matte painting. Sometimes that doesn’t work, but this does for some reason. My favorite effect, the giant desert lobpions or scorpsters, looks pretty darn fake. The locusts in BEGINNING OF THE END work better and that was made in 1957.
“You like me! You really like me!”
It doesn’t matter. Jointed, hot dog-related off-road vehicles that use a Texas Instruments calculator as a guidance system and cost $300K and jump ravines make me happy. Hissing cockroaches and nasty predators with grasping pedipalps help.
My bologna has a first name…
Look for Murray ‘Mayor of Shark City’ Hamilton as a deranged general who has zero lines in the theatrically released film. He gets to talk in the 1983 TV version. I need to find that.
“Amity, as you know, means…what? My scene was cut?”
I did a podcast recently with Todd Liebenow of Forgotten Films on DAMNATION ALLEY. https://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/ and if you’d like to hear it, here’s the link. https://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/forgotten-filmcast-episode-50-damnation-alley/
Thanks, Todd! I had a lot of fun!
Stanley Timberlake takes. She (yes, Stanley is a she) drives too fast and lets others pay her fines. She spends money she doesn’t have. She lies and when caught, bats her eyes coquettishly and does it again. She’s demanding, immature and for some reason, irresistible to men. Bette Davis gets to play the bad girl in this film about a family nearly torn apart by the selfishness of one person and the family’s unwillingness to stop her.
“What do you mean I can’t have it?”
In the beginning we see Stanley flirt weirdly with her rich uncle William (Charles Coburn) in the hopes that he’ll give her money. He does. He always does.
Stanley is about to marry Craig Fleming (George Brent), a lawyer who, according to William, has odd ideas about his practice. You see, Craig values the law over money and often takes cases from indigent clients. Creepy Uncle William cares a bit too much about Stanley’s welfare, and very little about that of the rest of the Timberlake family. After all, Uncle William became rich by taking over the tobacco company owned by Stanley’s father, Asa (Frank Craven) and reducing him to an employee. The Timberlakes still have their home, but now they need help from Stanley’s sister, Roy (Olivia de Havilland) and her husband, Peter (Dennis Morgan) to pay the rent. Asa works hard at the office and at home. He has his hands full taking care of his overly dramatic, hypochondriac wife Lavinia (Billie Burke) and dealing with Stanley’s shenanigans.
“My daughter’s not a witch! You didn’t say witch? Oh.”
Asa takes solace in the fact that his daughter Roy is sensible and kind and married to a promising young doctor. Roy works as an interior decorator and she and Peter live in the family home too. They’ve put off finding a home of their own to help with the family’s finances. Maybe they should have moved out sooner because Stanley wants Peter. They have an affair and decide to run away together.
“Have a nice business trip, dear.” “Um yeah.”
Stanley and Peter leave Richmond and head north to Baltimore to make a new start. In the film, the couple lives together while waiting for Peter’s divorce which seems pretty risqué for 1942. Spoiled, demanding people seldom make good spouses and Stanley is no exception. She spends her days prettying herself and shopping and her nights dragging Peter out to nightclubs or pouting if he won’t go.
“Tough day, Stanley. How ’bout a cocktail?”
Soon his work suffers and his drinking and her obliviousness take a toll on their marriage. Things go downhill from there.
They seem disenchanted.
Back in Richmond, Roy and Craig deal differently with their jilted status. Roy puts her energy into her work, while Craig falls apart. He stops going to work and gives up until by chance he meets Roy who convinces him to stop feeling sorry for himself and move on.
“Snap out of it.”
You can guess what happens next. The two fall in love and everything goes swimmingly until Stanley returns home.
“It’s all smooth sailing now.”
With her marriage over and her former fiancé engaged to her sister, Stanley finds Richmond dull and confining so she tries to liven it up with a little attempted man-stealing and drunk driving.
This jukebox goes to 11.
That doesn’t go over as well as you might think and once again Stanley’s thoughtless actions cause tragedy. Now her family sees just how horrible Stanley is. Will Roy and Craig stay together? Will pervy Uncle William keep his hands to himself? Will Stanley get her comeuppance? I’m not telling. You have to watch the movie.
Bette Davis didn’t love IN THIS OUR LIFE. She thought she was too old for the part and hated her wardrobe. She wanted to play the de Havilland part. She also had some health issues which slowed down production. Her star status allowed Davis to bring in costume designer Orry-Kelly. She also discovered Ernest Anderson who played Parry Clay. Anderson had never acted before but won raves for his portrayal of a black law student wrongly accused of a crime. Anderson gave the part the intelligence and dignity it needed and he went on to act in over forty film and television roles. He had some choice lines in the film. At one point Roy asks Parry why he wants to be a lawyer. He explains what being a colored man, in 1940s vernacular, meant.
“He can keep a job or he can lose a job, but he can’t get any higher up so he’s got to figure out something he can do that no one can take away.”
Along with Anderson, the supporting cast includes the always stellar Hattie McDaniel as Parry’s mother and Lee Patrick in a fun role as Stanley’s partner in crime in Baltimore. John Huston directed IN THIS OUR LIFE on the heels of his wildly successful debut THE MALTESE FALCON. He didn’t complete the film though. Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Huston was called into military service and Raoul Walsh finished the film. Walsh and Davis fought over just about everything and finally had to have a go-between so they could communicate. Critics found the film boring and the story, based on the novel by Ellen Glasgow, depressing. The Wartime Office of Censorship would not allow the foreign release of the film because of its depiction of racial inequality and the incest hinted at between Uncle William and Stanley.
I like this film. It has a THE LITTLE FOXES feel to it. Inconsiderate people try to take advantage of good ones thinking they won’t be stopped. The good people let it happen for a long time, but when they’re faced with something truly evil, they fight back.
What a heel.
Look for the director’s father, Walter Huston as a bartender and John Hamilton (Superman’s Perry White) as a police inspector. Oh, here’s something else pretty cool about this film. According to imdb, if you look hard enough during a scene between Bette Davis and Dennis Morgan in a roadhouse, you can see Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Ward Bond, Elisha Cook, Jr., and Barton MacLane as patrons. Sadly, the version I watched was MALTESE FALCONless. *sad trombone*
I wrote this piece for the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Kristina https://hqofk.wordpress.com/,
Karen https://shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com/, and
Thank you for hosting such a fun event!
Weeeeeee!! I got a prize!!
The awesome and oh so versatile Barry P. of cinematiccatharsis.blogspot.com nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award! I appreciate that because it’s nice to know someone likes what I’m doing. I love writing about film and hate sticking to one genre. I’ve reviewed horror, science fiction, crime, comedy, and documentary films from every decade from the 1920s to right now. For me, that makes it fun. Aaaanyway, following Barry’s example, I’ll nominate other bloggers I think you should check out and tell you a little about myself.
Sulla Black and Johnny at Trash Tuesday trashtue.blogspot.com
Jay Patrick at thirtyhertzrumble.com
Nel (Smitty) at http://www.filmfixation.com/
Brent Allard at criminalmovies.blogspot.com
Salome Wilde at bnoirdetour.wordpress.com
Cinema Parrot Disco at table9mutant.wordpress.com
Jay Patrick (again) and a cast of thousands, er dozens at cinemashame.wordpress.com
This scene makes me smile so hard.
10 Kerry Facts
1. I have a terrific 17yo who can really write. She’s also hysterically funny.
2. In the 1980s, I toured Europe and the Caribbean singing with a rock band.
3. The first movie I remember loving as a kid is THE GREAT ESCAPE. The music still gives me chills.
4. We moved a lot when I was growing up. I went to two middle schools and three high schools in three different states and yet, my daughter goes to the same suburban Massachusetts high school from which I graduated.
5. Once when my family had to spend a week living in a hotel because our house wasn’t ready (another move) we watched WHERE EAGLES DARE about 792 times. I have it memorized.
6. I was prom queen.
7. When we were first married, my husband and I had a pet iguana named Frenobulax. We called him Dave for short.
8. I’ve wanted to see Australia since childhood. I think when I see a kangaroo just hopping around loose, my head will explode.
9. I am fascinated by true crime and have a library of books on serial killers.
10. I love to see They Might Be Giants in concert. I’ve seen Zappa, King Crimson, Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, U2 (in a tiny venue in 1981), etc… Nothing beats TMBG for me. Seeing them just makes me happy.
Ed Norton can’t sleep. He goes through the motions at his mid-level executive job traveling from crappy airport to crappy airport and back to his cookie cutter condo where his big fun on a Saturday night is sitting alone ordering from the Ikea catalog. Something has to change or he’ll lose his mind.
“Did he just buy a vowel?”
Sleep deprivation drives him to his doctor for sleeping pills. His doctor isn’t buying it though and makes an offhand remark which leads Norton to a series of support groups which meet in hospitals and church basements. Each group deals with a specific disease that Norton does not have. Despite his relatively disease-free body, Norton continues to go to these meetings which he finds oddly comforting. He’s no happier, but at least he can sleep. Just as he thinks he’s found dull, soulless peace, Norton meets Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter). Crude, brash, and inappropriate, Marla crashes Norton’s pity party sending him back to insomnia-inspired sessions of mind-numbing channel surfing. Norton figures he’s doomed to spend eternity alone in a haze, neither awake nor asleep.
This is NOT the smoking section.
Then he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden is a smart-ass who says everything Norton longs to. Norton’s whole life changes. His condo blows up so he moves in with Durden. They live in a dilapidated mansion in the abandoned industrial part of town. Norton stops caring about acquiring the perfect collection of dress shirts. He also stops caring about electricity, what anyone thinks of him, and personal hygiene.
“PC Load Letter?”
He stops caring about all that because he develops a new priority…Fight Club. Started because Tyler Durden believes the only way young males can become men is by finding out what they’re made of, Fight Club’s bare-knuckle boxing clubs thrive in the basements of bars all over town.
Leto’s not gonna like this.
Apparently they’re not the only ones who think there has to be something more than consumerism and trudging slowly up the corporate ladder. Others long for an idea of who they are inside, too. Accompanying all this self-discovery is some terrific dialogue. Durden asks if Norton knows what a duvet is. When he says yes, Durden asks,”Why do guys like us know what a duvet is?” After Norton mentions Martha Stewart, Durden says, “Fuck Martha Stewart! Martha’s polishing the brass on the Titanic! It’s all going down, man.” In the same conversation, Durden poses the question that gets the Fight Club ball rolling. “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
As Norton becomes more involved with Fight Club, he changes.
Well who wouldn’t?
No longer the quiet guy who lets people walk all over him, Norton even walks differently. He has a swagger. He walks with confidence; like a guy who knows where he’s going. He walks like Durden. He says what he thinks and stops putting up with all the petty crap people deal with every day. He’s alive. Just when he thinks he knows what he wants, everything changes. Other young men Including Jared Leto and Meat Loaf, in a terrific small role, start showing up at their house looking to join the movement. Baffled by this talk of movements and missions, Norton stumbles through his own house, hopelessly out of the loop. At first, it was Norton and Durden and Norton felt happy and part of something. Now other recruits and the missions performed by Operation Mayhem threaten Norton’s place beside Durden. Durden’s even sleeping with Marla. As Fight Club and its original idea spiral out of control, can Norton rein Durden in or at least decipher his master plan?
I’ll never tell.
Director David Fincher (SE7EN, GONE GIRL) keeps the camera moving and the pace brisk. He shows us just enough of each scene to make us want more. There’s a knack to that. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who works with Fincher a lot, manages to make a film shot mostly in basements and poorly lit rooms look perfect. It’s appropriately gritty, but you can still see the players. The soundtrack which includes music by the Dust Brothers and the Pixies is appropriately cynical and dark. Michael Kaplan designed the costumes for FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN, and BLADE RUNNER. He has a talent for combining vintage edginess with reality so people don’t look like they just stepped out of a pricey hipster boutique.
“Yeah, I’m a Viking. So what?”
Other than the direction, which is stellar, and the acting which is perfect, the writing stands out. Jim Uhls wrote the screenplay based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel and it’s cool. The dialogue crackles and the little touches make this film stand out. The bit based on some biology texts Norton finds in the basement of the house written from the point of view of an organ runs throughout the film. I AM JACK’S MEDULLA OBLONGATA. I AM JILL’S NIPPLE. When Norton get’s jealous of Durden’s affection for Jared Leto’s character, he says, “I AM JACK’S INFLAMED SENSE OF REJECTION.” Later he says, “I AM JACK’S SMIRKING REVENGE.” after getting back at his boss. It works. The elaborate pranks Durden and his followers pull entertain as well. Busting the headlights of pretentious cars, degaussing videotapes, blowing up window displays all serve to advance Durden’s anti-consumer agenda and make the audience laugh. Even the pranks we don’t see play a role. Press clippings of the group’s exploits read Police Seize Excrement Catapult and Missing Monkeys Found Shaved.
I did not know that.
Of course the concepts behind FIGHT CLUB involve something deeper than some goofs setting fires and flinging poop. Themes of consumerism, complacency, the feminization of men, and isolation run throughout the film and Durden and Norton get into some deep conversations after a few beers.
FIGHT CLUB works as a comedy, an off-kilter buddy film, and a modern love story. The production team, cast, and especially the writers created a clever and thought-provoking film that stands repeated viewings without diminishing its impact.
I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF SURPRISE.
Hot off his success directing DRACULA for Universal Studios, Tod Browning had carte blanche to decide what he’d like to do next. Browning chose to film Tod Robbins’ story Spurs. The dark tale of life in a traveling carnival appealed to Browning who had left home at sixteen to join the circus. Browning liked Robbins’ macabre stories. He directed the 1925 version of Robbins’ THE UNHOLY THREE starring Lon Chaney.
FREAKS takes place in a traveling sideshow filled with trapeze artists, animal acts, clowns, and human anomalies. The performers live together in a cluster of caravans not unlike a small town. The little community, made up of outcasts and people on the fringes of society is a tight knit group. Their fear of ridicule and distrust of the outside world bands them together. Just how much only comes out when a so-called normal person threatens one of their number and they act as one to retaliate.
Director Tod Browning and some of his cast
Hans and Frieda (Harry & Daisy Earles) play little people engaged to marry. In real life, the two were brother and sister, performing all over the United States with two other sisters as The Doll Family. Hans loves Frieda, but has a crush on Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova), the glamorous, and tall acrobat. Cleopatra considers Hans’ infatuation a joke, but puts up with it because of the gifts he gives her. When Cleopatra discovers Hans has inherited a great deal of money, she and her lover Hercules (Henry Victor) decide she will marry him to get her hands on it. She says to Hercules, “Midgets are not strong. He could get sick.” Thus they hatch a plot to kill Hans.
Hans and Frieda in happier times
Unfortunately for the evil couple, they’re not too bright and their plan is pretty obvious from the get go. Here we see the famous wedding feast scene. Hans, Cleopatra, and the entire company including the jilted Frieda, sit at a long table drinking champagne to celebrate the nuptials. As Angeleno (Angelo Rossitto) passes a loving cup full of champagne from one performer to the next, he calls out, “Gooble gobble one of us! We accept her! We accept her!”
As the glass nears Cleopatra we see her face harden. She screams, “You filth make me want to puke!” Happy honeymoon!
Cleopatra and Hercules start dosing Hans with a slow-acting poison right after the wedding. He’s bedridden immediately and under the care of his doting new wife. Hans’ convenient illness arouses the suspicions of his friends and soon Cleopatra and Hercules fall under their watchful eyes.
Oh us? Just hanging out. *whistles*
Everywhere the conspirators go, freaks, as outsiders refer to the sideshow performers, watch their every move. When Cleopatra and Hercules are caught red-handed, they find themselves at the mercy of the freaks and their brutal code of justice.
We’re coming to get you, Olga.
FREAKS does a lovely job of showing the beauty and ugliness in people. Cleopatra and Hercules look attractive, athletic, and healthy, but under their shiny appearance lurks ugliness, cruelty, and disdain for those they consider beneath them. The freaks, on the other hand may be physically abnormal, but they love, trust, and protect each other like a family. The beautiful Cleopatra and Hercules plot against Hans for money while the ‘ugly’ freaks celebrate the birth of a child. Over and over we see examples of the nastiness of Cleopatra and Hercules juxtaposed with the kindness of one of the freaks. Of course, when crossed, the sideshow denizens show their violent sides too. This works because it shows these people to be exactly what many normal people think they are not…human.
The Bearded Lady’s new baby
Not all supposedly normal people in FREAKS are heartless jerks. The marvelous character actor Wallace Ford plays Phroso, the Clown. He treats the sideshow performers as he would anyone. He’s affable and genuine. If you’re kind to him, he’s kind to you. Leila Hyams as Venus is also a friend to the freaks as is Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione) who cares for her microcephalic ‘children’.
Wallace Ford and Elizabeth Green
Madame Tetrallini and her charges
Tod Browning cast FREAKS from sideshows all over the United States and Europe. He hired popular acts like Johnny Eck, the half boy, conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, and Harry Earles, who later gained fame as one of the Lollipop Guild in The Wizard of Oz. Angelo Rossitto, was a popular performer who worked on and off until the 1980s. Among many other roles, he played The Master in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The Armless Girl, Frances O’Connor worked under the name The Living Venus DeMilo in circuses and sideshows. Beautiful, gregarious, and dextrous, Frances was a sought after performer for years.
Frances havin’ some suds
Schlitze and the other microcephalic members of the company were often called pinheads and billed as Aztec Children in the sideshow circuit.
Then there’s Prince Randian. Often called The Living Torso, Randian has an incredible scene in FREAKS in which he lights a cigarette. He opens a matchbox, takes out a match, closes the matchbox, and lights the match and his cigarette. It’s fascinating to watch. What you should know is they cut an earlier part of the scene showing Randian rolling that cigarette. Randian lived to his 60s, worked in circuses, married, and had kids.
I’ve always loved FREAKS because of its engaging story, compelling characters, and because it affords us a glimpse into a world we’d never see if not for the film. Since the 1960s when FREAKS started showing in art house theatres, it’s gained a cult following, but the controversial setting, plot, and especially the characters did not thrill audiences or critics in 1932. In fact, the reaction to FREAKS killed Tod Browning’s career. Even though he lived until the 1960s, Browning only made four films after FREAKS. Audiences did not want to know about these people. In my opinion, it’s one of the reasons freak shows and carnivals started closing. It was just too ugly for refined people to see. They called it exploitation and put many performers, who made a good living, out on the street. Unable to get other jobs, many had to rely on charity to survive. Even critics who didn’t hate the film said that though it was well made, the film had no chance of working because there was no way a normal man or woman could empathize with a midget. That’s sad because there’s so much to love about this film and the characters in it. Browning manages in sixty-four minutes to let us into this closed world. FREAKS pulls you in and lets you see things from another point of view which is one of the best things about film.
I wrote this piece for the Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Karen @TheDarkPages http://www.shadowsandsatin.wordpress.com and
Danny @PreCodeDotCom http://www.pre-code.com
Another fun idea, you two!