Archive for the ‘William Schallert’ Tag

Them! (1954)   Leave a comment

them for

A series of bizarre deaths and some odd footprints baffle New Mexico policeman James Whitmore. His superiors send the prints to Washington. FBI agent James Arness and father/daughter entymologists Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon arrive to investigate and soon they’re battling huge mutant ants in the desert. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

kid
Bueller?

It is. An engaging story, solid performances, and convincing large insects make Them! the best of the mutant bug movies of the 1950s. In fact, Them! serves as a template for many of the alien invasion/giant insect films to follow. It’s even scary. Scenes in which the team goes underground to explore the ants’ lair have you on the edge of your seat and the sudden blast of ant sound effects (made by the grey tree frog) was startling.

frog
I am not an ant.

Veteran director Gordon Douglas (In Like Flint, The Detective) keeps the pace brisk and the story compelling. We learn enough about these characters to like them and the cast, made up of A and B+ level actors push this film way above many in the genre. Warner Brothers made the film and used many of its up and coming actors in cameos.

nimoy
Live long and…?

Leonard Nimoy, Fess Parker, Richard Deacon, William Schallert, and Dub Taylor show up in small roles and help give the film some of its polish. They also had a A-list crew with Bronislau Kaper’s original score and Gordon Bau’s make-up. Them! was even nominated for Best Effects/Best Special Effects at the 1955 Oscars and was the highest grossing film Warner Brothers made in 1954. So next time someone tells you mutant bug films don’t cut it in the quality department, tell them about Them!. I mean, any film that has the Wilhelm Scream, moulage, and Santa battling giant, homicidal ants must be a winner.

ant
Peek-a-boo!

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Charley Varrick (1973)   Leave a comment

Small-time cropduster, Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau), his wife, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott), and his partner, Harmon (Andy Robinson) figure they’ve been working for scraps long enough, so they decide to rob a small, local bank. Things don’t go as planned. When the robbery turns violent, Varrick has to devise a plan to extricate himself from a deadly situation.

Varrick and fellow thief Harmon (Andy Robinson) return to his trailer home after their getaway to discover the simple bank they’ve robbed is not so simple. What happens next pits Varrick’s smart amateur against a cadre of professionals led by baddies Joe Don Baker and John Vernon. Of course the police want Varrick too, but the law, led by sheriff, William Schallert and detective, Norman Fell don’t concern him. John Vernon’s oily organized crime honcho and Joe Don Baker’s nasty hit man do.

Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Dirty Harry) directs Charley Varrick without flourish. His spare style suits the material and we watch as Varrick maneuvers deftly and makes it up as he goes along. He’s not a martial arts expert or a master of disguise, but he makes some cunning moves. You can see the wheels turning in a couple of scenes when Varrick has to think on his feet. He’s the self-taught version of Robert Redford’s character in Three Days of the Condor. Both men are thrown into dangerous positions and both maneuver using brains instead of brawn. Stalwart character actors abound in Charley Varrick. Sheree North and Woody Parfrey round out the cast of usual suspects and the entire film has that cool and gritty 70s feel. Varrick’s motto, ‘the last of the independents’ rings true. Charley Varrick, Lonely Are the Brave, and Absence of Malice belong in the ‘little guy goes it alone’ film hall of fame. All feature men caught, for entirely different reasons, in tight spots and let us watch as they try to escape. The results differ, but you can’t help but root for them to come out on top. The quirky characters, complex plot, and solid acting in Charley Varrick make me wish they still made 70s films.

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