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As the earlier reviewer stated, this has the look and feel of an
American "western" that's been transported to southern Africa during
the Boer War. (The presence of a boy looking up to the stranger who's
arrived at his family's farm - a farm called "Sunrise" - easily calls
up memories of "Shane.") However, the plot falls more into the lines of
"The Desperate Hours" as the farm is invaded and taken over by three
deserters from the British army. Things follow predictably, (and a bit
sketchily), from this point.
George Montgomery, in the twilight of his long career, plays the "Shane" character and he has two "beefcake" scenes which effectively show off his sweaty, unshaven chest. Romantic interest is supplied by Deana Martin, daughter of Dean Martin, but there's little chemistry between her and the much-older Montgomery.
Its title implies a "behind-enemy-lines" thriller set inside Nazi
Germany, but this 1943 production is set in the good ol' U.S.A. -
mostly in Southern California. It tells about a skilled counterfeiter
(Dean Jagger) who finds himself suddenly sprung from prison by a
well-organized group of law-breakers seeking to make use of his
talents. These law-breakers, headed by John Carradine, set him up at a
print-shop located next to an amusement park arcade. At first Jagger,
who's held as a virtual prisoner, assumes his "benefactors" are simply
criminals of the standard variety seeking to make illegal money, but
gradually he discovers they are actually agents of the Third Reich
endeavoring to undermine America's war effort. Jagger now vows to no
longer work for them but they threaten to kill his mother unless he
co-operates so Jagger then tries to find a way to alert the F.B.I.
while still doing his captors' bidding.
As well as offering intriguing glimpses of American life and attitudes during World War II, this low-budget production also provides characters and a story which hold one's interest, though its story-line wavers a bit in the second half. The obligatory romance between Jagger and a young woman working at the arcade is temporarily derailed by a subplot in which Jagger tries to convert a young Nazi to the American side. In the process, the Nazi falls for the young woman and it takes some heavy-handed and not quite convincing plotting to resolve this romantic triangle.
The movie's highlight scene occurs when the Nazis decide to use force on the reluctant Jagger. He's shown, stripped to the waist, bound to his printing press, while Sidney Blackmer - yes, Sidney Blackmer - beats him 21 times across the back with a nasty-looking length of rubber hose. This being 1940s Hollywood, the hose is never shown actually striking Jagger's back and Jagger's reaction shots - he's only photographed from the shoulders up - merely show him to be mildly distressed, as if he ate something that didn't quite agree with him. Meanwhile John Carradine, who sits nearby reading a book, says: "Brutality disturbs me. Turn on the radio." Perhaps soothing music will mask the sound of that hose smashing into Jagger's back. Alas, Carradine's notion of brutality is quite limited. Any cop or prison guard would know that a rubber hose is more effectively used not on a man's back but on another, more sensitive part of his anatomy. And as for Jagger, that beating seems to have absolutely no ill effect on him, not even a back-ache.
The "behind-enemy-lines-rescue" is a reliable plot but it fails here
largely because the movie doesn't seem to know what point it's trying
to make. Having U.S. Air Force pilots dropping gas-bombs on innocent
civilians would seem to position the movie as a condemnation of
American involvement in Vietnam. However, showing those Vietnamese
fighting against the Americans to be commanded by brutes who rape and
torture and kill helpless prisoners blurs the line between "good guys"
and "bad guys." The audience is left with no one to root for,
(especially since none of the characters is of any interest or value),
and the movie is written in too shallow a way to allow it to claim to
be "dark" or "cynical." Making things worse is the movie's tendency to
pad its footage with extended and unnecessary scenes, such as all those
shots of characters trudging through the jungle accompanied by
This movie has acquired a cult reputation, however, because of a scene from it posted on YouTube. This scene shows the torture of the two captured USAF pilots. These pilots - young, hairy, attractive, and soaked with sweat - are only seen from the waist up but apparently they've been stripped naked and apparently they're being subjected to electric shocks delivered directly to their genitals. It's rare that the movies show or even imply genital torture. It's also rare to show manly torture victims screaming at the top of their lungs as these two pilots do. (They're played by Jim Dixon and Bernard Higgins.) Compare this scene to a similar one in "Rambo 2." Sylvester Stallone is also subjected to electroshock torture but he's allowed to keep his pants on, thus putting his genitals "off-limits." He also doesn't lower himself by screaming but instead allows himself only a few grunts of discomfort. Needless to say, the torture scene in "Assault Platoon" is far more convincing, far more memorable.
This curiously titled episode shows the advantages of the half-hour
format for television drama. (Why has this format disappeared?) It's
compact, briskly paced, and efficiently introduces both characters and
plot elements. Some of these elements -- Robert Horton's ring, the
enmity of the gunman who tries to kill him -- intriguingly hint at
future story developments. Obviously "Shenandoah" will be a traveling
show with Horton moving from place to place, thus giving the show
logical opportunities to introduce new characters and new settings in
each episode. But does this mean we won't again see saloon-hostess
Beverly Garland? She's almost too good a character to lose.
(Incidentally, her bedroom looks surprisingly large and elegant for
such a small, frontier town. Queen Victoria would have felt quite at
home there!) An intriguing part of this episode is its exploitation of
the "beefcake" factor. Shortly after the show starts, Robert Horton,
getting ready to take a bath, has his shirt off. He's then confronted
by a gunman determined to kill him and a shoot-out occurs. The
shoot-out turns into a chase with Horton riding off, only to be brought
down by bullets. We see him lying unconscious on the ground where he's
discovered by a pair of grubby prospectors. They sling the
still-unconscious Horton belly-down over a horse. Horton winds up in a
town where he's laid face-up on a table inside a gambling saloon. Then
he's seen tucked into an upstairs bed.
Throughout this entire sequence, Horton remains gloriously bare-chested, and even after passing the age of 40, that hairy chest of his -- so familiar to "Wagon Train" viewers -- still looks mighty good. Especially pleasing are the scenes of him during the shoot-out. A bare-chested man with a gun -- what a combo!
There's a lot of plot squeezed into this episode, maybe too much.
Cheyenne exchanges bullets with a nervous man, meets the man's wife,
resists romance, confronts greedy gunmen, holds off Indians, faces
torture, etc. Viewers may be more interested in two of the episode's
guest stars: James Garner, miscast as a villain, and Angie Dickinson,
looking surprisingly plain and subdued.
When Cheyenne falls into the hands of hostile Indians, he's staked out on the ground and threatened with hot coals being held to the soles of his bare feet. This is an early example of the "beefcake-bondage" scenes for which these TV westerns became famous, but it muffs the "beefcake" factor. Despite the show's propensity for showing off Clint Walker's chest, he's allowed to keep his shirt on in this scene. What were they thinking?! Later in the same year (1957) Richard Boone found himself staked-out by Indians in a "Have Gun Will Travel" episode and even though he couldn't compete with Clint Walker in the physique category, he did that scene gloriously bare-chested.
"Quicksand" demonstrates a laudable desire to move away from the
standard B-movie plots. It's actually more of a character study in
which a small group of people, trapped in hazardous circumstances, must
individually examine both their past lives and their future hopes. It's
all rather superficial, of course, since the restrictions of a limited
running time don't allow for much depth, but the efforts are pleasing
and they're helped by the presence of a better-than-average cast.
One of my fellow reviewers has mentioned the cast members, such as Dennis Hopper, who went on to bigger and better things. Also worth mentioning is Norman Frederic who plays the taunting Indian chief. Several years later, under the name Dean Fredericks and with bleached blond hair, he played the lead in the "Steve Canyon" TV series. He also starred in the cult sci-fi movie "Phantom Planet" in which he has an extended "beefcake" scene which shows off his hairy chest. To play the Indian chief in "Quicksand," however, he's shaved his chest smooth.
There's no such shaving for Clint Walker, however. His "beefcake" scene here -- perhaps the best of the show's first season -- displays his chest in all its hirsute glory. You can even see his navel, something not always visible in 1950s' "beefcake." The fact that he appears bare-chested during a scene in which he's at risk and facing danger only adds to the appeal.
A curious episode. It attempts to fit "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" into the format of an hour-long TV show, and in the process, it tends to demote Clint Walker from a starring role to a supporting role. Its relatively brief running-time doesn't give Edward Andrews, (yes, Edward Andrews!), sufficient time to make entirely plausible his change in character, and it shortchanges a subplot involving Cheyenne's visit to an Indian village to help an ailing white woman, but the story still holds our interest and it gives Rod Taylor a pleasing role as Andrews's good-hearted partner. Taylor also gets a chance to bare his hairy chest which, though easy on the eyes, obviously can't complete with Walker's 48-incher. (This episode marks the first of many times on "Cheyenne" that Walker takes off his shirt.) In a sort of balancing act, we're introduced to both "good" Indians and "bad" Indians. But one question remains: just why was this episode called "The Argonauts?"
John Ericson had kept himself in good enough condition to pose naked,
at age 47, for a Playgirl centerfold. Some years earlier he played a
boxer in this G.E. Theater drama from 1957 and while he kept his trunks
on he often appeared shirtless and sweaty and thus had ample
opportunity to show off his easy-on-the-eyes physique. Ah, the 50s.
Most of Ericson's ring opponents seem to be young, clean-cut white men.
He even gets a chance to box a bare-chested Ronald Reagan who looks OK
for a man in his mid-40s but who, perhaps, shouldn't have allowed
himself to go nipple-to-nipple with the still-in-his-prime Ericson.
The story they're in is basically a three-character affair about a cocky young boxer, his older and wiser trainer, and his pretty girlfriend who's grown concerned about the way his life is heading. This is only a half-hour show so there's little time for subtlety or nuance and the ending seems a bit rushed -- and more than a bit implausible -- but seeing John Ericson shirtless and proud is an asset not to be dismissed.
Robert Horton, playing frontier scout Flint McCullough, was stripped of
his shirt and subjected to various tortures in three episodes of the
long-running "Wagon Train" series. First came "The Gabe Carswell Story"
in January of 1958 in which a vengeful Indian staked him out
bare-chested, in spreadeagle style, and left him to slowly roast and
dehydrate under the scorching-hot sun. (This came just one month after
a shirtless Richard Boone suffered the same fate in a "Have Gun Will
Travel" episode.) Then came "The Ruth Marshall Story" in December of
1959 in which -- after shooting an arrow into his leg -- Indians
suspended Horton by his wrists, again bare-chested, and left him to
dangle with his feet off the ground until he lost consciousness.
Finally, in a December of 1961 episode titled "The Traitor," Horton was
tied to the side of wagon and given 20 lashes with a bullwhip across
his bare back by a sergeant in the U.S. Cavalry. Together these three
torture sequences constitute perhaps the high point of homoerotic
sadism during that entire era of television.
"The Martha Barham Story" offers a splendid opportunity to add a fourth torture sequence to this pantheon of pain. Horton, along with a U.S. Cavalry Captain played by the semi-handsome, well-put-together Mike Road, is captured by Indians. The word "torture" has already been used several times in the dialog and the Cavalry Captain has already been tortured, though we don't see this, by having burning torches applied to the soles of his bare feet. Now he and Horton are scheduled to be tortured to death at daybreak in some unspecified manner but it will clearly involve the use of fire. Yes sir, all that hair on Horton's chest will soon be set aflame! However, the Indians make the mistake of not securing their captives for the night before the torture. True, they leave Horton and the Captain barefoot inside a ring of fire on the assumption that even when the fire dies down, these men will be unwilling or unable to walk across the glowing embers on their bare feet. Ha! (No wonder Indians always come out second-best in these encounters.) Horton simply strips off his jacket and shirt -- thus giving us the requisite look at his bare torso, nicely gleaming with sweat -- so that he can tie them around his feet. He's then able to slowly, carefully walk across those hot coals carrying his fire-crippled companion. (Security was obviously not a high priority in this particular Indian village.) After all that build-up to an orgy of beefcake, bondage, and brutality, one can't help be disappointed that Horton emerges with nothing more than a case of mildly-toasted feet. Even his shirtless scenes, which come quite late in the episode, occur at night and thus aren't well-lighted. And then there's the matter of Ann Blyth, this episode's guest star, who plays an annoying sort of woman. We're told that she and Flint McCullough had once been an "item" but this seems merely a way to assure us that Flint McCullough is "straight" despite the tender way he carried the Captain across those coals on his well-muscled shoulders.
(Mike Road, who plays the Captain, never gets to take his shirt off in this episode, perhaps to avoid competing with Horton, the show's resident "beefcake" provider. If you want to see Road's bare chest, check out a "Sea Hunt" episode which he filmed at about this same time. In this episode, titled "Underwater Beacon," Road shows off his chest which is nicely thatched with hair, particularly over the sternum.)
It begins with the discovery of a body washed up on a beach -- a
classic start to a mystery story -- but there proves to be little
interest in the fate of that particular body. Murder? Accident?
Suicide? The movie never delivers a satisfying answer because the body
on the beach turns out to be simply a flashy introduction to the story
of a troubled marriage among the idle rich. Even this aspect of the
story isn't well handled because the movie doesn't seem to realize that
Cliff Robertson is or at least should be the main character. He's the
ex-beach boy who's now married to the wealthy Lana Turner but whose
sense of decency causes him to feel guilty about living in her world of
privilege. Perhaps not surprisingly, he finds himself drawn to the
youthful innocence of Stefanie Powers, the girlfriend of the
body-on-the-beach who's come to Acapulco to investigate the situation.
However, though Robertson is the character in the compelling position, the character who undergoes the greatest degree of growth and change, the movie understandably keeps turning its attention to Lana Turner. After all, she's the top-billed star and it's with her name that the movie hopes to attract its core audience of Sunday-matinée women. Turner certainly looks good, all things considered, and she's dressed and jeweled with all the requisite glamour, but her character never comes to life and the attempt to give her depth and sympathy through the revelation of a "shocking secret" from her past simply doesn't work. The revelation seems too pat, too contrived, and the fact that it's delivered through a monologue Turner implausibly shares with her maid doesn't help matters.
Interest starts to ebb away in the second half and an effort to re- charge the movie with a bullfight sequence seems more silly than exciting. Still, there's enough of a "glow" to this old-fashioned star vehicle to qualify it as one of those "guilty pleasures" whose charms can't adequately be explained to the uninitiated.
Cliff Robertson does what he can with the material but seems glum and uncomfortable and one never really accepts that he loves Lana Turner. For her part, Turner strikes the right poses but fails to become anything more than a look-don't-touch pin-up. Acting honors actually go to Hugh O'Brien who's usually seen in nothing more than a variety of crotch-bulging swimsuits and whose hairy, sun-bronzed torso seems the very distillation of raw male sexuality. (Robertson has only two bare- chest scenes, one of them quite minor, and while he still has an attractive physique, his beefcake appeal is put on better display in the 1959 "Gidget.") Ruth Roman adds some peripheral interest to the proceedings and one wishes more had been done with the character of reluctant gigolo, Ron Husmann.
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